Ralph Nader for sale

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Just in time for the holidays!" the sales pitch from voteNader.org begins.

"Election 2000 has been a moment in political history that will be forever memorialized in history books. Ralph Nader's candidacy and his challenge to the corporate ownership of the two major parties brought this election to life."

(Nader supporters might say that. Others will remember what was defeated along with Al Gore, such as action on global warming or a Justice Department - and justices - committed to civil rights and fairness.)

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"Because of the important role our campaign has played in this year's election," the come-on continues, "the Smithsonian is collecting materials to commemorate and document our historic effort."

(Just as they do every four years, from every campaign - they're the Smithsonian, after all.)

"We have limited quantities of various items that will be collectors items in the not-too-distant future, and we would like to offer them to our supporters so that we can all preserve a piece of history for posterity."

(And give the Nader folks a chance to unload boxes of cheap trinkets at inflated prices.)

Unfortunately, the "Madison Square Garden Super-Rally History Packet" with the autographed lyrics to "The People Have the Power," by Patti Smith, the press releases about celebrity participants, and the Pearl Jam CD autographed by Eddie Vedder sold out in days, but there's still plenty of good stuff left.

For a mere $60, one can buy the "Nader 2000 Campaign History Packet," which includes these goodies: Nader-LaDuke T-shirt autographed by Ralph, five bumper stickers, 10 Vote Nader small green buttons, 50 Nader-LaDuke lapel stickers, Nader-LaDuke poster/yard sign, "Corporate Influence Clean-Up Crew" button and sticker, copy of Ralph Nader's announcement-of-candidacy speech, and a copy of Ralph Nader's Nov. 8 speech at the National Press Club.

I remember listening to Mr. Nader give a speech in the 1970s all about "planned obsolescence" - the corporate practice of designing goods to become useless. Nothing's more out-of-date than old election buttons, but rather than truck them to a landfill, the new Ralph Nader would prefer to flog them to you.

If Ralph's fans have a little more extra cash, they can have a signed copy of "The Ralph Nader Reader" for $150 (going for $15.96 sans signature at amazon.com), while Nader's running mate, Winona LaDuke, will autograph her $16 book for just $100.

During the brief period I spent writing direct-mail letters for Ralph Nader to sign, I came up with the idea of offering copies of Ralph Nader's mother's cookbook as a fundraising premium.

Yes, she really wrote a cookbook, quite a nice one, too, full of recipes based on Lebanese cuisine and also her own wisdom about raising children and preparing nutritious food. Nader published it himself, and put a $9 price on the cover.

Years later, when I learned there were still boxes of books in storage, I decided to offer the book to donors giving $50 or more.

A few weeks later, I got a memo from the legal department. In the future, I was told, the marketing material should include the true value of any such premiums. Instead of appearing to be misleading, better to print in big letters that we were charging $40 more than the book was worth.

But I don't see that sort of truth in advertising on Ralph Nader's Web site.

Nor do I see any acknowledgment of the irony in Nader's trying to make a buck through inflated claims about the Smithsonian or inflated prices for his books.

Anyone know a good consumer advocate?

William S. Klein is a former director of targeted marketing at Public Citizen, a group founded by Ralph Nader.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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