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WASHINGTON, D.C.—The Republicans spent last week positioning themselves for the general election, mustering the Christian right against gays and the vets against Jane Fonda Kerry (video), and seeding the media with hints of Osama’s capture.
The progressives? They spent the week attacking the demon Ralph, getting ready for the Passion of the Nader.
“He feeds the cynicism that is so corrosive to our body politic,” wrote Al Gore’s daughter Karenna Gore Schiff in The Wall Street Journal. “No, not Nader again,” said Bob Scheer in the L.A. Times. “Nader’s narcissism,” opined former New Left guru Todd Gitlin, “has metastasized to such proportions that he came forward to announce his candidacy without being able to brandish a single one of the celebrities who surrounded him in 2000.” Doug Ireland worried that Nader has unwittingly floundered into the embrace of a ’70s “Maoist grouplet” that has since morphed into an “ultrasectarian cult-racket formerly known as the New Alliance Party and its guru, Fred Newman,” which “control New York’s Independence Party and similar remnants of the Reform Party in many states.”
The only part of these attacks that seems to have touched Nader is a nasty article in The New Republic arguing that he battered Connecticut’s poor Senator Abe Ribicoff back in the 1960s into a wild goose chase—trying to find wrongdoing at General Motors because of the supposedly unsafe design of the Corvair when in fact none existed. “Vicious,” said Nader in an interview with the Voice over the weekend. “Beyond vicious.”
But not as bad as what’s been done to the country. As for the state of America, said Nader, it’s in the “advanced stages of corporatization of the whole political economy.”
“It’s amazing,” he added. “The militarization of the economy, an American Sparta, is hardly being chronicled—a huge drain of scientific, technological, entrepreneurial talents going into weapons systems, service systems, snooping dogs, and surveillance this and snooping that.” All the while, he added, there is “massive neglect of civilian necessities due to corporate domination of our society.”
Even so, as the debates in the Democratic primaries suggest, things may be on the verge of a change for the better. “They’ve adopted the language,” said Nader. “The language of Democratic primary politics now is progressive. . . . The first step to reform is always lip service.”
Now for some Q&A:
Who’s got a better chance of beating Bush: Kerry or Edwards?
“Probably Kerry. He’s an establishment Democrat and they’ve already anointed him. With Edwards as vice president, it will give him additional push.” But Nader noted that when it comes to Edwards, not enough is known. “They haven’t yet taken Edwards apart yet. You don’t know how vulnerable he really is. All he’s got is a six-minute speech. What else does he have? I don’t know what else they have.”
Whom do you like?
“Edwards, although he’s no courageous champion. He didn’t make one speech defending the civil justice system, which is his forte. So that tells you something—it is under massive attack by about 10 bills in Congress. Also, on foreign relations and military, he’s terrible.”
“Equal rights. . . . The use of the word ‘marriage’ is a real stickler for a lot of people, but the reason they have to use it is because it’s embedded in law. They can’t file joint tax returns unless they have that word attached to their union. As a woman in The New York Times said last week, it’s not a matter of labels. It’s a matter of equal rights.”
Bush’s “faith-based initiatives”?
“He’s securing his base. Before Bush ever thought of running for governor, money was flowing from Washington to religious charities. He just made it a political issue and expanded monetary support of it in order to gain favor with his Christian evangelicals. He’s got to do that . . . because they are furious with him on the deficit, corporate subsidies, on the Patriot Act, on immigration, Taiwan. So what does he do? He’s got to throw them the bones with the faith-based [initiatives] and the constitutional amendment on gays, and so on. But on the hardcore corporate power issues and civil liberties issues, he’s stiff-arming them.”
“[There should be] no incentives for brain-drain specialists that are needed in their own countries to replace our specialists at lower wages. Stop visas and incentives for scientists, engineers, medical doctors, and so forth. Second, stop supporting oligarchs and dictators who push people to our shores when they’d rather stay home—like in Mexico and Central America. Third is: Don’t have an immigration policy that allows corporate employers to further exploit these workers. So if they are here and they are employed, they should get all the fair labor standards, minimum-wage protections. Then we should adopt a legal-permit system like Canada has for temporary work.”
“I’ve been against that [since college]. It doesn’t work, it’s discriminatory. It’s cheaper to put them in for life.”
Are you going to have a hard time getting on the ballot?
“In 38 states, it’s fairly OK. Twelve states it’s hard. It’s not just numbers of signatures. Like in Texas, if you vote in the primary on March 9, you can’t sign. If you sign for the Green Party you can’t sign for the Independent ticket. In some states, if you are not a resident of a county you can’t use clipboards and collect signatures. All kinds of harassment like that. Then they can disqualify you on random samples [of nominating petition signatures]. Then you’ve got to go to court. . . . You’ve got the burden of proof. That’s what makes it more difficult. So we got on 43 plus Washington, D.C., last time. We will aim for all of them.”
Do you think you’ll get on all of them this time?
“If that’s all we do till July—but in process of doing it, we are developing the corps of people who will be getting out the vote in November.”
People are saying you’re going to be duped by Bush, that the Republicans will secretly finance you with a slush fund to split the Democrats.
“Well, first of all, if we ever see something like that, we’ll reject it. We’re not taking PAC contributions, so how are they going to slush-fund it? With two and twos? [He’s referring to the $2,000 plus $2,000 limits on individual contributions.] We have seen very few two and twos from anyplace. Most of the contributions that have poured in are $50, $25, $75. We haven’t seen any of this.”
On Meet the Press you mentioned impeaching Bush. Is this a real possibility?
“The problem is you have to demystify impeachment. Clinton helped to demystify it. . . . You know, to me, impeachment is an investigation by the House. So what’s the big deal? Republicans control the House, so that’s not allowed to happen. That doesn’t mean you don’t talk about it. Start demystifying it, and raise the serious issue of him plunging the nation into war on a platform of fabrication and deception.”
The impact of your race on Senate and House contests?
“It’s a win-win for them. They recognize that. Look, I am now saying I will get more Republican votes than Democratic votes. One of the reasons is that in the party out of power, members come back into the fold. In the party in power, members jump ship. Staying home, they’re looking for independents. Who are they? Liberal Republicans, and conservatives who are furious at Bush over trade, trampling on conservative principles. That’s why I am telling them, ‘Relax and rejoice.’ I have never seen more superficial analysis. Unbelievable. The anybody-but-Bush mantra closes their mind.”
What’s it like to be somebody from a Middle Eastern background running for president after 9-11? [Nader is of Lebanese descent.] Is it harder?
“Not much. I am aware of all the Patriot Act arrests without charges, stereotyping, harassing, and dragnetting of Arab American immigrants. It’s a very inefficient way of enforcing the law. The dragnet is notoriously inefficient in part because it dries up information and creates a lot of resentment. There is a civil liberties crisis in those communities. No doubt about that.”
Additional reporting: Ashley Glacel and Alicia Ng