Nader: Crusader, Spoiler, Icon - Justin Martin
Ralph Nader came to my attention during the 2000 presidential campaign. I'm too young to remember his greatest fame in the 1970's, but I did know that he was a consumer advocate, that he ran for president without taking any corporate contributions, and that he was very, very smart. This was enough to get me to check out his website, which was in turn enough to win him my vote over Bush and Gore. In February 2001, I met the man himself at a conference in D.C. Of course I was too starstruck to actually speak to him, but I did nudge his elbow when he started walking the wrong way to the door. I was also tongue-tied because I realized, outside of the presidential campaign, I knew next to nothing about what he'd actually done.

Which leads me to reading this biography, albeit more than two years later. It's an easy, engaging read, and Martin certainly got out his thesaurus for the adjectives (which was distracting at times). The book, aside from a few things gleaned from interviews with family members, is largely a re-cap of Nader's public record. There is very little about his private life, and even less about his own motivation. I could care less about the private life part, but the motivation is what I really wanted to know. Yes, he's visionary, he's driven, he's sacrificed himself repeatedly on the altar of the public good (or at least his vision of it). But why? What drives him? What keeps him going at such an obsessive pace when he's already past retirement age? And whatever it is, where does it come from? Martin hints at this last by talking about Nader's immigrant parents and their love for contact-sport democracy around the dinner table, but still that doesn't explain the frenetic, constant work that characterizes Ralph's entire life. Not that I'm questioning his motivation, I just want to know where he gets it.

Overall, the book left me still quite impressed with this man and the work he has done. I don't know that we'd ever be great friends, but I'd certainly vote for him again. I'll spare my readers here the soapboxes I used to defend my vote in the presidential race - if you want more of that then e-mail me.

Fed to robyn's brain | May 11, 2003