Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader justified his fifth-straight bid for the presidency by saying he will bring attention to issues not considered by major party candidates, during his campaign’s first rally held Thursday at the Elliott School of International Affairs.
Earlier Thursday, the 74-year-old consumer advocate announced his running mate, Matt Gonzalez, a civil rights lawyer and former president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Gonzalez was also the first Green Party candidate elected in the Bay Area.
In a speech that attacked the major parties for “turning the U.S. government into corporate occupied territory,” Nader pledged to spark debate about issues he says are ignored by the frontrunners. These include reversing Middle East foreign policy, opening up the election process to encourage third-party and independent candidates and ending excessive corporate involvement in government.
Nader criticized the “least-worst” voting mentality that he said is encouraged by a two-party system that offers candidates with little ideological differences. He linked the opposition to his candidacy to the Jim Crow Laws of the post-Reconstruction South, calling it the “last acceptable political bigotry.”
“They are denying those voters the freedom to vote for that slate of progressive candidates by exerting every effort to push us off the ballot,” Nader said. “They join the nefarious tradition of those who in the past. would tell people ‘Do not speak, do not vote, do not put that play on, do not print that story.'”
Nader denied the claim that he was responsible for Al Gore’s loss to George W. Bush in the 2000 presidential election, and said the Democrats need to examine their own party before trying to pressure him out of the race.
“If (the front runners) fear our candidacy, then I invite them to go out and earn the votes that would otherwise be cast for us. That is their responsibilities as candidates,” Gonzalez said.
“How can it be that eight years later we are still having this simplistic discussion?” he continued. “The only solution being offered by the Democratic Party is ‘Don’t run.'”
Gonzalez said one of the candidacy’s main objectives is to bring attention to third-party and independents. He pointed to hurdles these candidates face, such as being unable to participate in televised debates and not appearing on ballots in every state, a major problem for Nader’s 2004 campaign.
“(The Democrats) would rather have that system in place, I’m afraid to say, that lets them keep the White House at least half the time roughly, than a system that would open up our democracy and allow other parties with a greater diversity of opinion to finally be heard,” Gonzalez said.
“The Democrats and the Republicans spoil the system for themselves,” said Lewis Brant, a sophomore at Johns Hopkins University, who also called the current political situation a form of “tyranny.”
Though more than 200 people crowded into the auditorium, the crowd did not have the enthusiasm seen at some Clinton or Obama rallies. Many who paid the $2 admission said they were not there to support the campaign, but rather to see a political celebrity.
“I love Nader the person, but I hate Nader the candidate,” said senior James Skoufis, who was wearing a Gore 2008 pin.
Sophomore Peter Weiss said he thought it was “an interesting cultural experience to see the guy who threw the (2000) election,” but he is not Nader supporter, and doesn’t think his candidacy will have the same ramifications for the 2008 election.
“Given how extremely popular the two (Democratic) candidates are, I think his percentages will only go down,” Weiss said, referring to Nader’s decrease from 2.7 percent of the national vote in 2000 to a third of a percent in 2004.
Nader acknowledged that he has a hard fight ahead of him, but saidthat he has already raised more than $56,000 from 767 supporters since announcing his candidacy last week.