Ralph Nader, longtime consumer advocate, corporate critic and former presidential candidate. His latest book is Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us!
With total campaign spending projected to hit $4 billion, the 2010 election is on track to be the most expensive non-presidential contest in US history. For analysis of the 2010 midterms, we speak to former presidential candidate and longtime consumer advocate and corporate critic, Ralph Nader. [includes rush transcript]
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: After months of campaigning, advertising and election spending, candidates across the country made a last-minute push Monday night as millions of voters head to the polls today. Polls suggest Republicans could win enough seats to retake control of the House, while Democrats are expected to narrowly hold on to the Senate. But this will all depend on you today going out to the polls.
Meanwhile, the 2010 election is on track to be the most expensive non-presidential contest in US history. Total campaign spending is projected to hit $4 billion.
For analysis of the 2010 midterms, we go to Washington, DC. We’re joined by former presidential candidate, longtime consumer advocate and corporate critic, Ralph Nader.
Ralph Nader, welcome to Democracy Now! Let’s start on the issue of money. Four billion dollars, your response?
RALPH NADER: Well, after the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United in January of this year, Amy, which opened the floodgates to unlimited independent corporate money against or for candidates, the Republicans have set up, like the Democrats, these 501(c)(4)s to receive the money in secrecy. And the Republicans have now outspent the Democrats seven to one. In other words, they’ve moved quickly, when the floodgates opened after the Supreme Court decision, five-four, to overwhelm the Democrats with hundreds of millions of dollars of ads all over the country. I think about 60,000 additional ads.
So, this once again raises the whole issue of campaign finance reform. And both parties are dialing ferociously, often for the same dollars, and they’re complicit, and they cannot make that an issue in the campaign. So that leaves nobody but third parties and independent candidates to make that an issue, which is why I think people should pay more attention to seasoned candidates like Howie Hawkins of the Green Party, running for governor of New York, a citizen leader, an author, a working Teamster, a former Marine, who now gives people in New York the right to vote their conscience for these kinds of reforms, since it’s a shoe-in for Cuomo for governor.
AMY GOODMAN: This issue of money, the $4 billion, the vast majority of it, at least $3 billion, is going to campaign ads on television, which I dare say is why —- I mean, you have the politicians not talking about it, and the media generally covers the debate between Democrats and Republicans, and since both are spending the money, they’re not raising it. But then have the media that could raise it, of course, independently, but they’re raising the money. They’re getting the vast majority of this money. We’re seeing happening on a national scale what happens in Iowa every four years, when they can upgrade their TV stations -—
RALPH NADER: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: — because of the ads there. What about the issue of free campaign ads? What would that single act alone mean?
RALPH NADER: Well, the public airways, as we know, belong to the people, and they’re the landlords, and the radio and TV stations are the licensees. They’re the tenants, so to speak. They pay no money to the FCC for their annual license. And therefore, it’s really quite persuasive, were we to have a public policy to condition modestly the license to this enormously lucrative control of the public airways twenty-four hours a day by these TV and radio stations and say, as part of the reciprocity for controlling this commons, so to speak, you have to allow certain amount of time, free time, on radio and TV for ballot-qualified candidates. I supported this and talked about this in my presidential campaigns over the years. And third party candidates are doing that. But today, as you say, the money coming into the radio and TV stations, Amy, are so massive they completely overwhelm the profits from soap and toothpaste and hot dogs and cars, and the elections have become a commodity, a profit center for these radio and TV stations.
Now, who’s going to put this policy into effect? It’s going to have to be the Congress. Well, good luck. The Congress is going to be completely deadlocked. If we thought it was deadlocked this year, wait 'til next year, if the Republicans control the House, headed by John Boehner, who is a fact-starved ideologue working on slogans, and all he knows how to say is no. And in the Senate, even in the Republican part, the Libertarians, who are going to bolster Senator DeMint from South Carolina, will be a Trojan Horse inside the Republican Party. So, there's not going to be anything that’s going to happen in the next two years. So we ought to use that time to build a civic movement, to build a political movement that will give people more voices and choices.
AMY GOODMAN: You have written a piece about ten things to know about the Tea Party movement. We have put out on Facebook that you were going to be here, and lots of people wrote in to ask about the Tea Party movement. You have long been an advocate of third parties. The Tea Party movement is rising up. Your thoughts, Ralph Nader?
RALPH NADER: Well, we shouldn’t stereotype the Tea Partiers. First of all, they range from the Libertarians, who do not like undeclared wars of aggression, who do not like corporate subsidies and bailouts, who do not like the PATRIOT Act, who do not like lack of law and order on corporate crime, and who do want diverse candidates, easier ballot access, initiative, referendum, recall — it ranges from the Libertarian all the way to the vigorous advocates of plutocratic corporate control of our political economy. That’s why I wrote this article, which is on nader.org, called "Ten Questions to the Tea Partiers." And basically, it splits those who are real Libertarian, genuine paleoconservatives, from the corporatists who masquerade as conservatives. And it was a big mistake for the Democrats not try to reach out to some of those Libertarians and genuine conservatives, who actually agree on some of the seminal — not all, obviously — some of the seminal issues of distribution of power and constitutionalism.
AMY GOODMAN: What about, you know, the people who go out — when you talk about your questions for the Tea Party — who carry signs like we have just been showing — and people can go to our website at democracynow.org — that say things like "Impeach the Muslim Marxist," the white supremacist strains? What about that, Ralph Nader?
RALPH NADER: Well, obviously, that’s part of what’s called the Tea Party movement, because some people who are not accepted by some of the more reasonable Tea Party genuine conservatives, Libertarians, are riding with the wave. So you see genuine racists. You see anti-Semites, against Arabs and Arab Americans, against Muslims. You see people who are prejudiced against Latinos. But we should not fall prey to stereotyping the whole Tea Party effort. The big mistake progressives made last year was when they saw the Tea Partiers emerge, they didn’t create a countervailing grassroot effort, which would have gotten them quite a bit of press. If there’s just one pulse, called the Tea Party, among the citizenry, they’re going to get enormous press. And that’s why —
AMY GOODMAN: Well, let me ask you —
RALPH NADER: — half tongue-in-cheek, I thought that the progressives should have started a Coffee Party.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, let me ask you — I remember last anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, March 19th, 20th, that weekend in Washington, the Tea Party movement gathered in Washington. There were a couple of hundred Tea Party activists there. The media covered it extensively, perhaps as many journalists there as members of the Tea Party movement. But then there was also people who had come out to protest the war, and there were thousands of them. They didn’t get half of the coverage of a much smaller group. So what about the issue of media coverage of the right and the far right?
RALPH NADER: Yeah, you’re very accurate. There were 3,000 people in Lafayette Square right opposite the White House one weekend, three blocks from the Washington Post, protesting the Israeli invasion of Gaza, and it didn’t get a paragraph. And that’s true for other peace marches, as well.
I think the answer to your question is twofold. One is, when the mainstream media knows that one of their networks is pushing a movement, they tend to cover it more. And, of course, Fox News is like the voice of the Tea Partiers and Karl Rove and others, Dick Armey and others, who are trying to manipulate and channel Tea Partiers into the corporatist arena. The second reason, I think, is that the Tea Partiers filled a vacuum. Members of Congress go back in August 2009 for the so-called town meetings. The seats routinely are empty in these meetings. Suddenly they came in, and they started stomping and shouting at the members, and that stunned the members, and they overreacted. And then, some of them didn’t have any more town meetings. So, I think that helped the effort, as well.
And I think it’s quite clear that when the media knows there’s big money behind any kind of grassroot movement — and there is big money; the Koch brothers, for example, and others are pouring money into what’s called the Tea Party movement — they tend to cover it even more. It’s like Ross Perot. When they knew he was a multibillionaire, they covered him. I’m not a multibillionaire, so they didn’t cover me, even though my polls were pretty high to get on the presidential debates.
AMY GOODMAN: What about David and Charles Koch? Can you explain who they are and their significance?
RALPH NADER: Well, they’ve been properly exposed in The New Yorker by Jane Mayer. I think they represent something that is not paralleled on the progressive side. There are a lot of mega-billionaires pouring money over the years. They helped create the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute, a lot of these right-wing think tanks. They poured money into candidates and into the Republican Party, on the right-wing, corporate-wing side. On the progressive side, the civic side, let’s say, you don’t have that kind of parallelism. George Soros once in awhile puts some money in. But there are a lot of mega-billionaires who are liberal, relatively, have some enlightened background, but they’re not countervailing the weight of the power of the other side. And that’s reflected in the seven-to-one ratio in these new Citizen United 501(c)(4) groups this year in favor of the Republicans.
AMY GOODMAN: Ralph Nader, you have a piece called "Doomsday for Democrats? Will They be Demolished by the Most Craven Republican Party in History?" Will they be? And what do you mean by this?
RALPH NADER: Yes, I mean, right now, I think if the trends bear out, Amy, once again, the Democrats will demonstrate to the American people they cannot defend the country against the most craven Republican Party in history. I mean, I’ve never seen worse Republicans. With every ounce of potential tolerance I have toward the Republicans, I can say that I have never seen crueler, more vicious, more unknowing Republicans in the Congress, with very few exceptions, like Walter Jones from North Carolina.
So, what we see here is complicity. When people say, "Gee, why aren’t the wars an issue?" — well, because the Democrats are complicit in both the Iraq and Afghanistan war. "Why isn’t corporate welfare and subsidies and bailouts of Wall Street crooks an issue?" Well, because the Democrats have done the same thing as the Republicans. Just now, they’re giving away the store to the taxpayers’ share in General Motors in the IPO that’s about to be issued. And they say, "Well, why aren’t the Democrats making a big deal of corporate crime against consumers and workers and issues like minimum wage and card check?" Because the Democrats don’t want to be involved in that. They’re dialing for the same corporate dollars. They say, "Well, why aren’t the Democrats raising these great civil liberty issues, like what’s in the PATRIOT Act?" Well, they just rubber-stamped another renewal over a year ago of the PATRIOT Act.
So, that’s why they can’t draw a bright line between the Democrats and Republicans, as Franklin Delano Roosevelt did in making the people think that the Republicans were the party of Big Business and the Democrats were the party of working people. And that worked a lot for both him and Harry Truman. Imagine what those two gentlemen would have done to today’s Republican Party, instead of the namby-pamby, wishy-washy, so-called phony "bipartisanship" of Obama’s administration and his allies in Congress.
AMY GOODMAN: Ralph Nader, I want to read from an article by Stephen Zunes, professor of poitics at University of San Francisco. It’s called "My Support for Ralph Nader, Ten Years Later: Lessons Learned." Zunes writes, quote, "The idea that one can 'teach the Democrats a lesson' by voting for a progressive third party or not voting at all and thereby allowing Republicans to win just doesn’t seem to work."
He goes on to write, "So, as reluctant as I am to say it: If you can stomach it, please vote Democratic this Tuesday.
“Then, even more importantly, fight like hell to make sure they stop selling out to the militarists and the corporations. With only a few conscientious exceptions, Democratic officials have rarely led when it comes to progressive positions; they have generally had to be dragged kicking and screaming by their constituents. We were able to force many Democratic elected officials to move to the left on civil rights, Vietnam, Central America, nuclear power, women’s rights, South Africa, East Timor, globalization, Iraq, gay rights, and other issues.
“And here is the difference: Democrats, if pressed sufficiently, can change.
"Republicans, by contrast, are hopeless."
Those are the words of Professor Stephen Zunes, who supported you ten years ago and is saying vote Democrat today.
RALPH NADER: Well, he’s right on the civil rights area. The Democrats can be pressured by mass appeals on these civil rights issues. But on the corporate power issues, they’re too far gone. We could never get today the legislation we got in the '60s and early ’70s, even under the Nixon administration — EPA, OSHA, air and water pollution control, consumer protection laws, etc. You can't possibly get them. There’s a simple auto safety bill to strengthen the budgets and law enforcement of the Department of Transportation following the Toyota acceleration problem, and it’s wallowing in the House and in the Senate. There’s a food safety bill that’s thirty years overdue to deal with contaminated food and preventing thousands of deaths and hundreds of thousands of sicknesses in this country, and it passed the House, it’s been buried in the Senate. The Senate is controlled by Democrats, so — and they don’t want to change the filibuster rules, and now that’s going to come back to haunt them. So, I think the Democrats are beyond "Well, let’s put some pressure on them."
They’ve been so corporatized, so monetized, so driven on corporate power closer to the Republican Party, regardless of their rhetoric, that we have to have third party and independent candidates, even ones that are up against all this rigged ballot access obstruction. No other Western country obstructs voters and candidates the way this country does, especially with its state laws.
And that’s why I favor people voting their conscience. As Eugene Debs once said, better to vote for who you believe and lose than vote for who you don’t believe and win. And if we don’t vote our conscience, if we have this tactical, pragmatic approach, I ask those people one question: what’s your breaking point? How bad does the Democratic Party have to be, even though the Republican Party is worse, before you break away and stop being captured and taken for granted the way African Americans have been taken for granted by the Obama administration? That’s the key question everyone has to ask themselves as a voter: what is your breaking point? If you don’t have a breaking point, you don’t have a moral compass.
AMY GOODMAN: The question of corporations. You’ve written a piece called "When Corporations are the Government," Ralph Nader.
RALPH NADER: Yes. The corporations now dominate every department and agency in the federal government, from the Department of Defense, Department of Treasury, Department of Agriculture, Interior and other departments. By that I mean, the outside influence on these departments is overwhelmingly corporate, even the Labor Department. Number two, they have something like 9,000 political action committees — auto dealers, insurance companies, banks, drug companies — funneling money into members of Congress and the White House. Number three, they’ve put their executives in high government positions. Now, nobody comes close to that kind of triple control of our government. And when Franklin Delano Roosevelt sent a message to Congress in 1938 to set up the national — temporary national commission on corporate concentration — and they did pass that — he said in his message, when government is controlled by private economic power, that’s fascism. That was in 1938. And now, more than ever, we have a corporate government in Washington, DC, corporate-occupied territory, that is destructive of any semblance of democratic process. Voice for the people, voice for labor, a voice for small taxpayers, consumers, they’re shut out. They’re excluded.
And we’ve got to completely revise our sense of routine in our country. And we have to start right at the neighborhood and form little republics, so to speak, of a hundred people each — friends, relatives, neighbors —- and begin studying the ways that people are controlled in this country, how giant corporations have no allegiance to the United States other than to control it or ship its jobs and industries to repressive fascist and communist regimes overseas who know how to keep workers in their place. And if that occurs around the country, my guess is about one to two million people, organized equivalently in the 435 congressional districts, can begin turning Congress around. And when Congress turns around, the federal government turns around. And when the federal government breaks its chains from the engines of corporate power, things can change, because there’s a large consensus in this country and a lot of overdue changes, including full Medicare for all, including living wage, including cracking down on corporate crime, protecting the sovereignty of the people from being pulled down in these nefarious trade agreements, WTO, NAFTA. And above all, there’s a big consensus on electoral reform, multi-party systems, cleaning up the monetization of holding elections as if they were auctions. That’s what we’ve got to do. Otherwise, we’ll just keep diagnosing and diagnosing and exposing -—
AMY GOODMAN: Ralph Nader, let me ask you something quickly. So —
RALPH NADER: — and when nothing happens, people get frustrated and withdraw.
AMY GOODMAN: Ralph Nader, if the polls are correct and the Republicans take over the House, at least, John Boehner has already said that they will push to overturn the healthcare reform legislation, and there will be a number of subpoenas that got out, investigations like we saw with Whitewater under Clinton. What are your thoughts about this?
RALPH NADER: This is a dream come true for Mayor Mike Bloomberg of New York City. There’s going to be gridlock, enormous acrimony. The temperament of John Boehner is conducive to that, and his cohorts. And the Senate is going to be more gridlocked than ever, not only because of its rules, because of its composition after today. And people are going to be angrier than ever. And it’s going to open up an opportunity for someone like Mike Bloomberg, with his base among mayors all over the country and his independent wealth and his activity in New York City, to run as an independent candidate. I think we’re going to have at least a three-way race, and I hope we’ll have a four-, five- or six-way race, with Green Party and Libertarian and Peace and Freedom Party and others, whose agendas are very often right on in terms of majoritarian support. So, that’s what’s going to happen. I think after today, Mayor Bloomberg is going to revise his calculus. He almost jumped in in 2008. And he’s going to say, this is the incredible year of opportunity for the Mayor of New York.
AMY GOODMAN: And what do you think people should do today, Ralph Nader?
RALPH NADER: I think they should always vote their conscience, vote for people they believe in, like Howie Hawkins, who I’ve supported, from Syracuse, running for governor of New York. And if Democrats vote for him, they don’t have to worry. Cuomo is going to go in in a landslide, so they can vote their conscience. But I believe that when people don’t vote their conscience and they don’t vote who they believe in, what are they voting for?
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, the power of organized labor, is there any? Where do you think labor stands today? And what are its prospects?
RALPH NADER: Well, one of the ways the corporate supremacists have increased their concentration of power in this country is by maintaining labor laws like Taft-Hartley Act that obstruct workers from engaging in collective bargaining. The ranks of labor in the corporate sector have been declining. I think they’re down below nine percent now. Labor unions are very weak. Rich Trumka is the new head of the AFL-CIO. He gives terrific speeches, but he’s got to get more muscle and not simply be a toady to the Democrats in power today and later.
So, I think these are not good times for labor. The card check has been ignored by Obama, who promised to further it in 2008. The minimum wage is $2.75 lower than it was in 1968, adjusted for inflation. It would be now $10 an hour; it’s $7.25. You’ve got one-third of the entire American workforce full-time working for Wal-Mart wages. You can’t support a family on that. And so, I think there needs to be an adjunct labor movement that doesn’t immediately say we want to form a labor union, but an informal grouping of association labor, the way Paul Tobias of Cincinnati has been pressing for many, many years, so it becomes a political base, even though they can’t achieve a union in the workplace.
AMY GOODMAN: Ralph Nader, I want to thank you for being with us, longtime consumer advocate, corporate critic, former presidential candidate. His latest book, "Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us!"
This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. Again, we’ll be covering the midterm election results tonight, 8:00 Eastern Standard Time until 2:00 in the morning, with veteran independent broadcasters around the country. So go to democracynow.org.
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