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Will the Gore-Lieberman Ticket Turn Liberal Voters on to Ralph Nader?

Aired August 8, 2000 - 7:30 p.m. ET



AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Ladies and gentlemen, the next vice president of the United States of America, Joe Lieberman.


ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Tonight, Al Gore aims for the middle of the road. Will the Gore-Lieberman ticket turn off liberal voters and turn them on to Ralph Nader?

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

DAVID CORN, GUEST HOST: Good evening, and welcome to CROSSFIRE.

I'm David Corn, Washington editor of "The Nation" magazine, sitting in on the left for Bill Press.

It's official, Joe Lieberman is Al Gore's running mate. The two appeared together in Nashville today and immediately began asserting that their ticket is the one that cares most about working families, education, health care and Social Security. Is Al Gore finally picking up steam?

The most recent CNN/"USA Today" Gallup poll showed him just 2 points behind Texas Governor George W. Bush, and today, the United Auto Workers union endorsed the vice president. Al Gore did make history by picking an Orthodox Jew for the ticket, but he also picked a politician associated with the more conservative corporation- friendly wing of the Democratic Party, a senator who has taken some positions close to those of George W. Bush. Today, Lieberman tried to sidestep that point.


SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D-CT), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think that's like saying that the veterinarian and the taxidermist are in the same business, because either way, you get your dog back.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CORN: Does Lieberman sharpen or blur the differences between the Democratic and Republican parties?

Tonight, we'll ask Ralph Nader, the longtime consumer advocate who now is running for president on the Green Party line. He maintains that there is little difference between the two parties and that the entire political system is polluted by corporate campaign contributions. Does the Lieberman selection support Nader's argument? Does Nader's presence in the race threaten the Gore-Lieberman ticket? -- Bob.

NOVAK: Ralph Nader, you've been quoted as saying you think that Joe Lieberman is really a Republican. You don't mean that do you?

RALPH NADER, GREEN PARTY PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: On corporate issues, yes. In fact, Mr. Fleischer, the spokesman for George W. Bush said that Joe Lieberman has more positions similar to George Bush than he has to Al Gore, and if you look at each one of his votes in Congress, he takes big money from the insurance industry, and he votes for immunity for corporations in bill after bill, including one affecting the tobacco industry.

He's done the same, Bob, for the drug industry, Pfizer, Glaxo, and he fights for drug industry issues. He's done the same for the securities industry, pushing for immunity against investor claims of security industry fraud. And he's done the same for nuclear power, he's covered up for nuclear power even though three plants in his state have been shut months ago for safety reasons.

NOVAK: Mr. Nader, we did a check on Ralph Nader, Joe Lieberman, a match, you know, matching up.


NOVAK: We find you and Joe were joined on the -- at the hip on so many issues, fighting against Alar on the apples out West, you know, putting that on, on price gouging in the oil industry. Just last year, Ralph Nader and Joe Lieberman together on a patients' bill of rights. Come on, be honest, you've been his ally for years.

NADER: Wait a minute. I'm for universal accessible health insurance. He hasn't come out for that and nor has Gore. And second, he moved to immunize, or to block full tort law action against HMOs. I don't know where you are getting all this. The defense industry -- look, he's for unworkable missile defense, I'm against the easily decoyed missile defense.

NOVAK: Well, you've forgotten your partnerships with him, but Mr. Nader, the rating systems, the American Conservative Union gives him a zero. The National Taxpayers Union gives him a zero. The National Right to Life Committee gives him a 2 percent. The Americans For Democratic Action, liberal group, gives him a 90 percent. Are they just looking at the wrong votes?

NADER: Those are votes based on social issues, civil rights, civil liberties, he's pretty good on those. But the corporations... NOVAK: Well, he said something good about him.

NADER: But the corporations would give him very grades, because one area after another he's come down for powerful corporations against powerless injured people, powerless defrauded investors, powerless communities around nuclear plants, powerless taxpayers on corporate welfare issues. How's that for a list? He is a Republicrat, and this is a very important decision by Gore; he has decided not to contend for the progressive dimension of the Democratic Party, he's decided to engage in the 1996 strategy of Clinton-Gore, which is protective imitation, or triangulation.

CORN: Ralph, I should tell the viewers I worked for you 20 years ago, was my first job in Washington, thanks for helping me get here.

And let me start by reading you a quote from Democratic pollster Peter Hart. He claims that Lieberman has a reputation for integrity and that is going to help him attract voters to the Gore ticket, attract voters who are -- otherwise might be attracted to you.

Here's what he said: "You end up with someone who is ethically clean and sort of stands for purity, which is what I think the Nader vote."

So, is Lieberman going to bring in Nader voters to the Gore ticket, are they going to be stealing votes from you? What do you make of this line of reasoning?

NADER: I doubt it, because he is part of the cash register political system. If you look at his campaign contributions, the first recipient of all senators of insurance money, the third recipient of all senators of drug money -- Democratic senators. So I don't know what the difference is. I mean, he has made a big point of his moralisms and he did criticize Clinton, but when it comes to the actual votes that affect workers and consumers and small investors and communities, he has been very constant with the money that he is picking up, he's got about $3.8 million in the bank now.

CORN: I mean, Bob did his research today, and I did some of mine, and if you look at the campaign contributions that you mentioned, $211,000 from the securities industry, $197,000 from the insurance industry -- insurance is big in his home state of Connecticut, and your home state too -- $91,000 from the pharmaceuticals industry.

Now, recently we've seen Al Gore try to take a populist tact and talk about us versus the powerful interests. Is this the guy who can go along with Gore on that sort of thrust?

NADER: It shows that Gore is just rhetoric, he goes after, you know, the drug prices, and Joe Lieberman is a big ally of the drug companies. He also voted to weaken the Food and Drug Administration several years ago. He just went after the auto industry, that was Gore. He went after the insurance industry. I mean, the votes belie this. He has now a vice presidential candidate in the Senate who has voted with the very companies that Gore's born-again rhetoric against these companies is contradictory.

NOVAK: However, Mr. Nader, the Green Party started as an environmentalist party, it still is -- has a lot of environmentalists in it. Let me read to you what Dr. Robert Cox, the president of the Sierra Club -- environmentalists -- said.

He said: "The addition of Senator Lieberman makes a strong environmental ticket even stronger -- the most pro-environmental ticket in history. Senator Lieberman has consistently voted to protect the environment."

Right or wrong?

NADER: You know, the Sierra Club is clutching at straws. You know, if you have a dark room and there's a tiny little candle, you'll attract yourself to it. Look, Joe Lieberman has given a free ride to the nuclear industry, that's a big environmental issue, nuclear waste, et cetera. Joe Lieberman has kept quiet about the lack of fuel efficiency of the motor vehicle industry. Eight years, no fuel efficiency increase. People are getting gouged like crazy by a declining fuel efficiency of their motor vehicles. Joe Lieberman hasn't said anything about solar energy, which is a transforming environmental issue. In fact, he has supported subsidies to coal, gas, oil and the nuclear industries. And above all, he's supported the World Trade Organization and NAFTA, which environmentalists opposed.

NOVAK: But he has to stand up on the center floor -- has had to stand up on the Senate floor for 12 years and cast votes. The League of Conservation Voters says he's been good and getting better: 1990, 95 percent rating; '92, a hundred percent; '94, 89 percent; '96, 89 percent; 1998, a hundred percent; 1999, a hundred percent -- damn near perfect.

NADER: Because these issues I just mentioned never reached the Senate floor for a vote. Has solar energy been voted? Has motor vehicle fuel efficiency been voted? No. Any votes on nuclear power? No.

NOVAK: So you're telling me the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters have been taken in by Joe Lieberman?

NADER: No, I'm not saying he's the worst of the Senate on environment. But I'm saying it's very easy with a modest environmental inclination to rack up these kinds of ratings, because these key votes are not heading to the Senate and House floor anymore.

CORN: It's nice to hear Bob swearing by the League of Conservation Voters. I'm glad we're making history here.

Switching subjects, you've said that you would have voted to impeach President Clinton, and Joe Lieberman has his reputation enhanced at least in this town by becoming the first major Democrat to scold Clinton publicly for the Monica matter. Did that impress you at all? Is that what the definition of morality should be? NADER: It did impress me. He was first out of box in the Senate. What puzzled me was he never was heard from after that, and then voted against convicting President Clinton. He voted to exonerate him.

I mean, that's often a characteristic of Joe Lieberman.

CORN: Do you think that was hypocritical of him?

NADER: No, not hypocritical, but he likes to hit a single when he should be hitting a triple.

CORN: And has Al Gore gone to him mainly to get covered on this issue? Is that what you think is happening?

NADER: Oh, very much so. I mean, I think the Gore campaign is almost obsessed with being tarred by the Clinton immorality record and the whole Lewinsky thing. I think that was a very key position.

I think when Joe Lieberman went to the floor of the Senate with that speech, that's what was the most important move in his political career.

NOVAK: OK. We're going to have to take a break. Do you want to ask Ralph Nader about his presidential bid? Just go to right after the show. But after this break, we'll be back to find out whether quite apart from Joe Lieberman, the Ralph Nader presidential campaign is starting to sink.


NOVAK: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. Ralph Nader is running for president again as a candidate of the Green Party, but this time he acts like he really means it. And the polls show him taking votes out of Al Gore's hide in key battleground states.

Will Ralph Nader be the salvation of George W. Bush? Is that what he wants? We'll ask him.

David Corn, Washington editor of "The Nation" magazine, is sitting in for Bill Press -- David.

CORN: Ralph, I'm glad you're in the race because you've given us the best campaign commercial of the year so far, and we're going to play that now for the viewers.


NARRATOR: Grilled tenderloin for fund-raiser, $1,000 a plate. Campaign ads filled with half-truths, $10 million. Promises to special interest groups, over $10 billion. Finding out the truth, priceless.

There are some things money can't buy. Without Ralph Nader in the presidential debates, the truth will come in last.


CORN: Special interest promises, $10 billion. I think you underestimated that by maybe a factor of 10.

NADER: Grossly.

CORN: But you're about at 6 percent in the polls now. Former CROSSFIRE host Pat Buchanan is about 2.2 percent in the polls when he's on a good day. What is the reasoning why you should be in the debates? Who's making the standards? Why should they be setting the bars?

NADER: I think the Appleseed Foundation criteria are the best. If you're at 5 percent or more in a political party, you get funds the next time around under federal law. So, that ought to be the criteria.

Jesse Ventura was at 8, 9 percent; he gets on the debates, he wins the governorship of Minnesota.

I mean, what we're trying to do -- and the polls vary. I've been as high as 8 percent nationwide, 9 percent in California, 9 percent in New York, 8 percent in Michigan, even 6 percent in Arizona. But the key here is that we're campaigning for all voters. We're not, you know, saying we're just going to go for liberal votes.

You should see me in front of a conservative audience, Bob Novak.


Just let me and you debate in front of a conservative audience.

NOVAK: Well, I'm -- I'm not that -- all that conservative of course.


CORN: But let me ask you then, who's making the decisions and what's wrong with the process if you can't get on?

NADER: The debate commission is a private entity, as you know, created in the late '80s to replace the League of Women Voters system for presidential debates, controlled by the Republican and Democratic parties, funded by tobacco, oil, auto, beer money, like Anheuser- Busch, and their purpose is to exclude competition. And they let Ross Perot on in 1992 and they never want to make that mistake again.

CORN: You've even filed a lawsuit: Does that have a chance of doing anything before the election?

NADER: It may in terms of stopping the corporate contributions to fund the election, to fund the campaign debates, like Anheuser- Busch.

NOVAK: I've got bad news for you, Mr. Nader. "The Detroit Free Press" in a state where you have been very strong shows you today going from 8 percent in Michigan down to 5 percent, and that was before the United Auto Workers endorsement today. Are you sinking like a rock?

NADER: No, because we're going to have the support of UAW locals. They have been meeting with 13 other union -- unions being represented in Michigan, and there's a whole effort called Labor for Nader spreading, because I want to make sure that Taft-Hartley, the choke-hold on tens of millions of workers unable to form labor unions, the Taft-Hartley Act should be repealed, Employers should be required to be neutral in labor organizing issues.

And above all, there should be an adequate minimum wage, which is now $2 lower in real purchasing terms than it was in 1969.

NOVAK: Joseph Lieberman in Nashville today asked a question, which your UAW members might answer in a way you don't like. Let's look at the question that Joe Lieberman asked in Nashville today.


SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D-CT), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: ... I think of the extraordinary eight years of progress and prosperity, I'm tempted to ask the same question Vice President Bush asked in 1988. If you have to change horses in midstream, doesn't it make sense to get on the one that's going in the right direction?


NADER: I think if you asked the auto workers, they'd say the jobs are going downstream. They're losing tens of thousands of jobs in supply -- the auto industry areas and in the manufacturing of automobiles themselves. So are the steel workers.

And you know, Joe Lieberman and Al Gore support WTO. They support NAFTA. They support the export of jobs by U.S. companies using dictatorially repressed labor costs, not free-market costs, Bob, dictatorially repressed labor costs in places like China.

NOVAK: Ralph Nader, Senator Tom Daschle, the Democratic leader of the Senate, on "Meet the Press" on Sunday spoke directly to you. Were you listening?


NOVAK: Well, let's -- for those who weren't listening, let's take a look at what Tom Daschle said.


SEN. THOMAS DASCHLE (D-SD), MINORITY LEADER: I hope that we can retain the civility. I hope he will recognize the extraordinary leadership that Al Gore can provide, the tremendous opportunities we can provide the country, and building on the record, the economic record that we've been able to demonstrate now for the last eight years. I hope he'll work with us to make that happen.


NOVAK: He's talking to you and he wants civility from you. He doesn't want this criticism. Isn't that a fair request?

NADER: Yes, because when Clinton-Gore came into office 35 million Americans didn't have health insurance; now it's 45 million Americans don't have health insurance. They came into office promising 40 miles per gallon motor vehicles...

NOVAK: So...

NADER: It's now 24 1/2 miles per gallon.

NOVAK: You ignore his pleas for civility, Daschle?

NADER: Recognize this (UNINTELLIGIBLE) civility: This is the truth. Twenty percent child poverty, the highest in the Western world. The majority of workers making less in inflation-adjusted dollars than 20 years ago. This is a rich person's economy graced by the Democrats and Republicans, who increasingly are morphing into one corporate party with two heads wearing different makeup.

CORN: Bob, always takes his political cues from Tom Daschle.


Ralph, you spoke at the American Psychological Association a few days ago, and you said that corporate America suffers from institutional insanity. To some people that might seem a little wacky and far-out. What do you mean by that?

NADER: I mean auto companies for decades have refused to be toilet-trained: that is control their pollution that gives people cancer and respiratory ailments. Drug prices -- drug industries that can be considered kleptomaniacs. Massive drug price gouging of elderly people, for example.

I mean, what do you -- what do you call this kind of mass behavior? And time and time again, "The Wall Street Journal," "The New York Times," "The Washington Post" expose these guys, and nothing happens.

NOVAK: Can I -- can I get in for one second?

CORN: No, no.

The Supreme Court, liberals and conservatives both say it's a big enchilada of the coming election. Do you not care about Bush getting in there and appointing more Scalias and Thomases.

NADER: I care that Senator Hatch and Republicans are going to have a veto over anything that a possible Gore nominee would be sent to the Senate.

People -- people check our Web site to get the answer to these questions about Gore, or Remember, the Republicans won the Senate because the Democrats lost their identity and their historic mission, and they also couldn't save the country from Newt Gingrich and Tom DeLay and Dick Armey.

NOVAK: Well, will we see you at the Democratic convention as we saw you at the Republican convention?

NADER: I don't know whether they'll let me in.


The Republican convention, they let me in. I was right by the Florida delegation.

NOVAK: They're just -- they're just...


NOVAK: They're just too soft.

Thank you very much, Ralph Nader.

NADER: Thank you.

NOVAK: David Corn and I will be back with closing comments after these messages.


NOVAK: Don't forget: Ralph Nader takes all your questions online right after the show at Meanwhile, we're packing our bags again Friday. CROSSFIRE heads to Los Angeles for a special preview of the Democratic convention. Then join us Sunday night for a special edition of CROSSFIRE at 7:30 p.m. Eastern, live from the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

CROSSFIRE is your convention headquarters.

David, there's very little that I agree with Ralph Nader on, but he is such -- he is such a delight in all this mushy-wushy, kissy-face politics. He really gets out there and hits it, and you know, it's just too bad that more people don't get to hear him. I think it's all nonsense, but it's interesting.

CORN: Well, he's a -- he's a straight-talker, unlike (ph) John McCain in many ways. And he knows that morality and integrity in public life doesn't mean just wagging your finger at the president for intern sex. It means serving the public interest, not the interests that fund your campaigns.

NOVAK: I've got to correct one thing that both you and he said, soft on Senator Lieberman. You know, Senator Lieberman after that famous speech never said another word and voted down-the-line for Clinton.

CORN: That's it. From the left, I'm David Corn sitting in for Bill Press. Good night for CROSSFIRE.

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



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