and author of What Was Ralph Nader Thinking?
by Jan Baughman
"In 2000 the Democrats totally ignored us; in 2004 they spent all their time and money -- and millions, millions of dollars kicking us off ballots, and this year they said, Oh, we don't have to spend millions of dollars kicking Ralph Nader and Matt Gonzalez off the ballot, we'll just use our influence and not let them get on any media. No one will hear a word they say, and hey, that doesn't cost you much."
—Jürgen Vsych, July 18, 2008
(Swans - July 28, 2008)
Jan Baughman (JB): Tell us about your involvement with Ralph Nader's political campaigns.
Jürgen Vsych (JV): In 1988 I was gone most of the year; I went to Scotland and England and I came back and my car insurance rates had plummeted and a friend said "your buddy Ralph has been here" and so I was never a terribly political person but during the 2000 election when Ralph was running I was so excited and I went around telling everyone, "voting for Nader, voting for Nader, vote for Nader." Then after the debacle with the Supreme Court and all that I got so much flack it was unbelievable; people were essentially blaming me for the oncoming crisis, saying "it's all your fault - you voted for Nader" and I just thought, this is the stupidest mindset I've ever seen in my life. And then when Ralph announced he was running in 2004 I was extremely excited again 'cause I thought man what guts this guy has. So when all my friends and colleagues were again saying "he's gonna ruin the country," you know, "he's gonna give us Bush" and all that I just thought -- when I found out that his campaign was going to have trouble just getting on the ballot in Texas, I thought oh, well, that's going to be an impossible job. No [inaudible] is going to stand out on the street corners in Texas in May when it's blazing hot and they're gonna get spat on by people -- you know, who's gonna do that?
And I thought, well, I can do that -- I'm a film director, I play bagpipes, and I'm as tough as they come. So I just thought, wow I can look forward to flying out to Texas for a couple of days and get some signatures and help get my old buddy Ralph Nader on the ballot. I call him "old buddy" but I'd never actually met him except at a book signing very briefly in 2002.
And so when I went to Texas it turns out that my petitioning buddy was none other than Ralph's niece Rania, and we got on really well and had a good time and one day Ralph's nephew Tarek came to help deliver some signatures and we got on really well. And then though I only planned to spend about 2 or 3 days I ended up staying four weeks and I got almost 1900 signatures in that time and I helped chauffer around petitioners and it was an adventure, I mean, you say "Texas" to people on the Nader campaign -- "Texas 2004" -- and everyone shrivels up remembering how horrible and hard it was. We all have nightmares about it. This year, unfortunately, we just decided not to go to for Texas at all -- I don't know if we're going to get on the ballot even because the problem we had was that Texas this year actually mattered -- usually most years, people in Texas are barely paying attention because it's such a Red state. Everyone just presumes that the primaries don't really matter, but this year they actually did because the race between Clinton and Obama was so close. So we knew the likelihood of us -- there's a law in Texas saying you can't get on the ballot if you voted in the primaries -- I mean, you can't sign a petition for an independent candidate if you voted in the primaries, which means that eliminated everyone in Texas 'cause everyone -- well, not everyone, but the turnout in Texas this year was phenomenal because everyone said "Whoa, Texas is actually gonna matter." So, that's a little thing about what happened this year.
So after Texas I just thought, you know, the campaign doesn't have really any Web presence, they're not issuing films, there could be a good opportunity here, so I just sold all my furniture and I moved across the country and I showed up essentially at the Nader campaign and said "Here I am to save the day!" So that's how it all began and since then, off and on since the 2004 campaign I've been making entertaining, educational, humorous films for young people and middle-aged people who are apathetic and things to teach them about consumer and political issues -- to get them just interested in what's going on.
JB: One thing I really appreciate in this campaign is the very simplistic approach to the messages disseminated both in the e-mail messages that go out and in the videos, and I'm wondering how that approach was developed?
JV: I think that's because of Ralph's overall approach in life -- he's very good at doing -- I guess you'd call it "consumer triage." When he was a young man he was always very concerned about safety; a lot of his classmates were killed in car crashes. If you're under 50 you kind of forget that everybody used to know somebody who was killed in a car crash. It was like a regular thing of life, like many, many years ago everyone knew lots of women who died in childbirth. Not that long ago, if you had a car crash, you were probably dead, and Ralph knew about this and just said -- he did research and he found out that there were all these wonderful safety devices that had been developed, it wasn't like nobody had thought of it -- they were developed but it was the car manufacturers who were avoiding putting them in so he said, okay, more people die in auto crashes than have died in our wars so instead of going to Washington and trying to fight to stop wars he went to regulate the auto industry. It was really logical, and look at how many millions of lives have been saved, not just in America but around the world, because they had to -- foreign auto makers had to adhere to our safety standards if they wanted to import their cars. So that was really logical, and Ralph's always been like that -- he's always been, you know, very clear thinking; he's not indentured to any corporation because he doesn't accept their money, unlike the other candidates, and he's always just -- he likes saving lives, that's his great passion, God bless him for it. It's nice that someone's looking out for us.
So that's always been his message, and what I've always like about him since I was a little kid -- a little kid unpolluted by the stupidity of grownups and politics -- if there's a problem, you solve it. You get to the root of it, and you solve it. So I think the campaign is just a simple extension of Ralph's life's work, really, and when things get crazy on the campaign, I think everyone just stops for a second and says, "let's remember this," and therefore let's just ask some really simple questions of voters.
JB: Can you describe the process by which you turn a campaign message or idea into a video?
JV: Well, I mostly look at things that are not getting done -- like I felt that I have a lot of experience petitioning, and I learned a whole bunch of things and it's one thing to tell people or write a paper saying this is how you get signatures. I've found that a lot of people learn by watching a film about it and so one of the first things I said this year is I have to make a film called [deep announcer voice] How to Petition and I show different scenarios and always staying on message, lots of humor -- so that's an example. The other major film I made in 2004 was called Ralph Nader Crashes the Two Parties ... it was mock [debate] between Ralph, Bush, and Kerry. That of course came about because, from the first moment I worked on the 2004 campaign, I said, "okay, we've got to get Ralph on the debates" and when it became quickly apparent that that was never going to happen, and I kept mentioning this to Tarek over and over again, should we attend them, should we drop your uncle from the ceiling in a -- like Zorro, and have him drop down there and challenge them to a verbal dual, which we kind of liked. We had this image of Ralph crawling through the ducts, D-U-C-T-S, above the stage and then dropping down in an opportune moment - but it's like, unh, but he's six-foot four, would he even fit in there, I'm sure he's gained some, but, anyway, Tarek then came up with the idea of doing -- he said, why don't we just do one with cutouts, and I said, oh no, it's gotta be in 3-dimensional GI Joe dolls, they can't be life-size cutouts, they're tiny -- we'll make them like six inches tall. But again, when Tarek and I were trying to get the funding from the campaign for this, they just thought we were insane, though we knew that Ralph would be very good at doing it because he's a great debater and, even though it sounds kind of crazy, it's on message. We knew that Ralph would be very serious, that he would talk about issues, and ask some really logical things.
JB: Did you have a lot of good outtakes from that, or was he able to do it with a straight face?
JV: Oh, we have no outtakes -- are you kidding? What you're seeing is what I shot. The only outtakes I have are of the Bush and Kerry dolls, because the way I did it was -- this was -- we shot it in October, so a very, very busy time -- the end of the campaign and we could barely find time for Ralph to do it, so we shot it around 9:00 at night in one take with Ralph. I had planned it all out beforehand, I had, I played back snippets of Bush and Kerry's "answers" just so Ralph could remember -- we shot in between the second and third debate -- so I played little sound clips so that Ralph could get mad, hearing what Bush and Kerry answered or didn't answer, because they were so dumb, and Ralph came in and just answered the question very directly and so what you're seeing is pretty much what we shot. But I just trimmed down Bush and Kerry's answers or non-answers, so I let Ralph go, and then I shot all the insert shots -- the single shots of Bush and Kerry alone, and for that, there are incredibly funny outtakes, in fact I had never watched them because I was so busy, I was on a strict deadline. I was just editing so quickly that I never watched the whole thing for fun, and about six months ago I watched it and it was just hysterical because there are some things in there that unfortunately Ralph didn't approve, and I wrote that in the book -- I wrote about how Ralph and the campaign manager made me cut out the shot of Bush wrestling with a great white shark, which I thought was really funny, and I had other shots of Kerry, like he was talking straight on, then he turns to the side and he's got a big Pinocchio nose and there was a shot, the shot everyone in the campaign loved was I had Bush talking about how he was a good steward of the land and he was good for the environment, and there was a UFO circling his head. And then, during the shoot, the guy who was flying the UFO accidentally hit Bush in the head and Bush fell over. And of course I put that in the first draft of the film, but when Ralph and the campaign manager saw it, the campaign manager said [excitedly] "you have to cut that, you have to cut the UFO" and I was like, "no way I'm cutting the UFO," and Ralph, being the great diplomat, said "the UFO can stay, but you have to cut the part where it hits Bush and knocks him over." And I said, okay, this guy's good -- he's very diplomatic and that just goes to show how Ralph is obsessed with safety for everyone, even his opponent, even if it's a doll -- he doesn't like seeing people get hurt.
JB: It will be interesting to see if he does get on the Google debate -- do you think you might have to produce another video?
JV: Unfortunately yes, I think the likelihood of getting on Google is -- I don't know -- I just suspect that if the two major candidates think that the Google debate will have any impact then they're gonna find some way to kick him off. Even if he totally qualifies, still getting 10% in the polls, and I don't know what polls these are, they could easily change the rules at the last moment to exclude him. I think the only way Ralph is going to be on the Google debates is if there is a real tidal wave of voter uprising about it from the people, and that's hard to get. Also, they shouldn't just have Ralph, they should be having Barr on there, and whoever else is left standing at this point...
JB: Cynthia McKinney...
JV: Cynthia McKinney definitely should be on there. I don't know if that's going to happen at this point.
JB: Did you film his appearance at Google?
JV: I did actually -- you can see -- Google uploaded his actual speech, but if you want to see the fun little score of it on YouTube, which is owned by Google, there's VoteNader '08, the campaign's video Web site with all their videos and on there, there's not only Ralph's speeches but there's a video I made called West Coast Tour.
JB: I'm sorry, I've seen the video of his speech at Google and the subsequent interview, I just wasn't sure if that was you who did it. What I wanted to ask is how was the reaction to Ralph Nader at Google headquarters?
JV: I'm not really sure. I know that there were a lot of very interesting looking geeks -- uber geeks -- at the speech and it was kind of one of the most, what would you call it, non-reactive audiences. They were all sitting there with laptops typing away, hopefully they weren't Googling things when he was talking. It was kind of a strange audience, frankly.
JB: So it doesn't sound like Google employees will be speaking out on behalf including him in the debate per se.
JV: I don't know -- it's kind of hard to tell with these engineer types. It's hard to get a rise out of them. Maybe they were impressed, I mean, no one left -- you know, that must tell you something -- there's always people leaving during Ralph's speeches, for one reason or another, but they all stayed and I don't think they were required to be there. So as far as Google employees speaking out for Ralph to do it, they're not going to get that politicized.
I did what I could on my end to get Ralph on the Google debates -- just by uploading as many videos as possible, and I gave Google the mock debate and I said "Hey, you know, watch Ralph debate." And I also did talk to Google about -- I was telling them, if you've never seen Ralph debate, which most people haven't, here's a video of Ralph debating Howard Dean in 2004 -- that's a good example of what you'd get. And a lot of people don't realize that Ralph is very, very funny -- and he can just -- in the debates, he is really good, he can just savage someone, using the facts that you don't hear. So I was trying to point that out to Google, and so we'll see. But again, getting that 10% threshold -- that's what I've been hearing that Google's demanding -- well, what poll, because Ralph has polled at 10% in Michigan. Here's the reason why Barack and McCain don't want Ralph in the debates, people who hear, actually hear Ralph speak, they vote for him. Or at least they start thinking, and they don't want that.
JB: You can almost imagine him taking on John McCain -- it wouldn't be pretty for McCain.
JV: No. It wouldn't be pretty for Barack either, because Barack is so inexperienced compared to Ralph; has no record to speak of compared to Ralph; his voting record is so dreadful. I actually think Barack has more to fear from Ralph than McCain because Barack thinks he has progressive voters locked up. He just totally takes them for granted, as the Democrats have for decades now. Look what happened: I remember, I'm so old -- 41 -- I remember like it was yesterday, I remember John Anderson and what happened when he was going up against Carter who was running for his second term against Ronald Reagan and at the beginning everyone was howling at the thought that the star of "Bedtime for Bonzo" could ever beat Jimmy Carter, but the economy was bad, like it is now, and there was a lot of enthusiasm for this very smart logical guy named John Anderson. But then everyone started saying "A vote for Anderson is a vote for Reagan so vote for Carter," and that worked out really well. And this goes back -- Anderson, I can't remember what he was polling at, but he was in the debates -- actually, Carter wouldn't debate him, Reagan did, which made Reagan look affable. It seems strange, but remember at that point in time Carter was not coming off as being a -- despite all the teeth -- he was not coming off as being an amiable guy you want to have beer with, which apparently is important to the American people. I don't get it. It was really interesting in 2004 to travel to a lot of Red states I'd never been to before -- South Carolina, Texas, and meet people who just, you know, beerability* as I call it in the book -- beerability is of utmost importance to them. It doesn't matter what his voting record is, it doesn't matter that McCain is going for policies like NAFTA, which are going to take your job away -- "I just like him" -- that drove me crazy in 2004. "I just like him, I just like him." I heard that so much and I'm hearing that about Barack Obama, and yeah, I want to like him too, he doesn't seem like a two-headed monster. I want to like Barack Obama, but I just look at that record and go "No way, man!" And look who he's taking money from and ugh -- okay.
JB: Our standards have become pretty low.
JV: Yeah, we do have extremely low standards. I mean, I am going to blame the corporate takeover of our government to a large extent and I think Ralph is right to, just because the system we have is so -- they have the American people running scared. We are a nation of scaredy-cats. We're afraid if we don't get into the right school, our whole lives are gonna be ruined -- and to some extent that's true. It is a really dysfunctional system we have. Not one designed to make anybody happy, just designed to make a select few very, very rich.
JB: What do you think of the significance of the demise of General Motors concurrent with this election cycle?
JV: Oh, ironic, sad, inevitable. Ralph is not kicking up his heels and going "Ha ha, told you so," it's more one of sadness because we should be able to manufacture excellent cars, but how on earth... It's sad, it's sadly pathetic, I mean, America's become such a joke. I was born in the United States but I lived in Europe most of my life off and on, and I used to be kind of embarrassed to say I was an American, because we're just perceived as being so kind of dumb, uncultured. But now, it's like we're not just dumb and uncultured, we're evil, we are evil -- the things we've done with our imperialism, and just the way the banking -- now we're probably hated more than ever, because if our economy totally tanks it's going to hurt a lot of other people too. So, the whole GM thing is so ironic, but it was totally inevitable. It's hard to believe that just logical thinking people would look at this horrible, the worst machine ever invented -- the combustible automobile -- who invented that, and it runs off what? Oil? It's just a mad machine and of course this was all going to happen one day. I thought as a kid it was inevitable -- I remember the gas prices of the early 1970s and thinking, it's just going to get worse and worse, and where are those solar powered cars that we were promised? Where is this wind power? Where the hell did the metric system go?
And Ralph, being quite a bit older than me, has seen this even more than I have because he -- this is one advantage, one thing about having an older candidate because he's been though this so many times. McCain doesn't seem to have learned anything from it; Ralph has -- that's the difference. If you're asking -- I know some people -- voters -- have concerns, they maybe want to vote for McCain but they think he's too old, well, but then they go, well, if I don't want to vote for McCain... RALPH??? Because Barack's way too young, but RALPH? He's older than McCain! But he's not only physically a total ox but he has, unlike McCain, learned from history and he was, in 1939 -- which would have made him five years old -- he went to the World's Fair and saw GM's car of the future, and he's still waiting for it!
JB: It's amazing how he keeps his sense of optimism and determination.
JV: He's a lot more optimistic than me, I can tell you. That's one thing that we used to fight about, because I'm, I wouldn't say pound-for-pound I'm a total pessimist, but I am pretty pessimistic about a lot of things in the economy and the political scene and Ralph doesn't like me talking like that. I think he's more optimistic than I am because he's had a lot of legislative successes, he has lots of success stories to tell, although I don't know, I guess because a lot of his work has been undone, systematically undone by deregulation, so how he keeps his spirits up I don't know -- I really don't. Maybe he just feels there's no other alternative. I think he keeps his optimism because he's a fighter, he likes to fight and he knows that he's saved a lot of lives. People come up to him in the airport -- that's one of the fun things about traveling with him -- people see him in the street, they come up to him in the airport with tears in their eyes and they say, "I'm alive because of you. I had a terrible crash and I had one of the first model airbags and it saved my life." That's what really fuels him, because, he's very modest, but he hears stuff like that and I tell ya', it's like a shot of Red Bull -- he doesn't need caffeine or any kind of pep pills -- stuff like that really keeps him going and we still get letters from consumers needing help -- he likes helping people and there are a lot of people that he helps. I used to love to answer the phones at 10 am on Sunday morning -- people with their cars broken down, totally destroyed, just needing some help and advice. But it's a good job he's got.
JB: What proportion of people yell at him when they see him, or call him the "spoiler" name?
JV: It's kind of hard to say, I mean he's a pretty recognizable character. First of all, you don't see many tall, older guys like that, or at least walking around, and walking fast sometimes, and so he's pretty recognizable. I would say -- he has quite a strong presence, so it is kind of like being in the presence sometimes of Abraham Lincoln, you know a lot of people will see him, and even though they've had this kind of rather recent -- you know, he's only been hated and despised by people who blame him for Bush winning for the last eight years or so but he does have such a body of work behind that and a lot of people do know what he's actually done. So they're kind of like, there's that man -- there's Ralph Nader, he's that guy... they're kind of on the fence. Most people are kind of like that -- it's kind of hard to break down the exact number of people, but if he just goes out -- a lot of times we'll be traveling and I'll say [excitedly] "Ralph, Ralph, let's go into that African store -- look, there are drummers -- why don't you go out and listen to the drummers so I can shoot some footage?" And he'll go out there and most people are pretty cool, so that's very fortunate. Sometimes Ralph will be walking along and somebody will drive by and roll down their window and yell "RALPH NADER DON'T RUN!" But luckily it doesn't get much worse than that.
JB: I came across your Web site, Nadertube.com and I wondered what your plan is for launching that and Ralph Nader radio?
JV: That's kind of a little side project I've had -- that's something I've been trying to get Ralph to get involved with because I thought he'd be really good at it but I'm not sure if he's going to have the time or interest to do it. I'm kind of hoping it might tie into another project I'm trying to get him to do -- he's very keen on having a "Tort Museum" -- his words -- he wants a museum of different legal, consumer triumphs and stuff like that. I'm trying to get him to do a school, like a school for Raiders, because as much as I love museums, most people don't, they think they're stuffy and dead, and most people -- even though I hate school -- most people want training, so if we make it a Raiders School, then that accomplishes both goals, you know, we preserve the historic things Ralph and other muckrakers have achieved, but we have, maybe it's like a small community college or it starts out as a two-week seminar in summers and we teach people how to muckrake and how to lobby and just all these different consumer skills. Maybe even something really simple -- I'd love to have courses for housewives, on, you know, how to be a really excellent consumer. Ralph has put out a book, he did one for women specifically, Why Women Pay More -- he wrote a book, but it was more like a study. It didn't -- it wasn't aimed for the female consumer per se. So, this Nadertube -- using the Internet -- you know, instead of having people come to a building, we could do on-line stuff as well, and I was kind of hoping that Nadertube would be a historic archive of Ralph's speeches and films, and videos, and radio stuff, but it will also be somewhere where our muckrakers school could have seminars and things like that. So that could be like the on-line version. I told Ralph about this about a year ago or so and I've just been working on it on my own, and some of the feedback's been really good. So we could do a whole bunch of different things. It's part of me trying to get Ralph -- my job I always think is to get Ralph into the 21st century -- maybe even just the 20th century technology-wise, because he still writes on an Underwood typewriter.
JB: Well that sounds like a great idea. You know, it's hard to imagine life after Ralph -- who do you think are the people we should be supporting right now to carry on his legacy?
JV: That is a good question. Certainly Public Citizen is a really good group. If you're a progressive who for some reason has a problem with Ralph -- you know, some people have just been so turned off by Ralph running for office but they like his work, you know Public Citizen -- he's not involved in it day to day, but it's definitely a non-political organization that is totally dedicated to helping the American consumer, especially for issues of safety, and so Public Citizen I think is very vital. So far as supporting any one particular person that is hard to say. You're right, he is -- he's the most well-known individual. But if you even watch -- seriously -- if you watch the Daily Show or Colbert you're gonna find individuals, you know they have all sorts of authors on, who are doing very good investigative muckraking work -- just incredible stuff. So, that's funny for me to be saying you should watch the Daily Show and Colbert archives to see who the great muckrakers might be but I think that's true. Colbert and Jon Stewart have some very intelligent people on. That's a good way to learn, to read the books of the guests. There are lots of good muckrakers on Democracy Now! with Amy Goodman; CounterPunch I always suggest to people to read; Swans of course.... Where people should put their money as it were, I would almost say, and Ralph would probably want me to say, to work at a local level is always a good start, because you live there and even if times get tough and you don't have a lot of money or time to invest, because it's local, you can really have a big impact on your local grassroots -- within your own community. And I would absolutely not back Barack Obama -- he can talk about change all he wants. I always tell people -- Look At His Voting Record, and compare it to Ralph's record.
JB: Yes, well, he's having a much harder time defending his "change" position as the campaign moves on. And hopefully Matt Gonzalez will stay at least in local politics and his legal actions. I sure support him.
JV: Yeah, we're really lucky to have Matt on board -- he's a very good speaker, very bright -- totally qualified for the job, too. You know, sometimes, if you're like me and kind of concerned about the qualifications of certain third-party candidates -- sometimes I raise an eyebrow, but not Matt Gonzalez. He would be not just an excellent vice president, but he could definitely be president one day, you never know. I will be interested to see if he runs against Gavin Newsom -- I don't think he's going to, but that would be interesting...You know, when Newsom goes for governor.
JB: It looks like he has his sights set on that.
JV: Not a bad idea, you know, and Matt Gonzalez, I think, sure made Newsom a better mayor, just by running, 'cause Newsom changed some of his positions because Matt was breathing down his neck. It's hard to know if we're going to be able to do that at the presidential level. To Greg Kafoury, who's one of our aids, I said, "when do we make an impact?" and he said, well, if we get to 10% in the polls or more like 15, that's when Barack Obama's gonna get really scared. So I guess the Democratic plot was to never ever, well, just to silence us, so that's why I'm glad you've agreed to do an interview with me because we're having a hell of a time getting any media. In 2000, the Democrats totally ignored us; in 2004, they spent all their time and money -- and millions, millions of dollars kicking us off ballots, and this year they said, Oh, we don't have to spend millions of dollars kicking Ralph Nader and Matt Gonzalez off the ballot, we'll just use our influence and not let them get on any media. No one will hear a word they say, and hey, that doesn't cost you much. I'd be very interested to find out how they're doing the media blackout. But, you know, if it weren't for YouTube, no one would know we're even running, frankly.
JB: Well, I've been encouraged to see Ralph on C-SPAN, and actually C-SPAN showed the Green Party nomination of Cynthia McKinney this weekend, and any time I see that I send them a note of support, but it is so sparse.
JV: You mean you e-mail C-SPAN saying thanks for covering it?
JB: Yes, lavishly...
JV: That's good, I've been telling people that -- a lot of people will e-mail me personally on my site -- they'll discover Nadertube or Ralph Nader Radio, or something else, and they'll e-mail me personally, and I'll say that's great, but thank the station, or write to this person or that person because I don't have any influence. It's nice to make Internet friends, but you also want to contact the people who have the power to get Ralph on, and Ralph says don't e-mail, send them a letter -- it's much better. Even though we environmentalists like to save trees and paper, this is a good use of them.
JB: Have you had any thoughts about producing a full-length video about the spoiler myth and the contribution of third-party candidates in elections, outside of this particular election, but just for people's edification?
JV: Not really, because I felt it was done so brilliantly with the documentary Ralph Nader: An Unreasonable Man. First of all, I'm not really a documentary filmmaker, even though I work for Ralph, I don't feel like they're documentaries. I feel like they're -- my mindset is I'm a story teller and a biographer, that's my main thing, I do biographies, and sometimes the people I make films about, they don't exist. With Ralph, it's kind of hard to top, it's hard to come up with that, you know, Spider-man, Batman, Ralphman. Definitely that would make a good film. This Unreasonable Man film is a two-disc set, and the extra has exactly what you were saying, it has wonderful documentaries about third parties and the whole spoiler issue, which I thought were gonna be really boring, you know, but I think the extras on that DVD are better than the film, which is surprising because I didn't think I would, even though I'd worked on the campaign, I didn't think I'd be interested or I thought I might be bored by it, but those are great. And so, if people are interested in that, I'd definitely, highly recommend that film, [announcer voice]: Ralph Nader: An Unreasonable Man. Now available on DVD!
I didn't have anything to do with the making of it, but I did work very hard on the marketing of it when it came out because I knew that it was going to be really good and important, so I went down to L.A. for the premiere, and I worked on all the events here in the Bay Area to try and get people aware of it.
JB: One thing I appreciate in your videos is that they don't all end with, "I'm Ralph Nader, and I approved this message," but does he review and approve each one that you produce?
JV: Oh yeah, yeah -- absolutely. I don't know if that thing is some kind of legal requirement, that I approved this message, the FEC rules -- actually, for some reason, all I have to do for campaign videos is put "Paid for by Nader for President 2008" at the end as a disclaimer. I don't think "I'm Ralph Nader and I approved this message" or "I'm McCain," whatever, that's something so the egomaniacal candidates can get some face time -- I don't think it's a legal requirement actually, as long as they have the "paid for" displayed, and that it's legible.
Anyway, Ralph is the world's worst actor. That guy sucks as an actor, which is one of the reasons I love him, because he's genuine, he's real, but he can't act whatsoever. He tries to tell a joke, it's lame, LAME, and I like Ralph and he's pretty funny, but if he tries any kind of acting or reading a line or something like that, he sucks. It's really funny how appallingly bad he is, but that's what I like about him and the reason I'm -- look, he's so qualified, you know, he's so experienced, yet he has all his marbles, and incredible energy; he can outwork all the 26-year-olds on the campaign; I think he's pretty good looking, you know he's nicely photogenic, wonderful bone structure, has a good voice, articulate, a little bit of humor, incredible experience, and he's a bachelor so he doesn't have any pesky wife or kids to take away from his time so he can work 20 hours a day -- things I like about him. And he speaks some Arabic, which I think is handy in this day and age when we're having serious dealings with that part of the world, and so he has a sensitivity to that, which none of the other candidates do, and so all the qualities I like about Ralph are things that freak out voters, you know -- which makes me laugh.
JB: Have you found that your political support of Nader and your work on his campaign have impacted your ability to get support on your artistic endeavors?
JV: Yeah, totally, I mean I essentially haven't worked much at all since I've worked for him -- to some people it's just such a huge turnoff that I have to admit that every time I apply for a job I have to think twice -- it's like, well, shall I put it on or not, but in the long run, hopefully it will still be very good for me, it's -- I always end up putting it on there, very largely at the top, because I figure it lets people know who I am and what my spine is like. I think people, hopefully, or such companies I want to work with, are looking for directors who have above all, backbone, and I figure putting down "Ralph Nader, 2004-2008 campaign filmmaker" -- not 2000, when it was sexy to work for him and exciting, but you know I came in when it got rough, so hopefully they'll say "That's the kind of woman we want to work with -- the kind of director we want." It does make life kind of hard but you know, you do meet some good people, and it weeds out people you don't want in your life anyway.
JB: Well, on Swans we focus not only on politics but a lot of cultural matters and music and theater; perhaps once this election's over and your political life quiets down a bit we can explore some of your films and music, and I think there are a lot of interesting other questions I could ask you, but I know my time is running out right now.
JV: That would be great -- maybe we could do something about The Woman Director -- that was my first book.
JB: Right, I'd like to do that. I really enjoyed talking with you; again, I appreciate the time and I really enjoyed your book so I look forward to sharing it with our audience.
JV: Great, well thanks so much for taking the time for interviewing me.
JB: My pleasure, and sorry for all that feedback...
* Beerability; beernacity; beernatious: possessing a personality ideal for lightweight mindless conversation in a bar over several beers, but inadequate for running a large business, such as a country; e.g., Ralph Nader ranks very low in beerability polls; while highly affable, one needs every brain cell to engage in a conversation with him. From What was Ralph Nader Thinking? (back)
I began my telephone interview with Ms. Vsych by telling her how much I enjoyed her book for its creativity and insight into the Ralph Nader 2004 campaign.
Unbearable feedback that she was receiving and technical difficulties on the part of the interviewer omitted the recording of the first couple of minutes of this interview, recorded July 18, 2008.
Jürgen Vsych's Web site.
Promotional Video for What was Ralph Nader Thinking? by Jürgen Vsych.
Read Jan Baughman's Review of Jürgen Vsych's book, What Was Ralph Nader Thinking? - July 28, 2008