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Profile: Ralph Nader

Ralph Nader was a participant or observer in the following events:

A 1979 portrait of Justice Lewis Powell.A 1979 portrait of Justice Lewis Powell. [Source: Public domain.]Lewis Powell, a corporate lawyer who sits on the boards of 11 corporations, writes a memo to his friend Eugene Sydnor Jr., the director of the US Chamber of Commerce. The memo, titled “Attack of American Free Enterprise System,” posits that the US business culture “is under broad attack” from a number of venues. [Reclaim Democracy, 4/3/2004] Powell is a conservative Southern Democrat and former American Bar Association president who turned down a 1969 offer to sit on the Supreme Court. [Media Transparency, 8/20/2002]
Corporate Capitalism under Broad Attack - Powell is worried about “attacks” from left-wing political and social interests and organizations, whom he says want to institutionalize “socialism or some form of statism (communism or fascism)” in the stead of US capitalism, but is more concerned with a few “extremist” critics who strive for many of the same goals as the “statists.” “We are not dealing with sporadic or isolated attacks from a relatively few extremists or even from the minority socialist cadre,” he writes. “Rather, the assault on the enterprise system is broadly based and consistently pursued. It is gaining momentum and converts.” Powell points to a “varied and diffused” number of attackers, including “not unexpectedly, the Communists, New Leftists, and other revolutionaries who would destroy the entire system, both political and economic. These extremists of the left are far more numerous, better financed, and increasingly are more welcomed and encouraged by other elements of society than ever before in our history. But they remain a small minority and are not yet the principal cause for concern. The most disquieting voices joining the chorus of criticism come from perfectly respectable elements of society: from the college campus, the pulpit, the media, the intellectual and literary journals, the arts and sciences, and from politicians. In most of these groups the movement against the system is participated in only by minorities. Yet, these often are the most articulate, the most vocal, the most prolific in their writing and speaking.” Television gives these voices a prominence that their numbers and ideologies should not have, he says. Powell cites university campuses and the national news media as the most troublesome and “dangerous” sources of anti-business sentiment. He cites consumer advocate Ralph Nader as “[p]erhaps the single most effective antagonist of American business,” a “legend in his own time” who, Powell writes, wants to “smash… utterly the target of his hatred, which is corporate power.” Nader and his colleagues want to radically revamp the corporate tax system, Powell says, to gut tax loopholes and “incentives” that keep corporate profits high and tax burdens relatively low; the same tax revisions would harshly impact America’s wealthy. Powell calls these effots “either political demagoguery or economic illiteracy,” and warns, “This setting of the ‘rich’ against the ‘poor,’ of business against the people, is the cheapest and most dangerous kind of politics.” Most corporate entities and personnel have paid little to no attention to these attacks, Powell says; he acknowledges that “businessmen have not been trained or equipped to conduct guerrilla warfare with those who propagandize against the system, seeking insidiously and constantly to sabotage it.” But, he says, this training must commence, for the survival of America’s corporate business culture.
Fighting Back - Individual businesses must designate senior executives “whose responsibility is to counter—on the broadest front—the attack on the enterprise system,” perhaps through the various corporations’ public relations departments. The Chamber of Commerce, both the national entity and its local affiliates, must take a leadership role in organizing, streamlining, and effecting these countering activities.
Countering University Opposition - American college campuses must be targeted, Powell writes, with a particular eye to social science departments, whose members “tend to be liberally oriented, even when leftists are not present. This is not a criticism per se, as the need for liberal thought is essential to a balanced viewpoint. The difficulty is that ‘balance’ is conspicuous by its absence on many campuses, with relatively few members being of conservatives or moderate persuasion and even the relatively few often being less articulate and aggressive than their crusading colleagues.” Attacking academic freedom itself would be a “fatal” mistake, Powell notes, but the “liberal” and “anti-business” voices on university faculties must be “balanced” by Chamber of Commerce speakers and scholars who challenge the rhetoric coming from the universities. College textbooks must be “evaluated” by these Chamber-employed scholars to ensure that they reflect “balance,” in many instances challenging what Powell calls the rewriting of textbooks by scholars affiliated with the civil rights movement. “If the authors, publishers, and users of textbooks know that they will be subjected—honestly, fairly, and thoroughly—to review and critique by eminent scholars who believe in the American system, a return to a more rational balance can be expected,” he writes. Powell says that “avowed Communists” make a large number of speeches and presentations on college campuses every year—over 100 in 1970 alone—and are augmented by “many hundreds of appearances by leftists and ultra-liberals who urge the types of viewpoints indicated earlier in this memorandum.” Such presentations must be “balanced” by pro-business, pro-conservative speakers, put forth “aggressively” by the Chamber and other organizations. College faculties must be “balanced” by the hiring of pro-business professors. One venue that entities such as the Chamber could successfully work through is a university’s graduate school of business. And the Chamber scholars must publish in academic journals and consumer publications such as Life and Reader’s Digest.
High School Efforts - Such efforts must be tailored and implemented on a high school level also, Powell writes.
Public Outreach - The public must be reeducated, Powell writes, to see business and corporate interests as inherently good for America. The obvious and most effective venue, he says, should be through the means of television, using educational programs, paid news analysts, and advertising as much as possible—“[i]f American business devoted only 10 percent of its total annual advertising budget to this overall purpose, it would be a statesman-like expenditure,” he writes. News forums such as Meet the Press should be constantly urged to provide “equal time” for pro-business analysts. Radio and newspaper outlets are also important for promulgating the message. Books and pamphlets made widely available are quite necessary, Powell notes.
Political Arena - Only “Marxists” insist that “capitalist” countries such as the US are controlled by big business. Indeed, Powell says, “leftist” and “socialist” interests control much of American politics, particularly in the area of messaging. “One does not exaggerate to say that, in terms of political influence with respect to the course of legislation and government action, the American business executive is truly the ‘forgotten man,’” he writes. Advocates of “consumerism” or the “environment” dominate the political discussion, Powell states. This dominance must be challenged, and Americans must be “enlightened” as to the positive role of a powerful business culture in US politics. Business must adopt some of the more direct tactics now used by US labor groups.
The Judiciary - The US judicial system, he writes, “may be the most important instrument for social, economic, and political change.” Left-wing groups have long “exploited” the judiciary for their own ends, he says; it is time for business to exert some of the same influence in the courts and fight for its own prerogatives. “This is a vast area of opportunity for the Chamber, if it is willing to undertake the role of spokesman for American business and if, in turn, business is willing to provide the funds,” he says. A large and competent cadre of lawyers is necessary to this end, trained to argue pro-business viewpoints in front of “activist” judges, and carefully selected cases should be advanced in the judicial system.
Neglected Stockholder Power - Powell continues: “The average member of the public thinks of ‘business’ as an impersonal corporate entity, owned by the very rich and managed by over-paid executives. There is an almost total failure to appreciate that ‘business’ actually embraces—in one way or another—most Americans. Those for whom business provides jobs, constitute a fairly obvious class. But the 20 million stockholders—most of whom are of modest means—are the real owners, the real entrepreneurs, the real capitalists under our system. They provide the capital which fuels the economic system which has produced the highest standard of living in all history. Yet, stockholders have been as ineffectual as business executives in promoting a genuine understanding of our system or in exercising political influence.”
The Influence of the Stockholder - Twenty million voters are stockholders, Powell says. These people can be a powerful force for pro-business change, if educated and mobilized. Individual corporations can reach out to their stockholders through their stock reports and news publications.
A New Aggression - Corporate interests must, Powell says, “attack [those] who openly seek destruction of the system. There should not be the slightest hesitation to press vigorously in all political arenas for support of the enterprise system. Nor should there be reluctance to penalize politically those who oppose it.” The AFL-CIO labor union is a past master of using this kind of political pressure, Powell writes. Its practices and techniques can be adapted to serve business ends.
Relationship to Freedom - All of this must be characterized as an essential “return” to the fundamental tenets of American freedom, Powell writes. “The threat to the enterprise system is not merely a matter of economics. It also is a threat to individual freedom. It is this great truth—now so submerged by the rhetoric of the New Left and of many liberals—that must be re-affirmed if this program is to be meaningful. There seems to be little awareness that the only alternatives to free enterprise are varying degrees of bureaucratic regulation of individual freedom—ranging from that under moderate socialism to the iron heel of the leftist or rightist dictatorship.” America is well on its way to institutionalized socialism, Powell warns. It is up to American business interests to counter that shift. [Powell, 8/23/1971]
Effects - Powell’s memo triggers a seismic shift in the way business and corporate interests function, though the Chamber of Commerce proceeds more cautiously than Powell may hope. As a result of Powell’s memo and other influences, the Chamber, wealthy businessmen such as beer magnate Joseph Coors and Richard Mellon Scaife, and an array of corporate activists create, among other entities: the Heritage Foundation, the Manhattan Institute, the Cato Institute, Citizens for a Sound Economy, the Analysis and Research Association (ARA), Accuracy in Academe, the Pacific Legal Foundation, and other powerful organizations. When Ronald Reagan takes the presidency in 1981, they will begin to solidfy and extend the reach of their efforts. In 2002, progressive journalist Jerry Landay will write that Powell’s memo will spawn “a well-paid activist apparatus of idea merchants and marketeers—scholars, writers, journalists, publishers, and critics—to sell policies whose intent was to ratchet wealth upward. They have intimidated the mainstream media, and filled the vacuum with editors, columnists, talk-show hosts, and pundits who have turned conservatism into a career tool. They have waged a culture war to reduce the rich social heritage of liberalism to a pejorative. And they have propagated a mythic set of faux-economic values that have largely served those who financed the movement in the first place.” Landay calls Powell’s language and proposals “baldly militant” with “authoritarian overtones.”
Powell Joins Supreme Court - In January 1972, Powell will join the Supreme Court, where he will become regarded as a moderate-to-conservative justice, sympathetic to business interests but not unwilling to consider other points of view. (Though the press will subsequently publish leaked copies of the memo, no senator will ask Powell about his memo or his business interests in his confirmation hearings.) One of his most pro-business decisions is his majority opinion in 1978’s First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti, in which Powell will create a First Amendment “right” for corporations to influence ballot questions. [Media Transparency, 8/20/2002; Reclaim Democracy, 4/3/2004]

Entity Tags: Citizens for a Sound Economy, AFL-CIO, Analysis and Research Association, Accuracy in Academe, Cato Institute, Ronald Reagan, Richard Mellon Scaife, US Chamber of Commerce, Pacific Legal Foundation, Eugene Sydnor, Jr, Ralph Nader, Jerry Landay, Heritage Foundation, Lewis Powell, Joseph Coors, Manhattan Institute

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

The logo for the 2000 Green Party presidential ticket, featuring Ralph Nader and Winona LaDuke.The logo for the 2000 Green Party presidential ticket, featuring Ralph Nader and Winona LaDuke. [Source: 4President (.org)]Many Democrats blame third-party presidential candidate Ralph Nader for the election confusion in Florida (see Early Morning, November 8, 2000), noting that had he not run, most of those who voted for him would have voted for Democratic presidential contender Al Gore instead and thus given Gore an unquestionable win. Nader ran on the left-wing Green Party ticket, winning 2,883,105 votes nationwide (2.73 percent of the popular vote), and, more importantly, 97,488 votes, or 1.63 percent, of Florida’s electorate. Chicago Sun-Times columnist Richard Roeper writes, “Ralph Nader is a jerk” who seeks media attention like Pat Buchanan and Jesse Jackson, and “he can match them in the ego department as well.” And “isn’t it great for Ralph that instead of walking around as a nostalgic trivia question from the 1970s—the activist equivalent of [television actor] John Ritter—that he was getting so much attention again. Congratulations. Jerk.” A Boston Globe editorial states, “If Ralph Nader had not been in the race, Al Gore would today be preparing to become president.” The vote for Nader in Florida “was the key to George W. Bush’s” small lead there, and without Nader, “Gore would probably have gained enough of these to defeat Bush unless the latter does extraordinarily well in the recount.” Nationally, Gore “could have earned enough of Nader’s 2,655,233” to win Oregon and New Hampshire “and give him a convincing national plurality.” Though Nader’s supporters “raise serious questions” on several issues, “they chose the wrong campaign to make their point.” The Globe concludes that before this election, Nader “had earned an honored place in US history as a pioneer in consumer safety. If Bush prevails in Florida, Nader will become a footnote as the willful eccentric who denied Gore the political prize he deserved.” Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE) says: “Ralph Nader is not going to be welcome anywhere near the corridors. Nader cost us the election.” Kate Michelman of the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) says: “He cost Al Gore the race. Not only by what happened in Florida, but by making these other states a threat to Al Gore. Not to recognize what was at stake—or to dismiss it if he did—was dangerous and represented a type of arrogance. As a result, he lost a lot of credibility.” AFL-CIO president John Sweeney calls Nader’s campaign “reprehensible,” and says: “As a rule, we really reject the role that Nader played in the political process this time around. I don’t know if there’s any room in a national election for president for somebody who is a message candidate.” Enviro Working Group president Ken Cook says: “The public interest community is going to spend tens of millions of dollars a year for the next four years playing defense. I don’t think [Nader is] going to build a Green Party any more than O.J.‘s out there looking for a murderer,” referring to notorious murder suspect O.J. Simpson, who famously claims to be aggressively searching for the person who supposedly killed his wife and her boyfriend. Miramax Studio chairman and Gore supporter Harvey Weinstein says Nader is a “name that will go down in infamy.” According to writer Harold Evans, President Clinton was “very emphatic about the damage Nader had done to Gore” at a post-election gathering. Former Nader supporter Larry Marx says: “Ralph got tunnel vision and lost sight of progressive goals. People remember those kind of things, and there’s a price to be paid.” Polls show that 80 percent of Florida citizens who voted for Nader would have voted for Gore had Nader not been on the ballot, giving Gore a presumed 77,990 extra votes—far more than the number Gore would have needed to take Florida. Fellow third-party candidate Pat Buchanan notes, “Mr. Nader, I believe, can take credit for having sunk… the Gore candidacy.” Nader himself is defiant, noting that Gore failed to win his own home state of Tennessee or Clinton’s home state of Arkansas, and saying: “The Democrats must find their progressive roots or watch the party wither away, or become a crypto-Republican Party, seeking the same money and voters.… I’ve always said that it was Al Gore’s election to lose, that only Al Gore could beat Al Gore. If Democrats are disappointed with the returns, they need to take a long, close look at their party and the empty campaign waged by Al Gore.” [Leip, 2000; National Journal, 11/9/2000]

Entity Tags: Harold Evans, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Boston Globe, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., Al Gore presidential campaign 2000, Green Party, Ralph Nader, Richard Roeper, Larry Marx, Joseph Biden, John J. Sweeney, Harvey Weinstein, Patrick Buchanan, George W. Bush, Ken Cook, Kate Michelman

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections

An editorial in the Los Angeles Times reassures the American populace that the Florida recounts (see November 10, 2000) are being handled according to law and custom, and do not constitute a “crisis” as other news outlets and pundits have claimed (see Evening, November 8, 2000 and 11:35 p.m. November 9, 2000). “If there are legal challenges, the suspense could stretch for weeks,” the editorial warns. “But in the end, Americans can be assured that this election will be settled in due time, fairly and legally—a democratic confidence still sadly too rare in the world.” Calls to abandon the Electoral College in favor of raw popular vote talles are wrong, the editorial says: “On its face it makes sense, but the electoral college is a foundation of our federal system, in which much power rests with the states. Yes, by basing the number of electors on Senate as well as House representation, smaller states have proportionately more power. But if the popular vote were all that mattered, what candidate would ever waste time on small or thinly populated states like Wyoming or Maine?” The Times agrees with many Democrats that third-party candidate Ralph Nader cost Democrat Al Gore a clear victory in Florida (see November 8-9, 2000) and other states as well. “If [Republican George W.] Bush wins, he will bear the stigma of a minority-vote president, putting his promise to end the bitter infighting in Washington to the severest possible test,” the Times writes, and warns that if Bush does take the presidency, he and his fellow Republicans must work with Democrats to avoid “four years of deadlock.” It concludes: “Through all the turmoil and frustration of Wednesday, two people in particular handled the situation with public calm and grace—George W. Bush and Al Gore. Both provided a welcome example of leadership in the midst of confusion and turmoil. That in itself bodes well for the nation.” [Los Angeles Times, 11/9/2000]

Entity Tags: US Electoral College, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., George W. Bush, Ralph Nader, Los Angeles Times

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections

’Donahue’ show logo.’Donahue’ show logo. [Source: American Renaissance (.com)]MSNBC, the cable news channel owned by NBC, cancels Phil Donahue’s nightly talk show. MSNBC cites “disappointing ratings” for “Donahue.” The show, originally conceived as a more liberal alternative for Fox News’s overtly conservative “O’Reilly Factor,” started very slow and never came close to challenging either O’Reilly’s ratings or CNN’s Connie Chung, whose show is also in the same time slot. But in recent weeks, Donahue’s ratings have steadily increased to the point where it is the top-rated show on the network, even beating MSNBC’s flagship political show, “Hardball With Chris Matthews.”
'Tired Left-Wing Liberal' - An internal report commissioned by the network’s executives, later obtained by media analyst Rick Ellis, calls Phil Donahue “a tired, left-wing liberal out of touch with the current marketplace.” The report says that Donahue’s show presents a “difficult public face for NBC in a time of war.… He seems to delight in presenting guests who are anti-war, anti-Bush, and skeptical of the administration’s motives.” If the show continues on the air, the report warns that it could become “a home for the liberal anti-war agenda at the same time that our competitors are waving the flag at every opportunity.” As Donahue exits the lineup, MSNBC brings aboard former Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey and former Republican congressman Joe Scarborough as commentators, and radical right-wing talk show host Michael Savage and libertarian Jesse Ventura, the former governor of Minnesota, as hosts. Donahue’s time slot will be taken temporarily by the expansion of another show, “Countdown: Iraq,” to two hours. Nation columnist John Nichols writes: “Talk about adding insult to injury. Getting canceled is bad enough; getting canceled to make way for a program devoted to anticipating an unnecessary war is just plain awful.” [New York Times, 2/26/2003; AllYourTV (.com), 2/26/2003; Nation, 2/27/2003] In 2007, Donahue says he knew nothing of the internal memo at the time (see April 25, 2007). “I didn’t know about that till I read about it in the New York Times.” When asked: “What did you think? What does that say to you? That dissent is unpatriotic?” Donahue will reply, “Well, not only unpatriotic, but it’s not good for business.” [PBS, 4/25/2007]
MSNBC 'Tak[ing] the Coward's Road' - A source close to Donahue says that Donahue’s cancellation is “no coincidence.” The MSNBC executives are “scared,” the source says, “and they decided to take the coward’s road and slant towards the conservative crowd that watch Fox News.” Ellis, a veteran media analyst with strong connections in the TV news industry, writes that MSNBC, “[r]ather than building a unique voice, the news channel has opted to become a lesser alternative to the Fox News Channel.” Interestingly, the NBC report recommended against such a course: “The temptation is to chase the audience that is already out there and play to what seems to be working at Fox. But there is another road, and if we build our unique voices from within, we have a chance to develop a loyal and valuable audience.” Nichols writes, “[I]t is a pretty good bet that, now that ‘Donahue’ is going off the air, we will not soon see another show like the one where he featured [consumer advocate] Ralph Nader and [progressive columnist] Molly Ivins in front of a crowd of laid-off Enron employees.” Nichols adds that while Donahue’s show may have been conceived as a liberal alternative to O’Reilly, it was never allowed to be such: “For every program that featured Ralph Nader and Molly Ivins, there were ten where Donahue was forced to ask polite questions of second-string conservative pundits. Where his conservative competitors never worry about fairness or balance, Donahue was under constant pressure to clog his show’s arteries with deadly dull apologists for all things Bush. And when that got too boring, he was pressured to steer the show away from politics and toward the glitzy and the maudlin.” Only in its last few weeks did MSNBC allow Donahue to do what he does best—interview interesting guests in front of a live audience. The show’s ratings began climbing rapidly. Whether the show could have challenged O’Reilly or other conservative shows’ ratings can never be known.
Never Trusted the American Viewing Audience - Nichols concludes: “Now that ‘Donahue’ has been ditched, conservative commentators and network executives will tell themselves that there is no audience for progressive voices on television. They will, of course, be wrong on the broad premise—some of O’Reilly’s best shows feature feisty progressives like US [Representatives] Jan Schakowsky and Bernie Sanders. And they will be wrong more specifically about Donahue. We will never know for sure whether Phil Donahue could have seriously competed with conservative hosts like Bill O’Reilly or Sean Hannity. What we do now, for sure, is that MSNBC executives were never willing to trust Phil Donahue—or the American television viewing audience.” [New York Times, 2/26/2003; AllYourTV (.com), 2/26/2003; Nation, 2/27/2003]

Entity Tags: Fox News, Sean Hannity, Enron Corporation, Connie Chung, CNN, Bill O’Reilly, Bernie Sanders, Rick Ellis, Ralph Nader, Phil Donahue, NBC, MSNBC, Jesse Ventura, John Nichols, Michael Savage, Joseph Scarborough, Molly Ivins, Jan Schakowsky, Dick Armey

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda

Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE), an “astroturf” advocacy organization funded by the Koch brothers (see 1984 and After), is accused of breaking campaign laws to support the Bush re-election campaign. Oregon’s CSE branch had attempted to get consumer advocate Ralph Nader on the presidential ballot, in an attempt to dilute Democratic support for presidential candidate John Kerry (D-MA). Critics argue that it is illegal for a tax-exempt organization such as CSE to donate its services for partisan purposes. The Federal Election Commission (FEC) dismisses a complaint brought against the organization. [New Yorker, 8/30/2010]

Entity Tags: David Koch, Charles Koch, Citizens for a Sound Economy, John Kerry, Federal Election Commission, George W. Bush, Ralph Nader

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

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