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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Herman Talmadge, July 29 and August 1, 1975. Interview A-0331-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Thoughts on environmentalism and consumer rights

Talmadge addresses the growing prominence of environmentalism and consumerism during his years in the United States Senate. Focusing particularly on the impact of Ralph Nader on the ways in which the federal government sought to rectify pollution and ensure protection of the environment, Talmadge contends that the government was trying to do too much too fast. According to Talmadge, environmentalism and consumer rights issues had come to replace civil rights as "hot topic" movements and the political solutions offered tended to cause more problems than they solved.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Herman Talmadge, July 29 and August 1, 1975. Interview A-0331-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

Let me get your views on another man that you mentioned to me the other day, who has had a tremendous impact in this country. Some people think that it has been mostly for the good and some people think that it has been mostly for the bad and that is Ralph Nader, who burst on the scene a few years ago.
I don't know Nader well, I visited with him a time or two, he came by my office lobbying for the Consumer Protection Bill that he devised. He is an intense sort of a zealot, really. I think that it is his mission to save mankind. I don't doubt but what some of the things that he has advocated has been in the national interest, others have not. You take the Clean Air, Clean Water Bill, we probably went too far too fast. That is one of the reasons that we are having enormous inflationary problems now. The industry in this country is spending countless billions and billions of dollars for pollution control that is non-productive. It earns no income. I can give you an illustration with my personal automobile. We are going through an enormous energy crisis now. I've got about a seven year old Oldsmobile 98. It gets fifteen miles to the gallon. I have got a Cutlass that is a year and a half old, the smallest car that Oldsmobile makes. It gets about twelve miles to the gallon. It has got all of Mr. Nader's gear on it and we are using more energy because of those things. We had representatives of all the automobile manufacturers before the Finance Committee about ten days or two weeks ago and all of these safety and pollution devices that we put on automobiles in the last three or four years have driven up the price over a thousand dollars a vehicle. That is one of the reasons that people aren't buying automobiles today, they have gotten so high priced that they are out of the market and lo and behold, they have suddenly discovered now that some of the devices that we put on the automobiles at the request of Mr. Nader create more pollution than they solve.
Why do you think that there has been such a tremendous consumer movement and environmental protection movement that has caught fire in the past decade?
This country goes through slogans from time to time and they overreact frequently. When I first came to the United States Senate, they would burn your mother at the stake in the name of civil rights. Then it got to be the environment and of course, the environment needed protection, but we probably went too far too fast. Then it got to be consumerism and we passed a multiplicity of consumer protection bills in recent years, I would think twenty probably. I think that I voted for all of them but one. But it puts an enormous burden on business, trying to fill out all these forms and prove all of these things that sometimes they are criticized for, or to disprove them and the average businessman is just smothered in red tape coming from Washington. Bureaucratic controls and bureaucratic regulations. In the final analysis, in a free society like ours where we have the capitalistic system and private enterprise, say five firms are manufacturing the same product, the American people aren't all crazy. They know by the process of use which one of those products is the most efficient and which is the cheapest and in the final analysis, the consumer polices their own product. If you have got junk goods, it won't sell. At least you might sell it one time, but you don't buy it the second time. Pretty soon, that business, that firm, is out of business. They can't sell their junk goods. Of course, the capitalistic competitive system, where you don't have a monopoly, prevents them from gouging the consumer. If I am selling a device for a dollar that cost me ten cents, somebody very quickly will find out how profitable that item is and he will put it on the market and sell it for twenty cents and then I will cut mine to eighteen cents and he will cut his to eighteen cents and that is the way it goes. You've got your competition that regulates the sale of consumer products.