Consumer advocate Ralph Nader

Nader, who has instigated many consumer reforms that Americans now take for granted, reviews points from his latest text, Unstoppable.

A consumer advocate, political activist, lawyer and best-selling author, Ralph Nader has been cited by The Atlantic as one of the 100 most influential figures in American history. He first made headlines in 1965 with his book, Unsafe at Any Speed, which led to congressional hearings and passage of automobile safety legislation. He went on to build a national network of citizen groups that have had a significant impact in such areas as nuclear energy and healthcare. Nader is also a four-time candidate for President of the U.S. In his latest book, Unstoppable, he explores the emerging political alignment of the Left and the Right against converging corporate-government tyranny.

TRANSCRIPT

Tavis: Ralph Nader has, since the 1960s, been a thorn in the side of big business, big banks, big media, and career politicians who care more about corporate support than protecting the public.

Among the reforms he’s instigated through grassroots action are many of the consumer protections that we take for granted, I think, today, like say for cars, cleaner air, and healthier food.

His latest text is called “Unstoppable: The Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State.” He joins us now from Washington. Ralph Nader, sir, always an honor to have you on this program.

Ralph Nader: Nice to be here.

Tavis: I suspect that some might have just turned the volume up on their television because they thought they heard me introduce Ralph Nader to talk about a book about an emerging left-right alliance.

You’re the guy who’s fought these big guys for all these years, and now you want to get into an alliance? You think there’s enough goodwill in Washington for the left and right to actually come together on some of these issues?

Nader: Only when we start with the people back home, and that’s where the left-right alliance starts. People, whether they are liberals, conservatives, libertarians, progressives, they don’t want corporate subsidies and bailouts of Wall Street. They’re more for Main Street.

They don’t want restrictions on their civil liberties and freedoms, and they don’t want the government to snoop. So they want revisions in the PATRIOT Act, they want the minimum wage for 30 million people to get at least what people were paid in 1968 adjusted for inflation.

That would be about $10.50, close to $11 an hour, when the minimum wage is down at, frozen at $7.25. They don’t like these job-destroying corporate trade agreements like NAFTA and WTO.

They see the whole communities being hollowed out, jobs and factories shipped abroad to autocratic regimes that know how to put the workers there in their place at 80 cents an hour.

There are all kinds of areas now that are actually going operational in terms of state legislators, left-right, passing juvenile justice reform, taking another look at the prison industrial complex, taking another look at the war on drugs.

The trade agreement from the Pacific that Mr. Obama is negotiating, that’s going to be blocked by a left-right coalition in the House of Representatives in defiance of their own leaders, John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi.

Tavis: So as always, Ralph, as usual, you are right about the facts, no doubt about that. Yet there is this huge disconnect between the facts you’ve just laid out that do, in fact, make up the opinion of the American public.

A huge disconnect between that reality and the fact that in Washington, nothing can get done, even when polls and surveys and studies indicate this is what the American people want.

So the question is not about what the American people want, it’s how do you get the folk in that building behind you to come together to actually do something on these issues?

Nader: Okay. The politicians in the pockets of the Wall Street boys, they’re terrified of a left-right alliance because they know it’s a majority alliance, and they know that it’ll get press when it emerges from mere verbal agreements by millions of people, left-right, into more demonstrative visibility.

Like if they have marches or if they have demonstrations or pickets, or if they even have petitions, left-right petitions going to their state legislature or their senator or representative.

I’ve seen it operate, Tavis, I’ve seen it operate. The NSA vote against snooping almost went to the House last year, and the intervention in Syria, we could have got in another war in Syria, that was blocked by a torrent of emails coming to every member of Congress, 100 to one, 50 to one, left-right.

When they sniff a left-right, they’re terrified of it, and so are the corporations. That’s why they’re dividing and ruling left-right, focusing them on the areas they disagree like gun control and reproductive rights, and making sure that all the areas they do agree, and I’ve got 24 of them described in my book, are off the table and therefore out of the media.

So the idea is to take that convergence and move it into a level of visibility, of demonstrative urgency to the decision-makers.

Tavis: But I can’t imagine though, Ralph, that the American people want or wanted to intervene in Syria militarily any less than they want to increase the minimum wage.

So how is it that we can be effective? How is it that we could have activated our agency about not wanting to go to Syria, but Americans who are suffering every day who want to see the minimum wage raised to a living wage, we’ve not been able to impact that particular issue?

Nader: Well what’s interesting is it was like an electric grapevine, and millions of people said oh no, we’re not going to go to another war, send our soldiers to another war in the Middle East. We’ve had enough with Iraq and Afghanistan.

On the minimum wage, it’s actually coming in 70 to 80 percent support, and that means there are a lot of conservative workers in Walmart who are not saying I don’t want a raise from eight bucks an hour because I’m a conservative.

They want enough to feed their family and provide the necessities of life. That is now going operational. You see cities around the country that are passing, with bipartisan support, higher minimum wages – San Jose recently, Santa Fe a few years ago, Seattle’s going for $15 an hour.

You see states; there are now 20 states that have higher minimum wage than the federal. That is beginning to really accelerate and put pressure on Congress. So now the Democrats see it as a winning issue in 2014, so they’re pushing $10.10 an hour minimum wage.

The Republicans haven’t got the message yet. They’re still in hock to the Walmarts and the McDonald’s and the Wall Street boys. But they’re going to see that that minimum wage issue is going to cost them votes in 2014.

Tavis: What do you say to people like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, who are great philanthropists, have used their money to do a lot of good? I always make the distinction between philanthropy and justice.

So because they’re philanthropists doesn’t mean they’re right about everything. But you do have these American citizens who’ve distinguished themselves in corporate America who are saying that they’re not necessarily against increasing the minimum wage.

But how you do it and how fast you do it does make a difference, says Bill Gates, says Warren Buffett. How do you respond to that?

Nader: Well it’s way overdue. You don’t have to worry now about phasing it in. For years now, since 1968, up and down, the minimum wage has fallen beyond inflation.

That means that workers are giving a windfall to their employers year after year, and they’re not getting that back pay, Tavis. All they’re saying today is well let’s bring it back to 1968, adjusted for inflation.

In the meantime, worker productivity has doubled. This is the most modest thing you can imagine, and it will put tens of billions of dollars into the economy to stimulate the economy and create more jobs.

It really is a no-brainer. Even Phyllis Schlafly, Rick Santorum, and when he was governor of Massachusetts, Romney were for a minimum wage.

Tavis: How do you respond to the following, that even though you’ve laid out these 25 issues in this new book, “Unstoppable: The Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State,” a wonderful book, I’ve read it, obviously.

You’ve got these 25 issues in here you’ve laid out where you think there can be some coalition-building, some collaboration on the Hill, and yet every poll and survey and study I’ve read of late, Ralph, suggests to me in one way or another that the American people know that their system of government is broken, they believe that Congress is dysfunctional.

You’ve seen the paltry approval ratings for Congress, the White House not much better, but Congress way behind the president, even. You keep getting these Supreme Court decisions that keep allowing more money to be poured into this.

What I’m getting at is even if there could be a left-right alliance in Washington; that remains to be seen, but the American people just seem so turned off to the process and the way that Washington works. What do you do about that?

Nader: Well that’s the challenge this book, “Unstoppable,” recognizes. We don’t, I don’t sugar-coat the obstacles, Tavis. There are obstacles. The established powers, they have to be challenged.

They have to be challenged by a left-right alliance that becomes more visible, more active. It has a sense of its own self-respect politically and stops making excuses for itself, saying oh, politics is a dirty game, I don’t want to have anything to do with it.

Well, politics is going to have a lot to do with you if you don’t have a lot to do with politics. So I understand, but I see it at the local state, and it’s moving toward Washington. I gave some examples earlier.

Tavis: Right.

Nader: When they see this kind of thing coming, it becomes really unstoppable because they can’t split the left and right against each other.

Tavis: What is it -?

Nader: Nixon, Richard Nixon signed all kinds of consumer and environmental laws that we got through Congress because he was afraid of the rumble from the people.

Tavis: What does it say about the kinds of people who are in Washington versus the kinds of people who serve at the local level that at the local level they can figure this stuff out; at the national level, they cannot.

We’re all human beings, but what’s the difference in the human beings who we send to Washington versus the ones that we elect locally?

Nader: There are two differences. Congress is in a bubble a long way away from where common folk live and work. When you’re in the local politics, you can’t escape. That’s number one.

Number two, the Republicans and the Democrats have gerrymandered the districts so they pick the voters by computerized design of all these districts, so they just pick their own voters in this area and they slice it off in the other area.

That gives them a one-party state domination in over 90 percent of the congressional district, so they don’t have to worry about the other large party. It’s a total autocracy.

So that’s the difference. It doesn’t operate at the local level, but it can bubble up from the local level. The whole idea here is left-right saying we don’t like where – we can disagree on taxes, but we don’t like how our trillions of dollars are being spent.

We don’t want to spend them blowing up countries and bridges across the world. We want to repair the bridges and the schools and the clinics and the libraries and the public transit at home.

That is a big left-right alliance, but it’s got to become more demanding. That’s what this book is. This book is for readers, thinkers, and doers who are serious about our country’s future.

They’re not going to be entertained 24/7, and in effect be cursed by their descendants.

Tavis: To those readers and those thinkers and those doers that you direct this text, “Unstoppable,” to, you’ve been at this a long time. You are a long-distance runner.

I want to close where I began, by saluting your, again, being a long-distance runner. I wonder whether or not you sense on the part of the American people the willingness, the activism to engage the agency that they do have in the way now that we have done in the past when you’ve been successful and victorious on other issues that we celebrate today.

Nader: I think so, because the first step is to sense victory. If liberals go their own way and conservatives go their own way, they don’t sense victory. But when they lock arms, they get a real sense of morale. They sense victory.

Once people sense victory, apathy begins to recede, because they say hey, it’s really worth our time to get together here and make things happen, get things done in this country.

These people in the state capitals and Washington, they work for us. That’s why it’s so powerful.

Tavis: Whether you know or not what he has done for you, and if you tuned in late I mentioned at the top of the conversation so much of what Ralph Nader has accomplished that we are all the beneficiaries of.

He is an American icon, I believe. His latest text is called “Unstoppable: The Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State.” Ralph Nader, again, sir, an honor to have you on the program. Thanks for the text, and thanks for talking to us.

Nader: Thank you, as always, Tavis, and thank your audience.

“Announcer:” For more information on today’s show, visit Tavis Smiley at PBS.org.

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“Announcer:” And by contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you. Thank you.

  • barb bolle

    I have voted for Ralph Nader every time. He can’t be bought, why aren’t there more like him. He should be our president. If they would only let him in the debates he would win. I am ashamed of our country, sorry to say. We will be in a lot more trouble than we are now, if we don’t wake up soon.

  • Eve

    The votes for Ralph Nader put Al Gore and George W. Bush in a dead tie. And we know what that got us. Hello Iraq!

  • bradley

    i agree with Nader’s politics and respect what he has accomplished in his career. i wish we had more leaders with his level of conviction and integrity. that said, he chose to stand on principle in his run against Gore and Bush and for that i can never forgive him. plain and simple, without Nader’s campaign, Gore would have had a decisive victory and (i’d like to assume) the world would be a much different place today. a better place, i believe. sorry, Ralph Nader, but you catalyzed the election. you robbed first place so you could make a statement. that may prove to be the most significant impact you make in your career…

  • Adam

    I’ve been a Nader supporter sense I stated following politics in my young 20′s & hope he runs again in 2016 . To : Eve & Bradley, again you two are blaming the wrong person & I’m glad he ran in 2000 “more voices=more choices” it was the 2000 supreme court that gave Bush the win,not the FL voters who cast their ballot for Nader,not that the current supreme court is any better. Bradley: your mad that a man stood on his principle running for office ??? should he have been brought off by corporations like every other tool running for office ? Do I wish Gore won instead of Bush ? YES but he’s a croney as well.

  • Kevin O’Keeffe

    People who blame Ralph Nader for the defeat of Al Gore in 2000, are totally misguided. What I would say to them is that while Bush certainly turned out to be a disaster, its far from certain a Gore administration would have been much better. And if all the people who voted for Gore had instead voted for Nader, we’d have seen real change in the USA. So they have only their own selves to blame.

  • fubar

    as Ralph has pointed out over and over, TEN TIMES more Democrats switched to vote for Bush than switcced to Nader/Greens.

    Gore “lost” because Establishment Liberals are bad at math, and bad at understanding how their complicity with a corrupt corporate-plutocratic order undermines actual democracy.

    For instance, in “liberal” California, ALL of the major Democratic party leaders opposed anti-gerrymandering reforms because such reforms threatened the lock such establishmentarians have on the system, and threatened to reveal the corruption, greed and hunger for power for its own sake that is typical of the establishment.

    The scapegoating of Nader is an appalling and despicable example of how easy it is for the “tribal” political elites of both major parties to manipulate people into working against their own self-interests and abandoning real democracy.

Last modified: June 2, 2014 at 11:55 am