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Nader vs. Anybody But Bush: A Debate on Ralph Nader’s Candidacy

StoryOctober 26, 2004
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We host a debate on Ralph Nader’s candidacy with nationally-syndicated columnist and former Nader supporter, Norman Solomon and Ralph Nader’s press secretary Kevin Zeese. [includes rush transcript]

With a week to go before the November 2 election, the race for the White House appears to be heading into a dead heat. Most major polls put President Bush and John Kerry neck and neck. Both candidates have more or less stopped traveling to any states not designated as battleground states and have consolidated their efforts in a few key pockets of the country. Their campaign buses pass through places like Pennsylvania, Florida, Ohio, Wisconsin and Colorado. These states also get bombarded with campaign TV ads. But as Bush and Kerry crisscross the swing states eating pancakes, hunting geese and visiting factories, they are not alone. Well, maybe when it comes to hunting geese.

Independent Presidential candidate Ralph Nader is heading into the final stretch of his campaign. And like the two major party candidates, his calendar is all about the battleground states. Nader’s candidacy has been marked by constant, almost daily battles to win ballot access. According to Nader’s website, he is on the ballot in 34 states. He has charged the Democratic party with operating a dirty tricks campaign against his candidacy. The head of the Democratic National Committee, Terry McAuliffe and other party leaders have charged that Nader’s is a vanity campaign that could help Bush retain power. Nader says his candidacy hurts Bush more than Kerry. But it’s not just the Democrats mobilizing against Nader. Many of his most prominent supporters from his previous campaigns have jumped ship this year. People like Michael Moore, Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, Phil Donohue, Tim Robbins and Cornell West to name a few. Many of them have signed onto a letter urging people to vote for John Kerry in all swing states, saying “For people seeking progressive social change in the United States, removing George W. Bush from office should be the top priority in the 2004 presidential election. Progressive votes for John Kerry in swing states may prove decisive in attaining this vital goal.”

Today, we are going to spend the rest of the hour debating Ralph Nader’s candidacy.

  • Kevin Zeese, Ralph Nader’s press secretary. He joins us from Washington DC.
  • Norman Solomon, nationally-syndicated columnist. He supported Nader in 1996 and 2000. This year, along with 70 prominent progressives who previously supported Nader, he signed onto a letter calling on people to vote for John Kerry in swing states. He is organizing progressives to urge Ralph Nader to drop out of the race.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Our guests in this debate over Ralph Nader’s candidacy are Kevin Zeese, Ralph Nader’s press secretary, and Norman Solomon, the nationally syndicated columnist, organizing progressives to urge Ralph Nader to drop out of the race. Let’s begin with Norman Solomon. Why?

NORMAN SOLOMON: Well, let me start by saying that I personally do not urge Ralph to drop out of the race. It’s clear and has been clear for months he has no intention of doing so. I think it’s very significant the republicans are not trying to suppress the Nader vote, though the Bush gang is trying desperately to suppress the Kerry vote in swing states. This year, the Nader campaign is not convincing, for instance, African American voters who have been lining up by the thousands here for early voting in Florida, clearly an extremely close election. Do we want progressives to stand apart from this grassroots upsurge to oust Bush? I don’t think so. The notion that somehow the Nader campaign hurts Bush more than Kerry at this point is absolutely preposterous. If you look at new figures that have come from a study nationwide of battleground states, commissioned by The Nation magazine’s Nation Institute, I quote here, “If Nader was not on the ballot in key battleground states, three times as many of his backers in battleground states would vote for Kerry as for Bush.” There’s no doubt why Karl Rove is thrilled not only that Ralph is on the ballot in so many swing states, but that Ralph is actually going out of his way to campaign in these crucial battleground states like Florida. I think it’s really a huge opportunity here. We have seven days to be part of this, I think, historic grassroots upsurge of progressives doing what we can to make sure that there is no second term for George W. Bush. I mean, this comes down to tangible issues. We are at the crossroads of history. Do we want to find out how fascistic a second term of the George W. Bush presidency is going to be? I don’t think Winona LaDuke has lost her nerve. I don’t think the dozens and dozens of people who fought hard for Nader in 2000 have lost their nerve. I don’t think there’s been a loss of nerve from people like Noam Chomsky, Troy Duster, Barbara Ehrenreich, Jim Hightower, David Corten, Rabbi Michael Lerner, Manning Marable, Frances Fox Piven, Studs Terkel, Eddie Vedder, Cornel West, Howard Zinn, Medea Benjamin. These people, like progressives around the country, are turning towards an effort to get Bush out of the White House. That’s what this is about.

AMY GOODMAN: Kevin Zeese, Ralph Nader’s press secretary. Your response.

KEVIN ZEESE: Yeah, boy, lots to respond to there. I hope I get a chance to do it. First off, Nader is not going out of the way to go to battleground states. He’s doing battleground states and not battleground states in the next week. For example, he will be going to states like Louisiana, Alabama, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. He will even conclude his campaign in New York. Wall Street at noon, people can come down and participate in the destruction of a corporate — 20-foot corporate pig which will deflate at noon on Wall Street on the day before the election. So, he’s not going out of his way to do a battleground tour, but he’s not avoiding battleground states, either. You know, that Nation poll is interesting. If you actually look at it more closely, you can even see that in that poll, which The Nation, of course, is very much in favor of Kerry, so it’s a poll that should be taken with a grain of salt, but even there were if you look at the under side of the Bush supporters, it’s 51% of Nader’s vote. A Gallup, USA Today poll shows that 52% of Nader’s voters would vote for Bush if Nader was not on the ballot, 44% would vote for Kerry if Nader was not on the ballot. There’s a lot of polls out there showing different things. Our goal, though, is not to elect John Kerry or George Bush. Our goal is to get out the message that the policies that our country is pursuing about world empire need to be stopped. One thing that’s become clear in this election is the base progressed, is that John Kerry and George Bush agree, we need to fight that war in Iraq to the finish. I think the real shame of this election year is the peace movement’s loss. The peace movement, which showed incredible power, and I was so proud to be part of it before the Iraq war, the incredible power of millions of people getting in the street has dissipated. It’s disappeared from discussion. It’s not even part of the debate. That’s a shame because this was a year for the peace movement to stand up and say no to the Iraq war. It’s illegal. The occupation is illegal. It needs to end. But instead of doing that, they went into the Democratic Party fold. They got behind a candidate who is calling for winning the war in Iraq, sending more troops to Iraq, expanding the war machine by adding 40,000 more troops to the military. It’s not a pretty sight for the peace movement. I think when we get back at — look at this after the election is over, and look back on how progressives were used, and used by the democrats, they were fooled by fear and going to a camp that included people like Toby Moffett, whose lobbying firm, the Livingston Group, is headed by former major republicans, major primarily republican firm, they’re the leader of the Stop Nader effort, in fact. That’s where United Progressives comes out of. And his firm is profiting from the war in Iraq. They’re war profiteers. They were — he’s a former Nader’s raider. But that’s a long time ago. He’s become a member of the advocacy of the corporatist state and his firm profits as a profiteer of the Iraq war, and the liberals and progressives and peace activists have gotten in bed with him and don’t even realize it. As far as republican support goes, you look at this letter that Norman referred to, it contains the usually lies about Nader receiving support from republicans. You know, this is just fanciful. There’s polling done by Toby Moffett and his people early in the campaign that showed that the best lie they could say about Nader was he was supported by the republicans, and by saying that, he would lose support. Luckily, there are groups that do research and look at this. The Center for Responsive Politics looked at our support, found only 4% of it came from republican donors. They also found that John Kerry has received 100 times more support from republican donors than we have. In John Kerry’s case, it’s more significant, because what those donors are buying is access. They’re buying access. Their $10 million is a way to make sure they’re heard if John Kerry is elected. So I think we’ll look back at this and see a missed opportunity for progressives. The reason why John Kerry is not landsliding George Bush is because he has left the progressive base behind. He has — I’ve already said, told the peace movement, “I’m for war.” He has told the women’s movement that he’s opposed to abortion. He’s proud of his vote for Scalia, that he would consider anti-abortion judges. He has done nothing for the labor movement, has not advocated for any serious minimum wage hike. He’s talking about $7 an hour by 2007. That will get it back to 1950s level.

AMY GOODMAN: Kevin Zeese, let me get Norman Solomon’s response.

KEVIN ZEESE: That’s why he’s losing.

NORMAN SOLOMON: Let’s unpack some of that. For instance, the statement from the 75 former members of the Nader handpicked 2000 Citizens Committee, none of them have anything to do with the corporate flax that you mentioned. Ralph chose those people —

KEVIN ZEESE: [inaudible], Norman.

NORMAN SOLOMON: Excuse me. Ralph chose those folks in 2000 to spearhead his Citizens Committee. They as you know, overwhelmingly including the names that I mentioned, are calling for votes nothing more or nothing less than voting for Kerry in swing states. By my count, Kevin, Nader has scheduled or has already gone in the last ten days of this campaign to half a dozen key swing states kicking off that swing in Florida, which I think is an interesting juxtaposition. Would Ralph go to the African Americans standing in line for early voting and say that they have lost their nerve? No, I don’t think so, any more than he would say that — excuse me — any more than he would say that to Winona LaDuke. And yet he has been throwing out this kind of macho, let’s play this game of chicken sort of language about these are scared liberals. I don’t think that Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn and Manning Marable are scared liberals. The fact is that we have a goal here, the progressive movement broadly in the next week now, to oust Bush from the White House. When you say that the Nader campaign doesn’t care whether there’s a winner in George Bush or his opponent there, John Kerry, it’s another way of saying that the Nader campaign doesn’t care whether we have four more years of Bush. I think that position is quite properly being broadly rejected by progressives around this country for many, many reasons, including that not only Rehnquist, but two other justices of the Supreme Court we know almost overwhelmingly, but certainly probably, will be off the court in the next four years. I wonder what Ralph would say to women and men who want to safeguard the right to an abortion? You know what? I have bigger fish to fry. I have something more important to prove here than for instance we need to safeguard Roe v. Wade. I wonder what Ralph would say about that?

KEVIN ZEESE:Ralph would say what I just said. Your candidate, John Kerry, supported Justice Scalia. He voted for him. Your candidate, John Kerry, says he would consider anti-abortion judges —

NORMAN SOLOMON:Wait a minute —

KEVIN ZEESE:Your candidate, John Kerry, says he opposes abortion. That’s his record and that’s his rhetoric.

NORMAN SOLOMON:But are you saying —

AMY GOODMAN One at a time.

KEVIN ZEESE:You talked over me. Let me respond to your comments. As far as the African American community goes, what I think we need to say — what the African American community needs to begin to recognize is they have been the most loyal supporters of the Democratic Party for decades. And what have they got in return for it? They have gotten a downward spiral in every measure: Health, education, incarceration, wages, living standards, housing. Where — and they’ve been most loyal Democratic supporters that there have been, and they’ve been ignored and taken for granted by the Democratic Party. Now in this election, because the progressives so quickly went to anybody-but-Bush thinking, without demanding anything of John Kerry, John Kerry has become a weaker and weaker candidate. If John Kerry loses, I blame the anybody-but-Bush movement more than the Nader campaign.

NORMAN SOLOMON: Well, you know —

KEVIN ZEESE:You guys have — you guys have failed to demand John Kerry stand up for workers, stand up for women, stand up for African Americans, stand up for Latinos, stand up for peace. Nothing. You said, “We’ll give you a blank check.” As a result, John Kerry has moved to the right. He’s become more of a war hawk, more of a militarist, more of a corporatist. He’s called for no more — no redistribution of wealth at a time when we have the greatest wealth disparity in our history. He’s called for minimal support for workers. He — you know, in the 2000 election, twenty percent of all Democratic voters voted for Bush. Twelve percent of liberals voted for Bush. Why? Because Gore left the base behind, and the anybody-but-Bush mentality has allowed John Kerry to do the same.

AMY GOODMAN Norman Solomon, your response.

NORMAN SOLOMON: Kevin, if you’re trying to conflate the positions of Kerry and Bush on who’s going to be a Supreme Court Justice, I think that’s a really preposterous position. Now, it’s true Ralph has built alliances with one or two African American, what you might call — might call — leaders. Lenora Falani. Is that the kind of alliances we want to build, with Ms. Falani who is, you know, to be kind about it, part of a very questionable political movement? The fact is, as you know, that African American activists and progressives overwhelmingly are pushing for a vote for John Kerry in swing states. And to the extent the 2004 Nader campaign’s building any political party at all, it’s the Reform Party, building a party that is xenophobic, that has a history of racism and anti-immigrant bias. There’s very little support for Nader 2000 from the left. And let’s talk about Michigan. It’s not nearly so much a question of money, as for instance in Michigan, the Nader campaign relied on more than 40,000 —- more than 40,000 signatures collected officially by the Michigan Republican Party; and believe me, the Republican Party in the state of Michigan is not even a so-called moderate Republican Party, whatever that is. It’s very far right wing. Well, of course, Nader says, “No, we really would prefer not to have relied on those 40,000 Republican signatures in Michigan to get on the ballot. We really wanted to get on the ballot with the Reform Party line in Michigan. So, that’s the either-or. Either Nader relies on these Republican Party collected petition signatures or they go with this xenophobic anti-immigration -—

KEVIN ZEESE: Let me respond because we’re running out of time —

NORMAN SOLOMON: —-Reform Party. What kind of -—

KEVIN ZEESE:— and his list is getting rather long —

NORMAN SOLOMON: What kind of —

AMY GOODMAN Okay. Kevin Zeese..

KEVIN ZEESE: Let me respond to his long lies.

NORMAN SOLOMON: Let me ask you this question: What kind of —

AMY GOODMAN Norman, let Kevin Zeese respond. Kevin Zeese, Ralph Nader’s press secretary.

KEVIN ZEESE: It’s a long list of lies and we’re running out of time, so it’s important to respond. I think the Reform Party, in fact — and if you look at their — if you look at their planks, they’re actually more progressive than the Democratic Party on a lot of issues, including the war, where they called for getting out of Iraq; including the PATRIOT Act, where they call for its repeal; including corporate welfare and prosecution of corporate crime; including statehood for D.C. They’re more progressive than the Democratic Party is, so you may want to look at that and people can check that out themselves. As far as Michigan goes, we are seeking the Reform Party line there; it requires no signatures. We’re in court doing so. If we are forced to take the Independent Party signatures, it’ll be because the courts refused to give us what we deserve. This election — I’m amazed that people like Norman Solomon and other civil libertarians have not spoken out against the Democratic Party for their efforts to keep Nader-Camejo off the ballot. The amazing twenty-plus lawsuits that we’ve had to deal with from the democrats led by these corporate republican law firms to keep us off the ballot needs to be something that’s challenged. It really shows that John Kerry is not a friend of democracy.


KEVIN ZEESE: For him to allow that kind of attack to go on for our ballot access is a real shame. And we have — you can review the litigation. It’s filled with, you know, phony, unimportant legal technicality-type litigation. You can see it on our website, You can see what it’s about. But this election is about standing for what you believe in. Progressives have been walked on. They’ve laid down, they’ve been stepped on, and gotten nothing for it. You still have not explained to me: What has the African American community gotten for thirty years of being loyal democrats? What have workers gotten for thirty years of being loyal democrats?

AMY GOODMAN Norman Solomon, what about the issue of ballot access and — kinds of attacks?

NORMAN SOLOMON: Absolutely. It’s wrong for what the Democratic Party has done. I’ve always supported and said publicly that Ralph has a right to run. The question this year is the wisdom of his running. I think it’s very sad that Kevin and the Nader campaign is now carrying the flag for a foreign party which is racist, which is xenophobic and has been very strongly anti-immigration. I think Kevin forgot to mention that, if we’re going to talk about corporate law firms and lawyers, Ralph Nader chose to hire in Florida and carry the battle into the courts for ballot access there, one of the lead attorneys for the Bush campaign in 2000 during the recount. That’s shameful.

KEVIN ZEESE: That was something we paid for. When you’re fighting election law, it’s not —

NORMAN SOLOMON: Well, there’s always an excuse, isn’t there?

KEVIN ZEESE: That’s not an excuse —

AMY GOODMAN Kevin Zeese, your response to that.

KEVIN ZEESE: It’s not an excuse. It’s a reality. We have two dozen states where you’re litigating, you have to find lawyers who specialize in election law, and we had to find a lawyer that was good in Florida. And so we hired a lawyer. It was not a donation from the Republican Party, unlike the republican donations to the democratic efforts to keep us off the ballot. I think, you know, it’s interesting the kind of split personality that Norman puts forward. We have no support among the left, yet we’re taking votes from Kerry. If you look at the Gallup poll, the reality is Nader’s right. We’re taking more votes from George Bush. 52% of our voters would vote for Bush as their second choice. 44% would vote for Kerry. The sad thing is, though, where has the peace movement gone? They were right when they tried to stop the war. All of the predictions that we made were correct. It’s become a quagmire. It’s become an embarrassment. And yet they’re not part of the debate. Why? Because they got in line with a militarist candidate, John Kerry, who wants to fight the war to win, and as a result peace is off the table.

AMY GOODMAN Norman Solomon. Your response.

NORMAN SOLOMON: First of all, what’s wrong with this war is not that it’s a quagmire; it’s because it’s wrong whether the U.S. is winning or losing. Second, when we — we want to continue to build a strong anti-war movement. We want to do it, not under a Bush administration for four more years, but under a Kerry administration. As Daniel Ellsberg has told me and many others, we have total irrationality in the White House now. The specter — and we would need to do it — but the specter of having to build an anti-war movement under four more years of Bush is not encouraging. As bad as Kerry is, the base of the Democratic Party is clearly anti-war, and we need to build the movement, hopefully under the Kerry administration, where the prospects of having major impact in getting U.S. troops totally out of Iraq, which is what is necessary, are much better under a Kerry administration than four more years. That is the reality.

AMY GOODMAN Norman Solomon, we gave you the first word. Kevin Zeese the last.

KEVIN ZEESE: That’s only true if you believe John Kerry is lying, because John Kerry has said the opposite. Voters need to stand up for what they believe in. You have 35 to 40 states that are not battleground states. Voters can vote against the war. They can vote what they believe in by voting for Ralph Nader in those states. In the battleground states, you’ve got to make a challenging decision. My advocacy would be to vote for what you believe in, which for me would be voting against the war voting against the corporate state. John Kerry, sadly, is part of the problem, not part of the solution. We need to organize what we believe in, not organize behind candidates who disagree with him.

AMY GOODMAN On that note, I want to thank you both very much for being with us. Kevin Zeese is the press secretary for Ralph Nader; and Norman Solomon, nationally syndicated columnist who is speaking to us today from Boston.

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