Once again, Ralph Nader has thrown his hat into the presidential race. The perennial candidate spoke with the Voice about corporate greed, impeaching Bush and why he thinks Obama and Clinton are one in the same.
Village Voice: What made you decide to run for president again?
Ralph Nader: Same reason as last time. The two parties, in varying degrees, have shut down the government, preventing us from having a chance to improve our country. They’ve turned the government over to giant corporations. When any parties or any government keep us from trying to reduce the hundreds of thousands of preventable deaths, the consumer fraud, and the deterioration of the public works, and the war in Iraq, you know, you go out and run. It’s just so obvious. We can’t tolerate it. These two parties have spoiled our country, spoiled our elections, spoiled our government and they have the arrogance to say that no one else could go on the ballot to give voters a broader choice. It’s actually against the voters.
VV: Do you think things are worse now in America than they have been in the past?
RN: Oh yes. Every year the concentration of power grips local, state and national government in the hands of more and more multinational corporations. And the result is predictable. Complete waste and distortion of public budgets. Half of the federal government’s operating budget is now the military budget. We don’t have a Soviet Union anymore, it just keeps growing and growing and growing. Massive weapons systems that have no strategic value other than to make money for Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics. Read the papers. Read the Times, read the Village Voice, read Business Week. Corporate crime waves.
It’s political bigotry. That’s what I’m saying now. Anybody that says, “don’t run,”…political bigotry. You can oppose us if we run. You can oppose a persons speech. But if you say, “do not speak, do not run,” then you’re engaged in political bigotry and censorship.
VV: Were there any mainstream candidates in the Democratic Party that you would have supported instead of running?
RN: Well, I’ve always told people to vote for [Dennis] Kucinich. I like [Mike] Gravel’s national referendum idea, which is not kooky, it’s rooted in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. [John] Edwards, he made sure the Democrats rediscovered the word poverty, instead of just talking middle class, and he established a critique of the corporations. It’s not very fundamental, but at least he put it out there. I have no idea why he dropped out…he could have had a broker role [at the Democratic convention].
VV: What are your thoughts on Barack Obama?
RN: Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton…these people are largely corporate Democrats. He gives a fantastic speech, he’s a brilliant tactician, but basically if you look at his Senate record it’s very much leaning toward the corporate view of things. He’s not a challenging Senator like Senator [Howard] Metzenbaum or Senator [Paul] Wellstone. His proposals almost were nil on corporate crime, fraud and abuse. The only thing he did was the ethics bill which was OK, but it’s not really going to reduce much of [the] corporate power in Washington. I think he’s going to be a big disappointment if he becomes president, other than the symbolic advance of having an African-American reach the highest office. That’s not without importance, especially overseas, but he’s also raising expectation levels very high and I don’t think his Senate record or what he is ignoring is going to fulfill them.
VV: Do you still think impeachment is worth pursuing?
RN: Of course. We have two outlaws in the White House, recidivists, who have committed more impeachable offenses, regularly and daily, than any presidency in history. And they get away with it. It’s such an upside-down world. These guys have violated the FISA Act repeatedly, surveillance without a judicial warrant, that’s a felony. That’s a five-year maximum jail term. They do it regularly. Now they want to change the law so they can get away with it. The systemic torture, the violation of federal law as well as the Geneva Convention, a criminal, unconstitutional war in Iraq. We’ve got arrests of thousands of people without charges, throwing them in jail without lawyer. In the U.S., we’re talking about. And yet Chairman Rep. John Conyers of the House Judiciary Committee refuses to even have a hearing, never mind an impeachment inquiry. And that’s where we’re at. We’re basically on the way to demonstrating that presidents can systemically violate the constitution and the laws of the land an get away with it.
VV: Aside from impeachment, what’s at the top of the Ralph Nader presidential agenda?
RN: Cracking down on corporate crime, fraud and abuse, and developing a systemic deterrence to it. Single-payer health insurance, which is more efficient. Redirecting public budgets by drastically reducing corporate welfare and a bloated military budget. We have to open up the presidential debates. Public funding of public campaigns.
VV: When you announced that you were running, we saw a number of columns from people you have worked with in the past who say by running again you are “tarnishing your legacy.” How do you answer that?
RN: That’s basically an irrelevant comment. I’m worried about the 100,000 people who die in hospitals from malpractice, the 58,000 who die from occupational disease and trauma, or the millions of people who are ripped off in all kinds of ways by commercial interests and also by the government. I’ve never found one person who makes that comment who doesn’t have a good job, health insurance and a good pension. You know it’s the real America, working families, and they say, “we want people to stand up for us.” This is just the liberal intelligentsia.