Crashing the Party, by Ralph Nader

When I was 14 years old, I heard Ralph Nader say that box cereal was less nutritious than the box it came in, and you'd get more nutrition out of tearing up the box and pouring sugar and milk over it, and eating that for breakfast. That's the kind of genius that Ralph Nader produces constantly, and why his ideas changed the world for Americans more than perhaps any political thinker of the late 20th century. He remains more relevant than virtually every other political thinker currently on the scene.

Crashing the Party, by Ralph Nader

Postby admin » Mon Aug 10, 2015 7:22 am

CRASHING THE PARTY
by Ralph Nader
© 2002 by Ralph Nader

NOTICE: THIS WORK MAY BE PROTECTED BY COPYRIGHT

YOU ARE REQUIRED TO READ THE COPYRIGHT NOTICE AT THIS LINK BEFORE YOU READ THE FOLLOWING WORK, THAT IS AVAILABLE SOLELY FOR PRIVATE STUDY, SCHOLARSHIP OR RESEARCH PURSUANT TO 17 U.S.C. SECTION 107 AND 108. IN THE EVENT THAT THE LIBRARY DETERMINES THAT UNLAWFUL COPYING OF THIS WORK HAS OCCURRED, THE LIBRARY HAS THE RIGHT TO BLOCK THE I.P. ADDRESS AT WHICH THE UNLAWFUL COPYING APPEARED TO HAVE OCCURRED. THANK YOU FOR RESPECTING THE RIGHTS OF COPYRIGHT OWNERS.


Image

To those who devote themselves to building self-renewing, democratic societies for the fulfillment of human possibilities through peace and justice.

And to Rose B. Nader and Nathra Nader, who taught me the difference between justice and charity and the importance of both.


Table of Contents:

• Preface to the Latest Edition
• Preface
• Chapter 1: Business As Usual: The Best Conventions Money Can Buy
• Chapter 2: The Morphing of the Democrats
• Chapter 3: Citizen Closeout: The Moral Imperative
• Chapter 4: Campaign Liftoff: America, We've Got a Problem
• Chapter 5: Friends, Funds, and Formidable Hurdles
• Chapter 6: Hitting the Road
• Chapter 7: Momentum: The Campaign Takes Shape
• Chapter 8: On the Road to Fifty States
• Chapter 9: "We, the People"
• Chapter 10: The Media: An Ongoing Non-Debate
• Chapter 11: The Super-Rallies: Not Your Average Garden Party
• Chapter 12: The Commission on Presidential Debates
• Chapter 13: With Cold Feet and Big Hearts
• Chapter 14: The Election Stretch Drive
• Chapter 15: Conceit and Confusion
• Chapter 16: Looking Ahead
• Appendix A: Citizens' Committee for Nader-LaDuke
• Appendix B: Some Organizations Ralph Nader Founded or Helped Start
• Appendix C: Announcement Speech
• Appendix D: Wouldn't President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney Have Done the Same?
• Appendix E: The Naderhood 2000
• Appendix F: The Greens' Ten Key Values
• Appendix G: CNA Ad
• Appendix H: FDR Letter to the Democratic Convention
• Appendix I: Steve Cobble Memo
• Appendix J: What I Voted For, by Tim Robbins
• Appendix K: East Liverpool Meeting
• Suggested Reading
• Index
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 17838
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: Crashing the Party, by Ralph Nader

Postby admin » Mon Aug 10, 2015 7:23 am

Preface to the Latest Edition

Since the hardback edition of Crashing the Party went to press in late summer of 2001, two events occurred that demonstrate both how hard it is to predict even the short-range future and how important it is for our democracy to be at a high state of readiness and resiliency. Our country was jolted by the September 11 attacks, which left thousands dead and exposed our nation's security vulnerabilities. Then the eruption of a corporate crime wave coupled with a sharp stock market decline made page one. There was also the sudden replacement of "government surpluses as far as one can see" with federal and state governmental budget deficits.

The media has explored a remarkable variety of stories about the heroics in the hellish firestorms at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. One of the most poignant stories concerned the fifty-five-year-old worker in New York who refused to leave his quadriplegic colleague when everyone else was rushing for the stairs; both workers perished. By contrast, the moves by public officials and the big business community in the months following 9/11 have yet to be sorted out by many Americans.

The Bush Administration confronted the age-old balance between national security and civil liberties by coming down hard on the latter. But by deed, not by rhetoric. In their statements, President Bush and his Cabinet spoke the language of freedom and liberty, which they said the terrorists and their backers attacked on September 11. They are attacking, the President declared again and again, our freedom of speech, our freedom of religion, and our freedom to disagree. But in a remarkable contrast between words and deeds, even for Mr. Bush, the government responded with both the most restrictive single law on our civil liberties since the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 and, by creating a climate of repression, chilled dissent.

The chilling effect of President Bush's words might as well have come from an unrestrained west Texas sheriff. Bush upset Laura Bush, among others, who, Bush admitted, tried to urge him to employ more Presidential language, which might have helped foster a more tolerant public dialogue. But what Bush and his advisors knew well was how to accelerate a groundswell for fast military action to destroy those whom the evidence [?] deemed responsible for sending the hijackers to the United States. He declared "war on terrorism" without asking the Congress for a formal constitutional declaration against the Taliban regime. He sent massive military forces to Afghanistan without invoking available international law because he wanted no lawful standards by which he could be judged.

***

On the domestic front, Bush pushed through a stampeded Congress with huge Senate and House majorities the notorious USA Patriot Act -- a 342-page attack on civil liberties that bolted through Congress with flimsy hearings, little debate, and no conference or committee reports. With loads of fine print conferring vast and unchecked powers to the Executive branch and diminishing the role of both Congress and our judiciary, the act flings open the police power gates. The Patriot Act removes external controls over either the definition of terrorism or the invasion of critical privacies through surveillance, "sneak and peak" searches, and many other breaches of basic American standards of due process and freedom to dissent reaching far beyond those involved in terrorist activities. The act portends the emergence of Big Brother activity that outrages some conservatives and liberals. But they were vastly outvoted by a Congress in wholesale fright from the White House and its bully pulpit. Unless substantially repealed, the Patriot Act will lead to law enforcement illegalities, excesses, and waste -- some of which will eventually be exposed, but only after serious damage to innocent citizens and immigrants and our democratic traditions.

There was another motivation for the Bush Administration's construction of an autocratic atmosphere -- the diversion of attention from the immense failure of $30-billion-a-year intelligence agencies. Despite the latest technologies, manpower, and resources, alerted presumably by the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in 1993 and other attacks on U.S. installations overseas, these agencies did not follow up any of the tracks that the hijackers left all over the East Coast and some western states for four years. By demanding more powers, and more money, the Bush Administration was trying to camouflage what it and many observers knew -- that they had enough authority, not to mention leads from their own field offices, to have detected and stopped the hijackers. Together with the FAA, they had ignored proposals long on the table (such as strengthening cockpit doors and latches) that could have prevented the use of airplanes as missiles.

Civil libertarians asked a question that was never answered: What civil liberty should we have given up before 9/11 that would have enabled the government to catch the attackers? In fact, former CIA Middle East Director Frank Anderson was one of several officials who rejected the need for the American people to forfeit any of their civil liberties. On September 16, 2001, Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes asked him, "What civil liberties should Americans be asked to contemplate giving up in order to fight terrorism?" Anderson responded: "That's easy. Absolutely none. If we can't figure out how to begin and conduct and win the war on terrorism without supporting and defending the Constitution of the United States, frankly, I want to go somewhere else, and you can't have my son for it."

In the weeks after 9/11, expressions of political dissent or the need for tolerance were frowned upon, condemned, or excluded from radio and television. People were shouted down at public gatherings, summarily cut off on cable television talk shows, fired from their jobs, or placed under surveillance or detention. President Bush made several attempts, by a visit to a mosque and meetings with Muslim-Americans, to shield them from verbal and more violent attacks. But at the same time his Attorney General, John Ashcroft, was trampling civil liberties (indefinitely detaining purported suspects without charges, and without access to attorneys) that are meant to protect both citizens and noncitizens in this country. Ashcroft and the FBI proceeded to use these new powers overwhelmingly against Muslims who Bush had said should be protected from discrimination. The Justice Department issued new guidelines for monitoring religious meetings, domestic political groups, and Internet Web sites, without any demonstrated indications of criminal activity -- a measure sure to lead to wasteful, sloppy, and ineffective law enforcement. Rep. James Sensenbrenner, Jr., the Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and a Bush supporter, questioned these guidelines. "Given the fact that the FBI is stretched to the limit, why should they be investigating matters when there is no criminal activity suggested?" he asked. He received no satisfactory answer. The Attorney General also contributed to widespread censorship and its corollary -- fearful self-censorship -- by asserting that his critics "only aid terrorists, for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve. They give ammunition to America's enemies and pause to America's friends. They encourage people of goodwill to remain silent in the face of evil."

Whenever government limits inputs by the people -- and there were certainly other alternative proposals, some by retired admirals and generals -- about military strategy and military expenditures, the government is likely to make blunders and mistakes. This is one reason why open democracies often prevail over closed dictatorships, which drastically limit public inputs. A policy of burning down the haystack (bombing Afghanistan) to find the needles (Al-Qaeda) has not resulted in success thus far, but cost many innocent Afghans their lives. Rear Admiral John D. Stufflebeem, who briefs reporters at the Pentagon, said in the spring of 2002, "The Taliban and Al-Qaeda have vanished." Maybe another more focused approach by a multilateral corps of commandos, equipped with knowledge of language and tribal cultures and utilizing bribes and spies, may have worked better to bring those culpable to justice. But neither the commercial media, nor the White House, nor the Congress, with few exceptions, encouraged such options. Nor was there any follow-up when at different times, Secretary Colin Powell, Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and President Bush himself declared that tyranny, poverty, disease, and illiteracy provide breeding grounds that tolerate such terrorists. The period after 9/11 was not a time to ask "why" there is such hatred and resentment against the United States by many in the Islamic world and elsewhere in the Third World. Asking the "why" questions, as some public figures did, was considered unpatriotic. It was also an effective way to control dissent and to say to skeptical Americans, "shut up and get in line."

This kind of antidemocratic attitude feeds on itself. President Bush kept broadening the menu. In the spring of 2002, he unveiled an enormous new agency, called the Department of Homeland Security, demanding quick passage through Congress. If adopted, it could become another megalayer of bureaucracy, separate from the CIA, NSA, and FBI, heavily exempted from freedom of information obligations, civil service rules, and whistle-blower rights, and with other special immunities from the citizenry.

Harvard Law Professor Philip B. Heymann, who was a former deputy attorney general, wrote that a great danger for a democracy is that it may take self-destructive actions in responding to terrorism threats -- precisely what the terrorists want.

While the relatives were burying their fallen or searching for their bodies, The Wall Street Journal editorial writers had a message to convey to their readers. In a lead editorial on September 19, 2001, the Journal told the corporatists and billionaires to go for it. Urging President Bush, whose polls were rising fast, to "spend his windfall of political capital" on windfalls for the rich and powerful, the editors showed what kind of unpatriotic coin they were peddling -- more wasteful military contracts, more tax cuts for the wealthy, more unnecessary drilling for oil in Alaska, more autocratic trade agreements. At a time of national mourning and sacrifice, the Journal's call to go for the gold at the expense of what the editors contemptuously called "domestic matters" (read everything from health, safety, housing, environment, energy conservation, and more) was taken up by legions of corporate lobbyists, even while the fires were still smoldering in lower Manhattan and the Pentagon.

One of the reasons why corporate lobbyists are well paid is that they are expected to follow orders, allow no internal wavering, and click their heels for maximum greed. The frenzy started with the airline industry -- headed by the same company bosses who, year after year, rejected one proposal for airline security after another by our aviation safety group and safety-conscious aviation engineers and legislators, including the simplest one of all: toughening cockpit doors and latches. In one swoop on Congress and after announcing 80,000 layoffs, the industry came away with $5 billion in cash and $10 billion in loan guarantees. The workers got nothing; the top executives maintained their ample pay.

Other industries quickly lined up at the corporate welfare trough, either blaming or exploiting 9/11. The insurance industry demanded that Congress pass legislation capping their payments and absorbing the rest. Former federal insurance administrator and actuary J. Robert Hunter testified against this gigantic sweeping, one-way bailout. The big military contractors like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, and Northrop Grumman dusted off their Soviet-era weapons systems, cranked up the scientifically discredited missile-defense boondoggle and swarmed over Capitol Hill, succeeding in pushing the military budget to half of the entire discretionary budget of the federal government. All this with no major enemy country in the world. The objections of the Center for Defense Information, run by former generals and admirals, and experts like the former assistant secretary of defense for Reagan, Lawrence Korb, scarcely slowed the budget-busting tidal wave of corporate pork. The drug companies stepped up their lobbying for lucrative patent extensions for drugs under cover of preparing for any threats of smallpox and anthrax while they rip off the government purchasers of these drugs for emergency storage. Even J. W. Marriott, Jr., the self-described conservative capitalist, urged a $500 tax credit for tourists willing to visit his and others' hotels.

Backed by their corporate-funded policy and advocacy groups, the omnibus trade association lobbies, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, had their member companies pour cash into Congressional coffers while pressing for immunities from the civil justice system, huge corporate tax cuts and rebates, a larger NAFTA, and a scuttling of any reform of dirty money in politics. The Republican- controlled House of Representatives, in the midst of a nation rife with child poverty, with over 40 million Americans without any health insurance, and with grossly inadequate unemployment compensation payments for the massive post 9/11 layoffs, repealed the Reagan-supported alternative minimum tax on corporations and made it retroactive to 1986. Can cartoons or satirists capture such consummate avarice? This corporate grab for cash would make companies eligible for $25 billion in tax refunds. IBM would receive $1.4 billion; General Motors, $833 million; General Electric, $671 million; Daimler-Chrysler, $600 million; Chevron-Texaco, $572 million; and even Enron would receive $254 million after having paid no federal income taxes in three of the past four years. In the nineteen twenties, the Oklahoman sage and humorist Will Rogers called Congress "the best money can buy." Well, the fourteen biggest beneficiaries of this would-be refund extravaganza gave $14,769,785 in "soft money" to the national committees of the Democratic and Republican parties in recent years.

But never underestimate the ability of the Republican party to make the Democrats look good -- this bill is going nowhere in the Senate. That it got this far in the post 9/11 era -- when our political leaders were calling for shared sacrifice, patriotism, and community service -- illustrates how profoundly unpatriotic many of these large corporations are in their relentless lust for profiteering, special privileges, and immunities on the backs of workers, consumers, small taxpayers, and the national interest. As Bill Moyers, author and national television journalist, declared: "They [the corporations] are counting on your patriotism to distract you from their plunder. They're counting on you to stand at attention with your hand over your heart, pledging allegiance to the flag, while they pick your pocket."

Citizen mobilizer and former elected Texas Secretary of Agriculture Jim Hightower wrote about the concentration of power in his newsletter, the "Lowdown":

Since September 11, the Powers That Be have told us to shut up, go shopping, and make no waves -- they will look after us. Like they did before? You and I know that something has been BADLY wrong with the way America has been managed ... for years!

I believe the crisis we face is both international and domestic. On the home front: Terrorists can't destroy our democracy, but we can, simply by surrendering it, by keeping our mouths shut while Bush-Cheney-Ashcroft take away our rights "for our own good."

It's time for us to get on the side of the impoverished and oppressed peoples of the world, rather than continuing to plant our flag alongside dictators, monarchists, corporatists, and other elites that prosper on the misery of the increasingly angry Third World majority.

Hightower is organizing "Rolling Thunder" full-day outdoor rallies around the country to connect people with one another so as to "take our country back from the greedheads and the boneheads of Wall Street and Washington."

It is not just populists such as Hightower who are worried. In the past year, there has been an astonishing escalation in the emphasis by the business press on corporate crime and avaricious corporate bosses who "lie, cheat, and steal." The editors at Business Week, Fortune Magazine, The New York Times, and The Washington Post are worried about a collapsing of that minimum fabric of prudence, truth, and trust needed to hold together a rollicking capitalist economy. Business Week devoted several pages to a story affirmatively answering the cover's headline question: "Is Wall Street Corrupt?" The March 18, 2001, issue of Fortune Magazine's cover theme was: "It's Time to Stop Coddling White-Collar Crooks. Send Them to Jail." Inside, the pages rang with rage: "White Collar Criminals: They Lie, They Cheat, They Steal and They've Been Getting Away with It for Too Long." Both magazines got down to details, naming names of big-hot crooks who are rarely prosecuted and, if so, rarely jailed. In an article remarking on the angry business press, The Washington Post called Business 2.0's April 2002 cover story listing dozens of documented cases "an acid portrait of colossal avarice and stupidity in America's corporate suites." Big corporations are out of control, in large part, because they control government and its responsibility to defend the people. The financial scandals exposed the utter failure of the various expected private watchdogs or gatekeepers of accounting firms, corporate law firms, investment bankers, major credit rating agencies,. and stockbrokers -- all of whom receive direct compensation or large fees for not watchdogging the CEOs and their rubber-stamp boards of directors.

The owners of these corporations -- shareholders -- have been increasingly disenfranchised for a hundred years as the top executives split control from ownership. Imagine how far removed all this is from the cardinal capitalist tenet that what you own, you should control. Executive compensation packages have included clauses paying bosses millions of dollars if they are convicted of a felony or forced to resign. Other contracts provide remuneration by the company for all criminal or civil fines imposed -- this after paying their legal fees. The CEO of Dynegy Corp. received far more money by stepping down eight months before his contract ended -- a severance package worth between $18 million and $33 million -- than if he had finished his term. Top executives who have run down their company (e.g., Lucent) to a fraction of its stock valuation when they began their work demanded and received from the board of directors huge "retention bonuses" to get them to stay on with their oh-so-valuable experience. What shareholders would agree to such looting if they had the democratic authority to approve compensation packages for the top managers who, after all, work for them?

The collaboration of autocracy and plutocracy is eroding our democracy -- its institutions and processes. The critical separation of commercial interests from civic interests has been overrun. Elections, politicians, government, universities, our genetic inheritance, our childhood, our privacy are all having larger and larger "for sale" signs put on them. Civic sanctuaries nurturing health, safety, justice, art and culture, democratic processes, civic participation, family functions, protecting posterity, and peace have been assaulted by a tidal wave of commercialism. The unhealthy dependency of humans on ever-larger corporations is institutionalizing itself in a phenomenon that can be described as "growing up corporate." Children see the world through corporate vistas and corporate values from food to toys, from overmedication to promotionally induced addictions, from not knowing what we own as a commonwealth to commercial determination of beauty standards, from entertainment to overwhelmingly vocational (as distinct from civic) education. When almost everything is for sale, those who have the money control the sale.

Possibly the most fundamental dimension of growing up corporate is how corporations have made themselves into "persons" under the law, giving themselves -- artificial legal entities -- almost all the constitutional rights of real people plus the immense privileges and immunities that their aggregate political/economic power and omnipresence make possible. There can be no vibrant democracy and equal justice under law when artificial persons, called corporations, are so supreme over real human beings. The question of corporate "personhood" and its instruments of subordination should be a major topic of political debate and action. Getting corporations out of politics, as Business Week editorialized in the year 2000, is one concrete proposal. Only humans can vote and only humans should participate in our political institutions.

Since the summer of 2001, a new group we started called Democracy Rising (www.democracyrising.org) has been conducting "People Have the Power" rallies in large arenas around the nation. At each gathering, there are about a hundred tables representing local and state citizen action groups. Most of them have never met each other for any cooperative initiative or for just plain civic conversations. This has to change and is changing. As Saul Alinsky, the great citizen organizer in Chicago, once said, "The only way to beat organized money is with organized people."

About the same time we started another group called Citizen Works (www.citizenworks.org) which is networking and training individuals and groups and advancing fundamental corporate reform. With bipartisan denunciations in Congress of corporate crimes, frauds, and abuses being followed by a raft of modest or window-dressing reforms, the clarity with which legislators are seeing their choice as between voters on Main Street and campaign contributors from Wall Street is sharpening. Representing many rank-and-file Republicans, if not their leadership, Congressman David Drier, chairman of the House Rules Committee, said on television in July 2002: "Anyone who is going to be soft on the issue of corporate crime will in fact lose votes."

How long this attitude lasts and whether, it will, in stages, lead to strong legislation that empowers shareholders and pensioneers and provides them full access to the courts, that funds adequate law enforcement budgets for prosecutions and convictions of crooked bosses, and includes other structural reforms to prevent huge losses of what Justice Louis Brandeis called "other peoples' money" remains uncertain. Strengthening this attitude is the challenge for the American people to meet. Without the vigilance of an informed and aroused public, and the facilities to band together as financial consumers, law and order for the big boys will not be forthcoming. See www.essential.org for information on the Financial Consumers Association (FCA). It is time for the FCA. Millions of Americans have lost trillions of dollars.

The global corporations have thrown down the gauntlet (see www.multinationalmonitor.org). All the flags, national anthems, and other symbols they and their political minions use to direct public opinion will not mask a genuine patriotism that activates our democracy and addresses our country's needs. Unlike small business, multinational corporations have no allegiance to any country or community other than to control them; indeed, leading corporate executives have said they would prefer to have their companies be "anational" -- belonging to no nation. This growing pattern of expedient transititus sees workers as temporary pawns, government officials as tools, consumers as pliant subjects, small taxpayers as suckers, and voters as necessary for pacification rituals. For such companies, ever merging into larger behemoths, the main event is the maturation of the corporate state, where they control government so it services them daily, socializes their risks and misconduct, and blocks the people from participating in power. Corporate socialism, or the big business takeover of governmental power, has been a long-term strategy pressed into occasional retreat or rebuff by valiant populist cycles of reform. Some of the older conservative economists in the first half of the twentieth century had a keen understanding of this reality. Among them no one was more famous than the Nobel Prize-winning Friedrich A. Von Hayek -- author of the right-wing manifesto The Road to Serfdom. Here is what Dr. Von Hayek wrote in the American Economic Review in 1946: "[M]arket capitalism will have the same inefficient, exploitative outcome as Soviet Communism if the ownership of resources becomes concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer large corporations; and if economic/business decisions come to be made by those relatively few individuals who own and/or operate large concentrated corporations."

A deliberative democratic society does not allow its symbols to be seized by autocrats and plutocrats. It makes these symbols reflect a committed citizenry regularly dedicating a decent amount of time to civic endeavors from the local to the global, keeping an open mind that is close to reality, and having a keen sense of both individual rights and the community or public interest.

The people do have the power; our history at its finest moments has demonstrated this fact. But more people need to have civic confidence. We can start by taking back the symbol of national unity -- our flag -- that has been so abused by oligarchs. Our flag, we must say repeatedly, was never designed to be a bandana or fig leaf; it was designed to stand for the last glorious words of the pledge of allegiance -- namely, "with liberty and justice for all." Let us all, in our unique ways, work for a deep democracy -- one responsive to the necessities of people. A deep democracy foresees and forestalls oncoming perils and holds up for future generations the principle that the pursuit of justice is the condition for the pursuit of happiness.

For more information, contact us at:

Crashing the Party
P.O. Box 19312
Washington, D.C. 20036
www.crashingtheparty.org
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 17838
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: Crashing the Party, by Ralph Nader

Postby admin » Mon Aug 10, 2015 7:23 am

Preface

Great societies must have public policies that declare which rights, assets, and conditions are never for sale. Such policies strengthen noncommercial values, which, nourished by public enlightenment and civic participation, can provide wondrous opportunities to improve our country. Guided by such values, we can better use our wealth and power to benefit all Americans. Applied beyond our borders, these values can help us astutely wage peace and address the extreme poverty, illiteracy, oppression, environmental perils, and infectious diseases that threaten to jeopardize directly our own national security as well as that of the rest of the world. Broad, humane values also advance the legitimate needs of workers and peasants who yearn for greater democracy and global stability.

Unfortunately, a working, deliberative democracy has few real champions in the Republican or Democratic parties. These parties see their self-perpetuation in the narrowest of dimensions -- largely by allowing business interests too great a say in local, state, and national agendas. There is a relentless lobbying industry that enlarges the privileges and immunities of corporations as compared with individuals and makes sure that governments leave the people defenseless and feeling powerless. "Everyone is afraid to talk about poverty," said historian and commentator Doris Kearns Goodwin after the 2000 election. There are many patterns of injustice and abuse of power that the investigative best of the major media have exposed -- corporate crime, corporate welfare, anti-worker labor laws, giveaways of commonwealth assets such as the public airwaves, the domination of corporate executives over the shareholders who own the company. Nonetheless, most elected officials are afraid to address these abuses. The absence of public sector resistance is especially troubling because the public sector, led by Congress, the White House, and the state governments, has given away the store to corporations through deregulation, privatization, subsidies, reduced law enforcement, and limitations on civil lawsuits. Still, these coddled companies demand more, more, and more. Enough is never enough.

The convergence of our country's two major parties is a widely noted phenomenon, even though the remedies of political competition from the outside are largely ignored. Third parties, which were the first to raise the seminal issues of our past -- from slavery's abolition to the status of women, minorities, labor, and farmers -- are now deemed "spoilers." Imagine, the defenders of the spoiled political-electoral system, which is rigged in favor of the two major parties, describe political participation by a new party in this derogatory way. There is little objection by otherwise sensitive reformers. Many would agree that nature cannot be regenerated without giving seeds a chance to sprout, nor can an economy be more innovative and efficient without giving entrepreneurs or small business a chance to compete. Somehow this axiom is not applied to the removal of the many hurdles to third parties wanting to regenerate politics.

A "democracy gap" discourages people from shaping a future for our country that is "of, by, and for the people." It prevents us from sovereign participation in the decisions and directions that can provide the necessities, address the injustices, and solve the problems afflicting our country, domestically and in its relations with the rest of the world. What led to this condition is what our forebears Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and Justices Louis Brandeis and William O. Douglas, among others, warned about -- the excessive concentration of power and wealth. Brandeis argued that such concentration is incompatible with a democratic society.

Today, much of this economic, political, and technological power is in the hands of global corporations wielding immense influence over our government in very intricate ways. One industry after another, not the least being the mass media, is dominated by increasingly fewer giant companies. The trajectory of this power is to centralize control -- using our own government, wherever necessary, against its own people -- and advance short-term commercial interests at the expense of the elevated living conditions and realizable horizons that should be the just rewards of all people.

The democracy gap is associated with the corporatization of our society beyond any and all boundaries established by previous generations. Commercialism has permeated nearly every nook and cranny of our society. It conditions the corruption of politics by vested-interest money, it propels the diversion of public budgets from human need to corporate greed, and it distorts the declared purposes of our universities. It spills into formerly taboo regions of our society, including the planned seduction of childhood from parental authority and the invasions of privacy with unheard-of velocities in medical, financial, and genetic areas. It strips people of control over their commonwealth -- the public airwaves, the public lands, the pension funds, and other "commons" inherited from their forebears. The corporate quest for sovereignty over the sovereignty of the people is an affront to our Constitution and our democracy. Indeed, in their largest and most transnational form, the global corporations reject allegiance to nation or community.

This flood of corporate power over government feeds the rationalization of futility among concerned citizens. Our campaign reminded people that corporations, which, in their modern form, were created by state charters in the early nineteenth century, should be our servants, not our masters. What is out of mind is often out of sight, even though the needs are there to be seen. And so our campaign stressed that putting people first means that elections should be first about the responsibilities of the voters to think about the full consequences of their votes. Our campaign also stressed that people should play active roles in shaping the electoral agenda and ensuring varied, open debates. In short, democracy is not a spectator sport.

Civil society advocates have been excluded from the corridors of decision making in Washington, D.C. Belatedly, I realized that an external political energy was required to replace the dashed hopes of genuine reform. I ran as the Green Party presidential candidate to broaden our political horizon, to produce more leaders, not more followers. The Green Party encourages people to develop a higher estimate of their own significance in their communities, states, nation, and world. During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln's words transcended even that epic divide when he said: "As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country."

Small political starts start small, as did the Green Party. In a big country it is not easy to start small unless the starters are willing to work incrementally. Building a progressive party dedicated to "liberty and justice for all" has many collateral benefits -- citizens taking heart to correct an injustice, recommend a solution, lend a helping hand that lifts the civic morale for a peaceful march, rally, or get-out-the-vote drive. The benefits come from a deeper understanding that daily democracy requires daily citizenship and that a society that has more justice needs less charity for social ills and deprivations.

Seeing the Green Party in this multidimensional manner is not difficult when one sees Greens between elections connecting with civic justice initiatives in one community and neighborhood after another. Reclaiming our democracy means, to Greens, displacing the concentrated commercial powers and intolerant attitudes that keep America down, as America has been kept down by the forces of greed and power in so many areas. Our country has more problems than it deserves and more solutions than it deploys. New political and civic movements are the two pillars upon which a better society can be built.

This book is my story of the campaign. It is only one lens on this effervescence of Green politics and its overall interaction with the presidential campaigns of 2000. It draws on the activities of many people who made this campaign possible: Winona LaDuke, vice presidential candidate, the staff of Nader 2000, the volunteers, contributors, and voters who helped launch a long-term political reform movement for a strong and just democratic society. A selected bibliography provides further documentation for interested readers.

I thank Tarek Milleron for his encouragement, patience, and exceptional intelligence with regard to the substance of this work. Special appreciation is also due Claire Nader, John Richard, Theresa Amato, Steve Cobble, Jay Acton, and Laura Nader for their support and critical commentary. Any deficiencies are my responsibility.
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 17838
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: Crashing the Party, by Ralph Nader

Postby admin » Mon Aug 10, 2015 7:24 am

One: Business as Usual: The Best Conventions Money Can Buy

The seat next to me on the stage was reserved for George W. Bush, but on that afternoon of August 2, 2000, it remained empty.

For months, a nonprofit, nonpartisan group called Youth in Action tried to have that seat filled in Philadelphia's Drexel University auditorium. The event was part of the National Youth Conventions, which involved thousands of high school students and other young people contributing to a National Youth Platform, and coincided with the Republican and Democratic national conventions. The platform covered ten subjects of concern to youth -- political involvement, community involvement,. education, human rights, health, drugs, juvenile justice, environment, violence, and poverty -- and offered solutions in well-written, concise presentations.

As the presidential candidate for the Green Party, I was asked to listen to each youth panel summarize its points and then respond, which I did in some detail. Our interaction was one of the most stimulating exchanges in the campaign. I was pleased to hear young people in their teens and early twenties articulating a political agenda separate from the tactics, fund- raisers, and fluff and bluff surrounding the major-party candidates.

These Youth convocations were intricately planned and promoted. They were supported by major foundations, such as the Pew Charitable Trusts, and major nonprofits, including the League of Women Voters and the YMCA and YWCA. These conventions give young men and women a voice and involvement, when so often they are alienated from presidential campaigns that ignore their existence, except for the occasional scripted photo op.

By demonstrating a serious engagement with the presidential campaign of 2000, as well as their deep stake in America's future, Youth in Action was hoping and desperately believing that it could lay claim to some personal attention by George W. Bush and Al Gore, just as large campaign donors had done throughout the year. Its schedulers made sure that there were no conflicts with the big events at the two conventions. Mr. Bush and Mr. Gore had their platform fights behind them and their nominations cinched, and they were more than capable of bringing their ever-hovering media a few blocks away for an hour to talk with a diverse group of fact-immersed, solution-oriented young people from all over the United States.

It was not to be. Mr. Gore matched Mr. Bush in declining to appear. The two candidates had more important events to attend -- lavish parties where politicians shook down corporate lobbyists and fat cats, while the latter in turn were pleased to payoff their political friends for past and future favors.

The day after the gathering at Drexel, there were no stories in the major media, no mention of George W. Bush -- the self-described education candidate who pledged to "leave no child behind" -- being absent from an event that he could have turned into an advantage over Al Gore. Why? Because Bush and Gore's supposedly savvy staffs had polls showing that young adults do not vote in large numbers and their interests are more universal, unlike elderly voters whose demands are more particular and insistent, such as prescription-drug benefits, preserving Social Security, and patients' rights. Older voters have money. Older voters have influence. Younger voters tend to have neither. Then there are the less inhibited questions young people tend to ask and a risk of being caught off guard or being embarrassingly out of touch. Why should the candidates deviate from the carefully constructed script and emerge from the force field erected by their political consultants and handlers? How sad, empty, and shortsighted, I thought. Later I learned how disappointed the youthful panelists really were.

Leaving the Youth in Action event, I went to find NBC for an invited interview by Maria Shriver on the premises of the Republican National Convention. The area was like a military encampment without the tanks. Security personnel, police cars and vans, high fences, multiple checkpoints, and trailers with security equipment were omnipresent. Demonstrators were not allowed within a Hail Mary pass of the fenced encirclements.

Inside, I was driven in a golf cart to the NBC installation. I asked the driver where the interview was to take place, and he pointed skyward. There before us rose a forty-foot red scaffolding, slightly swaying from a vigorous wind. At the top were perilously perched Ms. Shriver and her camera crew. To reach them, I climbed the stairs of this rickety structure, greeted them, and asked why -- why this Tower of Pisa? She pointed to the view of the Convention Center bathed in a spotlight as the one and only reason. A quick three-minute interview on MSNBC followed, allowing only for short answers to complex questions. I climbed down the narrow staircase, wondering how reporters like Shriver can take year after year of what they believe are shallow formats with ever shorter sound bites heading, it seems, for a future of sound barks.

Over at the Convention Center, the delegates were settling down to listen to Dick Cheney's acceptance speech. I walked over to the entrance where crowds of reporters were milling about, jabbering with one another and anticipating nothing much to make their day less routine. The formal sessions of these conventions, with their foregone conclusions, seem simply practices in applause and bore reporters silly (as they've told me countless times). The mind-numbing routines of the campaign trail with a major candidate become a source of cynical jokes and tedious logistical small talk. The convention, however, takes media redundancy to new levels, as every four years the major parties turn out their robo- candidates. I asked one British reporter what could possibly occupy him hour after hour, and he replied, "Well, you try and garnish the dullards a bit as best one can." At the Republican convention, the real action took place outside the main hall in the streets with the demonstrators and in the hospitality suites and parties in Philadelphia's luxury hotels and Main Line mansions.

But for me there was a little excitement during Cheney's monotonal address: I met Amy Goodman, arguably the most tenacious radio interviewer around (ask Bill Clinton, who called Pacifica and sparred with her in a memorable November 2000 exchange for twenty- six minutes). She invited me inside the building for a peripatetic interview. Amy presented our credentials, then we passed the typical bevy of security and were led down the runway to where the Florida delegation was sitting and restlessly listening to the vice presidential nominee. A score of reporters followed us down with mikes, cameras, and pads and began hurling the obvious questions about what I was doing there and what I thought of the goings-on. The Florida delegation was becoming more agitated at the commotion. But I managed to observe that while more than $13 million in taxpayer funding had gone to this convention because an earlier Congress viewed such gatherings as civic affairs, the Republicans had added to that millions of corporate dollars. Elections, I told the reporters, are supposed to be for real people -- the voters-not for corporations, artificial entities that cannot vote (at least not yet).

Ultimately the head of the Florida delegation, Al Cardenas, had enough of what he saw as a rapidly expanding embarrassing situation and asked us all to leave. So back up the runway we went, then down another runway to sit with the Michigan delegates, who were astonished to find me -- the auto makers' number-one nemesis, in their minds -- in their midst. While I was again talking with reporters, a wandering corporate fellow, having overheard my remarks about the convention's corporate omnipresence, blurted, "It's free speech, Ralph." I responded, "Sure, money talks freely, doesn't it?"

And business money donated to the Republican Party and its convention made even more public money gush in its service. While visiting Leaven House, a large homeless shelter and soup kitchen in the severely impoverished city of Camden, New Jersey, I heard a frustrated shelter director refer to the nearly $50 million that the states of New Jersey and Pennsylvania spent to spiff up the Camden waterfront and remove retail eyesores, such as by-the-hour motels and topless joints on Admiral Wilson Boulevard, for the welcoming ceremonies of the convention on Camden's waterfront. The shelter director wistfully described what he could do for his beloved shelter with the mere $300,000 he had requested but not received from the state.

As for the waterfront, then-governor Christine Todd Whitman readily approved this expensive window dressing for four miles of dilapidated buildings so that Republican dignitaries would not be offended by scenes that are all too prevalent in many other less visible parts of Camden. "The first impression is important," said this latter-day Marie Antoinette. In the meantime, this city is not even eating cake. A devastated place of eighty thousand people, it is an economic and living disaster. Indicative of the devastation in Camden is the absence of a single supermarket, motel, or movie theater within the city limits. Camden's woes are hard to exaggerate: two thousand debris-filled vacant lots interspersed between . thirty-five hundred vacant buildings and block after block of poor families trying to send their children to run-down schools with dropout rates soaring over 50 percent. Property values are so low that Camden's tax receipts can't begin to meet school and city government expenses; the bulk of the dollars come from the state. Street crime and drug addiction surge through much of Camden's 210 miles of roads. The state, which is the largest employer in Camden, has finally taken over the city's finances, while the mayor joined two of his predecessors in being convicted of political corruption.

In 1990 census figures put Camden, now the nation's fifth-poorest city, in destitution land. One-third of its people lived below the poverty level. Ten more years of decay have made the situation worse, with more companies "evacuating" Camden, as one executive put it. The eleven-story RCA building, which goes back to the Victor Talking Machine company when the city had a manufacturing base, is deserted. But the city does have a championship high school basketball team.

Campaigning in Camden, political consultants say, is a waste of time. For me it put human faces behind the government's statistics; it made clear the difference between charity and justice. Speaking at the Rutgers University Camden campus, I learned how local students saw their education as vocational in order to escape the city.

Camden is emblematic of a systemic collapse in our smaller inner cities, with across-the- board unemployment, non-living-wage jobs going nowhere, pulverized lives of addiction, and serious crimes of violence and ghetto exploitation by loan sharks and unscrupulous merchants and landlords. People who can make a difference leave for greener pastures so that they can put hopelessness behind them. Remaining are churches, nonprofit organizations, and dwindling public welfare programs offering stopgap assistance for food, housing, medical care, and. counseling. Visiting a church on a low-income residential block, I heard the usual outspoken indignations, dreams of improvements, and the daily ministering to the poor souls who dread each day.

Who did Camden in? It wasn't always this way. Ordinary folks do not work overtime to ruin their lives. What brutish conditions lead to brutish behavior? Racism, top-down class warfare, political betrayals, concentrations of economic power? These questions are rarely asked and especially not during political campaigns. Instead, Camden is described with phrases of conclusions: "a disaster area," "chronic decay," "a basket case."

There are many Camdens in America -- the world's richest and mightiest economy. Not just entire cities like East St. Louis and Bridgeport, Connecticut, but large areas of just about all our large cities. People left behind in the tens of millions with only the urban renewal of gentrification available to push them out. Nearly abandoned farm towns and villages, former factory towns with shuttered plants dot the scarred, contaminated landscapes and join with the longtime poor regions of Appalachia, the Ozarks, Indian reservations, the bypassed rural South, former mining and textile towns. These places represent the "other America" so graphically described by Michael Harrington, who helped motivate Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty in the mid-sixties.

"It's a casualty," Rev. Michael Doyle, a priest in South Camden, told the New York Times's Matthew Purdy, "and America is to blame for Camden. They don't see it that way. It's like a drunk on a grate, and people say, 'It's not my problem.' If you can't save Camden in a powerful economy, then when will we be able to make it livable? When?"

Just across the Delaware River, lavish parties were setting spending records for national political conventions. In addition to the sensual pleasure they afford, these events are the "convention behind the convention," as described by Republican functionary Dan Matton. The business discussed, casually or intently, while imbibing, strolling, or backslapping, has very little to do with the other America.

The talk almost always centers around big-business demands -- contracts, permits, grants, subsidies, giveaways, tax breaks, bailouts, and reducing or eliminating regulation. Paying for these concessions with ever-larger campaign donations gives new meaning to what the wry Will Rogers once said about Congress: "the best money could buy." So when the corporate greasers and persuaders finished their work at the Republican convention, they took a few days off and then flew to Los Angeles for the opening of the Democratic convention. For them, it was the same racket, just different coastlines.

Ruth Marcus, an energetic graduate of the Harvard Law School who went to work at the Washington Post in the late eighties covering important but often dry legal subjects, observed both "conventions behind the conventions" for her newspaper. She rose to the occasion:

The nonstop festivities had a certain end of the Roman Empire feel, from cruises on the Amway corporate yacht in Philadelphia to lunches at the Beverly Hills mansions of Hollywood moguls, where contributors chatted with senators as they strolled among the topiary animals and artificial waterfalls.

Democratic National Committee donors who gave $50,000 enjoyed a private reception and shop-op at the Giorgio Armani clothing boutique on Rodeo Drive, receiving $100 gift " certificates as they entered.

The biggest donors watched" the action from private skyboxes far above "the floor, while a sold-out post-convention fundraiser -- featuring Barbara Streisand's rendition of the Democratic anthem -- "Happy Days Are Here Again" -- brought in more than $5 million in valuable "hard money" contributions to the Democratic Party.

It was a fittingly glitzy finale to the two-week orgy of revelry that began at the GOP bash in Philadelphia, paused briefly and resumed in full force as Democrats went Hollywood with a vengeance behind the scenes even as their candidates lashed the industry in their prime-time comments.


Not to be outdone, the Washington Post's Mike Allen, a rising star with a flair that earned him a profile in The New Yorker, delivered his scrutiny of the Republican digs:

By one official estimate, there were 900 separate events at this year's gathering -- candidates' fund-raisers, thank-you spreads laid on by the party for its biggest donors, and corporate-financed tributes to lawmakers who hold sway over their businesses.

One senior Republican official called the four-day convention, which ended tonight, "the biggest orgy of hedonism in the history of politics," a marathon of rock and blues concerts, golf and fishing tournaments, yacht cruises and shopping excursions.

Another GOP official said one party cost about $500,000 and three ran around $400,000, all paid for by corporate sponsors with business before the congressional leaders who were honored at the extravaganzas....

One Republican official, after a reporter was physically barred from a lavish hospitality suite, explained that some of the guests might have people "on their arms" who were not their spouses.


Press coverage of conventions delights in pointing out the political styles of the rich and famous with a flair usually reserved for the sports or style pages. One of the themes reporters relish is candidates saying one thing and doing another. John Broder of the New York Times led his story on August 17 from the Democratic convention with this focus: "Barely an hour after Vice President Al Gore issued a call for reforming the ways political campaigns are paid for, he headed back to the fund-raising circuit for a concert that raised $5.2 million for the Democratic Party. In his acceptance speech tonight, Mr. Gore vowed to 'get all the special-interest money -- all of it -- out of our democracy... .' "

Politics, as it is practiced, is the art of having it both ways. One party -- the Democrats -- regularly says all the right things about campaign finance reform but does nothing. The other party -- the Republicans-rarely says the right thing about the corruption of our elections and does nothing. Both use the same ready cliche when asked why one party doesn't lead on reform by example: "We do not believe in unilateral disarmament."

There are two lessons to learn from these political Conventions, which Dallas Morning News reporter Richard Whittle called "just a television show for most Americans these days." One is that our nation's political leaders are chosen by one big entertainment extravaganza. Roger Simon called his book on the 1996 presidential race Show Time: The American Political Circus and the Race for the White House, with artwork on the cover reflecting the hoopla. That's the way it really is, and everyone knows it. Voters are left with only limp imagery, hackneyed slogans, and the omnipresent thirty-second propaganda advertisement. Dr. Pavlov soon becomes the patron saint of the political horse race.

The 2000 Democratic and Republican conventions hit the top of the banality curve. They ceased to shock, instead producing amusement or cynicism. Both avoided thinking about what politics should represent and failed to advance a deeper, functional democracy. Much to their chagrin, journalists, in a scramble for a newsworthy morsel, are turned into gossip- mongers, leaving readers ill-equipped to make informed judgments.

Second, even when the press does its job, nothing changes. When House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Texas) was subject to a devastating page-one expose in the Washington Post five years ago, nothing happened. The article cited instances of DeLay bordering on making extortionate demands for money from special interests, and the House Ethics Committee did not even open an investigation. At the August Republican convention, Congressman DeLay became a veritable talent agent reportedly offering lobbyists packages starting at $15,000 and rising to $100,000 in terms of how exclusive one's meetings could be with the elected bigwigs.

Like most congressional districts, DeLay's is one-party dominated, and he wins by large majorities with only nominal opposition. This is typical. In about 90 percent of the 435 congressional districts, there is one-party rule. So choice is effectively denied to a vast majority of voters.

But the major party conventions in 2000 did not occur in a vacuum. At the same time, Ariana Huffington's shadow conventions in both Philadelphia and Los Angeles brought together large audiences of thoughtful people to hear and discuss with prominent speakers the subjects of campaign finance reform, the widening income gap, and the war on drugs. These gatherings received some national media coverage through C-Span and other cable and independent press outlets but little attention over the leading television networks, which all cut back sharply on their convention coverage. Outspoken legislators like Senator Russell Feingold (D-Wisconsin) did come over to speak their minds ("The big story at the Democratic convention was the political payoffs and influence-peddling") with a candor that had no scheduled time at the big conventions.

And certainly the most interesting events at these conventions took place in the streets, parks, and parking lots near the convention halls. But the story here incredibly became one not of protest but of crowd control and police preparation. Unlike in the sixties and seventies, peaceful mass demonstrations no longer receive much media coverage. Many a weekend march of fifty thousand to two hundred thousand people for women's and labor rights or for arms control and the environment receives little more than a picture and a caption in the Washington Post or New York Times. A movie premiere or socialite benefit earns many more column inches in the Style section.

Consequently, demonstrators began to figure that nonviolent civil disobedience or, in some frustrated instances, controlled violence against property, would mesh with the television media's mantra, "If it bleeds, it leads." Studious, well-prepared news conferences, absent these demonstrations, don't make the grade with the eyes and ears of the fourth estate. The reaction of course is for the police to organize massive counterforce against what is perceived as a giant safety problem.

The Philadelphia police prepared for thousands of arrests and detentions with so much manpower that the police outnumbered the demonstrators. In addition, they employed helicopters, motorcycles, patrol cars, full-body armor, sprays, tear-gas canisters, rubber bullets, plastic handcuffs, night-seeing cameras, and who knows what else that was not observable. Seeing this land-based armada, the demonstrators countered with their cries of civil rights violations.

And within this mock war, the message is lost. Reporters described the assemblage as a motley crowd with a grab bag of causes having no seeming connection to one another. What,. pray tell, were they protesting that the media found so difficult to describe? Here's what: poverty in an era of great concentrated wealth; corporate welfare; globalization through the WTO, NAFTA, and the World Bank; corrupt money in politics; bloated military budgets; global warming and other ecological degradations; genetically engineered foods without labeling; Occidental Petroleum's plans to drill on the sacred homeland of the U'wa tribe in Colombia; the prison-industrial complex; the widening income gap; sweatshops; the need for mass transit; tobacco industry and its lavish $1,000-a- plate event for "Blue Dog Democrats"; and the giant media conglomerates. Simply put, the entire agenda for progressive liberal politics. In a brief aside, William Booth got it right for the Washington Post when he reported that the slogan "Human Need, Not Corporate Greed" served as "a unifying march and rally for the disparate protest movement." The vast majority of the demonstrators were nonviolent, many trained in nonviolent civil disobedience, which has a great American tradition. Some were deliberately provocative of the police, but then press reports pointed to some pretty severe police overreactions and excessive use of force.

In Philadelphia, 420 people were arrested, mostly on misdemeanor charges. During the postconvention hearings and trials, the great majority of cases were dismissed for lack of evidence or other prosecutorial failings. Consolidated mass trials brought forth widespread testimony of violations of civil liberties and discriminatory police actions. Defense lawyers convinced Municipal Court Judge James M. DeLeon that a group of protesters were arrested simply because they were conveying an unpopular message. The judge threw out the misdemeanor charges against five protesters. In an especially egregious abuse, police arrested John Sellers and Terrence McGuckin of the Ruckus Society, singled them out as ringleaders, charged them with a combined total of twenty-one misdemeanors, and set bail at an unheard of $1 million and $500,000, respectively. Later, the prosecution withdrew the case against Sellers, and McGuckin was acquitted of most of his alleged misdemeanors. The arrests of these men constituted, in Sellers's words, "a war on dissent." They were kept in jail until the convention was over, which was the point of these "preventive detention" arrests. Someday there may be a law review article on these mass arrests, the costs imposed on a judiciary that found them baseless, and the suits for damages filed against the city by those arrested for violation of their rights. But in another city, the same thing will happen and cost the taxpayers millions of dollars -- all to relearn that we have free speech, the right to assemble, and the right to petition our government.

There is an undeniable pathos associated with these rallies and demonstrations, and the power structures know that these "we , protest and demand" rallies are harmless venting of steam. I spoke at one such rally, on July 29 at JFK Park, next to Philadelphia City Hall, that focused on demanding universal health care and an end to the HMO tyrannies over patients, physicians, and nurses.

Rallies and marches were the mode of protests of the nineteenth century, and they still are today. In the meantime, giant corporations have accumulated all kinds of modern technologies, techniques, and manipulations to exercise their influence. There is a huge imbalance between the forces of democracy and the forces of plutocracy, and it is increasing, along with the alienation, withdrawal, and powerlessness of ever-increasing numbers of people. All this results in low voter turnout and more powerful corporate influence.

Ted Hayes, an advocate for the homeless, was proposing a detailed Marshall Plan for the homeless around the country. He invited Mr. Gore to go two blocks from the Staples Center -- the Democratic National Convention site -- to visit the Dome Village homeless encampment, but with no success. He shouldn't have been surprised. What he wanted to say to Mr. Gore was: "Don't just come into our neighborhood and pretend we aren't here. It would be an incredible gesture for these super-rich to walk over the two blocks and say it is time to take the hand of the homeless with some real solutions, but not give them a handout. Hold a news conference with us. Do something."

What effect does this all have? In a decorous and orderly forum in late July in Cleveland, the Gore campaign resoundingly rejected each and every progressive proposal offered before the Democratic Party's platform committee. The challenge came from a newly constituted Progressive Caucus, led by Congressman Dennis J. Kucinich, California State Senator Tom Hayden, and Los Angeles civil rights attorney and radio commentator Gloria Allred. They were hardly extreme ideas. Platform rules require fifteen concurring members of the same 180-member committee to allow a debate on any amendments. The progressives could not muster more than five votes on any of the following: universal health care for the entire population; fair trade, not slave trade, which included requirements for decent working conditions and minimum pay along with environmental safeguards; narrowing the gap between rich and poor by eliminating tax breaks to corporations that pay "below living wages"; opposing "fast track" authority for trade agreements and democratizing the World Trade Organization tribunals; a moratorium on the death penalty and the unworkable, provocative, costly missile defense system. No discussion was permitted, no dissenting reports issued. The Gore forces were so imperiously dominant that Gloria Allred couldn't obtain the fifteen votes for a discussion. "People wouldn't even look up at me," she recounted. "They talk about a big tent," declared Ohio Congressman Dennis J. Kucinich, "but this tent just got a bit smaller." Tom Hayden tried to appeal to their political antennae, saying that the platform "will send liberal Democrats running to Nader's ticket" and warning that the platform, as approved, could damage Gore's support from labor unions. So whose interests, or monetary contributions, were being served here? After the session ended, Kucinich noted that these proposals by the progressives actually enjoyed majority or near majority support among the people. He called them "mainstream issues." Lila Garrett, president of Southern California Americans for Democratic Action, was more pointed, saying, "When it comes to the people's programs we are dangerously close to sounding like Republicans." Once again, what Jim Clarke, secretary of the California Democratic Party, acidly referred to as the "Democratic wing of the Democratic Party" got the back of the hand by the DLC- dominated Democrats who knew that progressives had nowhere to go and had to swallow hard and bear it.

Listening to accounts of this platform meeting and the sharply deteriorating vistas of the Democratic Party that it reflected brought back memories of the liberals' arch-reactionary -- Richard M. Nixon. Between twenty-seven and thirty-one years ago, President Nixon put forth a national minimum incomes plan as a start in the abolition of poverty in America. Congress rejected it, and the comprehensive national health insurance plan he offered, and the proposal to emphasize rehabilitation of drug addicts instead of such heavy reliance on incarceration. With glowing words, Nixon signed into law the Occupational Safety and Health Agency, the National Environmental Protection Act, NEPA, and legislation creating the Environmental Protection Agency and the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Nixon sent legislation to Congress that would have given the District of Columbia voting representation in Congress -- a goal verbally supported by the Democrats but never backed by any serious campaign during the past three decades. Would any Democratic politician in 1970 ever have predicted that Richard Nixon would be a favorable standard for comparison with today's party leaders? History allows us to discern the long, deep slide into the political pits that is obscured by daily coverage.

Not surprisingly, the forty-eight-page Democratic platform was a model of avoiding both the spiraling power of big business and the economic disconnect between the rich and the rest of us. This is the party that abjectly surrendered for eight years to the superprofitable auto industry on fuel efficiency, safety, and pollution control -- jeopardizing the global environment that Al Gore so feels for -- sacrificing lives, limbs, and health. Accordingly, the committee rejected a thoughtful plea by one witness to include a sentence advancing auto safety. Fifty years after Western European nations, coming out of the rubble of World War II, provided universal health care for their people, Al Gore's platform described his vision for the world's richest country as "step by step" toward full coverage with no specific attainment date.

Page after page of the platform became a conceit of self-congratulation about the "prosperity" of the previous eight years. Credit was taken for quantitative economic expansions and their consequent public revenues, as if the coincidental technology boom of the nineties was a result rather than a cause. The document declared the party's intention to move ahead on many fronts. "You ain't seen nothing yet" was the ironic slogan, which Republicans used to their advantage. Efforts that a future Gore administration promised to initiate recalled very similar generalities long ignored in the Clinton platforms.

Omitted from any caressing lip service was a tribute to the Democratic Party's enlarging list of unmentionables -- consumer protection, exploitation of the taxpaying poor, the destructive war on drugs, protection of the civil justice system and reform of the criminal justice system, solar and other renewable energy, doing something about corporate crime and corporate welfare, and, above all, supporting ways to encourage the people's participation in government. Without mobilizing the political and civic energies of the citizenry, even with the best of intentions, the Democrats cannot deliver. So long as they continue to reward the very power brokers whose avarice contributed to the destitution and perpetuated social injustice, the Democrats might as well be Republicans.

When it was time for the Democrats to have their convention, the marchers were again trying to get the attention of the media. Logistically they were helped by an ACLU lawsuit that persuaded U.S. District Judge Gary Feess to deter the Los Angeles Police Department from keeping protesters very far from the delegates. This is a common technique used by mayors and city police to render protesters invisible and demoralized. Judge Feess's ruling optimistically stated: "When it's convenience versus the First Amendment, convenience loses every time." Well, at least in his sensitive judgment.

Among the marches and gatherings were the Ministers Against Global Injustice -- a new coalition of African-American ministers from around the nation that organizes communities of color to oppose international trade agreements that deplete African economies and weaken domestic inner cities. They aim to represent "those bearing the brunt of the adverse effects of globalization." Their rally was addressed by TransAfrica's Randall Robinson (see Appendix A) and Representative Maxine Waters. Then there was the National Chicano Moratorium Committee's "deport the two-party system" rally and a "beach party" sponsored by Global Exchange and other groups that "want to make the Democrats aware that people they say they represent -- workers, immigrants, environmentalists -- are locked out of the convention." Students Against Sweatshops, anti-- death penalty and prison reform organizations, and Peace Action associations also made their presence known outside the convention.

Hugh Jackson, writing for the Las Vegas weekly City Life, compared what was going on inside and outside: "The ideas forwarded within the party convention's security fences were tired. The enthusiasm, the passion and hell, for that matter, the intellectual firepower outside those fences were far more intense than anything on display while party hacks and party hack wannabes delivered focus group tested sound bites within." In demonstration after demonstration, Jackson observed, the protesters' message "was completely ignored by the media," except, it seems, "when they're getting the shit beat out of them by baton- wielding helmeted troops." While inside, he added, "Money and inertia have put a stranglehold on the parry."

At the Shadow Convention in Philadelphia, I chatted with Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry's. There I also met Jonathan Kozol and Jim Wallis. These three gentlemen represent what the party should be all about -- Cohen for socially responsible business practices and his activism for a reduced military budget delivering a Peace Dividend, Kozol for his three decades of striving for genuine educational reforms for poor children through stunningly graphic books and articles, and Pastor Wallis for mobilizing the religious community around issues of economic justice, disarmament, racism, and helping inner-city youth. Mr. Wallis, author of The Soul of Politics, earlier that spring joined with other members of the clergy in an appeal to both Gore and Bush and received no response to their broad-based, hands-on program of community revival and reconciliation.

In his acceptance speech at the convention, AI Gore surprised the DLC crowd with his announcement that, besides being his "own man," he would fight "for the people, not the powerful," and then he named the poll-tested industries of least popularity -- big oil, big insurance, and big drug companies -- that he would counter on becoming president. Immediately, his polls surged and my polls declined. Immediately, the big businesses named started making their calls, especially to running mate Joseph Lieberman, who spent the next few days reassuring these indignant callers that Gore was, of course, pro-business. Bob Davis of the Wall Street Journal wrote a remarkable article less than a week after the convention recounting how Senator Lieberman was telling business that Gore didn't really mean what he said. Gore's words, embedded in the solemnity of an acceptance speech before tens of millions of Americans, were just "impassioned rhetoric," said his number two. And on that forked-tongue note, to be sounded again and again, the Gore-Lieberman ticket was formally launched for the drive to Election Day.
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 17838
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: Crashing the Party, by Ralph Nader

Postby admin » Mon Aug 10, 2015 7:25 am

Two: The Morphing of the Democrats

Back in Winsted, Connecticut, when I was growing up, the family conversations around the dinner table were about public affairs and what regular citizens could do about them. My parents would take us to town meetings and point out the active townspeople who were challenging, urging, and proposing ideas to the selectmen, as the elected officials were called. Whether it was my mother reading us passages from history when we came home from school for lunch, or my father's vigorous discussions with the customers in our family restaurant-bakery, the emphasis was very much on citizens doing something and people taking on the big boys, be they in government or in business. One of my mother's favorite sayings to us was, "I believe it's you," whenever we complained about people in authority, meaning we had to do something about it and not expect others to make the changes or address the complaints.

One day -- I must have been about ten -- my father took me for a ride. He drove around our town of ten thousand people -- a typical New England mill town crossed by two rivers that helped power the factories -- to point out what local philanthropists had given to their community. As we drove past the high school, the town library, the first hospital in the county, and a park, he described the people who made these services possible in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Then came the main point of the drive. He told me that by his estimate there were at least one hundred other affluent families over the past hundred years who could have provided something of comparable value through their donations or bequests. Imagine how much better a community it would have become, and imagine how much less of a community it would be, were it not for the half dozen benefactors who made their money last, decade after decade, for the townspeople.

I was brought up to aspire to advance justice as an active citizen, not as an elected politician. Not that there was anything wrong with running for office. It was just that my parents instilled in me a sense of social justice that wore no party or political brand. My graduation speech in the eighth grade was devoted to the life and accomplishments of John Muir, the great naturalist whose efforts led directly to the establishment of Yosemite National Park in California. And in high school, I became absorbed by the history of the muckrakers and crusaders of the early 1900s -- Ida Tarbell, Upton Sinclair, Jeannette Rankin, Lincoln Steffens, and others absorbed my interest. I was fascinated by bold and persistent outsiders constantly challenging the systems of power. My father used to take me the short distance on Main Street from our restaurant to the county court to watch the judges, lawyers, and jurors perform their duties. Watching this precious drama unfold, I knew I wanted to be a lawyer. In my youthful idealism, being a lawyer meant representing the downtrodden, fighting for just causes, and laboring as a voice of dissent -- again from the outside.

I mention this personal background because I never intended to run for elective office. I have always been an engaged citizen in a democracy, fighting to make things better. Find a cause, write a book, article, or pamphlet, expose the abuse, and motivate people to demand change. It worked for Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, and Frederick Douglass, as it worked again and again in American history. The outsiders taking on the insiders. The abolitionists, the suffragists, the union effort, the farmer-progressive movement were all outsiders who transformed this country more than any president, as did those who came after them in the past century to lead the fight for civil rights, consumer protection, and environmental regulation.

So when I took the bus from Connecticut to Washington in 1963 to bring the reckless, unsafe, hyper-horsepower-minded automobile industry under the rule of law, it was a large ambition, to be sure, but one grounded in my reading of the best of American history. Which also meant I believed it was doable, though clearly a very uphill struggle.

I had lost too many friends in high school to highway crashes, too many college classmates lost their promising lives in collisions between vehicles that were unsafe at any speed. On the road with the truck drivers, who picked me up hitchhiking many thousands of miles, we came upon grisly pileups with some occupants very silent and others screaming for help. The more I learned about the simple safety features -- seat belts, collapsible steering columns, padded dash panels, stronger door latches, head restraints, breakaway rearview mirrors, less injurious windshields -- that could make crashes survivable, the more I was driven to press for mandatory vehicle safety standards.

My book Unsafe at Any Speed came out in November 1965, and by September 1966, Congress had passed and President Lyndon Johnson had signed the Motor Vehicle and Highway Safety Acts, bringing the giant auto industry under federal regulation. In those ten months, the book created an uproar in Detroit. General Motors even hired private detectives to get "some dirt" on me to discredit my message. These peerless gumshoes were caught following me into the U.S. Senate. The Senate subcommittee chaired by Connecticut Senator Abraham Ribicoff was holding hearings on auto safety for which I was an unpaid consultant and a possible witness. General Motors executives were summoned by the subcommittee to a congressional hearing room packed with media and forced to apologize for hiring the detectives. The momentum from this widely publicized sleuthing carried the legislation through Congress in record time. Congress and the president, under regular media scrutiny, responded to overwhelming evidence that safer cars could greatly diminish highway casualties. Isn't this the way our political system is supposed to work?

More than a million lives have been saved and many millions of injuries prevented or reduced in severity over the past thirty-five years because of implementation of these laws. The system worked -- government responded to an engaged citizenry, and the fatality rate declined from 5.6 deaths per hundred million vehicle miles in 1966 to 1.6 in 2000. The sixties and early seventies were the years of the "outsiders," when one civic movement after another was banging on the doors of the power structures and demanding social justice on a broad spectrum of subjects.

By conventional aggregate economic yardsticks, the sixties and nineties were prosperous decades, though in both periods there were serious consumer, environmental, and racial problems. Too many people then and now felt that nothing could be done about these situations and the powers that be, but active citizens and groups disagreed. The latter got much further in the sixties and seventies. In about ten years, enough determined citizens made the impossible happen. Jim Crow laws were replaced by civil rights laws. Conservative lawmakers, such as Senator Warren Magnuson, the powerful chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, changed from being business lobbies' senators to consumer and environmental champions and passed a series of laws that regulated polluters and reckless manufacturers. Washington declared a war on poverty even while being immersed in the brutal and draining Vietnam War. Medicare and Medicaid were passed to provide health insurance coverage for the elderly and impoverished. Corporations were confronted with the regulatory rule of law and could no longer recklessly pollute or escape accountability for faulty products. Companies had to share such decision making with public regulators in a more open, standards-setting process.

Not a year went by without dozens of new citizen action groups opening their doors in the nation's capital and around the country. There was a heady atmosphere that abuses could be remedied, that power could be more widely shared, that democracy could be, in the word of the day, "participatory." Newspapers, magazines, and television stations, along with new community media, covered events as if "the whole world was watching."

Yet somehow that spirit, little by little, slipped away, and big business stepped in again to seize more influence on our government. Over the course of my work in Washington, both Democrats and Republicans have drawn so close to the monied, corporate interests that the citizens are shut out.

This is why I ran for president.

***

As the sixties unfurled their turbulent times, leading into the Nixon administration, the corporate grandees seemed at a loss, until they received one August day in 1971 what has come to be known as the "Powell memorandum." Lewis Powell, a corporate lawyer in Richmond, Virginia, and soon to be a Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, delivered his analysis of the power balance in Washington and pronounced it a crisis for big business. The forces of reform had brought many industries under a variety of regulations, and business was on the defensive. Powell urged a fundamental expansion and strengthening of the corporate lobbying apparatus, using some of the very techniques that the consumer, environmental, and other citizen interests were deploying. These included corporate think tanks, aggressive use of the media, advancing business views on campus and in the curriculum, greater involvement in elections, and a mobilization of chief executives. It was time, Powell said, to mount an energetic counterattack to those who, he believed, would subvert the free enterprise system.

At the same time, two major "public servants" were urging the same. Treasury Secretary John Connally (he from the oil patch) and Federal Reserve Chairman Arthur Burns urged business leaders led by John Harper of Alcoa and Frederick Borch of General Electric to get their act together. In 1972 the Business Roundtable, composed only of big-time CEOs, was established. Many power lunches ensued, not only to eat beef but also to beef up the entire Washington infrastructure and outreach for the ascending power of the business sector.

The corporate government was determined to overwhelm the political government and bring it to bay as a service operation for business interests, on the one hand, and as close to an inactive manager of corporate law enforcement programs as Money Inc. can make possible, on the other hand.

It took a while to entrench this counterforce. These were the Nixon years, the Ford years, preoccupied with what was seen then as virulent inflation, price surges, an energy crisis, and Watergate. The momentum from the sixties and early seventies was not spent; the Democrats controlled Congress and were still effectively Democrats. Moreover, Jimmy Carter was campaigning around the country in 1975 and 1976 saying he would appoint the kind of regulators that I would approve of and that one of his top domestic priorities would be the creation of a consumer protection agency (CPA), another top item on our platform. He reiterated these points in August 1976, when he invited me to visit him in Plains, Georgia, during which time I joined the softball game between the Carterites and the press corps -- as an umpire.

After Jimmy Carter was elected president, he did appoint some very good people to head some of these agencies, notably the Food and Drug Administration, the Federal Trade Commission, and the auto safety agency. He took on as his White House consumer adviser the estimable Esther Peterson, of labor, women's, and human rights fame. Ms. Peterson knew her way around Washington, having been Lyndon Johnson's assistant secretary of labor and consumer adviser. Carter and Peterson made the consumer protection agency bill their number-one agenda item for her White House tenure. There were 60 votes for the CPA in the Senate, but the leadership wanted the House to pass it first, where the vote was expected to be closer. Indeed it was.

With Jimmy Carter scarcely lifting a hand to press the bill through the House (he was all over Congress to pass natural gas deregulation, however), consumer and labor groups were defeated on February 8, 1978, by a vote of 227 to 189. Fully 101 Democrats, including many liberals, such as Tom Foley and Pat Schroeder, defected to the side of the Business Roundtable men and the largest business coalition to date opposing a bill. Because the CPA's mission was not regulatory, but rather advocating consumers' interests, just about every industry imaginable felt the potential heat of this tiny protective agency upsetting the cushy relationships they had greased with these so-called regulators.

The business coalition met regularly at the Madison Hotel in Washington to plot strategy, raise campaign money, and wildly exaggerate both the size and authority of the CPA with their media propaganda. Their victory emboldened them to suppose that even a Democratic Congress and White House could not withstand their extreme demands. For after all, these regulatory agencies were hardly prosecutorial zealots and consumers had been paying the price for the lack of law and order in this realm. One did not have to look back on the CPA's defeat and the unwillingness, over my objections, of its backers to try again the following year to sense that 'this loss represented the turning of the tide in favor of the business lobbies. The Democrats were faltering, not just with their reactionary southern wing but even among their more mainstream liberal members. The defeat of California dynamo Phil Burton for House Majority Leader in 1976 by a vote of 148 to 147 to conservative Texas Democrat Jim Wright occurred because liberals like Max Baucus and Barbara Mikulski supported Wright against this effective, brilliant, and compassionate leader.

Temptation had even more lasting ambitions in the form of Tony Coehlo (D-California), who around 1980 persuaded the Democratic Party that it could raise piles of money from the same big-business contributors as did the Republicans. This was the beginning of the. end for progressive Democrats. As the man in charge of raising money for House Democrats, Coehlo, and his associates, dove into this gigantic money pit big time, and the cash register rang louder and louder. PACs were proliferating by the month, and the mogul mint was responding, plying both parties with its lucre in the ultimate .two-party hedge. It did not take much observational acuity for corporate lobbyists to sense that the pro-labor, New Deal Democratic Party was dying.

The labor law reform bill of 1917-78 was memorable in this regard. A mild attempt to reduce the barriers to union organizing, it simplified the election rules of the National Labor Relations Board, stiffened penalties on employers who violated existing labor laws, and provided "equal time" for unions to "address employees on company time and property prior to a representation election." The bill was at the top of the legislative agenda of the AFL-CIO, which mounted a major lobbying campaign. In October 1977, the bill sailed through the House by a vote of 257 to 163 and headed toward the Senate, where there was a Democratic majority of 61 to 39. There a filibuster led by Republican senators Orrin Hatch and Richard Lugar prevailed. The cloture effort to end the filibuster lost 58 to 41, in June 1978, two votes short of the 60 senators needed to close off debate. A massive business lobbying effort led to this defeat. The bill was sent back to the Labor Committee and, significantly, was not revived the following year or thereafter. This taught organized business that there was no fight-back capability or willpower by the Democrats -- a lack of stamina that a trade association lobbyist can sniff with the sensitivity of a bloodhound.

The collapse of the Democrats' resolve became even more acute when the Reaganites arrived in town on January 20, 1981. Ronald Reagan had three missions: cut taxes, especially on corporations and the wealthy; greatly enlarge the defense budget; and deregulate companies based on industry wish lists. Even though the Democrats had lost several Senate seats, they were still confident that their stereotype of a light-headed Reagan would find Washington rough going. Tip O'Neill, the House speaker and veteran Boston politician, conveyed this condescension when he said that Reagan was in "the major leagues" now. If he underestimated Reagan, O'Neill overestimated his Democrats, including himself. It was not long before the Democrats outsmarted themselves, concluding that since a Reagan supply-side tide through Congress could not be stopped, they should let the president have his massive tax cuts, his massive budget deficits, his massive military dollars and civilian program cuts. With enough rope, the Republicans would hang themselves. That was the rationalization for the incredible surrender of the congressional Democrats, buffeted by poll-driven fear and the Iranian-hostage-induced Reagan landslide. Reagan's program passed easily, leading William Greider to reflect in The Nation twenty years later: "Ronald Reagan's great legislative triumph of 1981 destabilized federal fiscal policy for nearly two decades, creating the massive structural deficits that were not finally extinguished until a few years ago."

In Greider's famous private interviews with David Stockman, Reagan's budget chief, the number cruncher said, "Do you realize the greed that came to the forefront? The hogs were really feeding." Greider noted that both "Democrats and Republicans engaged in a furious bidding war to see which party could deliver more tax breaks and other boodle to the special interest hogs (Republicans won, but the Dems gave it a good try)." The Democratic Party was fast losing its soul, morphing into the Republicans to form one corporate party feeding on the same corporate cash, but still sprouting two heads, each wearing different makeup. The parties, after all, did have to present a different face to the voting public. The corporate takeover of politics is a daily accretion, a relentlessly driven motivation, given the endless rewards for such aggressions.

During the Reagan years we had a president whose hero was John Wayne -- another actor -- whose traits Reagan emulated in his official addresses of state. No president ever made more speeches condemning government deficits, and no president came within a light-year of producing more red ink. Indeed, his cumulative increase in the national debt was far larger than all the debt piled up by all previous presidents from George Washington forward. And here was a president who twice said -- as a candidate and as president -- that nuclear missiles once launched could always be recalled. And that 85 percent of air pollution comes from trees. His penchant for spurious anecdotes (remember the welfare queen who never existed) taught us how truly passive the press can be.

For all his surface charm, soft voice, and angled head, Reagan allowed his fervid turncoat ideology (he was once a liberal) to transform him often into a cruel man with a smile. Rigidly against government regulation of bad business, he furthered the business regulation of government. Applied to the health and safety regulatory responsibilities of the federal government, this political catechism can leave people defenseless -- letting them die on the highways, in the workplace, and through toxic exposure in their environment. One of Reagan's first acts in this regard was to repeal what was known as the air bag standard, just before these dual-inflation lifesavers were about to go into motor vehicles. A few months earlier, Reagan had been campaigning in Michigan and accused the air bag of impeding the freedom of Americans. (In a sense, he was right -- it impeded them from going through the windshield.)

Appointees take their cue from their boss in the White House, and what happened to 250,000 workers exposed daily to toxic hazards in their factories, mines, and foundries all over America is a case in point. For more than a decade, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta had been collecting data on these workers As they completed their massive study, the physicians remembered their calling. How could they know of the potential or real danger to these workers and not notify them? So the CDC asked Reagan's Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for funds to pay for certified, return receipt notification to all of these workers of what was in their workplace and suggesting that they might wish to see their doctor for precautionary screening or diagnosis. In 1984, the OMB turned them down flat.

Now comes a parallelism that has become all too frequent. I took this story to Walter Mondale's presidential campaign at the highest staff levels. Look, I said, the Republicans had their chance and blew it. What about Mr. Mondale going to a blue-collar industrial city such as Cleveland or Pittsburgh and, before a large assemblage of workers in the city square, making a major policy statement on the ravages of occupational trauma and disease and the enormous mortality and morbidity that occur each year? Graphic descriptions of corporate neglect could be included -- such as coal miners' lung diseases, refinery explosions, injuries in chicken-processing plants -- and the possible Mondale clincher:

Let me tell you how callous this Republican administration can be. The Reagan government does not even have the decency to notify workers innocent of their peril after using their tax dollars to document their daily health-threatening conditions. Many of these workers were older veterans who fought for their country. But Mr. Reagan and his associates, who have anesthetized OSHA for four years, will not fight for their health. I call on President Reagan to spend the postage money and notify these workers and I am releasing the names of all the companies and their addresses where these workers labor for their livelihood.


The tepid Mondale campaign needed a steak with a sizzle. This was a way they could get some of the Reagan Democrats back.

The reply by the Mondale campaign was no thanks. Why, I asked? Because the campaign was on record pledging no increases in the federal budget -- not even to save or lengthen many lives with less burden on federal Medicare, Medicaid, and other social service budgets as a result.

A short time later, I held a news conference, packed with media, to release the materials and names of the companies. National television, radio, and newspaper coverage ensued. A lead editorial in the New York Times strongly condemned the Reagan administration. The following day, local reporters made it another front-page story by visiting many of these companies in their communities. Still, President Reagan stood firm, as stalwart and determined as John Wayne. The workers were notified only indirectly, by the press, not by the physicians whose good work their tax dollars supported. There was a difference between these two modes of communication, but not between the two parties.

Following this, in 1984 my associates and I made our first determined effort to broaden the agenda between the two presidential candidates. We called this project The Difference. Our main office was located in downtown Washington, D.C. We had seven fulltime people, led by Joan Claybrook, working the ideas. We also staffed field offices in six key states. As usual, the Republican and Democratic candidates -- in this case Reagan and Mondale-man -- aged to narrow the number of issues they would advance. The Difference challenged the candidates to take stands and debate subjects such as energy and consumer protection.

We furthered these issues by traveling across about a dozen key electoral states, holding news conferences, meeting with editorial boards, and fielding people in these areas to organize citizen and labor groups from many areas of community activity. It did not work. Sure, there was some good press coverage, but the candidates ignored Our efforts and made it look easy doing so. No matter how much the hordes of reporters on the campaign trail grumbled, they and their editors were willing to be trapped by the routines and rituals of the candidates. "The boys on the bus" humdrummed their way across the Country with the candidates and endured the numbing redundancy of photo Opportunity crowds shorn of any participation beyond their applause or occasional heckling. Anyone trying to nourish a more responsive campaign from the outside was viewed as an interloper by the reporters, most of whom frowned on such attempts.

Voters were expected to be polled, to be spectators and to vote. Their participation in the whole election process as an active civic force shaping the substance and tone of the campaign -- why, that wasn't the way it was done.

During the eighties, it became ever more clear that the Democrats were losing the will to fight. Business money pouring into party coffers melded into the retreat from progressive roots and then into an electoral tactic that argued for defeating Republicans by taking away their issues and becoming more like them.

The energy to strike out on a path extending the great American progressive tradition was quickly leaking out of the Democrats like a tire losing air. The party would address its Democratic critics by defining itself by the Worst Republicans instead of becoming better. "Do you know how bad the Republicans are on this subject?" would be the standard reply. Buying into the lesser-of-two-evils argument simply meant that every four years both parties would . get worse and be rewarded for it. Abhorring the Republicans, progressive voters had indeed nowhere to go. I noticed how the political language began to change. Democratic candidates almost never criticized abuses of corporate power or concentrated wealth depriving millions of workers of their just rewards. There was no modern language update for what Theodore Roosevelt called the "malefactors of great wealth" or what Franklin Roosevelt called "the economic royalists." References to "the poor" or to "justice" were out of style in major addresses by Democrats. The press chased Michael Dukakis around the country trying to get him to admit that he was a "liberal" during his 1988 presidential race. Finally, a few days before the election, they cornered him in the Central Valley of California and he confessed -- grudgingly.

I knew when Democrats ran away from the word "liberal" and began to use the word "neoliberal" as an adjective -- as in "neoconservative" -- that this semantic shift reflected a fundamental abandonment. The storied history of liberalism and its achievements in our country receded from contemporary memory under the onslaught of aggressive conservatives, their think tanks, and associated media. These corporatists in conservative garb pranced arrogantly, sometimes sneeringly, on the public stage, as if they had much historical record to brag about. Self-described conservatives (Tories) opposed the Revolutionary War and with their business cohorts maintained slavery, opposed women's right to vote, and pitted their power against workers trying to organize trade unions. They sided with the banks and the railroads against the rising farmer populist revolt in the late 1880s and continued their war against this most fundamental movement for political and economic reforms for the next twenty-five years. In the twentieth century, reform after reform initiated by liberals found conservatives and the dominant business community consistently arrayed in opposition. These included forward progress in civil rights, civil liberties, consumer and environmental protection, Medicare, Medicaid, workplace safety, labor rights and women's equality rights such as equal pay for equal work and nondiscrimination in the marketplace. No matter how much these great initiatives improved the health, safety, and economic well-being of the American people, the corporatist-conservatives and their business lobbies never relented in their blocking, delaying, diluting, or repealing of any reform that was vulnerable to their reactionary influences. This intransigence was not always the case. Conservative legislators like Senator Robert Taft supported the GI Bill of Rights and public housing. For the most part, however, they were on the wrong side of our history.

If I had to pick a date for the beginning of the latest cycle of giant business's big-time resurgence, it would be in the last eighteen months of the Carter administration. Basically, the combination of oil price surges, gasoline lines, and inflation panicked the Carterites and froze any programs and policies that business lobbies viewed as inimical. The elections of 1980 were great tidings for this lobby. In addition to Reagan's victory, a number of key senators -- Warren Magnuson (Washington), Frank Church (Idaho), Gaylord Nelson (Wisconsin), and George McGovern (South Dakota) -- lost their seats, Democrats who championed issues centered on abuses by companies through detailed and publicized public hearings and legislative actions.

An unanticipated pattern began to emerge in that turnaround period between 1979 and 1981. It was an incremental pattern that was unforeseen by most and therefore not given to forestalling. Emboldened corporations on the ascendancy observed their opponents inside and' outside of government moving from resistance to retreat, losing even the sense of trumpeting their successes of the prior fifteen years in making America a better and safer place to live. Once on the defensive, it is very hard to. go on the offensive. It was not lost on the numerous trade associations and corporate law firms that senators, representatives, leaders of labor unions, and citizen groups were experiencing ebbing energies. Unlike Ronald Reagan, either they no longer knew who they were or were confused about where they should be going. Historians often describe the engines of such ebbs and flows between contesting constituencies to be the rise of new ideas, dogmas, ideologies, or perceptions. In this case, it was more a flood of propaganda repeated with daily determination by business- sponsored institutions (the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation) through reports, conferences, and media programs attacking regulations and other allegedly "failed" government programs while touting so-called free-market solutions for what traditionally have been public responsibilities.

The doctrines of corporate supremacy filled a concentrating media, itself increasingly corporatized, led by those propaganda bullhorns -- the Wall Street Journal's editorial pages and Forbes magazine. Instead of refining their programs, many established liberals were busy reinventing themselves as corporatizers to go with the Reaganite flows, getting along by going along. More and more business money flowed into their coffers as a continuing reward for their transformations. Noticing political decay, a weakening democracy, and an overwhelmed civil society in Washington, D.C., is not the stuff of headlines. But if they are not noticed and aggregated, illusion sets in and citizen groups find themselves working harder for less and less progress and justice within an ambiance of lowered expectations.

In between their daily struggles, retreats, defeats, and occasional defensive victories, citizen groups might have paused to reflect on how many liberal Democrats, once defenders against both the incursions of large corporations and arbitrary government violations of civil liberties and civil rights, were replaced by members of their party who took up the cudgels for capital punishment, for weakening habeas corpus, for corporate prisons, for the failed war on drugs, for the secret evidence practices of the INS and its runaway powers against due process of law. These replacements included Bill Clinton and Al Gore. While there remained some stalwart liberals in the grand tradition, such as Congressman Henry Waxman (D-California), the "new guard" reflected a political shell seduced by corporate money and overtaken by corporatists who viewed government as a "large accounts receivables" for business interests and as an instrument to be deployed against its own people.

What happened is the triumph of what Jefferson called "the monied interests." Here are a few examples from many that illustrate the chain-link consequences of this power grid.

In the eighties, Washington Post and New York Times reporters started responding to our reports and testimony exposing business abuses by saying, "We don't cover reports." That was not entirely. accurate. They did cover the reports and studies of the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute because these right-wing groups had allies in the White House and Congress. Unlike previous years, our consumer and environmental associations did not have such governmental support. Therefore, the major press deemed them not newsworthy.

My recollection of one such interchange involved a young, congenial New York Times reporter, the late Nathanial Nash. In the mideighties we tried again and again to raise the warning signals among the Washington press corps about the looming savings and loan collapse. After one news conference, I called Mr. Nash, who was covering banking matters, and asked why the Times was not there. Sighing, he said there would be coverage if we could show that there was support for our positions among influential members of Congress. It was not sufficient that the Times and Post were receiving these early alerts to a major, long-lasting savings and loan story that both were late in covering. I advised Mr. Nash that with this newsworthiness standard, he was likely to miss some important scoops over time. Hewing to power journalism, however, was not a reporter's discretion -- it usually came from the editors and publishers.

The chain link extended also to the trade unions. Weakened by a shrinking membership and a shirking leadership, the unions' national headquarters in Washington spent the eighties looking for crumbs. They convinced themselves of their comparative powerlessness; some even supported a weakening of the federal regulatory laws to head off a worse shredding by business groups. Consumer and environmental communities fought hard and managed to block this corporate agenda, however. There were other noticeable defaults, most remarkably the large labor unions' posture on their most hated law, the notorious Taft-Hartley Act of 1947, which obstructed the formation of new trade unions and hampered the efforts of existing unions. Imagine the business community being chatteled by a similar law and not mounting a relentless, annual drive for repeal. Well, most Americans under fifty years old, and not related to the labor movement, have never heard of this statutory grip on American workers, unprecedented in any other Western democracy.

In 1997, the fiftieth anniversary of Taft-Hartley, I had an idea. Why not have the trade unions plan a whole series of events -- marches, town meetings, rallies -- to mobilize their base and educate the citizenry about the impact of this law on their wages and living standards and their freedom to organize? After all, the majority of American workers were making less in inflation-adjusted dollars and working longer hours than workers had in 1979 or 1973, despite a growing overall economy. I called two reporters covering labor for the Washington Post and the New York Times and asked them three months ahead of the anniversary month if they were planning on writing about Taft-Hartley, given the penchant for anniversary journalism these days. Both of them said they would if there were events to cover. So I wrote to a dozen national union leaders and urged them to plan events. Nothing doing. A few said they had other, more practical priorities. The second-highest AFL-CIO official, Richard Trumka, sympathized but said nothing was planned. What could be more practical than trying to repeal nine Taft-Hartley provisions that obstructed organizing by American workers?

The chain link erodes expectation levels and signals weakness among labor's allies in Congress. Intimidated by both corporate PACs and the giant corporate trade associations, these legislators helped to take the fight out of the unions, even though many of them could not win reelection without union money and get-out-the-vote efforts. Union membership in the private economy continues to slide -- now under 10 percent of the workforce, the lowest in sixty years.

The chain link reaches into the civic community. Having lost key committee chairs and the Congress to the Republicans and Republicrats, some Washington-based environmental groups persuaded themselves that they could maneuver or outsmart polluting companies through private deals with them. One such deal, involving the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and their West Coast representative Ralph Cavanagh, resulted in California's electricity deregulation fiasco. This idea was the brainstorm of John Bryson, CEO of the Southern California Edison Company and NRDC. The latter thought that competition in generating and distributing electricity would bring more conservation, more renewable energy on-line, and cheaper prices for consumers. Deregulation unanimously passed the California legislature in 1996 with very little public awareness or discussion. Our attempt in 1998 to repeal parts of this bad law by a statewide referendum -- Proposition 9 -- failed by a wide margin due to a $45 million television campaign by the utilities. Having given up on the prospect of regulation, California turned over regulatory power to the electric companies, their holding companies, and the large out-of-state power generators that have turned electricity into a speculative commodity. The harshest price consequences for consumers and taxpayers have resulted, shaking the state's economy and increasing costs to business. Any regulatory authority to stem this crisis was given up in 1996 to corporate supremacy.

After Clinton's reelection evaporated the notion that the old progressive Bill Clinton (whenever that was) would return, I decided to try two additional tests of the Democrats' resolve. It was May 1997, and Congressmen Bernie Sanders and Peter DeFazio were kind enough to invite me to address the House Progressive Caucus, made up of more than fifty progressive representatives. About six of them showed up. I presented them with nine fully drafted bills that would empower consumers, workers, taxpayers, and voters at virtually no cost to the taxpayer, reminding them that thirty years ago a few lone conservatives in the House had filed their long-shot bills to the amusement of most Democrats. No one is laughing now. Bills filed with a number become a nucleus of discussion and rallying point around the country. They are seeds that nourish an emerging agenda. Their sponsors talk them up, release statements, and attract support from other members of the House, interested columnists and citizen groups, and constituents back home. The cluster of bills was distributed to all the members of the caucus. I waited. Two months passed, six months passed, one year passed, two years passed. Reminders were sent. To date, not one member of the caucus has introduced a single bill. So much for the progressive cream of the crop launching a democracy-empowering agenda, whether ours or their own.

Not long after the meeting with the Progressive Caucus, I had lunch with Steve Grossman, the co-chair of the Democratic National Committee. Grossman runs a family business from Massachusetts and probably would have been a John Kennedy Democrat had he been older in 1960. For two hours, my associate John Richard and I plied him with similar empowerment proposals and additional legislation of a more substantive nature in the health and safety, corporate welfare, and corporate crime enforcement arenas. He was wonderfully engaging and said he would take our materials and give them to the DNC's research unit for study and response. Before leaving, I handed Mr. Grossman several copies of a humorous little paperback titled Dogs Are Smarter Than Republicans. A few days later, a DNC staffer called our office and asked if we could spare more copies of the Dogs book. We sent them right over. Alas, we're still waiting for a call from the DNC about the rest of the proposals, admittedly none of which were very satirical. Are dogs smarter than Democrats, too?

Even less humorous was the DNC's role in the 1990 reelection of Newt Gingrich. In 1989 members of Congress voted to raise their own salaries 25 percent, always a touchy issue with the citizenry. Neither party wanted this issue to emerge during the 1990 campaign, so, remarkably, they announced an enforcement scheme for a gag order at a joint news conference. Any candidate who used the pay raise topic against an opponent would lose his or her party's campaign funding. It just so happened that one David Worley, a thirty- two-year-old lawyer, was running for the House seat held by Newt Gingrich -- easily the Republican most disliked by the Democrats. Worley was a candidate of little budget but great verve, especially for the Georgia Democratic Party. He was breathing down Newt's neck, and Newt knew it. Polls had them running neck and neck.

What was so exciting about the Worley-Gingrich race was not only who was involved but also the rarity of a contested congressional race against an entrenched incumbent. The two parties that always speak so pompously about "our two-party system" have managed to reduce this system down to a one-party domination in about 90 percent of the congressional districts and in many of the states on the Senate side. Worley had one problem -- no money for ads on television. Gingrich was all over television, in the news and in his own advertising. In the last weeks of the campaign, Worley asked Tom Foley and the DNC for some television money. He insisted that he had a chance to upset the Democrats' nemesis, the man who caused Speaker Jim Wright to resign from the House. He even went to see Foley in Atlanta when the speaker was in town politicking. But no contributions flowed from the national Democratic kitty. Worley had violated the gag order. He was making the pay raise and the hypocrisy of the Republicans in holding down the minimum wage for millions of Americans a regular and resounding theme of his campaign. Without any television ads to help voters become acquainted with this bright new political light on the horizon, Worley narrowly lost by 950 votes.

Gingrich returned to Washington with a renewed mission to take down another Democratic speaker. And to do this, in 1994 he recruited a candidate, George Nethercutt, funded him, let him press the theme of six-year term limits (then popular in Spokane), and even journeyed there to campaign personally against Foley.

Voters woke up the next morning to hear the astonishing news that Foley had been defeated and, even more portentously, that the Republicans had swept away the Democratic majority and taken control of the House of Representatives. Newt Gingrich replaced Tom Foley as Speaker. This Republican victory was generally credited to Gingrich, who could have been retired in 1990 were it not for the personal and tyrannical pettiness of the Democrats. Turning horizon into myopia, the Democrats were no longer capable even of defeating people from the extreme wing of the Republican Party. They had run out of gas.
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 17838
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: Crashing the Party, by Ralph Nader

Postby admin » Mon Aug 10, 2015 7:26 am

Three: Citizen Closeout: The Moral Imperative

Citizen groups, accustomed to some significant victories and the chance to take on the economic vested interests, were being shut out of the process, squeezed out of forums, rendered more voiceless and powerless with each year of rampaging corporatism over elections. There are various ways to illustrate this closing out of the civil society. One way to clarify the merger of business with government is to list the major departments and agencies in Washington, D.C., and simply ask who is the overwhelmingly most powerful influence over each of them. Seasoned reporters and commentators would scarcely be surprised by the following list: Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve (banks), Department of Agriculture (agribusiness), Department of Defense (military weapons companies), Department of the Interior (timber barons and the mining industry), Food and Drug Administration (food and drug companies), Occupational Safety and Health Administration, inside the Department of Labor, no less (corporate employers), General Services Administration (business vendors to the government), NASA (space industries), Federal Aviation Administration (airlines and aircraft manufacturers), and so it goes.

Of course, this has been the case for decades. The difference today is that these agencies have become more symbiotic with their clientele companies, often being led by former executives of these very industries. The difference is also that Congress is far less a countervailing force than a cheerleading crowd. The judiciary, composed of corporatist judges, is more prone to roll over on economic issues. Moreover, industry and commerce have become far more organized, more media-aggressive, and richer at the same time that organized labor's influence had declined as an opposing force across the spectrum of public decision making. When this severe imbalance of power becomes institutionalized, the sovereignty of the people is diminished.

Still, the citizen groups plod on, as if riding a treadmill that keeps slipping further behind. They cling to dwindling hopes: the remaining progressives in Congress, a defensive court victory on the environment, a new Clinton administration in 1993, a major investigative report on national television or in a major newspaper or magazine, a push from Western Europe on global warming or genetic engineering, a successful labor-organizing drive for janitors. It has been said that hope springs eternal, but for these groups, hope has been springing many contemporary leaks. They could never imagine, if told in the 1970s, that the economy was going to double in thirty years yet the problems of energy, poverty, lack of health insurance coverage, inadequate housing, real wages, consumer debt, the savings rate, criminal justice systems, disrepair of public works, family farms, wealth inequality, trade deficits, food safety, and others would either be at a standstill or sliding backward at the beginning of the twenty-first century. All this in a period of restrained inflation, booming corporate profits, surging stock markets, massive capital accumulation (heavily from pension and trust funds), and more recently a period of federal and state government surpluses.

The historic American ideology of continual progress has received its comeuppance, along with the impression that a rising tide lifts all boats. The major political parties have not delivered on their populist responsibilities. Rather, as proxies for big business, they have become the gatekeepers who let the powerful slam the door in the face of the people.

I remember as a student reading the words of Thomas Jefferson regarding how long people should tolerate an unresponsive government. His message was that when the situation becomes intolerable, go into politics and take back the government. This was a message that I resisted, notwithstanding the urgings that I run for elected office as early as 1970. Gore Vidal, no less, wrote an article for Esquire in 1971 recommending me as a presidential candidate. George McGovern, the Democratic nominee for president in 1972, called me when his running mate, Senator Thomas Eagleton, withdrew after a biased response to the disclosure that he had received electric shock treatment. McGovern asked if I would be willing to be considered for the vice presidential nomination. I thanked him but said that my role was in the citizen arena. In 1991, Carl Mayer, a New Jersey law professor, and Matthew Rothschild, editor of The Progressive in Madison, Wisconsin, repeatedly tried to get me to enter the presidential race. Others added their concurrence. So insistent and so determined were they to start working in New Hampshire that I suggested not officially running in the state's primary but standing as a write-in candidate with a progressive set of mobilizing issues to be discussed in town-meeting formats around the state.

This, of course, did not satisfy them. Nonetheless, hoping I would move later into a real candidacy, they opened a storefront campaign office in Manchester, right next to those of the other primary candidates. Bursting with enthusiastic volunteers, most of whom had little idea of how difficult it was for voters just to get write-in ballots to mark in most precincts, they worked late into the evenings.

The general goal of the campaign was to meet with people in one assembly after another throughout the state to hear and discuss a broad prodemocracy agenda. The subjects were contained in what I called the "Concord Principles," having released them one very cold winter morning on the steps of the state office building. The principles were essentially a "new democracy toolbox" replete with election reforms, such as public funding of elections, more convenient voter registration rules, binding none-of-the-above (NOTA) lines that would cancel that election and order a new election with new candidates if NOTA won the most votes, and twelve-year congressional term limits. The principles also offered simple strategies for consumers, workers, and taxpayers to band together with membership organizations and work for universal health insurance, trade union growth, an end to corporate welfare, renewable energy, and safer food and other products, and to try to avert future perils and injustices on the horizon.

While it is hard to procure a write-in ballot in New Hampshire, it is in other ways an ideal state for this type of personal, grassroots campaigning. Local democratic traditions tend to linger longer in New Hampshire than in most other states. As it is the first primary state in the land, New Hampshire residents like to look over their candidates. It is not unusual, when asked his or her opinion of a presidential candidate, for a New Hampshire voter to answer, "I don't know yet. I've only met him twice."

New Hampshire recalls the old days of campaigning before television sound bites and inaccessible candidates. People in many small towns that are distinct .communities with large gathering halls and auditoriums expect the candidates to visit them and stay long enough for some back-and-forth exchanges. The dozens of dark-horse candidates who would be brushed off as nuisances elsewhere find New Hampshirites bemused by their single-issue efforts.

We strove to meet New Hampshirites with our town meeting-style gatherings. The turnout was impressive, and the people often stayed for three hours. Word of mouth works better in this state. The veteran political columnists Jack W. Germond and Jules Witcover, who have covered so many presidential campaigns marked by massive voter indifference that they wrote a book titled Wake Us Up When It's Over, started their syndicated column on January 9, 1992, with some astonishment:

It was, in a word, extraordinary. In a state where much-courted voters have long been inured to the appeal of political candidates, most candidates are encouraged if 50 or so folks turn out to hear them.

So it was an eyebrow-raiser here the other night when upwards of five hundred New Hampshire citizens of all ages showed up to hear Ralph Nader, the nation's foremost political scold, introduce himself this way: "Hello, I'm none of the above, and I'm not running for president."


Well, why was it so extraordinary? I was amazed by the reporters' astonishment. Christine Gardner, writing in USA Today on January 27, observed: "Three weeks ago he drew 1,000 in Exeter at Phillips Exeter Academy prep school. Last month, at the University of New Hampshire, where Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton attracted 100 to a free talk, Nader pulled in 300."

Why was I attracting such assemblies and interest? First and foremost, people felt at the time, and even more so today, that they were losing control over everything that matters to them -- their jobs, their governments, their marketplace, their environment, their communities, their privacy, their ability to get their calls returned, their children. It doesn't matter where they are coming from -- right, middle, left, Republican, Democrat, Independent, blue-collar, white-collar, small business, commuters, pedestrians, carnivores or vegetarians. The complexity of modern life and the increasing remoteness of the decision makers feed this sense of powerlessness.

Politicians then have the nerve to come before the people and flatter them so as to calm them or, more often, bore them. Even the well-intentioned candidates cannot deliver on their sincere promises, because once they are in the White House or Congress, they are in a cocoon spun by thousands of corporate lobbyists.

One man leaving one of our meetings was overheard saying to a friend, "He's showing the politicians that the people can be a force to be reckoned with." Exactly. The Greek word for "people" is demos, and "democracy" means rule by the people, in contrast to "plutocracy," rule by the wealthy and powerful. If political candidates do not speak to ways that enable citizens to be more powerful individually and together to shape the future of their society and address their current grievances, what is left of their campaign other than platitudes, resolutions, and assurances that they conveniently assign to limbo, whether they win or lose the office they are seeking?

As we motored through one town after another in the fifteen or so days of the NOTA campaign, we made a point of addressing fundamental issues. Although candidates for national office readily nod at Tip O'Neill's adage that "all politics is local," few ever really take a stand on the state of New Hampshire. I did, whether standing with opponents near the Seabrook nuclear power plant -- a massively expensive boondoggle that still doesn't know where to safely put its deadly piles of radioactive waste -- or speaking out against a two-hundred-ton-per-day Wheelabrator trash incinerator in Claremont that was posing pollution and financial liability nightmares.

The lesson directed to the other candidates was to campaign with the people, not parade in front of them as if they were onlookers rather than participants. Nonetheless, the Democrats and the Republicans kept track of their holy trinity of campaigning -- how much money they could raise, how many TV spots they could buy, and how many hands they could shake. Clinton specialized in looking intently and directly into people's eyes while he shook their hands, thereby breaking away from bland politicians or candidates who shake hands in a crowded room or restaurant while looking for the next person's hand to shake. This turned into a big plus for the governor of Arkansas. Thankful for small favors, people would say afterward, "He made me feel like I mattered."

Such low public expectation in 1992 was one of our campaign's themes. "You should be in charge," I would say. "You should develop your own policy recommendations, summon the candidates to your own get-togethers, invite the press to cover them, have a fully unscripted back-and-forth with the candidates, and insist on commitments. To do this, you have to spend more time knowing and acting. Give yourself a chance. You might be surprised by what happens when you and your neighbors collaborate in these ways. If you don't do it, who will? You can't have a daily democracy without daily citizenship.

One evening in February, Carl Mayer and I drove deep into the New Hampshire woods. We were en route to the tiny northern hamlet of Dixville Notch. New Hampshire primary candidates often go to this remote village because its thirty-two voters gather at midnight on Election Day to vote at the Balsams Grand Resort Hotel. Within seconds, their votes are tabulated and the results sent to the wire services to launch the presidential primary campaign. Any candidate who wins or places well receives a little early psychological lift.

A light but steady snowfall accompanied our journey and, surrounded by dense roadside tree cover, made us feel that we were moving through one of James Fenimore Cooper's "primeval forests." Earlier that night Clinton's philandering was what people wanted to talk about. Curiously, the Gennifer Flowers uproar helped Clinton attract attention. Flowers became Clinton's spotlight, and he made the most of it. I'm almost certain that he and his close associates knew it was coming, especially after they planned and then postponed a presidential run in 1988. Clinton knew how to stay on message, and nothing was going to get him to take a stand on President Bush's NAFTA proposal before Congress, or on nuclear power, or on the failing banks in New Hampshire. He evaded questions from our supporters regarding the Concord Principles, which were pretty simple ways to give people more power, more voice. (Jerry Brown became the only candidate to endorse these principles.)

For most of the Dixville Notch trip, Carl and I just enjoyed the quiet scenery and recalled some of the characters of the state's primary season. There was an old friend from Pennsylvania, Gene Stilp, who arrived late one day in Manchester, went down to the headquarters basement with a load of lumber, and emerged at dawn with some fifty giant pencils that he had fabricated to symbolize, atop motor vehicles, our write-in campaign. Soon a caravan of cars with the Andy Warhol-like artifacts assembled in front of our storefront campaign office and, to noisy hoopla, they streamed away in different directions. The festival nature of the New Hampshire primary and the amused tolerance that people brought to its events were illustrated by the circulation of the minor or "darkhorse candidates." There were sixty-three aspirants on the ballot in this category.

Actor Tom Laughlin, of Billy Jack fame, campaigned actively as a "nonpolitician" and received considerable press notice. Back again was former Senator Eugene McCarthy at seventy-five years, saying he was as "serious" as the rest and stressing his foreign policy experience. One of the nation's finest mayors, Irvine, California, Democrat Larry Agran, delivered a serious set of proposals ranging from electoral reforms, urban revitalization, citizen engagement, and shifting to domestic programs the $150 billion that was being spent each year to pay for U.S. forces in Europe and Japan. Carl and I would meet Agran on the hustings, and the way the Democratic Party treated him reflected their rejection of any opportunity for internal reform of the party.

Carl and I arrived at the Balsams in Dixville Notch just before midnight, and the next morning we were met by the Barbas, the husband-and-wife hotel managerial team with distinct personalities and views that they did not hesitate to show. Gail Barba was the chairwoman of President Bush's reelection campaign in the Notch but said that she had decided to vote for me. "It wasn't so much that I was fed up with Bush as with Congress," she said.

One reason for New Hampshirites' enthusiasm during primary season, aside from the break they get from wintry cabin fever, is their awareness that the results of their kickoff primary can launch a winner or shape the dynamics of subsequent primaries around the country. Their time slot is special, and because of that attitude, New Hampshire has surprised the nation with its major party winners time and time again. Candidates temporarily learn not to trust the polls. They learn that the voters would cheer lustily for candidates they had no intention of voting for on Primary Day. Editorial writers for the various papers single out minor candidates if one or more take a stand on an issue that the paper favors (as with Nackey Loeb, publisher of the extremely right-wing Manchester Union Leader, who praised my proposal for a binding none-of-the-above option on all ballot lines). Independents abound. The chairman of a local Bush-Quayle reelection campaign quit in late January 1992 to support me, saying; "I cannot in good conscience cast my vote for the Republican Party." The Monadnock Ledger in western New Hampshire editorially endorsed Paul Tsongas on the Democratic side and me on the Republican side. The Ledger wrote that it wanted to send a message that citizens want "real change."

Well, as it turned out on Primary Day, February 18, I received 3,054 write-in votes on the Democratic side and 3,257 on the Republican side -- almost a fifty-fifty split whose size was not as significant as its bipartisan appeal. During the day, people would come into our Manchester campaign office to complain bitterly over their inability to overcome the precincts' indifference or hostility to requests for write-in ballots.

Before I left the state, a woman whose eyes and demeanor suggested long experience with justice struggles, admonished me, saying that I should have run as a Democrat with my name printed on the ballot. "You lost a historic opportunity," she sternly remarked. Hers was not a lone voice. Many of my fellow agitators thought the same: Go all the way, express your desire to be president within the Democratic Party. I would remind them where I was coming from. Citizen movements make real changes. Informed and organized citizens can shape and direct the campaigns of politicians. They said I was dreaming, that the late twentieth century, with liberal safety nets in place, was very different from bygone eras, with their domestic turmoils and desperation. The political beast was too insulated, too fortified, and too rooted in the established interests to be changed unless you get inside it, they said. "Maybe you're right," I replied, "but in that case you need another candidate."

For 1992, the irresistible force became Bill Clinton, whose broken field running took him to victory over President George Bush and ended a twelve-year White House drought for the Democrats. In short order, Clinton defined what a "new Democrat" was like. Over the next four years, he so favorably astonished the business lobbies that the head of the National Association of Manufacturers, Jerry Jasinowski, told me after a cable television taping that we shared, "We like Clinton more and more."

And why not? The boy wonder from Arkansas pushed through the greatest surrender of local, state, and national sovereignty in U.S. history to those corporate-inspired systems of autocratic governance called NAFTA and the revised GATT's World Trade Organization. Clinton signed the megacorporate legislations involving the telecommunications and agribusiness industries, ballyhooed phony welfare reform for the poor while creating new models of corporate welfare, and undermined civil liberties in signing three criminal bills, all while losing a health insurance package in a Democrat-controlled Congress in 1994. For good measure, he further delighted the Jasinowskis of the corporate world by losing his party's congressional control and handing it over for the duration of his term to the extreme right wing of the Republican Party.

Come 1996, Clinton thought only of his reelection, for which he brought on board the switch-hitting consultant Dick Morris, fresh from advising Trent Lott, to guide him on the nuances of political hermaphroditism. For reasons that certain White House assistants told me they never could understand, Clinton was mesmerized by the irrepressible Morris, with whom he would strategize for hours at a time. There was a reason. Ever since Clinton lost his reelection run for governor of Arkansas, it seemed he was determined never again to lose an election by sticking to principles. Morris fit that resolve perfectly, with his triangulation approach -- which I understood as beating the Republicans by taking away their issues and becoming more like them. Economists call this behavior in the business world "protective imitation."

During Clinton's first term, I had no illusions about any progressive agenda other than universal health insurance, which he and Hillary botched. They overcomplicated both the process of drafting the legislation and the bill itself due to his penchant for trying to secure support of the big HMOs, the drug companies, the hospital chains, and the AMA -- or at least neutralize their opposition. In the end, the health plan collapsed of its own weight. But if I did not expect advances, neither did I envision so many retreats, such as on campaign finance reform and, especially, on corporate regulation. The White House fed these agencies sleeping pills. Clinton thought so little of the federal government's auto safety mission that he let a Reagan holdover run the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration for eight months until he found someone who shared his vision of turning that regulatory agency into a consulting firm for Detroit. Clinton, deciding against his Department of Transportation's own projections of casualties, went along with the lifting of the federal interstate speed limit for trucks and cars to 65 miles per hour (effectively 70 miles per hour without a citation). I called the Oval Office, asking for a telephone appointment to speak with him for five minutes, to try to dissuade him on safety, energy waste, and air pollution grounds. It was the only time I made such a request, and it was declined. On November 28, 1995, Clinton signed legislation that ended the 55-miles- per-hour federal speed limit that had been in place since 1974.

According to a 1998 study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which was based on casualty experience after the law went into effect, thousands more Americans will die every decade on federal highways where the speed limit was lifted. The number of highway deaths was unchanged on the highways where the speed limit stayed the same.

Toward the end of Clinton's first term, I received a letter from California, signed by several prominent environmentalists, led by the great David Brower and Democratic political analyst Pat Caddell, urging me to place my name on the California presidential ballot. They were seriously upset with the Clinton-Gore nonrecord on environmental matters, and it was increasingly clear that no progressive Democrats were going to challenge Clinton -- not Jesse Jackson or Paul Wellstone or any outsider. So, on November 27, 1995, I accepted their invitation to place my name on the Green Parry ballot in California. My brief statement read: "I intend to stand with others around the country as a catalyst for the creation of a new model of electoral politics, not to run any campaign. Californians deserve a campaign that will practice taking the corrosive impact of special interest money out of politics at the same time that it preaches campaign finance reform. This effort will focus on removing such money from elections, and ending the corporate welfare and other privileges that it buys. I will not seek nor accept any campaign contributions."

The Green Party of California was, to put it mildly, a fledgling association of several really energetic people that claimed eighty thousand registered voters. Right at the outset, I made clear to them that this was not about me seeking to become president. It was about helping to focus the initiatives of growing numbers of people who want more political choices. So don't expect a traditional campaign, I told them. There will be no fund-raisers or appeals, no hoopla rallies, just opportunities for people to start the difficult process of shaping the future course of our beleaguered democracy.

My friends and associates, remembering the noncampaign in New Hampshire back in 1992, moaned about this latest political suspension zone I was entering. My corporate- fighting California buddy, Harvey Rosenfield, who overcame with my help the powerful auto insurance lobby, told reporters that while I would "draw people from all sides of the political spectrum, he's got to be out there doing it. And I don't think he gets that yet. Ralph has not given the word to everybody that he's serious." And here I thought I was going further than my civic-indentured mind ever thought possible.

Whether I was serious or not, the reporters jumped on the issue that they and the Democrats thought was very serious: Would I take enough votes away from Clinton-Gore to cost them California, their crown jewel of fifty-four electoral votes? The hawkeyed Wall Street Journal started the horse-race question on January 3, 1996, with an editorial titled "Nader vs. Clinton":

What Democrats should focus on ... is the real danger that Bill Clinton could lose vote-rich California if liberal activist Ralph Nader is a Presidential candidate.... No one can come up with a plausible Electoral College scenario that re-elects Bill Clinton without California's 54 electoral votes. A Field poll gives Mr. Nader 11% of the vote in a three-way race against Mr. Clinton and Bob Dole. Even a minimally funded Nader effort would end up with 3% to 5% ... almost all at the expense of Mr. Clinton.


When I read these words, I burst into laughter. Clinton at risk in California? Why, Bill could have his $200 haircuts on the LAX tarmac every week and not lose to Kansas Bob. Anyone who knows anything about California knows that Bob Dole doesn't fit there. From the get-go I always believed that Clinton would have little trouble with Dole, who himself seemed resigned to losing. While Dole would tell audiences \hat he had to leave the auditorium because he wanted to fly back home that night, Clinton would shake every last hand. Besides, Californians historically get cold feet for third-party candidates when they enter the voting booth.

But Bill Clinton did not share my certainty over his reelection. Again and again in the early months of 1996, Dick Morris told me, Clinton queried him about whether I could be persuaded to drop out of California. Clinton was really worried. Both his cautious political antennae and articles in the New York Times, Washington Post, and other papers raised the prospect of tipping California into Dole's column. Morris knew better. "Boss, don't worry. Nader's voters come from both Democratic and Republican voters," he told the president. Morris, quite to his credit, remembered what had happened in New Hampshire four years earlier.

Starting in February, letters began arriving from Greens in other states asking me to place my name on the· ballot. New Mexico, Oregon, Colorado, Alaska, Hawaii, and the number kept increasing until twenty-one states had my notarized acquiescence. C-Span started to cover my addresses at places like Haverford College and the University of Colorado at Boulder as part of their "Road to the White House" series. I did lots of talk radio shows and responded to feature reporters from around the country for interviews. But my travel was restricted because under the Federal Election Commission rules, raising and/or spending $5,000 or more made you an official candidate under a matrix of official rules, and I could not afford to cross that threshold. But by driving and finding the cheapest airfares, I did manage to visit more than a dozen states and help galvanize enthusiastic audiences around the neglected areas of health care, the trade "uber alles" agreements of NAFTA and GATT-WTO, environmental foresight, and consumer safety.

The California Nurses Association, and their tough-minded, sensitive executive director, Rose Ann De Moro, were running a statewide initiative (Proposition 216) on health insurance for all, and I campaigned with them across the state. Nurses are held in such politically high regard in our country, largely for good reasons, that joining with them was obvious. These were no ivory tower theorists or thumb-sucking columnists. Real grievances for their patients turned these nurses out into the streets to protest. Unfortunately and predictably, they were defeated at the polls by overwhelming HMO television dollars.

The Green Party nominating convention in August reminded me of an Earth Day gathering. It was held in Los Angeles, where Mike Feinstein, making his first and successful run for Santa Monica City Council, together with John Strawn and Greg Jan, were busily attending to the myriad details and a surprising number of reporters in attendance from around the world. MTV's Tabitha Soren, in particular, continued to cover the Greens. Winona LaDuke, a Harvard-trained economist, author and organizer, mother of two children, working farmer, and member of the Ojibway tribe in Minnesota, was chosen as my vice presidential running mate. At the age of thirty-six, Winona had already been chosen by Time magazine as one of the fifty forthcoming leaders in our country. She was well known among progressives at conferences and rallies around the country. A few weeks earlier, I had met with her in Minnesota and was struck by her spirited seriousness and warm sense of humor.

In an otherwise somnolent Clinton-Dole campaign, our unofficial campaign, which gave new meaning to the word "bare-bones," kept the flames of a people's politics flickering. At the time, I was busy with numerous civic projects as well as helping to start and build new citizen groups, including two involving my Princeton class of 1955 and Harvard Law School class of 1958, which mobilized "alumni for systemic justice," as we phrased it.

Come Election Night, we received just under seven hundred thousand votes, coming in fourth after Ross Perot on the Reform Party ticket. The only state where the Greens may have cost Clinton was Colorado, which went for Dole. I remember wondering whether the Democrats would get any message from this small signal on the horizon. In the months that followed, it was hard to detect any.

There was a strange letdown at the White House after Clinton's reelection. Instead of starting a new four-year term with some larger visions and objectives, he offered, in his adviser Bill Curry's words, "the politics of small gestures," often announced on Clinton's' Saturday-morning radio message. The president paid attention to the little things that linger in the beneficiaries' minds. His favorite columnist, Ron Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times, was naturally pleased when Clinton sent his young son a birthday card. These recognitions poured out of the White House regularly, and their transformation into treasured mementos paid both intangible and recognizable dividends.

Bill Curry became restless and then incredulous at the absence of presidential initiative, leadership, and sense of priorities. It was too easy, he said to me, to blame a Republican- controlled Congress run by Newt Gingrich and Trent Lott for doing next to nothing. It was too easy, I replied, for Clinton to bask in the sun of a growing private economy, corporate profits, stock market surges, and declining unemployment while ignoring the grossest disparities in economic justice. Clinton, though cognitively capable, had no public philosophy, no guiding standards of what merits public enterprise. If he knew the proper lines between business and government, which he further blurred, or of what safeguards are needed when public assets are given to private companies, as with scientific and medical research results, he aid not communicate them to the public at large.

When it came time in 1996 for Clinton to decide whether he was going to renominate Alan Greenspan as chairman of the Federal Reserve, the decision was an automatic yes. It did not matter to Clinton that this powerful agency was controlled not only by the banking industry but by a man who still is for the abolition of the minimum wage and still maintains his antiregulatory beliefs honed as a member of Ayn Rand's inner circle forty years ago. Although Greenspan is sworn by his oath of office to enforce numerous laws that protect the financial borrowings and savings of consumers, he still has not disavowed his view that regulation "of dishonest and unscrupulous business" is "welfare statism," "illusory," and based on "armed force." One would think that Mr. Greenspan had some explaining to do about his regulatory inaction before receiving another term as chairman. Instead, Clinton, the Republicans, and all but seven Senate Democrats gave him a coronation.

Clinton's second term overlooked a cascade of concentrations of corporate power. It seemed that every Monday morning I opened the newspapers to read of one or more giant merger announcements, with no mention at all of its effects on workers, consumers, and communities. There even was no coherent antitrust policy other than approval or at times requiring minor sell-offs of dealerships and subsidiaries. It almost seemed that the widely publicized Microsoft case, brought by the Department of Justice, was a fig leaf hiding this astonishing abdication by the Clinton administration.

Clinton even signed legislation that encouraged such consolidations. The notorious Telecommunications Act of 1996 was a case in point. It was promoted by both parties as a fundamental stimulus to competition that would benefit both consumers and innovative small firms. At the White House signing ceremony, President Clinton was enthusiastic, promising that the law would bring consumers "lower prices, better quality, and greater choices in their telephone and cable systems." Listen to the Wall Street Journal's assessment five years after the act's passage:

For consumers, the competition never got started. Now, with many startup phone companies faltering or folding, it looks unlikely that it ever will. The Baby Bells and the cable TV operators have the country pretty much to themselves, enjoying lucrative monopolies in most areas.... Lacking competition, incumbent cable and phone companies have been raising prices, and they have relatively little pressure to improve shoddy service. Nobody has a sure answer for how to fix it.


Eisenhower's Republicans would have blushed at what Bill Clinton gave up to large corporations. It reached the point where it was a waste of time talking to the White House about any change of course or new direction. Before becoming Secretary of the Treasury, Clinton's Wall Street adviser in residence, Robert Rubin, became apoplectic when Labor Secretary Robert Reich spoke of corporate welfare being unfair and draining public monies from public needs.

All we were left with during our occasional meetings with White House staff were pleas to hold firm on opposing federal erosion of the civil justice system traditionally reserved for the states. Clinton and Gore never stood firm on tort law, which protects the rights of people injured by defective products, toxins, and other harms. While telling their large campaign contributors in the trial bar one thing, they were busy negotiating deals with the tortfeasors' lobby on Capitol Hill. Clinton signed eleven mini-tort deform bills into law in such areas as aircraft manufacturing and biomaterials, which gave slices of immunity to these industries, In 1998 he was willing to sign the first general federal preemption of a portion of state tort law, but a bitter dispute over the sufficiency of the corporate immunities between two industry groups left the bill languishing in a Senate ready to pass it. This was die same Bill Clinton who as presidential candidate in 1992 gave leading trial attorney Phil Corboy at a Chicago fund-raiser his patented direct eye contact and firmly said, "You'll never have to worry about me restricting tort law."

The petitions, appeals, letters, testimony, meetings with Clinton's so-called regulators, with the exception of Dr. David Kessler, head of the FDA, on tobacco matters and Arthur Levitt, chairman of the understaffed Securities and Exchange Commission, were met with veritable blank looks, interminable delays, or rejections. Again and again, the citizen groups would try, and again and again they were shut out, albeit with occasional sweet talk. The regulatory agencies were more than captives of the industries they were supposed to regulate -- they became their camouflage, material for auto, aviation, food, drug, railroad, and other industries' advertising bragging that their products met or exceeded federal safety or other standards -- standards often written by industry lawyers and immediately obsolete when they were issued twenty or thirty years ago.

Our elders used to urge us on with the words, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again." So a few months after the election in 1996, we made the first of numerous attempts to sit down with Vice President Al Gore and run by him a number of significant policy initiatives. My assistant, Caroline Jonah, started what turned out to be an extraordinary process of accessing the vice president. At first his staff requested a written letter with the topics we wanted to discuss with him. Fair enough. We sent the letter and followed up with another call. Then another call. And another. Soon the days turned into weeks and the weeks into months, until finally Caroline received the reply: "The vice president has no time to meet with Mr. Nader." I called him directly to see what was amiss. He called back in a few days, and I recounted our frustration with his staff giving us the runaround.

They have?" he asked, as if surprised.

"You weren't aware that they were not letting us meet?" I asked, reminding him of a constructive meeting we had in 1993 at his office. "Then can you give me a time when we can get together?"

"Well," he replied, "let's talk now."

"There are several major topics," I said, briefly listing them, "and I doubt whether you have the time or whether it is best to discuss these on the telephone. Can't we find a time to meet?" I fully expected him to agree and refer me to his scheduler.

"Well, I'll see," he said and politely ended the conversation.

That was the last I heard from AI Gore, until he began telling crowds in the closing days of his 2000 presidential campaign that a vote for Nader was a vote for Bush.

Gore's disingenuousness had become more profound over the years, in part because he had never lost an election because of it and in part because, except for a few "misspokes," he had gotten away with this sleight of mind. But Jamie Love and Act Up made sure in 1999- 2000 that he did not get away with drug industry dualism. Gore always portrayed himself as someone who had spoken truth to the medicine makers.

Unbeknownst to just about everybody was a private drama between these companies and South Africa involving Gore as a central character. Gore was the co-chair of the U.S.-South Africa Binational Commission along with President Thabo Mbeki. Gore used this position to pressure Mbeki, whose parliament was considering changes in its Medicines Act that would promote competition, liberalize rules for important drugs, and encourage the greater use of generic drugs, to lower the prices of medicines. About 4 to 5 million people in South Africa were HIV-positive, and at ten to twenty thousand dollars per patient per year for the multiple AIDS drug treatment, only a very few would receive this chance to save their lives.

As documented extensively in a February 5, 1999, State Department report to Congress (available on www.cptech.org), Gore had meetings with Mbeki, declaring that such legislation would constitute a violation of the revised GATT trade agreement and should be withdrawn. It was most demonstrably not a violation of the GATT treaty. Fronting for the U.S. drug industry, it was not easy for Gore to be credible. Without the full protection of Merck, Pfizer, and other companies' intellectual property. he and his staff argued, there would not be the billions necessary for further research and development. Gore, of course, would have seen no need to inform Mbeki that the growth in the industry's advertising and marketing expenditures is greater than the growth of their research budgets, or that many of the most significant drugs were financed through tax dollars by the National Institutes of Health and the Pentagon, along with gobs of federal tax credits.

In 1998, for example, Pfizer made more than $1 billion in profits, paid no federal income tax, and· even received a $100 million refund, due to generous tax credits drug lobbyists secured from Congress. Jamie Love exposed Gore's role, and the. press responded with several articles. Meanwhile, Act Up moved into a direct voice mode, culminating in a loud interruption of Gore's carefully scripted presidential announcement from his hometown of Carthage, Tennessee. After a few similar Act Up confrontations, Gore began backing down without admitting it. Starting in 1997, I sent him three detailed letters urging him to reverse his stance and support the South African legislation (which is now law) from a standpoint of compassion, if nothing else. He assigned an aide to provide a pro forma response.

Ignorance was rarely a problem with Gore. However, after eight years of Clinton, his hide- and-go-seek games bordered on amateurism. In many ways, Al Gore is the symbol of a Democratic Party that has become too corporate.

Indeed, the corporate influences on our political parties and the media have dulled our imaginations about what the agenda should be for creating a better society.

Unfortunately, the system is not working and our democracy is at risk. The debate about what we, as a people, should do to advance justice has narrowed, and it has become more difficult for people to challenge abuses of power.

It is an important function of the electoral process to spark thoughts about what our country could be if the public interests were paramount and to encourage actions by people to reclaim our democracy.
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 17838
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: Crashing the Party, by Ralph Nader

Postby admin » Mon Aug 10, 2015 7:27 am

Four: Campaign Liftoff: America, We've Got a Problem

Starting in early 1999, the questions about whether I would run a real campaign in 2000 started and with each passing month became more insistent and frequent. The inquiries provoked my usual reluctance to move from citizen activist to an electoral candidate. But the more I tried to persuade myself that becoming a candidate for president was contrary to my habit of civic independence, the mote I realized I was indulging myself. Besides, no one else was coming forward to advance progressive politics -- except perhaps Warren Beatty.

The Warren Beatty phenomenon lasted about four months and must have amused Warren and his estimable spouse, Annette Bening. Warren floated the idea in the summer of 1999 that he might be interested in going for the Democratic nomination. Senator Bulworth got the celebrity writers into excitable overdrive. Is Beatty serious? How could he withstand the inevitable probing into his lothario years? Would the Democratic Party faithful accept his entry into the race? Articles, features, and editorials poured into print. Larry King went into supercharge mode. Beatty running? Made to order for the king of celebrity politics. Beatty got a good run of media on his principal issues, led by campaign finance reform -- a "slow-motion coup d'etat of big money," he declared.

All along, when asked, I said that Beatty never was serious about running but was very serious about his issues. Just imagine him going from one state to another, one fund-raiser to another, one Marriott to another, with reporters hounding him on every trivial tidbit in his past and bystanders grabbing for his autograph. Beatty is many persons, but a masochist he is not. After an impassioned speech at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on September 29, he declared that he would not run.

It was now November, and I had to make a decision soon. Running for president requires a level and intensity of political ego that I do not find congenial. Day in and day out, your sentences are expected to tout you: I did this, I promise that, I was there for you, I have a better plan, I've been everywhere, I've visited there, I'm for all of you, and on and .on. If you feign self-effacement or humbleness as a regular style, the press sears through what it senses is a personality pretense. After the 2000 election, at the annual spring dinner of the exclusive Gridiron Club in Washington, D.C., the reporters serenaded Senator Joe Lieberman with these lyrics to the tune of "Mrs. Robinson":

Thank God for me, for Joe Lieberman,
A man of such amazing modesty.
Me, me, me.

Then there is the flattery. Long, long ago, politicians realized this. Show me a politician who does not flatter the people and I'll show you one who is out of a job. It comes with the territory and has many faces. Violate this tradition and the press will pounce, as they did on President Jimmy Carter when he made his hardheaded "malaise" speech to the American people.

Associated with flattery is another highly prized trait -- charisma. This can be dangerous in dictatorial societies, as the twentieth century has taught us often, but in a modest democracy beset by an apathetic electorate, charisma can camouflage or carry a candidate. One need only remember the popularity of Ronald Reagan.

In 1996, friends chided me for rarely mentioning the achievements that I have registered over the years. They were to repeat these points later in the 2000 campaign. My approach was to focus on bad conditions and how to diminish or prevent them in the future. This required considerable detail over a wide range of subjects, which contradicted the conventional political advice of sticking to a few themes and slogans and repeating them ad nauseam.

But sound-bitten reporters dismissed anything substantive. As in 1996, but even more in 2000, more than 90 percent of their questions were "how do you feel" inquiries about my effect on the two-party horse race.

All these ambient sideshows that are brought to center stage raced through my mind in the days before deciding to run for the Green Party nomination. Then Winona LaDuke, expecting her third child in February, generously agreed to be my running mate, at no small discomfort to herself and her family. Understandably, she told me that she could not pursue a heavy travel schedule.

The decision to run a full campaign came to five principal reasons rooted in disturbing realities. I jotted them down over Thanksgiving weekend.

1. The "democracy gap" had widened and deepened over the past twenty years. Citizen groups were working harder and harder and achieving less and less. It mattered less and less which political party was in putative power. Both were morphing into each other.

2. Solutions to our nation's injustices, needs, and unfilled promises abounded. They were being applied, as with inner-city schools or organic farming, on the ground in a few places but without any engines of diffusion behind them to overcome bureaucratic, avaricious, or nontechnical obstacles.

3. In their finest hours, however infrequent, the major newspapers, magazines, and television shows repeatedly headlined investigative stories about the failings of big business and government, but nothing was happening. This was a telltale sign of a weakening democratic society unable to provide the linkages that bring serious misdeeds reported by the major media toward a more just resolution.

4. Having to spend so much time and so much of one's conscience and dignity raising money from interests you don't favor or like has turned away too many good people from running for office in America. A political system that turns off good candidates can hardly be in a position of ever regenerating itself.

5. People's expectation levels toward politics and government had reached perilously low levels. Why try? Why bother? These words become the mantra of withdrawal.


Those of us laboring in the civic vineyards of Washington, D.C., really had two choices: suffer the daily lockouts from all three branches of government and the official source brand of journalism, or pack it up and go to Monterey to watch the remaining whales. Neither was palatable. It was time to toss the myths, get off the treadmill, and break out of the mold. A new long-range political reform movement was needed that would be accompanied by quickening and organizing the combined political and civic energies of like-minded Americans -- people who were serious, not merely concerned, who sought fundamental structural shifts of power and accountability, who saw their role in history and who sought to look their descendants in the eye without blushing with shame.

It was now December 1999, and my decision was now an overwhelming yes. I set about finding experienced people to run the campaign. My first choice for campaign manager was Joan Claybrook, but she could not leave Public Citizen (see Appendix B). Steve Cobble, a seasoned professional who had run or participated in a number of political campaigns, demurred. He could not devote the kind of time required, given his family responsibilities. Mike Dolan, the chief organizer of the global trade coalition at the Seattle meetings that November, was receptive but wanted to be the campaign manager, not the field director, which was truly his forte. Human-rights lawyer and Harvard Law graduate John Bonifaz of Boston, after some contemplation, decided he could not leave his organization and move to Washington. John Passacantando, founder of Ozone Action (and now head of Greenpeace), was unwilling to uproot himself from his fight against global warming. All of them were excited about the campaign, as were many of my former colleagues, but everyone had immediate professional commitments, a family situation, or a disinclination to disrupt present routines for nine months of intensive campaign work. Some of those friends had told me years ago that if I ever made a serious run, not like 1996 or 1992, they would be on board. When I reminded them of that previous assurance, they said what they meant was if I ever ran as a Democrat.

Listening to all this feedback reminded me how many times over the past seven years I had listened to their sharp denunciations of one Clinton-Gore policy or refusal to act after another. Whether it was Dr. Brent Blackwelder of Friends of the Earth bitterly complaining about Clinton-Gore covering for the biotechnology industry, or labor leaders disgusted with OSHA's inaction on workplace toxics, or consumer champions furious over Clinton's positions favoring banks, insurance companies, and the telecommunications industry, I never heard them soften their rage with the words "Well, at least the Democrats are not as bad as the Republicans." That rationalization was to come later.

It was getting late into December. I gathered some close advisers to discuss the campaign. Its substantive proposals were well known, but what timing, resources, strategies, and tactics were appropriate to establish a solid, progressive third party were in large part still to be decided. We knew from past elections that participating in the presidential debates, ruled by the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD), was probably the best and only way to reach tens of millions of American voters. It was the Khyber Pass to the electorate. By contrast, a fifty-state campaign would only personally reach the population equivalent of several large football stadiums.

Although we planned and met our objective of campaigning in all fifty states -- the only candidate to do so -- by June 2000, only a small fraction of the audience was reached, compared to the forty to ninety million people who were expected to watch each of the nationally televised debates. The CPD was the barrier, and for obvious reasons. Organized as a private corporation in 1988 by the Republican and Democratic parties, this supposedly educational organization was actually an exclusionary mechanism to keep out third-party competitors. Funded heavily by companies such as Philip Morris, Anheuser-Busch, Ford Motor Co., and AT&T, the CPD decided all the rules, including the number of debates, their location, the format, and who would ask questions. No one close to this hybrid had any doubts that the two nominees were the final decision makers.

To make the barrier even higher, the CPD's cochairs, corporate lawyers Paul Kirk (Democrat) and Frank Fahrenkopf (Republican), held a press conference in Washington on January 6, to announce that no third-party candidate would be invited if he or she did not reach a 15 percent average in five designated major polls by September 2000. This, of course, creates an intentional catch-22. Since all these chosen polling companies were owned by the major media, such as the television networks, the New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, and the like, and if their editors and reporters did not cover third- party campaigns, there would be little chance of rising in the polls. Moreover, if these candidates were not high in the polls, the media would say they were not important enough to merit regular coverage. So the media gives the CPD a monopoly, and the circle is complete. I made all these pointed criticisms at the time, but to no avail. The varieties of autocracies in human societies are numerous.

During these deliberations and interviews, the primary season was maturing with Bush and McCain and Gore and Bradley locked in daily struggle. I was not part of the media- intensive New Hampshire primary or of any other primary, except for California, where Professor Joel Kovel was also running in the Green Party primary. When there are major parties with numerous contenders in state primaries, the media pays even less attention to third-party candidates. Moreover, with limited financial resources, I thought it prudent to shorten the campaign and eschew the primary treks in which there was little Green Party involvement anyhow.

Observing the insurgencies of McCain and Bradley against what Bradley called "the entrenched party interests" did afford me some appreciation of how the major parties ward off compelling and modest challenges to the apparatchiks. Senator John McCain, and his symbolism, should have taken George W. Bush. He was a military P.O.W. with undeniable self-discipline and bravery. The North Vietnamese, on learning of the prominence of his military forebears, offered to free him after many months of captivity. He would not leave without the American prisoners under his rank. So he stayed with his men. I recount this because at one point Bush partisans started floating malicious rumors about McCain's instability. They should have a quarter of his iron discipline under the pressure he endured from his captors.

McCain had numerous other appeals. Everyone noticed and appreciated his humility, sense of humor, and soft voice during crowded New Hampshire town meetings. His openness with the reporters left their mouths agape, and his "Straight Talk Express" bus concentrated the press's admiration for McCain. But what made McCain stand out as a Republican were his repeated statements about dirty money in politics -- what he called the "incumbency protection racket."

Then came the electrifying words. When I first heard them, I said to myself, "You gotta be kidding." This was a Republican talking, a Republican who for all his genuine charm had taken more than his share of special-interest money and unwise corporate positions. However, when you hear these words day in and day out, the effect becomes like what a novelist described: Repetition of wish-fulfilling words works a trance on its listener. Here are McCain's words:

We have squandered the public trust. We have placed our personal and partisan interest before the national interest, earning the public's contempt for our poll- driven policies, our phony posturing, the lies we call spin, and the damage control we substitute for progress. And we defend the campaign finance system that is nothing less than an elaborate influence-peddling scheme in which both parties conspire to stay in office by selling the country to the highest bidder.


All said in McCain's custom-made soft voice with a mezzo-urgent tone. Remarkable!

After McCain handily won the New Hampshire primary, money poured into his campaign -- $1 million in one peak day including matching funds. So why didn't he win the nomination? Because the Republican Party politicos, along with key Republican governors in key primary states, had already chosen Bush. Republican primary voters were not the representative sample of people to whom McCain's reformist language appealed. They view themselves more as conservatives than reformers, and Bush's mantras repeated ad infinitum were harmless: "compassionate conservative," "I trust the people, not the government," and "leave no child behind." Many of these voters thought McCain was too far out precisely because of his appeal to independents and Democrats who, in states that allowed it, crossed over and voted for McCain in the Republican primary.

After New Hampshire, McCain thought he would win the nomination. Instead, he lost to an inarticulate Texas governor with a sorry political record. McCain was extremely disappointed and hard on himself privately. After the November election, NBC's Tim Russert asked him whether he thought about being in George W. Bush's shoes. Slightly laughing, McCain replied, "Every day." When someone like McCain, who had a fair record of opposing wasteful pork barrel projects and supporting campaign finance reform, cannot upend the pols in his own party, it goes to show how extremely rigid the GOP can be.

On the other hand, Bill Bradley had his own unique set of appeals. A Rhodes scholar and former star forward with the New York Knicks, he had widespread name recognition before serving three terms in the Senate. He did not have the political baggage that Al Gore carried because of his eight years of Clinton association. The press and pundits viewed him as "clean." His statements calling for racial unity and tax reform were forged from much thinking and work while in the Senate. His fund-raising prowess startled even the old pros for the party -- amassing in a few months more than ten thousand donors who each contributed a thousand dollars or more to his primary campaign. But "Dollar Bill," as his basketball fans used to call him, had vulnerabilities that showed in his debates with Gore, who has fairly been described by political writers as vicious in debates. At the memorable Apollo Theater debate in February 2000, Gore repeated his distortions of Bradley's health insurance proposal -- a subject of considerable Gore denunciation by news analysts and opinion reporters. However, Gore had a more basic purpose in repeating his fallacious riposte. He wanted to rattle Bradley into submission, knowing that Bradley had promised he would campaign above the mudslinging fray. He also knew that Bradley would be shaken if accused of advancing health insurance changes that would hurt the poor and minorities. Knowing all this, Gore got down and dirty at the Apollo, which he clearly packed with his supporters against the popular former Knick.

In the monotone voice immortalized by Saturday Night Live's Darrell Hammond, Gore framed Bradley as implying that the Congressional Black Caucus was naive or worse: "You know what? In my experience, the Black Caucus is pretty savvy. They know a lot more than you think they know.... Congressional Black Caucus is not out there being led around, you know. They know what the score is. And they also know that their brothers and sisters in New Jersey said you were never for them walking the walk, just talking the talk." All this holier-than-thou speech from a man who did not lift a finger to protect African Americans and Hispanics from harmful commercial exploitation in the ghettos, who led his administration's phony welfare reform, tried to bully the president of South Africa into maintaining sky-high drug prices, and did not walk his talk about toxic pollution where the poor live.

Bradley seemed unable by temperament to slug back, and he sounded weary and besieged. Though possessing arsenals of material against Gore, Bradley could not or would not use them. He avoided going after Gore on high drug prices because the ex-senator from New Jersey was very close to the large pharmaceutical companies in his state. Bradley's staff early on had received what came to be known as the Dorsey Memorandum, after Michael Dorsey, the Sierra Club board member who wrote it. Offered as an internal discussion paper, but sent to Gore, it listed fourteen areas where Gore had undermined or abandoned environmental goals. Bradley sat on the memo. Brent Blackwelder, who heads Friends of the Earth, eventually endorsed Gore as the lesser of two evils. Prior to the endorsement, though, Blackwelder told me that Bradley had damaging material on Gore's failure to protect wetlands.

Although Bradley spent more time and resources than did Gore in New Hampshire, he lost that primary and went downhill until he abandoned his campaign after the Super Tuesday primary on March 7, and, loyally holding his stomach, endorsed a triumphant Gore.

Throughout the primary campaign, the media obsessed over the tactics of the candidates and other horse-race aspects such as the polls, endorsements, stumbles, momentum, staff turnover, and the like. This has become a professional addiction and a contagious one at that, providing mind-numbing renditions. Fortunate exceptions to these quadrennial seances were the independent community press and radio -- their coverage plumbed depths uncontemplated by their larger and wealthier brethren.

***

We scheduled the announcement of my candidacy for Presidents' Day, February 21, 2000, at the easily accessible Madison Hotel in downtown Washington. Most, if not all, candidates would have avoided a Washington location like the plague. You are supposed to announce in your hometown or at least in your home state, since you had to be seen as an outsider ready to take on Beltway insiders. I chose Washington simply because the driving goal of our campaign was to turn our nation's capital into a servant of its people instead of a corporate puppet. It was appropriate to make that point in situ.

Because February 21 was a national holiday, the day was almost guaranteed to have little news competition for the announcement. Our advance notification efforts seemed to produce results. Sure enough, many television, radio, and print reporters showed up to make us think that the coverage would be at saturation levels. All three networks and Jim Lehrer's NewsHour were there.

That evening, we gathered to view the national television news. There was not a single sentence about my announcement on any of the three major networks. The networks' cameras at the Madison registered zero that evening and succeeding evenings. The NewsHour camera did not do any better. Its tape of our news conference found not a split minute on Jim Lehrer's show that evening. Was I surprised by this uniform blackout on four networks? Of course. Usually the media will give the smaller third-party candidate some attention on his coming-out day. It could be expected that a candidate with a visible thirty-five-year record of consumer, environmental, and worker advocacy would merit at least fifteen seconds on the nightly news. The Washington Post reserved a two-inch squib, but the New York Times, after intercessions by Michael Oreskes, its Washington bureau chief, used a sizable wire story. The Wall Street Journal came up empty. Clearly, the Commission on Presidential Debates' polls were not skyrocketing for me given such inattention by their media giant parent companies. Although there was good coverage throughout the independent media and community newspapers, and the talk radio and cable shows I managed to do afterward, we quickly realized that our "democracy gap" campaign had fallen into a big-time "media gap."

My remarks at the news conference that day were structured for wide-ranging substance, historical context, and specific recommendations around known solutions and contained more than a few usable sound bites in the question period if that was what the editors needed. But you, dear reader, can judge for yourself. The entire text of my prepared remarks on that Presidents' Day is printed in Appendix C. You can read it, if you did not see it on C-Span, the only medium left for unedited national television coverage of civic and political events in the world's oldest continual democracy.

Media coverage of a campaign's launch is important beyond the next day's news, and its absence can have a disastrous ripple effect that we had to overcome. Also, this was the year 2000, a bleaker media period than previous presidential election years when, for instance, Phil Donahue would have the candidates on before a large nationwide audience, or the network news shows would devote considerably more time. In an interesting twist, large radio talk shows had offered standing invitations to Gore and Bush, which were ignored. In speaking with these extroverted hosts, I got an earful of bitter recriminations against the major candidates who in their view were too cowardly to go on the unpredictable stage of rock-'em-sock-'em call-ins. "Gore and Bush complain about the media editing them. Well, they are unedited on radio and still they won't return our calls," said one host.

In a campaign, you've got to keep moving. There is no time to cry in your beer. Before March 1, when I was scheduled to launch the campaign journey with a news conference at the LA Press Club, there were all kinds of campaign office details to tend to rapidly. Our campaign manager was Theresa Amato, a graduate of Harvard and NYU Law School, who bravely but reluctantly agreed to take a leave from her position as head of the Citizen Advocacy Center in Elmhurst, Illinois. Theresa certainly had the temperament for the job -- energetic, hardworking, hard to discourage, able to juggle lots of duties at one time, and with the help of our excellent attorney Michael Trister, willing to navigate the treacherous regulatory waters of the Federal Election Commission.

Theresa did an excellent job and soon started recruiting a staff that eventually grew to include more than sixty young people. What they lacked in experience, they tried to make up for in enthusiasm.

Vendors descended upon us -- very specialized ones at that. Software firms offer FEC- certified programs that overcome the pitfalls and pratfalls of complying with the agency's reporting requirements. Tailor-made and ready to go, they asserted. How much? Just five thousand dollars a month! That kind of charge is enough to encourage small-party candidates to set even higher fund-raising goals. The FEC staff has little choice but to proliferate regulations and interpretations because a thousand dutiful attorneys around the country are always thinking of ways to find loopholes or escape clauses for their candidates' schemes and avoidances, which the FEC has to block or anticipate.

And just about every move required a call to Michael Trister. A few examples will give a sense of the FEC thicket that had to be cleared. Mr. Trister, if we do not have any authorized committees in the field, beyond the general and primary ones, how do we pay for things at the state and local level? His reply: Send checks everywhere or give small field advances for which we must receive accountings. Okay, when does our primary season end if the Green convention is in June? It was important to determine the cutoff date for primary, as distinguished from general election, contributions. Contributors could give no more than one thousand dollars to a candidate in each time period. We required an FEC opinion on this question and were formally advised that our primary season ended either on the last day of the major-party candidates' convention or the last date that we were seeking the nomination of a state party convention, whichever was earlier. Back to Mr. Trister. Can we have an event in a union hall (since corporate and union contributions are prohibited)? His answer: Yes, if we pay for the hall and it is regularly made available to all candidates who seek to rent the space.

More questions. Can someone voluntarily drive the candidate to and from events without converting it into a dollar contribution for gasoline and mileage expenses? Yes, if he is using his own vehicle or even renting a vehicle for himself and the candidate rides in it, but the volunteer jitney cannot overdo it -- say, spending above one thousand dollars for fuel, etc. What expenses are primary and what expenses are general election ones? What is the difference between a coordinated expense and an independent expense? Do we have to put "Paid for by the Nader 2000 election committee" on our buttons? Answer: No, there is a de minimis rule for items that are too small. Can a photographer donate photos? Answer: Yes, artists can donate their services if the campaign pays for all attendant costs, i.e., the processing charge, the mailing charge.

One day I picked up a half-inch-thick FEC volume called "Guidelines for Presentation in Good Order." These innumerable pages, filled with codes for how to treat various checks and other forms of contributions, are the rules for obtaining matching funds for the candidate from the U.S. Treasury. Matching funds start when the candidate raises five thousand dollars in each of twenty states in denominations of $250 or less.

If you are finding the above listing tedious, try studying the guidelines and then transferring them into operation among the headquarters staff, field people, and everyone else they have to guide. Try explaining why things cannot be done the way staff and volunteers believe logically they should be done because the FEC rules the roost. Full public financing of public elections would remove the vast number of regulations. The FEC thicket has become another barrier to entry by small parties that simply cannot afford the cost of clearing a path toward fund-raising.

But there was little time to contemplate all these corrosions and erosions of the electoral system. We had staff and expenses to pay for. We had to confront the nasty challenge of simultaneously raising money and maintaining our principles at the same time. Not since I was a schoolboy swallowing cod liver oil before leaving for school did I have such a taste in my mouth as when I started dialing for dollars.
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 17838
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: Crashing the Party, by Ralph Nader

Postby admin » Mon Aug 10, 2015 7:27 am

Five: Friends, Funds, and Formidable Hurdles

I made it easy for myself with my first call. It was to Jerry Mander out of San Francisco, a man of many insights, causes, and network. His provocative books on communications, advertising, and corporate globalization predisposed him to new political frontiers, and he did not disappoint. Next call was to actor Ed Begley Jr., an electric car and solar energy enthusiast and all-around good guy. He hadn't gotten much work, of late, he related, while recalling that he supported me in 1996. Uh-oh. Last year, he had agreed to support Al Gore, not knowing that I intended to run. He was very sympathetic but didn't "want to be like a windshield wiper." He did offer to give me some names from his database. My old friend Bill Haddad; generic drug crusader and collaborator on exorbitant pharmaceutical prices, was blunt. "You must be crazy to do this," he joked, after saying that he was "locked into Al Gore" inasmuch as his father, the first Senator Gore, was a friend and ally.

Despite these two turndowns, I kept. dialing and finally reached Dr. Quentin Young, prominent in medical reform circles for half a century and former president of the American Public Health Association, who said he would contribute and offer leads to other potential supporters, as well as attend any event in the Chicago area. Then on to law professor Michael Tigar, who quickly and generously responded with the maximum contribution. That was followed by a non-money-raising call to Jim Hightower to discuss preliminary strategy about launching the campaign. On the other line, classmate and labor law professor Paul Tobias was returning my call. Paul is a genuine pioneer, blazing the pathways for nonunion employees to secure workplace rights. He came to his life's work after realizing how difficult it was to unionize employees (he is pro-union) and someone had to help them in their nonorganized state -- now numbering 90 percent of the private workplace.

After thanking Paul for his contribution, I called Edgar Cahn who, with his late wife, Jean, roared out of Yale Law School in the midsixties and worked tirelessly for legislation that established the Legal Services for the Poor programs all over the country. Edgar is the creator of the Time Dollar service credits program now operating in more than two hundred communities here and abroad. These allow people who are poor and have free time to volunteer hours and earn time dollars. Then they can receive valued services in return when they are in need. He was finishing his book No More Throwaway People when we spoke and he said he would both send a donation and help in any way he could. On the campaign trail I had numerous occasions to speak about his Time Dollars as one very practical and doable way to arrest community disintegration.

Harry Berkowitz, my Princeton classmate who was in the clothing business and later ran the Yale Co-Op, was his usual encouraging self. Yes, he would give, adding, "You have always been willing to step into the breach. I hope you can have some fun at it as well."

Such words do charge one up to continue the calls. The next was to Anchorage, Alaska, and Peter Gruenstein, an attorney and former head of our Capitol Hill News Service. Peter agreed to make a donation and promptly launched into a critique of the Democratic Party wanting to payoff the entire national debt without dedicating substantial surpluses to health care and education. We're in the "twilight zone of politics," he muttered, advising me that it was a "complete, utter waste of time to come to Alaska." He said the governor was in the oil industry's pocket, the educational system was awful, streets weren't cleaned, and people didn't give a damn and were in a surly antitax liberation mood. "No matter," I said. "Alaska is on my wavelength. I'm going there." He replied, "Well, you might as well have some fun when you're here. "

Maybe this was going to be fun. I rang up Jerry Brown, now the elected mayor of Oakland. "You don't have to convince me, I know," he rapidly said. "Will definitely give you my best list and will help in other ways." I thanked him, noting that according to the FEC rules we would have to rent the list, and he said he'd get back to me about other ways he could help. A few days later, on February 25, 2000, I was mildly astonished to read that Jerry had endorsed Al Gore at the Oakland Union Hall as "a man of vision" -- a subliminal touch of irony for anyone who knew the former governor of California. Gore, who was there, thanked the mayor, saying "he did not have to do this" so his endorsement meant even more. I left a message at Jerry's office, recognizing that it may not have been Jerry Brown but Mayor Brown who endorsed Gore.

The telephone conversation with Rob Glaser, founder and CEO of Real Networks, was supersonic. Glaser's mind is not just multifaceted, it's greased lightning. I always thought that this former Microsoft executive, who retired in his early thirties a multimillionaire and later started his streaming technology firm in Seattle, was, one on one, Bill Gates's match. His mind began to click: "global warming, dinner with Bill Bradley, Bradley made Gore run better, new generation of politicians, Paul Wellstone, Russ Feingold, lots of expertise available, issues of globalization incredibly important but most Americans don't get it, except when it relates to democracy, taking on globalization issues without letting jingoism take over ..." I asked whether he had suggestions of how the new technology could help our campaign and whether he would sponsor a fund-raising event in Seattle for us. He mentioned some entertainers like REM who might do this if the global warming issue were at center stage. "Let me think about these things further," he said, and pledged personally to contribute the maximum legal amount. He said he would think about raising fifty thousand dollars when that figure was suggested and said he'd call back and talk campaign strategy the following week.

Wade Greene, the longtime adviser to and representative of several of the Rockefeller "cousins" (often described as the progressive generation of Rockefellers descended from John D.) picked up his telephone. I wanted to know the attitude of his clients toward my campaign. Alida Rockefeller, whom I have long admired not just for her courageous support of controversial environmental causes but also for her straightforward and inquiring personality, was not happy. Back in 1996 she was concerned that critical votes might be drawn away from Clinton-Gore who, disapproving as she was of them, were not as bad as the Dole-Kemp bunch. This time she was even more unhappy, Wade related. Ann Bartley, another "cousin," did not want to speak with anyone from our campaign.

After that exchange, I was ready to speak with Tom Geoghegan, a Chicago labor lawyer who has represented steelworkers, nurses, teamsters, and carpenters. A 1975 graduate of Harvard Law School, Geoghegan broke into the literary world seventeen years later with his sterling book Which Side Are You On? In Bill Greider's words, this book "tells of labor's tragedy with an intimacy that is full of pain, humor, anger and honesty." Geoghegan agreed to contribute and also suggested that I call the progressive Chicago labor leader Jerry Zero, who was outraged in his charming Irish manner over Gore ignoring the fired employees from the Honeywell plant in Mexico. When I called Zero, he noted with understatement how NAFTA's so-called labor standards were not very meaningful. After recommending someone in California with fundraising experience who, he believed, would help us, he remarked how Clinton's welfare reform was driving down fair labor practices and shafting the middle class.

Putting down the phone, I reflected how useful calling people for their contributions and listening to their suggestions and complaints were becoming to our campaign. Running with the Greens was proving to be liberating in a unique sense. Nobody I called wanted anything in return, which frequently would have been the case were I running as a Democrat. People gave because they wanted to help cleanse politics or better our country or world. They knew my record and my commitments. If there was any conflict between my stands and their business or occupation, they switched and put on their citizen hats and responded accordingly. This is why I always like to speak with Peter Lewis, the CEO and dynamic builder of Progressive Insurance, the nation's seventh-largest auto insurance company. I knew him as a shy classmate at Princeton but, in a remarkable transformation, he has for years been an iconoclastic, flamboyant executive, philanthropist, ladies' man, and political player in the Democratic Party, with which he has become more than a little disappointed. "Can you max out, Peter?" I asked. "That I can do," he replied, and indicated that his son would also give.

George Riley, my next call, was out of this world. He is a patent lawyer with a large California law firm and had recently become the firm's chief attorney for Steve Jobs of Apple Computer. George worked for us before and during law school at Harvard, coauthoring one of our books on the public lands. George always talks about coming back into the public interest law, but he is too successful taking on the giants like Intel on behalf of smaller competitors. "I'll be glad to contribute the maximum," he declared and offered to make additional calls. He agreed to try to raise fifteen thousand dollars in response to Our usual request for the "maximizers" to raise an additional sum over time.

I had met Jack Dangermond on a flight to Japan. He and his wife, Laura, had established a very successful company devoted to software applications for Geographic Information Systems. Jack and Laura were immediately responsive to my request, maxing out and agreeing to host a dinner later in the campaign.

Jean Carper, author of bestselling books about food, nutrition, and health, was ever so kind ("Thanks for doing this for all of us") and sent the fullest contribution permitted right away and declared she would raise more from friends. Gary Sellers, an early "Nader Raider" lawyer, who worked with me to lobby the OSHA legislation through Congress in 1970, was customarily vague when it came to specifically agreeing to contribute. He thought my announcement statement "was brilliant," having gone to the Madison Hotel that morning. I was to find out months later what was behind that hesitation in one of the weirdest phenomena witnessed by the campaign.

My call to Michael Dorsey of Dorsey memorandum fame was fascinating for more than one reason. As a director of the Sierra Club, he added a list of Clinton misdeeds, from banking legislation to welfare reform. "So much is worse than ever," he remarked. He said he could contribute $250 and leaned toward raising more in due time after some reflection. Dorsey ended up voting for "the least worst" in the fall when the Sierra Club gave an actively soliciting Gore its endorsement. Just another example of why the Democrats need to be challenged.

So the large-denomination fund-raising continued with people I have known for years, people whom I knew about but never spoke to, and entirely new people with whose accomplishments I became acquainted. All these calls were made from Washington, almost never on the road, a few hours at a time during the days between travels. Most pro-Gore individuals were candid and opted out, like Mimi Cutler, who once headed our Aviation Consumer Action Project. Some did it by implication. My boyhood chum David Halberstam, usually so warm and friendly, was polite and a little terse and simply said good luck. Later he told a college audience in Ohio that this was not the year for a third-party challenge. John Kenneth Galbraith, one of the clearest, wittiest, and most contextual economists of the twentieth century, was his usual gracious self. He wrote on March 10, noting his long friendship with me but concluding that "as the candidates scrambled, I endorsed Al Gore, a good man and a long-time family friend."

There was one gentleman, however, whose phone call took me on quite an odyssey. Never underestimate Warren Beatty, the many-splendored reactor-actor. It was said in the eighties of his close friendship with Senator Gary Hart that the reason they got along so well was that Hart wanted to be Beatty and Beatty wanted to be Hart. Fictionally, at least, Warren got his wish with his politically satiric but very telling film Bulworth.

My first call to Beatty in late February instantly elicited his view of the announcement, which he viewed over C-Span. He pronounced it "great" and noted that I was "funny once in a while." When I asked for his support, he replied, "Let me put my head together," though of course he and Annette would max out at two thousand dollars each.

As for going beyond that, he wanted to think about the "publicity implications or ramifications at this time. This is a longer conversation," he continued. "But you are an undervalued asset that could be altered in four months. You have a record and a consistency that are unmatched. Do you really want to be president the way Jimmy Carter wanted to become president? I'm an I, I, I sort of guy." Just listening to him, how can you not be intrigued?

Two weeks later, I extended my conversation with Beatty. A lifelong Democrat, he allowed that he hadn't yet "thought through the consequences of being opposed to the Democratic Party. I don't want to support you in a half-assed way. I haven't thought through whatever influence I have. I have been thinking of doing a lot for you, but there are ramifications. If you were to run as a Democrat, I'd give my full attention. I'll call you in about a week and see if I'm a dud or not."

Next week another Beatty, the helpful, almost touching micro-adviser, calls. "Get someone to put light on you during your press conferences to produce a more cheerful kind of look -- otherwise, one has the feeling of a suspense movie. The studio interview with Rosendahl [the most popular serious cable talk show in California] was perfect -- humor, wit, more easygoing, easier to take for people who feel guilty or are alienated from you. You've never been better -- fifty times more lucid and funny than the others ... a little too honest ... all you need is one light from the front directly in front of you, not over your head and not lower."

Whew! This could have given me a swelled head, a virus my parents inoculated me from many years go. The next time we spoke, Beatty said that McCain and he talked frequently and that Larry King called him often to invite him on the show. What do I say? Beatty is hard to get. I gently mentioned that his contributions had still not arrived. He reassured: "Of course I'll do that. I told you so." Talk of a suspense movie -- our office staff was taking bets about whether the legendarily frugal Beatty would ever send checks. When they finally came, a cry of approval was followed by a rush to the copying machine.

The fourth conversation with Beatty was a tour de force. He commented on everything, including Gore's widely viewed comment on Elian Gonzalez that sent a wrong signal to Beatty. Then he did a friendly analysis of John McCain, who had called him after Bulworth and struck up a friendship.

Is Beatty torn by nuance or racked by indecision? Whatever it may be, he did not show up at several fund-raisers near his home thrown for us by friends who invited him and Annette. He resolved how much he was going to do to help our campaign by not resolving it. While he said many nice things about our efforts on the phone to friends, such as Pat Caddell, who Beatty said makes me look like a moderate on the Democratic Party, nothing jelled. He stayed with the party, yet always the needler and iconoclast. Did I waste my time and patience? No. Talking with him was educational, like tapping into an oracle that never moves as it ponders and ponders.

Raising money quickly for start-up costs was crucial. The basic office and field staff could not wait on cold mailings to prospective lists or fund-raisers that require long lead times. I had put in forty thousand dollars of my own funds at the outset, but the fiscal launch, so to speak, came from the people who could afford to contribute the maximum one thousand dollars for the primary season, along with another one thousand dollars for the general election period. Had I contributed more than fifty thousand dollars, we would not have been eligible for matching funds.

After fund-raising, our next priority was getting on the ballot in every state. In no Western democracy are the hurdles for candidates to access the ballot anywhere near as high as ours. Another obstacle for smaller parties to challenge the duopoly.

Because the Libertarian Party has been around for so long, it has the process down pat, using seasoned signature gatherers to get on all or nearly all the state ballots. The other way to do it is to pay firms to provide paid signature gatherers. But that can become very expensive, as Pat Buchanan found out. The cost to his 2000 campaign was more than $200,000 just to get him on the North Carolina ballot.

Georgia illustrates the deplorable situation I and other third-party candidates have to confront. Officially, 39,094 verified signatures are required for a place on the presidential line. Actually, many more signatures are needed in all the states to protect against nitpicking by election officials, either Republicans or Democrats, who disqualify many signatures through some quite arbitrary methods.

Early in 2000, a coalition of third parties, including the Greens, and supportive Georgia legislators backed a bill that would significantly reduce the number of required signatures. The bill actually passed out of the House committee, with the controlling Democratic leadership officially neutral. Late one afternoon, the day before the bill was to be considered by the whole House, I placed a call to the number-two Democrat under the venerable speaker Tom Murphy and asked whether he would be supporting this legislation. He said that he had the short bill in his briefcase and would take it home and read it that evening. This was the first sign of trouble, since the proposal had been in the news over the previous days.

I related to him that about two years before, the Republican governor of Pennsylvania, Tom Ridge, had vetoed legislation passed by a bipartisan vote in Harrisburg that would have raised the number of required signatures from 37,500 to 98,000 -- the highest in the nation. Ridge rightfully said in his veto message that such a barrier was unjustified and antidemocratic. The Georgia majority leader listened. He then volunteered that in recent informal discussions among Democrats, the question was raised as to why they should be encouraging their own competition by passing such legislation. I replied, "You know, sir, there are some fellows in Countries overseas who have taken that kind of philosophy to the next level of repression." The bill lost in the House, though not by a big margin, and that ended any such efforts before the election.

Take a brief scan at some of the more onerous state statutory hurdles. Texas requires 37,713 signatures to be collected in just seventy-five days. Moreover, no one who has voted in a primary that year is permitted to sign any petitions. In North Carolina, 51,324 signatures are needed by May 15. In reality, candidates get more than 90,000 for a safe margin. By law, the petition for Greens and others reads, "The signers of this petition intend to organize a new political party," which scared potential signers away with its neo- McCarthyite tone. Signing your name is one thing. Intending to organize a new party is quite another. To have write-in votes counted even requires a petition beforehand with hundreds of names. In Virginia, the lawmakers require ten thousand signatures, four hundred from each congressional district. Anyone who circulates a petition in a county must live there or in an adjacent county. Oklahoma is the record holder at present with the highest per capita total of signatures in the nation -- 36,202 signatures in a state with a population of 3,350,000. By Oklahoma law, write-in votes there cannot be counted. New parties in Illinois have to get 25,000 verified signatures to get on the ballot, while established parties are on with 5,000 signatures.

Other bipartisan barriers also paint a shameful picture. In West Virginia and Georgia, the filing fee is four thousand dollars. Pennsylvania stipulates that signature forms have to be on special colored paper. Officials would provide only four hundred forms when our volunteers needed more than two thousand. Downloading the forms from the Internet was prohibited.

And of course there is the unofficial harassment on the ground. Local authorities evicted our volunteer petitioners from one state park. The mayor of Tupelo, Mississippi, stopped petitioners from gathering signatures in the town square on the Fourth of July. Circulating petitions in a public market in West Cleveland was halted by local police.

As third parties succeed in surmounting these fences, higher fences go up during the next legislative session. This happened in Illinois, South Dakota, and Utah after the 1996 presidential election. It was not always this way. In the pre-Civil War period, candidates had only to help pay for the printing of the ballots in order to place themselves on it. I wrote my first article on ballot access barriers in 1959. And matters have in many states only gotten more burdensome. For decades, third parties have had to spend time and money confronting ballot barriers. Judges have, on occasion, found certain ballot access restrictions arbitrarily burdensome and therefore constitutionally invalid. Unfortunately, state legislators stand ready to pass new laws that continue to present third parties with legal obstacles that must again be challenged.

To bolster the efforts of our field staff and its director, Todd Main, we brought nine lawsuits in several states against one or another slice of these obstructive statutes. The results were mixed, although we attained more positive than negative outcomes. For example, we did not prevail in North Carolina at the trial court level, but we were able in Illinois to call attention to an unconstitutional provision requiring petition circulators to be registered voters. So we did not get on the ballot in seven states. But we made it on the great majority of state ballots long after the campaign began.
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 17838
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: Crashing the Party, by Ralph Nader

Postby admin » Mon Aug 10, 2015 7:27 am

Six: Hitting the Road

Not getting on the ballot in places did not change our commitment to campaign in every state. It was suddenly March 1. The start of the long road was the L.A. Press Club. Our press people did the requisite advance work. The Press Club has seen better days, but it is conveniently located and spacious for a news conference. That morning we walked into the room and wondered whether we were in the right place. Besides some sympathizers, there was one TV camera (Fox), a small radio station, and a community newspaper. The leading elected Green in Southern California, Mike Feinstein, a vigorous Santa Monica councilman, was absent. There was, however, some finger food and soft drinks.

I conducted the press conference as if it were filled with reporters. The L.A. media absence was the first sign that unless you're engaged in a flamboyant spectacle or are a celebrity with a charity, restaurant, or premiere, you can forget about coverage. This is, after all, a. city where the three major TV stations -- profitable ones, at that -- shut down their Sacramento offices a few years ago, figuring that they could rely on remote feeds to cover their state government. But where was the Los Angeles Times? My associate Tarek Milleron called the Times political editor, Massie Ritch, right after the news conference and politely asked why there was no reporter in attendance. Ritch seemed genuinely understanding and explained that the sprawling mass of Times reporters were all taken up with the Gore-Bradley debate that evening.

We headed upstate to Laney College in Oakland, where we were told there was a large, modern auditorium for my midday address. I turned into the room, which must have had five hundred seats, to find a crowd of eight people waiting for my appearance fifteen minutes later. I doubled over in laughter. At this scale, to say the least, it was a friendly and intimate occasion, with seventy in attendance.

I dropped by to see Jerry Brown in his mayoral lair. He gave me a rapid-fire verbal tour of Oakland, remarking on how inert downtown was in the evening and how there was not a single construction crane on the horizon. He spoke about the $21 million annual subsidy the city had to pay the Oakland Raiders for the stadium taxpayers built, how he was trying to get upscale professionals to take advantage of the low rents in downtown to invigorate urban life and generate needed tax revenue. He also wanted to change the terms of the upcoming cable contract to reflect broader civic programming and rebutted critics who took him to task for inviting the U.S. Navy to engage in some exercises around the port of Oakland. He then took a host of suggestions from me, which we chewed over, and I went out of City Hall into a light rain on the way to a union hall on the outskirts of Oakland to have a news conference and endorse a human dynamo, Rebecca Kaplan, who was running at large for Oakland City Council on the Green Party line. Rebecca was full of ideas for improving life in Oakland and made sure that the press turned out. Meanwhile, some members of the carpenters union local gave us an earful over what they viewed as the dictatorial behavior of their union president in Washington, D.C., whom they vowed to picket if he ever came to the Bay Area.

That evening, we experienced the first real sweaty Green rally, in a stifling hot middle school auditorium in San Francisco. In the hallways outside, there were all kinds of attended tables piled with pamphlets, newspapers, buttons, and pennants, and citizens were arguing or pleading their causes. Inside were seven hundred people packed and cheering one speaker after another. Waiting outside by one of the tables, we met -- yes, it is true -- a New York Times reporter who was covering the rally. Evelyn Nieves had covered lots of events in New York and other cities before coming to the Times's San Francisco bureau. I answered a few of her questions while waiting for my turn to speak and then entered the hall to view the Greens at their most distasteful task -- fund-raising. One of the California Green Party's founders, Ross Mirkarimi, was on the stage calling on anyone to come up and give five hundred dollars. Very soon, the stalwart Ross was down to asking for one- hundred-dollar offerings when a man mounted the stage. Before the sweltering crowd, the man dramatically pledged half of all his wealth, upon his demise, to the Green Party. The assemblage both hushed and gasped, perhaps wondering what fatal disease afflicted him. In his next breath, he declared that he had an invention and was seeking marketing partners. Some in the audience cringed slightly. After a few more donors came up, I delivered my remarks in the humid atmosphere.

The next night in Sante Fe, New Mexico, was different in composition but the same in substance. Arriving in Albuquerque, I was joined by Green activist Carol Miller, who garnered almost 20 percent of the vote in a congressional race in 1998 and shook the Democratic Party there. Also present was lawyer Rob Hager, who argued effectively for my 1996 ballot placement. We drove to a cafe in Sante Fe that was filled to capacity. Like the Greens in San Francisco but with different backgrounds -- more artists, youths, retirees, and Latinos -- they wanted change. They believed that people mattered, that authentic cultures and natural environments counted. What would it take to start us resolutely in the right direction, I asked, then replied: one million Americans devoting one hundred volunteer hours a year and raising one hundred dollars a year for the cause. How many here, I inquired, would join such an association? At least one-third of the audience raised their hands.

How many of you are undecided, I asked, and would like time to think it over? Another third raised their hands. I thought this was a useful exercise to encourage people to contemplate what quantity of human initiative and resources it would take to make change, because many people have a hunch that it takes an overwhelming number of engaged citizens to achieve goals such as universal health insurance or renewable energy or cleaner elections.

Next stop was Austin, Texas, where on a grassy slope I was introduced to a couple hundred people by Jim Hightower, the fine-spun, homegrown, and hilarious Texas political philosopher.

It was sobering to hear reporters stationed in the state capital telling us how Bush would finger reporters who asked semi-tough questions by having his aides come around after news conferences and ask them where they were coming from. They admitted that the tactic was intimidating. After all, Austin was where Bush's record contradicted his rhetoric, where researchers like Craig MacDonald were documenting the almost knee-jerk surrender of government -- all three branches -- to corporate interests at a depth extraordinary even for Texas state politics.

Back in Washington, partisan Democratic pundits predicted that Gore would tear Bush apart on his Texas record, and he started to do just that in an address before the National Society of Newspaper Editors in April. In a strange way, Gore and many other politicians feel more comfortable zeroing in on one or two Achilles' heels of their opponents than on the kind of smorgasbord offered by Bush. It has its reasoning -- too many attacks become negative overkill and turn the opposition into an underdog, as happened with Reagan.

But there was another reason the vice president could not press his attack regarding the Texas governor's record on pollution, poverty, prisons, and plutocracy. Gore's federal government was doing little to ameliorate air and water pollution. Clinton and Gore drove NAFTA through Congress in part with the promise of investing heavily to clean up the horrendous border regions with Mexico. Like many of Clinton's promises, this one died on the vine, and the border's contamination, congestion, infectious diseases, smuggling, and abject poverty got worse. So what would a pro-corporate prison, pro-death penalty administration official like Gore say to the mirror-image state administration of George W. Bush? Also expected from Clinton-Gore's many giveaways and subsidies was Gore's silence on the lucrative corporate welfare deal for the Texas Rangers, which netted part- owner Bush $14 million off the sale of the team. (See Appendix D.)

Two-party complicity makes for difficult arms-length political competition. Add Gore's unwillingness to stand up to Bush and the emergence of Gore's own corporate straitjacket -- so evident during the October presidential debates -- and it becomes clear why Gore's "message" was so ineffectual.

Following our trip to Austin, we traveled to Boston. With the storied wall of Fenway Park, home of the Red Sox, as background, neighborhood groups and I held a Saturday- fternoon news conference opposing a yet unapproved neighborhood "feeder" proposal under which a new ballpark would be built, replacing a fifteen-acre piece of downtown Boston with one of those private-public partnerships that make business moguls tearfully joyous on the way to the bank. In the past dozen years, these deals had built new stadiums and ballparks for sports zillionaires in major cities all over the country. State and local officials team up with the sports teams and their corporate lawyers to expropriate land, level neighborhoods, build skyboxes for corporate bigwigs, raise ticket, parking, and food prices beyond the range of working families, and then send the bill to the taxpayers.

But this swindle doesn't always work. In 1998, the owner of the New England Patriots, Robert Kraft, met secretly with Republican Governor John Rowland of Connecticut in a small airport hangar near Hartford. There they worked out one of the biggest taxpayer giveaways to a sports team yet: a $500 million package to get the New England Patriots to move to Hartford. When announced, there arose a "the Patriots are coming, the Patriots are coming" frenzy among the press and politicians. It was a boosterism that would have startled Sinclair Lewis while writing Main Street. Rowland repeatedly said that this was not just about football -- it was about the spirit of the community. A few months earlier, Rowland did not support a proposed multimillion-dollar appropriation to repair Hartford's legendarily crumbling school buildings. The Patriots deal, it was claimed, would create jobs, and the team, shown on Monday Night Football nationwide, would presumably inspire owners of businesses to locate in Hartford by the Connecticut River. Except for one thing. A business that is open eight days a year does not create many jobs, except for professional football players and their handlers, and is hardly an incentive for hardboiled business relocators. As Professor Andrew Zimbalist, a sports economist, has testified and written over and over again, these expensive subsidized arrangements are structured in ways to assure that there is very little return on investments either for taxpayers or for the surrounding private economy. The Patriots deal was laughable in its extremism. Connecticut's taxpayers would build the new stadium and a special practice field, and guarantee unsold skyboxes, among other open-ended commitments.

Leaders of both parties in the legislature swooned over the NFL coming to town and rammed the legislation through in a special December session with the most perfunctory of public hearings. Within four months, the deal, exposed relentlessly by a Green Party-led coalition that included Greenwich stockbrokers, blue-collar workers, public-interest lawyers, environmentalists, conservative taxpayer groups, and talk-radio skeptics, collapsed. The stadium site had serious toxic saturations deep underground, the deal needed yet more money from the legislature, and the media started doing its job of informing rather than propagandizing the public. Kraft journeyed to Hartford in April and, with a red-faced governor, informed the public that he was going back to build a stadium near Boston with private investment money.

So it was with some experience that I, a Yankees fan, could challenge the emerging Red Sox deal. The economics of $135 million in state funds and $140 million in city funds for new land and site preparation toward this $627 million Fenway Park project did not come close to sustaining a return on investment, apart from inevitable cost overruns. But self- described capitalist sports owners expect, even demand, that there be a deep public trough for their hands to dip into, while they write checks to the political campaigns of politicians who have the final pro-forma say and who will receive numerous invitations for skybox viewing.

In my statement at Fenway, I said that "taxpayer money should be used for serious public purposes, not for schemes by rich corporate socialists who reject capitalism in favor of corporate welfare handouts." Share in the costs, but not in the profits, say the owners to taxpayers. The community groups know what these public needs are -- affordable housing, citywide after-school programs, and repairing the schools, as well as clinics and other sundry public works. Boston city officials had been saying there were no funds available, which was just the contradictory nerve point that makes politicians squirm.

While the Red Sox franchise got the proposal through the state legislature, with the help of high-powered lobbyists like ex-Senator George Mitchell, the Boston City Council was quite another cup of tea. Council members, like Mike Ross and Mayor Tom Menino, worried about the disruption, displacement, and lack of economic benefits raised by all kinds of community groups, including a newly formed local coalition called Citizens Against Stadium Subsidies, which organized the Fenway press conference. Under this umbrella group were Save Fenway Park, which argued for renovation rather than demolition, the Fenway Action Coalition, ACORN, Fenway Community Development Corporation, and Citizens for Limited Taxation. Each of these and other groups had their favorite neighborhood uses for this tax money and they represented real angry votes. The Red Sox needed nine out of thirteen council votes and were not able to achieve their goal.

Standing with energized citizen groups on localized issues about which we are knowledgeable was a theme of our campaign. It worked very well that day in a city not known for its media coverage of citizen events. The story led or was prominently featured on the evening television news, on the radio, and in the next day's major newspapers, including the Boston Globe. When we left Boston, we were persuaded of two predictions -- that we would be staying in touch with the citizen groups as they invigorated their grassroots base for sensible budget priorities and that neither Gore nor Bush would ever touch this stadium issue, anywhere, not even in Democratic Massachusetts, which was not a contested state. At this community level of people's concerns, the national parties are nowhere. They are hollowed out.

Another example of this was witnessed in our trip to Toledo. We visited a nearly demolished neighborhood of more than seventy houses and numerous small businesses bought out for meager sums by the city under the threat of eminent domain. The purpose: to clear a triangle of land given to the Chrysler Corporation in 1998 for a new, expanded Jeep plant. This neighborhood in particular would be used for shrubbery and landscaping, with the bulk of the other acreage devoted to the factory and staging areas.

We were met at the Detroit Metropolitan airport, a gloomily forbidding display of labyrinthine architecture, by two of the most give-'em-hell, congenial women you'll ever meet: Julie Coyle, the ever-pleasant cabaret singer and civic networker' extraordinaire, and Kim Blankenship of Kim's Auto and Truck Service, who with her husband was the last holdout against Toledo Mayor Carlton Finkbeiner's demolition service for DaimlerChrysler. The hour-and-a-half drive to Toledo offered us an opportunity to catch up with the news and meet with Wyatt Andrews from CBS's Eye on America for an interview to be included in a segment he was doing on the local controversy.

Long before the campaign commenced, I had been traveling to Toledo to help the people oppose a city government determined to take their property and give it to Chrysler. When that effort failed, I met with the homeowners and local counsel, the redoubtable Terry Lodge, to seek a fairer buyout price. So attached were we to these Toledans that they dubbed themselves "Nader's Neighbors," and the dozen or so who held out got a much better price a year later through Terry's efforts.

It was devastating -- elderly people, friends and relatives, families -- uprooted for corporate landscaping. Houses were demolished as they were purchased, leaving the community pockmarked with debris. DaimlerChrysler stayed discreetly in the background and let the city officials do the dirty work and take the heat. But that did not divert Mel Robie, who died heartbroken after having lost his home. He told his son: "I fought the Germans in World War II and now they are taking my house."

The Toledo-Jeep story needs to be backed up a bit. When Chrysler decided to expand, it did what many other big companies do -- dangled the prospect of putting the new plant out for bids from various municipalities and states.

So when Chrysler opened up the bidding among Ohio, Illinois, and Michigan, Toledo Mayor Finkbeiner was the most desperate and essentially panicked. Toledo was in bad financial shape, but he managed to rustle up a combined federal, state, and local subsidy package of nearly $300 million to keep the plant expansion, which would of course further impoverish city finances. Part of the freebie package was allowing Chrysler a property and sales tax holiday for a dozen years and squeezing city funds to buy and clear land, prepare the site, and absorb any potential environmental liabilities, and then give it to Chrysler. Here were the small businesses and homeowners in Toledo paying their fair share of taxes for their town's services, but giant DaimlerChrysler, with $20 billion in cash at that time, was freeloading its privileges and immunities on their backs.

And what did the giant auto company do in return for all these definite dollar benefits? Just retain, not expand, forty-nine hundred jobs in its old and new plants under a nonbinding promise. The written contract with the city was not released until well after the deal was announced by the mayor, and on perusal it was essentially a one-sided contract for DaimlerChrysler, with all manner of escape clauses and contingencies.

In 1999 I called up Lou Goldfarb, an acquaintance, who was one of Chrysler's high-level in-house attorneys, and asked how he could justify small taxpayers having to pay their share but not a big taxpayer whose Jeep plant, no less, had produced immense profits with a very diligent, productive labor force. At first he said that a new plant would produce more economic activity, which would result in more tax revenues. To which I replied, The same could be said of any business, small or large; so if you're big enough, you can get away with a tax holiday and other kinds of subsidies, including the cost of buying a neighborhood and demolishing its homes for landscaping. Lou is a smart fellow -- his final defense was that all large companies did this and his company had to stay competitive.

In 2006 the bloom started coming off the DaimlerChrysler merger, and it became clear that it was more an acquisition of Chrysler than a merger of equals. Plant shutdowns and layoffs began to be announced as profits and the stock price plummeted. Toledo was apprehensive, and for good reason. Though the new plant was spared, the total employment roll was now expected to go below three thousand. Mayor Finkbeiner was embarrassed and angry, and he resolved to take the company to court to enforce the agreement. Alas, the mayor had no cards. The agreement had enough loopholes to drive a minivan through. There were no "clawback provisions" that would reduce the subsidies proportionately to the job reductions. Chrysler was never asked to post a bond, as some had suggested, to support its promise to retain forty-nine hundred jobs.

***

Being on the road day after day, most politicians boil down their presentations to a few paragraphs, largely poll-driven to address concerns and present a vision of the future, mixed with flattering local political personages onstage. Then on to a local fund-raiser. One week, Vice President Dick Cheney followed us by a day up the coast of California with this tightly disciplined approach. In Santa Barbara, he had an exclusive dinner for supporters or pleaders -- $25,000 a plate. The next day, there was a reception around Ventura, where it cost $5,000 to shake the candidate's hand.

My approach was to deliver remarks that provided a history of major advances in justice and then to dissect the consequences of the concentration of corporate power over our society. I ended by proposing ways to better our nation, explaining that these are within our grasp if we strengthen our democracy for voters, workers, taxpayers, consumers, and small investors. As is his quadrennial practice, one English professor graded my language at the twelfth-grade comprehension level, Gore at eighth grade, and Bush at sixth grade.

A lengthy question-and-discussion period followed. Sometimes there was a suggested contribution at the door, but most times no such effort was made. Occasionally we would schedule fund-raisers at private homes or halls, but the chief purpose of these trips was to get our message across to audiences, media, and prospective volunteers whom we encouraged to sign up. Giving our Web site address -- votenader.org -- made it easy for people to contact the campaign after our departure.

So localism was an added task but a necessary function of my campaign. We held daily news conferences, sometimes more than one. Gore went months without a news conference. At our sessions, we had to know about and refer to local situations or controversies just to receive any coverage. When Gore and Bush passed through a locality, chances were good that people had seen them on national TV many times. That meant they could be winners. Supporting local people on their chosen struggles, associating with poor people's activism, although important, does not by itself get votes. Being seen as a potential winner beats all other communications. That is why the polls assume such importance and drive the coverage.

Long after the election, in a Kansas cab, the driver delivered a confession. He said he intended to vote for me on Election Day, knew that Bush had Kansas in hand handily, but once in the voting booth, he voted for Bush. By the time he got home, he said he was ashamed of himself. I asked him gently why then did he vote for Bush. He replied, "At that moment, I wanted to be with a winner."

In a system with proportional representation, there can be many winners, but in our electoral system, it's a winner-take-all jackpot. People react accordingly. More than they are willing to admit, people vote for a candidate whom they think many others will vote for as well. In any event, I campaigned in areas of great injustice to get a feel for the people, their conditions, and what can motivate them to act. Sometimes we helped by referring them, for example, to Lois Gibbs's National Clearinghouse on Hazardous Waste or to an occupational safety organization or to a foundation that may be of assistance. Besides supplying names, addresses, and Web sites, and showing how they can demand service from their government regulatory agencies or get help from some pro bono lawyers, campaigns are run on such a frantic schedule that they cannot lay the basis for community organizations, as I hope someday can be the case. That kind of deep campaign builds democratic institutions as it goes and can always be a winner in this respect. Understanding the forces of community disintegration is perhaps the most difficult question confronting a wanna-be functioning democracy.

Just past mid-March I addressed the annual legislative conference of ACORN, one of those needed community institutions that started in Arkansas and has since spread to many states. Its mission is to organize and represent lower-income people. The room at the 4-H Complex outside of Washington, D.C., was filled with African-Americans, who were the real organizers and leaders on the pavement, in the projects, and throughout the ghettos. I could see that they had been through much, and I delivered a formal written speech. "There is a lot of lip service paid to the poor and to community investment," I said, "but when the chips are down and when the interests of the financial powerhouses are in the balance, the legislative and regulatory scales are invariably tilted toward the corporations, not toward communities." I went over some statistics that the people gathered in the hall have to live with daily. There are more than five million families who are in desperate need of affordable housing and, according to congressional testimony by Clinton's HUD secretary Andrew Cuomo, six hundred thousand homeless Americans, many of them working poor, who don't know where they are going to sleep tonight.

It is difficult for Americans who are well off enough not to live in urban poverty to appreciate the daily business crime waves that sweep over these ghettos with unchallenged ferocity. Payday loans, rolled over to payday after payday, can reach annual percentage rates of 400 percent. Rent-to-own rackets proliferate. Predatory lending is a booming business from high-cost automobile financing to home equity and refinancing scams.

Behind this shady world of exorbitant interest rates are some well-known Wall Street investment and commercial banks that provide the capital to fuel these operations. In the seventies, the financial lobby secured the repeal in most states of the usury laws, so the sky's the limit as far as interest rates are concerned. It can be expensive and often dangerous to be poor in America. The poor pay more and receive less law enforcement against these merchant predators. There are far more full-time pet therapists for affluent clients in the United States than there are prosecutors to bring these exploiters to justice. Needless to say, not many politicians running for office discuss doing something about crime in the suites. But the sheer scale of predatory lending in the country and its distinct ties, through subsidiaries and other intermediaries, to major banks and insurance conglomerates is beginning to worry some government officials. Alan Greenspan, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, is one of them.

I asked him in the spring of 2000, at an elaborate social occasion in New York City, about rumors that the Fed was going to crack down on predatory lending. He looked at me knowingly, nodded, and said, "Enough is enough." The poor are still waiting.

As is true for many widespread abuses, there are solutions. Community development credit unions, of which there are at present only four hundred operating in low-income regions, are a fair source of credit, including home mortgages. They provide those essential small loans for workers temporarily laid off from their jobs or when the family's wage earner falls sick without medical insurance. Credit unions are cooperatives, owned by their member depositors. Together with community development financial institutions, thousands more of these credit unions would do much to drive the sleazy credit predators and their Wall Street backers out of inner-city neighborhoods.

However, without a sensitive political movement directed toward these desperate Americans, there will be no enforcement of many laws already on the books. There will be no rapid expansion of these community institutions that are critical in binding together low- and moderate-income people.

I dwell on this unconscionable condition in America's poverty belt, where tens of millions of people reside, because so few political figures even mention it. For Gore-Lieberman, the mentions were overwhelmingly for "the middle class" -- shrinking though it is -- and for Bush-Cheney, well, they trust the crooks, not the government.

At the end of my remarks, which went unreported, and after discussion with the ACORN audience, I felt sadness in the room. There was outrage long before I came to them that day, but it was associated with a weariness from having to battle these and many other unmentioned cruelties by themselves with little or no help, even from minority lawmakers elected from their neighborhoods. They want action.

Our groups have been working with ACORN and other associations for years. We grind out the maps and testimony documenting the redlining and other abuses. But the chain has not been broken -- not in the marbled offices of the financial corporations or at the other end in the squalid ruins of ghetto misery in America.

In mid-April 2000, the misery of billions of humans in the Third World was given prominence during the mass demonstrations in Washington, D.C., against the economic models pushed by the WTO, the World Bank, and the IMF. I spoke at one of the major rallies and again that evening before a highly articulate audience at the Foundry United Methodist Church, where the Clintons worshiped. A fund-raiser at Andy Shallal's restaurant brought out a packed house of some two hundred people. You could hardly move your elbows to dip a chip. I was gratified to see so many familiar faces, which told our campaign that many progressives in Washington, D.C., at least, were supporting the Green Party. We chose Andy's Luna Grille as our location because of his widespread reputation for hosting charitable causes of a wide variety. It makes it especially easy for people to decide to go there when they have already participated in previous occasions advancing good works. If there were more restaurateurs like Shallal, combining social conscience with business acumen (he's started four successful restaurants in fifteen years), all over the country, the citizen movement would have more than a culinary base from which to proceed.

***

The distributional deficiencies of our huge economy are quite clearly demonstrated in Atlanta, the bustling crown jewel of the South and center of an enormous sprawl that extends 110 miles from end to end. It is downtown, however, where the business community is putting the squeeze on a large, well-run homeless shelter.

My day started with a call on the editorial board of the Atlanta Constitution. As with most visits to editorial boards, the atmosphere around the large table was cordial and curious. The candidate is expected to make his case briefly and then answer questions. Near the end I mentioned the Peachtree-Pine Homeless Resource Center and its problems with the city and the downtown business association. For the editors, this was old news, and they did not let on where they stood. As I was taking leave, it never occurred to me to inquire of the news desk, as we passed by, whether it was going to send a reporter a few short blocks away to cover our news conference. I should have. No one from the Constitution showed up.

At the press conference, I was joined by Steve Gaskin, winner of Sweden's Right Livelihood Award, along with the famous people's architect Hassan Fathy. Gaskin was also running in the Green Party presidential primary. Also there were Hugh Esco and other Greens working to get the party on the Georgia ballot. The shelter has been controversial ever since its founding. The downtown business association would like to have it out of sight so it can be out of mind. For two years, the city licensing agency had failed to issue a food license that the shelter's administrators need to help feed the homeless. It surprised me to learn that 37 percent of the men sleeping at the shelter are working, many of them in labor pools for minimum wage. Given the price of housing in Atlanta, they would have to earn twice the minimum hourly wage of $5.15 to afford a one-bedroom apartment. To the few reporters who attended the part rally, part news conference, I took the city to task for making it difficult for the shelter to do its job, chided those in the business community for their hostility -- some of those probably were long on corporate welfare themselves -- and urged a national affordable housing and universal health care program and a minimum livable wage standard.

The recent history of how the homeless are treated in Atlanta goes back to before the, Olympics were held in that city. As an angry Anita Beaty, executive director of the Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless, which is in charge of the shelter, recalled, Mayor Bill Campbell declared his goal was to "sanitize" downtown, in preparation for the '96 Olympic Games. In just the year before -- 1995 -- 9,500 people were arrested for their homelessness under the city's ordinances, for, Beaty said, "not having a place to be. Jail costs fifty-five dollars a day. Imagine the solutions that money could fund." She added, "These criminalizing policies are designed to make Atlanta safe for commerce -- for profit." Privatizing the commons and the criminalization of poverty in Atlanta was how B. Wardlaw, a key founder and funder of the shelter, once described the scene.

After my speech, I met with Ted Turner at his office to renew our acquaintance, discuss the campaign, and maybe focus his customary legendary impatience (years ago there was a sign on his desk: "Lead, follow, or get out of the way") on the shelter problem. Entering his very spacious and well-decorated office, I encountered Turner on one of his down days. He was feeling under the weather, which meant that he could deliver only a pungent two- hundred-word excursus on the world going to hell. He also was feeling powerless, confessing that he had little influence these days at AOL-Time Warner, where he was a vice chairman. When I suggested that he call City Hall, he didn't say yes or no, just shrugged wearily.

As a university and law student, I wrote papers and articles about my travels in poverty- stricken places around the country. Seeing these inhuman conditions afflicting mothers, fathers, and children, significantly due to age-old exploitations, provoked an urge for justice that did not dim.

I've found most reactions to poverty by the better off to be unconnected to any public philosophy of action. Except for what George Soros calls "market fundamentalism," we are a society without organizing theories of social action in any accepted mainstream sense. We organize charities that are very empirical, lessening symptoms but not going all the way toward removing causes. And these charities cannot keep up. New York City has a telephone-book-size list of names and addresses of all kinds of charities. Like the rest of the country, New York is losing the charity race as the deprivations mount and become endemic and more complex.

There hasn't been a poor people's movement since the days of Martin Luther King Jr., Cesar Chavez, and George Wiley, who started the rights movement of welfare mothers. The poor have been strangely silent for a long time. Someday, the poor will be heard from in a sustained way. But until that happens, the established powers will not listen.

I write these words on a day when the New York Times features an article titled "Fear and Poverty Sicken Many Migrant [Farm] Workers in U.S." and prints two deservedly glowing reviews of Barbara Ehrenreich's new book, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. She portrays her experiences trying to make it "during the best of times" in a variety of unskilled jobs that pay between $5.15 and $7 an hour. The reviewer, Dorothy Gallagher, ends her piece by thanking the author "for bringing us the news of America's working poor so clearly and directly, and conveying with it a deep moral outrage and a finely textured sense of lives as lived. As Michael Harrington was, she is now our premier reporter of the underside of capitalism." The underclass grips one out of three full-time workers in the United States.

Apropos of the Greek saying that "fish rot from the head down," this gross inequality of income has flashed off the charts when CEO pay is compared with workers'. Fortune magazine, no less, featured a cover story on June 25, 2001, titled "The Great CEO Pay Heist," describing it as "highway robbery" and then, astonishingly enough, adding, "Why the madness won't stop." Fortune was referring to the 350 or so of the largest companies by revenues in the U.S. where the average CEO's compensation has gone from twelve times the entry-level wage in their company in 1940, to forty-two times in 1980, to about five hundred times by the year 2000!

The wealth of the Forbes 400 in the three years 1998 to 2000 increased on the average for each of them by a total of $1.9 million per day! The economy has more than doubled in per capita output since the sixties, yet the working poor, the working near-poor, and the just plain destitute are everywhere. What has changed is that the rich have become superrich and, unlike the stagnant federal minimum wage, the compensation package of the well- insured and pensioned members of Congress is keeping well ahead of inflation, thank you.

***

Leaving Ted Turner's office, I flew to Birmingham and, as usual, met with petitioners and some citizen group representatives. Our Green Party contact, Johnny Ardis, said that they needed to collect five thousand signatures by the end of August, but he was taking no chances. My speech at the University of Alabama's Bell Theater made mention of the South's populist tradition -- a long time ago, admittedly -- and that what the American people own as a commonwealth (the public airwaves, the public lands, worker pensions in the trillions of dollars) is overwhelmingly controlled by corporations.

Todd Main and I spoke long into the evening at Lanny Vines's home, where we spent the night. Mr. Vines is a successful plaintiff's attorney, a generous philanthropist, and a longtime civil rights fighter in Alabama politics. As a political strategist, he had much to say to us. We were off the next morning just as the planners for a local charity association arrived for a function at the Vines home, which he generously made available for such receptions.

Arriving in Jackson, Mississippi, I was interviewed by the Jackson Clarion Ledger before traveling to Louisiana to speak at Loyola University. Louisiana has always had a uniquely corrupt politics along with some very flamboyant populists, including Huey Long, whom Franklin Delano Roosevelt feared in the thirties as a political competitor. For presidential campaigns, Louisiana requires no signature, just a check for five hundred dollars -- the only state where you can buy your way onto the ballot. The next morning I met with members of the editorial board at the Times-Picayune, who were quite lively for that early- morning hour. The newspaper has printed some weighty articles by some first-class reporters like Tyler Bridges, now with the Miami Herald. At editorial board meetings around the country, I tried to open my remarks with the reasons I ran. The ones that resonated most were the shutting out of the civic groups by the convergence of the two parties (and in Louisiana they have had Exhibit One -- Senator John Breaux) and how good investigative stories by newspapers usually go nowhere in terms of generating change.

Off to Nashville via Atlanta's sprawling airport, to Fisk University's Memorial Chapel and a joint press announcement of Tom Burrell's senatorial candidacy. Burrell is one of the more remarkable new Greens.

It was 4:45 P.M. and our advance work was not successful. Only a few dozen people showed up, although there was a fair press turnout. Mr. Burrell is an African American who grew up in rural west Tennessee on a small farm his family had owned for three generations. He served in Vietnam with the Eighteenth Engineering Corps and on his return went to work in a Michigan auto plant. He soon returned to his roots in Tennessee to run the family farm, which, with additional rented land, cultivated thirty-five hundred acres of cotton and beans.

That's where Burrell learned the tragic history of the black family farmers. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farmers Horne Administration' would routinely deny, through local lending boards, their crucial operating loans. From one million black farmers in 1900, there are now only eighteen thousand, a decrease five times that of white farmers.

Burrell became a leader for the black family farm, spearheading demonstrations and sit-ins and helping to launch a national movement in 1981, which built upon our research on the Department of Agriculture dating back from 1969. Having joined a class-action suit against the USDA and alleging severe racial discrimination regarding crop loans and other practices, and then objecting to the ridiculously low monetary settlement to the black farmers, Burrell is calling for a new federal agency to deal with the problems of minority farmers, whether black, Hispanic, or Native American. With materials from Torn, I carried the cause of the black farmer to several states, as part of the overall subject of depressed rural poverty beset by aggressive agribusiness giants and the federal agencies they control to advance and subsidize their profits.

Afterward, we drove four hours along a beautiful highway to Lexington, Kentucky, where we visited the Lexington Herald and learned that some major disputes were erupting at the nearby University of Kentucky. And it did not have anything to do with basketball.

By the time we arrived for a press conference at the Singleton Center for the Arts, the anti- sweatshop student activists were all over us about their being harassed, denied fair procedures, and threatened with dismissals for a sit-in protest. Having worked with this campus movement, we assured them that they were not alone, and should it come down to a judicial proceeding, we could help find them counsel. These students were fact-filled and on fire. It was an inspiring group that reminded me of their forebears in the sixties, taking a local issue and moving their frame of reference toward the whole phenomenon of corporate globalization.

***

Earth Day, April 22, is an event I have participated regularly in since its inception in 1970 when some fifteen hundred events on college campuses and other sites put the environmental issue on the front burner. I had committed to spending the day in California for a series of events around the Bay Area. Our supporters did not consider this to be the best venue for either maximum press or audience. They recommended Washington, D.C., where Denis Hayes, the venerable manager of Earth Day celebrations, was presiding over the largest expected outdoor gathering. There had been behind-the-scenes politicking over whether political candidates would be allowed to speak to the assemblage. Denis Hayes did not want candidates. That was understandable because every candidate would argue for equal time, and most candidates also tend to drain away the civic spirit of the occasion. But if Al Gore was invited to appear, our campaign staff (see Appendix E) was determined to get time on the platform. AI Gore was invited. But, by that time, I was not about to break my commitments to California, so Winona LaDuke took my place.

A few weeks earlier, I had called Carl Pope, the director of the Sierra Club, to discuss the club's decision process on the presidential candidates. Speaking as an individual, Pope said he disagreed with the Greens -- not their goals, but their strategies. He referred to Green Party candidate Carol Miller, whose 19 percent of the vote, he believed, helped elect a Republican to Congress. (The Democratic candidate in that race was also a hardened reactionary as well.)

If the Green Parry can field candidates where it makes sense, well, he could get more enthusiastic, which I took to mean where it doesn't complicate the election of Democrats. He added that the Supreme Court matters greatly, whether or not Bush wins. As for the Sierra Club endorsement process, that would be made by a two-thirds vote in July based in part on a close review of the candidates' responses to their detailed, but I thought incomplete, questionnaires about their environmental positions. Who knows, said Pope, the board "could endorse both Gore and you."

The Dorsey memorandum and internal dissent aside, there was not a chance this would happen. Pope later said on TV that I had a very good environmental record but couldn't win.

Knowing this about similar proclivities of other major environmental groups that allow the Democratic Party to take them for granted, I was intent on showing where Gore's environmental record had come up very short in the past eight years. The outdoor Earth Day rallies in Sacramento, Berkeley, and San Francisco were not the best occasions because speakers were not expected to be so directly partisan. The contrast became quite clear, however, when I mentioned a few differences, such as the administration's backing down on pesticide regulation, its near silence on a needed solar energy mission, its continuance of long-standing taxpayer subsidies for the profitable coal, oil, gas, and nuclear industries, and its surrender of environmental leadership to the trade supremacy mandates of NAFTA and GATT. Moreover, no one would have predicted in 1993, the auto companies included, that Clinton-Gore would not propose any higher fuel efficiency standards. This position not only allowed the average miles per gallon to decline during their eight years in office, it also set the stage for Bush-Cheney to define their energy crisis in 2000 as requiring a push for supply drilling and expansion, instead of pressing for demand reductions through engineering improvements.

The atmosphere at these rallies was relaxed -- family picnic style -- on the grass. The Sacramento-owned electric utility -- SMUD, as everyone calls it -- had a large exhibit showing its work for solar energy and conservation. Little did I know how directly and shortly relevant this exhibit would be during the 2001 California power blackouts and supply manipulations. Both Sacramento and Los Angeles have owned their electricity companies for years. Both are not gouging their customers, have a surplus of power, and unlike Pacific Gas and Electric, Southern California Edison, and other private utilities in the deregulatory fiasco, are not being diverted by worries about their stock prices, executive stock options, or investments around the world. They are owned by their communities, who expect them to deliver electricity reliably and ever more efficiently.

At Berkeley, two remarkable women shared the stage with me. The first to speak was Medea Benjamin, co-founder of Global Exchange, which monitors international corporate misbehavior. She was the Green Party Senate candidate whom Senator Diane Feinstein aloofly treated as a nonperson as she floated to reelection on an ocean of cash. Medea is a very motivational, concise, informed, hell-raising speaker. She had worked in some of the most poverty-stricken areas of the world and is no armchair observer. She did not disappoint her sun-drenched audience.

Nor did twenty-five-year-old Julia Butterfly Hill, the next speaker. All Julia had to do to highlight the destruction of the giant ancient redwoods by lumber companies was to live, under harrowing conditions, two years and eight days high up in a thousand-year- old redwood she called "Luna" in Humboldt County, California. This is what it takes these days for the media to turn one into a civic celebrity. Her message was a mixture of poetic, aesthetic, cultural, natural, and environmental testimony for sustaining and restoring the life of Earth.

We drove to the main square in San Francisco, which was only half filled with people listening to speaker after speaker. By the side of the stage, sitting quietly in his wheelchair, I saw the last half century's greatest practicing environmentalist. David Brower was very ill with cancer, but he would never miss a beat in his bulldog determination both to enjoy and protect the rivers, the public lands, the forests, and the parks. "Let the forest breathe for us," he told me the last time I saw him at his Berkeley home.

I asked him how he felt. He replied with a wan smile, "Better than I have any right to expect." Before and after I spoke, I thought to myself how different Earth Day 2000 and even Earth Day 1990 were from the first indignant, focused, raucous Earth Day gatherings. It is not simply that dozens of major corporations have moved in on Earth Day, appropriating the language of environmentalism in their ads and sponsoring and funding events. It is that the spirit has been sucked out of Earth Day by this steady process of coopting harmony.

Of course, credit should be given where credit is due, as with the Interface Corporation's giant strides toward zero pollution and maximum recycling from the manufacturing of their extensive tile and commercial carpet products. However, when companies use Earth Day as a fig leaf for their daily pollution damage and their regular lobbying against stronger environmental standards, they do not deserve a seat of honor at the Earth Day parade.

Too many of the Earth Day events have lost their focus. Instead of naming names and assigning accountability -- as with the Dirty Dozen in Congress -- Earth Day has gotten too soft, too imprecise, and it has been losing its attendance and enthusiasm. Increasingly, it is leaving behind only footprints in the sand, and public relations benefits for corporate polluters that are unlikely to attract the hope and zeal of future David Browers.
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 17838
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: Crashing the Party, by Ralph Nader

Postby admin » Mon Aug 10, 2015 7:28 am

Seven: Momentum: The Campaign Takes Shape

As we campaigned in one state after another, back in Washington, D.C., Theresa Amato, our campaign manager, was putting together the elements of a campaign staff. As I mentioned earlier, it was extremely difficult for seasoned citizen advocates to break away from their institutions and join a political campaign. Steve Conn was a luminous exception to that immobility. A longtime fighter for Alaskan and other indigenous people's rights, Steve took a leave from heading the twenty-five-year-old Alaska Public Interest Research Group (AKPIRG), and flew to Washington when our campaign was really bare-bones and while Steve's mother was seriously ill in New York City. I could only imagine the pressure and pain he was under, for there was no closer relationship than that between Steve and his mother, Gertrude. On one occasion, I called Steve when he was at her apartment by her bedside, and he gave her the phone. The clarity and sensitivity of her words were overwhelming. Steve and I had worked together for years, and she treasured that cooperation. And I now understood where Steve's unwavering principles, cool, intense concentration, and strength of purpose were coming from. "I'll go to sleep tonight smiling," she said. A few days later, she passed away, but not her legacy or her example of a life lived justly. Campaigns are flooded with mundane details and strains, but there are those rare moments, as this one, that elevate the larger perspectives and keep them ever in mind.

The necessity of multiple perspectives, as with a series of concentric circles, is particularly appropriate for presidential campaigns, where, try as we did, politics cannot be heavily local. People expect some contemporary proposals, especially bread-and-butter ones, but they also want the candidates to express a vision for America, demonstrate character, and champion values. All this lends itself to a variety of abstractions and slogans, which the major candidates' wordsmiths are particularly adept at creating. George W. Bush is the most transparent at this: "I am a compassionate conservative" (repeat on the hour), "I will restore honor and dignity to the White House" (this reminds the public of Clinton), "I will change the tone in Washington," "I am a uniter, not a divider" (whatever you say, say nothing), and "Leave no child behind" (taken from the motto of the progressive Children's Defense Fund).

Slogans and images, kept simple and repeated often, go unchallenged. They meet the presumed short attention span of people, most of whom say they do not care much about politics anyway. It is a package designed for sound bite journalism, which, if you are a possible winner, knows no limits to repetitious broadcasting. Couple all of this with pictures that convey those slogans and you've got a double punch.

Quick, ask yourself what comes most to mind when you think of George W. Bush, the presidential candidate in the year 2000? For me it's pictures of Bush with little children, usually two or three up close, often minority children. Bush must have set the all-time record for such placements.

Year after year of such formulaic campaign strategies by major presidential candidates produces a numbing phenomenon. With their expectations and guard down, voters come to expect what they are given to expect -- a kind of conditioned response that makes it very difficult for a campaign like ours to break through. I am a "Brandeis brief" type of person who believes that factual reality counts, that candidates' records matter greatly, that arguments need to be rooted in evidence, and that robust debates with challenging reporters provide the most level playing fields. I do not like posed photo opportunities. A campaign should not be a vehicle for an ego. Rather, it is an opportunity for other articulate voices to be heard. By way of illustration, I listed many names of such individuals in my announcement address. When the Green Parry conventioneers in 1996 started chanting, "Go, Ralph, go," I immediately changed the phrase to, "Go we go," and it caught on to a surprised but delighted audience. Social change occurs when "we" come together to create a just and democratic society. It's as simple as that. If you want a society that embraces both "visions and revisions," to use Marcus Raskin's felicitous phrase, then the motto must be "Together we can make a difference." That leaves little room for "ego tripping" or people who are so egotistically fragile that they can be blistered by moonbeams.

***

I began my activism many years ago as an undergraduate and law student against "discriminatory injustice" regularly suffered by women, blacks, Hispanics, and the first Native Americans. Later I turned my focus onto the areas of "indiscriminate injustice" that affect all the people in varying degrees, such as unsafe automobiles and other consumer products and malpractices or environmental toxins, workplace hazards, corporate crime, and looting of the public budgets and public assets. Our citizen groups focus on many facets of corporate abuses, which includes working against discrimination. Like Harvard professor Cornel West, I believe that race matters, and like him I believe that class inequities are very much related to racial injustice. Over the years, we have documented how abuses against all people abuse the poor and minorities even more.

Our groups have been in the forefront opposing bank and insurance redlining in low- income neighborhoods, mostly populated by people of color. Our computer maps of cities all over the country, which graphically document bank redlining, are used by community groups to fight back under federal laws that prohibit such lending discrimination. Environmental pollution affects all, but especially the poor. The poor pay more in rip-off markets and die earlier due to environmental racism and shoddy medical and other services rooted in racial inequities. Again, we have been very involved in these struggles to protect children from lead poisoning in crumbling apartments and the poor from incinerators and toxic dumps operating where they live. The "discriminatory injustice" movements have had greater success in getting their points across to both the media and elected officials, compared to advocates against "indiscriminatory injustice." Still, the champions of the former demand that progressive candidates emphasize what has already been emphasized at the expense of what is almost never emphasized in political campaigns -- namely, the giant corporate takeover of our society.

Black Americans and their leaders are properly incensed over illegal use of police violence, racial profiling, and the violence that comes from sharply discriminatory enforcement of laws against minorities, who often have to rely on incompetent or rushed defense counsel. But there is also the silent violence of lead poisoning of little children, asbestos ingestion, medical malpractice, air and water toxics, contaminated foodstuffs, crumbling housing and slumlords, and other afflictions that mark life and death in the ghettos. A poor neighborhood does not get its calls returned, while the Upper East Side in New York City, or Scarsdale, does. Guess which area suffers more from the above damages? So focusing on economic and political inequities that flow from severe imbalances of power between the corporate wealthy and the downtrodden classes sends civic energies in both directions -- human rights and corporate unaccountabilities -- and unifies the aggrieved peoples across racial, geographic, and occupational boundaries.

Later in the campaign, when some liberal Democrats began actively campaigning against Nader-LaDuke, this kind of bickering was used to score some cheap political points. Congressman Barney Frank ignored our basic work with Act Up, our criticism of the exorbitant price of medicine, and our stands on gay and lesbian rights, which were far superior to those of Gore-Lieberman. Gore himself was picketed by gay rights groups who reminded him not just of his fronting for price-gouging drug companies and taking their contributions but also of his antigay votes as a member of the House of Representatives. Gloria Steinem went around the country touting her "ten reasons not to vote for Ralph Nader," while forgetting our groundbreaking work on women paying more in dollars and injury because of marketplace discriminations, not to mention founding a leading women's policy group in the early seventies. While Jesse Jackson and Congressman John Conyers tried to elevate Gore's civil rights record by deprecating my efforts in these fields, the record shows that I led in critical areas of educational testing bias and life-taking and budget-busting consumer abuses aimed at minorities and exposed the Democratic Party's neglect of racial injustice behind its civil rights rhetoric and oratory.

Being a progressive presidential candidate meant far more than being an identity politics candidate. It meant going to the roots of the power abuses of our political economy. If I made one mistake in addressing the identity politics adherents, it was not putting forth a detailed record of my past writings and involvement against racial and gender discrimination going back to the midfifties.

***
Going into May, we felt that the campaign was beginning to shape up. The national pollsters started to include Nader-LaDuke in their polling. Led by the Zogby surveys, the polls started to break past 5 percent on occasion. We had a big map on the wall at campaign headquarters where we marked the states in which we had achieved ballot status. Individual contributions began flowing into our empty coffers, which enabled us to hire more people to deal with the mounting work. We glanced at the other campaigns, but we were almost totally absorbed with our own fledgling formations. Democratic Senator Harry Reid took notice and assailed me for "not respecting the process" -- one of the more puzzling comments we had to decipher and one Jim Hightower satirized in his speeches. But the Gore campaign had a more ·standard response to press inquiries about our campaign. They would say repeatedly, "We're not losing any sleep over Nader." To which I replied, "Slumber on, Al Gore, slumber on."

May 2000 was in many ways the most pleasurable month for campaigning in the entire eight-month stretch. Summer is traditionally not a good time to be on the road. People are on vacation, heat waves keep people away from sweaty gatherings, there are fewer events to attend, colleges are out, and the big political conventions absorb the media. Moreover, June through August is the last opportunity to get work done on position papers, to go on Washington-based cable shows on CNN, Fox, and MSNBC, to raise funds, and to discuss strategies and schedules for the final, nonstop eight weeks of the campaign.

Increasingly, people would ask me what it is like running for president, how wearisome it must be, and so packed with pressure. I would reply that the traveling was nothing new, even in its intensity, inasmuch as I have been civically campaigning for thirty-five years all over the country. Of course, presidential campaigning is a different dimension-there is no comparison to the wide array of subjects that must be considered. Polls become straitjackets on one's reach, people have far more hereditary prejudgments and stereotypes on "politics" and "parties," and there is a set date for votes to be counted.

Building a political movement, in contrast to advancing a civic or consumer issue, requires constant lobbying for media attention. One local opportunity that recurred again and again was meeting with editorial boards of major and community newspapers. I tried to have such sessions in every state. A surprising number of newspapers agreed to these meetings. From Columbia, South Carolina, to Concord, New Hampshire, to Los Angeles, Seattle, Lexington, Des Moines, and Las Vegas, my associates and I would sit around a large table with the editorial writers, a columnist, and a political reporter -- and sometimes a cartoonist -- and they would serve coffee, soft drinks, and snacks as they listened to my opening soliloquy. No matter what the paper's ideology, the custom across the board was that they were there to listen, not to browbeat the candidate. Unfortunately, their demeanor with us was one of curiosity rather than any consequential interest in our drive.

Their questions were the same, predictable inquiries: Are you at all concerned that you could take enough votes from Al Gore to cost him the election? How would you feel if you woke up the day after the election to learn that you helped elect George W. Bush? You know you can't win, so why are you doing this? Do you really believe there is little difference between Al Gore and George W. Bush?

With an inaudible sigh I would respond: Would I be running if I were concerned about taking votes from Al Gore? Isn't that what candidates try to do to one another -- take votes? Would they ever ask a start-up company whether it is worried about taking sales dollars away from two dominant competitors? We're trying to build a new progressive politics in this country, that is our priority. It has to start sometime. If George Bush is elected, I would say that Al Gore blew it. He had every advantage over Bush, a bumbling Texas governor with a terrible record flatly contradicting his rhetoric. I would continue: Yes, there are a few but nowhere near enough major differences between Bush and Gore, and the converging similarities relating to corporate power's entrenchments tower above the dwindling real differences over which the two parties are willing to contend. Sure, the Democratic Party may register a D+ and the Republican Party a D-, but in my book they both flunk.

But I did long for editors prodding me with searching questions about my proposals, such as "Mr. Nader, you often say that you are running with the aim of giving more power to voters, taxpayers, workers, and small investors. What is your plan to do so? Has there been any success to date with any of your proposed tools having been adopted? How would you deal with an uninterested Congress that you hope will pass these facilities to bind these constituencies together into voluntary civic associations? What makes you think they wouldn't fight each other on certain policies?" Alas, these questions and many others that could have enlivened and broadened what politics should be dealing with were not forthcoming. If political discourse does not ask the big questions about the nature and uses of power, then it is very unlikely that it will ever reach the big answers.

The other regular interfaces with the media were the daily news conferences, whenever the schedule permitted, and reporters or columnists, joining us for a day or two and then returning home to write their stories. May 1, 2000, started at the Baltimore airport with John Judis of The New Republic. There was no surprise at the twisted piece that resulted. The publisher/owner of The New Republic was Al Gore's professor at Harvard and has made sure that his longtime protege received first-class touting in his publication. So the dour and Sour John Judis, who probably would still call himself a liberal, read Our campaign as harming our own causes by undermining Democrats. Judis has strayed from any fundamental grip on the question of corporate power in America and was satisfied with marginal etchings in his portraits of the politically feasible in the country. It was no surprise then he was so distinctly unimpressed with us because his mind was already made up.

From Baltimore we flew into rainy Detroit and soon arrived at Solidarity House, the United Auto Workers' storied headquarters, to spend half an hour with UAW president Steve Yokich. Yokich was not pleased with the Democrats and didn't hesitate to say so. On May 23, 2000, he publicly said, "America's working families need and deserve a president they can count on to stand with them on their tough issues, not just the easy ones. That's why we have no choice but to actively explore alternatives to the two major political parties. It's time to forget about party labels and instead focus on supporting candidates such as Ralph Nader, who will take a stand based on what is right, not what big money dictates. Supporting those who support us is our political agenda, not just a slogan."

The mere mention of my candidacy by Yokich agitated the Gore campaign, which was continuing the party's tradition of expecting organized labor to lockstep with its politics and get out its vote. Even within the UAW's circle of leaders there was dismay at Yokich's remarks. It is not that these people were happy with the Gore-Lieberman ticket and the Clinton regime in general. It is -- there they go again -- that the Republicans were worse. [ never expected the UAW to bolt from the Democrats, but at least there was a stirring, a caveat to that party's continuing choice of organized corporations over organized labor. Would that Clinton-Gore exercised a fraction of their political capital and energy in Congress over raising the lagging minimum wage that they unleashed on behalf of the corporate lobby behind NAFTA and GATT.

Yokich was especially worried that day about the upcoming congressional vote on permanent trade relations with China. He foresaw entire factories, such as those of Delphi Automotive, closing down and opening up in China with thirty-cents-an-hour workers in newly equipped plants producing products for shipment back to the States. This is a little- publicized impact of NAFTA and GATT.

After meeting with Yokich, I went over to speak to the newspaper guild, whose members were locked out in a lengthy dispute with the city's two merged newspapers. Several years have passed since the Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press merged and locked out hundreds of workers, but thousands of Detroiters were still refusing to buy the paper, circulation was way down, and the locked-out workers were still defiant.

***

We flew out of Detroit in the late afternoon for Madison, where I joined a picket line of unionists in support of workers subcontracted from Aramark Corp., who were not earning a living wage at the University of Wisconsin's Fluno Center.

The majority of Americans have been falling behind, notwithstanding twenty years of economic growth: losing ground in real wages, losing ground in home mortgage payments, health care, and consumer debt, burdens all, taking a much larger percentage of family income, losing ground to the increased costs of commuting to work and, with the near end of the extended family, increased consumer bills for day care and other services the family used to provide that now have to be purchased in the marketplace, and working longer hours than twenty-five years ago in a low-wage economy with a shrinking union base.

We then rushed over to the Rathskeller at the university for a speech and attended a fund- raiser at the home of Matt Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive. There, at least, I spied some nutritious food on a large table and managed to consume a portion. Around the country, at times, we thought the Greens took this solar energy issue a little too far. Maybe they assumed that being Green meant we photosynthesized and did not need any food to keep us going hour after hour. Madison is always special for any progressive candidate. Out on the back lawn of Matt's house, our supporters needed no explanations -- it was all about building democracy, the sovereignty of the people, rolling back corporate power, and looking ahead. On our way to the airport for the flight to Chicago, I recalled the great speeches of "Fighting Bob" La Follette from Wisconsin, who led the progressive movement in America in the early twentieth century. Were he here now, what would he say?

On to Columbia, South Carolina, where we headed straight to the state legislature and met with Gilda Cobb-Hunter, the minority leader of the House. An African American, Cobb- Hunter, upbeat and effervescent, gave us the impression that she was surrounded by a battalion of courtly, smiling white sharks. She wanted to introduce me to the legislators in session, but their business ran long and I had to settle for a few sideline chats with some of the lawmakers. Then, in quick succession, we met with twenty citizens working on our campaign, attended an editorial board meeting with the state newspaper, and appeared on a radio talk show on WVOC, the largest AM station, with Kevin Cohen, a confessed conservative who railed against big government and regulation and attracted Rush Limbaugh followers. (Welcome to talk radio, so dominated by right-wingers who day after day attack our government, which doesn't advertise, and applaud the business world, which does.) If you are a guest, you can get your licks in, but callers are attracted to like- minded hosts, so not many progressive callers telephone or get through the screeners. Then on to a press conference at the statehouse, a meeting with The Free Times, a community weekly, and then a speech and discussion at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship before leaving for the airport and the flight back to Washington, D.C.

The next day in Washington included several hours' fund-raising on the phone, a telephone conversation with Michael Lerner, author of Spirit Matters, about his fervent belief that the campaign should emphasize the more spiritual dimensions of justice, and an interview with U.S. News and World Report. Afterward I went to Capitol Hill for a meeting I arranged between Major General Parker, M.D., and naval researchers on global infectious diseases with Congressman Sherrod Brown and his colleagues. The government's only "drug company" is in the Department of Defense, where army and naval medical scientists with incredible efficiency have discovered and tested major anti-malarial drugs, along with other drugs and vaccines now used throughout the world. This remarkable story of amazing successes with first-class science on. tiny budgets, extending over three decades, shows up the exorbitant major drug companies that have no interest in investing in malaria, TB, and other infectious disease research, because they don't see enough money in it for them.

In discussing foreign policy initiatives on the campaign trail, I would repeatedly stress the need for the United States to launch a major program against these scourges, coming toward the United States with drug-resistant strains, which take millions of lives a year, mostly in the Third World. The Pentagon's tiny enclave at the Walter Reed Institute of Health is One of the best-kept secrets in Washington. The press had never heard of it, nor had anybody in Congress, nor had Bill Clinton's White House aides. The latter, led by Sidney Blumenthal, did meet at the White House earlier with the same army and navy scientists and me to discuss what more could be done.

Returning to our headquarters, I met with the Hillsman media group from Minneapolis and our staff to go over the prospect of their doing; some political messages for a modest television buy in selected cities. Bill Hillsman is a fresh voice, who produced award winning ads for the first election of Senator Paul Wellstone and later for Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura. Hillsman's trademark is generating news coverage of the ad either because it is unique and funny or because it provokes controversy. Of course, such news coverage usually entails replaying the ad as part of the news story. I told Hillsman that I didn't like the idea of spending money to enrich television stations that should be covering the campaign as a news story. Moreover, there was very little money available for that purpose anyhow. He said that he could work within those parameters and that such adroitly placed ads, conveying content and comparisons with other candidates, would reach, amuse, and arouse the voters and get the word of mouth under way. Hillsman is very clever, but we never expected that he would return to his North Woods Advertising Agency in Minnesota and Create what turned out to be two of the most talked-about and award-winning political ads of 2000.

Next stop, Pittsburgh, where I spoke before the Pennsylvania Credit Union convention. The performance and promise of credit unions was to become a topic of my campaign remarks in low-income communities and whenever the 'subjects of consumer, borrowers, and big financial institutions came up.

There are twelve thousand credit unions in the United States with over fifty million members who own them. Consumers receive auto loans, personal loans, some home mortgages, and other credit at reasonable costs. Credit unions and other cooperatives are old social and economic innovations that meet human needs. Unfortunately, the astigmatism of the two-party electioneering is illustrated when candidates ignore these working institutions.

The credit union delegates in Pennsylvania were worried about the sharply increasing concentration of banks and insurance companies through mergers and the political lobbying power often used against credit unions that flows from the emergence of such super-conglomerate giants as Citigroup.

The scene shifted dramatically when we arrived the next day in Charleston, West Virginia. There, in the office of my old friend Ken Hechler, secretary of state, the topic was the dynamiting of mountaintops by coal companies. Yes, in the year 2000, King Coal was blowing off mountains and choking rivers and streams with tons of sludge and debris. Both parties have done little to curtail this destructive activity.

West Virginia can teach you a lot about politics in America. Heavily reliant on the coal industry, it has sacrificed itself on the avaricious altar of the coal barons. Tens of thousands of its sons over a century have given their lives for their companies, succumbing to black lung disease and mine disasters. Wide swathes of its beautiful hilly countryside look like moonscapes from strip mining. Its rivers and streams have suffered acid runoffs from coal mine slag. Decades ago, the large coal barons, many situated in London, New York, and Chicago, bought or pressured local politicians. They escaped paying most of their property taxes for the schools and other local services by getting absurd under- assessments of their coal lands. During the unusual hard times of the twenties and thirties, the barons' lawyers created the notorious "broad-form deeds" by which they obtained from the impoverished and desperate people of Appalachia, for fifty cents per acre, the right to all coal, oil, gas, metals, and minerals, the right to divert and pollute water -- and immunity from all liability. This included immunity from responsibility for causing the people's homes to cave in dangerously due to the hollowed-out underground.

I mention these predatory actions because more than thirty years ago, my associates and I worked intensively to secure congressional passage of the coal mine safety law and the coal miners' pneumoconiosis act, which has provided billions of dollars to the widows and orphans of these sacrificed miners. In my earlier travels throughout that battered state, from the towns to the hollows, I met the workers and families who benefited mightily from these laws. Collaborating with a young, dynamic lawyer, David Grubb, I helped start the West Virginia Citizen Action Group in Charleston, which was a great fighter for consumer, worker, and environmental justice.

For years, the Charleston Gazette, under the Chilton family, championed our efforts in their editorials and reported them in their news pages. But memories dim as the years pass, and our campaign presence in West Virginia was too sparse to remind people of the times when key members of Congress, such as Congressman Phil Burton, were around to move legislation that was needed, no matter how loudly the coal and steel moguls bellowed.

Our work for the people of West Virginia was matched by the national recognition that we gave to the state's unique problems.

On November 7, however, we received 2 percent of the West Virginia vote. Obviously, electoral politics is a soup of many ingredients, and vote tallies on Election Day don't necessarily correspond with what a candidate has done for the electorate.

Back at headquarters, from Saturday, May 6, to Friday, May 12, my days were filled with fund-raising telephone calls, contacting civic leaders, some of whom were celebrities like Willie Nelson and Susan Sarandon, to ask if they would join our citizens' support committee. I answered other calls, which requested appearances at future dinners, like the industrial hemp dinner -- yes, hemp food -- in the San Francisco Bay Area in June. Then there were press calls to return from regional newspapers such as the Lincoln-Star Journal in Nebraska, C-Span's "Road to the White House" series, and, most significantly, the first invitation to go on Tim Russert's Meet the Press. For a person who broke into the news business in his forties, Russert has both a news sense and a smiling, tough questioning mode that leaves his competitors far back in the pundit pack. Early on, Russert sensed that the balance between Gore and Bush could be affected by the Greens. The polls bolstered his hunch, and that got me in the door. Russert asked and challenged me about my positions and my criticisms of the major candidates and then shared some sandwiches with me after it was all over. Not a bad way to spend part of Sunday morning, I thought, and I left thinking how those twelve interview minutes were more exposure than days on the road.

***

The China trade vote was coming up in the House, which gave me an opportunity to visit Representatives Henry Waxman, Paul Kanjorski, and Peter Deutsch and Minority Leader Dick Gephardt. Kanjorski is a legislator who engages you in a dialogue, which I appreciated. Too many legislators just sit and listen, sometimes with a perfunctory nod or with glazed eye contact, never letting you know what's lurking in their minds.

Waxman's meeting was difficult. He is a perfect argument against twelve-year term limits -- maybe the only such argument left in the House. With a superb voting record, including reasoned votes against NAFTA and WTO, he was undecided on China. He told us that Clinton, who spearheaded the WTO though Congress, called to lobby him, starting the conversation with the beguiling words, "Henry, I know the WTO sucks," and then giving his pitch as to why Waxman should vote yes, which he eventually did. Gephardt, as the leader of the Democrats, was against giving up the annual congressional review of whether to grant China most-favored-nation treatment, for reasons of human rights, worker abuses, and trade violations. Some Democrats thought that Gephardt took this position but didn't twist arms because he really didn't mind losing, which would get the corporate interests and the White House off his back. I was unable to judge the accuracy of this widespread belief in anti-corporate globalization circles that went back to the struggles over NAFTA and GATT. Certainly, Gephardt did not restrain his energetic deputy David Bonior, and it is not Gephardt's personality to be a Sam Rayburn or a Lyndon Johnson. When I asked Gephardt why Clinton continued to fight his own party in the House on these unfair-trade matters and side with the global corporations against labor and environmental groups, he replied without hesitation, "Because he is selfish." As for our campaign, Gephardt did not seem displeased at all, knowing what we knew at the time, that control of the House would be decided by about a dozen very close House races and that a Green spillover vote in those districts, where Greens were not running, would likely help the Democratic incumbents or challengers.

On May 12 we flew to New York for interviews with the impressive Beth Gardner of the Associated Press and her energetic photographer, who spoke almost as fast as she clicked the camera. All we could manage at the New York Times was a meeting with the paper's chief political writer, Jim Roberts. No reporter was assigned, and the editorial board, which invites candidates for various federal, state, and local offices for Q and A, did not invite me. This was just the beginning of the high-hat treatment from the folks on West Forty- Third Street.

The next interview was pure substance and pleasure. It was conducted by Bob Kuttner, co- editor of the American Prospect magazine and a columnist for Business Week and the Washington Post. Kuttner is a liberal political economist who appears congenial to insurgencies as represented by the Greens, but always returns to the Democratic Party fold of which he is often a strong critic. He later wrote that he'd "hold his nose" and vote for Gore in Massachusetts.

That evening we went to two fund-raisers in New York, one by young adults who read The Nation and Village Voice and the other by young adults who read The Economist and Wall Street Journal.

We flew out of Baltimore on Southwest Airlines to Providence, Rhode Island. Two round- rip tickets cost a combined total of $294. Southwest Airlines 'saved our campaign money and was our preferred airline everywhere we went that it had routes. Its passenger mix is diverse, boisterous, and friendly. When people on the plane expressed astonishment that we travel Southwest, which is all coach, I gave them so many reasons, it sounded like a promotion for the company. It is a low-cost airline with good service, and relatively new and well-maintained planes; it gives its employees discretion and stock; it has a few seats facing backward, which I like for conversation; and it shows the nation that without this airline, the mindless scope of deregulation would be more of a disaster. With all this, Southwest, by charging less and providing good service, made more profits in 2000 than United, US Airways, and Northwest Airlines combined. I also like the way Southwest usually answers its phones at all hours immediately with live, responsive human beings.

The grind continued, but it was exhilarating. On May 15 historian Richard Walton of the Providence Greens met us at the airport and drove us to the State House Building for a press conference with Greens Greg Gerritt and Tony Affigne. We then went over to the State House Rotunda, which, as a backdrop for a political speech, is without peer in the Country. Picture a two-level rotunda, split by stairs, where your voice is amplified and enhanced. Then pack it with scores of cheering partisans and a full brace of television cameras and reporters. What an incredible experience! Every time I made a point, the folks roared in response. When I spoke out against a local corporate welfare scheme to build yet another mall on the backs of taxpayers, the roar broke the sound barrier. Looking up at the assemblage of people of all ages, holding posters and banners, with eager and hopeful expressions on their faces, ready to volunteer and spread the message for a responsive politics, I thought of the great murals of yesteryear depicting such rallies against the entrenched interests.
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 17838
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Next

Return to Ralph Nader

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest