Ralph Nader: Scalia, Hillary, and the Upholding of Corporate Supremacy

Consumer advocate Ralph Nader says that both the Republican and Democratic parties are subservient to corporate power

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Story Transcript

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay.

We’re continuing our discussion with Ralph Nader on Justice Scalia’s passing and what comes next, and the significance of it all. Thanks for joining us again, Ralph.

RALPH NADER: You’re welcome, Paul.

JAY: So I’ve always kind of imagined this division on the court, and the division more broadly within the elite politics of a section of the elite sort of a descendant of slave owners, in a way, they see that the ability of corporations and capital to exploit workers in a very unfettered way has–completely unfettered way was slavery, direct slavery. Well, the next step from that after slavery. There should be almost no restrictions on how a corporation can exploit or how intensely it can exploit people. Where the section of the elite that calls themselves liberals, they, they think there should be some fetters, whether it’s because it makes them feel better about themselves, or because they are concerned about what it might do in terms of radicalizing the population. Or they’re, more reasonable, whatever one wants to say.

That division in the court, and that reflection of that division in the elite, it’s significant. It ends up with very different court decisions, depending on which section of the elite is dominating the court, and obviously the Congress and such. So talk a little bit about what that far-right represents, where it comes from in terms of American history, the trend, the right that Scalia represents, and I guess take that a little bit into where the Republican party is now. Because you have most of anyone that might win the Republican nomination is more or less on the same page as Scalia.

NADER: Well, they like to talk about market. And the marketplace is the best test for economic activity. But what they really do is they support policies that entrench what I call corporate supremacy over the people. There’s always a tension between commercial values and civic values throughout world history. Every major religion in the world warned its adherents not to give too much power to the merchant class. It goes back thousands of years. Because it’s so singularly monomaniacal, the pursuit of profit, pursuit of sales, pursuit of enrichment. Running–you know, running havoc over other competing much more important values for a just society. Health, safety, freedom of people, posterity and the like.

So this is nothing new. So I call them corporatists. I don’t call them conservatives. They are not conservatives. They are not libertarians. Some of the most powerful critiques today of corporate power, crony capitalism, bailouts of Wall Street, come from authentic conservatives and libertarians. Some of the most authentic criticism of the military-industrial complex has come from libertarians. Not just people who call themselves liberals and progressives.

So that’s number one. Number two, this theme throughout history has been very –.

JAY: Actually, can I add just one thing to that. Let me just add one thing. On the foreign policy side, a lot of the libertarian critique or policy is way better than a lot of people calling themselves liberals.

NADER: Yeah. Well, the corporatist liberals like Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton, they don’t really deserve to be called liberals. They’ve hijacked liberal philosophy, and given it this highly-militant, aggressive, brute force-first foreign policy. Hillary is the butcher of Libya. She opposed successfully in the White House Secretary of Defense Gates, who said, no, you topple Gaddafi, who’s already coming around and disarming and cutting deals with the oil companies, you topple him and there’s a huge vacuum. And in a tribal society it’s going to be chaos. And of course, with all her experience, Hillary Clinton rebuffed him, and the result is sweeping, violent chaos in larger and larger portions of northeast Africa, not just Libya. Into Mali and elsewhere.

So corporatism has got to be a word we incorporate in our political discussions and our electoral campaigns. Because that’s what our country’s turning into: a country dominated by corporate power, merging Wall Street with Washington. We call it the corporate state. Right-wing people call it crony capitalism.

JAY: The–as much as, even if you take a Hillary, and while I think you can say in terms of corporatism she’s to the right of President Obama–on the other hand, President Obama is very much in the same mould, at least on certainly all the kind of things that are serving Wall Street. There is a difference, is there not? The kind of Supreme Court nominees that an Obama or a Clinton might make–and I’m not talking about Sanders now, I’m–if Sanders was ever in such a position I assume he would appoint Supreme Court nominees that would be, you know, far more liberal than those.

But even there, the liberals on the Supreme Court that were appointed by corporatist Democrats, they’re still coming up with decisions that are not as coercive or onerous as these people like Scalia.

NADER: Yeah, that’s true. But remember, not many important cases from a progressive point of view ever reach the Supreme Court. They’re thrown out for lack of standing, they’re called political questions, they don’t make it past the appellate level. And the Supreme Court takes fewer cases now than ever before. They used to take 150-160 cases. They’re down to about 70-75 cases. So we don’t have a chance for a lot of progressive issues to be put up before the Supreme Court. Like trying to reverse the wild First Amendment rights that have been given to corporations, that have blocked a lot of consumer organized power.

For example, there was a regulation, California required Pacific Gas and Electric to put an insert in the electric bill inviting customers to form, join their own nonprofit consumer action group challenging the gas and electric on rate making, on environment, on service. And the California Supreme Court upheld it. It went to the Supreme Court with [inaud.] dissenting, and the 6-3 vote, or 5-3 vote, one member recused himself, they ruled that requiring Pacific Gas and Electric–mind you, a monopoly, a legal monopoly, to put an insert at no expense to itself inviting its customers to band together into a collective voice of advocacy, violated–check this–violated Pacific Gas and Electric’s First Amendment right to remain silent and not rebut the insert’s contents.

That’s the most egregious expansion of corporate personhood, and that’s what we mean when progressives say that the Supreme Court is dominated by corporatists. Citizens United was just an example.

JAY: Now, the liberals on the court voted against Citizens United. Is there a possibility that an Obama appointment could reverse such things?

NADER: Yes. A very real possibility. Because that was the law of the land until Citizens United, it was a prior well-regarded Supreme Court decision that the corporatists overruled in order to install Citizens United. Corporations were not allowed to directly give money to political campaigns for over 100 years. And that’s what was reversed. So it’s an easy decision to re-reverse and go back to the prior controlling Supreme Court decision. And I think that could be done.

But you know, in the Senate, Paul, in the last three-four decades, the Republicans just have been more aggressive, and more demanding, and more outrageous in blocking or pushing through Supreme Court nominations than the Democrats. You know, early on under Nixon, the Democrats stop Judge Carswell from being confirmed. Then they stop Nixon’s appointment of Judge Haynsworth, and then they got Justice [Blackburn], who’s a pretty good justice, nominated by Nixon.

Now, look what happened recently. Scalia was confirmed 98-nothing. I went up to Capitol Hill, went into Kennedy and other progressive Democrats’ office, can’t you at least dissent? No. They recognized the president’s prerogative. And then came along Kennedy, replacing the defeated nomination of Gore, and he was support–he was voted in 97-nothing. Every Democrat voted for him.

So in those days the Democrats recognized the president’s prerogative to nominated someone who, if they had any intellect and they were fairly clean, okay, vote for them. Not the Republicans. No way. And the Republicans are very, very aggressive. As a result, for example, they got Justice Thomas through 52-48 in a Senate that was dominated by a majority of Democrats, and Senator George Mitchell was the majority leader. We were up there in Capitol Hill trying to change votes. We actually changed Lieberman’s vote, can you imagine. He thanked me later for alerting him to Thomas’ record.

But Thomas won 52-48 with about 12 Democratic senators crossing the aisle and joining with the Republicans. What are you going to do with such passive, recessive types of Democrats up against, you know, saber-tooth tiger Republicans? It’s not much of a contest.

JAY: Yeah, the Republicans–.

NADER: So I wonder what’s going to happen.

JAY: Well, the Republicans always seem to understand they’re at a war for what they want, and the Democrats make a virtue out of being able to work across the aisle. I don’t understand that part. What’s your observations on the elections? On the, what’s going on with the primaries and such?

NADER: Well, I think the most immediate thing is to get Hillary to, to release the transcripts of her closed-door meetings before thousands of businesspeople. The realtors, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, the chain drug stores, all of whom paid her $5,000 a minute, Paul. That’s what it breaks down–$5,000 a minute to say what? Why doesn’t she level, and tell the American people what she told all these business conventions in secret being paid $5,000 a minute?

When she was asked this question by Chuck Todd on one of the debates, she wasn’t ready for the answer. She said, well, we’ll look into it. Well, there are stenographers in every one of those meetings required by her lecture contract. She required the presence of stenographers. What’s she waiting for, and what’s Bernie Sanders waiting for, not demanding in the debate to have her release the transcripts? He’s been too easy on her, and that may have sunk his candidacy if he doesn’t turn around in the remaining three debates.

As far as Trump goes, again it was Chuck Todd who said, when are you going to release your tax returns? Now, it’s not legally required that he do so. But he makes such a big deal out of his business successes as a reason to vote for him for president, I think he’s ethically obligated to release thousands of pages. These are huge tax returns over a period of years. What did he say when he was asked? He was asked, he said–we’re looking into it, Chuck, but I didn’t pay much tax, because the tax [revenues] are wasted in Washington.

Well, imagine all these reporters that have access to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. It never really asks the question. Day after day they deal with trivia. Did you say this about Cruz? Did you say this about Bernie? The press has not raised it to the level of its significance. It is being dragged down to the most vacuous, slander-ridden riposte, you know, all kinds of outrageous statements. It’s dragged down by the candidates themselves. We accept, you know, I think, Bernie, who’s actually talking about power issues and distribution of power.

JAY: The transcripts–.

NADER: Which is, by the way, which is by–which is, by the way, why they don’t cover him very much. Why ABC a year ago devoted 82 minutes to Trump, and 2 minutes to Bernie Sanders, even though Bernie Sanders led the national polls. He still, you know, leads the national polls. You would know it by watching TV news.

JAY: When you put him against Trump, you mean.

NADER: When you put him against anybody one-on-one, he’s ahead.

JAY: I think he’s about ten points behind Clinton, but the gap has greatly closed from what it was.

NADER: He’s ten points behind Clinton, by Democratic voters. But if it’s all the voters, all the voters, he’s been in the lead.

JAY: You know, when you go back to this transcript issue, while I agree with you, Sanders should be upping the demand. He mentioned it in one of the debates, but he should up it. But I think even if, even if those speeches were just about how important it is to promote women in the corporate America, I don’t think it actually matters what the heck she says. Just the fact she took the money–because if you want to keep taking that money, and you want to keep getting those enormous speaker fees, then you better not be doing anything on the policy side that’s going to offend the people paying you these great big speaker fees. So just the fact she takes it is bad enough.

NADER: Oh, but the delicious words she must have used to reassure the crowds. To say, you know, I don’t buy this [inaud.] the bankers. I think we’re all in it together. And we have to get out of it all together. I mean, she’s told these–you know, you know, Paul. You’re a media-savvy person. When you’re in front of an audience of 2,000 developers, or 2,000 people representing the drug industry, or hundreds of people representing Wall Street banks, you tell them what they want to hear. If you told them what you–.

JAY: Yeah, because they’re all potential donors.

NADER: Yeah. You don’t tell them what they don’t want to hear. That’s when it leaks. It’s when–in fact, the Wall Street Journal wrote in an article the other day saying they interviewed some people inside these closed-door conventions. And some said she gushed. She gushed at them. That would not help her against Bernie Sanders.

By the way, I think in the latest poll Bernie Sanders among the Democrats is getting closer and closer to being even, if I’m not mistaken.

JAY: Well, certainly–certainly in Nevada that’s been happening. I think she still has a significant lead in South Carolina. But nationally he’s getting much closer.

All right. Well, Ralph, I hope you’ll come back regularly, and we’ll keep talking about these and many other issues.

NADER: Okay, it’s a pleasure to be with Real News Network. Those of you who watch it faithfully, spread the word. Neighbors, workers, friends. It doesn’t just exist for you, it exists for people who want to get the real facts and really important issues of a democratic society you can work on to get a better, more just society.

JAY: Thanks very much, Ralph.

NADER: Okay. Thank you, Paul.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.

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