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One year ago, Ralph Nader on an Obama

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to The Real News Network and our live coverage from the McClatchy offices in Washington, DC. Now joining us is—or was—presidential candidate Ralph Nader. Thanks for joining us, Ralph.

RALPH NADER, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you, Paul.

JAY: So I can’t say, "Can you give a concession speech?" ’cause I can’t even think of "Ralph Nader" and the word "concession" in the same sentence. So tell us where you’re at. What do you make of the results so far? We’re looking like, so far, an Obama victory, but maybe landslide. So just give us how are you feeling and what are you thinking.

NADER: Well, I’ve campaigned all 50 states on the Nader-Gonzales independent ticket. And so we have our policy. We campaign with people. We take stands on local issues. We support people struggling for justice. We don’t expect them to be spectators as we roll through town and countryside. And what we’re seeing is the highest level of resignation and apathy and powerlessness I’ve ever seen. It’s like—.

JAY: More people would argue the other way. And I wonder if Bill and Tom would agree with you.

NADER: No, no, no. See, we’re not talking about hoopla; we’re not talking about hope; we’re not talking about rhetoric; we’re not talking about rock star Obama. We’re talking about the question that is asked everywhere I go: what is left for the American people to decide, other than their own personal lives, under more restrictive circumstances year after year? And the answer is: almost nothing, because there is no powerful organization that turns the most powerful branch of government around, the Congress, 535 people who put their shoes on every day like you and I do, against the 1,500 or so corporations that are going to get their way. Congress is the most susceptible to change, and there’s nothing out there, and we have to organize it out there. And that’s why tomorrow we’re opening a website, november5.org, to organize Congress action groups. And we can’t do it by ourselves by a long measure. Plus we want to provide technical and organizational assistance. So we have 10 major overdue changes in this country: living wage, full Medicare, crackdown on corporate crime, public funding of public elections, getting out of the war, demilitarizing foreign policy, redirecting corporate subsidies and bloated military budgets to public works, creating good jobs on the ground that can’t be exported to China and changing our whole global trade agreement monstrosity that subordinates labor, consumer, and environmental standards. So this is what really has to happen. This is show business, what you’re seeing here.

JAY: This being we can go to a shot of the TV here. In fact, I’ll switch it to CNN just seeing as you’re talking about show business. Or I could go to Fox, I suppose.

NADER: Yeah. The only point of this election is the Democrats have no more excuses. They’re in control the White House, heavy control over Congress. They’re always whining. For 40 years they’ve promised to turn the country around, to give us universal health care and do something about the military-industrial complex and living wage and, you know, energy. And all these things just get worse every year—more deficits, more energy dependence, more poor people. A hundred million poor people in this country, and they’re ignored by the first African-American to become president of the United States. That’s how bad corporate domination of our society is. And he’s taken more money by far than McCain from Wall Street corporate and commercial interests. Why are they investing in Barack Obama?

TOM MORRIS, HOST, CAPITOL HILL BLUES: Do you believe he’s going to ignore them as president too?

NADER: I think he has shown—. Here’s my view. If you don’t pay attention while you’re a candidate, the chances of suddenly becoming a populist, you know, Paul Wellstone or whatever are very, very slim. Second of all, he doesn’t have a transforming personality. He doesn’t like to take on power. That’s why he uses the word "harmony," "unity," and, "We’re all one nation and one people." And that’s a good tactic, but I think it’s more than a tactic. I think his record in the state senate in Illinois and in the US Senate is that he doesn’t like to take on power. And if you don’t take on power, you know, the corporate power that dominates every department in our government, you’re going nowhere, because they control the budget, they control the priorities, they have heavy control on the media. I can be an expert in testifying to that, the way network TV blocked us out. I mean, it’s just incredible. The New York Times—two articles in eight months on Nader-Gonzales campaign. Huge rally on Wall Street on the bailout.

JAY: Bill, in our earlier segment both you and Tom were saying this is one of the most nervous nights of your lives, you know, full of anticipation about an Obama victory. So what do you make of what Ralph was saying?

BILL FLETCHER, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, BLACK COMMENTATOR: Well, there’s a lot that I agree in terms of conclusions, in terms of what needs to be done. But I look at it somewhat differently. I think that there is a feeling of powerlessness among many people. And the danger, as we’ve discussed before, is when people have invested in this one individual all of their hopes. That is a real danger, because essentially people were saying they want you to take care of this for us. Now, the caveat to this is this, that this is—one of the reasons that I and other progressives decided to support him is that Obama would say to people that "You need to organize." And we need to take him up on that. We need to say just—. It was almost like when Franklin Roosevelt, that very famous quote from Roosevelt, when he said, "If I ever went to work in a factory, the first thing I would do would be to join a union," and the Congress of Industrial Organizations took that quote, put it on fliers, and thousands and thousands of those were circulated to reinforce their position about organizing. We need to take this notion of "You go out there and organize," and that’s our mandate for the president. That’s him speaking to us about what we need to do.

JAY: I don’t want to put words in your mouth, Ralph, but Ralph is saying don’t create illusions about Obama even now, and certainly even during the whole election campaign.

NADER: Well, first of all, look at all the speeches. He never mentions the poor. It’s the Clinton approach: just middle class, which is shrinking, by the way. What is it about Obama, who was a community organizer, and he knows the score? He completely changes his focus, which he takes from millions of people who are looking to him for focus, and takes it away from, just for starters, 100 million people in this country who are underpaid, overcharged. They die earlier ’cause they don’t have health care. They do the dirty work for us, the dangerous work. You know, they fight our criminal wars overseas. To me, you can’t just say this is tactical. I know that Willie Brown said the other day, when I was on a stage with him, he said he has to get elected. It doesn’t work that way. He was against the embargo on Cuba. He goes to South Florida. He says he’s for the embargo. He was against offshore drilling; he says he’s now for offshore drilling. He was against snooping on Americans without a warrant, and he still voted for FISA [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] and the Patriot Act.

JAY: So the question is: what’s the mandate?

NADER: There is no mandate. It’s a landslide without a mandate. I mean, that’s the tragedy of it. And Bill and I believe that nothing’s going to change without on-the-ground, very laser-like organization, where you focus on the big lever, which is the Congress. You know, it’s manageable. It’s 535. And corporations are powerful, but they don’t have a single vote. We’re the ones that have the vote. But it’s not focused. The two-party system is a prison, and it’s got the voters in a slavery situation. It makes the voters become masochistic voters. How many more times, decade after decade, they vote for these two parties who betrayed them and basically turned the government over to large corporations?

MORRIS: Well, Mr. Nader, with all due respect, don’t you think that what we’ve seen with this campaign is the awakening of the little people, of the masses, regardless of whether they’re supporting this one messianic sort of personality?

NADER: Yeah.

MORRIS: But how do you split the difference between a Ralph Nader who has always stood for the grassroots, for the common people, for the environment, for all these things—how do you split the difference between what Barack Obama is doing to get into the White House and what Ralph Nader represents? How do you split that difference if you’re Barack Obama?

NADER: Well, he did say you can’t get change unless you get people excited about change. But, I mean, that’s a very clever statement, because, look it, politicians have gotten huge crowds, roaring and roaring, and when they put down their last words, the crowds drift away, never to come back. That’s the problem. Look, is there a tenants movement in this country? Is there a poor people’s movement? Is there affordable housing? How many people are working for a full Medicare for all, right? The antiwar movement takes off every four years in deference to the Democratic nominee, so that’s gone. The military-industrial complex is exploding. It’s got half of the federal government budget. Now here’s my point. When he gets a status of president-elect, you’ve got to watch the signs: Who’s going to be his transition team? Who are going to be his appointees? And who does he invite? I guarantee you he will not invite me for a single meeting. That’s the litmus paper test. He went to work for one of our groups when he graduated from Columbia University.

JAY: Let me interrupt you for just one second.

NADER: I don’t mean appoint me. I mean just he will have all kinds of consultants.

MORRIS: But you won’t be one of them.

NADER: I will not be one of them.

JAY: Well, you will be for us, and we’re going to come back in just a minute to continue this conversation, ’cause even if President Obama doesn’t invite you, we are. Join us in a couple of minutes for this next segment of our live coverage from Washington on president-elect-probably Obama and presidential-candidate-almost Nader in a minute.

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