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Ralph Nader on Conservative Democrats, Corporate Power and the Middle East

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We get analysis on Tuesday’s election and the Democratic victory in the House with consumer advocate and former presidential candidate, Ralph Nader. Nader says, “This election was basically a mandateless election for the Democrats, there was really no mandate other than against Bush and do something about Iraq. Domestically there was virtually no mandate about rearranging of power–shifting it from corporations to workers, consumers, taxpayers, to communities.” [includes rush transcript]

When the 110th Congress convenes on January 3, Nancy Pelosi will become Speaker of the House and Democrats will take control of all of the House committees.

John Conyers of Michigan will become chair of the House Judiciary Committee. Charles Rangel of New York will head the Ways and Means Committee. Henry Waxman of California will become chair of the House Government Reform Committee.

Last night Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, vowed reforms would be in order.

  • Rahm Emanuel (D–IL), speaking at Democratic victory rally, November 7th, 2006.

For analysis on Tuesday’s election and the Democratic victory in the House, consumer advocate and former presidential candidate Ralph Nader joins us in Washington.

  • Ralph Nader, ran for president in 2000 as a candidate on the Green Party ticket. In 2004 he ran for President as an Independent. He is the author of many books including “The Good Fight: Declare Your Independence and Close the Democracy Gap.”

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

AMY GOODMAN: Last night, Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, vowed reforms would be in order.

REP. RAHM EMANUEL: The American people never lose their zeal for reform, and neither can we. The old era of irresponsibility is over, and the new era of real reform has just begun.

AMY GOODMAN: For analysis on Tuesday’s election and the Democratic victory in the House, we’re joined by consumer advocate and two-time presidential candidate, Ralph Nader, in Washington, D.C. Welcome to Democracy Now!

RALPH NADER: Thank you, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. What is your assessment of Election Day and the results?

RALPH NADER: Well, the assessment is that to the extent the Democrats gained the majority in the House, it was on the backs of some very rightwing Democrats who won the election against rightwing Republican incumbents. And so, there was no mandate for any progressive agenda. For example, in 1974, when the Democrats swarmed over the Republicans, it was on the backs of many very progressive Democratic challengers who were elected. And the same is true in the '60s, when some very progressive senators like Gaylord Nelson from Wisconsin was elected. But not this time. They're going to have to deal with a lot of Blue Dog Democrats, and that’s going to give Pelosi great pause as she tries to maneuver a few things through the Congress.

The other thing that is good, though, is that there’s some very good veteran chairmen who are coming in: George Miller, Henry Waxman, Ed Markey and, of course, John Conyers. But to counter that, both John Conyers and Nancy Pelosi have taken the impeachment issue right off the table, before the election, and that means there’s going to be no Bush accountability for his war crimes and his inflation of unlawful presidential authority.

AMY GOODMAN: And yet, Ralph Nader, when asked — when Nancy Pelosi was asked what would be the difference if the Democrats took over, she said subpoena power.

RALPH NADER: Well, alright, that gets to a real gridlock situation. The Democrats will throw a lot of subpoenas at the White House. The White House will, of course, drag it on and on and on. And the public will get fed up with it. The White House has great reserves in dragging it on and on and on. Because Bush can’t rely on Republicans as a majority of the Congress, he’s going to inflate his presidential power even more extremely and unlawfully, in the opinion of many legal scholars, to do through the inherent power of the presidency, as Dick Cheney and Bush have talked about, what he can’t do through the Congress, which he no longer controls.

But notice that, in all the debates I’ve heard between the Senate candidates and the House candidates over the last few weeks, there was almost no mention of corporate power, the 800-pound gorilla, no mention of corporate crime, no drive for corporate reform. And yet, if you look at the forward issues in the country, who’s saying no to healthcare, universal healthcare? Corporate power. Who’s saying no to a real crackdown on corporate crime against consumers, especially inner-city consumers? Corporate power. Who’s saying no to cleaning up the corrupt tens of billions of dollars in military contracting fraud, like Halliburton? Corporate power. Who’s saying no to reform of hundreds of billions of dollars of diversion of your tax dollars, America, to corporate subsidies, handouts and giveaways? Corporate power. And yet, reporters and candidates hardly mentioned it. Kevin Zeese, the Green Party candidate, did in Maryland for the Senate. Howie Hawkins did in New York, the Green Party candidate for the Senate.

AMY GOODMAN: And certainly, Bernie Sanders makes that a major issue. It is the main point of his politics. And he’s been elected. He’s going to be the first socialist senator in the US Senate.

RALPH NADER: Well, there won’t be much socialism to him, but he’ll be a fresh voice, a very welcome voice along with Sherrod Brown. So that, you know, you can stop certain bad things in the Senate with two or three senators near the end of the session, so — the way Metzenbaum and Abourezk did in the '70s — so that's a welcome break. But there are some —

AMY GOODMAN: Ralph Nader, let me ask you about Connecticut, because that’s where you’ve spent a good amount of the last months, and here, yes, the independent candidate Joseph Lieberman beat out the antiwar Democratic candidate who had unseated him in the Democratic primary, Ned Lamont.

RALPH NADER: Well, that was a bizarre type of situation, because the Republican candidate was not able to get more than 10% of the vote. So Lieberman got 70% of the Republican voters in Connecticut, and that’s what won for him. He would have been history, if the Republicans respected their own voters in Connecticut and nominated someone who could get 20%, 25%, 30% of the vote. He’s going to be pretty insufferable. I mean, you know, Joe’s inherent self-righteousness now is ballooning by the hour, and he’s going to view himself as a kingmaker if the swing in the Senate is one seat. But he was the darling of the big business lobby, Chamber of Commerce, here in Washington, who anointed him. And that’s the power and greed lobby. And he was their favorite Democratic senator, only one of two.

AMY GOODMAN: Is it absolutely known that he will caucus with Democrats, number one? And number two, is there any discussion about him — perhaps the Bush administration, who’s deeply indebted to him, offering him, say, Secretary of Defense, if they don’t stick with Rumsfeld, to get him out of the Senate to put in a Republican? And would he take it?

RALPH NADER: There’s no doubt in my mind he’s going to caucus with the Democrats. He knows where his bread is buttered, where his friends are, where his contributors are, one. And he can play that both sides of the aisle, as he has for years as a Democrat. And he can get a committee chair if the Democrats win. I don’t think he’ll take an executive position. This is a failing administration. He would never want to be a Secretary of Defense in a Bush administration.

AMY GOODMAN: What about the other congressional races in Connecticut? Very significant. You’re talking about corporate power. Nancy Johnson is one of those Republican incumbents who went down, very well-known for representing the pharmaceutical industry, the insurance industry.

RALPH NADER: Yes. That was a surprise. She worked the precincts very carefully over the years, always went back home. But I think her opponent two years ago, [Maloney], congressman, when they were redistricted, damaged her credibility by pouring ads showing she was the agent of the drug industry and the big HMOs. I think he set her up for defeat by Chris Murphy yesterday.

AMY GOODMAN: What about the war, this being a vote against war? And what does that mean for Democrats right now? What happens?

RALPH NADER: Well, it means vagueness. Nancy Pelosi was very vague. She said there’s got to be a redirection, there’s got to be a change. But the Democrats don’t have the guts to really have a withdrawal plan. Internationalizing the situation there; having internationally supervised elections; having people of stature bring the three sectarian groups together, as they have in the past — the Kurds and Shiites and Sunnis in the '50s arranged a modest autonomy within a unified Iraq — and bringing in, in an Islamic nation, peacekeepers, these things require real high-level diplomacy, and the Democrats, you know, are not in the executive branch. Bush is going to stay the course. He's already announced that he’s going to be in Iraq until the last day of his office. So this will be a test of Hillary Clinton and others, and I don’t think they’re going to be able to meet it.

AMY GOODMAN: What about what’s happening in the Middle East, in Israel, Palestine, Lebanon? The latest attack on Beit Hanoun has killed something like eighteen people, thirteen of one family. You certainly spoke out over the Israeli bombing of Lebanon. Will this ever become a major issue in the US Congress?

RALPH NADER: Certainly the Democrats are not going to make it a major issue. Nancy Pelosi and others have been with the pro-Israeli lobby for years. Certainly Bush and Cheney aren’t. They don’t understand that the greatest move toward national security in our country and in the so-called effort against terrorism would be to solve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The majority of both people would like a two-state solution. There are extremists in Israel that would like to continue to dominate the West Bank and harass Gaza and block an exit of the people there for traveling and for export of goods. So it’s just — it’s now a steady state, destruction every day of innocent people, as you say, thirteen in one family. The Israeli military know how to pacify Gaza. They know they could take over that town, where these primitive rockets that are wildly inadequate are fired. But it serves the interest of certain political interests in Israel to continue this kind of conflict.

This is an eminently resolvable conflict. There’s a lot of former Israeli military and intelligence people who know how to do it, people in the Knesset who know what needs to be done. But as long as the US basically says to whoever is in charge, “You can do whatever you want over there, and we’ll still pump $3–$4 billion and cluster bomb weapons, etc.,” there’s not going to be a resolution. As long as there’s no resolution, there’s going to be an inflammation increasing all over the Islamic world, and our national security will be compromised.

This campaign, this election, Amy, was basically a mandate-less election for the Democrats. There was really no mandate other than against Bush and do something about Iraq. Domestically, virtually no mandate about rearranging of power, shifting it from corporations to workers, consumers, taxpayers, to communities.

AMY GOODMAN: Ralph Nader, you mentioned Sherrod Brown, certainly will be one of the most progressive members of a new US Senate. Yet, in those waning days, as he was running for this Senate seat that he has just won from Ohio, he voted for the Military Commissions Act of 2006. Can you talk about the significance of this act?

RALPH NADER: That was a bad sign. That was, I think, not just a strategic mistake by Sherrod Brown. He’s going to regret this. It was a character deficiency, just like, you know, Hillary Clinton’s character deficiency. She refused to debate three third party Senate candidates, including Howie Hawkins in the Green Party, and the League of Women Voters was so upset, they withdrew co-sponsorship of the debate. We’ve got to focus on the ability of the Democrats to become very, very politically cynical in order to win. I don’t think Sherrod Brown had to do that to win. That is a monstrous laceration of our constitutional rights, that Military Commissions. I hope it will be declared unconstitutional in its noxious provisions by the Supreme Court.

AMY GOODMAN: Ralph Nader, Hillary Clinton. There is some discussion that if, in fact, Democrats do take the Senate — there are two very tightly contested races now, of course, Virginia and Montana, although at this point Democrats have very narrow leads in them — the possibility that she would become the Majority Leader of the Senate.

RALPH NADER: Well, I don’t think so. It’s very hard to be Majority Leader of the Senate and run for president, which she’s going to start to do right away. I think what we’re seeing here is a drive for a coronation in the Democratic nomination. As Mark Warner drops out, maybe John Kerry has been damaged, I mean, she’s going to have a huge war chest and just march to the nomination. And to do that, she’s got to be absent a great deal from the Senate. And when you’re Majority Leader in the Senate, you’ve got to be the valet for a lot of senators and you can’t go out to Colorado or California or New York or West Virginia, as a presidential candidate has to.

AMY GOODMAN: The issue of money and politics, something you take on in a very big way. According to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, at least 2.8 billion dollars were spent in this election, making these the most expensive midterm elections in history. I want to talk about this big money in the big parties, the two big parties, and also third party politics today, and what you saw around the country.

RALPH NADER: Well, first of all, the mess with the voting machinery and the registration situation, this country is a mockery of obstructing people to vote, going back to the post-Civil War era. Now they have new ways to do it through these machines, through not distributing the machines, through challenging people’s voting credentials. There’s no other Western democracy that requires registration. In Canada, if you are counted as part of the regular census, you vote, period.

And so, what we need in this country, first of all, is a complete reform of electoral laws, including one federal standard for candidates running for federal office, for Congress and for the President, not 50 different state standards and more county standards. There needs to be criminal prosecutions. Notice you can obstruct people’s right to vote, you can do what happened in Ohio and Florida, and because both parties want to be able to do it, if they’re in power, at the state level, there’s no prosecution tradition here, as there is, say, for procurement fraud. So nobody goes to jail. So, every two or four years, it’s going to happen, more and more and more. And the number of ways that people can be obstructed from voting — votes can be miscounted; that people can be falsely designated as ex-felons; the extent to which voting rolls can be shrunken, like in Cleveland, Ohio, by a Republican state government, Blackwell, Secretary of State — all this is going to happen again and again, unless you have crackdowns, unless you have task forces that will prosecute these violations, and unless you have a national debate about universal voting, Amy.

We’ve got to ask ourselves —- jury duty is the only civic duty in our Constitution. We have a whole Bill of Rights, but we have very few duties. And if we have to obey thousands of laws passed by lawmakers, it seems to me that having voting be a civic duty, as it is in Australia and Brazil and some other countries, is the way to clear away all these manipulations and obstructions, because if you have a legal duty to vote -—

AMY GOODMAN: You mean, mandatory.

RALPH NADER: Yes. If you have the duty to vote, then obstructing it becomes a very serious crime, whereas now it’s just, you know, the political game the two parties play against one another. And the discussion of mandatory voting would include a binding “none of the above.” So you can go to the polls or absentee vote for the ballot line, you can vote write-in, you can vote for your own person, write in your own name, or you can vote for a binding “none of the above.” I think that takes care of any civil liberties problems. But it should be decided by a special national referendum.

AMY GOODMAN: Ralph Nader, we have to wrap up, but I just want to ask: Hillary Clinton spent something like $30 million on an almost uncontested race at the point where, you know — of yesterday, certainly getting more nationally known. Are you going to be running for president in 2008?

RALPH NADER: It’s too early to say. I do want to give you one quick sidebar, Amy. In Morgan County, USA, in Morgan County, West Virginia, with a 60% Republican registration advantage, the incumbent for county commissioner was defeated overwhelmingly, by 20 points, by a challenger. She beat him by 20 points. And that was done by person-to-person campaigning, which I think is going to be the way progressives in this country are going to win elections. This is a stunning victory over a Republican machine that ought to be studied, in Morgan County, West Virginia.

AMY GOODMAN: Ralph Nader, I want to thank you very much for joining us, two-time presidential candidate, joining us from Washington, D.C.

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