Green Party Presidential Nomination
Announcement Speech - February 2000
Speech Announcing Ralph Nader's Candidacy for
the Green Party's Nomination for President, Washington, D.C.,
February 21, 2000
Today I wish to explain why, after working for years as a
citizen advocate for consumers, workers, taxpayers, and the environment,
I am seeking the Green Party's nomination for president. A crisis
of democracy in our country convinces me to take this action.
Over the past twenty years, big business has increasingly dominated
our political economy. This control by the corporate government
over our political government is creating a widening "democracy
gap." Active citizens are left shouting their concerns over
a deep chasm between them and their government. This state of
affairs is a world away from the legislative milestones in civil
rights, the environment, and health and safety of workers and
consumers seen in the sixties and seventies. At that time, informed
and dedicated citizens powered their concerns through the channels
of government to produce laws that bettered the lives of millions
Today we face grave and growing societal problems in health
care, education, labor, energy, and the environment. These are
problems for which active citizens have solutions, yet their voices
are not carrying across the democracy gap. Citizen groups and
individual thinkers have generated a tremendous capital of ideas,
information, and solutions to the point of surplus, while our
government has been drawn away from us by a corporate government.
Our political leadership has been hijacked.
Citizen advocates have no other choice but to close the democracy
gap by direct political means. Only effective national political
leadership will restore the responsiveness of government to its
citizenry. Truly progressive political movements do not just produce
more good results, they enable a flowering of progressive citizen
movements to effectively advance the quality of our neighborhoods
and communities outside of politics.
I have a personal distaste for the trappings of modern politics,
in which incumbents and candidates daily extol their own inflated
virtues, paint complex issues with trivial brushstrokes, and propose
plans quickly generated by campaign consultants. But I can no
longer stomach the systemic political decay that has weakened
our democracy. I can no longer watch people dedicate themselves
to improving their country while their government leaders turn
their backs, or worse, actively block fair treatment for citizens.
It is necessary to launch a sustained effort to wrest control
of our democracy from the corporate government and restore it
to the political government under the control of citizens.
This campaign will challenge all Americans who are concerned
with systemic imbalances of power and the undermining of our democracy,
whether they consider themselves progressives, liberals, conservatives,
or others. Presidential elections should be a time for deep discussions
among the citizenry regarding the down-to-earth problems and injustices
that are not addressed because of the gross power mismatch between
the narrow vested interests and the public or common good.
The unconstrained behavior of big business is subordinating
our democracy to the control of a corporate plutocracy that knows
few self-imposed limits to the spread of its power to all sectors
of our society. Moving on all fronts to advance narrow profit
motives at the expense of civic values, large corporate lobbies
and their law firms have produced a commanding, multifaceted,
and powerful juggernaut. They flood public elections with cash,
and they use their media conglomerates to exclude, divert, or
propagandize. They brandish their willingness to close factories
here and open them abroad if workers do not bend to their demands.
By their control in Congress, they keep the federal cops off the
corporate crime, fraud, and abuse beats. They imperiously demand
and get a wide array of privileges and immunities: tax escapes,
enormous corporate welfare subsidies, federal giveaways, and bailouts.
They weaken the common law of torts in order to avoid their responsibility
for injurious wrongdoing to innocent children, women, and men.
Abuses of economic power are nothing new. Every major religion
in the world has warned about societies allowing excessive influences
of mercantile or commercial values. The profiteering motive is
driven and single-minded. When unconstrained, it can override
or erode community, health, safety, parental nurturing, due process,
clean politics, and many other basic social values that hold together
a society. Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt,
Supreme Court Justices Louis Brandeis and William Douglas, among
others, eloquently warned about what Thomas Jefferson called "the
excesses of the monied interests" dominating people and their
governments. The struggle between the forces of democracy and
plutocracy has ebbed and flowed throughout our history. Each time
the cycle of power has favored more democracy, our country has
prospered ("a rising tide lifts all boats"). Each time
the cycle of corporate plutocracy has lengthened, injustices and
In the sixties and seventies, for example, when the civil
rights, consumer, environmental, and women's rights movements
were in their ascendancy, there finally was a constructive responsiveness
by government. Corporations, such as auto manufacturers, had to
share more decision making with affected constituencies, both
directly and through their public representatives and civil servants.
Overall, our country has come out better, more tolerant, safer,
and with greater opportunities. The earlier nineteenth-century
democratic struggles by abolitionists against slavery, by farmers
against large oppressive railroads and banks, and later by new
trade unionists against the brutal workplace conditions of the
early industrial and mining era helped mightily to make America
and its middle class what they are today. They demanded that economic
power subside or be shared.
Democracy works, and a stronger democracy works better for
reputable, competitive markets, equal opportunity, and higher
standards of living and justice. Generally, it brings out the
best performances from people and from businesses.
A plutocracy-rule by the rich and powerful-on the other hand,
obscures our historical quests for justice. Harnessing political
power to corporate greed leaves us with a country that has far
more problems than it deserves, while blocking ready solutions
or improvements from being applied.
It is truly remarkable that for almost every widespread need
or injustice in our country, there are citizens, civic groups,
small and medium-size businesses, and farms that have shown how
to meet these needs or end these injustices. However, all the
innovative solutions in the world will accomplish little if the
injustices they address or the problems they solve have been shoved
aside because plutocracy reigns and democracy wanes. For all optimistic
Americans, when their issues are thus swept from the table, it
becomes civic mobilization time.
Consider the economy, which business commentators say could
scarcely be better. If, instead of corporate yardsticks, we use
human yardsticks to measure the performance of the economy and
go beyond the quantitative indices of annual economic growth,
structural deficiencies become readily evident. The complete dominion
of traditional yardsticks for measuring economic prosperity masks
not only these failures but also the inability of a weakened democracy
to address how and why a majority of Americans are not benefiting
from this prosperity in their daily lives. Despite record economic
growth, corporate profits, and stock market highs year after year,
a stunning array of deplorable conditions still prevails year
after year. For example:
* A majority of workers are making less now, inflation adjusted,
than in 1979.
* Over 20 percent of children were growing up in poverty during
the past decade, by far the highest among comparable Western countries.
* The minimum wage is lower today, inflation adjusted, than
* American workers are working longer and longer hours- on
average an additional 163 hours per year, compared to twenty years
ago-with less time for family and community.
* Many full-time family farms cannot make a living in a market
of giant buyer concentration and industrial agriculture.
* The public works (infrastructure) are crumbling, with decrepit
schools and clinics, library closings, antiquated mass transit,
* Corporate welfare programs, paid for largely by middle-class
taxpayers and amounting to hundreds of billions of dollars per
year, continue to rise along with government giveaways of taxpayer
assets such as public forests, minerals, and new medicines.
* Affordable housing needs are at record levels while secondary
mortgage market companies show record profits.
* The number of Americans without health insurance grows every
* There have been twenty-five straight years of growing foreign
trade deficits ($270 billion in 1999).
* Consumer debt is at an all-time high, totaling over $6 trillion.
* Personal bankruptcies are at a record level.
* Personal savings are dropping to record lows and personal
assets are so low that Bill Gates's net worth is equal to that
of the net assets of the poorest 120 million Americans combined.
* The tiny federal budgets for the public's health and safety
continue to be grossly inadequate.
* Motor vehicle fuel efficiency averages are actually declining
and, overall, energy conservation efforts have slowed, while renewable
energy takes a backseat to fossil fuel and atomic power subsidies.
* Wealth inequality is greater than at any time since World
War II. The top 1 percent of the wealthiest people have more financial
wealth than the bottom 90 percent of Americans combined, the worst
inequality among large Western nations.
* Despite annual declines in total business liability costs,
business lobbyists drive for more privileges and immunities for
It is permissible to ask, in the light of these astonishing
shortcomings during a period of touted prosperity, what the state
of our country would be should a recession or depression occur?
One import of these contrasts is clear: Economic growth has been
decoupled from economic progress for many Americans. In the early
1970s, our economy split into two tiers. Whereas once economic
growth broadly benefited the majority, now the economy has become
one wherein "a rising tide lifts all yachts," in the
words of Jeff Gates, author of The Ownership Solution. Returns
on capital outpaced returns on labor, and job insecurity increased
for millions of seasoned workers. In the seventies, the top three
hundred CEOs paid themselves forty times the entry-level wage
in their companies. Now the average is over four hundred times.
This in an economy where impoverished assembly line workers suffering
from carpal tunnel syndrome frantically process chickens that
pass them in a continuous flow, where downsized white- and blue-collar
employees are hired at lesser compensation, if they are lucky,
where the focus of top business executives is no longer to provide
a service that attracts customers but rather to acquire customers
through mergers and acquisitions. How long can the paper economy
of speculation ignore its effects on the real economy of working
Pluralistic democracy has enlarged markets and created the
middle class. Yet the short-term monetized minds of the corporatists
are bent on weakening, defeating, diluting, diminishing, circumventing,
co-opting, or corrupting all traditional countervailing forces
that have saved American corporate capitalism from itself.
Regulation of food, automobiles, banks, and securities, for
example, strengthened these markets along with protecting consumers
and investors. Antitrust enforcement helped protect our country
from monopoly capitalism and stimulated competition. Trade unions
enfranchised workers and helped mightily to build the middle class
for themselves, benefiting also nonunion laborers. Producer and
consumer cooperatives helped save the family farm, electrified
rural areas, and offered another model of economic activity. Civil
litigation-the right to have your day in court-helped deter producers
of harmful products and brought them to some measure of justice.
At the same time, the public learned about these hazards.
Public investment-from naval shipyards to Pentagon drug discoveries
against infectious disease to public power authorities- provided
yardsticks to measure the unwillingness of big business to change
and respond to needs. Even under a rigged system, shareholder
pressures on management sometimes have shaken complacency, wrongdoing,
and mismanagement. Direct consumer remedies, including class actions,
have given pause to crooked businesses and have stopped much of
this unfair competition against honest businesses. Big-business
lobbies opposed all of this progress strenuously, but they finally
lost and America gained. Ultimately, so did a chastened but myopic
Now, these checkpoints face a relentless barrage from rampaging
corporate titans assuming more control over elected officials,
the workplace, the marketplace, technology, capital pools (including
workers' pension trusts), and educational institutions. One clear
sign of the reign of corporations over our government is that
the key laws passed in the sixties and seventies that we use to
curb corporate misbehavior would not even pass through congressional
committees today. Planning ahead, multinational corporations shaped
the World Trade Organization's autocratic and secretive governing
procedures so as to undermine nontrade health, safety, and other
living standard laws and proposals in member countries.
Up against the corporate government, voters find themselves
asked to choose between look-alike candidates from two parties
vying to see who takes the marching orders from their campaign
paymasters and their future employers. The money of vested interests
nullifies genuine voter choice and trust. Our elections have been
put out for auction to the highest bidder. Public elections must
be publicly financed, and it can be done with well-promoted voluntary
checkoffs and free TV and radio time for ballot-qualified candidates.
Workers are disenfranchised more than any time since the 1920s.
Many unions stagger under stagnant leadership and discouraged
rank and file. Furthermore, weak labor laws actually obstruct
new trade union organization and leave the economy with the lowest
percentage of workers unionized in more than sixty years. Giant
multinationals are pitting countries against one another and escaping
national jurisdictions more and more. Under these circumstances,
workers are entitled to stronger labor organizing laws and rights
for their own protection in order to deal with highly organized
At a very low cost, government can help democratic solution
building for a host of problems that citizens face, from consumer
abuses to environmental degradation. Government research and development
generated whole new industries and company startups and created
the Internet. At the least, our government can facilitate the
voluntary banding together of interested citizens into democratic
civic institutions. Such civic organizations can create more level
playing fields in the banking, insurance, real estate, transportation,
energy, health care, cable TV, educational, public service, and
other sectors. Let's call this the flowering of a deep-rooted
democratic society. A government that funnels your tax dollars
to corporate welfare kings in the form of subsidies, bailouts,
guarantees, and giveaways of valuable public assets can at least
invest in promoting healthy democracy.
Taxpayers have very little legal standing in the federal courts
and little indirect voice in the assembling and disposition of
taxpayer revenues. Closer scrutiny of these matters between elections
is necessary. Facilities can be established to accomplish a closer
oversight of taxpayer assets and how tax dollars (apart from social
insurance) are allocated. This is an arena that is, at present,
shaped heavily by corporations that, despite record profits, pay
far less in taxes as a percent of the federal budget than in the
1950s and 60s.
The "democracy gap" in our politics and elections
spells a deep sense of powerlessness by people who drop out, do
not vote, or listlessly vote for the "least worst" every
four years and then wonder why after another cycle the "least
worst" gets worse. It is time to redress fundamentally these
imbalances of power. We need a deep initiatory democracy in the
embrace of its citizens, a usable brace of democratic tools that
brings the best out of people, highlights the humane ideas and
practical ways to raise and meet our expectations and resolve
our society's deficiencies and injustices.
A few illustrative questions can begin to raise our expectations
and suggest what can be lost when the few and powerful hijack
* Why can't the wealthiest nation in the world abolish the
chronic poverty of millions of working and nonworking Americans,
including our children?
* Are we reversing the disinvestment in our distressed inner
cities and rural areas and using creatively some of the huge capital
pools in the economy to make these areas more livable, productive,
* Are we able to end homelessness and wretched housing conditions
with modern materials, designs, and financing mechanisms, without
bank and insurance company redlining, to meet the affordable housing
needs of millions of Americans?
* Are we getting the best out of known ways to spread renewable,
efficient energy throughout the land to save consumers money and
to head off global warming and other land-based environmental
damage from fossil fuels and atomic energy?
* Are we getting the best out of the many bright and public-spirited
civil servants who know how to improve governments but are rarely
asked by their politically appointed superiors or members of Congress?
* Are we able to provide wide access to justice for all aggrieved
people so that we apply rigorously the admonition of Judge Learned
Hand, "If we are to keep our democracy, there must be one
commandment: Thou Shall Not Ration Justice" ?
* Can we extend overseas the best examples of our country's
democratic processes and achievements instead of annually using
billions in tax dollars to subsidize corporate munitions exports,
as Republican Senator Mark Hatfield always used to decry?
* Can we stop the giveaways of our vast commonwealth assets
and become better stewards of the public lands, better investors
of trillions of dollars in worker pension monies, and allow broader
access to the public airwaves and other assets now owned by the
people but controlled by corporations ?
* Can we counter the coarse and brazen commercial culture,
including television that daily highlights depravity and ignores
the quiet civic heroisms in its communities, a commercialism that
insidiously exploits childhood and plasters its logos everywhere?
* Can we plan ahead as a society so we know our priorities
and where we wish to go? Or do we continue to let global corporations
remain astride the planet, corporatizing everything, from genes
to education to the Internet to public institutions, in short,
planning our futures in their image? If a robust civic culture
does not shape the future, corporatism surely will.
To address these and other compelling challenges, we must
build a powerful, self-renewing civil society that focuses on
ample justice so we do not have to desperately bestow limited
charity. Such a culture strengthens existing civic associations
and facilitates the creation of others to watch the complexities
and technologies of a new century. Building the future also means
providing the youngest of citizens with citizen skills that they
can use to improve their communities.
This is the foundation of our campaign, to focus on active
citizenship, to create fresh political movements that will displace
the control of the Democratic and Republican parties, two apparently
distinct political entities that feed at the same corporate trough.
They are in fact simply the two heads of one political duopoly,
the DemRep Party. This duopoly does everything it can to obstruct
the beginnings of new parties, including raising ballot access
barriers, entrenching winner-take-all voting systems, and thwarting
participation in debates at election times.
As befits its name, the Green Party, whose nomination I seek,
stands for the regeneration of American politics. The new populism
that the Green Party represents involves motivated, informed voters
who comprehend that "freedom is participation in power,"
to quote the ancient Roman orator Cicero. When citizen participation
flourishes, as this campaign will encourage it to do, human values
can tame runaway commercial imperatives. The myopia of the short-term
bottom line so often debases our democratic processes and our
public and private domains. Putting human values first helps to
make business responsible and to put government on the right track.
It is easy and true to say that this deep democracy campaign
will be an uphill one. However, it is also true that widespread
reform will not flourish without a fairer distribution of power
for the key roles of voter, citizen, worker, taxpayer, and consumer.
Comprehensive reform proposals from the corporate suites to the
nation's streets, from the schools to the hospitals, from the
preservation of small farm economies to the protection of privacies,
from livable wages to sustainable environments, from more time
for children to less time for commercialism, from waging peace
and health to averting war and violence, from foreseeing and forestalling
future troubles to journeying toward brighter horizons, will wither
while power inequalities loom over us.
Why are campaigns just for candidates? I would like the American
people to hear from individuals such as Edgar Cahn (Time Dollars
for neighborhoods), Nicholas Johnson (television and telecommunications),
Paul Hawken, Amory and Hunter Lovins (energy and resource conservation),
Dee Hock (on chaordic organizations), James MacGregor Burns and
John Gardner (on leadership), Richard Grossman (on the American
history of corporate charters and personhood), Jeff Gates (on
capital sharing), Robert Monks (on corporate accountability),
Ray Anderson (on his company's pollution and recycling conversions),
Johnnetta Cole, Troy Duster, and Yolanda Moses (on race relations),
Richard Duran (on minority education), Lois Gibbs (on community
mobilization against toxics), Robert McIntyre (on tax justice),
Hazel Henderson (on redefining economic development), Barry Commoner
and David Brower (on fundamental environmental regeneration),
Wendell Berry (on the quality of living), Tony Mazzochi (on a
new agenda for labor), and law professor Richard Parker (on a
constitutional popular manifesto). These individuals are a small
sampling of many who have so much to say but seldom get through
the ever more entertainment-focused media. (Note: Mention of these
people does not imply their support for this campaign.)
Our political campaign will highlight active and productive
citizens who practice democracy often in the most difficult of
situations. I intend to do this in the District of Columbia, whose
citizens have no full-voting representation in Congress or other
rights accorded to states. The scope of this campaign is also
to engage as many volunteers as possible to help overcome ballot
barriers and to get the vote out. In addition it is designed to
leave a momentum after Election Day for the various causes that
committed people have worked so hard to further. For the Greens
know that political parties need also to work between elections
to make elections
meaningful. The focus on fundamentals of broader distribution
of power is the touchstone of this campaign. As Supreme Court
Justice Louis Brandeis declared for the ages, "We can have
a democratic society or we can have great concentrated wealth
in the hands of a few. We cannot have both." Thank you.