Days of Revolt: The Death of Electoral Politics
In this episode of teleSUR’s Days of Revolt, Chris Hedges and Ralph Nader analyze Bernie Sanders’ campaign and the role of the two-party system in shutting out third parties.
CHRIS HEDGES, DAYS OF REVOLT: Hi. Welcome to Days of Revolt.
This is part two of my conversation with Ralph Nader, the author of Unstoppable: The Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State, as well as Unanswered Letters to the President, 2001-2015. Ralph of course was a former presidential candidate, has been a longtime consumer rights activist, lawyer. And today we’re going to discuss the phenomenon of third parties and the candidacy of Bernie Sanders and what’s happening within the Democratic Party as we approach our own presidential elections.
Thank you, Ralph.
RALPH NADER: Thank you.
HEDGES: In our first segment we talked about what John Ralston Saul correctly calls the corporate coup d’état in slow motion, which locked out your ability to carry out advocacy on behalf of citizens and promote a range of legislation that protected workers and the environment. And that pushed you in 1996 to essentially use the platform of a third-party candidacy to raise these issues throughout the country. Again you ran in 2000, terrifying the Democratic establishment, who then set out to destroy you personally, blaming you for swinging the election to Bush, although, of course, he was appointed by judicial fiat, and of course the votes–and he won Florida; even Al Gore says he now won Florida–were never counted. We forget that Gore won 500,000 more popular votes than Bush, but because of the Electoral College, it didn’t count. And they really–they worked hard in every single way not only to demonize you, but challenge your voting lists, ratchet up your legal fees. If anybody was going to be able to build a third party, it was going to be you, and I think 2000 showed that there was tremendous momentum for that.
Is it possible now, in this political configuration, given the unassailability of corporate power, for a third party to actually even mount a serious challenge? And I should add that I asked Senator Sanders, along with Kshama Sawant, why he would not run as an independent, which would allow him to attack the Democratic establishment, and in particular Hillary Clinton and the Clintons, who are complicit in this destruction of our democracy and subservience of government to corporate power, and he said, I don’t want to end up like Ralph Nader.
NADER: Well, the voters in this country have been placed in a two-party prison. It’s a two-party tyranny. There’s no Western country that puts more obstacles in the pathway of third-party independent candidates to get on the ballot, or even voters to vote–voter suppression.
HEDGES: And give us some examples of what they do.
NADER: Yeah. Well, before I do that, I just want to say that third parties in American history were first out of the box of justice to oppose slavery in 1840, the Liberty Party, women’s right to vote, labor, farmer. All this started with the proliferation of small parties, and then, sooner or later, one of the two major parties finally picked it up. If you talk about Social Security, Medicare, regulation of big business, 40 hour week, the right of workers to form unions, all that was ignored by the two major parties.
HEDGES: It came out of the Progressive Party.
NADER: It came out of the Progressive Party, before that the Populist Party.
So one would think that with that legacy of success, that the last half of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century would really be the best time for third parties. But the two parties are tyrannical. They’re dictatorial. And they put in state after state huge barriers to get on the ballot–thousands and thousands of signatures. And when you get them, they just throw them out on technical, dubious grounds. And so it is now harder than ever in American history is to have a chance to have a chance to build a third party, not just to get on on one election cycle, but to build. You have a winner-take-all system. So you get 48 percent, you end up with nothing. In Germany, you get over 5 percent for the Green Party, they get over 5 percent of the members of parliament–proportional representation.
I’ll just give you one story out of Ohio. A woman got 5,000 signatures in 2004 during the Kerry-Bush contest, and they were all invalidated by the state government on the grounds that her signature at the bottom of the petitions at age 52 didn’t match her signature when she registered to vote and she was 21 years old. And they invalidated 5,000 signatures.
HEDGES: And we should be clear that this is both a Democratic as well as a Republican initiative. Right.
NADER: Oh, yeah. Yeah. It doesn’t matter. They lie about counting votes. They miscount votes. Voting machines are going to plague the next election in 2016.
HEDGES: And they fix the debates.
NADER: Yeah, and they leave you off the debates, even though national polls wanted me and Buchanan on the debates, for example, in the year 2000. It didn’t matter, ’cause–.
HEDGES: Well, I wouldn’t want to debate you, Ralph.
NADER: Well, the debate commission is a private corporation created by the two parties in 1987 to get rid of the League of Women Voters–used to run the debates and were considered too uppity and too independent. They control everything–which reporters are going to be chosen, how many debates, who can get on, who can’t get on. So it’s totally corrupt.
I mean, the idea of calling our elections democratic elections is total farce. You cannot have democratic elections without competitive elections.
HEDGES: Right. And I think, as you pointed out, that these third-party movements were vital in terms of instituting reform, because as they grew, they put pressure on the establishment. This is essentially what Franklin Delano Roosevelt was. He was a member of the oligarchic elite who felt and responded to that pressure.
NADER: By Norman Thomas, the Socialist Party. Yeah.
HEDGES: Exactly. And there was a 1930 letter that Roosevelt writes to a friend where he said, if we don’t institute these kinds of reforms, then we’re going to get revolution. Capitalism has broken down. And he went to his fellow oligarchs and he said, you’d better give up some of your money or you might lose all of your money. And that’s how we got 15 million jobs, government-created jobs. That’s how we got Social Security. That’s how we got the public works projects, which created our post offices and our national parks.
But by breaking the possibility of third parties, we’ve broken the possibility of that kind of pressure on the corporate elite.
NADER: Once they control the two parties, who in turn have passed laws that control the access by competitors, small parties, independent candidates, it’s over.
And what happens is it internalizes itself in the voters’ minds. The voters go to the polls and they say, we don’t like either party, but one party’s a little better than the other or not as bad as the other. I mean, look at–half the people don’t even vote. You know, 65 percent of people want a viable third party. So it’s not like they’re enthralled by the two parties. But they want to be with a winner. They don’t want to, quote, waste their vote. So this is the mass psychology that builds in where the people are their worst enemy, because they have allowed themselves to be cornered in this cul-de-sac where the label is least worst. That’s all you can do.
HEDGES: [incompr.] you point out, every election cycle, that bar is lower.
NADER: That’s right. Once you signal through the polls that you’re going to vote for the least worst, say, the Democrat over the Republican, you lose your bargaining power. And the Democrat leadership doesn’t even look back, ’cause they know you’ve got nowhere to go. You have admitted you’ve got nowhere to go. I just tell people, if they’re called by pollsters in a presidential year, in February, March, April, May, why do they give it away? Why don’t they say they want to vote for the Green Party or the Libertarian Party? They can do whatever they want in the privacy in November in absentee voting.
Now, who isn’t giving it away? It’s the corporate lobbyists. The corporate lobbyists basically are pulling 24-7 on both parties. And if one of the parties defies them, they’re not going to say, oh, I’m going to go with the least worst. They’re going to challenge the party. They’re going to try to defeat the party. So it’s an uneven tug-of-war.
And the aftermath of the year 2000 campaign was the greatest revelation to me of how corrupt the liberal intelligentsia and the Democratic Party. Two days after the refusal to allow the Florida Supreme Court to recount the ballots imposed by five-four majority of the Supreme Court, Senator Joe–.
HEDGES: Which had no legal precedent.
NADER: No legal precedent. Senator Joe Biden was heard to say, Ralph Nader’s responsible for Bush winning–watch this–and he’d better not come up to Capitol Hill anymore.
NADER: And so I used to be asked to testify constantly. I’ve only testified five times in the last 15 years.
NADER: I even wanted to testify against the Republican nominees for the Supreme Court, like Alito and Roberts and others, ’cause I had things that no one else was saying that was critical. And the Democrats in the Senate Judiciary Committee kept me from testifying. They’re willing to take these horrible Supreme Court nominees because they were so hung up on the year 2000. But you would think that they wouldn’t double-deal the public, they would at least be antagonistic to the corporate interests that are making a mockery out of their public trust as senators and representatives. But they’re really only interested in reelection and the absence of any primary challenger.
HEDGES: Well, and making money. I mean, Obama’s sitting around the White House planning his two presidential libraries at a cost of $500 million and getting ready for his $150,000 or $200,000 speaking fees.
NADER: Speeches. Yeah. It’s called the “golden aftermath” that Clinton took advantage of, and with the Clinton Foundation getting all this money.
HEDGES: Oh, I remember during one of your campaigns you explaining to me that the importance of mounting a third-party challenge was not that you necessarily won, but that you got 5, 10, 15 million committed people who openly revolted, defected from the establishment to support a progressive agenda, and that was the only way that we were going to put pressure on the establishment, and in particular the Democratic establishment, by making them afraid.
NADER: But, you see, that didn’t work, because they don’t allow growth, unlike nature, which allows seeds to sprout. If a third party starts getting traction, it comes up against a bunch of hurdles where it can never grow. Even if it gets 4 percent, for example, in the first round, it can never grow. The only way a third party’s going to get underway in this country is with a multibillionaire. Ross Perot got 19 million votes. But even he didn’t get one electoral vote.
HEDGES: You grew in 2000, and then they declared open war against you.
HEDGES: I mean, I remember, I think, you held–tell me if I have this story right–you held a rally at Madison Square Garden, but you really didn’t have any money to rent Madison Square Garden, and so you charged everyone $5 at the door and you filled it up.
NADER: Yeah, it was jammed.
HEDGES: And, I mean, that must have just put the fear of God in the Democratic establishment.
HEDGES: And I think that’s one of the things that many people don’t realize is that ever since 2000, the people who’ve hated you the most are not the Republicans, or maybe even the corporatists, but the Democrats.
NADER: And their lackeys in the media. I mean, I couldn’t believe–we had huge rallies in front of Wall Street, literally in front of the New York Stock Exchange, when the economy was collapsing in 2008 in the fall because of Wall Street crimes and deceptions and greed, and I just barely got an article in The New York Times. It was on the obituary page. It was not up front. This is the major industry in New York City collapsing the whole economy. And The Times somehow couldn’t put it on page one or in the A Section. And that was true all over the country in the sense that you really got the sense of who runs a lot of these newspapers. And maybe most of the publishers are Republican, but most of the editors and reporters are Democrats. And they showed a bias that was stunning. We filled huge arenas in Minneapolis, Saint Paul, in Boston, in Oakland, in Southern California, and got almost no press. And no other candidate, Republican or Democrat, ever came close. They wouldn’t even have those arenas, ’cause they couldn’t fill the empty seats.
HEDGES: You’ve been on this issue probably before almost anyone–why is the environmental movement, it appears from the outside, pushed you out?
NADER: Well, first of all, they’ve bought into only one of two major party candidates can win. You take the least worst. They’ve said they’re not supporting an independent. They’re not even abstaining.
But the point is: where does this ever end? Every four years it simply gets worse. The parties get more and more corporate-indentured.
HEDGES: And Obama drills like Sarah Palin. He opened up the Arctic until Shell didn’t want it. He’s opened up the Florida coastline, the public lands.
NADER: And the only reason he didn’t support the XL pipeline–this is a good lesson–is because of the demonstrations and the protests and 1,500 people being arrested in one day around the White House. Let me tell you, he would have endorsed it right away, but he saw peril in the 2012 election.
HEDGES: So let’s talk about Bernie Sanders.
And I think as a back story, and my own critique of Sanders, is that he has long been a member of the Democratic establishment. He campaigned for Bill Clinton in 1992, again in 1996 after Clinton passed things like NAFTA, assault on the prison–you know, exploding the prison population, attacks on welfare. He campaigned for the Democrats in 2004, indeed in 2004 announced that you should not be running for president as a third-party candidate. This was the supporter of John Kerry, who was out-Bushing Bush on Iraq–he wouldn’t have withdrawn from Fallujah. Bernie has supported in his voting record, despite his rhetoric, almost all military appropriations bills, funding for the NSA, funding for the CIA. There is not a pro-Israel resolution coughed up by the Israel lobby and AIPAC he hasn’t supported. I don’t see how, given the fact that we are being disemboweled by the war industry–Seymour Melman was onto this a long time ago–we can’t talk about creating an egalitarian, a socialist society if we don’t confront the war machine. And he won’t confront it.
And I would like to know how you view his candidacy and what this will mean, especially given his long complicity with the Democrats–and he’s been the main force behind building a third-party candidacy in Vermont; he never supported–and there’s powerful or strong grassroots movements that would like to build a third party in Vermont–what this means for progressives, what this means for us, what it means for those of us who would like to confront corporate power.
NADER: Well, Bernie Sanders has been around a long time. He can see beyond the next hill or around the next corner. And I think I know what his game plan is. Basically he wants to arouse public opinion in a progressive manner domestically. He’s got real problems with military and foreign policy positions that he has not taken progressively, but he wants to build progressive public opinion so that it pulls the Democratic Party a little bit. But he doesn’t want to do this in any way that can take a vote away from the nominee, if you say Hillary Clinton.
So he’s lost his bargaining power electorally when he said he’ll endorse the Democratic nominee five months ago without saying it depends who it is. He would’ve had some bargaining power. So he’s finished in terms of any electoral dynamics when the primary season is over.
HEDGES: You have a theory as to why [incompr.]
NADER: Yeah. But his job now, as he sees it, is to mobilize and focus and elevate the enthusiasm of progressive-minded people.
But here’s where the contradiction is. If you don’t go into the electoral arena to win and you’ve got to go after the leader in the polls, Hillary Clinton–you don’t have to do it nastily, but she’s very vulnerable: a militarist, Wall Street, a corporatist, the worst on her record.
And she said, annihilate the Iranian people, the Iranian–if they have nuclear weapon. I mean, annihilate an entire people, 75 million people? And she said in her last answer to her question on the first debate recently, when they said, what are the enemies you’re most proud of, and she put the Iranians. Imagine if she had said the Israelis or–. It’s just amazing how she can get away with stuff like that.
But here’s the contradiction, Chris. If he doesn’t go electorally in a serious way to win, then he’s setting up millions of Americans and young Americans for a huge morale collapse when in April or May he appears on the stage with Hillary Clinton, if she’s the nominee and the winner of the primaries, and he endorses her. And then he is folded into the whole Clinton-war-Wall Street machine. He goes back to the Senate as a hero. He has a little more influence in the Senate. Maybe he’ll get two senators to sign on to his single-payer bill. He couldn’t get one other senator to sign on to his single-payer bill.
HEDGES: He voted for Obamacare, though.
NADER: Yeah. And he has a huge mailing list. And he continues his merry way.
So he’s got to be called to account here. Look, Bernie, you’ve got to go all the way. You’ve got to take it to November. And he says, no, I’m not going to take it to November, I’m not going to be responsible for the defeat of the Democratic Party.
HEDGES: Well, but he’s part of the Democrat–he sits on the caucus. He has seniority. The Democrats, in a quid pro quo, do not mount serious candidates against him in Vermont, and in return he doesn’t support third-party candidacies, including your own.
NADER: And here’s the nub. The Democratic establishment and their political operatives are amused by Bernie Sanders. They’re not fearful of him. Because he’s given up his bargaining power and says he’s going to support the Democratic nominee. He’s not going to go independent. He’s not going to support a third party. So they’re amused. Why are they amused? Because he’s going to get more votes out for Hillary Clinton.
HEDGES: But isn’t he just giving Hillary Clinton her talking points week by week, I think you pointed out?
NADER: Yes. What Hillary Clinton now is doing is to camouflage her corporatist and military crimes and misdeeds. She basically is learning how to mimic Bernie Sanders with his language. So she is now for a minimum wage increase. Well, we couldn’t get her to come out for a minimum wage increase sponsored by the Democrats, $10.10 an hour, until May of last year. And we have to get women’s groups and children’s protection groups to again and again appeal to her.
HEDGES: Well, she opposes the TPP, sort of,–,
HEDGES: –you know, after largely being one of the engines behind its creation.
NADER: Behind NAFTA, behind the World Trade Organization. She supported the deregulation of Wall Street by her husband, Bill Clinton, never challenged the corruption and the greed that led to the collapse on the economy. This is a tragic period in American history.
HEDGES: So let’s say this scenario that you suggest plays out, which I expect it will–and it’s one of the reasons why I’ve been very critical of Bernie Sanders. So it does play out. What does that mean for us if this kind of moral and physical collapse with Bernie selling out to the Clintons and the Democratic establishment–what are the consequences of that?
NADER: The consequences are he doesn’t mean what he says, therefore he’ll come across as a betrayer of millions of people who went to his rallies and are telling pollsters he’s our choice, because he has entered the two-party prison and basically says, I’ll drop all my principles because I think the Republicans are worse than the Democrats.
HEDGES: Well, I think he’s already shown that he is in that prison.
NADER: Oh, yeah, he is in the prison. But he–.
HEDGES: He’s completely consistent.
NADER: Yes, but he still has an opportunity to get out of it.
The interesting thing is if you’re going to be in the prison, for heaven’s sake, attack the Electoral College, where you can come in second and become president, which in effect accentuates the red state-blue state polarization. You know, the Democrats never campaign in Texas or Alaska or Alabama. The Republicans never campaign in Massachusetts, New York, or California. All this is the Electoral College, and gerrymandering as well. But he’s not doing that even.
HEDGES: But he’s giving credibility to the Democratic establishment and to Hillary Clinton.
NADER: Yeah. Here’s the easiest bar which he’s not willing to set. Let’s say he’s lost the primaries–but they still want his endorsement, ’cause he has a following. He could say to Hillary Clinton and the corporatist cohorts around her, I’m not endorsing you unless you agree to the following agenda, including a tax on Wall Street speculation. He won’t even do that.
HEDGES: Well, because, Ralph, he knows–I mean, he knows they’d destroy him.
NADER: They couldn’t destroy him.
HEDGES: Well, they could destroy him in Vermont.
NADER: He’s senator for life from Vermont. He gets 20 percent of the Republican vote. He he gets elected with ever-growing numbers. He has a terrific mailing list. He knows how to talk Vermontese.
But if he doesn’t do that, if he doesn’t say, I’m not endorsing you unless you share a press conference with me, and seriously, and support this agenda that I have put before millions of heartened and enlivened American voters, especially the young generation, if he doesn’t do that, he’s going to go down as a total wimp, a totally complicit person with the subsequent crimes of the Hillary Clinton administration–wars overseas, destroying the public budgets for the military expenses, compromising and restricting our civil liberties, continuing the bailout economy of the rich and powerful.
HEDGES: Alright. Thank you, Ralph Nader.
And thank you for watching Days of Revolt.
DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.
Producer – Kayla Rivara
Associate Producer – Dharna Noor, Thomas Hedges
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Transcription – John McLeod