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Nader’s Utopia: The World According to Ralph

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Posted on Dec 21, 2009
Collage from fly navy and soundfromwayout

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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“It’s probably the most important book I’ve ever written,” he says. “There is a magnitude and critical mass to the money necessary to facilitate the political and civic energies of the people, to put a lot of them on the ground full time.”

“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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thecrow's avatar

By thecrow, December 21, 2009 at 8:19 am Link to this comment

Buffet and the “super-rich”, Mr. Nader?

No thanks. Reminds me too much of that Twilight Zone episode “To Serve Man”.

http://michaelfury.wordpress.com/2008/08/20/the-ghost-in-the-machines-the-mystery-of-the-wtc-hard-drive-recoveries/

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By glider, December 21, 2009 at 8:07 am Link to this comment

Of course “only the Super Rich can save us” is a rhetorical tool of Nader’s to highlight the very logical conclusion that the collapse of our democracy into a corporatocracy is irreversible.  And to define exactly what society has lost as a consequence.  Perhaps, as I feel, Nader sees no reasonable mechanism for reversing what corporate power has built and is in effect screaming out loud in a useless atheists prayer for hope where there appears to be none.

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Leefeller's avatar

By Leefeller, December 21, 2009 at 7:50 am Link to this comment

Following in the foot stomps of Sarah Palin, Nader writes a book? Is Hedges going to tell us about Palin’s comic book next week,

I can’t wait for the movie!

So we go from Porn Convention to Nader Novel, thanks Hedges, for now the problems of this greatest nation in the world are solved. Nader has become a reeking capitalist like the author, ill repute has new meaning. 

One only need watch deadlock Congress to know we are screwed and just down the road ready to be tattooed.

Opportunists, plutocracy, lobbyists, Military Complex, Wall Street, an incomplete list of the real trickle down theory, my foot stomps never to success, or be successful, I hear music in the back ground, a fat lady singing, the real hope!

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By Jackie9, December 21, 2009 at 7:36 am Link to this comment

I’m a big fan of Ralph Nader and remember interviewing him for my college
newspaper many years ago. He was so inspiring that I started to work for
MassPIRG and that was a great experience. I wish more students would get
politically active instead of tweeting narcissistic nonsense all day long.

Nader’s new book sounds good and I’m definitely going to read it.

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By omygodnotagain, December 21, 2009 at 6:59 am Link to this comment

This is why a beneficient monarchy is widely considered the best form of government.

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By montanawildhack, December 21, 2009 at 6:13 am Link to this comment

“Only the Super Rich can save us” makes about as much sense as “only the aliens can save us.” 

I could go on but what’ the point….

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By Inherit The Wind, December 21, 2009 at 4:52 am Link to this comment

Now let me surprise you: I think this is a WONDERFUL way for Ralph Nader to express his philosophy and ideas.  Novels allow authors and thinkers to explore ideas without limits.  Philosophy is a whole lot more interesting when it’s expressed in a fictional form—think of Sartre, Camus, Tom Stoppard, and Harold Pinter, just to name a few.

The REAL issue is whether or not Nader has written a compelling novel or a major yawn.  One of the things that carries “Atlas Shrugged” is that much of it is a good read that you can’t put down (until John Galt’s 66 page monologue).  I found reading it to be alot like reading one of Clavell’s epics, like “Shogun”.

So I hope Nader has written such a compelling novel.  It doesn’t have to be the Great American Novel—it just has to be a good read in order to get his ideas across.

It’s interesting to remember that as wealthy and powerful as Warren Buffet, George Soros, Ted Turner and Bill Gates are, with ALL they control, they STILL don’t have the power and wallop of just one Goldman, Sachs.  More’s the pity as I trust THOSE guys more than G-S or GM.

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By ardee, December 21, 2009 at 3:35 am Link to this comment

I almost dread an article by or about Ralph Nader as it brings the cockroaches out of the woodwork. I do appreciate the comments of Mr. Dillon, who precedes me on this thread, but would note that his noting:
“Much as the idea sounds wonderful, I’m inclined to think the super rich, even Buffett, would not come to our rescue.  They are too wrapped up in their accumulation bing to actually want to make the commitment to us.”
does omit the fact that Mr. Buffet has refused a salary or other compensations for quite a few years now as he feels he is quite wealthy enough. An individual who gives away 2 billion dollars to the Gates Foundation deserves, I think, more than short shrift.

I would add, in anticipation of those who wrongly note that strings were attached to that gifting that benefited Buffet financially, that the original contract is obtainable on line and clearly states that the money must be spent according to a strict time line

I do not ,however, believe that Mr. Nader’s work of fiction shows us a realistic path to progress. I appreciate the work for its illustration of the problems besetting this democratic republic but think the solution lies with the masses and not with the elite. It almost seems that a lifetime of frustration is behind this book, that Ralph Nader, the ultimate populist of our time, has abandoned the citizens or rather thinks they have abandoned him.

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By C.Curtis.Dillon, December 21, 2009 at 2:58 am Link to this comment

Much as the idea sounds wonderful, I’m inclined to think the super rich, even Buffett, would not come to our rescue.  They are too wrapped up in their accumulation bing to actually want to make the commitment to us.  I’m also inclined to think that we don’t need the wealthy for change.  What we need are for people to get fed up being used and abused and to start mass movements to stop what is happening.  We could take back our government if we really wanted to.  But we are all too “busy” with other things do really make the effort.  Too many jobs and kid’s functions and ... the list is endless.  And, quite frankly, most of us have not been threatened enough to actually react.  We have our jobs and enough money to live OK and are afraid to stand up and “risk it all” to improve our lives.  Furthermore, unfortunately, everyone is thinking about themselves and not about the common good.  They think that only their concerns matter and that, as long as their lives are OK, they don’t have to worry.  The “I’ve got mine so I don’t want to worry about your” philosophy.  This is, of course, just what the power brokers want as it gives them the space to maneuver.  We all need to understand that we are in this together and only by showing compassion for those who have already been trampled can we avoid the inevitable boot on our necks sometime in the future ... when it’s our turn.

As for conservative vs. liberal ... if you really listen to the teabaggers and others on the right, they are saying the same things we liberals say only with a different emphasis.  They are afraid of the future but see the government as the threat, not the solution.  They have been misguided into believing that private corporations are benign, helpful organizations because, at one point in the past, many were.  They are wishful for a time when companies were forces for good, not the evil monsters they have become.  They deeply mistrust Wall Street and the government gifts but see the government as the bad guy.

If we are to correct what is going wrong, we need to find a way for conservatives and liberals to come together and find common ground.  If we remain divided, the corporations win and all of us lose.

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