Published on Thursday, November 2, 2000 in the Milwaukee Journal
Nader: 'Forked-Tongued' Gore Must Fend For Himself
by Dave Umhoefer and Dennis Chaptman
Playing to enthusiastic crowds in Madison and Milwaukee on Wednesday, third-party candidate Ralph Nader made it perfectly clear that he will not slip quietly into the night just because he could threaten Al Gore's presidential hopes.
In fact, Nader issued such a well-received and withering counterattack against Gore in Wisconsin that it raised the possibility that Gore's attempts to bring Nader backers home could backfire by energizing the Green Party's troops.
The veteran consumer activist, in front of crowds totaling 4,500, mocked Gore as a "fork-tongued" phony populist in the pocket of big corporations. Democrat Gore and Republican candidate George W. Bush, he said, are "so tired, corrupt and worn out that they should have an obligation to elect the Nader-LaDuke ticket."
"Why should I have an obligation to help elect my opponents?" Nader said in front of 3,000 at the Milwaukee Auditorium, where he was accompanied by his running mate, Winona LaDuke of Minnesota, and by former independent presidential candidate John Anderson.
Earlier Wednesday, he drew 1,500 to the steps of the state Capitol and told reporters that if Al Gore fails to win the White House, he isn't taking the fall for Gore's failed campaign.
"It would be clear that Gore beat himself," Nader said. "There are three issues that Republicans usually use against Democrats: the Soviet Union, no longer there; the deficit, no longer there; and a recession, no longer there. How can Al Gore not beat George W. Bush?" Nader asked.
Opinion polls say Nader is getting around 5% support in Wisconsin, as strong as 8% to 10% in Oregon and Minnesota and drawing well in Maine and Washington as well.
All are highly competitive states that Democrats need to win to put Gore over the top. Sensing trouble, liberal leaders and interest groups this week began a coordinated national push criticizing Nader's argument that Bush and Gore disagree on few important issues.
Nader has increased his advertising presence on TV, is hopscotching across the country in the campaign's final days and is planning a big rally in Washington, D.C.
His quest is to reach 5% of the vote and qualify the party for public funding for 2004.
In Madison, Nader criticized both Bush and Gore, giving Bush a D-minus grade and Gore a D-plus. But his criticism of Gore was particularly stinging.
"Al Gore thinks he's entitled to your votes," Nader said, drawing boos from the crowd.
"Al Gore thinks we're supposed to be helping him get elected. I've got news for Al Gore: If he can't beat the bumbling Texas governor with that terrible record, he ought to go back to Tennessee."
The Milwaukee crowd was a mix of first-time voters, disenchanted liberals and working-class folks who said their concerns have largely been ignored by Bush and Gore, interviews at the rally suggested.
"I'm so sick of voting for the lesser of two evils," said Al Harhay, a United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America union member from Greenfield. He said he voted twice for Bill Clinton but can't stand Gore.
Harhay was disturbed by the pro-Gore force's attacks on Nader, saying Gore's plight was the fault of the Democratic Party for fielding such a weak candidate.
Tom Niebler, a 58-year-old truck driver from Milwaukee, said he voted for Nader in 1996 and would do so again in 2000 because Nader stood up for common folks.
He said he voted for Clinton in 1992.
Nick and John Perifanos, brothers and college students, said they were leaning toward Gore but were curious enough to hear Nader out.
They said they had open minds about switching to Nader, but others at the rally said they feared helping Bush by casting a ballot for Nader.
Judith Hooks, a Milwaukee artist and Nader volunteer, said she and other liberals should vote their conscience.
She called the effort to pressure Nader supporters "a low-ball tactic."
Nader told reporters in Milwaukee that he would be disappointed if Bush or Gore won the election because either would continue the big-money, corporate-dominated political system that Nader said thwarts change.
Nader's campaign gets its funding only from small individual contributions such as the $7 he charged to get into the Milwaukee rally.
"The two parties take their marching orders from corporations," Nader said.
He described big business as "power-crazed."
Nader told the Milwaukee audience that his agenda included raising the minimum wage, eliminating restrictions on union organizing, enacting universal health insurance, increasing corporate responsibility and making the government responsive to non-monied interests.
"We've got a collapsing democracy," he said.
One sign of it: Governments, he said, are willing to spend millions in tax dollars on new sports stadiums while ignoring crumbling schools and other core problems.
Nader criticized Gore's running mate, Joseph Lieberman, for "wearing his religion on his sleeve and talking morality" while working in the Senate to limit corporations' liability in lawsuits.
"That's a double standard," Nader said.
Gore, he charged, had broken several key environmental promises, actions that Nader said showed the vice president's true character.
During both rallies, Nader made an open appeal for the votes of independents and former supporters of Republican John McCain, Democrat Bill Bradley and Reform Party founder Ross Perot.
© Copyright 2000, Journal Sentinel Inc