We are searching data for your request:
Upon completion, a link will appear to access the found materials.
On November 30, 1965, 32-year-old lawyer Ralph Nader publishes the muckraking book Unsafe at Any Speed: The Designed-In Dangers of the American Automobile. The book became a best-seller right away. It also prompted the passage of the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966, seat-belt laws in 49 states (all but New Hampshire) and a number of other road-safety initiatives. Today, Nader is perhaps best known for his role in national politics—and in particular for the controversial role he played in the 2000 presidential election—but Unsafe at Any Speed was the book that made him famous and lent credibility to his work as a consumer advocate.
“For over half a century,” Nader’s book began, “the automobile has brought death, injury, and the most inestimable sorrow and deprivation to millions of people.” Technology existed that could make cars much safer, he argued, but automakers had little incentive to use them: On the contrary, “the gigantic costs of the highway carnage in this country support a service industry”—doctors, lawyers, police officers, morticians—and “there is little in the dynamics of the automobile accident industry that works for its reduction.”
Nader’s book popularized some harsh truths about cars and car companies that auto-safety advocates had known for some time. In 1956, at a series of Congressional hearings on traffic safety, doctors and other experts lamented the “wholesale slaughter” on American highways. (That year, nearly 40,000 people were killed in cars, and the number kept creeping upward.) Safety-conscious car buyers could seek out—and pay extra for—a Ford with seatbelts and a padded dashboard, but very few did: only 2 percent of Ford buyers took the $27 seatbelt option.
In Unsafe at Any Speed, Nader railed in particular against the Chevy Corvair, a sporty car with a swing axle and rear–mounted engine that was introduced in 1959. Nader argued that the car epitomized the triumph of “stylistic pornography over engineering integrity.” (Its swing axle made the back end unstable, he said, causing it to “tuck under during turns and skid or roll over much more frequently than other cars did.) As it turned out, a 1972 government study vindicated the Corvair, finding that it was just as safe as any other car (Nader called that study “rigged”) but the damage was done. The Corvair became an icon of dangerous, even deadly design, and the last one rolled off the assembly line in 1969.
Whether or not its particular examples were sound, Unsafe at Any Speed mobilized a mass movement, in which ordinary consumers banded together to demand safer cars and better laws. Today, seat belts, air bags, anti-lock brakes and other innovations are standard features in almost every new car.
Nader went on to advocate for a number of consumer causes and has run for president four times.
READ MORE: How Third-Party Candidates Have Changed Elections
50 years ago, Ralph Nader’s ‘Unsafe at Any Speed’ shook the auto world
Few drivers could imagine owning a car these days that did not come with air bags, antilock brakes and seat belts. But 50 years ago motorists went without such basic safety features.
That was before a young lawyer named Ralph Nader came along with a book, &ldquoUnsafe at Any Speed,&rdquo that would change the auto industry. It accused automakers of failing to make cars as safe as possible. Less than a year after the book was published, a balky Congress created the federal safety agency that became the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration &ndash an agency whose stated mission is to save lives, prevent injuries and reduce crashes.
Today, even some of the book&rsquos harshest critics acknowledge its impact.
&ldquoThe book had a seminal effect,&rdquo Bob Lutz, who was a top executive at BMW, Ford, Chrysler and General Motors, said in a telephone interview. &ldquoI don&rsquot like Ralph Nader and I didn&rsquot like the book, but there was definitely a role for government in automotive safety.&rdquo
If anything, he said, the regulations that followed leveled the playing field among automakers.
&ldquoIt sets ground rules where everybody has to do something and nobody has to worry&rdquo about being at a competitive disadvantage, Lutz said.
Nader&rsquos book was long in the making. He started researching automotive safety in 1956 as a second-year student at Harvard Law School and kept at it intermittently. He was inspired by books that prompted change, including Rachel Carson&rsquos &ldquoSilent Spring,&rdquo which highlighted the dangers of the pesticide DDT to the environment.
&ldquoI aspired to the level of getting a law through, getting an agency to implement it,&rdquo he said.
About 1965, when he had a few chapters and an outline, he began sending them to publishers. Things did not go well. One publisher replied with a short note. The book, it said, would be &ldquoof interest primarily to insurance agents.&rdquo
Then Nader was approached by Richard L. Grossman, a New York publisher, who had read an article in The New Republic detailing Nader&rsquos concerns about automotive safety and his assertion that the Chevrolet Corvair was &ldquoinherently dangerous.&rdquo He asked Nader to write a book, although he had doubts about its sales potential.
&ldquoThe issue about marketing that book always was, even if every word in it is true and everything about it is as outrageous as he says, do people want to read about that?&rdquo Grossman said in &ldquoAn Unreasonable Man,&rdquo a 2007 documentary about Nader. Grossman died in 2014.
On Nov. 30, 1965, &ldquoUnsafe at Any Speed: The Designed-In Dangers of the American Automobile&rdquo was published. The first sentence did not mince words: &ldquoFor over half a century the automobile has brought death, injury and the most inestimable sorrow and deprivation to millions of people.&rdquo
The first chapter was aimed at the 1960-63 Chevrolet Corvair compact. Nader argued the rear-engine car had a suspension defect that made it easy for the driver to lose control and sometimes roll the car over. To this day, some Corvair enthusiasts dispute that assertion, although GM did make significant suspension changes starting with the 1965 model.
But most of the book focused on a long list of neglected safety issues ranging from brake performance to drivers&rsquo being impaled by non-collapsible steering wheels and poor crash protection. The sharp-edged theme was that there was a &ldquogap between existing design and attainable safety&rdquo and the auto industry was ignoring &ldquomoral imperatives&rdquo to make people safer.
Nader said he culled his information from years of research with resources including lawsuits and depositions, congressional hearings and reports, engineering journals, discussions with auto industry engineers, whistle-blowers and sometimes the U.S. Patent Office.
By spring 1966, &ldquoUnsafe at Any Speed&rdquo was a best-seller for nonfiction, along with Truman Capote&rsquos &ldquoIn Cold Blood.&rdquo
Among those who greeted Nader&rsquos success with dismay was Edward N. Cole, who was the general manager of Chevrolet when the Corvair was being developed in what was seen as a bold and innovative move to offer a more fuel-efficient small car. One of the people driving a Corvair was his son David.
&ldquoI don&rsquot think he would ever had me driving a 1960 Corvair if he had any inclination there was a safety issue,&rdquo said David Cole, former director of the University of Michigan&rsquos Office for the Study of Automotive Transportation and currently the chairman of the nonprofit AutoHarvest Foundation.
In a telephone interview, David Cole said his father &ndash who died in 1977 in a plane crash &ndash thought Nader did not understand the complexity and trade-offs of automotive engineering and that the book encouraged people to sue the auto industry.
&ldquoThat book was one of the key factors that ignited this whole litigious thing,&rdquo he said.
In September 1966 &ndash about 10 months after the book was published &ndash President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act, requiring the adoption of new or upgraded vehicle safety standards, and creating an agency to enforce them and supervise safety recalls.
Suddenly, what consumer advocates saw as an unfettered auto industry was facing much stronger federal oversight.
A host of new or stronger safety requirements led &ndash often after stiff opposition &ndash to new technologies like air bags, antilock brakes, electronic stability control and, recently, rearview cameras and automatic braking.
Indeed, the death rate has dropped strikingly. In 1965, there were about five deaths for every 100 million miles traveled, according to the traffic safety agency. In 2014, the most recent year available, there was one death for every 100 million miles.
In the first chapter of “Unsafe at Any Speed”, Nader fired a barrage of criticisms at the American automobile industry by stating that the Corvair was a “one-car accident”. While Nader viewed most automobiles to be dangerous, he targeted the Chevrolet Corvair due to its unconventional design. Unlike many other vehicles, the Corvair utilized a swing-axle suspension system. This specific system on the Corvair caused tire pressure requirements that were not in line with existing industry standards. These unregulated requirements were often not filled by the owners of Corvairs. While this was a major problem of the original Corvair, a larger problem developed from the vehicle’s inability to bear heavy loads without handling issues developing. Over-steering issues were also caused by the absence of an anti-sway bar in the Corvair. While these are real issues, it is important to note that many drivers of Corvairs did not experience any problems with handling.
‘Unsafe At Any Speed’ Turns 50: The Most Influential Book Ever On The Automobile Industry
We drive phenomenally safe cars today. Safety factors into just about every aspect of car design and engineering. The number of deaths per 100 million vehicle miles driven in the US has dropped by 80% since 1965, from 5.30 to 1.11 in 2013. That is an astounding drop, and one that reflects roughly 125,000 lives saved per year, or millions over the decades.
Ralph Nader’s “Unsafe At Any Speed”, which appeared 50 years ago today, was the catalyst for the sea change in automobile safety that followed. Undoubtedly, automobile safety would have worked itself onto the agenda of the 60s or 70s eventually, but Ralph Nader gets the credit for affecting the changer sooner and swifter. Yet he gets pilloried endlessly by car enthusiasts.
photo by Andrew Sullivan for NYT
That’s probably in substantial part to a misunderstanding. Despite the fact that this red Corvair behind him is a central display in his new Museum Of American Tort Law in Winstead, Conn., Nader did not “kill the Corvair”. He rightfully gets the credit/blame for many things, including the outcome of the 2000 presidential election, but he didn’t “kill the Corvair”. Only the first chapter of the book was about the early (1960-1963) Corvair’s potentially dangerous oversteer, due to its heavy rear engine, swing axles, dependence on variable front/rear tire pressures, and the regrettable omission of a few cheap suspension parts that could have avoided its rep for instability at the limit and rolling over.
photo by Andrew Sullivan for NYT
By the time “Unsafe At Any Speed” came out in late 1965, the Corvair was already mortally wounded, thanks to the Mustang. It was also into its second year of production with a new rear suspension that addressed the specific issues in the book. But 1966 sales were already way off, even before “Unsafe At Any Speed” made the best seller list in the spring of 1966. In fact, GM only kept the Corvair in production all the way through 1969 specifically to counter the impression that Nader had influenced the Corvair’s demise.
Yes, after the publication of the book and the resulting Congressional hearings that resulted in the creation of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the early Corvair was pilloried. But thta was all after the fact the real damage was to GM’s reputation overall. The 1960 Ford Falcon made it clear that the Corvair had no future as an economy car, causing Chevrolet to rush out its Falcon-clone Chevy II in 1962. Meanwhile,the Corvair was re-positioned as a bucket-seat floor-shift sporty car, in the form of the 1960.5 Monza coupe. It was the first of its kind, it sold quite well, and directly led to Ford responding with its Mustang.
I’ve covered the issue of the Corvair’s intrinsic stability challenges due to its design, which were exacerbated by penny-pinching shortcuts by GM. And I’ve also waxed eloquently about the Corvair, from the perspective of having owned a four-speed Monza as my first car. It’s a car that has inspired passions on both sides.
In a NYT article on Nader’s book anniversary, David Cole, the former director of the University of Michigan Office for the Study of Automotive Transportation and currently the chairman of the nonprofit AutoHarvest Foundation, and the son of the Corvair’s daddy, Ed Cole, had this to say about being given a Corvair to drive: “I don’t think he would ever had me driving a 1960 Corvair if he had any inclination there was a safety issue.” What else would he say about his father’s baby? Ed Cole had a thing for rear-engines going way back, and was apparently determined to prove that…big, heavy rear engines are not a good idea. Meanwhile, a number of GM executives were directly affected by the Corvair, including the death of the son of Cadillac General Manager Cal Werner, and the critically-injured son of Exec. VP Cy Osborne. And John DeLorean at Pontiac refused to build a version of it because of its rear engine design and handling issues. The Corvair was a controversial car, from GM’s 14th floor to Congress.
Who said I would never get into a Corvair?
And GM made a bad situation much worse when it hired private investigators to follow Nader in the hopes of digging up some dirt on him. If they’d known what an ascetic’s life he lived, they wouldn’t have bothered, and it backfired. GM was forced to issue a public apology. How often does that happen?
Enough about GM and the Corvair. The rest of the book was about all of the other blatant safety shortcomings of Detroit’s cars in general, such as the lack of proper restraints (seat/shoulder belts), dangerous interior design, inconsistent automatic transmission shift quadrants, and more. The final chapter was a call for the government to step in and regulate automobile safety, as the industry obviously was not serious about it.
Nader charged that the industry annually spent 23 cents per car on safety research and $700 per car on the then-obligatory annual model change, which was mostly styling. Yes, Ford made some effort to “sell safety” in their mid-50s cars, but they were mostly extra-cost options. Americans in the 50s would rather spend their precious dollars on whitewalls, a V8 and more chrome trim. The simple fact is that humans don’t often act in their best long-term self interests, unless forced to. That applies as much or more to the issue of climate change today as it did to automobile safety in the 50s and 60s.
There’s no doubt the relationship of Detroit and the American public regarding safety was largely a co-dependent one everyone looked the other way, except when one encountered dead bodies on the highway, not an uncommon experience back then. I saw several myself as a child. Denial was the overarching theme regarding the over 50,000 Americans that were dying every year, smashing their faces into hard steel dash boards studded with pointy chrome spears, impaled by rigid steering columns, or being ejected. Or all three.
But the times the were a-changing’. Rachel Carson’s 1962 book “Silent Spring”, on the widespread impact of DDT on wildlife, is considered the book that kick-started the modern environmental movement. Nader was inspired by it, and had spent some years researching the issue of auto safety. By 1965, he had completed much of it.
But his book almost didn’t get published publishers felt that the American public wouldn’t want to read about such a downer subject. The first sentence in the book is: “For over half a century the automobile has brought death, injury and the most inestimable sorrow and deprivation to millions of people.” Who wants to hear that? Ignorance is bliss, behind the wheel, as elsewhere.
Of course Nader wasn’t the first to critique the car industry. I just finished reading John Keats’ “The Insolent Chariots” from 1958, which takes on the general state of American cars in 1958, hardly a high point. It critiques the design, weight, handling and lack of safety of cars, as well as the marketing and unsavory sales practices so rampant at the time. Keats bemoans the lack of a modern Model T, so obviously he’s a spartan, and a bit stuck in that regard.
But he rightly called out the Edsel, which had just come out some months before this book was published, for being nothing more than a tarted-up Ford or Mercury. And he correctly predicted its failure. With a massive pre-launch marketing campaign, Ford had set up Americans for a truly new car, and in 1958, a recession year, that would have been sometime very different.
Keats writes on safety: “…because our automobiles are so poorly designed as to be unsafe at any speed…” Is this the source of Nader’s book title?
Some may not like his personality or his style, but Ralph Nader changed the American automobile in terms of safety at least as much or more than the energy crises did in terms of efficiency and the Japanese in terms of quality. Unfortunately, both the NHTSA and the EPA have been caught sleeping at the wheel in recent years the NHTSA with the GM ignition lock fiasco, and the EPA with VW diesel emissions. It always seems to take a crisis to wake folks up before they run into a tree or something. At least nowadays there are air bags and seat belts, thanks in no small part to Ralph Nader.
And what is Nader concerned about today, regarding automobile safety? Self-driving cars.
Ralph Nader (Shpadoinkle Timeline)
Ralph Nader (/ˈneɪdər/ born February 27, 1934) is an American political activist, author, lecturer, and lawyer who served as the 7th United States Secretary of Energy. Nader was previously a U.S. Senator from the state of Connecticut.
The son of Lebanese immigrants to the United States, Nader was educated at Princeton and Harvard and first came to prominence in 1965 with the publication of the bestselling book Unsafe at Any Speed, a highly influential critique of the safety record of American automobile manufacturers. Following the publication of Unsafe at Any Speed, Nader led a group of volunteer law students—dubbed "Nader's Raiders"—in an investigation of the Federal Trade Commission, leading directly to that agency's overhaul and reform. In the 1970s, Nader leveraged his growing popularity to establish a number of advocacy and watchdog groups including the Public Interest Research Group, the Center for Auto Safety, and Public Citizen. Two of Nader's most notable targets were the Chevy Corvair and the Ford Pinto.
Following the retirement of incumbent senator Abraham Ribicoff, Ralph Nader sought the Democratic nomination for the United States Senate in Connecticut. He beat Republican opponent James Buckley in the election of 1980. Nader switched his party affiliation from Democratic to Independent in 1983. He was re-elected twice in 1986 and 1992. Nader resigned in 1993 to serve as president Mike Gravel's Secretary of Energy. He left office in 1997. Nader has been directly credited with the passage of several landmark pieces of American consumer protection legislation including the Clean Water Act, the Freedom of Information Act, the Consumer Product Safety Act, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, the Whistleblower Protection Act, and the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act. He has been repeatedly named to lists of the "100 Most Influential Americans", including those published by Life, Time, and The Atlantic.
Nader made four bids to become President of the United States, running with the People's Party in 1972, the Green Party in 1996 and 2000 and as an independent in 2004 and 2008. In each campaign, Nader said he sought to highlight under-reported issues and a perceived need for electoral reform. He received over 4 million votes during his 1972 candidacy, and over 5 million votes in his 2000 candidacy.
A two-time Nieman Fellow, Nader is the author or co-author of more than two dozen books, and was the subject of a documentary film on his life and work, An Unreasonable Man, which debuted at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival.
50 Years Ago, ‘Unsafe at Any Speed’ Shook the Auto World
FEW DRIVERS could imagine owning a car these days that did not come with airbags, antilock brakes and seatbelts. But 50 years ago motorists went without such basic safety features.
That was before a young lawyer named Ralph Nader came along with a book, “Unsafe at Any Speed,” that would change the auto industry. It accused automakers of failing to make cars as safe as possible. Less than a year after the book was published, a balky Congress created the federal safety agency that became the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration — an agency whose stated mission is to save lives, prevent injuries and reduce crashes.
Today, even some of the book’s harshest critics acknowledge its impact.
“The book had a seminal effect,” Robert A. Lutz, who was a top executive at BMW, Ford Motor, Chrysler and General Motors, said in a telephone interview. “I don’t like Ralph Nader and I didn’t like the book, but there was definitely a role for government in automotive safety.”
If anything, he said, the regulations that followed leveled the playing field among automakers. “It sets ground rules where everybody has to do something and nobody has to worry” about being at a competitive disadvantage, he said.
Mr. Nader started researching automotive safety in 1956 as a second-year student at Harvard Law School and kept at it intermittently. He was inspired by books that prompted change, including Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring,” which highlighted the dangers of the pesticide DDT to the environment.
“I aspired to the level of getting a law through, getting an agency to implement it,” he said.
About 1965, when he had a few chapters and an outline, he began sending them to publishers. Things did not go well. One publisher replied with a short note. The book, it said, would be “of interest primarily to insurance agents.”
Then Mr. Nader was approached by Richard L. Grossman, a New York publisher, who had read an article in The New Republic detailing Mr. Nader’s concerns about automotive safety. He asked Mr. Nader to write a book, though he doubted its sales potential.
“The issue about marketing that book always was, even if every word in it is true and everything about it is as outrageous as he says, do people want to read about that?” Mr. Grossman said in “An Unreasonable Man,” a 2007 documentary about Mr. Nader. Mr. Grossman died in 2014.
On Nov. 30, 1965, “Unsafe at Any Speed: The Designed-In Dangers of the American Automobile” was published. The first sentence did not mince words: “For over half a century the automobile has brought death, injury and the most inestimable sorrow and deprivation to millions of people.”
The first chapter was aimed at the 1960-63 Chevrolet Corvair compact. Mr. Nader argued the rear-engine car had a suspension defect that made it easy for the driver to lose control and sometimes roll the car over. To this day, some Corvair enthusiasts dispute that assertion, although G.M. did make significant suspension changes starting with the 1965 model.
But most of the book focused on a long list of neglected safety issues ranging from brake performance to drivers’ being impaled by noncollapsible steering wheels and poor crash protection. The sharp-edged theme was that there was a “gap between existing design and attainable safety” and the auto industry was ignoring “moral imperatives” to make people safer.
It did not take long for the book to attract attention, including that of powerful legislators. In February 1966, Mr. Nader was asked by Senator Abraham A. Ribicoff, Democrat of Connecticut, to testify before a Senate subcommittee on automotive safety.
Joan Claybrook, who led the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the late 1970s and later headed Public Citizen, a group Mr. Nader founded, said he went far beyond writing the book to press his case.
“He played a critical role in a very subtle way by using contacts with the media, communicating with them almost every day, giving them new ideas and new stories, talking to whistle-blowers,” she said.
Mr. Nader’s campaign also got an enormous lift and more credibility after General Motors was caught having private investigators follow and investigate him. The automaker said it only wanted to know if Mr. Nader was working for any of the personal-injury lawyers in Corvair litigation. But at a meeting of his subcommittee, Senator Ribicoff scorned that explanation and said the investigation was “an attempt to downgrade and smear a man.” General Motors formally apologized.
By the spring of 1966, “Unsafe at Any Speed” was a best seller for nonfiction, along with Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood.”
Among those who greeted Mr. Nader’s success with dismay was Edward N. Cole, who was the general manager of Chevrolet when the Corvair was being developed in what was seen as a bold and innovative move to offer a more fuel-efficient small car. One of the people driving a Corvair was his son David.
“I don’t think he would ever had me driving a 1960 Corvair if he had any inclination there was a safety issue,” said David E. Cole, the former director of the University of Michigan Office for the Study of Automotive Transportation and currently the chairman of the nonprofit AutoHarvest Foundation.
In a telephone interview, Mr. Cole said his father — who died in 1977 in a plane crash — thought that Mr. Nader did not understand the complexity and trade-offs of automotive engineering and that the book encouraged people to sue the auto industry.
In September 1966 — about 10 months after the book was published — President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act, requiring the adoption of new or upgraded vehicle safety standards, and creating an agency to enforce them and supervise safety recalls.
Suddenly, what consumer advocates saw as an unfettered auto industry was facing much stronger federal oversight.
A host of new or stronger safety requirements led — often after stiff opposition — to new technologies like airbags, antilock brakes, electronic stability control and, recently, rearview cameras and automatic braking.
Indeed, the death rate has dropped strikingly. In 1965, there were about five deaths for every 100 million miles traveled, according to the traffic safety agency. In 2014, the most recent year available, there was one death for every 100 million miles.
“If you just simply focus on things like the death toll, clearly the act has been a success,” said Clarence M. Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, which was founded in 1970 by Mr. Nader and Consumers Union, a nonprofit consumer advocacy group.
But Mr. Ditlow and Mr. Nader have long pushed for more stringent action from the traffic safety agency, whose leaders were often political appointees. A New York Times investigation last year found that the agency had often been slow to identify problems and reluctant to use its full legal powers against automakers.
“For most of N.H.T.S.A.’s life they weren’t fulfilling their mission,” Mr. Nader said.
Still, Mr. Nader sees reason for optimism. The recent crisis in auto safety, which started with General Motors’ disclosure that it had failed for more than a decade to disclose a deadly ignition switch defect, has led to a revived safety agency, which he said was “on the rise again.”
Nervous GM had private investigators follow Nader
Despite being launched more than 50 years ago, Ralph Nader’s book Unsafe at Any Speed still has impact.
The then young Harvard-trained lawyer/reformer lambasted the automobile industry for building cars that were unsafe.
These days most people believe that Unsafe at Any Speed was almost solely about the rear-engine Chevrolet Corvair.
Nader reserved most of his criticism for what American car companies were making and selling: big, powerful V8 automobiles with tiny drum brakes.
He condemned the interiors, full of chromed, sharp protruding switches and the steel post steering columns which impaled passengers even in low speeds crashes.
He gave voice to a growing cadre of car company customers who valued vehicle safety above gimmickry.
And he did so at a time when the US automotive industry was at its absolute height of influence, power and arrogance.
The irony of Nader’s book is that he struggled to find a publisher and then when it did hit the bookstores — sales were low.
What gave the book national prominence and launched Nader’s consumer activism career was General Motors itself.
At the time, GM was facing 103 lawsuits related to the Corvair and became extremely nervous about the book.
Like something out of a crime thriller, to find out more about Nader they actually hired private detectives.
The Washington Post newspaper found out about the investigation and so did a US Senate committee investigating auto safety.
GM was hauled into the US Senate and asked to “please explain?”
Nader sued and GM settled out of court, reportedly for nearly half a million dollars.
Sales of the book skyrocketed.
Corvair sales dropped like lead pipe thrown in the air.
During 1967 the political pressure was so great that US congress started to pass laws regulating automobile design and safety standards.
And so the great consumer protection regulatory reforms began in the US, covering many industries and products.
That regulatory tsunami swept around the world and Nader’s name became synonymous with consumer protection.
In 2000, Nader decided to run in Florida for the US Presidency against Vice President Al Gore and Republican nominee George W. Bush.
Nader received nearly 97,000 votes in Florida.
Gore lost Florida by 2000 votes and it kept him out of the White House.
Perhaps, had Nader not been on the ballot many of his votes would have gone to Gore?
And if it had not been for GM’s actions in 1965, Nader might have been just one of many unknown names on the ticket — or not there at all.
A man acting
Ralph Nader was/is an author, consumer advocate, politician and Lawyer. He helped pass two important acts, ran for president multiple times and was the author of multiple books.
Ralph Nader grew up in Winsted, Connecticut. He later became a lawyer, a consumer advocate, an author, and even a politician. He helped pass the 1966 National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act by creating a book called Unsafe at Any Speed. He also and took the largest role in passing the 1967 Wholesome Meat Act. He also wrote other books. In his life of politics he bid, or ran, three times. His most recent run was in 2008, as a third party candidate. Though not completely successful in running for president, Ralph Nader was and is an influential man, helping bring safety to us and improving how things are done today.
Bollier, David. 1991. Citizen Action and Other Big Ideas: A History of Ralph Nader. Washington, DC: Center for Study of Responsive Law. http://www.nader.org/template.php?/archives/7-Citizen-Action-and-Other-Big-Ideas-By-David-Bollier.html.
Bowen, Nancy. 2002. Ralph Nader: Man with a Mission. Brookfield, CT: Twenty-First Century Books.
Graham, Kevin. 2000. Ralph Nader: Battling for Democracy. Denver, CO: Windom Press.
Martin, Justin. 2002. Nader: Crusader, Spoiler, Icon. Cambridge, MA: Perseus.
Ralph Nader: He’s a Cookbook!
“We can all sit down and have a few beers together while we wait.”
– Duke Mantee (Humphrey Bogart), The Petrified Forest (1936)
Call before, you dig?
– Utility notification for unmarked Internet cables from hippy who finally got a job
The other day, minding my own business, and getting lots of unwanted help doing so, I got a welcome Tweet push from the 86 year old Ralph Nader inviting me to visit with him at Latitude Adjustment where he’d been interviewed about his new book, The Ralph Nader Family Cookbook: Classic Recipes from Lebanon and Beyond. Hm. My first thought was how much we forget, we who care at all, that Ralph a root product of Lebanon, one of those Middle East places that — looking back at how much Nader has accomplished in the last 55 years, beginning with Unsafe at Any Speed (1965) and the passage of seat belt laws — would have put Lebanon squarely on Trump’s shit country list, even though Nader was born here. Remember Judge Curiel? (Me neither.)
Well, Bette Davis in All About Eve (1950) did warn us to strap ourselves in because it was gonna be a bumpy night, and it’s almost like Ralph foresaw the long night’s journey into day ahead, down a Lost Highway full of potholes, loopholes and assholes — the corporates and pollies — who pave the slick roads of governance and taxation, and see democracy as a roadblock to their getaway. But it wasn’t cops at the roadblock, it was Ralph Nader, walking tall, calmly asking to see some ID, asking if they knew what he pulled them over for, and arranging a nice big fat fine. So, I was all-too-ready to listen to Ralph sprout like a green seed from a podcast.
So I found my way to Latitude Adjustment and Route 66 or, rather, Podcast 66, the one with Ralph Nader. I saw that the pods were hosted by Eric Maddox and Laila Mohhiber. Rummaged around first to check out the universal resource locator (URL) environment I was in. Said, hmm, me think me likey. Scrolling through past podcasts there were discussions of all types with personages of all ilks. Stuff like Podcast 65, “On the Ground in Idlib, Syria,” where Everyday People discuss the polymorphous perversity of turning their lives into a war zone — a place you may remember as the site where Trump sent ISIS head al-Baghdadi on his way toward outer space, and the Afterlife, allegedly clutching two virgins, as if covering his bases when he got there.
Other yummy-looking podcasts were 47, “Last Slave Ships to the US,” where Joe Womack recounts, in two parts, his life growing up in AfricaTown, Alabama, an all-Black community in the heart of Dixie Podcast 46 serves up “Gaza Sky Geeks & Women in Palestine,” where techie skills and women’s rights are chewed over and, all the way back to Podcast 1, “Andrius & Lithuania & Turkey & Travel,” where Maddox literally breaks beer with Andrius Mažeika, who discuss “Lithuanian Jazz and Reggae, and reflections on culture and politics from his years living in Turkey through the string of bombing attacks and the attempted coup,” writes Maddox, and adds, “Heads up, there’s some naughty language at the end.” I remember Taksim well, throwing snowballs in the yard of the Whirling Dervish lodge.
Anyway, I was already thankful to Nader for his lifetime of staring down the Man, with his six-shooter law degree and Ennio Morricone soundtrack, and corrected miscreants crying after him, “Lebanon blondie,” when he left them hangin’ just long enough to consider their sinning ways before releasing them back into the wilds of corporate finance. So there I was, at Podcast 66, listening to Ralph Nader serve up the news to, in this case, eager ears. Like a prelude to the program, that reminded one (okay just me) of Wagner’s Prelude to Act One of Lohengrin, Ralph begins. I’m all ears, dipping some flat bread into Nader’s hummus bi tahini, peckish.
So there are a lot of people who don’t even recognize that there are far more reforms and changes from living wage to health insurance to cracking down on corporate crime to solarizing our economy to having more access to government, more access to justice, criminal justice reform — all of these actually have conservative-liberal supporters. That’s what the polls show. But that isn’t what the politicians emphasize. They emphasize what divides people so they can attach to one group in contrast to another.
So, there it is: what Ralph does best, and one explanation for his largely unblemished longevity: He accentuates the common interests of the Left and Right. Today, only a moron wants to drive along without a seatbelt. (Or texting while they drive.)
And then we’re on to Ralph’s new Family Cookbook (he’s put out two others). For a moment, I’m not sure I’m ready to go on a food journey with Nader, recalling Sy Hersh’s memoir, Reporter, wherein the prize-winning journo (Pulitzer, My Lai, 1970) reveals the times he shared lunches with Nader in their early DC days:
There was nothing in those days quite like a quick lunch at the downstairs coffee shop with Ralph. He would grab a spoonful of my tuna fish salad, flatten it out on a plate, and point out small pieces of paper and even tinier pieces of mouse shit in it. He was marvelous, if a bit hard to digest.
Hersh has served up a lifetime of spicy revelation meatballs, too, come to think of it (and not always turd-free, but then consider what he’s had to muck around in).
Eric, Laila, and Ralph begin their gustatory feast by dishing up a platter of entrees — a cornucopia, really, of his achievements: Five time spoiler of the lesser-of-two-evil system, running for president as a Green “one of the most influential figures in American history” six decades of advocacy, civil liberties defender and truth-to-power speaker author of many public interest books Erroll Flynn-like (if you took away the CGI) leader of Nader’s Raiders, a kickass group of marvelous heroes who took on the Federal Trade Commission, established nationwide PIRGs, and let us into the vaults of government secrecy through the FOIA. But they came to praise Ralph, not to bury him, so we hear from Ralph about his new projects, specifically the cookbook, and, later, his take on the Fake President and the demise of democracy during Trump’s tenure.
The main meal arrives, the Cookbook, and I immediately dive in, scrolling through the recipes for appetizers and dips, soups and smoothies, salad and mains, vegetables and breads, and desserts to dive for. Baba Ghanoush, Cannellini Bean Soup with Swiss Chard, Tabouleh, Baked Kibbe, Steamed Broccoli with Garlic, Lemon, and Olive Oil, and Two-Two-Two Cookies looking so delicious you find yourself stuttering. I look and salivate at the ingredients for one of my favorite dishes.
STUFFED KIBBE COOKED IN LABANEEYE:
basic kibbe mixture (see page 51)
kibbe filling (see page 51)
mint (preferably fresh but dried is okay), use generously to taste
2 quarts laban (see page 22)
1/4 cup uncooked long-grain brown rice
Simple, quiet, a palate of democratic values hoying to be heard, Nader the Socrates of the moment’s aesthetic taste, a classic battler of dialectical materialism. (Sure, hammy, but check out the words that that other 60s genius, Dylan, uses to describe his Tennessean whiskey label, Heaven’s Door (don’t knock it until you’ve tried it): “A succulent, harmonious bourbon that hits all the right notes at the right moments for the category a study of equal parts elegance and power.” Perfect for this meal. And ain’t it so that in the backwoods of Tennessee still waters run deep?
In his interview with Eric and Laila, Nader reminds his listeners of the intrinsic value of groups coming together to break up the bread, break open the bottles, and, later, break out the wind. The a taste of the interview goes something like this:
Laila: What was the inspiration for this latest cookbook? Why now? And what impact do you hope it has?
Ralph: The growth of nutritional movements in the US, more and more people wanting to eat fresh food, not processed food. They’re upgrading their nutritional diet. Now, with Covid-19, people are growing or expanding backyard gardens and they’re spending more time in the kitchen. There’s another reason for this book: There’s still a lot of people with a high fat, high salt diet and diabetes is rampant, including among young people…So, this book attempts to elevate their diet into the Mediterranean diet…the Arabic cuisine.
I found myself drifting at this point, virtually thumbing through the Cookbook, looking at the photos and recipes, tidbits of cultural heritage about the food. Then I came across Nader’s stuffed grape recipe, simple. elegant, tasty, and reminded me of my time in Istanbul, taking the fare-sharing taxies they called dolmuşes out of Taksim square — getting stuffed into cabs, old American ‘50s style vehicles, 7-8 tangled torsoes, hanky-panky just begging to happen, the driver eyeballing us in the rearview, from which a blue-eyed evil eye hangs, feeling like I was stuck in a German expressionist painting.
Now the reverie’s in the rearview, too, and the recipe’s right before me:
Stuffed with lamb and rice, or vegetarian filling, this delicacy has become popular but it’s often found in heavy olive oil. Steamed and served hot or cold, this recipe contains no added fat products. The grape leaves can be prepared ahead of time, and refrigerated or frozen uncooked, leaving out the lemon juice and water until you cook them.
Lamb filling: Mix ground lamb meat with rice, season with salt, pepper, and cinnamon.
Vegetarian filling: Mix all ingredients together
Mixed all together. Like some trauma. But delicious.
The great thing about all these recipes is they’re familiar, easy to prepare, and really tasty designed not for the haute couture set but for hoi polloi like me. You feel, looking at these dishes, that you won’t be ‘inviting’ in pretentious book club types (Why did Atlas shrug?) career advancers needing flattery all night, like dark personages out of Dostoyevsky or ‘gourmands’ who take Dylan’s label seriously. Dig in, Nader says, with your hands, if need be. I fade back in:
Eric: So, speaking of the current moment, what’s the connection between that and your politics? And how do you think your kitchen, so to speak, should inform the politics of our listeners?
Ralph: Well, one is [legislatively] pressing for a more organic food. One that doesn’t have residual fungicides, pesticides, herbicides. Who knows what else is put into meat products — hormones. So, we try to emphasize with this kind of Arabic cuisine, you can look around for farmers who grow organically…[and] The recipes are so simple, and the ingredients are so easy to buy…and they’re far less expensive than steaks or chops.
And on he goes, with slow-burn elegance. Let us cut to the chase. In the Introduction of the Cookbook, Nader tells us,
My mother and father and their four children—two girls and two boys—all ate the same food. There were no food clashes there was peace and time for what our parents wanted us to discuss, inform, and question regarding our schooling and readings.
Meaningful table dinners with fam, instead of everybody eating something different in their rooms in front of computer screens, self-isolating as a virus. To his mother, “whether at breakfast, lunch, or supper—was a daily occasion for education, for finding out what was on our minds, for recounting traditions of food, culture, and kinship in Lebanon, where she and my father were born.”
His father, who ran the family restaurant, the Highland Arms Restaurant, and liked to treat his kids to his handmade ice cream (“When the ice cream was ready, we would fill our bowls and lap it up happily.”), had a complementary philosophy about the family dining experience. But still they had table expectations that would be considered challenging today. Nader notes,
Mother knew that at the kitchen table she had our undivided attention. When we came home from our nearby schools for lunch, she would relate historic sagas, like the tales of Joan of Arc. She never read to us, preferring to rely on her memory to tell stories and recite Arabic poetry, watching the expressions on our faces closely. Coming from a vibrant oral tradition in Lebanon, she had an endless treasure trove of recollections.
Nobody said Shut Up, nobody ever got mal and started a foof fight, and look how Ralph has turned out.
I find myself musing again, thinking of all the Eid fast breaks, Easter dinners, and seders. My Dinner with Andre. The Woody Allen flicks featuring families fighting, but with ‘love.’ The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover. The discussions. And I’m thinking of Nader at the first Thanksgiving dinner telling a Wampanoag guest, quietly, that he had mouse turd in his pumpkin pie, just to see the look in his eye, and it hasn’t stopped.
Eric stops my musing, asking Nader if there are ways in which food can be used to bring together people “separated by politics and by borders.” Nader is generous and expansive in his reply:
It’s pretty well known that wherever you have people who disagree politically — but boy do they like certain ethnic food — and you get them around a table and they start talking about things that are not dividing them, they broaden their vistas and their horizons and see each other as human beings instead of stereotyped people.
He notes this exactly the kind of togetherness the ruling class hates and seeks to destroy. He continues, passing around water, with “a few years ago I wrote about a left-right alliance. I came up with about 25 major changes and redirections in this country that are supported by liberals and conservatives.”
He tells Eric and Laila, struggling to figure out how to vote in a two-evil election: “Vote your conscience in swing states” Nader advises. He own that the current two-party set-up is a mess, where “49% unhappy after every presidential election.” He wonders “why the Greens fare so poorly when they are the People’s party,” with all the popular solutions for health, education and welfare issues. And though he doesn’t elaborate, he “suggests that America adopt an electoral system” similar to Ireland’s which has a preferential voting system.
They ask him what they can do as new and first time voters to prepare for an election. He recommends that they read William Greider’s Who Will Tell the People? Then he gives the podcast duo a portrait of an activist as a young person. He says,
Young people need to realize that the ten greatest social justice victories in our country were initiated by a handful of people [and] such people shared three qualities:
1. They were serious people.
2. They knew what they were talking about.
3. They represented majority public opinion.
There’s a pause during which my glass is refilled, and then to other topics.
Nader recalls the phenomenon known as Victory Gardens, which he says had been making a comeback, and that that has now accelerated with the isolation Covid-19 has brought with it. “There was time,” says Ralph, “when 35% of all vegetables were grown in home gardens…There are now about 20 million home gardens and growing, so this effort has been a success. This whole effort meshes well with the goal of more self-reliant economies.” Michele Obama is vaguely remembered for her ‘victory garden,’ presumably a photo-op gesture in support of the war effort on Terror— a new poppy flower placed for each terrorist killed, two if it was a double tap. But that’s not what Nader has in mind.
The Cookbook is quick and easy to read, the dishes are familiar and elegant. They remind one, again, of how simple goodness can be, like being all furrowed up with Kant and Hegel and suddenly seeing a simple dinner with friends and family as something akin to the Golden Rule. May I have butter? And it is had with a smile. I would be quite pleased if someone gave me Nader’s book for my birthday. People who want to hear more from Nader can tune into the Ralph Nader Radio Hour.
Along the way Eric and Laila introduce us to another new concept — Virtual Dinners. Like the Latitude Adjustment podcasts, the themes and personages are largely media under-represented everyday people facing a variety of crises. The Virtual Dinners see one family virtually breaking bread with others by way of Zoom. Dinners include Kosovo and Palestine people breaking bread and discussing statehood — Kosovo, Europe’s newest entry, and the dream of Palestine. There’s a dinner where Pakistanis talk with Germans. A dinner where the central topic is What Ever Happened to the Egyptian Revolution? And What If Your Country Was Occupied? is the subject of another dinner. And one dinner discusses a Syrian’s venture to the Greek island of Lesbos. All meet topics.
Nader’s book, Latitude Adjustment, and the Virtual Dinners are all reminders that, as we become ever more absorbed in the Hive Mind that the Internet is becoming, there is no substitute for good old-fashioned sessions where we break bread together and share, face-to-face, the negotiation of our beings through language — and the consciousness behind it that unites us all as a species. It’s food for thought!
John Kendall Hawkins is an American ex-pat freelancer based in Australia. He is a former reporter for The New Bedford Standard-Times.