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Crossfire

Can Ralph Nader Win the White House?

Aired July 3, 2000 - 7:30 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Tonight, presidential candidate Ralph Nader: Can he really win the White House or will he just spoil the chances of Al Gore?

ANNOUNCER: From Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press; on the right, Robert Novak. In the crossfire, Green Party presidential nominee Ralph Nader.

PRESS: Good evening. Welcome to CROSSFIRE.

Ralph Nader's running for president, again, and everybody is smiling except Al Gore. Long America's No. 1 champion of consumers, the environment and economic justice, Nader hopes to take his crusade all the way to the White House this year. He's been nominated for president by the Green Party, with running mate Winona LaDuke, and he's already showing surprising strength. The latest CNN poll shows Nader pulling 6 percent, three times Pat Buchanan. Maybe not enough votes to win, but it could be enough to votes to deny Al Gore the White House.

Does that bother Ralph Nader? Not in the least. He says the two major candidates are so much alike on the issues they might as well be called Gush and Bore, and he's even filed a lawsuit to force his way into the presidential debates.

And so the stage. Is he serious? Can he win? Or will he just end up helping elect a Republican?

Tonight, in the crossfire, the Green Party candidate for president, Ralph Nader -- Bob.

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Ralph Nader, on Friday morning, to set off your weekend last weekend, The New York Times gave you a wet kiss, called -- in an editorial called "Mr. Nader's Misguided Crusade." And it seems "The New York Times" editorially feels that Al Gore's just a lot better person to be president than George Bush. They say you may prevent Gore from being president, and they come to this rather poignant conclusion.

"That is a kind of irresponsibility that more befits a Ross Perot than someone with Mr. Nader's record and professed concerns."

So have you descended to the level of Ross Perot now?

RALPH NADER, GREEN PARTY PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That was an amazing editorial by "The Times." It rather demeans its tradition.

Historically, third parties have been first in pushing forward social justice issues: anti-slavery, women's right to vote, labor rights, farmer, populous, progressive. "Times" forgets all about that. But what's most amazing is they said, "Leave the field to Bush and Gore uncluttered." That was the exact word, "uncluttered."

That means don't give the American people a voice, don't give these two-party duopolists competition, just let them battle it out to see who's going to take the marching orders of big business and go to the White House.

NOVAK: I have to correct my colleague, Mr. Press. He said that you refer to them as Gush and Bore. It's Gush and Bore. I believe it's Gush -- the correct pronunciation.

NADER: Or Republicrats.

NOVAK: Oh yes. Well, are you really totally indifferent to these two candidates, because, you know, there's an awful lot of people out there with great passions one way or the other? They think there's a big difference between them: who they will name to the Supreme Court, what they'll do on tax policy, what they'll do on budget policy, what they'll do on military policy.

NADER: Actually, the two parties and the two candidates are converging. There is a front-page story in "USA Today" showing half of Gore and half of Bush in terms of how similar they are in economic issues. And what we really have to ask ourselves: What's our expectation level in this country? Is it so low that we are tickled by one minor difference or another.

But let's expose the Democrat. Tony Lewis has probably written 30 columns criticizing Clinton's civil liberties outrages. In the area of corporate power, it's hardly any different. They both go for corporate welfare. They both go on a crackdown on corporate crime, fraud and abuse that's eaten the livelihood of consumers and taxpayers. They both don't want to strengthen labor laws so millions of workers can form trade unions. They're both for WTO, NAFTA. And they both are for weapons systems that even analysts in the Pentagon don't think are necessary.

NOVAK: Mr. Nader, let me just give you one more horse race question. The American Viewpoint poll, which was done by a Republican pollster named Linda Duvall, who I think is a very well-respected pollster. She did through June 8th to 14th a California poll.

She found to my amazement Bush and Gore tied with 39 percent, you at 5 percent. If you were to take away enough votes from California to carry the state for George Bush, I think that might elect him. Does that give you a hard time sleeping at night if that happens?

NADER: Why do you think I'm doing this? It's like asking a competitor in the business world, aren't you worried about taking revenues away from your competitor? We're trying to build the progressive political force. And Al Gore is free compete in arena I'm trying to open up, all these issues that the two parties are ignoring: issues of the proper distribution of power, issues of the tools of democracy, issues of how to clean up corrupt elections and corrupt politics. Well, what are they -- are entitled to any votes, Bob?

PRESS: Ralph Nader, I'm probably 95 percent down the line with you on most issues, but I also take my vote seriously. So the first question I'm going to ask you is on a scale of one to 10, 10 being you're in the White House, what are your chances, do you think, realistically, of ever getting to 10? You're at about zero, aren't you?

NADER: Well, first of all, if we get on the debates, which we're trying to, that's a four-way debate, and anything can happen. Ventura went from 7 percent to the governorship after he got on the debate. And look what happened to John Anderson after he got on to the debate.

By the way, I'm not quite as possessed of clairvoyance as some pundits here in Washington. So let's just work hard, get as many votes as we can from all constituencies in our country, and see if we can start a Democratic movement that will cleanse politics and start solving many of the injustices.

PRESS: But I've also heard you say a couple of times that you're -- what you want to do is build a third force in American politics, Green Party, which you're running on, so the next time you'll get federal funding, the Green Party will be on the ballot, they'll have the federal matching funds, and they can be a serious third force.

I mean, is that your goal and is that a reason why I ought to vote for you? Just to get money for the next guy that runs for the Green Party president?

NADER: No. There are many goals. One is it is a good idea to have a significant third party, especially one that says to the Democrats, "Remember your old traditions of party of the working families, and either you're going to shape up or shrink down." I think all the groups here in Washington have millions members out there in the country: consumer, environmental, poverty groups, civil liberty groups. They're going to be more respected on Capitol Hill when they go up next year when there's a significant Green Party getting more and more candidates at the local, state and national level.

PRESS: Well, let me -- let's pick up the workers, because you talked -- you talked to the Teamsters, you talked to the auto workers.

Let's say I'm a Democrat, I'm a union member, I agree with you a 100 percent on world trade, but I think about Social Security, I think about Medicare, I think about the right to organize, I think about striker protection, I think about livable wage. On all of those issues, Al Gore's on my side and George Bush is 100 percent not. Why should I take the chance of making George Bush the president, who's going to be against me?

NADER: First of all, no one is going to touch Social Security. You can ask the elderly Americans about that.

No. 2, livable wage, you're right, the Democrats want to raise the minimum wage by $1 for over two years, and the Republicans want to raise it by $1 over three years. There is 17 cents difference between the two parties. Both of them are not coming out to repeal Taft- Hartley. Both of them are not coming out to change WTO and NAFTA, which is so inimical to the rights of working people. And above all, is there anyone there saying universal health care accessible now?

There's nobody.

NOVAK: Mr. Nader, I've watched you, known you for years, even agree with you occasionally on a few things.

(LAUGHTER)

I -- extra pay for congressmen, which they've just done again.

But I was very excited for you, because I think you're an interesting guy, and you disappeared. You announced a candidacy, and nobody ever heard from you again. And you were just quoted -- not just, but you were quoted in "The New York Times" on April 15th. And it says, "Campaigning takes a level of political ego I just don't have yet."

Are you going to take a powder again this time?

NADER: Well, since March 1st, Bob, I have campaigned in all 50 states. No other presidential candidate will do that in November, some of the states more than once.

I have been all over the country, from Hawaii to Maine, from Alaska to Florida. I guess that's the answer to your question.

NOVAK: You're hard up for money, though, aren't you?

NADER: Well, we're raising money. People are contributing to our Web site, votenader.com, since you've asked. We're not taking PAC money. We're not using soft money. We're going for individual contributions. We're very frugal. We know how to get more out of a campaign dollar than Bush and Gore. We don't have fancy political consultants or other paraphernalia. And we've got volunteers all over the country. We just got 4,000 coming in on three days on our Web site, votenader.com.

And to top it off, we're putting 30 full-time organizers in the field. The two parties aren't doing that. They're electronically competing with one another in 30-second silly ads.

NOVAK: Let me tell you something that a Gore adviser told me the other night. He said, you can't take Nader seriously, because he won't get on the debates. And I don't see how you get on the debates because Gore won't let you on the debates. Bush I think would like you to be on the debate, but Gore won't.

He says that Pat Buchanan will have $12 1/2 million of federal funds from the Reform Party. You just are going to be starved. That's what the Gore people are saying.

NADER: Bob, do you think 40 years of working for the American people in this town -- safer cares, safer food, you know, health care advancement, all the good government, Freedom of Information Act, corporate economy -- you don't think people out there remember that? You don't think people are saying, this man has a record, he's not running on slogans and rhetoric? We're trying to mobilize people, and I'll tell you, the substance of our campaign is going to prevail over a lot of money on the other side.

PRESS: Ralph, I just don't buy your basic premise that these two candidates are identical. Again, on global trade, I'll give you. But let me mention two issues where there's a night-and-day difference. Let's take the issue of choice.

I mean, Gore is for protecting Roe v. Wade. Bush is clearly for overturning it. The next president is going to make two, three, four appointments to the Supreme Court. You can't say that they're the same on that issue. There is a difference.

NADER: I didn't say they were exactly identical. I said they were Tweedledum-Tweedledee. And that is different. And they're Doolittle-Doonothing.

No one is going to overturn Roe versus Wade. The Republicans would destroy their party if they do that, and many Republicans have told me that.

As far as the Supreme Court is concerned, I remember Warren, I remember Brennan, Stevens, Blackmun, and Souter, all Republican appointees. The other day Breyer did a very bad majority opinion against regulatory safety, in my judgment.

So -- and by the way, the Senate is controlled by the Republicans, so any difference between the nominees is very narrow, because they have a veto over any Gore presidency.

PRESS: Well, let me mention an issue that you care a lot about, which is the environment. I mean, Gore has not gone as far as you or I might have wanted to go on the environment. Neither has Bill Clinton. But George Bush's attitude is voluntary compliance, which you know is just a bunch of baloney.

Here's what George McEvoy said recently in "The Palm Beach Post." Quote: "So why are" -- Nader -- "he and his party backers doing their utmost to cause the defeat of an outstanding friend of the environment, Al Gore, and throw the presidential election to someone, George W. Bush, with an environmental record about as rancid as the groundwater in Houston?"

Why are you doing it, Ralph? That's what you're going to do.

NADER: Two assumptions here. One is Bush has been -- Gore has been a disaster on the environment, and Bush is beyond satire on this. I mean, you might call him the polluters' choice. The point is, is Bush and Gore -- are Bush and Gore going to be better as a result of this candidacy, as a result of the mobilization, pushing them to recognize that they've got to do something to reduce the silent cumulative violence that we two charitably call pollution, No. 1? And No. 2, and let me put it this way: The corporate power over this city is homogenizing the two parties. There's a permanent government here. And if we don't shake it up, one thing is true. Every four years both of these parties are going to get worse, they're going to get more corporatized, they're going to get more homogenized.

How do you turn it around, Bill? Will you tell me how do you turn it around? We've been waiting for the Democratic Party for 20 years to straighten out. Instead, when they beat the Republicans, their analysis is that's because they took the Republican issues away. When they lose, it's because they didn't take the Republicans. I want them to say they didn't pay attention to progressive people, issues in this country.

NOVAK: All right. We're going to have to take a break, and when we come back, we'll show you a new side of Ralph Nader, consumer advocate multimillionaire.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NOVAK: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. Ralph Nader, the Green Party candidate for president, uncorked one surprise early in his campaign to just about everybody's amazement. He has a net worth of nearly $4 million. Thus the nation's pre-eminent consumer advocate is a multimillionaire.

We're asking Mr. Nader about that and much more -- Bill Press.

PRESS: Ralph, I have to say, you know, you have a reputation for living like a monk. You made a career out of attacking corporations. I was surprised as Bob Novak to read that article in "The Washington Post." Nothing wrong with it, by the way. Congratulations. I hope to join you some day.

But there has been a question raised about where most of your stock is, in a company called Cisco Systems, which, as Joshua Marshall wrote in Salon.com, "The company in which Nader owns most of his stock, Cisco Systems Inc., is a monopoly."

Ralph, you said you'd never own -- you would never own stock in a monopoly company. You do. Isn't that a little conflict?

NADER: Well, first of all, this is a civil justice fund. The money means nothing to me except to support citizen projects, and that's where it goes. I spent over 80 percent of my funds over the last 30 years supporting consumer, environmental causes, starting new groups, supporting foundations. So, that's what it's really for.

I do live very frugally because money means nothing to me, except for that.

Now about Cisco, Cisco represents a number of policy positions which I have opposed...

PRESS: Right.

NADER: ... Silicon Valley positions, et cetera. You know, they want to bring in more talent from overseas in terms of the brain drain, and instead of paying American wages.

PRESS: They're lobbying for it, you're lobbying against it.

NADER: Right. Isn't that interesting? That is called a conflict against financial interest, which more of us should have.

No. 2, I don't think it's a monopoly in terms of violations of the antitrust laws. The Federal Trade Commission looked into it. We've looked into it. This is not like Microsoft with their tie-in arrangements and their discriminatory practices. Happens to be a very good company in terms of what it does.

But let me tell you something, I'm a watchdog on that company, and if it makes any bad move, we're going to right on top of it.

PRESS: They have been not -- not indicted yet, but they've been investigated for the same practices that Microsoft -- they're going to break up Microsoft for, Ralph. But your money is in that company. You don't have a problem supporting those kinds of practices.

NADER: They've been cleared, they've been cleared. They have been cleared, really. This is a situation where they have dominant technology. It's a very well-managed company.

But if we see any deceptive practices or anything like that, pollution practices -- it subcontracts everything almost -- but we'll be right on top of it.

NOVAK: Mr. Nader, I'm so impressed with your skill as an investor that I -- I would like to make a suggestion that might help your fund raising. What would you think of the idea of telling people who contribute funds that you'll give them stock tips in growth companies like Cisco? Do you think that might work?

NADER: Or "The Washington Post"?

NOVAK: Well...

NADER: That's where I should have put money in the 1970s, in "The Washington Post": 20-fold increase.

(LAUGHTER)

NOVAK: Not a good idea.

NADER: No.

NOVAK: OK.

Mr. Nader, Bill mentioned labor, that there's still a couple of huge unions that haven't endorsed Al Gore yet, United Autoworkers and Teamsters.

You're a realistic person. Do you think you've got a chance to get an endorsement from either one of those unions?

NADER: I'm going to try. I'm going to challenge Bush and Gore on a whole number of labor issues next week: repeal of Taft-Hartley, for example, ban on permanent striker replacement. Let's see where they stand.

I think there's enormous disgruntlement among steel and auto workers. I mean, their jobs are just going out of this country at a very rapid rate, and those leaders know that.

The other thing is the California Nurses Association endorsement, and I think we're going to see other nurse support. This is one of the most progressive, active, pro-patient groups in the United States.

NOVAK: Tell us, let us in on it. You've had conversations with James Hoffa, the president of the -- of the Teamsters. What do you think his attitude is?

NADER: I think he's worried about $7 a day Mexican truck drivers going into 50 states, just like you would worry if Mexican reporters who were bilingual, working for 20 bucks a day, took your spot here on CROSSFIRE.

I think also he's very concerned about how the Democrats take labor for granted, and when the Democrats take labor for granted, labor gets taken. He has some very legitimate grievances.

NOVAK: Mr. Nader, in that connection with the Teamsters, there was a line in a story in "The New York Times" -- giving "The New York Times" a lot of ink today -- Richard Berke. Richard Berke, I think, is one of the top political reporters in America today.

NADER: Yes.

NOVAK: And this really caught a lot of people's attention, because it was -- it was -- he didn't make a huge story out of it. He just kind of cast it aside. He said this: "Gore advisers said they had moved aggressively behind the scenes to try to keep Mr. Hoffa from endorsing Mr. Nader to the point where they had directed projects through federal agencies that would use Teamsters" -- end quote.

Are you looking into that?

NADER: I'm amazed Richard Berke didn't follow up on that. I know some members of Congress yesterday had a news conference saying there should be an inquiry. Yes, I think the press should look into that.

NOVAK: Do you know anything more about it?

NADER: No, I don't know a thing. That jumped out at me just as it did to you. PRESS: We're almost out of time, but I want to ask you just a quick question. I was stunned, frankly, to see you say that the House was correct in impeaching Bill Clinton last year, and the Senate should have convicted him.

Ralph, do you really believe that, or do you just hate Bill Clinton so much that you would take any channel to get him out of the White House?

NADER: Do you know any other president that has morally disgraced the status of the White House, No. 1, and committed perjury, No. 2, as judicially determined? And he's an officer of the court as an attorney?

I mean, you know, what's the standard for impeachment?

PRESS: Well, I would argue that that's not the standard, but we're out of time, Mr. Ralph Nader, Green Party candidate for president. Thank you for joining us, and good luck.

NADER: Thank you.

PRESS: We'll see you down the trail.

NADER: Thank you, both.

PRESS: All right. And Bob Novak and I will be right back with closing comments.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PRESS: Bill, why is it that Ralph Nader, who was off the radar screen four years ago, is getting 6 or 7 percent? He hasn't done anything particular in the last four years.

You know that your friends on the left are not happy with Al Gore. I mean, you're a professional politician. You say, well, let's get the guy in, he's better than Bush. But a lot of people think he has betrayed the cause. What comes around goes around, and he's paying for his pragmatism on some issues.

PRESS: Well, I'm going to date myself now, Bob, but I remember back in '68 when I was in my early 20s, McCarthy didn't get the nomination. So a bunch of us in San Francisco formed a group called Volunteers for New Politics. We said we were not going to vote for or support Hubert Humphrey.

Guess what? We got Richard Nixon. I learned my lesson, Bob, and I think most people when they get down to it will see you don't throw the vote away and elect the Republican.

NOVAK: But can you understand where these people are coming from in regard to Gore?

PRESS: Of course I can now, but Gore will get his act together, and he'll come up and Nader will go down. NOVAK: And he's on -- he's on that little slide. If he moves to the left, he loses votes on the right. It should be fun.

From the left -- speaking of the left, from the left, I'm Bill Press. Good night for CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: From the right, I'm Robert Novak. Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

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