A crusader says the world has to resist George W. Bush’s imperialist agenda

RALPH NADER June 30 2003


A crusader says the world has to resist George W. Bush’s imperialist agenda

RALPH NADER June 30 2003


A crusader says the world has to resist George W. Bush’s imperialist agenda



HE’S MADE enemies in corporate boardrooms and backrooms for more than 40 years, tilting at everything from unsafe automobiles to revealing the unspeakable ingredients in hot dogs. When consumer advocate Ralph Nader turned his attention to politics, running under the banner of the upstart environmentalist Green Party in 2000, he made an even bigger splash—capturing 2.8 million votes in a race George W. Bush would eventually win by a mere 537 certified votes. Many Democrats angrily blamed Nader for the defeat of their candidate, Al Gore. Now with the next presidential campaign fast approaching, they might have reason to worry again because Nader, 69, isn’t ruling out launching a second bid for the White House. During a recent stop in Toronto, he spoke with Maclean’s National Correspondent Jonathon Gatehouse about the issues that still motivate him, the Bush administration’s aggressive world agenda and his own political future.

Among other causes these days, you’ve been preaching the need for more corporate responsibility. In a world of Enron, WorldCom and Martha Stewart, what should companies be doing to buff their images?

Canadian corporations have a great opportunity to differentiate themselves at home and in their international trade practices. They should learn quickly from the failure in the U.S. to hold corporations to honest financial reporting, and take heed of the consequences of unbridled executive compensation—Canadian CEOs are starting to get up there, you know, $10 million, $8 million, $13 million a year.

Bad trends in the U.S. tend to move north to Canada, and it is very important that Canadian corporations and the government be aware of the dangers to markets, jobs, pensions—the things that have weakened our whole economy.

Do you expect corporations to take these steps on their own, or do we need government

to legislate good behaviour?

Government should be the auditor of these large corporations. You take corporations above a certain size, and it’s impossible for private accounting firms to honestly report on the financial status of that company when they’re getting paid to look the other way, or risk losing the client.

As far as executive compensation goes, what the government should do is give explicit authority to the shareholders to approve or disapprove compensation packages with requirements for full disclosure of stock options and other perks for executives. Finally, corporate charters have got to become a mechanism of control. If, for example, a corporation is a toxic polluter, chronic law violator or a corrupter of politicians, the state or the province should be able to pull its charter and remove the board of directors and put in trustees until the company is rehabilitated.

You’ve come out in favour of Bill C-24, the Chrétien government’s legislation to limit corporate and union political donations. Why do you consider this important?

We’ve got to get big money out of politics, because it nullifies the votes and wishes of citizens. Public elections should be publicly financed. When they are not, people end up being even more ripped off as consumers, getting exposed to more environmental hazards, having their retirement imperilled, their health care degraded and public education cut back.

Increasingly, it appears as if the rest of us are living in George W. Bush’s world. How should Canada react to that new reality?

Challenge it. Americans need other democracies to challenge the militaristic, authoritarian and corporatist regime of George Bush, which is anti-American to its core.

But there’s often a rush in the media to suggest that’s an unwise thing to do-that we will pay the price.

That’s what I call the attitude of a vassal toward the lord of the manor. This constant idea of “don’t shake up Washington because we’ll pay the price” is the attitude of a serf. Canada will either stand up to Bush or be sucked in by Bush. And Chrétien has done a better job than most PMs have, in his folksy way.

There’s been suggestions that the intelligence that sent America to war in Iraq was rigged. Is that going to change Americans’ minds about the conflict?

It will, as the sands of Iraq turn into quicksands and quagmires. Right now, it’s a heady victory, a quick victory with minimal casualties. But what happens when it isn’t a victory, when it’s billions of dollars, body bags coming back every week, and Bush is turning his back on our own necessities in America? I mean, he’s spending more time on international stateless terrorism and the Middle East than he is on America, and that’s going to become clear—at least the Democrats should make that clear.

The country was deeply divided during the last presidential election. Why have the Democrats been unable to tap into the opposition that existed just 21/2 years ago?

Their personalities are indentured to corporate money, indentured to preserving their political careers and not taking bold stands—not being leaders. They reflect Bush’s shaping of public opinion without challenge. And when you have the President in the mass media every day, unchallenged with his little seven-word sentences and cue cards, what do you think sinks in? The Democrats are not organizing to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Are you pessimistic about the possible outcome of the 2004 election?

Well, the 2004 election is just another opportunity to try and break the grip of the traditional parties in America. Ross Perot did it. Pat Buchanan did it on the right. And I

did it on the progressive end. One of these years it’s going to start breaking through.

Are you at all interested in running again for the White House?

I haven’t decided yet. It’s a little early.

When do you have to make up your mind about whether to run?

By the end of the year.

A lot has been made of your role in the 2000 election. Putting that aside, do you think that

AI Gore would have acted any differently as president than Bush?

He would have been better on domestic issues than the Republicans. But on regulatory issues, for example, Bill Clinton and Gore were a disaster—about as bad or worse than [Ronald] Reagan and Bush. Gore might have been a little smarter than Bush about North Korea, but you know basically the U.S. is a militaristic, expansionist hegemony. We don’t upset most dictators as long as they don’t align themselves with any of our enemies.

You attended Princeton with Donald Rumsfeld. What did you think of him?

He was a happy-go-lucky Princeton Charlie, who was head of the wrestling team, wore white buck shoes and harboured an intense energy level.

What’s your impression of him now?

I think his media celebrity status has inflated his personality beyond the level of prudence required by a secretary of defence. Otherwise what we said about him at Princeton in the fifties: too full of himself. [¡fl