Where are they now? Ralph Nader

World famous consumer protection advocate, rebuked as the "spoiler" who thwarted Al Gore's presidential bid. Where is he now?

Once he was on TV across the globe almost weekly, advocating consumer rights. But has Ralph Nader dropped totally out of sight? Not if you live in America, it seems.

Born in 1934 in Winsted, Connecticut to Arabic-speaking Lebanese migrant parents, Ralph grew up bilingual. His father was a millworker turned baker and restauranteur and a keen armchair politician. The boy was educated at the quasi-public Gilbert School and from there sent to Princeton and on to Harvard Law School. 

In 1959 he wrote an article on the motor industry called 'The Safe Car You Can Buy' for The Nation, a liberal periodical. At Harvard he zeroed in on consumer issues, contributing to the Harvard Law Record on the subject. 


After graduation he worked as a history professor at Hartford University before moving at the age of 31 in 1964 to Washington DC. In the capital he took a job working for Assistant Secretary of Labor Patrick Moynihan and advised a US Senate sub-committee on car safety. He began a crusade on the subject, writing numerous books starting with Unsafe at Any Speed in 1965. Over a hundred lawsuits against Chevrolet, a GM subsidiary, provided material for Nader's book.  

This sparked a war of attrition with the auto industry, leading to allegations that car firms had hired "private detectives to tap his phones and investigate his past and hiring prostitutes to trap him in compromising situations," according to The New Republic and New York Times notes Wikipedia.

Nader's Raders and Activism

Hundreds of activists swarmed to Washington DC to assist Ralph in his capaign to make America cleaner and safer.  They looked into government corruption, too, and published their findings. And in 1971 Public Citizen, an NGO which today claims over a quarter a million members, was born. Ralph himself at this time became involved in the campaign against nuclear-powered energy facilities. By 1974 he had created the Critical Mass Energy Project as an umbrella organisation. Fronline reports that Ralph Nader "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."  He has since founded countless NGOs with stated aims extending to the further empowerment of the people as Democracy Rising advocated when set in in 2001.


Ecology:  the term preceeding Environment which morphed into Green which invaded the vocabulary before Climate Change and Global Warming. Back in 1970 Nader yearned to tell the people of his concerns. He began with the contamination of the rivers and lakes in America.

Bids for the White House

Unperturbed by opposition to his agenda, Ralph sought the ultimate prize: the Presidency.  But a nomination from either big-tent party, his attempts were doomed to failure:

1972: decided not to run for the New Party, a splinter from the Democrats. Failed as a candidate for the Vice Presidential Democratic nomination. The Republican Richard Nixon won the presidency.

1992: failed in attempts in both New Hampshire and Massachusetts Democratic and Republic primaries. A Democrat Bill Clinton won in ' 92.

1996: stood as a Green, yet not endorsed by the Green Party of the US, achieving 0.71% of the popular vote and reaching fourth.  The winner was Bill Clinton.

2000: stood for the Green Party, garnering 2.74% of the national vote and coming in third. The victor was George W. Bush, a Republican. Nader received 97,421 votes, and Bush had beaten his Democratic rival Al Gore by a measly 537 votes, which led to charges that Nader's candidacy had been responsible for Gore's defeat. That's politics for you! Never any certainty when you throw your hat in the ring. Gore has re-invented himself as a controversial environmental campaigner anyway, perhaps he learnt something on the hustings?

2004: stood as an Independent and came fourth attracting 0.38% of the vote. Again the winner was George W. Bush.

2008: stood as an Independent and came third with 0.56% of the vote. The winner was Barack Obama, a Democrat.


In January 2011 Nader was joined by Ron Paul, a noted outsider in the Republican Party, on the Fox Business Network TV programme Freedom Watch.  He's clearly not stopped campaigning. 

As recently as a couple of days ago, he told the Daily Caller he wanted to do something different in the 2012 campaign. To thwart Obama, he'd assemble a group of inspiring, controversial candidates "to take Obama to task on a variety of issues. The press would ignore one lesser-known candidate, Nader told The Daily Caller, but an unorthodox “slate” of candidates would attract more attention. “So you have to have several people of distinguished backgrounds — different distinguished backgrounds — run as a slate in various primaries so that he can’t ignore someone who has a military-foreign policy background, environmental background, poverty-labor background. See what I mean?” Nader explained."

But in a society driven by the desire for wealth and in a political system where rich vested interests lobby the powerful, perhaps his efforts have had marginal success. A man of his calibre should have had a real stab at the White House job, so the people could experience his vision first hand. Maybe someone else of historical importance will pick up the baton. At the same time as global warming accelerates and the US is battered by unprecedented storms, America will have to rectify its monumental debt problem. It will need a more youthful champion to drive forward the change required to manage the challenges of both.

Ralph Nader turned 77 on February 27 2011.

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