Angry Democrats threatened retribution against Green Party candidate Ralph Nader if Vice President Al Gore is declared the loser in the presidential election. Nader won 3 percent of the nationwide vote, obtaining 2.6 million votes, but Democrats say that his totals in the closely contested states of Florida, Oregon and New Hampshire were well above the margins there between Gore and Bush. [includes rush transcript]
Meanwhile, the possibility that defective ballots in Florida may have resulted in Gore supporters voting for Buchanan has sparked a national debate around voting irregularities, a problem that black communities throughout the South have been denouncing for many years. Today, a conversation with Professor Manning Marable.
- Cornell West, Alphonse Fletcher University Professor at Harvard at University. He is the author of many books, including the best-selling “Race Matters” and “The African American Century,” which he co-wrote with Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
AMY GOODMAN: We do just have word that Attorney General Janet Reno is saying she will review a request for an investigation into allegations of voting irregularities in the presidential election in Florida, responding to a request from the NAACP for a Justice Department investigation into what the nation’s largest civil rights organization is describing as “numerous election irregularities.”
Well, there’s been a lot of reviewing about what went on over the last few days and about the historic confusion that is taking place right now. And among the issues that are being discussed is the effect of the Ralph Nader candidacy, the Green Party, particularly in three states and what it has meant for Gore.
We know what the New York Times's attitude has been toward Ralph Nader. They've called him a narcissistic egotist. They have said that he was the spoiler and have almost waged a campaign against him. In the paper today, James Dow — not in the editorial pages, where that’s been going on, though I think that’s influenced news writing — writes, “Liberal Democrats are angrily threatening retribution against Ralph Nader and his Green Party allies if Vice President Al Gore is declared the loser in the too-close-to-call presidential election.”
Nader won just 3% of the nationwide vote. His totals in the closely contested states of Florida, Oregon and New Hampshire were well above the margins there between Gore and Bush. Pre-election polling around the country had found that if Nader were not in the race, perhaps half his supporters would back Gore. Others said they didn’t know what they would do in the event of a Nader-less race, as some said they would vote for Bush.
Well, we’re joined right now by Cornel West. I last saw him in Oakland at a Nader super rally, as he was urging people to go to the polls and vote Green. Professor Cornel West is a professor of African American Studies at Harvard University and has written many books. His latest one is with Henry Louis Gates, and it’s called The African American Century: How Black Americans Have Shaped Our Country. Professor West, the Alphonse Fletcher, Jr. University Professor at Harvard University, welcome to Democracy Now!
CORNEL WEST: It’s so very kind of you to have me, Amy. And I do want to say that there’s thousands of us who deeply appreciate the quality of your contribution to the democratic discourse in this nation. And there’s thousands of us who stand with you in whatever situation, context, you find yourself. You have been indispensable and quite valuable to our struggle.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, thank you very much. The situation I may find myself in right now, actually, is yesterday the White House called after my interview with President Clinton and said, well, had all sorts of veiled threats about that conversation. And we’ll see what happens. I asked if they’re blacklisting me from the White House. And after a heated argument, they seemed to be stepping back from that. But it is a very serious issue when you get to interview the President of the United States, to be then threatened by the most powerful center in the world is a serious issue.
CORNEL WEST: Well, it’s very serious. But at the same time it’s a compliment, because there’s so few people who have the courage to present an alternative vision, as you do. And Democracy Now! is one of the few spaces in our culture where you get this kind of truth-telling.
And at the same time, you mentioned Brother Ralph Nader, you’re seeing the same thing. You know, it’s ridiculous, pathetic, this kind of scapegoating among Democrats. You have Al Gore, that can’t cover — that can’t win his own state, and Nader gets 1% of the vote in Tennessee. He can’t even win Arkansas, Clinton’s own state. Nader gets 1%. But they don’t talk about that. No, they want to scapegoat him on other issues. Oregon, Florida, so I think it’s ridiculous. Liberalism is in deep decay.
And the democracy was in decay before the election, in terms of the corporate-driven party politics and the limited choices that people make. And, of course, the vast majority of Americans who can vote still didn’t vote. That’s another sign of the decline and decay. So this kind of scapegoating among frightened liberals is just a sign of the disrepair of liberalism as a whole.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, let’s look at Florida. You have Bush, at least at this point, around 2,900 votes, 2,909,000, Gore at 2,907,000 and some. They’re all around — they’re around 49% each. And then you have Nader almost at 100,000. That would certainly make the difference.
CORNEL WEST: Which means if Gore had spoke to the issues — I mean, it’s commercial airports — why didn’t he speak against it? That’s what Nader did. Why didn’t he speak to the situation of more of the working people there? I mean, Gore wants to fake left, go right and still win. Well, you can’t do that. You have to speak your mind, see what people — see the direction that people go. I mean, and so that this notion of somehow Gore has some ipso facto entitlement to votes is the most anti-democratic notion I could think of. But it’s a typical move of scapegoating the most vulnerable, rather than confronting the most powerful. The most powerful in this case happened to be Gore and his lieutenants. And they did not run the kind of race, such that we find ourself in this situation.
AMY GOODMAN: What about this issue of voter fraud or voter irregularities that we’re now hearing focused on really for the first time in Florida in a major mainstream way?
CORNEL WEST: Well, I mean, one, I think they have to close ranks on that in that regard. And that’s why I would be with Jesse Jackson and others. But at the same time, I mean, you got voter irregularities going on across the nation, especially in black and brown poor communities. This is not the first time this surfaces, although I think we get attention focused in this way, owing to the fact that Florida now is going to tip it one way or the other. But this kind of thing, of course, is, I think, much more systemic. It’s just that it doesn’t surface. It only surfaces in certain contexts. But as I said before, I mean, indicated before the election, and the election is just another example of just how narrow the corporate party politics actually is in America.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Harvard University Professor Cornel West, his latest book, The African American Century: How Black Americans Have Shaped Our Country. What about African American participation in this election?
CORNEL WEST: Well, I mean, one, it’s been quite extraordinary. You got 90% of black people supporting Gore. Only 8% supporting Bush. It was a sign of the mainstream black leadership galvanizing and mobilizing black people to vote for Gore. I’m very critical of that black leadership. I think it’s too narrow. It’s much too myopic, much too shortsighted. Gore, pro-death penalty, pro-military, no word about the criminal justice system, no focus on the prison system, no talk about the wealth inequality that’s growing, that’s escalating. It’s — you get a black voting participation following the entrenched black leadership, and for the most part, I think that black folk, black community has really not received what it ought from the Democratic Party and especially Gore leadership.
AMY GOODMAN: Where is the leadership?
CORNEL WEST: Right now, they’re in the hip pocket of Gore. The black professionals, the black politicians are tied to a patronage system: the Democratic Party. And when you look at the — look at it this way, that Gore could not mention poor people, but 42% of black children are poor. Black leadership is supposed to speak to the situation of black folk. And yet you have a candidate that can’t even mention the condition of 42% of our children. And that’s true, of course, for brown children, red children, and 21% of all American children across color. So, I mean, I think we’ve got some real debating to do in terms of relation of black leadership and the Gore campaign.
AMY GOODMAN: Yesterday, I got a chance to ask President Clinton about why he hasn’t issued an executive order against racial profiling. I know Gore has said that if he were president, it would be one of his first acts, but they’ve been in power for eight years.
CORNEL WEST: It’s ridiculous. If it wasn’t for the Bill Bradley campaign, Gore wouldn’t say that. If it wasn’t for the Bill Bradley campaign, Clinton wouldn’t say that. And, of course, if it wasn’t for Al Sharpton and a whole host of other activists, you wouldn’t even have racial profiling as a major issue in national discourse.
So, I mean, here you got Bill Clinton that claims to have this special intimate relationship to black community and hasn’t issued a executive order that has to do with banning racial profiling, the most basic right, which is arbitrary use of power, police power against black people? It’s another sign, I think, of just how marginal the interests of black community actually is when it comes to working poor and poor people.
For black professionals and black middle class, the Clinton administration has been wonderful; for the black poor and black working class, devastating. That’s part of the crisis of black leadership right there.
AMY GOODMAN: You begin your book, The African American Century: How Black Americans Have Shaped Our Country, with W.E.B. DuBois.
CORNEL WEST: The great DuBois, absolutely.
AMY GOODMAN: What would he say about today?
CORNEL WEST: Well, DuBois would say just what I expected. If you don’t have third political force or a third political party that’s critical of the corporate-driven electoral system, then you’re going to end up on the tail end or you’re going to end up holding your breath hoping that a Gore wins. But when Gore wins, he still will in the end betray working people and poor people. Bush is worse. Gore is still dangerous.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s hear what President Clinton had to say in the interview with him about why people should vote. I’d like to get your comment, Cornel West.
CORNEL WEST: Mm-hmm.
AMY GOODMAN: Mr. President, are you there?
PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: I am. Can you hear me?
AMY GOODMAN: Yes, we can. You’re calling radio stations to tell people to get out and vote. What do you say to people who feel that the two parties are bought by corporations and that they are — at this point feel that their vote doesn’t make a difference?
PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: That there’s not a shred of evidence to support that. That’s what I would say. It’s true that both parties have wealthy supporters. But let me offer you — let me just give you the differences.
Let’s look at economic policy. First of all, if you look at the last eight years, look where America was eight years ago and look where it is today. We have the strongest economy in history. And for the first time in thirty years, the incomes of average people and lower-income working people have gone up 15% after inflation, the lowest minority unemployment ever recorded, the highest minority home ownership, the highest minority business ownership in history. That’s our record.
If you look at our proposals, what do we propose to do? We propose a tax cut that helps average people for child care, for long-term care, for paying for college tuition, for retirement savings. We propose to invest large amounts of money in education, healthcare, the environment, in our future.
AMY GOODMAN: President Clinton, addressing the issue of, do we really make a difference when you’ve got the level of corporate control you do of parties.
CORNEL WEST: And, of course, he missed the point. He missed the point. He doesn’t recognize the way in which corporate power set the framework in which he answers the question. He says nothing about the fact that 1% of the population when he entered office owned 36% of the wealth, and 1% of the population now own 48% of the wealth. He says nothing about the fact that income among those who make more than $200,000 increased 89%, but among working people, it’s increased less than 14%. Those are the issues that need to be highlighted.
But he can’t conceive of thinking of wealth inequality. He can’t conceive of the expansion of corporate power. Nothing about escalating oligopolies, monopolies. Nothing about the difficulty of local radio stations to stay on air, owing to the colonization of corporate mergers in telecommunications. Nothing about the collapse of commercial investment banking and why millions of poor people can’t even have a checking account and have to go to a check account enterprise. That doesn’t even — that’s not on his radar screen. You know, it’s like talking about Eskimos in Jamaica. It doesn’t register, because his framework is so truncated.
And so, thank God someone like yourself, Sister Amy, can raise that question, because he’s never thought about it. He’s never had to think about it, because the radical Democrats don’t get a chance to ask the President questions like that.
AMY GOODMAN: Whether he makes it or not to be president, your last fifteen-second comment for Al Gore and this 2000 election.
CORNEL WEST: Well, I wish him well. I wish him well. We shall see what happens. But as I’ve said before, you know, Bush is very dangerous and Gore is dangerous. And the worst thing that could happen is that Gore wins and thinks somehow working people and poor people, black people ought to celebrate. And if Bush wins, it simply means we’re going to need to organize and mobilize much more effectively.
And if liberals are going to trash Ralph Nader, then we recognize that liberals in the end are going to tilt in the rightwing direction, rather than the leftwing, anyway.
AMY GOODMAN: Professor Cornel West, his latest book, The African American Century: How Black Americans Have Shaped Our Country. He wrote it with Henry Louis Gates. Professor Cornel West of Harvard University.