The Greeks always had a word for it and more often than not a play. It is our tragedy that we don't learn from the Greeks. Our Western culture is founded upon them, but we often are oblivious to their knowledge. As I peddled away on my stationary bike to maintain a healthy body-something that the Greeks emphasized, I watched CNN report that Ralph Nader decided to run again for president. I couldn't believe it. Regardless whether this would hurt the Democratic candidate or not, what was he thinking?
As the pedals went around in my attempt at immortality, two thoughts went around in my head. As I pushed on the pedal with my left foot, I thought about the first time that I had met Nader. He was speaking at the National School Board convention in San Francisco over a quarter century ago. I was young then, and I idealized him. He was out to protect America from corporate indifference. I saw myself as one of his Nader's Raiders. I went back stage before he spoke hoping to see my idol. He was unpresumptuous standing there waiting to be introduced. I went up to him and told him how much I admired him. I told him that he was a symbol for my generation that had lost most of them: Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King, and the two Kennedy brothers. He shook my hand and brushed off my praise as if to say that this was his vocation, his calling.
As I pushed on the pedal with my right foot, I thought about the Greek tragedy, Agamemnon, by Aeschylus. The story is of the king of Mycenae, who sacrifices his daughter for his geo-political ambitions of becoming king of the entire Aegean region. Around and around went the pedals and my mind. I saw the two characters linked just like the pedals of my exercise bike. Around went the pedals and around went my mind thinking about the nexus of Agamemnon and Ralph Nader.
At the midpoint of my workout, I had gotten my pulse up to its target range of 130 beats per minute, but my disappointment range was even higher. I just couldn't accept that Nader was acting the fool by running again for president. Of course, Nader has some more company vying for the candidate with the largest ego. Dennis Kucinich and Al Sharpton share eighteen delegates between them, which represents slightly more than 1% of the total at this time. Even so, both are still in the race.
As I pedaled away hoping that I could finally finish the exercise routine, I started thinking again about Agamemnon's drive and pride that allowed him to sacrifice his daughter, Iphigenia. One would have to be pretty self-absorbed to kill one's child for personal glory, and Agamemnon was.
Then as the pedals whirled around and around, I thought about how self-absorbed Nader has gotten over the years. Imagine the level of hubris that one must have to go on and on thinking that he is so indispensable to the American political process that he would sacrifice the political ideals that got him the admiration of millions.
Then as the pedals raced around on my final moments on the bike, I thought of Agamemnon's own words when contemplating walking on the purple carpet:
Having said that, Agamemnon did precisely that, he walked on the purple carpet set aside for the gods.
Ralph isn't the only political leader that has desired to walk on the purple carpet. Eugene McCarthy followed in the steps of Agamemnon. Having changed America in 1968, McCarthy believed his press releases and ran for president a handful of times. If Nader can't learn from the Greek tragedies, he need only look at our recent American history. Ralph doesn't have to wonder who will be his Clytemnestra; he is killing himself politically.
This article appeared in the Dixon Telegraph on 3/20/04.