In defense of Ralph Nader

Victor Hugg

In today’s day and age, Ralph Nader’s name is often uttered with scorn. Often, his name is not mentioned without being accompanied by the word “spoiler,” a derisive label that refers to his role in the U.S. presidential election of 2000. The harsh language thrown about by vengeful Democrats would lead one to the conclusion that Nader is only a mischievous man whose end goal was to siphon votes away from Al Gore; this is far from the case.

Very few seem to be acquainted with the fact that, decades ago, Nader’s brave actions carried a substantial amount of weight. In 1965, Nader published “Unsafe at Any Speed,” a book that detailed how unsafe cars were at the time. Nader’s advocacy played a significant role in the passage of the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966. In addition to establishing several automobile safety standards — including the mandatory installation of seat belts — the legislation created the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Today, the NHTSA estimates that  11,000 lives are saved each year by the use of seat belts.

Nader founded and inspired the creation of many non-profit organizations. Through these organizations, Nader was involved with the development of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Freedom of Information Act, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, Surgeon General Warnings and numerous other pieces of beneficial legislation. The amount of time, money and lives saved in part because of this man is extraordinary.

Unsurprisingly, attacking corporations, as the above laws do, carries consequences. The media does not care for Nader, despite his bringing to light a multitude of issues that other politicians, most notably, other presidential candidates, refuse to discuss. For example, mainstream candidates — beholden to powerful corporate interests — downplay the consideration of bold policy ideas like a single-payer health care system or an effectual cut to our bloated military budget.

When Ralph Nader entered the 2008 presidential race as an independent, the then-Democratic hopefuls immediately released statements unjustly connecting Nader’s presence in the 2000 presidential election with Al Gore’s loss to George W. Bush. One such statement was given by Hillary Clinton in February 2008: “His being on the Green Party [ticket] prevented Al Gore from being the greenest president we could have had, and I think that’s really unfortunate. I think we paid a big price for it. I’m pretty sad about that.”

Nader was and will likely continue to be consistently banned from being able to attend a presidential debate. In the now-notorious 2000 presidential election, networks prohibited his mere attendance to a televised broadcast of the debate. The frivolous justification used included pointing to Nader’s lack of substantial fundraising, which supposedly indicated that he would not be a factor in the race. After Bush purportedly won the election, the public turned and viciously blamed Nader for “giving the election to Bush” and for “spoiling the election.” The delusional invectives notwithstanding, it would appear Ralph Nader might have been a factor after all.

Ralph Nader is not the reason Al Gore lost in 2000. The blame rests with uninformed voters. Millions of Democrats voted Republican, or did not vote at all, and Al Gore failed to win his home state of Tennessee. In Florida, there were six other third-party candidates who received more than 537 votes, the magic number needed to sway the election.

If you are going to blame Nader, you would have to equally blame all of the others as well. Yet I would be surprised if anyone who considers themselves politically-savvy can even name those candidates today. In addition, a cursory understanding of Nader’s platform, and his position that neither mainstream party would best serve the people of the United States, would seem to indicate that a considerable amount of the people who voted for Nader would not have voted for Gore were it not for Nader’s participation in the race.

Other factors suggest Ralph Nader’s role in the 2000 election was not nearly as earth-shattering as the media made it out to be: The politicization of Bush v. Gore, confounding butterfly ballots; the fact that Jeb Bush, George W. Bush’s brother, was the governor of Florida at the time; and the fact that the analyst responsible for Fox News’ decisions in calling states for Gore or Bush was a man by the name of John Prescott Ellis, Bush’s first cousin.

Ralph Nader is a consumer rights advocate whose contributions went down in history. Look past what the public perceives him to be, and delve into his interesting, constructive past.