Ralph Nader calls for nonpartisan political alliances as key to change

Last modified: Sunday, June 22, 2014
SHELBURNE FALLS — Political activist and former presidential candidate Ralph Nader had plenty to say Wednesday night about how Americans on both sides of the political aisle could work together to more swiftly bring government changes wanted by both sides — more accountability, less warfare, less corporate crime, and less seduction of our children by corporations.

Speaking about his new book, “Unstoppable,” Nader said, “This book comes from a shared frustration of why we’re not moving in this country. We’re letting the country be led by giant corporations. (Franklin D. Roosevelt) said, when government is controlled by independent economic power, that’s fascism.”

Nader said private corporations have an even bigger hold on government today than they did in Roosevelt’s era. He said there are about 35,000 lobbyists in Washington representing major industries. Corporations are now free to make big donations to election campaigns and the government has outsourced many of its functions to corporations and private contractors.

“The Constitution says ‘We the People,’ not ‘We the Corporations,’” he said. “Corporations are never mentioned in our Constitution. They have turned our power into their economic power, making government nothing more than a cash register for mega-corporations that have lost any unity with their country or communities.”

Nader said that the highly publicized divisions between conservatives and liberals are used to manipulate voters and election outcomes, while the greater shared interests of both groups “are not put on the election table.”

“If anything,” he said, “they are rendered invisible.”

Nader said legislators pay much more attention to issues that have broad left-right mutual support — and that many of these common values already exist. “There’s nothing that has to be created,” he said. “There are already left-right (issues), but how many are on the table during presidential, state or local elections?”

Among the examples he gave was that the $800 billion Department of Defense budget should be audited annually. Another example is growing left-right agreement not to support a state of perpetual warfare. Nader said sentiment against our going to war in Syria last year was 60 to 1 — reflecting the views of both sides.

Another alliance is in support of a higher minimum wage. He said that, if the minimum wage paid in 1968 was adjusted for today’s inflation, the wages paid would be equivalent to a worker making $10 an hour today, But the minimum wage for some workers today is $7. “There are a lot of conservative workers in Dollar General and Wal-Mart who would like to earn more,” said Nader.

“When you get down from abstract ideology and get down to where people work, live and raise their families, reality begins to crowd out the generalities.”

Another common concern, he said, are tax laws that enable big corporations and the very rich to pay less than average workers do.

Nader said when polled about the election process, about 60 percent of the public said they would like a viable third party. Yet third-party candidates have great trouble getting on ballots. Nader said there is “non-competitive democracy” in states like Massachusetts, where 60 percent of the politicians are Democratic party members, or in Texas, where most elected officials are Republicans. “A lot of people are getting fed up and don’t come out to vote. I would like a choice to say ‘none of the above’ on the ballot. And if ‘none’ wins, I would like the election to be done over with new candidates.”

How to break the gridlock, the left-right paralysis? “We have to align ourselves with people we may have been fighting with. We’ve got to get over the ‘yuck’ factor.”

After a left-right alliance is formed, the next step is to “become visible to the lawmakers and to the media,” he said. “You always want to push against the oligarchy and plutocracy.

“Half of democracy is showing up,” he said. “We have the least excuse of anybody in the world for not having the most competitive elections, workers rights. We have (fewer) excuses than anybody for not having a fully humane society.”

Nader said if both political groups can work together on common goals, “the rapidity with which we can make changes will be astonishing.”