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Ralph Nader speaks on an Obama presidency

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to the live coverage of The Real News Network from Washington, DC. We’re in the McClatchy offices. And we are talking to Ralph Nader, who is tomorrow—Ralph Nader, after doing one of these marathon campaign events, is already starting on November 5. It makes me tired even thinking about what you’re doing, Nader. We’re also joined by Tom Morris and Bill Fletcher. Ralph, we were just talking about what exactly is the mandate. I would say there is a mandate. The mandate is essentially what he campaigned for, which is a fairly conventional set of policies. You said when we ended that he wouldn’t invite you as an adviser.

RALPH NADER, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Just to meet him.

JAY: Have you asked?

NADER: I’m the canary bird.

JAY: Yeah. Bill, you wanted to talk more about the mandate. Why don’t you pick it up?

BILL FLETCHER, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, BLACK COMMENTATOR: Yeah. See, I think that this is the way I see the mandate, that if Obama is elected—and I’m still in that "if" camp, ’cause to me it ain’t over till it’s over—it is that people want someone that is going to look out for the regular working person and address the economy. And they certainly want a change in the relationship of the United States to the rest of the world. It’s at that vague level, but it’s significant. And why I say it’s significant is that it represents—it’s clearly a rejection of Bush and the September 2002 national security strategy doctrine. But it also actually represents a rejection of Clinton, because what we’re looking at right now is not simply economic devastation brought on by eight years of Bush; it’s eight years of Clinton, Bush the first, and Reagan, that whole thing. And there’s this—.

JAY: Which has given us this financial meltdown, economic meltdown.

FLETCHER: Given us this financial meltdown, but also paved the way for US adventurism overseas. I mean, it’s not just Bush’s madness that we have to look at. So there’s this very partially defined, I’d say, desire, quote-slash, mandate that I believe he will have. Now, the problem is that there’s insufficient levels of organization at the base. And one of the reasons that I remain committed to the union movement is that I feel like the unions and why they have to transform is that the unions need to be one of the forces that gets next to him and pushes him and does not do what was done under Clinton. Under Clinton they caved in. They caved in, they demobilized. When welfare repeal took place, they basically issued a press release—no mobilization, no educating our members about what the implications were, right? There was a fear of criticizing Clinton because, quote-unquote, "it would give ammunition to the enemy." Well, look, folks, if Obama is elected, the enemy is going to be sharping their knives. The right-wing populists are going to be out there; they’re going to be stirring things up. But the problem is that if we hold back in criticism of Obama, he will continue to move to the right. I mean, there’s just absolutely no question. And I think that Ralph is right that the rhetoric—and this is one issue I also disagreed with with Senator Obama: his rhetoric of accommodation, while rhetorically quite interesting and perhaps tactically useful, is ahistorical. And part of what I think is necessary from people like Ralph, from the labor movement, from others, is to emphasize that it really is struggle that brings about change. And struggle is very difficult, and it’s very unsettling for many people, but it’s what we have to remind people after this election.

TOM MORRIS, HOST, CAPITOL HILL BLUES: I think also he’s going to be up against—the intelligence apparatus of the country is going to be very resistant to change. Now, we may, all around this table, know that Guantanamo Bay, and torture of people, and, you know, eliminating habeas corpus, and all of the things that have been done over the last eight years are wrong. But he’s still going to have to deal with an entrenched national security apparatus, and they are backed by the economic hitmen, if you will, who have a completely different agenda no matter who’s in the White House, and he’s going to have to have people around him who can help undo that resistance, and that’s not going to be easy.

NADER: You know, it’s interesting: he has a very easy act to follow, so it’s easy for him to sound—.

JAY: We were saying that before, that, essentially, conventional politics seems radical next to last eight years.

NADER: Yeah. But notice the third debate, when McCain was baiting him as to whether he’s going to be soft on the military activities abroad, he met McCain head-on in everything: belligerent language to Russia; complete support for the militaristic repression and colonization by the Israeli government.

JAY: I’m going to do something on camera which people don’t usually do, but you’ve got a bug on your shoulder—

NADER: Oh, dear.

JAY: —and it’s not from the CIA.

MORRIS: [inaudible] it’s proof that he’s for the environment—he brings nature with him every day.

NADER: He wants more soldiers in Afghanistan, which is a real misreading of culture. He likes to say he’s got a Kenyan father and he knows third-world culture. Well, you do not conquer these people. This has got to be diplomacy; it’s got to be public works. And his idea of withdrawing from Iraq is a minimum of keeping 50,000 soldiers there and the bases. So, you see, all the signs are not good. How much has he campaigned in Latino and African-American areas? He was up there all over the country with all the cameras. He could have brought such attention to poor areas in this country and he didn’t do it. And, you know, it’s like he is putting forth his own mandate, and he’s going to say to the people, "Here is my mandate. I told you about what I was going to do in foreign affairs, increase the military budget, bail out the Wall Street swindlers and crooks." That’s the way he’s going to interpret it. The question is: who’s going to pull in the direction of the necessities of the people? Because the corporations are pulling [24/7] in the other direction.

JAY: But is there something, a kind of a new situation, the extent of this financial meltdown and the economic crisis seems like it’s going to be so profound that it’s really uncharted waters for everybody, including all the financial elite and all of the elite. And so, in a sense, if he actually does want to do something transformational, he’s in a situation where they’re going to have to do something brand new.

NADER: Or it becomes a straitjacket and he can’t do anything except, you know, ride the slide down. That’s the key; the key is his personality. You know, Heraclitus, the ancient philosopher, once said character is destiny. And I would say personality is decisive. He does not have a challenging personality. He doesn’t speak truth and democratic power—you know, organizing people—to plutocratic power, and that’s the power of the rich and the powerful.

JAY: Well, the one argument you can make is that Obama got elected and Ralph Nader didn’t—you could say you need to speak this way. And then it comes down to, I think, a lot of what you were saying. Even if one wants to read all these things into his candidacy—and I don’t know that you can—then it doesn’t come down to, as far as advisers, they’re all the same-old-same-old advisers. We haven’t seen anything fresh and new here.

NADER: That’s the first tip that you get: you see who he surrounds himself with. And, look, the problem is he has no competition from the left. I mean, I went into this campaign knowing that I was going to be kept off the debates even though every national poll from 2000 wanted my by name. Okay. So that means you don’t reach tens of millions of people. If you’re not scheduled on the debates, the national media won’t cover you—The New York Times, the networks, Washington Post in April, May, June, July, August—because, they say, "You don’t have a chance. You’re not a mega-billionaire like Perot who can put ads on." And then the third thing that happens is that we’re drained during the summer just trying to get on the ballot, because no country in the western world obstructs voters and obstructs candidates the way our country does with these draconian state laws enacted by the two parties. We have a two-party dictatorship in this country. Let’s face it. And it is a dictatorship in thralldom to these giant corporations who control every department agency in the federal government, including the Department of Labor. I mean, this is how far it’s gone. We have a corporate state. Franklin Delano Roosevelt put it very well in 1938 in a message to Congress. He said when government is controlled by private economic power, he said, quote, "that’s fascism," end quote. That’s the definition of fascism. And look at every big industry now screwing the average guys, going for bailouts.

JAY: I’ve got to break in just a few seconds. Do you want to come back for another segment, or do you have to go?

NADER: We’ll come back for another segment. Join us in a couple of minutes with Ralph Nader.

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