Here is a man who has been a force in DC for so long, he's practically an East Coast el Niño.
You know the drill: Ever since the 1965 publication of his now-legendary offensive against auto industry safety, called Unsafe at Any Speed, Nader has been successfully tweaking the political and corporate elite as faithfully as an East Side Grande Damme shops for the new season.
Nader has never held public office, and until this year he has expressed no desire to do so. But something has changed in Nader: He now seems to want to win.
Rather's Notebook: Green Giant
June 19: Nader Has Lots Of Green
May 22: Green Gravitas
April 6: Assailing The Major Parties
February 21: The Quixotic Candidate
Accordingly, Nader's bid for the presidency promises to be the sleeper story of this cycle. No, he won't become president. But he has more name recognition than almost every other non-elected official in Washington (and many incumbents, besides), he has money, and most importantly he has seems to have fire in his belly.
His goal, to garner 5 million votes and get the Green Party on ballots across the country for the 2002 congressional elections, is within reach.
That would set environmentalist candidates across the U.S. on a course to start pushing for voices in the House of Representatives, truly breaking the dolorous two-party stranglehold on American political discourse.
The scope of such an achievement would be monumental.
But the 66-year-old consumer advocate needs to be careful. Like a young man watching the mistakes of this summer's grooms, Nader ought to look closely at the underlying condition that has allowed the Reform Party, once a shining vision, to be co-opted by Pat Buchanan, whose platform consists of rolling back the clock by 100 years and replaying the 20th century.
Nader should look to Reform Party bomb-throwers like Ross Perot - and now Buchanan - for a lesson in how not to cultivate a budding political movement. More specifically, he needs to avoid leaving the Green Party open to petty politics; he needs to suppress the urge to score cheap points on the groups he reviles.
The Reformistas, who eight years after their high-water mark have lost control of their nascent party, are paying for the egoism of Perot with Buchanan's equally devalued political currency. Alarmingly, Nader, normally a staid, hardworking policy expert, has displayed some of the same Perot-like ego of late.
To wit: Nader routinely calls Democrats and Republicans "tweedle-dee and tweedle-dum."
And in accepting the Green Party presidential nomination last week, Nader referred to big business with a disdain that is barely above contempt, saying corporate America is "generating its unique brand of wreckage, propaganda and ultimatums on American labor, consumers, taxpayers and most generically, American voters."
Make no mistake: Nader has a lot to work with. But there is danger in being too antagonistic.
So far, Nader's tough talk has done nothing but thrust him into the limelight, which is tantamount to votes in today's politics. Yet Nader needs to tread carefully lest the environmental message he hopes to foster be overshadowed by nasty rhetoric and the politics of revenge.
For the Green Party candidate, it has always been a crusade. While Nader doesn't seem to hold out hope of seeing his adversaries come around toward the green message, he nevertheless ought to keep his cynicism in check.
He's vowed to run a serious campaign. But rescuing America's "corporate-besieged democracy" will require him to be serious about forging consensus with his adversaries. Let's see him do it.