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The following is the text of a news conference with RALPH NADER at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., as transcribed by Federal News Service Inc.
Today I enter the 2004 elections as an independent candidate for the presidency of the United States, to join with all Americans who wish to declare their independence from corporate rule and its domination. The exercised sovereignty of the people in our history has brought forth solutions to the people, the justice they created and the futures they desired for their children.
In times past, the naysayers were organized commercial powers, whose unbridled greed and authoritarian structures were denounced by Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Wilson and Franklin Delano Roosevelt in quite memorable statements.
It took a strengthened populace against the malefactors of great wealth to overcome these corporate naysayers and abolish slavery, open the vote to women, the unions to workers, the cooperatives to farmers,
to temper the large mine owners, industrialists, railroads and bankers. In this manner, American history surged forward and upward.
Today there is a compelling necessity for a new strengthening of the people to reform and recover their public elections from the grip of private financing, to rescue our public authorities from the corporate government of big business that prevails today in Washington, D.C.
These mass concentrations of power, privilege, wealth, technology and corporate immunity have placed their rampaging global quest for maximum profits in the way of progress, justice and opportunity for the very millions of American workers who made possible these corporate profits but who are falling behind, both excluded and expendable. Their labors have gone unrequited as these unpatriotic corporations abandon our country and shift industries abroad — along with what is left of their allegiance to our country and our community.
The dreaded supremacy of corporatism over civil institutions, stomping both conservative and liberal values alike, has broken through any remaining barriers by the two major political parties, the two-party duopolies.
Corporatism has turned federal and state departments and agencies into indentured servants for taxpayer funded subsidies, budget-busting contracts of great lucrative scope, and dwindling law and order against the widely publicized corporate crime wave. This resistant corporate crime wave has looted and drained trillions of dollars from millions of workers, their pensions, and from small investors. There has been ample media publicity and documentation of such crimes, abuses and frauds of these unprecedented self-enrichments of top executives at the expense of their fiduciary duties to both their own companies and their shareholder owners. Has the president supplied the required law enforcement resources for action? Scarcely. He has, as in so many other domestic matters, otherwise preoccupied — very few of these corporate bosses have been brought to justice and jailed.
Lincoln’s new birth of freedom and government of the people by the people for the people, in his memorable Gettysburg Address, must indeed not perish from this land. Only an organized, self-confident people lifting their expectation levels and applying their time, energy and talent can achieve Lincoln’s foreshadowed horizons, where freedom from fear, shift of power and just solutions can become realities in everyday life for Americans. Comparing the Republican Lincoln’s assurance in a period of great peril and daily destruction in those years in the 1860s — contrast with the costly politics of fear peddled daily by the obsessive Republican incumbent of today, George W. Bush, playing politics with national security.
Elections should place aspirations in motion.
Only in this way will they have meaning for people’s lives. Movements for change come from more voices and choices, more debates and proposals, more organizing and more respect for the voters in the electoral arena, so they have a broader opportunity to vote for whom they choose to vote for.
At the same time, there ought to be higher levels of responsibility by voters themselves for their own governments. The civil liberties and their exercise by a pluralistic, not a duopolistic, system of political parties and candidates, regenerate, reanimate a passive electorate accustomed to betrayal and in large numbers not even voting.
Movements for change also come from the perceived neglected necessities of the American people in a land of skewed plenty, where the rich have so much and the rest of America is denied the just rewards for their labors.
These movements embrace the long overdue abolition of cruel poverty in America; the provision of genuine, efficient, honest health care; the illumination of civically inspired education; and the shift in the burden and uses of taxes away from corporate plunder, corporate tax havens and cost transfers to individual taxpayers. Taxpayers always end up with the bill for this corporate plunder and corporate tax escapes.
These initiatives for change embrace the conversion as well to breathable air and clean water; renewable energy; detoxified agriculture; decongesting transportation technologies on the highway and in plans — and in public transit; the affordability of decent shelter; and the enabling of workers, consumers and communities to organize and shape their own political economy. We need more organization among these constituencies.
Presently, global corporations are bent on strategically planning our future, our politics, our economy, our military expenditures, our education, our environment, our culture, even our genetic inheritance. They’re all subject to corporate strategic planning. Is it not our responsibility together, as individuals, as real people, to shape our futures within our own deliberative democratic process?
The unceasing enlightenment of humankind requires sensitive humans to enlist in a marathon, not a sprint. May there be a decent tolerance for the release of these creative individual and community entities inside an electoral system sadly known more for its straitjackets than for its wings, more for its routines than its aspirations.
The focus on the fundamental requirement for broader distribution of power, initiative and opportunity to forge a resourceful society should be the touchstone of this election year and its campaigns. We owe at least the prospect of possibilities to the generations that follow us. We owe the same to the young people of America as they ponder and prepare for their leadership obligations. This campaign will reach out to the young people and to all people who wish to volunteer for our efforts in 50 states, who wish to contribute to our efforts in 50 states, who wish to highlight their own creative solutions in community after community, that are almost never highlighted by political campaigns; who wish to communicate to us at our website, <votenader.org>.
I urge the liberal establishment to relax and rejoice. This is a campaign that strives to displace the present corporate regime of the Bush administration. This is a campaign that will have many purposes and many functions in a political system that’s rigged from beginning to end, from state-access barriers to exclusionary debates against third parties and independent candidates whose hopes and rights we hope to carry throughout these campaigns at the national state and local level. This campaign can also be a trim tab factor turning the rudder of these giant political parties toward a more dedicated concern for government of, by and for the people.
We hope to show that increasingly corporations are trampling conservative values, as we notice increasing conservative fury with the Bush administration on matters such as massive, useless deficits due to wealthy tax cuts; on matters due to the big brother Patriot Act; corporate subsidies to major corporations paid for by taxpayers; on matters involving NAFTA and the WTO, undermining our nation’s sovereignty at all three levels of government; on matters of promise by the Bush administration to do something regarding corporate pornography and violence beamed to children at a very impressionable age, undermining parental authority.
We mean to focus on many local issues as well, which most presidential candidates dutifully ignore. Local issues like what’s going on in South Central Los Angeles; what’s going on Weirton, West Virginia; what’s going on in Anniston, Alabama; what’s going on among our forests and among our littoral shores; what’s going on in terms of the stratosphere and global warming; what’s going on in terms of what’s going on in our great oceans and streams and rivers and lakes.
We mean to initiate a liberation movement for the Democratic Party, whose liberals have allowed it to slip away, year after year, since about 1980, into the hands of corporate interests too often bought and sold dialing for dollars.
We hope to break the grip of the Commission on Presidential Debates, a cynical canard against the right of the American people to hear more voices and choices, and elevate publicity for the Citizen’s Debate Commission that has now been formed, a truly nonprofit institution controlled by no candidates and no parties.
We hope to highlight Bush’s war on the Bill of Rights and on civil liberties and on the egregious stereotyping and violations of due process to people of minority status, recent immigrants or long- time immigrants, bearing the brunt of the violations of our civil liberties, especially Muslim-Americans and Arab-Americans.
We hope also to focus on the assets of America, where there are solutions for almost all our major widespread problems, working in one town and community after another, by not having an engine of diffusion behind them. That’s what politics and elections should be about. Our country has so many problems it doesn’t deserve and so many solutions it doesn’t apply.
We hope to show that jobs can be kept here in the United States, good-paying local jobs, by a massive "repair America" campaign, a public works or infrastructure mission by the federal government paid for by a repeal of those taxes for the wealthy which the Democrats opposed but didn’t bother to stop when they could have in the U.S. Senate.
And finally, we hope to sensitize the media to the growing desertion of corporations from the country where they were born, the country where they were raised to the heights of their profit and power on the backs of workers, on the backs of taxpayers who were asked to subsidize them, on the backs of American military forces who were asked to rescue them when they got our country and themselves in trouble cutting deals with dictators around the world.
Finally, I’d like to make a personal statement to Terry McAuliffe, John Kerry, John Edwards, Al Sharpton and ex-governor Dean: Relax. (Laughter.) Rejoice that you have another front carrying the ancient but unfulfilled pretensions and aspirations of the Democratic Party. Do not deny millions of voters the opportunity to vote for this candidacy. Everyone should have a chance. Everyone should argue on the merits, not on the money.
I also urge you, when you analyze this political campaign of 2004, to at least have the sophistication that is revealed by sports fans when they analyze their sports teams. Look at the dynamics before Election Day. Focus on what is being done. Analyze carefully the polls in 2000 before you start scapegoating the Greens for an election that Al Gore won but had stolen from him and had Democratic Party blunders fail to rescue it in Florida.
And lastly, please try to extend some of the finest rhetoric of John Kerry and John Edwards on the overwhelming dominance of corporate party — corporate power in our country and on the need to reassert popular sovereignty, the sovereignty of the people, over the sovereignty of giant business; the sovereignty of real people over the sovereignty of artificial entities called corporations.
For those of you who want more evidence about the statements made in this few moments, I not only urge you to contact our website, votenader.org; I urge you to read back issues of Barron’s Financial Weekly, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, The Dallas Morning News, The Boston Globe, The Cleveland Plain Dealer, The San Francisco Examiner, The Los Angeles Times, Reuters, AP and many other wire services for constant documentation of these corporate crimes, abuses of power, across the entire continuum of our political economy.
I have read these news reports. I have watched "Dateline." I have watched "60 Minutes." And I take them all seriously. They all add up to something, don’t they — something larger than their parts. They add up to a massive challenge to our democracy, to our systems of justice, to our civil liberties and our civil rights, and to the ability of people to pursue liberty, justice and happiness.
Thank you. (Scattered applause.)
Can have questions now. Can you identify yourselves, first? Yes, sir?
Q Hi. I’m Darrin Garner (sp) for the PBS Democracy Project. Despite your plans to run as an independent, there’s a strong faction within the Green Party to still nominate you at their convention. Would you accept the Green nomination? And if not, can you get on the ballot in Texas and California without their help?
MR. NADER: Well, they are not on the ballot in Texas. They are on the ballot in California.
The problem is one of timing. The Green Party convention is in June, and the decision as to whether they will have a presidential candidate and under what conditions will be made then. And that is too late for meeting the ballot access deadlines of many states.
So we have to pursue our independent course of action, elicit many volunteers — young, middle-aged, older people — who will learn if they don’t know now how to get signatures that are verifiable on their clipboards in shopping centers and street corners in order to meet the deadlines that you mentioned.
And the first deadline and most insistent one is Texas, which requires over 66,000 signatures verified, which means you got to get more, in a 60-day period, and no Texan who votes in a primary is allowed by Texas law to sign a petition to put our candidacy on the ballot. That’s just one of many types of obstacles that we may have to litigate against and we certainly have to surmount. So we do expect to get on the 50 states, and it won’t be easy.
Q Torrado (sp) — (name inaudible) — Azteca Television. What would you propose as a migratory policy if you became president? And also, what are your proposals for the fastest-growing minority, which is the Latino community?
MR. NADER: I didn’t hear. Migratory policy?
Q Mm-hmm. Yeah, and what do you propose for the Latino community as the fastest-growing minority in the country?
MR. NADER: Yes, I think — did you mean migrant labor, or did you say –
Q In general.
MR. NADER: In general. One of my first articles in the 1950s was on the atrocious treatment of migratory labor, many of them from Mexico. This treatment continues because we basically have an anarchy within which corporate employers are seriously mistreating the rights of these workers. I’ve always believed that if workers in this country — whether they enter legally or not — are employed by employers, they should be given the same, fair standards, the same minimum wage, the same treatment as other workers. Having said that, I support the following policies.
I don’t think this country should be engaged in a brain drain, luring scientists, engineers, doctors and many other talented people to this country when they should be building their own countries. And if they have trouble building their own countries because of oppression, it would be a good idea for the United States to change its foreign policy and not continue to support the oligarchs and the dictatorships and the authoritarian regimes, from Mexico to Central America to South America and to other countries in other continents, which drive people to our shores. Most people don’t like to leave their native lands.
Moreover, there needs to be a legal permiting system so — for work that has to be done in this country which can’t be done by American workers can be done by temporary entries by workers who will be well treated.
But if we raised our minimum wage, if we had a minimum wage of $10 an hour, I think a lot of the work that people say will not be done by American workers will be done by American workers.
Q Yes, sir. I’m sure you were asked this question before. If you are so critical of President Bush, why are you helping him again win another term?
MR. NADER: I don’t think this is going to be viewed as an assistance to President Bush. You see, there’s a whole myth that has to be overturned here. Some of you saw on NBC yesterday the description of how the Nader-LaDuke Green Party ticket allegedly cost Bush New Hampshire. What they didn’t say was the exit polls showed that I got more Republican votes in New Hampshire than Democrat votes. You see, so they’ve got to be much more careful in their reporting.
Now, having said that, John Kerry said the other day — and he’s quite correct — that the Democratic members will come back into the fold. Why? Because the party that’s out of power finds that its members come back into the fold. So this candidacy is not going to get many Democratic Party votes. On the other hand, the party that’s in power is the party that we are going to focus on retiring. And conservatives and independents who are very upset with Bush administration policies are left with two options: vote for the Democrats, which is unlikely, or vote for an independent ticket.
Contrary to popular impression, even in the year 2000 — and it will be more pronounced — 25 percent of my votes came from Bush voters, 38 percent came from Gore voters, and the rest came from people who would never have voted. I think there’s going to be lower Democratic votes this year and more from the other sources. I might add, that was an exit poll. There was another exit poll that had it about 21 percent Bush, 41 percent Gore, and the rest would not have voted.
Q Mr. Nader, you spoke of Terry McAuliffe. And yesterday, after he appeared on "Face the Nation," he did come out and talk at length with the reporters who were staked out there. If I could read a couple of the things he said about you and the meetings that he held with you.
MR. NADER: Yes.
Q And I’ll pause in between one of them. He did say, "I spoke to RALPH NADER several times myself because I didn’t want RALPH NADER to use the argument used in 2000, which was that no one in the party would talk with him. I spent time with him. He did say to me, in a long lunch that we had, he said, `Terry, I want to beat George Bush more than you do,’ which I don’t find plausible." And that’s the first quote.
MR. NADER: Yes. First of all, I’m the one who called Terry McAuliffe, he didn’t call me. I’m the one who called Nancy Pelosi and Tom Daschle and other leaders of the Democratic Party to have extended meetings with them. The Democratic Party scapegoating the Greens in 2000, has never reached out to the Greens. For heaven’s sake, you would think that, as in Western Europe, if they think the Greens are a challenge to them, they’d sit down and say: Well, where can we come together on certain issues which you, the Greens, think we have ignored, and how can we collaborate against the Bush regime? So let’s clarify that.
The second is that I do hope that Terry McAuliffe will be as astute a political analyst as he is as a sports fan. Again, I repeat that point.
You want to add?
Q Let me just ask you then, he went on to say about your being an independent, "In many states he will not be on the ballot, and he actually said to me, quote, ‘Terry, if you have some key target states, maybe I won’t campaign in those states.’ So he wants to beat George Bush but he wanted to get out there, get his voice known. So I am hoping that when he gets out there and campaigns that he’s not going to be in certain states."
MR. NADER: I think on that score he’s a bit imaginative and a bit clairvoyant. I admire him for his latter attribute, but I never said what he said I said. What I said was that this is going to be, if I run, and it was all exploratory at that time, a 50-state campaign that I would help deserving congressional candidates in key swing districts, because I wanted the Democrats to recover the House or the Senate or both; in part because the senior Democrats in the House represent the finest Democratic traditions and will be the heads of the committees, like George Miller, Henry Waxman, independent Bernie Sanders, Ed Markey and John Conyers. That’s what I said. Now, I’m going to call Terry McAuliffe and talk to him so we can clarify the situation.
Q Al Milliken affiliated with Washington Independent Writers. Are you as confused or as indecisive as George W. Bush and John Kerry appear to be regarding marriage? Do you see any inconsistency with the vote and stand John Kerry took in 1996 opposing the Defense of Marriage Act and the clarity with which George W. Bush defined marriage in the 2000 presidential debates, and the retreats they both seem to have resorted to recently? Are you willing to take leadership on this important issue?
MR. NADER: Well, I think the leadership’s going to come from gay-lesbians and their leaders. I think this is a social movement that can’t be stopped. I think you can see over the years increasing number of people in the polls who support equal rights for same-sex unions, or they want to call it marriage. I think that this should not become a major issue in the campaign because none of the candidates should be boorish enough to oppose love and commitment under stable relationships. What undermines marriage is divorce, as Mayor Daley put it very well a few days ago.
Yes? Right in back there.
Q Les Krepman (ph) with NBC News. You’ve characterized many of those who labeled you as possibly being a spoiler as being contemptuous. Why are they contemptuous and why do you regard yourself as being anything more than having the potential for being a spoiler in this election?
MR. NADER: Because they restrict that word to my candidacy. If they called everyone spoilers, because every candidate for political office tries to spoil the prospect of his or her opponents winning, tries to take votes from them, I wouldn’t have any problem with it.
But the fact that they single out third parties and independent candidates for that term, "spoiler," means that what they’re really saying, what their real agenda is that you shouldn’t run, you should just sit on the sidelines and watch our country being taken down and taken apart by corporate politics and two parties who are dialing for the same dollars and are converging with more and more similarities towering over the dwindling real differences that they’re willing to struggle over.
I think those who use the word "spoiler" need to reexamine their otherwise steadfast commitment to civil liberties, to choice, to freedom. I’m really amused by — some of the groups who are pro- choice on the abortion issue are against candidate choice on the ballot. And there will be similar ironies transmitted to their tender conscience in the coming months.
Q Sarah Powell, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. You mentioned the targeting of immigrants, especially Muslims and Arabs. How would your foreign policy and your policy toward immigrants, especially regarding the Middle East, differ from the other candidates?
MR. NADER: Well, there’s no particular policy toward immigrants from the Middle East compared to other Third World countries that are in deep turmoil. So you may be asking me about the conflicts there. Is that what you want to ask me?
Q Well, okay. If you would rather answer the question on the conflict in the Middle East, that’s fine.
MR. NADER: Yeah. Well, I’m not aware that there’s a unique immigration policy. Do you want to illustrate it for me?
Q Not that there’s an immigration policy, other than the finger pointing and the US-VISIT, all that sort of thing.
MR. NADER: Oh, I’m sorry. Yes. I understand what you mean now. Yes. The singling out of visitors and immigrants from the Middle East raises interesting law enforcement questions. I think that dragnet law enforcement where you stereotype ethnic groups is, A, inefficient, B, wasteful of taxpayer dollars, and C, not just smart ways to apprehend violent offenders. It’s too much of a giant embrace.
If you want legitimate people to inform on violent offenders, you don’t stereotype them, you don’t harass them, you don’t rummage through their belongings in an impolite manner as if they are criminals when they have not been suspected of anything like that, singling them out compared to other passenger or other entries into our company — our country.
I think that more and more of these cases ending up in the courts, ending up in the Supreme Court, will either demonstrate whether our Constitution’s going to hold firm here in terms of our Bill of Rights or whether our Constitution’s going to be perforated by the "Patriot-less Act" and its presumed renewal and further enlargement next year from the White House to the Congress.
Q Tom Curry, MSNBC. Both Senator Kerry and Senator Edwards voted for the Iraq war resolution. Both of them voted for the Patriot Act. You just said a few minutes ago you don’t expect that your candidacy will get many Democratic votes, but will you criticize the Democratic nominee for votes for those two acts, or will you focus more of your — most of your criticism on President Bush?
MR. NADER: Well, there’s limited media time, isn’t there, for an independent candidate. That media time will be focused on the giant corporation in the White House masquerading as a human being, George W. Bush. If the Democrats want to assail our positions or the exercise of our entry into this campaign, our candidacy will reply. If the Democratic candidates persist in supporting the Patriot Act, which they’re showing serious signs of not supporting the act that they voted for in the renewal battle next year, they will be — they will be criticized.
If they persist in supporting a further quagmire war in Iraq without end, an unconstitutional war that President Bush got us into based on a platoon of fabrications and misleading information, well documented now — if they side with President Bush, they will be criticized, but I don’t think they’re going to. I think they’re going to realize that a major, well-funded U.N. peacekeeping troop replacement, properly-supervised elections with a decent respect for the autonomy of Kurds, Shi’ites and Sunnis while they work toward a unified Iraq, and extended humanitarian assistance because we owe Iraqis a responsibility for all our years of supporting their brutal dictator from 1979 to 1991, all of these are a proper pathway for the Democrats in this coming campaign.
Q Tom Gallagher with Traffic World magazine. You mentioned that your candidacy is primarily focused on taking votes from President Bush and removing the Bush regime. The Democrats seem to be motivated by the same thing, not so much in terms of "we want to be in and we want the other guys out," but by a tremendous anger that seems to be abroad in the nation about some of their policies; that this is more important than partisan politics.
Some organizations, like <MoveOn.org> and so forth, have been organized primarily to remove the Bush regime.
What’s the difference between your organization and an organization like that, that intends to remove Bush? But how would you do it in a different way?
MR. NADER: Well, the difference is this: that I recognize, as — 10 years of amazing losses at the local, state and national election levels by the Democratic Party, against an extreme Republican Party. This is extraordinary. The Democrats, because of their internal decay, repeatedly described by former Department of Labor Secretary Robert Reich, even James Carville, Paul Begala, in articles that they’ve written, not to mention to Gene — Eugene McCarthy — the Democrats are so decayed — and we hope they’re rising again — that they have been very good at electing very bad Republicans. And that is a sobering thought, that the extreme wing that now has taken over, the corporatist wing that’s against conservative values, has taken over the Republican Party, keeps winning elections against the Democrats.
One might assume modestly that the Democratic Party needs some help. They need additional strategies, additional issues, additional reports against the Bush regime that they’re too cautious, they’re too indentured to think of themselves. And if they want to appropriate what we do, fine. There’s no intellectual property on the ways to take apart the Bush administration that comes from this candidacy.
I think the mistake the Democrats are making when they use the mantra "anybody but Bush" is, first of all, it closes their mind to any alternative strategies or any creative thinking, which is not good for a political party. And second, it gives their ultimate nominee no mandate, no constituency, no policies, if the ultimate nominee goes into the White House.
And then they’ll be back to us. I guarantee you the Democrats, the liberal groups, the liberal intelligentsia, the civic groups that are now whining and complaining, even though they know they’re being shut out increasingly, year after year, from trying to improve their country when they go to work every day. And they’ll be saying, "Oh, you can’t believe — we were betrayed. The Democrats are succumbing to the corporate interests in the environment, consumer protection." How many cycles do we have to go through here? How long is the learning curve before we recognize that political parties are the problem? They’re the problem! They’re the ones who have turned our government over to the corporations, so they can say no to universal health insurance and no to a living wage and no to environmental sanity and no to renewable energy and no to a whole range of issues that corporations were never allowed to say no to 30, 40, 50 years ago. Things really have changed.
Q You say you will be reluctant to criticize the Democrats. How, then, are you different from Senator Edwards and Senator Kerry? What do you offer that they don’t offer? Why should a Democrat or an independent vote for you instead of one of them?
MR. NADER: Oh, first of all, I’m not going to be reluctant, I said I’m going to focus on the Bush administration. They’re the incumbents, they’re the ones that have the record. In 2000, it was Clinton-Gore that had the record, and we focused attention on them.
Why anybody should vote for us? One, because our record for 40 years represents dedicated, steadfast defense of American liberties, justice, health and safety, access to government, access to the legislature, to the courts, freedom of information, and a whole variety of reforms that we have been proud to initiate and be part of.
Second, we believe, unlike the Democrats, that public financing of campaigns should be expeditiously pursued. The first meeting that Speaker Tom Foley and Majority Leader Senator Mitchell had with the Clinton administration was to urge Mr. Clinton not to propose campaign finance reform in early 1993 to the U.S. Congress.
Second (sic), we really believe in labor law reforms and the repeal of Taft-Hartley. I only hear Dennis Kucinich talking about that. We believe that there should be many more unions in places like Wal-Mart and McDonald’s, and among the 45 million Americans who are not earning a living wage at $5.50, $6, $7, $8, $9, $10 gross an hour. We believe that NAFTA and GATT should be withdrawn from. I haven’t heard Kerry and Edwards say that. There’s a six-month withdrawal option by all signatory nations, so that we renegotiate these trade agreements, A, to stick to trade; B, to be open and democratic; and C, not to pull down standards in this country, for labor, environmental and consumer standards have no business being subordinated to the supremacy of international trade. They should be subject to independent agreements between nations — environmental, labor, consumer agreements.
We also are going to engage in modes of campaigning that the Democrats will not engage in. They avoid local issues like the plague at the presidential level. We’re going to work with the people, with the neighborhood groups, with the citizen groups to do that.
And of course, most prominently, they don’t come close to our position on corporate power. I believe in federal chartering of corporations above a certain size, taking it away from Delaware and Nevada and their race to the bottom.
I believe in strengthening aggressively the rights of shareholder owners to control the company that they control. And I believe that corporations should not be viewed as persons under our Constitution; that they are artificial entities, they should never have the rights that real human beings have.
And I fully agree with this wonderful editorial in Business Week in September 2000 which, after documenting that there’s too much corporate power; after reporting on an extensive poll of the American people, 72 percent of whom said corporations had too much control over their lives; had an editorial with the singular phrase, quote, "Corporations should get out of politics." End quote. And I might add that not long after, British Petroleum, the third-largest oil company in the world, announced that it would no longer, as a corporation, give any campaign contributions to any political campaigns anywhere in the world. A modest step, but an important one nonetheless.
Q I’d like you just to clarify some of the statements that you have made. Sam Husseini from <VotePact.com>. You’ve said simultaneously that you expect to help the Democrats in a certain respect, and you have also said that you got substantial Republican support in the 2000 election. Can you, A, clarify that and comment on efforts such as <VotePact.com>, which seeks to pair up disenchanted Republicans with disenchanted Democrats and together, by trusting each other, both vote for a third party that they truly believe in?
One further point, if I might. You’ve said that George Bush is a human being disguised — is a corporation disguised as a human being, and you’ve also talked about the spiritual impoverishment in this country. Don’t you think that statements like that, which in effect dehumanize someone who you may disagree with tremendously, impoverish our world spiritually?
MR. NADER: Well, first of all, a corporation is still a person under our constitutional regime. (Scattered laughter.) So if they want it to be a person, let’s give it personal characterization, plus or minus.
There will be extensive use of the Internet. For example, one proposal is that, in a close state, someone who might want to vote for our candidacy would pair off with someone in Texas who might want to vote for our candidacy. So they get someone in Texas to vote for our candidacy, where it doesn’t matter under the antiquated electoral law, because Bush is presumed to take Texas, and the person in Wisconsin who might want to vote for me would vote for the Democratic candidate.
There’s another version of that, which is quite unique, which is that Republicans who don’t like Republican candidates and Democrats who don’t like Democratic candidates cancel each other’s vote out over the Internet by voting for our candidacy. I would encourage that. And that may spread quite widely.
Now, when you hear me talk about Democrats, votes, Republicans, it’s because the fourth estate and reporters, such as yourselves, are so insistent in describing collateral benefits or collateral deficits of this candidacy. So sometimes I have to put myself arguendo in responding to you in the shoes of the Democratic Party or in the shoes of conservatives.
But I want to point out that we have reached out to both parties with a 35-page agenda inquiry, which is in your press kit, that in a very relaxed way, rather than a kind of accusatory way, puts forth a number of major, thoughtful policy changes in tax, in environment, in consumer protection and election reform and international trade, and so on, and asked them, in late November, to give us their views. And both of them said that they would respond — the Republican National Committee and the Democratic National Committee. Well, later on, the RNC, through Mr. Gillespie, stated that — his response was a simple sentence, that the response to our agenda inquiry was the Bush administration’s policies. So that finished that. The Democratic response was a little more fertile. Mr. McAuliffe said that he had read it on the train to Philadelphia, these 35 pages. But then came a response, not too long ago, a two-page response criticizing the Republicans for a number of policies that were mentioned and raised in this agenda inquiry.
But here you go; you see, they were given all kinds of time. They had their own complaints against third-party challenges. Someone reaches out to them, they have a research capability, it would probably make their day less daily to ponder these issues, like shifting the incidence of our tax burden away from work as much as possible, earnings from work, to wealth; and then shifting it away from things we like — like books, furniture, clothing and food — shifting the tax burden to things we least like, like pollution, stock speculation, gambling or the addictive industries. One would think they’d have some play with that, but they weren’t interested. Another documentation as to why we need broader public debate, broader public dialogue, and more voices and choices for the American people.
Q Mr. Nader?
MR. NADER: Yes?
Q Two issues. (Name and affiliation inaudible.) Two issues. One, you’re a resident of the District of Columbia. Do you support statehood or voting enfranchisement for the District of Columbia? And a second, perhaps more challenging issue, you mentioned John Conyers for singular praise. Since 1989, he’s sponsored H.R. 40, which is a bill to set up a commission to study reparations, payments for — reparations as a solution to the dilemma of slavery. Would you, as president, encourage Congress to adopt H.R. 40? And do you support remedying the voteless status of the District of Columbia?
MR. NADER: Well, of course, in the year 2000 we took a very strong stand for statehood for the District of Columbia. We’re going to do it again. And we’ll see how supportive the other two parties are against the colony called the District of Columbia, where people who are drafted or taken off to war and people who pay taxes do not have the right to be represented by a voting representative and two senators in the U.S. Senate. So that’s going to be very clearly delineated. And I hope that there will even be strategies to implement that delineation, one of which you will be very intrigued by when it is announced, as a number of other innovative proposals we’re going to have that’s going to make what could become, by August, a rather dim and dreary two-party campaign, as they dwindle the number of issues that they disagree on and repeat ad infinitum.
As far as John Conyers, I think there should be a commission to study it.
I think a lot of Americans aren’t aware that there are corporations today, pursuant to mergers or even actual corporations, that were profiting from slavery, such as the Aetna Corporation, before the Civil War, and there’s a payback there. I think if white people had great grandparents who were slaves, they would be very concerned about that. There’s got to be justice here. And all John Conyers is asking is a national commission to inquire into it to see what the responsibilities of governments are.
After all, slaves built a good part of the U.S. Capitol. They built a lot of public buildings. And I think the money is not designed to go to individuals; it’s designed to amplify the budgets that are now being squeezed to rebuild the lower-income areas in our cities, for example; to expand health care to African American children, to reduce their exposure to sources of deadly asthma and lead poisoning. That is something that we should all discuss.
After all, you know, there were other genocidal or vicious treatments of ethnic minorities that have gotten some justice in recent years. And of course the tragedy of slavery in this country is one of the two worst tragedies in North American history, the other being the genocidal annihilation of the first Native Americans. And we should always remember.
Q Mr. Nader?
Q Mr. Nader?
MR. NADER: Yes?
Q (Name off mike) — from NBC Newschannel. In 2000, the state that you did best in was Alaska. You got more than 10 percent of the vote there. How do you think you’ll do in that state again? Can you reiterate your position on drilling in ANWR? And thirdly, how do you think that you will affect the Senate race there, because the idea is that because you’ll bring in Green Party members, independents, that will ultimately help the Democrats in Alaska. Could you respond to all those?
MR. NADER: I think there will be a spillover vote helping the Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate from Alaska. I doubt whether there’s going to be a challenge from any other party.
I did very well in Alaska. It was actually 20 percent at one time, but we lost a good portion of our votes near the end, as a lot of third parties do. When people go into the voting booth, they want to be with what they call as a winner.
No drilling in ANWR, the Arctic refuge. What we should do is nail the corporate executives in Detroit to liberate their engineers so they can improve fuel efficiency. One mile per gallon over the entire range of motor vehicle production will save more fuel than anything that can be gotten five, 10 years from now from the Arctic refuge.
Unfortunately, under Clinton, among others, a lot of the northern slope was opened up for exploration, and the oil companies haven’t really done as much as they’re permitted to do outside of ANWR. That’s important to do. And I think the oil companies owe the Alaskan people more taxes. I think they owe them more revenues for cleaning up their environmental messes. And also, native Alaskan tribes now organized in a corporate fashion need to be compensated for the damage that’s been done to their habitat.
Q I just wondered, did you ever consider running in the Democratic primary? I mean, we live in an electoral system that is not a European parliamentary system. We have a winner-take-all, as you know, and that’s a system that has produced two parties except, I think, for 1860. There’s no realistic chance of a third party actually getting majority power, except the 1860 example where slavery completely blew apart the Whigs.
What’s wrong with — where would you be right now if you had run in the primary in 2000? Arguably — a lot of your friends say you’d be in a lot better position, and then there’s something inherently wrong where you have the Left divided against itself by your candidacy.
MR. NADER: The simple answer to your question is I don’t choose to run in wealth primaries. I don’t choose to run in a party that plays the for-sale game with their Republicans, dialing for commercial dollars in order to gain a nomination. You can’t abide by the clean politics rules that we are abiding by — refusing to take corporate money and PAC money and other forms of special interest money — playing inside the Democratic Party, I’m sorry to say.
Quite apart from that, I don’t think they’d have me. You know that under the rules of both parties they can take away your registration as a party member, if you think that you are — if they think that you are there as a Trojan horse, for example. So apart from those curlicues, they don’t practice election politics the way I want to practice election politics.
Did you have another? What was the other point?
Q If there’s a problem with the Democratic Party, which, you know, a lot of people certainly think there are, what’s wrong with going in there to the belly of the beast and changing it? Because the alternative is what we see happening, is progressives fighting amongst themselves and any analogy to a European parliamentary system just don’t apply, because we don’t live in that system.
MR. NADER: First of all, you can’t compete, following our rules, in wealth primary that starts in Iowa. I mean, Dean spent $10 million in Iowa, for example.
Q And he brought a lot of Democrats — (off mike).
MR. NADER: Yes. Well, fine. But you simply can’t compete on a clean slate. I mean, let me put it more boldly. You cannot compete on a clean slate in a commercially ridden party, number one.
Number two, give serendipity a chance. Jesse Ventura started out running for the governorship of Minnesota at 9 percent, and then he got on 10 debates in Minnesota, and he got $350,000 in state public financing, and he is in a state with same-day voter registration.
So there’s always a chance of a breakthrough, with the blissful permission of the mass media, through which you campaign. I mean, you can reach 2 percent of the people even if you speak before the largest rallies in the biggest arenas of America on campaign in 50 states, as I did in the year 2000, but the only way you can reach lots of people is through the presidential debate — debates and through a more resourceful recognition by the media that small starts with long successful records in the civic community deserve more than three and a half minutes of face time on the three networks between September 1st and Election Day, year 2000, which is what I received.
Q Mr. Nader, would you talk to the aspect –
STAFF: Identify –
Q I’m Joel Wishengrad of World Media Reports. Would you talk to the aspect of conservative versus liberal? We’ve seen these talk shows in the last 10, 12 years, such Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and others, that you would say were skewing the political landscape with their rhetoric.
MR. NADER: Yes.
Q Why hasn’t your particular advocacy-type career caught on, not just in the Green Party, but through maybe the Democratic Party and elsewhere? And why may be there only one radio network, Pacifica, as opposed to the other radio networks and television commentary?
MR. NADER: Well, if I understand your question correctly, the answer is pretty simple. Corporations advertise on radio, and governments very rarely do. So the vast amount of revenues — he who pays the piper plays the tune.
And one of the reasons why 90 percent of talk show hosts are corporatists — sometimes they think they’re conservative, but more often they’re corporatist — is that they can go after government and not lose advertising revenue, they can go after liberal groups and not lose advertising revenue, but Rush Limbaugh is not going to go after his corporate paymasters, because he will lose advertising revenue.
And until we have access to the public media and the public airwaves — which belong to the people, after all, and are licensed for free by the FCC to radio and TV stations — unless we have a certain amount of time as a people — not just liberals, as a people — to have our own radio stations and television stations and audience networks, as we have proposed to Congress over 10 years ago with a detailed statute, then it’s going to be more of the same.
Q John Gallagher, Traffic World Magazine. What is your take on the status of the transportation infrastructure in this country, both for freight as well as for passengers? And the $247 billion bill that’s being considered by Congress, is that enough or not enough?
MR. NADER: It’s not enough for modern public transit, which is spectacular and ready to go. It’s not just buses and trains in the old-fashioned sense. We’re going to try to highlight some of this modern public transit technology and what is available. There’s still a huge bias toward highway building, huge congestion on the highways, which can be decongested with a broader elaboration of our railway system and broader utilization of cross-transport modal containerization, as well as a number of ways where highways can be made less congested in terms of staggering work shifts and things like that that have been proposed.
Q Hi. I’m Janice D’Arcy from the Hartford Courant. I have a question, but before I ask it, I want to clarify. Are you supportive of the Internet vote trading that you mentioned earlier, where someone in Texas would trade their vote with someone in Connecticut?
MR. NADER: That is a choice of the voter. I support the choice of the voter. I don’t deny voters opportunity to make choices, whether over the Internet in exchanges or for third-party candidates and independent candidates.
Q Then my question is, why you waited so long to announce. Does it have anything to do with Howard Dean’s departure from the race?
MR. NADER: Well, first of all, we were in an exploratory mode since October. We were testing the waters. And our findings can be transferred over into the campaign. So it isn’t that we were totally inactive. We were reaching out trying to see what kind of volunteers can be recruited; what kind of money can come in — now to our website, <votenader.org>; what kind of ideas.
The second is that there was an overwhelming opposition by the liberal intelligentsia that absorbed some of our time. I think this may be the only candidacy in our memory that is opposed overwhelmingly by people who agree with us on the issues.
So we’ve got a lot of communion here to work out, and I keep saying just relax and rejoice, wait until the months unfold. You may see pleasant opportunities to amplify your opposition to the incumbent Bush regime.
Q Yeah, I — (name inaudible) — health issues –
MR. NADER: What is your –
Q I write on health issues.
MR. NADER: Yes.
Q On the issue of corporate branding of children in public schools, you’ve written far more extensively than any of the other candidates and acted on it. However, in the last election you failed to really raise it as a major issue. Since then, there’s been what’s been described as an obesity and the issue of overweight and obese children and adults. I wonder if you will focus on the issue a bit more this time?
MR. NADER: Well, there’s a lot more data on obesity. The number of obese children under 12 has doubled since 1980, and now there are — 31 percent of adults in this country, according to health statistics, are obese. Coupled with overweight, the total is over 60 percent; very sharp increases, and certainly people should restrain some of their fat food intake. And certainly corporations that have, from age two to three, seduced children to turn their tongues against their brain, undermine parental authority, and sold them junk food; essentially sugar and fat pumps into their stomachs to the detriment of their present and future health.
I beg to differ, though, on 2000. There was almost nobody making as many points as I — they just weren’t reported — about the commercialization of childhood, the commercial exploitation of childhood. And rest assured, you’ll hear a lot about the subject you just raised.
Q (Off mike) — Green Party –
MR. NADER: Yes?
Q Mr. Nader, Terry Campbell (sp) — (inaudible) — the Green Party. I want to urge you and ask you if you’re going to work out and reach out to conservatives during this campaign. There are many conservatives across the country that are very upset at the largest federal spending in the history of the country, the largest deficit in the history of the country, no accountable accounting system — auditable accounting system at the Pentagon. You talked about more trains, less traffic. We have collected thousands of petition signatures to put these candidates on the ballot here: Joe Odo (ph) for Congress, a Green, and Brad Blanton (ph).
So the question is, more trains, less traffic — are you going to focus on that, reaching out to conservatives and calling for candidates all across the country? Forty percent of all races have no one, no opposition. Today you can reach out across the country with this big platform and urge people to step forward and do their patriotic responsibility to participate in our democracy. Will you do that?
MR. NADER: Yes, sir. I’m enthused by your enthusiasm. (Laughter.) I might make the point that if you want to see a distinct evidence of the cleavage between conservative Republicans and corporate Bush Republicans, on our website, <votenader.org>, is my letter to President Bush, in October, outlining over 20 positions of the Texas State Republican Party platform of 2002 — his own party — diametrically opposed to the Bush administration’s policy, including the policies by the state party to get out of NAFTA and WTO, including the severe criticism of the Patriot Act and the violation of civil liberties as what those conservative Republicans believe, quote, was "the main threat to our domestic liberties." End quote. You might want to look into that and explore.
I might add this nice point that you might be interested in. A few months ago, Ross Perot sent a private prospectus to New York publishing circles for a book that he presumably wanted to write, heavily attacking the deficit policies of the Bush administration. For some reason, it was pulled back. Now, Ross Perot made his mark in 1992 excoriating deficit spending and excoriating the exported jobs incident to NAFTA. The WTO hadn’t been passed then. He’s been right on both scores. I urge all Americans to urge Ross Perot in Dallas, Texas, to go public with his criticisms of the Bush regime’s devastating deficits, so devastating that the head of the General Accounting Office described the budget, as I mentioned earlier, as, quote, "Enron-type accounting," end quote, and talked about the enormous burden on the children in this country who are going to inherit not just the deficit, they’re going to inherit huge interest payments diverted from the necessities of our country, and suffer enormous budget cuts, which always start with the poor and with the minorities and with the children; it never starts at the top with the gold-plated weapon systems that were designed for a Soviet Union-era of hostility.
Q Mr. Nader, you mentioned that — Sarah Schweitzer from the Boston Globe. You mentioned that you were looking for — how many volunteers that you were going to get and how much money you’ve raised. How much have you raised? How many volunteers do you have?
And then secondly, in terms of just practical electoral results, if this time around you’re going to get fewer Democratic votes, and if you’re also not running with a third party and thereby not putting that party in the position of getting federal funding next time around, what practical electoral result do you hope to get out of this?
MR. NADER: What practical votes or –
Q Electoral outcome. What do you hope to get in terms of –
MR. NADER: Well, you don’t need to get electoral votes in a winner-take-all-system to qualify for federal funding.
MORE If you get 5 percent of the total votes you qualify –
Q (Off mike) — the party?
MR. NADER: No, no. It also accrues to independent candidates. John Anderson, for example, actually got 7 percent or so in 1980 and he qualified for federal funding; he chose not to take it in 1984. As far as the — does that answer that part of your question? And the other part?
Q How much money have you raised and how many volunteers do you have?
MR. NADER: Yes, okay. In an exploratory mode you can’t really raise big money, because then it will be viewed as not an exploratory mode. So we raised about $175,000 in the exploratory mode. But the funds have been increasing; contributions from all over the country have been flowing in, especially in the last 24 hours to our website, <votenader.org>. We’re getting floods of volunteers, resumes from people. We particularly want people who are good organizers, good signature gatherers, good in graphic arts, good in computer software and Web design, and good at all kinds of creative ideas on how to advance justice in our country based on what they’re doing back home to advance justice in our country.
Yes? Could you identify yourself?
Q Yeah, Amanda Debenen (sp), Washington Report on Middle Eastern Affairs. And I’m curious about –
MR. NADER: Did you ask before?
Q I do not believe –
Q (Off mike.)
MR. NADER: Okay, because — are you together? Because I’m sorry, you know, we have to give someone else a chance.
MR. NADER: Yes, hello?
Q Louisa Savage (sp) from The New York Times. Could you elaborate –
MR. NADER: Could you speak a little lot louder?
Q Sorry. Louisa Savage (sp) from The New York Times. Could you elaborate on — (audio break) — and will you be arguing that Iraq would have been better off if Saddam Hussein was still in power? How do you feel about Republican and conservative voters?
MR. NADER: Yes, well I think there are a lot of conservative voters who thought the Iraq invasion and its unconstitutional authorization by the Congress was inappropriate, to put it mildly. And as more casualties come back, fatalities, injuries, diseases from sand flies — sand-fly disease has already afflicted 1,200 soldiers; it’s hardly reported in the press. They’re going to be more upset when 130,000 soldiers are rotated back home; that’s going to mean a lot of communication with millions of families, including conservative families.
Would Iraq had been better off under Saddam Hussein or under the present situation? The question should be, would an American government-entrenched Saddam Iraq had been better off if the Bush administration in 1991 had overthrown Saddam Hussein after he illegally invaded Kuwait, and after the "Bush I" administration had the entire international community around them. That’s where the problem should have been resolved. Instead, the first George Bush urged the Shi’ites and the Sunnis to rise up and overthrow the tyrant, and they did and they had control over about 75 percent of Iraq when Saddam Hussein got the okay to slaughter them with helicopter gunships, and put down the rebellion with U.S. F-16s being held back from doing anything about it.
So I refuse to be put in a situation where you ask a question now without discussing history then.
And now there of course is more free newspapers; there, I’m sure — some small businesses starting. But on the other hand, the health care system has declined to even worse levels because of the war and lack of facilities. And to put it another way, dictators are terrible, but they provide security in the streets. And as one Iraqi said, "We despise Saddam Hussein, but we have less food, less electricity and less security now." That’s not the kind of comparison we want to make. We — the comparison we wanted to make is, why do we keep supporting dictators and oligarchs, instead of workers and peasants fostering democratic societies?
In the Middle East, the answer is oil. That’s the answer.
Q Brad Blanton, Radical Honesty Rag.
MR. NADER: Radical Honesty Rag?
Q Radical Honesty Rag. I’m the editor. (Laughter.)
I’m interested in secrecy, and it seems to me that a lot of American policy has been dogged by the 36 separate and secret agencies of the United States government that our taxes pay for. They seem to have made a lot of those policies without any review by the American people. I’d like for you just to say something about secrecy and the dishonesty that’s implicit in the hiding out in this most secretive administration in the history of the country.
MR. NADER: Well, democracy dies in the backrooms of government and their corporate and other allies. We have long been advocates and were significant promoters of the Freedom of Information Act of 1974, which the press takes constant and proper advantage of.
The Bush administration is one of the most secretive. They also have a Homeland Security Department that can easily exempt itself from Freedom of Information Act requests, without judicial review. And of course you get more misspending by the federal government, you get bad policies that aren’t exposed in time by the federal government when there’s secrecy. Information is the currency of democracy, and sunlight is the best disinfectant, as Justice Brandeis pointed out many, many years ago.
And we will make this a major issue. We will make government secrecy, a major adversary of democratic processes and public participation in their government, a major issue in this campaign.
Can we have just one more or two more, please. Yes?
Q (Name off mike) — American Prospect Magazine. I know that you’ve rejected running with the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. I’m wondering why you’ve rejected running with the Green Party, and what you think they’re doing wrong that makes them a party you don’t want to be part of.
MR. NADER: Well, they’re doing nothing wrong. The Green Party has a good platform. It keeps getting better. It’s very broad, not just the environment, although that’s important; it’s labor, it’s tax reform, it’s corporate accountability, it’s civic involvement.
I had to withdraw from consideration for the Green Party nomination because, as I said earlier, they are going to decide whether they’re going to have a candidate and under what restrictions — stay out of X states or Y state — in June. That’s too late to hazard a candidacy that should be busily collecting signatures to get on the ballot and surmount the two-party exclusionary statutes that we hope someday will be removed by one federal statute for federal elections instead of 50 state statutes varying wildly, from 300 signatures to get on the ballot in Tennessee, to 100,000 signatures in North Carolina for an independent candidate. There’s no rhyme or reason for that. They can have their own state election standards; for federal elections, there should be one federal standard, and that’s going to be one of the policies of our campaign.
Remember, if I just may end it in this, I do beseech you — as the media — to focus more and more on broader and broader issues and not allow the candidates of both parties to narrow the issues to four or five which become very repetitive and bore the heck out of all of you who follow these campaigns. Toward that end, I hope you will look with some measure of devotion to reading the 35-page agenda inquiry that I sent to the Republican and Democratic Committees, and perhaps look into some of those in order to flavor and elaborate the intensity and the diversity of an election campaign in a presidential year, when public debate should reach its optimum level.
Again, those who are interested in volunteering and contributing to our campaign, our new website is <votenader.org>.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)