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Is a Vote for Ralph Nader a Vote for George W. Bush?

Aired October 24, 2000 - 7:30 p.m. ET



AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ... that a vote for Nader is a vote for Bush, that may be true.


BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Tonight, is a vote for Ralph Nader a vote for George W. Bush? Could Nader cost Al Gore the election?

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press; on the right, Mary Matalin. In the crossfire, Congressman Robert Wexler of Florida, a Gore supporter, and in New York, former talk-show host Phil Donahue, a Nader supporter.

TUCKER CARLSON, GUEST HOST: Good evening, and welcome to CROSSFIRE. I'm Tucker Carlson.

Ralph Nader -- safety advocate, anti-corporate crusader, and this season, Green Party presidential candidate for the United States presidency. Until recently, few in the political class took Nader seriously. Then the polls came out. Nader is now drawing significant support in Oregon, Minnesota, California, and other key states. Today's latest CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup tracking poll puts Nader's national support at 3 percent. Gore and Bush are almost dead-even.

Without Nader in the race, Gore would be winning. That's what Gore supporters say anyway. Are they right? Is a vote for Ralph Nader a vote for George W. Bush? Is Nader a vanity candidate who can only hurt his own side, or is he the legitimate voice of disenfranchised liberals who have nowhere else to go? We'll get to the bottom of it tonight.

PRESS: Phil Donahue, welcome to CROSSFIRE. Thank you for joining us.


PRESS: I might point out to everybody you are standing outside of Shea Stadium, where game three between the Yankees and Mets is about to get under way. So if it's noisy there, everybody will understand, Phil.

Now, I have to say you have been my hero since I first saw you on television, my role model, not only because you're good, but because you're so smart, I thought. And Phil, now you're supporting Ralph Nader. I have to ask you, to make sure you haven't completely lost it, wouldn't you admit that if you were forced to choose between Al Gore and George Bush, that Al Gore is a lot better on the issues you care about than George Bush?

DONAHUE: If it weren't for Ralph Nader's candidacy, I would vote for Al Gore. We do have Ralph Nader's candidacy. It is robust. It is growing from the ground up. It has obeyed all the rules of campaign financing, no soft, no hard, no around-the-block money. We have contributions, every one of them within, within the prescribed limits of the Federal Election Commission.

We're the only one out there obeying the law, and now we're being told that we're just too much trouble, just sit down already, be quiet and don't make trouble. Sorry, this is a real campaign, and the first real non-billionaire challenge to the gross abuses of both major political parties.

PRESS: Well, Phil, I grant your point that you haven't broken any laws. I think you need more than to get from here to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Wouldn't you admit that on a scale one to 10, Ralph Nader's chances of getting elected are zero and therefore voting for him is a pure waste of a vote?

DONAHUE: The -- here's what you're asking us to do, Bill, because, in your opinion, we can't win -- incidentally something they told Jesse Ventura when he was single-digit not long before the election, until he got on the debates. You're telling us we can't win, therefore, we should go away. We win -- we're already winning. We have significant, significant support among people who would otherwise not even be voting.

That's why -- you mentioned -- you throw out these single digits, three. Ralph Nader is in double digits in many states and among certain demographics. This candidacy is going to shock this nation. You heard it first from me from Shea Stadium. This is a very, very robust and healthy campaign, and I encourage you to watch it closely.

PRESS: Actually, I don't want to take any of your fire away, but I heard that first from Ralph Nader himself, who said he was going to shock the nation. And here's what he may have succeeded in doing, Phil, however, which -- and this comes from some of the people who share Ralph's passion, who've been there with him for the last 35 years. They're 12 Ralph Nader's Raiders, right, who sent a letter -- published an open letter this week asking Ralph to get out of the race.

And here's the point they make. I just want to share it with you. Quote: "It is now clear" -- to Ralph -- "that you might well give the White House to Bush. As a result you would set back significantly the very social progress to which you have devoted your entire astonishing career."

Isn't that the real risk and the real outcome of the Nader candidacy? DONAHUE: First things first, Bill. You have a letter signed by 12 Nader -- former Nader Raiders. There are thousands and thousands of Nader Raiders spanning two generations and they got 12 to stand up and say they're for Gore and that we should go away. These same Naders are the idealistic people who when they were young agreed with Ralph that corporate power has consumed this nation, agreed with Ralph that we should reduce military spending.

What is this? We can't wait to buy things that go boom and the Cold War has been over for 10 years. These are the same people who railed against corporate welfare and the handout of the broadband spectrum to the communications industry, that same industry turns around and two of those big guys don't even carry the debates. Imagine the gratitude, how proud Americans they must be. They're not even carrying the debates.

And Gore had three chances to knock off George Bush, and he hasn't done it, and now we're supposed to be quiet. Sorry, we can't be.

PRESS: Just be quiet for just a minute here until we here from Congressman Wexler. Go ahead, Tucker.

CARLSON: Congressman Wexler, now Phil Donahue describes the Ralph Nader for President campaign as vigorous, and that's really an understatement. Nader's been drawing thousands and thousands of enthusiastic, mostly young people to his campaign.

A couple of weeks ago in Madison Square Garden on a Friday night, 15,000 people showed up. On a Friday night, they could be home drinking beer, or in the case of Green Party candidate, members, smoking pot or whatever, but they weren't. They were there supporting Ralph Nader. These are not party hacks. These are ordinary voters.

This strikes me as the sort of idealism the Democratic Party had stood for, for years. What is wrong with this?

REP. ROBERT WEXLER (D), FLORIDA: Well, first of all, I think there's a lot right with it. The progressive movement in America is alive and well. And let's look at what's happened in the last couple of days. Al Gore has moved in the CNN polls from 10 back to now one up. I believe MSNBC tomorrow's going to have Gore up three.

If you add up Gore's lead and you put on top of that Nader's points, George Bush is way behind. Americans believe in a moderate to progressive agenda. They are pro-choice more often than not. They believe in protecting the environment, and they believe that prosperity means going with Al Gore. This is all basically very good news for Al Gore.

CARLSON: Well. why in the world would the Democratic Party be discouraging people from getting out to support and to vote for Ralph Nader if this is such a good sign? Why are you trying to squelch it?

WEXLER: Well, we're not trying to squelch it. What we're saying is, though, in those states where it's close, the people who are considering Ralph Nader need to consider the choice of who's going to be the president, and which candidate, Bush or Gore, better reflects Ralph Nader's position on most issues, and clearly it's Al Gore. Whether it's the environment or a woman's right to choose, whether it's social consciousness, whether it's protecting consumers, Al Gore is dead on with most of Ralph Nader's supporters.

CARLSON: That's so interesting you say that, because today I spent a good part of the afternoon reading the Green Party platform, and I'm interested to hear you say that Al Gore reflects a lot of those same positions because let me read a few of them to you.

The Green Party and Ralph Nader promise to free society of class distinctions, guarantee jobs for all Americans, establish worker collectives, get the government to confiscate all banks, insurance companies, automakers, railroads and energy utilities, put an end to private ownership of land, eliminate the military, and legalize marijuana.

Do you think, first of all...

WEXLER: No, we're not for legalization of marijuana.

CARLSON: ... that people who are voting for Ralph Nader, are these natural Gore voters? That's what I hear you saying.

WEXLER: No, listen, people who are supporting Ralph Nader have a progressive view.

CARLSON: That sounds pretty progressive to me.

WEXLER: Well, yes. I mean, listen, the best news here is it's true. Al Gore is not nearly as liberal as Ralph Nader. Al Gore is a moderate, New Democrat, center of the party, center of the American electorate, and that's why Ralph Nader apparently feels compelled to run. But that's OK. And when those people get into the polls, they're going to vote Democratic for the Senate and the Congress, and it's good news for Democrats.

PRESS: Phil, let me come back to you. You know, there have been charges of lies and charges of exaggerations in this campaign on the part of both Bush and Gore. But Ralph Nader says there's no difference between George Bush and Al Gore. He says a vote for one is a vote for the other. Isn't that the biggest lie of this entire campaign?

DONAHUE: When I was a kid, the Republican Party was the party of the businessmen and the Democratic Party was the party of labor. Now, as we stand here at the millennium, the Republican Party is the party of business and the Democratic Party is the party of business.

Consider some of the things that this campaign is not even discussing. We're executing retarded teenagers in some states. We have 2 million people in jail. The drug war is not only working, it isn't fair to cops. We're knocking doors down and shredding people's Fourth Amendment protections of privacy. Not one of the major party candidates will go near this issue. Millions and millions of Americans agree with the Republican governor of Illinois, stop this mayhem already. Hold it, hold it, he's saying. Wait a minute. Let's look at this. These candidates won't do that. They won't go near it.

PRESS: Phil...

DONAHUE: This is just one issue, just one issue that is not being discussed in this campaign, because both major parties have agreed they don't want to touch these third-rail issues. We have a...

PRESS: Go...


PRESS: Congressman.

WEXLER: Phil, Al Gore's made it clear that he supports the death penalty, but he also supports the use of DNA evidence. Al Gore is the only candidate that says don't drill for oil in the most pristine areas in Alaska. Clearly, you have to admit that Al Gore's environmental record is much more pro-environment than George Bush's. And you talk about privacy, Al Gore supports a woman's right to choose; George Bush does not. The kind of judges that Al Gore would choose would be much more susceptible to agreeing with the kind of Nader agenda that most people have. So how can you say there isn't a bit of difference between these two candidates?

DONAHUE: Well, on the matter of judges, Congressman, I certainly do -- you need no lecture about this, but I'm about to say you know -- Antonin Scalia was confirmed by the United States Senate 98-0, every Democrat in the Senate approved, said aye on Scalia, including Al Gore. Clarence Thomas -- these two threats to Roe v. Wade -- Clarence Thomas was approved by a Senate that was a Democratically-controlled Senate. George Mitchell was the majority leader.

WEXLER: And who appointed them? Which president appointed those people? They were Republican presidents.

DONAHUE: Which president...

WEXLER: And if Al Gore is president, you are not going to get Scalia and his kind of thinking. You're going to get more progressive, moderate judges that...

DONAHUE: I'm sorry, Congressman.

WEXLER: ... if nothing else, will protect a woman's right to choose.

DONAHUE: No, Congressman, I believe this is a scare tactic which is being deployed by people who conscientiously, honestly are supporting the Democratic candidate. We are a different group of people, we believe we represent millions and millions of voters who are fed up with the fact that both political parties are up over their heads in corporate cash. The political parties this year alone -- just the parties, not the campaigns, not the candidates -- the parties have spent more than $50 million. PRESS: All right, gentlemen...

WEXLER: And which candidate supports McCain-Feingold?

PRESS: Gentlemen, I'm going to have to ask you both to hold it right there...


PRESS: ... because we do have to take a break. Phil Donahue, Robert Wexler, the campaign and the debate continues. We'll take a break here.

And meanwhile, we want to get you involved in this, here is your audience question for tonight: Should Al Gore ask Ralph Nader to withdraw? You know how to take part in tonight's online audience vote, just go to We'll give you the results at the end of the show.

When we come back, let's talk about the big crowds Ralph Nader is getting -- will they turn out to vote?


PRESS: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

They used to make fun of Ralph Nader as a zealot and a loner, out there somewhere on the fringe, but no longer. Nader is now the wild card in this year's presidential politics, running strong enough in six key states to perhaps tip the election to George Bush.

So, is he out to destroy Al Gore and the Democratic Party, or is he the only candidate giving people a choice beyond politics as usual? That's our debate tonight with former talk show host, the legendary Phil Donahue, a Nader supporter, who joins us from New York at Shea Stadium; and Congressman Robert Wexler, a Gore supporter and, of course, a legend in his own right -- Tucker.

CARLSON: Congressman, third-party candidates always say -- it's a trope with them -- that the other two parties are exactly the same, the republic rats. Now, as you point out, that's not entirely true, there are differences, and yet sometimes the differences are hard to detect. Consider the second debate, take a look at this.


GORE: I agree with that. I agree with that.

JIM LEHRER, MODERATOR: You agree with that, Governor?


GORE: I haven't heard a big difference in the last few exchanges.

BUSH: I mean, it seems like we're having a great lovefest tonight...

GORE: The governor and I agree on some things where this subject is concerned.

BUSH: Yes, I agree.

GORE: I don't disagree with that.


CARLSON: Well, it does sound a lot like the Albanian parliament, doesn't it? I mean, they -- on the issues that matter to the very workers that Gore spends so much time talking about, namely globalization, they agree completely, and it seems to me that the consensus now is that greed is good, and neither candidate -- not Al Gore -- is standing up for the alternate view, and Ralph Nader is. Isn't that a good thing?

WEXLER: Well, I think it's a good thing that both candidates support free trade, but there is a difference: Al Gore, within the context of being pro-free trade, also knows we need to have good strong labor standards, good strong environmental standards. I don't think George Bush would care so much about those standards. But on other issues, there is a huge difference.

CARLSON: Wait, but let me get back to that, labor unions have been notably unenthusiastic for Gore because he has essentially joined the Republicans -- the entire Democratic Party has -- in selling organized labor down the river. Why doesn't it make sense for a union member to support Ralph Nader, who's clearly on their side much more explicitly...

WEXLER: Because...

CARLSON: ... than Al Gore is?

WEXLER: ... we have created 22 million new jobs in America in the last eight years, and any worker, whether they're in a union or not, knows full well that their pay and their likelihood of getting a greater share of the American pie is much better under a Gore administration than it is a George Bush administration. They remember what 12 years ago was like with high interest rates and high unemployment and not a lot of hope in the job market, that hasn't been the case in eight years.

CARLSON: So Gore can go and suck up to the rich at fund raisers every week, as he does, call the, you know, movie moguls the "creative community," and workers are just supposed to say, well, that's fine, by the way, he created 22 million new jobs?

WEXLER: No, no.

CARLSON: That's a bit far fetched, isn't it?

WEXLER: Yes, of course it is, and what Gore can and should say is, I am a moderate Democrat who understands that we should be pro- business, but also be very concerned about labor issues, the environment and like. We know how to create jobs, we have a record, we know who to keep inflation low, we know how to keep unemployment low. Run on prosperity, that's what workers want.

PRESS: Phil Donahue, we often hear Ralph Nader talk about campaign reform, the need to get the corporate money out, which I certainly agree with him on; we seldom hear him talk on other issues, particularly foreign policy.

Yet Sunday night at University of California at Davis, Ralph gave a speech. In his speech, he talked about foreign policy, particularly about the situation in the Middle East. And here is part of what he had to say -- I want to quote to you -- quote -- Ralph Nader -- "Who are the forces that are producing most of the violence? The overwhelming excessive use of force is by the Israeli military." And Ralph Nader says we should cut off U.S. aid to Israel. Do you agree with that, Phil Donahue?

DONAHUE: I agree that the death of more than 100 Palestinians at the hands of armed, uniformed, flak-jacketed, helmeted Israeli military constabulary who put bullets into the body cavities of more than 100 people, including scores of children, was an overreaction, and those deaths were not mourned certainly, in this country as they should have been. We are a nation that believes that we're all God's children and -- I mean, they were responding to stones with live ammunition and they killed over 100 people.

I understand what Ralph means.

PRESS: But, Phil, with all due respect, this is a man who pretends to be, maybe, president of the United States. Do you think it's wise for someone to take sides -- No. 1, to blame it all on Israel and to say cut off all aid to Israel? Is that an appropriate presidential role? Isn't that reckless as hell?

DONAHUE: I think that the polls show that the rage among the Arab American community is growing and part of that rage derives from what they perceive to be Al Gore's total, total bias toward Israel's decision-making in its own nation and not only not caring about Palestinian deaths, but hardly mentioning them at all.

This has enraged people.

PRESS: Congressman?

WEXLER: you know, Phil points out a stark reality about Ralph Nader. He may be a good consumer advocate, he's awful on the Middle East. He doesn't know much about foreign policy.

And, Phil, respectfully, for to you to characterize the issue as simply the big bad Israeli machine going after children is irresponsible. Why are those children in the streets to begin with? Because Yasser Arafat let them out of school. They're used as pawns. We sicken at the fact that children die anywhere in the world, but to suggest that our only ally in the Middle East who's a democracy, who actually elects their leaders is to blame for this kind of democracy goes way beyond anything reasonable.

How about peace? Yasser Arafat has advocated his role as a peace partner -- why don't you talk about that a little bit.

DONAHUE: Are you comfortable with the shootings of the Israeli army toward these civilian children and adults? Are you comfortable with that.

WEXLER: I'm not comfortable when anybody dies but I'm comfortable with Israel defending its security just like we would do in America.

PRESS: Gentlemen, I'm sorry, on that moment of passion I hate to do it, but we are out of time, i have to interrupt; and thank you both for joining us. Congressman Robert Wexler, thank you for being here in the studio with us. Phil Donahue, great pleasure to see you, thank you for joining us on CROSSFIRE, hope to see you again. Thanks Phil.

DONAHUE: Thank you.

PRESS: Tucker Carlson and I will be back with closing comments on Ralph Nader, plus the results of your vote.


PRESS: All right, now here are the exciting results of our earlier on-line audience vote question: Should Gore ask Nader to get out of the race? 27 percent of you said yes, 73 percent said no -- he's not going to do it anyway.

Tucker, I've got to say, I've supported Ralph Nader for 30 years, but there's no doubt a vote for Nader is a vote for George W. Bush and there's too much at stake in this election to waste a vote on Nader or Buchanan.

CARLSON: And yet Ralph Nader may be the only candidate in this election, certainly the only one on the left, who's making a fundamentally moral argument. And I can see the appeal. Sure, he's a bomb-throwing extremist, but he's appealing to people's better nature and good for him.

PRESS: I wouldn't call him a bomb-throwing extremist...

CARLSON: Workers' collectives? Nationalizing insurance companies?

PRESS: I can understand the appeal, but we live in a real world where you have to make real choices.

CARLSON: Ralph doesn't.

PRESS: Bush or Gore, not Nader. From the right, from the left, I'm Bill Press, good night for CROSSFIRE.

CARLSON: And on the right, I'm Tucker Carlson. Join us again tomorrow night for another edition of CROSSFIRE. TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT


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