Public Citizens by Paul Sabin is a nonfiction book that explores the attack on big government and the remaking of American liberalism.
The book argues that Ralph Nader, the public citizen, was a principal architect of adversarial liberalism that succeeded New Deal liberalism.
The author contends that adversarial liberalism was defeated in 1980 with the election of Ronald Reagan, whose antigovernment message acquired legitimacy partly through Nader’s spirited attacks on the federal government. The book forces readers to reckon with the challenges of regaining faith in the government’s ability to advance the common good.
The main themes of the book include the history of liberalism, the role of countervailing power, and the importance of public interest groups. The book highlights how countervailing power brought admirable stability to the postwar political economy and a widely shared prosperity that liberals now pine for.
However, Nader identified important concerns left out of the tripartite model, such as a clean environment, vibrant urban neighborhoods, consumer safety, worker safety, and gender equality.
The book also discusses how Nader leveraged his fame into a network of nonprofit government watchdog groups staffed by idealistic young “Nader’s Raiders” recruited from top universities.
What I Liked
The book was an interesting book on the structure of American politics. The core argument is basically that the American Left bit the hand that fed them. American post-war liberalism had major flaws, but by-in-large was building a better society. By attacking American liberalism from the progressive left, the liberal project ground to a near-halt that not only provided an opening for resurgent conservatives, but also provided plenty of ammunition (and a playbook) for conservatives’ attack on big government. Both the Left and Right now have massive networks of public interest non-profits, legal teams, and think tanks that sabotage pragmatic government in their own way.
TLDR; the US needs competent politicians with a competent staff willing to do right by the voters, not interest groups…so that those interest groups (not matter their political allegiance) do not undermine the actual workings of government. Also, we need to seriously increase pay of our government employees so that the public sector is a choice employer of the best of the best and not captur-able by private / non-profit interests – see Singapore.
What I Did Not Like
Nothing – solid read.