Expect no apologies from Ralph Nader to the Democrats for his
running for president in 2000. But he does have a new book on his
maverick candidacy, Crashing the Party: Taking on the Corporate
Government in an Age of Surrender.
Nader was in Austin Jan. 26 to promote the book and headline a
political rally organized by Democracy Rising, another group Nader
has founded to stir grassroots political activity. The rally, which
also featured brief performances by Patti Smith and Jackson Browne,
drew more than 5,000 people at $10 a head to a local high school
Asked about the Democrats' response to his campaign, Nader said.
"They're fossils. They're not even on the page. The contest is
between corporate Republicans and corporate Democrats. They don't
give any leeway to their progressive wing." When Sen. Russell
Feingold tried to negotiate with Attorney General John Ashcroft over
the anti-terrorism bill, Daschle ruled it out. "You wonder why
[senators] Kennedy, Sarbanes, Leahy and Wellstone all voted
for the bill? It's Daschle. He put the screws on them. 'You're not
going to take on the president at this time -- it's political
suicide.' You just give up civil liberties. Wait until the fine print
of that law plays out. It's not just sneak and peek and grand jury
proceedings and invasions."
Democratic leaders haven't gotten the message yet, he said. "The
only people who have gotten the message yet are [Congress
members] Cynthia McKinney [D-Ga.], Jesse Jackson Jr.
[D-Ill.], Dennis Kucinich [D-Ohio] and a couple
others, and [Sen.] Russ Feingold [D-Wis.]. They're
basically telling the Democrats, 'You're going to continue to lose
progressive votes if you allow the [business-oriented Democratic
Leadership Council] to run the show.' And they haven't gotten the
message ... because they got more votes than Bush and they're still
in the polls right up there neck and neck in the congressional
"The only time these guys get messages is when they lose. And they
thought they were robbed rather than that they lost. The Democrats
who know what went on, the consultants, they don't blame me at all.
Like [Paul] Begala goes around saying [Gore] ran a
lousy campaign, or the others will say it was Florida. Stan
Greenberg, the pollster, did exist polls and our votes went this way:
25 percent would have voted for Bush, 38 percent would have voted for
Gore and the rest wouldn't have voted. But once you start 'what ifs'
... what if Tennessee, what if Arkansas, what if the sabotage by the
Democratic leaders in South Florida. What if there was only one Gore
for three debates instead of three different Gores? ...
"As if we're going to run for president and have to worry about
how we're going to elect our opponent. The whole thing is
presumptuous and arrogant. It's like the country belongs to two
parties and the rest of us should shut up. That's why when I get this
on TV ... all frightened liberals.
When he goes on call-in shows, he inevitably gets the question:
are you now repentant? "Just think of the arrogance. I let them
finish the question and ask the caller, 'What would you have me do,'
and there's a pause because the only answer is 'not run.' And when
you say 'not run,' the argument's over. The country belongs to two
parties. If you want to get on to the next caller, that's the way to
Asked why he didn't run in the Democratic primary, he replied, "That's history. Who remembers primaries?"
For those who also blame his supporters such as Jim Hightower and
Molly Ivins who supported his campaign (and also appeared at the Jan.
26 rally), Nader said: "They should register for the Republican Party
and be authentic. They're hopeless. When you give them an opportunity
and they basically diminish it, there's nothing left. You can't do
anything with them. They basically have their sinecures, they have
their own buddies who are elected and they have dinner parties."
Asked if the Gore administration would be different from Bush's,
Nader said: "Nowhere near different enough. The rhetorical
differences would be bigger than the real differences. It's the
smililarities, they both sold the country, and the elections and the
democracy and the government to the highest bidder, and that's all I
need to know. Would Gore have been different after Sept. 11? If
anything he would've been more belligerent. He wanted a bigger
military budget than Bush. Foreign policy and military policy would
be the same. The same Federal reserve, the same corporate welfare,
the same charade on consumer protection and lack of enforcement of
corporate crime. When Clinton was president ... in affirmative action
and police violence the Clinton administration was worse than
Reagan/Bush. Only in housing discrimination were they better. So when
you get in the hard core of Democratic pride even that is difficult.
When do these guys flunk? To the frightened liberals there is no
In the meantime he is going back to the "reservoir of
"We've forgotten the importance of going back to the grassroots.
Why should anything change in Washington? If you don't have money to
buy them and rent them and if the merits don't count anymore like
they did in the 60s and 70s, like on auto safety and so
on, what is there for progressive groups in Washington? It's the
rumble from the people. Once they hear the rumble from the
people they get scared. Like Bush canned the survey off the New
Jersey coast for oil drilling. Those guys on the New Jersey coast
said 'Don't even think of that'," Nader said, chuckling. "He even
shrank the area off Florida that Clinton had authorized for
In Democracy Rising, Nader said, "We're trying to amplify the
number of people all over the country who will back a whole series of
progressive agendas, and recruit the leaders of the future and bring
support for local groups that are facing pressing issues," such as a
local pipeline issue in Austin.
He plans to focus on a dozen major issues, such as universal
health care, living wage, sustainable energy, corporate welfare,
GATT/NAFTA. "Right now we're trying to cast a big net for
The group is independent of the Greens and Public Citizen, although they are welcome to participate. "In the citizen movement you've got to keep creating new groups because the old groups' table is full. they can't move fast enough because they have so many ongoing projects.
"It's amplifying. And a lot of the issues are overlapping, but
there is no one going out there and getting more people. It's not
enough just to send them cold mailings. That just gets you
contributions. You've got to find the people out there in the
It also gives the opportunity between elections for entertainers
like Patti Smith, Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt and Eddie Vedder and
others to help out. Smith and Browne performed at the Austin
"What we hope to come out of this is laser beam focus on 10 or so goals and a penumbra of intangibles where people come alive and sometime they'll pursue their own neighborhood issues and the council meeting won't be so empty."
Nader noted that there are two similar drives: "Jim Hightower's
doing his Chautaqua and that's a daylong festival and mixes it up but
it's still bringin in people and bringing in names. Then there's Ben
Cohen of Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream who's moving out with his drive
for getting large audiences together in carnivals. His emphasis is
going to be heavily on military budgets and public budgets."
Nader said Sept. 11 unleashed three nefarious forces on the nation. "One is the autocratic ideologues such as John Ashcroft who says 'Give up our civil liberties for security.' Never mind what Benjamin Franklin said: "Those who give up their freedom for security deserve neither.' They're making huge headways, bigtime. ... Anything goes for law enforcement.
"Two is the commercial militarists -- Raytheon, Boeing, Lockheed
Martin, they're going for all these expanded weapon systems for a
"The third is what we all here about, the corporate welfare
freeloaders blaming everything on 9/11 and going to Congress for more
tax loopholes, subsidies and handouts, giveaways, bailouts -- you can
hardly keep up with the categories. And limited liability -- you know
the chemical industry wants a Price-Anderson Act like the nuclear
"So what Sept. 11 has generated, far the greatest damange to our
country is by our own hand. What's happening to this country, coming
out of Washington, is beyond the wildest dreams of the terrorists,
because all kinds of budgets are being diverted from needs and
necessities in the country and you know one of the targets of the
terrorists was to weaken our economy and they're doing that.
"The wasteful defense is on its way beyond anybody's dreams of
avarice in the military industrial complex. It just shows you how
totally vulnerable we are. We're the most powerful country in the
world and we're the most vulnerable."
He told of one flight where he was sitting next to a consultant on
military security who confided that "this country is essentially
unguardable," with gas shipments, subways, trucks going over the
borders, boats coming in, biological threats and so on. "They're
going to turn us into a home police state, a garrison state the likes
of which we never even anticipated in the worst moments of the Cold
War," Nader said. He added, "The backlash against the civil liberties
restrictions is beginning to emerge, because there is an
infrastructure for civil liberties in this country; it was cowed but
it is beginning to emerge."
Nader also has little respect for the national news. "You watch
media in Washington since Sept. 11 and you really understand what
state controlled television was all about in the Soviet Union and you
really understand what Pravda was all about in the Soviet Union. When
you watch Brit Hume and all these guys, the hawks, you know, like
'Only 3 aircraft carriers Mr. Secretary?' Fox News is now state
He added, "The worst hawks in Washington and New York in the press
and government, Cheney, Wolfowitz, Krauthammer, Brit Hume, Bill
O'Reilly, Rush Limbraugh, Joe Liberman, have one thing in common:
they've never worn the uniform. It's really quite interesting. If
there's any note of caution it's from the guys who were in real wars
and happen to think it's messy."
That's what makes the local and regional news media important as a
potential balance. "What emboldens these three forces in Washington
is that they know that the members of Congress are not hearing from
anyone back home other than go go go. The minute they see the turn
they have such sensitive antennae in these congressional offices. The
minute they see a turn, an editorial here, a march there, calls
coming in, letters, they magnify it and they think it's bigger. If
they get one letter it's like 100 people really feel that way. That's
why the local action is important.
"It's the same way with Enron. If they've got their finger to the
wind and they don't feel that they're getting calls, demands and
outrage they'll just finish off the investigation, move into high
dudgeon and do nothing.
"Watergate produced two out of 33 reforms that were enacted that
Sen. Ervin and Sen. Weicker proposed at the end of their hearing. and
S&L scandal produced reverse. Actually the banking laws were
weakened in 1999. So you see you have two massive scandals massively
covered but nothing happened. That's what I'm focusing on. Every
scandal has about four stages. 1 is documenting th ewrongdoing. The
second is documenting the horror of the wrongdoing, the third is
documenting the prosecution and the fourth is th ereforms, and that's
what we're focusing on because they're goin gto slip away. ... The
rationalizations are already coming in."
Some labor leaders shunned Nader when he persisted in his presidential race, but they have problems of their own in their shrinking membership. They still work with Nader allies when their interests coincide, on issues such as Fair Trade, Jobs for Justice and the Anti-Sweatshop movement, Nader said, but bureaucratic inertia prevents the unions from breaking through on frontier issues. "If I was the AFL-CIO I'd have huge numbers of organizers trained. But do their checks ever bounce every two weeks? You know what the biggest occupational hazard is at the union headquarters in Washington D.C.? Getting caught in the hallway at a quarter to 5."