Ralph Nader on Voter Anger and Future of Grassroots Campaigns

This is a partial transcript of The Big Story With John Gibson, October 8, 2003, that has been edited for clarity.

JOHN GIBSON, HOST: So the voters have spoken and it sounds like a lot of them are really, really angry. In California and maybe across the country, it may be a bad time for politics as usual and a good time for a grassroots campaign.

Ralph Nader (search) is a consumer advocate and a former Green Party (search) candidate for president of the United States. Mr. Nader, that's today's big question.


GIBSON: Are political insiders now at the mercy of grassroots campaigns?

NADER: I don't think so. I think this California election was a throw-out-the-rascals election. It was driven by personality, television and business cash in campaigns. And I think that basically the lobbyists are not losing any sleep in Sacramento. They're ready to pour money into the new governor's coffers, just as they did into Gray Davis (search).

GIBSON: Well, Mr. Nader, there is more than one example to point to. You can also point to Howard Dean (search). He has galvanized a huge wave of anger as well. You are saying this isn't a trend?

NADER: The California recall is not a trend. Governor Dean's campaign may be a trend because it is driven by opposition to the war in Iraq, which Governor Dean has spoken out [against]. It's driven by a number of substantive issues, although we will have to see as to whether it has any staying power, and whether the people will mobilize themselves and shape the future issues in the presidential campaign.

GIBSON: Well, that's what I wanted to ask you about. What is the general staying power of voter anger?

NADER: It's usually not very long. I think the general staying power of sports fans' anger is longer and more focused. And that's because — for all we say about our country's democracy — it's underdeveloped and unorganized. And it has to be much more organized in terms of consumers and taxpayers, voters, workers, small investors, to deal with these issues. There's no way out. There is going to be no change in California unless people get involved and engaged on issue after issue at the grassroots [level] and make that known to their representatives in Sacramento.

GIBSON: Well, you are saying essentially that now that the voters have vented their anger in this election, they're done? They're going to stop paying attention?

NADER: Yes. I think essentially they're not organized to pay attention. There are a few consumer, environmental, labor groups in Sacramento representing the members fighting the good fight, but by in large, this was clearly a throw-the-rascals-out [election], no matter who replaces them — including a movie land cyborg.

GIBSON: Mr. Nader, as cheerful as you may be about this, people who are actually holding office are really upset and worried. Nancy Pelosi came out today and just was crying crocodile tears about how it's just so awful that an elected official has to have this thing hanging over their shoulder, this recall that could throw them out. She sounds worried.

NADER: She does. But she's a professional politician. I'm a citizen advocate. I think the voters should have a right between elections to re-evaluate the incumbent… maybe promises were broken, maybe there's deception, maybe there's cash involved in campaigns. And they are entitled. Unfortunately, east of the Mississippi, there are very few states that have the recall provision as they do in many western states.

GIBSON: Okay, but let's look at this presidential campaign that's going on right now. Do you think Howard Dean is the only one who has been able to sort of get hold of this anger wave or are any of the other Democrats managing to do it?

NADER: Well, they could if the voters would give, for example, Dennis Kucinich (search), a former mayor of Cleveland, member of Congress, a chance. I think he is raising to new heights the progressive tradition of the Democratic Party. And he's walked the walk for 30 years. It's not just rhetoric. I think if people would stop saying, “Well, I'm going to right away go for who I think is going to win,” they're going to never be able to support a regeneration of politics, which often starts with small starts. You have to give small-start candidates a chance, like Dennis Kucinich.

GIBSON: I know I'm asking you to look into a crystal ball way down the road as we look at Al Sharpton (search), one of the other candidates, and Carol Moseley Braun (search). But is Dean's wave anger going to hold for a year?

NADER: It could if he doesn't stumble. He seems to be quite resilient. He does have a lot of small contributors. He does have a lot of committees, and fundraising parties and activity all over the country, an attractive Web site. So he could go all the way. Jimmy Carter had far less at this stage and he went all the way. So it depends whether the Democratic Leadership Council and corporate Democrats collude to try to block him. If they do, they are going to lose a lot of votes in November from disgruntled Democrats.

GIBSON: Ralph Nader, a consumer advocate, of course, his entire life and former Green Party candidate for president. Mr. Nader, it is always good to see you. Thanks for coming on.

NADER: You are quite welcome, John.

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