National Press Club

Ideological foes Nader, Norquist spar, but sometimes agree at NPC luncheon

September 4, 2014 | By Wes Pippert | PippertW@missouri.edu

Consumer advocate Ralph Nader speaks at a National Press Club Luncheon, September 4, 2014.

Consumer advocate Ralph Nader speaks at a National Press Club Luncheon, September 4, 2014.

Photo/Image: Noel St. John

Two unlikely colleagues -- consumer advocate Ralph Nader and anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist -- said they agree on many things but continued to disagree over campaign finance and governmental regulation in a joint appearance at a National Press Club luncheon Sept. 4.

“We can win on things we agree on,” Nader said.

Nader also had sharp criticism of Hillary Rodham Clinton and the Clintons' relationship with Wall Street.

“The two parties are one corporate party with two heads,” Nader said. “The Democrats are worse than the Republicans.

"The Clintons are now Wall Street. They are corporatists, militarists. Hillary hasn’t seen a war she doesn’t like or she hasn’t opposed a weapons system she doesn’t like."

For his part, Norquist's sharpest reaction came in response to a question from the audience, "Why do you hate government?"

"Why use that language?" Norquist asked, adding that what he actually advocates is a more limited government. "We have too many laws," said Norquist. "That doesn't have anything to do with hating government."

Nader and Norquist, who have debated on previous occasions, both recited several issues past and present on which the "left" and the "right" could agree. Nader cited such things as auditing the Pentagon budget and bringing government procurement. He said the "ideological schism" is not as apparent to "people back home" as it is in Washington.

Anti-tax activist Grover Norquist speaks at a National Press Club Luncheon, September 4, 2014.

Anti-tax activist Grover Norquist speaks at a National Press Club Luncheon, September 4, 2014.

Photo/Image: Noel St. John

Norquist said there was agreement between the left and right on "corporate welfare" -- the government ought not be stealing people’s money and handing it to somebody else — period." And he suggested that both sides believe in a strong national defense but not wasting money.

"We can reduce the cost of national defense while making it stronger," Norquist said.

One area of disagreement was on campaign finance, which arose when a questioner asked whether the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision giving greater rein to corporate contributions was good or bad. Norquist said people should have "complete freedom" to spend money as they like.

Nader repeated his support for public funding of campaigns. He said the notion that money is speech "would have horrified our Founders."

Norquist told another questioner that he did not believe his opposition to any tax increase has inhibited tax reform. "No," he said. "Without the pledge [a pledge in which candidates or members of congress vow to oppose any tax increase], you wouldn't get tax reform."

Norquist answered a twice-asked question about abortion by saying: "I focus on taxes.”

Norquist also said he agreed with Nader on reducing mandatory minimum sentences for offenders.

When asked what was his biggest area of disagreement with Norquist, Nader said: "regulation." He said government regulation was "absolutely essential" for such things as water, food and emission control.

NPC President Myron Belkind, in his kicker question, asked both speakers what they would do if they were emperor for a day.

Norquist said, "No emperor, ever." Nader said: "Abdicate."