Very early in his Oct. 31 address to a packed house in Glenn Auditoriumless
than a minute after he took to the podium, actuallyRalph Nader offered
up a challenge.
Anything I have done, the longtime consumer advocate and two-time
presidential candidate told the appreciative gathering, which had greeted
him with a standing ovation only moments before, you can do better
in the 15,000 minutes before you turn 65.
It was an appropriate beginning to an event titled The Ethics of
Public Participation, in which Nader urged everyone in attendance
to become actively involved in their communities and take concrete steps
to solve problems. Thats how you move from concern to seriousness,
A seasoned public speaker, Naders was an 75-minute speech that was
at times inspiring, analytical, sarcastic, angry and idealistic.
Calling Nader, a great champion of civic values and of an educated
and active public, James Fowler, Candler Professor of Theology and
Human Development and director of the Center for Ethics, handled the introduction.
This is a rare opportunity to hear Ralph Nader beyond the soundbites
and the caricatures, Fowler said. The Center for Ethics cosponsored
the event with the College Council, the Student Programming Council and
Emorys political science department.
In a conversational yet passionate style, Nader dove into his speech,
rarely hesitating and only occasionally glancing down at his notes.
Nader fired off zingers on a variety of subjects, but saved his strongest
comments and criticisms for corporations.
We all grow up corporate, Nader said. He then dissected the
reasons why this happens. The fashion and cosmetics industries define
beauty, Nader said, and Americans buy into it. We look at cars the way
automakers want us to see themas status symbols, he continued.
Then a growing amount of his classmates deaths in automobile accidents
helped get Nader started in his fight to make automobiles safer (the dangers
posed by cars were documented in his 1965 book Unsafe at Any Speed), which
started him on his decades-long quest as a consumer protector.
Nader took his anti-corporate rhetoric to many levels throughout the evening
and expanded his scope in interesting ways.
If do not have a comprehensive public policy on violence,
Nader said. Our focus will only be directed on those forms of violence
that challenge the power structure. Criminal justice classes do not talk
about corporate crime, which takes many more lives than street crime.
To illustrate his point, Nader quoted recent government statistics stating
that around 15,500 people died of homicides, and that number is dropping.
Many more people, Nader saidagain quoting government statisticsdied
from medical malpractice, pollution and workplace toxins and trauma. All
of them, he defined as forms of violence.
Perhaps surprisingly, Nader did not discuss politicians or his well-documented
disillusionment with the two-party system until about two-thirds of the
way through his speech. One of the reasons why Nader ran on the Green
Party ticket during the last two presidential elections was the increasing
corporatization of both the Republicans and the Democrats. The parties
similarities tower over their dwindling differences, he said.
He spared no one from his wrath: not Bill Clinton and Al Gore (Civil rights
reforms and many environmental and consumer protection programs were at
their lowest levels in years during their administration, Nader said.),
nor our current president (George W. Bush is really a giant corporation
running for president disguised as a person, Nader quipped).
Nader drew on many serious emotions during his talk, but he was downright
hilarious as well. Particularly when discussing his days at Harvard Law
School (he graduated in 1958). Even back then, he noticed that things
appeared to be titled against the disenfranchised.
"We had a class called Landlord/Tenant," he began.
"We never got to the tenant!" Another class was creditors
rights. But we didnt have course on debtors remedies.
Each comment drew sustained laughter.