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Party Crashers 08 

Ralph Nader and running mate Matt Gonzalez are looking to make a difference in the upcoming presidential election. Early polling suggests they just might.

Wednesday, Apr 30 2008
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Independent vice-presidential candidate Matt Gonzalez sits attentively in the front row of UC Berkeley's Wheeler Auditorium, waiting for an introduction to 400 political science students who overwhelmingly support U.S. Senator Barack Obama. His pinstriped suit is in subtle conflict with his hair, which hangs loosely over his ears from a middle part. A hardback copy of Tom Sandqvist's Dada East, a historical account of the avant-garde art movement, is tucked under his arm.

Gonzalez walks slowly to the podium where, in his trademark soft-spoken style, he spends the better part of 40 minutes relentlessly bashing the voting record of the students' favored presidential candidate.

"Do you know that in 2005 the Energy Policy Act, which had enormous giveaways to oil companies, tax breaks, subsidies, etc., was on the table, and Senator Hillary Clinton voted against it, Senator John Kerry voted against it, Senator John McCain voted against it?" Gonzalez says.

He pauses for a beat. "Barack Obama voted for it."

He goes on to question Obama's conservative senatorial votes on war appropriations, the reauthorization of the Patriot Act, a Mining Act amendment, and the approval of Condoleezza Rice as secretary of state. At one point he cites a quote from a political blog: "Senator Barack Obama speaks like Martin Luther King Jr., but votes like George W. Bush."

Gonzalez really seems to get the students' attention when he contrasts Obama's antiwar rhetoric with his voting for billions in Republican-proposed military appropriations. Obama's voting record, he says, has resonated favorably with defense industry executives. Since February, they have contributed twice as much money to Obama's campaign as they have to the pro-war McCain's, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

"If you think the Democratic candidates are against the war, you're not listening to them," Gonzalez tells the audience. "Obama saying he wants to leave 150,000 private soldiers in Iraq is not leaving Iraq. Leaving 60,000 troops in the region to carry out targeted strikes against al-Qaeda is not leaving Iraq."

After Gonzalez finishes speaking, a student yells out from the back of the auditorium that the political left cannibalizing itself is unproductive: "Why are you attacking Obama so much? Aren't the Republicans the problem?" The questions get sustained applause.

"I don't want Senator John McCain to be the president of the United States, but you know what? I don't want Senator Clinton or Senator Obama to be president either," Gonzalez says. "I would say to you that George Bush's policies, which we all abhor, could only occur with the votes of Democrats. I feel very strongly there should be an accounting."

Gonzalez was once the most promising Green politician in the country. The disciplined campaigner and popular city supervisor was elected president of the Board of Supervisors in 2002. In 2003, he nearly won the mayoral race against Gavin Newsom, the much-better-funded darling of the national Democratic Party. Gonzalez then stunned his supporters in 2004 when he decided not to seek a second term as supervisor, opting instead to start a private law practice specializing in civil-rights issues.

Last year, Gonzalez' supporters were hopeful he would run for mayor again, but he decided to sit it out after early polls showed that Newsom's sky-high approval ratings made him impossible to beat. But Gonzalez still seemed to have a promising political future if he wanted one. Many believed that, with his sharp mind and appeal to younger voters, Gonzalez had the potential to be the second Green elected to a state legislature and possibly Congress.

Gonzalez threw a curveball in February when he announced he would be leaving the Green Party to serve as independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader's running mate. San Francisco is one of the most liberal strongholds in the country; some progressives, many of whom believe Nader tipped the 2000 election to George W. Bush, thought Gonzalez might not only ruin his political future, he also might contribute to another Democratic presidential loss. Even his old allies on San Francisco's left criticized him for taking part in yet another Nader presidential campaign.

Gonzalez says he wasn't considering his political future or that of the Democratic Party when he decided to run on the Independent ticket. Rather, he was thinking of the public good. The Republicans are unacceptable, he says, but the Democrats are simply not a good enough alternative — and if they lose in November, it will be their own fault, not Nader's.

Nader and Gonzalez say they plan an aggressive campaign to create public debate about issues on their agenda, which include single-payer healthcare, a crackdown on corporate crime, election reform, cutting the military budget, and ending the war in Iraq. But according to strong showings in recent polls, the Nader/Gonzalez ticket could have a greater impact on the presidential race than providing discussion topics.

The day after Ralph Nader named Matt Gonzalez his running mate, the two appeared on the KQED radio show Forum. In a nearly hour-long interview with Rachel Myrow, they put forward their agenda and discussed the failings of the Democrats on the war, trade, environment, and workers' rights.

One caller hit a raw nerve by accusing Nader of being responsible for the Iraq War because his 2000 candidacy helped elect George W. Bush. "This is bigotry, and I won't listen to it anymore," Nader erupted. "Stop! This is political bigotry, period ... "

Gonzalez stepped in and spoke directly to the caller with the calm and reasoned tones that helped bring him success as a trial attorney. "We don't know what would have happened if Al Gore was elected," he said. "We don't know that 9/11 would have happened. There's a problem when somehow every problem that exists in the country is laid at the feet of someone who ran for office in a democracy."

Nader, who had calmed down, added that the Democrats in Congress ceded their authority to declare war to President Bush, and have sustained the war by voting for every military appropriations bill the Republicans put before them.

About The Author

John Geluardi

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Slideshows

  • Nevada City and the South Yuba River: A gold country getaway

    Nestled in the green pine-covered hills of the Northern Sierra Nevada is the Gold Rush town of Nevada City. Beautiful Victorian houses line the streets, keeping the old-time charm alive, and a vibrant downtown is home to world-class art, theater and music. The nearby South Yuba River State Park is known for its emerald swimming holes during the summer and radiant leaf colors during autumn. These days the gold panning is more for tourists than prospectors, but the gold miner spirit is still in the air.

    South Yuba River State Park and Swimming Holes:
    The park runs along and below 20 miles of the South Yuba River, offering hiking, mountain biking, gold panning and swimming. The Highway 49 bridge swimming hole is seven-miles northwest of Nevada City where Highway 49 crosses the South Yuba River. Parking is readily available and it is a short, steep hike to a stunning swimming hole beneath a footbridge. For the more intrepid, trails extend along the river with access to secluded swim spots. The Bridgeport swimming hole has calm waters and a sandy beach -- good for families and cookouts -- and is located 14 miles northwest of Nevada City. Be sure to write down directions before heading out, GPS may not be available. Most swimming holes on the South Yuba River are best from July to September, while winter and spring can bring dangerous rapids. Always know the current before jumping in!

    Downtown Nevada City
    The welcoming, walkable downtown of Nevada City is laid back, yet full of life. Start your day at the cozy South Pine Cafe (110 S Pine St.) with a lobster benedict or a spicy Jamaican tofu scramble. Then stroll the streets and stop into the shop Kitkitdizzi (423 Broad St.) for handcrafted goods unique to the region, vintage wears and local art “all with California gold rush swagger,” as stated by owners Carrie Hawthorne and Kira Westly. Surrounded by Gold Rush history, modern gold jewelry is made from locally found nuggets and is found at Utopian Stone Custom Jewelers (301 Broad St.). For a coffee shop with Victorian charm try The Curly Wolf (217 Broad St.), an espresso house and music venue with German pastries and light fare. A perfect way to cool down during the hot summer months can be found at Treats (110 York St.) , an artisan ice cream shop with flavors like pear ginger sorbet or vegan chai coconut. Nightlife is aplenty with music halls, alehouses or dive bars like the Mine Shaft Saloon (222 Broad St.).

    The Willo Steakhouse (16898 State Hwy 49, Nevada City)
    Along Highway 49, just west of Nevada City, is The Willo, a classic roadhouse and bar where you’re welcomed by the smell of steak and a dining room full of locals. In 1947 a Quonset hut (a semi-cylindrical building) was purchased from the US Army and transported to its current location, and opened as a bar, which became popular with lumberjacks and miners. The bar was passed down through the decades and a covered structure was added to enlarge the bar and create a dining area. The original Quonset beams are still visible in the bar and current owners Mike Byrne and Nancy Wilson keep the roadhouse tradition going with carefully aged New York steaks and house made ingredients. Pair your steak or fish with a local wine, such as the Rough and Ready Red, or bring your own for a small corkage fee. Check the website for specials, such as rib-eye on Fridays.

    Outside Inn (575 E Broad St.)
    A 16-room motel a short walk from downtown, each room features a unique décor, such as the Paddlers’ Suite or the Wildflower Room. A friendly staff and an office full of information about local trails, swimming and biking gets you started on your outdoor exploration. Amenities include an outdoor shower, a summer swimming pool and picnic tables and barbeques. Don’t miss the free vegetable cart just outside the motel in the mornings.

    Written and photographed by Beth LaBerge for the SF Weekly.

  • Arcade Fire at Shoreline
    Arcade Fire opened their US tour at Shoreline Amphitheater to a full house who was there in support of their album "Reflector," which was released last fall. Dan Deacon opened the show to a happily surprised early audience and got the crowd actively dancing and warmed up. DEVO was originally on the bill to support Arcade Fire but a kayak accident last week had sidelined lead singer Mark Mothersbaugh and the duration of the west coast leg of the tour. Win Butler did a homage to DEVO by performing Uncontrollable Urge.

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