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Ralph Nader at 90 on the “Genocidal War” in Gaza & Why Congress Is a Weapon of Mass Destruction

StoryFebruary 27, 2024
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Image Credit: Reuters / Stephen Chernin

On his 90th birthday, the legendary consumer advocate, corporate critic and four-time presidential candidate Ralph Nader joins Democracy Now! for an in-depth conversation about U.S. democracy and why “Congress is a weapon of mass destruction.” He says lawmakers have shredded the country’s social safety net, refused to rein in the U.S. war machine, allowed white-collar crime to go unpunished, failed to enforce tax fairness and more. “All of these are very unpopular with the American people,” Nader says. He also discusses the 2024 presidential race and encourages people to “vote their conscience” and “find some way out of this two-party duopoly gulag.” Nader, who publishes the monthly print-only newspaper the Capitol Hill Citizen, was recently profiled in The Washington Post for his ongoing advocacy.

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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

Yes, we spend the rest of the hour with Ralph Nader, the four-time presidential candidate who ran on the Green Party, independent, Reform Party and Democratic tickets. He’s a longtime consumer advocate, corporate critic. And today is his 90th birthday.

Ralph Nader is the author of many books, including his latest, The Rebellious CEO and Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think, and, of course, his 1965 book, Unsafe at Any Speed: The Designed-In Dangers of the American Automobile, which focused, in part, on the safety flaws of General Motors’ Chevrolet Corvair. He then won a major settlement against General Motors for spying on him and trying to discredit him, and used the lawsuit’s proceeds to start the Center for Study of Responsive Law. Ralph Nader is the son of Lebanese immigrants, has also published The Ralph Nader and Family Cookbook.

He’s the founder of the monthly print-only newspaper the Capitol Hill Citizen, where his front-page article in the February/March issue is headlined “Collectively Congress is a weapon of mass destruction.”

Ralph, welcome back to Democracy Now! And happy 90th birthday!

RALPH NADER: Well, thank you very much, Amy. Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, it’s great to have you with us. Why don’t we start off with that very provocative headline on the front page of your newspaper, “Congress is a weapon of mass destruction”? Explain.

RALPH NADER: With multiple warheads. This is a very important article, because the reverse of what I’m going to point out is an opportunity for people to take back control of their Congress. All of these destructions are very unpopular with the American people, including left-right support for changing the scene on Capitol Hill.

So, the first destruction is democracy itself. Congress has put itself up for sale or rent and opposes electoral reform. It is excluding civic groups from public hearings. It doesn’t even print public hearings and reports anymore. That is very unpopular with the American people and could be reversed.

The second is, as a weapon of mass destruction, literally, the destruction of millions of lives in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya, elsewhere. The empire itself is a weapon of illegal, unconstitutional mass destruction, which is continuing to this day in those invaded countries that didn’t threaten us.

Third is, the Congress is destroying Medicare and Medicaid, turning more and more over to health insurance companies. They’re corporatizing Medicare and Medicaid, with deceptive ads, single payer to the winds. And we’re seeing over half of the Medicare beneficiaries have been lured into Medicare Advantage, which we call “Medicare Disadvantage,” which is just the usual exploitive giant health insurance policies, denying benefits, narrow networks, all kinds of other abuses.

The Congress has destroyed progressive taxation. It’s a grotesque tax full of loopholes, avoidances, in return for campaign cash, and something that even Warren Buffett has spoken about strongly. So, they’ve destroyed that, and also destroyed the consequence, which is public budgets that can protect people and engage in public services.

Congress has also destroyed corporate crime law enforcement, not just with the more recent disaster, letting Boeing and Boeing executives off without criminal prosecution. But just imagine: We have a corporate crime wave in this country. I mean, it’s unbelievable — billing fraud, pollution violations, workplace violations. And they haven’t had comprehensive hearings. They just had a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee, just a pro forma hearing, described in the Capitol Hill Citizen. There are — 250,000 Americans a year die from, quote, “preventable problems,” unquote, in hospitals, according to a peer-reviewed Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine study. And they’re just doing nothing and collecting money from all these corporate PACs.

And then, of course, on child poverty, just they didn’t extend the child tax extension, rather, the tax benefit, which had cut, up to January 2022, child poverty by 40%. And they didn’t do that.

And, by the way, I do make an important distinction, Amy and Juan. That’s why use the word “collectively,” Congress is a weapon of mass destruction, because there are some good people in Congress, but, as a body, it is definitely a weapon of mass destruction. Imagine millions of people being taken off Medicaid as we speak, 45 million Americans experiencing food insecurity — another euphemism for hunger — and the Congress is about to send $14 billion, the genocide tax, for more weapons to Israel to slaughter more Gazan families. I mean, we’re talking felonious performance here of the first order.

And then, the last list — it is a long list, but I’ll end with this. Congress is destroying the commons — that is, the huge property owned by the people, the public lands, onshore, offshore, the public airwaves, a lot of the internet. All this belongs to the people. But they have turned control over it to the corporations — the media corporations, the oil, gas, timber industry, etc.

Now, all of these —

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Ralph?

RALPH NADER: — are very unpopular with the American people.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Ralph, I wanted to —

RALPH NADER: A left-right organization of Congress could turn all this around with less than 1% of the people organized as a Congress watch group in congressional districts.

All of this is discussed, and more, in Capitol Hill Citizen, a print-only publication that we’re putting out. To get your copy, just go to CapitolHillCitizen.com. And you can get extra copies for your libraries or your discussion group. And for a donation of $5 or more, you will be mailed first class, quickly, the new issue of the Capitol Hill Citizen, 40 pages stocked with vibrant, readable print.

AMY GOODMAN: Juan, I want to — 

RALPH NADER: And we want all people —

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Ralph —

AMY GOODMAN: Juan, why would you think that you could get a word in edgewise on Ralph’s 90th birthday? But we’re just going to —

RALPH NADER: I just want one more sentence, one more key sentence. The whole idea of the Capitol Hill Citizen is not just to inform people with nonofficial journalism that they don’t read about, in article after article, like the need to repeal the Insurrection Act, that Trump could use to turn the Armed Forces against the people in this country — it should be repealed. There’s an article on that by Bruce Fein in the Capitol Hill Citizen. It’s to get more people —

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Ralph — Ralph, I wanted to ask you anyway —

RALPH NADER: — to become Capitol Hill citizens.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Ralph, if I can, I wanted to ask you anyway — we’re in the midst of a presidential election year. These kinds of issues, you raised when you ran for president. Bernie Sanders raised them when he ran. But we’re facing now the Michigan primary coming up and the rest of the election season. In Michigan, some people are pushing for an “uncommitted” vote to send a message to Biden about Gaza. What do you think about that strategy? And also, as you’re looking at this presidential race, what would you urge progressives to do?

RALPH NADER: I urge all people to vote their conscience. I don’t believe in tactical voting inside a two-party duopoly that basically allows very little choice. On foreign military policy, what difference is there between the Republican and Democrat? On Wall Street, what difference is there? There’s better rhetoric. The Democrats are better with the social safety net, no doubt about that, with Medicare and other safety net programs. But is that enough?

So, I think, as you say, Juan, people have got to find some way out of this two-party duopoly gulag. They’re trapped with these choices. And one way is to do the “uncommitted” during the primary in Michigan, and I hope it spreads around the country. But also, you know, there are only a few swing states here, so the majority of the American people in red and blue states can vote for a third party. They can vote for the Green Party, which has a marvelous agenda that the Democratic Party should have picked up on long ago. So, people should vote their conscience. I believe that very strongly. That’s what Eugene Debs used to recommend, the great labor leader, in the early 20th century.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go back in time with me and Juan, because we’re also celebrating our 28th anniversary with Democracy Now!, when we took you, Ralph, as a presidential candidate, onto the floor of the Republican convention. This was in Philadelphia. We were broadcasting from the Independent Media Center. May have been the first time in U.S. history a candidate for president held an impromptu, but well attended, press briefing on the convention floor of another party. We had asked Ralph to come to the convention and provide commentary and analysis as the voice of an outsider who’s been excluded from the political process in many ways. Let’s go back to 2000.

UNIDENTIFIED 1: What do you hope to accomplish by being here?

RALPH NADER: Well, I want to observe the thing in action. It’s hard to believe when you see it reported. You have to see it to believe it. I mean, this is the most spectacular display of political cash-register politics with corporate fat cats in the history of the country. And it’s always good to see the state of the art shamelessly paraded on national TV.

UNIDENTIFIED 2: What’s your message to the delegates here?

RALPH NADER: My message is to go home and rethink what they’re doing to the country when they sell politics to corporate fat cats in return for political favors. And that’s what I say to the Democrats, as well. Our democracy is being hijacked by large commercial interests against the interests of everyday people. And we’ve got to have political reform in this country. I’m very sorry to see John McCain, who had millions of supporters standing for political reform, morph himself into George W. Bush today.

UNIDENTIFIED 2: Sir, in some states you’re drawing 7 or 8%. Do you think — would you be the spoiler if this race is close?

RALPH NADER: You can’t spoil a political system that’s spoiled to the core. We need a new political reform movement in this country, and it’s not going to come from the Democratic or Republican parties.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that was Ralph Nader in the summer of 2000 in Philadelphia on the floor of the Republican convention. Everyone, the journalists migrated — he basically held a news conference there. We brought him on to present commentary. Ralph, you ran for president four times. Your thoughts on what you call the duopoly? And at this point, when people are talking about this election, which could ultimately be between Biden and Trump, calling it the most important presidential election perhaps in history, what are your comments on that?

RALPH NADER: Well, what you did in 2000, Democracy Now!, has never been done before or since. You basically got me inside the Republican convention to provide some sort of counterpoint and alternative to the mass media that was there. I was as astonished as anybody. And it didn’t take long for me to be escorted out of the convention center, but you got the job done.

And what is the job? The job is to give more voices and choices on the electoral ballot to the American people. This is crazy, what’s going on. The gap between the Democrats and Republicans has narrowed tremendously from the days of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the Republican Party, say, in the 1930s. The Democrats have rhetoric on environmental issues, labor issues, but they don’t really use their muscle in Congress. And they should have long ago landslided the Republican Party, which is the worst ever in history on so many issues, that have been reported by you and others.

So, what do people do? First of all, they have to organize Congress Watch lobbies back home between elections, so that elections become more meaningful, so that people start seeing that on the table is corporate crime enforcement, the end of corporate welfare, the establishment of arms control treaties and a Department of Peace, that Dennis Kucinich is supporting. He’s now running for Congress again from Ohio. There are so many areas that were put on an effort in 2020 which we called WinningAmerica.net — people can go and see it — showing that so many of the major concerns of the American people — it doesn’t matter whether they label themselves conservative or liberal when they are trying to feed their families, when they’re trying to get through the day where they live, work and raise their families. Ideology of divide and rule doesn’t quite work with them. But we tried to do that with WinningAmerica.net. We put the whole range of progressive policies, that have huge majoritarian support. That’s the hidden story. There’s a lot of left-right support for a living wage, for universal health insurance, for cracking down on corporate crime, for changing the whole ridiculous tax system.

AMY GOODMAN: Ralph — Ralph, Juan wants to get one more question in before the end of the show. Juan?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yeah. Ralph, I wanted to ask you about Israel’s war on Gaza. You had a recent column headlined “What the Mass Media Needs to Cover Re: Israel/Gaza Conflict.” Could you lay out — we only have about a couple of minutes. If you could lay out your key points?

RALPH NADER: Well, the key points is that — and this is not very often recognized — is there are five federal laws that the U.S. and Israel are violating by unconditional and unconstitutional support of this illegal, genocidal war in Gaza: the Foreign Assistance Act, the Arms Export Control Act, the U.S. War Crimes Act, the Leahy law protecting human rights, and the Genocide Convention Implementation Act. And I think we have to bring the focus back home. We’re the archenabler of this massive slaughter in Gaza, which seems to have no end, and there’s over 100,000 people and children dead so far, and many, many more dying by the hour. There’s a huge undercount of the fatality toll.

So, I urge people to listen to Democracy Now!'s in-person interviews with these doctors. And I just read, Amy, the article you and Denis Moynihan wrote about the, on site, in the hospitals, being blown apart, witnesses by the doctors, who have come back to the United States and Canada. We've got to get the support for the senators who have already — five senators have called for direct aid, bypassing Israel, direct U.S. humanitarian aid with international organizations in Gaza right now —

AMY GOODMAN: Ralph, we’re going to have to leave it there.

RALPH NADER: — for food, medicine and water.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you so much. I hate to cut you off on your 90th birthday, but what else is new? Ralph Nader, longtime consumer advocate, corporate critic, former presidential candidate, happy 90th birthday! Founder of the print-only monthly newspaper Capitol Hill Citizen. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

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