WASHINGTON (CNN) - Facing criticism from the two Democratic presidential contenders, Ralph Nader lashed out at them Monday and defended his decision to enter the race.
Speaking to CNN's "American Morning," the long-time consumer advocate accused Sen. Barack Obama of "name-calling" and "an unseemly silence" on issues involving poor minorities. And he accused Sen. Hillary Clinton of being too close to "big business" in America.
Many Democrats fear Nader could draw votes from whoever gets the party's nomination, potentially helping presumptive Republican nominee Sen. John McCain win the White House in November. Nader has long rejected accusations that he served as a spoiler in 2000, effectively helping George W. Bush beat out Al Gore.
He announced Sunday that he will launch his fourth consecutive White House bid - fifth if his 1992 write-in campaign is included.
On Saturday, Obama was asked about a possible Nader candidacy. He praised Nader's work for consumers, but added, "My sense is that Mr. Nader is somebody who, if you don't listen and adopt all of his policies, thinks you're not substantive. He seems to have a pretty high opinion of his own work."
Nader responded in Monday's interview. "As if Barack Obama doesn't have a high opinion of his own work? That's name-calling.
"Address the issues, Barack. Address why you're not for single-payer health insurance... Explain why you don't challenge what you know as to be tens of billions of dollars of waste, fraud and abuse in the military budget.
Explain why you don't really get concrete about how you would renegotiate NAFTA and WTO, which is exporting jobs and industries to places like the communist dictatorship in China.
"And above all, explain why you don't come down hard on the economic crimes against minorities in city ghettos - payday loans, predatory lending, rent to own rackets, landlord abuses, lead contamination, asbestos. There's an unseemly silence by you, Barack, a community organizer in poor areas in Chicago many years ago on this issue."
Nader also took Clinton to task. On Sunday, she said Nader - whose environmental policies are central to his platform - "prevented Al Gore from being the 'greenest' president we could have had."
Nader stood by his contention that Gore won the 2000 race because he took the popular vote and because Florida's electoral vote "was stolen from him." Nader said Democrats should "concentrate on the thieves who steal elections," instead of "scapegoating the Greens" - a reference to the Green Party, the ticket he ran on in 2000.
"The Democrats ought to look themselves in the mirror and ask themselves why they have not been able to landslide the worst Republican Party and the White House and Congress over the last 20 years," he said.
And noting a quote from former Sen. John Edwards - whose endorsement has being sought by Clinton and Obama since he dropped out of the race - Nader said little will change "if we replace a corporate Republican with a corporate Democrat."
Referencing an article from last year, Nader called Clinton the Democrat "most loved by big business." The article he seemed to be referring to, from June 2007 in Fortune Magazine, said Clinton had "probably the broadest CEO support among the candidates" at that point. But it also said Obama had "a solid base of business support in Chicago" and had "fared well with Hollywood media moguls" and "aggressively moved into Clinton's turf among East Coast financiers."
Nader told CNN he does not believe any of the candidates, including McCain, will pull through on pledges to reduce the influence of special interests in Washington. "Of course not. First of all, if they wanted to do that, they'd put front and center public funding of public campaigns," cracking down on corporate crimes, and other issues.
"Washington has closed its doors on citizen groups," he complained, calling the nation's capital "corporate-occupied territory."
Talking about his decision to run, Nader - who turns 74 this week - said, "We have to give the system more competition, more voices, more choices, more freedom, more diversity."
– CNN's Josh Levs