Q&A: Ralph Nader on The Green Party, Obama and Romney

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Ralph Nader returned a phone call today to give TIME a statement on current Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein, whom we wrote about yesterday:

“Jill Stein will ably carry forward the green banner of majoritarian agendas in our country. Let us hope that the two-party duopolized media notices.”

While we had the veteran third-party candidate on the line, we asked Nader about his problems with the two-party system, discourse between the two major candidates and the media’s coverage of the race.

What do you mean by the Green Party’s “majoritarian agendas”?

They’re for single-payer, everybody in, nobody out, free choice of doctor and hospital. That’s been a majoritarian position for years. Living wage? Overwhelming. Anti-war? [About] 70% want us out of Afghanistan now. The Green Party stands for bringing the soldiers back and curtailing the American empire. Cutting the military budget? A majority of Americans think that the military’s budget is too big and should be cut. Getting rid of special tax breaks for corporations? Overwhelming support. Renegotiating NAFTA and WTO? Majority support. I can go on and on.

So why doesn’t the Green Party have a majority-sized following? 

That’s the conundrum. A minority party fostering a majority agenda. The reason is that the two-party duopoly has every conceivable way to exclude and depress and harass a third-party. Whether it’s ballot access. Whether it’s harassing petitioners on the street. Whether it’s excluding them from debates. Whether it’s not polling them. And with a two-party, winner-take-all electoral system, it’s easy to enforce all those. Unlike multi-party Western countries where you have proportional representation, the voters [in America] know that if you get 10% of the vote, you don’t get anything. Whereas in Germany, you get 10% of the parliament. So voters say, ‘Let’s just vote for the least worst.’

So what are the Green Party’s unique difficulties in 2012?

The problem is not its agenda. The problem is that it cannot get a voice in the media. You look at the next four months, and there will be virtually nothing on it in the New York Times. The only time there will be any attention is when it can be accused of being a spoiler, in a state like Ohio or something.

Was that your experience?

Oh, yes. The only front-page story [I remember getting] in 2004 was [a reporter] saying I presented an electoral-college threat to the Democrats.

What kind of coverage should there be?

Agenda. I’d like to see the comparison of agendas. The dialogue between Romney and Obama is insipidly narrow and juvenile. It’s like they can’t stop themselves. It’s like a whirlpool. So some of the major questions, which the Green Party addresses, are never even discussed. And to see [major news outlets] again and again repeat the same stuff, the same four sentences … it’s just absurd.

Are there particular back-and-forths between Obama and Romney that you’ve found frustrating?

Look at Bain Capital. That’s a good one-time story, two-time story. But now the question has devolved into ‘Did he create 100,000 jobs? 20,000 jobs? 150,000 jobs? Did he lose 50,000 jobs?’ You should go from a story on Bain Capital to ‘What are we going to do about these trade agreements?’ WTO. NAFTA. We’re the losers. We’re the ones who have the bigger and bigger trade deficits, which are an example of exporting jobs.

People are frustrated with Washington, sick of stagnation or divisiveness. If you were going to pick a fundamental problem area where politics needs to change, what would it be?

There isn’t just one. These are seamless webs. But obviously, all the politicians grumble about how grimy it is to raise money and go to these PAC meetings and have to get on their knees and beg. And when it comes to the campaign year, they both agree not to make an issue out of it, because they both want to raise more money. So there’s never an opportunity for the voter to distinguish between the parties. And Obama’s as bad as Romney.

Do you look at those candidates and think there’s anything that they’re doing right?

That’s not how you want to look at it. Right now it’s a race to the lowest common denominator. Just compare the Democrats to the ’60s and the Republicans to the ’50s. And see the difference. There you see the trend, the decay, the decadence.

How much of a factor do you think third-party candidates will be this cycle, and how much of a factor should they be? 

They’re not going to be a factor. It’s a vicious circle. They’re first labeled with ‘You can’t win.’ So you’re a spoiler. So you’re not going to get many votes. You’re not going to be polled because you won’t show up in the polls. And you’re not raising much money. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look good.