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Weekly Alibi Tweedledum, Tweedledee and Ralph

Ralph Nader Makes His First Serious Run for the Presidency

By Steven Robert Allen

MARCH 20, 2000: 

"We can have a democratic society or we can have great concentrated wealth in the hands of a few. We cannot have both." -- Louis Brandeis, U. S. Supreme Court Justice, 1916-1939

You're not going to see him chanting slogans in multi-million dollar sound bites on prime-time network TV. You won't see any lavish full-page ads for his campaign splashed across The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal, and he won't be invited to attend debates with the Democrats and Republicans any time soon. His stickers won't be slapped on every bumper; his posters won't be tacked to every wall; his buttons won't be pinned to every shirt. In fact, if on election day you're even aware that Ralph Nader -- consumer advocate, activist, lawyer and author -- is making his first serious bid for the presidency of the United States, you'll almost certainly be one up on the vast majority of Americans.

Be that as it may, Nader, with environmental activist Winona LaDuke as his running mate, has become the likely Green Party candidate for president. In Nader's 1996 run, he spent less than $5,000 of his own money on his campaign while making it clear throughout the affair that he wasn't taking his candidacy all that seriously. This time around, though, he's planning to run a campaign that's ambitious, practical and broad in scope. A couple weeks ago, Nader stood outside the UNM Law School and explained to a large crowd of supporters why he feels this campaign is important.

A Life of Public Service

Ralph Nader launched his highly successful career as consumer advocate with the publication of Unsafe At Any Speed in 1965. This book exposed the various sloppy, dangerous design standards of American auto companies and led to widespread reform of the entire industry. Since that time, Nader has dedicated his professional life to alerting the public, Congress, and the media to various issues related to health, safety, economics, environmental pollution, worker rights and excessive corporate influence on the American polity. To assist in doing this, Nader founded several public interest organizations, including the Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), the Center for Auto Safety, Public Citizen, the Center for Women's Policy Studies, the Connecticut Citizen's Action Group, the Disability Rights Center, the Pension Rights Center and The Multinational Monitor, a monthly magazine reporting on the activities of multinational corporations.

During his 35-year career, Nader has motivated countless citizens to work for a more compassionate and civilized America. In the late 1960s, Nader organized citizen activist teams to research and investigate corporate and governmental wrongdoing. Given the nickname "Nader's Raiders" by the press, these activist groups, with Nader's guidance, detailed charges of collusion, corruption and incompetence at the Federal Trade Commission and put together massive studies on air pollution, the Food and Drug Administration, the Interstate Commerce Commission, nursing homes, airline safety, corporate influence on Congress and more.

The defining element of Nader's professional life has been his tireless activism on behalf of the little guy against the forces of wealth and privilege that he says lord over this country. In this, he is strikingly dissimilar to mainstream corporate-sponsored candidates who have dominated the media's attention during this long election season.

Tweedledum vs. Tweedledee

He steps to the microphone and the crowd goes crazy. At first, it's hard to see why: Tall, gangly, and a little bit shy, Nader doesn't seem to have a whole lot of flash. Dressed in a navy blue suit and a red power tie, clean-cut, and just a little gray around the edges, the man looks presidential enough. But when he starts talking, thoughts and ideas that you just don't hear from the major party candidates emerge. After a few minutes, Nader warms to his audience, relaxing a little to deliver a raucous and often hilarious call to end politics-as-usual in America. Oddly enough -- in this year saturated with contrived campaign-speak dogma -- Nader actually sounds like he means it.

From the beginning, Nader implies that he has no illusions about his chances of becoming president. The goal of this campaign isn't merely victory in a single election, but rather to bring together a progressive grassroots movement strong enough and broad enough to resist the two-party duopoly that rules this country.

"The two parties are fossils," says Nader. "Years ago, they were rooted in communities. They canvassed neighborhoods. They had grassroots appeal. But no more." Referring to Democrats and Republicans as Tweedledum and Tweedledee, Nader says that the parties have basically become a single entity, distinguished only by different corporate sponsors. Though citizen groups and individual thinkers have generated a huge mass of articulate ideas and solutions to the problems this country faces, no one in power is giving them the attention they deserve. The truth is, says Nader, that our government has been torn away from the people by the rising influence of big business over the past 20 years.

The Rich Get Richer

Although we keep hearing that life in America has never been better, Nader asks us to consider who is actually benefiting from our booming economy. In the 1970s, the top CEOs paid themselves 40 times the entry-level wage in their organizations. According to a recent article in U.S. News and World Report, this average is now more than 400 times higher. Furthermore, if wages are adjusted for inflation, most workers earn less now than they did in 1979. At the same time, corporate welfare, funded largely by middle-class taxpayers, has risen to hundreds of billions of dollars per year.

Is something wrong with this picture?

To give you an idea of how bad things have gotten, Nader says, the net worth of Bill Gates alone is now equal to the assets of the poorest 120 million Americans combined. The richest 1 percent currently possesses more financial wealth than the bottom 90 percent. At the same time, ordinary Americans have less influence on the way our government functions than ever. "In short," Nader explains, "corporate government has taken over representative government." It's a problem that should make anyone, liberal or conservative, shudder.

Organizing an Opposition

While the two major parties perpetually ramble on about the value of freedom and democracy in America, Nader believes that the true meaning of these words goes ignored. He thinks that Cicero got it right when he said that "freedom is participation in power." Nader insists that all progressive victories of the past -- from the declaration of independence from Britain to the abolishment of slavery to the acquisition of voting rights for women and civil rights for blacks -- were brought about through an increased sharing of power. Consequently, Nader has many suggestions for reforming our society to provide wider participation in public life, including increasing access to the court systems for the poor; altering the media landscape by augmenting public control over publicly-owned airwaves; and regulating and limiting the increased corporatization of every aspect of American life.

At bottom, though, the goal of Nader's campaign is to encourage an active citizenship. Twice during his speech, the candidate declared that what this country needs most is a broad, progressive movement to topple the duopoly. "All it would take," says Nader, "is 1,000,000 Americans, working 100 hours per year, raising $100 per year," to create a self-sustaining movement to effectively undermine the dominance of Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Certainly, there are plenty of Americans across the political spectrum sufficiently fed up with the corporatized two-party system to want to take part in such a movement.

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