Nader's Utopia: The World According to Ralph

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.

"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 exposes-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

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."

"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

"What would the framers of the
Constitution say about the state of our country today?" Nader asks.
"Well, they would say that the important parts of the Constitution are
a dead letter. They are being ignored. Look at the equal protections
clause between corporations as entities and real human beings. The
declaration-of-war clause is dead. The one thing the framers never
anticipated was that a branch of government-judicial, executive or
legislative-would ever give up its power willingly to another branch.
They didn't anticipate Congress abdicating its power to the executive
branch. And it's getting worse and worse."

"Appropriation power is supposed to start
in the House," Nader says. "Who's kidding who? It starts in the Office
of Management and Budget. So as a result they didn't give us any
revenue. No American can challenge this in a court of law, because they
would not have any standing to sue. The case would be thrown out. And
members of Congress don't have standing to sue over this violation of
the Constitution, of their own authority. The only one who may have
standing to sue is the attorney general, and the attorney general is
not going to sue the president. So that's a very serious situation.
We're getting a de facto destruction of the separation of powers.
Madison and others did not want anybody but Congress to deliberate and
take our country to war. They were adamant about this. In The New York
Times, after Obama's [Dec. 1] speech, they had on the jump page a
little paragraph that said President Obama will expand the war into
Pakistan, if he can work with a weak and dysfunctional Pakistan
government. Hello? Who gave him authority to do that? Is he going to
the Air Force Academy in a year to talk about the war in Pakistan? We
have accepted, as a people, that the president can go anywhere in the
world, with any troops, at any time, under any pretext. Period."

"There are a lot of good people in this
country who may not agree on some things, but they agree a lot on
things that the mass media never emphasizes," Nader says. "But they've
persuaded themselves they're powerless. Why didn't you show up? It
doesn't make any difference. I was busy. Busy, doing what? Well, I had
to take the kids to soccer practice. Half of democracy's showing up.
There is demoralization. How do these super-rich people turn the
motivation to action? How do they turn a demoralized, powerless
population to action? You start with imagination. William Blake said
his residence was his imagination. That's what's been squeezed out of
us and out of our children. And children are the most imaginative human
beings, but they have their imagination squeezed out of them with
standardized testing and rote learning, etc., etc. We've got to make
real-life discussions like this exciting so they happen again and

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