Public Citizens: The Attack on Big Government and the Remaking of American Liberalism

Norton. Aug. 2021. 224p. ISBN 9780393634044. $26.95. POL SCI
In this wide-ranging study, Sabin (history, Yale Univ.) explores the rise of the public interest movement in the 1960s and 1970s. The book focuses on Ralph Nader, the crusader for auto safety, who Sabin argues was the catalyst for other citizen advocacy groups that changed the way government worked and the way people viewed government. Nader and his allies had a major impact on the passage of the 1970 Clean Air Act and the 1972 Clean Water Act and guided consumer-focused litigation through the 1970s. However, Sabin writes, Nader had an “ambivalent relationship” with the Democratic Party; the Reagan years energized the progressive movement, and Nader became focused on finding “alternative strategies for building citizen and consumer power.” By then, Nader was less central in the public interest movement. In the book’s epilogue, Sabin briefly considers Bill Clinton and Al Gore’s plans to reinvent the federal government, which resulted in political stalemate. After calling for a new political party in the 1980s, Nader ran for president on the Green Party ticket in 1996 and, perhaps more disruptively, in 2000.
VERDICT This important book will be useful for students of late 20th-century politics and society, and of the legacy of public interest movements..
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