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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Ralph Nader

Air Date: Week of

Host Laura Knoy talks with Green Party presidential nominee Ralph Nader about his campaign platform and why he is running as a third party candidate.


KNOY: Ralph Nader, the Green Party presidential candidate, is running hard in this year's race and is attracting record numbers to his political rallies. Mr. Nader aims to visit all 50 states on his campaign trail and invigorate progressive voters. But despite his efforts, the anti-corporate candidate's poll numbers are low, and he was iced out of the televised presidential debates. Ralph Nader spoke with me from his campaign headquarters in Washington, D.C. I asked him why he's running for president.

NADER: Because the two parties have basically allowed our government to be hijacked by big money interests and big business. And that means our democracy's been weakened. And that means we're not solving problems and preventing injustice that we're fully capable of addressing and resolving.

KNOY: Mr. Nader, how do you feel you've been treated by the media?

NADER: The local media's pretty good, but the national media is still in a winner-take-all, two-party duopoly mindset. And they get third parties of significance in a Catch-22. If you don't go up in the polls, you don't get mass national media. You don't get national media, you don't go up in the polls. If I got on the presidential debates, all bets are off in terms of who would win this election. But it's really tough to fight entrenched two parties who command the money, command most of the media, and command the statutory barriers that they erect to try to keep third party candidates off the ballot in state after state.

KNOY: You've said, Mr. Nader, that there's not a shred of difference between Republicans and Democrats. I think you've called them Republicats or Demapubs or something. Give us some examples of how there isn't any difference between the two on certain issues.

NADER: Well, I'll give you a whole list of examples. They don't have different interests on cracking down on corporate crime and consumer protection. In the area of corporate welfare, they're all on the same page. They're all pushing these subsidies, giveaways, handouts, bailouts to big businesses. Their agricultural proposals for distressed rural life and farmers who can't make a living because the price of wheat, corn, and soybean are so low, they don't have anything different on that. They're arguing over how much more military expenditure ten years after the demise of the Soviet Union, instead of reducing military expenditures. And they don't have a really coordinated policy to abolish poverty, especially child poverty. And in the civil rights, civil liberties area, it's really hard to tell them apart, believe it or not.

KNOY: What about the environment, Mr. Nader? As you know, Al Gore is making himself out to be the environmental candidate.

NADER: There are a few differences there. I think in the public lands, the Democrats are better than the Republicans. However, I think that, you know, both of them are content to go along with subsidies for nuclear power and oil, gas, and coal industries. Both of them are not making a major foray for solar energy. Both of them are soft on pesticide regulation. And both of them are for the anti-environmental WTO, NAFTA, and letting the auto companies have a holiday from improving their fuel efficiency standards. Now, there may be marginal differences in some of these areas, but they don't amount to the enormous number of issues of concentration of power and wealth, where the Republicans, Democrats, are just the same.

KNOY: And in terms of your own environmental platform, sir, what specifically would you do?

NADER: I would announce a major mission to expand solar energy, which in so many ways is ready to go and actually going in certain places in our country. Like wind power, like solar thermal, like biomass, and the photovoltaic prices, which are dropping, are becoming more competitive. I would expand organic agriculture to reduce the devastating pollution on the farms, and try to curb all these factory farms that are concentrating so much waste, the hog farms and the cattle farms. I would also allow the growing of industrial hemp, a great textile food, fiber, fuel plant. I would put a regulatory framework around biotechnology, which is now rushing forward without answering the key questions in bioscience itself. And of course, I would change the international trade agreements so that they leave the environment alone and don't subjugate it to the dictates of international commerce. Make the auto companies catch up all these years of neglect and move toward much higher fuel efficiency standards, not only for pollution control but to help family budgets. Those are some of the starters for a real environmental platform, which emphasizes that environmental advance is another word for efficiency in the use of natural resources. It's another word for making our economy more productive and less causative of cancer, respiratory ailments, other diseases, and property damage.

KNOY: Mr. Gore has gotten the endorsement of groups like Friends of the Earth, organizations that would seem to agree with you. How do you feel about that?

NADER: That's true, and I've, you know, worked with Friends of the Earth. And you know, I've heard an earful over the last eight years of how distressed they are about the betrayals and broken promises and weakness of the Clinton-Gore environmental programs. But again, they're going for the least worst. If you have a least worst mentality, if you settle for the bad because the other party is worse, then you'll just legitimize both parties getting worse every four years. And there comes a time when they both flunk. One party, the Democrats, may get a D plus. The Republican Party may get a D minus. They both flunk. We can do better. We deserve better.

KNOY: Why did you decide to run with the Greens instead of running within the Democratic Party itself? The concept of reforming the party from within?

NADER: Well you know, Bill Bradley tried to do that. And I don't think this party is internally capable of reform. I think it has to be provoked and challenged from outside. And I wanted a political campaign that went all the way to November, because after November we will have millions of voters for the Green Party ready to build an even stronger party, and ready to be a watchdog on the two parties in Washington.

KNOY: Is that a goal of your campaign? To boost the Green Party to the point where they can fulfill that role as watchdog?

NADER: Yes, definitely. Because that's a win-win, you see? Unlike running in the primary, if you lose you go home and prepare your endorsement speech for the person who you deplored for weeks on the campaign trail. We are going to win in a whole variety of ways. We'll win a significant third party, and we will win the biggest political rallies of the election year by far. And we'll win with tens of thousands of people, many of them young people, going into progressive politics. And they're going to be the leaders of the next generation.

KNOY: I have to ask you the spoiler question. And I'll ask it this way: what would you say to a liberal voter who likes your positions on the issues but is afraid that the vote for you essentially amounts to a vote for Republican George Bush?

NADER: Well, I would say wait until the day before the election. If you live in states where Bush or Gore are going to landslide one another, Texas--Bush, New York State--Gore, then you can safely watch the least worst win and vote for the Greens in terms of a watchdog function, and to send a message to the least worst that they should really try to be better. That is about 40 states where either Bush or Gore are going to win big. In the close states, you can ask yourself, do you want your Senators and Representatives to vote their conscience in Washington? If your answer is yes, ask yourself why you don't vote your conscience? Do you want to waste your vote on two parties that have been wasting our democracy? Or do you want to vote your hopes, your dreams, not your fears? Do you want to vote for a better America, a new progressive politics? Like so many of our forebears did when they broke through the routine of the least worst mentality.

KNOY: Ralph Nader is the Green Party's presidential candidate. Mr. Nader, thanks a lot.

NADER: Thank you very much.



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