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In 1965, Ralph Nader released his book, "Unsafe at Any Speed," which led to the requirement that car makers install seat belts. Ever since, Nader has had corporate America in his sights.
Now, he's out with a new book, where he calls for a dramatic shuffling of the country's political alliances in pursuit of a democracy where corporate interests hold far less sway.
He's calling for an alliance between libertarians from the right and progressives from the left. Impeach President Obama? He's okay with that. End the drug war? Sure thing. Ally with Rand Paul? If that's what it takes.
Ralph Nader, lawyer, author, consumer advocate and former presidential candidate. His new book is "Unstoppable: The Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State." He tweets at @RalphNader.
On how people from the left and the right can come together on civil liberties issues:
Ralph Nader: "From authentic conservatives, libertarians, progressives and liberals, they don't like the restrictions, the arbitrary nature, the secrecy of implementing the Patriot Act. For example, rummaging through your library records and, if the librarian tells you that they received a national security letter, they can be accused of a crime by the federal government or search in your home and not tell you for 72 hours. Or, going through your medical and financial records without adequate probable cause. That's a big one. And the problem is that the Congress has not gotten the message yet, so every time the Patriot Act comes up every few years for renewal, there isn't even a debate. So what I want to do in this book is put an operational cutting edge to this massive alliance shown in the public opinion polls, and others, that people do not want to trade so much liberty for so-called security."
On getting tough on corporate crime:
RN: "The right calls it crony capitalism — where the big corporations, especially the big banks, for example, and drug companies — insurance companies — muscle their way into Washington and use our government power to feather their nest with subsidies, handouts, giveaways, bailouts, constantly day after day. That's a huge left-right alliance. They don't like that. That's not supposed to be capitalism, sink or swim based on your own merits or demerits. The second area is they want law and order, not just on streets. They want law and order on the corporate streets. They want to put the prosecutorial effort on the crooks in Wall Street. Only one has been prosecuted and sent to jail, a rather minor executive — for crashing the entire economy, unemploying eight million workers, shredding pensions and mutual funds and then going to Washington for a huge taxpayer bailout in 2008, 2009. They want to break up these banks that are too big to fail or too big to jail."
On the compromises both parties would have to make to agree:
RN: "Left-right people back home say to themselves, we disagree on A, B, C issues and we're not going to agree anytime soon, but we happen to agree on W, X, Y, Z issues. We happen to agree that both conservative and liberal workers are having their jobs displaced by multinational corporations taking advantage of NAFTA and the World Trade Organization that they helped lobby through, and shipping our jobs and industries to often fascist and communist regimes overseas who know how to keep their workers in their place at 80 cents an hour — and then ship the products back to the U.S. You see, that's an area of convergence between left-right. So I understand, Anthony, there are areas where they strongly disagree, especially in education, but we have to recognize the following. If we want to get something done in this country, we can't simply focus on where we disagree. We've got to focus on where we agree. And as this book points out, where left-right agrees are on very momentous issues. They're fundamental democracy issues, they're fundamental economic issues. Like, they disagree, let's say, on the tax rate for individuals, but they agree that Wall Street should be subjected to a speculation tax. They agree with Ronald Reagan, who thought that all income should be taxed at the same level, in other words, you don't have 15 percent tax on capital gains and dividends and maybe 25 or 30 percent tax on worker income. So you see, what this book does, it shines the spotlight on the areas of agreement, goes into the history of them, doesn't sugarcoat it, confronts the obstacles."
On Machiavelli's "The Prince":
RN: "It was a classic divide and rule that Machiavelli analyzed, even back then. It's almost like human nature by the few to overpower the many, is divide and rule. We see it here, we see it in other countries. I was just in Sen. Markey's office and I want him to sponsor an event on Capitol Hill where he connects with a right-wing senator and says, 'OK, we disagree on X, Y, Z but we agree on these issues, let's have a gathering with the press and get the ball rolling so we break this gridlock in Congress. By the way, the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform, before it was eviscerated by five out of nine members of the Supreme Court, was a classic left-right. Russ Feingold, liberal democrat, John McCain, conservative Republican, overpowered a lot of corporate lobbyists who want to continue buying and renting our Congress and our political system."
On what keeps Nader optimistic:
RN: "Pessimism has no function, it's nothing more than an indulgence of a withdrawn mind from participating in democracy. The only thing that can make you go forward is if you think you can make things better, the way left-right alliances are already reforming juvenile justice in 15 states, already operational enacting laws. And the other thing is this, I think with your famous Sen. Daniel Webster, I agree, justice is the great work of human beings on earth and that's what we all have to spend some of our time furthering in all the ways that we know are the proper way to have a decent, responsive and prosperous society."
- "Can political opposites attract? Ralph Nader's new book makes a case for the far left and right to come together. He tells NPR's Scott Simon there's common ground in opposing corporate America."
- "Consumer activist Ralph Nader unleashed a blast at Sen. Mark Pryor Monday, accusing the Arkansas Democrat of becoming too beholden to Wal-Mart at the expense of low wage workers in his home state."
- "You can thank Nader for most every consumer or environmental regulation from the 1960s onward — name it, and it was probably proposed or designed by one of his grass-roots organizations, or pushed into reality by an activist he trained or inspired. And at a time when his legacy was safe, he put it all on the line with four third-party campaigns for president, trying to create a grass-roots alternative and to thrust important issues into the debate. He was usually just as critical of the Democratic candidate as he was the Republican, forever alienating himself from some allies who still blame him (unfairly, I’d argue, but you might disagree) for helping elect George W. Bush in 2000."
This segment aired on May 21, 2014.