The following phone conversation between me and Ralph Nader is true. I couldn't have made it up if I tried.
Me: First off, I want to make it clear that, even though I am a member of the liberal media, and that liberals, in general, would like you to take a relaxing, cross-country excursion in a 1963 Chevy Corvair, if you get my drift, I, personally, have no animosity whatsoever toward you. I am officially neutral, as befitting a Washington Post journalist.
Me: My first question is, What kind of a sick, evil, perverse, smug, egomaniacal, pipsqueak twit are you, exactly?
Ralph: Well, someone who wants to help 47 million full-time workers who don't make a living wage; and someone who wants to keep people who can't afford health care from dying, which they do 18,000 times a year, according to the Institute of Medicine; and someone who wants to lance the boil of two-party, corrupt, money-driven politics; someone opposed to pro-pollution policy which tells people not to inhale; and someone trying to put intelligence back into liberal intelligentsia so as to achieve the dastardly objective of government of the people, for the people and by the people, as opposed to government of the Exxons, by the GMs and for the duPonts; and someone . . .
Me: Are you trying to give an answer so long that I don't have the space to ask another nasty question?
Me: You're not being funny.
Ralph: I'm a strange duck in a pond full of tadpoles.
Me: What does that mean?
Ralph: Sometimes, it's hard to find a quip. I'll try.
Me: Republicans seem to dislike you because you say very, very bad things about their policies, and Democrats seem to dislike you because they feel you singlehandedly delivered the election to George Bush four years ago. This raises the question of just who enthusiastically endorses your candidacy. I searched your Web site for endorsements and testimonials and could find only a couple, most notably a favorable letter to the editor in the Montpelier (Vt.) Times Argus from someone named Jozef Hand-Boniakowski. My question is, Is there an actual living person who backs your candidacy who is not (1) related to you, (2) in your employ or (3) undoubtedly totally made up, such as "Jozef Hand-Boniakowski?"
Me: Tough interview, huh?
Ralph: Get me on the debates, and I will show you tens of millions of people who support what I stand for.
Me: Do you think you'll get on the debates?
Ralph: That's not a funny question.
Me: True. Okay, I think we all know how hurtful and inaccurate stereotypes can be. The stereotype of Ralph Nader is that of a friendless, humorless killjoy, a man who would, for example, require legislation that all roller coasters be flat. Also, that you are sober, and gloomy and monomaniacal, the Felix Unger of American politics, and it all comes out sort of creepy. Is there anything you can say to dispel this unfair, hurtful stereotype? For example, do you favor festive, cheerful colors on the bed of nails you sleep on?
Ralph: Yeah, I'm a bad guy. I want to limit people's freedom to go through the windshield.
Me: I think even your detractors agree that you are incorruptible, that if you could have been bought off with a promised appointment, in the ordinary political fashion, or with money or call girls or suitcases full of cocaine, it would have happened long before now. Do you, in fact, have a price? And what is it?
Ralph: The unconditional surrender of my opponents.
Me: No, really.
Ralph: Oscar Wilde said, "I can resist everything except temptation." Well, I can resist temptation.
Me: Do you have any vices?
Ralph: Only one. I am addicted to funny banter with reporters. I was just on the phone with a business reporter from the New York Times. She was exploding with laughter.
Me: This is now the third presidential campaign you are certain to lose. Do you aspire to a record of futility like Harold Stassen, who ran nine times but maintained some measure of dignity, or one like Gus Hall, the Communist, who only ran four times but was a buffoon?
Ralph: Futility in the service of justice is . . .
Me: That started out good.
Ralph: I know. I'm thinking. Okay . . . is an act of courageous self-denial.
Me: Nice. Is there anything else you want to say?
Ralph: Yes. For even more laughs, log on to votenader.org.
Gene Weingarten's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Chat with him online Tuesdays at noon at www.washingtonpost.com.