Biography for Ralph Nader
Lawyer and activist Ralph Nader founded and has led the consumer rights movement in the United States for nearly three decades. "Naderism" has become synonymous with the use of citizen action to combat business and government practices deemed detrimental to the public interest. Nader was born in Winsted, Connecticut on February 27, 1934, the son of Lebanese immigrants who instilled in him strong moral and democratic values. After attending Winsted's Gilbert School, Nader enrolled at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University, graduating magna cum laude with a major in government and economics in 1955. He then entered Harvard Law School, where he became editor of the Harvard Law Record. As a student without a car who relied on hitchhiking for transportation, Nader had become concerned about the problem of automobile safety, and while in law school, he published his first article on the subject, "American Cars: Designed for Death," in the Harvard Law Record. Earning his law degree with distinction in 1958, he spent six months in the army before starting a small law practice in Hartford, Connecticut, in which he handled a number of auto accident cases. Becoming convinced that he could accomplish little on the local level, Nader moved to Washington, D.C. in 1964. As a staff consultant on highway safety to Daniel Moynihan (then assistant secretary of labor for policy planning), Nader compiled a massive report on the subject, which became the best-selling muckraking book Unsafe at Any Speed: The Designed-in Dangers of the American Automobile (1965). In it, Nader charged that the automobile companies sacrificed safety for speed and appearance, citing the Chevrolet Corvair as especially unsafe. General Motors (GM) hired a detective to uncover damaging material on Nader's private life. The effort not only failed to compromise Nader, but also embarrassed GM president James M. Roche, who had to apologize before a Senate committee. Nader's book led Congress to pass the Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966, which called on the federal government to set safety standards that must be met by all cars sold in the country. Directing his attention to other areas involving health and safety, Nader became involved in efforts that helped to bring about the Wholesome Meat Act of 1967 and legislation providing for better safety standards in the construction of natural gas pipelines and underground mining. In 1969, Nader helped establish in Washington, D.C. the Center for Study of Responsive Law, which conducted investigations of such federal commissions as the Federal Trade Commission, suspected of being unduly influenced by the very industries it were supposed to be regulating. In 1970, Nader started the Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) to work for consumer and political reform on the community and college campus level. In 1971, he launched Public Citizen, Inc., a consumer lobbying group to counteract the influence of powerful corporate lobbies. Inspired by Nader's idealism, many young people, who became known as Nader's Raiders, joined his crusades through these and other organizations like the Center for Auto Safety, the National Insurance Consumer Organization, and the Health Research Group. Relying on individual contributions, on foundation grants, and on Nader's earnings as a writer and speaker for funds, these organizations conducted investigations of a wide range of consumer issues including the environment, nuclear power, health care, freedom of information in government, and tax reform. They also pushed for legislative and judicial remedies for the abuses they uncovered, using class-action suits and other legal tools to achieve their goals. Nader and his various groups influenced the creation of several new government "watchdog" agencies, including the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission. They were also largely responsible for at least eight federal consumer protection laws, among them laws regulating radiation dangers, the use of cyclamates in diet foods, and the use of DDT in the control of insect pests. On the local level, Nader and his associates sparked the establishment of consumer affairs commissions in most major cities and aroused public concern about product safety and value. Despite their accomplishments, Nader and his associates drew fire for being fanatics and for conducting superficial and slanted research. Moreover, in the conservative climate of the 1980s, Nader's brand of activism seemed doomed to extinction. Nevertheless, he and his associates kept up their crusades on a variety of fronts. In 1980, Nader resigned as president of Public Citizen, Inc., so that he could devote more time to organizing citizens on the community level. With Ronald Reagan's election to the presidency in 1980, Nader attacked the administration for offering a government that favored business and ignored consumer interests. The following year, a Nader group published a study of the Reagan Administration entitled Reagan's Ruling Class: Portraits of the President's Top One Hundred Officials. Continuing his critique of corporate influence, Nader in 1986 coauthored The Big Boys: Power and Position in American Business, a study of nine powerful chief executive officers of corporations. Two years later, he helped bring about the passage of Proposition 103 in California, a law that lowered some auto insurance costs. The following year, GM announced that air bags would become standard equipment on many 1990 models, something that Nader had fought for during the past decade. Also around this time, Nader used national radio talk shows to forestall a congressional pay hike. A firm believer in the power of the ordinary citizen to effect change, Nader in the early 1990s set out to make his Connecticut hometown a model democracy. In the presidential election of 1996, Nader, running as the candidate for Green Party USA, received some 580,000 votes, nearly 1% of the national total and about 3.5% of the total votes cast in California. He ran for president again in 2000, this time garnering 3% of the nationwide vote, as well as considerable controversy for siphoning Democratic votes from Vice President Al Gore. On February 22, 2004, Nader announced he would run for president as an independent during the election of 2004. As the leader of the consumer movement for a quarter century, he remains a living symbol of the importance of individual commitment to reform.