Presidential candidate Nader campaigns at U

by Mike Wereschagin

Through standing ovations, laughter and a few tears, presidential candidate and social activist Ralph Nader spoke to an overflowing audience Friday in the Bell Museum Auditorium.
The Green Party candidate and his running mate, Winona LaDuke, showed the crowd of about 400 that candidates can be soft-spoken and outspoken at the same time.
In an election year screaming for political diversity among the candidates, Nader and LaDuke’s idealism was enough to bring the crowd to its feet.
Their campaign’s message centered on helping citizens regain their political power, which now rests in the hands of the corporate elite, they said.
“Instead of a government of, by and for the people, we have a government of the Exxons, by the General Motors and for the DuPonts,” Nader said.
As evidence, Nader cited the recent merger of military-aircraft manufacturer Lockheed Martin and two other aerospace defense contractors. The U.S. government spent $10 billion on the merger, covering a wide margin of the total bill, including a proposed $30 million in bonuses for the corporations’ vice presidents, he said. The executive bonuses were later rejected after congressmen discovered the expense.
Best known for his outspoken consumer advocacy, Nader entered the public arena in 1965 with his book, “Unsafe at Any Speed,” on the American auto industry’s cutting corners and endangering public safety to turn a larger profit.
He graduated magna cum laude from Princeton University in 1955 and received his law degree from Harvard University three years later. Among the organizations Nader has founded are the Public Interest Research Group, Connecticut Citizens Action Group and the Center for Women’s Policy Studies.
LaDuke, Nader’s 40-year-old running mate, lives on the White Earth Indian Reservation in northern Minnesota. A world-famous environmental activist, she first achieved widespread notoriety by speaking before the United Nations at the age of 18.
After graduating from Harvard University, LaDuke founded the Indigenous Women’s Network and the White Earth Land Recovery Project, which aims to buy back 800,000 acres taken from the White Earth Reservation.
In 1995, she organized and hosted the Indigo Girls’ national Honor the Earth Tour, raising $250,000 for grass-roots environmental organizations. That year, she was named one of Time magazine’s “50 Leaders of the Future.” The following year, LaDuke was Nader’s running mate in his 1996 presidential bid.
They were able to garner 700,000 votes that year on the Green Party ticket, despite putting a $5,000 spending cap on their campaign. This year, they are hoping for at least 5 percent of the vote so future Green Party candidates qualify for federal campaign dollars.
Though there is no spending limit this year, the candidates said they do not accept donations from corporations or political action committees. None of the candidates for the Green Party accepts these donations.
The Green Party was formed in the United States after achieving marked success in several European nations. Germany’s most powerful political coalition, for instance, is primarily Green.
Green Party USA is a collection of localized, grass-roots groups focused on environmental issues, social justice, workers’ rights, diversity and nonviolence. Though primarily liberal, their stance on the decentralization of government power has attracted conservatives as well.
In line with the Green Party’s stance against violence, both interpersonal and international, Nader and LaDuke proposed a demilitarization of U.S. foreign policy and a reduction of the nearly $300 billion annual defense budget.
LaDuke criticized the amount of American military support dollars given to Colombia, the third-largest recipient of U.S. military aid.
“Are we really that worried Venezuela or Honduras is going to invade Colombia?” she asked, adding that much of the U.S. military money and equipment sent there ends up contributing to human-rights abuses.
“One of my best friends was recently killed in Colombia,” LaDuke said. “And although the hand that shot him was brown, the gun was made in the U.S.”
Nader focused on the enormous budget for maintaining a military presence in European nations.
“Why are we spending $70 billion to defend prosperous countries who can defend themselves against nonexistent enemies?” asked Nader.
These expenditures are part of a larger culture of corporate welfare in the form of large subsidies and tax breaks to big businesses, Nader said.
“We are giving entirely too much aid to corporations,” he said. “And that’s without a five-year cutoff, I might add.”
Also high on Nader’s agenda is a national health care system.
“Every other Western country has national health care,” he said. “There are countries receiving our aid that provide health care for their citizens.”
One cause of these problems is the near disappearance of trade unions in the United States. Less than 10 percent of laborers are members of a union — the lowest number in 60 years, Nader said.
If elected, Nader pledged to repeal the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947, which took much of the unions’ political power by prohibiting them from contributing to political campaigns and forcing union leaders to take an oath against communism.
Laws are in place to guard the public from corporate greed and power, but they are seldom, if ever, enforced, Nader said.
And until the laws are taken seriously, citizens will not have the democratic power guaranteed them in the U.S. Constitution, he said.
“Business is on a collision course with democracy,” said Nader, “and democracy is losing.”

Mike Wereschagin welcomes comments at wereschagi[email protected]. He can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3226.