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Give Ralph Nader His Night on Broadway

September 24, 2000|PHIL DONAHUE | Former talk-show host Phil Donahue is a member of the Committee to Elect Ralph Nader President

If Ralph Nader is excluded from the presidential debates, many issues important to millions of Americans will get little or no attention during the corporate sponsored face-offs between the two major party candidates. For example:

The U.S. has 2 million people in jail, the result of a drug policy that endangers cops and innocent bystanders in a Wild-West strategy of knocking down doors and screaming, "Police! Freeze!" Even conservatives have called for some form of drug decriminalization. If Nader isn't there, the two major party nominees are not likely to touch this "third rail" issue.

In a country where mentally retarded teenagers have been executed, a journalism class at Northwestern University conclusively proved the innocence of death row prisoners, leading to the inmates' freedom. The Republican governor of Illinois was moved to declare a moratorium on the death penalty. Al Gore and George W. Bush appear to have a consensus: "Let's make really, really sure that they're guilty before we kill them." Without Nader present, don't look for much disagreement on this important matter during the debates.

The "don't ask, don't tell" policy in the military isn't working. More gay military personnel have been discharged since the inception of this policy than before its adoption. Nader believes in equal rights for gays in every way these protections are extended to all other Americans--including civil unions. This important position will get no airing during the debates between the two major party candidates if Nader isn't there.

For those who oppose the World Trade Organization, the China trade deal and striker replacement laws, the debates will be a sterile rehash of the doctrine that holds all trade to be good and "don't sweat the sweatshops." If Nader's not there, a robust airing of the other side of trade issues (worker safety, child labor abuse, factory pollution in Third World countries) won't be heard.

This year's debates will be thin fare without a discussion of single-payer national health insurance. No matter that 44 million Americans now live with the anxiety of being wiped out by a major illness. Single-payer health insurance is unlikely to come up in the debates at all if Nader isn't there.

The major party candidates have raised 80% more money in this election cycle than during the same period four years ago. Nader wants campaigns publicly funded, an idea that would remove the big private and corporate checkbooks from electoral politics and free candidates to advocate positions rather than waste time dialing for dollars. Good idea? Don't look for a vigorous examination of public financing if Nader isn't there.

A review of Nader's positions makes clear the long road he and his Green Party supporters must travel. Nader's lifelong assault on corporate power is all the debate sponsors need to know. He is not welcome to share the stage in a show paid for by Anheuser-Busch, US Airways and AT&T.

A vigorous progressive voice is being silenced with what appears to be the quiet approval of the TV networks and most of the media. No stranger to Big Business, major media seem bent on marginalizing the only man in the race who wants more teeth in regulatory agencies, more enforcement of antitrust laws, total unqualified guarantees of all constitutional rights for gays, illegal immigrants and other minorities, more respect for privacy protections and due process, an end to the commercialization of children, fewer nonviolent offenders in jail and trade policies that protect powerless people here and around the world.

Instead of giving the American people a chance to hear this principled voice, some in the media attempt to redirect our gaze by waving Nader's stock portfolio. "Aha! Nader made a profit!" A liberal with plumbing is a hypocrite.

No one took Jesse Ventura seriously until he appeared in gubernatorial debates in Minnesota. Those of us who support Nader for president don't want him to become the latest worthy man to be victimized by the adage, "You can't get on Broadway unless you've been on Broadway."

A Zogby Poll released last week found 61% of those polled want Nader on the debate stage. Unlike the major party candidates, Ralph Nader is doing what the people say they want all our candidates to do: forswear soft money and obey the rules that limit campaign contributions to $2,000 per person.

Because he is not a billionaire, because he obeys the law, the nation's most powerful private voice for justice, the man who revolutionized auto safety design, opened up government secrets by forcing the establishment of the Freedom of Information Act, blew whistles on faulty products 35 years before the current Bridgestone/Firestone tragedy, the man who inspired millions of young people to become active citizens is being shut out of the Great White Way of presidential politics.

Proud Americans of all political stripes should bang their spoons to ensure that Nader gets on the Broadway of this campaign--the three debates sponsored by the debate commission. It could make a big difference. Ask Jesse Ventura.

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