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2003-12-11

Will He Run? Ralph Nader Discusses His Plans for 2004

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Ralph Nader, 2000 Green Party presidential candidate, discusses his plans for 2004 a week after he authorizes the formation of a new presidential exploratory committee. [Transcript included]

The New York Times is reporting today that President Bush’s political advisers are now all but certain that Howard Dean will be the Democratic presidential nominee and are planning a campaign that takes account of what they see as Dean’s strengths and weaknesses.

This comes a day after the nine democratic presidential candidates debated each other in New Hampshire where the first primary takes place on Jan. 27. Also yesterday, Democrat Gavin Newsom narrowly beat Green Party candidate Matt Gonzalez in San Francisco’s mayoral race. If Gonzalez had won he would have become the nation’s highest-ranking Green Party member.

Today we are joined on the phone by 2000 Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader. Last week he authorized the formation of a new presidential exploratory committee which could mark his first step in another bid for the presidency. Debate has already begun among Greens and Democrats over what role–if any–Nader should take in 2004.

Before we speak with him we turn to Ralph Nader speaking at the National Conference on Media Reform in Madison, Wisconsinn this past November. After Nader gave a major address on media issues, a member of the audience stood up and asked Nader not to run for president again. We hear Nader’s response.

  • Tape: Ralph Nader, speaking at the National Conference on Media Reform in Madison, Wisconsin.
  • Ralph Nader, 2000 Green Party Presidential Candidate.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: After he gave a major address on media issues, a member of the audience stood up, said he was a supporter of Ralph Nader, but begged him not to run again. This was Ralph Nader’s response.

[tape]

RALPH NADER: I would say–this gentleman is a civil-liberties champion–correct? Have you ever told anyone not to speak?

AUDIENCE MEMBER: No, sir.

RALPH NADER: Okay. Political speech involves running for office. It is one of the most preferred uses of the first amendment. You can challenge, rebut, argue — please never tell any candidate not to speak.

AMY GOODMAN: And that was Ralph Nader’s response. He joins us on the line now from Princeton, New Jersey, as he travels the country meeting with small and large groups, talking to people about what they think he should do. Whether he should run for president in 2004. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Ralph Nader.

RALPH NADER: Good morning, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, your thoughts today. Where do you stand right now, as we hear that the Bush administration thinks it’s going to be Howard Dean? They’re preparing. ABC news, the latest report is from Dennis Kucinich is that they have pulled their reporters from the Kucinich, Braun and Sharpton campaigns. And Kucinich is fiercely objecting. You had a front row seat at the New Hampshire Democratic debate the other night. Your thoughts, what you are going to do?

RALPH NADER: On the debate it’s quite clear that Dennis Kucinich did extraordinarily well. I think that he shined in the context of his challengers, and I think it’s a very unwise move for the reporters to be pulled from the campaign of his initiative as well as Mosley-Braun and Al Sharpton.

I think that the importance of preserving the attempt to defend the civil liberties of third parties’ independent candidates is independently sufficient reason for third parties and independent candidates to run. They’re being squeezed out by ballot access, hurdles, by exclusion from debates, by all kinds of barriers. Historically, third party, independent candidates have been the seeds of regeneration of major parties. They have pushed the agenda on a whole host of issues. In the 19th and 20th century, they have got to be exercised. It’s really exercising democracy’s muscle. Having said that, I’m watching quite carefully the quality of the agenda that the democratic candidates are pushing.

I have sent a 25-page agenda to both the Democratic and the Republican National Committee’s in late October. I hope that sometime this month they will reply. Both committees have indicated they’re going to reply. So, we can see where they stand on a whole range of democracy-stretching issues from living wage to energy conversion to the empowerment of people to be able to join together more easily as consumers as workers and small taxpayers and communities.

So, I’m at an exploratory stage, right now, that’s a legal term under the Federal Election Commission, we have a website, NaderExplore04.org, and I’m engaged in "testing the waters"–that’s another legal phrase, Amy, concerning a presidential run. And I’ll decide some time early next year.

AMY GOODMAN: Yesterday when I said we were going to talk to you today a lot of people wrote in expressing their opinions. I’ll read two of them. One says, "I think he should not go near the presidential election in 2004. I voted for him in 2000, regret that choice, the first priority is to get Bush out. All other matters take a back seat. I think the Democratic party is moving to the left again after getting the message loud and clear from the people who voted for Nader in 2000. Without Nader in 2000 we would have Lieberman as the Democratic hopeful instead of Dean and the party would not have changed. The Dems are slow to change but they’re changing. In 2008 I’ll vote for Nader again but in 2004 we need to get Bush out." Another person who wrote in said, "Run, Ralph run. The Demo-publicans have done everything Ralph said they would do, they have helped him push the war in Iraq, PATRIOT act, medicare reform bill et cetera, et cetera." Two different opinions, your response?

Well, first of all the democrats who think like the first person you quoted have a problem, privately or publicly when you say, "Did Gore win the election in Florida, did he win the election nationally?" and they’ll say, "Yes". And yet when they’re asked about an independent campaign or a Green party campaign or whatever, they in effect cite 2000 as a "Gore would have won if the Greens were not on the ballot." Well I think Gore did win, in Florida. I think he won around the country. And so let’s not make 2000 a case for not speaking out and pushing the agenda and involving young people, and all the other things that the Green Party wants to do. It is true, the rhetoric of the democrats on the debates seems to be more liberal or progressive. That isn’t even the frontrunners. You’ve got Lieberman talking about corporations their fair share of taxes. You have got Dean saying again and again the people have to organize to do this, that the candidate is not going to be able to do it without the people organizing and so on. But that’s still at the rhetoric stage.

In terms of the rhetoric, and in terms of the record of the Democratic Party, only one senator opposed the patriot act, senator Feingold. They helped Bush push through the war resolution for an unconstitutional delegation of war declaring power to the presidency. Metaphorically, the democrats in congress opposed the massive tax cuts for the wealthy and the diversion of budgets away from the necessities of the American people, even though they could have stopped both of those tax cuts. We’re dealing here with a party that’s still a corporate Democrat party, and I think that Dean is going to have, if he becomes the nominee, is going to have a very tough time translating his rhetoric into a record of performance, given the corporate influence that’s still very powerful inside the Democratic Party.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you say to those like was raised with you in your meeting with folks in Vermont. While some support you, others who are involved in independent progressive politics say that you could hurt their chances that there would be a backlash, anger that you were running, and so they in lower levels of government office could lose as well?

RALPH NADER: Well, I don’t know how that works out. I mean, there are schools of thought within the Green Party, some don’t want a presidential run. That’s a small minority. Some want a presidential run, but not in the close states. Some want an all-out presidential run. I do agree that the future of the green party has to start with local and state candidates. They want about 25% of their local seats in 2002 and 2003 that they contested. What they have to do is contest more seats, of course. But it’s shown that the Board of Education, the development authorities, city council and so on, they can win. But what is needed is a broader vision for multiparty politics in this country.

The two parties demonstrate towering similarities that are way, way larger than the differences that the democrats are willing to contest over, and it — the convergence process indentured to the same financial interests that fund both parties continues unabated. So, I think that a case could be made, however provocative that the Democrats don’t know how to defeat Bush because they’re so cautious and they’re so withdrawn and so indentured to the same financial interests that they need other progressive initiatives to open up other fronts and open up other issues that if the democrats were smart they could pick up on.

AMY GOODMAN: Would you put Howard Dean in that category?

RALPH NADER: Yes. I would. I think, for example, that the Bush administration is far more vulnerable politically than the Democrats are probing, or exposing. I refer people to essential.org which has my letter to George W. Bush from a month-and-a-half ago about the Texas State Republican Party platform of 2002 which has 25 positions diametrically opposed to the Bush administration. It’s basically the platform of the conservative libertarian republicans who are furious all through the South, including other states, with the Bush Administration on the PATRIOT act, the invasion of privacy, the erosion of civil liberties, NAFTA, GATT, huge deficit, corporate welfare subsidies. It’s surprising that the democrats are not probing a wedge that would depress Bush’s vote. There are a lot of ways that to depress Bush’s vote that the democrats have to be educated on.

AMY GOODMAN: Howard Dean says that the U.S. troops should stay in Iraq, although he opposed the invasion, he said. Dennis Kucinich’s message was U.S. out, UN in. What is your position?

RALPH NADER: I think Dennis makes a good point. He said you cannot be against the war and be for the military occupation, which is still involved in the war. I think a UN trusteeship, which is a well established concept in UN history, is the way to go, especially given the fact that Iraq has the potential of ripping itself apart in terms of the various ethnic and religious groups that are there. But the UN trusteeship with a rapid transition, I think, is the way to go there.

AMY GOODMAN: Are you going to run, Ralph Nader?

RALPH NADER: I’m going to decide, Amy, early next year. I’m really testing the waters now. We have the website up, Naderexplore04.org. There has to be a preliminary indication that we’re going to have people in the various states. There’s a big ballot access problem that has to be overcome. We’re in the process of testing the waters.

AMY GOODMAN: What is the sense from the meets that you’re having around the country?

RALPH NADER: There’s a diversity of opinion there. There are some people who are very frightened about a possible second administration headed by Bush. There’s some people that think that that there needs to be building for the future. You cannot simply sit out the progressive agenda on a four-year cycle because —

AMY GOODMAN: We have five seconds.

RALPH NADER: Because it’s never the right time, you know. Then there are people who say there should be a full-fledged run.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you for being with us. Ralph Nader, speaking to us from Princeton, New Jersey, where he is engaged in exploring whether he will run for president.

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