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Robert Scheer Debates Ralph Nader
Posted on Nov 5, 2007
Nader: This is an aside. John Kerry wanted to send more troops to Iraq, he wanted victory, and he said in the first debate, “We wouldn’t have pulled out of Fallujah.” Two months later, Bush went into Fallujah, massive slaughter, which will someday be documented much more than it is now, of civilians. And he had the Democrat leaders give cover. They’re always giving cover for the Republicans. But you don’t want to waste this discussion as a decoy. We’re both decoying. The central issue is who is planning the future of our country. Systemically, year after year, day after day. Major corporations, and you have some nice corporate like Patagonia, Seventh Generation and Ben & Jerry’s, and so on. You know, I’m always talking about these groups because the way to improve the criticism of the big guys. But these corporations are planning our political future; they’re planning our electoral future. They plan our educational future. Corporatizing universities, Channel One and the lower grades. They’re planning our environmental future. They can get away with that. Fossil fuel, coal, more and more support on that, including more than a few Democrats. They’re planning our military budget and foreign policy future. They’re planning our genetic future, for heaven’s sake. They’ve patented thousands of human gene sequences. They’re planning everything. And Washington is corporate occupied territory. I keep emphasizing that if you have two or three passionate issues, you’re going to like the Democrats more than they deserve. If you like Social Security, although there are some Democrats that were fooling around with, you know, partial private funds and so forth, and investments. But if you like Social Security and pro-choice, if you like gay and lesbian rights, they look pretty good, the Democrats. If you are working on 30 or 40 major issues, the span from the destruction of any kind of rational priority of our federal budget due to the military drain and corporate welfare, if you have 30 to 40 issues like that, and you span department and agency after department agency, the similarities tower over the dwindling real differences that the Democrats are willing to go to the mat on. Were the Democrats willing to go to the mat against [Justices] Alito and Roberts? Well, they weren’t—they had far more power to stop them then they used, and it was pretty pathetic to watch the inevitability of the [John] Roberts and [Samuel] Alito nominations. So, again, if we start with subordination of corporate power to the sovereignty of the people, with all that that means in terms of policy, like, you do not live in a society that tells you “pay or die” if you can’t afford health care. Eighteen thousand Americans die, every year, according to the National Academy of Science Institute of Medicine. That’s six 9/11s. No talk about that. Sixty-five thousand people die from air pollution, EPA figures. Over 100,000 die from medical malpractice in hospitals. Harvard School of Public Health. All these forms of violence are shoved aside because of the terrorist focus in Iraq; that’s a form of violence. And 9/11 is a form of violence. But far more people are being killed by preventable conditions, that’s the key. Whether it’s terror, or whether it’s criminal activity by a coal mine, or whatever. Preventable conditions. And we’re not paying attention to it. And I’ve been to the Democrats again and again. Why aren’t you doing something about all these massive fatalities? And they’re sitting there, even when they control the Congress; the Democratic Party today is not the Democratic Party of the 1960s and the 1970s. There is a convergence, or realignment, and the realignment is that both parties are getting worse every four years, and if we are so taken by the least-worst option, and we become a least-worst voter, we’re telling the least-worst party, the Democrats, that they can take us for granted and if they can take us for granted, they’re going to take us. And that’s the mistake that progressives are making. It is so freaked out by the Republicans that if they make no functional demands on the Democrats in an election year. The anti-war people virtually shut down the anti-war movement except a few demonstrations. They didn’t want to embarrass Kerry; you notice how many rallies there were in ‘03 and how few there were in ‘04? And I’ll end with this and let you have your say. But we analyzed 19 pro-Kerry Web sites in 2004. On their Web site, these were labor, women’s rights, poverty, consumer, civil rights, etc. Not one of those 19 was making demands on Kerry. Now why? Well, they didn’t want to embarrass him, and let him have his own campaign, and you know ... whatever. They didn’t want to make the demands. Frederick Douglass, a great abolitionist, in the pre-Civil War period, once said, “Power can seize nothing without a demand.” And if you didn’t make Kerry better, you ended up making Kerry worse. You ended up with the Kerry that waffled, that was ambiguous, that didn’t have bright lines that people liked between two major candidates, himself and George W. Bush. Now, if you’re going to go for the least worst, if you’re going to be practical, if you can realize the system is rigged against third parties, then it is incumbent upon all liberals and progressives to condition their support for these candidates based on the impassioned commitments that they have to a certain course of justice that they think that the Democratic nominee is not pursuing. Look at the ravaging of our inner cities by merchant crime, going all the way to Wall Street: predatory lending, enormous interest rates on payday loans, and so forth. And you’ll see that except for Edwards, and he’s not as specific as he should be on this, but they’re not making this an issue. We’re talking about tens of millions of people who are constantly ravaged in their housing, in the rip-offs that are going on, and dirty food products that are going into the ghettos, ripping off their meager savings, etc. And not having municipal services go into their communities, because they are into more affluent communities, and there’s no position here by the Democrats. So what I’m left with is making demands on them; if you want to vote for them, make demands for them. Don’t give them a free ride, because they will take you for granted.
Scheer: You know, first of all, I don’t even know who these Democrats are that you’re talking about. There seems to be—John Kerry, for instance. I remember Kerry as a guy who did more on the fighting the Vietnam War than either of us. And we were both around. I don’t recall that he was insensitive to that issue.
Nader: Did I say that?
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Scheer: I’m going to finish now without being interrupted. I think that there’s a demonization that goes on here that anybody who gets elected to the office, if they’re a Democrat they stop being a complex human being, they stop having a conscience, and that’s not the way I see Teddy Kennedy. I see Teddy Kennedy as an incredible person who has fought the good fight on a number of these issues that you’ve mentioned, certainly the rights of labor, consistently. Immigrant rights, right down the line. A lot of—Ed Markey, has fought these issues year after year. Henry Waxman, who I mentioned. There’s a long list of these people; they work these issues, they don’t become the enemy because they get elected as Democrats. They don’t become saints because they run as Green candidates. We are dealing with people out there, some of who have been chosen who try to be elected representatives who do a damn good job. They don’t automatically sell out. I think it matters that Nancy Pelosi when she got in did not put Jane Harman when she get into a committee. Jane Harman was owned by the defense industry; you mentioned the defense industry. She’s the one who fought for the stealth bomber and fighter. Nancy Pelosi pointedly would not appoint her to be chair of the committee. Even though the rules would have suggested that. Dennis Kucinich did get a committee appointment chairmanship. Henry Waxman has one of the most important appointments. I know Nancy Pelosi for many years; I consider her an admirable person. I think she is fighting the good fight; I can disagree with her when she doesn’t push this issue or that issue. I’m not the majority. I’m not trying to herd those cats. I’m not trying to develop a coalition. I’m not retrying to get the Senate to have a majority take a position. It’s a different obligation than being a columnist. Or being an agitator, one kind of another, which we both are. Fine, I’m not for lessening the pressure, but I will not demonize any one who manages to get elected, win office, you know. [Rep.] Barbara Lee, as I mentioned before, she did vote against the war, in fact, in one point, she cast the only courageous vote. I think she served—take Barbara Boxer. One of my senators; I’m not proud as my other senator. But I’m thrilled that I have a Democratic senator who has been as consistent as Barbara Boxer on the issues that I care about. So what I’m trying to suggest is there’s room to operate in this electoral system within the two-party system which we are saddled with—it’s not going to change anytime in our lifetime, or anyone else on the boat for that matter. And I think we have to talk about how we can work with it. And all I’m trying to suggest, without getting too personal, is that we don’t need a third Nader campaign, we don’t need another third-party campaign, we have to get serious about figuring out which candidates we want to support, how to put pressure on those who are not playing a good role. How to unify behind those that have a chance and can advance an agenda. Because we are heading into an electoral season which is incredible important to the future of this country. A lot is at stake. Now I do want to address this corporate question. I think there are splits within these corporate circles. I think, for instance, Microsoft, which doesn’t make that much money off the defense industry. Gates’ father has been, along with [Warren] Buffett, two of the major voices arguing in favor of the inheritance tax. I think if you look at the work of the Gates Foundation it has done a lot to try to deal with some of the impact of medical questions and environmental questions that you are talking about. There are capitalists who favor trade and believe in it. And will even accept some conditions on it who recognize that a policy of old-fashioned imperialism and militarism makes it more difficult for them to do business around the world. In fact, what I argue is that the ideological bent of the neocons and the Bush administration is a betrayal of capitalism. I think it’s a betrayal of rational corporate activity. These people are following a model which the Germans, the French, the Spanish and the English all abandoned because it was not cost-effective. It is not cost-effective to try to control the oil wells in Iraq and have to protect the pipelines. The Chinese under communist leadership are being far more effective as capitalists signing up long-term contracts. There are splits in these ruling circles, there is enlightened capitalism, difficult as it need be to accept, and there’s primitive capitalism. Enron, Halliburton are primitive capitalism. They are taking us down a very dangerous road, and they happened to control the White House. There are more rational voices in the corporate sector. So I don’t see this as “OK, move to socialism.” It’s not going to happen. What we have to talk about is how can we put adults back in watching the store. How can we make this more rational? How can we prevent this country from wasting its treasure, wasting its young people, and getting all of the world pissed off with us, hating our country? That’s not good for capitalism, that’s not good for the country, not good for security. It may not be radical to say this, but if we had an Eisenhower running, whether he was a Democrat or Republican, I would be pretty excited right now. And let me say something else. I don’t agree that the Democratic Party is worse than it was in the ‘60s. I think it is considerably better. I think the Democratic Party learned the lessons, many during the Vietnam War, including Bill Clinton, can I say. Bill Clinton, for all of his failings, did not invade Iraq. He didn’t. And Bill Clinton did not appoint Alito to the Supreme Court. You ducked the Supreme Court question, but, rather, consistently tonight. You can blame the Democrats for not having [fought] hard enough, and so forth. But if we had a Democratic president, if Gore had won, we wouldn’t have had to face these choices.
Nader: So why don’t we?
Scheer: I’ll tell you why. Because it shouldn’t have even been that close. People should have been more aware of how dangerous the Republicans were at that time. And you did not play a good role when you said that their similarities outweighed their differences; you were deceiving the American public.
Nader: First of all, you’re a genius at making our agreements appear like disagreements. How many times have I told you that there’s a progressive wing to the party; I named some of the same ones, and you keep going over the same ground, all the time. The point is, it is quite clear that the Democrats should have been landsliding the Republicans every two years, every four years, and the reasons why they’re not are reasons that liberals and progressives have not faced up to. And that is they have told the nominees that there’s nowhere for them to go; therefore, they can be taken for granted. That’s why Kerry thought he had the anti-war vote in 2004, because anti-war, many of the anti-war people conveyed one way or the other, that there was nowhere for them to go. So what happened? What happened is that Kerry got a nice editorial in the Wall Street Journal, praising him for his hawkish position on Iraq in the first debate, etc. Let’s just look at it from a tug-of-war point of view. You have the liberals and progressives here and they have filled my ear over the years with their criticisms of the Democrats. Constantly. They would goad me to run on a third-party platform in the ‘70s and ‘80s and so forth. And you have the liberals and progressives here, you have the Democratic nominees here, and you have the corporate 24/7 lobbyists here and their power. They are pulling on both Republican and Democrats to get in there more and more and more in their grasp. Now, if the liberals and progressives have this, “Gee, the Democrats have done good things, and they’re not all that bad, and don’t challenge from the outside, and push them the way the Anti-Slavery Party did, and the way the Women’s Right to Vote Party did, and the Labor Party, and the People’s Party in the 19th century.” I hope you’re glad that some voters didn’t go for the least worst between the Whigs and the Democrats on the issue of slavery and voted for the Anti-Slavery Party or the Women’s Right to Vote Party. You’ve got all these liberals and progressives; they’re letting it happen. They have watched while the corporate Democrats have taken control of this party over the years. They have let it slide more and more toward the corporate positions of the Democrats, department by department and agency by agency. If you want to pursue what you want to pursue, Robert, you have to hold the liberal and progressive wing of the party up to higher standards. They’ve got to be tougher, because if they are constantly freaked out by how bad the Republicans are, therefore don’t criticize the nominee, don’t make the demands of the nominee of a condition of support in the Democratic Party, every four years both parties will get worse. The least-worst voting mentality has no endgame. There is no endgame because there is no breaking point, because forever and ever in the future, one party will not be as a bad as the other party. But both of them become worse every four years unless you change that level of urgency. Now that shouldn’t upset you.
Scheer: That doesn’t upset me at all, Ralph, and you know this is not an accurate representation of my view. I’m certainly for criticizing Democrats; I hope you’ve read some of my columns over the years. I wrote books on this. As I said before, I was probably Clinton’s strongest critic on the Financial Services Modernization Act, on telecommunications.
Nader: I’m not talking about you.
Scheer: Well, second, I don’t represent a group that thinks you never criticize Democrats, and I’m not opposed to criticizing even progressive Democrats. And I do it all the time. That’s our role. That’s our job. We’re talking about something different, and you don’t want to talk about it. Which is whether we should have a third-party candidacy whether it is useful. Whether it is a pox on both their houses, or, as I have suggested, for better or for worse, I am suggesting that there’s room to operate, there’s opportunity here to organize, short of a third party. That there are good candidates and bad candidates within the Democratic Party. There are primaries that we can get behind these candidates. For example the deal breaker, I think people in this room should make it very clear that they would not accept Hillary Clinton as a candidate if she continues to her current position supporting the war. I have written columns saying that. I have said, I’m on the record as saying, I will not vote for Hillary Clinton if she has the position that she has now. I have said it. I’ll even vote for Ralph Nader, I’ll even write in Ralph Nader, if Hillary Clinton is the candidate and she still takes the current position on the war. But that’s difference from saying there isn’t room to organize, to operate, that there are not good candidates out there are. And I think we need, and I think that as far as The Nation, I started by talking about the Weekly Standard publications of that sort, I think they would have destroyed their own—National Review, what have you. They would have destroyed their own strength by attacking the Republican Party in the way that people around The Nation consistently attack the Democratic Party. That doesn’t mean they silenced their critics. They state their case. But they say, “OK, these are the people we are trying to work with and organize” and so forth. The Washington Times, I know I’m on a [radio] show called “Left, Right and Center.” The editor of the [Washington Times] editorial page is the right. He has his criticisms of the Bush administration, but he hasn’t broken with it. He’s trying to work with these people. That’s his party. My view is that we, on the left, have got to stop playing at being effective and critical and so forth, and recognize the seriousness of the moment. Seriousness of the moment. And that we have some choices here. This election matters. So instead of saying, a pox on both their houses, which is basically what your argument is that the similarities tower over the differences. No, they don’t. So if it’s Edwards who excites you, or Obama, or Kucinich, get out and work for them. Make this primary matter. But that’s where political organizing and activity has to take place in the next year and a half. And people should not sit on their hands and take them out and applaud when they hear the most radical statement.
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