The Nader of Honesty

Ralph Nader is an interesting character. He is famous as a crusader, but like Don Quixote in “Man of La Mancha,” his crusades are not always against real villains. And like Quixote, his exploits have been built up in stories so that reality no longer matters much.

Crusade against the Corvair

A couple of points will illustrate this. First, Nader rose to fame based upon his attack on the automobile industry, most notably the Chevrolet Corvair. His book Unsafe at Any Speed featured that car in its opening salvo, and GM ultimately abandoned the inexpensive and novel car for a more-ordinary Nova.

But was the Corvair actually the deathtrap that Nader very sensationally made it out to be? No. First, GM won all of the cases that went to trial except one — and in that one case, the car was held to be 1/8th responsible for the injuries. (GM, of course, had to pay for all of it, as they had the deep pockets that people like Nader rely upon.)

Second, later reports noted that the Corvair’s real safety record compared favorably with other cars:Corvair_tests

They immediately follow this statement by suggesting that Nader was right even though he was wrong — that he was doing the right thing even as he was utterly trashing the reputation of businesspeople and American companies, because the free enterprise system cannot be allowed to be “unfettered.” And many people, “even the well-informed,” are fed nonsense like this and believe it.

A Seductive Story

A second aspect of this particular campaign of Nader’s is what General Motors did about him. Because of his involvement in various lawsuits (more than 100) against GM about the Corvair, someone at GM hired a private detective to find out who Nader was. (His book was not yet published, but most stories get this timeline wrong.) GM’s attorney spent a total of $6,700 on this exercise. Nader, whose team of investigative reporters was digging into the lives of countless executives, exposing their personal information and impugning them at every turn, was outraged that they would actually investigate him.

But complaining about this didn’t sound sexy enough to get him the public outrage he needed. It wasn’t seductive enough … but that was it: Seduction! The evil General Motors was going to try to lure Ralph Nader, the untouchable, unimpeachable crusader, into a compromising position! That would do it!

Here is the incident as originally reported:

“Sunday evening, February 20, Nader left his room in northwest Washington and went up the street a couple of blocks to a drugstore. He was standing at the magazine rack when a young attractive brunette he had never seen before approached and said “Pardon me. I know this sounds a little forward. I hope you don’t mind, but can I talk to you?” She said a few of her friends often got together to discuss various problems of foreign affairs. They wanted to get all viewpoints. Would he join them? Nader was dumbfounded. Trying to get rid of her politely, he said he was from out of town. But the girl persisted. Oh, she said, that’s alright. There was a meeting that night. Nader said he wasn’t interested and turned his back. The girl left.”

You see, this incident — and one other, some time later, in which a woman asked for help moving furniture — these are “seductions” in Nader’s mind, and this is how they’ve been reported ever since on the left. Consider these examples, in which I’ve italicized the relevant bits. First is Ralph Nader’s own 2008 presidential campaign site:

Forty-two years ago, a young attorney named Ralph Nader wrote a book titled Unsafe At Any Speed. In the book, Nader exposed how cars were unsafe and how they could be made safer. What was the auto industry’s response? They hired spies to tail Ralph. They hired beautiful women to seduce him.

Here’s an article about Nader’s attempt to build a monument to himself, a “Museum of Tort Law”:

The main point of the exhibit, though, will not be to illustrate a defect but to portray a privacy case, Nader v. General Motors Corp. In anticipation of the release of Unsafe at Any Speed, Nader’s 1965 book concerning the Corvair, GM hired a detective to investigate Nader, tapping his phones and even hiring prostitutes in an attempt to trap him in a compromising situation.

Wikipedia simply reports the reporting:

In early March 1966, several media outlets, including The New Republic and The New York Times, reported that GM had tried to discredit Nader, hiring private detectives to tap his phones and investigate his past, and hiring prostitutes to trap him in compromising situations.[16][17]

That’s a tremendous amount of weight to put on the drugstore encounter. But Nader could see evils, whether there or not. Just as he’d seen evil in the Corvair, and the business decisions involved in it, even though later proven wrong.

Worst [Reporting] of All Time?

Time magazine, many years later, still pushed the narrative that the Corvair was unsafe — and the writer of this caption bought into this, including it as one of the “Worst Cars of All Time” despite the fact that he personally liked the car:

Rear-engine cars are fun to drive and even more fun to crash. While rear-engine packaging offers enormous advantages, putting the vehicle’s heaviest component behind the rear axle gives cars a distinct tendency to spin out, sort of like an arrow weighted at the end. *** Even so, my family had a Corvair, white with red interior, and we loved it.

It occurs to me that Porsche owners and many other sports car enthusiasts will be surprised to learn of their cars’ inherent instability. Decades ago, I did a fair amount of stunt driving in a Corvair; it performed well indeed.

The Corvair was a good, economical car that actually handled well and which had a safety record comparable to or better than other cars at the time. It was killed by a young Ralph Nader out to make a name for himself, and his strategy worked. He was able to parlay his essays against automobiles (as a brand-new personal injury lawyer) to a job in Congress, to Congressional hearings, to national media-darling fame, and a lawsuit against GM that resulted in the largest-ever private court settlement that had ever been paid. From this, his anti-business empire was funded. The anti-business media put Nader on cover after cover, and made him the fourth-most influential person in America. (Interestingly, #3 was a labor-union leader.) All based upon Nader’s sensationalism-over-honesty in a cause (anti-capitalism) the Left favored.

Not Settling for Honesty

Even the description of that court settlement has the “Nader-style honesty” about it: Wikipedia notes the settlement, but then says:

“Nader’s lawsuit against GM was ultimately decided by the New York Court of Appeals, whose opinion in the case expanded tort law to cover “overzealous surveillance”.[18]

But in fact the case was not “ultimately decided” by any court; all the appellate court did was review an early decision not to dismiss the case. Instead, the case was settled out of court — and Nader’s perpetual funding by the personal injury lawyer industry was assured. (He lost that lawyer funding much later when he decided to run for office — against Democrats.)

The Jihad Against Business Expands

There is a sad coda to all of this — in the early GM detective fiasco, the detective admitted asking around to see if Nader was anti-Semitic. Apparently not, at the time, we’re told — but later, he got into the habit of preaching to Muslim audiences how the evil “Israeli puppetmasters” secretly controlled Washington and Nader argued to get rid of the Jewish state. It would be a few years before Barack Obama would make this notion trendy; Nader was too early.

===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

  • That sounds like quite an adventure!

    Now the car is considered safe — but the country no longer is.

    ===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

  • in 1969 , I drove down to climb the volcanoes in Mexico with my buddy Gary Neptune in his later model Corvair with Michelin tires . It was , and was considered , a great car .

    The original model was one of the most influential designs of its generation , copied by BMW for years .