Ralph Nader

Ralph Nader

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The first consumer superstar, Ralph Nader wrote "Unsafe At Any Speed," exposing the defects of the Corvair from the Chevrolet division of General Motors, along with other safety defects which auto manufacturers could, but chose not to, remedy.

His controversial bid for the presidency in the election of 2000, during which he claimed that there was no real difference between the Democrats and Republicans, probably cost Al Gore a victory, and made Nader a reviled person in many Democratic circles.


He was born in Winsted, Connecticut on February 27, 1934.

In 1955 Ralph Nader received an AB magna cum laude from Princeton University, and in 1958 he received a LLB with distinction from Harvard University.

His career began as a lawyer in Hartford, Connecticut in 1959 and from 1961-63 he lectured on history and government at the University of Hartford.

In 1965-66 he received the Nieman Fellows award and was named one of ten Outstanding Young Men of Year by the U.S. Junior Chamber of Commerce in 1967. Between 1967-68 he returned to Princeton as a lecturer, and he continues to speak at colleges and universities across the United States.

In his career as consumer advocate he founded many organizations including the Center for Study of Responsive Law, the Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), the Center for Auto Safety, Public Citizen, Clean Water Action Project, the Disability Rights Center, the Pension Rights Center, the Project for Corporate Responsibility and The Multinational Monitor (a monthly magazine).

The Essential Nader

A short biography of Ralph Nader

Ralph Nader entry in the Encyclopedia of the Consumer Movement

The Encyclopedia of the Consumer Movement is a publication of the Consumer Federation of America

Ralph Nader’s “Unsafe at Any Speed” hits bookstores

On November 30, 1965, 32-year-old lawyer Ralph Nader publishes the muckraking book Unsafe at Any Speed: The Designed-In Dangers of the American Automobile. The book became a best-seller right away. It also prompted the passage of the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966, seat-belt laws in 49 states (all but New Hampshire) and a number of other road-safety initiatives. Today, Nader is perhaps best known for his role in national politics𠅊nd in particular for the controversial role he played in the 2000 presidential election𠅋ut Unsafe at Any Speed was the book that made him famous and lent credibility to his work as a consumer advocate.

𠇏or over half a century,” Nader’s book began, “the automobile has brought death, injury, and the most inestimable sorrow and deprivation to millions of people.” Technology existed that could make cars much safer, he argued, but automakers had little incentive to use them: On the contrary, “the gigantic costs of the highway carnage in this country support a service industry”𠅍octors, lawyers, police officers, morticians𠅊nd “there is little in the dynamics of the automobile accident industry that works for its reduction.”

Nader’s book popularized some harsh truths about cars and car companies that auto-safety advocates had known for some time. In 1956, at a series of Congressional hearings on traffic safety, doctors and other experts lamented the “wholesale slaughter” on American highways. (That year, nearly 40,000 people were killed in cars, and the number kept creeping upward.) Safety-conscious car buyers could seek out𠅊nd pay extra for𠅊 Ford with seatbelts and a padded dashboard, but very few did: only 2 percent of Ford buyers took the $27 seatbelt option.

In Unsafe at Any Speed, Nader railed in particular against the Chevy Corvair, a sporty car with a swing axle and rear–mounted engine that was introduced in 1959. Nader argued that the car epitomized the triumph of “stylistic pornography over engineering integrity.” (Its swing axle made the back end unstable, he said, causing it to “tuck under during turns and skid or roll over much more frequently than other cars did.) As it turned out, a 1972 government study vindicated the Corvair, finding that it was just as safe as any other car (Nader called that study “rigged”) but the damage was done. The Corvair became an icon of dangerous, even deadly design, and the last one rolled off the assembly line in 1969.

Whether or not its particular examples were sound, Unsafe at Any Speed mobilized a mass movement, in which ordinary consumers banded together to demand safer cars and better laws. Today, seat belts, air bags, anti-lock brakes and other innovations are standard features in almost every new car.

Nader went on to advocate for a number of consumer causes and has run for president four times.

It’s Time to Put Ralph Nader’s Role in the 2000 Election into Historical Perspective

Fran Shor is Emeritus Professor of History at Wayne State University.

Ralph Nader’s run in the 2000 Presidential race has become for many liberals and progressives the quintessential representation of the third party “spoiler.” Even invoking Nader’s name in these circles induces an anger bordering on apoplexy. Without any sense of historical or political context, the Nader campaign of that year has been reduced to a hysterical and one-dimensional admonition against considering a third party presidential candidate, especially now for the 2016 Presidential election.

Before conjuring up the mythologized and reviled Nader, it behooves anyone with an ounce of critical reflection to reconstruct what led up to Nader’s presidential campaign. The Clinton presidency was replete with policies that led to economic and social injustice, neoliberal globalization, and global humanitarian travesties. As Michelle Alexander and others have documented, Clinton’s support for the Omnibus Crime Bill of 1994 with mandatory sentencing and expansion of the drug war and death penalties led to mass incarceration on an enormous racialized scale. Added to this was Clinton’s so-called “welfare reform” which actually increased the number of women and children in poverty. Clinton’s corporate agenda included deregulation of Wall Street, ending Glass-Steagall protections and leading to bank mergers and financial speculation. The promotion and passage of NAFTA only furthered job-killing corporate globalization. Finally, Clinton expanded NATO, intervened militarily in the Balkans, and created additional punitive sanctions on Iraq, the latter leading to an estimated death toll of 500,000 Iraqi children (justified by his Secretary of State, Madeline Albright).

It was revulsion with these policies, and Gore’s obvious fealty to them, that led to Nader’s campaign in the 2000 Presidential election. In addition, the dramatic protests in Seattle over the WTO meeting at the end of November in 1999 provided an energized base for the struggles against corporate globalization. Nader’s Green Party campaign entailed ending the drug war, embracing workers’ rights and fair trade, promoting free education and universal health care, and overturning corporate control of the political process. If this sounds familiar, it is very similar to the issues that Sanders ran on. However, where Sanders got around 13 million votes in the Democratic primaries, Nader’s vote total in the 2000 presidential election fell short of 3 million. Moreover, it failed to gain the 5% minimum that would have guaranteed public funds for the next Green Party run in 2004.

Of course, it was Nader’s near 100,000 votes in Florida that many believe cost Gore the state and, as a consequence, the electoral victory. The reality is much more complex than the simple-minded and malicious accusation that Nader cost Gore the presidency. For starters, Florida, under a Republican Secretary of State, unfairly expelled tens of thousands of its citizens, most of whom were African-American, from the voting rolls. In addition, because of the lack of standardized and comprehensible voting procedures, numerous counties had confusing ballots that contained “double bubbles,” butterfly spacing, and faulty punch cards. This led to myriad voting problems, including Palm Beach votes intended for Gore that went to Pat Buchanan. Had the Gore campaign requested a recount across the state, it was clear that he would have erased by a large amount the 537 vote difference between him and Bush.

Instead of a fair and full recount of the Florida vote, the Republican Party sent in its operatives to disrupt that recount in key Democratic counties. More to the point, the partisan US Supreme Court ruled in a highly controversial and irregular 5-4 decision that the recount should not go forward. Thus, it was the Supreme Court with relatives of Justices Scalia and Thomas working for the Bush campaign that handed the presidential election to their Republican ally.

It should also be remembered that thousands were mobilized around the country by the NAACP and other organizations to protest the shenanigans in Florida. Many of us joined these protests as soon as Florida’s irregularities were known right up to the day of George W. Bush’s inauguration. That millions more were not involved in stopping this political travesty is an indictment of those very liberals and progressives who now pontificate about the lesson of Nader’s 2000 presidential race. People in other countries who have contended with flawed elections have managed to prevent illegimate governments from taking power. Apparently, the “limousine liberals” (as Thomas Frank labels them) and their fellow-travelers here in the US have an aversion to going out into the streets to stop what was a coup enabled by the US Supreme Court.

It is also an indictment of the political class that the arcane Electoral College has not been eliminated and significant electoral reform has not been legislated. Sixteen years later, after Gore won the popular vote by over 500,000, we are still worried about electoral swing states. Furthermore, excluding citizens from the franchise itself, like the millions of ex-felons (including what is estimated to be almost 30% of African-American men in Florida), or from voting because of ID laws that discriminate against people of color, the poor, and students calls into serious question how representative this so-called democracy is. While some cities have enacted ranked-choice voting, called IRV, and Maine will vote on establishing this state-wide in 2016, we are locked into an electoral system that makes it nearly impossible for third parties not to be cast as “spoilers.”

Now we confront another presidential election, one in which the two candidates of the duopoly represent the 1%, guarantee the continuing oligarchic control of the federal government. Nonetheless, we do have a choice, but we need to recognize what might be the implications of the recent past, including the 2000 presidential election, for the present and future.

We also have to consider why we have arrived at this present political juncture. The fallout from the economic crisis of 2008 and the bailout supported by Republicans and Democrats has only increased the disenchantment with the political establishment, helping fuel the Trump and Sanders campaigns. While Trump triumphed by media enabling and racial resentment, the Sanders bid, undermined by DNC duplicity and electoral manipulation, refused to seize the historic moment and break with the Democratic Party.

Although Jill Stein of the Green Party made a bold, and to some in the Green Party controversial, offer to Sanders to be at the head of her ticket, she will instead run on a platform that improves on many of the issues advocated by Sanders, such as free college education, universal health care, ending the drug war, and enacting environmental legislation that rejects fossil fuels in favor of renewables. Moreover, Stein’s Green Party positions on war and peace matters are much more advanced than Sanders from cutting the Pentagon budget by 50% to ending all of the interventions around the globe that Obama and Clinton, as Secretary of State, have promoted. For this reason alone, Stein offers a real alternative to US imperial policies that have devastated so many lives around the globe.

Stein has already begun to attract many of the disillusioned Sanderistas motivated by economic, social, racial, environmental, and global justice. Nonetheless, to capture more of those disgusted with the Trump/Clinton offering, she might want to consider actually discussing what the very real differences are between Trump and his followers and Clinton with hers. This includes denouncing the racial demagoguery of Trump and acknowledging that many people of color are part of the base of the Democratic Party. With many of the Black Lives Matter activists opting out of the presidential race and concentrating on local races for district attorneys, this may require some alliances with progressive Democrats at a local level.

Finally, whether to adopt a “safe state” or “swing state” strategy will necessitate a serious debate among Green Party members and supporters. There are those within the Green Party who believe Nader made a mistake of contesting Florida and a few other swing states in the 2000 presidential election and not concentrating on building up the vote totals in safe states like New York and California. Nonetheless, whatever the decision by Jill Stein and the Green Party concerning electoral strategy, it cannot afford merely to rely on the disgust with establishment politics to attract voters. While combating the delusion that blames Nader for Bush’s election in 2000, she and the party cannot succumb to its own delusions about what can be achieved within the rigged electoral system.

Ralph Nader for President 2008

Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer, author, and has been named by Time Magazine as one of the 100 Most Influential Americans in the Twentieth Century.

For over four decades Ralph Nader has exposed problems and organized millions of citizens into more than 100 public interest groups to advocate for solutions.

His efforts have helped to create a framework of laws, regulatory agencies, and federal standards that have improved the quality of life for two generations of Americans.

His groups were instrumental in enacting the Occupational Safety and Health Administration ( OSHA ), the Environmental Protection Agency ( EPA ), the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and the Safe Drinking Water Act.

In the past decade, Nader has dedicated himself to putting people back in charge of America’s democracy, launching three major presidential campaigns.

Because of Ralph Nader we drive safer cars, eat healthier food, breathe better air, drink cleaner water, and work in safer environments.

The Early Years

Ralph Nader was born in Winsted, Connecticut on February 27, 1934, to Rose and Nathra Nader, immigrants from Lebanon.

Ralph’s family owned and operated the Highland Arms, a restaurant and gathering place for members of their small community.

Nader and his three siblings grew up in an environment where current events and politics were discussed both around the dinner table and with customers at the family restaurant.

There, it was said, for a nickel you would get a cup of coffee and ten minutes of politics.

Taught to value social justice, Nader learned from a young age to be an active participant in the American democratic system.

To avoid a repeat of three disastrous floods in the town’s main street, Nader’s mother once famously pressed then Senator Prescott Bush during a public gathering to pledge to build a dry dam by not letting go of his handshake until he had promised to build the dam.

As Nader’s father would often say, “If you do not use your rights, you will lose your rights.”

When Nader was ten, his father asked him: “Well, Ralph, what did you learn in school today? Did you learn how to believe or did you learn how to think?”

In 1955 Ralph Nader received an AB magna cum laude from the Woodrow Wilson School of International Affairs Princeton University, with a major in East Asian studies, which afforded him the opportunity to study Chinese and Russian.

In 1958, he received a LLB with distinction from Harvard Law School.

After a six-month spell in the Army in 1959, Ralph traveled through Latin America, Africa and Europe, where he gained first hand witness of the time’s great social struggles and interviewed world leaders as a freelance journalist.

He began practicing law in Hartford, Connecticut in 1959 and from 1961-63 he lectured on history and government at the University of Hartford.

Consumer Advocate

Nader’s career as a public advocate started at the age of 31 with an article titled “The Safe Car You Can’t Buy,” which along with his subsequent book, “Unsafe at Any Speed,” documented safety defects in U.S. cars and criticized the automobile industry’s safety practices, specifically targeting the Corvair.

Helped by testimony from the CEO of General Motors that the company had hired a private detective to investigate Nader’s private life, the book became a best seller.

Nader subsequently sued GM for invasion of privacy and received $425,000 in an out-of-court settlement. He invested and used the money as a de facto philanthropic fund for his projects aimed at strengthening civil society.

Nader’s research on auto safety and his lobbying in Washington helped push Congress to pass the 1966 National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act.

He also lobbied for the 1967 Wholesome Meat Act, which called for federal inspections of beef and poultry and imposed standards on slaughterhouses, the 1967 Freedom of Information Act and the 1970 Clean Air Act.

In 1969, he helped found the Center for Study of Responsive Law ( CSRL ), a non-profit organization staffed mostly by college, graduate and law students. Those students became known as “Nader’s Raiders” and studied and issued reports on a variety of consumer issues.

In his career as consumer advocate he founded many organizations including the Public Interest Research Group ( PIRG ), the Center for Auto Safety, Public Citizen, Clean Water Action Project, the Disability Rights Center, the Pension Rights Center, the Project for Corporate Responsibility and The Multinational Monitor (a unique monthly magazine that keeps tabs on corporate behavior internationally).

Presidential Candidate

In the 1980’s, with the election of President Reagan, powerful corporate interests gathered momentum and became increasingly assertive in the pursuit of their narrow interests, throwing up roadblocks to Nader’s efforts to advance the well-being of the American people.

With the two major parties dialing for the same dollars, their differences dwindled on most major issues (single-payer healthcare, living wage, replacing fossil fuels and nuclear with many practical variants of solar power, and a foreign policy that wages peace instead of war).

After working for 40 years on behalf of the health, safety and economic well being of the American people, Nader took stock of the situation: “I don’t like citizen groups being shut out by both parties in this city — corporate occupied territory — not having a chance to improve their country.”

Never one to be stymied, Nader responded to the declining influence of civil society over elected representatives by entering the electoral arena himself, and is now on his third major presidential campaign aimed at reinvigorating America’s democracy, in the best traditions of the suffragettes, labor party, and abolitionists of the 19th and early 20th century.

When asked in 2004 if he was worried about his legacy being tarnished from the hurly burly of presidential politics, Nader responded: “Who cares about my legacy? My legacy is established. They’re not going to tear seatbelts out of cars. I look to the future. That’s the important thing.”

In an era when politicians sell us rhetoric and then sell out our principles, Nader stands out as one politician that can be counted on to never sell out.

There can be no daily democracy without daily citizenship toward 'a new birth of freedom.&rsquo &mdash Ralph Nader


Bollier, David. Citizen Action and Other Big Ideas: A History of Ralph
Nader and the Modern Consumer Movement.
CNN .com, America Votes 2004, Candidates Profile.
Nader, Ralph. The Seventeen Traditions.
Nader, Ralph. The Ralph Nader Reader.
Shaker, Genevieve, Ralph Nader: Ally of the American Citizen-Consumer.

Presidential Candidate

Stepping even further into the world of politics, Nader ran for president in every election from 1992 to 2008. In all of them, he operated a no-frills campaign, accepting no corporate or taxpayer money. In 2000, claiming he could see no difference between Republican candidate George W. Bush and Democratic candidateਊl Gore, Nader ran for president as the candidate for the Green Party. The election turned out to be one of the closest in American history between the two major party candidates. 

Gore ultimately lost the election, and Nader was accused of having taken support away from him in several key states, especially Florida, where Gore lost by 537 votes. Subsequent studies on the election were divided in their assessment of how influential Nader’s campaign actually was, however, most political experts point to the fact that Gore lost in his home state of Tennessee, that over 250,000 Democrats in Florida voted for Bush and that it was the U.S. Supreme Court that halted the recount in Florida, allowing Bush to ultimately win the election. Ignoring the harsh criticism, Nader ran for president again in 2004 and 2008 as an independent, winning 0.38 and 0.56 percent of the popular vote, respectively.

In 2012 and 2016, Nader declined to run again for president but said he was looking for 𠇎nlightened billionaires” to put his support behind. 

However, during his period of perpetual candidacy, he wrote scores of letters to serving presidents on campaign finance reform, the minimum wage and Supreme Court nominations. He has compiled these letters into a collection titled Return to Sender: Unanswered Letters to the President, 20012015. Nader claims the book sets a higher standard and tries to stimulate Americans to write letters to their representatives.


Ralph Nader was born on February 27, 1934, in Winsted, Connecticut, to Nathra and Rose (née Bouziane) Nader, both of whom were immigrants from Lebanon. [4] [5] [6] After settling in Connecticut, Nathra Nader worked in a textile mill before opening a bakery and restaurant. [7] Ralph Nader occasionally helped at his father's restaurant, as well as worked as a newspaper delivery boy for the local paper, the Winsted Register Citizen. [8] Nader graduated from The Gilbert School in 1951, going on to attend Princeton University. Though he was offered a scholarship to Princeton, his father forced him to decline it on the grounds that the family was able to pay Nader's tuition and the funds should go to a student who could not afford it. [9] Nader graduated magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa [10] with a Bachelor of Arts from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs in 1955 after completing a senior thesis titled "Lebanese Agriculture". [11] [12]

After graduating from Princeton, Nader began studying at Harvard Law School, though he quickly became bored by his courses. While at Harvard, Nader would frequently skip classes to hitchhike across the U.S. where he would engage in field research on Native American issues and migrant worker rights. He earned a LL.B. from Harvard in 1958. [8] Nader identified with Libertarian philosophy in his youth, but gradually shifted away in his early 20s. Although Nader acknowledged that he "didn't like public housing because it disadvantaged landlords unfairly", his viewpoint changed when he "saw the slums and what landlords did". [13] After graduating from Harvard, Nader served in the U.S. Army as a cook and was posted to Fort Dix. [8]

Early history

In 1959, Nader was admitted to the bar and began practice as a lawyer in Hartford, Connecticut, while also lecturing at the University of Hartford and traveling to the Soviet Union, Chile, and Cuba, where he filed dispatches for the Christian Science Monitor and The Nation. [8] In 1964, he moved to Washington, D.C., taking a position as a consultant to Assistant Secretary of Labor Daniel Patrick Moynihan. [14]

Unsafe at Any Speed

Nader was first propelled into the national spotlight with the 1965 publication of his journalistic exposé Unsafe at Any Speed. Though he had previously expressed an interest in issues of automobile safety while a law student, Unsafe at Any Speed presented a critical dissection of the automotive industry by claiming that many American automobiles were generally unsafe to operate. Nader researched case files from more than 100 lawsuits then pending against General Motors' Chevrolet Corvair to support his assertions. [15]

The book became an immediate bestseller, but also prompted a vicious backlash from General Motors (GM) who attempted to discredit Nader by tapping his phone in an attempt to uncover salacious information and, when that failed, hiring prostitutes in an attempt to catch him in a compromising situation. [16] [17] Nader, by then working as an unpaid consultant to United States Senator Abe Ribicoff, reported to the senator that he suspected he was being followed. Ribicoff convened an inquiry that called GM CEO James Roche who admitted, when placed under oath, that the company had hired a private detective agency to investigate Nader. Nader sued GM for invasion of privacy, settling the case for $425,000 and using the proceeds to found the activist organization known as the Center for the Study of Responsive Law. [8]

A year following the publication of Unsafe at Any Speed, Congress unanimously enacted the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act. Speaker of the United States House of Representatives John William McCormack said the passage of the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act was due to the "crusading spirit of one individual who believed he could do something: Ralph Nader". [18]

"Nader's Raiders", Public Citizen and Center for Auto Safety

In 1968, Nader recruited seven volunteer law students, dubbed "Nader's Raiders" by the Washington press corps, to evaluate the efficacy and operation of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The group's ensuing report, which criticized the body as "ineffective" and "passive" led to an American Bar Association investigation of the FTC. Based on the results of that second study, Richard Nixon revitalized the agency and sent it on a path of vigorous consumer protection and antitrust enforcement for the rest of the 1970s. [19]

Following the publication of the report, Nader founded the watchdog group Public Citizen in 1971 to engage in public interest lobbying and activism on issues of consumer rights. He also served on its board of directors until 1980.


By the early 1970s Nader had established himself as a household name. In a critical memo written by Lewis Powell to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Powell warned business representatives that Nader "has become a legend in his own time and an idol of millions of Americans". [20]

Ralph Nader's name appeared in the press as a potential candidate for president for the first time in 1971, when he was offered the opportunity to run as the presidential candidate for the New Party, a progressive split-off from the Democratic Party. Chief among his advocates was author Gore Vidal, who touted a 1972 Nader presidential campaign in a front-page article in Esquire magazine in 1971. [21] Nader declined the advances. [22] [23]

In 1973, Ralph Nader was plaintiff in the case against acting attorney general Robert Bork, who under orders of President Richard Nixon had fired special prosecutor Archibald Cox in the so-called Saturday Night Massacre, an action that was ultimately ruled illegal by federal judge Gerhard Gesell. [24]

In 1974, he received the S. Roger Horchow Award for Greatest Public Service by a Private Citizen. [25]

In the 1970s, Nader turned his attention to environmental activism, becoming a key leader in the antinuclear power movement, described by one observer as the "titular head of opposition to nuclear energy". [26] [27] The Critical Mass Energy Project was formed by Nader in 1974 as a national anti-nuclear umbrella group, growing to become the largest national anti-nuclear group in the United States, with several hundred local affiliates and an estimated 200,000 supporters. [28] The organization's main efforts were directed at lobbying activities and providing local groups with scientific and other resources to campaign against nuclear power. [29] [30]

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, through his ongoing work with Public Citizen, Nader continued to be involved in issues of consumer rights and public accountability. His work testifying before Congress, drafting model legislation, and organizing citizen letter-writing and protest efforts, earned him direct credit for the enactment of the Freedom of Information Act, Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, Clean Water Act, Consumer Product Safety Act, and Whistleblower Protection Act.

In the late 1990s, Nader would accuse Microsoft of being a monopoly. He would organize a conference featuring Microsoft's critics from the tech world. [31]

In 1999, Nader was unsuccessfully approached by Nike to appear in an advertisement. The firm offered Nader $25,000 to say "another shameless attempt by Nike to sell shoes" while holding Air 120 sneakers. After Nader turned down the offer, the corporation hired filmmaker Spike Lee. [32]

Presidential campaigns

Ralph Nader's name appeared in the press as a potential candidate for president for the first time in 1971, when he was offered the opportunity to run as the presidential candidate for the New Party, a progressive split-off from the Democratic Party in 1972. Chief among his advocates was author Gore Vidal, who touted a 1972 Nader presidential campaign in a front-page article in Esquire magazine in 1971. [21] Psychologist Alan Rockway organized a "draft Ralph Nader for President" campaign in Florida on the New Party's behalf. [33] Nader declined their offer to run that year the New Party ultimately joined with the People's Party in running Benjamin Spock in the 1972 presidential election. [22] [23] [34] Spock had hoped Nader in particular would run, getting "some of the loudest applause of the evening" when mentioning him at the University of Alabama. [35] Spock went on to try to recruit Nader for the party among over 100 others, and indicated he would be "delighted" to be replaced by any of them even after he accepted the nomination himself. [36] Nader received one vote for the vice-presidential nomination at the 1972 Democratic National Convention.

In the 1980 Presidential Election, the progressive oriented Citizens Party approached Nader with the prospect of running as their Presidential Nominee. Nader declined their offer stating "I will never run for president". [37] . The party ended up nominating biologist Barry Commoner instead.

Nader stood in as a write-in for "none of the above" in both the 1992 New Hampshire Democratic and Republican Primaries [38] and received 3,054 of the 170,333 Democratic votes and 3,258 of the 177,970 Republican votes cast. [39] He was also a candidate in the 1992 Massachusetts Democratic Primary, where he appeared at the top of the ballot (in some areas, he appeared on the ballot as an independent).

Nader was drafted as a candidate for President of the United States on the Green Party ticket during the 1996 presidential election. He was not formally nominated by the Green Party USA, which was, at the time, the largest national Green group instead he was nominated independently by various state Green parties (in some states, he appeared on the ballot as an independent). However, many activists in the Green Party USA worked actively to campaign for Nader that year. Nader qualified for ballot status in 22 states, [40] garnering 685,297 votes or 0.71% of the popular vote (fourth place overall), [41] although the effort did make significant organizational gains for the party. He refused to raise or spend more than $5,000 on his campaign, presumably to avoid meeting the threshold for Federal Elections Commission reporting requirements the unofficial Draft Nader committee could (and did) spend more than that, but the committee was legally prevented from coordinating in any way with Nader himself.

Nader received some criticism from gay rights supporters for calling gay rights "gonadal politics" and stating that he was not interested in dealing with such matters. [42] In July 2004, however, he publicly stated that he supported same-sex marriage. [43]

His 1996 running mates included: Anne Goeke (nine states), Deborah Howes (Oregon), Muriel Tillinghast (New York), Krista Paradise (Colorado), Madelyn Hoffman (New Jersey), Bill Boteler (Washington, D.C.), and Winona LaDuke (California and Texas). [44]

In the 2006 documentary An Unreasonable Man, Nader describes how he was unable to get the views of his public interest groups heard in Washington, even by the Clinton Administration. Nader cites this as one of the primary reasons that he decided to actively run in the 2000 election as candidate of the Green Party, which had been formed in the wake of his 1996 campaign.

In June 2000, The Association of State Green Parties (ASGP) organized the national nominating convention that took place in Denver, Colorado, at which Green Party delegates nominated Ralph Nader and Winona LaDuke to be their party's candidates for president and vice president. [45] [46]

On July 9, the Vermont Progressive Party nominated Nader, giving him ballot access in the state. [47] On August 12, the United Citizens Party of South Carolina chose Ralph Nader as its presidential nominee, giving him a ballot line in the state. [48]

In October 2000, at the largest Super Rally of his campaign, [49] held in New York City's Madison Square Garden, 15,000 people paid $20 each [50] to hear Nader speak. Nader's campaign rejected both parties as institutions dominated by corporate interests, stating that Al Gore and George W. Bush were "Tweedledee and Tweedledum". A long list of notable celebrities spoke and performed at the event including Susan Sarandon, Ani DiFranco, Ben Harper, Tim Robbins, Michael Moore, Eddie Vedder and Patti Smith. The campaign also had some prominent union help: The California Nurses Association and the United Electrical Workers endorsed his candidacy and campaigned for him. [51]

Nader and LaDuke received 2,883,105 votes, for 2.74 percent of the popular vote (third place overall), [52] missing the 5 percent needed to qualify the Green Party for federally distributed public funding in the next election, yet qualifying the party for ballot status in many states.

Nader often openly expressed his hope for Bush's victory over Gore, saying it "would mobilize us", [53] and that environmental and consumer regulatory agencies would fare better under Bush than Gore. [54] When asked which of the two he'd vote for if forced, Nader answered "Bush . If you want the parties to diverge from one another, have Bush win." [55] As to whether he would feel regret if he caused Gore's defeat, Nader replied "I would not—not at all. I'd rather have a provocateur than an anesthetizer in the White House." [56] On another occasion, Nader answered this question with: "No, not at all . There may be a cold shower for four years that would help the Democratic Party . It doesn't matter who is in the White House." [54]

Spoiler controversy

In the 2000 presidential election in Florida, George W. Bush defeated Al Gore by 537 votes. Nader received 97,421 votes, which led to claims that he was responsible for Gore's defeat. Nader disputes that he helped Bush to win. [57] [58] [59] A 2003 study found that Nader's candidacy was a critical factor in Bush's victory. [60] A 2004 study found that Nader voters had the profile of likely voters with a preference for Democratic candidates. [61] They were therefore likely to vote for Gore over Bush in the absence of Nader's candidacy. [61]

A study by Harvard Professor B.C. Burden in 2005 showed Nader did "play a pivotal role in determining who would become president following the 2000 election", but that:

Contrary to Democrats' complaints, Nader was not intentionally trying to throw the election. A spoiler strategy would have caused him to focus disproportionately on the most competitive states and markets with the hopes of being a key player in the outcome. There is no evidence that his appearances responded to closeness. He did, apparently, pursue voter support, however, in a quest to receive 5% of the popular vote. [62]

However, Jonathan Chait of The American Prospect and The New Republic notes that Nader did indeed focus on swing states disproportionately during the waning days of the campaign, and by doing so jeopardized his own chances of achieving the 5% of the vote he was aiming for.

Then there was the debate within the Nader campaign over where to travel in the waning days of the campaign. Some Nader advisers urged him to spend his time in uncontested states such as New York and California. These states – where liberals and leftists could entertain the thought of voting Nader without fear of aiding Bush – offered the richest harvest of potential votes. But, Martin writes, Nader – who emerges from this account as the house radical of his own campaign – insisted on spending the final days of the campaign on a whirlwind tour of battleground states such as Pennsylvania and Florida. In other words, he chose to go where the votes were scarcest, jeopardizing his own chances of winning 5 percent of the vote, which he needed to gain federal funds in 2004. [63]

When Nader, in a letter to environmentalists, attacked Gore for "his role as broker of environmental voters for corporate cash," and "the prototype for the bankable, Green corporate politician," and what he called a string of broken promises to the environmental movement, Sierra Club president Carl Pope sent an open letter to Nader, dated 27 October 2000, defending Al Gore's environmental record and calling Nader's strategy "irresponsible." [64] He wrote:

You have also broken your word to your followers who signed the petitions that got you on the ballot in many states. You pledged you would not campaign as a spoiler and would avoid the swing states. Your recent campaign rhetoric and campaign schedule make it clear that you have broken this pledge . Please accept that I, and the overwhelming majority of the environmental movement in this country, genuinely believe that your strategy is flawed, dangerous and reckless. [65]

Nader announced on December 24, 2003, that he would not seek the Green Party's nomination for president in 2004, but did not rule out running as an independent candidate.

Ralph Nader and Democratic candidate John Kerry held a widely publicized meeting early in the 2004 presidential campaign. Nader said that John Kerry wanted to work to win Nader's support and the support of Nader's voters, prompting Nader to provide Kerry more than 20 pages of issues that he felt were important. According to Nader, he asked John Kerry to choose any three of the issues and highlight them in his campaign should Kerry meet these conditions Nader would not contest the election. On February 22, 2004, having not heard back from Kerry, Nader announced that he would run for president as an independent.

Due to concerns about a possible spoiler effect, many Democrats urged Nader to abandon his 2004 candidacy. Terry McAuliffe stated that Nader had a "distinguished career, fighting for working families", and that McAuliffe "would hate to see part of his legacy being that he got us eight years of George Bush". Theresa Amato, Nader's national campaign manager in 2000 and 2004, later alleged that McAuliffe offered to pay-off Nader if he would not campaign in certain states, an allegation confirmed by Nader and undisputed by McAuliffe. [66]

Nader received 463,655 votes, for 0.38 percent of the popular vote, placing him in third place overall. [67]

In February 2007, Nader criticized Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton as "a panderer and a flatterer," later describing her as someone who had "no political fortitude." [68] During a February 2008 appearance on Meet the Press, Nader announced his intention to run for president as an independent, later naming Matt Gonzalez as his running-mate. [69] Nader was endorsed by Howard Zinn, Jesse Ventura, Justin Jeffre, Tom Morello, Val Kilmer, Rocky Anderson, James Abourezk, Patti Smith, and Jello Biafra. The Nader campaign raised $8.4 million in campaign funds, primarily from small, individual donations. Nader/Gonzalez earned 738,475 votes and a third-place finish in the 2008 United States presidential election. [70]

Campaign Running mate Ballot access Funds raised Popular vote Party affiliation Co-nominators Media and organizational endorsers Notable endorsers

Ralph Nader presidential campaign, 2000

Winona LaDuke
$8.4 million 2,882,995
Green Party USA Vermont Progressive Party
* California Nurses Association
* United Electrical Workers
* Hemp Industries Association
* Village Voice
* The Austin Chronicle
* Worcester Magazine
* San Francisco Bay Guardian
Susan Sarandon, Michael Moore, Howard Zinn, Eddie Vedder, Bill Murray, Pete Seeger, Linda Ronstadt, Paul Newman, Willie Nelson, Noam Chomsky, John B. Anderson, Phil Donahue

Ralph Nader presidential campaign, 2004

Peter Camejo
$4.6 million 463,655
unaffiliated Reform Party USA
Independence Party of New York
Independent Party of Delaware
David Brower, Patti Smith, Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Phil Donahue

Ralph Nader presidential campaign, 2008

Matt Gonzalez
$4.3 million [71] 738,475

Congressional Accountability Project

Nader founded the Congressional Accountability Project to "oppose corruption in the U. S. Congress." [72]

Later activities

Nader condemned the 2011 military intervention in Libya. [73] He branded President Barack Obama as a "war criminal" [74] and called for his impeachment. [75]

In June 2019, Nader, who lost his 24-year-old grandniece in the Ethiopian Airlines crash, [76] claimed that the Boeing 737 Max "must never fly again. it's not a matter of software. It's a matter of structural design defect: the plane's engines are too much for the traditional fuselage". [77] Nader also called for Boeing top leaders to resign and said that the Federal Aviation Administration "has been in the pockets of the Boeing company for years". [77] [78]

D.C. Library Renaissance Project

In 2002, Nader founded the D.C. Library Renaissance Project, which has sought to halt the development of the West End Library in Washington, D.C., alleging that it "violated affordable housing guidelines, undervalued the land, and didn't conform to the city's Comprehensive Plan." [79] The legal obstacles presented by the Library Renaissance Project have cost the D.C. government over one million dollars in legal fees. [80] Nader has opposed the privatized development of D.C. libraries despite community support, citing a lack of oversight and competitive bidding process. [81]

Only the Super Rich Can Save Us

In 2009 Nader published his first work of fiction, Only the Super Rich Can Save Us. Many of the characters were fictionalized versions of real-life persons including Ted Turner and Warren Buffett. The book's principal villain, a "conservative evil genius" named Brovar Dortwist, represents Grover Norquist. According to Norquist, Nader had called him prior to the book's publication and said he "wouldn't be too unhappy, because the character was principled". [82]

The novel met with mixed reviews with The Wall Street Journal noting that the book "reads less like a novel . than a dream journal" with a plot that victoriously concludes with "American society thoroughly Naderized", though The Globe and Mail called it "a powerful idea by the perfect person at a fortuitous time". [83] [84]

He also branched out into fiction with the fable collection Animal Envy in 2016.

2012 debate moderator

During the 2012 United States presidential election, Nader moderated a debate for third party candidates at Washington D.C.'s Busboys and Poets. The debate was attended by Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein, Libertarian Gary Johnson, Rocky Anderson of the Justice Party and Constitution Party candidate Virgil Goode. He later moderated a similar debate in a studio appearance broadcast by Russia Today. [85]

Ralph Nader Radio Hour

Since March 2014, Nader has co-hosted the weekly Ralph Nader Radio Hour, [86] produced at KPFK-FM in Los Angeles and distributed via the Pacifica Radio Network. The program features "interviews with some of the nation's most influential movers and shakers" and discussion of current events. Nader's co-hosts are Steve Skrovan and David Feldman. [87]

American Museum of Tort Law

In 2015, after a decade planning, Nader founded the American Museum of Tort Law in Winsted, Connecticut. The opening ceremonies were emceed by Phil Donahue. Nader personally donated $150,000 to the establishment of the museum, which was sited on two parcels of land rezoned by the town of Winsted to host it. At the time of its opening, some expressed skepticism that a museum dedicated to tort would have much interest to the general public, though Nader responded that he was "astounded how a country can go over 200 years and not have a law museum". [88]

Campaign for Harvard admissions reform

Nader unsuccessfully sought a seat on the Harvard University Board of Overseers in 2016 as part of an insurgent candidate slate operating under the name "Free Harvard, Fair Harvard" which called for increased transparency by the university as to how it made athletic and legacy admissions decisions. [89] In February of that year he expressed support for Donald Trump making a third-party run for president, saying that such a move might help break-up the two party system. [90]

Nader was raised in the Eastern Orthodox Church. [5] His siblings are Laura (a professor of social and cultural anthropology at U.C. Berkeley), Claire, and late brother Shafeek. [6]

Nader defines his ideology not as left-wing or right-wing but as a "moral empiricist". [91]

He has lived in Washington, DC since the 1960s, but is domiciled in Connecticut, where he is registered to vote. [80]

In addition to English, Nader also speaks Arabic, Russian, Portuguese, Chinese and Spanish. [92]

After his older brother Shafeek died of prostate cancer in 1986, Nader developed Bell's palsy, which paralyzed the left side of his mouth for several months. He commented on his partial facial paralysis to audiences during this time with the quip that "at least my opponents can't say I'm talking out of both sides of my mouth." [93] [94]

Nader's grandniece Samya Stumo was among the 157 people killed in the crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 in March 2019. [76]

Personality and character traits

Nader has been described as an "ascetic . bordering on self-righteous". [95] Despite access to respectable financial assets, he famously lives in a modest apartment and spends $25,000 on personal bills, conducting most of his writing on a typewriter. [96] [97] According to popular accounts of his personal life, he does not own a television, relies primarily on public transportation, and over a 25-year period, until 1983, exclusively wore one of a dozen pairs of shoes he had purchased at a clearance sale in 1959. His suits, which he reports he purchases at sales and outlet stores, have been the repeated subject of public scrutiny, being variously described as "wrinkled", "rumpled", and "styleless". A newspaper story once described Nader as a "conscientious objector to fashion". [98]

Nader has never married. Karen Croft, a writer who worked for Nader in the late 1970s at the Center for Study of Responsive Law, once asked him if he had ever considered marriage, to which he reportedly responded that he had made a choice to dedicate his life to career rather than family. [99]


According to the mandatory fiscal disclosure report that he filed with the Federal Election Commission in 2000, Nader owned more than $3 million worth of stocks and mutual fund shares his single largest holding was more than $1 million worth of stock in Cisco Systems, Inc. He also held between $100,000 and $250,000 worth of shares in the Magellan Fund. [100] Nader said he owned no car and owned no real estate directly in 2000, and said that he lived on $25,000 a year, giving most of his stock earnings to many of the over four dozen non-profit organizations he had founded. [101] [102]

Nader owns shares in Amazon and believes the corporation should be paying shareholders a dividend. [103] He also believes that there should be an "antitrust investigation" looking into the company's business practices. [104]

Nader is also an Apple shareholder. In 2018, he wrote an open letter to Tim Cook criticizing Apple's $100 billion share buyback. [105]

In the 2005 Jim Carrey film Fun with Dick and Jane, Nader makes a cameo appearance as himself.

The Steve Skrovan documentary film An Unreasonable Man is about the life of Ralph Nader and uses both archival footage and original interviews. It debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in 2006.


Nader was featured on the cover of the January 22, 1968 issue of Newsweek the December 12, 1969 issue of Time the June 1971 issue of Esquire and the August 2016 issue of Pacific Standard.


Nader has been a guest on multiple episodes of Saturday Night Live, Real Time with Bill Maher, The Daily Show, The O'Reilly Factor, Meet the Press, Democracy Now!, and The Late Show with David Letterman. In 2003 he appeared on Da Ali G Show and, in 2008, was interviewed by Triumph the Insult Comic Dog on Late Night with Conan O'Brien. In 1988, Nader appeared on Sesame Street as "a person in your neighborhood", the episode also featuring Barbara Walters and Martina Navratilova. Nader's appearance on the show was memorable because it was the only time that the grammar of the last line of the song – "a person who you meet each day" – was questioned and changed. Nader refused to sing a line which he deemed grammatically improper, so a compromise was reached by which Nader sang the last line solo, with the modified words: "a person whom you meet each day." [106]

“G.M. & Ralph Nader” 1965-1971

1966 paperback version of Ralph Nader’s “Unsafe at Any Speed” by Pocket Books (hardback published earlier in November 1965 by Grossman Publishers, see cover below). Click for copy.

Nader’s book, a broad investigation of auto safety failings generally, was critical of both the auto industry and the federal government. But one chapter in particular – the first chapter – focused on a compact car named the Corvair produced by GM’s Chevrolet division. Nader titled the chapter, “The Sporty Corvair: The One-Car Accident.” People were being killed and maimed in Corvair accidents that didn’t involve any other cars. The Corvair, it turned out, had some particularly dangerous “designed-in” features that made the car prone to spins and rollovers under certain circumstances.

Initially, Nader and his book were featured at one U.S. Senate hearing in early 1966. But a furor erupted shortly thereafter when it was learned that General Motors had hired private investigators to try to find dirt on Nader to discredit him as a Congressional witness.

Unsafe at Any Speed and Ralph Nader would go on to national fame – the book becoming a best-seller and its author, a national leader in consumer and environmental affairs. But the controversy that first swirled around Nader and the book in the mid-1960s would help spark changes in Washington’s political culture, investigative journalism, and the consumer protection movement that would reverberate to the present day. Some of that history is highlighted below, beginning with background on the man who set all of this in motion.

Young Ralph Nader.

Ralph Nader was born in Winsted, Connecticut in 1934 to immigrant parents from Lebanon. Nader credits his parents with instilling the basic values and inquisitiveness that sent him on his way. He graduated from Princeton University in 1955 and Harvard Law School in 1958.

At Harvard, Nader had written articles for the Harvard Law Record, the student run newspaper at the law school. He had also become quite excited on discovering the arguments put forward in a 1956 Harvard Law Review article written by Harold Katz that suggested automobile manufacturers could be liable for unsafe auto design. In his final year at Harvard Law, Nader wrote a paper for one of his courses titled “Automotive Safety Design and Legal Liability.” In his travels around the country as a young man, often hitchhiking, Nader had also seen a share of auto accidents, one of which stayed with him into law school, as former Nader associate Sheila Harty has noted:

“… He remembered one in particular in which a child was decapitated from sitting in the front seat of a car during a collision at only 15 miles per hour. The glove compartment door came open on impact and severed the child at the neck. The cause of the injury—not the accident—was clearly a design problem: where the glove compartment was placed and how lethally thin [the compartment door was] and how insecure the latch.

When studying liability later at Harvard Law School, Nader remembered that accident scene. He posed an alternative answer to the standard determination of which driver was at fault. Nader accused the car…”

Auto accident 1956. Ralph Nader argued that passengers suffered fatalities and injuries needlessly due to poor auto design and lack of safety features.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan, shown here in 1976, hired Ralph Nader as a Labor Dept. consultant in 1964.
Sen. Abraham Ribicoff, 1960s.

In the U.S. Senate, meanwhile, Senator Abraham Ribicoff (D-CT), the former Governor of Connecticut (1955-1961), had begun a year-long series of hearings on the federal government’s role in traffic safety. Ribicoff was chairman of the Senate Government Operations Committee’s Subcommittee on Executive Reorganization, and his hearings had begun a year earlier, in March 1965. The hearings would continue for another year, yielding nearly 1,600 pages of testimony. In the process, Ribicoff’s committee staff had discovered that Nader was particularly well informed on auto safety issues, and invited him to serve as an unpaid advisor to help the subcommittee prepare for its hearings.

By May of 1965, Nader left the Department of Labor to work full time on the book that would become Unsafe at Any Speed. With his book, Nader would be asking a basic question: why were thousands of Americans being killed and injured in car accidents when technology already existed that could make cars safer?

November 1965: Cover & spine of 1st edition hardback copy of Ralph Nader’s “Unsafe at Any Speed,” published by Grossman Publishers, New York, NY. Click for hardback edition.

On November 30, 1965, Ralph Nader’s name appeared in a New York Times story the day Unsafe at Any Speed, was published. The hardback edition by Grossman was 305 pages long and had a photo of a mangled auto wreck on its cover. On the back cover, the book’s chapters were listed accompanied by a red-ink headline that stated: “The Complete Story That Has Never Been Told Before About Why The American Automobile Is Unnecessarily Dangerous.”

In the New York Times article on the book’s release, which ran in the back pages of the paper, Nader criticized the auto industry, tire manufacturers, the National Safety Council and the American Automobile Association for ignoring auto safety problems.

The second paragraph of the Times story read: “Ralph Nader, a Washington lawyer, says that auto safety takes a back seat to styling, comfort, speed, power and the desire of auto makers to cut costs.” Nader also charged that the President’s Committee for Traffic Safety was “little more than a private-interest group running a public agency that speaks with the authority of the President.”

Hardback edition back panel, “Unsafe at Any Speed.”

In early 1966, in his State of the Union address, President Lyndon B. Johnson called for the enactment of a National Highway Safety Act. Nader at the time was doing some work at the state level, and had convinced an old friend, Lawrence Scalise, who had become Iowa’s Attorney General, to schedule some auto safety hearings in Iowa.

In Washington, meanwhile, by January 14, 1966 news organizations were reporting that Senator Ribbicoff’s auto safety hearings – the series of hearings begun the previous years – would resume in February.

With Unsafe at Any Speed still in the news, Senator Ribicoff summoned Nader to testify during hearings scheduled for February 10, 1966. Ribbicoff had noted that Unsafe at Any Speed was a “provocative book” that had “some very serious things to say about the design and manufacture of motor vehicles.” The book also raised public policy questions, and was being widely read in the auto industry. At the hearing, Nader lived up to this advance billing, as he provided a scathing description of the auto industry and auto safety establishment.

Ralph Nader testifying at U.S. Senate hearing, 1966.

At the time Nader wrote his book, more than 100 lawsuits had been filed against GM’s Chevrolet division for the Corvair’s alleged deficiencies. Nader had based much of his scathing account of the Corvair’s problems on these legal cases – though he himself was not involved in any of this litigation. GM became very concerned about Nader’s use of this information and worried that more lawsuits would result in the future. The company’s legal department was at the center of this concern, though others in the company were also annoyed by Nader’s book and his activities on Capitol Hill.

GM “Tailing” Nader

Part of GM’s office complex, Detroit, MI, circa 1960s.

The assignment, as Guillen would explain in a letter to his agents, was to investigate Nader’s life and current activities, “to determine what makes him tick,” examining “his real interest in safety, his supporters if any, his politics, his marital status, his friends, his women, boys, etc., drinking, dope, jobs, in fact all facets of his life.”

None of this skullduggery had surfaced publicly, of course – at least not initially – although Nader himself suspected something was going on as early as January 1966. Gillen and agents made contact with almost 60 of Nader’s friends and relatives under the pretense they were doing a “routine pre-employment investigation.” Their questions about Nader probed his personal affairs, and also questioned why a 32-year-old man was still unmarried. Nader would also recount two suspicious attempts in which young ladies made advances toward him – one at a drug store newsstand invited him to her apartment to talk about foreign relations and another sought his help in moving furniture – invitations which Nader declined. Claire Nader, his sister would later report that their mother was getting phone calls a 3 a.m with messages that said: “Tell your son to shove off.”

First story of Ralph Nader being followed by private investigators appeared in the Washington Post, February 13, 1966.
GM’s use of private detectives to follow Ralph Nader became a national news story in March 1966.

When details of GM’s investigation of Nader became public, Senator Ribicoff and others on Capitol Hill were outraged. Ribicoff, for one, announced that his subcommittee would hold hearings into the incident and that he expected “a public explanation of the alleged harassment of a Senate Committee witness…” “Anonymous phone calls in the middle of the night have no place in a free society.”
– Sen. Abraham Ribicoff, 1966 Ribicoff and Senator Gaylord Nelson from Wisconsin also called for a Justice Department investigation into the harassment. “No citizen of this country should be focused to endure the kind of clumsy harassment to which Mr. Nader has apparently been subjected since the publication of his book,” said Ribicoff. “Anonymous phone calls in the middle of the night have no place in a free society.” Senator Gaylord Nelson had also made remarks about GM’s investigation of Nader: “This raises grave and serious questions of national significance. What are we coming to when a great and powerful corporation will engage in such unethical and scandalous activity in an effort to discredit a citizen who is a witness before a Congressional committee. If great corporations can engage in this kind of intimidation, it is an assault upon freedom in America.” Ribicoff, meanwhile, had summoned the president of General Motors to appear at the hearings, making for a dramatic showdown in the U.S. Senate.

U.S. Senators taking their places for the 1966 hearing.

A portion of the crowd attending GM hearing, 1966.

Senators Ribicoff, Harris & Kennedy during the hearing.

Ted Sorensen, left, with GM CEO James Roche.

Senator Kennedy during questioning of James Roche.

Ralph Nader sat in the first row of the audience during the hearing and also testified.

GM’s general counsel, Aloysius Power, admitted to ordering the spying on Nader. Eileen Murphy, right, directed the operation. Asst counsel, L. Bridenstine, left.

Holding the GM report on Nader, Senator Ribicoff at one point, upset with GM’s campaign to “smear a man,” reportedly said to GM witnesses, “. and you didn’t find a damn thing,” tossing the report on the table.

Ralph Nader addressing the Ribicoff Committee during the March 1966 Senate hearing.

Senate Showdown

On March 22, 1966, the hearing was set in a large U.S. Senate committee room. Television cameras were set up and a throng of print reporters had come out for the hearing. An overflow audience also packed the hearing room to standing room only. In addition to Senator Ribicoff, chairing the proceedings, others Senators had also come to ask questions, including Senator Bobby Kennedy (D-NY), Sen. Henry M. Jackson (D-WA), and Senator Fred Harris (D-OK). The main attraction, of course, was the head of General Motors, James Roche. Roche was accompanied that day by legal counsel, Ted Sorensen, former aide to President John F. Kennedy.

At the hearing, Roche explained to the committee that GM had started its investigation of Nader before his book came out, and before he was scheduled to appear in Congress. GM wanted to know if Nader had any connection with the damage claims being filed against the corporation in legal actions regarding the Corvair. Roche said that his company certainly had legal right to gather any facts needed to defend itself in litigation. But he also added, “I am not here to excuse, condone or justify in any way our investigation” of Nader. In fact, in his statement Roche deplored “the kind of harassment to which Mr. Nader has apparently been subjected.” He added that he was “just as shocked and outraged” as the senators were.

Ribicoff asked Roche whether he considered this kind of investigation “most unworthy of American business.” Roche replied, “Yes, I would agree,” adding this was “a new and strange experience for me and for General Motors.” And Roche did apologize, saying at one point: “I want to apologize here and now to the members of this subcommittee and Mr. Nader. I sincerely hope that these apologies will be accepted.”

Nonetheless, Roche took the opportunity – no doubt at the advice of legal counsel – to publicly deny some of the more unsavory aspects of the Nader investigation that had been reported in the press. Roche testified that to the best of his knowledge the “investigation initiated by GM, contrary to some speculation, did not employ girls as sex lures, did not employ detectives giving false names…, did not use recording devices during interviews, did not follow Mr. Nader in Iowa and Pennsylvania, did not have him under surveillance during the day he testified before this subcommittee, did not follow him in any private place, and did not constantly ring his private telephone number late at night with false statements or anonymous warnings.”

Senator Robert Kennedy, in questioning Roche, agreed that GM was justified in the face of charges about the Corvair to make an investigation to protect its name and its stockholders. But Kennedy also questioned whether GM’s earlier statement of March 9th, which had acknowledged the investigation as a routine matter, wasn’t misleading or false in denying the harassment of Nader. Kennedy questioned whether the GM investigation of Nader hadn’t moved into intimidation, harassment, “or possibly blackmail.” Referring to the earlier GM press statement, Kennedy said: “I don’t see how you can order the investigation and then put out a statement like this [March 9th statement], which is not accurate. That, Mr. Roche, disturbs me as much as the fact that you conducted the investigation in the way that it was conducted in the beginning.” Roche said the March 9th statement may have been misleading but added that might have been due to lack of communications in GM. Kennedy expressed doubt that a firm such as GM could be that inefficient. “I like my GM car,” Kennedy said at the end of his questioning, “but you kind of shake me up.”

Committee members also questioned GM’s chief counsel, Aloysious Power, and assistant general counsel, Louis Bridenstine, as well as Vincent Gillen, the head of the detective agency. Gillen denied Nader’s charges. GM’s Power acknowledged ordering the investigation explaining that Nader was something of “a mystery man” – a lawyer who did not have a law office. GM also wanted to know about the man whose book was charging that GM’s Corvair was inherently unsafe. Kennedy remarked there was no mystery about Nader, that he was a young lawyer who had just come out of law school.

Ribicoff at one point referred to the surveillance of Nader, the questioning of his former teachers and friends, querries about his sex habits, etc., as pretty unsavory business. Ribicoff then asked Roche: “Let us assume that you found something wrong with his sex life. What would that have to do with whether or not he was right or wrong on the Corvair?,” to which Roche replied, “Nothing.”

Holding a copy of GM’s report on Nader in his hand, Ribicoff contended there was little in it about Nader’s legal associations or any possible connections with Corvair litigation. Nader had also reiterated for the committee that he had nothing to do with the Corvair litigation. Ribicoff contended the investigation “was an attempt to downgrade and smear a man.”

Richard Grossman, the publisher of Unsafe at Any Speed, later recalling Ribicoff’s manner during the hearing, paraphrased him, noting: “He said: ‘and so you [GM] hired detectives to try to get dirt on this young man to besmirch his character because of statements he made about your unsafe automobiles?’ Then he grabbed [the GM report], threw it down on the table and said, ‘And you didn’t find a damned thing’.”

Nader, earlier, had called GM’s investigation “an attempt to obtain lurid details and grist for the invidious use of slurs and slanders…” Nader also told the committee that he feared for democracy if average citizens were subject to corporate harassment whenever they had something critical to say about the way business operated. “They have put you through the mill, and they haven’t found a damn thing wrong with you.”
++ –Sen. Ribicoff to Ralph Nader

Ribicoff, meanwhile, practically anointed Nader as “Mr. Clean” at the hearing, finding him gleaming of character having survived the digging and scheming by GM’s private eyes. Ribicoff told Nader that he could feel pretty good about himself. “They have put you through the mill,” Ribicoff said of the GM investigators, “and they haven’t found a damn thing wrong with you.” A few weeks after the March 22, 1966 hearing it was also learned that the GM-hired detectives had also sought to find links between Ribicoff and Nader. One of Nader’s friends, Frederick Hughes Condon, a lawyer in Concord, New Hampshire, had been contacted by GM’s detective, Vince Gillen, on February 22, 1966 asking him about Nader’s relationship with Ribicoff. Ribicoff, however, said that he had met Nader for the first time the day he walked into the hearing room during his first committee appearance on February 11, 1966.

National Notice

Washington Post story by Morton Mintz, “GM's Goliath Bows to David,” appeared on March 27, 1966.

The evening of the Senate’s March 22nd, 1966 hearing, in fact, Nader appeared on each of the three network news TV shows – this at a time when there were only three televisions channels. And in the next morning’s newspapers, the apology by GM was front-page news all across the country. The headline used on the front page of the Washington Post, for example, was: “GM’s Head Apologizes To ‘Harassed’ Car Critic.”

1966: Ralph Nader testifying in Congress.

Ralph Nader at the White House shaking hands with President Lyndon Johnson after bill-signing ceremony, September 9, 1966.

The Washington Post also used a photo of the Nader-LBJ meeting at the highway bill signing.

President Lyndon Johnson invited Nader to the White House for the signing of the highway safety bills. During the ceremony, LBJ remarked in his speech: “The automobile industry has been one of our Nation’s most dynamic and inventive industries. I hope, and I believe, that its skill and imagination will somehow be able to build in more safety—without building on more costs.”

Nader would later write of that day at the White House: “At the request of a New York Times reporter I prepared a statement for the occasion and walked from the nearby National Press Building to the White House… The atmosphere inside was upbeat and LBJ was passing out pens furiously while shaking everybody’s hand. At the time I recall thinking: Now the work really starts to make sure the regulators are not captured by the industry they are supposed to regulate…”

Nader Sues GM

Nor was Nader finished with GM. In fact, not long after the GM-Nader showdown on Capitol Hill, an attorney friend of Nader’s, Stuart Speiser, called him on the phone. Speiser had heard Roche apologize to Nader during the March hearings, and he suspected Nader might have a good shot at a lawsuit.

“I told Ralph I was sure GM expected to be sued and that they were probably prepared to pay a large sum, larger than any previous award, to bury their mistakes,” Speiser would later write in his own book, Lawsuit (1980), recounting their case against GM.

Speiser believed GM would be the perfect target because the company’s image suffered after publication of Unsafe at Any Speed. Nader, by contrast, would serve as the “knight in shining armor, champion of the consumer, the last honest man. . .”

In November 1966, Nader and Speiser sued GM for compensatory and punitive damages. GM’s attorneys tried multiple times to throw the case out of court by saying the carmaker was not responsible for any wrongdoing. Speiser proved that the independent private detective, Vincent Gillen, had acted directly on behalf of GM and used Gillen’s testimony to that effect against GM. More than two years after the suit was filed, GM agreed to pay Nader $425,000 – the largest out-of-court settlement in the history of privacy law. Nader used the settlement money to found several public interest groups, including the Center for Auto Safety.

Dec. 12, 1969: Ralph Nader featured in Time magazine’s “consumer revolt” cover story.

June 1971: Esquire magazine published Gore Vidal’s piece, “Ralph Nader Can Be The Next President of the United States.” Click for copy.

Media Coverage

During the late 1960s and early 1970s, Ralph Nader enjoyed rising popularity and increasing media coverage. He was becoming America’s leading consumer advocate, and he broadened his appeal by working for environmental protection, improved food safety, corporate accountability, and other causes. He soon began showing up on the covers of mainstream magazines such as Time and Newsweek, and on nightly news TV broadcasts.

In January 1968, Newsweek magazine featured him in knight’s armor in a cover story titled, “Consumer Crusader – Ralph Nader.” In December 1969, Nader made the cover of Time magazine for a covers story on “The Consumer Revolt.”

“To many Americans,” wrote Time, “Nader, at 35, has become something of a folk hero, a symbol of constructive protest against the status quo.”

And by the early 1970s, given his rising national following, Nader was being touted by some as a possible presidential candidate, as Gore Vidal would propose in an June 1971 Esquire piece shown at left. But Nader in the 1970s and beyond would continue to have a major impact on public policy – not only by his own actions and advocacy, but also that of a legion of young people he recruited and inspired.

These “Nader’s Raiders,” as they would be called by the press, churned out a continuing series of books and reports through the 1970s and 1980s, some of which helped revive and transform the art of investigative journalism. For that part of the story please see “Nader’s Raiders,” also at this website.

There is, of course, much more to the Ralph Nader story beyond his early struggles with GM and the auto industry covered here. Readers are directed to “Sources, Links & Additional Information” below which includes various websites and books profiling his long career.

In later years, Nader would take a turn toward running for public office himself, launching bids for President of the United States in 1996, 2000, 2004, and 2008.

In the 2000 election, running nationwide as the candidate of the Green Party, Ralph Nader won nearly three million votes, close to three percent of the votes cast. That election proved to be the closest presidential election in American history – in which the deadlocked outcome between George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore was resolved by the U.S. Supreme Court in Bush’s favor.

Ralph Nader campaigning for President, 2008.

David Booth, writing in 2010 at the 45th anniversary of Unsafe and Any Speed in his “The Fast Lane” column for, observed, for example:

…Love or hate him, Nader is single-handedly responsible for much of the modern automotive safety technology that now cocoons us. Never mind that he has since become a caricature of the American political scene….[W]ere it not for Unsafe, there probably might never have been a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Anti-lock brakes, air bags and the three-point [safety belt] harness might still be a glint in some Swedish engineer’s eye had not Nader taken up his one-man crusade…

Part of the cover of the 25th anniversary paperback edition of “Unsafe at Any Speed,” published by Knighstbridge Publishing Co. in 1991.

Nader has been named to lists of the � Most Influential Americans” by Life, Time, and The Atlantic magazines, among others. In 2016, he was inducted in to the Automotive Hall of Fame.

Through the 2010s, Ralph Nader continued his fight on behalf of consumers and an active and aware citizenry — writing books and a weekly web column, making public appearances, and advocating for numerous causes. See also at this website part 2 of this story, “Nader’s Raiders.” For other stories on politics at this website please see the “Politics & Culture” category page, and on business and the environment, the “Environmental History” page. Thanks for visiting — and if you like what you find here, please help support the research and writing at this website with a donation. Thank you. – Jack Doyle

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Date Posted: 31 March 2013
Last Update: 9 December 2018
Comments to: [email protected]

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “GM & Ralph Nader, 1965-1971,”, March 31, 2013.

Sources, Links & Additional Information

A young Ralph Nader with the Washington beltway in the background, August 1967. Associated Press photo.

Cover of Charles McCarry’s “Citizen Nader” book, 1972, hardback edition, Saturday Review Press. Click for copy.

Ralph Nader on Capitol Hill, early- mid-1970s.

Ralph Nader at a Public Citizen press conference, 1970s.

“The Big Boys” of 1986 profiles CEOs from nine major companies such as Dow Chemical, U.S. Steel, Control Data and others. Published by Pantheon. Click for copy.

Ralph Nader, in public forum, engaging his audience.

“Crashing The Party” of 2002 tells the story of Nader's 2000 presidential bid. St. Martin’s Press. Click for copy.

August 1976: Democratic Presidential nominee, Jimmy Carter, and consumer advocate Ralph Nader, talk with reporters outside of Carter’s home in Plains, Georgia.

February 24, 2008: Ralph Nader on “Meet the Press” with Tim Russert, in Washington, DC where he announced he would run for President in 2008 as an independent.

Ralph Nader, “The Safe Car You Can’t Buy,” The Nation, April 11, 1959.

James Ridgeway, “Car Design and Public Safety,” The New Republic, September 19,1964.

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� – Ralph Nader Publishes Unsafe at Any Speed,” Timeline, BizJournalism

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Richard Corrigan, “Behind the ‘Chrome Curtain’,” Washington Post, Times Herald, February 21, 1966, p. A-3.

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Walter Rugaber, “Critic of Auto Industry’s Safety Standards Says He Was Trailed and Harassed Charges Called Absurd,” New York Times, March 6, 1966, p. 94.

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Walter Rugaber, “G.M. Acknowledges Investigating Critic,” New York Times, March 10, 1966, p. 1.

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Bryce Nelson, “GM-Hired Detective Sought to Find A Link Between Ribicoff and Nader,” Washington Post, Times Herald, March 26, 1966, p. A-1.

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Morton Mintz, “The Second of a 1-2 Punch at Automen,”Washington Post, Times Herald, March 29, 1966, p. A-14.

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Morton Mintz, “Minimum Tire Safety Standards Approved by Senate, 79 to 0,” Washington Post, Times Herald, Mar 30, 1966, p. A-6.

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What Is Ralph Nader’s Net Worth?

The 84-year-old social reformer summons a net worth of $6 million from his work as a lawyer and an author. He escalated the most prominent part of his increasing wealth practicing law in Hartford, Connecticut in 1955.

According to Money, the average annual salary of a lawyer was $118,160 in 2016 and Ralph might have gathered remuneration around the expected figures.

After practicing law for few years, he felt fatigued and later shifted to Washington, D.C. in 1964 where he worked as a consultant to Assistant Secretary of Labor, Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

Ralph also garners lucrative money by publishing books. He has authored many publications including ‘No Contest: Corporate Lawyers and the Perversion of Justice in America’ (1998) and ‘Breaking Through Power: It's Easier Than We Think (City Lights Open Media)' (2016).

Ralph Nader (Shpadoinkle Timeline)

Ralph Nader (/ˈneɪdər/ born February 27, 1934) is an American political activist, author, lecturer, and lawyer who served as the 7th United States Secretary of Energy. Nader was previously a U.S. Senator from the state of Connecticut.

The son of Lebanese immigrants to the United States, Nader was educated at Princeton and Harvard and first came to prominence in 1965 with the publication of the bestselling book Unsafe at Any Speed, a highly influential critique of the safety record of American automobile manufacturers. Following the publication of Unsafe at Any Speed, Nader led a group of volunteer law students—dubbed "Nader's Raiders"—in an investigation of the Federal Trade Commission, leading directly to that agency's overhaul and reform. In the 1970s, Nader leveraged his growing popularity to establish a number of advocacy and watchdog groups including the Public Interest Research Group, the Center for Auto Safety, and Public Citizen. Two of Nader's most notable targets were the Chevy Corvair and the Ford Pinto.

Following the retirement of incumbent senator Abraham Ribicoff, Ralph Nader sought the Democratic nomination for the United States Senate in Connecticut. He beat Republican opponent James Buckley in the election of 1980. Nader switched his party affiliation from Democratic to Independent in 1983. He was re-elected twice in 1986 and 1992. Nader resigned in 1993 to serve as president Mike Gravel's Secretary of Energy. He left office in 1997. Nader has been directly credited with the passage of several landmark pieces of American consumer protection legislation including the Clean Water Act, the Freedom of Information Act, the Consumer Product Safety Act, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, the Whistleblower Protection Act, and the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act. He has been repeatedly named to lists of the "100 Most Influential Americans", including those published by Life, Time, and The Atlantic.

Nader made four bids to become President of the United States, running with the People's Party in 1972, the Green Party in 1996 and 2000 and as an independent in 2004 and 2008. In each campaign, Nader said he sought to highlight under-reported issues and a perceived need for electoral reform. He received over 4 million votes during his 1972 candidacy, and over 5 million votes in his 2000 candidacy.

A two-time Nieman Fellow, Nader is the author or co-author of more than two dozen books, and was the subject of a documentary film on his life and work, An Unreasonable Man, which debuted at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival.


  • An Unreasonable Man (2006). An Unreasonable Man is a documentary film about Ralph Nader that appeared at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival.
  • Burden, Barry C. (2005). Ralph Nader's Campaign Strategy in the 2000 U.S. Presidential Election 2005, American Politics Research 33:672-99.
  • Ralph Nader: Up Close This film blends archival footage and scenes of Nader and his staff at work in Washington with interviews with Nader's family, friends and adversaries, as well as Nader himself. Written, directed and produced by Mark Litwak and Tiiu Lukk, 1990, color, 72 mins. Narration by Studs Terkel. Broadcast on PBS. Winner, Sinking Creek Film Festival Best of Festival, Baltimore Int'l Film Festival Silver Plaque, Chicago Int'l Film Festival, Silver Apple, National Educational Film & Video Festival.
  • Martin, Justin. Nader: Crusader, Spoiler, Icon. Perseus Publishing, 2002. ISBN 0-7382-0563-X

Watch the video: Разбивачът Ралф. Wreck-It Ralph 2012 (May 2022).