The Times, They Are A-Changin'
Michael H. Glantz
3 August 2004
Nader's Neo-Raiders" The Times, They Are A-Changin'
Many people today do not know about (or can recall) the details of how Ralph Nader was catapulted into the limelight back in the 1960s. At that time, he was a lawyer concerned about protecting the American consumer. In 1965, he wrote "Unsafe At Any Speed."
This was an exposure of the lack of safety features in American automobiles, epecially those of General Motors in general and the Corvair in particular. He noted that many autos were "structurally flawed, " i.e., the Corvair could roll over. He took his crusade to the US Congress and the American people --- and won. For example, in 1966 the US Congress passed the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act. Part of Nader's victory was sparked by a General Motors management decision to spy on him, looking for any indiscretion on Nader's part in order to discredit him and his exposure of the auto industry. In essence, Nader (the equivalent of the biblical David) took on GM (Goliath) and the auto industry. Nader (Mr. Clean) sued General Motors and won. Nader used funds from his court settlement to develop consumer-oriented public interest groups.
Vehicles (agents of injury) were built with new safety features, including head rests, energy-absorbing steering wheels, shatter-resistant windshields, and safety belts, among other auto safety features. Today there are various organizations and agencies that watch the auto industry to make sure it keeps driver-passenger-pedestrian safety in mind.
At the time, Nader was attacked not only by the auto industry, but by others as well for having done the right thing: exposing unsafe auto design. Here, for example, is the opening line of a speech given in 1975 by a senior project engineer for Corvair: "Good evening, fellow Nader haters! Do you love your Corvair? [applause] Now I know I'm in the right place!" (from www.vv.corvair.org/Library/benzinger.htm)
Perhaps one of the most immediate and visible spin-offs of Nader's victory was the emergence of young activists, mostly dedicated volunteers and committed, relatively low-paid staff. They became known as Nader's Raiders. Among other consumer-related activities, they kept a close eye on the auto industry and were ready to blow the whistle on its shortcomings. (photo credit: John Zimmerman, Life Magazine)
Decades later, Nader is back in the news. In the 2000 election, his participation inadvertently enabled George W. Bush, someone to whom he appears to be diametrically opposed, to eke out a victory in the US presidential election. In that election, he was a third-party alternative (the Green Party). Who knew the election would be so close or that Gore's defeat could be laid at the feet of Nader's Green Party candidacy?
Interestingly, an Associated Press story ("Former Nader's Raiders Urge Him Not to Hurt Gore" by Eun-Kyung Kim on 21 October 2000) just a few weeks before the election reported that
The article continued: the group's letter also told Nader "it would be a cruel irony indeed if your major legacy were to erase the victory from the candidate who most embodies your philosophy, Al Gore."
It is now four years later, and time once again for a presidential election. Nader is back in the picture, but this time without the backing of the Green Party. This time his potential impact on the election is something that can be estimated in a better way at least. This time his candidacy most likely could make him a spoiler, as far as the Kerry-Edwards Democratic ticket is concerned. Nader and his diehard supporters surely know this. Calls to Nader from organizations and supporters of the Kerry-Edwards ticket (I even sent an email to him) urging him to drop out of this election have fallen on deaf ears, literally and figuratively.
Today his run for the presidency presents former supporters of Nader's Raiders with a dilemma: how to look at him as a person, as a hero of days gone by, and how to look at him as a candidate for the highest office of the land. Clearly he has no chance to win this particular election, while he does have a foreseeable chance to give the White House back to the Bush-Cheny-Rice-Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz-Ashcroft team. About why he would do such a thing, one can only speculate. Some say he has lost his marbles. Others say his ego drives him on. His supporters contend that, in the long run, such bold movemenets do matter by eventually helping to make the basic changes to the American political processes that they seek. Neither I, nor anyone else for that matter, can get into the mind of Ralph Nader; maybe even Nader cannot do so. It is clear that he is now marching to a different drummer than he did in the 1960s. As the saying goes, "politics makes for strange bedfellows."
In the context of the 2004 Bush-Kerry election, the reality is that the Republican Party loves Ralph Nader. Check out some of the headlines on the Internet by doing a search for "Nader and Republicans":
Is it déjà vu all over again, as suggested in the political cartoon at the left from the run-up to the 2000 presidental election? (from cagle.slate.msn.com)
It appears to me that Nader has put together a new set of Nader's Raiders: only this time those raiders are for the most part raiding the Democratic Party of sorely needed votes in the November 2004 election. Nader has taken on the label of a spoiler as opposed to a protector.
To an old Nader supporter like me, the names of Nader and of Nader's Neo-Raiders are generating a negative feeling toward them and their so-called political movement. (On a personal note, as someone who is in his mid-sixties and nearing retirement, Nader's antics reinforce my belief that there is a good time to stop doing what you have done all of your work life, to leave your career on a good note, rather than stay on longer than need be. While it may be good for one's ego to stay on doing what one wants to do and not let go, it can be very bad for one's lasting reputation as determined by friend and foe alike.)
One could argue that Nader has finally achieved what he was after four decades ago: the acceptance as well as backing of Big Business. However, it has not been in support of environmental issues as he might have wanted. Instead, it has been at the expense of many of his original supporters and, to my mind, his positive image in American history.
Maybe Nader will soon see a "bigger" picture than the picture of Ralph Nader running for president for the third time in a decade. He should seriously consider a variation of the words that comedian George Burns used to say to his wife Gracie Allen as a closing statement at the end of their act, "Say good night, Ralphie."
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