Ralph Nader Biography
|Ralph Nader (born February 27, 1934) is an activist who targets large American corporations on environmental and consumer rights issues. He was the U.S. presidential candidate of the Green Party in 1996 and 2000. In both runs Winona LaDuke was his vice-presidential running mate.
He is an independent candidate in the 2004 U.S. presidential election.
Ralph Nader was born in Winsted, Connecticut to Lebanese immigrant parents, Nathra and Rose Nader. He graduated from Princeton in 1955 and Harvard Law School in 1958. In 1963, then 29, Nader hitchhiked to Washington, DC and got a job working for then Assistant Secretary of Labor Daniel Patrick Moynihan. He did freelance writing for The Nation and the Christian Science Monitor and advised a Senate subcommittee on automobile safety.
Clash with the automobile industry
In 1965 he released Unsafe at Any Speed, a study claiming many American automobiles, especially those of General Motors, to be structurally flawed. GM tried to discredit Nader, hiring private detectives to investigate his past and attempt to trap him in a compromising situation, but the effort failed. Upon learning of this harassment, Nader then successfully sued the company for invasion of privacy, forced it to publicly apologize, and used the winnings to expand his consumer rights efforts.
Hundreds of young activists, inspired by Nader's work, came to DC to help him with other projects. They came to be known as "Nader's Raiders" and, led by Nader, they investigated corruption throughout government, publishing dozens of books with their results:
Nader's Raiders (Federal Trade Commission)
Vanishing Air (National Air Pollution Control Administration)
The Chemical Feast (Food and Drug Administration)
The Interstate Commerce Omission (Interstate Commerce Commission)
Old Age (nursing homes)
The Water Lords (water pollution)
Who Runs Congress? (congress)
Whistle Blowing (punishment of whistle blowers)
The Big Boys (corporate executives)
Collision Course (Federal Aviation Administration)
No Contest (corporate lawyers)
In 1971, Nader founded the NGO Public Citizen as an umbrella organization for these projects. Today, Public Citizen has over 150,000 members and numerous researchers investigating Congress, health, environmental, economic, and other issues. Their work is credited with helping to pass the Safe Drinking Water Act and Freedom of Information Act and prompting the creation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and Consumer Product Safety Administration. Their various divisions include:
Citizen Action Group
Critical Mass Energy Project
Global Trade Watch
Health Research Group
Tax Reform Research Group
The Visitor's Center
In 1980 Nader resigned as director of Public Citizen to work on other projects, especially campaigning against the believed dangers of large multinational corporations. He went on to start a variety of non-profit organizations:
Capitol Hill News Service
Corporate Accountability Research Project
Disability Rights Center
Equal Justice Foundation
Georgia Legal Watch
National Citizens' Coalition for Nursing Home Reform
National Coalition for Universities in the Public Interest
PROD (truck safety)
Retired Professionals Action Group
The Shafeek Nader Trust for the Community Interest
Congress Accountability Project
Citizen Advocacy Center
Pension Rights Center
Foundation for Taxpayers and Consumer Rights
Center for Auto Safety
1955: Princeton Project 55
1969: Center for the Study of Responsive Law
1970s: Public Interest Research Groups
1970: Connecticut Citizen Action Group
1971: Center for Science in the Public Interest
1971: Aviation Consumer Action Project
1972: Clean Water Action Project
1972: Center for Women's Policy Studies
1980: Multinational Monitor (magazine covering multinational corporations)
1982: Trial Lawyers for Public Justice
1982: Essential Information (encourage citizen activism and do investigative journalism)
1983: Telecommunications Research and Action Center
1993: Appleseed Foundation (local change)
1994: Resource Consumption Alliance (conserve trees)
1995: Center for Insurance Research
1995: Consumer Project on Technology
1997?: Government Purchasing Project (encourage the government to purchase safe and healthy products)
1998: Center for Justice and Democracy
1998: Organization for Competitive Markets
1998: American Antitrust Institute (ensure fair competition)
1999?: Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest
1999?: Commercial Alert (protect family, community, and democracy from corporations)
2000: Congressional Accountability Project (fight corruption in Congress)
2001?: League of Fans (sports industry watchdog)
2001: Citizen Works (promote NGO cooperation, build grassroots support, and start new groups)
2001: Democracy Rising (hold rallies to educate and empower citizens)
Nader considered launching a third party around issues of citizen empowerment and consumer rights. He stated that the Democratic Party had become "so bankrupt, it doesn't matter if it wins any elections." He suggested a serious third party could address needs such as campaign-finance reform, worker and whistle-blower rights, government-sanctioned watchdog groups to oversee banks and insurance agencies, and class-action lawsuit reforms.
Nader ran for President on the Green Party ticket in the U.S. presidential election, 1996. He qualified for ballot status in relatively few states, garnering less than 1% of the vote, though the effort did make significant organizational gains for the party. He refused to raise or spend more than $5,000 on his campaign.
He ran again in 2000. This time he received almost 3% of the popular vote, missing the 5% needed to qualify the Green Party for federal matching funds in the next election.
The exclusion of Nader and conservative Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan from events staged by the bi-partisan controlled Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) contributed to the marginalization of both candidates and helped minimize their support on election day. This issue led to an effort to build an independent Citizens' Debate Commission.
Nader campaigned against the pervasiveness of corporate power, and spoke on the need for campaign finance reform, environmental justice, universal healthcare, affordable housing, free education through college, workers' rights, legalization of commercial hemp, and a shift in taxes to place the burden more heavily on corporations than on the middle and lower classes. He opposed pollution credits that make it more profitable to pollute than conserve, and giveaways of publicly-owned assets.
The extremely close race between the two major presidential candidates, Gore and Bush, helped to create some additional controversy around the Nader campaign. Before the election, a number of those who supported Gore claimed that since Nader had no realistic chance of winning, those who supported the Nader platform should nevertheless vote for Gore, the theory being that a victory for Gore was preferable to a victory for a more conservative candidate, even if an individual voter might, in a perfect world, prefer Nader. Late in the campaign, the Gore campaign actually dispatched prominent liberal celebrities to present this argument to Nader voters in swing states. Nader, and many of his supporters, however, claimed that while Gore was preferable to Bush, the differences between the two were not great enough to merit support of Gore.
When challenged with complaints that he was taking away votes from Al Gore, Nader argued at times that he was trying to save the Democratic Party, and at other times, that he wanted to destroy it. When Nader argued that he was trying to hold the Democrats' "feet to the fire," he was suggesting that he only wished the Democrats were more progressive. However, at other moments Nader said he wanted the Democrats to go the way of the Whigs, and that he would support Green candidates who ran against the most progressive Democrats, such as Paul Wellstone and Russell Feingold.
As it turned out, the number of Nader votes were more than the margin of Bush over Gore in Florida and New Hampshire, meaning that Gore would have won the election if even a small fraction (as little as 1%) of Nader's supporters in Florida had instead voted for Gore. Nader supporters claimed that many of them would not vote at all if Nader wasn't on the ballot. Regardless, many believed Nader supporters would more likely choose Gore over Bush. Most political analysts and experts believe that Nader's presence caused Bush to win the election. For their part, Nader supporters countered that the Democrats could handily have won the election with a better and more competent candidate than Gore, who made a series of blunders in his debates against George W. Bush. And, of course, the U.S. presidential election, 2000 was hounded by the Florida situation.
Some voters had attempted to minimize this problem by engaging in Nader trading, in which Nader-inclined voters in swing states agreed to vote for Gore in exchange for Gore-inclined voters in safe Bush states to vote for Nader. Even though Nader trading had the potential to win Al Gore the election AND earn the Green Party its 5% and matching funds, Nader himself rejected the idea. He and his campaign explained that they were running in every state.
The "A vote for Nader is a vote for Bush!" phenomenon is the so-called spoiler effect where candidates split the vote, and it is common to most third-party or independent candidacies, whenever such candidates draw most of their support from constituencies who would otherwise support one or the other candidate. The problem is endemic to the First Past the Post electoral system; according to Duverger's Law, such a voting method naturally results in a two-party system. Some, such as Democrat Dennis Kucinich, advocate approval voting or instant runoff voting to address the spoiler-effect. Nader has made strong statements in favor of election reforms and it is listed in the number two position on Nader's list of 2004 campaign issues (http://www.votenader.com/issues/index.php) (below health reform).
But since, in the long run, both the Democratic and Republican parties appear to be net beneficiaries of this state of affairs, many commentators conclude that electoral reform addressing the matter is improbable - unless of course one party consistently loses because of it. Many Greens hope to force the reforms by causing Democrats to lose until the situation becomes intolerable. Nader has not stated such a goal publicly, nor is he a member of the Party.
Nader announced on December 24, 2003 that he would not run for president in 2004 on the Green Party ticket; however, he did not rule out running as an independent. On February 22, 2004, Nader announced on NBC's Meet the Press that he would indeed run for president as an independent, saying, "There's too much power and wealth in too few hands." Because of the controversies over vote-splitting in 2000, many Democrats have urged Nader to abandon his candidacy. The Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Terry McAuliffe argued that Nader had a "distinguished career, fighting for working families" and McAuliffe "would hate to see part of his legacy being that he got us eight years of George Bush."
On April 5, 2004, Nader failed in an attempt to get on the Oregon ballot. Oregon has perhaps the country's most liberal election laws for qualifying candidates, requiring the support of 1000 registered voters convened at a nominating event. He is now trying to get a petition signed by 15,000 voters in a three-month period. Only 741 showed up to a petition signing event, a tenth of the support he had gotten only a couple of years earlier. This was unexpected, since Nader had received 5% of the vote in the 2000 election. Nader blamed the low turnout on the rally's poor timing; it was scheduled opposite the NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Championship game. He vowed to gather the necessary signatures in a petition drive.
On May 19, 2004, Nader met with John Kerry in Washington D.C. for a private session, concerning Nader's factor in the 2004 election. Nader seems to prefer Kerry, but refuses to withdraw from the race, citing specifically the importance of the removal of troops from Iraq. The meeting itself ended in disagreement. On the same day, two Democratic leaning groups, the National Progress Fund and the Democracy Action Team, were formed. They both seek to reduce the effect of Nader upon Democratic voters that might be persuaded to vote for him. The following day The Democracy Action Team's Stop Nader (http://www.stopnader.com/) campaign announced they would air TVcommercials (http://www.stopnader.com/nadervision.asp) in key battle ground states.
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