Gore Finally Attacks Nader
PALO ALTO, California -- On a day when Al Gore spent his valuable time trying to quell a progressive revolt in the once safely Democratic Pacific Northwest, insurgent presidential candidate Ralph Nader laughed at his opponent's discomfort, and accused the vice president of being "incapable of telling the truth."
"It's so pathetic," Nader told NewsForChange. "He's trying to salvage his campaign, which is sinking in the quicksand of a credibility crisis. People ... have seen through him on TV. It's like he has marbles in his mouth. They don't believe him, and they're right. He's proved in eight years of his record that we shouldn't believe him."
Gore spent Monday in Washington and Oregon, longtime Democratic states where Nader's near-double-digit support has eaten away at the vice president's once-commanding lead on Republican George W. Bush. Perhaps cranky from deflecting barbs from his left just two weeks before the closest election in 40 years, a puffy-eyed Gore was forced to talk about the Green Party candidate for one of the first times in the campaign.
"I will stack my environmental record against anyone -- including him," he told reporters on Air Force II. "I don't want to use the argument that a vote for him is a vote for Bush -- that may be true, but I prefer to do my best to encourage people to support me enthusiastically."
Nader shook his head and cackled when told of Gore's comments.
"Ask him if he's come out against a commercial airport in the Homestead Air Force Base ... in the Everglades," he said. "And has he moved to shut down the incinerator that's poisoning kids in an elementary school 1,100 feet away in East Liverpool (Ohio), or has he fought to close down nuclear power and replace it with strong energy efficiency standards?
"And has he been on the back of the motor vehicle companies? He's given them everything they want," Nader continued. "What was his record on opposing WTO and NAFTA, which were anti-environmental? He completely surrendered on that. And he could have helped in the (treaty) legislation to require recognition of labor and environmental rights. Now he's saying he's going to do it. Where was he before it passed Congress? He was fighting (North America Free Trade Agreement opponent) Ross Perot," he said.
"There's no end. The guy is incapable of telling the truth any more. The only way you can exonerate him is to ascribe a massive degree of self-delusion and amnesia."
Gore and Bush are neck-in-neck in national polls and electoral college guesstimates, while Nader, buoyed by paying crowds of up to 15,000 nearly every day, is now up to 5 percent nationwide. He could conceivably tip the scales away from Gore in at least nine states: Democratic strongholds Minnesota (10 electoral votes), Washington (11), Oregon (7) and New Mexico (5); classic "swing states" like Michigan (18), Missouri (11), Pennsylvania (23) and Wisconsin (11); and Gov. Jeb Bush's Florida (25). Together, that represents 121 of the 270 needed to elect the next president.
"Gore has a problem. In addition to not getting his message through, the difference in this race right now is Ralph Nader," pollster John Zogby told Reuters on Sunday. "If Gore moves to the left with a populist message, he risks losing ground in the vital center. If he moves to the center he will watch Nader's support increase."
Gore, who has less campaign cash than Bush, has been forced to spend it fighting Nader this week in 11 states carried by Clinton in 1992 and '96, instead of focusing on Florida and Michigan.
Bush, on the other hand, is not burdened by a significant challenge on his right flank, since late-starting Reform Party nominee Pat Buchanan is stuck at 1 percent nationally despite having $12 million in government matching funds. After being on the defensive in Florida a few weeks ago, the Texas governor is now attempting a pincer movement by spending millions on advertising in California, where his deficit in a recent poll had shrunk to just six percentage points.
Nader on Monday night wrapped up a four-day swing through the Golden State, where he campaigned at universities and sports arenas in Southern California, the Bay Area and the Central Valley.
After being relatively ignored by the national media since declaring his candidacy back in February, Nader and his 'spoiler' campaign have been the subject of long articles the past three days in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury-News, San Francisco Examiner and others.
To head off the damage, Gore has dispatched a Dream Team of progressive Democrats -- Jesse Jackson, Paul Wellstone, Barney Frank, Tom Hayden, Robert Kennedy, Jr. -- as well as lesser known environmentalists and feminists, to remind Nader voters that the next president could appoint three or four Supreme Court justices, potentially wiping out hard-fought gains of various splinters of the civil rights movement.
"Tom Hayden actually came out to New Mexico for Gore," said New Mexico Green Party official Carol Miller, who knew the L.A. Democrat back when he was a co-defendant in the infamous Chicago Seven trial of radical protesters of the 1968 Democratic Convention. "He's lucky I wasn't there, or else there's no way he could have said anything with a straight face."
Though cable news channels have been repeating the rumor that Democrats are urging Nader to quit his campaign and deliver the election to Gore, the Green Party candidate flatly denies it, and says he hasn't spoken directly to his increasing number of critics.
"I was on Jesse's program [in August]," he said. "I didn't want to embarrass him, but in December '98 when we went to the same dinner gathering in Washington, he turned to me and said 'I'm running in 2000, Ralph, because I don't want the Democratic Party to be controlled by the likes of Gore and (Rep. Richard) Gephardt."
Echoing a consistent theme in his campaign, Nader accuses the progressive Democrats and environmentalists attacking his credentials of playing the "politics of fear and expediency."
"I was fighting for the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] and air and water pollution laws when they were in short pants," he said of his liberal critics. "I mean, they tell me the most devastating criticisms of the Gore-Clinton administration, and they turn around and endorse them -- again? -- because they think Bush is worse. See, they've given up their bargaining power.
"The Democrats don't respect you," Nader continued. "The minute that the Democrats know that they're thinking about 'Bush is worse than Gore' -- even though they don't like Gore on his environmental betrayals -- they got you."
Fielding questions from concerned students at Stanford University Monday night, Nader reiterated his positions that Republicans know they'd be "crazy" to try to overturn Roe v. Wade, that Democrats were responsible for approving extremely conservative justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, that political appointees to the bench are notoriously unpredictable, and that the two parties are otherwise both beholden to the "permanent corporate government in Washington."
As for siphoning votes and tipping the election?
"That's their problem, that's not my problem," he said with a grin. "They say I'm taking votes away from [Gore]. Well, I'm more worried about him taking votes from us."