Q. Following Enron's collapse, you vowed to make the phrase ''corporate
reform'' ring throughout our land. Yet the public seems to have reacted with resignation
rather than with revulsion. To quote Bob Dole, ''Where's the outrage?''
It comes from a deep sense of powerlessness. When you feel powerless, your
attitude reflects apathy, withdrawal, resignation, and that is a telltale sign
of the degree to which our democracy has declined in the last 20, 25 years.
Why is it that, comparatively, the so-called welfare queens of the Reagan
years provoked much more anger on Main Street than white-collar criminals do now?
This outrage was fueled by people like Reagan. There are not many top politicians
who are fueling outrage against corporate crime and white-collar crime, so that's
one difference. The second difference is that people can identify with someone
who's ripping off welfare, i.e., their taxes, rather than a very complex corporate
scheme, off-the-books partnerships, that are very remote. There is plenty of outrage
out there, but the political system is not organized, because the political system
is funded by corporate interests.
(Photo/Walter P. Calahan)
Tyco's C.E.O. was just indicted for failing to pay sales tax on paintings
worth $13 million. He's also going to get a huge severance package.
Like all of them. When C.E.O.'s are expelled they get huge payments -- for
not doing their job they get rewarded! Ovitz gets thrown out of Disney and gets
$100 million. The head of Columbia/HCA, a health-care company, got $10 million.
It's all hush money. I would like to give shareholders the right to determine
how much they want to pay their employees at the top. You can be sure that shareholders
would never approve these crazy, wild, huge compensation packages that have nothing
to do with performance.
What product on the market today makes you think Corvair every time you
McDonald's double cheeseburgers, a weapon of mass destruction.
You've blasted corporate America for ''commercializing everything it touches.''
What strikes you as the most obscene example of commercialization?
The commercialization of childhood is truly the most offensive. Basically,
corporations have decided that kids under 12 are a lucrative market, and they
sell directly to them, subverting parental authority. The idea is to reach these
millions of kids who are in a vulnerable, impressionable state, even starting
at 2, 3, 4 years old, to get them to nag their parents to buy the products. What
are they selling these kids? Bad diets, fat and sugar, teaching them to be addicts.
They are addicting them to watching 30, 40 hours of screens -- video, television,
computer screens. The commercialization of childhood is a pervasive form of electronic
Has anyone ever approached you to become a TV pitchman?
Years ago, someone wanted to put my name on a chain of restaurants.
McNader's? Is there any product that you would endorse?
Southwest Airlines. Superb airline. The lowest fares, the highest profits,
the best service.
You go to great pains to deny that you cost Al Gore the election. Why
not just say: ''I cost Al Gore the election, and I'm proud of it. I persuaded
the Democratic Party to take notice of progressives.''
Did Tennessee cost Gore the election? Did Gore's performance on the debates
cost Gore the election? There are a lot of what ifs. It's a sterile debate. The
whole thing was satirized beautifully in a cartoon, which showed George W. Bush
looking at a guy holding up a sign: ''A Vote for Nader Is a Vote for Bush.'' And
Bush says: ''Really? I think I'll vote for Nader.''
Are you more or less optimistic than you were when you came to Washington
at age 29?
I am not afflicted by optimism or pessimism. They are not in my lexicon. I'm
not in the mood game, because moods affect your output, and the thing is, you
must keep striving because there is no alternative to striving for greater justice.
At 68, you can say that age has not mellowed you one bit?
Why should it? Experience informs one's judgment. Judgment is very motivational.
Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company