"An Unreasonable Man: Ralph Nader" (Henriette Mantel and Steve Skrovan, 2006) A documentary about the uncompromising consumer advocate and gadfly takes a slightly different tack than it might have a decade ago. Nobody but corporate blood-suckers had anything bad to say about Nader before the 2000 election. Well, except for the folks he thought of as solicitous or too political and compromised in their efforts to achieve. But since Nader's run in 2000, ensuring the presidency of George W. Bush, he isn't regarded quite so kindly, or as seriously. In fact, a few interviewees sound like they'd like to roast him over an over-heating Chrysler engine.
Back in the 20th century the documentary tells the familiar story of Nader's victories against GM, the threats from corporate America, the dedicated ascetic life-style that resulted, the all-consuming obsessiveness, the glory days of the Carter Administration, the fall-out with the Carter Administration, the vindictiveness, the mean streak, the expressed thought that "no one's going to do it right until I do it." Once the presidential bid happens, the movie turns into Point/Counterpoint, where bitter literati seethe about Nader's sucking votes away from Gore, and the Nader sympathizers simpering that given the closeness of the election, even the least-vote-getter cost the Democrats the election (I'd counter that 1) Nader cost the election worse, then! and 2) nobody knew how close the vote would be--even if he'd known Nader wouldn't have bowed out). Nader, meanwhile, continues in his belief that things would have been just as bad if Gore was in Office (not sure how he'd know that, other than Gore is one of those spine-less compromisers). The film left me with several thoughts. Number one--consumer advocacy should be like the medical field--"First, do no harm," something Nader always assumes he's doing. Then, there's the irony the film doesn't touch: Nader's tactics are not those of a democracy's, not even a representative one. But they resemble most closely those of the corporate villains he has fought for so many years. When you fight a tiger, you become a tiger. It would have been interesting if the film-makers had made that point, and to see Nader's response to that.
Update 2008: He's Ba-ack!