By Jim Cullen

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 fieldhouse.

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 elections.

"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 do it."
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 flunk."

In the meantime he is going back to the "reservoir of democracy."

"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 exploration."

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 people."
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 prairies.

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 rally.
"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 Soviet-style period.

"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 industry has.

"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 controlled television."

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."

Home Page

News | Current Issue | Back Issues | Essays | Links

About the Progressive Populist | How to Subscribe | How to Contact Us

Copyright © 2002 The Progressive Populist