Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader lambasted the Democrats and Republicans on Friday as a "two-party dictatorship" that has squandered decades of power and allowed corporate greed to dictate American policy.
As he kicked off a five-day California swing at USC, Nader noted that Barack Obama and John McCain, the parties' presidential nominees, have similar views on increasing military spending, offshore drilling, the proposed $700-billion bailout of financial firms and Israeli-Palestinian relations. Nader, who is on the ballot in 45 states, said dissenting voices must grow louder.
"How many more decades are we going to give them before we get rid of this least-worst, this lesser-of-two-evils mind set and start breaking this corporate grip . . . and have alternative candidates from alternative parties that stand as if people mattered first and foremost?" he asked more than 100 people who gathered in an airy college auditorium.
Every four years, Nader said, politicians trot out the "same tricks" with a different motto.
"This year, it's hope, change. Hope, change. Hope, change," he slowly chanted. "Am I starting to hypnotize you?"
Nader was in California as part of an effort to visit all 50 states before election day. He said that because of Obama's double-digit lead in California, neither of the major party candidates planned to visit the state except to raise funds.
"That's disrespectful" to voters, said Nader, who will make stops at UC San Diego and in Encinitas today, UC Santa Barbara and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo on Sunday, Monterey Peninsula College on Monday and San Francisco State on Tuesday.
He and running mate Matt Gonzalez spoke at USC hours before the first presidential debate, which he derided as "a parallel interview." Nader also criticized the media for ignoring him despite national polls that show him receiving 5% to 6% support and slightly higher percentages in some battleground states.
Nader warned the crowd against political apathy, asserting that Americans need to know as much about politics as they do about sports.
"If I was speaking today on the future demise of the USC football team, it would be a full room," he said.
He told students in the crowd that their generation lacked "fire in the belly" and urged them to follow in the footsteps of their predecessors, who became passionately involved in the civil rights struggle, the Vietnam War and environmentalism.
"Why is it that you see horrific evidence . . . of gross systemic injustice, you don't get angry?" he asked.
Ryan Alcantra, a junior majoring in business who attended the event, said that Nader's speech was better than he expected but that he still was not excited about the election.
"I really don't like any of my options," the Lake Forest native said.
Alcantra, 21, said Obama was evasive during the candidates' forum last month at Saddleback Church, which his family attends. McCain, he said, was "a crazy guy who's too old." After listening to Nader, Alcantra said he may consider voting for him.
"Maybe," he said. "It's better than nothing."