Ralph Nader urged his supporters in Seattle yesterday to stick with his insurgent campaign even if it means a victory Tuesday by George W. Bush.
He already is looking beyond his certain defeat as the Green Party presidential candidate and said his goal is to build a viable third party that could win elections in the future. It's a fight he compared to struggles for civil rights and women's suffrage.
"This is where we have to take a stand," Nader said to a rally with more than 1,000 screaming and stomping supporters.
"This is where we have to say to naysayers, to the wafflers, to the waverers, don't go for the lesser of two evils because at the end of the day you end up with evil."
It was a defiant Nader who showed up in Seattle - one of the places where Vice President Al Gore worries most about the Nader effect. In an effort to get voters to stick with Gore, Democrats have brought in a series of prominent liberals, such as Gloria Steinem and former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley, saying Nader's candidacy threatens the very issues he campaigns on because it would lead to a Bush administration.
Some environmental organizations have also stepped up their criticism of Nader. But yesterday, Nader called on the Sierra Club and Friends of the Earth to rescind their endorsement of Gore.
He cited recent testimony indicating that Gore - after the 1992 election but before he took office as vice president - told the administration of former President George Bush that he did not oppose a permit for a controversial incinerator in Ohio. (Gore had spoken out against the project.)
The Gore campaign didn't have a response to the charge yesterday.
Sierra Club regional director Bill Arthur called Nader's request "very entertaining."
"Gore has a 24-year record of being a leader and advocate," Arthur said. "Ralph Nader has a very easy ride. He's never been in elective office. He's never had to deliver the goods."
Nader's primary message was the same as it has been throughout the campaign: There are no real differences between Republicans and Democrats on the environment, universal health care, free trade and labor standards.
In a speech that was surely the longest delivered by a presidential candidate in the state this year, Nader spent an hour railing against Gore and Bush and delivering criticism on a list of local figures and issues, including Microsoft, the company's co-founders, Boeing and Tim Eyman's Initiative 745.
"The massive similarities between these two parties, on taking away the power of the people, hijacking our democracy, selling our precious government, which is supposed to be our servant, to giant corporations who turn the government against its own people, . . . far outweigh, far overshadow, far tower over whatever dwindling differences in reality there are remaining between these two parties," Nader said in his speech.
The crowd, mostly white, had a wide range of ages. It was often painfully loud. The biggest reactions came when Nader attacked the World Trade Organization, the new, publicly subsidized Seahawks stadium and the war on drugs.
The audience hissed when he recited the record of the Clinton administration on liberal issues. The converted church rang out with gospel-like shouts of "Teach!" and "Give them the truth, Ralph!"
In talking about the disparity of wealth among Americans, Nader singled out Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates - a man he called "the great software imitator in . . . Redmond" - who he said is worth as much as the combined wealth of the 120 million poorest Americans.
In a news conference following the speech, Nader also said he hopes a judge's order that Microsoft be broken up is upheld on appeal.
Nader campaigned against the 1997 ballot measure that approved public funding for a new stadium for Paul Allen's professional football team. He said yesterday Allen's campaign for the ballot measure was misleading and the election inappropriate because Allen paid for the state's costs in administering it.
Nader didn't mention Boeing by name. But the company's B-2 bomber was the focus of his attack on defense spending.
"I blush with shame because our citizenry doesn't have the power and the tools to redirect that military budget to necessary national defense needs, not to the corporate greed of the weapons contractors," Nader said.
He urged his supporters in Washington to vote against Initiative 745, which would require 90 percent of state and local transportation budgets to be spent on roads, not mass transit. Nader said it is backed by the "giant highway lobby, led by the asphalt-paving industry" and would result in more traffic jams and air pollution.
Nader, the country's most prominent consumer activist, is running a low-budget campaign compared with Bush and Gore. But the operation, while small, is not a hippie stereotype, despite his quick lunch backstage of a vegan sandwich, a banana, a handful of trail mix, a "Gink Go Think" fruit drink and a sweet, dark espresso chocolate bar.
Behind the scenes it looks as much "The West Wing" as HempFest.
Nader has bodyguards, an advance team and stylishly dressed aides at his side with last-minute briefings and reminders to thank the locals by name.
"He said hi to me and my heart almost exploded," said Lindsey Brown, an 18-year-old volunteer assigned to guard a backstage door. "I see him and my heart just leaps."
Is it like seeing a rock star?
"Much more," she said. "Everything that I think is wrong with our world, he knows how to solve."
Nader knows he can't win the election. In an interview, he began talking about what happens after the election.
He envisions the Green Party as "a political-reform movement that will put politicians' feet to the fire."
Nader is amazed that Democrats and their allies continue to talk as if he cares whether Bush or Gore wins on Tuesday. He laughs at the suggestion made by some top Democrats this week that he endorse Gore in swing states, such as Washington.
"The impudence of assuming I started this presidential campaign and this long-range political-reform movement with so many other Americans around the country . . . in order to help Al Gore win his election. Absurd," he said.
Pushed to say which of the major candidates would be better, he gives Gore a D-plus and Bush a D-minus.
For most of the campaign, Democrats ignored Nader. It was only with a few weeks to go that they openly acknowledged his potential impact on the outcome and worked to peel his support away.
"Now Al Gore is panicking. He's whining. He's carping and he's revealing even more of the type of personality that on the debates and elsewhere have turned off so many voters," he said.
Seattle Times reporter Catherine Tarpley contributed to this report.
David Postman is the Seattle Times' chief political reporter. His phone message number is 360-943-9882. His e-mail address is email@example.com.
Elder Bush in Spokane
Former President George Bush will be in Spokane today campaigning on behalf of his son, presidential nominee George W. Bush, and other Republican candidates. The former president's appearance will be at 9:30 a.m. at the Spokane Falls Community College Gymnasium, 3410 W. Fort George Wright Drive.