What Ralph Nader Is Thinking About the 2012 Election


In 2008, when a first-term Senator from Illinois with a gold tongue and an exotic back story inspired millions of citizens--young and old, black and white, rich and poor, progressive and moderate—to feel hopeful about the country for the first time in generations, Ralph Nader wasn’t buying it.

Nader, who has investigated and exposed governmental and corporate wrongdoing for nearly 50 years, was on his third consecutive Presidential run, traipsing around the country discussing the two-party stranglehold on the political system, the need for an increase in the minimum wage, an end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, campaign finance, tax and health insurance reform, the end of the big-money influence in Washington, a reexamination of trade agreements that sent jobs overseas, increased environmental protections … the list went on and on.

Of Obamamania, Nader said, “People are going to be disappointed.”

Four years later, Nader’s 2008 predictions about Barack Obama sound prescient. There are millions of former Obamamaniacs, especially among the Democratic Party base, who no longer see the struggling President as the embodiment of their ideals.  This Presidential election, as most, is about making sure The Candidate of the Other Party loses.  

Nader, who was named by The Atlantic as one of the 100 most influential figures in American history (and by Time and Life magazines as one of 100 most influential Americans of the twentieth century), is also still fighting off claims that he cost Vice-President Al Gore the election in 2000. The consumer advocate garnered over 97,000 votes in Florida, a state George W. Bush won by 543 votes, but Nader points out that 250,000 Democrats in Florida also voted for George W. Bush—and that had Gore not lost his own state, Tennessee, he would’ve won the election. And there is the little matter of the Supreme Court, which voted 5-4 along party lines to grant Bush the win.

This time around, Nader may not be running, but he is watching the White House and the Presidential campaigns as assiduously as ever. One of his most recent blogs, on his site Nader.org, urges Congressional leaders to increase the minimum wage (which Obama had promised to do by 2010). The letter is signed by a host of leading progressive activists, including Barbara Ehrenreich, Noam Chomsky, Cornel West, Nader and others.

What does Nader have to say about the Presidential contest this time around?  See below that he is no fan of voting for “the least worst.”

Q: You’re not running this time but you have said that you wish someone would run on the progressive agenda.  Well, there is a Green Party candidate. But unless something changes between now and November, she’ll languish in obscurity.  There is no visible progressive third party candidate – no Ralph Nader -- who is likely to receive any influential endorsements, media attention or money to even register on the public consciousness.

So is there no way for progressives to hold Obama accountable to the base given that he’s more worried about attracting fence sitters in a handful of purple states? 

A: Well, there is a candidate, Jill Stein. She knows a lot about health, she’s an M.D. practicing out of Harvard. She’s smart, she’s very good on the Green Party agenda. You know most of their issues, if they were poll-tested, would be majoritarian. The majority of Americans want the things like a living wage and full Medicare. They’re all for cracking down on corporate crime—all the things that are on my website.

The problem with the small parties is they have candidates but they’re up against a lot of obstacles, the same obstacles that we had including ballot access—each states has their own rules—and harassing and intimidation by the major parties, lack of  money and lack of media attention. Then they’ll be excluded from the debates. There’s a vicious circle: No press, no polls, no polls, no press.

However, that does not preclude voting for them. 

Q: So you’re saying to vote for the Green? 

A: Or the Justice candidate (Rocky Anderson, former Mayor of Salt Lake City).

Why vote for a war criminal? Why vote for someone who wants to be an even bigger war criminal? Why vote for someone who has betrayed all his promise and hope?

Obama has violated federal statues, international treaties and the constitution –sending drones all over the world, killing people he wants to kill, violating American laws. He still has surveillance without judicial approval. Guantanamo is still going on. And yet people will vote for him because there’s nowhere to go?  There comes a point when they’re both so bad. …Obama has done everything Bush has done and worse. He’s sending drones anywhere in the world, killing American citizens. Bush has never done that.  

The “least worst” believes they have to vote for Obama. If you don’t have a breaking point, and this is the question that baffles the progressive intelligence, how bad does it have to get before you say No More?  So some will just sit out the election. Vote Green, vote Justice Party or write in a vote. I don’t believe in staying home. 

Q: You still believe the parties are too much alike?

A: They’re unacceptably similar. These Democrats today are really to the right of yesterday’s Liberal Republicans. They’ve abandoned labor, they’ve abandoned the poor. They’re the same on the trade agreements. They haven’t lifted a finger on raising the minimum wage. They extended Bush’s tax cuts. Obama doesn’t fight for what he believes in. 

Q: It’s safe to say that you think this is a failed presidency? 

A: Horribly. Tell me one culture in the world where words matter more than deeds. You have a charismatic leader and it doesn’t matter what he does, it matters what he says. Same with Romney. He can say anything and people are not checking his facts. Most voters don’t do their homework. They’re hereditary voters. They’re Republicans because their grandparents were Republicans and their parents were Republicans. They’re very vulnerable to rhetoric—if you don’t know the issues, you’re very vulnerable to rhetoric. 

The other day on CNN people were being interviewed about Paul Ryan. One person was asked “Why are you voting for Ryan?” The answer” “His conservative values.” Well, that’s the line that’s out there about Ryan. But Ryan’s a corporatist. Ryan is anything but a conservative. His plan doesn’t balance the budget until 2040. 

Q: What’s a corporatist?

A: It’s my word for what they’re calling crony capitalists-- they expand government in the service of corporate interests. It’s the merger of big business with big government where the big government is in the service of big capitalism.

But Ryan’s campaign calls him a conservative and so that’s what he gets called in the press. The press is so bad they can’t ask a question that does not emanate from the campaigns’  own press releases and announcements. They can’t ever expand the agenda any more. 

I’ve challenged Ryan to debate his plan.  After three tries, they wrote back “thank you very much for your interest but Mr. Ryan is very busy.” I’ve written Obama over 30 letters. I wrote Michele: How can we get through to your husband? Her scheduler wrote back and said: “Thank you very much.”

Voters, democrats, should start making demands. Unions, labor groups, citizen groups--they should make demands and he should pay attention to them. They’ve been told a million times that the least-worst voters are going to vote for you. If they don’t make demands, they lose all bargaining power, they’ll be further mistreated because they’re taken for granted and they won’t provide a counter pull to the corporate ties that are pulling in other directions. Same with African-American and Hispanic groups. African Americans have been completely ignored and except for people like Tavis Smiley and Cornell West, no leader has called him on it. Imagine if hundreds of leaders did what they did--do you think he’d be ignoring them? These are the leaders of the constituency groups, but they have no self respect electorally. They’re basically telling Obama that under no circumstance will we abandon you and under no circumstance will we publicly urge you to do things you promised to do, like raise the federal minimum wage. I could not get groups to sign onto it and I could give you a lot of other examples. 

Q: The Romney tax returns: Issue or nonissue?

A: It is an issue because he’s not an ordinary taxpayer. We know for sure he’s used tax havens abroad. He was a well-known tax escapee. That means he doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt. As a candidate, he has to fill out a financial form. It’s pretty extensive, though not as much as the tax returns. I’m a big promoter of tax return privacy because they have to fill out that long form, and I think that’s enough, but not in his case because he’s a well-known tax escapee.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter. And how he made his money doesn’t seem to be costing him any voters. You’ve got a tax escapee, you’ve got a war monger, a job shredder, he’s against the minimum wage, he’s against unions, he thinks global warming is not proven, he’s endorsed the Ryan budget which taxes everything but the corporate interests.  

Q: Why didn’t you run for President this year?

A: There’s no point to it anymore. I’ve done it, I’ve laid out my plans and they’ve gone for the least worst. Even in polls where I’ve got five percent a week before Election Day, come Election Day the vote is at less than one percent. We’ve documented the exclusion third party candidates are subjected to, we’ve documented the obstacles, we’ve offered alternatives. There’s really nothing more to achieve. It would be one thing if you could get some press. You can’t even get that except a story every few months. 

Q: People still say you cost Gore the election in 2000.

A: If they couldn’t get a landslide against a bumbling governor from Texas who could barely put a sentence together with an incumbent vice-president in an era with a balanced budget… 

Q: Who do you wish would have run this year?

A: Feingold. (Former Senator Russell Feingold, Dem.-Wis.) He’s got a Common Cause-type group he’s creating. He would’ve been a great candidate. He wasn’t interested. Nobody was interested.  

The main issue in this campaign should be corporatism and the decay of American democracy and those things aren’t being discussed even after Wall Street collapsed. All These Wall Street big time crooks are now more powerful than ever. None of them were shamed into powerlessness. That’s a real sign of decay after they were exposed for malicious behavior, for the damage they’ve caused society. In any healthy society, they would have been disgraced. 

Q: What are your preoccupations these days? In other words, what are you up to?

A: I’m writing, I’m agitating, holding people to their pretensions in Washington. We’re starting groups, encouraging groups, saving groups that are about to collapse and working on a long list of issues.

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