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Ralph Nader, 'Lone Ranger,' Rides Again

Science & Tech  (tags: business, environment, Nadar, taxes, corporations, reform, military, budget, humans, history, interesting, news, science, study, technology )

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Fundamental Tax Reform. Give Science and Technology Back to the People. Get Corporations Off Welfare. Create National Charters for Large Corporations. Crack Down on Corporate Crime. Reduce Our Bloated Military Budget. Invent New Rules for Reform.

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JL A (281)
Sunday October 7, 2012, 6:31 am
Ralph Nader, 'Lone Ranger,' Rides Again
William Greider on October 4, 2012 - 5:41 PM ET

To the relief of many, Ralph Nader did not run again for president in 2012. He decided instead to do what he does best. He wrote another book. It is called The Seventeen Solutions: Bold Ideas for Our American Future, published this month by HarperCollins. Nader has been doing this regularly for nearly fifty years and his latest has the same intensity and well-informed outrage of his youth. Nader’s unique character and critical intelligence became a popular model for civic idealism. His activist techniques have been copied by striving citizens around the world.

I go back a long way with Ralph. As a young reporter at The Washington Post decades ago, I wrote a lot about Nader’s earliest ventures as the self-invented reformer. I once referred to him in print as the “lone ranger,” and he never quite forgave me. The label was a cheap shot, he complained, because it promoted his celebrity, which undermined his true purpose—showing average citizens how they too could take responsibility for country and community, fulfilling the Jeffersonian ideal of self-government.

Still, reporters and editors loved the story of a single-minded crusader who goes up against power. Nader spread his influence across numerous fields by creating a galaxy of small organizations that were not much more than letterheads. But Ralph staffed them with adventurous young people like himself—willing to challenge authority by producing shocking, fact-filled investigations. Nader turned these young recruits loose on government agencies, powerful corporations and huge public scandals like the toxic substances in air and water. Politicians responded to the bad press. The texture of American politics was altered in a thousand ways, most dramatically by forcing greater transparency on once-secret affairs of government.

His new book reads to me like an enjoyable collection of golden oldies—updating issues he has championed for decades, renewing complaints that will be vaguely familiar to any old heads who have long been around legislative politics and corrupted government. Fundamental Tax Reform. Give Science and Technology Back to the People. Get Corporations Off Welfare. Create National Charters for Large Corporations. Crack Down on Corporate Crime. Reduce Our Bloated Military Budget. Invent New Rules for Reform. And so on for eight more chapters.

It seemed like a nostalgia trip. Yet after all these years I found myself impressed all over again. One has to feel awe for Nader’s intellectual energy, for his tenacity and stubborn optimism. Yet Ralph himself did not sound nostalgic. He sounded indignant as always. He is not obsessed with frustrations or disappointments from the past. He is making fresh arguments set in the present.

For many of his propositions, the book failed to convince me, and not because I necessarily disagree with his goals. Ralph doesn’t really try to explain why good ideas never got off the ground or why his Jeffersonian conception of small-d democracy ultimately failed to hold on to its power. As I recall, Nader never did have much to say about ideology or have a well-grounded theory of political power and how it works. His engine has always run on his idealism, but his faith in the potential of ordinary citizens seems to have been shaken.

In a closing chapter, “Enlist the Enlightened Super-Rich,” Nader seems to suggest that billionaires with good intentions can save us. He wishes for a “plutocratic cultural revolution,” in which rich guys like Warren Buffett or Bill Gates will disperse their fortunes for the public good, sort of like latter-day Carnegies and Rockefellers. This is a sorry footnote to Nader’s career as a reformer, a sign that he may have given up on Jefferson.

I wanted more reflection and analysis. Ralph wanted to expose the bad guys again. “We all keep trying,” he told me in a personal note. Yes, exactly. It dawned on me that Nader has written a book everyone under 30 (or even under 40) should read. They weren’t present the first time around, when Ralph was creating a movement. These are new ideas for many of them, who will be shocked by the hard facts Nader is reporting (or re-reporting). Many younger people do not know the story of that energetic reform era, nor how it was suffocated by the corporate-financed counter-reformation. It will be very good for the country if Nader’s revelations shock a new generation. This book is a subversive primer that should be read in every high school civics class.

For more on the connection between politics and activism, read Frances Fox Piven and Lorraine C. Minnite on why “movements need politicians.”

TomCat S (129)
Sunday October 7, 2012, 8:21 am
I love it when he rides, but not when he runs.

JL A (281)
Sunday October 7, 2012, 8:34 am
Thanks for my "laugh for the day" TomCat!
You cannot currently send a star to TomCat because you have done so within the last week.

Kit B (276)
Sunday October 7, 2012, 9:52 am

I wonder if we had to label all the things improved in our lives by Ralph Nader, would be able to walk into any room and not see his name? I would think all cars would have the name NADER, much like NASCAR cars have labels for company support. I respect, him I have for many years. Personally, I think Nader is not the ideal political personality, he isn't that negotiable, but he has done so much for all of us. As always, I will read his new book, and be inspired all over again. It could be that champions of the people reach more and accomplish more from the outside, always pushing against the rising tide of corruption.

JL A (281)
Sunday October 7, 2012, 10:07 am
Thanks Kit for taking the opportunity to express the impact, benefits we all can and should attribute to Ralph Nader and be grateful about. You cannot currently send a star to Kit because you have done so within the last week.

. (0)
Sunday October 7, 2012, 1:26 pm
I'm very glad that Nader didn't run again. The character assassination that was perpetrated against the man was enough for one lifetime. He is an idealist which often does not translate to realistic solutions. He does appear to have given up on his Jeffersonian bent. Too bad since Jefferson and Madison were both exemplary men although not perfect by Messianic standards - sorry all you evangelicals and Neo Cons.
Yes Gore would have won the presidency if it had not have been for Ralph and the courts. Where would that have taken the country? It's easy to have high ideals and reform platform planks when you're the opposition. The rules change drastically once you are elected though and you find out very quickly what the PTBs who control this world want. If you don't comply you become JFK.
Even if we could find a candidate who was Jefferson/Madison combined with the ferocious temerity of an Andy Jackson the corrupt system would still stymie any plans for improvement on a grand scale.
There are financiers; bankers and corporate leaders who do want to help. Maybe it's time we enlisted them in our cause? Great change can only come once we change the existent corrupt system. Get rid of the Electoral College; reinstall Glass-Steagal; close the loopholes in Delaware/Kale; redefine the tax structure on Capital Gains. Do that and then you have a chance of electing a government by the people and for the people.

JL A (281)
Sunday October 7, 2012, 1:39 pm
Michael, your historical accuracy in painting the challenges for candidates and presidents left me speechless for a bit:You cannot currently send a star to Michael because you have done so within the last week.

John B (185)
Sunday October 7, 2012, 4:19 pm
Thanks J.L. for the post. I always admired Mr. Nader's enthusiasm and i hope he hasn't given up on his ideals. There is an old saying my grandmother used. "Age and illness wrinkle you body but when you lose your Enthusiasm THAT wrinkles your soul." I will be checking to see if my local library can order The Seventeen Solutions: Bold Ideas for Our American Future for me. Read and noted.

Past Member (0)
Sunday October 7, 2012, 4:54 pm
Anyone so crass as to say that Nader's idealism didn't translate to realistic solutions is just another example of the kind of spineless cynic who does as they are told, maintains the status quo, collaborates with the established system of abuse and corruption, and is fundamentally incapable of taking a risk for real change. It is a lie that Nader stole the election from Gore. The reality is that had that portion of the left too cynical to take a stand for real change voted for the man that actually represented their real values, then Bush wouldn't have been able to steal the election from...Nader.

The enemy is capitalism. The enemy is the corporate state. The enemy is the two-party establishment that spins lies 24/7 to dupe the weak-minded into voting against their own best interests. The system can never be changed until enough of us step outside the system and see the system for what it is: THE PROBLEM. If the people lack the spine to take their country back from the best government that corporate dollars can buy, then don't blame the progressive left for doing their part to derail the fascism of the two-party system and to actually put in leaders with real vision such as Nader or Stein. Live green. Vote green. Otherwise, don't bother.

JL A (281)
Sunday October 7, 2012, 5:06 pm
Brian, thank you for presenting an alternate view on Nader's historical role with such passion. Oftentimes the best solutions are found from having the most diversity of opinion at the table.
You cannot currently send a star to Brian because you have done so within the last week.

Kit B (276)
Sunday October 7, 2012, 8:17 pm

I think Michael is correct, though I am sad to say that. Once elected,there must be a sort of truth session, where the president is told the cold, hard facts of what he can or can not do, or suffer the fates of others. We talk about the president being the most powerful man on earth, but the constitution limits the powers, and then there is another fact, that is money, accompanied closely it's companion's, the super corporate power brokers.
Andrew Jackson, did have a moment in the sun, but his personal life did suffer. Politics is an ugly game, few survive unscathed. I doubt that Nader is cold enough to weather that storm, look how Obama has aged in just four years.

JL A (281)
Sunday October 7, 2012, 8:47 pm
Having seen Nader in person and experienced his personal warmth, I think you are probably right about the likely impact should he serve as POTUS Kit.

paula eaton (30)
Sunday October 7, 2012, 10:38 pm
Ralph Nader will fade back into the woodwork soon, sad but true.

Past Member (0)
Monday October 8, 2012, 12:43 am

Elaya Raja (39)
Monday October 8, 2012, 2:30 am
Thank you.

JL A (281)
Monday October 8, 2012, 5:15 am
Paula, with the new Consumer Protection initiatives Elizabeth Warren set in motion for all of us, Ralph Nader may become more visible than ever as the agency's efforts and successes garner media attention.

Lois Jordan (63)
Monday October 8, 2012, 5:20 pm
Noted. I've been an admiring fan of Nader since childhood when I first saw him on Phil Donahue back in the 60's or 70's. (I used to watch with my mom). But, I did vote for Gore rather than Nader in 2000. His name has always been synonymous with "consumer protection" for me. This is one person, (now along with Elizabeth Warren-right on, J.L.), who is the epitome of integrity.

patrica and edw jones (190)
Monday October 8, 2012, 6:41 pm
Thanks J.L for a great post.

JL A (281)
Monday October 8, 2012, 6:48 pm
You are welcome Patricia and edw(ard?)
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