Over the past 18 months, we've developed a few ideas about the way presidential campaigns are supposed to be run. Ralph Nader, who appeared Monday night at Portland's Bagdad Theatre & Pub tonight for a press conference and rally, took the opportunity to upend as many of those ideas as he could.
The fact that he came to Oregon at all exemplifies Nader's uniqueness: the 74-year-old presidential candidate is running a 50-state campaign, unlike Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama — who are visiting battleground states to the exclusion of places like seemingly decided places such as Oregon.
In Nader's speeches, he speeds right past Main Street – he dismisses the middle class as a shrinking species – to spend time on Skid Row (these days, Wall Street obviously gets a few mentions too). When he strays from policy points to offer up an anecdote, count on a history lesson rather than a heartrending story about Joe the Plumber or Joanne The Teacher.
In fact, if someone had awakened from a year-and-a-half long coma and walked into the Bagdad last night, she would have gathered that Obama and McCain were on a single ticket (whether that ticket was that of the "Democrans" or the "Republicats" wouldn't have been clear).
And she would have left the packed-past-its-600-person-seating-capacity Bagdad very afraid of this Obama-McCain team, two men whom Nader blasted as opting to award constitutional Rights to corporations over people, to raise the military budget, to fight over expand nuclear power, and to support what he called Israel's ethnic cleansing of Palestine.
Especially scary-sounding would be this Obama character, whose name was so much more frequently mentioned that towards the end of the rally, a still-curious audience member yelled from the balcony, "What do you think of McCain?"
"McCain's going to be a big loser. You don't have to worry about him," Nader replied. "But he's more likely to challenge the military industrial complex than Obama."
Earlier in the speech, he had labeled Obama "the ultimate coward," adding that "he will walk over anyone to achieve his political ends. He'll walk over blacks, Latinos, poor whites, Palestinians." He promised to make known in an open letter within the next few days that the Democratic candidate "suffers from character and personality defects."
Nader's solution to the bailout? A tax on derivatives trades. He said these types of transactions will total $500 trillion this year (all currently untaxed), and so a measly .1% tax would rake in $500 billion, and "restore a sense of fairness among the American people."
"If the Wall Street crooks, swindlers and speculators want to be bailed out, let them pay for their own bailout," he said.
Other Nader solutions? A single-payer, full-Medicare health insurance system, a hike of the federal minimum wage from $6.55 an hour to $10 an hour, cutting the military budget and funneling that money into community projects, and a focus on energy efficiency and solar energy rather than nuclear power.
Clearly Nader prefers real policy discussions to truisms and pathos, and from his immediate focus on the Wall Street bailout, it was easy to see he's keeping abreast to what's relevant. Still, amid a presidential race that's got the nation screaming with interest – and in which Nader's gotten next to no national media coverage – I wasn't the only person in the room who wondered: Why on earth are you still at this?
"Long ago I realized that the forces for injustice never take a vacation," he said." Therefore, the forces for justice must never take a vacation." I suppose that means we can expect to see Nader resurface again in 2012, plucky as ever, fighting for a few percentage points of the country's vote and, through that, for justice.