Consumer advocate Ralph Nader, at his scolding, mocking best, had tough words for many of America's institutions, from those Greyhound buses that go hurtling down the highways heedless of speed limits to the gray structures like Harvard Law School, Nader's alma mater. "If an institution is dull, that's its camouflage," he advised the Circle.
His sharpest barbs were reserved for President Carter and the Congress and his complaint was the complaint that Nader has brought again and again against the powerful - their failure to grapple with the nation's structural problems, their refusal to face old and chronic perils with fresh ideas.
So the problems persist and become more intractable. Corruption, incompetence, stupidity and the undue influence of vested interest get in the way of product safety, conservation of resources, clean air and water, rational economic development, and ultimately the dream of a mature and open society.
Nader began his talk with nostalgia for the small town environment in Connecticut where he was raised. He ended it with nostalgia too, pleading for the grass roots political organization that might make his consumer movement a more telling voice in the American political process.
By Kenneth O. Hartnett (City Editor, Boston Herald American, Boston, MA)