The Self-Made Man: Ralph Nader

Here at TSB, we talk a lot about hard work being a key ingredient to success, and perhaps the most important ingredient. Talent, opportunity, and aptitude are all good, but at the end of the day, you have to get up off your ass.

Really, hard work is important no matter what you do. Some self made men don’t have money as a concrete end goal; maybe their goal is advocacy or social/political change. They’re not entrepreneurs in a traditional sense, but they have to put in as much time and elbow grease as any other self-starter.

Ralph Nader, this week’s Self Made Man, is one of those people. Before he turned into the dour, gloomy guy who runs doomed campaigns for president every four years, he was a dynamic public safety advocate who devoted the greater part of his life and career to making the world better for the rest of us.

After studying law at Harvard and serving in the Army, Nader became an attorney in Hartford, Connecticut, and started writing about consumer safety in the Harvard Law Record. His biggest concern was automobile safety, which turned into a book, Unsafe at Any Speed, in 1965. His chapter on the Chevy Corvair, which had over 100 lawsuits pending against it due to accidents involving spins and rollovers, pissed off GM so much that they hired private investigators to tap his phones and dig into his personal life.

They also hired prostitutes in an attempt to trap Nader in a compromising situation that would discredit his character, and therefore his findings. If you ever thought he seemed a little skittish and paranoid on the campaign trail, there was a reason for that.

Nader’s efforts led to the passage of the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act in 1966, as well as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which mandated better safety features for cars.

Never one to rest on his laurels, Nader used the publicity generated by his book to write dozens more, exposing corruption in both the public and private sector. He was a leading voice in the environmental movement of the 1970s, as well as the anti-nuclear power movement, and inspired an army of young activists (known colloquially as Nader’s Raiders) to trek out to DC and help him with his various projects.

More recently, Nader has been painted by the media as a spoiler and a killjoy, and he did sound a bit crazy calling Barack Obama an Uncle Tom back in 2008, but he’s really someone who has built his life and career around the strong, basic principle of a safe and fair democracy, often at a high cost to his own safety.

The phrase ?tireless efforts? gets thrown around a lot, but it really applies to Ralph Nader’s work ethic. The guy never stops fighting. Here’s a clip of him talking about his plans for 2016 and beyond.

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About Dave Kiefaber Dave Kiefaber is a Baltimore-based writer who regularly contributes to Adfreak and the Gettysburg Times. His personal website is at