January 31 2008
Photo: Joëlle Pénochet (Columbia University, Sept. 2004)
AMY GOODMAN: Here, you have John Edwards dropping out, and on the same day, longtime consumer advocate and two-time presidential candidate Ralph Nader launched a presidential exploratory committee to decide whether to run as an independent. Ralph Nader ran on the Green ticket in ’96 and 2000, as an independent in 2004, which would make him three-time presidential candidate. On his website, Ralph Nader is urging supporters to “discipline the corporate crooks and lobbyists and their corporate candidates." He joins us now in Washington, D.C. in studio.
Ralph Nader, what are your plans?
RALPH NADER: Well, I’ve launched the exploratory committee with a website, naderexplore08.org, for those who want to get more details, in order to test the waters in three areas. One is to see if we have an adequate number of volunteers to run a robust fifty-state campaign that would include a network of pro bono lawyers to deal with the obstruction to ballot access that the Democrats engaged in in ’04, filing twenty-three lawsuits against us in just twelve weeks in that year, most of which we won. And second, to get adequate resources, contributions, donations—obviously, we’re not taking any money from corporate sources or political action committees. And that’s possible on the website naderexplore08.org. And finally, to get a talented, committed staff that connects with people’s daily lives and that can help organize one thousand people in each congressional district, not just for ’08, but also for ’09 and later. Congress really is the pivot institution that is most susceptible to change by popular forces, and, of course, it’s the most powerful branch of our government, if they care to use that power, like the impeachment power or the war declaration power under our Constitution.
AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you, Ralph Nader, you announced this exploratory committee the day that John Edwards dropped out. You had said that Nader—you had said that “Edwards now has the most progressive message across a broad spectrum of any leading candidate I’ve seen in years,” while he was running. Are you coming in because he just left and you saw this progressive stance dropping out of the race?
RALPH NADER: Well, I didn’t expect John Edwards to drop out so quickly, because he said for weeks that he was going to go all the way to the convention, and there were reports that he was going to have enough delegates to perhaps broker the convention between, say, Obama and Clinton. So that was rather disappointing. But the signs were clear that he was coming in third.
And I think it’s very important to note that there’s a difference between a populist platform and a record of commitment over the years. And I think my forty years indicate that I can be relied on to really pursue the shift of power that’s necessary from the few to the many in the area of our political economy, in the area of our constitutional principles and in the area of domestic and foreign policy. I don’t think that necessarily was the case with Senator Edwards when he was a senator. So he did provide a very good service in focusing on poverty, which was a no-no word for years by the Democratic Party, including President Clinton. He would always refer to the middle class as if he didn’t have fifty million men, women and children in dire poverty in the country’s—in the world’s richest country.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to—
RALPH NADER: So I think there’s never enough forces of justice, Amy. There’s never enough forces of justice to combat the concentration of power in the hands of the few used against the many in our country, representing giant corporations who basically have turned Washington into corporate-occupied territory.
AMY GOODMAN: David Bonior, your response to the possible run of Ralph Nader for president of the United States?
DAVID BONIOR: Well, I’ve always been an admirer of Ralph Nader and his record, his long record, as he has just indicated, over forty-something years, and his work as a public citizen has just been one of the more outstanding efforts in this country on behalf of working folks and social and economic justice. So, you know, I really admire his work and his voice. And we need voices like Ralph Nader’s in this country speaking up on these issues.
I would say, however, though, that one of the things I think it’s important to look to in people is how they mature, how they grow. And one of the things that drew me to John Edwards was the fact that his maturation as an activist, as a person of commitment in social and economic justice, was quite an amazing thing to see, especially in the last, I’d say, five or six years. There were some votes that he cast in his early years in the Senate that I was not comfortable with. The war vote, for instance, was one of them. I helped lead the effort against the war in the House when he was voting for it with virtually everyone else in the Senate. But I watched him grow on that issue, as well as all the other socioeconomic issues that we’ve touched on here and raised his voice and not be afraid to raise his voice. And, you know, that speech he gave at Riverside Church relatively recently in which he quoted Dr. King by saying that silence is a betrayal, a takeoff on King’s remarks forty—when King spoke there on his opposition to the war in Vietnam. It’s pretty indicative, I think, of where John Edwards has come from over the course of the years, and I think that we need to recognize people who make that journey. It’s rare when people do it at that stage in their lives, so when they do it and they speak out and it’s meaningful and they show it through their actions over a period of years, I think we need to embrace them. And so, Ralph has a long record—there’s no doubt about that—the longest probably of any progressive in this country, but there are others we need to bring along, and young people, of course, are one in which he’s after, obviously, with his website and his entrée to the race. And—
AMY GOODMAN: And what do you think, David Bonior, of Ralph Nader running for president? What do you think it would mean for the presidential race in this country?
DAVID BONIOR: I think it’s always important to have voices that express progressive views and populist views. I mean, I’m glad Ron Paul—I mean, I don’t agree with Ron Paul on very many things. In fact, you know, it’s wherever the ’tween shall meet. When we were in the House together, we used to actually vote on things together, because we came from a different perspective.
AMY GOODMAN: So would you encourage Ralph Nader to run?
DAVID BONIOR: I’m sorry, I can’t hear you.
AMY GOODMAN: Would you encourage Ralph Nader to run?
DAVID BONIOR: That’s Ralph’s decision. And I’ll—we’ll watch and see how this develops, and we’ll watch and see how the other candidates respond in the Democratic race.
AMY GOODMAN: David Bonior, I want to thank you for being with us, national campaign manager for John Edwards. John Edwards dropped out of the presidential race yesterday, where he started, in New Orleans. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, the War and Peace Report. When we come back, we’ll stay with Ralph Nader, consumer advocate, three-time presidential candidate. Will he run again? He’s started an exploratory committee. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: Our guest is Ralph Nader, three-time presidential candidate. Will he make it four? He has just formed an exploratory committee to decide whether to run for president here in this year, 2008. Ralph Nader, the issue of running and taking away votes from the Democrats, take that on, something that has made many people very angry, feeling that you took the race from Al Gore at a time that was absolutely critical for this country.
RALPH NADER: Well, if you ask Al Gore, he’ll give you ten reasons, each of which independently was a cause of his losing. He believes he won—I agree he won—in Florida, but it was stolen from him before, during, and after the election by the Secretary of State and Jeb Bush, all the way from Tallahassee to that atrocious political decision by the Supreme Court. There are a lot of “what if’s,” Amy. What if he got Tennessee? What if he got Arkansas? What if the mayor of Florida didn’t go to Madrid and not bring out thousands of his votes?
Anybody who looks at an independent or third party candidate, whether it’s a Green Party candidate or Independent Party candidate, and uses the words "Are you taking away votes from the Democrats?” in my view, is basically saying that small party candidates are second-class citizens. Either we have an equal right to run for elective office in our country, or we are basically developing a two-tier system, where the two dominant parties, with all their commercial support, control the votes in this country. So either none of us are spoilers, because we have an equal right to run, or all of us, because we’re trying to take votes from one another, are spoilers. There’s no stratification. When that word “spoiler” is used to attach to a small party candidate, that, to me, is clear political bigotry, just as if it was used against a class of voters years ago during the pre-civil rights era. So I think ballot access is a major civil liberties issue, and people in this country, whether they like it or not, must recognize how discriminatory that word is and must try to adhere to what the polls tell us, that they really want more voices and choices and that about 60 percent of the people of this country want a viable third party, even though they may not vote for that party.
So we have to get over it, and liberals especially have got to get over their easy abdication of least-worst voting for the Democrats, where they don’t put any pressure or they don’t make any demands on the Democrats, because they fear that the Republicans are worse. That sets up a system where the corporations are pulling 24/7 the Democrats in their direction to become corporate Democrats, like the corporate Republicans, and no one is pulling the other way. Why? Because they’re all freaked out by the Republicans, and they’re going for least-worst voting. All the bargaining power of progressives and liberals atrophy with that attitude.
So if they don’t want to support a small party candidate, if they don’t want to go to our website, naderexplore08.org, and see the reasons in that remarkable letter by my supporters that’s on that website, see the reasons why we are testing the waters, then they at least have to make demands on the Democratic Party, which they did not make in ’00 against Gore and they did not make against John Kerry. In fact, they had a moratorium on demonstrations against the war in ’04.
AMY GOODMAN: Ralph Nader, you, a while ago, said that if Hillary Clinton were the Democratic presidential nominee, you would run for president against her. What is your assessment of Barack Obama?
RALPH NADER: My assessment of Barack Obama is that he knows what the score is in terms of the male distribution of power. He knows what he has said in the past about the Israeli-Palestinian issue and the need for Palestinian rights and a two-state solution. He knows that this war was a criminal war in Iraq and we’ve got to get out of it in a responsible, expeditious manner. He knows that corporations have too much power over workers and consumers and small taxpayers and elections and the government.
But when you watch him, he stays at a very high plain of generality and abstraction about change, and we’re one nation, and we’re one people. And that may sing with the desire of people to feel like they’re part of a unity, but it doesn’t do much for the productivity of the political dialogue. He does not get specific enough. Therefore, I think his main problem is he’s censoring himself, and that is not sufficiently rationalized by saying that’s just a tactic to win the primaries and get elected. After awhile, day after day, week after week, when you self-censor yourself, you become a different person, and it’s a reflection on character.
I also think that if he didn’t self-censor himself, if he started reverberating to the many mainstream press reports on corporate crime, fraud and abuse against pensions, against workers, against small investors; on the labor laws that are obstructing workers from organizing; on the need to have a foreign policy that isn’t militaristic; on the need to have an efficient military budget, where he said he wants to enlarge and modernize the military, which is already absorbing half of the federal government’s operating expenditures; on the need to direct taxpayer money to the necessities of the American people and not to pour them into corporate subsidies, handouts, giveaways, bailouts, which we call corporate welfare; on the need to protect consumers, especially in the inner city, from the rapacious practices of lenders; etc., I think he would enormously advance the number of people who would support him. And he certainly has the intellect to do that.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you think he has different positions than Hillary Clinton? And what is your assessment of her?
RALPH NADER: His declared positions almost fit the definition of protective imitation. They’re too close to Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton is a corporate Democrat. There’s no better evidence of that than the Fortune magazine cover story in June of last year, which basically said business loves Hillary. Hillary is a big business candidate.
And so, I think the healthcare proposal is a perfect example by Barack Obama of this protective imitation. Why doesn’t he go for full Medicare? Why doesn’t he go for a deeper analysis of the healthcare problem in this country, namely the need to emphasize prevention of disease and trauma, the need to knock out $220 billion of billing fraud and abuse, according to the Government Accountability Office and Malcolm Sparrow at Harvard University, against the need to reduce malpractice and stop blocking action to go to the courts for the tens of thousands of people who are injured or killed because of the small percentage of reckless doctors operating in this country who should have their license suspended? He should also focus on the enormous administrative expense savings from full Medicare—one payer, not 1,500 payers and cross-billings, etc., that are now taking about $300 billion to $400 billion.
AMY GOODMAN: Are you more likely to run if Hillary Clinton is the candidate, the nominee, as opposed to Barack Obama?
RALPH NADER: Well, I’m more likely to run in this testing-the-water period if we get sufficient committed volunteers in each congressional district. We’re appealing to young and old alike. We want to bring young people into electoral politics, so they can become the leaders of the future, both in terms of running for election at the local, state and national level and managing elections. I think we’re also trying to test the degree of funds. We would like to raise, if I run, $10 million, so we can have a viable campaign. And we’ve had a very nice response over the last twenty-four hours to our website, naderexplore08.org. And, of course, we’re looking for those pro bono lawyers. We’re looking for the talented people who really want to get off their couches, want to stop the despair, want to stop the discouragement and want to go forward. You know, the interesting thing, Amy, is the people have the power if they only realized it, organized it and focused it. There are only 1,500 corporations, largely, that are running a majority of 535 members of Congress, who put their shoes on every day like we do.
AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you something—
RALPH NADER: And there are millions of people out there who want a country they can bequeath to their descendants with pride.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you think of Barack Obama’s recent endorsement by Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy, along with Congressmember Patrick Kennedy, his son, and his niece, Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of President John F. Kennedy? This is the Obama campaign commercial made by Caroline Kennedy.
CAROLINE KENNEDY: Once we had a president who made people feel hopeful about America and brought us together to do great things. Today, Barack Obama gives us that same chance. He makes us believe in ourselves again, that when we act as one nation we can overcome any challenge. People always tell me how my father inspired them. I feel that same excitement now. Barack Obama can lift America and make us one nation again.
BARACK OBAMA: I’m Barack Obama, and I approve this message.
AMY GOODMAN: Your response to Caroline Kennedy’s endorsement and her comparison of Barack Obama to John Kennedy?
RALPH NADER: Well, I think it’s an inspirational message. I think the Kennedys made the right move. I think they have been simmering quietly over the years about the behavior and performance of Bill Clinton. I think that’s part of the shift away from Clinton to Obama. Whether it means more votes remains to be seen, but it certainly has given Obama a higher profile for a few days.
AMY GOODMAN: Ralph Nader, if you run, would you run as an independent or would you run for the Green Party nomination?
RALPH NADER: Well, if I run—and we are testing the waters now—I would certainly go for the ballot lines with the Green Party. I would go for—
AMY GOODMAN: So you would go against Cynthia McKinney?
RALPH NADER: We’ll go for—well, that remains to be seen. It’s a little early right now. But we’ll go independent in states where there aren’t any parties. We’ll look for progressive small parties at the state level. You have to do that just to get on state ballots, where there are very obstructive rules. And my campaign manager, Theresa Amato, in ’04 is finishing a very detailed book on this major civil liberties issue of obstructing candidates’ rights, without which voter rights aren’t worth very much. When you have 90 percent of the House districts one party—
AMY GOODMAN: Ralph Nader, we only have—we have less than a minute. John McCain said we could be in Iraq for a hundred years. He’s the leading Republican candidate. For those who say you’ll take votes from the Democrats, none of them are saying we’ll be there for a hundred years. What is your response, that your run could be a matter of life or death for people in Iraq?
RALPH NADER: Well, I would hope that we would push the Democrats into taking a more forceful stand in Congress to withdraw from Iraq in a propitious manner. I would hope the Democrats would look at our progressive agenda, if I run, and say, “Let’s take living wage away. Let’s take full Medicare away. Let’s crack down on corporate crime, fraud and abuse. Let’s get a new tax system.” I think this idea of taking votes away is a very pernicious subversion of progressive agendas and progressive movements in the country. I think John McCain’s greatest Achilles’ heel is that he has demonstrated again and again, most recently in Florida—
AMY GOODMAN: We have five seconds.
RALPH NADER: —that he is the candidate of a perpetual war.
AMY GOODMAN: Ralph Nader, I want to thank you for being with us. His website is naderexplore08.org.
Related Democracy Now! Stories
More articles and videos featuring Ralph Nader: