THE BLOG
11/12/2014 10:16 am ET Updated Jan 12, 2015

Ralph! Enough! A Memo to Ralph Nader

BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI via Getty Images

Ralph! You used to be my hero.

In fact, who in the consumer movement felt any other way? With the power of your arguments you set our efforts in motion.

Some of us were willing to forgive you even after your disastrous presidential campaign in 2000, costing the election of our greatest environmentalist, paving the way for the Iraq War, and our economic collapse.

But this week you tore into Hillary Clinton with the disdain for facts you used to charge came from corporate CEOs.

"Corporatist and militarist," you said. "...a menace to the United States of America."

Ralph! Don't do this again!

Especially after Tuesday's mid-terms, when we look ahead towards 2016. Learn a lesson from the past. Because if you need any evidence about the damage you caused 14 years ago -- and could this time -- look at the people dearest to your heart: consumers.

I remember when that became clear to me. I was Chair of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the very agency you persuaded Congress to create.

It was 2001. A kid's best friend had shot him in the head with what he thought was an unloaded Daisy BB gun. Why? A "design flaw" that would cost about $2 per gun to fix. Fifteen children had been killed by the guns. But the company wouldn't recall the guns.

George Bush had just been elected president. I was on my way out, but I authorized a lawsuit to make the company do the right thing.

Too late. In came my George W. Bush-appointed successor. Against every staff recommendation he decided to just give them a warning.

That Daisy BB gun incident began one of the most disastrous episodes of the Bush administration's eight years: a dismantling of protections that had saved thousands of lives.

You no doubt remember some of the worst moments.

All-terrain vehicles were associated with 1,000 deaths and about 300,000 injuries in just two years. By 2002 petitions poured into the CPSC urging the new Chair to ban them for kids under 16. He refused, "using such falsehoods as distorting the numbers to benefit the industry" said the Commission's own ATV expert.

Hasbro put out a new oven design. The problem? Kids were getting their hands caught, and burned. One lost a finger. I would have called for a recall. My successor's solution? Hasbro could send a repair kit -- if families asked for one.

These weren't exceptions, Ralph. There were dozens -- not to mention budget cuts, staff reductions, and a steady diet of headlines about what reporters had once called the "little engine that could." ("Consumer Safety Agency in Limbo"; "CPSC Rendered Virtually Powerless.") When it came to malfeasance the rule became: overlook, not oversight.

Was this out of indifference to suffering? It was more from the sincere but misguided philosophy that it is better to leave the private sector alone. One colleague used to call the steps towards safety standards, "turtles crossing a field of peanut butter."

But there were ways, Ralph.

And during my time at the CPSC, there was one person whose interest in the consumer went beyond politics: Hillary Clinton.

I remember when we invited her to attend an event focused on cribs in day care centers. We needed to publicize how many centers had old cribs that could suffocate infants.

"Where and when?" she asked. She stayed well past the time she had to leave, listening to parents who had lived through tragedy. Her concern -- her passion -- was real.

Ralph, for whatever reason, your vicious, personal caricature has trashed a great friend of the consumer movement. Don't compound the error you made in 2000.

I know your passion for consumers is real.

But along with the other issues, your campaign then damaged anyone who cared about mattresses flaring up, cribs that suffocated children, guns that could take out an eye -- and vehicles that killed.

Don't negate all the good you achieved as the country's leading consumer advocate. And don't attempt to destroy Hillary Clinton, this pioneering champion of consumers.

Let your legacy be one that furthers the cause you helped start. And let those who know more than you help make the dangerous road ahead safe at any speed.