In recent weeks, the presumptive presidential nominees of the Democrat and Republican parties have traded jabs on the nightly news, starred in numerous TV ads, fine-tuned soundbites, and wrangled with advisors and campaign managers over how to spend the millions of dollars they’ve raised.

While the horse race between McCain and Obama has dominated the nightly broadcast news, cable-based opinion news, and pundit programs, independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader has conducted his own campaign. Virtually ignored and dismissed (or even demeaned) by many in the media, Nader is stubbornly confident in his approach. From the sidelines, the 74-year-old candidate has deflected criticism, shrugged away indifference, and pressed on with his mission to challenge corruption and injustice, promote a freely democratic process, and advocate the rights of voters, workers, the poor, and the middle class.

“The critical issues that we address in the campaign — and the redirections for our country — are supported by a majority of the people,” Nader said during a news conference July 25 at the Statehouse in Columbia, sounding more like an avuncular professor than a celebrity politician.

In February, Nader announced his intentions to seek the presidency as an independent candidate on Meet the Press. Within weeks, he announced San Francisco-based public defender Matt Gonzalez as his running mate. He previously ran on the Green Party ticket in 2000 and as an independent in 2004.

“The majority of the American people believe in a living wage, which means if you work full-time, you should have enough money to support the basic necessities of your family,” he told reporters and supporters in Columbia. “The majority of Americans want full Medicare for all. Both McCain and Obama are against single payer full Medicare for all. They represent a minority viewpoint. We represent a majority of the American people. The stands that McCain and Obama have taken again and again do not have the support of a majority of the American people. The majority of Americans want an end to the war in Iraq. These are the kinds of issues that our campaign is taking to all 50 states — from Hawaii to Maine and from Alaska to Florida.”

Nader rose to national prominence as a consumer advocate with his 1965 book, Unsafe at Any Speed, a top-selling exposé of the automobile industry. His recent memoir Crashing the Party: Taking on the Corporate Government in an Age of Surrender told his side of the controversial 2000 presidential campaign and took aim at the two-party system.

The South Carolina visit highlighted a recent local victory: officially getting on the general election ballot. To qualify to appear on South Carolina’s ballot, state law requires the signatures of 10,000 registered voters. The Nader/Gonzalez campaign submitted over 18,000 signatures — nearly twice the number required. The campaign expects to be on the ballot in 45 states. South Carolina was number 11.

“Ballot access obstruction for third party candidates is a tragic scandal in the United States,” Nader said. “No other country in the Western world obstructs candidates, as well as voters, in so many ways than do the various state laws (in the U.S.).”

Money is tight for the Nader/Gonzalez campaign. Its war chest pales in comparison to the two mainstream candidates. While the Obama campaign has raised over $200 million and the McCain campaign over $110 million over the last year, Nader’s campaign has barely raised $1 million since February.

The action on the campaign’s website mostly encourages supporters to contribute toward travel, promotion, and petition drive expenses. A typical request might read, “Donate now whatever you can — $10, $20, $100, $500 — to help us give America a choice in November.”

The Nader campaign now faces another major hurdle: fighting for inclusion in the nationally televised presidential debates.

Formed in 1987, the Commission on Presidential Debates describes itself as a “nonprofit, nonpartisan corporation.” The Commission’s 2008 “candidate selection criteria” determines who is invited to participate in the general election debates. In addition to being constitutionally eligible, candidates must appear on “a sufficient number of state ballots to have a mathematical chance of winning a majority vote of the electoral college, and have 15 percent support in national polls before the debates.”

Previously, the debates were run independently by the League of Women Voters, who held a threshold of five percent in a number of polls. Participating in the general election debates, third party candidates John Anderson (in 1980) and Ross Perot (in 1992 and 1996) both increased their poll numbers after appearing with the two major party candidates. The current “criteria” virtually assures the exclusion of any third party candidate.

“We hope to get as many votes as we can get,” Nader says. “I’m not going to predict. … The commission, which is a private company controlled by the two major parties, doesn’t like anyone else on the stage. There’s very little that can be done about that, other than remaining critical.”

Nader probably realizes a victory in the general election is unlikely, but he’s committed to promoting his progressive agenda with the hope of encouraging citizens to organize, vote, and take part in the democratic process.

Ralph Nader on the issues

Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader touched on a variety of issues at his S.C. press conference on Fri., July 25:

On the lack of national media coverage for his campaign:
“We need to get more national TV. The national TV is hung up, by their own admission, on the horse race.” 
“The coverage gets more and more trivial … which is why Jon Stewart is getting more and more popular [laughs]. He’s a master at exploiting that trivial coverage.”

Addressing the issues of fuel prices and the energy crisis:
“Nuclear power, dollar for dollar, is the worst economic investment in terms of providing energy. You can save far more megawatts by energy efficiency, or you could provide wind power, which is far more efficient in terms of providing electricity. Nuclear is totally uneconomical in comparison to energy efficiency and renewable energy. Developing more nuclear power is a bad idea. Most European countries have moratoriums on new nuclear power plants. I think the French are playing Russian Roulette with nuclear power; one major meltdown at a plant would contaminate half the country. The American people want a massive solar energy program in this country and they do not like nuclear power. If they knew even more about nuclear power they’d like it even less. So much is covered up. Yet, Obama and McCain want nuclear power on the table.”

On the military conflict in Iraq:
“The only way to knock the bottom out of the insurgency and turmoil in Iraq is to give Iraq and its oil back to the Iraqi people. [Our platform] has a six-month deadline for the removal of the U.S. military and corporate forces from Iraq, during which there would be negotiations for a modest autonomy under a unified Iraq between the Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds, U.N.-sponsored elections, and a continuation of humanitarian aid. If we do not get out of Iraq, we will be continually provoking a bigger and bigger backlash — as is occurring in Afghanistan. People do not like to be occupied. The insurgency’s main argument is to get the invader/occupier out of their country. We are not strategically smart. I think Obama is going turn out to be very similar to Bush on that score. His own military advisor said that by 2010, there will be between 50,000 to 80,000 U.S. still in Iraq. That’s not exactly withdrawing from Iraq.”

On a the federal minimum wage, which on July 24, 2008, rose from $5.85 per hour to $6.55 per hour:
“If the minimum wage of 1968 was adjusted for inflation, it would be $10 an hour. So, in spite of the fact that our economy has doubled in productivity and work over the last 40 years, the minimum wage today, in purchasing power, is $3.45 less than in was in 1968. Mr. McCain seems to be satisfied with this state of affairs. Mr. Obama believes in a living wage, but he defines it this way: by 2011, he’d like the federal minimum wage to be $9.50 an hour. That means it would less than it was in 1968. They have a minority position on this. We have the majority of Americans behind us on this.”

On the presidential debates:
“We believe in opening up the presidential debates. We believe in the sovereignty of the people over the sovereignty of the corporations. That means, corporations as a legal entity should not have the same rights as real human beings like you and me. The corporation as an entity doesn’t vote, it doesn’t have children, and it doesn’t die in Iraq.”

On campaigning across the country:
“We are campaigning in all 50 states — from Hawaii to Maine and from Alaska to Florida. We believe that if we run for president we should campaign in 50 states, not like the major candidates, who pick and choose between blue states and red states and do not respect all of the voters in the country. The last major presidential nominee who went to all 50 states was Richard Nixon in 1960.”

On addressing “corporate crime” on a national level:
“There needs to be major, aggressive crackdown on corporate crime against consumers, workers, and health care programs. Americans have suffered from corporate rip-off and unemployment. Both McCain and Obama are silent on this. Why wouldn’t they be? They’re dialing for corporate dollars from the same corporate crooks, and they’re hardly going to urge that these crooks be prosecuted and put in jail.”

On the issue of national health care:
“Eighteen thousand Americans die every year because they can’t afford health insurance [citing figures from the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Science]. Hundreds of thousands get sick and do not have their injuries or illness treated. That’s because there are almost 50 million people in this country without health insurance, and at least 50 million grossly under-insured. No other Western country leaves its people without health insurance. No one dies in Germany or England or Sweden or Norway or Canada from lack of health insurance. We favor full medical care for patients with free choice of doctor and hospital, which most Americans don’t have now because of the HMO assignments. We want dramatic reduction in corporate bureaucratic expenses and an end to over $200 billion in billing fraud and abuse due to the manipulation of codes. The majority of Americans want full Medicare for all. Fifty-nine percent of physicians in an April poll want full Medicare for all. Both McCain and Obama are against single payer full Medicare for all. They represent a minority viewpoint. We represent a majority of the American people.”