14 October 2009
Ralph Nader will always be remembered by his critics as the man whose bid for the White House in 2000 gave us eight years of George W. Bush. The disdain many liberals have for Nader still runs deep nearly a decade later. But there's no denying the positive impact his activism has had on this country over the past half-century. Without Ralph Nader there wouldn't be an Environmental Protection Agency, an Occupational Safety and Health Administration, a Consumer Product Safety Commission, a Safe Drinking Water Act and so on.
Nader has also written scores of books, many of which spotlighted his crusade against corporate behemoths like General Motors and the two-party system he says has steered the country in the wrong direction. Simply put, Nader may be accused of being a "spoiler," but he's also a true believer. Recently, I sat down with Nader to discuss his latest doorstopper of a book, "Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us" a fictional account involving real-life public figures, including Warren Buffet, Ted Turner, Yoko Ono and Phil Donahue, who set off to start a progressive revolution using their enormous wealth.
Although fictional, Nader does not refer to this highly readable tome as a novel. Rather, he describes it as a "practical utopia."
"Historically, our country has benefited from 'practical utopias,' or utopian fiction" that "infused and gave vision to the progressive movement," Nader said in our wide-ranging interview. "But in the last 50 years or so, we just haven't done much practical utopian fiction."
In addition to describing how the theme of his book can become reality, Nader also offered blistering analyses of President Obama's job performance thus far and the debate surrounding health care reform. Though I pointed out to Nader that the president has only been in office for eight months (at the time of this interview), he referred to Obama as a "concessionary politician" despite his short time in office.
"He doesn't like conflict, he doesn't like taking on the corporate powers - he demonstrated that as senator of Illinois and senator in the US Senate. He is what might be called a concessionary personality, a harmony ideology," Nader said. "In Washington, you project that from the White House and the shark tank known as the Congress will eat you alive."
Nader said Obama has "lost huge momentum" in his attempt to overhaul the health care industry, in part because "he's turned his back on liberals and progressives who elected him. He doesn't invite them, for the most part, to the White House, but he invites the CEOs of the drug companies, of the auto companies, of the banks, and he bails out these crooks on Wall Street."
As for his political aspirations, Nader did not indicate whether he would mount another presidential bid. But he said he wanted to see "a major, historical, progressive convention convened to sort of elevate the whole progressive movement, with a thorough agenda of empowerment and substantive justice, and very substantial financial resources."
"The progressive movement - if it's not demoralized, it's fractured," Nader said. "It doesn't have a sense of pride and identity for what its forebears delivered to the American people."
Secondly, Nader said, "Maybe this book will stimulate some billionaires and mega-millionaires who are enlightened and of advanced age and have no axe to grind, who will come forward and take [on] their great cause."
Photo: Joëlle Pénochet