Ralph Nader is a man of the present, not the past. Fifty years after he became a national figure, the consumer advocate, civil libertarian, and former presidential candidate is fighting harder than ever to reverse what he sees as the deterioration of American democracy. Here’s some of his recent conversation with John Nichols.
John Nichols: As an Arab-American, what do you think about the congressional votes to bar Syrian refugees, and about the way Republican presidential candidates are talking about Arabs and Muslims?
Ralph Nader: It’s mass bigotry—stereotyping an entire ethnic group or an entire religion. We should have learned from the past what the consequences are when that happens. As you know, we did the same thing to the Jews before and during World War II, when they were denied [entry as refugees]. We did it to the Japanese [with the internment camps]. We now, as a society, regret both tragedies. It seems like the Republican candidates learn nothing from history and are pandering to an extreme primary vote—which they will regret in the general election. I don’t think they represent any sizable portion of the population; they’re basically trying to get press jockeying against each other in a dynamic that makes them more extreme, more bigoted, more inaccurate.… It’s really an amazing racist epidemic that’s infecting the Republican candidates. I don’t say all of them, but most of them are mouthing this sort of thing.
JN: George W. Bush decried anti-Muslim, anti-Arab rhetoric after 9/11. Is it your sense that the Republican Party is becoming significantly more extreme?
RN: It’s overwhelming. We have here the most ignorant, bigoted Republican presidential slate in the history of the party. Not only are they bigoted, they’re factually wrong…and in terms of their tactics, they are heating up those people in this country who are susceptible to that. They’re disgracing the party.
JN: Is this a measure of what is broken in our politics? Is it just individuals who have gone off the rails, or are changes in our media, changes in the political dynamic, feeding this behavior?
RN: I think every four years the decay gets worse in both parties. You can just see it. Compare Republicans in the Eisenhower or even the Nixon period; compare the Republican slates. It was often said in 2012 that they had the B-team running. Now they have the D-minus-team, or the F-team, running! It’s just amazing where these people are coming from: They’re corporatist to the core, Wall Street to the core. They’re basically puppets of satraps—plutocratic PAC holders. It’s almost like medieval courts; they each have their own megabillionaire PAC supporting them.