Mars Invades


Excerpted from Nader: Crusader, Spoiler, Icon

By Justin Martin

Copyright ©2002, Basic Books


Once upon a time, Nader said he would only enter politics if there was an “invasion from Mars.” So what made Ralph run – and three times no less between 1992 and 2000? “There was an invasion from Wall Street,” he quips. “I never thought the government would crumble so thoroughly.”            

            Nader may have been disillusioned by Carter. He may have found himself shutout during the Reagan/Bush era. But these were mere grumbles compared with the heaping resentment he would build during two terms of Clinton. For the first time in his experience, Nader found himself ignored as thoroughly by a Democratic administration as ever he had been by a Republican one. It was a situation that he summed up by referring to the president as “George Ronald Clinton.”

            Nader and Clinton did not meet a single time in the course of eight years. At one point, when Clinton was preparing to sign legislation eliminating the 55-mile-an-hour speed limit on interstate highways, Nader requested a five-minute sit-down. Raising the speed to 65, he feared, would lead to an increase in accidents.  Clinton did not even respond.

            Gore also turned a cold shoulder. During the Reagan years, Gore had actually been something of an ally, or at least he was as close to an ally as one could be with Nader. At a time when Nader was welcome in precious few Congressional offices, he found Gore to be receptive on issues such as broadcast licensing and biotechnology. “He was in the top 10 of  the hundred senators,” Nader grudgingly recalls. “On the environment, he was O.K. On torts, he was especially good.”

            Vice president Gore was a different matter. Stiffed by Clinton, Nader also failed to gain an audience with Gore. At one point, his assistant received a letter: “The vice president has no time to meet with Mr. Nader.” Puzzled and distressed, Nader placed a phone call to Gore. The vice president was noncommittal about setting up a meeting, closing the phone call with a terse “well, I’ll see.” Those were the last words Nader and Gore would exchange.

            As for the Clinton-era Congress, Nader found that he was a pariah, even among the most liberal members. In 1997, Pete DeFazio and Bernie Sanders invited Nader to speak before the House Progressive Caucus. For someone who had once addressed Congress on an almost daily basis, this now counted as a rare appearance. But the House Progressive Caucus also seemed like it might be an ideal venue for Nader. Only about five of the 50 caucus members even bothered to show up.

            From Nader’s standpoint, the icy reception in Washington was proof of serious drift by the Democrats. The party had simply pilfered the Republican political agenda, shuffled it around, rechristened a few elements, and called it their own – a process he termed “protective imitation.” He was fond of pointing out that Clinton and Gore would not have qualified as liberal Republicans in 1970.

            The doors were all shut, tighter than ever. As during the Reagan years, Nader went to the grassroots, attending to issues on the local level. But he was finding that there were limits to what can be accomplished with CUBs and PIRGs. Nader wanted to have a say on weighty national issues such as the various Clinton-era free trade treaties, which he vehemently opposed. More than ever before, he found it hard to get any political traction. Nader was now a bit like the proverbial tree falling in the woods: he talked plenty about GATT and NAFTA, but no one in official Washington heard a sound.

            Nader did not relent. As an undergrad at Princeton, he had read Schopenhauer and other philosophers in an effort to understand the nature of pessimism. He came to the conclusion that it served no practical purpose in life. Four decades later – facing widespread opposition and indifference – Nader simply refused to allow himself to fall into despair.

            Instead, Nader began to hone his anti-corporate critique. Always before, Nader had looked at corporate abuses on a case-by-case basis. He had scrutinized the activities of DuPont or Citibank, had raided the ICC and the FDA. However, his growing status as a true political outsider forced him to reevaluate his ideas. Why was it next to impossible to get a hearing with a member of Congress, even a Democrat? Nader’s answer: because the party was increasingly beholden to corporate campaign contributions. If the press is free, why was it so difficult to air alternative viewpoints? His answer: major media outlets are owned by large corporations. Nader developed a kind of single-gunman theory: Democracy itself was in crisis because of the pervasive influence of corporations.

            Such an observation was hardly grist for a Raider report. He did not hire a fresh armada of eager young Ivy League grads to dash off Sold Out: How American Democracy has Been Perverted by Corporations. Instead, Nader’s observations added up to something more like a theory, a political theory. Nader became increasingly convinced that if he were ever again going to make a genuine difference, he was going to have to find yet another outlet. This time he decided to go directly to the root of the problem. So it was that the perennial outsider chose to enter politics. He did not necessarily expect to win elective office, few third-party candidates do. Rather, it was another way to get his message out, about the only one he had not yet tried. Maybe, in a nod to Norman Thomas, he could even persuade the Democrats to steal some parts of his agenda.

            Of course, this was no overnight transformation. It required years of contemplation, and ample discussion with various friends and colleagues.  Marcus Raskin, who approached Nader about running on the New Party ticket in 1971, was also privy to Nader’s evolving views about the political realm.

            “What he saw happening was that everything he stood for was being taken away piece by piece,” says Raskin. “Whether it was health and welfare, social legislation, consumer protection – it was all going down the tubes. I think there were public policy reasons to go the way he did. There may have been personal reasons, too.”

            Gary Sellers, who also spoke extensively with Nader during this period, stresses the personal reasons: “He felt that his star was being eclipsed. In the 1960s, he had terrified people. He figured that getting involved in electoral politics might open doors once again. People would take him seriously and return his phone calls. There was a sense of lost opportunity. It was very poignant, and it was based on reality.”

            Nevertheless, Nader took his time. Entering into politics was a gradual process, akin to lowering one’s self into a pool of cold water. Barnstorming across California in support of Prop 103 can be seen as the first tentative toe dip. This, he followed with a pair of presidential runs in 1992 and 1996, the first placing him ankle deep in politics, the second taking him up to about his knees.

            In 1992, Nader participated only in the New Hampshire primary. Insisting “I’m not a politician, I’m a citizen advocate” he stumped on behalf of what he called a toolbox for Democracy, a collection of issues such as campaign finance reform and public ownership of the broadcast airwaves. His big issue was adding a none-of-the-above line to ballots. Potentially, the none-of-the-above option could defeat the other candidates in an election. If this happened, there would need to be a fresh election. Nader appreciated the intimacy of the New Hampshire primary, and relished speaking before small groups. He spent three weeks in the state, declaring himself a proxy for the idea of none-of-the-above. He urged people to write in his name if they were uninspired by the other Democratic contenders: Tom Harkin, John Kerry, Paul Tsongas, and Bill Clinton. He received 6,311 votes.

            In 1996, Nader decided to be a bonafide presidential candidate, sort of. At around the same time as the Clinton-55-m.p.h snub, the California Green Party approached Nader, asking if he would participate in the state primary as the Green candidate. He accepted. In rapid succession, Nader was also approached by Greens in other states including Alaska, Colorado, and Oregon. He wound up on the ballot in 21 states. When asked about his candidacy, however, he offered answers such as: “You remember when I said I wasn’t running for elective office? You remember when I said it several times? Some people have heard me say it 200 times. I don’t break that.”

            Ever the lawyer, Nader attempted in 1996 to run and not run at the same time. He approached this latest political flirtation with a whole set of hesitations, qualifications, and disclaimers. He did not register as a Green, nor did he adopt the party’s platform. His campaign purchased no ads and took no contributions. He promised not to spend more than $5,000 of his own money, thereby avoiding federal regulations regarding disclosure of his personal finances. And he traveled virtually nowhere. In Nader’s parlance, he “stood for president” in 1996 as opposed to actually running.

            Nevertheless, the Clinton re-election team worried that Nader might tip the election. During the summer of 1996, he was polling at 8 percent in California, where his Prop 103 victory was still a fresh memory. Whenever he was asked about his possible role as spoiler, Nader’s stock response was: “Nobody but Clinton can beat Clinton.”

            Nader received 580,627 votes in 1996 good for 0.6 percent of the electorate. He came in fourth behind Reform Party candidate Ross Perot (8.5 percent) and just ahead of Harry Browne of the Libertarian Party (0.5 percent). Considering that Nader had merely “stood” for president, it was an impressive outcome. He began to wonder what would happen if he ever ran in earnest. So, too, did the Green Party. And the stage was set for 2000.


            The fascinating thing about Nader’s 2000 run is that he was by this time such a known quantity. He had been on the national stage for 35 years. By this time he was kind of the public personality equivalent of lead, a stable atomic element that is not possible to alter. Even his contradictions had hardened; he simply was who he was.

            As such, his campaign style – when he finally decided to run for real – was quintessential Nader. He maintained a maniacal travel schedule, delivered triathlon speeches, guarded his privacy fiercely, concentrated on the grassroots, adopted a vast array of issues, favored the statistical absolutism of body rights over the messy emotionalism of civil rights, clashed with former employees, relied on lawyers to sue numerous parties, and demonstrated a boundless faith in young people. It was all there, a kind of compendium of all his years of work. He even recycled old phrases such as comparing the two rival candidates to “Tweedledum and Tweedledee” – a line Nader first used during an interview with Rolling Stone in 1979.

            Present, too, was an intense animus for politics-as-usual, but one that was directed more at Gore – the prodigal Democrat – than at Bush, the hopeless and hapless Republican. And the result was similar to Nader’s Consumer Protection Agency battle from the Carter era: he incurred the wrath of countless liberals, seemingly his most natural constituency. 

            About the only thing that set Nader’s 2000 run apart from his earlier career was the degree to which he had become marginalized. He had been shut out of establishment Washington for 20 years, through three successive Administrations. As such, Nader 2000 was a far cry from the classic raids, featuring clean-cut young lawyers rifling through the files of obscure government agencies. Rather, Nader’s candidacy drew its share of the pink-haired and the multi-pierced, who brought with them a melange of issues: legalize drugs, illegalize sport utility vehicles, free Mumia Abu-Jamal. Candidate Nader did not endorse all these various views. But the fact that many of his supporters advocated such positions drew criticism, especially from former Raiders who wondered how their old boss – once a sober Washington insider – could tolerate being surrounded by such fringe-politik loopiness.

            It would be a momentous, tumultuous campaign. This time Nader would stay the course, emerging as a central figure in an election that was nail bitingly close and wildly controversial.


            Nader formally announced his candidacy on February 21, 2000, at the Madison Hotel in Washington, D.C. By political campaign standards this was extremely late. Incumbents often begin planning their next campaign the moment they win an election. Even third-party candidates often devote years to preparation. Then again, Nader is someone who once investigated the entire Congress in the course of a summer. He was better prepared than most for the hyper-condensed timeframe of a presidential run.

            First order of business was assembling a campaign staff. This proved a challenge for Nader. A huge number of talented people have worked at his assorted outfits over the years: Joan Claybrook, Sid Wolfe, Bob Fellmeth, Donald Ross, Davitt McAteer, Harrison Wellford, the list goes on and on, literally stretching into the thousands.  But virtually none of them was willing to join Nader’s effort. The reasons varied, everything from professional commitments to philosophical disagreement with Nader’s candidacy. Some ex-Raiders were Democrats, after all, some were even registered Republicans. Nader also had a history of clashing with his former employees, and many had parted ways unamicably. Given all these factors, the pool was actually quite small. Phil Donahue, who signed on as co-chair, was one of the few campaign staffers with whom Nader shared any history. In the course of 6,000 episodes of the Donahue Show Nader appeared 33 times, the most of any guest. Even Donahue was initially hesitant, given Nader’s tepid showings in 1992 and 1996.

            “You’ve got to be serious this time,” said Donahue when Nader called him about joining the campaign.

            Nader assured him, saying “I’m going all out.”

            Mostly Nader was forced to recruit young people with limited experience. As campaign manager, Nader chose Theresa Amato, a 36-year-old Harvard law grad who had once worked for Public Citizen’s Litigation Group. The last campaign she had run was in high school. But Nader turned this into a plus. During their interview, when Amato admitted how little experience she had, Nader assured her this was no problem, saying his was going to be a “different kind of campaign.” Ultimately, Nader would pull together a campaign staff, several hundred strong, and with an average age of 23 [ck].

            Nader also had to start raising money, and quickly.  As a staunch advocate of campaign finance reform, Nader opted to take no PAC money and no corporate contributions. Instead, he limited his campaign to individual donations, setting a ceiling at $1,000. Here again, it proved a challenge. Because he was committed to smaller donations, he also needed vastly more donors than the average candidate.

            Of course, Nader knew a huge number of people. It made sense for him to place many of the calls personally, working his way down a long list of potential contributors. Often the same people who would not join his campaign were ill inclined to give money, either.

            “I told him I wasn’t supporting him,” says Roger Hickey, co-director of the Campaign for America’s Future. “I told him that I respected what he was doing, but could not get behind it.”

            David Halberstam, Nader’s boyhood friend, simply wished him good luck. As quickly as Nader could punch up phone numbers, the brush-offs rolled in. He tried to make the best of it, chatting with various old acquaintances, seeking to get a handle on problems and issues that faced various parts of the country. 

            Later, when the Nader campaign gathered some momentum, there was a flurry of contributions, typically in amounts of less than $100. The truly amazing thing is that Nader 2000 raised $8 million in this fashion, quite respectable for a third-party effort. But during the early going, Nader found fundraising a disheartening experience. 

            Meanwhile, field volunteers were busy circulating petitions in an effort to get Nader on various state ballots. This was yet another fight, on another front. Many states have ballot-access barriers that serve to discourage third-party candidacies. North Carolina, for example, required that 51,324 signatures be gathered by May 17, 2000. Texas asked for 37,713 signatures, to be collected during a window of just 75 days. Pennsylvania simply required that petition be a very specific shade of orange. “Every state has different deadlines, different arcane procedures,” recalls campaign manager Amato. “Some states put up the kind of obstacles that would make a foreign dictator blush.”

            Whenever Nader was unable to meet a given state’s ballot-access requirements, he mounted a legal challenge. Here, the campaign worked with the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU, which helped John McCain get on the ballot for the New York primary. Lawyers at the Brennan Center won a number of these cases, and Nader wound up on the ballot in 45 states plus the District of Columbia. The five states where he was left off the ballot were Georgia, Indiana, North Carolina, South Dakota, and Utah.

            Ross Perot – it is worth noting – is the only third-party candidate in recent memory to get on the ballot in all 50 states. But he spent $10 million in 1996  to pursue ballot-access by paying petitioners and various other means.  “It’s an incredible burden for third-party candidates,” says Elizabeth Daniel, one of Nader’s Brennan Center lawyers. “Instead of getting their message out with rallies and press, campaigns end up expending considerable resources to deal with ballot-access.”

             During the campaign’s earliest days, there was one other major issue Nader confronted: breaking into the presidential debates. This was crucial. If recent elections served as any guide, as many as 90 million people could be expected to tune in to the debates in 2000. Nader knew that he could barnstorm, stump, speechify, kiss babies until he was blue in the face.  But there was a limit to how much impact he could have. In terms of reaching voters, in terms of sheer blanket coverage, nothing even compares to the debates.

            But the Commission on Presidential Debates had set a very high hurdle for inclusion in the 2000 events: Candidates were required, as of September, to have attained 15 percent voter support averaged across five national opinion polls. Many suspected that the commission was trying to prevent another wild-card from entering the debates a la Ross Perot in 1992. But Nader cut right to the heart of the matter, questioning the legitimacy of the commission itself. He was struck by the arbitrariness of the 15 percent hurdle. After all, candidates need to win only 5 percent of the vote in order to qualify their party for federal matching funds in the next election. Furthermore, the commission had a totally different formula during the 1996 election, requiring candidates to meet12 criteria before they could participate in the debates.            

            For many years, presidential debates were run by the League of Women Voters. But for the 1988 election, the Commission on Presidential Debates took over. Though the name suggests some kind of official government organ, the commission is actually a private corporation. It is headed by Paul Kirk and Frank Fahrenkopf, former Democratic and Republican lobbyists respectively. Of course, putting on debates costs money. In 1992 and 1996, the commission sold sponsorships to a variety of corporations including AT&T, IBM, Philip Morris, and Sara Lee.

            Nader – never at a loss for vitriol – summoned special fury for the commission.  Here, after all, was a private entity, funded by corporate contributions, headed by a Democrat and a Republican, making decisions about who to include in the debates. Nader filed a lawsuit in federal court, charging that corporate contributions in conduction with presidential debates violates the Federal Election Campaign Act. But the lawsuit dragged out. Nader had no choice but to push forward, hoping to hit 15 percent in the polls, or else strike a blow against the debate commission.  “It was on our map from the beginning,” says Amato. “Either meet the criteria or expose the criteria. We wanted to get a discussion going about who really controls this entity, and how it creates this duopolic system.”


            On March 1, 2000, Nader embarked on a campaign tour that was ambitious even by his exhausting standards. He decided to visit all 50 states in advance of the Green Party convention, scheduled for June in Denver. He hoped that traveling around the country would up his polling numbers and help him break into the debates. In 1996, he had visited just a dozen states and only one-in-seven people even knew he was running for president, according to one survey. The 50-state tour was also a very deliberate effort to prove to the Greens that he was serious this time around.

            Nader tore across the country, visiting places like Modesto, California and Toledo, Ohio and Durango, Colorado. In Boston, he spoke out against a proposal to build a new stadium for the Red Sox, heavily financed with taxpayer dollars – shades of his defunct F.A.N.S. initiative. In Birmingham, Alabama, he met with the local Green party and learned that in order to get on the ballot 5,000 signatures were needed by August 31.  That would be a breeze in most states, but the Greens are not exactly entrenched in the Deep South. 

            Nader visited Alaska and Hawaii, states that the average candidate ignores. He held a press conference at Cyrano’s Bookstore in Anchorage, where he discussed a range of indigenous Alaska issues such as proposed oil drilling in the state’s national wildlife refuge. In Hawaii, Nader talked industrial hemp with Woody Harrelson, an outspoken activist for hemp in both its practical and smokeable forms. Fiber and oil from the plant are  used in everything from paper to textiles to cosmetics. U.S. farmers are forbidden from growing it, though importing from China, Canada, and elsewhere is allowed. 

            As a memento of the visit, Harrelson gave Nader a shirt made out of hemp. Industrial hemp became a major issue during the campaign. Nader’s civics buttons were pushed by the fact that it was grown by both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. As for plain old pot – a cause celebre among many Nader supporters – Nader failed to see the draw. “Do you think I’d turn my brain against my body,” he asked at one point.

            Whatever the topic, whether industrial hemp or industrial waste, Nader always worked his way back around to his central thesis: both major parties – equally besotted by corporate money – were now too similar to offer fresh solutions. To stress their interchangeability, he referred to the candidates as “Gush and Bore.”

            Whenever possible, throughout the tour, Nader stayed in Hampton Inns because he liked the free breakfast. And he always paid by check or cash. As a consumer advocate, Nader has long been opposed to the tricky practices of credit card companies. He once owned a Studebaker, but he has never had a credit card. When Nader flew, he invariably purchased tickets in coach. But he also traveled in rented cars over long stretches, often accompanied by Tarek Milleron, a member of his “kitchen cabinet.” Milleron is Laura Nader’s son.

            For Nader, being an automobile passenger was not a passive endeavor. He was often accompanied by reporters, and would try to work in an interview on route between campaign stops. Or else he would devour a stack of newspapers and magazines, marking them up in preparation for a future speech. Sometimes he rode along in silence, thinking intently. “He’s got so many things going,” says Milleron. “He really pushes himself hard in terms of staying on top of a variety of issues. The pressure of being prepared is intense. Anyone who knows my uncle has seen a familiar pose, bent over, kind of looking at his nails, and you just know he’s cranking through a lot of information in his brain.”

            Late in June, Nader crossed the Missouri river into Kansas, state number 50. He spoke at a community college, careful as always to tailor his remarks to local concerns. In this case, he discussed the dangers that giant agribusiness companies pose to small family farms. Then it was on to Colorado.


            The Green Party confab was held at the Renaissance Hotel in Denver on June 24 and 25, 2000. The hotel was chosen in part because it agreed to prepare certain organic dishes. The Republican National Convention this was not: people beat tom-tom drums to call meetings to order and indulged in a custom called  “twinkling” which involves silently wiggling one’s fingers in lieu of applause.

            The Green movement in America has a loose lineage that traces back to political parties that were founded in Europe and New Zealand during the early 1970s. But there is no formal affiliation. By their very nature, Green parties are decentralized.  As such, they are kind of like the PIRGs. They share certain issues – protecting the environment, opposition to nukes – but there is little coordination across national borders. During the brief history of Greens in America, there has been little coordination, even across state borders.

            The Green movement began in the U.S. in 1984 as a state and local phenomenon. And that is where political gains were made. In 1990, for example, Alaska became the first state in which Greens were given ballot status. Mike Feinstein became mayor of Santa Monica in 19tk. As Greens gained ground in America, a philosophical schism developed between those who wanted to stick to local activism and those who wanted to delve into presidential politics. By 2000, these two schools had formally split.

            The Denver convention was held by the group that coveted national elective office, known as the Association of State Green Parties. The rival faction – known as Green Party USA – remained focused on grassroots activism. To confuse matters, it held a convention anyway, in Chicago, where it endorsed Nader. The issues on its platform included abolition of the U.S. Senate and 100 percent taxation for the portion of a person’s  income above $100,000. Nader refused to accept the rival Green party’s endorsement. But throughout his campaign, many voters and journalists were justifiably confused.

            To clarify the record: Nader ran in 2000 as the candidate for the Association of State Green Parties. He ran in support of universal healthcare, D.C. statehood, legalization of industrial hemp, limits on genetic engineering, and a welter of other issues. He was not for abolition of the Senate, a maximum-income tax, nor did he adopt a number of other positions advocated by Green Party USA.

            Greens are a fractious lot. They met their match in Nader, who lent new meaning to the term “independent candidate.” Even something as simple as whether to have balloons at the Denver convention was hotly contested. The Greens 1* worried about the environmental impact. The Nader camp argued that it was a fittingly presidential touch. Final decision: yes to balloons.

            Nader’s 50-state tour may have convinced people that he was serious. But the marriage between Nader and the Greens continued to be uneasy.  In 2000, once again, Nader refused to register as a member of the party, saying that he had promised his father that he would always remain independent. This quite naturally heightened the impression that Nader was running under the Green umbrella, but pushing his own agenda. The Greens have taken up a veritable bouillabaisse of social and environmental causes: alternative energy sources, protection of endangered timber wolves, ending the death penalty, preservation of the ozone layer. What Nader brought to the party was a refined critique of the dangers of corporate power.  Often Nader and the Greens were like a Venn diagram, converging only at certain points. 

             At the Denver convention, Nader made a show of endorsing the party’s platform. Among many Greens, there were still bitter recollections of 1996, when Nader not only refused to endorse the platform, but was downright dismissive of certain elements. One of the party’s planks at that time endorsed same-sex marriage. When New York Times columnist William Safire inquired about the issue during a 1996 interview, Nader quipped, “I’m not into gonadal politics.” The comment cast a long shadow that would creep across Nader’s 2000 run as well. * (Footnote: For clarity’s sake, the party for which Nader ran in 2000 – the Association of State Green Parties – will henceforth simply be referred to as the Greens or Green Party.)





            Nader was the presumptive nominee at Denver, but he had challengers including Jello Biafra and Stephen Gaskin. This was – after all – a nominating convention.

            Biafra is former lead singer of the Dead Kennedies, known for such seminal punk fare as Frankenchrist and “California U[umlaut]ber Alles.” He may have been a strange candidate, but Biafra was no stranger to politics, having run for mayor of San Francisco in 1979. One of his proposals: businessmen must wear clown suits during working hours. He came in fourth with 3.5 percent of the vote.

            During the Denver convention, to much applause and some twinkling, Biafra announced that if elected president he would nominate Madonna as Secretary of Education and Marilyn Manson as head of the National Endowment for the Arts. Among his other proposals: lower the voting age to five and convert sports stadiums into homeless shelters. As for a running mate, Biafra selected Mumia Abu-Jamal, currently on death row, convicted of the 1981 murder of a Philadelphia police officer.

            Stephen Gaskin ran on a narrower platform. As founder of the Farm, a commune in Tennessee, his primary issue was the legalization of pot.

            Nader received 295 votes from the Denver delegates, while Biafra and Gaskin got 10 apiece. Clearly, the Greens needed Nader, if for no other reason, because he brought legitimacy and experience. And Nader needed the Greens because they were an established political party (well, somewhat) with a national organization and infrastructure in place (well, sort of). 

            Nader’s choice of running mate was Winona LaDuke, a writer, farmer, activist, Harvard-trained economist, and member of the Mississippi band of the Anishinaabeg Indians. In 1997, LaDuke was selected as “Woman of the Year” by Ms. magazine and Time magazine named her one of “50 Leaders of the Future.” She was also Nader’s running mate in 1996, or rather “standing” mate.

            Convincing LaDuke to sign on for the 2000 effort was more difficult, though. When Nader first approached her in November of 1999, she was six months pregnant. But Nader was insistent. “He told me that if need be, he would get on his knees,” recalls LaDuke. “The image of Ralph on his knees was almost too much for me.”

            Nader assured LaDuke that she would only need to be involved in a limited number of campaign events. She lives on the White Earth Indian Reservation in Minnesota, 35 miles from the nearest small town. When Nader asked LaDuke to run, she was already caring for four children, two of her own, a niece and a nephew, with another on the way. LaDuke is not the first American Indian to run for vice president. LaDonna Harris, a member of the Comanche nation, was on the Citizens Party ticket in 1980 alongside Barry Commoner. With the birth of Gwekaanimad (“when the wind shifts”) in February 2000, LaDuke did become the first nursing vice presidential candidate in U.S. history.

For LaDuke, apparently, one of the draws to joining Nader was that she handed a rare opportunity to run for high office while balancing work/family issues. She felt it would add some diversity to the race. “Ralph asked me knowing my circumstances,” she says. “And I know that I represent millions of people. Of the candidates who ran for office, I was the only one who was not a millionaire. I’m actually a working mother. So I could not go everywhere because I had to work and I had to do laundry. I’m sure those guys [Gore, Bush] don’t do laundry.”

            Unlike Nader, LaDuke is also member of the Green Party. Nader’s vehement pursuit stemmed in part from the fact that she complements him in the way of a classic presidential ticket. Often a candidate from the North picks a Southerner (Kennedy, Johnson) or a Washington “outsider” picks an insider (Bush, Cheney). Nader and LaDuke were a similar type of pairing. “He is far more urban, Washington-based, and national-policy oriented,” says LaDuke. “I am far more rural. He is far better at analyzing the mechanics of corporations. I’m far better at seeing how public policy actually affects a community.”

            She adds: “I have a lot more experience parenting than he does. But he is an excellent uncle.”

            There was one other interesting way in which Nader and LaDuke formed a balanced ticket. But more about that later. 

            For Nader, selecting LaDuke was an attempt to align himself with all those soft Green issues. For example, LaDuke is an adherent of the so-called seventh generation principle, once practiced by the Iroquois nation. When weighing the ramifications of a decision, tribal leaders attempted to look seven generations distant. LaDuke advocates adding a seventh-generation amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It would require the government to think hundreds of years into the future when making decisions about the use of land, air, and water.

            Nader and LaDuke made quite a team. In Denver, LaDuke talked about the benefits of wind power, the sacredness of the land, and promised that “any descendent of a slave who built the White House can stay in the Lincoln Bedroom.” Meanwhile, Nader delivered an oft-quite-technical acceptance speech that clocked in at one hour and fifty minutes.