BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Ralph Nader, author of "Crashing the Party," why don't Greens use teleprompters?
RALPH NADER, AUTHOR, "CRASHING THE PARTY": HOW TO TELL THE TRUTH AND STILL RUN FOR PRESIDENT": Because they're not scripted. They're spontaneous. And the whole idea is to return politics to spontaneity, not consultants that plan every move, every gesture, every photo opportunity.
LAMB:Why do we need to do that?
CARO: Because it's more authentic. When a human mind is scripted, it's very repetitive. It's very calculating. It doesn't listen. It doesn't get feedback. And we're trying to go back to some of the old-fashioned stump speeches and mixing it up on the campaign. We really tried to do a model campaign that way, not only not taking money from special interests or PACs but running with the people, running with neighborhood groups that have certain causes, like fighting a taxpayer boondoggle for a Boston Red Sox stadium or a living wage or health insurance or migrant labor concerns or preserving the forest.
We went right through the country that way, running with it. We didn't achieve the goal of building a parallel civic movement, which is really the ideal, to have an electoral political movement and a civic movement...
LAMB:In the middle of the book somewhere, you say that Woody Harrelson gave you a hemp shirt.
CARO: That's right.
LAMB:And that you were wearing it as you were writing this book. Did you write this whole thing by yourself?
LAMB:Why spend all that time?
CARO: Well, it had my name on it.
LAMB:Do you always write everything that you...
LAMB:And why the hemp shirt? And what -- what meaning did that have?
CARO: Well, industrial hemp is a great crop. It's the longest fiber in the world. It was domesticated by the ancient Chinese 5,000 years ago. And it's illegal to grow it in this country, but it's legal to import it from Canada, China, France, Hungary. And it is the most versatile plant. It could reduce our reliance on imported oil because it can be used for fuel. It's a form of solar energy, biomass. It produces wonderful textiles and clothing, lubricants. It produces chlorine-free paper that's much better than the papers used for newspapers and books. And it has 5,000 known uses. And we can't get it off the DEA list because it's somehow associated with marijuana, even though it has less than one third of 1 percent THC, and you can't get high on it if you smoked a bushel of it.
But the amazing thing is the farmers want it. The state department of agriculture commissioners want it. There are legislators that have passed at the state level resolutions. But the federal DEA under both parties basically saying no. And it has nothing to do with a marijuana plant. In fact, when it grows next to marijuana, it dilutes it. And people who like marijuana growing don't like industrial hemp.
So instead of having millions of acres growing and amplifying farm income, we're in this absurd situation where we have to import something that we can grow in this country.
LAMB:What was your goal with this book?
CARO: Well, a lot of goals. One is to elaborate what a political campaign can be like, however it is on a smaller scale. That is, all the things that editorial writers are always saying about clean politics and in criticizing the two parties, we tried to put into practice, number one.
Number two, I want to elevate people's expectation levels. I think the most fundamental system of control in a society that calls itself a democracy is to control people's expectation levels, so they don't say, 47 million workers, "What in the world are we doing working five days a week full-time, commuting back and forth to our families, and we can't make a living wage?" They're making six bucks an hour or seven or eight bucks an hour in Wal-Mart or Kmart or McDonald's or any other of these low-income jobs.
The same with our environment. The desecration of our land, air and water is a form of industrial inefficiency. And if we were really efficient in the use of fuel -- for example, the recycling of materials, the precycling -- we would have a much healthier environment, not just better to look at and more pleasurable to use, but for our children to breathe air that doesn't give them respiratory ailments, to reduce cancer, to reduce other property damage.
We got to raise our expectation level. When these companies keep America down, these giant companies, and basically say no to health insurance, no to environmental advance, no to renewable energy, energy efficiency, no to clean election -- no, no, no -- the only thing that can fight back is people who say, "We can do it. We must do it, for ourselves and our children, and we're going to mobilize to do it because our expectation levels are much higher than what is put before us by the oligarchy of giant corporations that unfortunately runs too much of this country."
LAMB:You've got your name on about 16 books. They're listed out in front. Is this the closest we're going to get to an autobiography?
CARO: No. No.
LAMB:You going to do that some day?
CARO: Yeah, probably I will. But it's the closest that I've written about what I did, rather than documenting the unsafe automobiles or hazardous drugs or corrupt government.
LAMB:You have some statistics in the book up front. You say George Bush raised $186 million. Al Gore raised $120 million. You raised $8 million. You also point out that soft money, George Bush raised $252 million, and Al Gore $244 million. How did you -- you talk about the pain of having to raise the money, even though it's $8 million. How did you do it?
CARO: We did it by letters in the mail, which means the contributions came in at $50, $100 or so. We did it by huge rallies, filling Madison Square Garden and the Boston Garden and Portland and Seattle and LA and Chicago. And they paid anywhere from $7, $10 to $20 for those rallies. We had the biggest paid rallies of any of the presidential candidates, including Bush and Gore. And thirdly, by maximum contributions by individuals who had no axe to grind, $2,000 -- $1,000 primary, $1,000 in the general. That's the maximum. And selling memorabilia and things like that -- you know, T-shirts. And that was basically the way we did it. And we had some matching funds. We had around $800,000 of federal matching funds.
LAMB:You endorsed Southwest Airlines.
CARO: Well, just think of that. It has 6 percent of the market. It charges the cheapest fares, by far. It has the best service that I know of, of any airline. And it made more money in the year 2000 than Delta, United and American Airlines combined, giant airlines. That's just unbelievable performance. You know, the lowest fares, the best service -- you know, they have a good on-time departure. You call them up, a human being answers in two or three rings instead of "Press 1," "Press 2," and so on. And they've made more money than those three airlines combined -- spectacular management.
LAMB:How have they done it?
CARO: One, management. Kelleher, who started the idea in Texas, is a real hands-on guy. He doesn't spend all this time worrying about stock options and his own personal wealth accumulation. He really goes and mixes it up with the -- with the employees, who love him. Secondly, give the employees stock. And third, they give the employees discretion. The people at Southwest don't think about how they're going to say no to you. They say, "Oh, you're just a minute before the -- OK, we'll get you on," see?
LAMB:You went to 50 states?
LAMB:During the campaign?
CARO: Yes. And some more than once.
LAMB:Why did you go to the seven states that didn't have you on the ballot?
CARO: Because I felt if I was going to run for president of the United States, I should go to every state. And in those states where we weren't on the ballot, I wanted to point out the terrible ballot access obstructions of these state laws, like Oklahoma and especially North Carolina and Georgia, where you have to get tens of thousands of signatures and many more than are required -- and in North Carolina, it was 53,000 or so -- because they pick at them. They say, "Oh, no. This is an avenue. This is a street. This is not done by someone who has a residence in the county." I mean, it's just -- you know, a petitioner. Unbelievable number of obstructions. I wanted to make that point, and I did in North Carolina and Oklahoma.
LAMB:I just am an amateur statistician. I picked up the numbers from the campaign. Did you know that the seven states in which you were not on the ballot, that George Bush had won them all?
CARO: No, I wasn't aware of that.
LAMB:Do you have any correlation with that, any reason why you think that would have happened? You were on -- you went 43 states, 7 you were not on, and he won all 7.
CARO: Yeah. I mean, if you asked me one at a time, I would have known who won the states, but it didn't occur to me that it was all seven. Yeah. I don't know whether there's a correlation because these laws are put in place by a cabal of the Republican and Democrat state legislators because they have an interest in excluding third parties, excluding competition, excluding choice to the voters, even though the history of third parties in our country -- they led, third parties, in the fight against slavery, women's right to vote, trade union movement, farmer-populist-progressive movement, right into the 20th century. It's a great record, even though only one third party ever won major party status, the Republican Party, which started in 1854 and elected a president in 1860. But they've really pushed the major parties into more humane, progressive, responsive postures.
LAMB:You say you had three goals. One goal was to get on the ballots, and you got on in 43 states. Another was to get into the presidential debates, and it did not happen. And the other one was to get 5 percent of the vote so they could fund the primary next year, the convention for the next time in 2004.
None of that happened.
CARO: No. But what happened was quite important. The 5 percent to get federal funds -- that's a convenience. Sometimes I think it's better to be self-reliant and get it in $5 or $10, $20 segments from large numbers of people. The big failure was being blocked from the debates because right now, our political electoral system is so skewed that if a presidential candidate does not get on those three presidential debates, or two, whatever it may be, it is impossible to reach the electorate.
And the debate commission is a private company created in 1987 or '88 to replace the League of Women Voters that sponsored presidential debates, created by the Republican and Democrat Party, controlled by the Democratic Party and Republican Party. And because the mass media, by default, doesn't have their own presidential debates, they have accorded this debate commission, this private corporation, an incredible amount of power to decide which candidate is going to reach tens of millions of people.
I campaigned as -- as you noted, in 50 states, and I -- I didn't reach more than 1.5 percent of the number of people that I could have reached interacting with Bush and Gore on these presidential debates, even though poll after poll showed that the people of this country wanted me and Buchanan on those debates -- for a lot of reasons. Even though they wouldn't vote for us, perhaps, in large numbers, they didn't think the debates should be a cure for insomnia.
LAMB:You at one point in the book -- and maybe I've got the wrong modifier, but you called the debate people "a malignant species." Why?
CARO: Because they are -- they are perpetuating a private tyranny. They are basically saying that there's just two candidates that can reach the American people, and that they have gotten the cooperation of the press. The only way we ever had a national audience where we could articulate something in other than sound bites was on C-Span. And the number of people that these debates reach range from 40 million to a peak in 1992, when Perot was on, of 90 million.
But you see, they got -- Perot got on in 1992, and he ends up getting 19 million votes. They blocked Perot in 1996, and his vote total sank enormously. I mean, it's a make-or-break. So we want to establish by proposing it -- not that we would have it -- a people's debate commission, where you'd have a broad board of directors. it wouldn't be funded by Anheuser-Busch or Ford Motor or AT&T. You'd have a broad board of directors of labor and Civil Rights and civil liberty groups, consumer, environment and -- and the media would be represented, to put on a lot of debates.
Why ration debates, you know? They don't ration VCRs. They don't ration entertainment. Why ration the critical opportunity for the American people to mix it up in all kinds of debates -- regional debates, debates between two candidates, between four candidates. That's what brings people out to the polls. And when you got 41 percent of the people stayed home in the year 2000, you got a real problem, the lowest participation of voters in the Western world.
LAMB:Why do you think that is?
CARO: A lot of it is they don't think it means anything to them. They think basically that they, quote, whoever the powers that be, are going to decide what they're going to decide, and so why waste their time? That's one reason. There are other reasons. Some people are working the wrong hours, and they're commuting. They don't get there. Some people are so beset by poverty and by all kinds of illness and so on that they just don't get there.
But it's really a disgrace that the two parties can't deliver more than half of the voters for themselves. And I think if we had more initiatives and referendums on the ballot, more people would come out. Maybe if it was a national holiday, more people would come out. Maybe if you didn't have the Florida type obstruction problems and precinct address changes and so on, more people would come out.
But I think the one thing that would get most people out is a "None of the above," that on every ballot line -- for governor or president, whatever -- there'd be "None of the above," for state legislator, for mayor. And if binding "None of the above" got more votes than anyone else on that line, say for mayor, it would cancel the election, send the candidates packing and order new elections in 30 or 35 days with new candidates. See that gives people an opportunity to say no. You can't say no when you vote in America. You have to -- you have to vote for, you know, a Republican or a Democrat or whoever is on. A "no confidence" vote is very important.
LAMB:Any chance that there is any way to change the debate process? I mean, this is has been going on now since -- how long has the debate commission -- three -- three elections?
CARO: Four cycles.
LAMB:Four cycles now.
LAMB:And courts haven't thrown it out?
CARO: That's right, because it's a private corporation. See, if it was a state government, then there'd be all kinds of, you know, potential First Amendment issues, and so forth, and election laws and like -- the only way I see is to expose the debate commission -- and we're in the process of doing that -- very fundamentally.
CARO: Yes. And the second is to early on, before certain constituents get a vested interest in a candidate, like, four months before an election, early on, year 2003, a people's debate commission emerges, with -- League of Women Voters would be on -- but it would be very broad, representing all segments of our society, to say to the mass media, "We are much more democratic. We are not going to allow the candidates to set the rules, to pick who asks them the question." I mean, it's almost -- it's rigged. I mean, if another country in Western Europe did this, we'd laugh at them.
We want it done in a real democratic way because we know that the two major candidates ignore a lot of issues. They ignore corporate crime and corporate power and corporate welfare. They don't have real disagreements on military budgets and military policy. They -- they even don't talk about universal health insurance in the last campaign, Gore and Bush. It was step by step. They don't talk about repealing all these laws that obstruct workers from forming democratic trade unions. They don't talk about law and order for consumer protection. They don't talk -- they didn't even talk about housing, hardly talked about mass transit. Poverty was a no-no word. And this people's debate commission says, "We're not going to have these taboos. We're going to discuss what's on people's minds."
LAMB:What happens then when the candidates say -- the major candidates say, "Well, we're not going to participate"?
CARO: Well, if they -- if the people's debate commission connects with the mass media, they can't say no. And as a matter of fact, in the year 2000, if the major labor unions in the Midwest, the swing states in the Midwest -- let's say the machinists, the United Auto Workers, the Teamsters and others -- got together and said, "We want a debate in Chicago or Cleveland," Bush-Gore, they couldn't say no because those are the swing states. They just couldn't say no.
LAMB:What are the chances you'll run again in 2004?
CARO: Too early to say.
LAMB:But what's your sense? Can you get the energy to do it again?
CARO: Well, I do -- I do want to help build the Green Party. I want to -- I'd like to see thousands of Green Party candidates at the local level. And they're winning now. In fact, in November, they won 25 percent of the seats that they were contesting at the local level. I mean, you can really win at the local level, and that's the best way to build a party. And then, of course, they'll have statewide candidates, which'll be a little more difficult. And then national congressional candidates will be a little more difficult.
But they're going to increasingly determine the margin of victory in close races between the Republicans and the Democrats before they become strong enough to become a major party. So I do want to do that, and I have been doing that. We've helped a lot of grass-root events with the Green Party around the country. As far as I'm concerned, it's too early to say. I'm working on so many civic projects. I don't want that line to be blurred.
LAMB:You got about 800,000 votes in '96, about 2.8 million in 2000.
CARO: Actually a little higher than that.
LAMB:By the time all the votes came in.
LAMB:Again, I looked at the Electoral College thing on the -- and when I read the statistics on the race, the best I could tell, there were only two states out of 50 where had you not been in the race, it would have changed it. Are you aware of that?
LAMB:The two being New Hampshire and Florida.
LAMB:If it had been New Hampshire, it wouldn't have made a difference because it was only 4 electoral votes, but in Florida, you got 90,000-some, Pat Buchanan got 17,000. And you say that the poll that Stan Greenberg did suggested the breakdown of where your votes would have gone, they weren't all Al Gore votes.
CARO: Out of all my votes, 25 percent came from Bush, 38 percent came from Gore, and the rest wouldn't have voted. We got over a million new voters, in effect. But you know, Gore slipped on a lot of bananas. And the question is, which banana do you want to blame? And you could blame his loss of Tennessee, where he had his national headquarters for 13 months, his home state -- Arkansas. You could say that his own Democratic leaders in the counties in southern Florida did him in. And I mean, there are a lot of reasons. He didn't do all that well on the debates. He came across as stiff.
So I don't -- and this argument goes on with the Democrats. "Oh, I" -- you know, we cost Gore the election, and so on.
LAMB:Still angry with you?
CARO: A lot of them are, yeah.
LAMB:You met with Dick Gephardt, you say in the book...
LAMB:... in February of 2001. Did he talk to you about this?
CARO: Yes. I mean, he didn't say, you know, I cost Gore the election. He said we ran a terrific campaign. And I met with Senator Harry Reid, the number two Democrat in the Senate. And he acknowledged that the Green spillover votes elected Maria Cantwell. She won by 2,300 votes. I got 103,000 in Washington state, and there was no Green Party Senate candidate. And these folks were overwhelmingly for her. And that brought the Senate to 50-50 and set the state for Senator Jeffords to turn independent and flip the Senate to the Democrats. And I haven't gotten a single letter of thanks from any Democratic senator.
Just all they can do is just -- they're not used to dealing with a third party on their progressive wing. Not since 1948. They've basically been able to say to progressives who are upset with the Democrats, even though they -- they voted for Democrats year after year, "You got nowhere to go. As bad as we are, the Republicans are worse."
LAMB:There's a lot in the book about substance, a lot in there about issues. But I want to ask you about some of the other stuff because we never get a chance to talk to you about it. You start with talking about giving a speech in the 8th grade on John Muir. What was -- it was a graduation speech, but where was it and why did you talk about John Muir when you were about 13 years old?
CARO: Well, first it was in the Central School auditorium in Winsted, Connecticut, and all the parents and siblings were in the audience. It was packed. And I was scared stiff.
LAMB:Why were you giving this speech?
CARO: Well, I was selected, I guess, because of my grades. I wasn't the only one giving a speech. Why did I select John Muir? I've always gravitated to the leaders in the citizen community, and he -- you know, the idea of his work establishing Yosemite caught my imagination at that young age. But I never really liked to give speeches about elected officials. It was always civic action. Our parents really drilled it into us that underneath democracy, to make it work, has got to be civic action, the things that go on in neighborhoods and city councils and initiatives and the kind of communities that people build. And out of that there'll be a healthier politics, more responsive members of the elected branches.
LAMB:Winsted, 26 miles from Hartford?
LAMB:What kind of a town is it?
CARO: Well, it used to -- in 1895, it had 90 factories. Can you imagine? Just that tiny -- 10,000 people, 90 factories. It produced so many things -- pins and clothing and all kinds of things it produced, clocks. Now the factories are almost all gone, and it's heavily a bedroom community where people commute to Hartford, work in the insurance industry or they commute to Waterbury. And as a result, there aren't many people who are -- go to meetings. The women's club folded a few years ago because women are working now and they're commuting.
This business of the commute fatigues a lot of people and reduces the -- the participation in community life. And we grew up in a town meeting form of government, which is the most pristine democracy ever in the world because the town meeting of citizens, voters, was the legislature, the ultimate legislature if the city council or selectmen, as they were called, didn't do the right thing.
LAMB:How did your parents get to Winsted?
CARO: Well, my father and mother immigrated early 20th century from Lebanon, and my dad worked a while in the auto industry, and then he opened a grocery store in Danbury, Connecticut, and then he saw a better opportunity to run a restaurant, bakery, delicatessen in Winsted. So that's where the family...
LAMB:Did you grow up speaking a language other than English?
CARO: Yes. I spoke sort of a homespun kitchen Arabic, yes.
LAMB:Do you still speak it?
LAMB:Your father still alive?
LAMB:How about your mom?
LAMB:We saw her during the campaign.
CARO: She was at the Boston Garden.
LAMB:How old is she?
CARO: Well, she doesn't want to say because she doesn't want to be viewed that way, but she's very, very aware of things and very alert.
LAMB:What impact has she had on you in your life? And why did you get into this, in the first place?
CARO: Well, the parents had a huge impact. You know, when people say, how'd I turn out this way, I said, "Well, whatever, for better or worse, I had a lucky choice of parents." And they really had conversations around the dinner table. In fact, one of the tributes we paid them as children was to put out a book called "It Happened in the Kitchen," which is not just good recipes but my mother's philosophy of raising children and community life and my dad's pithy statements in the restaurant.
They used to say when you went into Nader's restaurant, for a dime, you had a cup of coffee and 10 minutes of political discussion.
LAMB:And how big a family did you grow up in?
CARO: Four children.
LAMB:Total of four?
LAMB:You thank a bunch of folks in here, including, I think, a Laura Nader and...
LAMB:Who are they?
CARO: Laura Nader's my sister. She teaches anthropology at the University of California Berkeley.
LAMB:There's another name here...
CARO: ... is my other sister, and she's running a number of citizen groups and is the chair of the Council for Responsible Genetics in Cambridge, Mass., dealing with the ethics of genetic engineering.
LAMB:And have I got the name right, Tarek Milleron?
CARO: Milleron. Yeah, he's my nephew, and he's getting a Ph.D. in tropical forest botany.
LAMB:But it sounds like he was with you the entire campaign.
CARO: Yes. He traveled with me.
LAMB:Well, how did you keep all these little, tiny details in this book together for this book? Where did you -- did you keep a diary?
CARO: No, I have -- I have clippings, of course. And I have a good memory. You know, when you advocate on behalf of consumers and environment, you got to have your facts straight and you got to keep your details in mind. I mean, you can have generalized principles and orientations, but it all comes down to, you know, how safe is this, you know, how toxic is that, how corrupt is this, how wasteful is that. How much voice do people have to shape their own futures?
LAMB:You remembered an attempt at getting a five-minute telephone conversation with President Clinton. Didn't happen.
CARO: Gore. Vice President Gore.
LAMB:But I thought there was another time you tried to get...
CARO: Oh, yes. That's right. Excuse me. There were two conversations, one with Gore, which I...
LAMB:But tell both of them because someone in your position, you would think you would get through to both of those men.
CARO: Yes. Well, I never made a practice of trying to meet with President Clinton. I didn't think there was any value in it. I did meet with some of his special assistants. They invited me to the White House at times, Mr. McLarty, for example. But once I did want to talk to him when he signaled that he was going to support the abolition of the speed law on federal highways, and I knew that would mean several thousand deaths more a year because it isn't just the speed limit. Most people are -- go 10 miles over the speed limit. So if you went to 65, you're at 75 and could be 80. And furthermore, a lot of trucks don't have adequate brakes at that speed, and they mix it up with the automobiles on the highway. And I couldn't get through. I just wanted five minutes with him, and I couldn't get through.
On another occasion, having had a nice meeting with Vice President Gore in 1993, over very substantive issues, including government procurement policy to advance consumer and environmental goals -- government is a big customer of paper and other products, energy -- after the '96 election, I started trying to get an appointment with him. And our office must have made 60 calls, and every -- the first few calls, "Well, send us a letter what you want to discuss …issues," so we did that. And on and on and on. And by June of that year, the comment came back, "Well, he doesn't have time."
So I put a call in directly to him, and he called me back. And I said, "Your staff's being a little obstructive." And he said, "They are?" I said, "Well, don't you know? I mean, you know, we've sent letters and calls." And he said, "Well, why don't we talk now?" I said, "Well, you seem to be in a rush, and this is a more extensive discussion. Can I have an appointment?" And he said, "Well, I'll see."
Well, you see, that's such -- so vintage Gore. You know, he feigns surprise that I couldn't get an appointment with him over a six-month period at his convenience, but then when I put it in front of him, "OK, well, why don't you make an appointment," he said, "Well, I'll see." And he never did.
You see, I think the American people saw some of that in Gore, the lack of authenticity. Even though he was probably smarter and more informed than Bush, Bush came across as a, you know, loose fellow, a guy you'd like to talk at a bar with, you know, or take a hike with. And that scored points for Bush in the debate, even though substantively, he wasn't up to Gore.
LAMB:You actually call it "Gore's disingenuousness."
LAMB:Did you ever have a relationship with him before? I mean, is...
CARO: Yes. When he was in the Senate, in the House, he was one of the stars. And I think as he became more politically ambitious, he became more concessionary to corporate power, way beyond what was necessary to be a realistic politician. And it reached a point where when he was running in the year 2000, his core group were made up of four lobbyists -- Peter Knight and Carter Eskew and Jack Quinn and Frank Hunger (ph), who were corporate lobbyists for the drug industry, the tobacco industry, the tort reform lobby that wasn't to undermine the right of wrongfully injured people to have their day in court against corporate -- you know, defective products, and so on.
And there wasn't an environmentalist in the inner core, and that's very, very telling. Very, very telling. Never mind there wasn't a consumer champion. There wasn't a labor champion. And yet his election was going to rest on how many votes he was going to get from labor, how many votes he was going to get from minorities, and he didn't have that in his inner circle.
LAMB:How big -- and you'll understand why I'm asking this. How big is Ralph Nader, Inc., today? How extensive is it? How many different organizations?
CARO: Well, it's hard to keep track because what I've done is spin off these groups. I start a lot of them. We helped start the Public Interest Research Groups that are on campuses all over the country, and there are about 22 of those. And some of the most powerful citizen groups -- citizen groups in the state, like New York PIRG and Massachusetts PIRG -- being Public Interest Research Group. We started a variety of groups, pension rights and Center for Auto Safety and -- some of the spin-off groups dealing with standardized testing, for example. And we have affiliate groups in California fighting for energy sustainability and insurance reform and -- but I just think that there ought to be groups that do nothing but start new groups because we need badly -- we need more groups representing labor interests, more groups representing the great questions of artificial intelligence and genetic engineering, more groups digging into the public budgets that nobody every monitors, all these giant contracts that are ….and don't get a squib from the paper between GM and Lockheed and the Pentagon and the Department of Transportation.
You see, our democracy has to keep growing and becoming more intricate and more specialized and more frontier-oriented, as our society becomes more complicated. You know, in the 1920s, if -- if you didn't do anything about your electric company, you paid another buck maybe a month. Now, if you don't do something about your electric company, you may find a nuclear power plant, you may find transportation of radioactive waste, you may find you're paying 15 bucks more a month. You may find you're not getting renewable energy choices, so -- or conservation.
And we -- we don't have that kind of measurement. We don't have a system in our country of public debate as to when does a democracy decay? When does it decline step by step, day by day, you know, sometimes imperceptively, but sometimes we can look at it. For example, we have no say in the contracts we now sign, the standardized contracts. Our lives are governed by standard form contracts that we just sign on the dotted line. We don't change anything. And these fine prints take our right from going to court in a dispute.
LAMB:Well, where you do you headquarter now?
CARO: We're headquartered in Washington, D.C.
LAMB:And what do you spend most of your time doing?
CARO: Mostly everything. There's such a variety of projects. We're dealing with infectious diseases abroad and the high price of medicines, high price of medicines here, intellectual property battles, you know, and the AIDS fights, for example, in South Africa and the drug companies. And we've really done some good work.
Jamie Love of our Consumer Project on Technology is all over the world. He's been networking to break the grip of the giant drug companies who are basically saying to millions of people who are sick in the third world, "If you can't pay 5,000 or 10,000 bucks a year, you die." And so we're establishing the practice of compulsory licensing, which we have in this country, reducing the price of these drugs, of encouraging companies in the third world, drug companies, to produce generic versions. So we're into a lot of -- a lot of issues, and some of the old issues -- food safety and auto safety. And we have a health care group, a Congress Watch.
Our Web sites are very simple, citizen.org and essential.org. And you can see the whole network as it develops.
But I believe in autonomy. I think people -- if they go to work thinking they're responsible, they can't pass the buck to some superior or some layer of internal bureaucracy, that the best comes out of them.
LAMB:Well, as you know, all your adult life, people have tried to figure you out. "Why does Ralph Nader do this?" And during the campaign, "The Post" did a big piece on your income and that you've made $13 million, $14 million over the last -- since 1967, and a lot of that's speeches. Why do people pay you as much as 15 grand to come out and make a speech? And who -- what kind of groups do that?
CARO: Well, I speak mostly to colleges, who are not in that category. But sometimes there are professional groups or legal groups and other groups that have big conventions, for which, you know, they'll pay some other speaker $30,000, $50,000, $80,000, $100,000 -- Kissinger, Colin Powell, you know? Money has never meant anything to me personally. It's basically a way to fund citizen groups. It's a way to get people involved in achieving justice, and you got to pay, you know, salaries and contributions and grants and all that. And that's what I've done. Over 80 percent of my -- the money that I've raised, over 80 percent in the last 30 years have gone to all these activities.
LAMB:Why do you think you're not interested in money?
CARO: Well, first of all, I'm not into things. I work most of the time...
LAMB:Seven days a week?
CARO: Yeah, when I can. And you know, I take a few days off here and there. But you know, there isn't much to spend on.
LAMB:Does Ralph Nader ever go on a vacation?
LAMB:Where -- where would...
CARO: For a week or two.
LAMB:Where would you go on a vacation?
CARO: Up to New England, where it's my home territory.
LAMB:What do you do on vacation?
CARO: Well, I usually spend time with relatives, relax a bit, sometimes walk a bit. And before you know it, it's over. You're back to work.
LAMB:When are you the happiest in the kind of work you've done? When do you feel accomplishment?
CARO: Well, in two ways. One, when we break through and win, and...
LAMB:Give us a recent win.
CARO: Well, there've been -- what's a win? We stop things now...
LAMB:I mean a win to you.
CARO: Yeah. A win to me is more and more defensive. The days when we got great legislation, saved all kinds of lives and health and made it a better country -- you can't do that anymore in congress. That's one reason why I ran for president because the -- Washington is closing out the civil society, conservatives as well as liberal. Any group that isn't attached to some corporate money pot is being closed out. They can't get congressional hearings the way we used to. We can't have access to the health and safety agencies. We can't get them to save American lives. We can't -- it's just -- it's terrible.
So the victories now are defensive. For example, did we block a bad attempt in Congress to extend the patent for a drug so its price would be kept up for sick people? You know, did -- did we stop a corporate welfare boondoggle? That's -- that's what you do now. We're trying to get campaign finance reform through. We're trying to get some measure of reallocation of public budgets, the so-called "peace dividend"...
I mean, here you had the end of the Soviet Union, and we have a military budget pre-September 11th that's even higher than it was at the peak of the Soviet Union, showing that there's a -- as Eisenhower put it, a real military-industrial complex and that our defense strategy is driven by the defense industry -- Lockheed-Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, General Dynamics. They want more weapons, more weapons, more weapons. And they also want to sell them on the market internationally with taxpayer subsidies, you know, selling it to some pretty unsavory dictatorships, and so on, that may some day use it against us.
But these are the -- these are the ways we're doing -- so now the greatest pleasure comes from forming new groups. That's what I'm really interested in doing, and building a political movement.
LAMB:In the book, you talk about a lot of people by name.
LAMB:What did you learn about your friends or your so-called friends when you got into this contest?
CARO: Well, I learned who were really committed friends to the issues and to improving conditions and to knowing what it takes to have a humane politics and a prosperous, just economy and a clean environment. And I learned friends who basically -- what's the best way to describe it? They were frightened liberals. They had limited expectations about where this country could go. They were willing to settle for very little, by which I mean least worst, Democrat over Republican, with both getting worse every four years.
LAMB:Let me ask you about some people because -- let's take Congressman Bernie Sanders, a socialist from Burlington, Vermont, congressman, independent, would be on your side normally. What happened when you interacted with him?
CARO: Basically, he said, you know, "I'm with you on all the issues. I'm happy you're doing this, but I've got certain things I want to do in the House. I would like to be a subcommittee chair if the Democrats ever get -- regain control of the House, and I can't jeopardize that."
LAMB:... anything for you?
CARO: Yes, he appeared at a big gathering in Vermont and introduced me. And Anthony Pallina, who used to work in his office and is very similar to Bernie in his views, ran for governor on the essentially Green Party Progressive ticket in Vermont and got 10 percent of the vote. But Bernie wouldn't support him. So I knew what Bernie now is in. He's not into building a new independent party. He's into trying to do the best he can in the House. Therefore, he votes with the Democrats on a lot of the big issues, and he's treated as a Democrat in terms of seniority.
LAMB:But you gave us some insight in here as to how people danced.
LAMB:I mean, the Bernie Sanders-Pallina situation, when you spoke up there in Vermont...
LAMB:... he didn't like the fact that Anthony Pallina was going to appear on the stage with him. He used to work for him.
CARO: Yes. That was very disappointing. I mean, I -- I cut Bernie a lot of slack, knowing that the Democrats can really retaliate in the House and marginalize him. But I didn't agree with him on that.
LAMB:How about Gloria Steinem?
CARO: Very frightened liberal. Here is a committed democratic socialist. That's what she is and has always been. She's proud of it. And she was left with pitching Gore, the corporate Democrat par excellence, in the last few weeks of the campaign by denigrating my record and my role, not by supporting Gore but by denigrating my record and my role. And I -- in the book, I went through that quite -- with quite some detail. I went through with comment on Jesse Jackson. I went through on the trial lawyers, who went berserk.
LAMB:What about Jesse Jackson, before you go to the trial lawyers?
CARO: And Jesse Jackson did the same thing. And the point is that neither Gloria Steinem or Jesse Jackson ever got anything in return from pitching for Gore-Lieberman. I mean, you'd think they'd say, "All right, we're going to go out on the hustings. We're going to 20 states in frantic end-of-the-election period race to shore you up in the swing states."
"But you know, we've been asking you to do this for the American people, and that for many years. Let's get some commitments." They didn't get any commitments! Which is what encourages the corporate Democrats who control the party and the Democratic Leadership Council that spawned Gore and Clinton and Lieberman -- that's what encourages them to take the progressive wing, the soul of their party, for granted and basically say, "You got nowhere to go. Get in line. You're certainly not going to vote for Bush."
LAMB:Is it true that Al Gore called Phil Donahue from his airplane and asked him not to endorse you or not support you?
CARO: Yes. That's in the book.
CARO: Phil came out very early, to his credit. He was great during the campaign -- very articulate, traveled at our rallies, spoke, emceed our rallies. I wanted him to run for the Senate in Connecticut in a three-way race with Dodd and the Republican. I think he could have won. But he chose not to do that. That was in 1998. But there's no one who was so familiar with so many issues. And he gave so many people voices, and women's rights, on his program for so many years, environment, consumer, labor, minorities, gay-lesbians, you name it. They got a voice. But he came out for me, and first Daley called him up, who was running the Gore campaign, and then Gore called him up. And he has such way with words, and Phil said, he said, "Well, Mr. Vice President, I may have my head in the attic, but I'm going with the green man."
CARO: Great lawyer based in Wyoming, big Stetson hat, probably the one lawyer that all other lawyers, if they were charged with criminal conduct, would want to represent them. He's terrific. And I wanted him to run for the Senate in 1996, when there was an empty seat -- I think it was '96 -- from Wyoming, after Simpson, Senator Simpson, retired. And he said to me, "You know, I'm sitting here in Wyoming, in Jackson, Wyoming. I'm looking out, and I'm looking at the Grand Tetons. And I got a little TV show, and I got a great practice. Why would I want to ever be a senator and go into that pit in Washington, " and so on.
And I said to him, "Gerry, the country needs you. You could be a great voice. You're articulate. And we need a dissenter. We need a stopper in the Senate. You could win easily. By your own statement, you're the best known person in Wyoming. You have money to run." And he again countered, "the Tetons," and so on. And so I said, "You know, suppose in the middle of the night I hired a truck full of manure, and when you were sleeping, I dumped it on your lawn. And you woke up the next morning and you looked out at all that manure. Would you turn around, say, `I think I'll go look at the Grand Tetons'?" And he said to me, "You bastard." In other words, he'd clean it up. And there's a lot of cleaning up to do.
And so many good people don't want to run for public office, Brian, because they think it's a dirty game and they have to grovel before -- between them. And that's one of the reasons I ran because we don't have that luxury anymore. There are so many great people who could have run for office -- John Gardner, for example, being one. George Kenan (ph) being another, just lots of other people in business and labor. And when you ask them, "Why don't you want to run?" they don't want to get -- "It's a messy situation," they say.
LAMB:Did George McGovern offer you the vice president nomination in 1972?
CARO: He asked if I would be considered, if I wanted my name to be considered. He didn't offer it to me.
LAMB:And you said what?
CARO: I said, "No, my work is in the citizen arena, not in the electoral"...
LAMB:Wasn't he in the same -- weren't you in the same position then as, say, Gerry Spence was, when you asked him to run?
CARO: Yeah. Oh, yeah.
CARO: It's the same thing, the same thing with me, you know? I wanted to do civic work, and I'm still doing civic work. But I didn't like, you know, the money corrupting politics, nullifying people's votes, how you got to put marbles in your mouth. You're always evading questions, the way they do on the Sunday talk shows. And if you didn't do that, you know, you didn't get the support of your colleagues in the Senate or in the House. And I mean, it's a mess.
But it's gotten so bad that our democracy's at stake. And as Jefferson said and Lincoln and Woodrow Wilson and Teddy Roosevelt, when the concentration of power in fewer and fewer hands becomes extreme, the people have to become much more engaged.
LAMB:You write, "I have a visceral aversion to addressing very large audiences as if they were a crowd. In college, I read books on crowd psychology, how speakers mesmerize masses with tested propaganda cant, verbal incitations and the more silent language of gestures and voice modulations."
LAMB:You don't like -- I mean, you had 15,000 people in Madison Square Garden. You don't like that idea.
CARO: No, no. I always like to talk to them as if I'm talking to them one at a time. And that's why a lot of people get stage fright, because they see this huge mass of humanity. I see a large number of individuals, each one of them with their own mind, their own ears, their own eyes. And one reason why my speeches tend to be long is because I've got to lay the predicate. I've got to -- I don't want people to assume something and just listen to conclusions.
And what sound-bite television does, it just gets five seconds of a conclusion by somebody on the evening news. It's never, "Here are the reasons for the conclusion. Here are the facts." You know, the greatest communications system in the history of the world, and our intelligence is shrunk to sound bites. And so that's why I like to get people into the facts before the judgments and the conclusions and the future directions are rendered.
LAMB:Your smallest crowd was eight people in Oakland, California, at a small college?
LAMB:Is it Lanie (ph) or Lanny (ph)?
CARO: Lanny, I think, yes.
LAMB:What's it like, with all the -- how many speeches you think you give a year?
CARO: Oh, over a hundred.
LAMB:What's it like showing up, a presidential candidate, and eight people sitting there?
CARO: Well, we had a big laugh, that's for sure. And I gave the same speech. I mean, my practice is, if 1,000 show up or 20 show up, they are entitled to my full delivery. And some people say, "There are only eight people!" Actually, it turned into about 23 by the time things got underway in a big auditorium. You know, "Why are you -- why are you giving them an hour speech and having questions?" I said, "Doesn't matter." You know, they showed up, they're entitled. Their right to my time is not dependent on how many seats are full.
LAMB:In your book, you gave an -- analyzed individuals in the media business and their programs. For instance, Larry King.
LAMB:How -- you must follow this stuff yourself very closely.
LAMB:You contrasted between Larry King on the radio and Larry King on television. What was the difference?
CARO: The difference is the quality and diversity and seriousness of the programs. They were much more serious on radio, much more extensive, where on TV, he had to become a performer. And the pressure then is to make him an entertainer. And sound bite television started coming in. You know, no -- no 60-second answers permitted. And then it became more celebrities. You have to get someone who was in the news, for good or bad, someone who made a mess of things or someone who disgraced herself or himself or someone who was going to announce for an office. And whereas during the radio, he had -- it was all subject-oriented. It was all subject -- and he'd go for three, four hours.
LAMB:And you like that.
CARO: I like that. And there was a huge amount of -- of listener feedback, calls and calls and calls.
LAMB:You analyze Jim Lehrer's performance as moderator at the conventions -- I mean at the debates that he's done for, what -- this is his third time, third year?
CARO: Yes. He should never have done it because he had his hands tied. You know, during the debate, say, "It's your rules, gentlemen." Well, those rules compromised the quality and the probing nature of his performance. And they tied his hands. And he should have really said, "Look, I know we have to come to agreement on some format here, but if you tie my hands, I'll see you later."
And as a result, the questions really were not varied enough. They weren't on subjects that the two candidates never talked about. There was never a question on globalization and GATT and NAFTA because they agreed on it. There was never a question on corporate crime because both Bush and Gore were sort on it, or corporate welfare or even national health insurance. And it was, I think, the function of the moderator, even though he didn't think he was an investigative prober, was to get the candidates' views on things that they agreed on and probe them. Why did they agree?
I mean, "There are millions of people who disagree with you on this, Mr. Bush," or Mr. Gore. And there wasn't enough questions on their record. I mean, it's just amazing how many questions to candidates are on what they say, not what they've done. Now, "Leave no child behind, Mr. Bush? What about all the children in the Rio Grande area? What about all the children who are -- who don't have health insurance in Texas? What about all the children drinking contaminated water?" You know, "you're a compassionate conservative? How come," you know, "you had the worst pollution record and," you know, toxics and so forth.
And you know, with Gore, it's "I'm for the people, not for the powerful." Well, what about your eight years of caving in to General Motors, caving in to Dupont, you know, all these things? It's amazing how reporters and questioners gravitate to the rhetoric. They bounce their questions off the rhetoric, trying to find little contradictions, instead of the record. It's the record that determines the quality of a politician.
Morton Mintz (ph) put on -- you know, Morton Mintz did that. He -- the former "Washington Post" reporter did 32 subject matter areas that he put on tompaine.org, which I think is still on, trying to get the candidates and the press to do something about it. And he never got a call from a reporter.
LAMB:Mike Wallace told you he voted for you?
LAMB:Were you surprised?
CARO: I was surprised he told me that he voted for me.
LAMB:But you didn't get on "60 Minutes."
CARO: I didn't get on "60 Minutes" because Don Hewitt felt that if they let me on, they'd have to let the other candidates on, and he didn't want to do that. But then when I asked Mike Wallace how Mike responded to Don Hewitt, who's the long-time producer of "60 Minutes," he said, "I" -- Mike told me that the Nader campaign was the only campaign that had a pulse. So that was a nice thing to say. But I wish other campaigns had a pulse. We'd have a more pulsating politics.
LAMB:Were you glad that Mike Wallace told you he voted for you, or would you just a soon you not know?
CARO: Well, now they'll put the rap on him. You know, they'll say, "Well, you're partisan. You" -- you know, "We don't want you to do a segment on Nader because you voted for him." That's a disadvantage.
LAMB:What's "blackbird journalism"?
CARO: Is when one -- one reporter develops a pattern of questions or one newspaper selects an issue, and all the other reporters and newspapers and TV follow, like the Lewinsky story, the O.J. Simpson, the Tonya Harding, the Menendez brothers, on and on. That's the most egregious form of blackbird journalism, but the other form of blackbird journalism is the self-censorship, like the -- they all don't want to ask the real probing questions, and whether it's Fox News or NBC or ABC, CBS on Sunday. Tim Russert does a little better job. Mostly they're softballs.
LAMB:Say that David Halberstam was a boyhood chum?
CARO: Elementary school in Winsted, Connecticut.
LAMB:Both went to...
LAMB:What was he like then?
CARO: He was outstanding. You could see he was going to make something of himself. Yeah, he was, you know, an independent thinker even in the 5th grade.
LAMB:He appeared at the convention, of Al Gore's convention, and supported him.
LAMB:But when you called him, you say, he was a little tense.
CARO: Yeah. He was a little distant. And I think -- and it came out -- he was speaking in Ohio once, and a student asked about my campaign. He said, "This is not the time for a third party candidate." So again, he was -- the least worst. I mean, he has his own criticisms of the Democrats, but he abhors the Republicans even more.
LAMB:And what's the story about Warren Beatty?
CARO: Well, there's something in the book -- quite a few pages on Warren. Not only did he dangle his prospect for the presidency in order to make a number of important points, especially election reform, but it's just that -- the interaction I had with him was really quite amusing. He's a very insightful person, but he does take a while to make decisions. And I thought that was one of the more amusing parts of the book, my interaction...
LAMB:Did he ever support you?
CARO: Yes, he did. He actually gave me the maximum contribution, together with his wife, Annette Bening.
LAMB:All right, let's say you do it again in 2004. What would you do differently? What'd you learn that you'll change?
CARO: Well, we learned in 2000 what it takes to do a third party into a significant number of votes, and what that means is we've got to start, as Abraham Lincoln put in a little manual once, at the precinct level. From day one, you've got to find people in neighborhood after neighborhood who are spreading the word, who are meeting in living rooms, who are preparing to reorient our country to its legitimate levels of human possibility and horizons. And so I don't think I'd have as many people looking at screens on computers, trying to contact different constituency groups.
LAMB:And what about -- go back -- we haven't got much time, but meeting with editorial boards, appearing on local television shows...
LAMB:... doing ads on television -- any of that you've learned is not worth the time? And beating yourself to death going across the country and 50 states...
CARO: Because a small party has one great handicap. People think it can't win. And so you could spend a lot of money, like you just said, and you wouldn't get more, unless you overcome that threshold. People say, "Well, we like what you stand for. We like your record over 30 years. But you can't win." You see? So they don't want to waste the vote.
And the only way to get around that is people to people, neighborhood, neighborhood, neighborhood, neighborhood. It's the only way to get around that. And you start early. I mean, you don't -- it's not three weeks or six weeks before the election. And I have always said that once underway, word of mouth is the fastest, most credible form of communication, you know, relative to relative, friend to friend, neighbor to neighbor, worker to worker. It's not these electronic forms. They're too cold. They're too distant.
There was massive use of the Internet in 2000 by Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, Green Party. And the vote turn-out went up 1 or 1.5 percent, and a lot of that was our vote turn-out.
LAMB:You're a 1955 graduate of Princeton, a 1958 graduate of Yale Law -- Harvard...
CARO: Harvard Law School.
LAMB:... Law School. Do you have the same energy today to do what you want to do that you did 25 years ago?
CARO: Oh, yeah. More energy because you have more experience and you have more understanding of what great things can come out of a vibrant democracy. I mean, the great reason for a deep democracy and constantly invigorating it is it brings the best out of the American people.
LAMB:This is the story of the 2000 campaign for Ralph Nader. It's called "Crashing the Party."
Thank you very much for joining us.
CARO: Thank you, Brian.
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