Since the 1965 publication of his landmark book Unsafe at Any Speed, Ralph Nader has been synonymous with consumer rights. His campaigns have led to mandating air bags in new cars and toughening the Freedom of Information Act, among other victories. With these successes have come setbacks, too, such as losing allies in Washington for his stubborn attacks on Congress. It was only a matter of time, then, before Nader got into politics himself -- first with an independent run for president in 1992, and now with a second try, as the Green Party's candidate of choice in several states.
Q: People describe you variously as a consumer advocate, an anti-business zealot, and a hero. How do you describe yourself?
A: As a full-time citizen. We all know that as private citizens we have to take care of our families and personal well-being. But, if we live in a democracy, we also have to be public citizens. We have to work on problems of the community -- making our government responsive, making the economy more beneficial to more people.
Q: A lot of people say they don't have time for public work.
A: It's just redefining work in terms of what you want to do with your life. Sooner or later, the more defined civic work is, the more it can become a paying occupation. Two hundred years ago, there weren't many people working in public health eradicating diseases or dealing with sanitation. After some medical findings and some good volunteer work, we now have tens of thousands of people who work in the public health area.