The Ralph Nader Interview
Ralph Nader, as we all know, is something of a painful contradiction. On one hand, he's the father of consumer rights. On the other, he's the monomaniacal, unrepentant enabler of George W. Bush's ascent to the presidency.
In case you missed it, Nader is running for president once more. He'll be in town on Thursday for a rally at which he'll complain about being left out of the debates. If you're inclined to attend, the necessary information can be found here. Nader recently took the time to speak with City Pages by phone, and we thought we'd share the conversation with you, our most gentle readers.
City Pages: Tell me about the rally you'll be holding in Minneapolis on Thursday.
Ralph Nader: It’s similar to the one we just held at the University of Denver [during the DNC]. We're gathering together our supporters in order to make a series of contrasting statements with the Republican Party agenda and expose their ideology of authoritarian corporatism, which they have allowed to expand over the U.S. government, which was already under very substantial corporate control inside and outside.
CP: [San Francisco activist and pol] Matt Gonzalez seems like an impassioned advocate for the causes you embrace, and a canny politician. How did you select him as your running mate, and why?
Nader: It was easy. First, he's a man of impeccable principles. He broke from the Democratic Party, inside which he had a great future, because he couldn't abide by their corruption and concessionary policies to the power brokers in the corporate world, and also he's very upset with their foreign and military policies in Iraq and elsewhere. Second, he was a Green and he has very strong environmental credentials and labor credentials. He's very articulate, a leading civil rights lawyer in the Bay Area, and was an elected official [as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors]. He represents the young generation of progressives from whom we will hear much more in the future.
CP: A central issue for you, of course, is access to the debates. But you got less than half of one percent of the vote last time you ran. Doesn't the line have to be drawn somewhere?
Nader: In 2004 it was 24 lawsuits in 18 states in 12 weeks by the Democrats to get us off the ballot, coupled with amazingly harassing behavior toward our street petitions and very partisan, one might call crooked, judges. They knocked us off the ballot all over the country. We were fighting these battles until a week before the election. They did it in order to drain us and distract us, and they did succeed on that.
In terms of criteria [for qualifying for the debates], I would have one of two tests. First, the number of ballots you're on, or second, one of the following two: Five percent in the polls, or a majority in the polls wants you in the debates. Assuming we’re on enough ballots to theoretically qualify for an electoral ballot victory—which we are—there would be only four candidates this year on that stage. Bob Barr [Libertarian], me… oh, five candidates—Cynthia McKinney [Green], too.
CP: Tell me three good things about Barack Obama.
Nader: He's smart. He works hard. And he wants to be seen as a good person in history. Unlike Bush. Who doesn't really care about history. (Laughs)
CP: And John McCain?
Nader: Smart, hard working, and has a place that he wants to be seen in history. (Chuckles) It's not my place. He's the candidate for perpetual war and military bases in 100 countries.
CP: In brief, give me the main issue you're running on.
Nader: Giant corporations and their politicians are driving this country into the ground and pushing down indicators of a decent standard of living for a large majority of the people. And shutting down the people and preventing them from doing anything about it.
CP: A while back, Justice Antonin Scalia told Americans angry over the 2000 elections—and his key role in them—to 'get over it.' You also played an important role in that election. Do you agree with Antonin Scalia's plea?
Nader: I think he performed corruptly. Constitutionally corruptly. That was maybe the most dishonest decision by the Supreme Court in its history. It was intellectually absurd and juridically they overreached by stopping the Florida Supreme Court from finishing the recount. Bush v. Gore will be seen as the low point of the Supreme Court in American history. They have no business selecting the president.
CP: In a phrase, how do you hope to be remembered once you're gone?
Nader: 'He helped build democracy and give it deep roots.'
We referred at the top of this piece to Nader as a "painful contradition." But perhaps that's all wrong. During the 2004 presidential campaign, The New Republic's Jonathan Chait wrote a highly compelling--and equally unflattering--narrative of Nader's career that challenged the prevailing "myth of The Good Nader."
As Chait sees it, "[Nader's] presidential campaigns represent not a betrayal of his earlier career but its apotheosis." In other words, Chait argues, Nader isn't a good guy who went haywire, but a menace who happened to be be useful to society for a period of time.
It's worth a read.
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