For people who mainly think of Nader as the third-party candidate who split the Florida vote in the 2000 presidential election, the seriousness and care with which Sabin treats him as a political thinker and strategist may be surprising ... Sabin’s book is crisp, clear, eloquent, and carefully focused on the political changes of the 1970s. His own attitude toward the activists he describes is complex: On the one hand, he admires their moral certainty and the righteousness of many of their positions. But he is also skeptical about their anti-institutionalism, and suggests that their attacks on the state succeeded in undermining public trust in the idea of government itself ... One of the fascinating aspects of Sabin’s book is the resonance it finds between liberal disaffection with government and regulation, and the rise of libertarianism in the 1970s ... yet—despite Sabin’s suggestion that the moral crusade of Nader and the public-interest movement was self-defeating in its rejection of institutions, its insistence on the necessity of fundamental rather than incremental change—the public-interest critique has had a more complex legacy ... The strength of Public Citizens is the reminder that a political ascendance never happens in isolation; that the forces that led to the rise of the right transformed liberalism at the same time. By the same token, though, the strands of liberal and left politics that persisted through the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s helped to nurture a resistance—one that may be able, in the future, to transform American politics once again.
... an elegantly argued and meticulously documented attempt to place Nader within the liberal tradition ... Sabin makes his case intelligently and forcefully, but I have a few reservations. This may not matter, but Nader himself isn’t easily classifiable as a liberal; he’s on record opposing 'government intrusion into the economy,' for instance. The adversarial liberalism that Sabin associates with Nader seems more obviously a furious response to government lies about the Vietnam War and Watergate ... Sabin is certainly right that Nader played rough with the federal government, saving his harshest blows for his friends (on the theory that you can actually influence them). But that’s tactics. Ideologically, if Nader is a liberal, he’s a New Deal liberal whose vigorous engagement with government is premised on the conviction that government really is ourselves. Nader’s solution to weaknesses in the countervailing power model was to become a countervailing power himself, alongside labor and industry. His clout peaked four decades ago, but Nader continues to operate on the principle that ordinary citizens can make government better. He’s still at it today.