June 3, 2004 Thursday
HEADLINE: NATIONAL PRESS CLUB LUNCHEON WITH 2004 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE RALPH NADER
MODERATOR: SHEILA CHERRY, NPC PRESIDENT
LOCATION: NATIONAL PRESS CLUB BALLROOM, WASHINGTON, D.C.
MR. NADER: (Applause.) Thank you very much, Sheila Cherry, and honored guests at the head table, ladies and gentlemen. I see a lot of friends here from past National Press Club sessions.
I want to take note of my campaign stalwarts here, and Theresa Amato, who's our campaign manager.
Many subjects will be raised briefly this afternoon, and anyone who is interested in more elaboration can contact us at our website, votenader.org, or at our phone number in Washington.
It's important to also recognize that we're in the District of Columbia, the last colony within our national borders. And as I did in the year 2000, I always want to take the occasion to comment on the disenfranchisement of the residents here, who do not have a vote for a representative in Congress and two senators-a subject that Mark Plotkin has shown insufficient enthusiasm in advancing -- (laughter) -- and how important it is.
And I'd just like to say we need a way to jump-start this. This is the only national capital in the Western world where its residents do not have full and equal voting power and voting rights.
And I'd like to suggest a simple way to jump-start this, which is the first day of work after the 4th of July weekend, thousands of people in the District of Columbia who live here and work here participate in a general strike, which starts out by going to work one hour later than they ordinarily get to work and then, in subsequent stages, increasing that from, say, 9:00 to 10:00, 11:00, 12:00. There's got to be something that can shake the complacency of their support of a Democratic Party on this issue, about which they've done too little, and the rupture of the Republican Party and its opposition to voting rights for the District of Columbia, because Richard Nixon, among other presidents, actually supported voting rights for the residents of the District of Columbia.
In fact, that's a nice jumping-off point to talk about the deterioration of the two parties, how the similarities between them tower over the dwindling real differences that they're willing to really struggle over, instead of rhetorically counter each other over.
And I want to emphasize that, because you'll note that I said that there are towering similarities that are far greater and deeper than the differences. I did not say there are no differences-a twisted distortion that continues to associate our candidacy with that statement. Obviously, in social service areas, there are differences.
But I want to focus on the analysis of how the two parties have brought this country down to a level where most voters in this country do not even have a choice of two parties. The two-party trajectory, as it begins to engage years ago in this protective imitation and as it begins to dial for the same dollars from the same commercial interest, is now driving our country into a one-party district, either Republican- or Democrat-dominated, in more and more places in our country.
Fully 95 percent of the House of Representatives' seats are deemed non-competitive by both parties-that is, either the Democrats dominate totally or the Republicans dominate totally. That reduces the voters' choice, essentially, to one, which has some metaphorical associations with systems of government that are not called democracy.
At the state level, 40 percent of state legislators will have no opponent on the ballot from the other major party when they campaign for reelection in November, and many more will have only a nominal opponent.
Now it's amazing how little metabolism such characterizations generate among people who call themselves active citizens and civil libertarians. This itself is an astonishing phenomena. We're down to a one-party state. We're increasingly down to a one-party district.
And so the characterization of the blue states and the red states and how the presidential candidates for the two parties demark whole areas of our country as off-limits to their campaign, because why should they waste their money and time? Why should the Democrats waste their money in Texas, and time?
Why should the Republicans waste their money in Massachusetts, and time? As a result, more and more people feel very excluded from any kind of contact with the presidential candidates.
This, of course, reflects a long build-up of rigging the system against third party and independent candidates. In the 19th century there were a lot of third parties. And they led in the-politically in the drive toward the abolition of slavery, women's right to vote, the right of workers to form trade unions, the famous populist progress farmer movement that over 25 years gave us some of the most fundamental reforms that we're still lunching off of in our country, and then many other interstitial challenges to the two parties. Norman Thomas' Socialist Party had many issues that the New Deal adopted later on: Social Security, unemployment compensation. And many other parties have served that service.
And what is that? That is dissent. That's the source of new ideas. That's the source of testing new ideas. That's the source of political forwardness and forthrightness. The two parties have put marbles in their mouth. They exercise the language of avoidance. They try to imitate one another, to take major issues that the American people want debated off the table. For example, the Iraq war, the Palestinian-Israeli issues are now off the table, largely, to the two parties, although the-one party will carp on the Iraq war. But the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, which is at the source of many of the flash points that are radiating throughout the world, is an imminently resolvable conflict if the two parties would have the steadfastness to side with the Israeli and Palestinian peace movements, who have already contacted one another over the years and who have already a resolution of this conflict in terms of a two-state solution.
Many other issues are taken off the table by these two parties. You don't see much talk about labor rights. You don't see much talk about repealing or changing Taft-Hartley, of addressing the fact that 42 million Americans would like to join a union, like in WalMart or Kmart of McDonald's, but it's almost impossible now given the obstructions in labor law to do that in the private economy.
The parties now are viewing even something that was once debated; the massively redundant military budget is now off limits. In the Democratic primary, except for the non-front-runners, the front- runners said they wouldn't touch it. Edwards wouldn't touch it, Kerry wouldn't touch it, Dean wouldn't touch it, although he said he would re-allocate it. This is a monstrously wasteful, redundant, and in the military contract area, a corrupt expenditure of the American taxpayer dollar.
There have been so many reports, many of them by people in this room, to document this. There have been general accounting reports, or GAO reports. There are inspector general reports. There are independent media reports. Books have been written. Citizen groups have challenged it. And it is untouchable, even though at the present time it is consuming 50 percent of federal government's operating expenditures. The military budget, at a time when we have no major enemy left for which the military budget was directed, like the Soviet Union or Communist China, is now an untouchable issue in two-party politics.
The Patriot Act and associated statutes that by the letter of their laws goes too far in eroding our civil liberties and chilling dissent and spreading the politics of fear-but in the hands of John Ashcroft and company even goes further, in terms of the abuse of people's rights. It's now the Arab-Americans' ethnic group time to feel the brunt of some of this hysteria, some of the stereotyping, some of this profiling, as many past ethnic groups have had to feel the brunt of in American history. And that isn't even really being debated, even though it's coming up next year. And why isn't it being debated? Because the two parties have locked up a system of politics that increasingly has represented itself as a proxy for big business, for giant corporations who control this city more than at any time in American history.
For those of you who doubt, read your own clippings. Isn't it time for the media to take its own finest moments of investigative reporting seriously? Is it too much to ask the media to begin taking its own reports of corporate abuse from the Pentagon to the Treasury Department, to the Department of Interior, to the regulatory agencies, and on and on and begin to aggregate them into some sort of pattern? Don't they mean something when you aggregate them? I put them on my table and I aggregate them, and you know what they spell? They spell the conversion of our great national capital into the corporate state.
They spell exactly what Franklin Delano Roosevelt said when he sent a message to the Congress in 1938 recommending the establishment of the Temporary National Economic Commission, an inquiry into corporate concentration and abuse, when he said that when government is controlled by private economic power-that he called fascism. American fascism to be true, but he called it fascism. The clinical definition of the merger of private corporate power with government in twisting government against its own people or to service the corporate machine by way of subsidies, handouts, give-aways, lax law enforcement, bailouts and other things that have been so widely reported.
In order to preserve this converging two-party monopoly as a proxy for corporate domination, the two parties have worked together to present extraordinary obstacles to third party independent candidates, not just at the national level, but the state and local level.
These obstacles are so extraordinary that one wonders where the American Civil Liberties Union is, or the Center on Constitutional Rights. However absorbed, properly, they are with the problems of the Patriot Act, they really have not paid enough attention to basically the use of First Amendment rights inside the electoral arena. They're quite alert to the use of First Amendment rights, free speech, freedom to petition, freedom to assemble, outside the electoral arena, but somehow when third party or independent candidates want to move those rights inside the electoral arena, there is a consistent pattern of indifference.
The obstacles are unevenly distributed in our country. Instead of having one federal standard for federal elections, one federal standard, we have 50 different federal standards, ranging for independent candidates, for example, for the presidency from 300 signatures to be gathered in Tennessee, to over 100,000 signatures to be gathered in neighboring North Carolina. There is no rationale for this kind of arbitrary difference.
In Texas, for example, our signature gatherers have to ask two questions: are you a registered voter, and have you voted in the primary March 9th. If the Texan voted in the primary March 9th, he or she is prohibited from signing a petition to put a third party or independent candidate on a presidential ballot in Texas.
But it goes beyond that. In Texas, where we're bringing suit, Texas law requires independents to collect 64,000 signatures in 60 days, while minor parties need to collect 45,500 signatures in 75 days. And both must do it from people who did not vote in the primary. Anybody who has tried to collect signatures on a birthday card just in their office -- (laughter) -- can only begin to know how difficult it is to be on the street circulating in such a short period of time. It creates a wealth barrier to the ballot access, as candidates or parties have to spend money to meet onerous, obstructive, unduly burdensome requirements.
Even when the Supreme Court strikes down some of these obstacles-such as state laws that say the only people who can circulate petitions for signatures are those who are residents and voters in the state where the circulation is occurring-Idaho, Connecticut, Missouri, New Jersey, California and others still have these laws on the books, even though the Supreme Court struck down these types of provisions five years ago.
Other states knowingly have out-of-date, as yet unfixed state legislation. In Alaska, for example, you can't run as an independent. You have to have a party affiliation.
And not just presidential candidates are obstructed. One of my favorites is in Georgia. For 61 years, the Georgia state legislature has kept all parties except Democrats and Republicans from running candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives because the petition signature requirement is 5 percent of those registered to vote, and signers have to correctly sign in their district.
Not only that, but petition-gatherers are thrown out of public space-Post Office territory, for example, in Texas. They're thrown out of tax-funded stadium areas and ballparks. They're thrown out of malls, and are thrown off of public libraries. Public space itself is shrinking.
Now, before some of you yawn too much about these because you are an adherent of one of the two major parties, and who cares, let's examine briefly what the price is that we pay for obstructing competition. We know that in the marketplace, if the market obstructs entrepreneurs, business can't renew itself. And we know in nature that if nature blocks seeds from sprouting, it can't renew itself either. Somehow politics is supposed to be an exception, but it isn't an exception.
Just consider, for example, what I think is a fact in this country; that we have far more problems than we deserve and far more solutions than we apply. I want to improve this country. I want to allow and facilitate every person having the right to improve his or her country. And the kinds of changes that we made in the '60s and '70s, and less in the '80s and less in the '90s, cannot be made in today's Congress or in today's White House or in today's government agencies. The kinds of changes I'm talking about are what we call "universal advances" in health, safety and economic well-being, universal advances that do not select between race, color, creed or other backgrounds.
For example, I am very pleased when I wake up in the morning and I know that if Robert Novak is in a car crash, he's going to be saved by a liberal air bag -- (laughter) -- and a progressive three-point seatbelt.
So what is it that we are shortchanging ourselves? Well, let's go through it very quickly. Who is saying no consistently with a lot of influence against all Americans being covered by health care insurance and the health industry being subjected to competition? It's the HMOs, the giant HMOs, the giant health insurance companies, giant hospital chains-they're saying no. Who is saying no to a living wage for 47 million working Americans who earn 5.5, 6, 7, 8, 9 -- you know, less than 10 dollars an hour? It's the McDonald's and the Kmarts and the Wal-Marts. And who is saying no against a decent tax system that has a creative set of incidences so we tax things we like the least, not tax things we like the most, and has a system of fairness attached to it in the minds of the American people? Well, it's the big corporations.
Sixty percent of U.S. corporations in year 2002 didn't pay any federal income tax. Seventy percent of foreign corporations operating in the United States quite profitably didn't pay any federal income tax.
President Bush yesterday just awarded a $10 billion extensive contract to Accenture, to deal with a database and materials that would provide safeguards for people who exit or enter our country and who may have harm involved to our people. There was something missing in that announcement. Accenture has already exited the United States. It's now in Bermuda, as a tax haven, while it dutifully goes around spending $10 billion of taxpayer money.
Who is saying to no campaign finance reform, the kind where public elections are funded by well-promoted public monies? Through check-offs on tax returns, for example. Who's saying no to getting our elections off the auction block? Well, it's the big PACs and all the heavy-duty fat-cat money that rigs the system.
Our candidacy is taking no commercial money, no PAC money, only contributions from individuals-individuals who want to see some competition and want to see more substance in presidential campaigning.
Who is saying no to environmental and energy advances? You know, I just was talking with John Kerry, and he was telling me how strong he's going to be energy efficiency and energy renewability when he is elected president, as he put it. And I said, "Well, you and other Democrats have been pushing for this for years. Why do you think it's not happening?" And he said, "The oil industry."
I said, "Well, how are you going to break the opposition to the fossil fuel industry"-and I added the nuclear industry-"to the conversion of our country to an economically sensible, environmentally benign and geopolitical crisis-averse renewable energy?" And-to which he said, "Wait and see when I'm in, president." (Scattered laughter.)
Well, that's a very fair question about dealing with the corporate opponents to so many changes. Over the years-years ago, the big opponents to public transit were the oil companies, the tire companies and the auto companies. In fact, they were indicted in the late '40s by a grand jury in Chicago, brought by the Antitrust Division in the U.S. Justice Department, and convicted of criminal violation of the antitrust laws because they bought up dozens of trolley systems in major metropolitan areas all over the country, including Southern California's giant one, tore up the tracks and hurled their lobbyists at the state and federal legislature to turn our country heavily into a singular highway mode of transportation, which of course sold more vehicles, petroleum and tires.
Who, for example, is going to start seriously talking about waging peace and redirecting some of our federal dollars to the necessities of the American people, instead of unnecessary F-22s and other mega-weapons of mass and rapid destruction that are not needed in a non-Soviet Union world?
In fact, we have enough weaponry to blow up the world 300 times and make the rubble bounce. And more and more weapons are in the pipeline.
One recalls the great speech-and I'm sure Bob Novak recalls this, because he was just out of high school at the time-the great speech by President Eisenhower in April of 1953 before the national meeting of the newspaper editors convention. And it was called The Cross of Iron speech, where in the midst of hostility with the Soviet Union and increasing nuclear weaponry being pointed at one another, he raised the prospect that the world should not have to live this way, as he put it. This is not the proper way for our people to have to live, on a trigger-bent war of total destruction. And that-and then he listed the various costs of various weapons systems, like fighter planes and naval ships and translated them into what they would do for more schools, more hospitals, and more of the needs of the American people. That was President Eisenhower; he knew what war was. Sometimes it's important to have leaders who know what war was instead of a clutch of chicken hawks, which we are now being ruled by. (Applause.)
Who's saying no to debates? The American people want robust debates. They don't want these presidential debates that put people to sleep and shrink the audiences down to 36 million now. It was 92 million when Perot was on the debate in-with Clinton and Bush I in 1992. People may not want to vote for third party candidates because they are hostage, like most of us, to an electoral college 200-year system of winner-take-all, but they do want-and the polls showed it in 2000 -- me and Buchanan on the presidential debates. The Fox poll came in at 64 percent. And I think they want that not just because they think this will be a cure for insomnia. I think they want to see broader agendas and issues being debated.
But who is funding these debates? Well, it's corporations. It's Philip Morris. It's Ford Motor Company. It's AT&T. It's Anhauser- Busch. They're pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into these debates run by a commission on presidential debates, which is simply a private corporation created in 1987 to jettison the League of Women Voters' sponsorship of debates, created by the two parties and run by the two parties to this day with corporate money. I don't think corporations want to see more than the two candidates from the two parties on those debates. And they're saying no to competitive debates.
Who is saying-this is one of my favorite issues here. Who is saying no to the preservation of the rural economy in our country and the small family farm? It's the giant agribusiness corporations who are determined to supplant the family farm and rural America with industrialized agriculture, with contract agriculture, turning farmers into contractual serfs, as they already are in the mass poultry industry.
And so if you make a list of your favorite changes and say, "Who is saying no to a diversity of radio, TV stations and cable offerings?" well it's the entrenched concentration of media in fewer and fewer hands.
Who is saying no to electoral reform, for example? Where are these reforms that could open up the opportunity to protect the constitutional right to vote of people? Why should millions of ex- felons, who have served their time, many of them nonviolent offenders, be in jurisdictions where they are obstructed from getting a job or they are prohibited from voting? That's electoral reform. Why don't we have same-day voter registration, as in Minnesota, which means that Minnesota has one of the highest voter turnouts of any state in the country?
Why don't we get rid of all these obstructions to people's right to vote that do not occur in other Western democracies?
Why is it so difficult to have our votes counted in America? And now with new technology without paper trails, there is even a more-greater risk that these votes will not be counted because of mischievous computer hackers or other breakdowns in these computer systems. People from other countries, even Brazil, are willing to come here to advise us on how to make sure that our votes are counted.
Why don't we have instant runoff voting? If the Democrats are so upset with the Green Party, or the Republicans so upset with the Reform Party-which, by the way, has endorsed this candidacy-why don't they push for instant runoff voting? That would solve the problem. Instead, the two parties are, in various rates of intensity, carping and whining against any third party or independent candidacy.
The Democrats do the worst carping and whining. On our website, we're inviting people to suggest ways to "un-carp" the Democrats. For example, instead of worrying about the 8 million Democrats who voted for Bush in 2000, they worry for 10 percent of that number who voted for the Greens, Democrats who voted for the Greens, which illustrates a decadence and a decay in the Democratic Party that warrants the attention of more reformers for the resuscitation of our nation's oldest party.
Let me end on this note, if I may. The concentration of power and wealth in this country is at the root of so many of our secular problems. This concentration is more than the obvious pattern of abuses that we've read about in the history of our country and other countries; it's now getting into our minds. It's making us lower our expectation levels. It's making us settle for less. It's making us tell the two parties that they can take us for granted; and they willingly do so.
It's making us think about the least worst choice, instead of Jimmy Carter's "Why Not the Best?" Why not the best? Why the least worst? The least worst choice ensures that every four years both parties get worse because they are pulled in one direction by insistent corporate interests who have rewards to offer, and they're not pulled in the other direction, because the other direction has turned flat with the "least worst" attitude.
I think we can sort of break into that in terms of a public dialogue by focusing on a new debate commission that's been formed called the Citizens Debate Commission with a prestigious board of directors that represent both conservative and liberal nonprofit groups. This debate commission is controlled by no candidate and no party, and it has announced five proposed debates for the fall and is intent on challenging the grip of the two-party-controlled corporate- financed Commission on Presidential Debates. The relevant website there is opendebates.org.
Today I'm releasing the letter that I sent out about a month ago to Nancy Pelosi and Tom Daschle, by way of illustration. And this letter asked both of them to take their Democratic followers and make an authentic statement that they will no longer take any salary increase in Congress; they will oppose any salary increase, and if they lose in opposition they will refuse to take it until 47 million American workers achieve a living wage, and announce it in a way where they mean it. And they go back to their districts week after week and establish the point that people who work longer hours than most workers in Western countries and can't begin to live on what they earn, on six bucks or seven or $8 an hour-we're talking about 25 percent of the American work force makes under $8.70 an hour, gross, before the costs of getting to work and before deductions-that they would establish as Democrats the moral authority to govern. We've heard nothing from them.
I'm going to make it available to you, just as one example of why the Democrats are going out of their way year after year to elect very bad Republicans, and why the Democrats are avoiding one issue after another that represents the Bush administration's vulnerability, going out of their way to avoid landsliding one of the worst administrations in American history. If we cannot rely on the Democrats to defend our country against such corporate rapacity, against such conversion of our democratic federal government-small "d"-to corporate- occupied territory, then it is time, is it not, for a three-way race at least, and for a challenge to both of those parties by our independent candidacy.
MS. CHERRY: Mr. Nader, we'll give the first question to our member, Mr. Novak, and that is what would John Kerry have to do to get your support for president?
MR. NADER: Join our campaign. (Laughter, applause.)
MS. CHERRY: (Laughs.) Do you want to follow up on that?
(Reading the next question.) What is the difference between you and John Kerry on the issue of the Middle East resolution?
MR. NADER: Does that refer-which does that refer to, Iraq or -- ? Well, on Iraq-and I did mention this to him-you cannot separate the mainstream Iraqis from the insurgency by not giving them-you cannot separate them from the resistance and the insurgency if you don't give them an exit date. And what I've proposed is what former head of the NSA, General William Odom, has proposed, and many others; that is, a set withdrawal date of our military and corporate occupation of Iraq with very early internationally supervised elections so there's no indication to the Iraqi people that they're going to be ruled by a puppet government; and a continuation of humanitarian aid; and as our troops phase out, international peacekeepers move in. And of course there will be less need for that kind of peacekeeping because the mainstream Iraqis will know they have a stake and they're getting their country back.
On the Palestinian-Israeli, there needs to be a change of attitude in this city. This city is composed of people who know a lot about the Israeli-Palestinian issue, and they keep private their concerns, and they make these public statements that are like ditto statements. You know the pattern; many of you have seen it again and again.
A conflict that is eminently resolvable with U.S. leadership is constantly postponed because of the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, and the cycle of violence that keeps getting more and more grievous. And if we don't break that cycle of violence, we will become continued prisoners of it, just as the Israelis and Palestinians are prisoners of the cycle of violence.
The Palestinian peace movement and the Israeli peace movement have been in close touch. The Israeli peace movement is deep, broad, distinguished; they put 120,000 people in a Tel Aviv square protesting the other day. They represent members of the Knesset, mayors, former military officers, intelligence officers, businesses, religious figures. They represent people who have turned B'Tselem into one of the most respected human rights investigative groups in the world. They represent Rabbis for Justice, they represent the refuseniks, now 1,300 Israeli reserve combat soldiers and officers who have refused to serve in the West Bank or Gaza. And to illustrate the point I'm about to make, in their famous proclamation, "The Courage to Refuse"-these are the combatants' public letter-they made the following statement, quote: "We shall not continue to fight beyond the 1967 borders in order to dominate, expel, starve and humiliate an entire people." End quote. For this courage, some of them went to jail. Others are involved in the Israeli peace movement. They are almost never invited to meet members of Congress, and most certainly never invited to meet anybody in the administration. And those of you who are interested in the complete statement, the website is seruv.org.il.
This used to be a localized conflict. Then it began to affect the Middle East, and now it's affecting much of the world. Whether by pretext or excuse, on behalf of the Palestinian and Israel people, they deserve better, they deserve better leadership, and our government deserves to stand up and think for itself.
The days when the chief Israeli puppeteer comes to the United States and meets with the puppet in the White House and then proceeds to Capitol Hill, where he meets with hundreds of other puppets, should be replaced. The Washington Puppet Show should be replaced by the Washington Peace Show. And then we'll get more peace in the world, and we will reward all those taxpayer dollars and all those high energy prices that have been sacrificed because of the lack of steadfastness of our federal government under both parties to address that very resolvable conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians. (Applause.)
MS. CHERRY: What is your response to the resignation of CIA Director Tenet?
MR. NADER: Well, when I hear that, I remember a couple of speeches and testimony that George Tenet made properly criticizing how the CIA tied itself up in technology, didn't develop enough, quote, "human intelligence" and basically ossified itself. It's made a lot of wrong calls over the years, as Daniel P. Moynihan pointed out on more than one occasion, as he proposed the replacement of the CIA. And maybe George Tenet is reflecting his failure to change that agency and to make sure it's an independent agency that doesn't have its intelligence calls politically twisted by its superiors.
On the other hand, this could be the first-the first move in President Bush's quest for responsibility in government. He campaigned in 2000 and called himself the responsibility candidate, and maybe he's now going to do the counterintuitive thing and start assigning responsibilities all the way up the chain of command. Of course, we would like that, since our website, votenader.org, has an impeachment petition for our president. There is a strong need for accountability over a president who launches an unconstitutional war on a platform of fabrications, deceptions, prevarication, turns down much advice in his own administration against this, neglects or rejects advice of retired distinguished diplomats from both parties and military and intelligence retired officials, and proceeds to involve the United States in this massive quagmire that is crowding the press out of attending to so many important other issues in this country which we don't see on television, hear on radio, read in the newspapers, not to mention attention to problems in other parts of the world, such as South America and Africa, problems that are not just remote problems, but that are affecting our country in many ways. And we're not learning or seeing any reporting or any emphasis by the government on that.
I think someday people will total up the opportunity costs-financial; in terms of casualties, our casualties, Iraqi casualties; in terms of turning so much of the world against us that was so much behind us on 9/11; and other opportunity costs-to more properly weigh the gravity of treating Article I, Section 4, of the U.S. Constitution, the war-declaring authority in Congress, as a mere technicality.
James Madison called that provision the highest wisdom in the Constitution, and that was because they did not want one person in the White House to decide when to take our country to war. They wanted a deliberative body. And there was plenty of time to deliberate, wasn't there? And if there was plenty of time to deliberate, with the mass media reporting it back to tens of millions of Americans, I somehow think we might have avoided that growing quagmire.
MS. CHERRY: Do you support the return of the draft in order that all sectors of American society can sacrifice equally in future military actions, such as in Iraq?
MR. NADER: Not under the present administration, because this administration's out of control in terms of foreign interventions, and the draft is not designed for that. The draft is designed for an administration that at least listens, that at least broadens out its deliberations, instead of being about the most secretive regime in our country's history.
I do favor universal service. A variety of proposals have been made by good groups around the country.
And I understand where John Conyers and Charles Rangel are coming from on this. But not under the present administration.
MS. CHERRY: As president, how would you deal with genocide, such as in Rwanda or Sudan?
MR. NADER: To establish a highly professional voluntary international peacekeeping force, articulated by proper anti-genocidal treaties and relevant international law, which needs to be revived, instead of decried. And in that case, we will have, as a world, an ability to rescue people like 800,000 Tutsis and the slaughter that's going on in the southern Sudan and around the world.
I mean, our world has reached a point where we really cannot tolerate any more that kind of slaughter and just stand by. And it can't be done by one nation alone, no matter how powerful. We all know the boomerangs from that kind of effort. But there needs to be-perhaps under the U.N., perhaps under a major treaty-ready-to- go, well-trained, voluntarily applied international peacekeeping force. I think the mere incipiency of that force will cause some dictators pause, in the first place.
I think we do need that. We need that very quickly. And it can be done on a voluntary basis, so that would remove the various controversies over who's going to command what troops.
MS. CHERRY: Lots of political questions. You have criticized some who call themselves progressives for failing to make demands of John Kerry in exchange for their support in this election period. What key demands might satisfy you?
MR. NADER: Well, that's an important question. I mean, if the supporters, like the Sierra Club political action arm, are supporting John Kerry without asking anything in return, that means should he be elected, he has no mandate. And that means he is being pulled in one direction 24 hours a day to corporate interests, and no one's pulling him in the area of environment, in the area of consumer protection.
So the answer to the question is to look at our website. We have sent a 40-page agenda inquiry for the common good, as we called it, to both Republicans and Democrats. And that was in late October. And Terry McAuliffe said he actually read it on a train to Philadelphia. But the Republicans didn't respond other than to say their response was the Bush administration's policies. And Terry McAuliffe's response was a two-page excoriation of the Republicans, which is okay, but it didn't respond to the 25, 30 agenda issues which should be placed on both candidates in order to generate content and proper tone to the presidential campaign.
So, those of you are interested, they deal with, obviously, issues of energy, environment, issues of military budget waste, issues of waging peace, issues of affordable housing, criminal injustice system, the problems in our prisons, and many, many issues, consumer protection, of course, which is almost never mentioned by the two major candidates. And those of you who want to elaborate it and want to give us your ideas, want to volunteer, who want to make donations, come to our campaign, because even if you're not going to vote for us, you're going to want the elaboration of these demands on the candidates so they don't reduce the whole campaign by August to four or five issues tediously repeated and driving the press corps into paroxysms of boredom.
This is what I really don't understand. The reporters keep complaining to me and others, "I can't believe what it's like covering these people on the road. You know, it's the same thing: the same timing, the same arched eyebrow, the same clap, the same words." And I say to them, "Well, we've got a little diversity here. (Laughter.) Why don't you cover challenges between campaigns?" There's a certain tradition in the press that if a third party challenges the two candidates, even on an issue the press thinks is very timely and compelling, it will not be covered. And we're going to give the press a lot of opportunity to mull that over in the coming weeks.
MS. CHERRY: This person asks, if it looks as if your candidacy will make the difference in the presidential election, will you consider withdrawing in favor of the Democratic candidate before the November 2nd election?
MR. NADER: This candidate is not designed to help one of the major candidates win. That's not what presidential candidates should be about. So the answer to your question is no. I could answer it in pixie ways, like I could say, "Well, if the polls show that the Democratic defections to Bush from Kerry in number are lower than the Democratic defections from Kerry to Nader, then we'll consider it."
Eight million Democrats defected to Bush-a quarter of a million of them in Florida. And yet, the Democrats are still harping on this Green Party challenge. I just don't understand how deeply arithmetically challenged these people are. (Laughter, light applause.)
MS. CHERRY: How many state ballots do you expect to be on in 2004? Will you accept the Green Party nomination if offered?
MR. NADER: We'll be on more than the 43 states, plus the District of Columbia, that we were on in 2000. I can't say how much more, but there will be more.
And second, we will-we've been endorsed by the Reform Party, and if in their full deliberations in Milwaukee the Green Party does not nominate a presidential candidate, we'd be pleased to take their nomination at the state level, and we'd be pleased to take their endorsement. But it's only if they decide not to have their own presidential candidate.
MS. CHERRY: Mr. Nader, I want to thank you for coming and speaking with us again today and to express our thanks. I'd like to offer you this certificate of appreciation.
MR. NADER: Thank you very much. Thank you. (Applause.)
MS. CHERRY: And to add to your set, one of the National Press Club mugs. (Laughs.)
MR. NADER: Thank you very much. (Applause.)
MS. CHERRY: Okay, the last question.
Both you and President Bush are Harvard University graduates. So how did you two wind up as political polar opposites? (Laughter.)
MR. NADER: Well, he went to the business school and I went to the law school. (Laughter). That's one. I think the reason is that we both grew up in Connecticut, and he went to Midland, Texas.
And the Bush family, who I've known for a long time-because Prescott Bush, the grandfather, was my senator, and I would as a young man keep writing him for copies of Senate and House reports and congressional records. He once said that I won the record for sending in more letters than anybody in Connecticut. (Laughter.)
There is a difference. There's a real difference between New England Republicans and West Texas Republicans. There's a completely different environment. But there's also a difference between generations. I've noticed it between Prescott Bush to George H.W. Bush to George W. Bush. There's a distinct decline in contemplative ability. (Laughter, applause.)
MS. CHERRY: I'd like to thank you for coming today, and I'd also like to thank National Press Club staff members Melinda Cooke, Jo Anne Booze, Pat Nelson, Melanie Abdow and Howard Rothman for organizing today's lunch. Also, thanks to the National Press Club Library for their research.
With that, ladies and gentlemen, we are adjourned.
Copyright 2004 The Federal News Service, Inc.