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NPR Arts & Life

Ralph Nader Seeks A United Front Against Corporate America


Ralph Nader has never been elected president, but his new book has a broad-based coalition of endorsements that range from Grover Norquist on the right to Robert Reich and Cornel West on the left, in which Mr. Nader finds in a partisan time the outlines of a new political force that crosses all party lines. His new book is "Unstoppable: The Emerging Left-Right Alliance To Dismantle The Corporate State." Ralph Nader joins us in our studios. Thanks so much for being with us.

RALPH NADER: Thank you very much, Scott.

SIMON: Let me get immediately to some of the areas that you specifically cite where you see some opportunity for the left and right meeting on specific issues. Civil liberties.

NADER: Yes, there's one where this very wide consensus that the Patriot Act has been misinterpreted or abused to restrict civil liberties, to allow the NSA to do dragnet snooping on all Americans and telephone calls and emails. It's interesting that even the 2002 Texas Republican platform said specifically, the war on terrorism should never be used as a pretext to curtail our freedoms and civil liberties.

So the idea of the whole book is that a lot of these left-right alliances, they start with verbal agreement around, you know, Main Street and Elm Street around the country. Then they move to a level, say, of a rumble. And then when the rumble comes, then the media picks it up, you get academic reports fortifying the claims, you get the think tanks going. And then you get the attention of the incumbents.

SIMON: You also see some left-right convergence on the whole issue of protecting children from what in shorthand I'll refer to as some of the crassest appeals of commercialism.

NADER: Yeah, corporate marketers now, they are bypassing, undermining parental authority and having direct, tailored ads to children, sometimes as young as 4 years old, 6, 8, 10. And they're selling them very bad things for their health - junk food, junk drink, violent programming.

And these ads on Madison Avenue, they get prizes for having, quote, "a high nag factor," kids nagging their parents to go get the products when they're too young to do it themselves. And this comes in very, very high in terms of left-right convergence. I just see this major political realignment. I see it. Reading a book like this gives people a sense - more than hope, gives a sense that they've found a combination of Americans that can start taking a lot of these solutions off the shelf, you know, and putting them on the ground.

SIMON: You have an exchange in this book that you quote with Ed Crane, who's head of the Cato Institute. And I want you to get to talk about the substance of that, but I also - I have to begin by saying there's a part of me that's thinking, I wouldn't imagine two people less likely to be in friendly communication than Ralph Nader and Ed Crane.

NADER: Well.

SIMON: But I'd be wrong.

NADER: Look what he told me. He said, Ralph, I'm against all corporate subsidies. I'm against unconstitutional wars. I oppose the Patriot Act. And I think the Federal Reserve is running amok. I said, Ed, that's a pretty good start.

SIMON: He blames a lot of the misbehavior on big banks. He says that they were only assisting government policy. I wonder how you feel about his analysis.

NADER: Well, the federal budget is really twisted in terms of its priority. It's not being put on repairing America, what we used to call the public works and now it's called infrastructure now, that creates local, good jobs. I wouldn't go so far as his criticism of Fannie and Freddie. I think the New York banks were really more culpable and they sold Freddie and Fannie a lot of toxic paper.


NADER: It's not that Freddie and Fannie weren't culpable, but he thinks Freddie and Fannie ought to be abolished, but there is a huge...

SIMON: He's essentially saying the boom in housing, which led to the oversupply of housing...

NADER: Yeah.

SIMON: ...Was impelled by government programs that said to people, every American should be in a home.

NADER: It was certainly promoted by low-interest rates. And that's the Federal Reserve's domain. So you can see there's a huge left-right alliance potential here, and it really is unstoppable. And in the past, it's succeeded.

SIMON: You say despite being identified as a liberal, when you run for president, you've gotten actually more - you say, more votes from Republicans than Democrats.

NADER: Yeah, when I had this write-in effort in New Hampshire in 1992, yeah, I came in about 51 percent of my votes were Republican, 49 Democrats. And the explanation's really quite simple. I don't campaign in generalities. What I do is I go down where people live and work and say, look, you're a Republican. You don't like federal regulation. Right, I don't like federal regulation. You have a car? Yeah. Well, if the auto company discovers a serious dangerous defect in your car after you bought it and the auto company doesn't recall it, would you favor the government requiring General Motors or Ford or VW to recall it? Most of them say yes.

That's the difference. When you have a general ideological divide, you bring it down and shove aside some of these manipulative ideologies and what follows - red state, blue state, you know, the right-wing, left-wing because we're all so focused on the clashes and the disagreements. And there are disagreements, obviously, between left and right. But the number of emerging agreements as corporations become more and more powerful, you're getting more visibility and more of this rumble from the people.

SIMON: I'd like to ask you a General Motors question. You became a big public figure in 1965 with "Unsafe At Any Speed." We have seatbelts today. General Motors tried to discredit you. You sued them for invasion of privacy, got an almost half-a-million-dollar settlement that in many ways launched your work. Recognizing that history, should the U.S. government have bailed out General Motors?

NADER: I think it had to because of the workers and the communities where you had all of these plants. But because it became a 60-percent owner - the U.S. government owns 60 percent of General Motors as a result of the bankruptcy - they could have straightened that company out, but they were completely hands-off with the post-bankruptcy management. In retrospect, they had to save General Motors. But they could've laid down tougher conditions.

SIMON: What do you think about when you see some of the accounts in recent weeks about General Motors concealing what seems to have been a major problem which led to injury and death?

NADER: Eternal vigilance of the regulator is required. And the auto safety agency fell down on the job. It's just that simple. I think now we're going to get stronger legislation as a result of the GM debacle. A lot of good will come from it, unfortunately because of these fatalities.

SIMON: Ralph Nader. His new book "Unstoppable: The Emerging Left-Right Alliance To Dismantle The Corporate State." Thanks so much for being with us.

NADER: Thank you, Scott.

SIMON: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.