Only The Super-Rich Can Rescue Nader's Fictional World
SCOTT SIMON, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.
Ralph Nader is in our studios this morning with his new big book.
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SIMON: That's it. Hear that on the table?
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SIMON: Seven hundred and thirty-three pages, a work of fiction called "A Practical Utopia: Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us," in which some of the country's richest people, including Warren Buffett, George Soros, Ted Turner, Ross Perot, Barry Diller, Bill Cosby, Paul Newman, Warren Beatty and Yoko Ono, hold secret meetings in Maui and plot the wholesale reform of American society, from the air we breathe to the national anthem we sing, which they would like to be "America the Beautiful."
Mr. Nader, thanks so much for joining us.
Mr. RALPH NADER (Author, "A Practical Utopia: Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us"): Thank you, Scott.
SIMON: And tell us about these heroes - I hope I pronounce it correctly - you call them the Meliorates.
Mr. NADER: Yes, that's what they chose to call themselves to better society. They really were sparked by Warren Buffett's experience in the days after Katrina, when he went down with a convoy of supplies.
SIMON: You're talking about your Warren Buffett.
Mr. NADER: Yes.
SIMON: As opposed to...
Mr. NADER: It's all fiction. And he was passing out supplies to desperate, terrified families and a grandmother grabbed his hands, looked into his eyes and said, Only the super-rich can save us. And that haunted him all the way back in the car to Omaha, Nebraska. And within a few weeks he'd assembled these 16 other billionaires and mega-millionaires, very carefully selected. And they had a plan to mobilize the citizenry in every congressional district and take on the corporate goliaths and their political allies in Washington.
So this isn't charity or philanthropy. It's an intricate strategy and tactics in a power collision of titanic proportions.
Mr. NADER: Yeah.
SIMON: I'll tell you the logical problem I had...
Mr. NADER: Yeah.
SIMON: ...with the premise of the book. I say this with respect, novelist to novelist. Ted Turner, George Soros, Ross Perot. You have Leonard Riggio, (unintelligible) chairman of Barnes & Noble, other billionaires. They didn't build their fortunes by the kind of actions you advocate. I mean in their time, before they became beloved, esteemed elder statespeople, they were accused of being greedy and selfish and squelching unions, and squelching the competition and battling unions.
So what makes them change?
Mr. NADER: That's what makes them so effective: they weren't angels, they know exactly the vulnerabilities, vanities and insecurities of these giant CEOs. And that's what makes this book so gripping. Leslie Stahl took it on her vacation last month and wrote me a nice note saying she found it engrossing, creative and funny.
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Mr. NADER: I said I'll take all three.
So there's a campaign by Saul Price who founded the Big Box discount store against Wal-Mart, very intricate to organize the workers. They set up a people's Chamber of Commerce for best practices by buying up businesses in various sectors of the economy. They start Congress watchdog groups, 2,000 in each congressional district with advocates. They have 400 recruiters stocked. That's the scale of it all.
And they start a clean elections party, which promises to go out of business after it gets its election reforms through Congress. And there's all kinds of insights here, the differences between the privileges of corporations and individuals. So they have jamborees where individuals turn themselves into corporations.
SIMON: What made you try this as form?
Mr. NADER: It's much more liberating. We don't have enough imagination in the country. The country is very discouraged and depressed. The polls show that - 81 percent last year say that America is decline. And that was before the deep recession.
And you see, you go up to Congress and you try to get things done, and all they say is it isn't going to happen. It's not practical to have the single-payer health insurance. So I thought we could take people to a higher level and imagine new possibilities. Everything that these mega-millionaires try to accomplish or accomplish: $15 billion, which is a fraction of Warren Buffett's fortune.
SIMON: You mentioned the health care overhaul debate going on. Let me follow up with a practical question. As you view and listen to that debate, do you see the influence of major contributors in that debate?
Mr. NADER: Yes. The Blue Dog Democrats, for example, have vastly out-raised money from the health insurance companies, the drug companies, than more progressive Democrats. That's - and of course, the Republicans are cashing it in. It's cash register politics all over again.
The problem is the majority-supported position by doctors, nurses and the people, a full Medicare for all with free choice of doctor and hospital, has no real champion in Washington, even though 83 members of the House signed on to HR676.
So that's what I do in this book. I say what would it take to get universal health care? Well, we take advocates in every congressional district. It would take mobilizing the citizenry, but it wouldn't take all that much once there's enough money and media to get it around.
And that's what I want to - I want to show people how real change can be made in this country that they can participate in. But these mega-millionaires provide a shoehorn, a catalyst. They give them a lift.
SIMON: Let me - I sent the word out that you'd be on our show.
Mr. NADER: Yeah.
SIMON: And I asked people to contribute questions, and I got some good ones. But overwhelmingly I got variations of ask him why the hell did he run for president in 2000? Does he hold himself responsible for what happened? And I would write back and I'd say, look, he's answered that many, many times on our show.
But let me give you a chance. Is there anything you'd like to add in 2009...
Mr. NADER: Ask them to ask Al Gore. He knows why he didn't become president. He won the popular vote, the electoral college tossed it into Florida. In dozens away it was taken or stolen from him, from Tallahassee, all the way to the Supreme Court - it stopped the Florida Supreme Court from a full recount.
You know, we have to get over this, unless we believe that the two parties own all the voters in this country. I mean voters keep saying they want a viable third party, they want choice, they're not getting enough choice, money is bringing those two major parties closer, closer together on the issues. All kinds of tax reform, military industrial complex, foreign and military policies. All these things are pretty similar by the two. And that's why we got to get over it.
And I want to really start people thinking about holding a lot of progressive, enlightened older super-rich who are not - they don't want make any more money. They want to help the country before they leave it. It's only the super-rich.org. Let's have your ideas.
SIMON: Let me toss you another question.
Mr. NADER: Yeah.
SIMON: Okay, a listener name Barry Hoekstra asks, What about the smart car? Is it unsafe at any speed?
Mr. NADER: Well, that remains to be seen. The Department of Transportation is going to have to test it. It has to meet all existing safety standards, that's for sure.
Mr. NADER: But you know, when you massively, you know, put the electronics in, it may raise different problems.
SIMON: And what's wrong with the National Anthem?
Mr. NADER: Well, that was...
SIMON: Why don't you like the one we have? Why don't your billionaires like the National Anthem?
Mr. NADER: That was a decoy and distraction strategy from the two right-wing radio talk show hosts, which I call Bush Bimbaugh and Pawn Vanity.
SIMON: Yes, that was real clever.
Mr. NADER: So really got them all distracted and they were really rumbling the whole country on this issue, while the mega-millionaires were organizing the people of this country.
SIMON: Mr. Nader, thanks so much for being with us this morning.
Mr. NADER: You're quite welcome
SIMON: Ralph Nader, his new book, his first novel, is "Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us."