Published on Monday, May 8, 2000
Ralph Nader on 'Meet The Press'
Sunday, May 7, 2000
May 7, 2000, Sunday


Announcer: From NBC News in Washington, this is MEET THE PRESS with Tim Russert.

MR. RUSSERT: Our issues this Sunday? It's Bush and Gore running neck and neck in the polls. Could this man, as the presidential candidate for the Green Party, influence the outcome? Our Meet the Contenders series continues with Ralph Nader.


MR. RUSSERT: But first, we are at peace, the economy is strong, yet polls show George W. Bush and Al Gore locked in a very tight race. Why isn't an incumbent vice president doing better? One reason may be our guest, Ralph Nader. Mr. Nader, welcome.

MR. NADER: Thank you. Happy birthday.

MR. RUSSERT: Thank you very much. Nice of you to say that. Let me show you some polling data on our screen and share it with our viewers, as well. General election right now, Bush 41, Gore 37, Nader 5, Buchanan 4. And where does that Nader vote come from? Eleven percent of the liberals in the Hotline survey say they are for Ralph Nader. No conservatives, but 11 percent of the liberals. Aren't you taking votes right away from Al Gore?

MR. NADER: Well, I think he's been taking votes from me. That's our concern. You can't really spoil a spoiled system, and the two parties are really converging more and more into a huge vested interest money pot and turning their back on very important needs of the people. So we're intending to build a major political force, progressive in content, but appealing to conservatives, liberals, all the people who feel they're losing control in this country over everything that matters to them -- their government, big business, environment, the workplace, the marketplace, even their own children who are being seduced by these corporate hucksters and entertainers.

MR. RUSSERT: Would it bother you that if you did so well in California, Oregon, Washington state, along the West Coast, that Al Gore lost the election?

MR. NADER: No, not at all. I think even as a severe Democrat -- if I'm talking to a severe Democrat, I would say, "This party is going so far into the corporate realm" -- you have the least of the worst dynamic where every four years both the Republicans, Democrats get worse. There may be a cold shower for four years that would help the Democratic Party. I think also it's really important to know that in many ways, as millions of Green voters come out, there aren't that many Green Party candidates running for the House, a lot of these people are going to vote for the existing Democrat challengers in the House of Representatives. So I think Gephardt may have a better chance of recovering the House.

MR. RUSSERT: So your mission is to energize the progressive liberal base of the Democratic Party?

MR. NADER: No, that may be a byproduct. Third parties historically have really pushed the major parties going back through 180 years of American history. But I think now that these two parties are so marinated in big business money, they can't be internally reformed. There's a whole new independent streak among people, young people, especially, are turned off.

People are dropping out of democracy. That's a very dangerous trend. The voting level is going down. But even more than that, you have people say, "I'm not turned on to politics." Well, history shows that if you're not turned on to politics, politics is going to turn on you. And the political system, under the corporate domination, is closing out the civil society. Citizen groups can't get anything done anymore.

You can see that in the last 15 years, Tim, in particular, in Washington, D.C. It's very hard to get a chance to have a chance in Congress before the regulatory agencies or the courts. It's like a permanent government in Washington. It doesn't matter who is in the White House.

MR. RUSSERT: What don't you like about Al Gore?

MR. NADER: Well, let's start with his wonderful book in 1992 on environment. He's broken more of his priorities in eight years than probably any other current politician. He and Clinton have given the auto companies eight years holiday, no fuel efficiency standards, losing eight critical lead-time years. They've turned the auto safety agency into a consulting firm for Detroit. And one area after another, whether it's the forests, whether it's land erosion, whether it's not protecting small farmers and ranchers, whether it's pesticides, whether it's genetic engineering, you name it, they have fallen down on the job. And Al Gore will go anywhere in the country to raise big money from Silicon Valley types and others, but he won't go down the street in Washington, despite repeated invitations, and meet with a thousand citizen leaders, in a downtown hotel, representing millions of members around the country. That's the kind of priority he is exerting and reflecting.

MR. RUSSERT: As you campaign around the country, reading the clips, you've called Al Gore a chronic political coward and the ultimate panderer. Do you really believe that?

MR. NADER: Yeah. Oh, yes. I -- not only do I believe that, I mean, we have people coming up to airports, saying, "Do you hear the latest Al Gore? That's the last straw for us." I mean, he has pandered to big business. He has pandered to the types of lobbies in Washington that are taking over the city. I mean, when have you seen Al Gore stand up and challenge the international autocratic system of governors which downgrades environmental, consumer and workplace standards called the WTO or NAFTA? I mean, that goes right at the core of his environmental philosophy. And he abandoned it. He hasn't challenged the fossil fuel industry and nuclear industry, though he's been quite critical of it. And he hasn't come out for solar energy policies all over the country. That's supposed to be one of the greatest environmental forays for our country and extending it across the world. He's been very silent on that. He's never made a single speech on consumer policy affecting the pocketbooks of the American people and their health and safety, all the rampant corporate crime, fraud and abuse that you see reported in The Wall Street Journal or on "60 Minutes" or in the Post or in the Times. He's not even reading the papers, Tim.

MR. RUSSERT: Would he not be better on those issues than George W. Bush?

MR. NADER: On corporate power issues, apart from the rhetoric, no. A careful reading of the federal regulatory agencies, like the approval of pharmaceuticals, the food regulation, the auto safety, aviation, the regulatory agencies under Clinton/Gore are as bad or worse than under Reagan/Bush. Dr. Sidney Wolfe has said that the OSHA performance is even worse under Clinton/Gore than Reagan/Bush. I mean, that's why we call the president George Ronald Clinton.

MR. RUSSERT: But if you look at the statistics that the Clinton-Gore campaign put out in '96, and again this year, they will say, "Lowest unemployment in this century, 3.9 percent, 20 million new jobs created. Deficits turned to surpluses. Mr. Nader," they will say, "the economy is doing great. No one's going to listen to your message of doom and gloom."

MR. NADER: Well, first of all, they didn't create 22 million jobs. That was created overwhelmingly by the private economy. They didn't have much of a fiscal policy. Let's look at the people indicators. Yeah, you have nine years of growth, nine years of corporate profits, nine years of stock market prices. Look at people indicators. According to the Department of Labor, a majority of the workers making less today in inflation and adjusted dollars than they did 20, 25 years ago and they're working 160 hours more a year on the average. Twenty percent child poverty, the highest percentage of poverty by far in the Western world. People having trouble making ends meet, even with two incomes because they're not having a livable wage, like in Wal-Mart. And so they have to go deeper in debt. Debt now has soared over $ 6.2 trillion --consumer indebtedness.

We have homelessness. Affordable housing levels are at a peak in terms of not being met even though Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are reporting record profits. And then the facilities, the schools, the clinics, the public works that serve ordinary Americans aren't being repaired. If you take people indicators, there's quite a different economy. There is a two-tier economy where the top 10 percent is doing quite well, the top 1 percent spectacularly. But as Jeff Gates points out in his new book, "Democracy at Risk," the top 1 percent of the richest people in this country have financial wealth equal to the combined 95 percent of the American people. That's a very unhealthy inequality which is even troubling Alan Greenspan.

MR. RUSSERT: Let me put on the screen something from the Green Party platform about defense spending. "We strive to cut the defense budget by 50 percent by the year 2000, from approximately $ 300 billion -- aggregate spending -- in '96." Is this your position?

MR. NADER: Not that much. But Mr. Korb, who is Reagan's assistant secretary of Defense, says the Defense budget can be cut by $ 100 billion. Look, our traditional adversaries are no more. Soviet Union is gone. Historically, we demobilized after our enemies have disappeared or have been conquered. We're not doing that now. We have F-22s, tens of billions of dollars. Analysts in the Pentagon are opposed to it. B-2 bombers forced down the Pentagon's throat while the global infectious disease efforts of the Pentagon, a great story, is starved for its budget.

MR. RUSSERT: How would you cut the Defense budget by a third?

MR. NADER: Well, one is -- first of all, bring back some of the troops from Western Europe and East Asia who are defending prosperous countries who can defend themselves against non-existent enemies. I think there's about $ 70 billion being spent in that area a year in up-front and back-up costs. And then these massive weapons systems that have no strategic value whatsoever. How about the Osprey aircraft? That's crashed and killed a lot of Marines. A wasteful defense is a weak defense.

MR. RUSSERT: In 1996, you ran. In 22 states, your name appeared on ballots. How many states will you be on this year?

MR. NADER: We're going for 50 states. We have definitely 45 states. Some states we're having these huge ballot access hurdles compliments of the Republican, Democratic Party who don't like competition, don't like third parties, and don't recognize that third parties help regenerate the political system. Those include North Carolina, Texas, Oklahoma, Georgia and Illinois, Indiana and Michigan. Those are the tough ones. We hope people will volunteer to grab a hold of the clipboard and get signatures for us. And our Web site is for those who are interested in volunteering and those who are interested in making contributions to the campaign.

MR. RUSSERT: In 1996, you spent about $ 5,000. How much do you plan to spend this year?

MR. NADER: We're trying to raise $ 5 million, going for matching funds. We're going to have lots of volunteers all over the country, and we're placing now, in the process, 30 full-time organizers all over the United States. And we hope people will give us ideas and contribute their skills. This is going to be heavy volunteer-based. We're going to have time-raisers, as well as fund-raisers. And, again, if those people want to get in touch with us, is the contact.

MR. RUSSERT: There has been some criticism of your organization, Public Citizen, that you do not release donors who give $ 1,000 or more to that organization. Why not?

MR. NADER: I don't run Public Citizen. I haven't run it since 1981. You'll have to ask the president of Public Citizen. Most groups keep their contributors private, if it is legal to do so, in order to protect their privacy in order to avoid any retaliation wherever they are, because they're supporting a cause that challenges the corporate status quo.

MR. RUSSERT: But you will make public all the contributors to your presidential campaign?

MR. NADER: Oh, yes.

MR. RUSSERT: And your own personal finances.


MR. RUSSERT: Without a doubt.


MR. RUSSERT: Issues like abortion, same-sex marriage, will they play a role in your campaign?

MR. NADER: Well, you know, for 35, 40 years, we're focusing on consumer environmental worker issues, tax equities, more the corporate issues, open government, Freedom of Information Act. But we have a very strong civil rights, civil liberties position. As a matter of fact, the civil liberties enforcement under Clinton-Gore in the area of unprovoked police brutality and affirmative action, has been less, according to attorneys in the Justice Department, than under Reagan/Bush. So we're going to come on really strong in these areas.

MR. RUSSERT: So you are for abortion rights. Are you for same-sex marriage?

MR. NADER: I don't think government has the proper role in forcing a woman to have a child or forcing a woman not to have a child. And we've seen that around the world in both areas. This is something that should be privately decided with the family, woman, all the other private factors of it, but we should work toward preventing the necessity of abortion.

MR. RUSSERT: Does the state have a right to say that only heterosexuals can be married?

MR. NADER: I think homosexuals have the right of civil union. There are economic reasons for that and there are humanitarian reasons for that, and I think the Vermont decision is a good one, and I think homosexuals should be given equal rights and equal responsibilities.

MR. RUSSERT: So if you wake up in November of 2000 and the Green Party has gotten 5 percent of the vote, but Al Gore has lost and George W. Bush is the next president, you'll consider the day a success?

MR. NADER: The Green Party will get more than 5 percent of the vote, number one. Number two, there's nothing preventing Al Gore from grabbing hold of these corporate power issues: corporate welfare, stronger labor laws to facilitate trade unions, crack down on consumer fraud, corporate crime, challenging the autocratic systems of governance like WTO. If he wants to challenge our issues, welcome. We'll have a more competitive, robust effort, and I'd like to, along with Pat Buchanan, get on these presidential debates and stop this charade where the Presidential Debate Commission, controlled by the Republican and Democrat Party, excludes other significant candidates. I mean, the American people are going to fall asleep watching the drab debate the dreary.

MR. RUSSERT: Before you go, 34 years ago, something happened on this program. I'd like to show you and our viewers.


MR. PAUL DUKE (NBC News): Mr. Nader, can we really have our cake and enjoy it, too? Can we have safe cars and sporty cars?

MR. NADER: If you mean a type of aesthetic pleasure in owning a car, its external design, etc., yes. I think there's no incompatibility between safety and beauty. In fact, the ethically appropriate twins are safety and beauty, not beauty and death. There's nothing uglier than blood on a car.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT: Thirty-four years ago.

MR. NADER: Thirty-four years ago this month, as a matter of fact. Yes.

MR. RUSSERT: Exactly right. Welcome back and we'll be watching your campaign.

MR. NADER: Thank you very much, Tim.

MR. RUSSERT: Coming next, a debate over the death penalty. Should there be a moratorium on the death penalty until we are certain someone innocent doesn't die? Reverend Pat Robertson and Governor Frank Keating of Oklahoma square off. Should there be a moratorium?

Then David Broder, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Robert Novak and William Safire--the very latest on George W. Bush vs. Al Gore, and Hillary Clinton vs. Rudy Giuliani all coming up on MEET THE PRESS.

Copyright 2000 National Broadcasting Co. Inc.