Before we begin, you should know that I have long harbored some affection for Ralph Nader. In 2004, when I was just starting to get seriously interested in politics, I saw him speak. Nader seemed to me to be the best candidate for President. He cared about and talked about issues that the other two well-known candidates weren’t. For further illustration of my enamorment (
the best made-up word yet actually, that appears to be a word), notice the rhetoric of the two major parties being equally bad in this letter. That’s exactly like Nader.
To explain its title, the documentary begins with a quote from George Bernard Shaw:
The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.
In these two sentences, the film’s thesis is clear: Mr. Nader is both unreasonable and, more importantly, progressive. As the filmmakers tell the story, Ralph Nader is not unlike Frank Capra’s Jefferson Smith come to life: an idealistic reformer unwilling to yield to the status quo.
On the possibility that Mr. Nader was a misguided reformer, the film is ominously silent. There are no memorable opponents to his landmark reforms of the 1960s and 1970s shown on the screen. The only opponents the filmmakers do show seem rather absurd anyway.
The most memorable opponent, and also most likely to lead us to like Mr. Nader, is the misguided men of GM. During the years that Nader crusaded for safety reforms for cars, they had him tailed by both private eyes and seducers. And not only did they not get any dirt they could use in a smear campaign, they were also embarrassed publicly and forced to pay damages of almost half a million dollars.
Throughout, the film shows Mr. Nader to be a hardworking man doing what he thinks is best, and with a group of young and reverent helpers. The notable exception is the great deal of screen time given to two men convinced that Mr. Nader’s run for President in 2000 and 2004 was not only the cause of the Democratic candidates’ defeat, but also the insane plans of an egomaniac.
In the end I have the feeling that this movie may be disliked by some. The conclusion that at least I took away from the film was that there is a very really possibility that Ralph Nader is, as Bill Murray said during his 2000 campaign, “the best American I know.”
Whether or not you agree with that statement, or are at least willing to let the film try to sway you to that conclusion, will probably determine how you feel about the film. I, for one, think everyone should give it a chance.