Thom and Ralph Nader discuss the presidential candidates and issues, and possible Michael Bloomberg and Ralph Nader candidacies, the day before the Iowa primaries.
Thom Hartmann interviews Ralph Nader, 02 January 2008
[Thom]: We're going to be talking a little later on in the program with both Chris Dodd and Dennis Kucinich, and Kucinich today, actually this is a conversation that I had with him on Monday, which was before the announcement. Today he has come out and said that his caucus-goers in Iowa, should they not get the 15 percent threshold necessary to stand in place, should go caucus with Mr. Obama. And I would love to get the thoughts of Ralph Nader on that. Ralph Nader the guy that I voted for for president in 2000 but not in 2004. We've had this conversation before. Ralph Nader, nader.org his web site. He's also in addition to being a consumer advocate, a lawyer, and an icon of all that's good in America, in my opinion. He's also the author of a brilliant book, "The Seventeen Traditions".
Ralph Nader, welcome to the program.
[Nader]: Thank you. Happy New Year to you and your listeners.
[Thom]: Thank you sir. You are not endorsing John Edwards, but throwing your support to him. Is there a, at least according to the Politico. You want to tell us about that?
[Nader]: Yeah, I mean, for years I tried to make the distinction with people that there's such a thing as commenting favorably on a position or a statement by a political candidate, without endorsing all hundred or hundred and fifty of that person's positions. But the press is very quick to take praise of you know, the, Edwards' very important statement which I think is probably the most insightful of his whole campaign, which I is, "do you really believe if we replace a bunch of corporate Republicans with a bunch of corporate Democrats, that anything meaningful is going to change?" And I praised that.
And I think that goes to the central issue of political campaigning, which is about the proper distribution of power in America: who has too much if it: the few; who has too little: the many; and who makes the decisions: the few over the many. That's why I was a little disappointed to hear that Dennis Kucinich is urging his followers in Iowa to support Obama, who basically's been tiptoeing around the area of corporate domination of our political economy: elections, government, etcetera, the corporate crime wave, the taxpayer subsidies of corporate welfare, the distortion of the public budgets into military expenditures - now over half of the whole Federal government's operating budget and there's no more Soviet Union. I was really surprised, because Dennis's views on the need to control corporate power and to subordinate corporate power to popular sovereignty, the sovereignty of the people as our founders referred to it, is much closer to John Edwards than to Barack Obama.
[Thom]: Yeah, I've been scratching my head ever since this came out. I first met Dennis Kucinich I think about ten years ago when a mutual friend of ours, Marianne Williamson, was putting together the Renaissance Alliance. I was on the board for several years and we had a meeting in Washington DC to talk about a Department of Peace. And I spoke at it about Corporate Power. I'd just had a book come out called "Unequal Protection" about the rise of corporate dominance in America. And, you know, I've always thought that Dennis Kucinich was a real progressive icon and I'm baffled. Do you have any insights?
[Nader]: No, not at all.
[Thom]: Yeah, OK. Your support and non-endorsement of John Edwards. What does this mean for the possibility of a Ralph Nader candidacy?
[Nader]: Well, as I've said, I'll have to decide in a few weeks about whether I'm going to try to mobilize more grass roots support and extend the, any campaign into '09. I think campaigns for third parties should transcend the November election day and try and build on people's lobby to cycle back on Washington, especially on Congress.
But I must say that the Fortune magazine piece last June on Hillary Clinton where in effect they answered the question, "why does big business love Hillary Clinton?" gives many of us in the progressive area serious pause about what the future of the Democratic Party's going to be if she happens to win the Democratic nomination in the election, because she really has made her peace with big business and basically accepted the corporate status quo and corporate occupied territory in Washington. She does a few rhetorical flourishes once in a while against the drug and insurance companies, but if you look at her record on the Senate Armed Services Committee, she's never met a giant weapons system she doesn't like, no matter how much these systems have been condemned as being strategically obsolete after the fall of the Soviet Union or unnecessary like the F-22, which is going to cost over $200 billion.
[Thom]: Michael Bloomberg. I'm curious whether you launch a third party candidacy or not, Michael Bloomberg, and presumably Chuck Hagel, seem to be positioning themselves for this. What are your thoughts on that?
[Nader]: I think that because the Republican camp is weak, apart from possibly McCain, who's long odds to win the nomination, I think it's very likely that Bloomberg's going to get in. What's his down side? He can turn it into a three way race. He doesn't have to make one call for money. He can get on the ballots in all the states. He's a well known figure and he'll be even more well known. A mayor of the largest city in America. Founder of a huge media empire from scratch in 1980. He's worth about $20 billion. He spends one to two billion and he'll outspend everybody. And why wouldn't he want to get in? Senator Hagel's just aching to be his vice president. And I think he can say to himself from the get-go he'll be number two in the polls unless someone like McCain gets the Republican nomination.
[Thom]: Well, one of my best friends is a New Yorker and a Democrat, has been his whole life, and he likes Bloomberg. I know a number of Democrats in New York who think that Bloomberg has been a good mayor and kind of, you know, I mean, he used to be a Democrat, then he was a Republican, now he's an independent. To what extent would a Bloomberg candidacy hurt the Democratic candidate as opposed to the Republican candidate?
[Nader]: Right now it is too early to tell. It is clear however that he'll take from the Republican votes, he'll take from the Democrats' votes and he'll take a lot of independent votes. That's why I think he could position himself very well if he moves in. It'll also be a much more exciting race. He'll raise big issues about the Electoral College, about third parties, about more voices and choices for the people, about paying attention to our cities which are being relatively ignored by the present candidates in Iowa and New Hampshire, largely rural states.
Now I think, I don't agree with Bloomberg's policies in many areas. He is a champion of corporate welfare. He's given huge tax breaks to these giant brokerage firms in New York City who threatened to go across the river and position themselves in New Jersey. So he gives these big tax breaks to Merrill Lynch and others. And he's not very sensitive on civil liberties, you know. When you have a big political demonstration, it's peaceful in New York City, mayor Bloomberg is not really that tough on police exuberance or misbehavior, and that worries a lot of civil libertarians.
[Thom]: Well, I mean, one of the things that you pointed out, particularly in your support for John Edwards, is that the biggest issue of our day right now is corporate dominance of not just the political sphere, but basically everything. You know, corporations asserting that they can even own us; they can own our DNA, they can own our personal information, and how could we trust somebody who basically is a billionaire by virtue of the corporate form to be a champion of
[Nader]: It's all very, very relative, Thom. In other words, people will look at Bloomberg and say, 'well, he's not owned by anyone because he owns so much', you know?
[Nader]: How do you buy a guy who's worth $20 billion?
[Thom]: That's what they said about Teddy Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt, too.
[Nader]: Yeah, that and Perot, too. Ross Perot.
[Thom]: Yeah. Yeah.
[Nader]: So, that'll be, the second is I don't think he'll be awed by big business. That doesn't mean he won't go with them. It does mean that he might want to really crack down on corporate crime, fraud and abuse with a good Attorney General, because he is a big business guy. He's not awed by them. There are a lot of liberals who are really awed by big business. You know, they think, 'wow, look at these guys, they've made a big payroll, you know, and they go around with all kinds of entourages and yachts and private jets'. Well, you won't see that with Bloomberg. On the other hand, you know, he is part of the dominant corporate system. So, we shouldn't be overwhelmed by these things, except that, you know, it will be a more exciting race: more voices, more choices, more unpredictability. You'll get more votes out. You'll emphasize more the independent. So, you know, it's better than just a two-party elected dictatorship trying to run itself for another 4 years.
[Thom]: Well, we definitely live in interesting times. Ralph Nader, nader.org the web site. Check out his book, "The Seventeen Traditions" too. Ralph Nader, thanks for being with us.
[Nader]: Thanks very much. Thom.
[Thom]: Good talking with you.