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Robert Scheer Debates Ralph Nader
Posted on Nov 5, 2007
Nader: OK. Let’s hold the Democratic Party up to an opposition role. What could they have stopped that they didn’t stop. They could have stopped the war. They could have stopped the tax cuts for the rich. They could have stopped any number of things, whether by filibuster, by raising the standard high and mobilizing public opinion when the polls were on their side on so many of these things, like tax cuts for the rich. He got through three of them. While he is building a huge deficit, he got through three of them. That’s never happened in the middle of hostilities in the American history. They always raised taxes, excess profit taxes, to pay for the war. The Democrats controlled the Senate when the first big tax cut came through in 2002. Where were they? They just didn’t have the guts to stop it. Let’s take the Supreme Court, Bob. I was up there lobbying against Bork, and it was a success; it was a great coalition. I was up there lobbying against [Justice Antonin] Scalia. And I would ask Al Gore, and I would ask Ted Kennedy, and Paul Sarbanes, all these great senators: “You’re going to vote for Scalia?” “Well, he’s going to win anyway.” But I said, “You know, I can’t find a senator, not one senator, to vote against Scalia.” And he wasn’t hiding his candle under a barrel during the testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Scalia was confirmed 98 to nothing. So then, in comes Thomas. And George Mitchell, the Democratic majority leader, sitting in his office, and we’re going in one senator’s office after another ... and it was really close. And of course Bush called Thomas the most qualified nominee that he could find and he was the heir to the seat of Thurgood Marshall. And so, we would go in one senator after another, say “Is Mitchell really twisting arms here? Is he using his power?” “No. he’s letting us decide. He’s not leading the way against Thomas.” And the vote was 52-48. Eleven Democratic senators crossed the aisle and voted for Thomas. So when we evaluate the Democrats in their oppositional role, what have they stopped? Now, the Democrats see nothing wrong with the anti-civil libertarian of knocking the third party, or independent candidates, off the ballot in the most vicious ways. You know, when you run for office, you’re running for free speech, petition, and assembly. And that doesn’t seem to bother a lot of liberal Democrats. They liked Buchanan running, didn’t they? But they didn’t want our voters to have a chance to vote for the candidates of their choice. Not by arguing with us, or having a better platform, no. But by maneuvering these state laws that the Republicans and Democrats have enacted, to get us off the ballot. In more than a few states. I don’t consider that a civil liberties position. That’s one of the last remaining areas of political bigotry that don’t raise the hackles of the ACLU. When you deny the right of candidates to be on the ballot by harassment and phony litigation and all these partisan state ballot access laws, you are denying millions of voters their choice. And so, let’s not put the Democrats on too high a pedestal. Let us agree that there’s a least worst operating here, there’s a lesser than two evils. The point is, at what point do we say that there is a breaking point. What is your breaking point, if you support the Democrats, Bob, what is your breaking point? Can you give me a hypothetical of behavior by the Democratic Party, or series of behaviors, where you’ll break with them and support an alternative candidate? Or an alternative party, regardless of their status in the polls because you believe in what they’re advancing? What is your breaking point?
Scheer: Well, I would say the breaking point right now would be a candidate [for president] who did not oppose the Iraq war. ... I would not vote for such a candidate. I would not support such a candidate. The breaking point for me, because I do consider the Iraq war and all it represents to be absolutely decisive, that if we have a candidate for the Democratic Party who does not break with that war, who does not promise to end it, and so forth. I would not vote for such a candidate, would not support such a candidate. That would be a breaking point, yes. I could list four or five other issues, if you’d like, but I think torture would be another one. You could go down the line. But I think that there is a different issue here and we should address it. You’re basically suggesting a kind of personal politics in a way. You’re saying that you are the litmus test. Because you’re not really talking, telling us how to build this third-party movement. If there was a viable, in any way, third-party movement now, that was an alternative. Then we could have that discussion. If there was a serious alternative that was emerging, that had come out of your campaign, that we could rally around, then one could say, “OK, that’s a way to go.” But it doesn’t exist. All that we have left after your two campaigns is Ralph Nader.
Nader: No, not at all.
Scheer: Yes. That’s all we have.
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Scheer: We don’t have a movement. There’s no Green movement. There’s not third-party movement. You didn’t build anything; you didn’t leave any legacy electorally. Electorally, you left it in all sorts of ways. But you have not provided a model of political action. You have not.
Nader: Bob, I’m really amazed that you are attacking me for not being omnipotent.
Scheer: No, I’m attacking you for not being a political organizer. Say in the tradition of Debbs, who would at least build a party, build the party; we had third-party candidates that haven’t been all that successful, but that have built. And I’m not singling you out. I didn’t want you to run. So I don’t hold you responsible. I don’t think we’re going to have a third party. But I’m just saying to discuss it as if it exists when It doesn’t exist, and now you’re even considering a third campaign. What could possibly come out of such a campaign?
Nader: You see you’re contradicting yourself. You say, on one hand the system is rigged against third parties. And then you said why aren’t you building a third party? You’re right. The system is rigged against the third party. It keeps third-party candidates even if the polls want them on national presidential debates off the presidential debates because the debate commission is a private corporation created in 1987 by the Republican and Democratic Party. They don’t want any competition. So the system is rigged in the ballot access; it’s rigged in a thousand ways. It’s rigged because most Americans are prisoners of a 220-year-old Electoral College, two-party, winner-take-all, system. And so they want to be for winners. So you can’t start from the small base and try to grow. Because even people who agree with you, and if you poll-tested our platform in 2000 and 2004, a very many of them had majority poll support. They want to be with the winner. People can say “I really like what you’re doing, and I’d like to vote for you, but I want to support a winner.” You get this in 40 states that were either slam-dunk Republican or Democrat. I’d be in Texas and people would say, ” I really like what you’re doing, but I don’t want Mr. Bush to win. And so I have to vote for John Kerry.” In Texas, you have to vote for John Kerry? Kerry never even campaigned in Texas. There were 40 states where people could have voted their conscience but the system is a prison. It is an imprisoning system. It makes people feel like there’s no chance for the little guy. There’s no chance for the underdog. And the two parties take advantage of that. And they collude in ways that, if they were in the marketplace, they’d be in trouble, as I said earlier, with the antitrust laws. So, what we have done in these campaigns is we’ve given people an opportunity to vote for what they believe in. We have gotten a lot of young people trained in political activity. You’ll hear from them as they go into politics. And take civic and political leadership positions. We kept the progressive agenda alive. I mean, how many four years do you go through before you have a whole new generation who can’t even argue for the estate tax, or progressive taxation, or Social security if you don’t keep that flame alive? And then we’re condemned because all good liberals and progressive like Robert Scheer say, well, “You’re just pie-in-the-sky stuff.” And you’re not building a movement. Let me tell you something, Mr. Scheer.
Nader: Let me tell you something.
Nader: When I see you on hustings ... when I see you on the hustings trying to build a movement. Or even in the hustings trying to cover a fledgling movement, which I did not see you on. Huh? Then, I will say that you’re putting your feet and your brain where your words are.
Scheer: OK, Ralph, I don’t want to get too personal, but, as you know, from a previous conversation, I did cover your speech at Santa Monica College and others, and I was appalled that you did not raise the question of welfare reform. And I felt that you were not raising issues of foreign policy. We have our own disagreements. But that’s not the point; I don’t want to make it so personal. I want to talk about— there are other heroes other than you in this society that I can get excited about. Now let me just take my own voting pattern. I’ve gotten to vote for Sheila Kuehl, for instance, our state senator, and she’s very aggressive on single-payer health plans. And maybe even giving Schwarzenegger a bit over, he’s at least accepted the idea that undocumented citizens and children have the right to health care, which is an improvement. The progressive Legislature that we do have in California, progressive leadership, has actually even brought this Republican governor ... they didn’t do it alone, the nurses, the firefighters, a lot of constituent groups put pressure on him. He went down in the polls because there was massive education; there was a distinction between the Republicans and the Democrats. I would say that the Democrats in California have represented a very solid progressive force. I get nowadays—you get to vote for a Henry Waxman. I mean, I haven’t voted for a stinker of a candidate in quite a long time, as a matter of fact. I even got to vote for Tom Hayden to be my state senator at one point. And so I think that there are plenty of people out there that have pursued the electoral process as Democrats, there are a few Republicans, who stand for something. OK. And some of them are not partisan like [Salt Lake City Mayor] Rocky Anderson, OK. And Tony Villaraigosa, our mayor in Los Angeles. There are role models out there. Ted Kennedy is a role model. OK. He has screwed up here or there. But I think Ted Kennedy has been an incredible senator. I’m enormously proud of him. He’s fought the fight right down the line. And I can’t accept the idea that there aren’t really good people out there that we can work with, that we can get behind, that we can recruit other good candidates and people to run, that young people should get involved. I know that my son, for example, after he worked in your campaign, which I think was a good experience, he did it over my objection, but he’s his own man. He went and worked for Kerry last time. I think he’s rather proud of that. I think he feels that we would have been better off if Kerry had won. And he went, in fact, to Nevada to campaign for him there, because he wasn’t needed in California. I just want to wonder what is the message we are sending, OK. If the message is we need to be critical, independent thinkers in the model of a Ralph Nader, I began what I said, I think you are one of the great human beings in the last hundred years, I really believe that. And a incredibly, incredibly useful critic, I don’t want Ralph Nader to stop being Ralph Nader. If there are other Ralph Naders, I want him to do that. And so forth. But what we are talking about is how are you effective politically as a candidate, that’s the issue here. And what I’m saying is that you did not provide a good model, and do not now provide a good model, of being an electoral candidate. That’s what we’re talking about, all right? And in that respect, I would like to see people… OK, don’t like the candidates out there, work for others, or support ... you know, if you think Kucinich is the only good one out there, then get behind him, for God’s sake. He’s running, you know. Support him. There are people out there. If you think Gore should run? Get him to run. If you think Hillary is selling out; challenge her. Challenge her by picketing her. Challenge her by denouncing her. Writing e-mails, whatever. The fact is we have a process underway, and I don’t want this to be yet another Nation discussion that marginalizes us and puts us outside what is really happening out there. We are in the midst of an election; we are in the midst of a battle with the Bush administration. I want us to win; I would like to see us with as strong candidates as possible. I would like to make our representatives in the Congress live up to the mandate of the last election. I would like them to do more—yes, OK. Put impeachment on the table. Let’s pressure them to do that, I’m not saying give up the fight. But goddamit, there’s a fight to be waged.
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