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2004-02-23

Spoiler or Exposer of a Spoiled System: Nader Announces Presidential Bid

Guests

Rober Scheer, Columnist at the Los Angeles Times and co-author of "The Five Biggest Lies Bush Told Us About Iraq."

Christopher Scheer, Co-author of "The Five Biggest Lies Bush Told Us About Iraq."

Mark Green, Co-author of "The Book On Bush: How George W. (Mis)leads America." Green was New York City’s elected Public Advocate (1994-2002) and Democratic mayoral candidate for New York City in 2001.

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Democracy Now! interviews longtime consumer advocate Ralph Nader who announced he was running for president as an independent. Nader calls Washington "corporate-occupied territory" but democrats as well as leftists and independents accuse Nader of being a "spoiler" who will only increase President Bush’s chances of reelection. [includes transcript]

Longtime consumer advocate Ralph Nader announced Sunday he is running for president as an independent. Nader ran on the Green Party ticket in 2000 and placed third, winning about 3 percent of the vote. At the time, he was accused by many Democrats as playing the role of the spoiler and giving George Bush the election.

The reaction by many Democrats to his announcement to run this time around has been harsher. New Mexico Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson said, "It’s his personal vanity because he has no movement. Nobody’s backing him. The Greens aren’t backing him. His friends urge him not to do it. It’s all about himself."

Appearing on Meet the Press, Nader said, "Washington is still corporate-occupied territory, and the two parties are ferociously competing to see who’s going to go to the White House and take orders from their corporate paymasters."

Nader, who turns 70 years old this week is to lay out his campaign themes at a press conference today in Washington.

  • * Ralph Nader*, 2004 independent presidential candidate.

Transcript

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

AMY GOODMAN: Welcome to the program, Ralph Nader.

RALPH NADER: Good morning, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us.

RALPH NADER: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you lay out why you are going to run?

RALPH NADER: Yes. Several reasons. One is, of course, that corporations are running our government. There’s a "For Sale" sign on most agencies and departments from the Pentagon to the Department of Treasury, to the Department of Agriculture, also for many Congressional offices. That means that corporations are deciding policy. They are saying "No" to universal health insurance, and making it stick for over 50 years. They are saying no to Living Wage for millions of workers, who can’t even live on a — on what they earn for themselves, much less their families. That’s about 45 million workers, almost one out of every three full time workers in America. They’re saying "No" to recycle waste materials and energy efficiency, and the fight against global warming. They’re saying "No" to public funding of public campaigns, which would break the nexus of corporate control over our elections, politicians, and Government. They’re saying "No" to a real crackdown on corporate crime, fraud, and abuse, which has drained and looted trillions of dollars from millions of workers, their pensions, and small investors. They’re saying "No" to any change in the WTO, and NAFTA trade agreements, which are pulling down our standards of living here and shipping industry abroad. They’re saying "No" to any break in the bloated military budget, which is over now $400 billion and together with other military budgets such as in the Department of Energy. Just over one-half of the entire federal government’s discretionary expenditures while clinics, schools, public transit, drinking water systems, libraries and other necessities in our country go begging for repair, much less for expansion. So, that’s some of the substantive and by no means all of the substantive programs. For more elaboration, your listeners can check into our website, votenader.org. They can volunteer to help us get on the ballots in 50 states in the coming months, can send contributions. But procedurally, it’s to break this autocratic mindset of the liberal intelligencia that somehow the country belongs to two parties and everyone else should not compete and not provide more challenge, not provide more voices and choices to the American people and not even provide a simple trim cap campaign that may be can turn the rudder of one of these parties away from their corporate masters. And that’s what’s so disturbing about the liberal intelligencia, that they have lowered their expectation levels. They’re totally freaked out with the Bush regime, which is a very bad regime. But if they simply say, anybody but Bush, they’re not going to provide a mandate for the Democratic nominee. They’re not going to provide a constituency. They’re going to end up being very disappointed, as many of them were by the Clinton-Gore regime. And I would say to them, relax, watch how this campaign unfolds, rejoice in many of your issues being highlighted around the country, think of how much better Kerry and Edwards will be as potential nominees, and work on getting more people out to vote and more people involved so that we’re not just spectators Of the campaign, but we’re participators to use Jefferson’s word.

AMY GOODMAN: We have to break for stations to identify themselves. We’ll be back with Ralph Nader, Who has announced he’s running For president as an independent. Stay with us.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, the war and peace report. I’m Amy Goodman. Ralph Nader is on the line with us. He yesterday announced his intention to run for President of the United States as an Independent. Why do you think that the Democrats cannot raise the issues that you have just raised or — including Dennis Kucinich, who brought you into the New Hampshire debate, at least where the room is, and you talked about agreeing with a lot of his views. Why do you think he cannot hold the banner for your views?

RALPH NADER: Well, he is an excellent legislator. He’s the real thing. I have worked with him for 30 Years. I have urged democrats to vote for him. I have been at a number of rallies for him but he’s not doing all that well. He’s not raising enough money and if you don’t raise enough money, you don’t get media coverage. But if you don’t get media coverage, you don’t get polls. It become just a vicious circle. He’s only going to go as far as the convention itself. Somebody has to carry this banner through to election day.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think that you will raise more money than him?

RALPH NADER: Well, I don’t know how much money he has actually raised. He’s about to get $4 million in federal matching funds, I understand, which will carry him around the country and to the convention where I hope that he has some influence, if not many delegates. But the Democrat’s leaders are now talking anti-corporate talk. They’re talking the right talk, but we have heard it before. The main thing is to make sure that there’s enough pressure and there’s enough mobilization right through to November that they feel they have a mandate because once they go into the White House it’s like a corporate prison. And all of the pressures, inside the government, with all of these business appointees, assistant secretaries, and secretaries, plus all of the tens of thousands of lobbyists and corporate lawyers really wear these people down. So, even if they’re well-intentioned, they can’t deliver. That’s why the public has to be much more organized. And with the expanding war on the Bill of Rights and the civil liberties problems and the lack of due process and arrests without charges and imprisonment without lawyers, I think there’s going to be more energy to raising these issues.

AMY GOODMAN: What about the debates? In 2000, you filed a lawsuit claiming the use of corporate money and financing presidential debates violated the Federal Election Campaign Act. The suit was appealed to the Supreme Court, which refused to hear it. And you settle the case against the Debate Commission, and the security guard in Boston when they wouldn’t let you into that Debate, October 3, 2000.

RALPH NADER: There’s a new lawsuit that has been filed in Federal District Court by me, John Hagelin, Pat Buchanan, challenging the Federal Election Commission’s legitimizing the Commission on Presidential Debate, which is simply a cooperation created 1987 by the Republican and Democratic parties to get rid of the League of Women Voters and under orders of the Democratic and Republican parties and nominees decide whether they’re going to be x-number of debates, what the format is, who is going to ask the questions, and who will be excluded from the debates. And of course they had Perot on the debates in 1992, but they excluded him in 1996 even though he had 19 million votes in 1992 and that hurt his 1996 vote total. So the battle goes on. There’s a new book coming out by George Farrah, Seven Stories Press, exposing the Debate Commission and its sordid history and all the corporate money, tobacco and telecommunications and auto money that flows into the commission to support these debates, which are really not debates but parallel interviews, excluding dissenting viewpoints. And there’s a new Debate Commission called The Citizen’s Debate Commission, with conservative and liberal non-profit groups, including Common Cause, that is underway to try to take the mantle away from the Democrat and Republican Debate Commission and sponsors debates that are more exciting, more diverse, more reflective of progressive and conservative issues, and just what the two parties decide is admissible. So, anybody who is interested in that the website is opendebates.org.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think that President Bush should be removed at all costs?

RALPH NADER: Well, he should be removed, now I think he’s beginning to self-destruct. I think that the economy is not very good. I think that the budget that he has sent to Congress is going to be a real albatross around the Republicans’ neck. The head of the General Accounting Office, Donald Walker, had extraordinary testimony a few weeks ago where he called Bush’s budget reflecting, quote, Enron-type accounting, unquote. Those are very strong words for a non-partisan arm of Congress called the General Accounting Office. He projected the disaster in terms of vast budget cuts resulting from deficits over the next 20 years on many of the necessity programs of the American people. So, and then of course, there’s the quagmire in Iraq, the no-exit strategy simply isn’t there. And that’s draining tens of billions of dollars. That’s going to become a major issue. So, we need more views, more competition, more public participation, and I think Bush will have a tough time getting re-elected.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think that Bush should be impeached?

RALPH NADER: Yes, definitely. I have said, he is beatable and impeachable. I think an unconstitutional war, which our country was plunged into over in Iraq based on a platform of deceptions, fabrications, even outright lies, suppression of contrary advice from within the U.S. army and Pentagon, from within the C.I.A. itself, involving serious casualties, deaths, injuries, and diseases to American soldiers and other military personnel. Tens of thousands of Iraqis killed or injured in this kind of prevaricated war. No weapons of mass destruction discovered. No military threat to the neighbors documented by this tattering dictator over an antiquated army that was not loyal to him and no evidence of any links to Al Qaeda. Now, this is a very serious pattern of high crimes and misdemeanor. There certainly should be a House hearing initiating impeachment investigation, and I hope that Congress and John Conyers, who has been leaning toward filing such a bill will do so as soon as possible.

AMY GOODMAN: We interviewed Dennis Kucinich. He said that he thought this would be the stupidest thing to try to impeach him because after all it’s a Republican Congress, they wouldn’t do it, and it would gain sympathy for Bush that the highest — the way to — in a sense to impeach him is to vote him out of office for the people to impeach him.

RALPH NADER: Well, impeachment is not conviction. Impeachment basically is a very fair public hearing in the House of Representatives to determine whether he should be charged with high crimes and misdemeanor, and if he is, it goes over to the Senate for a trial. But I think that our founding fathers put this in the Constitution to hold presidents accountable between elections, and it certainly would highlight the issue, and isn’t this the president who campaigned in 2000 on responsibility and accountability, and that actions should have consequences? So, I favor the use of the impeachment powers.

AMY GOODMAN: Ralph Nader, what about your opponents? You were one of the leaders of the fight against NAFTA, and you almost won in the Congress, except that you lost. And John Kerry was one of the greatest believers and activists, continues to be, on the issue of quote, free trade. How would you characterize John Kerry’s record? Why do you think he’s unsuitable to be president?

RALPH NADER: Well, he’s certainly better than Bush and so is Edwards better than Bush and so is Kucinich and Gephardt. The important point about John Kerry, and I have known him for years, is that if he is surrounded by corporate lobbyists, he tends to bend. His record shows that. But if there’s real organized voters, and they tell him what they expect of him, his better instincts take hold and he expands to absorb their concerns. So, that, I think, is a fair summation of John Kerry. He did vote for GATT, WTO, he did vote for NAFTA, against the pleas of labor unions, who just endorsed him, against the employee pleas of environmental groups who are about to endorse him, against the pleas of small investor groups who he hasn’t really stood up for. He hasn’t been very good on the demanding a crackdown on corporate crime, fraud and abuse by pushing for a larger Justice Department investigative and prosecution budget. On the other hand, you know, he did Jomon’s work in Central America, and in post Vietnam war. He’s got a lot of good in him, but there’s got to be a lot of good citizens on his back to push him.

AMY GOODMAN: Howard Dean criticized him for being the number one recipient of special interests in the Senate, and George Bush has taken up that critique of him. Your response to that? It’s one of the major issues that you take on all of the time.

RALPH NADER: Well by comparison, George Bush in one fund raising dinner raises two to three times more of commercial money than has gone to John Kerry in the last ten years. That doesn’t excuse John Kerry, but you know, Route 128, Boston, the banks, the technology companies, they have a way of getting their hooks into progressive Democrats up there. I expect John Kerry to put forth a very powerful statement for public funding and public campaigns if he is going to start removing the stigma of all of the corporate money that he has taken. There ought to be much more focus on Bush trying to buy the elections with $200 million of commercial money. I mean, Bush is really a big corporation in the White House Disguised as a human being. He is busily selling our government to the highest corporate bidders, and in return they pour money into his campaign so he can buy the election. It’s amazing that the Democrats have any trouble beating someone like George w. Bush, Dick Cheney and the extreme corporatist Republican party. They should be land-sliding them just the way FDR would have and just the way Harry Truman would have. But that reflects the decay in the Democratic party.

AMY GOODMAN: What about John Edwards? What is your assessment of him? Both of you received — at least you did in your last campaign for president, a lot of money from trial lawyers. Can you — would you say that you are closer to John Edwards in your philosophy than John Kerry?

RALPH NADER: I beg your pardon? I received money from trial Lawyers. They fiercely opposed me.

AMY GOODMAN: He received support, you received support.

RALPH NADER: No, they opposed me vigorously. They still oppose me. The trial lawyers? Yeah, John Edwards has got an excellent speech. He has honed it to a proper platform expressing class issues, the two Americas, the disenfranchised, the impoverished American. He has made working poor families an issue after Clinton-Gore would never mention the poor. They talk about the middle class as they proceeded with policies that drove more middle class people into the ranks of the poor, cutting the safety net, for example, for poor single mothers. The problem with Edwards is whether he can carry through on that. His record was, I might say a little disappointing, in the U.S. Senate. He wasn’t the fearless advocate. He never made a single speech defending the Civil Justice System, although he voted okay on it, but we all expected that a successful, honest trial lawyer would be a real bulwark in the Senate, and that simply wasn’t the case. So, if there’s a Kerry-Edwards Ticket, I think it will be pretty strong. I think the record of the Republican party is so miserable that the Democrats should easily win, but the question is whether they’re going to put more time on the House and the Senate, and if they don’t win the White House, they’ll at least win back the House and Senate. My candidacy will have a spillover vote, obviously, for more deserving members of the House and Senate who are engaged in close races. I might say, my meetings with the top Democrats in the House and Senate did not get any objection to that part of my campaign, although they certainly objected to a presumed risk to the Democrats at the presidential level.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Ralph Nader. Ralph, you have said you’re not going to run on the Green Party ticket. Lots of people have written emails, some supporting you, many criticizing this decision to run for president this time around, though they supported you in the past. One of the people who wrote an email to us is Ted Glick, national coordinator of the Independent Progressive Politics Network. He had eight questions for you. I only raise one. He said — asked why you are running, said you have been encouraging Greens in various states to organize Draft-Nader efforts. Your actions seem to many Greens to be very problematic given that the Green Party, though still small, is the only national progressive electorally political successful alternative to the corporate dominated parties. Do you no long longer believe it is important to build this organization as an internally democratic independent political vehicle, that would mean going through the political parties internal process of caucuses, primaries, conventions, polls, and debates that would lead to them choosing you as a candidate.

RALPH NADER: Well, first of all, I think the Greens brought it on themselves because they weren’t going to decide whether they’re going to have a presidential candidate or if they were, under what conditions, like staying out of the close states and so on, until June in their Milwaukee convention, which would be too late for ballot access deadlines. So, I withdrew. I certainly still support local and state Green candidates. I support the Green platform. I’m not out actively trying to get their nomination. We have heard from a number of Green parties in various states, and people involved that they might want to nominate me at the State level, and that’s their option.

AMY GOODMAN: Would you pull out before the — before election day?

RALPH NADER: I run a 50-state campaign. I do not betray my volunteers. I’m not going to ever tell them that they worked their heads off to get me on the ballot, to mobilize forums, to spread the issues, and then say, sorry, there’s a pullout here. No way that’s going to happen. I don’t think, and nobody can predict, I don’t think it’s going to be that close a campaign. It’s going to break one way or the other sometime in the fall. But it’s not my obligation to help other candidates get more votes. That’s what has to be made very, very clear to the two parties who think this country belongs to them, and other parties who just stay away, not run, or pull out at last moment.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, what do you say to those who say that Al Gore would be president if it weren’t for you in 2000?

RALPH NADER: Well, Al Gore won the election. He won it in Florida. He won the popular vote. It was stolen from him by Jeb Bush, Katherine Harris before the election with the false designation of tens of thousands of Floridians as ex-felons, when they weren’t ex-felons, and were prevented from voting. The Mayor of Miami had a grudge. He easily drained 10,000 votes away from Gore. 250,000 registered Democrats in Florida voted for Bush.

AMY GOODMAN: But Florida wouldn’t even have been as important if other swing states Gore had taken.

RALPH NADER: Well, remember, Buchanan presumably cost four states for Bush. Such as New Mexico and Wisconsin. So, I mean, why are we even talking like this? Everyone has a right to run. There should be a level playing field. Should I complain that Gore spoiled it for me? Should I complain that they played dirty tricks in the last two weeks in some states with horrid telephone calls. The important thing here, Amy, is to get away from this two-party duopoly mindset which has to be broken if we are going to have more voices, more choices, more dissent. "The Nation" magazine, which has stood since 1863 for dissent, for more voices, more choices, for freer elections really ought to be ashamed of itself. I told them so in a reply, which is I think in the current issue Of "The Nation." And —

AMY GOODMAN: — ought to be ashamed of itself for telling you not 20 Run?

RALPH NADER: Yes. And I think once again we have to accentuate the positive. This campaign will take far more net votes from Republicans and Independents than from Democrats because as Senator Kerry properly said the other day, the out of party power and its members come back into the fold. The in-power party will have its edges flirt with the Independent candidacy. They should stop whining and should focus on George W. Bush. We want to get on the ballots. We want volunteers and we want monetary contributions. We don’t take corporate money and we don’t take PAC money. Let us hear from you on our website, votenader.org.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you for being with us. Ralph Nader has announced his candidacy for the President of the United States.

RALPH NADER: Thank you so much, Amy and I want to thank Pacifica Radio.

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