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What Are Nader's Options?

Nicholas Johnson's Exchange with
Guest Professor Peverill Squire and Host Al Kern

"Talk of Iowa"
February 23, 2004

Al Kern [AK]:  Let's go back to the candidacy of Ralph Nader and some of the issues that he raises.  This is Nick in Iowa City.  Good morning, Nick.

Nicholas Johnson [NJ]:  Good morning.  This is not a suggestion that Ralph should run.

This is, however, a question of the professor, with regard to the concerns that Ralph raises.

Incidentally, I believe that he has not said thereís no difference between the parties. He's said thereís little or no difference when it comes to their servicing the corporations on whose campaign contributions they depend.

Much of his thrust yesterday involved the fact that he said we had the best Congress money can buy and that the executive branch agencies are for sale.

Now one can respond by saying, "I donít think thatís a problem."  Either (a) "I like the things the government is doing," or (b) "I donít like the things the government is doing, but I donít think it has anything to do with campaign contributions."

But if you acknowledge that there is a problem, it seems to me before you can fault Nader for trying to do something about it by running, because you think thatís not the way to go about it, youíre obliged to come up with some suggestion as to how you think the problem should be addressed. So I would like to know what your suggestion would be.

Peverill Squire [PS]:  Well, let me start with an observation which is that campaign finance just isnít an issue that tends to trigger much in the way of a response from the American public.  Weíve talked about it many times over the years, and when the issue is raised in campaigns it tends not to really drive the decisions of very many voters.  And while I think many people can raise significant concerns about the role of money in policy making in Washington both in Congress and elsewhere and I think it does concern people that there is a great deal of cynicism about the role of money in politics, but in terms of driving their decisions on which candidate to support, it tends not to be a very important issue.  So, I think Nader is certainly free to make that particular appeal, but I just donít think it is going to really make much difference.

AK: Nick, did you want to make a follow-up comment before we move along?

NJ: With respect, thatís not my question.

Itís not whether this is a good campaign issue for Ralph, because Iím not talking about whether he should run or not.

What Iím saying is, do you, personally, have a proposal as to what he can do to democratize the government in Washington? How do you reduce the control by big money when both Democrats and Republicans are so dependent upon special interest money?  Do you have a proposal?

Having been frustrated for the last couple decades, Ralphís current proposal is running as an independent and starting third parties.

Those of us who reject those suggestions of his, it seems to me, have an obligation to come up with either a statement that we donít see it as a problem, or we do see it as a problem but we have a solution that is a lot better than having Ralph run as an independent.

And Iím asking you, as a student of politics, what would your proposal be for cleaning it up, given the fact that legislation, it turns out, has to be passed by incumbents?

PS: Well, let me give you a couple of responses to that.

First, I think money is a problem, but not necessarily the problem that other people see.

Iím not sure that votes get bought. I think most of the money flows to people that are predisposed to vote a particular way.

What I see as the real problem with money right now is that it soaks up an enormous amount of time and effort on the part of office holders who have to try to raise money, and I think that time and effort could be better spent on other issues.

I think when we look at the role of campaign money in our system, there are two solutions that offer themselves.  One is to just simply open it up to all kinds of money and just make it reported immediately on the Internet.  The other way is to go to publicly financed campaigns which tries to reduce money from influencing officials, and I think we have a very stark choice between these two.

AK: On that note, we have to close this hour of "Talk of Iowa." My guest has been University of Iowa Political Science Professor, Peverill Squire.