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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > Theater Circuses and Caricatures

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The business lobbies can scarcely conceal their gloating, while consumer groups are not bothering to hide their gloom in this city of political ebb and flow.

Indeed, both have good reasons for their respective attitudes. The coming Reagan administration very probably will be soft on business crime and fraud. There is no prospect that a Republican-dominated Senate will strengthen any of the existing consumer protection laws. But laws like the air quality act, which is up for renewal in 1981, may not survive in anywhere near their present form.

What should consumers and consumer groups do? Well, first, continue their efforts. Document further the rip-offs and harm inflicted on families and in­dividuals in the marketplace. Stand firm against any Reagan-inspired erosion of existing consumer protection programs.

Clearly, though, a broadening of consumer strategies is in order. If consumer laws are likely to be less enforced by the Reagan government, there ob­viously is a need for much faster consumer organizing in the private sector. For this to occur, instruments need to be established to make it easier to bring consumers together for common goals.

Out in Wisconsin, just such an organizational in­strument has been established. This month, most telephone customers will find in their monthly bills inserts inviting them to join the Citizen’s Utility Board (CUB) for $3 a year. By pooling their contributions and their votes to elect CUB’s board of directors, consumers will have a full-time staff of specialists to fight for their interests in fair-pricing, energy con-servation and safety. CUB is just getting started and already has 20,000 Republican blockade in the Senate.

There is something unseemly in watching multimillionaires like Ronald Reagan, Bill Brock, George Bush and William Simon pose as the cham­pions of the workers. Especially since their past record so decisively impeaches their preposterous claim. Even now Reagan openly ridicules OSHA and energy conservation while urging hazardous energy projects for Big Oil that are paid for largely by workers’ taxes.

That such phoniess can play at all in Peoria is a tribute not only to the wizardry of politicians in avoiding real issues with fanciful slogans; it also is a reflection of a massive failure of the Democratic Party to make the focus of this campaign include the abuses of the giant corporations in the areas of in­flation, monopoly practices, consumer fraud, cor­porate bribery, vast pollution and improper political influence peddling. But, like the Republicans, the Democrats have let themselves come under many of the same influences of the Exxons, GMs, Citibanks, etc., who condition and control the economy. Should Republicans win this Novenber, the corporate triumph will be so complete over both parties that a condition could be set for their challenge by new parties in the coming decade.

Former Ford Motor Co. President William Gossett once called the corporation the dominant institution in our society. That institution has become a non-issue, a virtual taboo in the current election campaign. In this context the real import of the John Anderson challenge is whether the myth of the present two-party structure can be shattered by an independent can­didate taking a hefty slice of the vote without much of a campaign organization and without being all that different from the two major party candidates.

If Anderson can do this much, look for a political landscape of several parties garnering respectable slices of votes in forthcoming presidential elections.

Thanks for that probable diversity would go mightily to the giant corporations who have succeeded in making the two major parties increasingly in­distinguishable and definitely stale.