Monday, September 21, 2009

Nader Shrugged: "Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us!" (2009)

Forget John Galt for the moment: who is Brovar Dortwist, and does he really own a Doberman named Get 'Em? Actually, it doesn't take much to figure out this novel-without-a-key, and intentionally so. "Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us!" (Seven Stories Press) -- the title with its quotation marks and exclamation point included -- is Ralph Nader's 736-page first novel, and he makes no bones about it: the thinly-disguised double of Grover Norquist, anti-tax advocate and central figure in the Bush administration, is about the only real-life figure in Nader's latest assault on the best-seller lists who isn't named outright. Everyone else, from Warren Buffett to Warren Beatty, gets name-checked and suitably prominent roles in Nader's self-described new fictional genre, "the practical utopia."

How much of a utopia does the lifelong consumer advocate foresee? As described by Raffi Khatchadourian in this week's New Yorker magazine, a cast including Ted Turner, Yoko Ono, Phil Donahue and many others "act out Nader's political fantasies ... Corporations are neutered. Third parties win. America is reborn." That description bears more than a passing resemblance to what many people have expected in the first months of an Obama presidency, and it would be a quite a reward considering Nader's own political achievements in the 2008 Presidential campaign: the New Yorker takes a bit of glee in providing the exact figure of five-tenths and six-hundredths of one percent of the popular vote. Presumably, on his days off the candidate was dreaming of that practical utopia and putting the finishing touches on his ultimate what-if novel.

It's written in that peculiar style of airport-book fiction -- Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code and now his The Lost Symbol come easily to mind -- in description that flattens out like the Nebraska prairie outside Warren Buffett's picture window:

"In the cozy den of the large but modest house in Omaha where he has lived since he started on his first billion, Warren Buffett watched the horrors of Hurricane Katrina unfold on television in early September 2005. . . . On the fourth day, he beheld in disbelief the paralysis of local, state, and federal authorities unable to commence basic operations of rescue and sustenance, not just in New Orleans, but in towns and villages all along the Gulf Coast. . . He knew exactly what he had to do. . ."

"Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us!" arrives just in the nick of time this fall for a bit of comic relief in an overheated season of screaming over health care and other such minor scrapes -- although there's no back-bencher blurting "you lie" during a Presidential address, and there doesn't appear to be any bitten-off fingers in town-hall meetings in his book. Ironically, it's entirely possible that some real-life over-reaction may have just seemed too much even for Nader's manual Underwood typewriter to describe. (When an electrical storm once knocked power out at his home, Nader continued typing the pages by candlelight.)

Nader's utopia is, of course, meant to scratch the itch of any political reader -- the fact that the lifelong crusader for consumer rights sees the triumph of corporations is admittedly a fantasy, no matter how benevolent. And whether such a future is fulfilling or frustrating depends on how much one heeds the siren call of talk-show radio hosts who have their own fantasy take on political reality.

In a courteous gesture, Nader alerted many of the book's real-life counterparts to their supporting roles in his novel; in The New Yorker, Nader reported that some of them "were hard to get." (One imagines Nader attempting to reach Barry Diller in China using a rotary-dial phone, but that could just be imagination.) Yoko Ono slyly asked of her character, "does she look like a tiny dragon?" And Grover Norquist -- as the novel's consummate baddie -- wished Nader would have contacted him earlier, though not for the expected reason. "I don't like dogs. He should have checked," Norquist is quoted in the article.

Though in the pages of immortalizing fiction, apparently, all can be forgiven, even for political opposites. Norquist went on: "I like Ralph, and I have the warm fuzzies for him on a number of levels." It's one of the few truly surprising and civilized comments to be heard in this polarizing season -- but, then again, it also has the ring of fictional jacket-flap copy for a book called "Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us!" -- quotation marks, exclamation point, and all.

1 comment:

CAConrad said...


I'm so in LOVE with Ralph Nader. He's THE ONLY man I would get a sex change for, if he so wanted!