An eyes-wide-open portrait of “an immensely polarizing figure” whose enemies—Democratic Party loyalists, Big Three stockholders, and Corvair enthusiasts among them—are legion.
Ralph Nader, writes Martin (Greenspan: The Man Behind the Money, 2000), has been a podium-pounding contrarian since at least his student days at Princeton, where he once almost ran over Albert Einstein—and, Martin gamely hints, had his first auto-safety epiphany. As a young Washington-based attorney and sometime freelance journalist, Nader gained early fame for his comprehensive attack on the auto industry, Unsafe at Any Speed, and for a well-coordinated campaign to reform auto-safety laws. That first crusade, Martin writes, “continues to pay dividends”: as many as a million lives may have been saved thanks to Nader’s single-minded efforts. Using the proceeds from his successful suits against Detroit carmakers to fund the consumer-advocacy law group informally dubbed “Nader’s Raiders,” Nader went on to incur the wrath of a host of enemies and to involve himself in dozens of causes, convinced, as he said, both that the “law was an instrument of justice” and that “I was not going to be sharp by becoming narrow.” After spending years “wandering in the policy-wonk desert,” Nader also became increasingly convinced that the major political parties were hopelessly corrupt. He therefore made three quixotic bids for the presidency to gain a forum for his many-sided assault on the status quo, the most recent in 2000, when he ran on the Green Party ticket (without, Martin observes, ever bothering to become a member). That effort unquestionably lost Al Gore the presidency, Martin writes, even though Nader insisted after the fact that Gore defeated himself—and prophesied during the campaign that “George Bush is so dumb, Gore will beat him by twenty points.” Though anathema in a thousand quarters, Nader isn’t through yet.
A welcome portrait, one from which the famed gadfly’s admirers and foes alike have much to learn.