WASHINGTON — Consumer activist Ralph Nader launched an independent campaign for the White House on Sunday, criticizing the Republican and Democratic candidates for not addressing issues "that are supported by a majority of the American people."
"You go from Iraq to Palestine/Israel, from Enron to Wall Street, from Katrina to the bungling of the Bush administration, to the complicity of the Democrats in not stopping him on the war, stopping him on the tax cuts, getting a decent energy bill through," he told NBC's "Meet the Press," and you have to ask yourself, as a citizen: Should we elaborate the issues that the two [parties] are not talking about?"
This campaign is Nader's fifth try for the presidency. He ran limited races as a write-in candidate in 1992 and as the Green Party nominee in 1996. His greatest success came in 2000, again as the Green Party candidate, when he won more than 2.8 million votes; four years ago, as an independent, he got 465,650 votes out of 122 million cast.
Many Democrats blame Nader for George W. Bush's victory in 2000, arguing that Democrat Al Gore would have won Florida -- and its 25 electoral votes -- if Nader had not been in the race. Nader rejected that argument Sunday, saying that Democrats themselves were responsible for Gore's loss.
Nader was critical of the presumptive GOP nominee, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, and the Democratic candidates, Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton, saying they opposed full government-paid health insurance and that they were not addressing "a bloated military budget."
The longtime consumer advocate -- whose "Unsafe at Any Speed," a book about the auto industry, brought him to national prominence in 1965 -- also assailed corporate lobbyists and "corporate executives in high government positions."
"Compare my website, votenader.org, and all the issues that Mr. Obama and Sen. Clinton and Mr. McCain are not addressing that are supported by a majority of the American people," he said.
Both Obama and Clinton dismissed the possibility that Nader's campaign would have a significant effect.
Obama praised Nader, who turns 74 on Wednesday, for his "outstanding work" on behalf of consumers. The Illinois senator wrote in "Dreams From My Father," that in 1984, just after graduating from college, he spent three months working as an organizer for a Nader-related group in New York City.
Now, though, Nader is just a "perennial presidential candidate," Obama said.
"His view is, unless it's Ralph Nader, that you're not tough enough on any of these issues," Obama said Sunday after a tour of the National Gypsum plant in Lorain, Ohio. "He thought that there was no difference between Al Gore and George Bush, and eight years later I think people realize that Ralph did not know what he was talking about."
Sen. Clinton (D-N.Y.) expressed disappointment in Nader. "Obviously, it's not helpful to whomever our Democratic nominee is," she said. "But it's a free country."
Recalling the 2000 campaign, she added that his being on the Green Party ticket "prevented Al Gore from being the greenest president we could have had, and I think that's really unfortunate."
Times staff writers Mark Z. Barabak in Lorain and Michael Finnegan in Providence contributed to this report.