This is an episode of Reality Asserts Itself, produced on December 20, 2013. Ralph Nader and Paul Jay discuss Ralph’s decision to stay in the Florida race and what an electoral strategy could be now.
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore. And welcome back to our series of interviews with Ralph Nader on Reality Asserts Itself.
Ralph’s biography is down below. And everybody know who Ralph is. And watch the first two segments, where I gave a longer biography.
RALPH NADER, POLITICAL ACTIVIST, AUTHOR, AND ATTORNEY: Or go to Nader.org. You’ll get my free weekly column, and you’ll know what we’re about.
JAY: Alright. Cool.
So there is a question I’ve always wanted to ask you. And this goes back to 2000 and the elections and the whole debate about whether or not you should have done something about Florida. As far as I know–and I’m persuaded from what I’ve seen that if you had made a big announcement that people shouldn’t vote for you in Florida, it probably wouldn’t have made any difference. I am persuaded that Gore lost the election, and not only lost it because he ran the stupidest, you know, lousiest campaign, not least of which was his ego trip of not allowing Bill Clinton to campaign for him, which he would have won if Clinton helped him–.
NADER: Certainly in Tennessee and Arkansas, which he both lost.
JAY: And then some. I mean, Clinton’s just–whatever you think of Clinton, he’s one of the great campaigners there is.
JAY: And he capitulates on the vote count. So on any number of things, without question the absolute blame is on Gore and American politics and whatever.
Did you–just in terms of your own movement building, do you have any second thoughts, regrets, that not doing it just created divisions that maybe we’re better not to have?
NADER: Well, it created divisions because of the pompous sickness of the political system, where liberals settled into least worst–and they’ll always go for the Democrats to the Republicans, even though both are falling all over themselves before corporate power. And every four years it gets worse, because once they go least worst, they’re not pulling in progressive directions, and the corporations are pulling the other side, so it’s no contest. Right? Money prevails.
My concern in running was our country was becoming a war empire. Our country was spending far too much on the military budget at the expense of ordinary people’s necessities in our country. The two parties didn’t care about occupational disease and trauma. They didn’t really care much about environment. They didn’t care–apart from the rhetoric, they didn’t care about reining in Wall Street. They didn’t care about the perforated, grotesque tax system. They didn’t even care about an adequate minimum wage or a jobs program, regardless of their rhetoric. They were all pushing this corporate model of globalization and NAFTA and WTO and all that.
So why am I concerned about Gore? Why am I concerned about Bush? I gave them the platform of justice for this country. They could have picked it up, one of the parties, and my vote would have shrunk to nothing.
JAY: I don’t think there’s any argument, certainly not from me. You had a right to run. You had a right not to pull out of Florida. You know, you had a right to make your case. You had a right to try to get the 5 percent of the vote that was the objective.
But I would push back, personally, that there aren’t some differences between the two parties that matter. Like you take this last election, if Romney had–if we had President Romney right now, I think it’s highly unlikely there’d be negotiations with Iran. I think the possibility of a Saudi-Israel push, and the American military-industrial complex that I think wants this war with Iran, we’d be a hell of a lot more likely to have this war.
NADER: But, you see, if you do that, if you have that kind of attitude, the differences between the two parties in succeeding years will be less and less and less. So when are you going to draw the line? What is the breaking point?
Let’s make it really clear, because it’s the liberal intelligentsia that really has got to be given a call-out on this. They’re the ones who went after me. They’re the ones who blocked all kinds of access to Congress after 2000. My lectures dried up, with which we funded a lot of our groups. You know. Alright, they really fixed on a big ostracism, right?
Alright. So I turn around and I say to them, do the two parties own all the voters? Oh, no, this is a free democracy. Okay. Well, don’t you think it should be a competitive election, you know, with third and fourth parties? In theory, they say, yes. Okay. Then I say, alright, let’s go to 2000. Critical, right? Okay. It’s April 2000, and the Democrats were against women’s rights and the Democrats were critical of Israel. Would any of you have formed a third-party? In a minute! Right?
Now, we work on a lot of issues that the Democrats were bad on. A lot of issues. And so we had a different breaking point than they have. So, you see, Gloria Steinem just got the Medal of Freedom at the White House, and she said the day before that she is honored more than any other president to be given a medal of freedom, ’cause he was good, Obama’s good on reproductive rights. Right?
Well, what if he’s bad on war? What if he’s bad on Wall Street? What if he’s bad on minimum wage, he doesn’t lift a finger?
You see, here’s the point, Paul. We’ve got to get over this. We’ve got to basically say everyone’s got a right to run. Everybody’s going to try to get votes from one another. Therefore, everyone’s either a spoiler of one another or none of them are spoilers of one another. They called me a spoiler in 2000 after Bush stole the election all the way to the Supreme Court. I mean, I would think he’s a mega spoiler of the Democratic Party. But no, they basically have a political bigotry that don’t you dare challenge the Democratic Party, no matter how corporatized and indentured it is, from the left in the electoral arena. Well, you can write editorials for The Nation, you know, you can pick at the White House, but don’t get real serious.
JAY: Don’t affect the outcome of an election.
NADER: Yeah, don’t affect the outcome.
JAY: So what I’m–.
NADER: And, by the way, Gore doesn’t think the Green Party did it.
JAY: I’m not–.
NADER: And I said–. No, it’s interesting. But even Gore–.
JAY: What did he say?
NADER: Gore basically said it was stolen from him in Florida, and it was his fault he didn’t win Tennessee, his home state that he represented for years in Congress. If everything was the same except he won Tennessee, he would have been president.
JAY: I’m arguing, as far as I know of the situation, that it wouldn’t have mattered what you did. I don’t think it would have.
NADER: No, actually, there was an AP poll right after the election without me in it, and Bush won.
JAY: Well, I also saw an NBC report just–I think it’s actually in the film Unreasonable Man. NBC’s having a discussion afterwards with exit polls, and most of the people that voted for you said they would have just stayed home if you weren’t–it’s not that your votes would have gone to Gore, even if you told people to.
NADER: And a Democratic exit poll showed 25 percent of my vote would have gone to Bush, 39 percent to Gore, and the rest would have stayed home.
JAY: What I’m raising is a couple of questions, is, one, was it worth getting into that big a fight with everyone on it? And then, two, there are some differences that matter between the parties. And don’t we need to find a way to be able to tell people that listen to us that, one, both these parties represent sections of the elite? They mostly have stuff in common. There may be a few things that matter that are different, that maybe it’s worth voting for a Democrat, but understand you’re voting for a section of the elite and we need to build an independent politics.
NADER: That’s true.
JAY: But there may be times where you’ve got to say, this section of the elite on this point that matters is better than that one.
NADER: But, you see, because of all the issues that we documented that the Democrats were bad on, our breaking point was at a different level. So you say, okay, the Democrats are better on Social Security, they’re better on Medicare, they’re better on gay-lesbian rights, they’re better on air pollution or something. But by continually allowing corporations to take over our government and plan the future of America right down to the commercialization of childhood, they’re jeopardizing Social Security and they’re jeopardizing Medicare. Because they couldn’t landslide the worst Republican Party in history in 2010, they brought us the House Republicans run by John Boehner and Eric Cantor, which went after Social Security and went after Medicare. You see? So at what point do you have a breaking point? Where you’re right on the cliff?
And besides, I gave my agenda to Gore. I gave it to Kerry. I gave it to Bush. I gave it to McCain. I’m not interested in, you know, this is mine, don’t copy me. And they wouldn’t pick it up.
So at what point do you say to yourself, there’s an element of collective self-respect here? What? Are you going to keep going for the least worst as they drag you down and down four years after four years?
The liberal intelligentsia should be ashamed of themselves. They’re not really serious. And you know why? I’ll tell you why. They have no skin in the game. All these guys that you read about, you see on cable, you see in magazines and newspapers, all the liberal columnists and so forth, they all got good-paying jobs, they all got health insurance, they got nice homes, they got nice retirement. It’s all BS. They don’t really mean it, because when someone really means it and gives up everything and goes into the jungle of the electoral arena as I did, they not only abandoned us, but they undermined us. So that’s what we have to do.
The liberal intelligentsia has just got to get away. I mean, now they’re starting to write columns, oh, the people are mobilizing on minimum wage. But not because of them. I tried to get 20 of these columnists to write on it, including Krugman, and they refused to write on it in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011. The only way we got Krugman was I called up Joe Stieglitz, the Nobel prize-winning progressive economist, who said, oh, I’m having lunch with Paul tomorrow. I’ll suggest minimum wage. Lo and behold, the week later, Krugman came out with a modest pro-minimum wage increase column.
JAY: What I’m suggesting is we need to be able to not do what I’ve seen some of the union leaders do, who, when you talk to them privately, can do a scathing critique of Obama–he promised us this Employee Fair Choice Act, disappeared once he was elected.
NADER: Yeah. And the minute the camera goes on, they’re for Obama, they’re for Gore, they’re for Kerry.
JAY: And they’re for him in a way which is, like, enthusiastic. I saw one leader, union leader speak to his members in a meeting of four or five hundred people, and he’s saying to them, this guy’s with us, his heart is with us, this and that.
NADER: You know why? Because these guys in office, they tell the labor unions, you’ve got nowhere to go.
JAY: Well, one, you have nowhere to go, and they get completely euphoric because they get invited to the White House and they can sip tea.
NADER: Yeah, to watch the Super Bowl.
JAY: Yeah, and their heads turn.
But what I’m saying is there’s an alternative. Let’s tell the truth about what the Democratic Party is, like, tell the truth of who Obama represents. But we may–and say we have to do what it takes to have an independent politics that someday will be a real alternative to this elite politics. But there may be times where the difference is enough of a difference that knowing all of this you’ll still say–and I would. I mean, give me Romney versus Obama–. And you watch The Real News. Like, we spend 80 percent of our time critiquing Obama and 20 percent the Republicans, ’cause there’s enough other people to do that. I would still say, if all he did that was good was negotiate with Iran rather than go to war, okay, that’s–that means something.
NADER: Okay. But, you see, you’re settling–important as that issue is, you’re settling for less and less every four years.
JAY: No. What I’m saying is right now–.
NADER: You can’t allow your expectation levels to go down, because the politicians will oblige you. And you keep going down, and pretty soon you’re left with, hey, this party’s for food stamps, and that’s all that’s left.
JAY: No, no, no. I don’t have any expectations. I had only one serious expectation of Obama, and that was Iran. On everything else I thought it was going to be good cop, bad cop, and they would probably pass kinds of cuts to the social safety net that the Republicans couldn’t get away with without Obama. I mean, he’s given them a face that allows them to do things that if the Republicans did it, there’d be a mass movement against it.
NADER: Yeah. Exactly.
JAY: Knowing all that, a war with Iran would be such a disaster.
NADER: That’s right.
JAY: So, all that being said, how do we get, without waiting for some billionaires–listen, if there’s a billionaire out there, please prove Ralph right and me wrong. We have a year-end fundraising campaign. You click donate. Just put $1 billion on your credit card. You won’t even feel it.
NADER: And reality will reassert itself.
JAY: Yes, we’ll really assert some reality. But we’re not holding our breath for that.
Now, obviously, we’re building a building. We’ve got a big donor here, you know, so over $3 million. So he’s not a billionaire. He’s a little mini–inherited some millions, and he gives most of it away, and we couldn’t have done this building without him. And I hope–
NADER: Good for him.
JAY: –and everything we’re doing is trying to get to a point where mass fundraising really becomes our fundraising and we’re not reliant on bigger donors. But there is a role for it. But we can’t have a politics waiting for some billionaire to step up. Right?
NADER: Why not?
JAY: ‘Cause you could wait forever.
NADER: Look at the founder of eBay,–
JAY: That’s also settling.
NADER: –Pierre Omidyar. He’s said he’s going to put $250 million–that’s real money–into a whole new media network. Right?
NADER: Okay. Well, what do we do? Just watch him–.
JAY: We’ll see what it is.
NADER: Yeah. Well, we–no. We could try to contact him, contact his staff, you know, try to really make it something new. Then some other billionaire says, gee, look at Pierre, what he did. By the way, he’s a real progressive, Omidyar. Look at Pierre, what he did.
JAY: There is a critique of Omidyar which I–.
NADER: Well, sure. Anybody who builds a major corporation–.
JAY: Well, no, I mean–and I don’t want to get into it, but if Mr. Omidyar is watching, I’d like to talk about it–what exactly was PayPal’s attitude towards WikiLeaks? ‘Cause I hear it’s controversial. I hear that Omidyar is saying that PayPal wasn’t blocked, and WikiLeaks says PayPal did block them. And it seems a little contradictory to want to promote–.
NADER: Well, the whole thing started in Washington, D.C.
JAY: So I don’t know what all that is.
NADER: They did that to MasterCard and Visa. It was the intelligence agency.
JAY: Okay. Well, let me jump to where I think we’ve got to go and see what you think of it. At the national level, you can do nothing without massive amounts of money.
JAY: In big states, you can do next to nothing without massive amounts of money. But in cities, especially midsize cities–
NADER: And towns.
JAY: –towns, and even small states, you don’t need massive amounts of money.
NADER: That’s right. That’s where you can start taking over one of the two parties. Look what the right-wing evangelicals and Tea Party did to the Republicans. You know, they started locally. You know, I mean, anybody who wants to work inside the Democratic Party to change it, you start by running–.
JAY: And you’re not against that.
NADER: No. You start by running for city council or the zoning bureau or whatever, board of education.
I mean, in our town in Connecticut, we lost our hospital that was there for 100 years. And every town in America that lost its hospital, they never put anything back in their place. That’s how hard it is as hospitals consolidate, the bigger hospitals and medical complexes.
Well, my sister Claire Nader and the community lawyer she has working, which is a nonprofit community lawyer, organized the whole area, and they’ve got a emergency center, they’ve got for any kind of emergency urgent care operating for a catchment area of 35,000 people, they got 12,000 people signed on a petition in a matter of days, because they didn’t sit around making excuses for themselves, saying, I don’t have time and you can’t fight city hall.
It’s easier than you think, people, to change this country from top-down, bottom-up. Stop making excuses for yourselves. You have the power, and it’s in the Constitution.
JAY: Well, one of the things we want to do at The Real News and one of the reasons we’re in Baltimore is if you had this kind of takeover of a city, you’ve got to answer the following question: what would you do with it?
JAY: Like, what you do the day after you took over. If you elect a progressive mayor, a progressive city counselor, what are they actually going to do?
NADER: Flood it with solutions. Our country has far more solutions than it applies to far more problems than it doesn’t deserve.
JAY: So we’re running out of time for this session. I want you to come back and I want you to answer the question, what would you do if you ran a major American city. What would we do? What would that policy look like? ‘Cause over the next few years, that’s almost the main thing we’re going to try to do.
NADER: Yeah. One way to answer is to ask some people. Ask the people in Baltimore: what would they want to have a better city, a healthier city, a safer city, a more productive city, a more employed city, more small businesses, better education? See?
JAY: Which is why we’re building a town hall space that seats a couple of hundred people with a live town hall webcast.
NADER: Do you know there’s a city in Colombia, South America, where people started running for city hall? And you know what they did? The people said, what are you going to do? They sat with groups of people all over [cart@’nenj@]. They sat with people and they got their agenda from talking with the people in the neighborhoods. I mean, they had to get experts and statisticians and so on, but the basic needs of the people are known by the people.
JAY: Well, in 2014, when our studio’s ready in a few weeks, this is what we’re going to do.
JAY: And I hope you’ll come back and be part of it.
NADER: Well, and in the meantime, you can get my weekly column free. Just go to Nader.org.
JAY: Cool. Thanks for joining us.
NADER: You’re welcome.
JAY: Don’t forget, this is our year-end fundraising campaign. We had a $100,000 matching grant, so if we can raise $100,000, we’ll get another $100,000, and that gets us through the end of the year and a little bit into January.
And with this new building we have–and we’re going to show you more about it in a few days–we have–we’re in a kind of weird situation. We have this great building. We’re going to have all these studios. But the truth is, our current budget is enough to keep doing what we’ve been doing–which I think is good; otherwise you guys wouldn’t be already donating. But we need to qualitatively grow in 2014. So we’re going to be talking to you more about that as well.
NADER: This is a great project, folks. This could be a model for urban America. I’ve just gotten a tour of the future that Paul and his stalwart associates are planning for the city and the people of Baltimore. I’ll call it modestly spectacular.
JAY: Thank you very much.
Thank you for joining us on Reality Asserts Itself on The Real News Network.
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“Ralph Nader is an American political activist, author, lecturer, and attorney noted for his involvement in consumer protection, environmentalism, and government reform causes. The son of Lebanese immigrants to the United States, Nader attended Princeton University and Harvard Law School.”