Ralph Nader first became famous when, in 1965, he published Unsafe at Any Speed, a book which exposed the unsafe designs in the automobile industry, specifically that of early model Chevrolet Corvairs. The book lead to the passage of a series of automobile safety laws soon thereafter. Since then, Nader has often been seen as a champion of consumers' rights, attempting to reduce corporate influence in government and bring about more industry regulation like that which resulted from Unsafe at Any Speed. In 1992, 1996, and 2000, Ralph Nader ran for President of the United States as the Green Party (a left-wing political party with a heavy emphasis on environmentalism) candidate.
Nader was born in Winstead, Connecticut on 27 February, 1934 to Nathra and Rose Nader, Lebenese immigrants. Nader graduated from Princeton University in 1955 magna cum laude and, in 1958, from Harvard Law. Nader began his career as a lawyer in Hartford, Connecticut the next year, as well as publishing an article titled "The Safe Car You Can't Buy" in The Nation, claiming the automotive industry was designing cars with style, cost, planned obsolescence, etc. in mind but not the safety of the vehicles' passengers. From 1961 to 1963, Nader lectured at the University of Hartford on the topics of history and government. In 1963 he was employed by the US Department of Labor as a consultant and volunteered to advise a Senate subcommittee studying automobile safety.
In 1965, Nader's book Unsafe at Any Speed was published, attacking the auto industry for lax safety standards (specifically General Motors, who owned Chevrolet, which produced the Corvair). Nader's influence was key in passing the 1966 National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act. The next year, Ralph Nader was again influential in the passage of the Wholesome Meat Act, which created government-enforced standards which slaughterhouses had to follow and resulted in federal inspection of meat being sold. In the years since these acts were passed, Ralph Nader has held at least a strong influence in the passing of several other federal "consumer protection" acts, such as the Freedom of Information Act and Safe Drinking Water Act, and bills which lead to the creation of regulatory organizations such as the Occupational Safety & Health Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Consumer Product Safety Administration.
Nader's influence was felt not only by Congress but left-wing activists throughout the country. "Nader's Raiders," as they were called, began campaigning for the reduction of corporate power and improved protection for consumers and the environment. In 1969, Ralph Nader founded the Center for the Study of Responsive Law, an organization dedicated to showing the public any lack of responsibility by corporations and failure of the federal government to regulate businesses as they should according to laws that had been passed. In 1971, Nader founded the Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs) and Public Citizen.
PIRGs are student-funded organizations bringing environmental and energy problems to the attention of the media and lobbying, usually on the state level, for various laws usually relating to the same issues Ralph Nader has been and is still so vocal about. Public Citizen is a large umbrella organization for various smaller organizations with many of the same, typically-radical-left-wing-type objectives. In 1980, Nader resigned as the director of Public Citizen to devote more time and energy to other projects, such as Multinational Monitor magazine, which he founded that year. Multinational Monitor seeks to keep track of multinational corporations' impact on labor, the environment, and poorer nations' development throughout the world.
Despite being such a strong advocate of consumers and "the little guy," there seems to be a lot of nasty rumors about Ralph Nader with regard to how much money he actually has/makes, what property(ies) he owns, and how he treats those working under him. Ordinarily such rumors might be easy to dismiss but some of them seem to carry quite a bit of credibility. Realchange.org, a website devoted to digging up dirt on politicians, cites a considerable number of ex-employees of Nader claiming he required extremely long hours of work for extremely low pay from those under him. The site also presents evidence that Nader successfully broke a union that workers under him attempted to form in much the same manner as some corporations have done to unions formed by their employees. In addition, the site shows evidence that Nader has used family members to act as legal owners of some of his properties and organizations to avoid paying certain property and income taxes.
So is any of it true?
Well, I wouldn't even be considering any of the allegations of hypocrisy had realchange.org not bothered to cite sources for its information. The site presents the "dirt" in a sensationalist manner, much like a tabloid would, trying to make each politician it has information on sound as bad as possible. This is exceptionally obvious on realchange.org's page regarding Harry Browne, the Libertarian Party's candidate in 1996 and 2000, where the website's creator(s), having little "dirt" on the man, present a couple decontextualized quotes and attack Browne's character in a pathetically argued manner. The page on Browne tries to be vindictive but lacks enough information to do so. The page devoted to the dirt on Ralph Nader, however, is much more complete and cites a lot of sources (they're listed at the bottom of http://www.realchange.org/nader.htm). While some of the allegations are likely outright bullshit or, at the very least, exaggerated, it does stand to reason that a number of them might be true. Something to keep in mind, at the very least, and investigate further, if possible, before casting a vote for the man.
In the 2000 Presidential election, Ralph Nader and the Green Party received the most support they ever have on a national level. There is some speculation as to whether this was good or bad. The race between the two primary candidates, Republican George W. Bush (who won) and Democrat Al Gore, proved to be one of the closest elections in United States history (and not merely because of the Florida ballot debacle). Had Nader's supporters voted for Gore instead, Gore would have won the election, leading to many claiming that a vote for Nader is a vote for Bush (arguing that by voting third party is not only throwing one's vote away but actually helping a candidate the voter would be more opposed to than another - similar to a right-wing voter supporting Ross Perot in 1996 instead of Bob Dole). Nader attempted to draw support from voters who would otherwise vote for Gore by claiming the difference between the Republicans and the Democrats is negligible as both parties are in the pockets of corporations. While I do disagree that the difference is negligible, Nader does have a point: On certain issues there is little difference between the Democrats and the Republicans. Change in government policy is a lot harder to make with only two candidates to choose from and I doubt anyone enjoys voting for what he/she considers a "lesser evil." Nevertheless, I wouldn't just randomly choose one of the two major parties to lead the country. There are differences.
Ralph Nader and his supporters knew that the Greens wouldn't be winning the presidency this time around. That much was obvious. There were still goals to be achieved with the 2000 election for the Green Party. One was increased awareness by the general public of who Ralph Nader/the Green Party is. This has, undoubtedly, been achieved at least in the sense that most people are aware of their existence. What Nader stands for, however, may not be as well known. Another important goal was to get at least five percent of the vote. This would mean that the Green Party would receive some federal funding for their campaign in 2004. Unfortunately, for the Greens and their constituents, Nader failed to garner five percent of the votes (gathering somewhere between only two and three precent).
During 2000, Nader had his fair share of publicity prior to the election as well. The people running the televised presidential debates between Bush and Gore not only refused to allow Nader to take part but went so far as to disallow Nader's presence as a member of the audience, despite the fact that he had a ticket. Nader was also sued by MasterCard for a parody of MasterCard's ad campaign that was available through Nader's website. Ultimately, the lawsuit was unsuccessful, the judge deciding that the spoof had not been used to make a profit and, as a result, Nader didn't have to pay the MasterCard folk anything for using their ad style.
Since it seems many people aren't sure what Ralph Nader stands for aside from his famous anti-corporate/consumers' rights/workers' rights stance that first got him noticed, I've assembled a list here of other political stances he holds. The information was obtained from a pre-2000 election incarnation of votenader.org (the site has since been scaled down to a few links to other Nader-related resources).
Ralph Nader has also been an (co-)author of several books, including (I have excluded any titles where he merely contributed an introduction or similar small piece from this non-exhaustive list)...
Note: Quite a few of these are out of print
, according to amazon.com.
http://www.votenader.org/ (as it appeared circa the 2000 US Presidential election)