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Nader Campaign Stops at MIT

Presidential Candidate Attacks Government, Media, Business

By Frank Dabek


Presidential candidate Ralph Nader brought his radical message to campus in a campaign speech earlier this month.

Nader, who is likely to be the Green Party’s presidential nominee, blasted poor government regulation of genetically altered food, America’s wealth gap, the media, and corporate control of science in his wide-ranging address on May 15.

Nader’s speech focused largely on civic responsibility and activism. Discussing Americans’ disinterest in politics, he said that “a society where people are not turned on to politics will be a society where politics turns on them.”

The perennial candidate, who made his name lobbying for automobile safety standards, walked the audience though a wide variety of problems which he claims could be solved if citizens were more involved in their government.

Playing to the MIT audience, Nader blasted corporate science for distorting research priorities and short-circuiting academic standards such as peer review.

Corporations, Nader said, have a stranglehold on government. We have a “government of the Exxons, by the General Motors, and for the DuPonts.” Corporations such as Microsoft benefit unfairly from tax breaks, such as those designed to encourage innovation. “There’s an oxymoron,” Nader joked, “an innovative Microsoft.”

Singling out the Biotech industry, which have been a hot topic of debate since the Bio2000 conference and associated protests took place in Boston earlier this year, Nader asked whether we are “ready to have Monsanto plan our future?” He questioned policies which allow patents on genetic codes and the potential for “recyclable humanoids.” The commercialization of biotechnology, Nader said, “has far outpaced the science that has to be its guiding factor.”

The solution, according to Nader, is for civic culture “to take over political culture and free it from corporate domination.”

Nader also said that the wealth gap in the United States weakens democracy. The combined wealth of the top one percent is equal to the combined wealth of the bottom 95 percent he said. According to Nader, the wealth of Bill Gates alone is equal to that of the 120 million poorest Americans (Nader qualified that statistic by noting, with a grin, that it was gathered before recent slips in Microsoft’s stock value).

The recent economic boom has only widened this wealth gap: “a rising tide ... lifts all yachts,” he jested. Meanwhile, “millions of Americans who work year after year are essentially broke.”

Again, Nader called for government influence as well as civic action: “what is the function of government if not to control the excesses of the monied elite,” he asked, invoking Thomas Jefferson’s view of government. Individuals have a role as well: “We’re going to hear from the poor. Someday the poor are going to organize.”

The media were also targeted for favoring stories such as that of Elian Gonzalez over ones covering the growing wealth gap and corporate influence. Nor did the two major political parties escape Nader’s barbs. The “two parties are fossil parties,” he said. “They are nothing but individually owned subsidiaries of business.”

Nader also touched on the hot-button issue of the World Trade Organization, blaming the “autocratic” organization for negating some U.S. environmental laws.

Professor of Biology Jonathan A. King introduced Nader, whom he worked with in opposing the patenting of genetic material. Nader is “a deep believer in democracy,” King said, and “honest as the day is long.”

King also said that Nader was able to tap into the “underlying social consciousness” that MIT students find few outlets for at the Institute.

The full house in Building E51, which Nader called “a part of the contented classes,” received him warmly, applauding at several points during his address.

The talk was sponsored by the MIT Greens, the Social Justice Collective, and the MassGreens.