Nader Does Brentwood

BRENTWOOD, California -- The presidential candidate who is running to defend the little man against huge media/entertainment empires spent two hours Wednesday evening raising money from Limousine Liberals at the Brentwood mansion of ex-Viacom CEO Frank Biondi.

A gathering of 30 or so Hollywood types, Baby Boomer hippies and Santa Monica political junkies sipped wine, wrote checks and peppered Ralph Nader at close range with tactical questions about the upcoming presidential debates.

The Green Party nominee responded with a fidgety but oddly stirring speech about his disillusionment with the Democratic Party, even as cabana boys in pink golf shirts watched over the valet-parked cars on the loose gravel courtyard by the guest house.

"There's a little bit of a Frightened Liberal Syndrome," said Nader, when asked to explain the reticence of the Establishment Left to support his candidacy. "We've seen it in some editorials in liberal journals, and I am so shocked that [it comes from] a party that cannot save the Congress from its extreme wing of the opposing party -- Newt Gingrich, Tom DeLay, Dick Armey, Trent Lott ... some of the most craven, vested-interest, cruel legislators that have ever crawled on Capitol Hill."

Like many of the people nibbling salmon and sushi in the gorgeous, high-ceiling room, Nader said he voted Democrat in every presidential election since 1980, but that he couldn't do it any more.

"They outsmarted themselves with this triangulation situation," he said, of the Democrats‚ Clinton-led move to the political center.

"They lost the Congress in '94, '96 and '98. ... I don't think LBJ would have allowed that to happen; FDR wouldn't have allowed that to happen -- they would have had Newt Gingrich for lunch."

Guests included liberal icon Stanley Sheinbaum, former conservative Arianna Huffington and Green Party senatorial candidate Medea Benjamin, but the tone was hardly High Hollywood. Conversations were more likely to cover research on rhesus monkeys and the fate of Pacifica Radio than Nielsen ratings or the Latin Grammy Awards taking place across town at the Staples Center.

Carol Biondi, a long-time advocate for children's health issues, has known and occasionally worked with Nader since 1967. She and her husband Frank, who ran Universal Studios, HBO and Viacom in the late '90s and now heads a venture capital fund that invests in Internet companies, have held previous fundraisers at their Martha's Vineyard home for Bill and Hillary Clinton.

While Carol Biondi lauds Hillary's "amazing work," she finds the mainstream presidential candidates lacking.

"None of them focus on the areas that are for me the most critical," she said.

Nader is refusing all money from corporations and political action committees, limiting his take to individuals. At a rally earlier Wednesday at Long Beach State University, he said he's spent around $3.6 million so far on his campaign this year.

Nader was noticeably nervous at the beginning of his speech, shifting his weight from foot to foot while twitching his long delicate fingers more than usual. He delivered his usual indictment against the "rigged two-party system," spiced with more personal-sounding details than usual when describing his fallout with the Democrats.

"I say to the Democratic Party: you have not fulfilled your historical mission, in making the wealth inequality in this country less prone and less disparate, and moving to abolish poverty," he said.

He also had biting words for vice-presidential nominee Joseph Lieberman, who he described as "a corporate Democrat who's never met a weapons system he didn't like, who talks about personal morality and encourages corporate immorality, who champions in making it difficult for defrauded people to have their day in court against the big companies, and who takes huge money from the insurance ... defense and drug companies." The crowd was polite, breaking out into applause a handful of times, and asking heartfelt questions about why people in this country don't seem to care.

Afterward, when asked if she would vote for Nader, Carol Biondi echoed the private comments of at least four other guests.

"Yes, I hope to, but if it's neck and neck, you know, Gore's a lot better than Bush," she said. "And Ralph knows that."

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