Ralph Nader on GOP's 2014 Wins: Democrats Can't Use Citizens United, Voter Restriction Laws as Alibi

Web ExclusiveNovember 06, 2014

Ralph Nader

longtime consumer advocate and former presidential candidate. His latest book is Unstoppable: The Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State.

Andy Kroll

senior reporter at Mother Jones magazine, where he has written extensively about campaign finance and dark money.

A.C. Valdez

senior producer of NPR’s Latino USA.

Watch Amy Goodman and Juan González interview longtime consumer advocate Ralph Nader during the Democracy Now! 2014 Election Night Special.

"We shouldn’t let Citizens United and voting restriction laws ... be used as alibis by the Democrats in Congress," he says of the GOP’s victories on Tuesday night. "The Democrats have dropped the economic issue that won election after election for Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Harry Truman. They can no longer defend our country against the most militaristic, corporatist, cruel, anti-worker, anti-consumer, anti-environment, anti-women, even anti-children programs of the Republican Party."

Nader’s latest book is Unstoppable: The Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State_. See all of Nader’s interviewsnader on Democracy Now!

Click here to watch our entire 2014 Election Night Special.

AMY GOODMAN: Joining us now from Connecticut is Ralph Nader, longtime consumer advocate, former presidential candidate a number of times over. His latest book is Unstoppable: The Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State. Ralph, you’ve heard some of the results are in. In your own state, we still don’t know yet who the governor will be. But can you talk about the results so far and the significance of these midterm elections, if in fact, as predicted, the Senate goes Republican?

RALPH NADER: Well, I think they’re going to go Republican, and you’ll have a divided government. But it’s the nature of the Republicans who are going to be in charge—these are the most virulent, cruel, vicious, ignorant, arrogant Republicans in the history of the party, since 1854. I mean, if you read the activities of Senator Robert Taft, who was Mr. Conservative in the U.S. Senate in the '50s and ’40s, I mean, he would be a liberal today. So, we're dealing with the question: Why can’t the Democrats defend our country against the worst, most virulent, ignorant, corporate-dominated, pro-war, money-saturated Republican Party? That’s the real question.

And so, I’ve just put out a statement that the Democrats have got to recognize they have to have a change of leadership. I don’t know who’s going to replace them, but Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer and Steve Israel led the fight to regain control of the House of Representatives for the Democrats in 2010, lost; 2012, lost; now 2014, lost even bigger. So, they’ve got to adhere to the baseball principle: three strikes and they’re out. And they have to step down and let some more vigorous and progressive back-benchers move to the leadership, because otherwise all I see for the next seven, eight years is a permanent minority of Democrats in both the House and the Senate.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Ralph, you’ve often talked, obviously, about the impact of big money on politics and the unprecedented amount of money being spent, especially by these super PACs in this race.

RALPH NADER: Juan, you’re right on that, and you’re right about voter restriction. These are injustices. But you cannot allow the Democrats to turn them into alibis. The Democrats raised huge amounts of money this time around and in 2012 in their own right, plenty of money to win. And number two, they don’t get their own voters out, because although they finally came around to the only issue that Politico said is getting traction for the Democrats—raising the minimum wage for 30 million people, who are paid less now than workers in 1968, adjusted for inflation, 30 million people and their families, a lot of voters—they didn’t make it a big enough issue. I had a conversation with Senator Harry Reid about three-and-a-half weeks ago, and I said, "This issue’s catching on, Harry. But it has to be nationalized by the president in a barnstorm around the country." And he agreed. He said he was going to call the president.

But what did we get? We got a president who spent almost two weeks in salons, from New York and Maine and San Francisco and Los Angeles, raising money for the Democrats, not barnstorming the country on an issue that has 80 percent, 80 percent support, that even Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum have come out for restoring the minimum wage. So, it is the—they didn’t have a policy. They didn’t have agenda. They didn’t have the message. They had tons of money to put on insipid television ads that didn’t move the needle.

And a perfect example of that is the incumbent senator who just lost in Arkansas, Senator Mark Pryor. He came to the U.S. Senate, and he made sure that he was going to turn his back on the citizen groups, the liberal groups, the progressive groups. He was in charge of the Subcommittee on Consumer Affairs. We couldn’t even get a meeting with him. We couldn’t even get him to return our calls. I worked with his father, the prior senator from Arkansas, on nursing home reform. And now he paid the penalty.

In other words, people back home are not given enough reason to vote for the Democrats. But they’re given plenty of emotional reason to vote for the Republicans because of all the social issues—the school prayer, the reproductive rights, the gun control. The Democrats have dropped the economic issue that won election after election for Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Harry Truman. They can no longer defend our country against the most militaristic, corporatist, cruel, anti-worker, anti-consumer, anti-environment, anti-women, even anti-children programs, the Republican Party. A lot of soul searching is needed, and we shouldn’t let Citizens United and voting restriction laws, which are being upended by good judges, fortunately, in several states—we shouldn’t allow those to be used as alibis by the Democrats in Congress.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Ralph, I wanted to ask you about a particular race here in New York, speaking about the bankruptcy of some Democratic politics, which is the race for governor here in New York. Andrew Cuomo—the polls are closing right now in New York, and all the polls, previous polls, show that Cuomo is expected to win. But Cuomo did something extremely unusual in this race, in that after seeking the Working Families endorsement, he went ahead and created a phantom party, the Women’s Equality Party. And for weeks now in New York City, people have been turning on their television seeing Andrew Cuomo with his daughters and his girlfriend all urging the voters not to vote for him as a Democrat or as a member of the Working Families, but as a member of the Women’s Equality Party—an attempt to basically use the third-party movement, basically, to promote himself without having to be accountable to other groups in the normal Democratic or progressive coalition. And despite that, Howie Hawkins, the Green Party candidate, has been polling very well and actually may surpass your vote in New York state, when you ran for president, by the end of the night.

RALPH NADER: No doubt, he will. And he’s getting the benefit of Professor Teachout’s challenge to Andrew Cuomo. I mean, she took a big chunk out of the primary, and she had virtually no staff or no money or no name recognition. And that reflected an unease, a distaste for Cuomo’s type of bare-knuckle politics and lack of forthrightness. So, I think—

AMY GOODMAN: And, by the way, the polls have been called here in New York, and it looks like Governor Cuomo will remain Governor Cuomo.

RALPH NADER: Yeah, I mean, there’s no doubt. But, you see, it really has to come back to the people, does it not? I mean, we really—we can’t let our keen sense of injustice on issue A, B, C, D, take us away from looking at ourselves in the mirror and starting to organize in every district. I’ve said again and again, if 1 percent of the people organize in every congressional district around an agenda that has popular support—and we know what the issues are, whether it’s living wage or cracking down on Wall Street or making corporations pay their fair share of taxes or full Medicare for all, everybody in, nobody out, free choice of doctor and hospital—these all come in, and many others, majority support. And as Abraham Lincoln once said, with public sentiment, you can do anything. And all it takes is 1 percent. I mean, there have been changes in our country, Amy and Juan, in the history, as you know better than anybody, where it’s far less than 1 percent turned it around, not only to start it, but at the victory level, it was less than 1 percent of people who really made change their principal civic concern. And that’s what we have to do. That’s the takeaway from this election.

We cannot be dependent anymore on representatives who sweet-talk us and go back to Washington and betray us for careerism. The curse of the Democratic Party is gerrymandering that keeps them in office without adequate challenge, never mind from the Republicans, but their own gerrymandered district. And they have a careeristic mentality, the best of them. Senator Ed Markey has just been re-elected, probably with a landslide. He doesn’t return calls to citizen groups anymore, except on nuclear power, where he’s terrific. They’re very, very satisfied, very complacent, very sure that they can continue going to work every day, but they don’t have that sense of perceived injustice and empathy that would rouse the public. They’re not rousing the public. They’re pursuing their own careers and grumbling about the Republicans.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Ralph Nader. One of the issues you were just talking about is the minimum wage. You also came out, you know, slamming the Republicans, but you’re also known for being fiercely critical of the Democrats, as you’ve just been pointing out. What is so amazing about these minimum wage issues, that these are, as you were pointing out, these are in Republican states, and Republicans are winning these states. But they’re overwhelmingly, the minimum wage increases, being—though we don’t have a call on them in Alaska, of course, because those polls will close much later, in Arkansas and Illinois and Nebraska—overwhelmingly supported by Republicans as well as Democrats. Did the Democrats just miss this completely?

RALPH NADER: That’s the proof of what we’ve been trying to tell the Democrats in 2009, '10, ’11, ’12. They wouldn't pick it up. And they finally picked it up, and some citizens picked it up and put it on the ballot. Just think, the four states—they’re mostly red states. The four states that have minimum wage increase on the initiative are going to win. The votes are going to pass a minimum wage increase in Arkansas and Alaska and elsewhere.

AMY GOODMAN: Nebraska and South Dakota.

RALPH NADER: And these are the same states that the Republicans are winning on the ballot. In other words, the Democrats are not getting on the populist, progressive bandwagon.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Ralph Nader, and we’re getting a bunch of news alerts in. Greg Abbott has been called the winner of the Texas race. He beat Wendy Davis, who is famous for this something like 11-hour filibuster, where she was filibustering around the issue of reproductive rights, women’s rights. We also have Governor Rick Snyder defeating Mark Schauer to win governor of Michigan, according to a Free Press projection. John Cornyn has won re-election, as well, in Texas. But we are yet to see results in Connecticut, where, Ralph Nader, you’re speaking to us from, where you grew up, in Winsted, Connecticut, that very fiercely contested race for governor, Governor Dannel Malloy facing an intense challenge from Tom Foley, a Republican, a replay of the 2010 contest where Malloy beat Foley by only a few thousand votes, Foley a businessman and former ambassador to Ireland. There was also a third-party candidate, Visconti, who just this weekend threw his support to Foley. But he could make the difference, and we’ve seen this in state after state, from Louisiana to North Carolina, though it looks like Kay Hagan has won in North Carolina. Third-party candidates may not be winning themselves, but they can determine who wins in the major parties.

RALPH NADER: Yeah. Unfortunately, it’s not on anything significant in terms of a policy redirection. It’s not dealing with militarism and wars of aggression overseas. It’s not the endemic poverty that’s growing among children in this country, and adults and underemployment. You know, it’s almost—it’s almost like a little bit, you know, "Here, here, you can have these votes, you know, and maybe I’ll get a job." These aren’t legitimate third-party efforts.

The third-party efforts are in New York state: Howie Hawkins running for governor, Matt Funiciello in the 21st District up north of Albany running for the Congress. I think those are really legitimate, because if you look at their—you look at their agenda, first of all, it’s a majoritarian agenda, which is ironic—you know, a small party representing issues that a majority of the people support in this country. And second, I think people, they will see the real fangs of the Republican Party. You know, it’s easy to be obstructionist in the Senate—Mitch McConnell and these email filibuster threats, but now he’s going to be the boss, and the fangs will come out.

And maybe that will start alarming enough people to organize back home. Our democracy is not going to be saved in Washington. It’s not going to be saved by a few being elected in Washington. It’s got to be saved by a renewal of civic spirit, a renewal of civic engagement by a small number of people in each congressional district that represents a majority sentiment. That’s the beginning. That’s not asking for all that much. We’re talking, you know, three million people in this country can turn this whole country around, because the redirections that will turn this country around have very deep support. I mean, my book, Unstoppable, is trying to get the public to focus on the areas where left-right agree, because the divide-and-rule strategy of the power structure is to get left-right focused on where they disagree. And they do disagree. But they agree on huge areas. They agree on civil liberties. They agree against empire. They agree to crack down on Wall Street and have Main Street over Wall Street. They agree on juvenile justice reform and, increasingly, prison reform. And they certainly agree on the giant job-exporting, corporate-managed trade agreements and the tax escapes of companies like General Electric and Apple. I mean, there’s a lot of agreement there. But it’s got to be sparked by a small number of people in the communities who are not just concerned, but they’re serious enough to dedicate the time. That’s what—that dedicates its time and starts showing up at meetings.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I’d like to bring the conversation back here in the studio to A.C. Valdez, who’s been with us from Latino USA. Clearly, one of the big races, the gubernatorial races, is in Florida. And I’m just wondering, between Charlie Crist and Rick Scott, the Latino vote there obviously is huge in Florida, and it’s going to be—it always is—a battleground state. Your sense of the enthusiasm of the vote of the Latino electorate in Florida as a result of the failures of Congress and the Obama administration to be able to get through immigration reform?

A.C. VALDEZ: Well, I think Florida is definitely one of the places where you would at least see some Republican enthusiasm for trying to get the Latino vote in Florida. And, you know, with the historic Cuban population there, that’s obviously entrenched. It’s there. It’s a power structure that remains, especially in places like Miami, elsewhere in South Florida. At the same time, you’re having large influxes of Puerto Ricans coming to Florida. You’re having large influxes, that people aren’t really talking about, of Venezuelans migrating to Florida, Colombians, people from El Salvador. So, these groups tend to lean more heavily Democratic, and I think they’ll continue to do so, as far as what we’ve been seeing on Latino USA. And I think there is a sense, from people that I’ve been talking to in Florida, that there is a sea change coming. There is optimism about Democratic—Democratically inclined voters increasing in Florida. And I think that South Florida is obviously where you’re going to see most of that happen.

AMY GOODMAN: I also want to bring Andy Kroll back into the conversation. As you hear all of the races reported—looks like, by the way, in Louisiana there will be a runoff in the race for Mary Landrieu’s seat. She is the incumbent, but it looks like no one of the three people got 50 percent, and so there will be a runoff. I believe it’s going to be—

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: December 6th.

AMY GOODMAN: —in December. Mary Landrieu is the Democrat versus Bill Cassidy, the Republican, and there was also in this race, as well, a third-party candidate that is making the difference, a second Republican, Rob Maness. But, Andy Kroll, as you listen to the results coming in from around the country—Andy Kroll, senior reporter at Mother Jones magazine, where he’s written extensively about campaign finance and dark money—your thoughts on the races that you investigated?

ANDY KROLL: Yeah, I mean, I’ve written about a number of these races around the country, and the amount of spending and the general direction of these various campaigns, going into election night, seem to be playing out in a way that suggests this will be a strongly Republican year, maybe not quite a landslide of the type that we saw in 2010—Governor Rick Snyder in Michigan winning; Mike Rounds, a Republican, winning in the South Dakota Senate race; a number of those other races that you mentioned.

I mean, the one that is proving to be quite a surprise is the Senate race of Virginia. Incumbent Democrat Mark Warner against Republican Ed Gillespie, and Gillespie, of course, having a great tie-in with the kind of work that I do, as being one of the founders, one of the masterminds behind American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, one of the juggernauts of Republican big money politics. Ed Gillespie, you know, also a registered lobbyist, very much entrenched with K Street and the Republican donor world, he is actually leading Senator Mark Warner right now by something like 70,000 votes, 80 percent of the precincts in Virginia are reporting. And this could actually be one of the big surprise elections. We could see one of the proponents of anonymous spending and someone who is as versed in how K Street works as anybody, except maybe Mitch McConnell, be the next U.S. senator from Virginia. And so, that’s certainly an eye-catching campaign right now.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, that would be a major upset. Ralph Nader, would you like to weigh in on that?

RALPH NADER: I would. The Democrat senators and representatives, the ones that are in most trouble are the people who are trying to play both sides of the game. They’re trying to be hybrids. You know, they’re trying to satisfy both sides on these issues. And they come across to the voter as not having their own identity. They’re too wishy-washy. The challenger for Senator-elect Capito in West Virginia is an example of that. She just didn’t know which way to go. You know, she went big on coal in West Virginia, which is only 6 percent of the economy and 3 percent of the workers. And she wouldn’t come out really strong on the minimum wage, where, you know, if you want a state that’s ripe for a minimum wage increase, it’s poor West Virginia. And the same is true for Mary Ladrieu. Mary Landrieu is marinated in big oil and gas. I mean, she’s like a Republican in Democrat clothing. And so she may go down again. The ones that are the closest ones, like Michelle Nunn in Georgia, she’s a little bit—she has her own identity. She’s making a race of it in Georgia, which is a real uphill fight.

So, if there’s one thing the people sense, it’s a politician who is not authentic. And that’s why they sometimes say, "Well, you know, you don’t agree with Reagan, but at least he knows where he stood. You know, he believes in what he says." But these windmill-type Democrats are the ones that are going down to defeat against Republicans who at least, for all their liabilities, present a very clear, however bad, position before the voter, and they know how to go after people’s prejudices and cater to them, and they know how to hit the emotional nerves on the social issues. And when you have voters who don’t do their homework about the records of the candidates, they become very vulnerable to this kind of right-wing corporate Republican propaganda.

And so I come back again: We’ve got to start a movement in this country where voters begin to start doing their homework. I mean, if the Internet should be good for anything, it should be increasing awareness by voters of who they’re voting for. Kentucky voters are voting for McConnell, who wouldn’t even tell them what he’s going to do. And we know why he’s not telling them what he’s going to do, because when he gets to Washington and runs the Senate, he is going to be the beholden toady for his Wall Street pay masters. So, why are—why are poor people or middle-class people in Kentucky voting? Because it’s not clear. The distinction between the candidates are not clear enough.

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