Volume 79, Number 17 | Sept. 30 - Oct 6, 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Nader’s novel idea: Only the filthy rich can save us now

By Mary Reinholz

Embodying geezer power at full throttle, veteran consumer advocate and corporate critic Ralph Nader came to Union Square last week, advocating for a single-payer healthcare system in America and simultaneously promoting his first novel, surprisingly called “Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us!” at Barnes & Noble on E. 17th St.

In his remarks to an overflow crowd gathered on the store’s fourth floor, Nader, still the impassioned crusader at 75, rattled off a list of boldfaced names, like Warren Buffett, Warren Beatty, Ted Turner and Yoko Ono, filthy-rich do-gooders who, he noted, inspired some of the characters in his 736-page utopian fantasy. These fictional billionaires create and implement strategy to confront gridlock and corporate goliaths in the wake of Katrina when, he noted, “all federal, state and local governments were in paralysis.”

“It’s the big guys going after the big guys,” said Nader, adding that the idea for his book was not new either in literary or political movements for social justice. “The civil rights movement [received] millions of dollars from rich people,” he said. “Fighting injustice costs money. There are expenses, like defending against lawsuits. Back in abolition days, it was the same thing. Bostonian people of means helped the [abolition] movement a lot and also the suffrage movements.”

Of course, the world-famous lawyer, author and anti-establishment gadfly has run unsuccessfully three times as a third-party presidential candidate and incurred the wrath of liberal Democrats for supposedly wrecking Al Gore’s chances for the White House in 2000. Ever the activist, Nader interspersed his comments about “super-rich” folks’ ability to get answers to phone calls and e-mails with provocative political questions to an overwhelmingly supportive crowd.

“How many people here believe there should be single-payer health insurance?” he inquired, looking pleased as the room exploded with shouts of approval and scattered applause. Nader then asked rhetorically: “Did you know that professors at Harvard [School of Public Health] did a careful study and concluded that 45,000 people in this country lose their lives every year because they can’t afford health insurance? Canada, Belgium, France, Sweden, Italy, Germany — nobody in those countries loses their lives because they can’t afford health insurance. They have it from the day they are born.”

Leonard Riggio, chairman of Barnes & Noble, introduced his guest author as one of the “20th century’s most important writers,” contending Nader was comparable to Rachel Carson and Upton Sinclair, especially for his 1965 book attacking Detroit’s manufacture of American cars, “Unsafe at Any Speed.” Riggio, who said that book “saved the lives of millions of people,” called Nader one of America’s “great patriots”

The questions asked of Nader by members of the audience were respectful and some smacked of adulation, asking him, for example, on how he would have the Obama administration treat former President Bush and Vice President Cheney on the issue of torture. Nader replied that the pair had shown themselves to believe they were “above the law.”

“Attorney General Holder is in a tough spot,” he mused. “Cheney is out there saying it’s O.K. to have enhanced torture. We can’t let this happen.”

Asked about his assessment of President Obama’s performance thus far, Nader, who called Obama an “Uncle Tom” during the 2008 presidential contest, said he was disappointed, claiming Obama was basically into harmonic convergence.

“He’s not into conflict like L.B.J. — not jabbing, pushing, cajoling [Congress],” he said. “I fault him particularly because he has ignored his progressive base. He’s never met with the progressive leaders and single-payer advocates. He’ll cut off your right hand and expect your left hand to get him what he wants to accomplish. He gives the corporations incredible support, rewarding failure when they’ve looted millions in pensions and mutual funds,” added Nader. “So we gotta keep pushing.”

The audience applauded lustily.

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