Thursday, September 16, 2010

Nader Still Draws A Crowd

I first became aware of Ralph Nader when I was a high school student, in the mid-60’s, because of his book “Unsafe At Any Speed: The Designed-In Dangers of the American Automobile.” I spent way too much of my time back then drooling over and tinkering with cars, and though I hadn’t read the book (and didn’t until I was in college in the late 60’s) I hated Nader for crucifying the Corvair in the first chapter of his book. I liked the Corvair, though I never owned one, so I disliked Nader.

I disliked him until I actually read the book, and had a “holy crap” moment. This guy was actually onto something. There’s a huge difference between being a nanny and trying to protect us all from the cleansing mechanism built into the gene pool, and being a critical observer. I was essentially forced to read the book by one of my business law professors, who was also a car nut, and used examples from the book several times in class when talking about product liability law – such as it was in the 60’s.

It was that book, of course, which launched Nader into the public eye and awareness, and served as a springboard to his very public life. 45 years since the book was published, Nader can still draw a crowd, and he did a few days ago at the University of Virginia. He packed the biggest auditorium on campus and was given one standing ovation after another by the enthusiastic students throughout the hour and a half that he spoke.

These days, Nader is talking about myths, like those taught in law schools, such as the one that says defendants in our country are innocent until proven guilty. Or the myth that only the Congress has the power to declare war. Or the myth that we have a right to habeas corpus. (Can you say “Patriot Act” or “Homeland Security”?)

Nader told the UVA students that what we have now is what FDR would have called fascism. He claims we’re in the middle of a corporate crime wave, and that Universities themselves are being corporatized. One look around the UW-Madison Business School, from Grainger Hall to the Fluno Center to individual classrooms which bear the names of corporations or corporate titans, and you know who’s feeding that beast.

Nader called the UVA students slackers and gave them several verbal kicks in the butt, and the harder he drilled them, the more they cheered. He gave them more hell about making excuses for being slackers than those young people ever heard from their parents, and they ate it up.

76 years young and he can still draw a crowd of young people. There’s something to be said for that.

1 comment:

  1. My experience with Ralph Nader and the Corvair were similar to that of our blogger. I, too, was fond of the funny little car, unaware that it seemed to have been designed to produce one-car accidents, what with its weird axle, quirky transmission and wide range of tire pressures - which were as critical to the car's operation as they were a practical impossibility to achieve.

    Nader's gift for spotting problems with safety or public policy, and then skewering them with his legal rapier, were perfect for his role as a corporate gadfly but disqualified him, in the public's mind, for the presidency.

    The speech our blogger mentions is classic Nader stuff. The presumption of innocence myth is one of my favorites.

    "Innocent until proven guilty" plays to our national sense of fairness, but there is broad misconception that it is part of our law, legal jurisprudence, or maybe even tucked into the Bill of Rights. It is not. The Fifth Amendment has to do with the dispensing of justice, but does not mention presumption of innocence.

    For those interested in more, there are discussions of the subject here | and here

    BTW ... The real hero of the Corvair saga was a Chevrolet mechanic named George Caramagna who fought his bosses over the decision to eliminate the anti-sway bar that could have saved lives and perhaps staved off Ralph Nader entirely. Caramagna courageously stood his ground, Nader picked up on it, and the rest is history