A Challenger for Obama? Progressive Former Mayor Rocky Anderson Enters Race With New Third Party
AMY GOODMAN: A new political party has entered the fray as an alternative to Democrats and Republicans ahead of the 2012 elections. On Monday, the Justice Party formally kicked off its formation with an event in Washington, D.C. Former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson will run for president on the Justice Party ticket.
Although hailing from a solidly red state, Rocky Anderson has been known as one of the most progressive mayors of any major U.S. city in recent years. During his two mayoral terms from 2000 to 2008, Anderson was an outspoken champion of LGBT rights, environmental sustainability and the antiwar movement in opposition to the war in Iraq.
Vowing to fight the influence of money over politics, Anderson kicked off his campaign Monday with a pledge to limit individual donations to $100 a person. He and the Justice Party say they hope to build a grassroots movement heading into the November 2012 elections.
To discuss his campaign, Rocky Anderson joins us from Washington, D.C.
Welcome to Democracy Now!, Rocky Anderson. Why have you launched this party and a presidential bid?
ROCKY ANDERSON: We launched the Justice Party because the entire system is so corrupt. It's so diseased. We know that the public interest is not being served by anyone in the system right now, particularly the two dominant parties who have sustained this corrupt system and who are sustained by it.
AMY GOODMAN: Third party, what does that mean now? How exactly will you run for president?
ROCKY ANDERSON: Well, actually, I consider this a second party. The Republican-Democratic parties have--although they're at an impasse, much to the detriment of the American people, on some issues, they really, through their collusion, have brought this country to its knees economically. Without the Democrats colluding with the Republicans, we would not have engaged in an illegal, aggressive war against Iraq. We've seen Democrats and Republicans together granting retroactive immunity to the telecom companies. Then-Senator Obama promised this nation, before he won the Democratic primary for the presidency, that he would join a filibuster against telecom company immunity. And then, as soon as he won the nomination, of course, he not only didn't only back off on his promise to join a filibuster, he voted for the legislation. Who in this country gets Congress to grant them retroactive immunity for committing clearly felonious acts?
And then, now we see the same thing. He comes into office, and he says, "Let's look forward, not backwards," when it comes to war criminals, people who have engaged in torture, clearly in violation not only of international law, but domestic law. So, we have this two-tiered system of government. Not only a two-tiered system in terms of our economy, with very few privileged people cleaning up while the rest of us are suffering in so many dramatic ways because of the economic upheaval, but we have this special class of people who aren't even held accountable under the law. And all three branches of government are part of this. The courts allow the executive branch to come in, and they dismiss cases on the basis of the subversive state secrets doctrine, where the executive branch gets to determine whether these cases go forward--victims of torture, people who are challenging illegal surveillance programs by the government. Amy, this is unprecedented in this nation and so completely contrary to the notion of an equal justice system.
AMY GOODMAN: President Obama delivered a widely discussed speech in Kansas last week that many saw as an overture to the Occupy movement and its opposition to corporate dominance of the U.S. economy. In what was widely described as a preview of his re-election campaign, Obama positioned himself as a defender of working-class Americans versus Republicans who favor the wealthy.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: There are some who seem to be suffering from a kind of collective amnesia. After all that's happened, after the worst economic crisis, the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, they want to return to the same practices that got us into this mess. In fact, they want to go back to the same policies that stacked the deck against middle-class Americans for way too many years. And their philosophy is simple: we are better off when everybody is left to fend for themselves and play by their own rules. I am here to say they are wrong.
AMY GOODMAN: That was President Obama. Former Salt Lake City mayor, now presidential candidate, Rocky Anderson, your response?
ROCKY ANDERSON: Well, it's total hypocrisy. President Obama received more money from Wall Street than any other candidate has ever received in a presidential or any other election campaign. And he surrounded himself with all these alumni from Goldman Sachs. Not one person, Amy, has spent one day in prison as a result of the massive financial fraud that we know took place by these Wall Street firms, and the people that work for them, that did so much damage to the American people. All any of us have to do is look at our pension plans, our 401(k) accounts, and we can see the direct impacts of this economic disaster, brought to us through, by and large, these criminal acts committed by these Wall Street firms and their employees. And not one of them has been brought to justice under the Obama administration.
When they make these campaign contributions, they get a very good return on their investment. But it's no different, really, than the polluting industries making their campaign contributions, and then the EPA wanting to impose more strict ozone standards, and President Obama basically vetoing the EPA. We know that's not in the public interest. President Obama has to know that's not in the public interest. He's serving the interest of those polluting industries. That's why we don't have real healthcare reform in this country. We'd have a universal healthcare system like every other nation in the industrialized world, were it not for the corrupting influence of the money flowing in from the medical insurance industry. So, that's what--the failure, in terms of every major public policy issue, to serve the public interest can be attributed to that corrupting influence of money. Just follow the money, and you'll see why Congress and the White House are pursuing these policies that are so inimical to the interest of the American people.
AMY GOODMAN: We recently ran a headline that shows President Obama continues to pull in huge donations from the financial sector, with more money from Wall Street this year than all other Republican presidential candidates combined. According to the Washington Post, he raised a total of $15.6 million from banks and other financial firms, with nearly $12 million of that going to the Democratic National Committee. Republican front-runner Mitt Romney has raised less than half that much from Wall Street, around seven-and-a-half million. A top banking executive and Obama fundraiser told the Washington Post reports of Wall Street antagonism toward Obama "are exaggerated and overblown ... [but] it probably helps from a political perspective if he's not seen as a Wall Street guy." Rocky Anderson, that was from October.
ROCKY ANDERSON: Well, and it's been evident from the very beginning that as long as people are not being held accountable under the law, as long as there are not sanctions, as long as we continue having banks that are considered by these regulators, who, by the way, are these Wall Street alumni who end up going back to Wall Street and raking in millions of dollars--but when they get to decide that these banks are too large to fail, we're just setting ourselves up for another major economic disaster. We need a party. We need candidates. We need people in public office who are pledged not to just represent the people's interest in the same system, but to change the system and get the corrupting influence of corporate and other concentrated wealth out of our electoral system and out of our system of governance.
AMY GOODMAN: So what does it mean to run for president exactly? I mean, specifically, technically, practically, what are you going to do around the country? How is your name registered? How is the Justice Party registered? How did you even come up with the name of the Justice Party?
ROCKY ANDERSON: Well, I registered with the Federal Election Commission, the Justice Party. And we did a lot of vetting over the name, probably took too long to do that, but we got a lot of input from all over the country. And it seemed that the notion of justice--economic justice, social justice, environmental justice--that's what the people in this country want. They want an equal playing field. They want the laws to apply to everyone equally. And they don't want our Congress and our president simply serving the interests of the economic aristocracy in this country any longer.
Amy, there is a greater economic disparity between the very wealthy and the rest of us in this country, greater than at any time since the 1920s. And we need to get things back to the point where we're building up a strong middle class. You know, when you hear about Newt Gingrich proposing that we give these massive tax favors, once again, to the very wealthiest, and not giving a break to the middle class and the poor in this country, that--it's an obscenity. The loss of revenues from the Bush tax cuts, which have been perpetuated now both between the Republican and Democratic parties, it's been devastating to our economy. It's been devastating to our budget. And the next generation--it's like we've taken out this credit card in the name of our children and just ran it up recklessly, not bringing in the revenues to help pay it down. We're paying more in interest payments--total waste--more in interest payments every year on the accumulated debt than it takes to run 13 departments of the federal government. We can do much better than this as a country. And we, as a people, need to understand, we can do this from the bottom up.
ROCKY ANDERSON: So, what does it mean to run for president? We're going to do this very differently. It's going to be through a grassroots movement. We're going to use social media. If other nations can carry on their revolutions and bring in a complete change of government through that kind of grassroots organizing and use of social media, how democratizing, how amazing is that? Those are the kinds of things we're going to be doing. And we'll show that that's how we can win elections, by appealing to the people on the streets, people who are impacted every single day by this failure in terms of public policy at both the congressional level and in the White House.
AMY GOODMAN: I asked you about the Democrat, President Obama. What about the Republicans? For example, you'd be squaring off against a former political backer, in Republican hopeful Mitt Romney. You both worked together on the 2002 Winter Olympics. You recorded then a campaign ad backing Romney's gubernatorial run in Massachusetts. He returned the favor the following year when you sought re-election as Salt Lake City mayor.
ROCKY ANDERSON: Well, that was that Mitt Romney. It's a very different Mitt Romney, of course, who's running for the Republican nomination for president of the United States. He's changed his position on so many issues. You and I have talked about that in the past. I was very fond of Mitt and his wife, and we did great work together through the Olympics. I have a lot of regard for the man's abilities. But you really have to wonder when somebody is willing to change his views on so many things and then pretend as if that didn't happen, because the fact is, he is--he's gone far, far to the right on so many of these issues. I mean, Mitt Romney, last time he ran for president, talked about doubling the size of Guantánamo? That is not the Mitt Romney I knew. And then, of course, you get to the issues like choice, stem cell research, rights for gays and lesbians. It's a completely different Mitt Romney running for president now than ran for the governorship of Massachusetts--
AMY GOODMAN: Rocky, explain on the issue of abortion.
ROCKY ANDERSON: Well, Mitt Romney, when he was running for governor, said that he thought that Roe v. Wade was basically the right result, and that ought to be the end of the discussion. He told me that privately. And that was how--you're not going to run--you're not going to win a race for governor of Massachusetts unless you take stands like that, and that's how he won that office. And now, of course, he's anti-choice, to please, I think, the Tea Party faction of the Republican Party.
AMY GOODMAN: Let's talk about the environment. Mitt Romney has taken a fair amount of criticism for an apparent flip-flop on global warming. This is Romney speaking in June, then four months later in October.
MITT ROMNEY: I believe, based on what I read, that the world is getting warmer. And number two, I believe that humans contribute to that. And so, I think it's important for us to reduce our emissions of pollutants and greenhouse gases that may well be significant contributors to the climate change and the global warming that you're seeing.
My view is that we don't know what's causing climate change on this planet, and the idea of spending trillions and trillions of dollars to try and reduce CO2 emissions is not the right course for us.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Mitt Romney, and that was Mitt Romney. Rocky Anderson?
ROCKY ANDERSON: And actually, he did that before, when he was governor. He talked about the dangers of climate change, how he was going to join up with other states in this regional compact and to put in a cap-and-trade system. It was called RGGI. And then, when the rest of the states were ready to go with it, he backed away from it. And I think it was clearly for the basest political kinds of reasons. So he's doing it again. I mean, when he made his first statement, that was the real Mitt Romney coming out. He knows what the science is. He knows the dangers of climate change. But these people who are willing to ignore the catastrophic consequences of climate change in order to get elected, rather than providing the leadership that we as a nation need and that the international community needs, I think it's unconscionable. And once again, that's where we see our government completely failing the people, not only of this nation, but people around the world. And it's because of the corrupting influence of the fossil fuel industry, the coal, oil and gas companies that pour so much money into these campaigns, and impacting what Congress does and now what the White House is doing.
AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you about Newt Gingrich, who's also changed his stance on climate change, even appearing in a 2008 ad with then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for Al Gore's Alliance for Climate Protection. Appearing last month on Fox News, he renounced his appearance in the ad, calling it "the dumbest single thing I've ever done," and saying, "I'm not sure global warming is happening."
STEVE HAYES: Mr. Speaker, I want to stick with energy policy and play a clip from an ad that you starred in just a couple years ago.
REP. NANCY PELOSI: We don't always see eye to eye, do we, Newt?
NEWT GINGRICH: No, but we do agree our country must take action to address climate change.
REP. NANCY PELOSI: We need cleaner forms of energy, and we need them fast.
STEVE HAYES: That was a striking ad for me.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Newt Gingrich. Your thoughts?
ROCKY ANDERSON: He's doing the same thing. These politicians are not leaders. They're being led around by the polls. They're being led around by the political considerations. I was mayor of Salt Lake City, the capital of probably the most conservative state in the country. And, Amy, when I was there, we reduced greenhouse gas emissions from city operations by 31 percent in three years. I went around the country and spoke in other nations about best practices, the dangers of climate change, how we all need to come together. I spoke at meetings at three of the United Nations COP meetings, Conference of the Parties meetings, about climate change and what the solutions are and how we can all contribute to them. I've been working at this for so many years, and I've stayed entirely consistent. You see these people bouncing back and forth. They're unrecognizable from one moment to another. And it's because of the basest political considerations. How are they to be trusted? And in the end, how is the public interest going to be served, when they're taking a look at nothing but the polls, rather than what needs to be done to move our nation forward.
AMY GOODMAN: Rocky Anderson, why not work with, for example, the Green Party?
ROCKY ANDERSON: Well, I think the Green Party, they have a lot of great people. They have a good platform. But I think there are some organizational problems. I think they're also perceived as being sort of a sliver of just the left in this country. We are attracting a multi-partisan group of people. We've been contacted by Republicans, Libertarians, Democrats, people across the political spectrum that have just had enough. They know that there's got to be another way.
We talk about fiscal responsibility. And, Amy, it's always the poor, the most vulnerable in our society, that end up paying the price when we so irresponsibly drive up the accumulated debt. So, fiscal responsibility really serves all of us, and we need to reprioritize. We do need to prime the pump during this time of recession. We need to provide better education, greater innovation to keep up with the rest of the world.
AMY GOODMAN: Rocky, we just have 30 seconds. I wanted to ask you about the Occupy movement.
ROCKY ANDERSON: What we're doing, I think, converges beautifully with the Occupy movement, and what they're doing converges beautifully with what we're doing. I think that the Occupy movement is one of the most promising things I've seen, especially from young people, in decades, because they get it, they're willing to take action, and I think that it's really been enlightening for the American people to see that we can do this from the grassroots and really take on a system that has been so corrupt and has so disserved the American people and the public interest.
AMY GOODMAN: Rocky Anderson, I want to thank you very much for being with us, former mayor of Salt Lake City, Utah, former executive director of High Road for Human Rights. On Monday, he launched his bid for the presidential nomination of the newly formed Justice Party. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report.