Thanks for the in-depth interview of an American icon who has worked tirelessly on behalf of public health and environmental protection, and who has animated many a grassroots movement. I’m not going to pick on Nader’s rambling digressions and strange improvisations — I’d rather just focus on what I felt was instructive and interesting.
I felt a little dissonance reading about Nader’s enthusiasm for billionaire-funded public works and political activism after he decried the corporate lobbyists who have been his consistent opponents on climate change. At the same time, running successful electoral and legislative campaigns does cost money, and though a crowd-funded Bernie Sanders can have his moment, it’s unfortunately virtually impossible to separate money from politics — cash is too fluid and there are too many incentives for the selfish moneyed interests to find a way. If those who want to combat those interests want to win, he’s right that they need long-term financial support from benevolent wealthy people.
The good news is that ultimately the most well-funded campaign for, say, attacking climate science, can’t beat a well-funded campaign for telling the truth and advocating for the poor and middle class. I believe history has gradually moved in the right direction. And while Nader may be unhappy with the incrementalism of the liberal Democrats, the truth is that there have been more steps forward than backwards at the executive level during Obama’s presidency. It is not meaningless that there are millions more with health insurance, that college loans are being reformed, that gay marriage has federal support, that some rules on banks have been tightened, that rules for treatment of undocumented immigrants were revised, that the wars have scaled back since the Bush era, a climate accord was signed, and so on. I get that activists think these are inadequate, but as Nader observed, grassroots movements often have big rallies then drop the ball — if we want to move the needle a little faster, there is a Congress to be won, and that takes a long-term investment. Raising a fist in the street is cathartic and can give a publicity spike to an important issue, but it isn’t enough — it takes money and years of effort to bring the change.