Washington, D.C. 2000

Statement of Ralph Nader, Announcing His Candidacy for the Green Party's Nomination for President

Today I wish to explain why, after working for years as a citizen advocate
for consumers, workers, taxpayers and the environment, I am seeking the
Green Party's nomination for President. A crisis of democracy in our country
convinces me to take this action. Over the past twenty years, big business
has increasingly dominated our political economy. This control by the
corporate government over our political government is creating a widening
"democracy gap." Active citizens are left shouting their concerns over a
deep chasm between them and their government. This state of affairs is a world
away from the legislative milestones in civil rights, the environment, and
health and safety of workers and consumers seen in the sixties and
seventies. At that time, informed and dedicated citizens powered their concerns through the channels of government to produce laws that bettered the lives of
millions of Americans.

Today we face grave and growing societal problems in health care, education,
labor, energy and the environment. These are problems for which active
citizens have solutions, yet their voices are not carrying across the democracy gap. Citizen groups and individual thinkers have generated a tremendous capital of ideas, information, and solutions to the point of surplus, while our government has been drawn away from us by a corporate government. Our political leadership has been hijacked.

Citizen advocates have no other choice but to close the democracy gap by
direct political means. Only effective national political leadership will
restore the responsiveness of government to its citizenry. Truly progressive
political movements do not just produce more good results; they enable a
flowering of progressive citizen movements to effectively advance the
quality of our neighborhoods and communities outside of politics.

I have a personal distaste for the trappings of modern politics, in which
incumbents and candidates daily extol their own inflated virtues, paint
complex issues with trivial brush strokes, and propose plans quickly
generated by campaign consultants. But I can no longer stomach the systemic
political decay that has weakened our democracy. I can no longer watch
people dedicate themselves to improving their country while their government
leaders turn their backs, or worse, actively block fair treatment for citizens. It
is necessary to launch a sustained effort to wrest control of our democracy
from the corporate government and restore it to the political government under
the control of citizens.

This campaign will challenge all Americans who are concerned with systemic
imbalances of power and the undermining of our democracy, whether they
consider themselves progressives, liberals, conservatives, or others.
Presidential elections should be a time for deep discussions among the
citizenry regarding the down-to-earth problems and injustices that are not
addressed because of the gross power mismatch between the narrow vested interests and the public or common good.

The unconstrained behavior of big business is subordinating our democracy to
the control of a corporate plutocracy that knows few self-imposed limits to
the spread of its power to all sectors of our society. Moving on all fronts
to advance narrow profit motives at the expense of civic values, large
corporate lobbies and their law firms have produced a commanding,
multi-faceted and powerful juggernaut. They flood public elections with cash,
and they use their media conglomerates to exclude, divert, or propagandize.
They brandish their willingness to close factories here and open them abroad
if workers do not bend to their demands. By their control in Congress, they
keep the federal cops off the corporate crime, fraud, and abuse beats. They
imperiously demand and get a wide array of privileges and immunities: tax
escapes, enormous corporate welfare subsidies, federal giveaways, and
bailouts. They weaken the common law of torts in order to avoid their
responsibility for injurious wrongdoing to innocent children, women and men.

Abuses of economic power are nothing new. Every major religion in the world
has warned about societies allowing excessive influences of mercantile or
commercial values. The profiteering motive is driven and single-minded. When
unconstrained, it can override or erode community, health, safety, parental
nurturing, due process, clean politics, and many other basic social values
that hold together a society. Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin
Roosevelt, Supreme Court Justices Louis Brandeis and William Douglas, among
others, eloquently warned about what Thomas Jefferson called " the excesses
of the monied interests" dominating people and their governments. The
struggle between the forces of democracy and plutocracy has ebbed and flowed
throughout our history. Each time the cycle of power has favored more
democracy, our country has prospered ("a rising tide lifts all boats"). Each
time the cycle of corporate plutocracy has lengthened, injustices and
shortcomings proliferate.

In the sixties and seventies, for example, when the civil rights, consumer,
environmental, and women's rights movements were in their ascendancy, there
finally was a constructive responsiveness by government. Corporations, such
as auto manufacturers, had to share more decision making with affected
constituencies, both directly and through their public representatives and
civil servants. Overall, our country has come out better, more tolerant,
safer, and with greater opportunities. The earlier nineteenth century
democratic struggles by abolitionists against slavery, by farmers against
large oppressive railroads and banks, and later by new trade unionists
against the brutal workplace conditions of the early industrial and mining
era helped mightily to make America and its middle class what it is today.
They demanded that economic power subside or be shared.

Democracy works, and a stronger democracy works better for reputable,
competitive markets, equal opportunity and higher standards of living and
justice. Generally, it brings out the best performances from people and from businesses.

A plutocracy-rule by the rich and powerful-on the other hand, obscures our
historical quests for justice. Harnessing political power to corporate greed
leaves us with a country that has far more problems than it deserves, while
blocking ready solutions or improvements from being applied.

It is truly remarkable that for almost every widespread need or injustice in
our country, there are citizens, civic groups, small and medium-sized
businesses and farms that have shown how to meet these needs or end these
injustices. However, all the innovative solutions in the world will
accomplish little if the injustices they address or the problems they solve
have been shoved aside because plutocracy reigns and democracy wanes. For all
optimistic Americans, when their issues are thus swept from the table, it
becomes civic mobilization time.

Consider the economy, which business commentators say could scarcely be
better. If, instead of corporate yardsticks, we use human yardsticks to
measure the performance of the economy and go beyond the quantitative
indices of annual economic growth, structural deficiencies become readily evident.
The complete dominion of traditional yardsticks for measuring economic
prosperity masks not only these failures but also the inability of a weakened
democracy to address how and why a majority of Americans are not benefitting
from this prosperity in their daily lives. Despite record economic growth,
corporate profits, and stock market highs year after year, a stunning array
of deplorable conditions still prevails year after year. For example:

A majority of workers are making less now, inflation adjusted, than in 1979

Over 20% of children were growing up in poverty during the past decade, by
far the highest among comparable western countries

The minimum wage is lower today, inflation-adjusted, than in 1979

American workers are working longer and longer hours-on average an
additional 163 hours per year, compared to 20 years ago-with less time for family and community

Many full-time family farms cannot make a living in a market of giant buyer
concentration and industrial agriculture

The public works (infrastructure) are crumbling, with decrepit schools and
clinics, library closings, antiquated mass transit and more

Corporate welfare programs, paid for largely by middle-class taxpayers and
amounting to hundreds of billions of dollars per year, continue to rise along
with government giveaways of taxpayer assets such as public forests,
minerals and new medicines

Affordable housing needs are at record levels while secondary mortgage
market companies show record profits

The number of Americans without health insurance grows every year

There have been twenty-five straight years of growing foreign trade deficits
($270 billion in 1999)

Consumer debt is at an all time high, totaling over $ 6 trillion

Personal bankruptcies are at a record level

Personal savings are dropping to record lows and personal assets are so low
that Bill Gates' net worth is equal to that of the net assets of the poorest
120 million Americans combined

 

The tiny federal budgets for the public's health and safety continue to be
grossly inadequate

Motor vehicle fuel efficiency averages are actually declining and, overall,
energy conservation efforts have slowed, while renewable energy takes a back
seat to fossil fuel and atomic power subsidies

Wealth inequality is greater than at any time since WWII. The top one percent
of the wealthiest people have more financial wealth than the bottom 90% of
Americans combined, the worst inequality among large western nation

Despite annual declines in total business liability costs, business lobbyists
drive for more privileges and immunities for their wrongdoing.

It is permissible to ask, in the light of these astonishing shortcomings
during a period of touted prosperity, what the state of our country would be
should a recession or depression occur? One import of these contrasts is
clear: economic growth has been decoupled from economic progress for many
Americans. In the early 1970s, our economy split into two tiers. Whereas once
economic growth broadly benefitted the majority, now the economy has become
one wherein "a rising tide lifts all yachts," in the words of Jeff Gates,
author of The Ownership Solution. Returns on capital outpaced returns on
labor, and job insecurity increased for millions of seasoned workers. In the
seventies, the top 300 CEOs paid themselves 40 times the entry-level wage in
their companies.

Now the average is over 400 times. This in an economy where impoverished
assembly line workers suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome frantically
process chickens which pass them in a continuous flow, where downsized white
and blue collar employees are hired at lesser compensation, if they are
lucky, where the focus of top business executives is no longer to provide a
service that attracts customers, but rather to acquire customers through
mergers and acquisitions. How long can the paper economy of speculation
ignore its effects on the real economy of working families? Pluralistic
democracy has enlarged markets and created the middle class. Yet the
short-term monetized minds of the corporatists are bent on weakening,
defeating, diluting, diminishing, circumventing, coopting, or corrupting all
traditional countervailing forces that have saved American corporate
capitalism from itself.

Regulation of food, automobiles, banks and securities, for example,
strengthened these markets along with protecting consumers and investors.
Antitrust enforcement helped protect our country from monopoly capitalism
and stimulated competition. Trade unions enfranchised workers and helped
mightily to build the middle class for themselves, benefiting also non-union
laborers. Producer and consumer cooperatives helped save the family farm, electrified rural areas, and offered another model of economic activity. Civil
litigation-the right to have your day in court-helped deter producers of
harmful products and brought them to some measure of justice. At the same
time, the public learned about these hazards.

 

Public investment-from naval shipyards to Pentagon drug discoveries against
infectious disease to public power authorities-provided yardsticks to measure
the unwillingness of big business to change and respond to needs. Even under
a rigged system, shareholder pressures on management sometimes have shaken
complacency, wrongdoing, and mismanagement. Direct consumer remedies,
including class actions, have given pause to crooked businesses and have
stopped much of this unfair competition against honest businesses. Big
business lobbies opposed all of this progress strenuously, but they lost and
America gained. Ultimately, so did a chastened but myopic business
community.

Now, these checkpoints face a relentless barrage from rampaging corporate
titans assuming more control over elected officials, the workplace, the
marketplace, technology, capital pools (including workers' pension trusts)
and educational institutions. One clear sign of the reign of corporations
over our government is that the key laws passed in the 60s and 70s that we
use to curb corporate misbehavior would not even pass through Congressional
committees today. Planning ahead, multinational corporations shaped the
World Trade Organization's autocratic and secretive governing procedures so as to undermine non-trade health, safety, and other living standard laws and
proposals in member countries.

Up against the corporate government, voters find themselves asked to choose
between look-a-like candidates from two parties vying to see who takes the
marching orders from their campaign paymasters and their future employers.
The money of vested interests nullifies genuine voter choice and trust. Our
elections have been put out for auction to the highest bidder. Public elections must be publicly financed and it can be done with well-promoted voluntary checkoffs and free TV and Radio time for ballot-qualified candidates.

Workers are disenfranchised more than any time since the 1920s. Many unions
stagger under stagnant leadership and discouraged rank and file. Furthermore,
weak labor laws actually obstruct new trade union organization and leave the
economy with the lowest percentage of workers unionized in more than 60
years. Giant multinationals are pitting countries against one another and
escaping national jurisdictions more and more. Under these circumstances,
workers are entitled to stronger labor organizing laws and rights for their
own protection in order to deal with highly organized corporations.

At a very low cost, government can help democratic solution building for a
host of problems that citizens face, from consumer abuses, to environmental
degradation. Government research and development generated whole new
industries and company startups and created the Internet. At the least, our
government can facilitate the voluntary banding together of interested
citizens into democratic civic institutions. Such civic organizations can
create more level playing fields in the banking, insurance, real estate,
transportation, energy, health care, cable TV, educational, public services,
and other sectors. Let's call this the flowering of a deep-rooted democratic

society. A government that funnels your tax dollars to corporate welfare
kings in the form of subsidies, bailouts, guarantees, and giveaways of
valuable public assets can at least invest in promoting healthy democracy.

Taxpayers have very little legal standing in the federal courts and little
indirect voice in the assembling and disposition of taxpayer revenues. Closer
scrutiny of these matters between elections is necessary. Facilities can be
established to accomplish a closer oversight of taxpayer assets and how tax
dollars (apart from social insurance) are allocated. This is an arena which
is, at present, shaped heavily by corporations that, despite record profits,
pay far less in taxes as a percent of the federal budget than in the 1950s
and 60s.

The "democracy gap" in our politics and elections spells a deep sense of
powerlessness by people who drop out, do not vote or listlessly vote for the
"least-worst" every four years and then wonder why after another cycle the
"least-worst" gets worse. It is time to redress fundamentally these
imbalances of power. We need a deep initiatory democracy in the embrace of
its citizens, a usable brace of democratic tools that brings the best out of
people, highlights the humane ideas and practical ways to raise and meet our
expectations and resolve our society's deficiencies and injustices.

A few illustrative questions can begin to raise our expectations and suggest
what can be lost when the few and powerful hijack our democracy:

Why can't the wealthiest nation in the world abolish the chronic poverty of
millions of working and non-working Americans, including our children?

Are we reversing the disinvestment in our distressed inner cities and rural
areas and using creatively some of the huge capital pools in the economy to
make these areas more livable, productive and safe?

Are we able to end homelessness and wretched housing conditions with modern
materials, designs, and financing mechanisms, without bank and insurance
company redlining, to meet the affordable housing needs of millions of
Americans?

Are we getting the best out of known ways to spread renewable, efficient
energy throughout the land to save consumers money and to head off global
warming and other land-based environmental damage from fossil fuels and
atomic energy?

Are we getting the best out of the many bright and public-spirited civil
servants who know how to improve governments but are rarely asked by their
politically-appointed superiors or members of Congress?

Are we able to provide wide access to justice for all aggrieved people so
that we apply rigorously the admonition of Judge Learned Hand, "If we are to
keep our democracy, there must be one commandment: Thou Shall Not Ration
Justice"?

Can we extend overseas the best examples of our country's democratic
processes and achievements instead of annually using billions in tax dollars
to subsidize corporate munitions exports, as Republican Senator Mark
Hatfield always used to decry?

Can we stop the giveaways of our vast commonwealth assets and become better
stewards of the public lands, better investors of trillions of dollars in

worker pension monies, and allow broader access to the public airwaves and
other assets now owned by the people but controlled by corporations?

Can we counter the coarse and brazen commercial culture, including television
which daily highlights depravity and ignores the quiet civic heroisms in its
communities, a commercialism that insidiously exploits childhood and
plasters its logos everywhere?

Can we plan ahead as a society so we know our priorities and where we wish to
go? Or do we continue to let global corporations remain astride the planet,
corporatizing everything, from genes to education to the Internet to public
institutions, in short planning our futures in their image? If a robust civic
culture does not shape the future, corporatism surely will.

To address these and other compelling challenges, we must build a powerful,
self-renewing civil society that focuses on ample justice so we do not have
to desperately bestow limited charity. Such a culture strengthens existing
civic associations and facilitates the creation of others to watch the
complexities and technologies of a new century. Building the future also
means providing the youngest of citizens with citizen skills that they can
use to improve their communities. This is the foundation of our campaign, to
focus on active citizenship, to create fresh political movements that will
displace the control of the Democratic and Republican Parties, two apparently
distinct political entities that feed at the same corporate trough. They are
in fact simply the two heads of one political duopoly, the DemRep Party. This
duopoly does everything it can to obstruct the beginnings of new parties
including raising ballot access barriers, entrenching winner-take-all voting
systems, and thwarting participation in debates at election times

As befits its name, the Green Party, whose nomination I seek, stands for the
regeneration of American politics. The new populism which the Green Party
represents, involves motivated, informed voters who comprehend that "freedom
is participation in power," to quote the ancient Roman orator, Cicero. When
citizen participation flourishes, as this campaign will encourage it to do,
human values can tame runaway commercial imperatives. The myopia of the
short-term bottom line so often debases our democratic processes and our
public and private domains. Putting human values first helps to make
business responsible and to put government on the right track.

It is easy and true to say that this deep democracy campaign will be an
uphill one. However, it is also true that widespread reform will not flourish
without a fairer distribution of power for the key roles of voter, citizen,
worker, taxpayer, and consumer. Comprehensive reform proposals from the
corporate suites to the nation's streets, from the schools to the hospitals,
from the preservation of small farm economies to the protection of privacies,
from livable wages to sustainable environments, from more time for children
to less time for commercialism, from waging peace and health to averting war
and violence, from foreseeing and forestalling future troubles to journeying

toward brighter horizons, will wither while power inequalities loom over us.

Why are campaigns just for candidates? I would like the American people to
hear from individuals such as Edgar Cahn (Time Dollars for neighborhoods),
Nicholas Johnson (television and telecommunications), Paul Hawken, Amory and
Hunter Lovins (energy and resource conservation), Dee Hock (on chaordic
organizations), James MacGregor Burns and John Gardner (on leadership),
Richard Grossman (on the American history of corporate charters and
personhood), Jeff Gates (on capital sharing), Robert Monks (on corporate
accountability), Ray Anderson (on his company's pollution and recycling
conversions), Johnnetta Cole, Troy Duster and Yolanda Moses (on race
relations), Richard Duran (minority education), Lois Gibbs (on community
mobilization against toxics), Robert McIntyre (on tax justice), Hazel
Henderson (on redefining economic development), Barry Commoner and David
Brower (on fundamental environmental regeneration), Wendell Berry (on the
quality of living), Tony Mazzocchi (on a new agenda for labor), and Law
Professor Richard Parker (on a constitutional popular manifesto). These
individuals are a small sampling of many who have so much to say, but seldom
get through the evermore entertainment-focused media. (Note: mention of
these persons does not imply their support for this campaign.)

Our political campaign will highlight active and productive citizens who
practice democracy often in the most difficult of situations. I intend to do
this in the District of Columbia whose citizens have no full-voting
representation in Congress or other rights accorded to states. The scope of
this campaign is also to engage as many volunteers as possible to help
overcome ballot barriers and to get the vote out. In addition it is designed
to leave a momentum after election day for the various causes that committed
people have worked so hard to further. For the Greens know that political
parties need also to work between elections to make elections meaningful. The
focus on fundamentals of broader distribution of power is the touchstone of
this campaign. As Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis declared for the
ages, "We can have a democratic society or we can have great concentrated wealth
in the hands of a few. We cannot have both."

Thank you.

Nader 2000, P.O. Box 18002, Washington, D.C. 20036

website: www.votenader.com

THE WILDNESS WITHIN US