Ralph Nader Interview

Aquarian Weekly 8/25/04 REALITY CHECK/BUZZ

Campaign 2004
A Candid Discussion with Independent Candidate for President, Ralph Nader

Ralph NaderThis discussion was conducted over the phone lines from Nader Campaign Headquarters in Washington D.C. and The Desk on 8/5/04.

In this polarized political landscape of 2004, it’s getting harder to not be swept up in the fervent “pick a side” mentality propagated by both The Right and The Left. Independent voices are as welcomed as dissenting voices were in the weeks after 9/11 or the weeks leading up to the Iraqi war. One such voice has been vilified from all sides for feeding his ego, mucking up the process, and aiding the enemy. He’s been begged to pack it in by the Democrats and even accused of getting Republican support to stay in. Yet he fights on, but for what purpose, to what end?

His name is Ralph Nader and he is running as an independent candidate for the country’s highest office, and this space (an unabashedly long suffering proponent of a viable independent national political voice) thought it wise to give him the floor to explain his side, a side not too popular whichever way you lean.

james campion: Why are running for the presidency again in 2004?

Ralph Nader: Because the two parties are proxies of large corporations who have turned Washington D.C. into corporate occupied territory and are excluding citizen groups from trying to improve their country.

jc: I agree with that assessment of the two-party system, but many voters, including those who support a majority of your issues feel that the Kerry campaign, despite your stance, embrace many of the same concerns. Why should a voter consider your independent campaign over a larger party who has a legitimate chance to unseat this president?

RN: The majority of people in this country want out of Iraq. Bush and Kerry are pro-war, pro-occupation. No withdrawal date. The majority wants to settle the Israeli/Palestinian conflict with an independent Palestinian state, including almost 70% of Jewish Americans. Kerry and Bush are supportive of the Israeli military policy. Kerry and Bush both support the Patriot Act. Kerry and Bush both support the bloated, redundant, wasteful, and sometimes corrupt military budget, which amounts to half of the federal government’s operating expenditures. Both Bush and Kerry are for corporate globalization, NAFTA and WTO style. They want to expand it. Both Bush and Kerry are for the failed war on drugs. Both Bush and Kerry do not have a health care plan for all or a living wage for all. Both Bush and Kerry are for capital punishment, although Kerry is for a modified form. Both Bush and Kerry do not support public funding of public campaigns. Both Bush and Kerry will not take a stand against the draft. We’ve sent them letters and they’ve refused to take a stand against the draft.

jc: Pretty good list. Let’s concentrate on two specific ones trumpeted by the mainstream media. Although Kerry has talked a good game about jobs being transferred to other countries, he did vote for NAFTA and is a supporter of the WTO. He is also a supporter of the war, whichever way he would like to slice it. I’ve written several times that you’re the only anti-war candidate standing, but why do you think it is so difficult for voters to differentiate your candidacy from the Kerry campaign, whose supporters continually cite that your existence in this race compromises their effort to oust Bush?

RN: It’s very simple, all these voters you talk about believe Bush has been a terrible president and so anything, they think, is better than Bush. But once they analyze it, anything is not very good at all. In other words, they are falling prey to the “least worst” voter choice, which, in effect, leaves Kerry without a mandate. Without having any demands made on him by environmental, labor, minority, consumer, youth groups, because they’re so freaked out by Bush, Kerry can get elected with no mandates. Now, what are mandates? Mandates are the way voters can pull candidates toward their interests before the election, when they have the bargaining power. If you don’t demand anything of Kerry you are just basically playing a one-sided tug-of-war that you’re losing, because the corporate lobbies are pulling Kerry and Bush 24-hours a day in the direction of no health insurance for all, no living wage for all, no reduction of the military industrial complex, no revision of the failed war on drugs, on and on.

Both parties are being pulled in one direction by extremely powerful forces, and Kerry and Bush are saying to their voters, “You’ve got nowhere to go, other than to stay home or vote for us, shut up and get in line.” Kerry says, “You obviously know that Bush is worse than me and Bush says, “You obviously know that Kerry is worse than me.”

Both parties are being pulled in one direction by extremely powerful forces, and Kerry and Bush are saying to their voters, “You’ve got nowhere to go, other than to stay home or vote for us, shut up and get in line.” Kerry says, “You obviously know that Bush is worse than me and Bush says, “You obviously know that Kerry is worse than me.”

The “Anybody But Bush” attitude is a brain closer. Nothings else is discussed, entertained, analyzed, or absorbed, not even the spillover vote from the Nader/Camejo candidacy, which might tip the scales in the few close races in the House and Senate and give the House and/or Senate to the Democrats, so if they don’t beat Bush, they can block him. They don’t even want to talk about that. It’s a kind of political hysteria that’s going on. The “politics of fear” at work.

jc: I call it the “politics of the moderate”, wherein the candidates of both parties feel they have to swing to the middle for a few months. Therefore the differentiation of the platforms is not distinguishable. In fact, I’m still waiting for a platform from the Kerry campaign, beyond being the alternative to crap.

RN: Exactly, in fact Kerry’s main strategy is to take major issues off the table by “me too-ing” Bush; the war in Iraq, the Israeli/Palestinian issue, the Patriot Act, and, most importantly, where he’s getting his money. Pretty soon you take so much off the table you become indistinguishable from your opponent. George Will said on television a couple of weeks ago, “I just read the Democratic platform, and you know what?, it could be the Republican platform.”

jc: Let me ask you politically about the games being played right now over you getting on the ballot in certain states. I understand you’ve just won a battle to be included on the ballot in New Jersey.

RN: Right.

jc: What exactly is the Democratic Party doing to keep you from getting on ballots in different states?

RN: As we speak, they have nine computer terminals trying to bump us off the Pennsylvania ballot. They hired three corporate law firms in Arizona and they bumped us off the ballot with all kinds of legal challenges we couldn’t afford to defend at $250 dollars-an-hour for our lawyers. They’ve stalled us in Oregon by infiltrating our convention. Under Oregon law, you can get on the ballot in two ways; a thousand registered voters all at once in an auditorium signing for you, under state election supervision, or fifteen thousand verified signatures around the state. So we took the convention room between five and seven in the evening about a month ago. Six-thirty arrived, and we got around eleven hundred people in the room, and the counters didn’t take signatures from half of them. This was done openly. Then in Illinois, the House Speaker sent some of his staff people over to examine our ballots, which is pretty inappropriate unless they took a leave.

jc: Would you say you represent a dissenting voice of the electorate? In other words, if some of your principles and your main platform for running for president fails to make a dent, a likely scenario, do you then believe by merely running you’ll make transparent the two-party machinations to keep an independent voice out of the process.

RN: Of course. We’re setting an example. We’re setting a framework. We’re laying the basis for post November 2 expansion of progressive political movement. We’re bringing in a lot of young people who will be the leaders of the future, who are presently turned off politics, and above all we’re pushing the agenda and trying to educate the voter to how to be much more discriminating between the two parties, and much more demanding. Some of the things we’ve stimulated are available on www.opendebates.org.

jc: In 2000, when you and Pat Buchanan were trying to get into the debates and the election commission arbitrarily put out a number of 15% of the vote needed to participate, I wrote a piece denouncing it and interviewed Pat on the subject, to which he was predictably candid. (“Raging Against The Machine” – Issue 1/26/00) And I would think that was the strongest example of your argument against the fear of the two-parties right there. But how direct has the Democratic Party been in speaking to you on your candidacy this time around? Did Terry McAuliff or anyone, even Kerry himself, ever approach you directly and ask you to not run.

Nader in 2000RN: Every time I talk to McAuliff, he says, “I hope you withdraw.”

jc: But have they promised you anything if you bowed out, tried to cut a deal?

RN: No. (laughs) Did they promise anything to Dennis Kucinich, a loyal Democrat, who campaigned for two years, and they handed him his head and refused him every one of his proposals for the Democratic platform? These guys are massively arrogant. It’s their way or no way. They’re unlike European majority or plurality parties who negotiate with small parties and coalitions. The arrogance here is unprecedented.

jc: I’d like to get to some items that have been reported and I have touched upon recently in previous columns regarding the Edwards choice for vice president and your alleged public, or not so public recommendation of him. A lot of people I talked to inside thought once that was accomplished it would serve as an appeasement to get you out of the race. How true was that nugget?

RN: Not true at all. This is just part of trying to make Kerry a better candidate, as far as wrongly injured people given their day in court, which Edwards should be champion, but is not. That’s been taken off the table too. You hear the Republicans ragging against wrongfully injured people’s right to go to court, an all-American right that goes back to the challenge of King George, the right of trial by jury that the colonies accused him of taking from them, and the Democrats can’t stand up for people who the business press has shown wrongfully injured and defrauded and are finding hard just to get a hearing in court with all the tort reform that is going on in state and federal legislature.

jc: How do you feel about your impact on the 2000 race, one of the closest in this nation’s history?

RN: The Democrats should be going after the Republican thieves who stole the election from their candidate, instead of the Green Party, but they’re into scapegoating, because they don’t want to look at their own internal weaknesses and infirmities.

jc: Many categorized your campaign, especially the Democrats, as that of playing the spoiler, and putting Bush, a sub-standard president, in office in the first place. Of course I applauded the Gore defeat merrily. So thanks for that.

We are all prisoners of an exclusive two-party monopoly with a barrier called an electoral college and we’ve got to break out of prison. We have to liberate our minds, begin voting our conscience, and stop voting for politicians who go to Washington and month after month vote against their supporters.

RN: Well actually it could have come out very well for the Democrats, because Gore did win nationally and in Florida in respect to a statewide count. The Republicans stole the election from Gore before, during, and after the Florida election. Secretary of State Katherine Harris, Jeb Bush, the Supreme Court, and all the shenanigans with falsely designating ex-felons and the crazy ballots did them in.

jc: I’m so sick of hearing, “We won the popular vote!”, when that’s not the name of the game.

RN: Yeah, well you’d think since they won the popular vote they’d start the rollback of the Electoral College, and they’re not even doing that.

jc: But you must admit there is some credence that your 2004 candidacy threatens the Kerry campaign to some degree.

RN: Not so. Either campaign could benefit from our agenda. In late October I sent to the RNC and the DNC a 45-page document called “Agenda Inquiry for the Common Good”. Inside are 25 issues the Democrats could pick up on and landslide Bush, like living wage. That’s worth four, five million votes right there that they wouldn’t get. You’ll also find on there the letters we’re sending to Bush and Kerry. I mean, look, we sent them a letter to take a stand on the draft, they won’t take a stand on the draft. We’re going to send them a letter basically asking them to campaign in Hawaii and Alaska, which Democrats and Republican never travel to, because Hawaii is Democrat and Alaska’s Republican. So they carve the country up into these districts and they abandon these people, and they really resent it. I just came back from those two states. To me, if you run for president, you campaign in 50 states. You could flunk both parties just on the grounds that they’re carving up the country into single party districts.

jc: Regardless of what happens in this election, do you have a positive viewpoint for the political process at large as a result of this campaign?

RN: Well, we’re keeping the hope for a progressive agenda alive in the country. We’re giving voice to tens of millions of people. We’re the underdog candidates for tens of millions of American underdogs who get pushed around and defrauded and harmed and disrespected and excluded and underpaid and laid off and denied health care. That’s a pretty big constituency in this country, and it’s a pretty sad commentary on the Democratic Party that it chooses not to vibrantly represent these people because it wants to privately raise tens of millions of dollars in commercial interests to keep up with the Republican campaign finance fund-raising party. So we think that’s a very important role that we’re playing.

In my book, “The Good Fight” I quote Eugene Debs’ “The American people can have anything they want, the problem is they don’t seem to want anything at all, or at least it seems that way on Election Day.”

We are all prisoners of an exclusive two-party monopoly with a barrier called an electoral college and we’ve got to break out of prison. We have to liberate our minds, begin voting our conscience, and stop voting for politicians who go to Washington and month after month vote against their supporters.

jc: Do you foresee anyway come October that anyone can convince you on either side to step aside and throw your support for either national party candidate? Even if you are only on seven to ten to twelve ballots nationwide, do you see any way you’re not still standing come the first week of November?

RN: No, because all they can offer are words by politicians who’ve left a trail of broken promises to millions of Americans over the last decades. We’re not interested in words; we’re interested in deeds. They’ve had many years to demonstrate good deeds, and instead they’ve have sold our democracy, our elections, and our government for a mess of corporate pottage. They’ve turned over the U.S. government to an increasingly smaller number of giant multi-nationals, who’ve turned Washington into corporate occupied territory, and have no allegiance to our country or communities other than to control or abandoned them to China or elsewhere as they see fit. Check our web site, www.votenader.com/ and you’ll see how we’re challenging Kerry and Bush almost once or twice a week on various issues.

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