Consumer advocate Ralph Nader announced on February 24th — three days short of his 74th birthday — that he is launching his third bid to be elected President of the United States, running as the candidate of the Green Party. Nader's previous third-party campaigns for the White House in 2000 and 2004 stirred public debate about his motives and the integrity of America's traditional two-party system. VOA's Rosanne Skirble has more on Nader's life and his political mission:
Ralph Nader grew up in a small town in Connecticut talking politics at the dinner table and at his father's diner. "It was the ultimate expression of free speech," he says. "No matter what political view anyone had they never got a stern look from my father because he liked dissent."
Nader says his father would pound the counter with the challenge for his customers to spend more time improving the country.
Nader says his parents taught him how to listen and to think critically. Those family values led him to become a lawyer and, he says, to fight injustice.
In 1965 Nader wrote a book called Unsafe At Any Speed. In it he argued that the U.S. automobile industry was knowingly building dangerous vehicles. He specifically targeted a General Motors car, the Corvair. He said the Corvair had design flaws that could lead to accidents.
GM attempted to discredit him and investigated his personal life. Nader sued the company and won. His lawsuit attracted national attention and prompted Congress to pass auto safety legislation. Nader used the settlement money to fight for for safer cars, food, homes and workplaces.
He hired young advocates who became known as Nader's Raiders. In the recent documentary An Unreasonable Man these former "raiders" say Nader instructed them to "bring their conscience to work every day."
Over the years, Nader's work led to laws requiring seat belts and air bags in all passenger cars. It led to the establishment of new government agencies responsible for occupational safety, environmental protection and consumer product safety. And Nader's aggressive campaign against federal secrecy opened the government to wider public scrutiny, with amendments to the 1974 Freedom of Information Act.
Ralph Nader transformed consumerism into a movement. In the 1970s, 80s and 90s he published dozens of reports and helped create organizations dedicated to addressing the abuses described in those studies.
In 2000, he entered presidential politics as the candidate of the Green Party, a left-of-center political organization that shunned the policies of both the Democrat and Republican parties. Nader won nearly 3 percent of the popular vote. His campaign angered many Democrats, who blamed Nader for Vice President Al Gore's narrow loss to Republican George W. Bush. Undeterred, he announced his bid for the White House again in 2004 as an independent, saying that his focus would be on the necessities of the American people. He said the two political parties were broken. "They need a wake-up call. They need somebody to hold their feet to the fire inside the electoral arena."
Speaking to a crowd of Democratic Party supporters in 2004, former President Jimmy Carter told Nader to "go back to examining the rear end of automobiles" -- a reference to his legendary auto-safety campaigns. "Don't risk costing the Democrats the White House this year, as you did four years ago," Carter said.
President George W. Bush won re-election in 2004. Many Democrats dubbed Nader a spoiler for his refusal, once again, to get out of the race. And they are criticizing his newly launched candidacy as a move that could hurt the party's efforts to win the White House back from Republicans this November.
Speaking on NBC-TV's Meet the Press to announce his decision to run again this year, Nader rejected that description of his role, saying he wants to bring issues to the campaign that he says the Republicans and Democrats are ignoring. "You go from Iraq to Palestine to Israel, from Enron to Wall Street, from Katrina to the bungling of the Bush administration, to the complicity of the Democrats to not stopping him on the war, [not] stopping him on the tax cuts, getting a decent energy bill through," Nader said. "You have to ask yourself as a citizen, should we elaborate the issues that the two [parties] are not talking about?"
Nader is uncompromising on this issue. He puts the responsibility for the Democrats' losses in 2000 and 2004 on the candidates the party nominated, the judgment of American voters and on wealthy corporate donors, which, he says, have a stranglehold on the American political system. He says today, presidential hopefuls must raise hundreds of millions of dollars to be competitive.
That money, he says, does not come from farmers or housekeepers, but from wealthy people and corporations. He says, "We become a government of the Exxons, by the General Motors, for the Duponts. And that's the end of our democratic society."
Whatever the results of Ralph Nader's latest campaign for the White House, one thing is certain about this self-proclaimed public citizen: he will continue to let the American people know where he stands.