CRASHING THE PARTY:
HOW TO TELL THE TRUTH AND
STILL RUN FOR PRESIDENT
BY RALPH NADER
A book about a refreshingly honest presidential campaign that exposes the coalescence of corporate and media power with our politics and offers solutions.
"The majority of Americans have been falling behind, notwithstanding twenty years of economic growth: losing ground in real wages, losing ground in home mortgage payments, health care, and consumer debt, burdens all, taking a much larger percentage of family income, losing ground to the increased costs of commuting to work and, with the near end of the extended family, increased consumer bills for day care and other services the family used to provide that now have to be purchased in the marketplace, and working longer hours than twenty-five years ago in a low-wage economy with a shrinking union base." - Page 107
- "We have squandered the public trust. We have placed our personal and partisan interest before the national interest, earning the public's contempt for our poll-driven policies, our phony posturing, the lies we call spin, and the damage control we substitute for progress. And we defend the campaign finance system that is nothing less than an elaborate influence-peddling scheme in which both parties conspire to stay in office by selling the country to the highest bidder." - Senator John McCain quoted on Page 60.
- "Because both the Republican and Democratic parties are delivering our elections and our government to the highest bidders at the expense of our democratic processes, the trend toward independent candidates and third parties is likely to continue, as predicted in an August 2001 report by the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate. This will occur in spite of the formidable barriers erected by the DemReps in state legislatures and debate commissions. There is just too much to be accomplished, too many new horizons to be reached by the United States domestically and around the world. More voters will conclude in the future that both parties are unworthy, that both parties flunk, that the dwindling differences between the two parties are not different enough, and that the similarities between them are increasing to exclude real people and surrender to artificial persons (called corporations) the authority in which they are invested under our Constitution." - Page 304
- "The flow of information that is the lifeblood of democracy is being choked by a media system that every day ignores a world of injustices and inequality, and the growing resistance to it. No, the media system is not the sole cause of our political crisis, nor even the primary cause, but it reinforces every factor contributing to the crisis, and it fosters a climate in which the implementation of innovative democratic solutions is rendered all but impossible. The closer a story gets to examining corporate power the less reliable our corporate media system is as a source of information that is useful to citizens of a democracy. Commercial indoctrination of children is crucial to corporate America." - excerpt from It's the Media, Stupid by John Nichols and Robert McChesney quoted on Page 157 of Crashing the Party
- "...they spent up to one billion dollars...during this campaign on television commercials, local and national. Well despite all these commercials, that have assaulted and bored the dickens out of us the past few months, there were just two ads that caught my fancy. They wouldn't let Ralph Nader into the debates. He charged ten dollars for a seat at his crowded rallies. He played it earnest and angry, mainly, in his speeches. And for millions of Americans, he managed to raise the questions and the doubts and to underline the disillusion that lots of us feel about how we wage our political campaigns." - Mike Wallace of CBS and 60 Minutes during election night quoted on Page 293
- "Who's put on the best campaign? Who's made the most of his available resources and opportunities? I think the answer has to be Ralph Nader." - David Broder, Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post political reporter quoted on Page 294.
- "I asked members of the audience to raise their hands if they wanted their representatives in Washington to vote their conscience. Most put their hands high. Then I asked, 'Are you going to vote your conscience?' Thoughtful murmurs of agreement followed." - Ralph Nader to thousands at the University of Illinois Super Rally.
Fed Up Yet?
Now, with the country in an economic downturn, things have gotten even worse. As workers, we are spending more hours at the office, away from family and friends, yet still seem to be slipping behind, or even going into debt. Those of us lucky enough to have health benefits are seeing them chipped away, while millions of us go without any such benefits at all. As consumers, we watch prices rise and rise. Wasn't it only a couple of years ago that fries and a drink came free on the side, and you could eat out for just a few bucks? As students, we are going into greater debt than ever before for degrees which take longer to earn and hold less and less weight in the job world. As taxpayers, we are left wondering exactly what it is that the government returns to us for all of our hard-earned dollars. And, as parents, we shudder, wondering whether all of these things will deteriorate further by the time our children go off to college and enter the job market.
Perhaps not coincidentally, these many responsibilities leave most of us with little energy to work on improving things. So what can we do? In a democracy, the typical answer is to go to the polls and vote in new leaders who will make the necessary changes. But after decades of leaders, both Republican and Democrat, promising fixes that never come, how many of us really believe that they will solve these problems? After all, during election season, the candidates and their highly-paid pollsters seem more intent on artfully dodging discussion of our deepest concerns than on offering solutions.
For instance, did you hear either George W. Bush or Al Gore talk much about the desperate need for affordable housing for millions who spend over half their income just to keep a roof over their heads? Was there much discussion of the growing number of working people and students who are sliding into massive debt? How was it that the corporate irresponsibility which led, only two years later, to an unprecedented wave of scandals went completely unmentioned during the 2000 campaigns of Gore and Bush (who later put up a "corporate responsibility" sign after the fact)? Was there enough real debate about the struggle of family farms and businesses at the hands of huge corporations?
In typical fashion, the candidates dodged such politically unpopular topics, shifting the debate to more comfortable territory, where they could offer platitudes about "lockboxes" and rebuttals about "fuzzy math". As long as the Gross National Product and stock market numbers are high, these candidates point to them as proof - in the face of all common sense - that things are just fine in America.
Given such a choice between the "lesser of two evils" - with the choices becoming even lesser every four years - most of us become so bored with it all, we'd rather not even hear about it anymore. Viewership of the presidential debates, which reached over 60 million for all three 1992 debates, dipped to only approximately 40 million by 2000. Voter turnout is dismal. Only half of us even bothered to trudge down to the polls in 2000 to half-heartedly choose one of these evils. Exit polls showed that 55% of us were so confused that we left unsure of whether we made the right choice. After all, with a media that provides our information through mindless, negative ads and 30 second clips, whose sheer brevity overshadows the content of what is said, how many of us even knew the facts about Bush and Gore's actual records in office?
Meanwhile, in this stronghold of world democracy, the other half of us just decided not to bother at all, utterly uninterested by a campaign that resembled a media sound-bite circus crossed with a high school popularity contest. For all too many, our campaigns and politics are becoming a national joke. Style, charisma, ego, and flattery have overtaken substance to the point that Warren Beatty is now considered a viable candidate. It seems that unless you have a few thousand dollars to hand over, your last name is Inc., or your first name is Oprah, the candidates won't be losing much sleep over your concerns.
But this is just the tip of the iceberg and even the most frustrated rarely realize just how broken the voting system has become. The extent of mechanical and administrative problems with our elections led former President and Nobel Peace Prize-Winner Jimmy Carter, whose Carter Center monitors potentially corrupt elections around the world, to declare that most areas in the U.S. don't even meet his center's observation criteria. Fidel Castro, Communist leader of Cuba, offered to send observers to monitor our elections.
Meanwhile, these mechanical and legal problems pale in comparison with the fundamentally flawed nature of our winner-take-all system. The very process intended to serve as our mechanism for problem-solving has itself become perhaps the biggest problem of all. Yet all of these deficiencies in our elections themselves, along with the growing influence of corporations over our government, our media, and our lives, were skillfully avoided by both Bush and Gore throughout the entire 2000 presidential campaign. Obliviously, at the end of the day, the many participants in this high-stakes political lottery continue to wonder why cynicism has taken hold and half of us don't bother to vote. But, as the lesser of two evils continues to get lesser and lesser, both voters and nonvoters are starting to get fed up with the politics of ignored issues, mediocre media and corrupt cash. More and more of us are demanding new blood and new parties.
A Better CandidateCan you imagine a presidential candidate who dares to be truly different? A candidate who would go beyond party stereotypes, ego, and empty slogans to run a campaign truly based on issues - even politically unpopular, but crucial ones. One who not only speaks eloquently and authoritatively about these issues, but has an unparalleled record of backing up his talk with action. A candidate who has spent his life fighting for the concerns of people like us - everyday people - not just those of millionaires and huge corporations. One who reflects this concern in a talented grassroots staff and in his willingness to pay attention to and inspire new voters among the young, so neglected by other presidential candidates, as well as the elderly. One who is willing to visit the areas of the country that have fallen on hard times, where even the pollsters don't bother to go, while the other candidates turn a blind eye to the signs of decay on the way to their next thousand-dollar-a-plate fundraiser. How about a candidate who flies coach, rather than in his own private plane, getting a firsthand look at the decrepit airlines he would (and has worked in the past to) improve? Or would you settle for a candidate at least bright enough to speak at a 12th grade level?
Presidential campaigns do much more than pick a leader. They set a tone for the nation of either integrity or superficial pettiness. Moreover, they focus attention on an agenda, marking certain issues as key to discuss and address, while leaving others unnoticed. Most politicians spend countless hours and dollars treating an unnecessarily endless cycle of symptoms, rather than laying the groundwork for real, fundamental, proactive reforms.
Imagine if we heeded a candidate who warned us about impending corporate scandals like Enron, Global Crossing and Tyco for decades, while offering inspiring examples of businesses with a conscience. Imagine if we took to heart the message of a candidate who shed light on the devastating results of corporations running our media and its coverage of our elections and politics, throwing a wrench into the problem-solving mechanism itself. And now imagine whole arenas full of thousands cheering as loudly for the idea of refueling our democracy and creating justice as they do for any sports team. Considering the scrutiny and stress that our campaigns put on candidates, it is hard to imagine that any such person would put him or herself through this rigorous ordeal. But in 2000, one did, and nearly 3 million Americans of all backgrounds - voters and previous nonvoters - voted for him.
Like Nader's life, Crashing the Party is broad in scope and deep in analysis and exposition - a commentary on the current state of our society in many areas from one of the legendary minds of our time. Combining the dry, incisive wit of a man who calls himself "a frustrated stand-up comedian" with the pinpoint mental accuracy of a Harvard-trained lawyer, Nader offers compelling insights into the key issues of our day. In doing so, he bridges the gap between the lives of today's central political, corporate, and media players, as well as those rarely heard about. He gives a penetrating indictment of our winner-take-all system and its worsening lesser-of-two-evils consequences, while describing how corporate interests have gone to great lengths to block efforts at real progress. Whereas many paint the broad outlines of the problems and solutions, Nader fills in the blanks with a barrage of hardcore concrete examples. His thorough analysis of the stifling effects created by the coalescence of government, business, and the media are matched only by his discussion of how to restore true democracy in America.
A Book for Everyone
"Why was I attracting such assemblies and interest? First and foremost, people felt at the time, and even more so today, that they were losing control over everything that matters to them - their jobs, their governments, their marketplace, their environment, their communities, their privacy, their ability to get their calls returned, their children. It doesn't matter where they are coming from - right, middle, left, Republican, Democrat, Independent, blue-collar, white-collar, small business, commuters, pedestrians, carnivores or vegetarians. The complexity of modern life and the increasing remoteness of the decision makers feed this sense of powerlessness."Nader's name evokes a wide range of reactions. What does it mean to you? The historically-minded may be familiar with his tireless work as a consumer advocate, the crusader against corporate greed and founder of organizations that work on consumer safety, corporate and government accountability, and other areas of public interest. And Crashing the Party does offer vintage Nader insight into these issues. Those who became aware of Nader during his 2000 presidential campaign know him as the representative of the Green Party of the United States. For these, confusion abounds. Our media would have us believe that the Greens are a group of radical hippies focused solely on environmental issues. Indeed, the Green moniker refers to this ecological focus. However, this represents just one of the party's ten key values. And, as Nader makes evident in this book, the Greens focus on the full range of issues and offer a program and platform that, in many ways, simply appeals to common sense. As a result, they have attracted interest from throughout the spectrum of the populace, and from every ideology and profession. In a real sense, Green represents the party's goal of stimulating new growth and regeneration in American politics, as they have in other nations around the world.
- page 40 of Crashing the Party
Part of the reason for the confusion is the "spoiler" issue. Many know Nader as the man who cost Gore the 2000 election by "taking" enough votes from him in the pivotal state of Florida to throw the election to Bush. This turn of events has left Democrats angry with Nader, Republicans elated, and everyone confused. Because of the speculation on this taking place, the media largely ignored the Greens' actual proposals and ideas, including one which ironically would eliminate the "spoiler" problem itself. For those who have seen Nader in this light, Crashing the Party offers a chance to hear his side of the story, a side rarely shown in the media, and to learn of his many compelling solutions for problems the major party candidates largely ignore.
For those completely unfamiliar with either Nader or the Greens, this is a great introductory book, as the story of his campaign encompasses so many of the issues that have exemplified Nader's life and the growth of the Green Party worldwide. If you're fed up with politics as usual, this is a chance to examine why and learn of some alternatives. If you are a progressive thinker who feels strongly about areas of social justice, there is no more informative or motivational role model than Nader. If you are a conservative, you may be surprised to find ideas with which you agree. Indeed, Nader has at times receieved more support from Republicans than Democrats for his commonsense, no-nonsense approach. If you are a worker, you will want to hear Nader's assessment of the problems of labor and the slow decay of unions which has eroded their ability to maintain wages and benefits. If you are a student, you will be touched by the way his campaign inspired young people from elementary school through graduate school to become active. Even apathetic nonvoters will be fascinated by Nader's story of his "nonvoter tour", which spoke to those who have lost interest on their own terms, without the stale, empty old promptings for increased voter turnout. In short, this ringside view of the 2000 campaign of one of the 20th century's most influential Americans offers a little something for everyone.
Why Nader Ran
"I have a personal distaste for the trappings of modern politics, in which incumbents and candidates daily extol their own inflated virtues, paint complex issues with trivial brushstrokes, and propose plans quickly generated by campaign consultants. But I can no longer stomach the systemic political decay that has weakened our democracy. I can no longer watch people dedicate themselves to improving their country while their government leaders turn their backs, or worse, actively block fair treatment for citizens. It is necessary to launch a sustained effort to wrest control of our democracy from the corporate government and restore it to the political government under the control of citizens."
- From Nader's announcement for candidacy for the Green Party presidential nomination, Page 327 of Crashing the Party
In 1996, well aware of the deterioration of the citizen movements to which he had devoted the previous several decades of his life, Nader was convinced to run a campaign in New Hampshire simply for the purpose of increasing awareness of crucial issues. His awareness campaign began auspiciously, drawing three times the audience of a Bill Clinton visit on one particular day. By the time the New Hampshire primary came around, he received thousands of write-in votes, which interestingly enough came from more Republicans than Democrats. Based on this success, he reluctantly allowed his name - along with running mate Winona LaDuke, one of Time Magazine's "50 Leaders of the Future" - to be placed on the ballot as the Green candidate in 21 states, worrying Clinton about the "spoiler" issue, and getting more press for his ideas in outlets ranging from C-Span to MTV. Nader garnered nearly 700,000 votes in that presidential election, all on a budget of less than $5000, a stunningly efficient use of funds.
On the heels of this showing, people from all corners encouraged him to run a full campaign in 2000. Another four years in which our leaders grew increasingly unresponsive to organized citizen groups fighting for reform led him to the conclusion that more aggressive change was needed. Large corporations had continued to merge, taking greater hold over the media and political system, and decades of past gains were slipping away. Practical solutions to growing problems were being unnecessarily overlooked and shoved aside by the two major parties.
Meanwhile, our media was repeatedly displaying a journalistic irresponsibility reminiscent of their disregard for Nader's forewarning of the impending Savings and Loan scandal in the late 1980's. The fact that scandals like Enron came as a surprise represents the failures of a lagging media and weakened government to protect us from foreseeable imminent problems. And even when mainstream outlets did expose the roots of a problem - such as in Time Magazine's cover story on corporate welfare or Business Week's cover story which asked "Too Much Corporate Power?" - lawsuits and legal hearings were not following to remedy the situation in any more than a superficial manner. Whereas decades earlier Watergate shook the nation, now billion-dollar scandals barely inspired action, just more despair.
While this breakdown squandered the potential remedies offered by a decade of prosperity, the corrupt campaign finance system was preventing the planting of new seeds to regenerate our political system. Despite his hesitancy, Nader knew that there was perhaps no other American of his stature willing to take on this ordeal. He recounted Thomas Jefferson's advice that when the situation grows intolerable, one should enter politics and regain control of the government. He agreed to run a full campaign for the Green Party nomination for President. His goals were to get on the ballot in as many states as possible, to be included in the presidential debates to spread awareness of his proposals, and to earn 5% of the popular vote to gain matching funds for the party's 2004 campaign - in other words, to set the foundation for a decades-long movement for reform.
A Different Kind of CampaignThe Nader 2000 Campaign began on March 1, 2000 in California, where its earliest events would range from a speech to a group of 70 to a 700-person rally attended by New York Times reporters. From this point, Crashing the Party follows the highs and lows of the campaign through all 50 states. While allowing us to share in the excitement of huge speeches and rallies, it also offers a sense of the more mundane aspects of campaigning, such as the endless cycle of press conferences and meetings with editorial boards. We experience the struggle to gain publicity on a tight budget, and follow Nader as he makes early appearances in bookstores and meets with television producers about commercials. And we watch as his 5% support - 1 in every 20 voters polled - begins to worry Bill Clinton, Al Gore and the Democratic Party.
Throughout the campaign, we are struck by the contrast with the Bush and Gore campaigns. We follow Nader to the Green Party nominating convention in Denver, a stark contrast to the conventions of the major parties with its noticeable lack of corporate logos. There, Green Party supporters from five continents helped officially usher Nader in as their candidate for President. We join Nader - whom we can thank for the right to compensation if we are bumped from an overbooked flight - flying coach on his journeys, giving him a first-hand view of the delays, rising fares, and crumbling customer service. While Gore and Bush - who ironically now helps regulate these airlines - were flying on private chartered planes, simply avoiding the problems that the rest of us face in travel, Nader was seeing the early signs of the recent airline bankruptcies and layoffs. After all, Al Gore was only half-joking when he recently remarked to Jay Leno that until he returned to civilian life from his long career of chauffeured motorcades, he was unaware that there was such a thing as traffic. Repeatedly, we see how the major candidates use money to insulate themselves from the frustrations that everyday people experience with the very services that they legislate.
The Super RalliesThe spirit of the Nader campaign, its contrast to the campaigns of the major parties, and its underexposure in the public eye were epitomized by the Super Rallies. While Bush and Gore were busy filling dining rooms at $1000 a plate, Nader was filling entire arenas at a much more reasonable price. The Super Rallies were the brainchild of two Oregon lawyers who arranged the first rally at Memorial Coliseum in Portland. There, in just a matter of days, and with little benefit from media coverage, they arranged an event that drew 10,000 people to hear Nader and LaDuke speak. From there, the excitement spread throughout the nation as Nader enlisted a rare all-star cast of modern progressives to come together with thousands of Americans of all backgrounds disenchanted with various aspects of our current communities. These rallies also offered an opportunity for local activists, many of whom have worked for social change for decades in each city, to finally get their message out to a broader audience.
12,000 filled Minneapolis' Target Center, 12,000 attended at the Boston Garden (now commercially named the Fleet Center), 10,000 came to the University of Illinois, making front page news in the Chicago Tribune. Thousands more attended rallies in Austin, Oakland and Long Beach. The tour peaked with 15,500 passionate citizens filling Madison Square Garden at $20 a ticket in just 7 days. And, in the finale, 10,000 showed up at the MCI Center in Washington, D.C.
The diverse cast who contributed or spoke at various rallies included, among others:
- John Anderson - Former Presidential candidate and head of the Center for Voting and Democracy.
- Chuck D - of Public Enemy.
- Granny D - The 90 year old woman who walked from Pasadena to Washington, D.C., bringing awareness to the cause of campaign finance reform.
- Ani DeFranco
- Phil Donahue
- Danny Glover
- Ben Harper
- Ron Kovic - of Born on the Fourth of July fame.
- Michael Moore
- Bill Murray
- Tim Robbins - whose speech to the Liberty Hill Foundation about why he supported Nader, printed in The Nation on August 6, 2001, is included in the book's appendix and is as inspiring as his films (Bob Roberts, Shawshank Redemption).
- Susan Sarandon
- Patti Smith
- Studs Terkel
- Eddie Vedder - of Pearl Jam, who said he had never attended a political rally because he never had anyone he could believe in before.
- Harvard Professor Cornel West
- Adam Yauch - of the Beastie Boys.
- Howard Zinn - author of A People's History of the United States.
The State of the NationFar more important than the everyday life of the campaign are the issues for which awareness was raised. And to this task Nader brought the insight of over 40 years spent identifying the fundamental root causes of our social problems. "Our country has more problems than it deserves," Nader laments, and in chapters like "Business as Usual: The Best Convention Money Can Buy", "The Media: An Ongoing Non-Debate", and "Campaign Liftoff: America, We've Got a Problem" he exposes how our overlapping corporate, media and political systems work together to impede realistic and practical improvements. While Bush and Gore focused on the poll-driven popularity race, Nader was busy talking about the many crucial issues that they were glossing over, sweeping under the rug, ineffectively throwing money at, or dodging with superficial proposals including:
- Corporate welfare - also see Nader's book Cutting Corporate Welfare
- Environmental destruction
- Rising health care costs
- The failure of drug and insurance companies to treat diseases which are unprofitable
- Concerns regarding genetically engineered foods
- Our crumbling educational system
- Widespread poverty, especially childhood poverty in America
- The effect of anti-free-market laws like Taft-Hartley (which President Truman vetoed, calling it a "slave labor bill") on worker's rights
- The security (or lack thereof) of pension funds
- The excesses of the campaign process itself
Such questions of fair distribution in the wealthiest nation in history, largely ignored or even potentially worsened by Bush and Gore's proposals, are placed under Nader's magnifying glass. While the major candidates point to incomplete measures such as the Gross Domestic Product or the stock market to quell public concern, Nader draws our eyes to some of the more shameful, yet important measures such as affordable housing, hunger, childhood illness and shamefully high childhood poverty (From 15.2% in 1980 to 21.9% in 1986 to 25% for 2000). He questions how we can claim to be unable to fix these problems, yet have millions to offer companies like General Motors in corporate handouts. While many complain that giving money to help individuals and communities is socialism, Nader makes a strong case that what we actually are currently undertaking is socialism, as well - corporate socialism.
A History Lesson
"The government, which was designed for the people, has got into the hands of their bosses and their employers, the special interests. An invisible empire has been set up above the forms of democracy."
- President Woodrow Wilson, quoted on page 150 of Crashing the Party
"We can have a democratic society or we can have concentrated wealth in the hands of a few. We cannot have both."Time and again, Nader is able to trace problems back to the corporatization and monetization of our lives, schools, media and elections by companies ranging from tobacco and drug providers, to food and weapons manufacturers. He examines our stunning refusal to discuss openly what is happening right in front of our eyes, and offers a wake up call of brilliant clarity. How did this multitude of problems arise? Typically, Nader begins with the notion that in order to solve these problems, we must learn about how they arose. To this end, Crashing the Party gives an incredible historical view, dense with fascinating facts and stories, from a man who is himself an integral part of American history.
- Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis in the 1930's, quoted by Ralph Nader in front of 12,000 and a national TV audience at the Minneapolis Super Rally on Page 203 of Crashing the Party
He traces the roots of the current power of large corporations back to the early days of our nation, when leaders and citizens alike feared corporate power and often restrained it, even revoking corporate charters when necessary. We are reminded that corporations were originally an organizational tool formed to help the citizens of the state in which they were incorporated, not to act as an entity either equal with or holding power over them. In 1886, we learn, everything changed with a Supreme Court case that receives far less attention than is its due: Santa Clara vs. Southern Pacific Railroad. It was in this case that the idea of corporate personhood - the notion that corporations have the same rights under the Constitution as individuals - was established. This notion is one of the pillars which supports the dangerously unrestrained growth of modern corporations.
Nader explains that, while demanding the same rights as individuals, many corporations have fought viciously against being held to the same standards of accountability to which other individuals are held. These corporations - who were once described by Ronald Reagan as having their "hands in the trough" - are given benefits unobtainable by any person, such as taxpayer subsidies for corporate projects, repeated bailouts from the government when they run into trouble, and the ability to externalize many of their costs to police, taxpayers, workers, the environment, or the medical system. Nader describes the ultimate embodiment of this lack of responsibility in the historical fight of corporations against everything from slavery to women's rights and from civil rights to worker safety. Lest this sound too radical, Nader gives enlightening examples of other historical figures who also warned against such increased concentration of wealth including Teddy Roosevelt (who spoke of the "malefactors of great wealth"), Franklin Delano Roosevelt (who referred to the problems of "the economic royalists"), Thomas Jefferson (who warned of "the excess of the monied interests") and Abraham Lincoln, who feared the nation itself was at risk from increasing and damaging corporate power.
Finally Nader describes how, in our current era, corporations have managed to hi-jack the very agencies set up to regulate them, thus preventing institution and enforcement of healthy limits. The fox is guarding the henhouse, as regulation is increasingly carried out by former executives of the very fields supposedly being overseen. He goes on to describe how the extension of corporate power into such areas creates an environment in which countermeasures to protect individuals are increasingly difficult to enact. Well-intentioned charities often aim to fill in the needed services, but can hardly keep pace with the overwhelming growth and concentration of wealth in the hands of corporations. Hence, a sense of hopelessness arises and when asked what to do about the problem, many simply say it is beyond repair.
Our Corporate MediaOne of the most dangerous areas into which corporate power has extended itself is the media. As ownership of our mass media has been consolidated into alarmingly few hands, worrying even the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (Colin Powell's son), along with many Senators, our public airwaves have become a mindless parade of advertisement and entertainment. Our news has gone from informing the public of crucial civic issues to spewing weather statistics, fluffy human-interest stories, and a barrage of gore and violence unrepresentative of actual daily life. While four times as many are killed each year at work than in car accidents or homicides, you would never know it from watching our misleading news. Meanwhile, a myriad of issues - indeed, many of those mentioned above - go unreported. And through it all, the diminishing journalistic quality itself goes unexposed as that responsibility falls on the very media organizations affected by the problem, a Catch-22. The results of this quandary became evident through the lens of Nader's campaign and his attempts to gain publicity for his candidacy.
Naming the Problems
"The act of naming is the great and solemn consolation of mankind."
- Elias Canetti in The Agony of Flies
"The first step to wisdom is getting things by their right name."Gloria Steinem once said that one of the first steps towards regaining self-esteem is "giving names to problems that have been treated as normal and thus have no names." Indeed, it is difficult for an individual or a nation to resolve a problem that is only vaguely felt without concrete terms for communication. In most cases, if you want to learn a term, you go to the dictionary. But if want to immerse yourself in the language of our current social problems, you go to Ralph Nader, a man who has immersed his life in trying to improve them. Having to communicate these problems to a wide spectrum of audiences of all ages through his speeches, books, and articles, Nader has been forced to identify previously unmentioned or undiscussed phenomena and either coin or adopt specific terminology for them. Throughout Crashing the Party Nader conveys a litany of terms - "protective imitation", "democracy gap", "predatory lending", "discriminatory vs. indiscriminate injustice", "cold feet syndrome", "blackbird journalism", "tort deform" - that leave you feeling more able and confident in your own ability to discuss these issues.
- Chinese proverb.
The Quintessential Hypocrisies and Corruptions
Nader's tour includes:
- Louisiana - Where you skip the pretense and get a slot on the Presidential ballot the old fashioned way - you buy it.
- New Mexico - Where Republican Governor Gary Johnson holds a press conference with Nader to denounce the hypocrisy of the drug war. Johnson explains how many other governors of all parties agree, but are afraid to speak out.
- Washington, D.C. - The only democratic capital district in the world without voting representation in the legislature. As the first Presidential candidate to ever campaign in some parts of D.C., Nader exposes us to the pollution and infant mortality that plague this neglected city, right in the shadows of the White House and the Capitol Building.
- New York City - Where we get to see the inner workings of the New York Stock Exchange, the ultimate symbol of our free market economy, which is itself ironically fighting to obtain a subsidy from the city.
- West Virginia - Coal mining country, where coal companies had been blowing up mountains in the endless pursuit of profit. Despite the fact that more coal miners have died since 1890 from coal dust disease and mine collapses than all Americans that died in World War II, these issues seem to have missed the Republican and Democratic radar screens completely. Nader, meanwhile, has been involved for decades, and it was he who fought for laws to compensate the families of the victims. In typical fashion, those families seemed to have forgotten much of his hard work by election day.
- Hawaii - A case study of pollution in paradise.
- Montana - Where timber companies logging in national forests have been handed $1.2 billion in giveaways out of our taxpaying pockets.
- Toledo, Ohio - Where Daimler-Chrysler tears down an entire town to build a new Jeep plant, the physical manifestation of corporate America running roughshod over communities, playing on their financial neediness, and leaving them when times get tough. Despite receiving massive tax breaks, the corporation takes little responsibility for the environmental havoc wreaked on the area. In the end, the 4900 jobs, which comprised the main benefit to the city itself, are lost anyways, as an extremely biased contract keeps the mayor from even being able to successfully sue.
- Hartford, Connecticut - Where, in the home state of both Nader and his old acquaintance, Senator Joe Lieberman (whom Nader refers to as the Senator from Aetna for his obsequious support of unscrupulous insurance companies), youngsters suffer the ravages of dilapidated schools and rampant drug use. Hartford's Black and Hispanic children, living right in the shadows of the huge insurance company office buildings, experience asthma rates reaching up to 40%.
- Boston - Where, as in many other cities, rich sports moguls seek millions of taxpayer dollars to build new sports stadiums, in lieu of assisting the citizens desperate for better schools, clinics and housing.
The Corruption of the Parties: The Solution Becomes Part of the Problem
"Yes, there are a few but nowhere near enough major differences between Bush and Gore, and the converging similarities relating to corporate power's entrenchments tower above the dwindling real differences over which the two parties are willing to contend. Sure, the Democratic Party may register a D+ and the Republican Party a D-, but in my book they both flunk."Perhaps the most dangerous hypocrisies of all are those affecting the seats of power themselves: the major political parties. The general disillusionment of the public with both parties is summed up by the phrase found behind the toilet in the Green Party Campaign Headquarters - "Bush and Gore make me wanna Ralph". In Crashing the Party, Nader begins by quickly exposing the myopia of the Republican Party. However, it is the breakdown of the Democrats - to a point often as bad, or worse, than the Republicans - that is commonly overlooked by progressives, and made his campaign as a Green both relevant and crucial. For this reason, he then moves on to show in devastating detail how the Democrats have progressively become more and more indistinguishable from the GOP in actual practice. A focus on the conventions and histories of the two parties offers a sharp contrast with the citizenry, as well as his own campaign.
- Page 105 of Crashing the Party
The Republican Party: Hypocrisy and Myopia
"900 separate events...candidates' fund-raisers, thank-you spreads laid on by the party for its biggest donors, and corporate-financed tributes to lawmakers who hold sway over their businesses...One senior Republican official called the four-day convention..."the biggest orgy of hedonism in the history of politics," a marathon of rock and blues concerts, golf and fishing tournaments, yacht cruises and shopping excursions. Another GOP official said one party cost about $500,000 and three ran around $400,000, all paid for by corporate sponsors with business before the congressional leaders. One Republican official, after a reporter was physically barred from a lavish hospitality suite, explained that some of the guests might have people "on their arms" who were not their spouses."As the Republicans celebrate at their $50 million Philadelphia convention, Nader takes us across the Delaware River - the historic site of George Washington's revolutionary crossing - to the horrendously poor city of Camden, New Jersey. Here, we witness a city shelter, which can't manage to receive even a fraction of the expenses being thrown around across the river to take care of those in desperate need. As the speeches in Philadelphia carefully avoided the issues of poverty, so did New Jersey's leaders literally cover up Camden's ruins, superficially sparing the delegates from the view that would be apparent the rest of the year, lest they be bothered by reality.
- Mike Allen of the Washington Post quoted in the introduction to Crashing the Party
In a further obliviation of reality, Bush shouts about "leaving no child behind", while many areas in his home state of Texas experienced 40-50% dropout rates, and covered up the statistics with "fuzzy math" that makes Arthur Andersen's look downright accurate. Perhaps it is no coincidence that even the phrase itself was stolen - from the Children's Defense Fund, an organization which strongly opposes most of Bush's policies regarding children and education. The entire scene, symbolic of the exploitation of communities, overreliance on strapped charities, and hijacking of ideas in the service of this party, is enough to make you want to vote Democrat...that is, until you get a look at their Hollywood affair.
The Democrats: A Dying Party?
"The Democratic Party was fast losing its soul, morphing into the Republicans to form one corporate party feeding on the same corporate cash, but still sprouting two heads, each wearing different makeup. The parties, after all, did have to present a different face to the voting public."In South Central L.A., Nader visited a memorial to the local victims of cancer induced by nearby chemical emissions. This is not atypical in a state where 8.9% of children under 6 live "below or near poverty". But, like the Republicans, this isn't where the Democrats choose to spend their time campaigning. The glamorous Democratic convention, just down the street in glitzy Hollywood, pointed out the striking lack of differences between the two parties. Just as the Republicans ignored the blight across the river in Camden at their convention, so did the Democrats sweep the problems of inner city Californians under the rug. While acknowledging many increasingly superficial differences between the major parties, Nader shows compellingly that they are beholden to the same big money interests and rich donors and both ignoring crucial social problems. This growing connection to big money has weakened the Democrats' ability to fight strongly for the average working people that they have traditionally supported.
- page 24 of Crashing the Party
It isn't just Nader making this case. Throughout Crashing the Party, a slew of Democratic insiders and former party leaders are quoted giving the same opinion of the Democrats' steady sell-out to special interests. Such is the party's decline that a former Democratic Senator and the former head of California's Democratic Party find themselves in agreement with a right-wing Wall Street Journal writer's critique. Gore's own campaign chairman joins in the chorus decrying the party's strategy of "protective imitation", stealing and fighting for traditionally Republican issues. In an article entitled "They Aren't Just Resting: The Democratic Party is Dead," Clinton's Secretary of Labor, Robert Reich, declares "But I know a dead party when I see one, and I'm looking at a dead party right now...The Democratic Party is stone dead, dead as a doornail". The critique peaks with President Clinton himself admitting the flaws in one of his own major policies.
Nader exposes this decline not to demonize the Democrats, but rather to shed light on their growing similarity with Republicans in an attempt to show the desperate need for reform within the party. In support of his argument, and those of others with a similar view, he again employs his incredible historical knowledge to trace the roots of the decline. A letter in the appendix from Franklin Delano Roosevelt shows that the seeds of such a decline were present for many decades. However, Nader hones in on the late 1970's to show the beginnings of an overt similarity between the Democrats and Republicans. In fact, he is even able to name the man most responsible for helping to push this trend over the hump.
Nader then goes on to show how, in subsequent years, this trend began to manifest in practice, as the Democrats repeatedly aided some of their worst proclaimed enemies. For instance, while most Democrats point to Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas as the worst Supreme Court Justices, hell-bent on overturning abortion rights and other civil rights, few seem to remember that it was the Democrats who helped confirm them. Scalia was confirmed, in fact, by a Senate vote of 98-0. One of those 98 votes was none other than Al Gore. In addition, 11 Democratic Senators helped usher Clarence Thomas into office. On the other hand, the stereotype of Democrats being better for civil rights notwithstanding, some of the Justices seen as more moderate and even progressive were in fact nominated by Republicans. Such examples include Earl Warren, William Brennan, Harry Blackmun, John Paul Stevens, and David Souter.
In addition to this flip-flopping, partisan agreement and collusion also abound. For instance, consider that all but 7 Democrats supported the reappointment of Alan Greenspan as Chairman of the Federal Reserve. Or consider the example of one 1990 Congressional race in which the Democrats had a candidate running neck-and-neck with their sworn enemy, Newt Gingrich, yet refused to fund him. The reason? The Republicans and Democrats made a mutual pact declaring that no candidate could use the recent 25% Congressional pay raise as a campaign issue. When Gingrich's opponent, David Worley, did so, his party's loyalty to their pact with the Republicans took precedence over their loyalty to their own candidate - and to the exposure of the truth. Worley was left unable to pay for crucial television ads during the home stretch of the campaign, and lost by 950 votes. In addition - to the apparent relief of the Democrats - the working people of America were spared an explanation of the latest example of Congressional greed.
The Democrats during the Clinton-Gore administration continued moving towards Republican territory. An October 16, 2000 Washington Post article entitled "Party energetically aids conservative candidates" highlighted just how small the differences were becoming. While President Clinton was busy talking shop with the same advisor used by Trent Lott, a man who would soon be forced to quit due to a scandal involving a prostitute, he and Gore were ignoring the benefits of alternative energy sources, handing land to corporations, and refusing to improve fuel efficiency standards - something even the Republicans had done in the past. In a dedicated appendix section, Nader lists numerous examples of how Clinton and Gore compiled a record that Bush and Cheney would be proud to adopt, ranging from opening Alaska for oil and gas drilling to raising massive amounts of corporate money for campaigns to corporate giveaways. And when the greatest fighter for corporate accountability in America called to discuss these events, Gore would not even return Nader's call.
If this interchanging of parties is making you dizzy, the 2000 campaign would not do much to alleviate the confusion. For Al Gore, it was a study in empty rhetoric. While he promoted himself as a man who would fight for the people, not the powerful, Gore's actions often belied his speech. Indeed, his advisory panel was full of big business insiders such as Peter Knight, Jack Quinn, and Frank Hunger. One advisor, Carter Askew, was a friend of the tobacco companies. Like Earth Day, which has been taken over by corporate advertisers of late, Gore, the author of the environmental manifesto Earth in the Balance, also saw his campaign dominated by big business. So confused did Gore seem on this business vs. populist image, that Joe Lieberman could frequently be found apologizing to big businesses after a Gore anti-corporate speech, easing their minds that it was just talk. Gore would certainly continue to support large corporations, he would assure them...just like a good Republican. USA Today's Susan Page could barely find the differences between Bush and Gore on the economy. With these two parties so alike, it's no wonder over half of voters were unsure about the vote they had just cast.
Of course, the only trend more prominent in 2000 than empty rhetoric was missing rhetoric. Few of these overlapping problems were discussed by either Bush or Gore. Having both compiled atrocious records on the environment, corporate accountability, and scores of other issues, neither was willing to attack the other in these areas. True to the pattern of the dysfunctional family, in which shared problems are drowned out by a conspiracy of silence, both agreed not to talk about mutually sensitive issues - much like in the Gingrich-Worley episode. When Nader tried to break through this wall of silence, rather than change their policies, the Democrats viciously tried to attack Nader for "stealing" their votes.
The actions of the Democrats since Bush's victory have only solidified the certainty of their steady morphing into Republicans. For instance, after months of campaigns warning of the dangers of arch-conservative nominees like John Ashcroft and the fiscal irresponsibility of Bush's tax plan, the Democrats promptly helped confirm Ashcroft and pass Bush's tax bill. A July 27, 2001 Wall Street Journal article entitled "Democratic Leaders Turn Up as Unlikely Allies for Nuclear Power" epitomized the poor environmental stance of the current Democrats. The article specifically discussed how the public overlooked Gore's support for nuclear power. On issue after issue, Democrats were too busy going along with the Republicans to fight for their beliefs. This fundamental party weakness culminated in the recent 2002 election where Democrats were widely criticized for failing to strongly oppose Bush's policies and promote a feasible alternative plan of their own. Voters and pundits alike agreed that their overwhelming losses in 2002 could be greatly attributed to this lack of a distinct identity separate from the Republicans.
Our Political System: Bringing Out the Worst in the Two Major PartiesWhy are the two parties both so similar, and both so ineffective in solving our fundamental problems? One crucial answer is that our election circus often scares off the best that these parties might have to offer. Of those who do run, the candidates with strong desires to make fundamental reforms are often demonized by their own parties or support is withheld. In the Republican Party, a prime example given by Nader is that of John McCain, a war hero who supports strong election reform, referring to the current system as "an incumbency protection racket". In addition to being a co-sponsor of the Campaign Finance Reform Bill recently signed into law by President Bush, McCain has spoken of the need for deep-rooted change in interviews and speeches, as well as to other members of his party.
Meanwhile, Democrat Bill Bradley, a Rhodes scholar and former NBA star who vowed to campaign above the mudslinging ended up getting slung on by Gore. However, before going down, Bradley took the opportunity to speak strongly about the growing mistrust of government attributable to uncontrolled campaign spending. Ironically, these same candidates are then compelled by party interest to support the very opponents who just finished attacking them. Truly, it is a system that brings out the worst of the two major parties, stifling innovative voices, and leaving voters with less and less real choice on the ballot.
Our Political System: Blocking New BloodIn any situation, if the two available options are not getting the job done sufficiently, it is essential to nurture new options. Moreover, in any system, regeneration of new growth is paramount in ensuring the continued success and survival of the system. For instance, in order to encourage solutions to difficult problems and increase the quality of goods and services, we realize that we need to help small businesses compete and grow. Similarly, when it comes to our political system, those new options and growth are offered by "third parties" - parties other than the Republicans and Democrats.
Historically, third parties have proven their success in this role. Political parties cannot grow overnight, and indeed it was the Republican Party itself, which began as a third party fighting for the abolition of slavery. From helping to promote women's suffrage to increasing interest in politics as Ross Perot's recent campaigns did, third parties have always opened the dialogue to crucial issues and acted as an impetus for the improvement of the era's major parties. And, importantly, these benefits were gained even when the third parties did not win the elections. The two major parties must focus on winning seats every few years, and so are forced to take short-term approaches to what are long-term problems. Third parties, on the other hand, have more freedom to see the big picture and offer less popular, though insightful and creative, solutions - ones that often prove to be ahead of their time. They also open the world of politics to candidates whose views differ from the narrow scope of just two parties. Clearly in a nation of over 300 million people, all of our views cannot be expressed by only two groups. The absurdity of such a limited spectrum is highlighted by the fact that even much smaller nations often have many more parties.
Yet, if the system is difficult on even the two major parties, it is downright oppressive of third parties. Despite the importance of their role in politics, the United States puts up more barriers to third parties than any other Western democracy - often reaching the level of absurdity. By preventing widespread exposure of their new ideas, we all lose an important source of creativity and change in our social policy. This is a great travesty, and extremely incompatible with the notion of true democracy. The growth of third party politics is of benefit to all of us who wish to see improvement in our social conditions. In fighting for such growth, Nader, who first wrote about these barriers in 1959, seeks to open the doors to not only the Greens, but many other voices, bringing us closer to the ideals of true democracy.
Third Party BarriersAs we follow Nader on the campaign trail, we learn of several major obstacles with which he, as a third party candidate, must contend. In observing his struggles with each, we gain greater insight into our political, media, and corporate systems.
Barrier 1: Money and Manpower - The Lifeblood of a CampaignOne thing about a third party campaign is the same as that of a major party. You need money and people in order to have any success at all. But, while the major parties have a veritable machine of money and manpower, third parties usually need to rely on extremely difficult grassroots approaches. In reading about how Nader tackles this problem, we see just how incredibly arduous this aspect of campaigning is for a third party candidate. Yet, at the same time, we get to see one of the more successful such endeavors in American history, and get to know some very intriguing individuals, both famous and less well-known. As Nader contacts acquaintances, friends, and organizations familiar from his decades of work on reform, each offers a fascinating story, teaching a potpourri of lessons on the gamut of issues of our day. Over time, these various supporters coalesce into a team.
The Citizens' Committee for Nader/Laduke was that team. Nader's campaign became a lightning rod, attracting a wide spectrum of active Americans to the common causes of waking up America, shaking up the weakening Democratic Party, and effecting meaningful reform. It included leading thinkers of all types - activists, actors, authors, businessmen (such as the founder of Real Networks), doctors, lawyers (such as the primary attorney for Steve Jobs of Apple Computer), mayors, musicians, and professors of everything from law to physics. Jewish Rabbis joined Catholics, Muslims, and people of all other backgrounds to support Nader. Those donating time and money to the campaign - one which they knew full well offered no special favors in return - also included a who's who of progressive celebrities and others, such as:
- Warren Beatty - of Bulworth fame
- Actor Ed Begley, Jr.
- Annette Bening
- David Brower - the most noted environmentalist of last generation
- Jackson Browne
- Woody Harrelson
- Jim Hightower - author of If the Gods Wanted us to Vote, They'd Have Given us Candidates
- Willie Nelson
- Paul Newman
- Bonnie Raitt
- Linda Ronstadt
- Pete Seeger
Yet, despite Nader's success, we learn some hard lessons about the trials of assembling support for a third party campaign. His lifetime of devotion to unions notwithstanding, only one national union endorsed him. Most unions turned their backs on one of their greatest supporters to back Gore, despite their own voluminous complaints about his policies. While a few groups, such as the Teamsters, at least delayed their endorsement of the Democrats to show support and speak in favor of Nader, others simply ignored their own issues to back Gore, in effect allowing themselves to be taken for granted. But, in the end, even the Teamsters gave in and endorsed Al Gore. In fact, one group refused to support Nader even though its entire platform was incorporated into his!
Meanwhile, the growing list of individuals giving up on the Democrats began to concern their supporters. In return, the Democrats sought to win these people back to their party. When warning and begging didn't work, they instead turned to attack mode, often going to surprising lengths to get revenge on those even loosely or historically associated with Nader. Thus, because of such intense partisan loyalty, many of those who supported Nader were forced to sacrifice friendships and career opportunities to do so. Others were not so willing, and many who had agreed with his platform for decades refused to support his campaign.
Barrier 2: The Labyrinth of Federal Election Commission (FEC) GuidelinesAs if marshalling resources wasn't hard enough to carry out, the process of making sure it is done legally is even more arduous. Even Nader, a Harvard-trained lawyer, needed to turn to election law experts to help wade through the thick muck of guidelines set up by the Democrats and Republicans who split leadership of the Federal Election Commission. Yet, while he was able to negotiate the guidelines for raising money, getting his name on the ballots around the nation proved a much more difficult ordeal.
It was mentioned that no Western democracy consciously puts up so many barriers to third parties as the United States. Perhaps nowhere is this intentionally absurd barricade more obvious than in the issue of obtaining ballot status. Firstly, the number of necessary signatures to be placed on the presidential ballot is often extraordinary. In Georgia you need 40,000, in North Carolina 50,000. To make things more difficult, Texas demands that its 37,000 required signatures be compiled in just 75 days. Another state ridiculously requires that all signatures be collected on special colored paper. Should one meet these requirements, they have only begun. Since the Democrats and Republicans attempt to invalidate any and all signatures possible, one must collect nearly twice the required number in order to insure ballot access. Then, for good measure, some states - such as West Virginia and Georgia - charge several thousand dollars, as well.
Of course, this type of blockade is quite understandable from two parties wishing to maintain their status against oncoming third parties. In fact, one Democrat even told Nader that he would not support relaxing these barriers since it would defeat his party's self interest. Nader quickly reminded him of some other rather frightening societies in which leaders used such a philosophy in their policymaking. In any case, despite petitioner evictions and stolen signatures, a veritable army of citizen volunteers helped Nader to obtain ballot access in over 80% of states. This group of volunteers, ranging from an Omaha dentist to a 13-year old girl, proved extremely diverse and inspiring. In one incredible case, a man, once told he would never walk again, biked from Salt Lake City to Washington, D.C. to publicize Nader's campaign. With no recompense other than the inner reward of helping a good cause, these committed Americans assisted Nader in overcoming this second barrier with remarkable success.
Barrier 3: Publicity
"There is a major problem for anyone who runs for president, especially a third-party candidate. No matter how long or extensively you campaign in every state of the union, no matter how large your audiences become, you cannot reach in direct personal communication even 1 percent of the eligible voters. In essence, you don't run for president directly; you ask the media to run you for president or, if you have the money, you also pay the media for exposure. Reaching the voters relies almost entirely on how the media chooses to perceive you and your campaign. In short, this "virtual reality" is the reality...There can be, though, alternatives to such contrivances. The people could have their own media, a point I made repeatedly at my press conferences."When running a grassroots campaign on a tight budget against candidates with massive name recognition, publicity is always a huge obstacle. Nader estimates that even by traveling in person to all 50 states and holding events around the country, a candidate cannot reach even a tiny percentage of American voters. Simply letting people know that you are in the race at all becomes crucial, not to even mention persuading them of your views. Nader's campaign highlighted the difficulties in fulfilling this task, affording lessons about the role of the media in our political system along the way.
- Page 155 of Crashing the Party
In our modern era, television advertisements represent one of the most expensive aspects of campaigning for office. Nader was typically hesitant about such mass marketing, but finally agreed to allow Bill Hillsman, one of the leading marketers for underdog candidates (Jesse Ventura, Paul Wellstone), to produce a couple of television ads for his campaign. And in similarly typical fashion, he made the most of this small investment. The ads, including one parodying the Mastercard "priceless" series, were noted as some of the best of the year. In a comical turn of events, Mastercard had the gall to try to sue him over the ads, only serving to further publicize the commercials just as the Greens' ad budget was running out.
But, two advertisements don't go far in a presidential race. Ultimately, Nader was at the mercy of the media outlets to offer him time on television and radio and inches in the newspaper columns. With C-SPAN as the only media outlet providing unedited coverage of political events in this bastion of free speech and communications, there is no other way to reach millions of Americans at one time other than through the privately owned media. Luckily, he was able to receive a limited amount of coverage. He was interviewed on shows such as Hardball with Chris Matthews, Meet the Press with Tim Russert, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, The Late Show with David Letterman, Larry King Live, Nightline with Ted Koppel, and made his fourth appearance on Saturday Night Live. He received note in newspapers such as the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and USA Today. In a memorable appearance on Don Imus' radio show, Imus remarked that he could see himself voting for Nader.
Yet even when Nader did appear, the interviewers nearly always focused on his third party role, rather than his actual platform. Moreover, the amount of coverage paled in comparison to that of his opponents, and for each opportunity he was given, many more were refused. In perhaps the most damaging loss, Nader was denied a slot on 60 Minutes, in which he could have reached 50 times more people than he had reached in his entire tour of the United States. Despite the constant encouragement of Mike Wallace, producer Don Hewitt refused to follow through with the airing. Ironically, ten years earlier Nader had also been denied potential coverage on the show for a telling reason: no opponent of note was willing to appear to criticize him.
This entire ordeal of attempting to obtain publicity as a third party candidate instructs us in one of the core problems of our democracy today: the role of the media. Nader filled Madison Square Garden and other arenas with supporters and still received little national coverage. He drew more people to a talk than Clinton drew that day in the same city, yet received little coverage. And when Al Gore received more media attention regarding his vacation plans than Nader did on his campaign itself, Nader could only respond with his classic dry wit. However, the flaws that such unrepresentative and skewed coverage unmask should not be overlooked or excused.
While many believe that it is the prerogative of media outlets to cover what they want and to do as they please, this simply is not the case in our legal history. The 1934 Communications Act requires that television networks, who use the public airwaves, must serve and reflect "the public interest." Yet, currently the networks often ignore the public interest, even while using their airwaves to make huge profits, and paying almost no rent to the citizens. It is only to be expected that television networks will attempt to block voices that are critical of their major sponsors. Indeed, they would be foolish to do otherwise. Hence, it is crucial that the laws which ensure that they serve the public interest, opening their forum to more voices in the community, be enforced.
Newspapers and radio stations join the television airwaves to display other aspects of the problem. For instance, laws were originally established by the FCC to limit the number of newspapers or stations that one company can own for an important reason. Consolidation of the media into too few hands robs the public of the benefits of oversight of their leaders by a wide variety of eyes and ears. Nonetheless, since the Supreme Court's landmark 1943 ruling, which upheld the right to limit a company to one network per market, the laws have been progressively loosened or gone unenforced, to the dissatisfaction of many. In 1996, under Clinton's watch, the regulations were repealed to the point where one corporation can now own up to 35% of a media market. As the battle wages on, media moguls continue trying to join forces, creating companies whose names (ie. AOL Time Warner) resemble run-on sentences.
Thus, we have entered an age where mergers have allowed one company, for instance, to own 1200 radio stations. Another company, headed by Rupert Murdoch, owns 8 television networks, 10 cable channels, and over 30 newspapers. Further worsening the problem of consolidation, a few large outlets, such as the New York Times and Washington Post, have begun to determine the news agenda while other markets simply follow their leads.
As a result, our news begins to represent a more and more limited point of view based on less and less actual source material. The cause of the problem is evident in AOL Time Warner CEO Gerald Levin's declaration on CNN that the media is "fast becoming...more important than government." The effect of this kind of consolidation and control was exemplified when, in one of Nader's interviews, he was strangely asked to redo the entire segment by the network. His faux pas: he had quoted Levin.
But, Nader has never been one to simply theorize without action. In his attempt to obtain fair coverage, for instance, he went to the New York Times editorial staff to inquire about their criteria for covering his campaign. The surprisingly erratic journalistic processes that they quite candidly admitted to him will leave you wondering what's missing next time you pick up their paper. He goes on to discuss the hypocrisy of media outlets which spent the entire campaign complaining about the effects of corporate money in politics, yet barely covered the one campaign that set an example by refusing to accept such donations. With such questionable journalism becoming the norm, it is no wonder that even the most well known news anchors - Dan Rather, Peter Jennings and Tom Brokaw - have all concluded that something is awry in our media. Famed anchor Walter Cronkite has grown so skeptical of current media policy that he has become involved in the movement for reform. And for the third party candidate who desperately needs publicity to make a dent in the election, such lack of fair coverage can be absolutely devastating.
Barrier 4: The DebatesThe utter necessity of receiving televised coverage during a presidential campaign cannot be overstated. And each campaign, the most important coverage opportunities are afforded by the presidential debates. Nowhere else do 40-90 million Americans get the chance to weigh their options against each other head-to-head on the same stage. But, at the same time, nowhere else can so many people be robbed of exposure to some of those options.
While millions watch these debates every four years, few know anything about the dubious process by which they are organized and participants and procedures chosen. For the past fourteen years, such decisions regarding the debates have been made by the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD). While this organization remains cleverly hidden behind the scenes, its operations in the past, as well as regarding Nader's exclusion from the 2000 debates, provide some of the most disturbing examples of the dangerous coalescence of business, the media, and our government.
To understand the roots of Nader's exclusion, we need to look at the history of the debates. For many years, these events were sponsored by the League of Women Voters, a nonprofit organization which was somewhat accepting of third party inclusion. For instance, in 1980, John Anderson began with only 1% voter recognition. But, after his inclusion in a debate, he reached 21% in the polls, and ultimately received a healthy 7% of the vote. Notably, President Jimmy Carter, a Democrat, refused to participate in the debate that included Anderson. The League of Women Voters stood strong, and held the debate anyways.
In the subsequent debates, the Republicans and Democrats sought to wield more and more power over the terms, dates and participants in the debates. Eventually, these two parties demanded so much control that the League of Women Voters refused to be involved anymore, declaring it a "fraud on the American voter" and a "hoodwinking of the American public". A new commission was formed, taking control of the debates away from the League of Women Voters, and placing it in the hands of an incredibly biased organization.
The Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) was organized as a private corporation in 1987 by leaders of the Democratic and Republican parties. It is headed by former chairmen of these parties - Frank Fahrenkopf, Jr. and Paul G. Kirk, Jr., and its board of directors is comprised of other leaders from those parties. It is this supposedly unbiased group that now makes nearly all decisions regarding the debates. If their leadership is questionably partial, their funding sources are blatantly so. Companies such as Philip Morris, Anheuser Busch, Ford, and AT&T provide the money to sponsor the debates, and in turn lend a decidedly pro-corporate incentive to them. As if this wasn't enough, owing to the Commission's dubious status as an educational non-profit organization, these companies actually receive a tax deduction for their donations. Moreover, an added potential for conflicts of interest arises from the positions of eight of the eleven board members on major corporate boards.
This biased control of the debates has turned them into a sham, as the two major parties, in coordination with the Commission, predetermine everything from who is the moderator to which topics may be discussed. In 2000, Bush and Gore actually set up rules preventing themselves from asking each other direct questions, stretching the very meaning of the word debate, and conjuring up more and more the image of a press conference. They may contradict facts, but nobody has the freedom to call them on it. An audience, which may not participate in any way, serves as little more than a prop for the television cameras. The candidates deliver their carefully prepared, scripted answers, often ignoring the actual question posed, and the public hears no critique of a candidate except for that which his single opponent wishes to bring up. Since the two candidates are often guilty of the same flaws, these are agreeably ignored by both sides and the voters are deprived of the opportunity to hear them.
All in all, this delicately staged event, which in 2000 consisted of three times more agreement between the candidates than the 1976 debate, has devolved into little more than an attempt to sidestep sensitive issues and carefully avoid gaffes. Gore and Bush agreed to a large extent on foreign policy, the drug war, education, and both ignored many studies in their mutual support for the death penalty. It is no wonder that Dan Rather called the second 2000 debate "narcolepsy-inducing".
In 1992, an interesting dilemma arose for the Republicans and Democrats as Ross Perot, the billionaire Texan, sought the Presidency as a third party candidate. Perot provided a stunning example of what the debates can do for a third party candidate, as he ultimately received 19 million votes, in great part due to his inclusion in the debates. Conversely, Perot showed what a third party candidate can do for the debates, as his inclusion helped boost viewership of that year's third debate to 92 million, twice as many as would view the 2000 debates - making it the most-watched presidential debate of all time. But his threat to the two major parties was clear, and the CPD made it a priority to find a way to keep Perot out of the 1996 debates. Despite receiving almost 20% of the votes in the previous presidential election, and polling at 10% before the 1996 debates, the Commission changed the rules to ensure that Perot would not be included.
Modified before the 1996 events, the current "nonpartisan" selection criteria for inclusion in the Presidential debates represent a media Catch-22. The Commission, among other requirements, demands that a candidate poll at 15% support in five separate polls by September of election year to be included. The polling sources are five corporate-owned media outlets. This obviously casts a pro-corporate bias into the process. However, more importantly, it leaves third party candidates in an insoluble dilemma. In order to achieve 15% in the polls, they need these media outlets to cover their campaigns. But, these outlets will not give adequate coverage, nor will the Commission allow them such coverage through the debates, until after they already have such support.
Thus, Nader was required to achieve 15% in the polls in order to be included in the debates. Yet the very outlets that run the polls barely bothered to cover his announcement that he was running. How can a candidate reach 15% if the media does not let voters know that they are running? By putting candidates in this media straitjacket, the CPD in effect takes the choice of who is in the debates out of the hands of the American people and puts it into the hands of a small group of corporate-owned media outlets. Indeed, polls showed that the majority of voters did want Nader included in the debates, but their will was ignored as the CPD put its own criteria ahead of public sentiment. This same type of undemocratic debate procedure occurred in the California governor's race in 2002 where most voters disliked both major party candidates and nearly 70% wanted Green candidate Peter Camejo included in the debates, yet the media outlets running the debates refused to admit him to all but one.
The supposed justification for all of this undemocratic maneuvering is that it would be too difficult to let all of the candidates into a debate. However, even the most inclusive debate only needs to showcase those candidates who are on the ballot in enough states to have a mathematical chance at winning. In the last four elections, this one filter alone would have cut the number down to at most seven. That is no more than are included in many primary debates, as well as debates in other nations. Nonetheless, this argument did not help Nader in 2000.
Having been barred from participation in the debates, Nader obtained a ticket to watch the first debate on closed circuit television next to the venue, and then be interviewed by FOX television. However, upon his arrival, he was met with security guards who were specifically told to keep him out; no other person was to be barred from the venue but him. In the process of barring him, the CPD, a private corporation, used city and university police to exclude Nader based simply on his political views. Sounds more like China than the United States, doesn't it? For this act, Nader sued the CPD, who then apologized. But the problem of third party candidates being barred from debates did not end with Nader. For example, as recently as the 2002 election, candidates like Jeff Gates in Georgia and Douglas Campbell in Michigan have been barred from or kicked out of debates, as well.
Nader makes it clear that it is time to call into question this extremely biased and corrupt system of administering debates. Does this method of choosing participants truly give voters the full choice of candidates they desire? The evidence suggests not. In addition to Perot's example, Jesse Ventura became governor of Minnesota, when he jumped from 10% in the polls to a full 37% after being included in debates. His example is a testament to the ability of the debates to quickly change public opinion of a third party contender. Pre-debate polls are simply not reliable indicators of what a person is capable of after being included in the debates. In fact, it is becoming clearer that polls, rather than accurately reflecting public opinion, can in many cases do more by their methodology to shape it. We must question the role of the media in this process, as they go beyond simply reporting the facts to playing a central role in the creation of our politics. The corporate and partisan bias of this process - to which even George W. Bush all but confesses in Crashing the Party - must be examined, and the CPD itself must become a political issue of debate.
Nader is not the first to suggest problems with the CPD. In 1996, Ross Perot sued the Commission over his exclusion from the debates, but lost as the court claimed it was up to the Federal Election Commission to make such decisions. Then, in 1998, the Federal Election Commission's chief lawyer, Lawrence Noble, said that the CPD did violate FEC debate regulations in excluding Perot and requested an investigation. Not surprisingly, members of the FEC - all Democrats and Republicans - unanimously rejected the request, while refusing even to offer explanation. Since then, disagreement over third party debate inclusion has continued to find expression in dialogue, protest, lawsuits, and even boycotts. It is time to revisit our method of handling debate participation and even many media outlets themselves are calling it into question. Indeed, papers like the Christian Science Monitor, San Jose Mercury News, Seattle Times and St. Paul Pioneer Press, among many others, called for Nader's inclusion in the 2000 debates.
Barrier 5. The "Spoiler" issue"A vote for Nader is a vote for Bush." "Nader spoiled the election for Gore." Anyone familiar with Nader's campaign will have heard these phrases countless times. They refer to one of the most unnecessary and easily addressed barriers to third parties, the "spoiler" issue. While few even got to hear his views on many substantive policy issues, this question of Nader's effect on the Bush and Gore campaigns became a nearly obsessive focus for both the media and the Democratic Party. One group even spent $500,000 on a campaign against him inspired by this spoiler dilemma. In fact, by the end of the election, Democrats seemed to be running almost as hard against Nader as they were against Bush. They did such a good job of convincing voters that a vote for Nader is a vote for Bush that one cartoonist depicted Bush himself being swayed by the declaration...and voting for Nader! All humor aside, however, it was concern over this issue that scared so many of those who really felt he was the best candidate away from backing Nader.
The dilemma is this: Most of those who voted for Nader, it is assumed, would have voted for Gore had Nader not run. In the end, enough people switched their votes from Gore to Nader to allow Bush to win the election. In other words, had Nader dropped out of the race, Gore would have received his votes instead and would be the President. Thus, some claim, Nader is to blame (or credit) for Bush winning. The most difficult aspect of this dilemma is that on paper, it is true. Nader did win enough votes in the pivotal state of Florida to have given Gore the Presidency if a significant percentage of those voters had not had him as a choice, and voted for Gore instead.
The problem, however, is that this dilemma is caused not by the candidate, but by a major flaw in our election system itself. Nader asks us whether, in the business world, we would berate the head of a startup corporation for "taking dollars away" from his competitor. Of course, we would not. We realize that it is crucial to encourage new businesses. However, in politics, we seem to miss this same principle. We accuse Nader of "taking votes away" from Gore, rather than realizing that for a healthy democracy, we must ensure that our system encourages new blood and new ideas. The "spoiler" issue highlights everything wrong with our winner-take-all voting system, where candidates become more concerned with avoiding failure than with striving to appeal to the broadest possible constituency. And Nader gives us a historical view showing that this problem is not a new one. It has plagued us for a long time, and reared its head in many third party runs, including those of Pat Buchanan, and most notably in Ross Perot's 1992 run, in which he actually "spoiled" the election for George Bush, Sr. Jesse Ventura was also seen as a potential spoiler in the 1998 Minnesota gubernatorial race, as well...that is until he pulled the ultimate in spoiling tactics and won.
There was, even for the Democrats, a good side to Nader's run. Dick Gephardt, their House leader at the time, as well as Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, both admitted that Nader helped the Democrats gain their majority in the Senate and may have also helped them win some House races. This was because in races where no Green was running for other offices, Nader's voters, many of whom otherwise would not have voted, would usually vote for Democrats. This was especially clear in the Washington Senate race, where 103,000 Greens voted, and Maria Cantwell, the Democratic candidate for Senate, won by 2,300 votes. Clearly the spillover vote of these many Green voters who otherwise may not have come out was instrumental in securing Cantwell's victory. This victory kept the Senate makeup at 50-50, setting the stage for Jim Jeffords to switch to Independent and give the Democrats control of the Senate. For this reason, many Democrats actually hoped for Nader to run again in 2004.
Such a silver lining notwithstanding, the overall effect of the "spoiler issue" was devastating for Nader's campaign. He lost the support of longtime backers such as Congressman John Conyers. Supporters who had long been critical of Gore suddenly overlooked their previous public sentiments and backed him, fearful of Bush winning. For example, Friends of the Earth president Brent Blackwelder went from lambasting Gore to supporting him over Nader within the span of just a year. So afraid were environmentalists like Blackwelder that they failed even to demand better service from the Democrats in exchange for their support, or to demand that Nader at least be included in the debates. A letter included in Crashing the Party from one of Nader's staffers to the Sierra Club demonstrates just how impractical was this approach taken by the environmental community to Nader's campaign.
Democrats who would normally have been on good terms with Nader suddenly vehemently attacked him. Former Clinton consultant James Carville declared that if he saw Nader, he would shun him, only to write weeks later that the Democrats really did need to become more progressive. Others contradicted their own past statements in attacking Nader. Jesse Jackson, who, as a result of his own personal struggles to be heard by the increasingly corporate Democrats, had himself written an article entitled "A Third Party May be Needed for Progressives", suddenly refused to support a third party run. Interestingly, in 2002, Jackson wavered yet again and endorsed Green candidates. The New York Times, which had strongly supported the importance of third parties when John Anderson ran in 1980, suddenly switched their tune and lambasted Nader's run in a series of editorials. The many voters who claimed to back Nader, only to switch their votes at the last minute to "be with a winner", shows how damaging the winner-take-all philosophy can be to encouraging one to vote his conscience. And when labor leaders are afraid to support one of the most effective worker's rights proponents in history - a man who is responsible for the very existence of many government departments which protect their workers - there is clearly something awry in the system.
The lengths to which some would go out of fear of Bush winning were perhaps best exemplified by Gloria Steinem, the famed feminist. Steinem not only attacked Nader for running, but went so far as to claim that Nader lacked understanding about women's rights issues. In the process, she ignored the fact that Nader had been working on women's issues since Steinem was practically in diapers, and was the only candidate for whom women's rights was a key element of the campaign. It was he who had brought to her attention books like Women Take Charge by Nina Easton and even written the introduction to Women Pay More And How to Put a Stop to It by Frances Cerra Whittelsey. However, Steinem's twisting of the truth was effective, and in the end groups like the National Organization for Women refused to support Nader despite his adoption of the entire NOW platform!
The Results: A Foundation for the Future
"So when I hear people say, 'Yeah, but you got only 3 percent of the vote,' I urge them to consider the intangibles - the many people who will intensify their civic activities in their communities and the many more people who had intelligent conversations with their friends and relatives about politics, power, justice, peace, and strong democracy. And consider the children and teenagers too young to vote, but who thought more seriously of themselves and their future roles, whether running in elections or widening their horizon. Then there are the many fledgling Green candidates who will be coming forth at all levels of government. I saw the enrichment of the public dialogue and more than a little effervescence of many hitherto demoralized Americans. The volunteers were the vanguard of the intangibles, of these seeds and insights and awarenesses that someday may bear the fruits of more justice and revitalized potlicial institutions.In the end, Nader spent a total of $8 million on his 2000 campaign, compared to $120 million spent by Gore and $186 million by Bush. The Democratic National Committee spent $10-15 million in just the last two weeks of the campaign alone, while the Republican National Committee spent $40-50 million in that time frame. Nader watched friends and organizations he had supported for decades turn their backs on him out of fear of the "spoiler" issue. He waded through incredibly thick Federal Election Commission guidelines, fighting through stolen signatures and evicted petitioners. He weathered a dearth of national media coverage for his actual platform, and exclusion from the debates, even as part of the audience!
- Page 140 of Crashing the Party
Yet after all of this, Nader achieved some remarkable goals. No wonder Pulitzer Prize-winner David Broder, the veteran political reporter for the Washington Post, was impressed enough with his efficient use of available resources and opportunities to write a November 5, 2000 commentary entitled "Nader Running the Best Campaign". For, despite all of these barriers, Nader was able to obtain ballot status in 43 states. He received nearly 3 million votes, including 10% of the vote in Alaska. Even in Idaho, where he was not on the ballot, he received 12,000 write-in votes. While these numbers may not look very large, picture in your head 3 million people. Now realize how many more people would have voted for Nader if not for the "spoiler" issue. Now factor in that nearly all of his supporters backed him with the full knowledge that they would receive no favors or rewards in return. When seen in this light, it becomes clear that there is a significant mass of Americans ready to make the necessary sacrifices to fix what they see as a broken system.
This inspiration touched a wide spectrum of the American populace. Nader filled arenas, giving people hope and inspiring new voters to register. Exit polls showed that his campaign sparked fully 1 million to vote who otherwise would not have. At the same time he inspired voters from all over the political spectrum. Despite the stereotype that all Nader supporters would otherwise have voted for Gore, one Democratic pollster showed that 25% of Nader's voters would otherwise have voted for Bush, and only 38% for Gore. Thus, Republicans, Democrats and non-voters were all affected by his run. To keep this momentum going, Nader went on after the campaign to form two organizations. Democracy Rising exists to help organize more super-rallies, while Citizen Works provides materials and training for public participation in democracy.
In addition to Nader's individual accomplishments, his 2000 run was instrumental in putting the Green party on the map. The Greens ran nearly 300 local and state candidates in 2000, and won nearly 50 of those races, setting the stage for even more such races in 2002, and resulting in 170 Green officeholders in 23 states as of January 2003. These leaders range from Mayors like Mike Feinstein of Santa Monica to Drain Commissioners. In the aftermath of the 2000 run, the Greens also found themselves the third largest party in the United States, adding to their prominence in other nations around the world, and meriting national certification by the Federal Election Commission. In addition, nearly 100 Campus Greens chapters arose at colleges throughout the nation in just the first year after the 2000 election, inspiring many of the new leaders of tomorrow, and spurring many more chapters in the following years.
Real Solutions to Real Problems
"It is truly remarkable that for almost every widespread need or injustice in our country, there are citizens, civic groups, small and medium-size businesses, and farms that have shown how to meet these needs or end these injustices."
- From announcement speech as above, Page 329 of Crashing the Party
Therefore, Nader's hope was to strengthen the foundation for long term reform, which would allow us to move closer to implementing some of the more practical solutions available. In Crashing the Party, Nader offers specific goals and names a litany of people with new ideas and solutions just waiting to help turn things around. It wasn't always like this, he explains, and if we are willing to think progressively, it doesn't have to remain this way. These solutions, many of which have in the years that followed become more mainstream news, include:
- Publicly Financed/Clean Elections - As long as corporations and the wealthy few with successful lobbyists fund our election process, we are doomed to a system in which they, rather than the public, are more highly represented. 43% of 2002's freshman Congressmen were millionaires. How many millionaires do you know? Probably many less than 43% of your friends. If we wish to have a government that accurately reflects the general public, rather than consisting of an inordinate number of millionaires, we must fund campaigns publicly, as has been done successfully in states such as Maine and Arizona. In addition, when we all help to publicly support elections - which would cost us each less than a Happy Meal - we make everyday people feel a part of the process, improving our democracy. Only in this way can we close the huge chasm that now exists between our leaders and the people, and make our representatives beholden to us, rather than to special interests.
- Free Airtime for Candidates - The law originally demanded that the television networks, which use the public airwaves, serve the public interest. We must demand that these rules be enforced and that the public is allowed to view all of their options during the campaign process, regardless of the ability of a given candidate to buy airtime. Only then can we choose our leaders based on their ideas, rather than their pocketbooks. This can be accomplished through offering free airtime to all qualified candidates of nationally recognized parties for office. The Alliance for Better Campaigns, co-chaired by Walter Cronkite and former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford, works to accomplish that very goal. Such a move is also supported, and has been introduced into Congress as a bill, by Senators John McCain [R-Ariz.], Russell Feingold [D-Wisc.], and Richard Durbin [D-Ill.]
- Inclusive Debates - Despite what the Commission on Presidential Debates says, polls show that the majority of citizens want third party candidates included in the debates, often overwhelmingly so. For example, a Fox News/Opinion Dynamics Journal poll showed that 64% of Americans wanted Nader in the 2000 debates and 73% said that his inclusion would make the debates "more interesting". Various Congressmen, as well as others, have suggested alternative criteria that would more efficiently determine who should fairly be included in debates.
For instance, many support lowering the polling requirement from 15% to 5%. After all, a candidate who achieves 5% of the vote receives millions in taxpayer dollars in the next election cycle. Surely if 5% merits this much funding, it should merit an appearance in front of the taxpayers in the debates. Another proposal would be to simply poll the American public as to whether they want the candidate in the debate. In a democracy, shouldn't the people decide who they wish to see in their debates? Another idea is to open up the first debate more widely, at least allowing the public one look at all of their choices. We could then allow those candidates whose poll numbers continue to rise into subsequent debates. And, as long as the Republicans and Democrats of the CPD refuse to budge, we could simply set up alternative debates, sponsored by a less biased group - A People's Debate Commission. It is time to open the debates so that the American people can hear a broader spectrum of options and there are several practical methods for achieving this goal simply waiting to be enacted.
- Other Election Reforms - A wide variety of potential reforms exist, which could solve the problems of poor voting machines, create fairer access to the ballot for candidates and voters, and eliminate the "spoiler" issue. A good example of a state that has implemented several of these more democratic measures is Minnesota. There, the combination of inclusive debates, publicly funded campaigns and same day voter registration has increased voter turnout and led to a broader spectrum of choices on the ballot for voters.
- Infusing Conscience and Accountability Into Business - This topic, one Nader has spoken about for over forty years, has become more popular in the wake of the Enron scandal and numerous others like it. Corporate crime controls, limits, and accountability must become pillars of our system if we are to protect citizens from the dangers of unfettered corporate growth. Companies must be held responsible for their actions, and must answer to the people in order to ensure that they remain a tool to help improve our lives, rather than to control our lives. Moreover, shareholders need to be held responsible for - and given more control over - the actions of their companies, in keeping with the theme of owners controlling what they own.
- Public Control of Public Assets - Do you realize just how rich we are as Americans? Not only do we, the people, own the public airwaves mentioned above, but we also own 1/3 of the public lands with the largest share of natural resources (the 'commonwealth'), the numerous research and development products created in public agencies, and trillions of dollars of workers' pension funds. Yet, odds are you don't feel the responsibilities or benefits of much of this ownership. This is because, too often, our leaders have sold out our public assets to corporations for a tiny fraction of their value. For example, many medical innovations developed with our tax money have been sold to Pfizer, who earned $1 billion in part by overcharging the very taxpayers who fund the research on these products. In return, Pfizer paid no federal income tax, and actually had $100 million refunded and received other special tax credits elsewhere.
In this way, the public is being deprived of the rightful earnings that should be gained upon sale of such tax-funded assets. Moreover, these assets are often then used in ways with which we may not agree. Imagine if we demanded control of those assets that belong to us - which we the people own. Then corporations, using their shortsighted measures of Gross Domestic Product and stock market fluctuations, would be forced to ask the citizens of this country whether their measures of decency, family, and community agree with these purely profit-driven calculations. Actually controlling what we own - a pretty conservative idea, but one which would radically improve our democracy.
- Progressive Taxation - We could solve two problems at once by raising money through taxation of items or services that hurt the common good. In this way, we could decrease taxation on everyday goods needed by American families, while discouraging damaging behaviors. In other words, we can implement tax strategies that reward what we want and punish what don't want. Taxes have always been an issue on which the people and their representatives have debated fiercely. Nader simply suggests that we consider the effects of various products and services on the health and well being of the community as a key criterion in that debate.
- Living Wage Laws - The minimum wage has not raised nearly fast enough to keep up with inflation. As a result, people are making less in terms of buying power than they did decades ago. In order to ensure that workers are paid enough to survive as times change, living wage laws can be passed. These laws would ensure that as the cost of living increases, salaries keep pace. It is to all of our benefit to live in a society where our workers make enough to have shelter and put food on the table for their families.
- Community Credit Unions and Public Utilities - The best antidote to predatory lending and pricing lies in keeping our money within our communities. Local community development credit unions allow communities to remain economically self-sustaining, while local utility services, such as the community-owned Sacramento and Los Angeles electric companies, can help a community weather a storm even as large as the California blackouts. Of course, Bush and Gore failed to mention these options, but Crashing the Party is full of such examples.
It is a sign of the times that to many of us such talk sounds futile, even fantastic. But, Nader gives us many examples of positive businesses that have taken to heart such principles. For instance, Ray Anderson of Interface, Inc. has turned his multi-billion dollar business into a shining example of corporate responsibility. Southwest Airlines offers another example of a fair company, which treats its employees and customers well. This service earned it more profit in 2000 than United Airlines, US Airways, and Northwest combined, showing that business with a conscience can also be profitable. Finally, Nader discusses movements such as the Social Venture Network that provide positive examples to the business community.
Join in to Help Revive DemocracyIf you are one of the millions who feel that there are some crucial flaws in today's America, then Ralph Nader has some questions for you. How bad will you let things get before you take a stand? How much longer can you really afford to compromise without your desires being heard? At what point is it more dangerous to play along than to fight back? How much longer are you willing to let the two major political parties take for granted that you will either choose between them or just stay home? It was in answering such questions that Nader decided he had an obligation to run for President. And he set an example by turning his disenchantment into solutions, making great strides in opening the doors to change. It is now our turn to walk through these doors, heeding his warning that if you don't turn on to politics, it will turn on you.
Nader has said that it would take 1 million Americans giving 100 volunteer hours per year and raising $100 per year to help make major reform a reality. He sums up this idea in his chapter "We the People". After the September 11 tragedy, the entire nation realized newfound respect for our firefighters and policemen. But it is time that we all become aware of the importance of each of our talents - from clerks to plumbers, from students to CEO's - in making this country great. And in realizing the importance of each one of us, we can begin to take more power over our democracy.
This may sound impossible. How can everyday people contend with the power of huge corporations, a concentrated and inaccessible media, and an election system funded by and catering to the wealthy? But, we need only look at our history for powerful examples of inspiration. It was people with the courage to face such power, using tools that pale in comparison to those available to us today, that helped end slavery, increase wages, and earn the weekends off that most of us enjoy today. It was such everyday citizens, refusing to keep quiet any longer, who helped enact women's rights, civil rights, and so many other human rights that we now take for granted. If these gains could be achieved without the benefit of the incredible communications and organizational capabilities afforded in our modern day, we have little excuse for not doing as much as we can to reinvigorate our democracy.
Today, despite the fact that you won't often see them on the news, there are countless examples of people doing the same. From elementary school children demanding Nader be included in the debates to the deafening roar of thousands at each of Nader's rallies, Crashing the Party makes it clear that you are far from alone. It is filled with examples of people and organizations with whom you can join to work on the issues that mean the most to you. These are people who refuse to accept the problems of our day, and turn their frustration into action, fighting to put into practice the many potential solutions that exist. During Nader's 2000 campaign, millions, in the hopes of improving their lives and their communities, planted a seed for democracy. Their efforts spurred a movement that continues to grow today. Once you become aware of it, you will see it cracking through into our collective conscience more and more each day. And there is no better way to become acquainted with the inspiring people involved in it than through the words of a man who will be remembered as one of the most inspiring and effective of our time, Ralph Nader.
Resources Related to Crashing the Party
- Political Heroes: Ralph Nader - My page about Ralph Nader with information and resources about why I admire him, along with links to his books.
- My Politics Section - Has pages about many issues related to topics in Crashing the Party.
- Third Parties: Bringing Color and Flavor to American Politics - Speech I gave about the history and importance of third parties in America.
- Review of Fairvote.Org by The Center for Voting and Democracy - Review of the website of a great democracy reform organization that works on issues highly relevant to Nader's campaign.
- Travelogue of my Trip to Fairvote's 2003 Claim Democracy Conference - Journal of my trip to this great conference about how to improve our democracy, along with many lessons learned there from expert reformers, including Nader, who spoke there.
- All of my Blog posts tagged Ralph Nader
Main Writings & Creative Work Page