Nader in his own words
Interview by Tim Russert on Meet the Press.
MR. RUSSERT: And we are back joined by Ralph Nader.
MR. RALPH NADER: Thank you.
MR. RUSSERT: What's your decision?
MR. NADER: After careful thought and my desire to retire our supremely selected president, I've decided to run as an Independent candidate for president. And if you'll allow me to explain why, I'll give some of the reasons with elaboration coming on our Web site, votenader.org.
First of all, this country has more problems and injustices than it deserves, and more solutions and goodwilled people applying those solutions. That's because there's a democracy gap. There's just too much power and wealth in too few hands, increasingly giant corporation, hands that have no allegiance to our country or our communities other than to control them or to abandon them. They have taken over Washington. There's massive media exposes documenting that in all the mainstream media.
Washington is now a corporate-occupied territory. There's a "For Sale" sign on almost every door of agencies and departments where these corporations dominate and they put their appointments in high office. The Congress is what Will Rogers once called "the best money can buy." Money is flowing in like never before that sells our elections. What does that mean to the American people? It means that corporations are saying no to the necessities of the American people. They're saying no to health insurance for everyone, no to tax reform, no to health and safety standards, no to stopping corporate welfare into hundreds of billions, no to straightening out the defense budget, which is bloated and redundant, as many retired generals and admirals said, no to access to our courts. It's time for people to say yes and we need more civic and political energies inside the campaign to challenge this two-party duopoly that's trending toward one-party districts all over the country.
MR. RUSSERT: Mr. Nader, as you know, this decision is going to upset a lot of people. The Nation magazine, an institution that you have had a close relationship with all your life, wrote this editorial: "Ralph, this is the wrong year for you to run: 2004 is not 2000. ... The contest for an independent presidential bid is completely altered from 2000, when there was a real base for a protest candidate. The overwhelming mass of voters with progressive values ... have only one focus this year: to beat Bush. Any candidacy seen as distracting from that goal will be excoriated by the entire spectrum of potentially progressive voters. If you run, you will separate yourself, probably irrevocably, from any ongoing relationship with this energized mass of activists. Look around: Almost no one, including former strong supporters, is calling for you to run ... Ralph, please thing of the long term. Don't run."
And we've been inundated with e-mails. There's a Web site that actually says www.ralphdontrun.net, and I want to air this in its entirety for you to watch it, for the country to watch it, and then give you a full chance to respond. Let's watch:
Announcer: The 2000 presidential race was the closest in American history, a swing of just three electoral votes anywhere in the country and George Bush would never have become president. You can blame Gore's mistakes in the campaign, the Florida recount debacle, the Supreme Court intervention, but after all those events, one fact remains: Ralph Nader's candidacy tipped the balance to Bush. With just 1 percent of the votes cast for Ralph Nader, Gore wins Florida and the election. Netting a third of Nader's votes, Gore takes New Hampshire as well. The simple fact is if Nader had not run, Gore would be president, not Bush. Today, Ralph Nader is thinking of running again, and he says he'll announce his plans in the next few weeks. This time, in 2004, the stakes are far too high. This time, we need Ralph Nader with us, not against us. Here's how you can help. Visit Ralph Nader's Exploratory Committee Web site and send the message: Ralph, please don't run.
MR. RUSSERT: There's real passion in that. What do you say to those people?
MR. NADER: That's the liberal intelligentsia that agrees with almost all our positions. That is a contemptuous statement against democracy, against freedom, against more voices and choices for the American people. You'd never find that type of thing in Canada or Western democracies in Europe. It is an offense to deny millions of people who might want to vote for our candidacy an opportunity to vote for our candidacy. Instead, they want to say, "No, we're not going to let you have an opportunity to vote," for our candidacy.
There are conservatives who are furious with Bush over the deficit, over corporate subsidies, over corporate pornography directed toward children, over the Patriot Act, over many other issues. And they may be looking for an Independent candidacy. There are liberal Republicans who see their party taken away from them. They may be looking for an Independent candidacy. There are a hundred million non- voters that no one has figured out how to bring back into the electoral system, which I want to try to do.
So I think the liberal intelligentsia has got to ask itself a tough question, Tim. For 25 years they have let their party run away from them. For 25 years they've let their party become a captive of corporate interests. And now they want to block the American people from having more choices and voices, especially young people who are looking for idealism, who are looking for a clean campaign, who are looking for the real issues in this country instead of the sham and the rhetoric that masquerades for political campaigning.
MR. RUSSERT: Democrats will say, "Ralph Nader, in the end, it's a choice between George Bush and a Democrat, and you have to make a decision as to who would be better for this country." They point to Florida, and you heard the Internet ad, and I'll show you the exact vote. Bush won by 537 votes, and you got 97,488. In New Hampshire, Bush won by 7,211, you got 22,000 votes. When you were on the program in January of 2002, I asked you a question, and here's your response. Let's watch:
(Videotape, January 13, 2002):
MR. RUSSERT: Having watched George W. Bush for a year, do you believe an Al Gore presidency would have been any different?
MR. NADER: Well, it wouldn't have been any different in terms of military and foreign policy.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe that Al Gore would have invaded Iraq?
MR. NADER: He would have. I think he was a hawk. He may have done it in a different way. He and Clinton got through Congress a regime-change resolution as a pillar of our foreign policy. But let me answer the points you made. They're quite provocative. Any number of third-party candidates in Florida could have affected the equation the way you just described. Libertarians got thousands of votes, Buchanan got thousands of votes, Socialist Workers Party got votes. The Florida campaign was won by Gore. It was stolen by Katherine Harris and Jeb Bush and their cohorts from Tallahassee to the Supreme Court. Two hundred and fifty thousand registered Republicans in Florida voted for Bush.
Let's not play the what-if game because when they pick one what-if, my candidacy, the candidacy of Nader-LaDuke, what they're doing is basically saying that third parties are a second-class citizenship. And the civil liberties crisis affecting third parties and Independent candidates, Tim, is very serious. Historically, that's where our reform has come from, in the 19th century, against slavery, women's right to vote, trade union, farmer, populist, progressive.
Seeds have to be given a chance to sprout in nature. We call it springtime. Entrepreneurs have to be given a chance in the marketplace. Somehow it's OK to have a two-party duopoly that is converging more and more, where the towering similarities dwarf the dwindling real differences that the Democrats are willing to fight over. Democrats better look at themselves. They'd better brag a little bit more, which they hardly do, about bringing Social Security and Medicare and environmental laws to the country before 20, 25 years ago they turned into a corporate paymaster minion.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe that there would be a difference between a George Bush administration...
MR. NADER: Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: ...and a John Kerry or a John Edwards administration on judicial nominations, on tax cuts, on environmental enforcement?
MR. NADER: Yes. The problem is that the corporate government remains in Washington, whether it's Democrats or Republicans. The military industrial complex, as Eisenhower pointed out, is getting bigger and devouring half of the federal budget's discretionary expenditure. And we have no major enemy left in the world, no Soviet Union, no Communist China. The corporate lobbyists are still swarming over Congress. Money is still pouring in from corporate interests. Washington is corporate-occupied territory, and the two parties are ferociously competing to see who's going to go to the White House and take orders from their corporate pay masters. So they may be different in their mind, they may be different in their attention, they may be different in their rhetoric. But in the actual performance these corporate interests and their political allies are taking America down.
They're taking our country apart: massive poverty, massive child poverty, massive consumer debt, environmental devastation. That didn't occur, that didn't get worse under the Democrats? So, basically, it's a question between both parties flunking, Tim: one with a D-, the Republicans; one with a D+, the Democrats. And it's time to change the equation and bring millions of American people into the political arena, so that the civic groups are not shut out when they try to improve their country.
MR. RUSSERT: You had said when John Edwards announced his candidacy that it was a good idea that he run for president.
MR. NADER: Yes.
MR. RUSSERT: You like him?
MR. NADER: I think the more organized the citizens are, the better a politician he's going to be. He's like an expanding accordion, unlike President Bush, who is really a giant corporation in the White House masquerading as a human being.
MR. RUSSERT: If it got down to the final days of the election and you saw that your presence on the ballot could swing the election to George Bush, might you consider stepping out and saying, "I endorse the Democrat"?
MR. NADER: First of all, there are 40 slam-dunk states where either the Republicans or Democrats are going to win handily; that's number one. Second, I think there's a very good chance that President Bush is going to start declining in the polls. He's making a lot of mistakes. People are beginning to realize that he doesn't care about the American people, although he says he does; that as a conservative president, he's presiding over and encouraging the shipment of industries and jobs to the despotic Communist regime in China; that he fabricated the basis for the war in Iraq, which is now a quagmire. And if President Bush doesn't trust the American people with the truth, why should the American people trust George W. Bush with the presidency?
Now, you gave me a hypothetical, all right? You know how Arnold answered that hypothetical. When that and if that eventuality occurs, in the rare event that it occurs, you can invite me back on the program, and I'll give you my answer.
MR. RUSSERT: The Green Party has said that they wish you had run this year with them, some members of the Green Party. You have said, "No, I want to run as a true Independent." The Green Party forces have now have said, "Forget it, Nader. You'll never get on the ballot in 50 states. You'll be lucky to make 40." How uphill will your battle be, and how many state ballots do you think you can get on?
MR. NADER: There's a tremendous bias in state laws against third parties and Independent candidates bred by the two major parties, who passed these laws. They don't like competition. So it's like climbing a cliff with a slippery rope. And anybody who doubts it can look at a list of all these signature barriers and all the obstacles a number of states, not all of them, put before third-party candidates on our Web site, VoteNader.org. Now, let me just say this is going to be difficult. We're asking for volunteers to log into our Web site, VoteNader.org. We're asking for contributions because this isn't just our fight. This is a fight for all third parties: Libertarian, Green Party, other third parties, other Independent candidates, all the way down to the local level, who want a chance to breathe politically. They want a chance to have a chance to compete. This is not a democracy that can be controlled by two parties in the grip of corporate interests. I don't think America belongs just to the Democrat and Republican parties.
MR. RUSSERT: In terms of what you stand for, this is what you said in July of last year about George Bush: "[Nader] said Mr. Bush was not only `beatable but impeachable,' for deceptions and prevarications on national security matters..." Will part of your platform be the impeachment of George Bush?
MR. NADER: Let me put it this way. When a president misleads, if not fabricates, going to war and sending our sons and daughters to war with no exit strategy, with a quagmire over there, that is very serious, Tim. If there's any better definition of high crimes and misdemeanors in our Constitution, then misleading or fabricating the basis for going to war, as the press has documented ad infinitum, I don't know any cause of impeachment that's worse. So what is an impeachment? It's a hearing to see whether the House of Representatives is going to accuse or charge the president with high crimes and misdemeanors. And then it goes to the Senate for a trial. Our Founding Fathers gave the Congress the right to fire the president. It shouldn't be a big deal. For far more trivial reasons, you know, Clinton was impeached.
I think this country deserves a serious explanation of why, how, when this country was plunged into war against a brutal dictator tottering over an antiquated, non-loyal army, surrounded by hostile neighbors who, if he made one move against, would have obliterated him. It was oil. And oil has ruined so much of our foreign policy and antagonized so many people in the Third World, when we should be converting to renewable energy and solar energy and energy efficiency, all of which creates jobs in this country. So I think it is very important for the American people to take what happened last year very, very seriously.
MR. RUSSERT: So there should be an impeachment hearing and trial?
MR. NADER: I think Congressman John Conyers is going to file such a request.
MR. RUSSERT: What would President Ralph Nader do today about Iraq? Would you pull all our troops out immediately?
MR. NADER: We owe a responsibility to the people of Iraq. We entrenched Saddam Hussein in 1979 along with the British. We armed them, we gave them credits, we sold them onto U.S. export license by corporations--sold materials for chemical and biological warfare in the 1980s under Reagan and the first Bush administration. Can you imagine that? And, of course, then he invaded Iraq and he was no longer our boy, he was our adversary, and one day President Bush number one could have overthrown-- with all the international support that he had, he could have overthrown Saddam Hussein. Instead he told the Kurds and the Shiites "rise up and overthrow the tyrants." They got about 75 percent of the country under their control, and President Bush number one held back our military forces while Saddam Hussein slaughtered these people. So we owe...
MR. RUSSERT: Well, what would you do now?
MR. NADER: I wanted to give you a little history.
MR. RUSSERT: OK.
MR. NADER: Here's what we do now. We need to get out of there as fast as possible because we are the magnet for increasing guerrilla warfare and increasing entry by al-Qaeda and others, just the opposite of what we were told was going to happen. So we need to get the U.N. in there with properly funded and trained peacekeeping troops from a whole variety of countries, number one. We need to provide well-supervised elections with perhaps suitable autonomies with the acquiescence, of course, of the Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds. And we need to continue humanitarian assistance to those people in Iraq. That's the way to get it done.
MR. RUSSERT: And what--who will run--who will rule Iraq? It might become an Islamic fundamentalist extreme regime.
MR. NADER: Iraqis will be ruled by Iraqis. It will be ruled under fair elections by Iraqis. They're very creative people. And we have no business being there. We have no business diverting hundreds of billions of dollars over there while our schools, clinics, public transit, libraries are crumbling for lack of repair. We need to cut--get rid of that tax cut for the wealthy, which is increasing deficits, and have a massive job-producing public works.
MR. RUSSERT: You would repeal the entire Bush tax cut?
Mr. NADER: Yes. Yes. And have a job-producing public works to repair America. These jobs can't be shipped to India and China. They're there; they're in every community. They're well-paying. A lot of them are union jobs. There are so many ways to move this country forward, Tim. And we've got to have more voices and choices. We just can't sit back like The Nation magazine and betray its own traditions, and the liberal intelligentsia, and once again settle for the least worst and watch both parties get worse every four years and then the liberals who come back to us and complain about "Oh, those Democrats are caving into these corporations, they're letting the Republicans run roughshod over them."
MR. RUSSERT: Civil rights: Many gay couples believe that they should be allowed to be married. You heard Governor Schwarzenegger say he disagrees with that. Democrat candidates will say they're for civil unions but not gay marriage. Would Ralph Nader support gay marriage?
MR. NADER: I support equal rights for same-sex couples. I think there's an interesting quote by a lesbian leader in The New York Times a few days ago when she said, "It's not a matter of labels, it's a matter of equal rights." However, that can occur by adjusting state laws or having a federal law. That is certainly something that the gay-lesbian community is going to have to work out.
MR. RUSSERT: But gays should be allowed to be married if they so choose, according to you.
MR. NADER: Of course. Love and commitment is not exactly in surplus in this country. The main tragedy, what undermines marriage, is divorce, as Mayor Daley of Chicago just said.
MR. RUSSERT: When you ran in 2000, you had a financial disclosure which showed your wealth at $3.8 million. Will you release your tax returns this year as well?
MR. NADER: First of all, about 85 to 90 percent of everything I've earned and raised has gone to all the citizen groups all over the country that for 35, 40 years have saved millions of lives and injuries, taken dangerous drugs off the marketplace. I think I have to remind people, especially young people, of what we've done and how much we love our country by the sweat of our work for justice for all Americans and also how important it is to give every American the chance to improve his or her country, not block them by corporate interests and their politic allies.
MR. RUSSERT: But in terms of...
MR. NADER: Wait. Wait.
MR. RUSSERT: ...full disclosure.
MR. NADER: Let me tell you. There's a government ethics disclosure law that discloses everything. I have never supported political candidates releasing their income taxes because they have a lot of personal information. They may have a retarded child in an institution. All the economic information, the investments, everything will be disclosed in accordance with federal law.
MR. RUSSERT: Before you go, I've got thousands of e-mails from people over the last several weeks talking about you and your potential candidacy and many of them come down to three letters, E-G-O, ego, this is all about Ralph. He's going to be a spoiler because of his ego. How do you respond?
MR. NADER: A spoiler is a contemptuous term, as if anybody who dares to challenge the two-party system and corrupt politics and broken politics and corporate power is a spoiler. Come again? See, these people are well-meaning people who agree with us on many of the issues, but they're hostages to an antiquated Electoral College winner-take-all system that blocks all the way to excluding candidates from the debates, blocks any kind of voices, any kind of competition, and we've got to fight that. You can't just fight that from the outside the way the Center for Voting and Democracy is. You've got to fight it from the inside as well and that's what I'm trying to do and I hope millions of Americans will agree if they want fresh ideas, new ideas, solutions, but above all, if they want to become, in Jefferson's term, "participators" in our democratic society.
MR. RUSSERT: Ralph Nader, we thank you for joining us with your announcement. We'll be covering you during the campaign and hope you'll come back and share you views.
MR. NADER: Thank you very much, Tim.
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