Former independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader thinks it’s time to be a “serious society.”
Appearing Sunday before an audience of 50 at the Yale Bookstore, Nader promoted his book “The Good Fight: Declare Your Independence and Close the Democracy Gap.” The book addresses the general public’s lack of civic motivation, which he called “the biggest problem facing our country today.”
In contrast to decreasing public participation in contemporary politics, Nader said third party presidential candidate Eugene Debs’ campaign in 1912 drew public support that would be unlikely today.
“When Debs ran for president in 1912, his first stop was a park in Chicago,” Nader said. “Without radio, television, or easy access to transportation, 100,000 people attended. Can you imagine that happening today? The sidewalks are empty.”
Though he does not discuss his presidential campaigns in the book, in his talk, Nader said he decided to run to force the two major parties to engage in political dialogue about environmental responsibility, the living wage, and the protection of individual rights, which are being “taken away in installments” by the Patriot Act. He said he wants to empower “ordinary people,” from whom he says the Democratic Party is intent on distancing itself.
“The Democrats say ‘We didn’t talk about God enough’ or ‘We should have been more lenient on gun control,'” Nader said. “But the fact is they didn’t connect to ordinary people — small investors, pension holders, 401K holders and workers. They weren’t listening, and they got what they deserved.”
The election results should force the Democrats into an awareness of their own “powerlessness,” Nader said. He said the Democrats, who have been losing on the local, state, and national level for the past 10 years because they ignore the working class, can no longer be relied upon to oppose the Republican Party.
Nader said he had offered his input to the Democrats during the election.
“None of our strategy was patented,” Nader said. “The blueprint is readily available on our Web site. We even handed it to [the Democrats] on silver platters — literally, we had 10 staffers dress up and carry silver platters containing the culmination of eight months of research — to Kerry’s campaign headquarters, with a banner reading ’10 Ways to Beat Bush.'”
Nader, who said both parties are “mere proxies for big business,” said Kerry’s political rhetoric was influenced by corporations’ contributions to his campaign. He said he and Kerry discussed issues like corporate socialism and corporate welfare — subsidies or tax breaks provided by a government to businesses.
“While United Airlines is cutting its workers’ pensions, we’re giving millions of dollars in tax breaks to these corporations,” Nader said. “I laid it out to him, and I suggested we collaborate to crackdown on corporate crime, but these issues were never discussed in the election because these same corporations are funding his campaign.”
When audience member and New Haven resident Matthew Goldsman asked about the proliferation of lawsuits, Nader said he supports consumers taking legal action to protect their rights against corporations. Goldsman cited Liebeck v. McDonald’s, in which an 81-year-old woman won a case against McDonald’s when she was burned by spilling their coffee. Nader defended the suit, saying McDonald’s had received 700 reports of coffee burns because they heat their coffee to 190 degrees Fahrenheit so it will stay hot for a longer period of time, beating out competitors.
“For him to say that we don’t live in a litigious culture is ridiculous,” Goldsman said. “I am a small business owner, and so I see the ramifications of carrying what he calls ‘consumer rights’ to the extreme.”
But the audience remained largely receptive to Nader, erupting in abrupt applause at several of his indictments against the Democratic Party.
“He is committed to being a public servant in the truest sense,” audience member Jane Herald said. “That in itself is no small feat.”
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