It’s unfortunate that Ralph Nader is remembered as the “spoiler of the 2000 election” these days, rather than as “the founder of modern consumer protection.” It used to be the case that automobiles were extremely unsafe to operate. There were no regulations that we, nowadays, take for granted like seat belts and airbags. He fought against intimidation from General Motors as he laid bare the dangers of the automobile industry: private detectives hired by General Motors followed Nader into a bank, and looked over his shoulder to read what he was writing on a deposit slip. Furthermore, he helped carry out independent research on various federal agencies, such as the Federal Trade Commission and the Food and Drug Administration. He was a hero and a household name for Americans in the 70s. Yet, we deride him as “a spoiler and a radical.”
Such amnesia is a key feature of the United States according to Gore Vidal. We have forgotten the imperialist efforts of the United States and its deadly consequences. We have forgotten the crucial role of labor unions in securing good wages and high pensions. We have forgotten the deeply racist history of this country. We have forgotten the horrors of back-alley abortions before Roe v. Wade. What must we forget next? Bernie Sanders’ popularist campaign that was totally funded by small contributions from ordinary people? A habitable climate? Freedom from corporate tyranny?