Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 49
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
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“The Most Important Book I’ve Ever Written”: Ralph Nader Talks With Chris Hedges at Labyrinth

Ellen Gilbert

Anyone expecting Ralph Nader to be asked about the outcome of the 2000 Presidential election during his appearance last weekend at Labyrinth Books was in for a disappointment.

With just a bit of prompting from journalist Chris Hedges, Mr. Nader, introduced as “our greatest full-time citizen,” was off and running, discussing “the most important book I’ve ever written” for the standing-room only crowd.

Joking that at least “it’s shorter than Atlas Shrugged,” he accounted for his first novel’s substantial length by saying that he wanted “every page to be written as if this could happen.”

“This” refers to the basic premise of the book, Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us, in which 17 megabillionaires set out to radically transform American society. It is, in Mr. Nader’s words, a “detailed explication” of his “vision of what this country could become.”

Writing out of about “30-years’” worth of frustration at “having doors increasingly shut on people” without explanation, Mr. Nader said that he based his money-men on real-life people like Warren Buffett, George Soros, Bill Cosby, and Bill Gates, Sr., researching their backgrounds and envisioning how they would mobilize to save society. “None of them were angels,” Mr. Nader observed, “But that’s why they succeeded.” To “anybody who says ‘this is pie-in-the-sky,’” he said, “Here’s my answer.”

Noting that Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us offers a month-by-month strategy on how to dismantle the corporate state, Mr. Hedges asked Mr. Nader about “what happened to mass movements,” and why the activist had “turned to the elite for solutions to society’s problems.”

“Fifty years of looking at the screen,” answered Mr. Nader. “Something happens when a generation is plugged into DVDs and TVs for 50 hours a week. They don’t know what the phrase ‘civic engagement’ is,” he added to the evident satisfaction of the audience, who clapped at many of his remarks and stayed on through the book-signing, despite the absence of Labyrinth’s usual wine and cookies.

The feeling was mutual; after a call from a moderator for “one last question,” Mr. Nader said “Let’s keep going.” Using the additional time, he bemoaned the “trap” of the country’s two-party system. “When there’s no breaking point, you don’t have a moral compass,” he added.

Describing the current absence of representatives for ordinary people among Washington’s lobbyists and Congress’s apparent ceding of power to the president, Mr. Nader recalled what he apparently found to be a telling moment in 1951, when he was an undergraduate at Princeton. Studying the Federal Reserve in Professor Chandler’s Economics 101, students arrived in class to find copies of a pamphlet, published by the Federal Reserve, at each of their desks.

In response to Mr. Hedges’s question about how one might “shatter the hegemony of the corporate media,” Mr. Nader returned to the subject of his new book. Among the elderly 17 who mobilize are those “who want to be able to look their grandchildren in the eye,” he said. As a result, they create a mass media that reports on the reformers’ activities. He noted that the book is characterized by “the swift jolt” — the strategy of surprise. New energy scares the hell out of politicians.”

“I put a lot of my frustrated experience into this book,” the author of Unsafe at Any Speed commented. “Can you imagine the sense of freedom? I didn’t have to put a single footnote in it. If I wrote this as non-fiction,” he added, “Nobody would believe me.”

Mr. Nader reported that so far he has travelled to 23 cities and that the book has received good press, although the New York Times has chosen not to review it. “Don’t get me started on them,” he said.

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