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Interview :: Education
the Sorry State of the US Left
by author: Ralph Nader interview by Amy Goodman
07 Oct 2004
Ralph Nader on Democratic Party Dirty Tricks to Keep Him Off the Ballot, and the Sorry State of the US Left
October 5, 2004
by Democracy Now!
First Published in Democracy Now!
The following is a rush transcript of an interview with Ralph Nader conducted by Amy Goodman of the Democracy Now! radio program, October 4, 2004.
AMY GOODMAN: This weekend, I had a chance to sit down with Ralph Nader in Washington, D.C., for an extensive conversation about why he has chosen to stay in the race, and about the allegations that he is taking support from republicans. I began by asking him how his campaign is going.
RALPH NADER: Well, there are two dimensions to it. One is to fight off the Democrats. In state after state, they're promoting an unprecedented dirty tricks campaign against us. That's to put it mildly. Dozens of phony lawsuits requiring our signature guys to appear in court on short notice with all kinds of records going back to 2000. We are moving to quash the subpoenas, and we have won about nine out of eleven state Supreme Court decisions that put us back on the ballot. There's intimidation and harassment. All of this once it comes out, is going to be a disgrace in the history of the Democratic Party.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you give a specific example?
RALPH NADER: Yeah. A lot of them. For example, there's a 58-year-old woman in Portland who collected signatures for us. She went back home and cooked dinner for her grandchildren and there was a knock on the door. A man and woman appeared, well dressed, to inform her, if there were fraudulent signatures on her petition, she can be prosecuted and sent to jail for three years. That kind of intimidation knocked out 30 signature gatherers just in the Portland, Oregon, area. And in New Mexico -- in Arizona, for example, they had three corporate law firms go after us. Eventually, they knocked us off the ballot. They would say -- there's an ex-felon who collected 550 signatures. They're invalid because the ex-felon who had been rehabilitated and was on jury service owed the state of Arizona $400. Just to defend that, at $250-an-hour on our side, would have been prohibitive. They hired Kirkland-Ellis corporate law firm in Ohio, 50 lawyers swarming all over the place to get us off Ohio. At Reed Smith, a corporate law firm representing the big drug companies in Philadelphia, Livingston group with the former congressman Toby Moffett. So it's interesting; they had corporate law firms and lobbying firms working with the Democratic Party. And if the Republicans spent a quarter of what the Democrats did, we would have been on 50 states. But the big lie that they -- that they spread, the Democrats, was that Republicans were supporting us, bankrolling us, only in three or four states did we see any organized Republican help. We didn't take it. We didn't take the signatures. We did it by ourselves.
AMY GOODMAN: Your critics point out on that issue that in Maryland -- in Michigan, that 45,000 signatures were handed in by the Republican Party.
RALPH NADER: That's the major organized help. We expected and still are fighting to get it on the ballot on the reform party, which authorized us nationally, and at the state level. But the judge -- and the politics here are incredibly obscure -- the judge didn't decide whether the rump group that was challenging us inside the Reform Party had any validity compared to our majority group. In effect, he said, you have got 45,000 signatures, and we're still in the courts. We're saying, no. We want to be on the state Reform Party. That's how bizarre it's gotten. What was the motivation of the judge? Well, he figured if we were on the Independent ticket, we would get more votes than if we were on the state Reform Party. The judge apparently had Republican leanings. That's how obscure the whole thing is getting.
AMY GOODMAN: But talk about the Republican Party gathering the signatures in Michigan for you.
RALPH NADER: Yes. That was organized. But we didn't take it, and we still refuse to take it. But the court is trying to force us to take it by not deciding that we are accredited, and on the ballot with the state Reform Party. What I'm saying to both parties: get off our backs, stop entangling us in your insidious schemes, let us compete for the voters. All of this is designed not just to get us off the ballot in numerous states that are considered close by the Democratic Party, but to deny millions of voters the opportunity to vote for the Nader-Camejo ticket, a rather serious civil liberties issue because the essence of running for office is freedom of speech, petition and assembly. It's remarkable how the civil liberties establishment could care less. They could care less about ballot access period, with very few exceptions. I wrote my first article on ballot access barriers in 1959, and things have gotten much worse for third party independent candidates.
AMY GOODMAN: Is it more difficult now than it was in 2000?
RALPH NADER: Oh, yes. It's more difficult because the laws that are passed by the two parties to keep competition at bay are full of trap doors. They're full of vague phrases and technicalities and provisions, and when one of the two parties wants to invoke them then it's like the door opens, and the fangs come out. That's what the Democrats decided to do. For example, the Republicans have not challenged the Libertarian Party. The Libertarian Party, some of these parties get on, they don't even meet the standard because nobody challenges them. In some states, nobody challenges you. You don't -- you're on. We have to have one federal standard for ballot access for federal office, not 50 plus the District of Columbia. That is an antiquated subversion of more choices and voices on the ballot.
AMY GOODMAN: How many ballots are you on right now?
RALPH NADER: I think about 36 and rising. We might get close to 40.
AMY GOODMAN: So, are you able to get a message out other than the issue of ballot access, given how much you're fighting simply to get on these state ballots?
RALPH NADER: Oh, yes. The message, the campaigning in 50 states proceeds. It's just that most of our staff are absorbed in time and resources with the ballot access fight. But I can assure you, Amy, the Democratic Party is going to pay a serious price for this after the election. I talked to Senator Kerry about nine, ten weeks ago. I informed him of what was going on, told him that Terry McAuliffe told me that he was going to encourage this kind of obstruction in the close states. Kerry said he didn't know a thing about it, and he would look into it. He has not gotten back to me. We have now called him 15 straight days, his office, and there's no return call from anybody. This is the kind of Democratic Party we have become accustomed to.
AMY GOODMAN: What did Terry McAuliffe actually say to you, the head of the Democratic Party?
RALPH NADER: He said, stay in the 31 close states, and I'll support you, if you stay out of the rest of the states. I said, you know, a lot of your people in Texas and even in slam dunk states -- where you shouldn't even be trying to get us off the ballot, you should be trying to get us to go into Texas and in Arizona -- are obstructing us. He said, I'm encouraging that. We're going to try to get you off the ballot in all of the close states.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the issues you see as the most important right now?
RALPH NADER: Well, the war is a big issue. I mean it's not just that it's a pending Vietnam, with the debate that we just all saw between Bush and Kerry, there's no question now in my mind that Kerry's going to pursue the war. He talks about victory. He talks about Bush shouldn't have invaded Iraq. He talks about mismanagement. But when he makes statements like on Fallujah, when he makes statements that more troops are needed, we're going to see this through, we're talking about a Richard Nixon succeeding a Lyndon Johnson on Vietnam. We're talking about civil war, because you know, they'll have enough Iraqi troops under our care and logistic support. There will be huge bloodshed. The only way that the U.S. is going to get out of this is if they leave a dictator behind, propped up by our troops, and diplomatic and political cover. We have the only responsible withdrawal plan, six months, military and corporate forces out, preceded by internationally supervised elections. So that we give the country back to the mainstream Iraqis. The bottom falls out of the resistance. That's the main argument of the resistance.
AMY GOODMAN: You said military and corporate forces. What do you mean?
RALPH NADER: And oil company forces. That's exactly what is irritating so many workers and Iraqis. It's their only major resource. Bush's oil companies are all over there. And then there's Halliburton and then there's Bechtel. So, it has to be a military and corporate withdrawal, so that the Iraqis realize they can get their country back, otherwise no light at the end of the tunnel. You will have shopkeepers by day, guerrillas by night, that sort of a thing.
AMY GOODMAN: You sued the Commission on Presidential Debates last time around for not being included. You're in Florida for the first presidential debate. How do the rules work now? Are you going to sue again?
RALPH NADER: No. There's still a private corporation called the Commission on Presidential Debates, created and dominated by the two parties. They can do whatever they want. However, they have been shaken this time. A book has come out exposing them called No Debate. We won a Federal District Court lawsuit that's going to get them in trouble with the Federal Election Commission. Their tax exemption is being challenged. Their corporate support is being exposed. There's a new debate commission called the Citizens Debate Commission, which proposed five debates. The networks, of course, didn't cooperate. But I think on the next round, the debate commission is going to be real trouble. More and more people are realizing that this is the gateway to tens of millions of American voters. No other way to get there, unless you're a Perot, and that's pretty amazing, isn't it?
AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean the corporate support of the commission? How does it work? What is it that you are challenging?
RALPH NADER: Well, the expenses for the debates are paid for by the likes of Anheuser-Busch, a beer company. In the past, Phillip Morris, a tobacco company, Ford Motor Company, AT&T, the airlines more recently, whatever. In return, they have these hospitality suites and the big corporate executives who fund the debates get very preferential access. It's really a good deal for them because it's also deductible as a charitable expense. Can you imagine?
AMY GOODMAN: How do they choose who gets to debate, or is it just that the two party candidates get to debate, and how do they tell you that you are out of it, or any third party candidate?
RALPH NADER: They have an impossible criteria that Perot couldn't have met in 1992, which is in September, five major polls bringing you at 15% or higher in the number of people who want to vote for you. It's an impossible situation. The very companies that own the polling subsidiaries are the ones who decide whether they're going to give you coverage. Of course, if you don't get coverage, you don't get polls. If you don't get polls, they don't give you coverage. It's -- the system of control is so sophisticated and so abstract compared to authoritarian regimes who used the hobbled boot at 4:00 a.m. or whatever. There is no democracy in our elections anymore. It's not just that money corrupts. It's not just that the two parties are converging and their similarities tower over the dwindling real differences. It's that they have now carved up the country into one-party districts. So 95% of the voters in the country don't have a choice between the two parties in the House of Representatives. They're all democrat or all republican. And now they're doing it to the blue and red states, and now they're moving to do it in the Senate, so you end up with 5% of the seats in the U.S. Congress competitive between the two parties. An election means selection. There is no selection. It's a coronation for the incumbent.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you say to those like the latest is this list of several dozen people who supported you in the past that include Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn who say that the stakes are too high right now, that it will make a difference if Kerry gets in over Bush, even if Kerry -- even if they don't agree with Kerry on a lot of issues, that in some particularly domestic issues like Supreme Court Justices, health insurance, other issues, will make a difference, that his being in office over Bush could make a difference to many people's lives in this country?
RALPH NADER: Well, it's a total loss of nerve. I mean, first of all, they didn't ask anything of Kerry. They said to the voters in the close states like Michigan, Wisconsin, Oregon, they said, vote for Kerry, quote, "even though we strongly disagree with Kerry on the war and other issues," end quote. Well, when you don't demand anything of Kerry, he gets worse. If you don't make Kerry better, he gets worse. Because the corporations are demanding 24 hours a day. They're not squeamish like the left is. More important is that if the left believes that their issues are compelling issues to the majority of the American people, they should be proud to pull Kerry toward them so he can get more votes. It's as if they're ashamed of their issues, like, gee, living wage, that's a very important issue, but it's not a big vote getter. Like full health insurance for all, that's very important. We want to pull Kerry in that direction. It's not -- like getting out of Iraq, where now a majority of people are saying it was a mistake to send the troops in, and 42% of the people want the troops back yesterday. Oh no, no, no. Don't pull him into this issue; it's not a vote-getter. This is the collapse of the left. You couldn't have more distinguished people on that list. It's a collapse of the left. They have in effect put a figurative ring in their nose. They have said to the Democrats, because the Republicans are so bad, we collapse. We're going for the least-worse. When you don't make any demands, when you engage in unconditional surrender, why should Kerry ever look back at you? Why should he give you the time of day? What was even worse is that these are our supporters in the year 2000, and they didn't go to the next step and say, in the safe states we urge you to vote for the Nader/Camejo ticket. What message is this to the younger generation when the seasoned leftist thinkers and activists can in effect turn their back on the only significant third party or independent effort that represents the whole panorama of where they want the country and the world to go.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you say to those who say Kerry should just make you irrelevant? Do you agree with that?
RALPH NADER: I don't even know what they mean.
AMY GOODMAN: Take on your issues.
RALPH NADER: Well, that's what Kerry started to say, but he didn't follow through. He said several times about six months ago, take away our votes by taking away our issues. But what's very significant here about what this statement portended is, there's nothing left of the left. They don't have any self-respect anymore. They are so afraid of Bush that they're willing to concede to a least-worse candidate who is just like Bush on the Pentagon budget he doesn't challenge at all, on the war in Iraq, on Israel/Palestine, and even corporate welfare. He's different rhetoric -- Kerry is -- but he hasn't taken up 10 proposals of boondoggles that I put on his desk. He knew about the big subsidy programs for the drug companies and the oil companies and the mining companies, corporate crime, fraud and abuse. He talks a good game very rarely but he doesn't do anything about it. You look at his website, there's hardly anything on corporate crime, corporate welfare, consumer protection. So, what's left of the left here?
AMY GOODMAN: What do you think Kerry is good on?
RALPH NADER: He's good on Arctic Refuge. He won't drill on that. But you know, why doesn't he talk about whole areas that Clinton gave away in northern Alaska, which the oil companies are able to have - they haven't drilled in yet. You know, I'm not so sure he's going to be hard-line on Social Security and Medicare. The Democrats cracked on that under Clinton/Gore; Medicare, HMO's, and maybe certain personal accounts and Social Security. I don't see much difference at all on foreign affairs and military policy. Even the New York Times had a page one story recently saying, there's not much difference between Bush and Kerry. And why should they be? They're just proxies for the real players, which are the corporate supremacists controlling our government. Every department, every agency is controlled overwhelmingly by corporate power, including the Department of Labor.
AMY GOODMAN: Supreme Court Justices?
RALPH NADER: Here is where sports fans are smarter than progressives because it is true that the Democrats would not have proposed a Scalia or a Thomas. But it is also true that the Republicans would have stopped the Democrats, if they had the counterpart nominees. And the Democrats didn't stop Scalia. Kerry and Gore, 98:0, every Democrat voted for Scalia. Couldn't get anyone. I was up there on Capitol Hill trying to get - just for the historical record -- a few dissenters. When it came to Thomas, that was more disgraceful. A more unworthy successor to Thurgood Marshall could hardly be envisioned. And he gets confirmed 52-48. How? 11 Democratic senators crossed the line and confirmed him in a Senate dominated by the Democrats. The majority leader was Senator George Mitchell. So, sports fans analyze their team in terms of not just offense, but defense. The Democrats have collapsed their ability to stop the Republicans on most issues, including the pay cuts for the wealthy, the war resolution, the Patriot Act, the Energy bill, the notorious drug benefit bill, the huge half trillion dollar windfall for the drug industry. They could have stopped those. They didn't. So, you have to measure a party not just on offense, but can it stop the Republicans? And for the last ten years, the Democrats have been losing at the state, local and national level to the worst of the Republicans.
AMY GOODMAN: So, would you say now, Kerry is no better than Bush?
RALPH NADER: He is better, but, you know, Bush is an easy act to follow. How much better? I mean, scrape our expectation levels an inch above the ground. I mean, that's the point. The real differences we have to talk about, Amy, are the differences between the two parties, and the necessities of the American people and the world, or the differences between the two parties, and the platform of the Nader/Camejo campaign, which people are invited to visit at the website, voteNader.org.
AMY GOODMAN: You said this group of several dozen former Nader advocates that now have come out saying that they are for Kerry, at least they could have said in the safe states, vote for Nader.
RALPH NADER: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: You spent a lot of time the last week, for example, in Florida. Now this is not a safe state. What are you trying to accomplish there?
RALPH NADER: I'm trying to accomplish a 50-state campaign. I have now gone to all 50 states, the only candidate who did that. And the debate was in Miami. I want to go to where the debates are, as well. But I'm not going to stay out of the close states. I'm going to go in all of the states. I have gone on all of the states but I'm going to go in the states where we can get the most votes.
AMY GOODMAN: And what do you say to those who say you are - the Republicans - you are the dream of the Republicans?
RALPH NADER: No, I think I'm the nightmare of the Republicans because I'm going around the country taking apart Bush in ways progressives would love the Democrats to take apart Bush. But the Democrats are too unimaginative, cautious or indentured to the same commercial interests of the Republicans that they won't pick these up. To really dramatize it, a few days ago, we had a march in Washington of 12 of our staff dressed in white waiter coats, and we rented silver platters. They marched down to the Kerry/Edwards headquarters with the silver platters. And each one had an issue that was labeled, how to beat Bush, for example, living wage for all. 47 million American workers making Wal-mart wages? You don't think they would alert themselves to the Democrats if they were authentically for it? They all went to the headquarters, and they delivered 12 issues that the old Democratic Party would have adopted without any urging. But this is a decadent party. I mean this is a party that spends more time and more money trying to get us off the ballot when they keep telling us we're not even going to get as many votes as last time. And they don't actively register 9 million African American voters, 90% of whom would vote Democrat and according to Reverend Jesse Jackson would tip Ohio and Pennsylvania, for example. I mean this is Ð they are out of it. Their basically demonstrating again and again that the only way Kerry is going to be President of the United States is if Bush self-destructs, as he seems to have started to on the first debate.
AMY GOODMAN: Why do you think they're not pushing harder for voter registration, for example, among African Americans?
RALPH NADER: First of all, it's hard work. It's much easier for $46 million regaling Kerry on 30-second television ads. Their consultants get 15% of that. They don't get 15% of millions of dollars going into grassroots voter registration. And Kerry is surrounded by corporate financiers, corporate advisers like Robert Rubin, and corporate campaign consultants like the 0 for 7 record of Bob Shrum. These corporate campaign consultants, they work on a 15% rake-off. When the election is over, there's no problem. They just go back to their offices and represent the greedy, multinational corporations. It's all one big corporate state. That's what it is. It almost Ð and the tragedy are the voters. The tragedy of is - Eugene Debs once said near the end of his career, he said, "the American voters can have almost anything they want, except it seems like they don't want much of anything at all when it comes to election day." And so, we're focusing on not flattering the voters because the politicians flatter, fool, and flummox voters. We're trying not to flatter them. In a way this is what I put in my appendix of my new book, The Good Fight, how to be a super voter. We have to put decent pressure on voters to become more diligent, maybe be at least diligent as they are sports fans where they do their homework, they know the statistics, the strategies, who to assign responsibility to, and above all, sport fans do not listen to the rhetoric of the players. It's all -- it's all performance.
AMY GOODMAN: What are your plans after election day?
RALPH NADER: Well, we're going to open up a number of new citizen groups. We're going to continue expanding to drive against corporate crime, fraud, and abuse. I want to do more work on the collapse of contract law in American law. All the contracts people sign as consumers is ridiculous. It's all just fine print and they cannot touch them. And also, I want to increase the political reform movement. We keep building -- we keep finding people in the younger generation, people of all ages, we have to organize them. We have to break up the two-party system. They're leaving the country with a one-party districts and they're destroying our democracy. It's amazing how I can speak to even someone like you, and I have known you a long enough that when I say there are no elections left, in 90% of the districts, I don't even see a flush in your face. But to me, that's the end of democracy.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain what you mean.
RALPH NADER: When I say, we used to live on a fiction of the two-party system and then they began converging more and more and more, the Republican and Democrats because they're funded by the same interests, and the corporate supremacists have done a spectacular job taking over Washington, D.C. Now, you have Tom Delay in Houston, one of the worst members of Congress. Never challenged by the Democrats. You have Nancy Pelosi in San Francisco, never challenged by the Republicans. Now multiply that up to 95% of the seats, and there is no selection. There is no two-party system. Never mind three-four party systems. It's over. And people just -- they cannot grab the gravity of this. Because they don't seem to be making the connection between the decay of the two-party system, and the increase in poverty and increase in unlivable wage jobs, which historians in the 19th century used to call wage slavery, and tens of thousands of people dying or getting sick because they cannot afford health care, and the hollowing out of our industry to China and elsewhere, and the destruction of what's left of our public services. I mean, they're crumbling, look at public libraries, look at schools, look a clinics. The concentration of wealth and power has never been greater in the country. If you look at the figures, you think it's some Central American country, stratification of the top 1%, compared to the rest. And there's no end to it. The point is that the standards of living are crumbling. Household income, median income, is going down. Affordable housing is beyond the reach of millions of families, and we're doubling the economy in the last 25 years.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you agree with what Andy Stern said in the Washington Post at Service Employees International Union, when he basically was saying, Bush should be in for another term because it will actually help the labor movement, because people will finally mobilize?
RALPH NADER: Well, he tried to recant that the next day. That surprised me. I wouldn't think he would say that, because it doesn't matter what party is in power, the labor movement keeps declining. The labor movement won't even make the Democratic Party take a stand to repeal Taft-Hartley [Labor Act], the 1947 law that has squelched tens of millions of workers from forming labor unions. This -- it's over. We have to start new. We have to reach out and organize the political and civic energies of the American people. We have these conferences by Robert Borosage and others in Washington, their progressive agenda for America. They're thumb-suckers. They don't organize. There's no social justice movement in this country. It's not preceded by field organizers. Whether it was civil rights, farmer populist or labor or whatever. There's a decadence to the liberal intelligentsia that we have been privileged this year to highlight and make visible because we drew it out. And by stressing the Democratic Party, the pus and the mucus of the political bigotry trying to keep us off the ballot and deny millions of voters an opportunity to vote for us is also coming out. So, that's another collateral benefit of the Nader/Camejo campaign.
AMY GOODMAN: Last question, and that is the rage of your former friends that you're experiencing right now. What is your response to this, to your being so -- to them feeling so alienated by all of the things that you have represented in the past that they say they have supported?
RALPH NADER: Think they deserve John Kerry for another four years. So, then they'll come back in a year and start complaining, oh, oh, this party, oh, the White House, so terrible on the environment, caving in to the coal companies and the nuclear and not doing anything about biotech or WTO or NAFTA. How many times do they have to be betrayed? You can forgive them if they're under 30. They have not been betrayed enough, but people -- my peer group going like that? There's no end to the lowering of their expectation level. The least-worsters have no end logic to their attitude. Because every four years until the end of kingdom come, there will be a least-worst party in America. They have no end, in 2008, 2012. And every four years, both parties get worse and they make no demands. If you are going to go for least worst, at least pull the least of the worst in your direction. They don't even have the courage of their convictions to stand tall, and to say they have wimped out is truly an understatement. And it's a tragedy because they're very bright, and they fought a lot of good fights in the old days. They have either run out of gas, or they have lost their self-respect.
Ralph Nader is running for President of the US as an Independent. He is America's leading consumer advocate and founder of numerous public interest groups including Public Citizen. His latest book is The Good Fight: Declare Your Independence and Close the Democracy Gap (Regan Books, 2004). He can be reached through www.votenader.org.
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