Since independent Senator Bernie Sanders announced his presidential candidacy in April, polls in Iowa show support there for him has increased to 15% among Democrats, up from 5% in February. This compares to about 60% backing for former secretary of state, senator and first lady, Hillary Clinton. Sanders is the longest-serving independent member of Congress in U.S. history, yet he is going to run in the Democratic Party for the Democratic nomination. We discuss Sanders’ plans with former presidential candidate, Ralph Nader, author of the new book, “Return to Sender: Unanswered Letters to the President, 2001-2015.”
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: In the last few weeks, a new person has thrown his hat into the ring in the Democratic Party, and that is independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Since Sanders announced his candidacy in April, polls in Iowa show support there for him has increased [to] 15% among Democrats, up from 5% in February. This compares to about 60% backing for former secretary of state, senator and first lady, Hillary Clinton. Senator Sanders is the longest-serving independent member of Congress in U.S. history, yet he is going to run in the Democratic Party for the Democratic nomination. He says he’ll run as Democratic Socialist.
Well, Juan González and I recently discussed Sanders’ plans with former presidential candidate, Ralph Nader, who has new book out called Return to Sender: Unanswered Letters to the President, 2001-2015. We began by asking Ralph Nader, who ran several times as a third-party candidate, for his response to Sanders’ decision to make a bid for the Democratic nomination.
RALPH NADER: Well, that’s always been a dilemma he’s [Bernie Sanders] been deliberating for the last year or so. If he runs as an independent, he can go to November . If he runs as a registered Democrat, he’s done in April or May, assuming he doesn’t defeat Hillary Clinton or others, but he gets on the televised primaries. Where as an independent he could be marginalized, as a Democrat he’s going to get on quite a few debates and in the primary. But he will be asked—if not very soon, he will be asked, “Will you endorse the nominee of the Democratic Party if it’s Hillary Clinton?” And if he says, “no”, he may be actually kept off the debates. The debates are controlled by a corporation, known as the Democratic Party. They kept Dennis Kucinich off some of the debates. It’s completely within their power to do that.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Did you have any discussions with him about that choice? And did you give him any advice?
RALPH NADER: Bernie Sanders does not answer my calls. Fifteen years, he’s never answered a telephone call, never replied to a letter, never replied to a meeting that I wanted to go down and see him. I even had to write an article on this, called “Bernie, We Thought We Knew Ye!” One of the problems he’s going to face, other than his good graces in Vermont, is that he doesn’t have good political antennae. He doesn’t have political social graces. And he’s going to have to change that. A lot of his friends have told me that that’s a problem. But most progressive senators don’t really respond to any progressive group that tries to push him to do more than they want to do.
AMY GOODMAN: Ralph Nader, Bernie Sanders tweeted on Thursday that he looked forward to debating Clinton on, quote, “the big issues: income inequality, climate change & getting big money out of politics.” Hillary Clinton had tweeted, in response to him announcing for presidency, the first formal Democratic candidate against her—she wrote, “I agree with Bernie. Focus must be on helping America’s middleclass. GOP would hold them back. I welcome him to the race.” Your response?
RALPH NADER: Well, he’s got a very good 12-point program, which I’m sure he’s going to talk about all over the country. And you can see what Hillary’s response and strategy is going to be.
Tabacco: I write all the time about not letting politicians get away with ‘Generalizations’ and never asking Politicians ‘Open Ended Questions’!
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Ralph, I wanted to ask you—you mentioned that all of these progressive senators don’t respond to your letters. Obviously, the presidents don’t respond to your letters. But one person did respond to one of your letters: Michelle Obama. Could you talk about that?
RALPH NADER: Yeah, this is a very important letter that I wrote. I wrote it actually three times. You read about President Obama going to Chambers of Commerce, going to business gatherings all over the country. But he’s never addressed the voluntary nonprofit sector, the groups that deal with charity, deal with children’s needs, environment, labor groups, religious groups, groups that are advocacy groups. And when Jimmy Carter was elected president, we gathered a thousand of these leaders, who have millions of members, like the National Council of Churches—they have a lot of members around the country—and labor unions, etc., in a hotel about two blocks from the White House. And it was a very successful meeting with Jimmy Carter, and it raised the profile of these groups.
So I wrote the letters to Barack Obama saying, “Why don’t you do that? It’s just two blocks away, logistically very easy. You walked across Lafayette Park to pay homage to the Chamber of Commerce. Why don’t you do that? It’s not only the right thing to do, but these nonprofit groups have a lot of employees. And if they get more visibility, more charitable contributions, they’re going to hire more people.” And I tried to appeal to him on the job basis. Well, he never answered. So I sent it over to Michelle’s office, and back came a letter basically saying, “Thank you for doing that, but he’s just too busy.” He’s just too busy to respond to the nonprofit voluntary sector of America that every day keeps his country going.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: The former community organizer.
RALPH NADER: He’s just too busy. Pardon?
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: The former community organizer, now president.
RALPH NADER: Yes. Of all people, he should have recognized this! He’s also an expert in constitutional law, and he has violated the Constitution and federal statutes in terms of his drone warfare and other foreign policies right and left. You know what the lesson, Juan, is, that it really doesn’t matter. If the power structure persists, it doesn’t matter who’s in office. It doesn’t matter what ethnic, racial background. It doesn’t matter how much they know, how much they don’t know. They’re all molded by the corporate power structure that controls Washington from Wall Street, to use a symbolic tour.
Tabacco: To be fair, Barack may not have even seen Nader’s letters – any of them (I did say, “may not..”!)
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Ralph, I wanted to ask you about the issue of empire, which you mention that even progressives like Bernie Sanders doesn’t want to question. We have a president who was elected to office as a candidate of peace, of ending the wars in Afghanistan and in Iraq. He pulled the ground troops out, but he has expanded air wars in Yemen, in Pakistan, in Libya and in Syria. So, your assessment of this issue of how President Obama has done with the question of empire?
Tabacco: Bush began the War in Iraq for specious Excuses no doubt, but Obama has perpetuated it and begun other Drone Bombings in other MUSLIM OPEC COUNTRIES – ALWAYS OPEC!
What are we getting for it? We’re getting the massive proliferation of violent groups, offshoots and sub-offshoots of al-Qaeda. There are so many of these groups in Africa and Asia spreading, Southeast Asia, that the Pentagon is having trouble indexing them. But they have all this—kill list, of course, every Tuesday in the White House. And what people in this country don’t understand is that the drones may take a few dozen lives here and a few dozen lives there, but when you’re living—when millions of people in Asia and Africa are living under drones, they hear that whine 24 hours a day, it’s terror, it’s horror. They don’t know whether their homes are going to be blown up from this lightning bolt from the sky. And then we wonder why people are hating us and want to do us in.
And it’s only a matter of time. As we push these fighters to become more skilled, more bold, greater in numbers, it’s only a matter of time when the suicide belts are coming to this country. And our country is totally unable to withstand preservation of its civil liberties and democracy with these attacks. And the whole process of democratic processes, allocation of public budgets, will be completely turned upside down in this country with a couple violent terrorist attacks.
AMY GOODMAN: Ralph Nader, can—would you like to read one of your favorite letters that didn’t get a response in your new book, Return to Sender: Unanswered Letters to the President, 2001-2015? And again, if you can talk, in prefacing it, about why you actually think letters are important? What is this tradition of letters you’re talking about? Why is this the form that you feel is important to communicate with the president?
RALPH NADER: Well, because it’s totally under control of the citizenry to write what he or she believes elected officials should listen to. When I was a child, a youngster, I read the Adams-Jefferson letters, and I read the—later, I read the Holmes-Laski letters. And I liked the personal nature of it, the initiatory nature of it, the command of the writer. And I used letters years ago to make a lot of news. The press would look at a letter and say, “Does it say something important? Is it newsworthy? Who does it go to?” And when these letters were publicized in the press, members of Congress couldn’t ignore the issue. They often would have congressional hearings.
So now, what are we left with? A few giant media conglomerates dominating everything, a little Indymedia, Democracy Now!, Pacifica. What are we really left with for people to breathe and to have a voice? And so, that’s why I wanted President Bush and Obama to address large gatherings of citizen groups in Washington, make it easy for them, who represent the felt necessities of our time, whether it’s dealing with poverty, bigotry, whether it’s dealing with education, whether it’s dealing with environment, consumer protection, the integrity of government, integrity of elections. So, in one of the letters—I’ll read just an excerpt.
“In 2009 and again in 2011, I wrote to urge you [President Obama] to address a large gathering, in a convenient Washington venue, for the leaders of nonprofit civic organizations with tens of millions of members throughout the United States. Not receiving a reply, I sent my request to … First Lady, Michelle Obama, whose assistant replied saying you were too busy.
“You were, however, not too busy to address many business groups and also to walk over to the oppositional U.S. Chamber of Commerce [across from the White House]. Well, it is the second term and such a civic gathering could be scheduled at your convenience.”
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Ralph Nader, reading from a letter he wrote to President Obama. It’s one of the many letters he features in his new book called Return to Sender: Unanswered Letters to the President, 2001-2015. You can watch part one of the interview and the rest of his reading at democracynow.org.
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Tabacco: I consider myself both a funnel and a filter. I funnel information, not readily available on the Mass Media, which is ignored and/or suppressed. I filter out the irrelevancies and trivialities to save both the time and effort of my Readers and bring consternation to the enemies of Truth & Fairness! When you read Tabacco, if you don’t learn something NEW, I’ve wasted your time.
Tabacco is not a blogger, who thinks; I am a Thinker, who blogs. Speaking Truth to Power!
In 1981′s ‘Body Heat’, Kathleen Turner said, “Knowledge is power”.
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