Ralph Nader pitches left-right alliances

By Kristen East

The Washington Times

Ralph Nader is at it again, this time on a mission that he says will bring America’s liberals and conservatives together in the fight against corporate overreach and government secrecy.

Building on a new book he has published, the longtime activist, author and political gadfly, now 80, on Tuesday hosted what he promised would be the first in a series of policy events exploring issues where the left and right can come together to fight voter disillusionment and what he says in the growing political clout of big corporations. There were more attendees than chairs at the event, held at the Carnegie Institute of Washington downtown.

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The book “is designed to generate a major discussion all over the country,” Mr. Nader said. “These left-right alliances could work at the local, at the state, at the federal level. The idea is to put forward a vision of many overdue redirections for our country and its place in the world.”

Mr. Nader argued there could be a “convergence” of liberal and conservative/libertarian activism — and a break in the capital’s endemic gridlock — if the news coverage did not focus so heavily on issues — such as abortion — where there is little common ground. He’s even formed an unlikely and much-discussed bond with anti-tax activist Grover Norquist on such issues as the need for greater government openness.

“There is a consistent, profound consensus among the American people as to the many directions our society must pursue,” Mr. Nader writes in “Unstoppable: The Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State.” “To be sure, there are consistent and profound differences as well, but the former far outweigh the latter and should not be subordinated to them.”

The press bears much of the blame, he said Tuesday.

“The role and the tactics of the news is to divide and rule people from the left and right and focus on areas in which they really disagree,” he said. “If [the media] concentrate on those areas, [then politicians] never get together on the areas in which they do agree, which happen to be more numerous and, in a number of ways, more fundamental to our democracy.”

That rang mostly true for the speakers and moderators participating in the eight separate panels throughout the day. The topics, drawn from Mr. Nader’s book, ranged from Wall Street crime and misdeeds to corporate welfare and the “commercialization of childhood.” Mr. Nader moderated three of the panels, and at other times sat off to the side of the room, hunched over in his chair and furiously scribbling notes.

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In the audience were law students and Washington policymakers, as well as supporters from a few of Mr. Nader’s past presidential campaigns.

Representatives from the National Lawyers Guild, Public Citizen, the Cato Institute and Tea Party Nation took turns going head-to-head on the panel topics, and often seemed able to find common ground.

Minimum wage was one topic that drew a consensus from all taking part in that particular panel.

Rod Unz, former publisher of The American Conservative, and Jim Hightower, a national radio commentator from Texas, were in agreement that the federal government should raise the minimum wage.

“This should not even be controversial — in Washington it isn’t,” Mr. Hightower said.

James Glassman, the chairman and CEO of Public Affairs Engagement, moderated the minimum-wage panel, and said Mr. Nader has written an “important book” about trying to find common ground between ideological adversaries.

“We don’t see a lot of that in Washington [but] it’s the only way we’re going to get our problems solved,” Mr. Glassman said. “In my time in Washington, people from both the left and right are positive-spirited.”

While partisan battles may continue to ensue on Capitol Hill, Mr. Nader said, the left-right alliance has worked to the public’s benefit many times in recent years, and events such as this one would help drum up support for his ideas.

“When looking at left-right alliance, we should really think that it may be a lot easier than we think,” he said. “[Start] by consciously having a split personality, where you put aside the areas of disagreement and focus on the areas of agreement. That’s often the hardest part to do when you’ve been fighting with each other for years. It’s hard to set them aside, and it also takes a lot of time.”

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