Since the 2000 presidential election, Ralph Nader has fallen so far from grace it is hard to believe that in the early 1970s polls showed him to be among the most admired men in America. In 1972, George McGovern asked Nader to be his running mate; the tireless consumer advocate had name recognition, an unmatched record of fighting corporate and bureaucratic power, and—if you believe the Tom Robbins novel Still Life With Woodpecker—sex appeal.
Three decades later, the documentary An Unreasonable Man probes Nader's life in search of the logic that propelled his controversial presidential campaign in 2000 and unrepentant run in 2004. In the process, the film surveys the vitriol Nader engenders among his critics as well as the bittersweet respect he still garners from his colleagues. The responses from one interview seem to inform the next as the film intercuts between Nader's attackers and apologists. Journalism professor (and Mother Jones contributing writer) Todd Gitlin tears into Nader for diminishing the difference between political parties. "To conflate the two as Tweedledee and Tweedledum was politically idiotic," Gitlin says. "It is the responsibility of a serious person not to be a fool." Responds Phil Donahue, "Liberals killed Nader for saying there's not a dime's worth of difference between the parties, yet the Democrats spent the next four years proving that he was right."