Gonzalez/Nader Hysteria

They're actually out to stop spoiler candidates.

Gonzalez was portrayed in the local press last week as a dreamy extremist, but he's no flake: He's a political pro who in 2003 won 47 percent of the vote, though he was outspent five to one. Despite being courted by political insiders last year, he decided not to run again because a cool examination of polling data and shifts in the electorate didn't portend a win.

Other critics of Gonzalez' candidacy have denounced what they depict as his head-in-the-clouds act of symbolism. What's needed, they say, is hardheaded activism to make sure our next president is not like George W. Bush. Still others have been outraged at a widely distributed essay Gonzalez recently wrote, "The Obama Craze," in which he criticized the Democratic frontrunner for supporting tort reform and for his less-than-wholehearted opposition to the war in Iraq.

If Gonzalez has joined a futile attempt to distract from a presidential run, he has also captured a national cultural moment of fascination with gestural rather than practical politics. This dichotomy is at the root of the debate over Hillary Clinton's practical "deeds" versus the presumed emotional significance of Barack Obama's "words." It's amusing to hear Obama supporters now say they're opposed to distracting stunts.

Case in point: the now-famous video produced by the singer Will.i.am, in which celebrities pantomimed an Obama speech delivered after the New Hampshire primary with the refrain, "Yes we can." The black-and-white video was a beautiful pastiche of swaying movie, sports, and rock stars, produced by Bob Dylan's video-grapher son, Jesse.

The actual Jan. 8 speech the video was edited from, however, was a banal mélange of pandering messages that included an impassioned hat-tip to recipients of ethanol subsidies, one of the most wasteful and destructive bits of pork-barrel spending in all of government.

In that context, Gonzalez is no wild-eyed irrelevancy. Rather, he's a clever politician who has also pulled off a neat trick: He has hitched himself to the coattails of a famous spoiler to preach a type of electoral reform designed to make his breed less irksome.

"If I were striving to make myself more popular in San Francisco, I wouldn't do this," Gonzalez acknowledged. "But if it's to see electoral reform discussed on a national level, I'm happy to do it."

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