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Nader’s Utopia: The World According to Ralph
Posted on Dec 21, 2009
By Chris Hedges
“The other thing is the massive entrenchment of corporate power,” he says. “The corporations have weakened the labor movement. The two parties, under the influence of corporate power, are converging. These corporations game the electoral process. Money and politics is cleverly distributed. They have deregulated the regulatory state. They are beginning to block the courtroom door. All the countervailing forces, which were built up in the late 19th century and the early 20th century to curb corporate power, are powerless.”
In the book, set in 2006, the handful of wealthy renegades work in secret for the first six months. They form alternative sources of power such as a People’s Chamber of Commerce to organize tens of thousands of small businesses. They buy time to saturate the airwaves with populist messages and distract right-wing talk show hosts, who have names like Bush Bimbo and Pawn Vanity, with the kind of faux controversies that are the staple of trash-talk television and radio. The movement, for example, proposes changing the national anthem from “The Star-Spangled Banner” to “America the Beautiful.” The talk show hosts swallow the bait.
“The dialogue is rather good on that,” Nader says.
The movement also persuades hundreds of inner-city schoolteachers to instruct pupils, when they pledge allegiance to the flag, to end with the phrase “liberty and justice for some,” instead of “for all.”
“Pawn Vanity and Bush Bimbo, they went nuts on that one for weeks,” Nader laughs. “And there’s even a congressional hearing on that. I put a lot of my frustrated experiences in this book. All the things you couldn’t really do, because the money wasn’t there. Can you imagine the sense of freedom? I didn’t have to use one footnote either. See, there’s utopian fiction in all of us, all of us who have struggled to improve their community or nation or world. And when we haven’t won, we do consciously or subconsciously say ‘If we only had this,’ or ‘If we only had that.’ If we don’t continue to elevate our imaginations we cannot envision possibilities.”
No progressive vision of heaven would be complete without the destruction of Wal-Mart, which occupies many pages, as well as electoral reform.
“There’s a section of the book on how they [those in the new movement] organize the most redneck, right-wing district in southwest Oklahoma against the chairman of the House Rules Committee,” Nader says. “I put a lot of my frustration in that too. There’s a lot of conversation about how conservative people started gravitating towards this movement, and why, and on what issues. As I said, they didn’t write anybody off. It’s a way to show that when you go down the abstraction ladder, to the daily lives of people, the so-called labels of conservative and liberals are not indelible. A conservative worker in Wal-Mart who wants a living wage will not say ‘I want to be paid $7.50 an hour because it helps Wal-Mart’s bottom line.’ When Toyota recalls cars because the throttle is sticking to the floor mat, is your reaction to the recall different if you’re a liberal or a Republican? Are you going to say ‘I still want the freedom to go onto a highway’? The discussions on cable and radio are about abstract, ideological conflicts. They are empirically stark. I wanted to show what would happen if you brought it down to people’s daily lives to appeal to their value system and sense of fair play. If I wrote this as nonfiction nobody would believe me. You have to write it as fiction. It gives you that imaginative elbowroom.”
“I went to Princeton and Harvard Law School,” Nader says. “We never talked about the commonwealth that the people owned. One-third of America’s public lands, plus what is offshore, belongs to the people. We own them. But the oil, gas, uranium and the gold and silver industries control them. They take our resources for nothing or five bucks an acre. A Canadian gold company discovered $9 billion worth of our gold in Nevada in public lands over a decade ago. They got ownership of it for $30,000 under the 1872 Mining Act. The Department of the Interior had to sell them the projected acreage over the mine for five bucks an acre. We grow up corporate, even in the Ivy League universities. The public owns the airwaves, along with trillions of dollars of government research and development, along with the pension funds that the corporations control. The corporations don’t care who owns anything, as long as they control it. All this money that Wall Street played around with, they didn’t own most of it. It was other people’s money. It was pension funds, mutual funds, but they controlled it. So what they [the new movement] did in this book was they educated people. They got hundreds of people around TV station buildings, two, three hours before the early evening news, and they had signs saying ‘PAY RENT,’ because the television stations use our airwaves free and have since radio started. We’re the landlords. They are the tenants, but they decide who says what and who doesn’t on radio and TV, and they don’t pay rent to the Federal Communications Commission.”
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