Ralph Nader

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Ralph Nader

Ralph Nader (born February 27, 1934) is an American activist lawyer who opposes the power of large corporations and has worked for decades on environmental, consumer rights, and pro-democracy issues. Nader has also been a strong critic of recent American foreign policy, which he views as corporatist, imperialist, and contrary to fundamental values of democracy and human rights.

Nader was the presidential candidate of the Green Party in the 1996 election and 2000 election (in both elections, Winona LaDuke was his vice-presidential nominee). In 2004, however, the Green Party nominated David Cobb, and Nader ran as an independent candidate in the 2004 presidential election. In some states in 2004, Nader achieved ballot access by virtue of winning the nomination of an alternative political party, such as the Reform Party, and in others by forming a Populist Party. His running mate in 2004 was Green Party activist Peter Camejo.

Early career

Ralph Nader was born in Winsted, Connecticut. His parents, Nathra and Rose Nader, were Lebanese immigrants. He has three siblings: Shafeek (deceased), Laura (Professor of Anthropology at UC Berkeley), and Claire Nader. His father was employed in a nearby textile mill and at one point owned a bakery and restaurant where he engaged customers in discussions of political issues.

Ralph graduated from Princeton University in 1955 and Harvard Law School in 1958. During his time at Princeton, it was rumoured that he had his own key to the main library. He served in the United States Army for six months in 1959, then began work as a lawyer in Hartford. Current Biography in 1986 reported that when he left the Army in 1959, Nader, who is famous for his personal frugality and his objection to commercialism, made one last visit to the Army PX and purchased twelve pairs of shoes and four dozen sturdy cotton military issue socks, which, as of the mid-1980's, he had not yet worn out. Between 1961 and 1963, he was a Professor of History and Government at the University of Hartford. In 1964, Nader hitchhiked to Washington, D.C. and got a job working for then-Assistant Secretary of Labor Daniel Patrick Moynihan. He later did freelance writing for The Nation and the Christian Science Monitor. In present years he has been writing for The Progressive Populist. He also advised a Senate subcommittee on automobile safety. In the early 1980s, Nader spearheaded a powerful lobby against FDA approval allowing for mass-scale experimentation of artificial lens implants.

Clash with the automobile industry

In 1965 he released Unsafe at Any Speed, a study claiming that many American automobiles, especially those of General Motors, were fundamentally flawed. GM tried to discredit Nader, hiring private detectives to investigate his past and attempt to trap him in a compromising situation, but the effort failed. Upon learning of this harassment, Nader successfully sued the company for invasion of privacy, forced it to publicly apologize, and used much of his $284,000 net settlement to expand his consumer rights efforts. Nader's lawsuit against GM was ultimately decided by the high Court of New York, whose opinion in the case expanded the privacy rights that can be remedied in tort. Nader v. General Motors Corp., 307 N.Y.S.2d 647 (N.Y. 1970).

Activist movement

Hundreds of young activists, inspired by Nader's work, came to DC to help him with other projects. They came to be known as "Nader's Raiders" and, led by Nader, they investigated corruption throughout government, publishing dozens of books with their results:

In 1971, Nader founded the NGO Public Citizen as an umbrella organization for these projects. Today, Public Citizen has over 150,000 members and numerous researchers investigating Congress, health, environmental, economic, and other issues. Their work is credited with helping to pass the Safe Drinking Water Act and Freedom of Information Act and prompting the creation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Their various divisions include:

  • Buyers Up
  • Citizen Action Group
  • Congress Watch
  • Critical Mass Energy Project
  • Global Trade Watch
  • Health Research Group
  • Litigation Group
  • Tax Reform Research Group
  • The Visitor's Center

Non-profit organizations

In 1980, Nader resigned as director of Public Citizen to work on other projects, especially campaigning against the believed dangers of large multinational corporations. He went on to start a variety of non-profit organizations:

  • Capitol Hill News Service
  • Corporate Accountability Research Project
  • Disability Rights Center
  • Equal Justice Foundation
  • Georgia Legal Watch
  • National Citizens' Coalition for Nursing Home Reform
  • National Coalition for Universities in the Public Interest
  • PROD (truck safety)
  • Retired Professionals Action Group
  • The Shafeek Nader Trust for the Community Interest

Consumer advocacy, public interest, and civic action

File:Nader-sesame01.jpg
Ralph Nader (right) appears with Bob McGrath on a 1988 Sesame Street episode, singing "People in Your Neighborhood". For the episode, Nader included a verse about consumer advocates, unique for a song featuring mail men and firefighters. Nader has since criticized the types of sponsors the show has accepted, such as McDonalds and Discovery Zone.

Because much of his early work involved advocacy to protect consumers (and workers) from unsafe products, Ralph Nader is often referred to as a "consumer advocate." This description should not be misunderstood to suggest that Nader is an advocate of consumption. On the contrary, his message of civic engagement (citizen activism in the public interest), like his harsh critique of "rapacious" corporations, calls for resistance to commercially-driven consumer culture. According to Nader, mass advertising creates artificial and often harmful desires. Nader's "consumer" should not be conceived as a free-spending shopper, but rather as an active participant in democratic institutions. For example, in his critique of television news as largely empty sensationalism, Nader acknowledges that most Americans may have been trained to behave as passive "consumers" of what passes for news, but Nader's call for engagement urges citizens to work together to organize community-based news production.

Books

Nader has authored, co-authored and edited many books. Some of these books include:

  • Action for a Change (with Donald Ross, Brett English, and Joseph Highland)
  • Canada Firsts
  • Civic Arousal
  • Collision Course (with Wesley Smith)
  • Corporate Power in America (with Mark Green)
  • Crashing the Party: Taking on the Corporate Government in an Age of Surrender
  • Cutting Corporate Welfare
  • In Pursuit of Justice
  • Nader on Australia
  • No Contest: Corporate Lawyers and Perversion of Justice in America (with Wesley Smith).
  • Ralph Nader Congress Project
  • Ralph Nader Presents: A Citizen's Guide to Lobbying
  • Taming the Giant Corporation (with Mark Green and Joel Seligman)
  • The Big Boys (with William Taylor)
  • The Consumer and Corporate Accountability
  • The Frugal Shopper (with Wesley Smith)
  • The Good Fight: Declare Your Independence and Close the Democracy Gap
  • The Lemon Book
  • The Menace of Atomic Energy (with John Abbotts)
  • The Ralph Nader Reader
  • Unsafe at Any Speed
  • Verdicts on Lawyers
  • Whistle-Blowing (with Peter J. Petkas and Kate Blackwell)
  • Who's Poisoning America (with Ronald Brownstein and John Richard)
  • Winning the Insurance Game (with Wesley Smith and J. Robert Hunter)
  • You and Your Pension (with Kate Blackwell)

Presidential aspirations

1972

During the 1972 presidential election, Senator George McGovern, the Democratic Party's presidential nominee, offered to make Nader his running-mate after he was turned-down by a number of other politicians. Nader, who was (and remains) a registered independent, declined the offer, citing his commitment to several lawsuits that he was then pursuing.

1990

Nader considered launching a third party around issues of citizen empowerment and consumer rights. He stated that the Democratic Party had become "so bankrupt, it doesn't matter if it wins any elections." He suggested a serious third party could address needs such as campaign-finance reform, worker and whistle-blower rights, government-sanctioned watchdog groups to oversee banks and insurance agencies, and class-action lawsuit reforms.

1992

Nader waged a minor write-in campaign for "None of the Above" in the 1992 New Hampshire primary, which had the unintended effect of resulting in a few thousand votes for Nader himself. Surprisingly, given Nader's notoriously left-wing views, he received more votes from Republican voters than from Democrats.

1996

Nader was drafted as a candidate for President of the United States on the Green Party ticket during the 1996 presidential election. He was not formally nominated by the Green Party USA, which was, at the time, the largest national Green group; instead he was nominated independently by various state Green parties (in some areas, he appeared on the ballot as an independent). However, many activists in the Green Party USA worked actively to campaign for Nader that year. Nader qualified for ballot status in relatively few states, garnering less than 1% of the vote, though the effort did make significant organizational gains for the party. He refused to raise or spend more than $5,000 on his campaign, presumably to avoid meeting the threshold for Federal Elections Commission reporting requirements; the unofficial Draft Nader committee could (and did) spend more than that, but was legally prevented from coordinating in any way with Nader himself.

2000

Nader ran again in 2000 as the candidate of the Green Party of the United States, which had been formed in the wake of his 1996 campaign. This time he received 2.7% of the popular vote, missing the 5% needed to qualify the Green Party for federal matching funds in the next election.

Some believed that the exclusion of Nader and other third-party candidates from events staged by the bi-partisan controlled Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) contributed to the marginalization of those candidates and helped minimize their support on election day. This issue led to an effort to build a more independent Citizens' Debate Commission.

Nader campaigned against the pervasiveness of corporate power and spoke on the need for campaign finance reform, environmental justice, universal healthcare, affordable housing, free education through college, workers' rights, legalization of commercial hemp, and a shift in taxes to place the burden more heavily on corporations than on the middle and lower classes. He opposed pollution credits that make it more profitable to pollute than conserve, and giveaways of publicly-owned assets.

The extremely close race between the two major presidential candidates, Al Gore and Bush, helped to create some additional controversy around the Nader campaign. Before the election, a number of those who supported Gore claimed that since Nader had no realistic chance of winning, those who supported the Nader platform should nevertheless vote for Gore, the theory being that a victory for Gore was preferable to a victory for George W. Bush, even if an individual voter might, in a perfect world, prefer Nader. Late in the campaign, the Gore campaign got prominent liberal celebrities to present this argument to voters in swing states. Nader and many of his supporters, however, claimed that while Gore was perhaps marginally preferable to Bush, the differences between the two were not great enough to merit support of Gore.

When challenged with complaints that he was taking away votes from Al Gore, Nader replied that the voters who preferred Nader did not "belong" to Gore, and that it would be more accurate to say that Gore was trying to take away votes from Nader, by scaring voters into voting for the lesser of two evils. Nader suggested at times that his campaign was offering a chance to save the Democratic Party, and at other times, made the contradictory argument that the party was not worth saving. When Nader argued that he would hold the Democrats' "feet to the fire," he was suggesting that he wanted to move the Democratic Party in a more progressive direction. However, at other moments Nader said that, because the Democratic Party had slid so low and had become so beholden to corporate power, the Democratic Party deserved to go the way of the Whigs. Running as the Green Party's nominee in 2000, Nader indicated that he would support Green candidates who ran against even the most progressive Democrats, such as Paul Wellstone and Russ Feingold.

As it turned out, Nader's vote total exceeded Bush's margin over Gore in Florida (as did each other third party candidate's) and in New Hampshire, which meant that, all else being the same, Gore would have won the Electoral College vote (and thus the presidency) if even a small fraction (as little as 1%) of Nader's 97,488 supporters in Florida had instead voted for Gore, or if a larger fraction of the Nader's 22,198 supporters in New Hampshire had done so. Nader supporters said that many Nader voters would not have voted at all if Nader had not been on the ballot. Regardless, many analysts believed that a substantial number of Nader supporters would more likely have chosen Gore over Bush. Even Nader, both in his book Crashing the Party, and also on his website, stated: "In the year 2000, exit polls reported that 25% of my voters would have voted for Bush, 38% would have voted for Gore and the rest would not have voted at all." [1]) Most political analysts and experts believe that Nader's presence on the ballot in Florida in 2000 was one of many factors which combined to cause Bush to win the election. For their part, Nader supporters countered that, instead of blaming Nader, Gore should accept responsibility because Gore's own failure to win his home state of Tennessee was a "but-for cause" of Gore's loss. Nader supporters maintained that the Democrats could handily have won the election against Bush (whom Nader referred to during the campaign as "a giant corporation masquerading as a human being"), with a better campaign or with a better candidate than Gore, who they say made a series of blunders throughout the campaign, including in his debates against George W. Bush. Nader supporters said that Gore's campaign themes were largely a creature of the "centrist" and corporate-supported Democratic Leadership Council, which had once been chaired by then-Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton. The U.S. presidential election, 2000 was hounded by the Florida situation, and some Nader supporters suggested that if the Democratic Party was so eager to blame someone else in order to avoid responsibility for losing the election, perhaps the Democrats should blame the Supreme Court for calling a halt to the Florida recount, thereby effectively declaring Bush the winner.

Anticipating the Florida situation of 2004, some voters had attempted to minimize the "spoiler" problem by engaging in strategic "vote-pairing," or so-called Nader trading, in which Nader-inclined voters in swing states would agree to vote for Gore in exchange for Gore-inclined voters in safe Bush states to vote for Nader. This strategic idea, which was championed by law professor Jamin Raskin, was based on the observation that, under the electoral college system, individual votes for a losing presidential candidate within a given state (or individual "surplus" votes for the winner within a state) are necessarily wasted. Even though "Nader trading" had the theoretical potential to allow Al Gore to win the election and at the same time to earn the Green Party the 5% that would lead to a possible award of FEC party convention funding, Nader himself declined to endorse the "vote-trading" idea in 2000. Nader and his campaign explained that they were running in every state and that they were encouraging voters to vote according to conscience.

The "A vote for Nader is a vote for Bush" slogan, which supporters of Gore urged against Nader, was an instance of the so-called spoiler effect phenomenon, in an election where more than two candidates are running and it is feared that the presence of more than one candidate with relatively similar views will split the vote that is cast "against" another candidate, who becomes the beneficiary of the split vote. Such fears often plague third-party or independent candidates, especially those perceived as likely to draw most of their support from demographics who would otherwise support one or the other candidate. Thus, Gore supporters tried to persuade voters who preferred Nader to vote for Gore in order to prevent the election of the "greater evil" (referring to Bush). Some Democrats attempted to convert those who supported Nader by claiming that doing so made them "dupes" of the Republican party.

Ironically, Greens in some states turned on supporters of David McReynolds, the Socialist Party USA candidate in the 2000 race, and used similar tactics to try to push McReynolds supporters to "get in line" and support Nader. (Despite what their supporters argued, there was no evidence that Nader and McReynolds had anything other than a 'friendly-foe' respect for each other.)

2004

Main article: Ralph Nader presidential campaign, 2004

Nader announced on December 24, 2003 that he would not run for president in 2004 on the Green Party ticket; however, he did not rule out running as an independent. On February 22, 2004, Nader announced on NBC's Meet the Press that he would indeed run for president as an independent, saying, "There's too much power and wealth in too few hands." Because of the controversies over vote-splitting in 2000, many Democrats urged Nader to abandon his candidacy. The Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Terry McAuliffe argued that Nader had a "distinguished career, fighting for working families" and McAuliffe "would hate to see part of his legacy being that he got us eight years of George Bush."

On May 19, 2004, Nader met with John Kerry in Washington D.C. for a private session, concerning Nader's factor in the 2004 election. Nader refused to withdraw from the race, citing specifically the importance to him of the removal of troops from Iraq. The meeting itself ended in disagreement. On the same day, two Democratic leaning groups, the National Progress Fund and the Democracy Action Team, were formed. They both sought to reduce the effect of Nader upon Democratic voters that might be persuaded to vote for him. The following day, the Democracy Action Team's Stop Nader campaign announced they would air TV commercials in key battleground states.

On June 21, 2004, Nader announced that Peter Camejo, a former two-time gubernatorial candidate of the California Green Party, would be his vice presidential running mate. Shortly thereafter, Nader announced that he would accept (although he was not actively seeking) the endorsement, but not nomination, of the Greens as their presidential candidate. Later in June, however, the national convention of the Green Party of the United States rejected Nader, whose supporters were voting for "nobody" (a.k.a. Ralph Nader), as a candidate in favor of David Cobb, an attorney and Green Party activist. Nader's failure to take the Green Party's nomination meant that he could not take advantage of the Green Party's ballot access in 22 states, and that he would have to achieve ballot access there independently.

Ballot access

On April 5, 2004, Nader failed in an attempt to get on the Oregon ballot. "Unwritten rules" disqualified over 700 valid voter signatures, all of which had already been verified by county elections officers, who themselves signed and dated every sheet with an affidavit of authenticity (often with a county seal as well). This subtraction left Nader 218 short of the 15,306 needed. He vowed to gather the necessary signatures in a petition drive. Secretary of State Bill Bradbury disqualified many of his signatures as fraudulent; the Marion County Circuit Court ruled that this action was unconstitutional as the criteria for Bradbury's disqualifications were based upon "unwritten rules" not found in electoral code, but the state Supreme Court ultimately reversed this ruling. Nader appealed this decision to the US Supreme Court, but a decision did not arrive before the 2004 election.

On September 18, 2004, the Florida Supreme Court ordered that Nader be included on the 2004 ballot in Florida as the Reform Party candidate. The court rejected the arguments that the Reform Party did not meet the requirements of the Florida election code for access to the ballot — that the party must be a "national party" and that it must have nominated its candidate in a "national convention" — and therefore Nader should have attempted to file as an independent candidate. Specifically, the court ruled that the term "national party" must be interpreted as broadly as possible. The Reform Party has a ballot line in only some U.S. states.

In the general election, Nader appeared on the ballot in 34 states and the District of Columbia. Ballot access ultimately became one of the most significant issues of the Nader campaign - in his concession speech, Nader characterized ballot access as a "civil liberties issue" and noted that Democratic attempts to challenge his ballot access were rejected in the "overwhelming majority" of state courts.

Effect on major-party candidates

The expectation among many analysts was that Nader’s candidacy would benefit Bush by taking more votes from Kerry than from Bush. Lending credence to that opinion, a Republican organization in Michigan worked to gather petition signatures to place Nader on the Michigan ballot after Democratic Party lawyers defeated Nader's effort to appear on the Michigan ballot as the Reform Party's nominee. [2] In Arizona, according to an article by Max Blumenthal that appeared on a pro-Kerry website two weeks before the 2004 election, a company called Voters Outreach of America, headed by a former executive director of the Arizona Republican Party, had been involved in gathering Nader signatures. [3] Mr. Blumenthal's article based this allegation on an anonymous source and never provided additional evidence. What is known about Nader's ballot access in Arizona in 2004 does lend credence to the notion that Kerry supporters did not want Nader on the ballot, as lawyers working on behalf of the Democratic Party successfully blocked Nader from getting on the Arizona ballot in 2004, despite Nader's having apparently submitted more than enough signatures to qualify.

Democratic Party groups urging voters to worry about the so-called "spoiler effect," such as "Up for Victory," were formed specifically to dissuade people from voting for Nader and to knock him off the ballot in as many states as possible. These groups, as well as some journalists, pointed to FEC filings showing that the Nader campaign had accepted campaign contributions from several individual donors who were also contributing to Bush's campaign, including a donation from one individual who had helped to fund televised advertisements by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth that attacked Kerry's military service record in the Vietnam War and Kerry's subsequent activity in the 1970s as a leader of the antiwar group Vietnam Veterans Against the War. Nader's campaign countered that John Kerry had received far more money in 2004 from individual Republican donors than Nader had, and that Nader was in fact not accepting organized Republican help.

In Florida and several other states, Nader’s ballot access came because of his nomination by the Reform Party. The Reform Party nominee in 2000 had been conservative Pat Buchanan; some anti-Nader Democrats took this as evidence that Nader was being helped by supporters of Bush, but most conservatives had left the Reform Party after Buchanan's poor showing in 2000.

A group of Nader’s supporters from 2000 endorsed Vote to Stop Bush, a statement urging voters in swing states to vote for Kerry, in order to prevent a second term for President George W. Bush. Even Nader’s running mate in 1996 and 2000, Winona LaDuke, endorsed Kerry, as did filmmaker Michael Moore, who championed Nader in the 2000 campaign. Another approach was taken by “RalphPlease.org”, which gathered conditional contributions – pledges to donate to Public Citizen if Nader would withdraw from the race.

The Nader campaign contended that the donations it received were given by "people who agree with him on the issues and want him to get his message out to the public." Nader also responded to such claims by pointing out that Democratic opponent John Kerry received $10.7 million dollars from donors who also contributed to Bush or to some other Republican candidate - nearly 100 times that of the $111,700 Nader received.

A significant number of progressives critized Mr. Nader for trying to change the electoral system through an impractical presidential campaign, pointing out that independent or third-party presidential candidates are highly unlikely to win an election under the current system. Supporters of Ralph Nader often countered that an alternative presidential bid can be extremely valuable (for example, by raising important issues and enhancing an otherwise money-dominated and inane political dialogue), regardless of the ultimate number of votes the candidate receives. Some Democrats, including Howard Dean, had argued that Nader should not run for president but should instead concentrate on promoting fairer ballot access laws, campaign finance reform, and alternative voting methods. However, Nader's supporters thought that such pleas were insincere and off the mark. Mr. Nader claims to be a leading champion of representative election systems, despite the fact that he is not a member of the major election law reform interest group in America; Fair Vote and does not work to change the electoral process inbetween elections. While the Democratic Party establishment has consistently demonstrated it's opposition to alternative voting methods, a growing number of younger Democrats, many of whom supported Howard Dean, see election law reform as part of a larger issue of voting rights.

Results

Nader received many fewer votes than he had in 2000, dropping from about 2.9 million votes (2.74 percent of the popular vote) to just over 459,000 (less than 0.4 percent). Nader's vote total placed him only slightly more than 63,000 votes ahead of the fourth-place candidate, Michael Badnarik of the Libertarian Party, who appeared on 49 ballots. Fears that Nader would play a "spoiler" role that would harm the Democrats proved unfounded -- Kerry's margins of loss in states won by Bush were all substantially larger than the percentage of votes gathered by Nader.

Personal information

Nader has never been married, and has denied rumors that he was gay while running for president in 2000. According to the mandatory financial disclosure report that he filed with the Federal Election Commission in 2000, he then owned more than $3 million worth of stocks and mutual fund shares; his single largest holding was more than $1 million worth of stock in Cisco Systems, Inc. [4] Nader's total net worth is between $4.1 million and $5 million. However, the consumer advocate has made more than $15 million in his lifetime, most of which he has given away.

Ralph Nader's lifestyle is unusually austere for an American celebrity (Nader has appeared on the NBC Saturday Night Live television show four times, including hosting the show January 15, 1977). Nader inhabits a modest apartment in Washington DC, equipped with a black-and-white television, which he watches only rarely. His attention is focused on the work of his public interest crusades. Nader has donated the vast bulk of his earnings over his lifetime (from royalties, lectures, legal work, and so forth) to funding public interest causes.

Nader's harsh and uncompromising critiques of corporate and political wrongdoing have earned him a reputation as an angry and gloomy "national scold." Yet, despite this caricature, which no doubt reflects the seriousness and intensity with which Nader approaches his work, people well-acquainted with Ralph Nader generally speak of his persistent optimism, his abiding sense of humor, and his unfailing wit.

Quotes

"If you don't turn on to politics, politics will turn on you."

"This country has more problems than it deserves and more solutions than it applies."

"Your best teacher is your last mistake."

"I start with the premise that the function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers."

"If you choose between the lesser of two evils, at the end of the day, you still have evil."

"I don't think meals have any business being deductible. I'm for separation of calories and corporations."

"The use of solar energy has not been opened up because the oil industry does not own the sun."

References

  • Clinton, Bill (2005). My Life. Vintage. ISBN 140003003X.

External links

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Articles written by Ralph Nader

  • Nader, Ralph and Kevin Zeese. The "I" Word. Boston Globe. May 31, 2005. Nader calls for the impeachment of President George W. Bush.

Select speeches and interviews

Video links

Pro-Nader websites


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