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Ralph Nader: Time for a broad coalltion to push Congress towards policy that most Americans can agree on

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore. We’re back with our coverage of the U.S. presidential elections.

And now joining us for his views on tonight and the next four years—and he would probably like to speak about more than the next four years, and that (we’re actually switching, yes, thank you very much) is Ralph Nader. Ralph is coming in by phone. So we just have his picture up. But Ralph almost needs no introduction, I think. But for those who do, he’s a longtime consumer activist, political activist, a former candidate for president. In fact, he ran six times. And his latest book is The Seventeen Solutions, which lays out his prescription for curing America’s social and economic ills—I think we should probably add in environmental. Thanks for joining us, Ralph.


JAY: So, first of all, just in terms of the horse race of it, it’s—we’re doing this interview around—what is it?—about 10:10. How’s it look?

NADER: It looks good for Obama, I guess. And it looks like Elizabeth Warren’s going to win. And Tammy Baldwin is leading. So the sense is that they’ll keep the Senate. The House they’re going to lose. And so it’ll be the same configuration, unless Perry Reed limits the filibuster. Senator McConnell will be the effective ruler of the Senate. So even if Obama gets reelected, he’s still going to have a problem partly of his making, that he allowed the Republicans in 2010 to take over the House.

JAY: And in terms of—a lot of people are talking about the grand bargain that President Obama might be planning, especially on Social Security. And I mentioned this earlier in the broadcast. President Obama did meet with some conservative columnists right after he was elected—George Will and some others—and sort of promised them: when the time’s right, I am going to take on the entitlement program, and Social Security will be on the table. What do you make of that as a question?

NADER: Well, he went to George Will’s home for dinner with these right-wing extreme columnists, and he thought he was going to sort of neutralize them a bit, and they’ve been beating up on him ever since. So he always caters to those who aren’t on his side and turns his back on those who support him. That’s the problem.

This is not a grand bargain. This is a grand fallback, a grand concession, because there’s no reason why the tax cuts have to be restored. They’re going to expire. So he doesn’t have to do anything. And there would be expiration of the tax cuts on the wealthy, and even on the rest of the middle class. But if he pushes for a minimum wage, you know, for 30 million workers who are getting less, adjusted for inflation, than workers got all of 44 years ago (talk about going backwards into the future), that will help the lower-income people. And they don’t pay much federal income tax anyway, ’cause they don’t make enough.

As far as this sequestration for the Pentagon, what’s wrong with that? Fifty billion more cuts in the most bloated budgetary sector in American history? I mean, there are retired admirals and generals who can point out hundreds of billions of dollars of cuts—outmoded weapons that were designed for the Soviet era of hostility still being built, huge cost overruns, F-22, more nuclear subs, the boondoggle F-35. What are we doing spending $80 billion a year keeping our soldiers in Western Europe and East Asia over 60 years after World War II? Who are we defending—against who? Are we defending against Moldova, Inner Mongolia, these countries we’re in, Japan and Germany and England? They can defend themselves if they need to.

So this idea that, you know, you have to have austerity and concession with the Republicans on the people who can least bear the burdens, millions and millions of lower-income people, shrinking middle class, is nonsense. But that’s the atmosphere that Obama’s creating. And I’ll tell you, when he says everything’s on the table, it’s going to be Medicare, Medicaid. And Social Security and Medicaid and Medicare, he’s not talking about not cutting benefits. Oh, no. He’ll want to, you know, extend ages and cut benefits.

They should cut the overcharging, the redundant medicine, the excess overdiagnosis, all the things that reflect the perverse incentives of a fee-for-service system lathered with totally aggressive and wasteful hospital chains.

JAY: Your book The Seventeen Solutions, I guess you’re suggesting some of them here, but talk about a few of them. And also, what of these solutions do you think people should be campaigning for, fighting for? And do you see any possibility of any of these seventeen solutions being supported by an Obama administration?

NADER: Yeah. The subtext of this book, Paul: it’s a lot easier than people think to turn the country around.

First of all, we have huge majorities behind major redirections, even though the two parties don’t like to remind us, ’cause they like to polarize in order to preserve their base. We have, for example, huge support for ending the commercialization of childhood and undermining parents and, basically, raising kids to be corporate consumer units, very, very vulnerable to emotional ads, aggressive ads, violent ads, junkfood, junkdrink, obesity. There’s huge support for getting corporations off welfare left and right. There’s huge support for cracking down on corporate crime, Wall Street to Houston.

There’s huge support for invading the invasion of our privacies, you know, the Patriot Act. You know, they want to invade the Patriot Act and change it. That’s from Ron Paul to Chris Hedges.

There is huge support for rebuilding and repairing America. What chamber of commerce, what labor union doesn’t want the schools and public buildings and public works and infrastructure and, you know, drinking water systems, sewage systems, public transit? What groups in any community don’t want that?

Reducing our bloated military budget. Yeah, there’s quite a few people that think that these contractors are stealing their way to the bank.

So this book, it doesn’t just point out majoritarian directions that are ignored by the two parties; it points out how to get there. And one of the key points is the 14th one, organizing congressional watchdog groups, ’cause if you turn Congress around—and that’s a lot easier, with 535 members, than trying to take on a whole corporatized executive branch butocracy. But the Congress, you know, it has the most important powers—war-making power, taxing power, spending power, investigative power, [incompr.] power. So if you turn those 535 around or just a majority of them, you begin turning the whole ship around. And there’s [crosstalk] home to do that.

JAY: Except, if anything—but, if anything, Congress is going in the other direction. I mean, why do you think—I mean, I know the Democratic—a lot of the Democratic congressmen are not supporting the 17-point plan, and many of the ones that are going down to defeat kind of were part of the rhetoric of the last four years. But, still, the Democrats can’t even win Congress. Why do you think he can turn it around with this kind of agenda?

NADER: Because you get a convergence of liberals and conservatives and progressives and libertarians on a lot of these issues. That becomes a really powerful movement on members of Congress.

I remember we defeated in 1983 the notorious Clinch River Breeder Reactor Project in Tennessee, and we were given no chance. But then we joined with conservatives, who showed it was a boondoggle economically, and then we went with the liberals, who went after the hazards and the technical deficiencies, and in a stunning upset we blocked it and stopped it forever.

Now, there’s a lot of potential on this. It won’t come from the two parties. It will come from people back home who say, look, regardless of the labels, on this, this, this, this we’re going to agree. We may disagree on that, that, that, that, but we’re going to agree on this, this, this, this. And let me tell you, this, this, this, this—I’m just giving you some of the examples in this book, Seventeen Solutions—are a heck of a start. And I think you could even get a collaborative effort across ideologies in congressional districts on taxing Wall Street speculation, derivatives, the things that crashed the economy, especially if that money can go back and help rebuild the communities.

JAY: So are you talking about kind of running—I don’t know what you would call it—united-front candidates of some kind that are outside the two parties?

NADER: No, you wouldn’t have to run candidates. Let me tell you, I’ve said if you have a strong core in every congressional district, say, 1,000 people, and they represent majority support in their district for item A, B, C, D, I don’t care who’s in Congress, as long as they can read and write. They’re going to have to toe the line. I saw this happen in the ’60s with totally business-dominated senators and representatives, and when the heat started with rallies and demonstrations and sit-ins, you can’t believe how many of them turned around and they became environmental consumer champions. Remember, they passed Medicare and Medicaid—didn’t pass single-payer or full Medicare, as Dr. Margaret Flowers will point out in a moment and Kevin Zeese.

But try doing that today, because there isn’t anything out there. There’s nowhere to go but up. I mean, the Occupy movement scared the hell out of them for three months. You know, it couldn’t swell its ranks, as Kevin knows. The whole number of Occupy people in marches and demonstrations and encampments never—it was more than 250,000 people, and, you know, they were front burner, mass media, inequality, 99 percent. What if there were 3 million people?

So we’ve got to get people to realize, you want to look your children and grandchildren in the eye? Then you’d better get self-respect and show up. And nobody can stop you from showing up to town meetings and rallies and marches and courtrooms and surround congressional offices back home and psuh the minimum wage up to $10.50 and so forth. Nobody can stop you from doing that. People make so many excuses for themselves about how powerless they are. Alice Walker once said, people are powerless because they’ve convinced themselves they don’t have any power. But they do. You know, the Constitution doesn’t start, “We the Corporation,” does it? It starts, “We the People.”

JAY: Not yet. Thanks very much for joining us, Ralph.

NADER: Thank you. And read Seventeen Solutions. It’s easier than you think, people. And tune in to Real News, because what else is there?

JAY: Thanks very much.

NADER: Thanks, Paul.

JAY: Okay. Thanks. And we’ll take a short break, and then we’re going to be back with more coverage of the U.S. presidential elections on The Real News Network.


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