Apr 17, 2008

Nader: Obama "stays on a very high plane of generality and abstraction"

AMY GOODMAN: Our guest is Ralph Nader, three-time presidential candidate. Will he make it four? He has just formed an exploratory committee to decide whether to run for president here in this year, 2008. Ralph Nader, the issue of running and taking away votes from the Democrats, take that on, something that has made many people very angry, feeling that you took the race from Al Gore at a time that was absolutely critical for this country.

RALPH NADER: Well, if you ask Al Gore, he’ll give you ten reasons, each of which independently was a cause of his losing. He believes he won—I agree he won—in Florida, but it was stolen from him before, during, and after the election by the Secretary of State and Jeb Bush, all the way from Tallahassee to that atrocious political decision by the Supreme Court. There are a lot of “what if’s,” Amy. What if he got Tennessee? What if he got Arkansas? What if the mayor of Florida didn’t go to Madrid and not bring out thousands of his votes?

Anybody who looks at an independent or third party candidate, whether it’s a Green Party candidate or Independent Party candidate, and uses the words "Are you taking away votes from the Democrats?” in my view, is basically saying that small party candidates are second-class citizens. Either we have an equal right to run for elective office in our country, or we are basically developing a two-tier system, where the two dominant parties, with all their commercial support, control the votes in this country. So either none of us are spoilers, because we have an equal right to run, or all of us, because we’re trying to take votes from one another, are spoilers. There’s no stratification. When that word “spoiler” is used to attach to a small party candidate, that, to me, is clear political bigotry, just as if it was used against a class of voters years ago during the pre-civil rights era. So I think ballot access is a major civil liberties issue, and people in this country, whether they like it or not, must recognize how discriminatory that word is and must try to adhere to what the polls tell us, that they really want more voices and choices and that about 60 percent of the people of this country want a viable third party, even though they may not vote for that party.

So we have to get over it, and liberals especially have got to get over their easy abdication of least-worst voting for the Democrats, where they don’t put any pressure or they don’t make any demands on the Democrats, because they fear that the Republicans are worse. That sets up a system where the corporations are pulling 24/7 the Democrats in their direction to become corporate Democrats, like the corporate Republicans, and no one is pulling the other way. Why? Because they’re all freaked out by the Republicans, and they’re going for least-worst voting. All the bargaining power of progressives and liberals atrophy with that attitude.

So if they don’t want to support a small party candidate, if they don’t want to go to our website, naderexplore08.org, and see the reasons in that remarkable letter by my supporters that’s on that website, see the reasons why we are testing the waters, then they at least have to make demands on the Democratic Party, which they did not make in ’00 against Gore and they did not make against John Kerry. In fact, they had a moratorium on demonstrations against the war in ’04.

AMY GOODMAN: Ralph Nader, you, a while ago, said that if Hillary Clinton were the Democratic presidential nominee, you would run for president against her. What is your assessment of Barack Obama?

RALPH NADER: My assessment of Barack Obama is that he knows what the score is in terms of the male distribution of power. He knows what he has said in the past about the Israeli-Palestinian issue and the need for Palestinian rights and a two-state solution. He knows that this war was a criminal war in Iraq and we’ve got to get out of it in a responsible, expeditious manner. He knows that corporations have too much power over workers and consumers and small taxpayers and elections and the government.

But when you watch him, he stays at a very high plain of generality and abstraction about change, and we’re one nation, and we’re one people. And that may sing with the desire of people to feel like they’re part of a unity, but it doesn’t do much for the productivity of the political dialogue. He does not get specific enough. Therefore, I think his main problem is he’s censoring himself, and that is not sufficiently rationalized by saying that’s just a tactic to win the primaries and get elected. After awhile, day after day, week after week, when you self-censor yourself, you become a different person, and it’s a reflection on character.

I also think that if he didn’t self-censor himself, if he started reverberating to the many mainstream press reports on corporate crime, fraud and abuse against pensions, against workers, against small investors; on the labor laws that are obstructing workers from organizing; on the need to have a foreign policy that isn’t militaristic; on the need to have an efficient military budget, where he said he wants to enlarge and modernize the military, which is already absorbing half of the federal government’s operating expenditures; on the need to direct taxpayer money to the necessities of the American people and not to pour them into corporate subsidies, handouts, giveaways, bailouts, which we call corporate welfare; on the need to protect consumers, especially in the inner city, from the rapacious practices of lenders; etc., I think he would enormously advance the number of people who would support him. And he certainly has the intellect to do that.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think he has different positions than Hillary Clinton? And what is your assessment of her?

RALPH NADER: His declared positions almost fit the definition of protective imitation (nature or politics). They’re too close to Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton is a corporate Democrat. There’s no better evidence of that than the Fortune magazine cover story in June of last year, which basically said business loves Hillary. Hillary is a big business candidate.

And so, I think the healthcare proposal is a perfect example by Barack Obama of this protective imitation. Why doesn’t he go for full Medicare? Why doesn’t he go for a deeper analysis of the healthcare problem in this country, namely the need to emphasize prevention of disease and trauma, the need to knock out $220 billion of billing fraud and abuse, according to the Government Accountability Office and Malcolm Sparrow at Harvard University, against the need to reduce malpractice and stop blocking action to go to the courts for the tens of thousands of people who are injured or killed because of the small percentage of reckless doctors operating in this country who should have their license suspended? He should also focus on the enormous administrative expense savings from full Medicare—one payer, not 1,500 payers and cross-billings, etc., that are now taking about $300 billion to $400 billion.

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