It could have been a different world. Popular belief tells of how Ralph Nader won over key states in the 2000 US presidential elections to help tip the balance in favour of Bush junior. Many are now reeling from Nader's ‘contribution' towards a Republican victory. AM takes a closer look at Ralph Nader, the attorney, author, lecturer and political activist and how he helped to mould the world as it is today.
Many have not forgotten how Ralph Nader pulled away support from Democrat Al Gore and helped George W. Bush win the seat at the White House (which could be one reason why he's in Time magazine's list of 100 most influential Americans of the 20th century). And although he has long denied any notion of being the ‘spoiler' in that presidential campaign, the knives came out as soon as he announced his intentions to run for the 2008 elections.
Barack Obama said that Nader thought that there was no difference between Al Gore and George Bush. “Eight years later, I think people realise that Ralph did not know what he was talking about. Hilary Clinton called Nader's move as “very unfortunate” and said, “I remember when he ran before. It didn't turn out very well for anybody- especially our country. This time I hope it doesn't hurt anyone.”
“Dissent is the mother of ascent,” Nader was reported as saying. “And in that context I've decided to run for president.” This time round, Nader would cause no such controversy. Yet, at 74, he still manages to ruffle up feathers wherever he goes and whatever he decides to do.
Born in Winsted, Connecticut on February 27, 1934, to Rose and Nathra Nader, immigrants from Lebanon, Nader learnt from a young age to be an active participant in the American democratic system. His dad ran a restaurant called the Highland Arms which became a gathering place for members of their small community and politics was often discussed over family dinners as well as with customers at the family restaurant.
His parents, who conducted family seminars on the duties of citizenship in a democracy, had a huge influence in shaping his social mindset. Taught to value social justice, Nader's father would often say, “If you do not use your rights, you will lose your rights.” When Nader was 10, his father asked him, “Well, Ralph, what did you learn in school today? Did you learn how to believe or did you learn how to think?” In his youth, Nader studied Far Eastern regional studies at Princeton before moving on to Harvard Law School in 1955. He then started writing freelance articles after which he started practicing law.
Nader came to prominence when in 1965, he wrote in detail about the notorious carelessness of the American auto industry in his book ‘Unsafe at Any Speed'. In it, Nader wrote, “A great problem of contemporary life is how to control the power of economic interests which ignore the harmful effects of their applied science and technology.” With Nader taking specific aim at General Motors, the executives of the auto company hired private detectives to harass and dig up dirt on Nader.
However, Nader in turn successfully sued the company for invasion of privacy, leading to a compensation of USD 425,000 in an out-of-court settlement. On top of that, the General Motors' executives had to issue a public apology before a nationally televised Senate committee hearing. Nader used the money to fund his projects aimed at strengthening civil society. Largely because of his influence, Congress passed the 1966 National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act.
Fighting for people's rights
Nader is widely recognised as the founder of the consumers' rights movement; the bane of big businesses and self-proclaimed friend of the common man. He created an organization of lawyers and researchers (called Nader's Raiders) who produced systematic exposés of industrial hazards, pollution, unsafe products and governmental neglect of consumer safety laws. They lobbied for the protection of workers, taxpayers and the environment and fought to diminish the power of large corporations. Since 1966, Nader has been responsible for at least eight major federal consumer protection laws including the Safe Drinking Water Act.
In 1969 Nader established the Center for the Study of Responsive Law, which exposed corporate irresponsibility and the federal government's failure to enforce regulation of business. Nader's influence saw him play a key role in the creation of the Environmental
Protection Agency, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Freedom of Information Act and the Consumer Product Safety Commission. He has continued to work for consumer safety and for the reform of the political system through his group, Public Citizen, and has been responsible for the recall of millions of defective motor vehicles as well as access to government through the Freedom of Information Act of 1974.
His documented criticism of government and industry has had widespread effect on public awareness and bureaucratic power. Time magazine named him as the US's toughest customer and he has inspired a whole wave of consumer advocates and citizen activists. The ultimate goal of this movement is to give all citizens more rights and remedies for resolving their grievances and for achieving a better society. New York Times was once reported as saying, “What sets Nader apart is that he has moved beyond social criticism to effective political action.”
Dreams of the White House
In 1996, Nader ran as the Presidential candidate of the Green Party but most see his campaign as more symbolic than anything as he made only a couple of public appearances to promote his candidacy. Nader has long criticised the two major political parties for preserving a campaign finance system that makes them both dependent on wealthy contributors. “I don't like citizen groups being shut out by both parties in this city- corporate occupied territory- not having a chance to improve their country. A crisis of democracy in our country convinces me to take this action,” he said.
Then came the 2000 presidential campaign in which he made a more substantial effort. His role in that campaign possibly helped mould the world into what it is today. Launching a scathing attack on his competitors, Nader said Al Gore “has set an all-time record for betraying his own positions” while George W. Bush “is quite adroit at even being able to mumble reformer”. True to his motto of citizen's rights, Nader said during the campaign, “Not a single candidate who I am aware of ever looks at the American people and says to them, ‘Do you want to be more powerful against the rich and powerful?'”. History will not let us forget the outcome of that elections.
In 2004, despite opposition from many of his previous supporters, Nader ran for president again as an independent candidate. This time round, Nader made headlines again when he sued the Democratic Party for conspiring to prevent him from running for president.
While Nader have stated time and again that the reason for his decision to enter the presidential race in past years was because he saw no distinguishable differences between the two leading candidates, he has admitted that differences are evident to him between McCain and Obama for the 2008 campaign. However, he decided to run again as he believes that major-party candidates have not clearly spoken about issues relating to single-payer health insurance, labour-law reform, the Iraq war and cracking down on corporate crime. Nader claims to be running to bring attention to the issues he considers to be important to voters but many see it as merely a way to attract attention to himself.
“You've got to keep the pressure on, even if you lose. The essence of the citizen's movement is persistence.” When asked to define himself, he always responds, “Full-time citizen, the most important office in America for anyone to achieve.”
Away from the spotlight
Nader has long been known for a simple lifestyle, claiming to live on only USD 25,000 a year. “I don't spend that much on myself,” he said. “Most of the money that I raise goes into the projects over the years- consumer projects, investigative projects and other worthwhile efforts.”
He is reported to eat sandwiches nearly every day, avoiding fats and meats. He stays away from anything high-tech and still uses a manual typewriter. He is also reported to be only owning a black-and-white television. The head of an Internet company who once admired Nader now calls him ‘anti-technology' and an ‘analog man in a digital age'. He doesn't own a car or a home, living instead in a sparsely furnished apartment, prompting some to see his lifestyle as evidence of a sacrificial spirit.
As for his assets, Nader invests only in companies he considers socially conscious, based on what they produce and how they treat their workers. “Number one, they're not monopolists and number two, they don't produce land mines and napalm weapons,” he said.
Despite all that he has achieved, Nader still suffers from a credibility problem as his stances on some of the social problems may at times harm consumers instead. For example, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, who suffers from arthritis and takes the anti-inflammatory drug Feldene for it, has complained that Nader's Public Citizen tried to block the introduction of this drug back in the 1980s and then tried to ban it in 1995. Also, Nader presently wants to make it more difficult to get genetically-engineered food products on the market, despite the evidence that they could help feed and save the lives of millions of people worldwide.
No matter the perception, Nader has influenced people's lives tremendously and have inadvertently helped to shape the present. He was once asked if he was worried that what good he has done would be forgotten due to his political endeavours, to which he replied,
“Who cares about my legacy? My legacy is established. They're not going to tear seatbelts out of cars. I look to the future. That's the important thing.” And so should we.
Source: Arabian Man