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Ralph Nader

[ney-der]
Ralph Nader (born February 27, 1934) is an American attorney, author, lecturer, political activist, and independent candidate for President of the United States in 2004 and 2008 as well as a Green Party candidate in 1996 and 2000, with his role in the 2000 election in particular being subject to much debate. Areas of particular concern to Nader include consumer protection, humanitarianism, environmentalism, and democratic government. Nader is both the first Arab American and Lebanese American presidential candidate in the U.S.

Background and early career

Nader was born in Winsted, Connecticut. His parents, Nathra and Rose Nader, were Maronite Catholic immigrants from Lebanon. His family's native language is Arabic, and he has spoken it along with English since childhood.

Nathra Nader was employed in a textile mill, and at one point owned a bakery and restaurant where he engaged customers in political discourse.

Nader graduated from Princeton University in 1955 and Harvard Law School in 1958. He served in the United States Army for six months in 1959, then began work as a lawyer in Hartford, Connecticut. Between 1961 and 1963, he was a Professor of History and Government at the University of Hartford. In 1964, Nader moved to Washington, D.C., where he worked for Assistant Secretary of Labor Daniel Patrick Moynihan. He also advised a United States Senate subcommittee on car safety. In the early 1980s, Nader spearheaded a powerful lobby against the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval of mass-scale experimentation of artificial lens implants. Nader has served as a faculty member at the American University Washington College of Law.

Automobile-safety activism

Nader's first consumer safety articles appeared in the Harvard Law Record, a student publication of Harvard Law School, but he first criticized the automobile industry in an article he wrote for The Nation in 1959 called "The Safe Car You Can't Buy. In 1965, Nader wrote Unsafe at Any Speed, a study that revealed that many American automobiles were unsafe, especially the Chevrolet Corvair manufactured by General Motors. The Corvair had been involved in numerous accidents involving spins and rollovers, and there were over 100 lawsuits pending against GM in connection to accidents involving the popular compact car. These lawsuits provided the initial material for Nader's investigations into the safety of the car. GM tried to discredit Nader, hiring private detectives to tap his phones and investigate his past, and hiring prostitutes to trap him in compromising situations. GM failed to uncover any wrongdoing, and never explained resorting to smear tactics instead of defending the car in the popular press, where the company had considerable corporate influence. GM's avoidance of technical journals makes more sense, as it was well known among auto engineers that the early (1960-64) Corvair's swing axle suspension handled miserably. Upon learning of GM's actions, 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 New York Court of Appeals, whose opinion in the case expanded tort law to cover "overzealous surveillance.

Nader's advocacy of automobile safety and the publicity generated by the publication of Unsafe at Any Speed, along with concern over escalating nationwide traffic fatalities, led to the unanimous passage of the 1966 National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act. The act established the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and marked a historic shift in responsibility for automobile safety (which shifted from the consumer to the manufacturer). The legislation mandated a series of safety features for automobiles, beginning with safety belts and stronger windshields.

A 1972 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration safety commission report conducted by Texas A&M University concluded that the 1960-1963 Corvair possessed no greater potential for loss of control than its contemporaries in extreme situations. A different account, however, was given in John DeLorean's "General Motors autobiography," On a Clear Day You Can See General Motors, 1979 (published under the name of his would-be ghostwriter, J. Patrick Wright), in which DeLorean asserts that Nader's criticisms were valid. The specific Corvair design flaws were corrected in the second half (1965-1969) of the Corvair's production, although by then the Corvair name was irredeemably compromised.

Activism

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" who, under Nader, investigated government corruption, publishing dozens of books with their results:

  • Nader's Raiders (Federal Trade Commission)
  • Vanishing Air (National Air Pollution Control Administration)
  • The Chemical Feast (Food and Drug Administration)
  • The Interstate Commerce Omission (Interstate Commerce Commission)
  • Old Age (nursing homes)
  • The Water Lords (water pollution)
  • Who Runs Congress? (Congress)
  • Whistle Blowing (punishment of whistle blowers)
  • The Big Boys (corporate executives)
  • Collision Course (Federal Aviation Administration)
  • No Contest (corporate lawyers)
  • Destroy the Forest (Destruction of ecosystems worldwide)
  • Operation: Nuclear (Making of a nuclear missile)

In 1971, Nader founded the non-governmental organization (NGO) Public Citizen as an umbrella organization for these projects. Today, Public Citizen has over 140,000 members and investigates Congressional, health, environmental, economic and other issues. Nader wrote, "The consumer must be protected at times from his own indiscretion and vanity.

In the 1970s and 1980s Nader was a key leader in the anti-nuclear power movement. "By 1976, consumer advocate Ralph Nader, who later became allied with the environmental movement 'stood as the titular head of opposition to nuclear energy' He advocates the complete elimination of nuclear energy in favor of solar, tidal, wind and geothermal, citing environmental, worker safety, migrant labor, national security, disaster preparedness, foreign policy, government accountability and democratic governance issues to bolster his position.

Non-profit organizations

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

  • Citizen Advocacy Center
  • Citizens Utility Boards
  • Congress Accountability Project
  • Consumer Task Force For Automotive Issues
  • Corporate Accountability Research Project
  • Disability Rights Center
  • Equal Justice Foundation
  • Foundation for Taxpayers and Consumer Rights
  • Georgia Legal Watch
  • National Citizens' Coalition for Nursing Home Reform
  • National Coalition for Universities in the Public Interest
  • Pension Rights Center
  • PROD (truck safety)
  • Retired Professionals Action Group
  • The Shafeek Nader Trust for the Community Interest
  • 1969: Center for the Study of Responsive Law
  • 1970s: Public Interest Research Groups
  • 1970: Center for Auto Safety
  • 1970: Connecticut Citizen Action Group
  • 1971: Aviation Consumer Action Project
  • 1972: Clean Water Action Project

  • 1972: Center for Women's Policy Studies
  • 1973: Capitol Hill News Service
  • 1980: Multinational Monitor (magazine covering multinational corporations)
  • 1982: Trial Lawyers for Public Justice
  • 1982: Essential Information (encourage citizen activism and do investigative journalism)
  • 1983: Telecommunications Research and Action Center
  • 1983: National Coalition for Universities in the Public Interest
  • 1989: Princeton Project 55 (alumni public service)
  • 1993: Appleseed Foundation (local change)
  • 1994: Resource Consumption Alliance (conserve trees)
  • 1995: Center for Insurance Research
  • 1995: Consumer Project on Technology
  • 1997?: Government Purchasing Project (encourage purchase of safe products)
  • 1998: Center for Justice and Democracy
  • 1998: Organization for Competitive Markets
  • 1998: American Antitrust Institute (ensure fair competition)
  • 1999?: Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest
  • 1999?: Commercial Alert (protect family, community, and democracy from corporations)
  • 2000: Congressional Accountability Project (fight corruption in Congress)
  • 2001: Citizen Works (promote NGO cooperation, build grassroots support, and start new groups)
  • 2001: Democracy Rising (hold rallies to educate and empower citizens)

Presidential campaigns

Third-party votes controversy

In the 2000 presidential election in Florida, George W. Bush defeated Al Gore by 537 votes. Nader received 97,421 votes. In fact, all seven of the other third-party candidates on the ballot in Florida each received more than 537 votes.

The claim is that this was Nader's "greatest impact" on the election. Nader himself, both in his book Crashing the Party, and on his website, states: "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. When asked about claims of being a spoiler, Nader typically points to the controversial Supreme Court ruling that halted a Florida recount, Gore's loss in his home state of Tennessee, and the "quarter million Democrats who voted for Bush in Florida. A study in 2002 by the Progressive Review found no correlation between votes for Nader and votes for Gore (i.e., more votes for Nader did not correlate to fewer votes for Gore and vice versa). An analysis conducted by Harvard Professor B.C. Burden in 2005 showed Nader did affect Gore's chances, but that

"Contrary to Democrats’ complaints, Nader was not intentionally trying to throw the election. A spoiler strategy would have caused him to focus disproportionately on the most competitive states and markets with the hopes of being a keyplayer in the outcome. There is no evidence that his appearances responded to closeness. He did, apparently, pursue voter support, however, in a quest to receive 5% of the popular vote.

When asked by MSNBC's Tim Russert about the possibility of preventing a Democratic victory in 2008, Nader responded, "Not a chance. If the Democrats can’t landslide the Republicans this year, they ought to just wrap up, close down, and emerge in a different form.

Presidential campaign history

1972
"Draft Nader" effort had no ballot line to offer, nor did Nader authorize his name to appear on any ballot until 1992.1990
Nader considered launching a third party around issues of citizen empowerment and consumer rights. 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 stood in as a write-in for "none of the above" in both the 1992 New Hampshire Democratic and Republican Primaries and received 3,054 of the 170,333 Democratic votes and 3,258 of the 177,970 Republican votes cast. He was also a candidate in the 1992 Massachusetts Democratic Primary, where he appeared at the top of the ballot.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).2000
In the 2006 documentary An Unreasonable Man, Nader describes how, during the second Clinton Administration, he found that he was unable to get the views of his public interest groups heard in Washington, even by then President Clinton's administration. Nader cites this as one of the primary reasons that he decided again to actively run in the 2000 election as candidate of the Green Party, which had been formed in the wake of his 1996 campaign.

In October 2000, at the largest Super Rally of his campaign, held in New York City's Madison Square Garden, 15,000 people paid $20 each to hear Mr. Nader speak. Nader's campaign rejected both parties as institutions dominated by corporate interests, stating that Al Gore and George W. Bush were "Tweedledee and Tweedledum." The campaign also had some prominent union help: The California Nurses Association and the United Electrical Workers endorsed his candidacy and campaigned for him.

In 2000, Nader received 2,883,105 votes, for 2.74 percent of the popular vote, missing the 5 percent needed to qualify the Green Party for federally distributed public funding in the next election, yet qualifying the Greens for ballot status in many new states.

Nader's votes in New Hampshire and Florida vastly exceeded the difference in votes between Gore and Bush, as did the votes of all alternative candidates. Exit polls showed the state staying close, and within the margin of error without Nader as national exit polls showed Nader's supporters choose Gore over Bush by a large margin well outside the margin of error. Winning either state would have given Gore the presidency, and while critics claim this shows Nader tipped the election to Bush, Nader has called that claim "a mantra — an assumption without data. Michael Moore at first argued that Florida was so close that votes for any of seven other candidates could also have switched the results, but in 2004 joined the view that Nader had helped make Bush president. Other Nader supporters argued that Gore was primarily responsible for his own loss. But Eric Alterman, perhaps Nader's most persistent critic, has regarded such arguments as beside the point: "One person in the world could have prevented Bush's election with his own words on the Election Day 2000. Nation columnist Alexander Cockburn cited Gore's failure to win over progressive voters in Florida who chose Nader, and congratulated those voters: "Who would have thought the Sunshine State had that many progressives in it, with steel in their spine and the spunk to throw Eric Alterman's columns into the trash can? Nader's actual influence on the 2000 election is the subject of considerable discussion, and there is no consensus on Nader's impact on the outcome. Still others argued that even if Nader's constituents could have made the swing difference between Gore and Bush, the votes Nader garnered were not from the Democrats, but from Democrats, Republicans, and discouraged voters who would not have voted otherwise. 2004
Nader announced on December 24, 2003 that he would not seek the Green Party's nomination for president in 2004; however, he did not rule out running as an independent candidate.

Meeting with John Kerry — Ralph Nader and Democratic Candidate John Kerry held a widely publicized meeting early in the 2004 Presidential campaign, which Nader described in An Unreasonable Man. Nader said that John Kerry wanted to work to win Nader's support and the support of Nader's voters. Nader then provided more than 20 pages of issues that he felt were important and he "put them on the table" for John Kerry. According to Nader the issues covered topics ranging from environmental, labor, healthcare, tax reform, corporate crime, campaign finance reform and various consumer protection issues.

Nader reported that he asked John Kerry to choose any three of the issues and highlight them in his campaign and if Kerry would do this, he would refrain from the race. Several months passed and Kerry failed to adopt any of Nader's issues as benchmarks of his campaign, so on February 22, 2004, Nader announced on NBC that he would indeed run for president as an independent, saying, "There's too much power and wealth in too few hands."

Paying Nader not to run — Nader also reported in the documentary An Unreasonable Man that many wealthy Democratic donors offered to give money to his public interest groups if he declined to run, however, none of these groups would go a step further to guarantee that his issues would get a fair hearing in Washington. Nader replied, "why should I spend all of your money working on issues that are just going to run into a brick wall in Washington?"

The campaign — Nader's 2004 campaign ran on a platform consistent with the Green Party's positions on major issues, such as opposition to the war in Iraq. Due to concerns about a possible spoiler effect in 2000, many Democrats urged Nader to abandon his 2004 candidacy. The Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Terry McAuliffe, stated that Nader had a "distinguished career, fighting for working families," and that McAuliffe "would hate to see part of his legacy being that he got us eight years of George Bush." Nader received 463,653 votes, for 0.38% of the popular vote. Nader replied to this, in filmed interviews for An Unreasonable Man, by pointing out that, "Voting for a candidate of one's choice is a Constitutional right, and the Democrats who are asking me not to run are, without question, seeking to deny the Constitutional rights of voters who are, by law, otherwise free to choose to vote for me."

In the 2004 campaign, Democrats such as Howard Dean and Terry McAuliffe asked that Nader return money donated to his campaign by Republicans who were well-known Bush supporters, such as billionaire Richard Egan. Nader's reaction to the request was to refuse to return any donations and he charged that the Democrats were attempting to smear him. Nader's vice-presidential running mate, Peter Camejo, supported the return of the money if it could be proved that "the aim of the wealthy GOP donors was to peel votes from Kerry." According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Nader defended his keeping of the donations by saying that wealthy contributors "are human beings too."2008
In February 2007, Nader criticized Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton as "a panderer and a flatterer." Asked on CNN Late Edition news program if he would run in 2008, Nader replied, "It's really too early to say...." Asked during a radio appearance to describe the former First Lady, Nader said, "Flatters, panders, coasting, front-runner, looking for a coronation ... She has no political fortitude. Some Greens started a campaign to draft Nader as their party's 2008 presidential candidate.

In June 2007, Nader said, "You know the two parties are still converging — they don't even debate the military budget anymore. I really think there needs to be more competition from outside the two parties. Nader participated in the Green Party presidential debates in San Francisco on January 13, 2008, though not as an announced candidate. On January 30, 2008, he formed an exploratory committee for another possible run at the presidency, telling CNN he would run again if he could raise the necessary funds.

On February 24, 2008, Nader announced his 2008 presidential bid on Meet the Press. On February 28, 2008, Nader named former San Francisco Board of Supervisors president Matt Gonzalez as his running mate for the 2008 Presidential Election. On September 10, 2008 he appeared with Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul as well as several other third party candidates for a press conference at the National Press Club to present the four key principles that they all agreed were the most important of the election. Nader and Paul would later that day appear on CNN's The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer to briefly lay out these principles.

Personal finances

According to the mandatory fiscal 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. He also held more than $2 million in two money market funds. Nader owned no car or real estate in 2000, and said he lived on US$25,000 a year, giving most of his stock earnings to many of the over four dozen non-profit organizations he had founded.

In 2000, The New York Times reported that Nader's secretiveness had "spawned a host of dark theories among his critics, among them a 1990 report in Forbes magazine that reported the claim of neighbors that Nader has been living in a $1.5 million townhouse for almost 20 years. Nader told the Times the town house he has been spotted entering is his sister's, which Forbes confirmed.

Recognition

In 1999 an NYU panel of eminent journalists ranked Nader's book Unsafe At Any Speed 38th among the top 100 pieces of journalism of the 20th century. In 1990 Life Magazine, and again in 1999 Time Magazine, named Nader one of the 100 most influential Americans of the 20th century. In its December 2006 article on the "100 most influential Americans" in history, in which its ten invited historians voted Nader 96th, The Atlantic Monthly stated: "He made the cars we drive safer; thirty years later, he made George W. Bush the president.

Television appearances

Ralph Nader appeared on Sesame Street in 1988. He was featured as "a person in your neighborhood." The song began "A consumer advocate is a person in your neighborhood." This was somewhat tongue-in-cheek, as his profession as a consumer advocate was largely self-defined, and he was perhaps the only professional full-time consumer advocate at that time. This song compares him to a postman or a policeman, members of professions whom you may run into on a daily basis. This appearance on Sesame Street was particularly memorable because this was the only time that the grammar of the last line of the song "A person who you meet each day" was questioned and corrected in the show. Ralph Nader refused to sing the grammatically incorrect line, and so a compromise was reached, resulting in Ralph Nader singing the last line as a solo with the modified words: "A person whom you meet each day. He also hosted an episode of NBC's Saturday Night Live in 1977. He appeared on an episode of Late Night with Conan O'Brien interviewed by Triumph the Insult Comic Dog in 2008.

Nader is a member of the union American Federation of Television and Radio Artists and receives a union pension.

Works

See also

Notes

  • An Unreasonable Man (2006). An Unreasonable Man is a documentary film about Ralph Nader that appeared at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival.
  • Burden, Barry C. (2005). Ralph Nader's Campaign Strategy in the 2000 U.S. Presidential Election 2005, American Politics Research 33:672-99.
  • Ralph Nader: Up Close This film blends archival footage and scenes of Nader and his staff at work in Washington with interviews with Nader's family, friends and adversaries, as well as Nader himself. Written, directed and produced by Mark Litwak and Tiiu Lukk, 1990, color, 72 mins. Narration by Studs Terkel. Broadcast on PBS. Winner, Sinking Creek Film Festival; Best of Festival, Baltimore Int'l Film Festival; Silver Plaque, Chicago Int'l Film Festival, Silver Apple, National Educational Film & Video Festival.
  • Bear, Greg, "Eon" — the novel includes a depiction of a future group called the "Naderites" who follow Ralph Nader's humanistic teachings.
  • Martin, Justin. Nader: Crusader, Spoiler, Icon. Perseus Publishing, 2002. ISBN 0-7382-0563-X

References

Further reading

  • What Was Ralph Nader Thinking? by Jurgen Vsych, Wroughten Books, 2008. ISBN 978-0-9749879-2-7
  • Citizen Nader by Charles McCarry Saturday Review Press, 1972 ISBN 0-8415-0163-7
  • The Investigation of Ralph Nader by Thomas Whiteside 1972.

External links

Video and audio links

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