At the university he called “the source of our political problems,” independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader spoke about what he deemed to be the shortcomings of the two major presidential candidates who graduated from Yale.
Concluding a tour of several Ivy League universities, Nader addressed an audience of Yalies and New Haven residents that nearly filled Battell Chapel Wednesday evening. In his speech, Nader criticized the two-party system he said allows corporations to dominate the electoral process and leads voters to choose the “least worst” candidate.
“The two parties now are not competing,” Nader said. “Thirty years ago, if one party was bad, you could say, ‘Well, we work with the Democratic party.’ Now it’s two parties, one corporate head, different makeup.”
Earlier in the evening, Nader addressed several media crews and a small gathering of students in front of the tomb of Skull and Bones. Nader read a statement expressing concern about the “unprecedented situation” in which both major presidential candidates were sworn into the same secret society.
In his speech, Nader focused on the similarities between the two major candidates. For example, he said Kerry’s and Bush’s views had converged on the war on Iraq so that “a vote for Kerry is now a vote for war.”
Nader also criticized his opponents for being unduly influenced by corporate contributions. He argued that corporations should not be allowed to donate money to political campaigns because they are not voters.
Though some students in attendance said they agreed with Nader’s ideas, they expressed concern that his campaign will win votes that would otherwise be cast for Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry ’66 on Nov. 2.
“All his points are very intelligent, and I share his views on a lot of positions, but since he has no chance of winning, I just feel like my vote would be wasted,” Josh Odsess-Rubin ’08 said.
Nader defended the goals of his campaign and stressed the historical importance of third parties in generating reform.
“If you don’t make demands on [Kerry], he doesn’t get any better,” Nader said. “If he doesn’t get any better, he doesn’t get votes.”
In an interview after his speech, Nader said it was important to speak at universities because many students are voting for Kerry simply as an alternative to President George W. Bush ’68.
“Universities are a den of ‘anybody but Bush, leave Kerry alone, make no demands on him,'” Nader said. “That’s a brain-closer. Give me anybody who says ‘anybody but Bush,’ and they’re incapable of talking about any other strategies, variables, nothing.”
A small contingent of students assisted the Nader campaign in organizing the event and are currently building a campus chapter to support him. The students said they appreciated the candidate’s willingness to address issues they felt were being ignored by the major parties.
“I really admire his attitude to campaigning,” said Edward Dunar ’08, the campus coordinator for the Nader campaign. “His attitude is one of challenging citizens. The government has to let citizens contribute meaningfully.”
Roughly 15 Kerry supporters assembled outside Battell Chapel on Elm Street to protest during the speech. With signs like “Nader + Camejo = 4 more years,” they said the position that Nader’s campaign jeopardized its own ideals.
“It’s not that we don’t support Nader’s right to express his views, but we believe that his candidacy endangers Kerry’s campaign in some states,” protester Caitlin Clarke ’07 said. “So we came to express our respect for his views and our belief that his agenda would be better served by dropping out of the race.”
Undeterred by the protesters, Nader told the News that running for office is a basic expression of constitutional rights.
“One of the things we’re trying to do is to raise the civil liberties issues to inside the electoral arena so we can combat what I can only call political bigotry,” Nader said. “It really is political bigotry when people say, ‘Do not run.’ When they’re saying, ‘Do not run,’ they’re saying, ‘Do not speak, do not petition, do not assemble.'”
Nader said the goal of his campaign was to ultimately provide more choice for voters.
“We’re all prisoners of a 200-year-old, winner-take-all two-party system,” Nader said. “I believe that if you work hard as a citizen, you can improve your country — We’re trying to lay the groundwork after Nov. 2 so someday we can have a real three-party race.”