Nader Enters the Race for President Ralph Nader explains his decision to make a bid for the White House, perceptions that he is a "spoiler" in past elections, and his take on the status of the independent candidate.
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Nader Enters the Race for President

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Nader Enters the Race for President

Nader Enters the Race for President

Nader Enters the Race for President

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Ralph Nader explains his decision to make a bid for the White House, perceptions that he is a "spoiler" in past elections, and his take on the status of the independent candidate.

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Coming up, a special Mocha Moms including Mister Mom on the dos and don'ts of romance for single parents. And singer/songwriter Lizz Wright brings her special blend of jazz, folk and R&B to the studio. That's a bit later.

But first Ralph Nader. He is a hero to many consumer advocates and environmentalists, who praise his commitment to issues that are often ignored by the political mainstream. But to others Ralph Nader is selfish gadfly, and a dangerous one at that. They believe it was his presidential run that siphoned off enough liberal voters to allow George W. Bush to eke out a win in the 2000 election. Now Nader is back. This past Sunday he announced his fourth run for the White House. And Ralph Nader joins us in our Washington studios now. Welcome. Thanks for coming in.

Mr. RALPH NADER (Presidential Candidate): Thank you, Michel. I think George W. Bush and his cohorts stole the election from Al Gore in Florida. You know, we are the only country in the world where someone can come in second and still be president because of the electoral college.

MARTIN: But since you announced on Sunday's "Meet the Press" that you plan to run for president again, I know many people have asked you why, and you've given your reasons. But I'd like to ask you why now. What's the logic behind your announcement at this time?

Mr. NADER: I think because the injustices that we pointed out in 2000 and 2004 were not addressed by either party. We have a whole list of them that affect everyday life of people on our website, votenader.org. And one of them is, none of the major candidates are for single payer health insurance. And that's the only way we're going to control costs and stop 18,000 people from dying every year because they can't afford health care, according to the National Academy of Science.

MARTIN: But you know, there was a candidate, a Democratic candidate Dennis Kucinich, who advocated - and strongly - single payer universal health care. He was a participant in most of the debates that the Democratic candidates had. He did not achieve a great deal of support.

Mr. NADER: That's strange, because the majority of the people want single payer and there is a new poll coming out in about a month, Michel, that shows 59 percent of the doctors want it. And it's strange chemistry. You know, once you are labeled as someone who can't raise a lot of money, like Dennis Kucinich, and they make fun of his appearance and then they start freezing him out of debates, it's hard to get traction. And so they sort of pick the winners, or the two or three that are likely to win. And John Edwards was marginalized near the end, as we remember.

MARTIN: But you raise an important point, which is John Edwards, number one, was a wealthy man in his own right, had the ability to support his own campaign, championed many of these issues, corporate accountability, fairness, a living wage, et cetera. He also continually ran in third place. So I'm asking you again, what is it that you think you can bring to the race that John Edwards and Dennis Kucinich with their very different styles did not?

Mr. NADER: First, I don't have any inhibitions on what I see is true and just in America. And...

MARTIN: You think they did?

Mr. NADER: I think because they are a part of the Democratic party they kept their mouth shut. Edwards kept his mouth shut on Israel/Palestine, for example. He was too belligerent in terms of, you know, we're going to go after Iran and this and that. He didn't challenge the military budget, which is taking one half of the Federal government's operating expenditures since there's no more Soviet Union.

MARTIN: Dennis Kucinich certainly did.

Mr. NADER: Yes, he was good. But he inhibited himself on Israel/Palestine, where he could have made a higher profile for himself because there is a great Israeli peace movement and human rights movement that he could have championed. But the other thing is that we've lost control of Washington. For years people have not done their homework. They have not said what needs to be said to the politicians, that either you're going to support people, that you're going to put corporations beneath the sovereignty of the people and their well-being or we are not going to vote for you, and we're going to vote for other candidates.

MARTIN: But there is record turnout in these primaries, particularly on the Democratic side, and I do have to remind you and I know this is no secret to you, that in 2004 you got .38 percent of the vote and in 2000 you got 2.74 percent of the vote. So my question is, how then are you going to change the dialog when, whether you like them or not, there are millions of Americans who are supporting these candidates and who do believe they are championing issues that they agree with. I'm asking you how are going to change the dynamic when other candidates who have supported the issues that you care about have not been able to do so?

Mr. NADER: Okay. Okay, first, the polls in 2000, 2004 had majority support for me getting on the presidential debates, and I was excluded. I was even excluded in Northeastern University from sitting in an adjoining auditorium, as the movie "All the President" - "An Unreasonable Man" shows. So I think I would like to be on the debates. If a majority of the people polled, Zogby poll, Fox poll, et cetera, say that they want to see me on the debates. But the Debate Commission is a corporation created and controlled by the two parties and they don't want any competition. They even left Perot out in 1996...

MARTIN: So you think the threshold for participation should not be the percentage of people who say they might actually vote for you but the percentage of people who say they want you to debate? Is that what you're saying?

Mr. NADER: I think the threshold should be, are you on enough states for a theoretical electoral college win? I was. And do a majority of the people want you in the debate?

MARTIN: If you are just joining us, you are listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News, and our guest is presidential candidate Ralph Nader. I did want to ask you about the spoiler question. I know it's a sensitive one for you. But you were on "Meet The Press" this Sunday when Tim Russert asked whether you might be a spoiler for Democrats; this is what you said.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Meet The Press")

Mr. NADER: Since the Democrats can't landslide the Republicans this year, they ought to just wrap up and close down, emerge in a different form.

MARTIN: So do you have any further thoughts on that?

Mr. NADER: Yeah...

MARTIN: I know that you were on earlier programs, on NPR you were on TALK OF THE NATION where some callers made the same point.

Mr. NADER: I think using the word spoiler only against third party or independent candidates and not the major parties who've spoil the system is a politically bigoted term. It implies that we're second class citizens. It implies that we're interlopers, when historically the great social justice movements were spearheaded by small parties who never won a national election. The antislavery party, the women's right to vote party and of course the great labor and populist farmer parties. So I want people just to give candidates a chance and evaluate them on their record. I have a very, very consistent 40-plus year record of success in saving lives on the highway and food safety, drinking water safety, on and on and on.

MARTIN: Well, speaking of the antislavery and the women's party...

Mr. NADER: Yeah.

MARTIN: One of the issues that I know you've been hearing is that voters do have the opportunity to choose potentially the first woman president or the first African-American president. What do you say to voters who say - and I know that you don't like the spoiler sort of idea.

Mr. NADER: Yeah.

MARTIN: But if it is the case that you do siphon off voters who otherwise chose these candidates, what do you say to others of those, perhaps millions more who believe you would have denied them this historic opportunity?

Mr. NADER: I don't deny anything. I just have one vote. Voters want to vote for a woman president, for an African-American president, go for it. They are free to do so. Nobody tells voters how to vote. I just want open competition. I want to tell, for example, Hillary Clinton that she can't get money for her children's programs if she doesn't challenge the wasteful, bloated military budget. I want to tell Barack Obama that he knows very well as a community organizer there needs to be a national crackdown on corporate and economic crimes against people in poor areas, in the inner city, for example.

Now, I think inside the electoral arena I can perform a tugboat candidacy function. Now, I can tugboat. I can push the candidates a little bit, maybe more, into the people's harbor and away from the corporate domination harbor.

MARTIN: If there is a poll that asks voters in a way that you consider fair whether you should participate or not and the majority say you shouldn't, will you drop out?

Mr. NADER: Of course not. I mean the antislavery party would have polled? What do you think the women's right to vote party - Norman Thomas ran five times for president as a socialist, democratic socialist in the early 20th century. He was the precursor of pushing Social Security and Franklin Delano Roosevelt began to pick it up. He is the one who pushed unemployment compensation and Franklin Delano Roosevelt picked it up. And the more people who voted for Norman Thomas, the more pressure there was on Franklin Delano Roosevelt to do the right thing.

MARTIN: But I - I'm sorry. I think you're contradicting yourself. Maybe I'm not hearing you right. I thought you were saying that you're participating because you feel the voters want you to. What if they say they don't?

Mr. NADER: That's up to them. The point is that you don't say, well, I'm not going to run for president because the majority of people polled don't want me to run. I mean minority rights are what has made America. Dissent is the mother of assent. Look at all the things we like in this country and they were once started by dissenters.

MARTIN: You ran as a Green Party candidate in the year 2000 and as an independent in 2004. Is there a philosophical difference between the two that made you change and how do you plan to run this time? Do you know?

Mr. NADER: We'll sort it out in the next few days. There are states where there is no small party, there's no Green Party. We have to sort it out. But the Green Party in '04 didn't decide they were going to run a presidential candidate and go for 50 states until their June Milwaukee convention, and that was too late and that's why I went independent.

MARTIN: How will you determine if you have been a success?

Mr. NADER: By the number of people I bring into electoral politics to run - local school board, city counsel and state and federal. By how many young people stop saying they are turned off politics and they turn on politics. By keeping the flame alive, the progressive agenda in front of millions of people so they have a frame of reference to judge the major candidate.

MARTIN: Will you indulge me in one more question?

Mr. NADER: Sure.

MARTIN: Millions of young people have come out in this election who never voted before. There has been record turnout in a number of contests across the country beginning with Iowa. How do you know that this isn't already happening?

Mr. NADER: Because it's happened before. There have been other presidential candidates who have excited like crazy young people, and they have been disappointed in the actual voting turnout. You know, a majority of young people, 18 to 24, do not vote. And even with the increased likelihood of a voting turnout higher, it looks like at least 80 to 85 million people in this country in November will stay home. So there's a lot of work to do. We need a lot of people fighting for justice and we shouldn't ration it.

MARTIN: Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate and a candidate for president. He joined us here in our studios in Washington. Thank you so much for coming.

Mr. NADER: Thank you, Michel.

MARTIN: Remember with TELL ME MORE, the conversation never ends. So we are interested in your take. In the conversation you just heard, Ralph Nader defended his bid for the presidency. But we've been hearing strong feelings expressed in both directions about all this. We've been hearing from the so-called Nader haters who think he's just wasting everybody's time and energy and causing a distraction. And we've also been hearing from others who say he has every right to run and believe his voice adds value to the public dialog. So we would like to hear from you, or more of you, I should say. Do you think Ralph Nader should run? Should he be included in future debates and if so which ones? To tell us more about what you think and to read what other listeners are saying, please go to our blog at NPR.org/tellmemore. You can also call our comment line at 202-942-3522.

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