BY ANDREW KALLOCH
I lounged in bed Sunday morning, sipping hot chocolate amidst the sunshine that flowed through my second-floor window in Ames. Then, an otherwise blissful Sunday was destroyed by a stunning announcement: Ralph Nader, HLS ’58, was running for President. My phone immediately began to ring-best friends, family members, long lost relatives-everyone was enraged. I joined in the act, of course, tossing about four-letter words and kvetching amount the 2000 Election as if it were yesterday. This impending sense of doom was surely overblown. After all, we were worried about a man who garnered 0.38% of the popular vote in 2004.
But the legacy of 2000 does not die easily, especially among weary Democrats desperate to recapture the White House. Robert Zimmerman, Vice President Al Gore’s New York campaign manager, even went as far as to state, “Ralph Nader’s legacy is the criminal negligence and corruption of the Bush administration.” This type of rhetoric was not particular surprising, with 2000 still boiling the blood of Democrats. What concerned me more, however, about the many reactions to Mr. Nader’s fifth bid for the Presidency, was the utter disdain expressed for his effort.
When informed of Mr. Nader’s independent bid for the Presidency, Senator Hillary Clinton responded, “Wow, that’s really unfortunate. I remember when he did this before. It’s not good for anybody, especially our country.” Senator Barack Obama responded, “His [Nader’s] function as a perennial candidate is not putting food on the table of workers.” These responses are ignorant of history and motivated by nothing other than political expediency. With all the vitriol thrown at Mr. Nader, it is easy to forget that this is not some anti-democratic, bigoted, fringe candidate. Indeed, Mr. Nader has been a consumer activist since his days as a writer for this publication in the late 1950’s. Since then, Mr. Nader has become one of the foremost advocates for consumers in the United States- a modern-day Muckraker in the mold of Upton Sinclair and Ida Tarbell. Contrary to the claims of the frontrunners for the Democratic nomination, people like Mr. Nader have accomplished a great deal for our country and perform an essential function in a democracy. The muckraking journalism of the turn of the century period led to the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act and Meat Inspection Acts of 1906, prison reforms, the protection of environmentally sensitive land, labor laws regulating hours and workplace conditions, and the dissolution of corporate monopolies like Standard Oil. Thanks to Mr. Nader and his non-profit Public Citizen, seat-belt laws and automobile safety requirements were enacted in the 1960s, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Environmental Protection Agency, and Consumer Product Safety Commission were all created.
Even President Theodore Roosevelt, who criticized the tactics of investigative journalists and even first gave them the pejorative label of Muckrakers, understood the important function they play in the life of a democracy. “There should be relentless exposure of and attack upon every evil man. . .[and] every evil practice. I hail as a benefactor every writer or speaker, every man who, on the platform, or in book, magazine, or newspaper, with merciless severity makes such attack.” Roosevelt’s cogent remarks were echoed by Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska Sunday, who, in response to Mr. Nader’s bid, stated, “I think democracy should be about choices, and certainly people who have something to say should offer themselves as legitimate candidates for president.”
There is little question that Ralph Nader is a legitimate candidate for president. Ms. Clinton may call Mr. Nader’s presidential bid “a passing fancy”, just as President Clinton referred to Mr. Obama’s campaign as a “fairy tale,” but Muckraking is not going away. Indeed we need more people dedicated to investigating abuses of power by government and corporate America. Just last week, the Federal District Court in San Francisco shut down Wikileaks, an online site dedicated to exposing the illegal and unethical conduct of corporations and governments, in an effort to protect trade secrets. The anonymity of the Internet is a powerful ally in the Muckrakers’ mission to expose misdeeds at the highest levels of power. The courts must not allow the government’s increasingly deferential stance toward corporations to jeopardize the fundamental mission of the First Amendment.
Likewise, we as voters must not allow our allegiance to a chosen candidate or party to blind us from the great work that activists like Mr. Nader have done and must continue to do. By seeking the nation’s highest office, Mr. Nader has thrust himself, and his message, back into the public light. This publicity is crucial to the success of the Muckrakers, whose opponents in corporate America spend billions of dollars a year convincing the public that their products are strong and their politics spotless. Petrochina is not going to advertise to the world its links with an oppressive and murderous regime in Sudan. Nike will not have Tiger Woods or Tom Brady inform the American public about the company’s use of child labor in the Third World. No, these duties fall upon a cadre of courageous and bold investigators known as Muckrakers. Mr. Nader is one of them. And instead of kowtowing to the partisan politics of our age, let us be proud that our nation embraces not only the Muckrakers’ right to unearth the evils which threaten our Republic, but also their freedom to seek the nation’s highest office.
Andrew Kalloch is a 2L.