From hero to villain, Ralph Nader documented in film

By Christine Kearney
Wednesday, February 7, 2007; 10:32 AM

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Few figures in American politics arouse as fierce a reaction as Ralph Nader.

For many Democrats, Nader evokes the heartache of the 2000 election. Nader, the 2000 Green Party candidate, was blamed for siphoning possible Democratic votes from Al Gore, especially in Florida, where George W. Bush eked out his victory.

Since then, some have held Nader, 72, a longtime consumer rights activist, accountable for everything that has occurred under Bush, including the Iraq war.

A new film released across the United States this week, "An Unreasonable Man," chronicles Nader's history, from leading changes in car safety to investigating government corruption in the 1960s and 1970s to the ire he has aroused since the 2000 election.

"I think it was designed to set an historical record in an accurate manner, which includes all the calumny, all the attacking, all the critics," Nader, who recently released a memoir of his childhood, told Reuters in an interview.

The documentary was short-listed for an Academy Award but failed to get nominated. It includes commentary by former colleagues, journalists and politicians who see Nader as an egotist or a tireless crusader for public interests.

"Everybody says 'I love him' or 'I hate him'," said documentary maker Henriette Mantel, who worked for Nader as an office manager more than 20 years ago. "We knew there would be a good story there."

Mantel, a stand-up comedian and producer of television shows including "The Osbournes," made the film with fellow comedian Steve Skrovan, a former writer for "Everybody Loves Raymond." They originally discussed Nader's story as the basis for a sitcom.

"I came at it from a very nonpartisan point of view," Skrovan said. "I was intrigued by how he was a folk hero then a pariah."

It is the first film for both comedians, and Mantel said she was inspired by the aftermath of 2000 when "it felt like everybody needed a scapegoat."

"I was out to get somebody to change my mind. I wanted to believe that yes, Ralph screwed up America, but nobody could prove it to me," she said, adding Nader's only involvement in the film was agreeing to be interviewed.

The film details Nader's beginnings as the son of activist Lebanese immigrants in small-town Winsted, Connecticut. He made his name as an advocate for consumer protection laws including car seat belts and air bags, air pollution reduction, food safety and warnings on pharmaceuticals.

His work as a consumer activist quickly put him at loggerheads with big business and its Republican Party allies. But the film also explains Nader's growing disenchantment with the Democrats over financial contributions from corporations which led to his decision to run as a third party candidate.

Footage includes Nader being locked out of a 2000 televised debate between Bush and Gore to having a pie thrown in his face after the election.

While critics say Nader should never have run in swing states such as Florida, supporters point out seven other third party candidates in Florida won more votes than the final 537-vote margin between Bush and Gore.

"Gore knows why he lost," Nader said. "Somebody has got to run holding the progressive banner otherwise you get millions of young people who don't even know what progressive politics is all about."

Will Nader take up that banner again in 2008?

"It's too early to say," he said.

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