Brock Yates on Ralph Nader
The following originally appeared in Car & Driver and was reprinted in The Windmill, Vol. II, No. 5, dated Nov./Dec., 1971. Yates is my favorite columnist.
There is no sense kidding myself. After I shuck away all those fumblings for tolerance and earnest attempts to separate personal lifestyle from public achievement, Ralph Nader remains a pain in the ass. Yeah, I know he's one man against the Establishment, selflessly grappling with the cheaters, con-men and land-rapers who run big business and the political hacks and ward-heelers who infest Washington. Give Ralph his head and he'll save us all from being pillaged and poisoned by a thousand menaces that lurk everywhere from the supermarket shelves to your car's glove compartment. To be sure, it's very nice of him to go to all that trouble for you and me, but pardon me for saying so, he's still a pain in the ass.
Zealots of all kinds concern me. Marcel Proust made one of the most profound warnings I can imagine when he said, "Love those who seek the truth: beware of those who find it." Ralph Nader has found truth, albeit a sweeping , hyperbolic, paranoid kind of truth that sees a deceit-veiled business world sucking on the veins of a stupid, gluttonous public devoid of perception, discretion, or taste. I am wary of him. Remember this; nobody does anything for nothing. Even the most selfless humanitarian operates for a deep psychic satisfaction that transcends conventional material rewards, but is nonetheless compensation. Albert Schweitzer dug the jungle. On the surface, Ralph Nader appears to be a purely motivated crusader without any personal ambitions whatsoever. Quite to the contrary, I think he's on the biggest trip of all—a power trip; that exquisite sensation of making people jump. Ralph Nader is an important man. Some say he wields as much personal power as any private citizen in Washington—the biggest little man in town—and if you don't think that is perfect payment to the right kind of drab, barren personality, there's no sense reading any further.
So let's dispense with that crap about Nader operating as an altruistic ombudsman in the world of commerce. It has been proven time and again that the guys who drive for the top aren't after the money or the fame; it's the power they want. This is the case with everybody from Henry Ford to Howard Hughes. Money and fame are merely tokens to be parlayed in the power game. In Nader's case he has used a denial of material gain to compound power, not diminish it. Much as Greta Garbo has remained famous by seeking obscurity, Nader has gathered great strength by playing a rag-tag David in the face of corporate Goliaths.
This backdoor entry into the corridors of power has worked so well that Nader now reposes in a position where no one has the guts to assault him. Why? Because any criticism whatsoever indelibly labels you as the running dog of the Big Gov-Biz conspiracy that is out to destroy us. With a demagogue like Nader—and make no mistake about it, Ralph Nader is a classic demagogue—it is critical that he be surrounded by conspiracies, that every act of foolishness and incompetence be interpreted as a finely woven pattern of vicious deceit. Therefore General Motors never simply errs by making an imperfect car, it consciously markets a lethal junker and then goes to elaborate lengths to conceal its deadly qualities from the buying public. The natural gas transmission companies build weak pipes for the simple pleasure of watching houses full of orphans blow up: meat packers get insane kicks from selling housewives rotten liverwurst: all industrialists find pollution a profitable adjunct in their campaign to rule America, and so on. There is no compromise with a demagogue. You are with him or against him. And in the case of Ralph Nader, opposition places you squarely among the army of villains that he, with the unique perception provided by him and his schoolboy lawyers (who also get powerful ego compensation in lieu of pay), has self-righteously pin-pointed. Argue against him and you are giving tacit aid and comfort to the presumed enemies of mankind.
Frankly I don't give a damn what Ralph Nader says or thinks about me. If my criticism makes me an enemy of mankind by his definition, so be it. All I know is that I've listened to him maunder on and on, making the widest, wildest accusations with only modest concern for accuracy or accountability. He may be the biggest junk producer of all! Yet nobody has said a word in opposition, except for one senator who, after publicly hearing Nader claim that a multitude of companies were guilty of outright criminal acts, suggested rather briskly that he quit yapping about it and go get legal indictments through the conventional process of law. Ralph lumbered on to another subject, as I recall.
Even if I were able to overlook his monk-like lifestyle and his utter absence of a sense of humor (about which I am extremely suspicious in any man) I would view Ralph Nader as essentially anti-social for a number of reasons. Foremost, it involves his attempt to establish himself as a national messiah, with a central message to the American public that says, "Listen America, I am going to show you what dupes and dummies you are for buying all that poisonous crap." He is arrogantly patronizing as are all zealots. Nader knows more that the average man. He has greater perception, greater self-discipline and a broader understanding of life. Therefore he is able to see what we can't see; to save us where we poor fools can't save ourselves.
Quite to the contrary, I think a healthy percentage of Americans are quite aware of their strengths and deficiencies, and at least seem capable, without the aid of Mr. Nader, to buy the right brand of pantyhose or corn flakes without killing themselves. In fact, there is an uncanny underground of information about products in the U.S. If you don't believe it, bug a women's bridge club or stand around a gas station for a while. The word-of-mouth passage about good and bad merchandise is amazing Of course there are the dummies; the suckers for price and unscrupulous promotion and they will remain as easy marks always eager to be exploited.
We can protect the fools only in a rigidly controlled marketplace. That I believe is what Ralph Nader seeks, at least unconsciously. Nader's ultimate satisfaction—at least in the area of consumer affairs—would come, I'm sure, in being able to make personal judgments over which products would be sold and which wouldn't; over which company would live and which would die.
I might be willing to grant him some credibility, even authority, in this area if he hadn't been so grossly inaccurate in his assessment of the automobile industry. That farcical but destructive assault was so vicious, so frenzied and so utterly off target that it has scarred Nader's reputation in my opinion. If he was that wrong about automobiles, how can anybody be sure his facts are any clearer about food, gas lines, pollution, etc.?
Ralph Nader is a faker as a car expert. How much else is he faking as well?