In His Own Words

Ralph Nader Responds to His Critics

When it comes to post-mortems of the 2000 Presidential race, there’s certainly no shortage of anger at the Green Party’s candidate, consumer advocate Ralph Nader. "This changes his legacy as a person," says Deborah Callahan, president of the League of Conservation Voters. "Ralph Nader is no friend of American women," adds Kate Michelman, president of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League. Some environmentalists hold him responsible for what is likely to be four years of running skirmishes with the Bush Administration.

In an interview with E, Nader says—as he often said during the campaign—that there really isn’t much difference between the Democratic and Republican parties when it comes to environmental issues. Both, he claims, serve corporate interests in the end, though the Democrats are better at using green language. There’s certainly no question that Nader has been a reliable friend of the Earth over the years. Here’s the man in his own words:

E: You said during your campaign that it didn’t really matter if Al Gore or George W. Bush won the election.

Nader: That’s right. In the sense that in all these areas that Gore and Clinton ignored, they’re just the same as Bush. And in the areas where Bush is going to go on the offensive, he’s going to lose. If they continue to pursue a scorched-earth policy, they"ll be defeated in the next election, and the environmental rules will come out stronger as a result. There’s no way they’re going to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). There’s just too much undrilled land up there already—too many lands that they already have permits to that they’ve screwed up, that they haven’t drilled. They’ve virtually stopped both oil and gas exploration because of that.

But the Bush Administration is willing to put an enormous amount of political prestige on the line to allow drilling in ANWR. They seem determined to do that, beyond any sense. They’re claiming that the electricity shortage in California can be solved by ANWR drilling.

They’re trying to use ANWR as a trade-off to obtain oil and gas tax write-offs. It’s incredible the claims they’re making about the energy shortage, but the press won’t buy it. Only one and a half percent of California’s electricity is based on oil. The utilities mainly use natural gas, and the gas producers have failed to drill in the gas-rich regions in Alaska that are much larger than ANWR.

Do you think that the way California implemented deregulation caused the subsequent shortage?

The shortage was caused by a failure to permit antitrust enforcement, which allowed an informal cartel to form without any wholesale power rate regulation. California could have avoided the situation with effective regulation, and by converting more to public power, which is a big success story in California. With regulation, they could have pursued a more systemic policy for energy efficiency or renewables using the public-power systems in Sacramento or Los Angeles as models. They should also have established a ratepayers" organization. There should be a big ratepayers" group monitoring the situation.

Do you think that some states will now reconsider deregulation?

Yes, of course. Some of them are going to scrap it, or delay it. Arkansas has just put it off for four years.

You wrote in Brill’s Content that the major media effectively ignored your campaign. Why do you think they did that?

That’s corporate power at work. They didn’t like it that I included a relentless daily critique of the mass media on the campaign trail. Maybe they take that personally. And the second thing is that they don’t cover third-party candidates unless you’re a millionaire like Ross Perot.

The New York Times was vociferously opposed to your campaign. What do you say to critics, like the Times, who say you were responsible for electing Bush?

I say that Gore was responsible for electing Bush. The same people that say I lost the election for Gore also say that Gore won the popular vote and that he was robbed in Florida. So they all say that Gore really won the election—popular and electoral. That means their criticism of me is that I didn’t make him more victorious.

The first day that George W. Bush was in office, he reintroduced the global gag rule, which defunded family planning groups that had anything at all to do with abortion—even though it was already illegal to use federal funds for abortion. It’s obvious that Bush’s approach to the environment is going to be vastly different from Gore"s. But would you still say that, in the end, it all comes out to the same thing, even though their approach is different?

The differences aren’t as extensive as the similarities. You’ve got to keep two concentric circles in mind. There are dwindling real differences, like ANWR, in one circle, and a larger circle in which both parties have sold our government and democracy to big business. And they’ve sacrificed our ability to fight back. If, for example, you had two parties starting a war against some continent and one party wasn’t quite as brutal as the other party, but they were both still willing to start the war to take over this continent, where would you come out? That’s what the liberals aren’t focusing on. They’re focusing on the dwindling real differences and not the massive real similarities to the global corporations who’ve taken over so much of our government, workplace, environment, universities and the media.

Gore started using populist rhetoric in the campaign, but he didn’t even present a program. When he talked about education, he had a detailed program. When he talked about women’s rights, he had a detailed program. When he talked about going after the problems with health maintenance organizations, he had no program. He wouldn’t even take a stand on the tort system, even though he was heavily funded by trial lawyers.

If Gore really had been the genuine environmental candidate he wanted people to see him as, do you think that would have helped him or hurt him?

It would have helped him. He would have won in Florida.

So you think a real environmental President could get elected at some point?

Sure. If you look at Bush’s rhetoric, he was talking pro-environment. No one believed him, but he felt it necessary to talk that way.

Even John Ashcroft, in his confirmation hearings to be attorney general, said he was a private conservationist.

Yeah, very private.