More than a century ago Charles Dudley Warner cogently observed that [p]olitics
makes strange bedfellows. Ralph Naders new book, Unstoppable: The Emerging
LeftRight Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State, inspired by the current state of
political dysfunction, advances the idea that the Left and the Right on the political
spectrum actually havein many instancesvery similar, if not identical goals. So by
becoming bedfellows, the Left and the Right together can make desired changes in
the policy arena that benefit both. In the past, he argues, political labels and stereotypes
have hindered cooperation among groups with different approaches and philosophies.
Convergence, which he defines as voluntary alliances for the common
good by positive-spirited persons of the Right and of the Left (p. x), can achieve
critically needed changes in public policy.Working alliances of liberals and conservatives
(LibCons) can make a major difference in many instances. Evidence of the efficacy
of convergence is based on prior successes of leftright convergence.
Why is the LibCon convergence so essential? Nader identifies the corporatist
state as the villain. Money is the lifeblood of politics; corporations spend vast sums on
self-serving lobbying to influence politicians and legislation at all levels of government.
The corporatist agenda is pursued at public expense. The mainstreammedia, dependent
on the bureaucracy for news content, is in a symbiotic relationship with government
and therefore is more a lapdog than an effective watchdog against government waste,
inefficiency, and undesirable practices. The media seem reluctant to publicize complicated,
detailed public-policy matters and opt for sensationalist, entertaining soundbites
rather than serious analysis of pressing political problems.
Although politicians may espouse the need for dramatic changes in policy to get
elected, once in office all elected officials face the same incentives: going along to
get along and raising funds for the next electoral contestprimarily from the deep
pockets of corporate America. Compounding the problems, says Nader, are political
appointees who were corporate executives and who are reluctant to engage in serious
conflict with the economic sector, to which they plan to return after leaving office. The
electorate has become disillusioned with politics, but Nader claims the LibCon alliance
can counter or greatly reduce the corporatist states immense and growing power.
Naders goal is to obtain LibCon cooperation, which in the past has been successful
from time to time but evanescent. Conservative think tanks and organizations may
be less than enthusiastic participants in LibCon activities if they are dependent on
corporations and their foundations for financial support. Leftist groups are similarly
also influenced by their financial contributorsfor example, unions, which expect their
advocacy organizations to be vocal in their demands and protective of their established
narratives. LibCon alliances can produce outcomes beneficial to both sides, but only if
traditional allegiances are realigned so that broader objectives can be achieved.
Broadly speaking, Nader insists that transparency in government actions and
accountability are LibCons basic objectives and points out that the Obama administration,
despite campaign promises, has failed to deliver either. In chapter 4, he lists
and explores briefly some two dozen proposed redirections and reforms (p. 65) for
convergent action. Most of these reforms would be heartily endorsed by everyone
who is not a bureaucrat, a politician, a lobbyist, or a political hanger-on. Who, for
example, would oppose auditing of the Defense Department budget annually; promoting
efficiency in government contracting and spending; pushing community selfreliance;
defending and extending civil liberties; getting tough on corporate crime;
ending corporate welfare; expanding direct democracy via initiative, referendum, and
recall; or opening up the electoral process by eliminating obstacles to the participation
of independent candidates and third parties?
Some of Naders proposals are more problematic, however. For example, he
opposes the patenting of life forms, including human genes (p. 105), but this prohibition
could discouragemedical research. Protecting children from commercialism and
its physical and mental exploitation and harm (p. 66) would, to many, be a parental
responsibility rather than the concern of some regulatory bureaucracy. Although action
by private entities may produce market outcomes that are less than desirable, history has
repeatedly shown that there is absolutely no guarantee that government can produce
superior results. Evidence of bureaucratic failures are abundant. Libertarians will
applaud Naders call to end the ineffective war on drugs and unconstitutional
wars (p. 66), but convincing conservatives with more moderate views (translation:
garden-variety Republicans) to support such stances will likely be difficult.
Even moderate conservatives will question a few of Naders goals. He favors
automatic, cost-of-living increases in the minimum wage and asserts that research
showing the damaging effects of such increases long cited by economists has largely
been discredited. But most economistsconservative and otherwiseare still convinced
that minimum-wage increases disproportionately and negatively affect entrylevel
workers. Moreover, he seems to question moves toward freer trade. But even the
Clinton administration, hardly a bastion of right-wing ideas, pushed for the passage of
the North American Free Trade Agreement. In instances where Nader senses conservative
resistance might surface, he selectively and briefly quotes the paragons of freemarket
thoughtAdam Smith, Milton Friedman, Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig von
Mises, and Russell Kirkto buttress his arguments.
As always, in sweeping proposals such as those set out in Unstoppable, the devil is
in the details. Nader wants LibCons to reform health care and to push for environmentalism
(p. 66), but a consensus on how such broad and complex objectives should
be achieved and what is involved is very difficult if not impossible. Other than misanthropes,
no one favors unemployment, homelessness, hunger, pollution, or various other social ills, but the salient issue is how these problems can best be solved.
The concept of convergence has an innate appealWhat else can be done to
change politics as usual?and Nader should be applauded for looking beyond
labels and stereotypes to address serious economic and social problems from a different
perspective. His agenda is thought provoking, even if not totally persuasive, and
deserves serious consideration and discussion by anyone who finds the current political
dynamic disturbing. A dialogue based on the ideas in Unstoppable is urgently needed
and long overdue. Nader concludes his work with a letter addressed to billionaires that
seeks funding to build alliances and energize the new coalitions. Lets hope that the
billionaires wealth wasnt acquired through the machinations of the corporatist state!
Finally, LibCons may well succeed in changing at least some of the perverse
aspects of public policy. Indeed, even individuals can make a difference. Cons should
remember that Senator Ted Kennedy was the prime mover in Congresss deregulation
of the airlines in the 1970s, which then resulted in the deregulation of most of
the transportation industry. Now we learn that Ralph Nader has a libertarian streak.