November 9, 2009

Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us: Chapter 5 Review

Bitterly Books is undertaking a chapter-by-chapter review of Ralph Nader's work, Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us. For the complete coverage of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us, click here.

You can read past chapter synopses here. Past reviews can be read here, and Viator's columns can be read here.


Branford Snell (his real name), in his review titled "MOVE OVER VONNEGUT, HELLER, CHAYEFSKY: RALPH NADER'S ROLLICKING SATIRICAL MASTERWORK," writes:

Nader's cinematic political novel describes in fascinating insider detail a titanic struggle between the "Meliorists," a team of 17 rebellious real-life retired (or elderly) super-rich billionaires/megamillionaires battling for the people, and the "corporatists," a formidable cabal of entrenched super-rich CEOs battling to retain their control of the federal government. [....]And the galactic battle for America is engaged.


First, I learned in this chapter that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency actually has black helicopters that they use for extralegal activities, as evidenced when they cast aside the limited sovereignty of the Cherokee Nation to drag Jack Soaring Eagle (introduced in Chapter 2!) off in handcuffs for taking part in the “pot protest.” Sadly, the Maui group did not make good on their promise to use solar energy for making “delicious stew!"(p.98), but the Sun God events demonstrated the practical utility of solar energy by featuring “a tall, lithe Goddess training an oversized magnifying glass on the wooden logo of one of the big energy companies until the concentrated power of the sun burned it to a crisp. ‘Who says solar is too diffuse to be practical?’ she asked the audience sweetly.”(p.168). Finally, the American people have a practical use for solar power that can overthrow the wooden company logos that have held us back for too long!

Nader has dedicated this chapter to the art of the tease. We are told that "Two prominent retired CEOs gave tell-all valedictory speeches at the Press Club, leaving the real estate and agribusiness industries reeling"(p.146), but are given no details from their shocking exposés. The CEO of Wal-Mart complains that Sol Price’s "very rich cohorts are all over us with squeeze plays that few besides people like us can understand"(p.150), and we’re left to speculate on the nature of the dark financial wizardry (probably more leveraged buyouts) that they employ. And then there’s Warren Beatty’s speech, written by Dick Goodwin:

[the] address was magisterial, studded with historical allusions that legitimized the fundamental changes in power, wealth, income, and priorities so logically and factually laid out in scintillating paragraph after paragraph. Fundamental democratic values undergirded every sentence and idea as proof against distortions, red-baiting, and right-wing casuistry. Goodwin deployed quotations from America's best political leaders of the past, and from revered conservative economists like Adam Smith, Herbert Simon, Friederich Hayek, and Milton Friedman, to deflect anticipated attacks from the corporations. He made the beauties of California's geography the focus of the announcement and wove otherwise dry facts about the devastating and cruel conditions into vibrant and sonorous rhetoric.(p.144)

We don’t get to read a word of it. What we do get is a solid 3.5-page monologue from Wal-Mart’s CEO bemoaning how you can’t run a chain of megastores selling cheap crap from overseas sweatshops without screwing your domestic workers.

We also get a devastating burn at the expense of the Democrats. "How on earth could the Democrats have failed to enlist Dick Goodwin in their battle for the White House in 2004? Did anyone remember any of John Kerry's speeches or campaign themes that year […]?"(p.144). We know that Goodwin could have saved the election single-handedly because his prodigious talent uses Warren Beatty’s history as “ director of political movies like Reds and Bulworth"(p.144), as a positive selling point.

Nader also spares our delicate sensibilities by declining to provide lurid details of the anti-Wal-Mart attacks from “the websites, those awful blogs with no sense of propriety and no barriers to rudeness”(p.148). And thank god for it. Those assholes always manage to drag a discussion down to its lowest level of discourse.

Some of the information provided in this chapter, especially when it concerns running as a third-party candidate, takes on new levels of meaning when viewed through the lens of Nader’s experiences. Wal-Mart decides not to publicly attack Sol Price as the force behind the assault on their stores because "everyone would marvel at his energy. We'd end up turning him into a sex symbol and watching him promote Viagra on TV"(p.152), and I am convinced that this is a Bob Dole reference. Of Beatty’s gubernatorial campaign, "One columnist wrote that the race was Warren's to lose"(p.145), but I’m not sure if Nader realizes how backhanded that compliment is. And the Maui group found that some of their cause’s applicants "were intensely idealistic but out of touch with the practical demands of the assignments, so Recruitment was engaged in a very large but kind winnowing process"(p.156). If Nader thinks you're out of touch with the practical demands of an assignment, then you’re a complete fucking lunatic.

It’s also worth noting that this chapter describes the press as hapless, incompetent, and easily bribed with a hot meal, as evidenced by the Maui group’s event where "an excellent sit-down breakfast would be served to the men and women of the fourth estate to put them in a receptive frame of mind"(p.159). They’re flummoxed because “they couldn't figure out whether it was just some eccentric rich guys on a justice lark or a bigger, more coordinated movement"(p.145). When they are flat-out lied to at the press conference mentioned above, they don’t bother with any follow-up investigation.

Nader continues to display his lyric mastery in this chapter, using words like “chugalugged”(p.148) in the context of a board of directors gathering before their meeting begins, and employing descriptive phrases like "pompous pitches from political promoters"(p.164). Sol Price’s wholesale superstores aren’t first out of the box, they're "first out of the big box"(p.151, emphasis added). Nader is not above using puns, either, as when describing Warren Buffett’s speech to the National Cattlemen's Convention. “After laying out the red meat of his argument”(p.141), he wins over the crowd by showing them that "the richest man in America was proposing a plan to put wheels on the wheels and 'steer' to victory"(p.142). As always, Ted Turner has some of the best lines in the chapter, calling their Sun God bikini orgy initiative "hotter than a nun's dream"(p.156). However, the best metaphor of the entire chapter is this one:
The radio attack dogs were baffled by the white-hot controversies erupting everywhere over real abuses of power. Their big advertisers kept calling to egg them on—but on to what, or whom? They were like drooling bloodhounds straining at the leash to hunt down their quarry, but they'd lost their sense of smell.(p.147)

The only odd passage was the CEO’s claim that "there are new blasts in the chute"(p.150). Is that a fart joke? Because otherwise I have no idea what it means.


This chapter had 21 triads and 9 big fucking lists.

Before we continue, I’d like to take a moment to note that I love Bill Hillman. Portrayed as a wild-eyed hillbilly from the frozen wasteland of Minnesota, he doesn’t make friends of the hoi polloi with his controversial “throw rocks, but pay attention” approach to advertising. He’s a straight-talking, shoot-from-the-hip type who impressed the Maui group and stole my heart. After delivering the 8th BFL of the chapter, he actually says "sorry for the tedious list"(p.164). After plowing through 164 pages of them, it’s about goddamn time for an apology.

Now, let’s look at the most impressive BFL in the chapter (if not the entire book):

[The news media] couldn't plausibly tar the assorted billionaire elders with the usual labels: fags, atheists, child killers, flag desecrators, feminazis, socialists, communists, anarchists, French, national nannies, cop-haters, peaceniks, disarmers (gun controllers), traitors, the blame-America-first crowd.(p.147)

That’s right. Ralph Nader actually wrote a book that uses the word “French” as an insult. Oh, and “fags,” too.

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