Ralph Nader & the plutocrats
I’ve long been struck by Ralph Nader’s imperious view of politics—his preference for progressive change via litigation, not legislation, and a career (during which he accomplished many very good things, don’t get me wrong) capped by a few celebrity presidential campaigns in which he never made any effort to build a movement out of the crowds and publicity they generated. So now he’s out with a “novel” that apparently argues that a small posse of enlightened plutocrats will save us. Citizens’ groups aren’t up to the task, Ralph tells Amy Goodman. Only enlightened businesspeople, working from inside (with the assistance of a perky parrot), can:
When you read this book, you’ll not only get a lift in terms of the feasibility of change, if we only change the predicates and stop trying to go after trillion-dollar industries with a few million dollars of citizen group budgets, and you not only get a lift, but you can see, step by step, the strategy, the tactics—how they set up a People’s Chamber of Commerce with tens of thousands of progressive small businesses around the country; how they set up a sub-economy, where they bought all kinds of businesses and got inside the corporate beast, because they own these companies; how they developed mass media; how they got people’s attention through the use of, for example, this parrot, Patriotic Polly, which got on TV early in 2000 and got millions of emails when it kept saying, “Get up! Don’t let America down! Get up! Don’t let America down!”
So the problem isn’t private ownership and a competitive system driven by profit maximization—it’s simply scale (small good, big bad) and temperament (replace the evil bizpeople with the good ones). He seems to have no idea that competition and profit maximization make people, who may be perfectly warm and lovely in their private lives, do monstrous things. I once heard a very similar line from Ben “Ben & Jerry’s” Cohen, who couldn’t understand how CEOs could both go to church and be nice to their families and then go to work and exploit and pollute.
Of course, as Liza Featherstone pointed out long ago, when faced with a union organizing campaign in crunchy Vermont, B&J fought it as roughly as any thuggish Southern mill owner would. “It’s business, man!,” as Liza’s title explained. Oh, and Ralph did pretty much the same thing when faced with organizing campaigns in a couple of his own shops, Multinational Monitor and Public Citizen. He fired the troublemaking editor of MM, Tim Shorrock, and spread nasty rumors about him, which led Shorrock to this conclusion about Nader:
Ralph Nader may look like a democrat, smell like a populist, and sound like a socialist – but deep down he’s a frightened, petit bourgeois moralizer without a political compass, more concerned with his image than the movement he claims to lead: in short, an opportunist, a liberal hack. And a scab.
And now he’s fully out of the closet as an admirer of the nice sort of plutocrat.