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Ralph Nader i s a renowned and effective crusader for consumer rights, advocate of general public rights, and environmentalist. His opposition to big insurance companies, “corporate welfare,” and the “dangerous convergence of corporate and government power,” constantly brings him into conflict with business and government. He was born to Nathra and Rose Nader (both of Lebanese origin), on February 27, 1934, in Winsted, Connecticut. It was probably Nathra Nader’s love of politics that inspired Ralph to become a lawyer and a political scientist. Ralph graduated magna cum laude from the Woodrow Wilson School of International Affairs of Princeton University in 1955 with a major in government and economics. He continued at Harvard Law School and graduated in 1958 with honors. As a student at Harvard, Nader became interested in the automobile industry and researched the design of automobiles. In his article “The Safe Car You Can’t Buy,” published in The Nation in 1959, he concluded, “It is clear Detroit today is designing automobiles for style, cost, performance, and calculated obsolescence, but not… -for safety.”
After finishing his studies, he served in the United States Army for six months in 1959 before working as a lawyer in Hartford and teaching at the University of Hartford. In 1964 he began work in the office of then Assistant Secretary of Labor Daniel Patrick Moynihan.
Nader continued his earlier research on the automobile industry and in 1965 published Unsafe at Any Speed, a study that illustrated the unsafe designs of many American automobiles, especially those of General Motors. General Motors retaliated in part by surveilling Nader. Nader filed suit and, in a case decided by the New York Court of Appeals in 1970, he received a public apology and net settlement of $284,000. He also became an advisor to a Senate subcommittee on automobile safety.
Nader was successful in getting Congress to pass the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act in 1966, the Wholesome Meat Act in 1967, and the Clean Air Act and Freedom of Information Act in the 1970s. He also played a key role in the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission. In the early 1980s Nader spearheaded a powerful lobby against Federal Drug Agency approval for massscale experimentation with artificial lens implants. He went on to create an organization of energetic young lawyers and researchers known as “Nader’s Raiders.” They produced systematic exposes of industrial hazards, pollution, unsafe products, and governmental neglect of consumer safety laws. He has also continued to work for consumer safety and for the reform of the political system through his group Public Citizen.
Nader launched a third party in 1990 focused on the issues of citizen empowerment and consumer rights and to address campaign finance reform, worker and whistle-blower rights, and class-action lawsuit reforms. Nader ran for president as an independent candidate in 1992. In 1996 and 2000, he ran as a nominee of the Green Party with Winona LaDuke as his vice-presidential running mate. In 2004 he ran as an independent with Green Party activist Peter Miguel Camejo as his vice-presidential nominee.
- Patricia Cronin Marcello, Ralph Nader: A Biography (Greenwood Press, 2004);
- Ralph Nader, Unsafe at Any Speed (Knightsbridge Publishing , 1991);
- Ralph Nader, The Ralph Nader Reader (Seven Stories Press, 2000).