The Greens and Libertarians Team Up

CHICAGO -- Amid the fish net and porthole wall ornaments at a Greek restaurant here in the Windy City, Al Spiegel is telling me about the challenges that face his third party. "Trying to organize Libertarians is like trying to herd cats," he explains. Spiegel is at a fundraiser where supporters have forked over a $100 donation to chow down on stuffed grape leaves, chicken, eggplant salad and spinach pie.

You know that Spiegel's a Libertarian, because he's got his own plastic nametag that says so. "It's true," he tells me, "the media is always simplifying things. The Tribune Gossip column said that we were the party that wants to legalize heroin. Why didn't they bring up prostitution? Then we would have sex, drugs and rock'n'roll. We could have a party." He's a cheerful fellow, as most libertarians are, with all that partying going on and all.

Well, Spiegel, interestingly enough, is at someone else's party this night: a benefit for Ralph Nader, who is in Chi-town to speak to the Teamsters and address a rally at the University of Illinois at Chicago Pavilion. Spiegel is here because, as the legal counsel for the Libertarian Party, he represented Nader's Illinois organization in its successful effort to get on the state ballot. Third parties, he lets me know, watch out for each other. It's a matter of principle.

But the ballot victory didn't come easily. The state Democratic Party fought like the dickens, objecting to every Nader signature. A federal judge had to intervene.

When Nader is finished with his remarks, Spiegel is called up to make a presentation. "A fight for one third party to get on the ballot," Spiegel proclaims to Nader and the crowd, "is a fight for all third parties to get on the ballot." He presents the official Green Party ballot certification to the candidate.

But Nader appears to be already looking beyond the election. "We are building a growing majority party that after November becomes a watchdog party," he says at one point, looking blankly off into the middle distance. My first thought is that he is watching the paint dry. But surveying the crowd, I realize that his distracted, solemn demeanor distinguishes him, has a way of making him seem all the more authentic.

As Nader speaks, his hands are the only animated part of his body. They seem to have a life of their own, energetically underscoring his message. "The days are over for that corrupt debate commission set up and run by and for the Democrats and Republican parties," Nader exclaims. His hands are slicing through the air now, even as his face remains virtually expressionless. "They picked the wrong guy to exclude. Later this week, I will file a suit in federal court against the debate commission."

Putting down their stuffed grape leaves and chicken legs, the tightly packed crowd applauds wildly. Nader has found his groove for the night. He is the outsider against the entrenched forces of power. The big boys better not mess with him, because he's loaded for bear.

But time is running short. Nader's lanky aide informs him that they are late for the next stop on his Quixotic journey. The waiters have already started to put the food away. There's no time for Ralph to sign ($200 contribution) or personalize ($500 contribution) copies of his latest book. Time is running short. The election is less than a month away. Ralph will be on the Illinois ballot competing against the guys he characterizes as varying shades of evil -- Gore and Bush.

And he'll be running against someone else: Harry Browne, the Libertarian candidate. The Illinois State Democratic Party didn't challenge Browne's petitions, which gives Andrew Spiegel extra time to go out and herd his Libertarian cats to the voting booth.

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