Nader outlines issues prior to rally at UH
By Derrick DePledge
Advertiser Government Writer
By Derrick DePledge
Consumer advocate Ralph Nader has identified a dozen issues, from single-payer health insurance to cutting the military budget to repealing anti-union laws, that distinguish him from the two major party candidates for president.
But the one that separates him most, and that has defined his activism for much of his life, is corporate influence on politics and government.
"The central issue in our country is the overwhelming power of global corporations, on our government, on our elections, and on our economy," Nader said yesterday in a telephone interview from Washington, D.C. "Commercialism is running riot over civic values that represent the heart and core of a civilization."
The consumer advocate and attorney will bring his independent presidential campaign to the Islands tomorrow night for a rally at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa. Nader — the second presidential candidate to campaign here this election cycle, after U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, dropped by last September — is dismissive of the way major party candidates have traditionally bypassed Hawai'i and Alaska.
Hawai'i-born U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., the presumptive Democratic nominee, has no immediate plans to visit Hawai'i. Local volunteers for U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the presumptive Republican nominee, said a Hawai'i stop is not on McCain's schedule.
"Not since Richard Nixon (in 1960), I think, has any presidential nominee — we're talking nominee now — ever gone to Alaska and Hawai'i. And that's disgraceful. That is disrespecting the people there," Nader said.
Many Democrats have suggested Nader could take votes away from Obama because he appeals to progressives with his unabashed assaults on corporations and the Bush administration. Nader's claim that Obama and McCain are essentially the same in capitulating to corporate power also undermines Obama's message as an agent of change.
Some Obama supporters are also upset with Nader's criticism of Obama last week, when Nader said in a statement that Obama "is not willing to tackle the white power structure — whether in the form of the corporate power structure or many of the super-rich — who are taking advantage of 100 million low-income Americans who are suffering in poverty or near poverty."
Brian Schatz, the state Democratic Party of Hawai'i chairman, said he believes most local progressives who may have supported Nader's campaigns in the past have moved on and are solidly behind Obama. He said Obama will likely do well here regardless of whether his schedule permits a family or campaign visit before the November election.
"We're going to go out and earn every vote, but Ralph Nader doesn't worry us like he used to," Schatz said. "I think a lot of progressive-minded people learned their lesson over the last seven years."
Andy Winer, an attorney and Democratic strategist active in the local Obama campaign, said Nader's notion that Obama and McCain are too much alike politically ignores significant policy differences on issues such as the war in Iraq and offshore oil drilling. "It's simply off base," he said.
State Rep. Gene Ward, R-17th (Kalama Valley, Queens Gate, Hawai'i Kai), who is active with the local McCain campaign, said Obama and McCain also differ on national defense, healthcare and taxation.
Ward said McCain has been a champion of reducing the influence of corporate money in politics and was the co-author of a federal campaign-finance reform law which, among other things, banned national political parties from raising or spending so-called "soft money" donations from interest groups.
"I think his claim that they are Tweedledee and Tweedledum is kind of old and tired," Ward said.
Nader became a national symbol for consumer advocacy after he successfully fought for seat belts and other safety features on automobiles, for stronger clean air and water standards, and for food inspections and labeling.
Over the past decade, however, he has been known more for his failed presidential campaigns.
Nader did not get on the ballot in Hawai'i in 2004 and filed lawsuits in state and federal courts over ballot access. The courts here ruled against his claims but he is appealing. Nader has qualified for the state's ballot this year.
At tomorrow's appearance, Nader said he would speak about Hawai'i's high consumer prices, which he believes are linked to antitrust issues, and praise the state for progress on renewable energy. Hawai'i is the first state to require that new single-family homes built after 2010 have solar-water heaters. Nader is calling for an expansion of wind and solar power as alternatives to fossil-fuel as part of his campaign.
"I didn't start running for president until the doors started closing in Washington against consumer, environmental, labor and other citizen groups," he said. "So when you don't have a chance to have a chance to improve your country on Capitol Hill and before the regulatory agencies, you either close up shop and go to Monterey and watch the whales or you go into the electoral arena."
Reach Derrick DePledge at email@example.com.