Nader’s Utopia: The World According to Ralph
Posted on Dec 21, 2009
By Chris Hedges
Ralph Nader’s new novel, “Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us,” is a window into the world the consumer advocate and independent presidential candidate wishes he could create. It is a world where the corporate state is dismantled, citizens are restored to power and the inequities and injustices meted out to the poor and the working classes are reversed. Nader describes his book as a “practical utopia.”
“Basically this book was written out of frustration,” Nader tells me when we meet on a Saturday afternoon in Princeton, N.J. “Increasingly over the last 30 years the doors have shut on a lot of citizen groups in Washington, D.C. And every year, you put in your mental imagination, at least I did, ‘What did we need to have kept those doors open?’ Did we need more organizers? Did we need more media? Did we need more money? Did we need better strategies? Did we need ways to motivate millions of people who haven’t figured it out yet? And that’s why this book was so easy to write.”
The engines of reform in the bulky novel are 17 mega-billionaires or millionaires. It is an odd decision for a man who has spent his life making war on the power elite, but, as Nader notes, popular movements, along with labor and the press, are largely ineffectual or dead. The super-rich, he laments, “are probably all we have left.” His main characters include figures such as Warren Buffett, George Soros, Ted Turner, Yoko Ono and Phil Donahue. The names of the villains, also often real-life characters, are mangled. Grover Norquist, for example, becomes Brovar Dortwist. The evil Dortwist owns a Doberman named Get’Em.
The super-rich ignite a progressive revolution using their enormous wealth. They recruit and fund citizen movements to challenge corporate power and its political puppets in Washington. The rich bring to the citizen movement what in reality it desperately lacks—billions in funding. The money, some $15 billion, makes it possible to sustain grass-roots movements to topple the oil industry, the insurance industry, arms manufacturers, the corporate media and Wall Street.
The book is Nader’s quixotic answer to Ayn Rand’s 1957 novel “Atlas Shrugged,” a celebration of raw capitalism and one of Alan Greenspan’s favorite works. Rand’s book is more than 1,000 pages long, so Nader, coming in at just above 730 pages, has at least beaten his nemesis in economy of style. By the end of the book, everything Nader has fought to achieve for decades is accomplished. Popular democracy triumphs. There is an ascendancy of independent third parties. An independent press challenges the status quo. There is universal not-for-profit health care for all Americans. Vibrant labor unions defend the working class. Flourishing public schools educate the rich and poor alike, and pot is legal. There is something endearing and even touching about Nader’s faith in the good.
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“Do liberals and progressives think that by putting out great documentaries, great books, great exposés—and we’re in the golden age of muckraking—something is going to change with the two-party tyranny, oligarchic and corporate control of Washington?” he asks. “If they think they’re going to change anything, year after year, they are living a dystopia. And between a dystopia on the ground, one that’s at least 30 years old, and this proposal, I think this one has a higher probability.”
The trigger to the popular revolt occurs when Buffett is watching the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina on television. The fictional Buffett reacts to the disarray and human suffering by taking truckloads of supplies to the embattled residents of New Orleans. An elderly woman encounters him delivering relief supplies, grabs his hands and tells him, “Only the super-rich can save us!” This call to arms haunts Buffett on his way back to his home in Omaha. He decides to convene a gathering of the wealthy, or at least wealthy people with a conscience, in Maui in January 2006 to retake America.
The fantasy of the rich going to the rescue of ordinary Americans is born out of Nader’s deep despair over the decline of our democratic mass movements. It will take angels—and this is what the super-rich become in the book—to descend from the heights to save the country from corporate neofeudalism.
“I think something’s happened—50 years of looking at screens,” Nader reflects. “The young generation is spending 50 hours a week at least in front of the Internet, television and video games. Two-to-5-year-olds, in a survey [published in October], … watched 32 hours of television and DVDs a week. Two-to-5-year-olds! We don’t tend to weigh the consequences. When you’re in virtual reality—it’s not like they’re watching a re-creation of the Federalist discussion—then something happens. They don’t know what a town meeting is like. They don’t know what the words civic engagement mean.”
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