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November 21, 2001

Buchanan, Nader find common ground in American Experience face-off

Pitt promoted the Nov. 15 appearance here of conservative pundit/politician Pat Buchanan and left-leaning consumer advocate Ralph Nader as a "face-off."

But the two men — third-party contenders in the 2000 presidential election — sounded more like teammates, unlikely comrades in what they see as a crusade for national sovereignty against the globalism favored by multinational corporations and their political lackeys.

During their evening appearance together on the David Lawrence Hall Auditorium stage, and in separate meetings earlier in the day with faculty, staff and students, Buchanan and Nader said they oppose the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the growing power of the World Trade Organization, albeit for different reasons.

According to Buchanan, NAFTA has sent American jobs to Mexico and encouraged Canada to devalue its currency, undercutting U.S. competitors. Nader is more concerned that NAFTA undermines American laws against environmental pollution and child labor.

Nader and Buchanan both called the U.S. Congress a cowardly institution whose members are interested mainly in raising money and getting re-elected, and who are downright eager to surrender power (to declare war, among other things) to the executive and judicial branches.

Both condemned what President Bush is calling an economic stimulus package but which Buchanan and Nader dismissed as corporate welfare.

Nader pointed out that the package, now before the Senate, would give huge tax breaks to corporations such as General Motors, which paid federal taxes of 1.5 percent on profits of $2.9 billion last year while GM rank-and-file workers paid 20-30 percent federal income taxes. Buchanan agreed: "I don't think we should be giving out tax rebates to folks who don't pay taxes," he said.

Both men decried the superficiality of mainstream politics and the sameness of the Democratic and Republican parties.

"Both parties are internationalist in foreign policy, globalist on trade and in favor of open borders" for immigration, Buchanan charged.

Democrats and Republicans hold nearly identical positions on foreign policy, military spending, and regulation of pesticides and genetic engineering, said Nader.

Republicans speak provocatively while Democratic rhetoric is anesthetizing, he said, so voters end up choosing between "a provocative party that does nothing and an anesthetizing party that does nothing."

Nader bemoaned what he called the superficiality of most political reporting. "When Bush talks about compassionate conservatism, that is a perfect opening for reviewing his record in Texas," which was less than compassionate on most social issues, Nader said. "But the press just won't go into the record.

"I love when Westerners analyze Orientals and say, 'The West responds to evidence and facts. These Orientals, they're very emotional. They swoon over florid rhetoric.' Well, we set the pace on that," said Nader, citing the example of Ronald Reagan's rhetoric against deficit spending.

During his first six years as president, Reagan "added more deficit spending than every president from George Washington to Jimmy Carter combined," Nader said. "Isn't it stunning that that record would not nullify his rhetoric, which he maintained throughout his two terms in office?"

q Buchanan was the 2000 presidential candidate of the Reform Party, after running unsuccessfully for the Republican presidential nomination in 1992 and 1996. (Referring to his '96 loss of the nomination to Bob Dole, Buchanan confessed: "I'm ashamed to say I won over 10 other candidates but lost out to a future salesman for Viagra.") He ruled out a presidential bid in 2004.

Nader ran in the presidential campaign last year as the Green Party candidate and said it's too early to decide whether he'll run again. He and Buchanan agreed that U.S. third-party candidates face media apathy and the daunting challenge of raising millions of dollars for campaign expenses.

Nader said it was only after the election, when he browsed through stacks of newspapers from the previous few months, that he realized how repetitively the news media had covered the Bush and Gore campaigns while virtually ignoring his own.

"The press covered the same stuff, day after day after day. They love redundancy — except when you're a third-party candidate, and then you're seen as being redundant," Nader said.

Buchanan claimed he received more TV air time when he was a panelist on CNN's political talk show "Crossfire" than when he was a presidential candidate.

Both men were frozen out of nationally televised presidential debates. Not surprisingly, both said they favor reinstitution of independent, privately financed debates in place of TV network-sponsored debates that limit participation to Republican and Democratic front-runners.

Nader noted that the last time a third party emerged in American politics and captured the White House was the Republican Party, founded in 1854. Its 1860 candidate was Abraham Lincoln.

"It's only in the last half-century that third parties have not had an agenda-setting role in national politics," Nader said. "Even when third parties haven't won, they have shaped the agenda and pushed certain issues to the level where at least one of the two major parties could not ignore them, and instead adopted them."

Buchanan said he ruled out running for the Republican nomination in 2000 after learning that George W. Bush had accumulated $36 million in his first three months of fundraising. "I realized I wouldn't win a single primary" and bolted for the Reform Party, founded by Ross Perot.

"If I had $3 billion" like Perot, Buchanan said, "I'd spend $2.9 billion of it trying to get my message out. And if I lost, [my wife] Shelley and I would try to live on the remaining $100 million the rest of our lives."

Ironically, Nader and Buchanan each helped to throw the 2000 election to Bush — Nader by siphoning liberal votes away from Al Gore, and Buchanan in the bizarre denouement to the Florida primary, when traditionally liberal voters in Palm Beach County were found to have voted for the right-wing Buchanan.

The consensus is that Florida's notoriously confusing ballots led many Palm Beach residents to vote for Buchanan unintentionally. But Buchanan claimed, tongue-in-cheek, that the incident was divinely inspired.

Praying after election day that he had not split the conservative vote, thereby getting Gore elected, Buchanan heard a voice in the clouds, he told the David Lawrence Hall audience. The voice told Buchanan he was, in fact, going to defeat Gore.

"Lord, how am I going to do that?" Buchanan asked.

"Well," the voice replied. "You know all those nice Jewish folks down there in Palm Beach County, who love you so much? They think they're all going to vote for Al Gore, but they're going to vote for you."

q President Bush's creation of military tribunals for trying suspected terrorists was one issue on which Buchanan and Nader strongly disagreed.

Buchanan told the David Lawrence Hall audience that foreign terrorists in the United States should be treated like German agents captured on the New Jersey coast during World War II; if convicted by a military tribunal of planning or committing murder and sabotage in this country, they should be executed.

Like Nader, he criticized Congress for relinquishing its Constitutional power to declare war. "Congress should declare this a limited war. If terrorists surrender, they're P.O.W.s. But if they're behind your lines, shooting your people in the back or bringing bombs into the United States, then they're saboteurs and should go before a military tribunal," Buchanan said.

Nader argued that "closed, secret kangaroo courts are not courts. You might as well just summarily execute" suspected terrorists.

"Why don't we put our finest foot forward, as an example to the rest of the world?" Nader asked. "The bombers of the World Trade Commission in 1993 were convicted in an American courtroom and were sentenced to life in prison."

Nader said al-Qaida leaders who surrender should be brought before an international court modeled after the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal that tried Nazi leaders after World War II.

Buchanan said, "Ralph's position, basically, is this: If [terrorists] can get out of Afghanistan, get to Canada and then to the United States, they can get a dream team with Johnnie Cochran to defend them."

Nader blasted Buchanan for assuming that all accused terrorists are guilty as charged.

Earlier in the day, a Pitt staff member asked Nader how he would have responded as president to the Sept. 11 attacks.

"They wouldn't have happened," Nader snapped. When the staffer looked puzzled, Nader explained that he would have pushed for secured cockpit doors on commercial airplanes — something for which he and other consumer advocates had fought for 25 years, he said.

"If those cockpit doors had been hardened, the planes might have been hijacked, but they wouldn't have been used as missiles. But to try and get Clinton and Bush to pay attention to airline security? Forget it. They paid as much attention as the airlines did."

q Buchanan, during his afternoon discussion with Pitt employees and students, reiterated his 2000 campaign call for tightly restricting immigration into the United States — a position that has led to accusations that he's a racist and a xenophobe.

But Buchanan said he's only trying to defend America against a flood of slow-to-assimilate Third World immigrants who, by concentrating in certain parts of the country, not bothering to learn English and remaining primarily loyal to their native lands, threaten the United States with the same kinds of Balkanization and separatism that have plagued Europe and Canada.

"One of the problems is that the American elite no longer favors assimilation," Buchanan said. "They think multi-culturalism is the way to go."

The huge wave of immigration between 1880 and 1920 brought millions of hard-working, eager-to-assimilate people to America, Buchanan noted. But the country cut back sharply on immigration following World War I in response to gangsterism, anarchist bombings and other outrages associated, fairly or not, with America's open-door policy.

"So you had a period of low immigration and assimilation. By the time of World War II, you had a really cohesive society. But it takes time to assimilate people, and clearly some groups assimilate into a society like ours — which is, predominantly First World — faster than others," Buchanan said.

As a presidential candidate, Buchanan was denounced for suggesting that 1 million immigrants from England would assimilate into Virginia easier than 1 million Zulus. "That seemed to me a fairly obvious statement," he said.

William Brustein, director of Pitt's University Center for International Studies, challenged Buchanan. He said Buchanan's arguments for curtailing immigration from Mexico, India and the Middle East were commonly used during the 19th century against Italians, Russians, eastern European Jews and other peoples who have contributed much to America.

Citing one of Buchanan's criticisms of NAFTA — that it led to the establishment of Volkswagen plants in Mexico, employing workers at lower wages than Americans would accept — Brustein said: "You oppose immigration, yet you also oppose a program, NAFTA, that encourages Mexicans to stay home."

Responding to Buchanan anecdotes such as one about Mexican-Americans booing "The Star-Spangled Banner" during a U.S.-Mexico soccer match in Los Angeles, Brustein commented: "Yes, those things did happen. But are they so representative of the millions of people who have come over and integrated so well into this country?"

Buchanan told Brustein: "I take all of your points, and I agree with them." But he added, "Folks from Italy and from eastern Europe came from fundamentally European cultures. You get folks now who are coming from — let's take the Middle East." And Buchanan recalled watching TV interviews with Muslim schoolchildren enrolled in "nice American schools," who said America on Sept. 11 got exactly what it deserved.

Today, millions of legal and illegal Mexican immigrants are clustering in the U.S. southwest. "Culturally and socially, they're more pro-Mexican than American," Buchanan claimed.

"If we all went down and lived in Mexico for 20 years and Mexico got in a war with the United States, whose side would we be on? Would we be Mexicans?" he asked. "Of course not. We're Americans."

q During Nader's discussion with members of the University community, a student brought up the controversy over Pitt's Environmental Law Clinic. See story on page 1.

Nader said he didn't know the specifics of the Pitt case, but was aware of other state legislatures attacking law school clinics that provide free services to people who otherwise would not have legal representation.

"Some people say, 'Well, gee, why should my tax dollars go to these law students who are suing some smokestack polluter that's contaminating a poor neighborhood?'" Nader said.

"You want to start that game? Okay, why do my tax dollars go to subsidize the drug industry, which socks it to all of us with high prices for drugs they never spent a dollar discovering or testing, like AZT, which came out of the National Institutes of Health? Let's broaden the discussion here.

"Universities are so corporatized, most students can't even see it. We've got 170 law schools in this country but only 15 that offer courses on corporate crime, which is at epidemic levels. We're not talking about small-time white-collar crime, we're talking about the major stuff you read about on page 1 of the Wall Street Journal or Business Week or on '60 Minutes.' Law students learn about street crime but not about the far more devastating corporate crime — violations of health and safety laws, release of toxic pollutants from utility plants, illegal use of asbestos and lead-based paint."

Nader denied that he's anti-business. "When you go after corporate crime, you're trying to substitute better business practices and increasing competition."

Under healthy capitalism, companies with better products and services thrive and uncompetitive companies are allowed to go bankrupt, Nader said. "In this country, the bigger you are, the more likely you're going to get a bailout. That's not capitalism."

When a student suggested that Nader's politics were "utopian," Nader's response was withering.

"Why is it utopian to think that public budgets should go to public needs rather than to further expand the treasuries of corporations feeding off corporate welfare?" he asked. "Why is it utopian to oppose tax-funded stadiums and arenas, and give that money to schools and clinics and public transit systems that are crumbling? What is it utopian to think that public elections should not be put up for auction, instead of having public funding for public elections?

"Why is it utopian to think that, after the Soviet Union expired, we shouldn't be spending hundreds of billions of dollars on Soviet-era weapons systems that have been condemned by many distinguished retired admirals and generals? Why is it utopian to say that our foreign policy should put its best leg forward and not prop up dictatorships and oligarchies that are repressing their people?"

Nader urged students not to have low expectations. "The best way for the powers-that-be to control people is not by police raids at 4 a.m.," he said. "It's simply by keeping your expectation levels low."

The Pitt appearances by Buchanan and Nader were sponsored by the American Experience Distinguished Lecture Series. Harper's Magazine will publish a transcript of last Thursday night's discussion in early 2002, said American Experience series director Robert Hazo.

— Bruce Steele

Filed under: Feature,Volume 34 Issue 7

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