Monday, September 29, 2008

Nader campaigns in Santa Barbara


For the past few weeks, it’s fair to say the country’s attention has been focused largely on the economic crisis and the presidential campaigns of John McCain and Barack Obama.
Ralph Nader feels a little left out.
At a campaign rally on the campus of UC Santa Barbara yesterday, the independent presidential candidate railed against what he described as a political arena controlled by the two major parties that push third-party candidates to the fringe while growing eerily similar in rhetoric.

That phenomenon was no clearer, he said, than in Friday’s presidential debate.
“Again and again, as Election Day nears, the differences between Democrats and Republicans narrow and narrow,” Nader said.
In Friday’s debate, Nader said Obama continued to drift to the right in an effort to appeal to conservative voters and corporate interests, becoming more like his opponent across the stage.
The only reason Obama can get away with it, he argued, is because his base of liberal voters have convinced themselves that they have no other option.
“You are part of a country that has the lowest political expectations in the Western world,” Nader told a packed house at Corwin Pavilion.
Part of the problem as he sees it is that other candidates are being kept out of the limelight through onerous requirements to get their names on the ballot and exclusion from the debates.
“They had a very spacious debate platform,” he said. “They had plenty of room for more chairs.”
And while leveling criticism at the political system and the main party candidates, he also implored liberal and progressive voters to stop perpetuating the problem by settling for the lesser of two evils.
“Every four years, the record is clear — both parties get worse,” Nader said. “…There will always be a ‘least worse’ between the Democratic and Republican parties, if unfortunately they survive.”
Nader managed to get his name on the ballot in 45 states with his running mate, Matt Gonzalez, and is polling at 5 to 6 percent nationally, according to his campaign.
The longtime consumer advocate will be listed under the Peace and Freedom Party in California, and will appear as an independent or with other parties in other states.
In addition to criticizing the political system and the electoral college — which he described as a “mocking point” for other nations — Nader outlined his own vision for the country during yesterday’s rally.
A keystone of his campaign is a six-month corporate and military withdrawal from Iraq, coupled with a drawn down of U.S. military forces in other countries around the world.
“It’s not a quick withdrawal,” Nader said. “I’ve been urging this for five years now.”
Keeping soldiers out of Afghanistan and Pakistan is also critical, he said, describing the tribal conflicts and longtime opposition to foreign invaders in that area as a problem that won’t be solved by American military force.
Foreign policy should not be militarized, he argued, but should instead be tinged with a peaceful approach.
“The greatest courage in the world are leaders who wage peace,” Nader said.
Alternative energy is another focal point for the 74-year-old. Touting energy conservation, increasingly efficient transportation and solar power as the way forward, Nader attacked McCain and Obama for their stances on energy policy.
Offshore oil should never enter the equation, he said, adding that Obama’s recent comments that domestic oil exploration has a place in a comprehensive energy strategy are another sign of his migration to the right.
“It’s his entry into being another oil-marinated politician,” Nader said.
The justice system is another area he sees as ripe for reform. Instead of continuing the war on drugs, he advocated for turning it into a public health issue, similar to cigarette or alcohol addiction.
To reduce jail overcrowding, Nader suggested offering national amnesty for nonviolent drug offenders — then cracking down on corporate crime and putting crooked leaders into the emptied cells.
Pressing for universal healthcare, living wages and protections against occupational hazards are among other top issues he touched on during his speech.
Gonzalez, the vice presidential candidate, described it as a “majoritarian ticket,” arguing that the majority of citizens agree with their viewpoints.
He also criticized the media for casting the two-party race as an example of American democracy. The former president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors said the Democratic Party should not be represented as an opposing force to the Bush administration and Republican Party when many of its members voted for the war, for wiretapping and for the Patriot Act twice.
“This is not a credible representation of a democracy as diverse as ours,” he said. “…We need a different kind of politics in this country and we need your help.”
Nader issued his own plea to those in the room, focusing on students who made up the majority of the audience.
Describing the economy they will enter in the next few years as one of the worst in the past few decades, Nader implored them to leave behind cell phones, iPods and other distractions to build on the activism of their predecessors of civil rights, Vietnam War and environmental ilk.
“You got to come back into reality,” he said. “…You will never have more creativity to decide what kind of impact you want to have on this country and this planet.”

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