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Interview With Ralph Nader

Aired March 30, 2004 - 16:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE. On the left, James Carville and Paul Begala; on the right, Robert Novak and Tucker Carlson.



ANNOUNCER: Live from the George Washington University, Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson.


PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Hello, everybody. Welcome to CROSSFIRE.

Well, today, the White House caved in and agreed to let National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice testify under oath and in public before the 9/11 Commission. We are expecting President Bush to come into the White House briefing room shortly and make some remarks about that development. We will bring them to you live when it happens.

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: That in a few minutes.

But first, we're joined by a man who hopes to replace President Bush in the White House no, not John Kerry. In the CROSSFIRE, consumer-advocate-turned-Democratic Party-nemesis Ralph Nader.


BEGALA: Ralph.




BEGALA: Good to see you.

NADER: Thank you.

BEGALA: Let's start on the news of the day. You're an accomplished attorney. You hope to be the president of the United States. But, before then, if you were on the 9/11 Commission, what would you ask Condoleezza Rice? NADER: What she knew when, what the boss knew when, what Cheney knew when. It's important to get it out in the public record. You don't go around procedural obstacles here and there.

They've got an obligation to the American people to explain themselves; $30 billion of intelligence agencies' budget and they couldn't find the tracks of these attackers that were set all over the country, didn't even listen to their field offices in the FBI. So people want answers. The families of 9/11, the American people want answers. They don't want bickering and procedural absurdities. They've got to come clean.

BEGALA: Do you think she has? Do you think she's been candid? That is, Dr. Rice.

NADER: Well -- well, we haven't seen really her response under oath toward Richard Clarke's assertions. That's what the replay is all about.

CARLSON: Now, Ralph Nader, you've made the point many times that both parties kind of look alike.

And on one point, I think you're right. Both parties see Israel as America's friend and sort of the anchor of American foreign policy in the region. How do you think America ought to change its relationship with Israel and to what extent is our friendship with Israel responsible for the terrorism against


NADER: Don't confuse Israel with the military government now on top of Israel.

CARLSON: I'm not confusing


CARLSON: I'm asking you the question.

NADER: Yes. The Israeli peace movement is the way to go. They've been connecting with the Palestinian peace movement. They've had two-state solutions. They've had various agreements. And there's more freedom to discuss this issue inside Israel and the freedom of the press and debate and discussion on all issues than there is in the United States.

CARLSON: Do you think


NADER: Wait. Wait.

The United States government is interested in peace between those two peoples. President Bush has already said he believes in a viable Palestinian state and, of course, Israel's security. If they really believe it, they would align themselves with the Israeli peace movement, which draws on ex-military


CARLSON: I understand. Then, do you think this administration or Clinton's administration failure to align themselves with Peace Now and instead of the Sharon government is partly responsible for terrorism against Americans?

NADER: It's not just Peace Now. It's much broader.


CARLSON: You understand the question.


CARLSON: Do you think American support for that government is partly responsible?

NADER: I'm saying that the United States gives a lot of aid to Israel, economic aid, military aid, has great sway with the Israeli government. Over 50 percent of the Israeli people will go for a two- state solution. In fact, it gets up higher than that when the violence subsides on both sides.

And that's what we should do. If you want peace, you support the peace movement in the country that you want the peace movement -- the peace accord to be started.

BEGALA: Ralph, let me ask you about our country.


BEGALA: We have debated this before. We're happy to have you back.


BEGALA: It's always good to see you. But -- you have a perfect right to run. But it seems to me every time you talk about your candidacy, you make an argument that is frankly insulting to me and I think to our audience.

And that is that your candidacy would help John Kerry. Look, if you want to run, God bless you. It's a free country. We will always welcome you here on CROSSFIRE to promote your candidacy. But don't insult me and tell me that it would be good for John Kerry for you to run and take votes from him.

NADER: I only say that when people like you ask me. I'm interested...


BEGALA: You cost Gore the election the last time around. Now you're going to cost Kerry the election this time. (CROSSTALK)

NADER: How about a quarter-of-a-million of your fellow Democrats who voted for Bush in Georgia? I think they had a role, plus the mayor of Miami, plus, plus, plus.

The important thing is this. Do the American people want more voices and choices? If the answer is yes -- and I think it is yes -- the Democrats should just stop whining and go to work. They should be landsliding Bush. They should be landsliding him.


BEGALA: Listen.


BEGALA: By splitting the progressive vote between two candidates, that's going to defeat Bush? Help me out.


NADER: Yes, let me help you out.


BEGALA: I'm a liberal arts


NADER: Let me help you out. I've read your critique and Carville's critique, his brilliant critique of the Democratic Party. If they listened to you and Carville, instead of the corporate Democrats and Democratic Leadership Council, and all of the others that have been reducing the differences between the two parties and taking corporate money, they would landslide Bush.

Bush has got a clear record against workers, against consumers, against environment. He is a big corporation in the White House disguised as a human being.


NADER: And all he does is support big business. All he does -- all he does is support big business and give slogans, phony slogans like compassionate conservative, Leave No Child Behind. Let's face it. You see all the conflicts between big business and the people in this country and the jobs that have been going abroad and the tax twists in favor of the rich and the corporate, and ask yourself a question.

Where does George Bush come down? He comes down again and again and again on the side of big business. And to have two fronts against George Bush is exactly what you should be dreaming of, Paul.

(CROSSTALK) CARLSON: Well, wait a second. Not many people agree with you, Ralph Nader. In fact, some of the people who hate you most, as you know, are your former allies on the left.

Let me just name one, Micah Sifry, author of "Spoiling for a Fight," a book about third parties in America. Here's what he says about you -- quote -- "Even for those of us who have supported Nader in the past and still admire him and his accomplishments in four decades of civic advocacy, there's little about his candidacy that makes sense this time around. He says he wants to defeat Bush" -- this is the key line -- "but he can't help but criticize Democrats, too. It's in his nature."

That's an authority impulse, isn't it, on the part of the left, that criticizing Democrats in any way is somehow wrong or immoral? Why are they like that, I wonder?

NADER: I don't know. You know better than me.

CARLSON: I don't. You're one of them. Tell me why.


CARLSON: So you're not allowed to criticize Democrats?

NADER: Their expectations are so low, that they'll go for anything. I've had people, liberals, say, Genghis Khan rather than Bush, my cocker spaniel rather than Bush.


NADER: The key is this. All these major groups, like Sierra Club, League of Conservation Voters, who are supporting Kerry, ask themselves one question: Are they asking anything in return?


NADER: Or is it, oh, heaven's sake, anybody but Bush, don't possibly disturb the corporate Democrats and their platform.

CARLSON: Well, see, here's what bothers -- here's what bothers me, Ralph.


CARLSON: Is that the left is not content simply to ignore you or even to take on like a solid critique of your positions. They call you names. I point to a piece in "The New Republic" earlier this month by Jonathan Chait that describes you as someone filled with monomania, vindictiveness and rage.

In other words, you're not just wrong. You're mentally ill.


CARLSON: You're a nut. You're a loser. You're a lunatic. Does that hurt your feelings when they write that stuff?

NADER: That means they are out of arguments. My compass comes from 45 million Americans don't have health care after all these years; 45 million don't have a living wage. They work full-time. It comes from people who have to raise kids in toxic waste dumps, environmental racism, violation of civil liberties. Why don't we focus on the problems here?

CARLSON: Because the Democrats don't really mean, do they, is what you're saying.

BEGALA: Let me point to somebody who I think has as strong a moral compass as anybody in our country. And that is Nobel Prize winner, Peace Prize winner, Jimmy Carter, former president of the United States.

NADER: Right.

BEGALA: Who spoke directly to you recently in a speech. Here's President Carter referring to your candidacy.


JIMMY CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Go back to umpiring softball games or examining the rear end of automobiles and don't risk costing the Democrats the White House this year, as you did four years ago.


BEGALA: Now, how do you respond to President Carter?

NADER: Why not the best?

CARLSON: Exactly.

BEGALA: That was the title of Jimmy Carter's book. I guess he's saying, Ralph, you're not the best, that Kerry is the best.


BEGALA: He's our best chance to beat Bush and the best chance to get rid of all those policies that you say you


NADER: The point is, the Democrats are playing checkers, when we should be playing chess. There are so many votes out there among disgruntled conservatives.


NADER: So many votes. Look at the conservatives. See if you agree with this.

The conservatives are furious with Bush over huge deficits that are going to wreck the country. Do you know what a deficit is? It's a Bush tax on children instead of the adults. It's a future tax. They're furious with him about taxpayer subsidies to corporations like the energy corporation and drug benefit. They're furious with him about big government snooping and the Patriot Act. Do -- they dislike the Patriot Act.


BEGALA: ... pick up the disgruntled right, instead of...

NADER: Wait. Wait. And they're furious with him because of the NAFTA and WTO trading


BEGALA: I've got news for you, sir. The right wing is not furious with George Bush. They think his poop don't stink. They think he's the best thing that ever happened, because he's a right- wing kook himself. That's what going on here. They love him.

NADER: Don't overgeneralize. You just talk about margins in Florida and everything. We're talking about several million conservatives that are either going to stay home or they're going to look for an independent, just the way Reagan got the Reagan Democrats, the blue-collar Democrats.

CARLSON: Exactly.

NADER: He won the election.

See, let me tell you, it's all out there. Look at our Web site. Don't prejudge. Our Web site is Volunteer for us. Send contributions for us, but don't prejudge it. Just wait and see how it develops.


BEGALA: We saw in 2000.

NADER: No, no.

CARLSON: Here's the problem. And I admire you for ignoring the kind of Machiavellian, incredibly low advice that you're getting from a lot on the left.



CARLSON: But I want you to critique something that Walter Cronkite said...


CARLSON: ... who is a pretty honest liberal, to "The Philadelphia Inquirer" the other day. This is addressed to John Kerry. And I think it gets right to the heart of why you're running.

"The denial, John Kerry, that you are a liberal is almost impossible to reconcile," wrote Cronkite. "It isn't just that 'The National Journal' has branded you a liberal. So has the liberal lobbying group the Americans For Democratic Action. Senator, check your own Web site. If 1988 taught us anything, it is that a candidate who looks the courage of his convictions cannot hope to convince the nation he should be given its leadership."

Here's my question. Why won't John Kerry just come out and say, yes, I'm a liberal? What's the shame there? Why won't he do that?

NADER: I don't know. I didn't think he was reluctant to do that, but let me...

CARLSON: He has been. In case after case, he's said, oh, you can't label me.

NADER: John Kerry has got to get loose. He cannot allow political consultants to put handcuffs on his mind and his imagination. He's got to stop talking Senatese and be the old John Kerry I knew 23 years ago.

CARLSON: Do you think he's liberal? Do you he's a real liberal or just a phony liberal?

NADER: Well, it depends. On corporate issues, you can say he is quasi-conservative, quasi-liberal. On civil liberties, he's probably liberal.

The problem is now, in Congress, is that you can't categorize these people, because there are so many issues that the liberals and conservatives are converging on. I have noted four to Paul which I think he would agree with. So why don't the Democrats have this strategy where they go after the liberal Republicans and the conservatives? And if they don't go after them, we're going to appeal to them.

I mean, I'm not running John Kerry's campaign by any means. But I'm going to meet with him and I'm going to meet with Howard Dean. And I'm going to say, look, we have one thing in common. We want to send the Bush corporation back to Crawford, Texas.


NADER: So let's talk about it from that point of view.

BEGALA: Ralph, keep your seat. Hang on just a second. We are going to take a quick break.

We are still standing by, of course, for President Bush to speak live about the 9/11 Commission in the White House briefing room. When he walks into that room, we will bring it to you live when it happens.

And when we come back here, Ralph Nader will stay with us to go through the "Rapid Fire." I hope you will do the same. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


CARLSON: Well, the decision to let National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice testify before the 9/11 Commission no doubt will have an effect on the presidential race. So we're soliciting a view of the presidential candidates, including a candidate from the middle.

Ralph Nader, an independent, joins us here for "Rapid Fire."

BEGALA: Ralph, you mentioned Howard Dean a moment ago.

Here's what Howard Dean, Governor Dean, said about candidacy: "Ralph Nader has made a great many contributions to America over 40 years. But if George W. Bush is reelected, the health, safety, consumer, environmental and open government provisions Ralph Nader has fought for will all be undermined. George Bush's right-wing appointees will still be serving as judges 50 years from now, and our Constitution will be shredded. It will be government by, of and for the corporations, exactly what Ralph Nader has struggled against."

NADER: Nobody wants to defeat Bush more than I do. And I think I know ways to defeat Bush that John Kerry and the Democrats are too cautious or unimaginative to deal with, but they can pick it up when they see it working.

CARLSON: Ralph Nader, of course, we're waiting for the president to make an appearance at the briefing room at the White House in just a minute. Before then, though...

NADER: Is he going back to get his cue cards?


NADER: Oh, I see.

CARLSON: I think he'll do better than you think.


CARLSON: And, in fact, it's just -- it's the sort of nasty, shallow attacks like that I would you would be against, as a man running on principle and ideas, rather than just vitriol.


NADER: I would like to have a president who didn't have to use cue cards and teleprompters.


CARLSON: Really? You're letting me down, because I saw you actually standing for something, rather than sort of third-grade insults. But you said a moment ago that you hope to win the support of disaffected Republicans and the right and that your appeal knows no party bounds. And yet you said earlier this month that you would not accept money from Republicans. Why is that?

NADER: No, I wouldn't accept money from Republicans who say, hey, go defeat the Democrats.

But when you invite people to contribute from all over the country, as all candidates do, some of them are going to be independent. Some are going to be Democrats. Some are going to be Republicans. There's no strings attached.


CARLSON: You said right here


BEGALA: Let me pick up on this. A whole lot of them, the people who are donating to you, are in fact Republicans who want President Bush to win.

"Dallas Morning News" just this week ran an analysis...

NADER: Careful. Be accurate, now. OK. Right.

BEGALA: They ran an analysis of your donors. They said slightly under 10 percent of your donors who gave $250 or more to you were Republicans who in the past had given to a variety of Republican causes, including Republican presidential candidacies.

Don't you think that maybe the folks who are so happy about you running who are giving you money who support President Bush are trying to tell you something: Help Bush?

NADER: How about the 90 percent who gave to Democrats who have given to us? Don't you think they're trying...


BEGALA: You're also swiping from the pot that John Kerry could be drawing from.

NADER: No, but the point is, the thing -- look, there are some people I've worked with, like Gino Paluchi (ph) up in northeast Minnesota, or Robert Monks, Bob Monks on the governance issue. These people really want corporations to be held accountable, even though they're Republicans.

CARLSON: OK. We're going to cut you off. We're going to go right to the briefing room at the White House.

Here's President Bush.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS) CARLSON: That was President Bush at the White House briefing room pledging full White House cooperation with the 9/11 Commission, noting that already 800 members of the administration have testified before the commission and saying that the White House changed its mind after receiving written assurances that the testimony of himself, the vice president, and the national security adviser would not change the precedent of executive privilege.

BEGALA: Now, Tucker, it was very interesting to watch. No politician looks good when they're retreating. But the president ran out of the room. He didn't take any questions from journalists, when they have a million that they would like to ask him and that we all would like to ask him.

But he talked about how he cooperated, as you said. This is a guy who dragged his heels. He opposed creating the commission. He dragged his heels on cooperating with the commission, kept documents from them and tried to keep Dr. Rice from them. This is an abject failure for the president and I thought he looked bad.


CARLSON: You know, I have to say, I think it's a smart -- well, I think anything you did, you would respond by saying he looked bad. I think it was a smart thing to allow her, Dr. Rice's testimony at this point. I do think the problem is timing, seven months before an election particularly in this superheated atmosphere where the hatred for President Bush from Democrats is so overwhelming.

No matter what he did -- today, when he announced that he changed course, Democrats attacked him for changing course. Chuck Schumer said that he was betraying his own principles by doing what Chuck Schumer wanted him to do.


CARLSON: That reaches a level of insanity.

BEGALA: Well, Senator Schumer is not with us, but Dana Bash is. Dana is in that briefing room. She was there for the brief statement from our president.

CNN's Dana Bash joins us now from the White House.

Hi, Dana.


Well, as you mentioned, he did not take questions, the president, from reporters here. But basically he got on the record what we've been hearing from White House aides, what we saw in that letter from Judge Gonzales to the commission earlier today, which is essentially that they wanted to get on the record. He wanted to get National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice out there in public, but they had been concerned about that whole precedent issue of executive privilege. The president made that clear again today. Now, behind the scenes we understand that the president has been thinking about this as he watched the mounting political pressure over the weekend. Yesterday, we're told that he said to aides that he thought that the process was getting in the way of substance, so that is why they changed here.

But, certainly, as you have been talking about for the past -- almost the past hour, this has been a political issue that the White House simply knew they couldn't ignore anymore.

CARLSON: Dana, it's Tucker Carlson. Is it clear who in the White House was holding out to keep Dr. Rice from testifying?

BASH: Well, you know, talking to aides here, what they say is that everybody understood both the legal ramifications and the political ramifications. And that is sort of -- the rub has been between those two issues.

Obviously, the president's political team understood that by having the story out there day after day and sort of the issue of, why isn't Dr. Rice testifying, what does she have to hide, sort of part of the headlines, a big part of the headlines, that has not been helping his reelection campaign, particularly since he's been talking about -- a major theme he's talking about and will continue to talk about is the fact that he is somebody who is leading on the war on terrorism.

And, as you heard from the president today, they're trying to get the message out that they're helping the 9/11 Commission. He talked about the 20 White House aides who have been interviewed, the numbers of documents they've given over to the 9/11 Commission. That, they understood, had been sort of buried in the whole question of why his top national security aide wasn't going to testify.

So they've been sort of battling internally back and forth between those two things trying to find other compromises before they got to this point. And, basically, this was all they could get, because Republican members of the commission, Democratic members of the commission made it clear they were holding out. They weren't going to give in to just having her testify privately.

BEGALA: CNN's Dana Bash on top of the story at the heart of the matter in the White House briefing room -- good to see you again, Dana.

BASH: You, too.

BEGALA: Thank you for joining us on CROSSFIRE.

BASH: Thank you.

BEGALA: We're going to take a quick break.

When we come back, we will bring you our best little political briefing in television, the CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

Stay with us.


BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. Time now for an abbreviated version of the best little political briefing in television, the CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

Campaign strategists for President Bush have long said that they want the election to be about 9/11. They stooped so low as to use footage of a dead body being carried out of the Twin Towers in their very first ad. And they've even scheduled their political convention in New York City just before September 11.

So, it's only fair to me that the wonderful progressive grassroots group has decided to make their own ad about 9/11.


NARRATOR: George Bush shamelessly exploited 9/11 in his campaign commercials. Now Richard Clarke, his former counterterrorism chief, said:

RICHARD CLARKE, FORMER COUNTERTERRORISM ADVISER: I find it outrageous that the president is running for reelection on the grounds that he's done such great things about terrorism. He ignored terrorism for months when maybe we could have done something to stop 9/11.


BEGALA: The ad is running here on CNN and another cable channel. I for one love it. Let the debate begin. The president wants a debate about 9/11. By God, let's give him one.

CARLSON: You know what? The fact that we haven't had a terrorist attack since September 11 suggests -- doesn't prove it, does suggest -- he's done a pretty good job protecting us since then.


CARLSON: And I do think this ad backfires, because it makes


BEGALA: ... didn't do a good job on September 11.

CARLSON: Let me finish. Let me finish.

It makes the Clarke book look like what it is, and that is a partisan attack. If Clarke had just pulled back a tiny bit and said, actually, you know what, I don't dislike Bush, it's a complicated issue



BEGALA: He's a Republican who worked for Bush.

CARLSON: He's not a Republican.


BEGALA: If he's lying, they should prosecute him for perjury. I bet you John Ashcroft would be happy to do it.

CARLSON: That is so over the top.

BEGALA: The fact is, he's telling the truth. Buy the book.


CARLSON: I'm not saying he's lying. I'm just saying it's too partisan.

Well, of all the implausible claims John Kerry has made lately, that mysterious foreign leaders in fact support him, that he will somehow single-handedly create -- quote -- "10 million new jobs," maybe the most amusing of all is his pledge yesterday to lower gasoline prices for American motorists. John Kerry lowering gasoline prices? That would be like Michael Jackson playing hockey or Ted Kennedy drinking Diet Coke with dinner. It's not going to happen.


CARLSON: As the new Bush campaign points out. Here it is.


NARRATOR: Some people have wacky ideas, like taxing gasoline more so people drive less. That's John Kerry. He supported a 50- cent-a-gallon gas tax. If Kerry's gas tax increase were law, the average family would pay $657 more a year.


CARLSON: Fifty cents a gallon, that is not a made-up number. John Kerry himself repeatedly bragged about his desire to raise gas by 50 cents a gallon. Ponder that next time you fill up your tank.

BEGALA: The height of hypocrisy. Mr. Bush's own chief economic adviser, Gregory Mankiw, supported that same 50 cent gas tax.


CARLSON: Well, he was totally wrong. But he's not running for president.

BEGALA: And so did Paul O'Neill, Bush's treasury secretary.


CARLSON: Exactly. And now he's gone. And now he's gone, Paul.

BEGALA: So Bush should fire Mr. Mankiw.


BEGALA: He's the ultimate hypocrite.


BEGALA: Do you know why gas prices are high? Because George W. Bush walks around holding hands with Crown Prince Abdullah from Saudi Arabia


BEGALA: Like it's some kind of an ad for gay marriage.


BEGALA: Where's the picture?


BEGALA: Where's the picture?

CARLSON: You can yell all you want, but you either don't know what you want or you're not telling the truth on purpose.


CARLSON: You know very well that demand, increased demand, is the reason behind the spiking gas prices. I know -- you're from Texas. You've got to know enough to know that.

BEGALA: It's Bush and Cheney wholly owned subsidiaries of Halliburton, Exxon, Enron and Mobil who drove up gas prices.


BEGALA: Well, from the left, I am Paul Begala. That's it for CROSSFIRE.

CARLSON: And from the right, I'm Tucker Carlson.

Join us again tomorrow for another edition of CROSSFIRE.


BEGALA: Stay tuned for "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS." Have a great night.


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