Ralph Nader comes to campus
"We haven't been doing our homework. We vote on hunches and smiles."
technicianonline.com / 03.26.2004
If anyone's name elicits polarized views, it's Ralph Nader's. To some, he's known as the only man capable of reinvigorating politics with a new vision; to others he's the pariah that rained on Al Gore's 2000 presidential parade by siphoning votes as a third party candidate.
Nader, an independent candidate for the presidency, spoke before a crowd of more than 300 in the Talley Student Center Ballroom Thursday, railing on what he said is an increasing stranglehold on American politics by corporate interests and the two-party system while urging students to become players in the political scene.
"We haven't been doing our homework. We vote on hunches and smiles," he told the audience comprised mainly of students.
Instead, Nader suggests that voters become as informed as the most fervent sports fans.
"They dismiss rhetoric from the ballplayers and they look at the record," he said, asking students to inspect politicians at the same level that sports enthusiasts pour over the numbers of their favorite teams. "Should we do less for our elected officials?"
Nader, a longtime consumer advocate who lead the effort for safer cars, expressed his fears that corporations are "taking control of what we own." Companies have profited off taxpayers in a number of ways -- from failing to pay fair-market values for government lands to mine to marketing steeply priced drugs developed by using taxpayer dollars, he said.
"Commercialism is on a crash course with democracy -- and democracy is losing," Nader said.
The increasing "concentration of wealth and power leads to abuse," he said, taking the issue down to local levels. Jobs in North Carolina's textile and furniture industry are moving abroad because the only interests that corporations have in mind are that of the share holders, he said.
"We are led by hypocrites," Nader said, "A conservative president, George Bush, is allowing the shipping of jobs to communist China."
Striking a cord with the college set, he told students that if the increasing trend to move jobs abroad continues, that even previously secure professionals like engineers and scientists will need to look for a new profession.
"Everything can be moved offshore if it doesn't require physical presence," he said adding that all that will be left will be jobs at Wal-Mart and McDonalds.
"If we ever tested the corporations for their patriotism -- they'd fail. The all mighty buck is their patriotism," Nader said.
Instead of worrying about the bottom line and cheaper products, Nader suggests that wages be raised, saying that Henry Ford was on to something. While his competitors balked at the idea that wages be raised, Ford said that "I want someone to buy my cars," suggesting that Fords own fortunes would rise with that of the everyman.
"That's the way the upward spiral went," Nader said.
Speaking directly to the students in the audience, he offered a solution to the national problem of rising tuition rates -- free public education. While visiting Australia he came across some students protesting over a $10 student fee hike.
"That's not too bad," he said to the students and asked what their tuition was. "What's that," they asked back.
Nader, in an interview later with Technician said that he proposes free public education for everyone, "just like high school. For that to happen though, we have to revaluate how our tax dollars are spent."
He suggested reallocating a small part of the national budget by axing the defense budget for keeping and maintaining military operations in Eastern Europe, a skeleton from the Cold War. The plan would provide the $80 billion needed to fund such a free education program for two years.
The military budget unfairly outstrips any other government operation "as of now [military spending is] one-half of discretionary spending," he said. "Where's our enemy? China? They're attacking our jobs."
Nader continually harked backed to his central theme -- that Americans have pacified and let democracy flounder under the interests of corporations and the two-party system beholden to them. "We are lunching on the progress of our forbearers," he said.
"Our forbearers launched a drive against slavery," along with women and worker's rights, he said, while asking if those were popular opinions to take on at the time. "We have an important debt to our forbearers. It's a time for out generation to do the same," Nader said.
During his speech a man stood in the back of the audience with a poster with "A vote for Nader is a vote for Bush" written on it. Nader later took a question from the audience that asked him what voters worried by the truth behind statement on the poster should do, "Then they should vote for Kerry," he replied. "Why should the burden be on the third-party candidate? I could make the statement that Gore took votes from me," he said.
"We'll show the Democrats, if they're smart enough, how to beat Bush."
Running as an independent this year, Nader and his supporters will have an uphill fight to get his name on the state ballot. North Carolina, with one of the toughest rules to add third-party and independent candidates requires the signatures of 2 percent of the population, about 58,000 voters.
"Why such a barrier," he asked, "What do they want to keep off the ballot?"
Nader, whose strongest support comes from the 18- to 20-year-old demographic set is favored by 12 percent of that age range according to a recent Newsweek poll. Vince George from Nader's campaign thinks that it's because "Nader speaks very much to young peoples idealism -- the thought that one person can make a difference"
Though Nader is 70, freshman Megan Perry agreed that he appeals to the college set, "I haven't see older people talk in a way that they seem to care about me. He spoke on our level. I get the impression that Bush doesn't give much about us."
For some the speech was a chance to get acquainted with a candidate. Undecided, Alan Kinlaw, a freshman in bio-med and textile engineering, was "definitely not in favor of either candidate. [Ralph Nader] doesn't get much coverage in the media and this is my way to find out more about him."
Perry also said that she came to learn more about the candidate, "I didn't know a whole lot about him before, but he sounded pretty intense." Though enthused by his speech and spurred to sign up for a newsletter from the Campus Greens, she expressed some doubts, "I probably won't vote for him because he won't win, but I'd like to see him gain a lot of popularity"
Doc Bradley, a senior in world religion and an organizer for the event, said that he, his group, and others are "disenfranchised" with the current state of politics.
"You have less than one-half of one-third who actually elect the president for the last 12 years and the majority of the population thinks that politicians lie. It's a disgusting travesty that we let politics get co-opted and we do nothing about it," he said.
"Since Kusinich and Sharpton are out of the race -- [Nader is] the only one speaking the truth," Bradley said.
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