Ventura, Nader speak to voters on ‘Nightline’

by Peter Johnson

The University’s Rarig Center hosted a special town hall version of ABC’s “Nightline” on Halloween night, featuring Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura and Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader. The topic: the role of third parties in a two-party system and the future of third-party movements.
Outside the auditorium, tensions were high as Nader activists traded political rhetoric with Gore supporters. Gore proponents carried signs sporting slogans such as “Nader can’t win but the country can lose,” while Nader signs stated “the lesser of two evils is still evil,” and “democracy not plutocracy.”
In the auditorium, the political exchange was no less barbed as the audience grilled Nader on his political stances, ranging from Jerusalem to his role as a spoiler.
“Nightline” host Ted Koppel opened the event by stating, “This is a slightly bizarre town meeting.”
Nader’s third party candidacy has garnered up to 10 percent support in states like Connecticut, Washington, Oregon and Minnesota — contributing to the view that he will cost Democratic candidate Al Gore the election.
“I can’t understand saying to anyone who tries to improve their country, tries to do things better in accordance with large numbers of people who are disgusted with politics as usual — being called a spoiler,” Nader said. “A vote for Gore is a vote for Bush because it takes votes away from me.”
Many audience members echoed fears that Nader would act as a spoiler and spoke of issues that have dogged the Campaign 2000 — that Nader’s candidacy would ensure a retraction of abortion rights and civil liberties, and would elect Texas Gov. George W. Bush.
One audience posed a question to Nader:
“When the women of this country are confined to back alley abortions, when our Bill of Rights is perhaps replaced by a police state — all because George W. Bush appointed a few more Clarence Thomases and Scalias to the Supreme Court. Will you look back with pride in what you have accomplished in this election?”
“I opposed vigorously Scalia, who was confirmed 98 to nothing in the Senate with Al Gore joining all of the Democrats and I opposed Thomas while 11 Democratic Senators joined to win for Thomas 52 to 48 in a Democratically-controlled Senate,” Nader said. “I say that I’m in a much better position to fight for those issues than weak-kneed Democrats who don’t know how to fight anymore.”
Nader didn’t pull any punches on the spoiler accusation, with sharp words for both Gore and Bush.
“Bush will be as damaging to your politics as his father was, that’s who you’re going to get. Let’s not turn this guy into a Ghengis Kahn,” Nader said. “First of all he doesn’t know much, second he’s lazy and third he avoids conflict.”
“If Al Gore cannot beat a lowly Governor from Texas with that terrible of a record — what good is he to begin with?” Nader said.
Both Nader and Ventura spoke to the unique challenges of being a third party candidate, addressing the challenges of dealing with the two-party system.
“It’s so hard to challenge the two party system,” Nader said. “They have money and media attention, they have the statutory barriers that keep third parties small.”
Ventura spoke on the role of the media, the lack of reliability of polls and his experience of being tagged with the same spoiler label.
“The role of the media is to give everyone a fair chance and not to ridicule them — you’ll far too often find that the media tends to ridicule third party candidates,” Ventura said.
Ventura also questioned Koppel’s objectivity when pressing Nader for an answer to an audience question.
“I’d like to know why when you interview a third party candidate you go after them, you focus, you demand answers,” Ventura said. “Yet when I watch you with the Vice President or Governor Bush they can give you spin doctored answers, and no one ever pins them down like you are Ralph Nader?”
Koppel responded, “Were you watching last Tuesday?” He was referring to his recent interview with Gore.
Nader turned the focus back to change.
“If people have that attitude they’re going to erode the moral basis of our democracy,” he said. “They should vote their conscience, their interests, their futures and their hopes. That’s what abolitionists did against slavery — they didn’t vote for least worst. They spearheaded third parties that pushed the two parties.”
Some don’t feel that the changes a Nader government would be so significant.
“Why do you think Nader is going to change things?” Carlson School of Management freshman David Redlinger questioned. “He’s going to have zero power.”
Others accused Nader of being hypocritical — that he owns stock in Fidelity Magellan Mutual Fund, a fund which includes Occidental Petroleum Corporation among its holdings. A corporation Nader has prominently criticized.
“When you’re in a mutual fund you don’t own a stock, the fund owns the stock. The ones I find offensive, I have fought for many years — occidental for example,” Nader said. “As long as you stand up and fight these companies, you can’t be accused of anything but being an activist against your own financial interest, which more people should do.”
Both Nader and Ventura spoke of the future of their parties, and the challenges of organizing state and local party apparatuses.
“The Democratic backbone will stiffen because of the Green Party coming out of the election with millions of votes,” Nader said. “They will have to pay more attention to their progressive wing, which they’ve been ignoring because until this year progressive Democrats have had nowhere to go.”
Nader’s impact is yet to be determined — Nader needs at least 5 percent nationally to obtain major party status, the first institutional step in battling what Nader calls the “two party duopoly.”
“As I go around the country I see systemic injustices like mass poverty and people without health insurance — and I see a lot of solutions,” Nader said. “We’re not being able to propose the solutions. That’s why we need a fresh political reform movement. Those of you who are pioneers, we welcome your vote. We’re going to break through the tape on Nov. 7 and keep growing.”
Ventura warned about the infallibility of polls.
“I don’t believe in polls, you can skew a poll anyway you want to and get the results you want,” Ventura said. “I was allowed to debate and proved you could go from 10 percent to 37 percent. Rest assured that the two major parties never want to see that happen again.”

A Town Meeting?
Perhaps the most scary aspect on this year’s Halloween night is that although the University hosted the event, few University students were able to attend the taping — not even those who have actively campaigned for Nader.
In a theatre with floor seats and a balcony, only those in the front half on the floor — 95 people — were able to participate in the town meeting.
The remaining 198 ticket holders just watched.
The show’s executives selected more than 100 floor-seaters, randomly inviting area businesses and community members via telephone.
Prominent community members such as attorney Miles Lord and state House candidate Mary Mellen were in attendance, as well as some local friends and relatives of the show’s producer Dick Harris.
The University’s journalism school was given the remaining 100 tickets to allocate. Professor Kathleen Hansen was put in charge of filling the balcony.
About two-thirds of those balcony seats were given to University students and staff. Hansen said she wasn’t sure exactly how many students were given tickets.
A majority of the students helped Hansen organize the show in the week leading up to the event.
Volunteer Sarah Bennett received a ticket and said it was an important night for the School of Journalism.
One group of students disagreed with the distribution of the tickets.
Students for Nader/LaDuke, the student group trying to help the Nader campaign, were not invited, and felt they should be.
“We’re very upset,” said Nader campus coordinator Tim Hayes. “We’re one of the largest student groups in the nation for Nader and we didn’t even get to go in and watch our candidate.
“They gave the Independence Party 20 tickets to get in there, but then they don’t even give the Green Party or the students for Nader/LaDuke here on campus tickets,” he said.
Hayes said he was told there wasn’t enough room.
But Hansen said she only had four days to allocate tickets, and she tried her best.
“I did my best to make sure that students and staff got the tickets,” Hansen said. “I’m telling you the situation with the tickets was out of control.”