Ralph Nader praises Sarah Palin

"I think she's a lot smarter than most people credit her," says the left-wing crusader

Published September 19, 2011 3:48PM (EDT)

Sarah Palin and Ralph Nader
Sarah Palin and Ralph Nader

Ralph Nader hearts Sarah Palin?

We decided to call the longtime left crusader about a speech Palin gave in Iowa earlier this month, one which seemed to mark the transformation of Palin from a standard-issue movement conservative to something more independent and more reformist. And Nader told us he liked what he heard.

"I think she's a lot smarter than most people credit her," says Nader. "Judging by her comments, she is squarely in the camp of conservative populism, opposed to corporatism and its corporate state."

Palin delivered the speech in question in Indianola, Iowa, on Sept. 3. As Anand Giridharadas later observed in the Times, the media responded primarily by "ignoring the ideas she unfurled and dwelling almost entirely on the will-she-won’t-she question of her presidential ambitions."

Some of the rhetoric was familiar. Palin slammed the "far left," praised the Tea Party, and denounced the idea of more government spending.

But there was also some refreshingly new material. She described a "permanent political class," one that is hypocritical and devoted to personally profiting off of government. ("Seven of the 10 wealthiest counties are suburbs of Washington, D.C.," she noted.) She spoke of "the collusion of big government and big business and big finance." And she took aim at both parties for governing in service of their big campaign contributors.

This sounded to us like Nader. And Nader agreed.

"When she was governor of Alaska she really did take on the oil industry, and [she also] approved a statewide referendum that resulted in the first state in the Union to regulate cruise lines and their pollution offshore," he says. "So there is a precursor to these remarks."

(For more on Palin's history tangling with the oil industry, read this lengthy treatment by Joshua Green.)

The two don't agree on everything, of course. Nader notes, for example, that he still views Palin as a "militarist" who supports America's foreign wars and the bloated military budget.

If Palin continues down the conservative populist path -- and that's a big "if"; let's face it, she's not exactly known for ideological consistency -- Nader thinks the message will be a political winner.

"It's endlessly elaborative. She could elaborate it with all kinds of newsworthy examples -- abuses, prosecutions, convictions," he says.

That will apply especially if she jumps into the current "corporatist" GOP presidential field, Nader says. "She'll really draw a line between herself and the others, who will never encroach on this."

By Justin Elliott

Justin Elliott is a reporter for ProPublica. You can follow him on Twitter @ElliottJustin

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