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Robert Scheer Debates Ralph Nader
Posted on Nov 5, 2007
Nader: OK, before we go to the audience, let me just offer a defense of third parties. In American history they were the first ones who put forth the great social justice movements. We know that in the 19th century; we know that with Eugene Debbs, Norman Thomas, etc. I don’t believe in a two-party elected dictatorship. I don’t believe in a two-party duopoly. I don’t believe in a two-party that controls a gateway to tens of millions of people by controlling a debate commission of their own creation. I believe in a multiparty, competitive democracy. That’s the only way we are going to get new ideas to get an airing. That’s the only way we are going to get new agendas to get an airing. That’s the only way we are going to get new human energies coming in. We have a system where it’s a one-party system for most congressional districts due to gerrymandering. Ninety-three percent of all House districts are Democratic or Republican. It’s not a contest. The left people are left with one candidate, the incumbent. It’s getting worse and worse and worse in that way as they carve up the districts depending on who controls the state government, Democrats or Republicans. I find it appalling that someone as promising as Obama is talking about leaving all options on the table against Iran. We know what that code word meant. He just said that we should pursue these terrorists right into Pakistan if [Pervez] Musharraf doesn’t do it; the U.S. military will do it. Doe he have any idea of the consequences of that? To even Bush’s buddy Musharraf in terms of a revolutionary move? And this is Obama. And Edwards? What’s Edwards got to say about the Palestinian/Israeli issue? Has he put forth the kind of constructive program that over half of the Israelis and Palestinians want in a bold way? He hasn’t done that. He hasn’t challenged the military budget. Have you heard Hillary Clinton or Obama or Edwards or Richardson challenge the military budget which is eating the heart out of the necessities of the American people by taking huge middle-class tax dollars and shoveling them into the arms industry and into the corporate welfare kings and etc.? Let’s have a little higher expectation level here, and a higher urgency level. Everything that Robert said should be done, but it’s not enough. I played this game 20 years. The least-worst game. Reagan, [Jimmy] Carter—that was a choice. But then I went for Mondale, [Michael] Dukakis, on and on, the least worst. They shut us down. They shut all these citizen groups down. We couldn’t get hearings from the Democrats when they controlled Congress. We couldn’t get agency petitions on serious health and safety matters like hazardous drugs and contaminated food, and unsafe cars. They shut down the government. On citizen groups all over Washington. Not just ours. At what point is your breaking point? That’s the key. And to have a breaking point transform itself into an alternative option so people are sick of the two parties, and sick of waiting and waiting, can go and voice themselves on another part of the ballot? What’s wrong with that? What’s wrong with a competitive democracy? What’s wrong with freedom of speech inside the electoral arena—like The Nation. They love my freedom of speech outside the electoral arena when I write an article or I make a speech. But when I went inside the electoral arena and exercised my right for free speech and assembly, etc. They had a full-page editorial, “Don’t run.” Let me tell you something, I will never say to anybody “Don’t run” any more than I would say to anybody “Don’t speak.” I would say, “If you run I would oppose you; if you run I don’t think it’s a wise idea.” When we opposed [Joe] Lieberman in the [Ned] Lamont race in Connecticut, and it looked like Lamont was going to beat him in the primary, a reporter calls me up and says, “Are you going to tell Lieberman not to run as an independent? You’ve been opposed to him?” I said, “I would never tell Lieberman not to run as an independent. I would say he can run however he wants and whatever way he wants and I’ll oppose him. But I would never say don’t run.” There’s a political bigotry operating here that represents itself in these terrible state ballot acts, obstruction laws that are so obstructive in so many ways that even a [Michael] Bloomberg can get on the Oregon ballot and meet all the Republicans, and the secretary of state of Oregon can change the rules after the deadline and knock him off the ballot. This is exactly what happened to the Nader/[Peter Miguel] Camejo campaign and it was upheld by the Oregon Supreme Court. This is what’s going on. So, let’s have multiple strategies. You have one strategy. To get to where you want the country to go. But, let’s have multiple strategies. It isn’t that the Democrats have been right on their strategies; they keep losing. They lose to Gingrich. They lose the House. They lose the Senate. To the most craven Republicans who have ever crawled up Capitol Hill. That requires introspection; that requires an internal reevaluation, and I’m sorry we don’t, let’s go to the floor. I mean, is it OK to go to the audience?
Nader: Why did the Democrats get IRV? Right? Who knows IRV? Instant-runoff voting. So if people voted for me in 2000, their second was Gore, and their third was whoever. And none of the major candidates got a majority win, IRV, instant-runoff voting, triggers that voter for Gore. So, if they want to get rid of the third-party harassment, oh boy, harassment, they can go with IRV. But they haven’t. Only Howard Dean supports IRV.
Questioner: You’re talking about needing to change things. I think that now, if we wanted to change things right now, if the way things are as dangerous, say, as they are because the Republicans got into power the way they did, then it would be more divisive than not, and I think that this is not the time to look for a third party or another way because we need as may people behind us in order to change the country the way it needs to be changed now. And I think that more, there are enough Republicans now who are against the state of affairs now, that they can vote for, sorry, I’m very nervous, I don’t speak very much, but I feel very strongly for this particular thing. And I think we need to make sure that we do everything to get rid of the Republicans and rid of all the horrible things. And then, when we get in, then we can change the things that need changing.
Nader: But it hasn’t been working for the Democrats. If you don’t push the Democrats to take more progressive positions, they are not going to get the number of votes. It may surprise some of you that the Democratic exit poling in 2000 had 25 percent of the Nader/[Winona] LaDuke votes would have gone to Bush - 40 percent to Gore. And the rest would have stayed home. And if the Democrats would have picked up on some of the rather traditional positions of the Green Party, like full Medicare and living wage, they would have won the election. And as a matter of fact, I think Gore did win the election. I was speaking to him some time ago and he doesn’t get into this blame/spoiler bet. He believes, as I do, and probably you do, Bob, that he won it in Florida, and that it was stolen from him from Tallahassee to the Supreme Court before, during and after Election Day. But, having said that, the studies on the dynamics before Election Day showed that every time Gore went out after the insurance, drug and oil companies, his polls went up a bit. And it also showed that had Nader/LaDuke not been in the campaign, Gore would have gotten fewer votes. Does that sound counterintuitive? Let me refer you to professor Solon Simmons’ analysis. It’s on our Web site, which we have kept open for exactly this purpose. VoteNader.org. And you will see the analysis. It was not conducted on Election Day. It’s the dynamics between the candidates. Just to give you a hypothetical. Let’s say, Democrats picked up living wage and got 50,000 more votes in Florida but they still lost by 527. But they picked it up from the Greens. Do you blame the Greens for the fact that they still lost by 527 because the Greens got 90,000 votes, only 15 percent of which were net Gore votes? I mean—it just doesn’t work that way.
Square, Site wide
Scheer: Since you’ve made—. I don’t want this to be all about whether Ralph should run or not. But I do think that there is something that we can agree on. I think the Democrats would be stronger if they took stronger positions on these issues. I have no doubt that Kerry lost the election when that question was posed, knowing what you know now, would you have been against the war? When he gave the wrong answer instead of saying “Heck no, you lied to the Senate. You lied to the American people. You’re a liar. And of course I wouldn’t have voted for it.” He would have won the election. So I agree with Ralph that the Democrats have a better chance of doing what this woman asked that they defeat the GOP if they take a principled position on these questions. I certainly agree with that. And I don’t think that a candidate, whether it’s Hillary or anyone else, who waffles on the war at this late date, can win the election. I don’t believe that. And so I do think that it’s not a question that I’ve asked some of the Democrats to be purists; it’s saying that the reason you won in the midterm election is because people thought you would be stronger on these issues. And so clearly the message we ought to be sending to these candidates: We will reject you because the American people will reject you if you don’t come out clearly on the key issues of the war, torture, and I can go down the list.
Questioner: Bob, you had spoken about your concern about this cabal in Washington. And right now, let’s take a look at what this cabal is doing. They’re rattling the saber about war on Iran. They’re trying to manufacture consent for another war. And what are the Democrats doing? They’re making the same mistake that they did with the war on Iraq. They’re going along with it. You have Hillary Clinton, you have Obama, you have Edwards, all saying that all options are on the table. When that military is talking about using military weapons— military bunker busters—this is really dangerous. As progressives, we’re going to vote for one of these Democrats who will make another war possible? I can’t see it.
Scheer: By the way, Obama has been criticized here. I thought Obama opened up some important distance between himself and Hillary when he said that he would negotiate within the whole list of people. And that certainly suggested to me the right way to go. I think to me he has been quite strong of the war recently. Edwards has been, I think, very clear. Kucinich, who doesn’t get mentioned here a lot, but if we want a protest person to raise the issues now, Kucinich has been unequivocal on these issues and is certainly deserving of our support. Let me just say something about Kucinich as an example. Kucinich was the mayor of Cleveland and he got defeated because the corporations went after him on public power. He wouldn’t sell the municipal public power plant. And the only reason why he came back into politics—I happened to interview him and all that, and I have known him ever since—the only reason why he got back in is because he was shown to be right. The [Cleveland] Plain Dealer said that. Now Dennis came in and everybody thinks Dennis represents Greenwich Village or something. Dennis represents a district that has sent Martin Hoke to Congress, and he was Newt Gingrich’s right-hand guy. And Dennis has made himself credible in getting 70-75 percent of the vote in a district that had sent this very conservative guy [Hoke] to Congress. So Dennis is an example of a guy who may not play well on television and so forth, but Dennis is an example of a guy who can go out and talk to ordinary Americans and present a pro-peace, pro-human rights position. I think that there are Democratic models, and I think Barbara Boxer’s victory—and people didn’t notice it. Barbara Boxer won again in California; in fact she was Red-baited, peace-baited, everything else, she stuck to her guns, she did not cave in. And she won. Handsomely. So I think that the answer to your question is, yes, we should demand to know why Democratic candidates sound like war candidates. And if they continue to do that, we don’t support them. That should be made very clear. Just as the right-wing has made very clear in their party that they will not support people who break with them on their key issues. They will not support people who are pro-choice, for example. Which is their right. So I think that a deal breaker for Democrats right now is you have to be against imperialism as evidenced by the Iraq war and ending it. You have to be for a living wage, and substantially raising the minimum wage. You have to be for incorporated human rights and labor rights and environmental concerns into international trade negotiations. You have to be for extending health care to something approximating single-payer health care. So I think you can have a bill of rights for Democrats that people in this room should adhere to and demand that a candidate accords to. And if, in fact, they don’t accord to that, you can vote against them, or write in Nader on the next election. It is your right, and it is, in fact, the smart thing to do. All I’m saying is we have a lot of room to operate in now. We have some good candidates, and we should be putting pressure on them to be better.
Questioner: I voted for Ralph Nader in 2000 because I lived in New York. If I had lived in New Jersey I would have not, because it was closer. But the problem being, of course, is the Electoral College. Which makes instant run-off elections impossible unless the Electoral College is eliminated. We do not have a third-party system that allows for third parties. It would be great if we did, so we could have what we had in France last week, we had run-offs. So third parties could express their views and get heard. But, without that, the pragmatic seems to be to only ways to find a platform within the Democratic Party and make it a non-lobbying party—less of a non-lobbying party. And it seems that you could, right now, be one of those nine candidates right now vying for the Democratic combination, and it would offer a traditional platform for you.
Scheer: There was a question to you, Ralph.
Nader: Again, it’s what Greg Kafoury said in the movie “An Unreasonable Man,” you don’t go past February, if you do the primaries. Besides, the kind of compromises that they force people to make, including Dennis Kucinich, say, they forced him to make, totally intolerable to anyone who believes in freedom of the mind. They told Dennis to shut up, put his hand up in favor of Kerry, and they wouldn’t give him a comma change on the Democratic platform. He wanted certain things that were any old Democratic Party would have accepted when they were developing the Democratic platform in 2004. And they gave him nothing. He was a loyal Democrat; went through all the rules in the primaries. They gave him nothing. Not even an antipoverty platform. So, that’s part from other reasons. Go ahead.
Nader: See what happens when you have a little disagreement, it’s wonderful.
Questioner: My name is Len Lebransky, Milwaukee, Wis. My remarks are directed to Ralph Nader. There are writings so I can be more concise. Ralph, you played a very good role as a social critic. But your candidacy in 2000 brought us a mean-spirited idiot for president. A lunatic for vice president, who is also a fascist, and the Iraq war, and a Supreme Court that is the worst in our history.
Nader: I’ll repeat it. Go ahead.
Nader: OK. Basically he thinks that our campaign in 2000 brought all of the horrors of the Bush administration. That’s roughly the summary. And, you know, let me go through it again and again. There’s nothing that has kept the Democratic Party from picking up living wage, full Medicare, etc. and landsliding Bush. No. 2—the Democratic Party stopped criticizing Bush’s record in Texas after April 2000. Just like the Democratic Party convention told every speaker not to criticize President Bush for a week in 2004, they had the nation’s media on them and they didn’t criticize President Bush. And then when the Republicans met in New York, they ripped the hell out of Kerry. So that’s one. Why don’t you ask why the Democrats don’t pick up old-fashioned Democratic issues that used to beat the Republicans again and again as FDR and Harry Truman, etc., did. No. 2, why don’t you spend a little time that the thieves stole the election from Al Gore. And No. 3, just look at the analysis of how the pressure to push Gore to take a few more progressive positions, at least rhetorically, got them more votes than they would have got otherwise. Let me put it again. I have seen no scholarly analysis of the dynamics between Republican, Democrat, and Green Party in 2000 that concludes that we cost a net number of votes for Gore. No analysis. All the analyses has been the other way. Check out these studies, Solomon Simmons and others. There was even an AP poll, I’m told, two days after the election that eliminated the Nader/LaDuke ticket and had it between Bush and Gore, and Bush won. So, you just can’t look at the numbers at Election Day. You got to look before, during and after Election Day on how this enormously elaborate strategy by the Republicans stole the election from the Democrats. So focus on the thieves, focus on the Electoral College, push for instant runoff voting, and you’ve got a much more fertile, diverse and competitive democracy.
Scheer: So I’m told we have to leave the room, but I just want to throw me two cents in here and end on a constructive note. Repeat what I said before. Ralph Nader has been one of the great citizens in this country’s history. And I don’t think he cost Gore or Kerry the election. I agree with that analysis, I think that they shot themselves in the foot. And I think they should have run a more vigorous, progressive campaign. In Gore’s case, no one has mentioned it, but he distanced himself from Clinton, who was enormously popular, and he failed to carry his own home state. And if you can’t carry your own home state, you haven’t done something right in that connection. So I agree with Ralph that he should not be held responsible for the state of the country, in any negative way. I think he has been an incredibly useful person, I’m not being condescending here—this is heartfelt. I think he’s a great person. And I do think he has the right to run. ...
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