Ralph Nader

In His Words


In Europe, they have laws that they call social wage laws. It doesn’t matter whether you belong to a union; you’re a worker in many of these West European countries, and you have certain rights. You have a month’s paid vacation, you know, not just 12 days off for family leave unpaid, you have paid family leave, you have more extended maternity leave, you have the kind of civilized rights that our country, the wealthiest country in the world, still hasn’t gotten around to provide. It is time for a change; the system is not working.” “The minimum wage, I might add, today, is far less than it was in 1960, 1970, in terms of purchasing power. Imagine, we’re sliding backward at a time when our economy is booming,d corporate profits are booming, and we have government surpluses.” “American workers are working longer and longer hours on average, an additional 163 hours per year, compared to 20 years ago with less time for family and community.


“Where in the world did we ever get a system where public schools are publicly financed, public parks are publicly financed, but the essential phenomena of a democracy, public elections, are up for bid to the highest bidder as if it’s an auction block?” “You notice a lot of politicians give speeches–like I’ve read almost all of Ronald Reagan’s speeches, and it’s full–their speeches are full of liberty and freedom, but they never use the word justice. I wonder why. Because justice means redistribution of power and opportunity and income and livelihood, that’s what justice means.” “The two parties are in the process of crumbling. They have no constituency at the grassroots. They’re hollow, fossilized parties that happen to hurl millions of dollars at each other, mostly on thirty-second TV ads. So in the next five years, you will see a major third-party arise. I hope it’s the Green Party.” “When I saw that the Democrats couldn’t even defend this country against the baying pack of right-wing extremists in the Republican Party anymore, I said it’s time for a new progressive movement,” he says. “Can you imagine what Harry Truman or FDR would have done with the likes of Newt Gingrich or Tom DeLay? They would have landslide them!” “A funny thing is happening in the Democratic Party. Every time they win, they say they took Republican issues away. And then, when they lose, they say it’s because they are not appealing to the Republican voters. We want them to say they lost because a progressive movement took away votes.” “When do these corporations begin to lose credibility? They fought Social Security, Medicare, and auto safety. They fought every social justice movement in this country.” “In the crazy world that Gore, Bush, and the New Democrats support, trade agreements penalize countries for caring about human rights and environmental sustainability because they are seen as constraints on the highest value, which should be free trade. We’ve lost five straight challenges to our environmental standards in the tribunals in Geneva because we’ve been judged to be too concerned about the environment at the expense of free trade. We should give up these environmental restraints, which is unacceptable.” “Well, it just so happens every member of Congress has a website, but I don’t know the one that puts their voting record on in an understandable, retrievable fashion. So, there’s an example of technological capability with old-fashioned reluctance to publicize your voting record.” “We going for 50 states. We have 45 states. Some states have these huge ballot access hurdles compliments of the Republican, Democratic Party who donít like competition, donít like third parties, and donít recognize that third parties help regenerate the political system.” “But I think now that these two parties are so marinated in big business money, they canít be internally reformed. There is a new independent streak among people; especially young people are turned off. People are dropping out of democracy. That is a dangerous trend. The voting level is going down. But even more than that, people say, I’m not turned on to politics. Well, history shows that politics will turn on you if you are not turned on to politics.” “You can’t spoil a spoiled system, and the two parties are converging increasingly into a huge vested interest money pot and turning their back on the critical needs of the people. So we intend to build a major political force, progressive in content but appealing to conservatives, liberals, and all the people who feel they are losing control in this country over everything that matters to them- their government, big business, environment, the workplace, the marketplace, even their children who these corporate hucksters and entertainers are seducing.” “The question of this campaign is, to every citizen, do YOU want to be more powerful? Are you tired of being pushed around? Are you tired of being entertained into trivial pursuits-? Are you tired of having your children exploited by corporate hucksters? Are you tired of having the promise of America being held back by the greed and power of a few dominating the many… Do you want to be stronger? That’s the question. If you do, you’ll join this campaign.”


“Concentrated corporate power is on a collision course with democracy.” “Over the past twenty years, big business has increasingly dominated our political economy. This control by the corporate government over our political government is creating a widening ‘democracy gap'”. “… we have to recognize that those who are excessively greedy and excessively powerful must give up their privileges. They must give up some of their power.” “We live in an apartheid economy. It is an economy of such staggering inequities that mere words and statistics can hardly do it justice. It is an economy where one man, Bill Gates, has as much wealth as the combined wealth of the bottom 120 million Americans.” “Every aspect of life becomes a commodity and is put up for sale: the environment is for sale, democracy is for sale, our genes are for sale, our privacy is for sale–it’s an all-advancing Moloch. The companies tell us, “You don’t have to be active–just be passive consumers. You don’t have to play sports–sit on the couch, eat junk food, and watch the spectacles we present to you. You don’t have to develop your own local black culture–you can sit and watch the Metropolitan Opera and watch how the pros do it.” A nation of gazers is not a nation of participants.” “I think we’ve got to cut through the myth here that small business when it’s mismanaged is free to go bankrupt, isn’t it? But big business, like the big banks, when they mismanage themselves — speculation, corruption — they head to Washington for an Uncle Sam bailout on the backs of middle-class taxpayers.” “I’d put meat in the process of progressive taxation. The richer people are, the more the percentage they pay. After all, it’s their influence that rigged the system to get them that rich, to begin with.” “But as Jeff Gates points out in his new book, Democracy at Risk, the top 1 percent of the richest people in this country have financial wealth equal to the combined 95 percent of the American people. That a very unhealthy inequality which is even troubling Alan Greenspan.” “Corporate welfare programs, paid for largely by middle-class taxpayers and amounting to hundreds of billions of dollars per year, continue to rise along with government giveaways of taxpayer assets such as public forests, minerals, and new medicines.” “Wealth inequality is greater than at any time since WWII. The top one percent of the wealthiest people have more financial wealth than the bottom 90% of Americans combined, the worst inequality among large western nations.”


In just one area, health care, the General Accounting Office estimates $1 out of every $10 is drained away from us by billing fraud and abuse. You know these bills in code; who can understand them, right? Do you know what that amounts to this year? That’s 10 percent of the health care budget. That’s over $110 billion–billion. Now that could cover many of the 46 million people not covered by health insurance policies.” “When you talk about what the press reports, hundreds of billions of dollars of HMO billing abuses and fraud and corporate subsidies, et cetera, these are hidden surpluses that belong to the people and can be redirected to solve the public problems that individual initiative cannot solve like public transit, like affordable housing for people who can’t afford it.” “It’s not just financing health care. It’s health care we should talk about — nutrition, exercise… In 1966 Nader led almost a one-person crusade for the Traffic Safety Act that called for mandatory seat belts in American cars.


Now, this is, in a sense, a message of hope. It’s a message that if we can get enough civic power to redirect some of the enormous tax dollars that go to corporate subsidies, giveaways, handouts, bailouts, and that go for the military machine driven by corporate profits of Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics and others, we could redirect some of these monies to accelerate at unheard of levels the well-being of the oppressed and the impoverished and the desperate people and children in this world.


“If you add the near poverty, 46 percent of all the children in California are in the category. This is not just a badge of shame for our country, the richest country in the world; it reflects our inability to focus on the single phenomenon blocking justice, which is the concentration of power and wealth in too few hands.” “And if you take near poverty–the children who are near poverty, who I would consider in poverty because I think the official levels of poverty are absurd, how can anyone support a four-member family on $17,200 a year–before deductions, before the cost of getting to work, et cetera?” “Perhaps the worst example is that we’re at 20% child poverty, the highest in the Western world, and California, it’s 25% child poverty when in 1980 it was 15% child poverty. The great thing about a democracy is that when it’s deep and broad, it brings the best out of more people than any other system.”


“I’ll admit to a certain amount of wariness about how people use spiritual or religious notions, especially in politics. I once attended a prayer breakfast in D.C., where a murderous dictator from Central America was honored because he stood up to communism. I looked around at all these spiritual and prayerful types applauding this gentleman.” “I have known a lot of super experts in foreign policy. They have gotten us into wars we can avoid. They’ve supported dictatorships and oligarchies. They have oppressed the poor peasants and the workers. They haven’t given the best of our country abroad, in terms of our ideas and how we can lift the standard of living of other countries by liberating their genius. So the motivation of what you care about and who you care about is the most important qualification.” “Well, first of all, would I prioritize waging peace? Preventive diplomacy and preventive defense are not just slogans. Their state of mind abhors the use of needless violence between human beings. The pressure is on to prevent it and to prevent it and to prevent it. It is important to have a lean defense; a wasteful defense is a weak defense.” “If we hate the use of violence, except as a last resort of self-defense, we will be seriously focused on deterring and preventing it. And, by the way, global infectious disease is a weapon of mass destruction; malaria, tuberculosis, and mass poverty are weapons of mass destruction. So, let’s have extra attention to different styles of violence that need to be prevented.”


“I think homosexuals have the right of civil union. There are economic reasons for that, and there are humanitarian reasons for that, and I think the Vermont decision is a good one. I think homosexuals should be given equal rights and equal responsibilities.”


“Citizen groups and individual thinkers have generated a tremendous capital of ideas, information, and solutions to the point of surplus, while our government has been drawn away from us by a corporate government. As a result, our political leadership has been hijacked.” “Citizen advocates have no other choice but to close the democracy gap by direct political means. Only effective national political leadership will restore government responsiveness to its citizenry.” “In the sixties and seventies, for example, when the civil rights, consumer, environmental, and women’s rights movements were in their ascendancy, there finally was a constructive responsiveness by government.”