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Robert Scheer Debates Ralph Nader
Posted on Nov 5, 2007
Scheer: Again, with all due respect, bro, I ... I think that it’s kind of a filibuster in a way. I think that you’re begging the real question about where we are at this moment in our history. Your critique of the Democrats is, first of all, I think you should continue doing it. I never wanted you to stop being a consumer activist attacking the corporations. As a columnist I think I have echoed every one of your criticisms. I think I wrote some of the stronger columns on the Financial Service Modification Act—on the Telecommunications Act. And by the way, Rocky [Anderson] pointed out the other day, [Bill] Richardson was awful as secretary of energy and he’s the one put who put Wen Ho Lee in jail, in solitary, for nine months. I think I wrote 35 columns on that subject. So I’m not opposed to criticizing Democrats, and certainly what I was saying is I don’t think The Nation magazine could stop criticizing even if they [Democrats] get back in power. In fact, that’s particularly when you should critique and up the ante and educate. And get the progressive caucus to be tougher and stronger. I think maybe Waxman wouldn’t have had as good a hearing as he had if Mary Tillman, the mother of Pat Tillman, hadn’t been out there, sharing out there, raising questions, and demanding it, and other hadn’t done it. So I’m not asking for people to just rally around the flag here. But I do want to recognize we’re in a particularly dangerous moment. And that is that the neoconservatives and the other ideologues and cynics aligned with them have done what George Washington warned us again. They put democracy against a national security state and foreign entanglements in a very dangerous moment. By the way, I consider it shameful that The Nation would have this cruise and not have one panel on the Iraq war. We are at war. You know. We are in a war that is sapping the treasury, will prevent us from pursuing a progressive agenda in the future, every time we try to get money for anything, we’ll hear about the trillion that had already been wasted. We know, as everyone from George Washington to Eisenhower warned us against, you cannot have this national security hysteria and foreign entanglements and still have a functioning representative democracy, still have civil liberties, still have the same society that this appeal to false patriotism, destroys freedom. We have models of that through human history. Also I think we’re in a particularly dangerous moment. And I think it’s a moment that we have to defeat this neoconservative vision, and allies, and the Pat Robertson camp, where now we have to defend Darwin—as well as the U.N. It seems to me that we should recognize that moment. And in this moment the only force that we have within the political system is the Democratic Party. For better or for worse. We have so few allies in the Republican Party, it’s almost just a waste of time to try to rally them. This is not the old GOP/Democratic arrangement that we used to have. The moderates have been destroyed in the GOP. And we do have a strong progressive base in the Democratic Party. That doesn’t mean you rally around the flag, support everything that comes down, and so forth. But you do recognize first of all there is such a thing as the lesser evil, if that’s the way you want to think about it. But in addition to a lesser evil, we have some very strong progressive voices. And we should make them stronger. And so I’m speaking out of some sense of urgency that this is the most dangerous moment that I have ever experienced in the history of my life in this country. I have never been so frightened for the future of this country. And I think that if these people can continue this kind of reckless course, what they say creating facts, so you go invade Iran or you invent some other situation or some horrible terrorist attack. If that had been a primitive nuclear weapon in Manhattan we wouldn’t even be having this discussion now. Democracy is fragile. These are scary times. And I think that putting some adults into watching the store, which is how I see some of the better Democrats ... to me [Bill] Clinton looks pretty damn good. I would sleep a lot better if Clinton were president, I’m sorry. I’m not going to lie about it. The man had some sense of proportion—some sense of accountability. Well, let’s take the corporate world. If I had to choose between Bush 1, and that vision of capitalism, and Bush 2 ... to me there’s a world of difference. Bush 1 had at least some sense that there were other nations out there. Other people you have to worry about. That the EU has a role; that we don’t have all the answers; that we aren’t the center to everything; that diplomacy and trade matters. With George W we have a hard ideological edge in this administration. The Cheney/Rumsfeld axis: It’s very frightening. And so I would like to have some discussion here about how do we respond to the current situation. And I don’t think you respond to it accurately by saying, I forget what you said, it’s the, what did you say? The tower, what did you say it was?
Nader: Similarities tower over the dwindling real differences.
Scheer: It’s just not true. It’s just not true. The similarities do not tower over these differences; the differences are enormous. And that’s why it really mattered that Gore beat Bush in that election. It really mattered that Kerry wins. We can’t duck that issue.
Nader: First of all, let’s take an easy one, Bob. The Democrats have become very good at electing very bad Republicans. They can’t even win elections that they’ve won. They don’t go for the jugular when it’s a close election. They won in Florida. They bungled it before, during and after the election. Where were they when Katherine Harris was misidentifying tens of thousands of Floridians as ex-felons, and prohibiting from vote most of them would have been Democrats? Where were they when they lost a good share of the Democrats from Florida, a quarter of million voted for Bush in 2000. The point is they blew Ohio the same way. I mean, look. This is a party that cannot defend the country against the worst Republicans in American history. That’s where you start, that’s your premise.
Scheer: Ralph, please. Listen. Take the statement. Do you really think the similarities between George W. Bush and Al Gore tower over their differences? Do you really believe that? You really believe that?
Nader: Yes. Let me tell you why. They both pursue imperial foreign policies. They didn’t invade Iraq, even a [inaudible] wouldn’t have been that stupid. But they had the same militaristic foreign policy. They never challenged the military budget. They never challenged the imperial foreign policy. They were the same on so many issues all over the world. I mean, look, Clinton/Gore bombed Iraq over 25 times. Sometimes just to divert attention from the Lewinski affair, killing innocent civilians. They pushed the sanctions. They got the U.N., one of the few times they got the U.N. on their side, they got the U.N. to impose those sanctions which a task force of American physicians that went over again and again in the 1990s said cost 500,000 children’s lives. That’s a lot of lives. So let’s not sugarcoat. Clinton and Gore got through Congress, which Bush pointed to as he was beating the drums against Iraq, got a resolution through that toppling Saddam was a pillar of American foreign policy. So let’s sugarcoat it. The point is let’s say the Republicans are terrible. Let’s say the Democrats are bad. They both flunk. What’s our expectation level? Every four years, corporations gain more and more power over our government, more and more power over our elections. More and more power over the politics of the country. More and more power over all the things that we used to think are not for sale. Which is a sign of a democracy, that there should always be sanctuaries that are never for sale. It’s just a constant trajectory, and so I am asking you, how would you propose to strengthen the Democratic Party, let’s hear from you, so it can become what you would like it to beacon, and a battering ram, against the Republican Party. Another way of asking the question is, how do you separate the Democratic Party from the corporations?
Scheer: Well, first of all. I mean, I’m dumbfounded. I don’t think you have answered the question. I mean, do you really think that President Gore would have appointed the same Supreme Court. That President Gore would have invaded Iraq in response to 9/11, which had nothing to do with Iraq? Do you really think that President Gore would endorse torture? That he would—. I mean it’s just not true. It’s just simply untrue.
Nader: That’s fine.
Scheer: This is not Al Gore. You’re inventing.
Nader: That’s fine, but look at the bigger picture and the bigger issue.
Scheer: But that is the bigger picture, the bigger picture is Guantanamo. The bigger picture is the Supreme Court, Ralph, come on.
Nader: The bigger picture is an imperialistic, militaristic foreign policy that is eating the heart out of our federal budget and militarizing our entire country in its horizons. And the Democrats, the Henry Jackson Democrats and the Richard Perle Democrats. Remember they were all Democrats. There’s a whole tradition here. The other thing is, look at the whole tax system. Other than Bill Bradley in a modest change in ‘86, that tax system is an atrocity. It’s an atrocity in terms of perverse incentives, it’s an atrocity to this day, I’m sitting in Sen. Charles Grassley’s office, trying, and I got him to agree to support putting all government contracts, military contracts, leaseholds of natural resources, online. So everybody can look at them. Like the Halliburton contracts, and the Lockheed Martin contracts, and so on. As I’m going out, eh and his assistant says, can you imagine Kerry and [Sen. Chuck] Schumer at the hearing the other day? I said, “What do you mean?” He said we had a hearing to prohibit private equity moguls from using their 20 percent of whatever they gain from their investors, as capital gains, where they are paying 15 percent, and trying to get them to pay ordinary income. Because that’s what it is. It’s like a fee. Just ordinary income, which would be 33 percent. And Schumer and Kerry were very unsupportive of that. Kerry said that he didn’t like the idea that just one industry singled out. Singled out? This is a special privilege that even the regular investment companies haven’t developed. And Schumer didn’t like it because it came from the financial district. Here you have a conservative Republican from Iowa, for heaven’s sake, asking me “What’s with Schumer and Kerry?” I can give you hundreds of examples like that. Look what happened just two days ago. Fifty-billion-dollar loan guarantee was put [before the] Senate by [Pete] Domenici, Republican of New Mexico, and passed under a Democratic-controlled Senate. Fifty-billion-dollar loan guarantee for primarily new nuclear power plants. Twenty-five new nuclear power plants. The Democrats since January they have caved on, they’re caving on energy, they can’t even control Dingell. They’ve caved on the war. They’re about to cave on Leave No Child Left Behind—check Jonathan Kozol on that. They’re caving right and left. They’re not rolling back anything either that Bush, this horrible Bush, who’s more horrible—. I think Bush is more horrible than you do because I sweated it out two campaigns trying to develop a second front against Bush ... and giving the Democrats ways to do it. Itemized ways to do it, real radical stuff like support the minimum wage increase that’s on the ballot in Florida, John Kerry. Huh? That’s an easy one. And they only won by 72 percent he wouldn’t campaign on it— something that simple. So, what do I say to you, Bob? I want answers form you, how to strengthen, change, this Democratic Party? Give me your answers? Don’t keep saying of course there’s a difference. Yeah, there’s a difference on Social Security, there’s a difference on pro-choice, there’s a difference on gay and lesbian rights, there are these differences in the social sphere that are really important. But the trajectory that this country is hurling itself toward is a trajectory of concentrated power by fewer and fewer multinational corporations who have no allegiance to this country other than to control it or abandon it as they see fit. And they have taken over Washington. Tell us how we do it?
Scheer: I think you’re being a demagogue.
Nader: Why, because some people are clapping?
Scheer: I hesitate to say that, but I really want to say, I really don’t think you’re engaging the argument. So let me state it again. I have no objection, not only no objection, I applaud your role as a social critic, as I do my own. To answer your question specifically, yes, we must criticize the Democrats, we must up the ante, and I do it as a columnist. You do it as a lawyer, public interest lawyer. And that is our obligation, and that’s what The Nation should do. That is not at issue here. I think I was one of Clinton’s harshest critics when he was president about the very issues that you outlined.
Nader: It’s not an issue at all; why do you keep repeating yourself? What do we do? That’s the issue.
Scheer: First of all, we can be civil; this is supposed to be a conversation. And I would suggest that, in terms of our roles, social critics, we’re not talking about giving the Democrats a bye. I never advocated it; I don’t do it. And I’m not asking you to do that. I’m asking you to recognize that running an independent campaign, which I gather you’re still considering, that asking people to support an independent campaign, to suggest that the differences between the Democrats that are in Congress now and the leadership, Nancy Pelosi, Henry Waxman and others, and the Republicans that the similarities tower over the differences, is just not true. It’s just wrong. It’s inaccurate. And I don’t think that’s educating people. That doesn’t mean you give them a bye. I’m all for putting pressure on Henry Waxman and Nancy Pelosi. But to not acknowledge the differences of their approach, or forget even their approach, the differences between what used to be moderate Republicans and the true ideologues, the fanatics that are actually running this government now, the Richard Perles, you know. I think it’s to miss this moment in history. I honestly do. And I think, so I will repeat. I think that we’re not talking about Ralph Nader or Robert Scheer or The Nation as social critics. We’re talking about how you organize politically. And you chose to run an independent campaign with no base, you didn’t build a party, you didn’t build an alternative. There is no third party; a third party did not come out of your campaigns. And you’re now considering even another campaign which will not produce a third party. And you, when you suggest that there is not profound difference between the Democrats and the Republicans, your claims are saying that we shouldn’t, therefore, put emphasis into struggling with these people. I would take the opposite position. I think we got better candidates running. If we find some moderates we should back them. But I do think that getting a progressive Democratic candidate now matters. I think people should be involved in these primaries. I’m not going to tell them whom to support, but I do think, for instance, if Al Gore would come into the campaign I would be quite enthusiastic in supporting him. I keep getting very enthusiastic about a Gore/[Barack] Obama ticket, for example. I think [John] Edwards has indicated a progressive agenda. I think Kucinich would be very strong if not electable. I think that there are good candidates out there. I think the people in this audience should figure out which ones they are going to support, and if they don’t like the ones that are they, encourage others to run. But I think the next election matters a great deal. I think it’s incredibly important to a Democrat—and hopefully a better one. But I don’t think we should be distracted from that. And I think you can hold these two ideas in your head at the same time. Be the social critic, up the ante, criticize them when they’re wrong. You know? I think that’s important to do. On the other hand, let’s not lose sight of the fact that there is this cabal in this country right now that has enormous power. And they are taking us down a very dangerous road. And let me just raise another question here. I don’t think all the corporations are the same. That’s a great slogan, you know. The fact is there’s a world of difference between a corporation that is willing to do business around the world, willing to observe certain laurels and so forth, and a corporation that wants to get wars in an old imperial matter so they can sell us a lot of equipment and junk that we don’t need. There are splits in what used to be considered the ruling class, OK. And I suggested before, there’s a rather important split between, say, the George Bush Sr. and the Iraq Study Group and their proposals, and why George [H.W.] Bush argued against capturing Baghdad. And the caution that he evidenced. And George W, who has the recklessness of the old imperial model, which we are now following. And I think to fail to understand that difference is to understand, fail to understand, the danger of the current moment. That our civil liberties, and you know it’s not true that things have somehow gotten, there’s all just murky. The fact is, things are far more dangerous in very specific ways, and you have not addressed that. One is the Supreme Court. We have a Supreme Court now thanks to these Republican appointees that has absolutely no concern of civil liberties, separation of powers, any kind of accountability. It’s out of control and gives the imperial president a blank check. That is not unimportant. And I don’t believe that a Democratic president would have had the same kind of Supreme Court. And I think to insist that that doesn’t matter is to deny reality.
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