Who'da thunk it -- Ralph Nader harking back to simpler political times. Before military conflict in Iraq, before Enron and Tyco and WorldCom, before controversial Supreme Court nominations and tax-cut packages, once upon a time people used to get psyched for a little thing called Earth Day. This year, Earth Day falls on April 22, and Nader's got the date highlighted on his Palm III; in fact, it'll be the topic of his talk here, part of the St. Louis Public Library's Signature Series of lectures.
That's right -- the Green Party's presidential candidate back in 2000 has no plans to rehash The Election That Technically Wasn't, and the author of the groundbreaking 1965 book Unsafe at Any Speed ain't looking to go at the automobile industry this time around. The issues at hand instead, says Nader, will be "recycling, organic farming, advanced propulsion systems for vehicles -- all of these movements are at a critical point right now, where we have excellent grassroots momentum but still need to get the government on board."
And despite Nader's preferred nickname for President George W. Bush -- "the Prince of Pollution" -- he is quick to level criticism at the Clinton-Gore administration as well. "Both administrations were exactly the same in their inattention towards nuclear power, genetic engineering, the coal industry and pesticides. In fact, Bush has been a bit better in support of reducing automobile pollution. For eight years, Clinton and Gore did nothing about developing hybrid cars. Bush has at least mentioned the possibility."
In delivering his upcoming talk, one person Nader probably won't be taking public-speaking lessons from is good buddy Michael Moore, who managed to receive both a standing ovation and a wave of boos in less than five minutes at last month's Academy Awards. When asked about his friend's quick rise and fall from Hollywood grace, Nader dishes the inside dirt on the incident: "Apparently many studio reps and executives came up to him afterward and told him how much they liked what he said. He wasn't saying anything different from what former diplomats and retired generals have been saying all along about this war -- that it's a war we shouldn't be launching. He just happened to try to cram it all in under 28 seconds."
Nader recently had his own brush with the rough side of showbiz when he wound up an unwitting victim on HBO's Da Ali G Show. Like all the political figures who submit to interviews with the British comedian (who finagles face time by claiming he's the host of a children's educational program back in England), Nader was on the verge of humiliation when -- unlike many of the household names who wind up on the show -- he got the joke and played along, even going so far as to lay down a few impromptu rap lyrics. "At first I just had trouble understanding him, with that British street accent and saying things like 'you be like,'" laughs Nader. "After five minutes, I knew it was a farce." Holding his own at his upcoming talk in St. Louis should be less tricky.