Ralph Nader, consumer advocate, corporate critic and three-time presidential candidate.
The race for the 2008 election is on, and all we hear about is the race for the money. Presidential hopefuls are vying with each other to raise tens of millions of dollars for what is projected to be the most expensive election in history. But hardly anyone is talking about where this money comes from or where it ends up. Fewer still have asked persistent questions about corporate America’s grip over not just the elections, but most policy decisions out of Washington, D.C.
Today, we spend the hour with a man who has spent the last four decades doing all of this and more. I’m talking about consumer advocate, corporate critic and three-time (will it be more?) presidential candidate Ralph Nader. We spoke with him in June at the end of a conference called "Taming the Giant Corporation." [includes rush transcript]
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: The race for the 2008 election is on, and all we hear about is the race for the money. Presidential hopefuls are vying with each other to raise tens of millions of dollars for what’s projected to be the most expensive election in history. But hardly anyone is talking about where that money comes from or where it ends up. Fewer still have asked persistent questions about corporate America’s grip over not just the elections, but most policy decisions out of Washington, D.C.
Today, we spend the hour with a man who’s spent more than four decades doing all of this and more. I’m talking about the consumer advocate, corporate critic and three-time — will it be more? — presidential candidate Ralph Nader. I interviewed him in June at the end of a conference called "Taming the Giant Corporation." I began by asking Ralph Nader, why hold a three-day conference on corporate power, rather than on war?
RALPH NADER: Well, first of all, the corporations are very involved in the war machine. Remember President Eisenhower’s statement about the military-industrial complex. He might have called it today the industrial-military complex, because the industrial part is now a supreme influence on the U.S. military budget, which now is half of the entire federal government’s operating budget, and as well as effecting foreign policy. Even Mr. Koppel has written that oil is very much involved in the invasion of Iraq. In fact, he went to say it’s mostly about oil in an op-ed in The New York Times — Ted Koppel. So the domination, the corporate sovereignty over our political economy is very much related to our foreign, military and economic policy, including GATT and NAFTA, which are architectures of corporate supremacy over civil values and the rights of workers, environment and consumers.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you recap from this conference of three days — people coming at corporations, dealing with them in many different ways — what you think are the biggest problems and the most effective strategies for dealing with them?
RALPH NADER: Well, the biggest problem is that the avenues to challenge corporate power, to restrain it, to break it up in its present concentrated form, to take it away from the political arena, because corporations are artificial entities. They’re not real human beings. They don’t vote. They don’t die in Iraq. They don’t have children. They are entities that are dominating our politics, our electoral systems, our universities, increasingly, dominate almost everything, even moving into areas that were once prohibited by custom in our country, like commercializing childhood.
And so, this conference really challenges the corporations at every interface that affects people — taxpayers, consumers, workers, communities, children, healthcare, living wage, the varieties of opportunities that people should have that are being denied. We are in the advanced stages of being a corporate state, where — as Franklin Delano Roosevelt warned Congress in 1938 that when government is controlled by private economic power, he called that fascism. And he would consider today’s control by private economic power — namely, giant corporations astride the world — as an even more advanced form of what he called fascism: control of government by corporate interests.
AMY GOODMAN: Would you call it fascism?
RALPH NADER: Yeah. The clinical definition is what he was saying. It was obviously colored in a different context in World War II, but the clinical definition of "fascism" is when private concentrated economic power takes government away from the people, turns government into a guarantor, a subsidizer, a covering of corporate power. And corporations now have their executives in high government positions. They have 35,000 full-time lobbies here, like the drug companies getting all kinds of subsidies from Congress. And they have 10,000 political action committees.
Now, if you look at the civic side, there’s very little of that, although as this conference showed, they’ve achieved an enormous amount, given their small numbers. I think, basically, if you could quantify corporate power and civic power in Washington, D.C., civic power is probably 1 percent of corporate power. And, yeah, look what it has achieved. And I think the hope coming out of this conference is not only that we have a lot of solutions that we don’t apply in our country, because concentration of power in the hands of the few allows the few to decide for the many, but we have a large amount of unused democratic power, unused civic power, that can be unleashed, organized, to take back our government, if people stopped believing that they were powerless, which they are inbred in ever since we entered elementary school. You know the old phrase, "You can’t fight City Hall."
But if we want a society where people have the opportunity to fulfill life’s possibilities, doesn’t that tell you what the priorities are, which is focusing on subordinating the corporate entity to the sovereignty of the American people, as implied in the Constitution, so that they are our servants, not our masters, so that they have to compete against other models of economic development, like cooperatives, like replacing the HMO insurance companies with full Medicare, like decentralized solar replacing more and more of Exxon and Peabody Coal and the nuclear industry, like a redefinition of efficiency in productivity as if people mattered, not as if corporations dominate? They actually define our economic terms, and if we defined "efficiency" as if people mattered, we would have a massive energy efficiency program, which would, of course, reduce the sales of Exxon and Peabody Coal and Commonwealth Edison and all the rest, because we would be using less electricity and less gasoline, because we would democratize technology.
Instead, we have what Andrew Kimbrell called, at the conference, these giant corporations are dictatorships. And they have enormous power without anywhere near the commensurate responsibility. They are highly autocratic dictatorships that prevent constitutional rights from being with workers when they go to the workplace. They lose their constitutional rights when they enter that corporate domain.
And because of all this, it is interesting that our political leaders don’t like to discuss it. I mean, every politician in this town knows who runs this town. They know who runs the Defense Department, the Department of Interior, Department of Agriculture, Food and Drug Administration. And there are only a tiny handful of politicians who will raise the banner of subordinating corporate power to the sovereignty of the American people. The debates are sterile. The debates are exercises in parallel news conferences repeating ad infinitum the same words and phrases of evasion. They will not confront the corporate crime wave. They will not confront the destruction of our democracy. They will not confront the usurpation of our electoral processes, even though they can go back to Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and others, who have condemned corporate power as a perilous threat to even a modest democratic society.
AMY GOODMAN: So if corporations are dictatorships, you have a choice of regulating a dictatorship or getting rid of it.
RALPH NADER: Well, you’ve got to do all these things. For example, you have to strengthen the traditional tools that have curbed corporate crime, fraud, violence, outrages, bigotry. And these are regulation, adequate opportunity for litigation. These are anti-trust, which has been caricatured, but it is a powerful tool if it’s adequately applied. You have to give the owners, the mutual fund people, the pension shareholders, more power. They are the owners of the corporation, but they have no power. Just imagine the violation of capitalist principles. These guys at the top, who are paying themselves $10,000-$12,000 an hour in compensation, the CEOs, basically have repudiated the cardinal principle of capitalism, which is if you own property, you should control it. And now they have said to their owners, "Get lost! Don’t dare tell us what we’re going to pay ourselves. After all, we’re only your hired hands." And so, that’s a very important front or initiative.
We have to ask ourselves, why not more cooperatives. With the Internet, you can develop cooperative purchasing and develop specifications for the kind of cars or the kind of insurance policies people should be able to buy. We need stronger trade unions. We need trade unions unlike SEIU. We need trade unions like the California Nurses Association, who see themselves as a powerful countervailing force.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain that difference.
RALPH NADER: SEIU is the inheritor of the tradition of company unionism, basically.
AMY GOODMAN: The Service Employees International Union.
RALPH NADER: Yeah, the Service Employees, Andrew Stern. I mean, basically he spends more — sometimes you think he spends more time with corporate executives than he does with workers. He’s constantly trying to collaborate with corporate executives in ways that weaken the morale, undermine the rights and horizons of workers. And most prominently, the way he signs these full-page ads with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and all the other corporate lobbies, saying Americans should have universal healthcare. Yeah, more universal healthcare gouging, more universal healthcare exploitation, not full Medicare for all.
AMY GOODMAN: Coming up, Ralph Nader will talk about the presidential candidates, Democrat and Republican, one by one, and talk about his own plans for 2008.
AMY GOODMAN: We return to my interview with Ralph Nader. I asked him about labor unions today, how they can regain their momentum and power at one of their lowest points in history.
RALPH NADER: One is they’ve got to mount an assault on the WTO and NAFTA. WTO and NAFTA are basically an albatross around the neck of workers, of consumers and of clean environments, to begin with. They are an end run around our courts and regulatory agencies. We couldn’t have gotten airbags under WTO, because that would have been considered a unilateral move under this global trade agreement and a non-tariff trade barrier. It would have been considered too high a standard imposed on importing cars, even though it’s the same standard on domestically produced cars. What WTO does, it prevents us from being first in the world. It pulls down our standards so our workers have to compete with brutalized child labor in third world countries. It makes this impossible to prohibit the importation of products from child labor — that’s a violation of the WTO — even though you can’t buy a product here in the U.S. made from child labor in the U.S. It is the greatest loss of sovereignty — local, state and national — in American history. And it’s an autocratic system with secret courts and secret equivalency procedures. I mean, it’s just a total contradiction in subversion of our democratic society. So that’s the first thing that has to be done, to invoke the six-month notice of withdraw and renegotiate pull-up trade agreements, where we pull up the rest of the world and our standards, instead of pull-down trade agreements that subordinate health and safety to trade agreements. That’s the first time that’s ever been done. Trade usually stuck to trade, trade agreements. Now, they’ve become very imperialist, and they subordinate health and safety, consumer, environmental, and worker rights.
The second that has to be done is something no Democratic politician will ever utter, except maybe for Dennis Kucinich. Not one Democratic politician will say we should repeal the notorious anti-worker Taft-Hartley law of 1947.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain what it is.
RALPH NADER: Which basically obstructs the organization of unions, which transfers control of union pension funds to management. With all these trillions of dollars, imagine the power that workers could have. They would own a third of the New York Stock Exchange. They would be able to put real muscle in investor ownership. And it prevents workers from helping one another, called secondary boycotts, among many other notorious provisions.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about these secret trade deals that are being made behind closed doors between the Democrats and the White House, that reports say are being the language being drafted by the White House. Rick MacArthur, publisher of Harper’s, said on Democracy Now! that "[Congressman] Rangel, [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi are saying, … ’we’re gearing up for the 2008 election. We’ve got to raise a lot of money.’ They’re closer to the Clinton wing of the party, which is the pro-so-called-free-trade wing of the party, the pro-NAFTA, pro-permanent-normal-trade-relations-with-China part of the party. And this is a way of saying to the corporate community … — Wall Street, Wal-Mart — … we’re open for business, we want to raise money from you." In order to compete for campaign money, the logic goes, the Democrats have to cater to big corporate donors.
RALPH NADER: The corporate Democrats in action again. Why should we all be surprised? When you ask Democrats in Congress, "How are you doing against the Republicans in the coming election?" the first answer is about money. It’s not about justice. It’s not about agenda. It’s not about mobilizing people. It’s about dialing for corporate dollars. These two parties have sold the U.S. government and the American people to the highest bidders. And that’s why we have a corporate sovereign political economy, and that’s why workers are daily in peril of losing their economic security and their pensions and retirement or their jobs or their health and safety in the workplace.
You know, we have to pay attention, Amy, to something very important, and that is the language. We are in the process of seeing the corporatization of our highways, the corporatization of our water systems, and still people on our side use the word "privatization." They use the word "white-collar crime," instead of using the word "corporate crime." They use the word "private sector" instead of "corporate sector." We have to stop using the words of the opponents, because they control the language. Democrats should use the words "corporate welfare" more often. They should talk about cracking down on corporate crime, fraud and abuse, that are ripping off Medicare and Medicaid and the U.S. taxpayer across the board. But you can say that ad infinitum, but they’re not going to do it as long as they view their electoral processes in terms of dollar signs.
AMY GOODMAN: Ralph, let’s talk about "NABbing" the elections. That’s National Association of Broadcasters. The money you mentioned that these candidates are raising, tens of millions of dollars, will be well over a billion dollars in 2008. What would you see as a different way for the media to play a role here? How do you see the media being challenged? Explain how the process works right now.
RALPH NADER: Right now, the media focuses on the horse race: Who’s raising the most money? The candidates who raise the most money get the most attention. They get the most specific polls. And the ones who aren’t raising the money, even though their record is far superior and their rhetoric is far superior, like Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel, they don’t get hardly any attention. So the networks and the mass media have bought into the wealth election. That’s one.
The second is, they have made possible a private form of corporate government, known as the Commission on Presidential Debates. So this commission was created in 1987, as you know, to get rid of the League of Women Voters, which sponsored presidential debates, and they went around and they got money from Philip Morris and Ford and AT&T and Coors beer, and they now control the main gateway to tens of millions of Americans. No matter how many states you run in as a third party or independent candidate, if you don’t get on those debates, you don’t reach tens of millions of people.
And who is the gatekeeper? The Democrat and Republican parties, who even kept Ross Perot off in 1996, after he got 19 million votes in 1992. I called him up, and I said, "Ross, how does it feel for a billionaire to be excluded?" And he says, "Absolutely right." He said, "I couldn’t even buy 30 minutes of airtime." They refused him to buy 30 minutes of airtime so he could do his charts on, you know, on the deficit.
And, yeah, these TV stations are using our property. We own the public airwaves. We’re the landlords. They’re just tenants. And they use our property free. They don’t pay as much as you pay for your auto license. And they decide who is on and who isn’t on TV or on the national debates. So if you don’t break that connection between the Debate Commission and ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, CNN, you can’t break the power of this corporation called the Debate Commission and have more diverse debates with more voices and choices, which, by the way, the American people want. In the year 2000, at least three national polls had a majority of the people wanting me and Buchanan on the national debates, and I don’t think that’s just because people wanted to stay awake.
AMY GOODMAN: On the issue of corporate power, let’s go through the leading Democratic candidates and where they stand. Hillary Rodham Clinton.
RALPH NADER: Hillary Rodham Clinton is a corporatist. She’s on the Senate Armed Services Committee, didn’t lift a finger against major corrupt, unnecessary weapons system contracting or even weapons system. Hey, there are people all over the Defense Department who think we should scrap the F-22, the Raptor, which is now over $250 billion program. The plane has gone from about $40 million to almost $200 million. You could put two or three of them in this room. And she’s never taken on any of the corruption, the fraud, even though she complains that there’s not enough money for children’s programs. Well, she’s on the Senate Armed Services Committee. She’s signaling that she is going to play ball with the military-industrial complex.
She has never taken a stand on corporate subsidies, handouts, giveaways, bailouts. You know, stadiums in New York subsidized by taxpayers, while so much in New York City is crumbling for lack of repair.
And finally, she doesn’t even do what Spitzer did. Her fellow Democrat gave her cover by prosecuting Wall Street crooks, rode all the way to the governorship in a landslide election based on his prosecuting corporate crooks. People like prosecuting corporate crooks. And she won’t even sponsor tough corporate crime legislation and tougher penalties, law and order for corporate crooks, in the U.S. Congress.
So, to be kind to her, one can summarize as saying, she is severely lacking in political fortitude. She knows she’s the frontrunner, and therefore she’s going around the country pandering to powerful interest groups and flattering the people. Now, maybe they’ll get tired of it after a while. Maybe they’ll say enough is enough. Do we want eight more years of the Clintons? And, you know, you get a "twofer."
AMY GOODMAN: What does that mean, "eight more years of the Clintons"? How would you summarize the Clinton-Gore years?
RALPH NADER: The Clinton-Gore years were — they further allowed and even encouraged, with this reinventing governments movement, the further consolidation of corporate power, agency by agency, department by department. Eight years went by, and there wasn’t a single chemical control standard issued by OSHA initiated by the Clinton administration; 58,000 American workers died from worker-related disease. You’d think they’d at least issue one. And there’s a big backlog of them. There’s been a lot of scientific work done. They didn’t do it. They didn’t issue one fuel efficiency standard. Where was Gore? Gore knew about this. He called the internal combustion engine, in his first book that came out in 1992, a major threat to the planet. But when he was vice president, he was either muzzled or went along with Clinton, who right from the beginning signaled to the auto companies: You’ve got a four-year pass; in fact, we’re going to spend a billion dollars subsidizing a joint program, which was a complete waste of money, to develop some sort of improved engine efficiency — a partnership between the White House and the three auto companies. So the Clinton-Gore years were the final evidence that the Democratic Party is now a wholly owned subsidiary of giant corporations, with a few luminous exceptions, like George Miller, Dennis Kucinich, some of the older Democrats, Ed Markey. But even Ed Markey has lost some of his vigor in the telecommunications area.
Washington, D.C., is corporate-occupied territory. The Democrat and Republican candidates are fighting against one another to see who’s going to go into the White House and start taking orders from their corporate paymasters. When are we going to understand that either the people are going to control our government or we’re going to cede control increasingly to global corporations that have no allegiance to America, no allegiance to communities, other than to control them or abandon them as they see fit to communist China, with the industries, or elsewhere?
AMY GOODMAN: You mentioned Al Gore. He’s seen as the major voice now on the environment. I don’t know if it’s exactly on taking on the corporations, but he was in power for eight years. So what is your assessment of a Gore candidate for president?
RALPH NADER: Gore has been environmentally reborn. He is experiencing a important redemption. He is doing something very important. He is now basically a full-time citizen alerting the world to the peril of global warming and getting some pretty muscular forces behind them, behind his efforts. Maybe he’ll be restrained in terms of what needs to be done, in terms of the democratization of technology and the expansion of solar energy. I stood in line waiting for, you know, the book signing, when he came here in Washington. There were 300 people at a bookstore, and I just stood in line and finally got up to his desk, and he was very cordial. Anybody who thinks that the Greens cost Gore the election should ask Gore. He not only won the election, he knows how it was stolen from him. He knows he made some very serious failures himself, including not winning his own state of Tennessee, which would have put him in the White House. But he was very cordial, and I said to him, "Al," — because I’ve known him since years ago — I said, "Al, how does it feel to be liberated?" He said, "Very good." And that’s really the description of his present state. It’s quite the testimony. When he had real power, he couldn’t deploy it.
AMY GOODMAN: If he were to become president, what makes you think he would remain reborn?
RALPH NADER: He wouldn’t. See, the only politicians who are liberated once they’re elected are those who come out of mass movements, so that they know who they’re accountable for. And we have an electoral system where everybody tosses their hat in the ring and then goes around trying to raise money and expects people to be spectators on their campaign voyages through their cities and states instead of participants. I mean, that’s what they do. They don’t campaign with the people, with the citizen groups, with these struggles at the local level against pig farms or blowing off mountaintops for the coal industry or South Central L.A. and the poverty, and so on. They parade in front of the people. And that’s no way to win elected office and expect to represent the people.
AMY GOODMAN: Barack Obama.
RALPH NADER: Great capacity. He knows the score. He knows who has power in the country. He was a community organizer in Chicago after a sterling record at the Harvard Law School. He could have gone and cashed in. But, as he said in his book, how can you keep raising that kind of money from those kind of interests and not have it affect you? And he’s now in a race with Hillary to raise 300 million bucks. He’s trying to do a lot of it on the internet in small amounts, but he’s going to one economic sector interest after another raising money. And so, the question is whether he’s going to mobilize the people or he’s going to parade in front of the people. And if he does that, he’s not going to be a distinguished winner if he wins.
I was very upset the other day when I heard him say publicly that he wanted to expand and modernize the military. I mean, really, the military needs more Trident submarines, huh? It needs more aircraft carriers. It’s already half of the budget, the operating budget of the U.S. government. And there’s no major enemy left. The Soviet Union is gone, unless you thing Moldova is a threat, and communist China is converting into — from criminal communism to criminal capitalism. They want our jobs and industry. They’re not going to send missiles over here. So, of course, other perils are being wildly exaggerated and provoked into further expansion: the so-called war on terrorism and a criminal war in Iraq, which even Bush’s CIA chief and General Casey and others have said are provoking the insurgency, enlarging it and attracting more people to be trained in sabotage and terrorism from other countries. So that’s a real powerful anti-terrorist policy. You pursue a policy against terrorists with state terrorism. You pursue a policy against terrorists and expand the number of terrorists. I mean, this should be a concept that could be easily enveloped by the limited mind of George W. Bush.
AMY GOODMAN: Former presidential candidate Ralph Nader. When we come back from break, he talks about John Edwards and talks about some of the Republican candidates as well, as well as his own plan for 2008. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: We return to my interview with Ralph Nader about the presidential candidates for 2008 and their relation to corporate power. I asked him for his assessment of John Edwards.
RALPH NADER: Edwards making a good point on poverty. That was a no-no with Democratic [inaudible]. You look at Clinton’s speeches. It’s all middle class. He never would say "poverty." He’d never talk about 50 million Americans in real poverty and tens of millions of more Americans in a state called — a category called "near poverty." And, but, you know he’s got to become much more populist in a much more specific way. He should become the solar energy candidate. He should become the free communications candidate. He should become the affordable housing. More specific, not just, you know, the two Americas. And above all, he should become the law enforcement candidate against the corporate outlaws, the corporate exploiters. And he knows how to do that, but, you know, he has to raise money, too.
AMY GOODMAN: Rudolph Giuliani.
RALPH NADER: And I might add, he’s not good on foreign policy — Edwards is not good on foreign policy. Rudy Giuliani? Rudy Giuliani is the one-note candidate. No one has ever made more political capital out of what might be called "9/11 showupmanship." I mean, what did he really do? He showed up, which is — quicker than Bush did, right? He did nothing for the massive contamination of the lungs of the firefighters. In fact, he opposed their full compensation rights. Or the police or the volunteers? He just turned his back on these people. There have been very good books written deflating the fraud of Rudy Giuliani. He’s also an authoritarian candidate. Don’t bet your civil liberties on Giuliani. He thinks the PATRIOT Act is weak. So there’s a real authoritarian language. If you look at the language that he’s conveying around the country, it’s frightening.
AMY GOODMAN: John McCain?
RALPH NADER: John McCain? He’s good on auto safety. He tries to do something on campaign finance reform, although he plays the game and has to raise it from the K Street lobbyists. He’s terrible on the war. I don’t know what got into this mind of his. I mean, he had great authority to be as good as Senator Chuck Hagel on it and to say it was the wrong war. He could have opposed it. But he stuck, and that’s why he’s going to have trouble even getting the nomination. And if he gets it, he’s not going to get elected. The American people will not elect a Republican in 2008, but they will definitely not elect a Republican who is for continuing the war in Iraq. Seventy percent of the American people now want out of Iraq. That means a very sizable chunk of conservative voters want out of Iraq. And all the Republican candidates of any significance who are running want to continue that war. They want victory.
AMY GOODMAN: The unannounceds: Fred Thompson, Mayor Bloomberg.
RALPH NADER: Bloomberg is the wildcard. He could easily turn it into a three-way race if he runs as an independent. There’s talk of a Bloomberg-Senator Hagel ticket, and that could not just be another Perot rerun, it could really be a winning ticket. You know, Bloomberg is a surprise to most people. He’s got a Republican label. He’s a former registered Democrat. I don’t think he’s good on corporate welfare. But he’s got a way where he could really appeal to people who call themselves Republicans, independents, Democrats. He is big business, so he’s not afraid to talk turkey to them if he wants to. Nobody can say he didn’t meet a payroll. But we’re still waiting to see whether the inside Bloomberg office talk about running is actually going to materialize.
AMY GOODMAN: The independent unannounced, Ralph Nader?
RALPH NADER: Too early to say. It’s too early to say. If I was going to run — and I have not decided at all — the biggest problem is getting on the ballot. The Democrats filed 21 phony suits against us. We won most of them, but it was very draining. In Pennsylvania, they got a Democratic judge, using a Republican law firm, Reed Smith, to assess me and Peter Camejo $81,000 in transcription costs and handwriting expert fees for defending our right to be on the ballot, which they got us off through all kinds of shenanigans. First people in American legal history who had to pay court costs for defending their right to be on the ballot. So ballot access obstructions is the political bigotry of American politics. It’s very hard to get liberals who love civil rights and civil liberties and who are Democrats to be at all excited about the systemic obstruction of 50 state laws at one level or another that can be used by either Democrat or Republicans against third-party candidates.
And historically, Amy, that’s where all the great ideas came from. In the 19th century it was the anti-slavery party, the women’s suffrage party, the farmer party, all the things we read about briefly in our history books that pushed these social justice movements before one or both of the two parties picked up on them. So they’re — you know what I like to say? What would happen to nature if it prohibited seeds from sprouting? What would happen if big business could totally extinguish small business? That’s what the big two-party elected dictatorship is doing to a whole array of local, state and national candidates who would like to give the American people more voices and choices.
AMY GOODMAN: How do you think mass movements should organize themselves and hold politicians accountable, make them more accountable to citizen, civilian, non-citizen movements than corporations?
RALPH NADER: Well, let’s start with the easy things, like half of democracy is showing up. So why don’t workers who have lost their jobs or their pensions to industries that have gone to communist China with U.S. Department of Commerce subsidy and encouragement, why don’t they mass and rally? I mean, who’s keeping them from rallying and massing? American Idol? Is that what’s doing it? I mean, let’s stop making excuses for ourselves. Let’s take the farmers, the dwindling number of farmers. They have great important causes that mesh with environmental causes at times, and the whole issue of genetic engineering and the dispossession of the small family farm by the big suppliers corporations and the big buying corporations. Why don’t they come to Washington, the way they did 20 years ago with their tractors? Show up!
Why, for example, can’t a coalition of existing groups — the Urban Coalition, the NAACP, the trade unions, the consumer, the environmental groups, the neighborhood groups — in each city sponsor auditorium sessions for the major candidates or whatever candidates they want to invite that are going through New York or Boston or Houston or Denver or Los Angeles or St. Louis or Miami? They couldn’t turn them down. And they could say, "We want you to be here at the auditorium to respond to our agenda. We’re the ones who are going to say no. We’re the ones who are going to say yes."
AMY GOODMAN: I want to end with healthcare, I think one of the critical issues of the day that is so rarely explained. If there was a healthcare system in this country that you designed, what would it look like?
RALPH NADER: Well, it would look like full Medicare for everybody, whereby the government is the payer. The government now pays over 50 percent of the healthcare bill. Huge amount of waste in fraud inflicted by these corporations on Medicare and Medicaid, for example, drug companies getting all kinds of corporate subsidies. So the government is already over 50 percent — federal, state and local government. So it’s full government — it’s called a single payer, which means it can almost eliminate $200 billion of computerized billing fraud and abuse, which has been documented by the General Accounting Office and by the leading expert on this, who should be on your program, Malcolm Sparrow, a lecturer at Harvard University. And when I said, "$200 billion, Mr. Sparrow? Every year?" he said, "That’s the lowest estimate." That’s just computerized billing fraud and abuse in the healthcare industry.
It would dramatically reduce administrative expenses. A doctor was at the hearing today — no, yesterday, I guess — and she said that the per capita administrative expense in this country in healthcare is almost $1,900. In Canada, it’s under $500. So it’s more efficient. It’s less corporate crime. It covers everybody. It saves lives. Eighteen thousand people die in this country, according to the Institute of Medicine, because they can’t afford healthcare. That’s six 9/11s every year. And the outcomes are better. In Western countries, the outcomes in terms of infant mortality, in terms of life expectancy, in terms of lower levels of anxiety — they don’t have to worry about losing their life savings for a tragic illness — are all better than the United States system.
AMY GOODMAN: And what do you think it would take to achieve this?
RALPH NADER: It would take about a million people spending 800 million hours over a period of two years in key congressional districts. You’ve got about 25 percent of the Congress already for it. And once the Washington politicos hear the rumble of the people, you will see a change that will surprise even the cynics among us. They’ve got to hear the rumble of the people and about 2,000 organized people in each congressional district, connecting with a popular sentiment that’s all for this. And they can give you chapter and verse in their own family, in terms of tragedies due to the healthcare system — denial, malpractice, corruption, insensitivity, deferral. It can happen.
AMY GOODMAN: Does George W. Bush matter anymore?
RALPH NADER: Yeah, he matters, because he’s a national security menace. He’s a destroyer of our Constitution, a violator of our statutes, a revoker of our regulations. He’s a war monger. He’s a war criminal, clinically a war criminal. And he’s still in charge. And I said some time ago, he’s a giant corporation in the White House masquerading as a human being, although I sometimes wonder about the word "human." I don’t think it’s possible to see a more obsessively compulsive person with so much contempt for the traditions of our country, including conservative traditions, which is why so many libertarians and conservatives like Pat Buchanan have opposed him again and again.
What’s important is to basically get back to self-determination. Do we really believe in self-government? Do we really believe in accountable government? And do we really believe that the supremacy of the people has to be reinstalled over the supremacy of what Jefferson called the moneyed interests and which today are the giant corporations? And I think that in addition to the various tools of accountability that we’ve discussed here at this conference, such as regulation; litigation; investor power; public delivery systems, when the corporations aren’t interested, like the Tennessee Valley Authority; stronger labor unions; organized consumers; cooperatives; here’s what we really need in a broad sense: We need to exercise the ownership that we already have of the great public assets of the United States of America, from the public airwaves to the public lands, to the government’s research and development, to trillions of dollars of labor pension funds, all of which are owned by the people and controlled by corporations. And so, that’s no big deal, theoretically, is it? To revert control back to the owners? That’s a basic conservative principle.
The second thing we have to do is increasingly displace the operations of corporations with better operations: more efficient energy, more renewable energy, more credit unions that are accountable to their small investors, more Medicare replacing the HMOs. All over the country, we see examples of displacement of corporation, and that is really a very powerful and exciting movement, if it obtains a magnitude of significance.
And then, the third, we have to structurally, constitutionally — every way — subordinate this robot called the corporate entity, not its employees or its people. The robot has to be subordinated to the supremacy of human rights of real individuals. And that shouldn’t be a hard sell, either, if we start talking about these things more often, if we don’t leave it up to Democracy Now! to talk about it, if we don’t leave it up to an occasional TV, you know? An occasional TV, a very occasional TV.
We have to increase our expectation levels. It all starts with increasing our expectation levels of what kind of society we want and what kind of world we want to bequeath to our descendants. If we’re not motivated enough by the past great reformers and civic patriots of our past, the fighters against slavery, women’s rights and all the rest of the social justice movement, if that isn’t enough to motivate us, then just look around this country and see the tragedies, the dispossession, the injustice, the exclusions, the disrespect, the gouging, the ripoffs, the using of taxpayer dollars against those small taxpayers themselves, the lack of health and safety, the hundreds of thousands of lives lost every year in occupational disease and medical malpractice and air and water pollution and denial of healthcare and so on — who weeps for those people?
And we have to stop making excuses for ourselves. That’s the key. We have to multiply our own civic energies with our neighbors, our relatives, our coworkers, our friends. When that happens, when word of mouth takes over as the prime communications system in this country, nothing can stop it. We have to replace big talk with small talk. And we have to make it apparent to millions of people that striving for justice is one of life’s greatest gratifications. In fact, outside of the family, it is the greatest gratification. Without justice, there’s no such thing as liberty and freedom, there’s no such thing as fulfilling life’s possibilities. And I want to thank the people who came to this conference and lent us their energies and energized themselves and hope they’ll go throughout the country and do the same thing. Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: Former presidential candidate Ralph Nader, speaking at a three-day conference on "Taming the Giant Corporation." I spoke to him in Washington, D.C., in June.
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