Consumer Advocate & Author Ralph Nader

Politician and lawyer, Ralph Nader is an integral voice in the field of consumer advocacy and joins us to discuss the 2016 election and his thoughts on campaign finance.

A consumer advocate, political activist and lawyer, Ralph Nader has been cited by The Atlantic as one of the 100 most influential figures in American history. He first made headlines in 1965 with his book, Unsafe at Any Speed, which led to congressional hearings and passage of automobile safety legislation. He went on to build a national network of citizen groups that have had a significant impact in such areas as nuclear energy and healthcare. Nader has written several books including Unstoppable where he explores the emerging political alignment of the Left and the Right against converging corporate-government tyranny and his latest book, Return to Sender where he offers frank advice and shines light on government mishaps and missed opportunities for progress in response to letters addressed to former President George Bush and President Barak Obama. Nader is also a four-time candidate for President of the U.S.

TRANSCRIPT

Announcer: And by contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you. Thank you.

Tavis: Always pleased to welcome Ralph Nader to this program. The four-time presidential candidate, an iconic consumer advocate, is also an author. He joins us tonight from Washington. Ralph Nader, good to have you on this program, as always, sir.

Ralph Nader: Thank you, Tavis.

Tavis: I want to start with the news of the day. There’s much plenty news today, to be sure, but news today regarding spending. All the numbers are out as to who has raised what. I asked Jonathan to put a graphic up on the screen. So in overall money raised, Hillary Clinton–no surprise–leads the way with $163 million dollars raised so far.

Jeb Bush, $155 million raised so far. I’m just fascinated by what little he’s gotten for having raised $155 million dollars. And I might add, he’s raised more money from super pacs than anyone and he’s still in the doldrums of this race for the White House.

Slide down the list, you see Bernie Sanders at $75 million dollars. Ben Carson, $64 million. Good Lord. Then you slide down to Donald Trump who’s raised $19.4.

So there are a number of things that I can take from these numbers, Ralph, not the least of which is that the two guys who have not raised any pac money, no super pac money, are the two guys who are exciting their bases the most.

That would be Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, the only two in the race who have not raised any super pac money and yet look at the impact they’re having. What do you make of that?

Nader: Well, the more and more money in elections having less and less effect on voters, and what is having more effect on voters is the grass root campaigning, the so-called debates, the kind of imagery and slogans.

On the other hand, big money like Koch money in politics does have strings attached after the election. So the debt is paid after the election even though it may not affect that much, given all the money, the kind of votes people get backed by these pacs.

Tavis: What do you make of the fact, though, that this race is clearly on track now to be the most expensive in the nation’s history?

Nader: Well, it’s great for the broadcast industry, isn’t it, Tavis?

Tavis: Yeah.

Nader: I think the most important thing coming out of this is Bernie Sanders’s average contribution is between $27 and $30 per person, and he’s raising enormously more money than he or anyone else expected, including Hillary Clinton. She didn’t expect that. So that’s a very refreshing thing. He doesn’t go to fat cat parties in Beverly Hills or Park Avenue. He refuses.

He doesn’t have these giant pacs hovering over the way Rubio and Cruz and Jeb Bush do. So at least he’s setting a standard and he’s pretty much in the front runner ranking, and that’s very good. That shows that his message is getting through the flurry of dollars.

Tavis: What does it say about the electorate in 2016 to the extent that it says anything? What does it say about the electorate in 2016 that Bernie Sanders has now surpassed Barack Obama when it comes to small money donors?

Nader: I think they’re looking for someone who’s on their side, someone who is going to challenge Wall Street’s control over Washington, someone who’s going to challenge these job-destroying trade agreements, someone who is going to change the tax system so they don’t pay more than they have to and the big rich and global corporations pay more.

But I must say, I think the voters don’t have a high enough expectation level which they should demand of the candidates. By that, I mean, Tavis, is the candidates still narrow the agenda. That is, the voters are not propelling into the electorate arena and debate.

The kind of things like cracking down on corporate crime in the ghettos against consumers, against workers. They’re not pushing in the issues on housing and public transit and empire abroad. They’re not pushing for restoration and rebuilding of our public works. The facilities in every community that are crumbling, we’ve seen them. Bridges, highways, water, sewage systems, public transit.

I think one of the problems here is the media is not rising to the level of its significance under the First Amendment. It’s letting itself be dragged down, in the Republican area for sure, the debates, to what is the canine equivalent of barks, growls and grunts.

You know, just five, ten second sallies against one another, Cruz and Rubio and all these people, Trump, and it’s extremely vacuous. I was going to say it’s at about the seventh grade level, but I didn’t want to insult the seventh graders [laugh]. So it is important for the media to say what about all these citizen groups all over the country?

Why aren’t they given voice in the election? Why is there a wall against the urban groups, the housing groups, and the transit and the healthcare groups, the environment and the consumer groups that work their heads off? They’re totally excluded from these elections which are, in turn, excluded from the arena of a democratic society. It’s a circus.

Tavis: If I can quote Jay Z and Mary J., “I don’t believe in knocking hustle”, so I ain’t mad at Donald Trump for the hustle that he’s running. But what do you make of the fact that Trump, again, has only raised $20 million dollars and yet he’s received, it seems to me at least, billions of dollars in free coverage on television?

It’s almost, to my mind, as if there’s a–it’s like a quintessential classic example of codependency between Donald Trump and the media, maybe even quid pro quo. You give us, we’ll give you between Trump and the media. How do you read that the guy’s only raised $20 million dollars, but you would never know that by the amount of coverage that Donald Trump gets?

Nader: Because Trump knows better than any candidate that the media is looking for entertainment because that’s what gets him ratings. And for the first time, the ratings have become a business proposition that he is parading in front of them. Oh, I won’t be on this debate, Fox. You’re going to lose millions of dollars in advertising.

This is a relatively new taunt by a presidential candidate. And what’s even more amazing, Tavis, is that you’ve got private media, for profit commercial corporations, deciding the format of these debates. One time it’s Fox, one time it’s CNN, one time it’s NBC.

These are profit-making corporations deciding who gets on tier one, who gets on tier two, who doesn’t get on at all, like the former head of the IRS in immigration service, Mark Everson, who went into every Iowa county before anyone else did, never got on any debate because he didn’t have a big pac.

He didn’t have a bundle of money. He’s the only one who had executive experience. Who makes those decisions? Profit-making media corporations.

So this is the next step of further decay after the presidential debate commission, which is funded by Anheuser-Busch and AT&T and Ford in the past, a creation of the Republican-Democratic Party. to decide who gets on the national debates, who can reach tens of millions of people, and who cannot.

Tavis: To your point now, you’ve run a few times before. You’ve run even as an Independent. There’s now talk, at least, front page news in The New York Times, that Mr. Bloomberg, former mayor of New York City, has instructed his lieutenants to start to do some research and see if there’s a ground game that he can organize to get himself in the race.

He says he’ll make that decision, I guess, sometime in early March, mid-March. But having run as an Independent, what’s your sense of whether or not Bloomberg will get in and, if he were to get in at this point in the next six weeks or so, could he have an impact? Could he make a real difference?

Nader: Well, he could turn it instantly into a three-way race. I think the conditions for him getting in because he has all the money to get on the ballots quickly, the conditions are too full. One, if Bernie Sanders is a candidate, he’ll get in. If a damaged Hillary Clinton lower in the polls is the nominee, he’ll get in.

Because I think he thinks on the other side, there’s going to be an extreme Republican and he’ll get a big wedge as a centrist. He’s been waiting for this for over 10 years, Tavis. He’s got polls, he’s got surveys, he’s got historians advising him. He’s got all kinds of things ready to roll, and that’s what’s going to get him ready to roll because he doesn’t want to run a third party if he doesn’t think he can win.

And, of course, in our electoral college system of winner take all, a plurality in a state, if you get more votes than the other two, but you don’t get the majority, you get all the electoral colleges except in Maine and Nebraska where they split according to the popular vote.

Tavis: What do you make of the fact that this year there seems to have been an accident, quite frankly, a collision on the establishment highway and that these outsiders, as it were, these neophytes, these novices, these, again, outliers, are having the kind of impact they’re having this year?

Nader: I think that probably surprised everyone. I don’t think anybody thought Jeb Bush was going to be so low in the polls and maybe on his way out in another couple of weeks. But it does reflect the lack of respect that the voters have for those people who are running our government or running it into the ground or running it on behalf of Wall Street against Main Street.

You know, there’s a kind of grapevine that operates through millions of peoples’ minds and sometimes it coalesces into a kind of rejection of traditional politics. But the problem is, the outliers are pretty traditional too, except for the clean, honest, progressive campaign of Bernie Sanders and some of these third parties like the Green Party.

The question voters should ask, among other things, is how are these candidates going to give more power to them as consumers, workers, taxpayers and voters? How are they going to restore the power of we, the people, from the few who have the power and make decisions for the many? People have got to ask the candidates those questions instead of just taking selfies and make a little joke and shake hands.

They’ve got to become much more demanding and that kind of reverberation really goes right through these campaigns and their consultants. They can’t take that kind of reverberation without reacting in some ways. So they should ask what are all the issues that are off the table?

We had 18 issues in 2008 when I was running, 18 major issues that are on peoples’ minds, living wage, for example, cracking down on business crime, the kind of reform of the tax system, of universal healthcare.

All these weren’t even discussed by the Republicans and Democrats, Tavis. And if candidates don’t discuss something, you can be sure that, if they get elected, they’re not going to do anything about what they never discussed.

We still have it on my website which I’ve kept open called votenader.org, the campaign of 2008. So you can see for yourself why are these issues that have majoritarian support, majoritarian concern for the daily lives of the American people, off the table, except maybe for Bernie Sanders?

Tavis: What should Bernie Sanders say as he continues to get asked whether or not he can win, whether or not his agenda is so liberal, so progressive, so socialist, that the American public won’t go for it?

Nader: Nonsense. Just poll it. He’ll get a lot of left-right support for a lot of things like full Medicare for all, like living wage. Conservative workers at Wal-Mart don’t want a living wage? He’s got to diversify his speeches. He’s got to talk about the pollster service in rural areas that are afraid of their post office being closed. He’s got a lot of information that he’s not getting out yet.

But when you hear Hillary Clinton talk about her experience and expertise in foreign affairs, that means more war, more empire. She’s a hawk.

When you hear her talk about how she’s going to be pragmatic at home, that’s another code word for allowing the concentration of power to continue in the hands of the few, Wall Street over Washington, the same Wall Street that paid her $5,000 a minute to give speeches in closed-door conventions around the country, which she has refused to disclose.

What did she say to these closed-door conventions noted briefly in The New York Times a while back? What did she say in closed-door where there was no press and they were paying her $5,000 a minute? Why doesn’t the press ask that question? Disclose it, Hillary.

Tavis: Ralph Nader, always asking the tough questions. Ralph Nader, good to have you on the program. Thanks for your insights.

Nader: Thank you, Tavis.

Announcer: For more information on today’s show, visit Tavis Smiley at pbs.org.

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Announcer: And by contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you. Thank you.

Last modified: February 2, 2016 at 3:55 pm