“Every city in America has a Jefferson Memorial. But if you’re looking for a memorial to Alexander Hamilton, stop looking. You’re living in it.” The columnist George Will wrote something along these lines many years ago.
Some people’s contributions stand out. Others make their impact so deep that they are not even recognized. Two individuals in current day America can be counted in this second category: Ralph Nader and Ron Paul.
Ralph Nader has been behind practically every product safety and environmental safeguard implemented in the United States for over 40 years. When still young he wrote a book, “Unsafe at Any Speed”, about General Motors and its Corvair car. The car seatbelt that we take for granted today is owing to Nader’s persistence. So too the airbag.
In the post Reagan era Nader realized there was a problem far bigger than consumer protection; the very notion of ‘government of the people, by the people, for the people‘ was being threatened by the growing political power of the corporation. The rising impact of Big Money in election campaigns resulted in both major political parties being beholden to the exact same interests, while spiraling costs put political office beyond reach of the average citizen, making a mockery of republican government. Elections are now megamillion dollar extravaganzas, with the presidential races costing close to $1 billion. And in a recent judgment epitomizing the arrival of the Corporate Age, the US Supreme Court has ruled that corporations (even foreign-owned) may spend without limit and without disclosure on American elections.
Many years ago Nader turned to promoting the public financing of elections, an uphill battle. His own electoral attempts have been unimpressive. That says nothing about his influence. The current “Occupy Wall Street” movement embodies practically all of what Nader has been saying all these years. Their slogan, “We Are the 99%”, symbolizes Nader’s repeated warnings about the rising inequality in America and its impact on democracy itself.
Congressman Dr. Ron Paul is distinguished by his earnestness and his marked lack of glib equivocation so common on Capitol Hill. Like the late Senator Byrd, Paul is wont to hark back to the American Constitution at a moment’s notice. Like Byrd, too, he carries a copy in his pocket. He believes that government has grown beyond all limits envisioned in the Constitution; a return to small government would end many of the problems heaped upon the country by successive administrations of both parties with their accomplice, The Federal Reserve. With the latter always available to print money, the executive and legislature have both felt free to spend their way to debt.
Among Republicans today, Paul is an anachronism, a true conservative in an era of neoconservatives. He has opposed every war. Echoing Senator George McGovern’s famous words, “Come home, America”, Paul believes the United States has no business playing World Cop. Because he speaks what he believes rather than what some consultant has told him will sell, the American media tends to treat him like a cranky uncle, “you know, lovable old fella but not a snowball’s chance in hell”. Through all this the former Air Force doctor has soldiered on, telling the truth at the risk of instant unpopularity. Who else, in the midst of a Republican debate this year, would declare that 9/11 was a blow back from what America had been doing in the Middle East for decades?
Like Nader, Ron Paul too may not have gone far in the polls. But his criticisms: filling the pockets of thugs abroad in the name of foreign aid, maintaining hundreds of military bases two decades after the Cold War, while the nation’s debt grows, have all registered slowly but surely with Americans. Many credit the birth of the Tea Party Movement to Ron Paul’s ideas. Though there are accusations of the Tea Party Movement being hijacked by corporate interests, the core elements of Paul’s constituency are antithetical to the corporate state. Time will tell.
Over three decades, Republican and Democratic politicians have abandoned the people, together enabling the rise of a single party ‘Corporatocracy’ that always reigns regardless of the faces that may adorn the White House or the Congress. With the popular movements they have spawned directly or indirectly, these two fearless public figures, Ralph Nader and Ron Paul, embodying the words below from the great American poet James Russell Lowell, have woven themselves forever into America’s political fabric.
They are slaves who will not choose
Hatred, scoffing, and abuse,
Rather than in silence shrink
From the truth they needs must think;
They are slaves who dare not be
In the right with two or three.
[from Stanzas on Freedom]
Niranjan Ramakrishnan is a writer living in the United States. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.