Monday, August 25, 2008

Interview with Ralph Nader 08/15/08

It is the true testament of a man’s courage of will and truth of conviction when his achievements span generations. We (of the X and Y generations) know Ralph Nader best as a legitimate candidate for a third party system in the US. But, it was as I discussed my impending interview with the presidential hopeful with my dad that I was faced with Nader’s achievements that led him to this point and made him a champion of Liberty for all. His work to hold the automobile industry accountable for their negligence still resonates and influences today’s cars and passengers. Now as he begins his 2008 campaign with running mate, former San Francisco Board of Supervisors president Matt Gonzalez, He took the time to talk to Image Magazine’s Ben Simkins about the effect his campaign will have on Coloradans and their decisions for the November election. And the “Open the Debates” Super Rally scheduled for August 27th at DU’s Magness Arena.

Ben Simkins: Thank you for talking to me today Mr. Nader. I want to extend a welcome to you, from all Denver citizens, as we are looking forward to you speaking at DU’s Magness Arena on August 27th.

Ralph Nader: Well, that’s nice. We want to give it a little diversity. It’s going to be pretty dull inside the Democratic Convention.

BS: {Laughs} Well, we’re excited to have you here, and Magness Arena is a fantastic place. I saw Michael Moore speak there a few years ago. My first question is one that Coloradan’s are eager to hear about, and that is: What your goals are for the “Open the Debates” Super Rally at Magness Arena?

RN: Well, we want to turn the whole darn issue [open debates] into a First Amendment issue. Why do we allow the two parties to control the Debate Commission, [The Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD)], which is a private corporation connected with network television, and exclude everyone else from the stage? Again, poll after poll shows that people want more than two voices on the stage, especially since the two voices tend to be more and more similar, on more and more issues. And national polls have shown this. For example, in 2000 a Fox News poll had sixty-four percent [of eligible voters] wanting Buchanan and myself, in the debates. Sixty-four percent! Hold on a minute Ben.

[Mr. Nader leaves the line and after several minutes returns.]

RN: Sorry about that Ben. Go ahead.

BS: No problem. My second question is: You’ve spent your career exposing injustice with true and unabashed investigative journalism. Much of that was done in a time when most of the media were unwilling to do the same. Do you feel that today’s media delivers on its responsibilities to the public?

RN: Well, yes and no. They do still do investigative reports. 60 Minutes, the newspapers, occasionally have very good feature investigations all over the Country. But, when it comes to reporting campaigns, they’re terrible. They have almost a political bigotry against third-party, independent candidates. And they swallowed this two-party duopoly approach like they own all of the voters. And then they never ask the tough questions of the candidates at the debates and the primaries. And by ‘tough questions’, I mean, questions on subjects that their fellow reporters have reported on in prior weeks and months, in their own newspapers, and on their own TV. For example, there isn’t a single reporter who’s asked a question about corporate crime, fraud and abuse. And that’s all over the newspapers, all over the television. Enron, WorldCom, Bear Stearns, the crooks in Wall Street, violation of environmental laws and so on. They never ask any of the candidates of the major parties, “just what is your detailed proposal to crack down on this constant and increasing corporate crime, fraud and abuse, that’s ripping into taxpayer dollars Halliburton style, that’s stealing from worker pensions, that’s depleting mutual funds and the savings of millions of Americans? And it goes on and on, with very little law enforcement. And, to boot, the US government is asked to bail these crooks out! So all this has been reported. They don’t ask the questions. They ask very narrow questions that have three characteristics. As the campaign heads towards November, they become more trivial. They become more interpersonal. “Oh, McCain said this about Obama.” “Obama said this about McCain.” You know? “He had a lapel pin.” “He didn’t detour to see soldiers in Germany.” Or, “McCain is this and that.” I mean they’re very small things. They’re not on the big, sweeping issues that affect the future of the Country and the World. And, so they become more trivial, more interpersonal and more frequent. It’s almost like a vortex of water. You know how a water vortexes? and

BS: I do.

RN: And, it becomes more trivial, more frequent and more interpersonal. “He showed great irritation at what McCain said yesterday.” Or whatever. Just look at the clips and you’ll see what I mean.

BS: I agree whole-heartedly with you.

RN: Instead of becoming more significant and broader and deeper, reflecting the necessities, the deprivations and injustices involving the American people, and the status of our country in the World, it goes the other way, and the press lets them get away with it! These debates are like parallel interviews repeating all the slogans on the campaign trail, in front of fifty to sixty million people who are increasingly dozing off, and the format and the reporters are chosen by the so-called debaters. The thing is completely rigged! We’re a mockery of the Western World when it comes to our so-called democracy where you can come in second, and the Electoral College lets you become President. You come second in the popular vote. Ninety percent of the legislative districts are non-competitive because of jury-mandering between the Republican and Democrat. And no other western country opposes, in such detail, voters rights and candidate rights. All kinds of obstructions, trap doors, registration this, de-registration that, ballot access obstacles, harassing petitioners, frivolous lawsuits. It’s crazy! The third-party, independent candidates always led with the truth in American history.

BS: You’ve quoted your father as saying. “Capitalism will always be able to use socialism to save it.”

RN: Yeah.

BS: An eloquent and just statement, but you seem unafraid to say words like ‘socialism’ and ‘socialized healthcare’, that many Americans see as buzzwords and/or red flags. Do you believe that by using such words, your candidacy can reclaim their positive meanings, or do they, consequently, end up hurting your chances this November?

RN: Well, I don’t like to use ideological words that have different meanings to different people. I like to define it for myself. So, for example, if I say, “single-payer health insurance,” I say, “full government insurance, private delivery, free choice of doctor and hospital, cost and quality controls.” That way I get across exactly what I mean, and I don’t have to worry about some guy in the nineteenth century, or some guy in the eighteenth century, or something that some regime did for capitalism or socialism or communism or whatever. So I’m very empirical that way. Do I believe in public power? Yeah. I believe in TVA type public power but, I believe it should be less secretive and more accountable even though it’s public power, because anything public, anything private and anything corporate, can be abused.

BS: Well, America seems a country of polar opposites. You're either for or against. You’re capitalist or communist. In the political debate, there never seems to be a working of middles, there seems to be no gray area, because it's too hazardous.

RN: Well, there are a lot of gray areas called ‘harmony ideology’, best expressed by Barack Obama. “We are one nation. We are one people. We must be united.” But he doesn't say. “We must be united against the usurpation of the American Constitution and political economy by giant multinational corporations, who have no allegiance to this country other than to control it or abandon it.” Yeah, we must be united, but the people must unite to subordinate corporate power to the sovereignty of the people as befits our Constitution, which starts out in the preamble, "We the people." It doesn't say. “We the Corporation". And then the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag ends with "liberty and justice for all." Those are the last few words. So that means the corporations must be subordinated constitutionally and statutorily, and stripped of their constitutional rights, because they’re not real human beings. We’re not talking about the employees. They're not really human beings. They're not human beings. They don't vote. They don't die in Iraq. They don't have children. What are we doing giving them constitutional rights? So that together with their massive privileges and immunities, they can completely dominate human beings? That's what it is. My two approaches to corporate power, is to strip them of their constitutional right to lobby and to participate in political activity, for elections, completely! No more than a complex robot would have constitutional rights. It's an artificial entity and it should never have been given, by a rogue Supreme Court decision in 1886, constitutional rights [Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company, 118 U.S. 394 (1886)]*1. The other approach is what I call ‘displacement’. The more local solar energy we have, the more you displace Exxon Mobil and Peabody Coal. The more nutrition and good health, we have, the more you replace the HMOs and the hospital chains, and so on. The more energy conservation we have, the less you have to buy from the fossil fuel corporations. So all of that, and more, is displacement. You want to see an elaboration on this Ben? We had a conference fifteen months ago [June 2007] in Washington; it’s online, on corporations. It's the most avant-garde take on corporate change that's been conducted here in Washington for a long time. It's on It's two days worth and also look at

BS: You, yourself talk about the other candidates and, the fact that no-one's talking about the consumer, as much as they are the corporations or laws. Your work for consumer rights has reinvented the way that America does business, for the positive. You’ve said that you will use this presidential campaign to form citizens into a ‘watchdog on Congress’. Are you hoping to create a new movement like the Nader’s Raiders, of old?

RN: We'd like to. You know, we're one clap of two hands, so we certainly are going to make an effort. I think Americans do much more difficult things in life. Like dealing with children and sick ailing parents, accidents and inability to pay bills, than to build a Congress watchdog group with full-time staff, in every Congressional District.

BS: Well, I wish you all the luck in the World for this year, and I will come and see you at the “Open the Debates” Super Rally.

RN: Well, very good Ben. Are you Australian? [Because of my accent]

BS: I'm not actually. I'm a British citizen. Lived there until I was twenty-one, in England, and then moved to marry my sweetheart out here. I’ve been here about five years. I don't have much of an accent anymore, and sometimes people think I’m either Bostonian or Australian, because I find the two, American and English mixed, makes this weird Australian hybrid. It's very odd.

RN: {Chuckles} That's right.

BS: I only get really English when I talk to my mother.

RN: Well, I look forward to seeing you, and you know who's going to be there, don't you? It's going to be Sean Penn, Cindy Sheehan, Jello Biafra and Nellie McKay, the singer. *2

BS: Have they openly endorsed you for President?

RN: No, it’s not an endorsement. They’re there on the First Amendment issue to open the debates.

BS: Which is something we all should really herald whether Republican, Democrat or other.

RN: Oh yeah, that’s something everyone should have in common.


*1 [Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company, 118 U.S. 394 (1886)]. This case and the turning point it represents was due to the opnion of Chief Justice Morrison R. Waite before oral argument had begun. A stated opinion that was documented in the syllabus and case history by the court reporter and helped to influence later courts.

*2 Added guests of the “Open the Debates” Super Rally will include Val Kilmer, Tom Morello (RATM), Matt Gonzalez and Ike Reilly.

You can get tickets for the Open the debates Super Rally on the 27th at 7pm at: