In the beginning, Ralph Nader was often right. In 1965, the publication of Unsafe at Any Speed changed the face of the automobile industry and made his a household name. The Winsted, Connecticut native became synonymous with consumer activism, and earned the designation time and again, revealing alarming and potentially harmful corporate actions and alerting consumers and government agencies to perils unknown. That was last century.
As the current century got underway in earnest, Nader was campaigning for the office of President of the United States, appearing on the November 2000 ballot in states across the country, most notably New Hampshire and Florida, as it turned out. Because in those states, Nader’s vote total exceeded the margin by which George Bush defeated Al Gore. And, so the argument goes, had he not been a “spoiler,” most of those votes would have gone to Gore, who would then have won the Electoral College outright in addition to the popular vote, avoiding the Florida recount debacle and the U.S. Supreme Court decision that ultimately decided the election’s outcome for Bush.
The rest, as they say, is history. And a whole lot of columns. (For the record, Nader received 22,188 votes in New Hampshire; Bush’s margin over Gore was 7,211 votes. In Florida, after the aborted recount, Bush won the state by 537 votes out of 5.9 million votes cast. Nader received 97,488 votes. On the ballot in 43 states, he won 2,882,995 votes, or 2.74 percent of the popular vote.)
Fast forward to 2013, and Nader’s latest book, which is neither modest in length, title or time period. The book tour for “Told You So: The Big Book of Weekly Columns,” which is hefty if not heavy, brought Nader, at age 79, to the Barnes & Noble at the Shoppes at Farmington Valley in nearby Canton on July 13, where stories were told, books were sold, and advice offered.
The Table of Contents – which runs 11 pages – indicates that “Big Book” is no euphemism. The final column, circa 1972, is listed in the “Golden Oldies” category and begins on page 507. The bulk of the entries, however, were written in the Bush and post-Bush era, between 2002 and 2012 – in other words, after the extraordinary 2000 election.
The book’s publisher says it provides a “panoramic portrait of the problems confronting our society and provides examples of the many actions an organized citizenry could and should take to create a more just and environmentally sustainable world.” Nader continues to criticize those in power and corporations, and raise issues including increasing the minimum age.
Certainly a great many subjects are covered substantively in the book, and Nader spoke easily and expansively to a substantial audience of the curious and the book-buying snaking through the Barnes & Noble aisles. (Autographs, of course, were free.) Any rear-view mirror retrospective on Nader, however, cannot help but be seen through the prism of 2000 as well as 1965, and the consumer action organizations he launched. Which may explain the volume of columns since his 2000 presidential run, and as the cover boldly states, the reminder directed to the reader (or even the passer-by), that Nader “Told You So,” even lately.