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CNN CROSSFIRE

Interview With Ralph Nader

Aired July 12, 2004 - 16:30   ET

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


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

In the CROSSFIRE: The Democrats can't talk out him out of running.

RALPH NADER (I), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The two-party system is rigged.

ANNOUNCER: Will he turn into the spoiler of 2004?

NADER: We don't want to settle for the lesser of two evils in our country.

ANNOUNCER: We'll ask Ralph Nader about his campaign and about how much help he's getting from Republicans today on CROSSFIRE.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: Live from the George Washington University, Paul Begala and Robert Novak.

(APPLAUSE)

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

A brand spanking new CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup shows that Ralph Nader only has 2 percent support among likely voters, down from 5 percent in early June. Today, in the CROSSFIRE, we will ask Mr. Nader why he is suddenly the darling of far right fund-raisers and Pat Buchanan's old political party.

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Ralph Nader clobbered Howard Dean in their debate last Friday. He shouldn't have any trouble, Paul Begala.

We'll let the left-wingers go at it right after the best little political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

Democrats are jubilant that Ronald Reagan Jr. will address their national convention. Well, I knew the real Ronald Reagan and the son is nothing like the old man.

(APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: After he used his father's death to bash George W. Bush, he got a stinging letter from William F. Buckley, who has close ties to the Reagan family. Buckley challenged Ron Jr.'s claim that it was fine with his father that he left college to join the ballet. Said Buckley: "It wasn't fine with him and he enlisted my aid in trying to persuade to you stay in college."

Buckley accused junior, a professed atheist, of deriding his parents' faith. I understand Nancy Reagan is fully in accord with Mr. Buckley's sentiments.

BEGALA: Mr. Buckley's a wonderful man. But who cares if 20 years ago Ron Reagan Jr. dropped out of Yale? Dick Cheney dropped out of Yale and he turned out OK, politically.

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: I think it's wonderful that the Republicans -- that a Republican like Ronald Reagan's son is speaking to the Democratic Party. I think it's terrific he has got something important to say something about President Bush's slavish commitment to the kook right fringe of his party. And that's what drove Ron Reagan and others out of the Republican Party.

NOVAK: I would say that junior belongs to the kook left fringe of America. And it isn't a matter that he just dropped out of Yale. It's just that he lied when he had the interview with "The New York Times."

(BELL RINGING)

NOVAK: You can have him.

BEGALA: We want him.

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: Well, President Bush today vigorously defended his invasion of Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We removed a declared enemy of America who had the capability of producing weapons of mass murder and could have passed that capability to terrorists bent on acquiring them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BEGALA: Now, notice the remarkable about-face of Mr. Bush's language. No longer does he say Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, because it did not. So he says, they had the capability of producing weapons of mass destruction. Likewise, Mr. Bush, you just heard him there, says Iraq could have passed that capability on to terrorists.

Of course, Iraq did no such thing, because, as the Senate report last week implies, the previous policy of containment, sanctions, inspections and bombing was working. The plain truth is the Iraq was no threat to America, and yet our president sent tens of thousands of Americans there to fight and hundreds of Americans died. No amount of carefully scripted weasel words can change that.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: I think that's a bad political issue for the Democrats, Paul.

And I'll tell you why. A senator named John Kerry voted to send America to war.

(BELL RINGING)

NOVAK: A senator named John Edwards voted to send America to war. You can't get away from that.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: You're right. But they were wrong. I disagree with them.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: The next time -- the next time you hear John Kerry talk about fiscal discipline in the federal government, put your hand on your wallet.

"The Washington Times" reporter Don Lambro informs us that a National Taxpayers Union study later this week will show Kerry's proposals would mean $220 billion more in spending, federal spending, his first year as president and more than $730 billion over five years. You can count on what that will mean, higher taxes.

If you don't believe me, here's what a fellow Democrat said about Kerry in February -- quote -- "He overspends by $165 billion in his first term. This is the same old Washington talk" -- end quote. Who said that? John Edwards.

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: Look, for Republicans to talk about fiscal responsibility is nuts. George W. Bush inherited the largest surplus in history from Bill Clinton. He turned it into the largest deficit. And I thought, if Bush would be good at anything, it would be at inheriting things. But even that, he couldn't handle. We gave him the biggest surplus in history. He squandered it. John Kerry will put us back on a sound fiscal footing.

NOVAK: Well, I think it's interesting that he's going to be a big spender.

(BELL RINGING)

NOVAK: Democrats can really spend. He's going to make George Bush look like a piker if he's get elected.

BEGALA: Well, 23 American troops were killed in Iraq last week. The stock market dropped last week. And the Senate Intelligence Committee reported that America went to war based on faulty on false arguments from the Bush administration.

But, rather than attack America's problems or attack America's enemies, our president used his Saturday radio address to attack gays. Mr. Bush and his running mate, Dick Cheney, both opposed the anti-gay constitutional amendment in the past, but now are flip-flopping before the election. Perhaps Mr. Bush wants to hijack the election and take it away from issues of making America stronger at home and respected in the world through good-paying jobs or affordable health care or independence from Middle East oil.

Mr. Bush should be ashamed of himself for dividing Americans and debasing the Constitution. And if John Kerry allows him to get away with this, he should be even more ashamed.

(APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: Two corrections, Paul. No. 1, the Senate Intelligence Committee report said that he went to war on faulty information from the intelligence community which they said...

(APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: That President Bush did not pressure them to give. They agreed to that on a unanimous decision -- decision of the committee. And, secondly, both Bush and Cheney were against the constitutional amendment before -- before -- the courts, including the Mississippi...

(BELL RINGING)

NOVAK: The Massachusetts judicial court decided to get involved.

Ralph Nader is still running for president. What he's hoping -- what is he hoping to get out of this election? We'll ask him that and a whole lot more next. And actor Tom Hanks discovered something was missing at the White House during a recent visit. We'll tell you what he did about it later.

(APPLAUSE)

ANNOUNCER: Get ahead of the CROSSFIRE. Sign up for CROSSFIRE's daily "Political Alert" e-mail. You'll get a preview of each day's show, plus an inside look at the day's political headlines. Just go to CNN.com/CROSSFIRE and sign up today.

ANNOUNCER: Join Carville, Begala, Carlson and Novak in the CROSSFIRE. For free tickets to CROSSFIRE at the George Washington University, call 202-994-8CNN or visit our Web site. Now you can step into the CROSSFIRE.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: Democrats keep whining that Ralph Nader will be the spoiler in the presidential race. But a CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll that came out only an hour ago shows Nader has a long way to go before he spoils anything. The poll of likely voters shows John Kerry 50 percent, President Bush 45, Ralph Nader only 2 percent. Who knows? Maybe Nader will have a better chance of spoiling things if more people read his new book, "The Good Fight: Declare Your Independence and Close the Democracy Gap."

But don't head to the bookstore yet. Ralph Nader now is in the CROSSFIRE.

BEGALA: Good to see you again. Thank you for joining us, Mr. Nader.

(APPLAUSE)

NADER: Hey. Robert, get me on the presidential debates and you'll see those polls go up fast.

BEGALA: Well, let me set aside the polls, because I think you're right.

NADER: OK.

BEGALA: They don't matter this early.

NADER: Right. Right. Right.

BEGALA: But what matters to me is that you have been endorsed by the Reform Party, the party of Pat Buchanan. Now, why is one of the great progressive crusaders of American history embracing the party of a right-winger like Pat Buchanan?

NADER: Because they're against corporate globalization. They want to crack down on corporate crime. They're for the environment. They want renewable energy. They're good for customer protection. You can't get everything perfect.

But they have got a lot of good positions. They really are against the deficit that's a tax on our children, the biggest deficit in American history, Bush produced.

BEGALA: But they also...

NADER: Those are...

BEGALA: That's correct. But they're also for freezing all immigration to our country for some limited period of time, three or four or five years, using the National Guard to patrol our borders and for a constitutional amendment that would deny citizenship to people who are born in America unless their parents were citizens first. Now, that's right-wing claptrap. I mean, you can disavow that, don't you? NADER: Yes. Yes. There's no quid pro quo here. They're very kind to let us use their ballot access, because the Democrats are using dirty tricks to try to deny millions of voters an opportunity to vote for the Nader-Peter Miguel Camejo ticket. So...

NOVAK: Ralph Nader, congratulations for cleaning Howard Dean's clock last Friday. I listened to the whole debate. I thought you did very well.

NADER: From an insurgent in the primaries to a detergent.

NOVAK: Yes.

NADER: Washing the Democratic Party's dirty linen.

(APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: I like that. Now, somebody who didn't think you were that great, I gather, was Norman Solomon. Did you ever hear of Norman Solomon?

NADER: Yes.

NOVAK: Norman Solomon is a former Nader supporter. He was -- and was co-author of "Target: Iraq," big liberal. And he said the other day: "Presidential candidate Ralph Nader is standing on a bar of soap in a political rainstorm. Midway through 2004, while his electoral base shrinks, one of the great American reformers of the 20th century is drifting out to sea.

Has Norman got that right?

NADER: No, he hasn't. In fact, he agrees with about every position in this book, but he believes in anybody but Bush, closes down his mind, and thinks that the Democrats own their votes, instead of having to earn them.

For example, the Democrats, Kerry and Edwards voted for the war. They voted for the Patriot Act. They're all for corporate globalization. They are for the death penalty. And these are two parties that are corrupt with money. They're turning their back on the country. They've turned Washington, D.C. into corporate occupied territory.

Who's going to challenge them? Twenty-four hours a day, these corporations are pulling on the Republican and Democrat parties into their narrow, craven demands. Who's going to pull on the other side if it isn't the Nader-Camejo ticket. That's what Solomon doesn't realize.

NOVAK: Are you saying that there's really no difference between them or that Kerry is a little better than Bush, but not that much better?

NADER: Yes, he's better than Bush, but not good enough for the American people, No. 1. (APPLAUSE)

NADER: And, No. 2, what's most important is, how much difference is there between the two parties and the necessities of the American people and their children and tens of millions of people who are still waiting for universal health care and tens of millions of people under both party administrations still waiting for a living family wage? It's a disgrace how the rich are controlling this country.

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: You speak with evident and honest passion about the way the corporate interests pull on both parties. I think you're right. But they're pulling on you pretty hard, too, Ralph. Here's what "Newsweek" reports: "Of the $1 million that Nader has raised for his campaign so far, about $50,000 is from donors who have also given to President George W. Bush's campaign. One in 10 of Nader's biggest contributors -- individuals who've written checks of $1,000 or more -- are longtime GOP donors."

Now, why do you think fat-cat Republicans are supporting your campaign?

NADER: Because they support John Kerry. Yes, fat-cat Republicans have always supported Democrats to hedge their bets. Fat- cat Democrats have given money to both parties to hedge their bets.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: So help me out. They support Kerry, so they give money to Bush and Nader? That helps Kerry? He's the only guy they're not supporting.

NADER: No. No, no. These are other Republican fat-cats.

You're talking about a minuscule amount, 5 percent, from Republican donors, many of whom I have worked with, Gino Pelushi (ph) on these pollution in the Mesabi Iron Range. You know Bob Monks, the key person on corporate governance issues. We've worked with these people.

But the important thing is, we're appealing -- I'm sure you approve of this -- we're appealing to liberal Republicans who can't stand Bush, independents who usually vote Republican who cannot stand Bush for what he's done, deficit and Patriot Act and war in Iraq without end and so on, so why shouldn't we get some money from American citizens? Don't you think Republicans are Americans?

BEGALA: Certainly they're Americans, but they're not progressives.

(CROSSTALK)

NADER: That's quite a concession.

BEGALA: They're certainly not progressive, though. (CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Mr. Nader, I am going to give you a break. I'm going to turn to your book "The Good Fight," newly out.

NADER: Yes. Yes.

NOVAK: Page 266, I am going to read from the quote. "The glory of war always proceeds its reality. And a war intended to be a political distraction from problems at home, a political chilling of the president's opposition and a source for oil and gas resources given to the president's corporate contributors is particularly rancid and reckless. Such actions are impeachable."

Do you -- are you really saying -- you're lawyer, and you've been around a long time. You're not saying -- now, you may disagree, but you don't say that George W. Bush should be impeached?

NADER: Of course. These are high crimes and misdemeanors, plunging a nation into war that's, A, unconstitutional.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

NADER: Wait. That, A, is unconstitutional. Second, we've -- we're plunged into a war by George W. Bush and Dick Cheney on a platform of fabrications, deceptions and lies, which your colleagues have documented right to today, including the Intelligence Committee's report from the Senate.

If that -- given all the bloodshed on American forces, all the disease, the injuries, the deaths, the mental damage, not to mention the Iraqis innocent being killed, not to mention turning Iraq into a magnet for international stateless terrorists; 60 percent of the American people think that this has increased violence in the Middle East. If that isn't an impeachable offense, tell me about Bill Clinton.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: Well, surely, surely, you don't say that he violated the Constitution when he used the same congressional authority to go to war as Lyndon Johnson used, that Bill Clinton used, that his father used. This has been a practice. Who was the last person who had a declaration of war?

NADER: Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

NOVAK: Yes.

NADER: Yes. So what you're saying -- you're just really making my point -- is that Article I Section 8, which our founding fathers gave the declaration of war power to the Congress. They did not want it in one person's hand in the White House. They were very clear about that, James Madison and others -- has been violated since World War II.

As I used to say, the last war Congress declared was on poverty and we have more poverty than ever.

BEGALA: Let me come back to this question of Republican money to you.

NADER: Yes. Yes.

BEGALA: Because I do think there's a bit of double standard. Democrats are bad and corrupt if they take corporate money.

NADER: Yes.

BEGALA: But you can take money from a couple -- well, I know these guys and they're not corrupt. And there's a liberal who has a different view. And he's not a Democrat.

NADER: Yes.

BEGALA: Here's what he said: "If there's been a wave of these donations, then that's something Ralph and I will have to talk about and about returning their money. If you opposed the war, if you're against the Patriot Act, your money is welcome. But if your purpose is because you think this is going to have an electoral effect, we don't want that money. I take no money from people who disagree with us. We're not interested in that."

That's what your running mate said, Peter Camejo. Now, which -- are you guys going to give the money back to these people who evidently don't have your agenda or you're going to take the money and run?

(CROSSTALK)

NADER: No.

If the Republican National Committee comes up and say, hey, here's some money, we'll throw it back into their face. We don't want that kind of money. But if individuals, whether for civil liberties purposes, because they want more voices and choices on the ballot for the American people to choose from, want to give us funds, why not?

This is all a red herring, Paul. You know that. The real issue here, instead of the horse race, it's the human race. It's addressing the necessities of the American people, environmental devastation, frozen, energy policy, frozen. Tom Daschle, leader of the Democrats in the Senate, switched dials and supported the energy bill that ExxonMobil is proposing.

If you look at our Web site -- you should -- you haven't yet.

BEGALA: I will.

NADER: VoteNader.org. You can look at all our contributors. And we welcome all kinds of contributions, very frugally used. We take no commercial money, no PAC money. You will see increasingly the kind of progressive agenda which should never be postponed in a presidential election, like many Democrats are urging us to, that the John Kerry-John Edwards should pick up. They should pick up these things.

BEGALA: Well, so why are you getting support from Citizens For a Sound Economy, which is a front group for powerful corporate interests? They are phone-banking their supporters, saying that Ralph Nader can siphon off votes from John Kerry. That's what they're telling their supporters, to go and support you for that reason. Why don't you renounce that?

NADER: I do renounce it. First of all, I haven't seen any results. And, second of all, the only thing about that organization, it's against congressional pay raises. And we -- Congress raises their salary, but they freeze the minimum wage. Congress gives themselves great health insurance, but they make sure that people don't have health insurance.

By the way, 18,000 Americans die every year because they can't pay for health care, according to the Institute of Medicine, six times 9/11.

NOVAK: We are going to have to take a break.

And next, in "Rapid Fire," could Ralph Nader like John Edwards better than he likes John Kerry? We'll ask him.

And get to know the Iraqis trying to bring stability to the most dangerous neighborhoods of Baghdad. Wolf Blitzer reports right after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: Welcome back.

Time now for our "Rapid Fire" segment, where we ask questions even faster than right-wing Bush Republicans can write checks to Ralph Nader's campaign. In the CROSSFIRE is Ralph Nader.

NOVAK: Mr. Nader, you supported John Edwards. You recommended John Edwards for vice president. If the ticket were switched, it was Edwards for president and Kerry for vice president, would you drop out?

NADER: No, because he is pro-war, pro-Patriot Act. He hasn't been very courageous on corporate crime. But he's very good on civil justice, giving people the right to sue corporations, not just corporations wanting to sue people.

BEGALA: Congressman Mel Watt, an African-American of the Congressional Black Caucus, called you condescending and arrogant. Congressman Al Wynn, from that same meeting, said you have a messiah complex. What happened at your meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus?

NADER: They demanded I withdraw. And I said to myself, imagine, one generation removed when white supremacists were telling African- Americans don't run, don't vote, don't speak, it's a shocking thing.

I'm going to ask Congressman Mel Watt to apologize. I'm not going to let them get away with a double standard. He used an obscene racist epithet against me in front of everybody there. And he's going to apologize, just the way Secretary Butz had to apologize and Trent Lott had to apologize, even though he's a Yale Law School graduate.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Mr. Nader, you just commended John Edwards for being the candidate of the trial lawyers. All of his campaign money came from the trial lawyers. Is that the one special interest group you give a pass to, trial lawyers?

NADER: No. They're all opposed to me, I can guarantee you. No one is more opposed to me than the trial lawyers.

No. 2, he's a representative of millions of wrongfully injured Americans who have a right to sue for corporations who sell them dangerous drugs, hazardous motor vehicles, toxic exposure and all the fraud that is going on. If we don't open up the courts, if we close the courts to everyone but big business to sue anyone they want, we have knocked out one of the pillars of our democracy.

And I guarantee you, you would be the first to sue if someone defrauded you or wrongfully injured you, Robert Novak.

BEGALA: Mr. Nader, I have to say, I've known Mel Watts since before he was in Congress, for more than a decade. I've never heard him use any kind of racial language against white or black -- do -- but let me ask you, do you owe Michael Moore an apology for attacking him for being fat?

NADER: First of all, 20 people heard Mel Watt say that. There's no disagreement on that.

Michael Moore worked in our office. He was overweight then. He was worried about it. He wanted to do something about it. We kept telling him, take care of it. It's not good for you.

(BELL RINGING)

NADER: He disregards private advice. And I thought I would give him a little public advice, because he is ballooning. He is ballooning. And we want -- we want -- want him to produce a lot more films.

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: That will be the last word, Ralph Nader, who gives public advice in his new book "The Good Fight: Declare Your Independence and Close the Democracy Gap."

(CROSSTALK)

NADER: And VoteNader.com -- .org. (APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: Well, not many people have expressed much sympathy for the White House press corps these days, but actor Tom Hanks just might be the exception. We'll explain why next.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

"The Washington Post" reports that actor, multiple Oscar winner and all-around good guy Tom Hanks toured the White House press office recently. And he noticed that an essential tool of journalism was missing from the pressroom, no coffee maker.

So last week, guess what showed up along with a note that read: "I hope this machine will make the 24-hour cycle of news more a bit pleasant. Add water, insert pod, press button. All good things, Tom Hanks." The brand-new $1,000 super espresso machine may not get much use in a White House where the president spends 43 percent of his time on vacation, but it sure to get a workout when the new duo of John and John take over in January.

(APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: You know, Paul, if Tom Hanks has his way and John Kerry is elected president, the White House press corps will need that coffee maker to stay awake during Kerry's speeches.

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: But Tom Hanks is a good guy for doing that.

From the left, I am Paul Begala. That's it for CROSSFIRE.

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

"WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" starts right now.

(APPLAUSE)

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com


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