In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll admit that I was a staunch supporter of Ralph Nader’s 2000 presidential campaign. In fact a pro-Nader piece I wrote called, “The Lesser of Two Evils or The Greatest Common Good” found its way onto listservs and blogs across the Internet in October of that year.
However, I have become disappointed in Ralph Nader, his decision to abandon the Green Party, and the fight to create a viable option to the nation’s oppressive two party system. His actions since 2003 seem self-serving and divisive to me.
So I had to weigh in when I saw that Nader is catching flack for some comments he made to Colorado’s Rocky Mountain News recently:
“There’s only one thing different about Barack Obama when it comes to being a Democratic presidential candidate. He’s half African-American,” Nader said.
“Whether that will make any difference, I don’t know. I haven’t heard him have a strong crackdown on economic exploitation in the ghettos. Payday loans, predatory lending, asbestos, lead. What’s keeping him from doing that? Is it because he wants to talk white? He doesn’t want to appear like Jesse Jackson? We’ll see all that play out in the next few months and if he gets elected afterwards.”
“I mean, first of all, the number one thing that a Black American politician aspiring to the presidency should be is to candidly describe the plight of the poor, especially in the inner cities and the rural areas, and have a very detailed platform about how the poor is going to be defended by the law, is going to be protected by the law, and is going to be liberated by the law,” Nader said. “Haven’t heard a thing.”
Barack Obama’s response to this statement was:
“What’s clear is, Ralph Nader hasn’t been paying attention to my speeches,” he said. “Ralph Nader’s trying to get attention. He’s become a perennial political candidate. I think it’s a shame, because if you look at his legacy … it’s an extraordinary one. … At this point, he’s somebody who’s trying to get attention, whose campaign hasn’t gotten any traction.”
Well, I have two comments to make about that. First of all, I’ve been to three Obama events in the past six weeks covering election issues for MTV’s Street Team ‘08, and I can say, I haven’t heard him talk about these issues either. With the exception of criticizing John McCain’s economic stance and his pretty general talking points about improving education for everyone, Obama doesn’t say a lot about the conditions of Black folks. If anything, it is most evident that he DOESN’T talk about Blacks much at all. More on that in a minute.
My second comment to Obama’s reaction is that he is right. Nader talking about criticizing Obama and the Democrats will get him more press than he’ll receive talking about his stance on the issues. The same was true in 2000 when he outlined the differences between him and Al Gore stating that Gore was no different than Bush. This attitude has proven to be horribly false, but the point remains… no one is listening to Ralph Nader’s good ideas. They only listen to his controversial statements
Nader said he is not impressed with Obama and that he does not see him campaigning often enough in low-income, predominantly minority communities where there is a “shocking” amount of economic exploitation.
He pointed to issues like predatory lending, shortages of health care and municipal resources, environmental issues and others.
“He wants to show that he is not a threatening … another politically threatening African-American politician,” Nader said. “He wants to appeal to white guilt. You appeal to white guilt not by coming on as Black is beautiful, Black is powerful. Basically he’s coming on as someone who is not going to threaten the white power structure, whether it’s corporate or whether it’s simply oligarchic. And they love it. Whites just eat it up.”
This may be true, but I’ve talked to several of my Black friends who like the fact that Obama doesn’t speak like a Black politician. He speaks like a winning politician. The absence of race in his rhetoric is calculated, and it is working.
Nader’s comments are also calculated. He will raise questions about Obama in an attempt to get some of those votes to swing his way.
What Nader doesn’t have this year as he did in 2000 is a national party that is standing behind him. In fact, Cynthia McKinney, a Black woman, is the likely Green Party nominee. McKinney doesn’t shy away from discussions of race, and that has gotten her into trouble in the past.
Lebanese-American Nader, on the other hand, was accused of avoiding the issue of race by his supporters during his own 2000 campaign, ignoring racial disparities and couching the debate in terms of class. He hasn’t discussed the plight of Arab Americans, and he hasn’t talked about the problem of Islamophobia. This is a problem Obama will be forced to address in 2008. What about Nader?
So while I don’t agree with the substance of Nader’s criticisms, I do disagree with his own hypocrisy. Frankly, this a case of the pot calling the kettle Black?