Also on the Ballot
Fighting “Political Servitude”
A day with independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader
By Simon McCormack
Bruce Trigg stands in front of a small roomful of reporters, looking nervous.
The Albuquerque coordinator of the Ralph Nader-Matt Gonzalez presidential campaign is explaining that he doesn’t know where Ralph Nader is. He is 20 minutes late to a news conference at the UNM Student Union Building. “We’ve arranged a pickup, and they have my phone number, but they haven’t called,” Trigg says before leaving the room, presumably to find someone with more information.
A moment later, Trigg returns with a smile. “Hold on, I just saw a familiar face.”
In walks Nader, who got onto New Mexico’s ballot Monday, Aug. 25. The 74-year-old longtime consumer-rights advocate and four-time presidential candidate looks his age. If he doesn't win this time, he has no plans to hang up his hat unless someone else is willing to run his type of progressive campaign.
His presence quickly fills the room. After apologizing for being late, Nader launches into his opening remarks, “It's quite clear this country needs a third political force made up of people all over the country who are committed to the proposition that corporations and their governments must become our servants and not our masters as they are at the present time.”
Once he concludes, Nader takes a handful of questions from reporters, the first of which has to do with the fear many left-wing voters have of his candidacy. Every time he’s run for president, Nader has heard the argument that he’s going to steal votes from the Democratic candidate, allowing the Republican nominee to stroll into the White House. The reporter asks him where the fear comes from and what he can do to quell the feeling.
“It comes from a personality trait known as political servitude,” Nader answers, without hesitation. “That is, these are people who are uniformly critical of the Democratic Party three years out of four, and then they succumb to the least worst option between the Democrats and the Republicans and try to oppose the very campaign that is bringing their priority issues into the electoral arena.”
... corporations and their governments must become our servants and not our masters as they are at the present time.
Nader goes on to argue that voting for what he calls “the least worst option” encourages Democrats to move further toward the interests of the corporations. As he explains, Democratic candidates take progressive voters for granted and spend more time pandering to the interests of big business. As a case in point, Nader offers Democratic Sen. Barack Obama’s candidacy. He says Obama has been moving closer to the right of the political spectrum as the election on Nov. 4 draws closer. “He knows the liberals and progressives have no bargaining power," Nader says. “So he turns his back on them, knowing he has their vote.”
Nader answers a few more questions and heads to a rally for his campaign in a larger room in the SUB. “I usually take more questions,” he says. “But there’s a crowd waiting.”
The audience of a couple hundred people gives him a warm welcome as soon as he steps through the door. He shakes hands and signs autographs until he reaches the podium, where he gives a 45-minute speech interrupted by spurts of applause.
He invites to the podium Matt Zawisky, a twentysomething supporter who represents all of what might be considered Nader’s entourage. Zawisky follows closely in front of or behind Nader whenever the candidate changes locations. Zawisky begins by asking the crowd if anyone can contribute $2,300 to Nader’s campaign. There are no takers, so Zawisky lowers his asking price to $1,000. One woman, sitting just three rows from where Nader has taken a seat in the crowd, raises her hand. She explains that her donation is an attempt to make amends for voting for President Richard Nixon. Nader turns around to face the woman and thanks her.
The fourth world is us. Rich country, poor people.
Zawisky is able to elicit a couple thousand dollars in donations, and Nader returns to the front of the room to take questions from the audience.
In a response to a question about health care, Nader mentions the United States is the only Western country without a national, single-payer system in which the government provides for its citizens. He goes on to describe America as a “fourth-world nation.” The first world, Nader explains, is all of Western Europe. The second world is the former Soviet Union and the third world is Latin America, Asia and Africa. “The fourth world is us,” Nader says. “Rich country, poor people.”
A woman asks the candidate how well he could work with Congress if he is elected. The crowd chuckles, and he says if he were elected president, there would be such a groundswell that many of the members of Congress he disagrees with would no longer be in office.
Nader also provides one more zinger for his critics. “People say that we’re going to steal votes, but they never ask the other candidates to steal our policies,” Nader says. “Why don’t they take all our ammunition from us?”
At the book signing that follows the question-and-answer period, Nader shows he’s well aware of the benefits technology can give a campaign running on a tight budget. After thanking a group of campaign volunteers he asks, “Did anyone record the speech? Someone should put it on YouTube.”
Nader leaves for Santa Fe, where he is scheduled to speak at the College of Santa Fe, again first at a press conference and then at a rally.
The candidate arrives late and spends more time than allotted answering questions. He seems to relish the opportunity to give responses to inquiries he’s probably heard more than a few times in his four presidential campaigns. In Santa Fe, as in Albuquerque, Nader concludes his rally with a quote from a Chinese proverb from the Ming Dynasty: “To know and not to do, is not to know.”
During his book signing in Santa Fe after the rally, Nader answered questions from the Alibi.
Do you think there’s a difference between Obama and Republican Sen. John McCain?
Yeah, but not enough. You see, McCain is much more of a warmonger, but Obama has been showing some very bad hawkish tendencies. It comes down to both flunking, and they have different grades.
What do you say to the charge that Republicans are contributing to your campaign hoping that you’ll steal votes from Obama?
They're not. The Democrats got 20 times more contributions in ’04 from registered Republicans [than the Nader campaign did]. We get contributions with no strings attached, whether they're Democrat, Republican, Green, Libertarian—who cares? There are never any strings attached.
If you don’t win this year, when will you stop running for president?
Well, I'm open for people who want to run a progressive campaign, but nobody seems to want to do it.
What about the Green Party candidate Cynthia McKinney? You’ve said the Green Party has a progressive platform.
But that progressive agenda is not taken across the country.
Do you have any new campaign strategies this time around?
Yes. And all I can say to you is: Stay tuned.
Ralph Nader will be on the ballot in New Mexico as an independent candidate. Here’s where he stands on some major issues:
Nader would try to boost the sagging U.S. economy by creating government-funded public works jobs. He would finance the project by taking money out of the country’s military budget and ending corporate subsidies. “It would improve the life of people and create good-paying jobs that can't be exported to China,” Nader says.
He would also try to lower gas prices by curbing oil speculation on the New York Stock Exchange. “Necessities of life should not be subject to wild gambling on Wall Street,” Nader says. “Even ExxonMobil said about two months ago that if there was no speculation in oil futures, the price of a barrel of oil would be cut in half.”
Nader would set a target date of six months for all U.S. troops to withdraw from Iraq. Unlike Obama and McCain, he would not push for an increase of troops in Afghanistan.
The cornerstone of Nader’s policy would be entirely comprised of forms of solar energy. He would not support the construction of any new nuclear or coal-power plants, and he is opposed to off-shore oil drilling.
Nader supports a single-payer system in which the government provides health care for everyone. Nader contends his plan would cost less than what the U.S. government spends to provide health care to some of its people.
For more, visit votenader.org.
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