I used to think of Nader as a hero. I marveled at his courage in taking on the auto industry on safety issues. I was thrilled to see my dad, who ran an ad agency, do the first full-page ads, pro-bono, to launch Nader’s Public Citizen and his Congress Project. I have those ads framed in my office. I was over the moon when Nader gave a blurb for my 1982 expose of the insurance industry. As Rachel Carson’s A Silent Spring launched the environmental movement, so Unsafe at Any Speed launched consumerism. We consumers have a lot to thank Ralph Nader for.
And yet it turns out to my great dismay, there is another side to Ralph Nader. I could write 10,000 words about this — and did, not so long ago, under the headline “Ralph Nader Is a Big Fat Idiot.” In the one area I have come to know in painstaking detail — your overpriced, rotten automobile insurance — Nader has been anything but the consumer’s friend. For more than three decades, Consumers Union has been crying out for meaningful reform. Nader has been without question the lynchpin in preventing it.
We all want heroes. It was very discouraging for me to see how much harm Nader had — inadvertently, I’m sure — caused drivers and accident victims. And how stubbornly he refused even to discuss it, even to answer mail about it.
But that was nothing compared with what he is doing now. He’s running for President, and his candidacy could actually siphon off enough votes to throw the White House to the Republicans. Which means a conservative Supreme Court for the next 25 years. (On “Meet the Press,” George W. singled out Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia as the two Justices he most admired. If elected, he would likely get three or very possibly four appointments to the Court in his first term.)
Few things could be worse for the little guy Nader claims to represent. And yet I am assured by a mutual friend that he’s in the race to stay, consequences be damned. “The Democrats could use a four-year cold shower,” he told Tim Russert during his own “Meet the Press” interview. And if it’s a 25-year cold shower because of the Court, and young women go back to having coat-hanger abortions, well, Russert didn’t ask, but that doesn’t seem to deter Nader either.
The NRA rejoices! The gun-show loophole will stay open after all! The tobacco industry exhales a sigh of relief. Finally, a president who can work with Jesse Helms. McDonald’s is thrilled. No more minimum wage hikes (never shoulda been raised from $4.25 to $5.15 in the first place)! Steve Forbes beams. A well-deserved multi-million dollar cut in his annual tax bill. The Big Three cheer. That silliness about cleaner air and global warming can be put behind us. Banks and insurance companies relax. Scrutiny of abusive credit card practices and redlining gets put on the back burner. Big campaign contributors exult. Campaign finance reform is dead.
Ralph Nader has ridden to their rescue.
What must he — and his supporters — be thinking?!