From Emilie@ix.netcom.com Sun Aug 27 15:42:15 2000
Date: Sat, 26 Aug 2000 23:54:00 -0500 (CDT)
From: "Emilie F. Nichols" <Emilie@ix.netcom.com>
Subject: Excellent Interview with Ralph Nader
Ralph Nader is so fed up with corrupt beltway politics that he is
willing to sacrifice Al Gore
By Charles M. Young, Rolling Stone Magazine, No. 849
14 September 2000
FROM 1965 TO 1980, RALPH NADER WAS ONE OF the most influential
people in the United States. By sheer force of moral argument, he
got Congress to pass a vast array of legislation that improved bad
cars, bad water, bad air, bad working conditions, bad banks and
... well, you name it. He can take credit for spurring the passage
of such landmark laws as the Freedom of Information Act and the
Clean Air Act.
Since 1980, Nader's career has followed an arc similar to the first
half of a Popeye cartoon. Bluto showed up in the form of President
Ronald Reagan. His administration refused to enforce laws Nader
had inspired and turned the regulatory agencies into tools of
industry. During Clinton's tenure, the signing of NAFTA and the
U.S. entry into the WTO meant that labor and environmental groups
could be slighted in trade negotiations. For twenty years, Washington,
D.C., crusted over into a giant Blutocracy.
Nader fired shots across the bow of the two-party Titanic by
introducing himself as a presidential candidate in 1992 and again
in 1996. Reluctant to siphon off enough progressive votes to defeat
the Democrats, Nader gave a few good speeches and otherwise didn't
do much. Still, the White House watched closely.
"Clinton was very concerned with Nader's candidacy" in 1996, says
Dick Morris, Clinton's former adviser and pollster. "He kept raising
it with me and asking whether I thought it would cost him California.
He could not understand how Nader would not draw votes from him.
I don't know that he actually tried to knock Nader off the ballot,
but he was deeply concerned."
This year, Nader is campaigning for real on the Green Party ticket.
The Blutocracy has finally dumped one too many loads of toxic waste
on his head. "That's all I can stand," was the message when he
announced his candidacy in February. "I can't stands no more."
Nader's stated goal is to get five percent of the vote, in which
case the Greens would get federal matching funds in 2004. With his
campaign just gaining momentum, he now rates six to seven percent
in the polls, three times as much as Pat Buchanan. He and Buchanan
are suing to be allowed into the presidential debates. If they
succeed a highly unlikely prospect the entire nation could go into
the same sort of political flux that rearranged Minnesota when
Jesse Ventura was allowed to debate.
A number of ordinarily Democratic celebro-Americans are supporting
Nader: Willie Nelson, Bonnie Raitt, Eddie Vedder, Susan Sarandon,
Paul Newman, Phil Donahue, Jackson Browne. "There's a widespread
assumption that candidates in the two major parties can't say what
they believe or they won't get elected," says Browne, one of the
most active of activists in the musical community. "So the people
end up voting on the basis of spin and then hoping that in a few
years the candidate might have done something that they assumed he
believed in but couldn't actually say. It's time to stop this.
Ralph Nader says what he thinks, he can discuss any issue without
a scriptwriter, and he's the only candidate talking about government
handouts to corporations."
RS: How serious are you about running for president this time?
N: We're trying to get on the ballot in all fifty states. We're
going to show that citizen power can overcome business dollars in
RS: Why didn't you run in the Democratic primaries?
N: Because the party is not capable of internal reform anymore.
It's too far gone into the corporate pits.
RS: What are the first five things you would do as president?
N: First, I would declare a pro-democracy initiative -- that means
public financing of election campaigns, urge the states to have
same-day registration, make voting day a holiday and a celebration
of the democratic process, develop a binding "none of the above"
proposal. People could check "none of the above" on their ballots,
and if that wins, there would have to be another election. Second,
I would push to remove restrictions that hamper workers from forming
trade unions in the private sector. Third, I would press for citizen
channels on cable and over the air as a condition of broadcast
licensing. The people should have their own television channels
and their own radio and television networks, because the people
own the airwaves. Four, I would announce tough enforcement of
consumer health, safety and economic-justice laws throughout the
federal government. Crack down on corporate crime, fraud and abuse.
And I'd put all federal contracts and grants above $100,000 on the
Internet: the coal leasing, the gold leasing, the oil leasing, the
NIH giveaways, the defense contracts. Five, I would press immediately
for universal health care. Can I list more than five?
RS: Go for it.
N: I think that all students should learn citizen skills in how to
practice democracy, so they can become more powerful in shaping
the future of our country instead of having corporations shape its
future. They should be taught how to use the Freedom of Information
Act, how to do voter profiles of legislators, how to build coalitions,
how to do policy statements, how to put on news conferences. I
would use the bully pulpit to press for all of that, since it can't
RS: What happened between 1996 and 2000 to cause you to run a
full-blown campaign this time?
N: The doors of democracy are closing in this town and around the
country, which has been hijacked by global corporations. They're
dominating almost every sector of our society: the workplace, the
marketplace, the government, the media. They're exploiting and
raising our children with the most vile materials. They're
overmedicating our children with dangerous drugs. Almost nothing
is off-limits to the commercial juggernaut.
RS: What about your critics who say that a vote for Nader will help
elect George W. Bush, who would appoint religious crackpots to the
Supreme Court and reverse Roe vs. Wade?
N: If they're Progressives and they believe the two-party system
is irretrievably corrupt, and that the differences between the two
parties are narrowing rapidly, and that voting for the least worst
every four years guarantees that both of them will continue to get
worse, then why are they legitimizing this decaying duopoly by
giving one of the parties their vote? The only language a politician
understands is to deny him your vote and put it in another visible
column, in this case the Green Party column. And then the politician
will say, "Gee, public sentiment is shifting, and we'd better react
to it; otherwise we're going to lose even more votes." Beyond that,
if they want a tactical answer, Buchanan will take a lot of Republican
votes. And in California in 1996, where I got 260,000 votes without
campaigning, four out of ten votes were from Republicans. So we're
not attracting just Democrats. But the people who make this argument,
what is their standard for abandonment of corrupt politics? The
two-party system has turned our government over to the global
corporations. How bad does it have to get?
RS: The issue of abortion drives progressives. If back to the
Democrats and the religious right back to the Republicans. It's in
the interest of both parties to keep the Supreme Court balanced at
5-4 so people think their vote counts something.
N: Well, think of the low level of expectations of people who see
it like that. You've got military weapons proliferation, massive
world hunger and starvation, global infectious diseases coming this
way in drug-resistant form. You've got the majority of workers in
this country making less money in real terms than they did in 1979,
notwithstanding a booming economy. You've got twenty percent child
poverty in this country, massive homelessness and inadequate housing.
You've got $6.2 trillion in consumer debt, an epidemic of corporate
crime, a labor movement that's weaker than it's ever been, obstructed
by laws that make it impossible to form trade unions in the private
sector. You've got hundreds of billions of dollars going to corporate
welfare every year, meaning that citizens are gouged not just as
consumers but as taxpayers. And you put this up against Roe vs.
Wade. And you say that all these other things don't count, because
you want to preserve Roe vs. Wade. That is a snare and a delusion.
Even in the unlikely event of the Supreme Court repealing Roe vs.
Wade, there isn't a chance in hell that a state would destroy the
Republican Party by passing restrictions on the pro-life side. The
polls are against it. If the pro-choice people think that the
pro-life people are organized and aggressive, what do you think is
going to happen when the shoe is on the other foot? The power of
the pro-life people is minuscule compared to what will be unleashed
if the legislatures try to restrict the right to abortion. It's
never going to happen.
RS: Is opposition to the World Trade Organization the central theme
of your campaign?
N: Definitely. We were very much involved in the critique of the
WTO and mobilizing people to get them to Seattle.
The corporatists knew that they couldn't repeal all these regulatory
laws. So what do they do? They create a superautocracy out of Geneva
that supersedes all our democratic processes. It subordinates
Congress, the environment, child labor, human rights, all of it,
to the dictates of international trade. It's like a silent coup
d'etat. We were up against big business, the Clinton administration,
the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post,
the Chamber of Commerce, the Association of Manufacturers, thousands
of PACs and all the goodies that Clinton could drop on wavering
members of Congress. And we still almost beat them on NAFTA [North
American Free Trade Agreement], which led to GATT [General Agreement
on Tariffs and Trade], which was the precursor of the WTO.
RS: About five years ago, I went to a protest against the International
Monetary Fund in New York, and there were about thirty people there,
from ten different leftist groups who all hated each other. I was
depressed for months. Then Seattle exploded last December with
50,000 people. What happened?
N: Opposition to corporate power is going mainstream. When was the
last time you saw labor, environmental, consumer, student, church
and, human-rights groups all under the same banner? That's very
important. It's not just that there was a big demonstration in
Seattle. Look at the coalition that's forming. That's important,
because the corporate state respects no boundaries. It goes into
every sector of society, and it outrages every sector of society.
Even conservatives are outraged. I asked Bill Bennett, "Do you know
that corporations are on a collision course with conservative
principles?" He said, "I agree." Number one corporate welfare grates
on them, and number two, they hate the violent, pornographic
exploitation of children. Nobody ever envisioned that corporations
would be selling to two- and three- and four-year-olds by separating
them from their parents, by teaching them to nag their parents into
buying the most awful things to eat and drink. They psychoanalyze
these kids, figure out at what stage they're lonely, when the peer
group dominates, et cetera, getting the child-development psychologists
to consult on how best to enter their minds and bodies.
RS: In a recent book, "No Contest: Corporate Lawyers and the
Perversion of Justice in America," you wrote about your colleagues
at a reunion of the Harvard Law School class of 1970, who seemed
disenchanted with their lives spent serving rich twits. Your line
is, "No one confronted the psychic costs of serving money rather
than ideals." I see those psychic costs in journalism all the time.
N: The most valued human relationships are outside the market, and
everything is up for sale in this country. The market has always
been there, but it's had a relatively narrow role in past centuries.
Now it's corroding all other human values. Ask people to tell you
what they own. You'll wait fifteen minutes while they tell you
about their stereo, their car, their house. You can keep pushing
them and they'll never name what we own in common: public lands,
timber, minerals, the public airwaves. It doesn't occur to them
that we own these assets, because they're entirely controlled by
corporations. That's commercialism.
I grew up corporate. I used to look at cars in terms of style:
power, fins, hood ornaments. Growing up civic means you start
looking at cars in terms of safety, fuel efficiency, ease of
maintenance and repair, pollution control.
RS: Was there a revelation in your childhood that set you upon your
N: One day I came home from school, when I was about ten. My father
said, "What did you do today in school? Did you learn how to believe,
or did you learn how to think?" My parents were always taking me
to the next step. And where are kids today? As pre- teenagers,
they're spending thirty hours a week in the hands of corporations.
Television, video games, arcades, overmedication, war toys, cosmetics
for little girls. Then the addictive industries hit them: alcohol,
tobacco, drugs. They're spending less time with adults, including
their parents, than any generation in history. We don't pay a
penalty for that? Our economy is designed to take adults away from
the household for longer and longer periods of time -- commuting,
working longer hours -- to make a middle-class living. The streets
are empty in residential areas because people are working or too
tired to do anything. The social clubs are closing down. There's
no one to run for local office or serve on commissions. Nobody
shows up at city council meetings. The figures are that Americans
worked 163 more hours last year than they did twenty years ago,
and for less money. This is a period of unprecedented economic
growth and a booming stock market. What do you think is going to
happen to these people when a recession or depression hits?
RS: You once testified in front of a House committee on corporate
welfare. Why do they even let you testify anymore?
N: Well, they don't. That was a special case. Most people in this
town who call themselves conservatives are really corporatists.
John Kasich, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, is an
actual conservative. He opposed the B-2 bomber; he opposes corporate
welfare. Over a period of a year and a half, we convinced him to
hold the first congressional hearings on corporate welfare. He
invited me to be the lead-off witness. I wasn't restricted to five
minutes, and it was on C-Span. We got a great reaction, but a lot
of his colleagues weren't happy. We're now working with Kasich's
office to develop a joint coalition to eliminate five corporate-welfare
programs, just for starters. If you include tax loopholes, bailouts,
subsidies, technology give-aways and public-resource giveaways, it
comes to hundreds of billions a year.
RS: In the Sixties and Seventies, you had a lot of legislators in
your corner. Yet a liberal like Walter Mondale was also a member
of the Trilateral Commission, which issued that famous report saying
the United States had suffered from an "excess of democracy" in
the Sixties. Did you ever feel like you were making a deal with
the devil as you worked with Congress?
N: You tend to look at politicians piece-meal. Since you can't
enact the laws, you pick one virtue here and one virtue there, and
you don't deal with them except on your terms. Liberal Republicans
in the Senate in those days -- Javitz, Percy, Hatfield -- were
better than most Democrats are now. So it's a natural step now to
enter the electoral arena. With corporate power, you've got to go
to every front that they're fighting, or they'll turn your flank
and defeat you. You can't just beat them in court, or they'll
override the decision by lobbying something through the legislature.
RS: In 1996, you told the "New York Times," "If I really wanted to
beat Clinton, I would get out, raise $3 or $4 million, and maybe
provide the margin for his defeat. That's not the purpose of this
candidacy." Since you're planning to raise $5 million and run hard
this year, does that mean you would not have a problem providing
the margin of defeat for Gore?
N: I would not -- not at all. Take every section of the U.S.
government and ask what's the difference between the two parties.
Treasury, the Federal Reserve, Defense, State, Commerce, Labor: In
all the departments and all the regulatory agencies, with the
possible slight exception of the Environmental Protection Agency,
there is no difference whatsoever between the two parties. In some
areas, the Democrats are worse. They got elected by the labor
unions, and they've got the most mealy-mouthed, patsy Labor Department
that any Republican would dream of having. The Occupational Safety
and Health Administration is even worse off under the Democrats.
We can't even get the Secretary of Labor to make a speech on
occupational hazards. What else is there? The Institutes of Health
are exactly the same under both parties. They're giving away all
the research and development to the big drug companies, and you
know who reversed the reasonable-price provision that was restraining
what the drug companies could charge? Clinton. The Department of
Energy is still subsidizing fossil and nuclear fuels. They still
have a low priority for solar energy. It's a little better than
under Reagan and Bush, but nothing like you would expect from the
"environmental president and vice president." On social services?
They're cutting low-income housing, strangling legal services. The
administration speaks a better game, but they do not fight a better
game. And the Republicans never subsidized the merger of defense
contractors. That's a Clinton innovation. A billion and a half
dollars he spent in the Pentagon to subsidize the merger of Lockheed
Martin. And now they're doing that for others, on the grounds that
there's overcapacity. But they're knocking out a competitor, so
they'll pay even more for weapons we don't need. The Republicans
never thought of that one.
RS: Do you think Gore has lived up to his reputation as an
N: The Clinton administration was worse than the Republicans
regarding the auto industry. When they were running in 1992, they
said they were going to push the auto industry to forty miles per
gallon by the year 2000. But they cut a deal. Clinton and Gore had
a press conference in September 1993 with three big domestic auto
companies, and here's the deal they announced: We'll appropriate
a billion dollars in taxpayer money to help you develop a clean
engine, and in return, no antitrust enforcement against collusion
-- which means they don't have to compete the way Honda and Toyota
do now over hybrids. And no increase in the CAFE (antipollution)
standards. So eight years go by, and there's not even a proposal
to increase the CAFE standard. Could have done worse? The average
fuel efficiency for all motor vehicles has slid back to 24.5 miles
per gallon, which is where it was in 1980.
RS: And yet the Sierra Club has endorsed Gore for president.
N: The Sierra Club has had an internal debate on whether to endorse
Gore. I saw a memo from the people who don't want to endorse him,
and they list ten areas where he has betrayed the environmental
movement and his own book. Solar energy, he hasn't pushed. Fossil
fuel and nuclear subsidies, he hasn't fought or criticized.
Pesticides, he's beyond disgrace. Indoor pollution, they've done
nothing. Global warming and ozone depletion, all talk. He supported
WTO and NAFTA, which subordinate environmental and labor concerns
to corporate interest by mandate of their charters. All the little
things that they promised in '92 and didn't do, like saving the
Everglades, like the incinerator in northeast Ohio that they said
would never open [but did]. The 1872 Mining Act gives our minerals
away for free, literally for free, and lets the corporate predators
escape without cleaning up their mess, so we have exhausted gold
mines that are full of cyanide all over the West. Clinton and Gore
never stood up and said it should be repealed.
Just before I went to Hawaii recently, Clinton issued a well-timed
executive order to preserve the coral reefs, of which there are
more than a few deteriorating in Hawaii. I asked the governor,
who's a Democrat, what he thought of it. "All talk," he said. Let
me tell you something: I'd rather have a provocateur than an
anesthetizer in the White House. Remember what James Watt [Reagan's
Secretary of the Interior] did for the environmental movement? He
galvanized it. Gore and his buddy Clinton are anesthetizers. They
give you the rhetoric, they set aside a few monuments, they set
aside a few reserves by executive order, which has no statutory
authority and can easily be pushed aside. You can't even sue to
hold them to it, which you can with a statute. You know what's
amazing about Gore? He just rolled out his energy-efficiency plan.
It's exactly what they said eight years ago. You know the old
proverb, "If you're going to be a liar, you better have a good
memory"? They're both liars, and they both have good memories. They
just don't care. They're shameless.
RS: I have a black friend from Harlem who has progressive politics
and a deep suspicion of the white power structure. He told me he
voted for Mayor Giuliani. I said, "How could you vote for a lying
thug like that?" He said, "Because I wanted to vote for a winner."
N: That's the main hurdle right there. People want to be with
winners. And what they don't realize is, the more they want to be
with winners in our system of concentrated power, the more losers
there are going to be. It's what I call the ego use of the vote,
which only legitimizes the oligarchy. The two parties know they
can tell people, "You wanna be with a winner? You come with us.
You've got nowhere else to go." That's what the Democrats have been
telling all these citizen groups for years now. You've got nowhere
to go. But we know where they're going. That's why we're drawing
the line this year. It's over. It has to be. We may be the last
generation that has to give up so little to achieve so much.
--Further information on Nader's campaign can be found at