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Ralph Nader: Why Is GOP Not Debating Corporate Crime Wave & the Weakening of Our Democratic Society?

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Image Credit: Left: Conor Duffy/Sipa USA via Reuters Connect

Former presidential candidate Ralph Nader responds to Wednesday’s second Republican debate, saying, “It’s pretty embarrassing that this is what they put forward to become the president of the most powerful country in the world.” Nader discusses the debate’s topics of social media, former President Donald Trump and wealth inequality in America. Nader also calls for the Democratic Party to “stop engaging in candidate suppression” and respect third-party candidates such as Cornel West to run for public office as a constitutional right.

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

AMY GOODMAN: To discuss last night’s second Republican debate of 2024 and more, we’re joined by Ralph Nader, longtime consumer advocate, corporate critic and former presidential candidate, also the founder of the Capitol Hill Citizen newspaper, which has a new issue out. Ralph Nader is the author of many books, including the forthcoming book, The Rebellious CEO: 12 Leaders Who Did It Right.

Ralph, welcome back to Democracy Now! Wow! That’s the way they address education, is Chris Christie accuses President Biden of sleeping with Dr. Jill Biden, his wife. Anyway, why don’t you summarize your response to last night’s debate?

RALPH NADER: Well, like the first debate, it’s pretty embarrassing that this is what they put forward to become president of the most powerful country in the world. We have a political system that does not bring out the best in the American people and doesn’t bring out the best in candidates.

Saturday midnight, the government is going to probably close down. There wasn’t much talk about that. That’s a pretty serious problem. Millions of workers depend on federal contracts in districts all over the country. Federal grants support major social safety nets for children and for disadvantaged people, for disabled people. All that’s going to be suspended. And it doesn’t matter — red state, blue state — all these people who will be cut off from federal programs of various kinds — and we know how many there are — that go into every district, all of these people, whether they’re conservatives or liberals, all these families, are going to bleed the same color. And there wasn’t much discussion about how a dozen right-wing Republicans are basically controlling the speaker, McCarthy, and heading the federal government into a shutdown.

But beyond that, they seem just to be reacting to the headlines of the day. They don’t talk about the structural weakening of our democratic society. They don’t talk about the distortion of public budgets based on a distorted tax system that undertaxed the very wealthy and the corporate like never before — the Trump tax cuts in 2017. They don’t talk about over 50% of the federal budget goes to empire; it goes to the bloated military budget, which drains away all kinds of support for the necessities of the American people back home. They don’t talk about the corporate crime wave, that even the mainstream press is reporting — insurance companies, banks, drug companies, oil companies. They don’t talk about the huge amount of corporate welfare. You know, they’re into poor — they go after programs that help the poor. But the corporate welfare kings are making out like bandits, with very little congressional oversight. So, one area after another.

I mean, one would think, for example, 5,000 Americans dying every week from what Johns Hopkins medical report said are, quote, “preventable problems in hospitals,” end-quote — that’s 5,000 Americans a week, 250,000 a year. And the doctors who put this report out a few years ago said that nothing is really being done about it by the federal government. And that was their most conservative estimate. A billion dollars a day is being ripped off from healthcare programs by corporate crime, and a $60 billion ripoff of Medicare alone. How inflationary is that? I mean, the areas that they avoid, because of their paymasters and who they raise money from, is really pretty extraordinary.

But the real problem, Amy, is that: Where are the people protesting here? You would think they’re about to be cut off from all kinds of critical federal programs with the shutdown down on Saturday midnight. And there are no demonstrations in the districts of these dozen or so right-wing Republicans — North Carolina, Arizona, Georgia. And where is the Democratic Party in these districts? They’re not challenging these members, who are getting a free ride. One guy from Virginia, Congressman Goode, just bragged that he only got one call criticizing his threat to shut down the government, and he’s getting all kinds of supporting calls against federal spending. Well, that’s because there’s no Democratic Party activity. They’re giving him a free ride.

So, we’re seeing terrible situations here that are not being discussed or debated. And part of it is because Fox News doesn’t ask those basic questions at all. They don’t ask about the crumbling democracy, the empire all over the world. What are we doing? All over the world, we expect countries to obey our military dictates. And we have bases in over a hundred countries. We’re wasting trillions of dollars. And there’s no question about that. So —

AMY GOODMAN: Let me go to the issue of global politics. During the debate, former Republican governor of South Carolina, the former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley went on the offensive, attacking her rival Vivek Ramaswamy over his stance on TikTok.

NIKKI HALEY: This is infuriating, because TikTok is one of the most dangerous social media apps —


NIKKI HALEY: — that we could have. And what you’ve got — honestly, every time I hear you, I feel a little bit dumber for what you say, because I can’t believe —

VIVEK RAMASWAMY: You know, Governor Haley, if I may —

NIKKI HALEY: Here you’ve got a TikTok situation. What they’re doing is these — 150 million people are on TikTok. That means they can get your contacts. They can get your financial information. They can get your emails. They can get —

VIVEK RAMASWAMY: Let me just say that hurling —

NIKKI HALEY: — text messages.

VIVEK RAMASWAMY: This is important.

NIKKI HALEY: They can get all of these things.

VIVEK RAMASWAMY: This is very important for our party.

NIKKI HALEY: China knows exactly what they’re doing.

VIVEK RAMASWAMY: This is very important for our party, and I’m going to say it.

NIKKI HALEY: And what we’ve seen is you’ve gone and you’ve helped China build —

VIVEK RAMASWAMY: We should stop — we will — 

NIKKI HALEY: — make medicines in China, not America.

VIVEK RAMASWAMY: Excuse me. Excuse me.

NIKKI HALEY: You are now wanting kids to go and get on this social media that’s dangerous for all of us. You went and you were in business with the Chinese that gave Hunter Biden $5 million. We can’t trust you. We can’t trust you.

VIVEK RAMASWAMY: So, let me — let me say something.

NIKKI HALEY: We can’t have TikTok in our kids’ lives.

VIVEK RAMASWAMY: I think that we — 

NIKKI HALEY: We need to ban it.

VIVEK RAMASWAMY: This is very important.

GOV. RON DESANTIS: There’s one person on the stage —

STUART VARNEY: Mr. Ramaswamy, you have 15 seconds.

VIVEK RAMASWAMY: Yes, thank you. I think —

GOV. RON DESANTIS: There’s one person on the stage that’s worked in software.


GOV. RON DESANTIS: There’s only one person.

STUART VARNEY: You have 15 seconds, Mr. Ramaswamy.

VIVEK RAMASWAMY: Thank you. I think we would be better served as a Republican Party if we’re not sitting here hurling personal insults and actually have a legitimate debate about policy —

GOV. RON DESANTIS: I’m [inaudible] around to that point today —

VIVEK RAMASWAMY: — following Reagan’s 11th Commandment in his honor.

GOV. RON DESANTIS: — because he wasn’t there four weeks ago.

NIKKI HALEY: Where were you last debate, when you [inaudible] —

VIVEK RAMASWAMY: And the answer is, that is what actually makes our country strong. And I believe —

GOV. RON DESANTIS: Can we get back to the question?

VIVEK RAMASWAMY: I believe in these people. These are good people on the stage.

DANA PERINO: Governor DeSantis, I have a question for you.

GOV. RON DESANTIS: [inaudible]

DANA PERINO: Thank you.

VIVEK RAMASWAMY: They disagree, but let’s have a legitimate disagreement.

AMY GOODMAN: Someone did tweet something along the lines of, “If I could ever find someone to love as much as Nikki Haley hates Vivek Ramaswamy, I’ll be a happy man.” Ralph Nader, your response?

RALPH NADER: Well, generally, her criticism of social media and what it does to kids is correct. She’s picking out TikTok because it’s Chinese-owned, but it could be Facebook, it could be Instagram. It could any one of these wardens of the internet gulag that’s got our kids hooked through that iPhone five to seven hours a day, separating them from their parents, community, nature, you name it.

But they’re now wrangling on each other. They’re trying to break out to see who’s going to be number two or number three in the polls up against Trump. That’s what’s causing that back-and-forth. It’s really interesting. I mean, you have millions and millions of people who are not making a living wage. They don’t even mention that the federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, frozen since 2009 and — or even earlier. They don’t even mention it. They don’t mention occupational health and safety. They don’t mention that tens of millions of people are without health insurance or underinsured, and that at least 100,000 people — 2,000 a week — in this country die because they can’t afford health insurance to get diagnosed and treated in time. So, you know, it’s just a lot of wrangling back and forth. And a lot of it is the debate format and the kind of questions that are asked.

AMY GOODMAN: Were you surprised, Ralph Nader, by the Fox host, Varney, asking something we played before, “Together, the CEOs of General Motors, Ford and Stellantis made 336 times the number of rank — the number of rank-and-file workers. That’s just part of a wider income inequality trend in the country”? This issue of wealth inequality, has it gotten — even Fox is addressing it — just too big to ignore? Or that’s because, what, Murdoch has said he’s retiring?

RALPH NADER: Well, it is too big to ignore, but it keeps going on and on. Years ago, Fortune magazine had on its cover, ”CEO pay is out of control, and why nothing can be done to stop it.” Well, that’s because the shareholders, who are the owners of these companies, are rendered completely powerless. The hired hands in the executive suite have even made the owners of their capitalist corporation powerless. How about that one?

Well, Mary Barra makes $29 million a year as CEO of General Motors, $29 million. Now, that is at least, on a 40-hour week, over $14,000 an hour. And she’s got low-tier workers in the auto industry working for $18, $20, $22 an hour. So that’s the kind of gap. You’ve got to reduce it down to the hour: over $14,000 an hour, hour after hour, eight hours a day, five days a week, not counting extraordinary benefits and perks.

The CEOs of the big auto companies used to restrain themselves because the autoworkers were strong enough as a union not to tolerate it, and they didn’t want to give the autoworkers an excuse. Now all limits are gone. And it’s very good that the new head of the United Auto Workers, Shawn Fain, he is taking them on and calling them out with great specificity. He’s talking like an old-time fighting labor leader. And the autoworkers ought to be glad that they’re finally led by someone who’s going to draw the line, because the autoworkers have been pushed down for years, especially after the GM bankruptcy and the $30 billion-plus federal bailout in 2012 under Obama. The workers had to take all kinds of concessions. So, it’s not that they’re breaking new ground here. They’re catching up on past deprivations.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you about the issue of covering Trump. Right? Trump wasn’t there last night. He was in Detroit speaking to — in a nonunion hall, speaking separately from those in Simi Valley at the Ronald Reagan Library. How do you think the media should be covering Trump right now, moving into the 2024 elections, now with over 90 indictments, 90 charges against him in however many cases? The most recent — the most recent judge that came out against him two nights ago could dissolve the Trump Organization.

RALPH NADER: Well, they should cover his criminal activity, his unconstitutional record as president, his serial violation of federal criminal statutes like the Hatch Act, the Antideficiency Act. I mean, he used the White House lawn for political campaigning, which is a criminal violation. And the press didn’t even cover it, except for Joe Davidson in The Washington Post, following our letter to the Justice Department.

Now, The New York Times does something that is really extraordinary. They put the quotes of Trump in capital letters when he puts it in capital letters on his website. I mean, how far do you go in trumpeting Trump? And what they should do is apply newsworthy standards. If he says the same thing every day on the hustings, you don’t report that every day.

Margaret Sullivan, the media critic, recently in The Washington Post — she’s retired — she wrote a long essay telling the media how not to cover Trump. And they still fall for it, because of the ratings. He’s got them by the finger. And if it continues this way, he’s going to benefit from billions of dollars of free publicity. And the more outrageous he is, the more he lies, the more he creates fantasies instead of realities, the more he engages in false promises, the more he tries to cover up his crimes, the more attention he gets.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you something, Ralph Nader. Some critics, including Laurence Tribe, tweeted in June, ”WTF! Does Cornel West really want to help the GOP nominee win — the way Ralph Nader helped G.W. Bush defeat Al Gore in 2000? Ego trips can come at a heavy price, Cornel. Please stop this foolishness, before you really hurt the things you care” about. Can you respond to this, Ralph, as you were brought into it? But then also talk about what you’re feeling about President Biden right now.

RALPH NADER: Well, this is the worst performance by Larry Tribe. He is a leading constitutional law expert. He should know what the First Amendment is all about. When you run for office, you are running in the right of the First Amendment, the right of free speech, petition, assembly. And he should say, “Well, I don’t like these candidates, and I’m opposing them, but I’m not going to oppose their right to run.” I mean, he flew down to California — excuse me, he flew down to Florida in 2004 in a court, trying to get me off the ballot, which is basically saying, “Shut up. Do not exercise your right of free speech.” This is a constitutional law professor at Harvard Law School, my alma mater. Theresa Amato had to go down and oppose him, and she blocked it — our campaign director. So, he’s got a real tick on third parties. He doesn’t understand.

The way the Democrats should deal with progressive third parties is to adopt their popular agenda. That’s what Harry Truman did to Henry Wallace in 1948. He took some of Henry Wallace’s progressive agenda, and Henry Wallace started dropping in the polls. That’s what a competitive democracy is all about. Instead, the Democratic Party, with the help of Larry Tribe, is scapegoating. Every time they lose to the worst Republican Party in history, they blame the Greens. And they’re just scapegoating. The Democratic Party does not look at itself in the mirror. It’s very low on introspection and doesn’t ask itself why, against the most corrupt, dictatorial, corporate-indentured — you name it — Republican Party, that they’re not landsliding them. And if they win, they barely win, and they don’t have a workable majority in the Congress. And if they lose, they lose to the worst party. I mean, people like Teddy Roosevelt and Eisenhower and Senator Robert Taft, they couldn’t believe how bad the Republican Party is. And the Democrats are barely competing.

AMY GOODMAN: We have just 30 seconds, Ralph —

RALPH NADER: They’re dialing for the same dollars.

AMY GOODMAN: — but I wanted to get your response. You were just profiled in The Washington Post. I think the headline was “Ralph Nader, wary of Trump, offers to help Joe Biden win.” Is that accurate?

RALPH NADER: It’s an inaccurate headline, which the reporter has nothing to do with. What I said was that in a choice between Trumpster fascism or Democratic Party autocracy, I’ll take autocracy, because it allows an opportunity for a reversal. Fascism and the violent rhetoric and behavior and voter suppression of the Trumpsters — and they’re just getting underway — while they let Wall Street do whatever it wants, they deregulate everything, the health and safety and economic protection programs for the American people. They give tax escapes so big corporations now are making money in the U.S. and paying virtually no taxes, a whole list of them. It’s the perfect corporate state that Franklin Delano Roosevelt warned about in a message to Congress in 1938. He said when private power takes over government, that’s fascism.

And so, that’s what we’re dealt with, the two-party duopoly. I’m all for third parties. I wish the Green Party well. Cornel West is by far the most progressive candidate. He’s got the most complete progressive agenda in domestic and foreign policy. And let’s have a competitive democracy and stop engaging in candidate suppression. The Democrats criticize the GOP for voter suppression. The Democrats are very good about candidate suppression, third-party candidates, bumping them off balance, harassing them, suing them. We got sued a dozen times in a few weeks.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Ralph, we’re going to have to leave it there today, but, of course, we’re going to continue to cover so many of these issues. Ralph Nader, longtime consumer advocate, corporate critic, former presidential candidate four times. He’s also the founder of the Capitol Hill Citizen newspaper, which has a new issue out. Ralph is the author of many books, including his forthcoming, The Rebellious CEO.

Coming up, we’ll speak to David Dayen of The American Prospect about the U.S. government’s landmark lawsuit against Amazon and the growing calls for Senator Bob Menendez to resign after he was indicted for bribery, also the possible shutdown of the U.S. government. Stay with us.

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