Ralph Nader, longtime consumer advocate and former presidential candidate. His latest book is Getting Steamed to Overcome Corporatism: Build it Together to Win.
As the presidential race heats up, the focus is increasingly on the nation’s slow economic recovery. Last week, President Obama was widely criticized for saying the private sector is "doing fine," while Mitt Romney attacked public sector unions by calling for fewer teachers, firefighters and police officers. We talk to Ralph Nader about the 2012 election and the lessons of last week’s victory by Scott Walker, governor of what Nader dubbed "Wis-Koch-sin." Nader says, "Walker has not made one move to get rid of billions of dollars of corporate welfare that have been layered into Wisconsin laws for the last 50 years. ... Nobody is raising that, because the Democratic Party is not a party that people can rely on to defend the country against the most craven, cruel, ignorant, indentured-to-corporatism Republican Party in history. That’s the problem." Nader also looks ahead at the Supreme Court’s upcoming rules on healthcare and Arizona’s anti-immigrant law. [includes rush transcript]
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined by Ralph Nader, longtime consumer advocate, ran for president three times. Ralph, I want to turn to the two recent comments made by President Obama and Mitt Romney that have become, well, the most famous comments so far of the campaign, and it’s around the economy. Speaking in Iowa Friday, Romney invoked the recent election in Wisconsin to criticize Obama for pushing a measure to help states regain public sector jobs.
MITT ROMNEY: He wants to hire more government workers. He says we need more firemen, more policeman, more teachers. Did he not get the message of Wisconsin? The American people did. It’s time for us to cut back on government and help the American people.
AMY GOODMAN: So there’s Mitt Romney saying, don’t hire more police, firefighters and teachers. Meanwhile, his campaign has produced an ad featuring President Obama’s comment last week that the private sector economy is, quote, "doing fine."
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The private sector is doing fine. Where we’re seeing weaknesses in our economy have to do with state and local government.
WOMAN 1: We’ve seen layoffs, cutbacks.
MAN 1: When it’s all said and done, I’m making $200 a month.
WOMAN 2: I’ve been looking for a job for two years. Haven’t found any.
MAN 2: You know, I had to file my own personal bankruptcy, had to close my business.
WOMAN 3: Here I am—no healthcare and a slashed pension.
WOMAN 4: I just lost my job recently.
WOMAN 5: I have to work part-time in order to make ends meet.
MAN 3: Sometimes I feel like I’m a failure.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The private sector is doing fine. The private sector is doing fine. The private sector is doing fine.
AMY GOODMAN: That ad by Mitt Romney ends with a caption on the screen saying, "No, Mr. President, we’re not doing fine." Ralph Nader, your response?
RALPH NADER: First of all, there should be presidential debates where they go at each other with a smart moderator. Right now they’re ships passing in the night, hurling general charges against one another, and the issues are not being joined.
There are two ways immediately to increase economic activity in this country. One is to raise the minimum age. Tens of billions of dollars in consumer purchasing power will invigorate the economy. The second is to launch a "repair America" program, a public works program the way Franklin Delano Roosevelt and others have done in the past, which create good-paying jobs and investment in public facilities, repairing schools, clinics, public transit systems, etc., and jobs that cannot be exported to fascist and communist regimes abroad. The more longer range, of course, is to deal with the tax system, which has a perverse incentive of encouraging companies to go abroad with American jobs, and to do other things that take a little longer.
But, you see, there’s no debate until October, with these hoked-up debates and the predictable questions. And I’ve tried for months to get people around the country to realize: mobilize yourself—in Portland and Chicago and Houston and Miami—and demand presidential debates in your area. Don’t leave it up to this two-party-dominated so-called Commission on Presidential Debates to rig the system. We need a vibrant, multi-month debate process. For heaven’s sake, they had a lot of debates in the primaries. Let’s have more debates earlier between Romney and Obama and third parties like the Green Party and Libertarian Party. What’s—why are they rationing debates in this country? Because they don’t want to arouse the public. They really don’t want to engage the public. They just want to—both parties—dial for these corporate dollars and put these insipid, inane ads on that are not really grounded in any spirit of voter engagement.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Ralph, I wanted to ask you about an issue that’s become an increasing wedge issue, it seems to me, in terms of American workers, and certainly the Republican Party is trying to do that, the whole issue of pensions—worker pensions, especially government pensions and local and state levels. We’ve seen the situation in Wisconsin, the referendums in California to reduce pension benefits in some towns. And there seems to be an attempt to convince private sector workers: why should we be paying taxes to provide cushy pensions for teachers and firefighters and other government workers, when we don’t have those kinds of pensions ourselves? Your sense of this debate, the public debate now over employee pensions, government pensions?
RALPH NADER: Well, this is the latest stage of the divide-and-rule between governmental workers and corporate sector workers that started with NAFTA and WTO and shipping jobs abroad, because when Congress was deliberating these export of jobs trade agreements, the public employee unions were sort of standoffish. You know, they weren’t going to lose their jobs. They did not stand in solidarity with the industrial unions, like the steel workers and the auto workers. Now, it’s the public employees’ turn to get the brunt of this low-wage, downward corporatist trend that is seemingly relentless. So, when you strip private sector workers of any adequate pensions, and they lose their jobs, they are very ripe for this kind of political message: why should you pay for better-paid public employee workers?
That, unfortunately, is going to be a really hard nut to crack. And we’ve got to basically have a pull-up economic strategy, where you don’t have the politics of envy between unemployed workers who have lost their jobs to China—compliments of U.S. companies—and public employee workers. And I think the labor movement has got to reset itself. It’s got to get together. It’s got to become much more aggressive. Rich Trumka, in the AFL-CIO building right near the White House, is not exactly a vibrant fighter, whether for the $10 minimum wage or for any of these policies.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to ask you, Ralph Nader, about Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s recent victory, who survived that historic recall election after launching an attack against the state public workers. This is Walker declaring victory, after his opponent, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, conceded the race.
GOV. SCOTT WALKER: Tonight—tonight we tell Wisconsin, we tell our country, and we tell people all across the globe that voters really do want leaders who stand up and make the tough decisions. But now—but now it is time to move on and move forward in Wisconsin. Tomorrow—tomorrow I’ll meet with my cabinet in the state’s capitol, and we’ll renew our commitment to help small businesses grow jobs in the state. We’ll renew our commitment to help grow the quality of life for all of our citizens, both those who voted for me and those who voted for someone else, because tomorrow—tomorrow is the day after the election, and tomorrow we are no longer opponents. Tomorrow we are one as Wisconsinites, so, together, we can move Wisconsin forward.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Scott Walker, his victory speech in the recall election. Ralph Nader, the significance of this, of Mitt Romney saying that—asking if President Obama has learned the lesson of Wisconsin, and what is that lesson? Is it the message of Walker, or is it that President Obama should have gone to Wisconsin to fight for Barrett, and perhaps he would have won?
RALPH NADER: Well, first of all, it wasn’t a straight, normal recall, because it was just another rerun election midterm, which turned off some people in Wisconsin. And they had the candidate who Walker beat two years ago up against Walker. So it was really a second election. It wasn’t the kind of recall that they would have in a state like California. So I wouldn’t read too much into Walker’s victory. He didn’t have the best candidate up against him. After a bitter primary fight with a much more progressive Democratic candidate, Barrett was not very exciting.
The second is, well, what is Walker planning for Wisconsin? I think he’s planning Wis-Koch-son. The Koch brothers are really the people who are in Walker’s camp and funding all this. Walker has not made one move to get rid of billions of dollars of corporate welfare that have been layered into Wisconsin laws for the last 50 years—subsidies, tax abatements, you name it. Nobody is raising that, because the Democratic Party is not a party that people can rely on to defend the country against the most craven, cruel, ignorant, indentured-to-corporatism Republican Party in history. That’s the problem.
So it all starts with how many people out there are going to take some time and put the pressure on Congress, put the pressure on the White House, start encircling congressional offices back home, with the help of the Occupy people, and push for these changes, like the card check, the federal minimum wage at $10, like cracking down on corporate crime, like full Medicare for all—all of these—and getting rid of those wars, those criminal wars overseas, and bringing the soldiers back home. All of these are long-overdue, catch-up reforms.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Ralph?
RALPH NADER: And they have a large proportion to people polling in favor of them. Who’s against cracking down on corporate crime and ending corporate welfare? There aren’t many people left.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Ralph, we just have a—we just have a couple of minutes left. I wanted to ask you about—on another topic. By the end of this month, the Supreme Court is going to make two major decisions, one on the healthcare law and the other on the Arizona "show me your papers" law. And many civil rights leaders believe that the decision is going to uphold Arizona and is going to strike down key aspects of the healthcare law. What do you think this is going to mean for progressives and activists and what they have to do after these decisions come down?
RALPH NADER: Well, I don’t know anyone who can read the mind of the swing vote, Justice Anthony Kennedy. We’ll see. But if it goes adverse, as you imply, this has got to be a wake-up call for people. Listen, it all comes down to how many people are going to organize and make civic action and political action their chief hobby. Some people play—you know, are in bowling leagues. Some people have bridge game leagues. How many people? And this is who I call "the other 1 percent." The other 1 percent advancing all these changes, all these changes, with the backing of majority polls, can take on the top 1 percent of the super-rich and beat them.
That’s why we want people to log into timeforaraise.org, timeforaraise.org, pick up the phone, just get your feet wet here. If you don’t do this, call the White House and call your member of Congress, (202) 224-3121—there’s a switchboard—and tell them you want to support Jesse Jackson Jr.'s bill. I mean, they're in a bubble on Capitol Hill. We call it "Withering Heights." You cannot believe how stagnant this city is, because the people back home have become so disillusioned and so discouraged that they just give up.
AMY GOODMAN: Ralph, very quickly—
RALPH NADER: And they cannot give up.
AMY GOODMAN: Very quickly, the whole battle over whether to raise Bain and Mitt Romney and his wealth within the Democratic Party, it seems that they’re heading away from that. What about Mitt Romney’s overseas accounts, both personally and with Bain, and the significance of how far the Democrats are willing to go?
RALPH NADER: Mitt Romney’s record is a losing record for Mitt Romney, but only if the Democrats make a big deal of it. They didn’t make a big deal out of George W. Bush’s Texas record for some bizarre reason. But why don’t they put up on TV the string of companies that Bain Capital, under Romney, bought, strip-mined, loaded with debt, laid off workers—
AMY GOODMAN: Five seconds.
RALPH NADER: —and threw into bankruptcy?
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to leave—we’re going to leave it there. I want to thank you for being with us.
RALPH NADER: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: Longtime consumer advocate, three-time presidential candidate, Ralph Nader.
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