Open Thread: What Do You Think about Ralph Nader’s Comments?

We are setting this up as an open thread on Nader’s comments. Please comment below as you see fit.

According to the Chicago Sun Times, Ralph Nader had some strong words on Senator Obama and his campaign today. Nader said:

‘‘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?’’

When asked if Obama does try to ‘‘talk white,’’ Nader replied, ‘‘Of course.’’ He also said that Obama doesn’t want to appear to be ‘‘another politically threatening African-American politician.’’

‘‘He wants to appeal to white guilt,’’ Nader said. ‘‘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.’’

Senator Obama just gave his reply.

Obama said Nader hadn’t been paying attention because he has discussed predatory lending, housing foreclosures and similar economic issues throughout his campaign. ‘‘I think it’s a shame because if you look at his legacy in terms of consumer protections, it’s an extraordinary one. But at this point, he’s somebody who’s trying to get attention and whose campaign hasn’t gotten any traction,’’ Obama said.

What do you think?


  1. mordy

    i think these are words of a fairly deranged and definitely out of touch has been (or never was?) who will say nearly anything to advance his campaign. The guy has destroyed other dems in the past, so just add the Senator to his list. This is the first time he has really been heard from, so if his intent was create a buzz, i guess he accomplished that

  2. Diana

    Obama has risen above much of the ugliness that distorts human engagement…I would call his political path transcendent, not subservient or complicit. I think the issues mentioned by Nader are all in Obama’s line of vision, but divisive rhetoric is not Barak’s style–this doesn’t mean he is unaware of ugly social realities. I do worry about his reluctance to unashamedly embrace the Muslim community as legitimate, but am also suspicious of how the media is shaping this relationship and cognizant of the embedded prejudices he is facing. A young Muslim friend from Morocco stressed today that we should work to get him elected and then let him go to work, and not get distracted by the political machinations.

  3. Kai

    I think Nader is right in substance, but the notion of ‘talking white’ is a charged term particularly in the black community and I’m not sure he’s totally clear that it has different connotations that what he is trying to imply. However, in essence, everything he is saying is 100% correct. Obama isn’t talking exploitation in inner city communities, or ANY other issue that could be viewed as black, precisely because he is trying very hard to appeal to white voters. I suppose this is a pragmatic strategy for winning the presidency in a fundamentally racist society, but I don’t really have the stomach for it for several reasons; one of which is that i don’t believe that you can vote social change into office.

  4. Joe

    Mordy, Kai, Diana, all good points as I see it. Clearly, Nader has pointed to the tightrope that Obama is walking, in trying to be honest about himself and change, yet appealing to white voters to a still very racist country. Obama has a neoliberal record that has cozied up too much to corporations too.

    But Nader, who is ironically a member of a group that is “not white” (Arab American) in most “white” eyes, is looking at this campaign from a version of the white racial frame. You see that in his biased language.

  5. Muriel Minnie Mae

    I met Obama many times this summer while he was campaigning in New Hampshire. I found him to be completely middle of the road.

    I don’t remember him bringing up class or race at all. It was as if he — and the white NH public — ignored the fact that he’s mixed race.

    To be honest, I’d prefer Jesse Jackson over Barack Obama. At least with Jackson I know where he stands and what he believes. Obama always spoke in Centrist language trying to appease everyone in his audience.

    Here is a link of responses from him (and other candidates) on their stance regarding nuclear weapons/war, terrorism, and the War in Iraq so you can see what I’m talking about.

    After seeing him and all the candidates I came to the realization they are all the same. They spoke in the same language, said the same things. None of them were worth writing home about. Pretty sad, actually.

  6. Ryon

    In regards to the critiques on Obama…. I constantly wonder if his neo-liberal responses to social ills are more a product of his insider-outsider status within black/poor communities, or his moving towards the middle. Is it that African Americans, because of his complexion, expect him to understand the black urban/rural experience, or does he undestand the tradition but purposefully move away from it.

    For Nader….I agree on Nader on most of his critiques on Obama. But Nader knew better than to say Obama was talking white. Yes, Obama tries (very very very very very hard) to appeal to moderate whites, but when Nader mentioned that, he weakened his (mostly true) charges against Obama.

  7. Joe

    Ryon, good point. Saying he is “talking white” only plays into the racialization of Obama. Nader should know better than that. There are things you cannot say in this racist country, even if partially true, without damaging the chances of the best candidates of color.

  8. Personally, I’m way to Obama’s left on economic matters, and I certainly can understand some of the points Nader wants to make. But I think Oabma’s critics forget something important: A great many liberal or progressive values are usually derived from notions of the common good. Obama’s centrist politics are part of an appeal to the values of the common good, which does serve progressive interests. (See Markovits and Weintraub, who made the point.) I can’t help but think there is a connection between maintaining a white racial frame and abandoning the politics of the common good.

  9. Wes

    I love TRUTH and wisdom…and the candidate that comes closest to those qualities is Texas Congressman Ron Paul! He would have dealt the military-industrial fascists, the prison-corporate complex (the NEW Jim Crow) and the bogus tax system a fatal blow.
    What’s truly sad is that America doesn’t deserve his leadership.
    The U.S. will wind up with another CFR, Zionist, Bilderberger lackey (as POTUS) implementing policies that cause more war and more corruption and more death. It’s just the same old tired songs sporting a new and different album cover…amazingly voters are still buying it!!
    As for Mr. Nader’s observations – his points concerning Sen Obama are correct.

  10. Joe

    Matt, I think you are right about that conflict between a white-focused frame and a “general good” or justice frame. That tension is very deep in this society.

    Wes, one problem is Paul’s overt racism. In the 1990s I remember when Paul, as a member of the U.S. Congress , wrote in his Survival Report about black men in Washington, D.C., “I think we can safely assume that 95 percent of the black males are semi-criminal or entirely criminal.”

  11. Ryon

    Even more, in a highly racialized society, even good critiques such as Nader, go unheard.

    I’m wondering if blacks should align themselves with the Green/Socialist parties and what type of leader is needed in order for that to happen?

  12. Joe

    Ryon, it is interesting and important that the Green Party’s leading presidential candidate is Cynthia McKinney, a Black woman. Yet she gets no media attention from our white-framed media….

  13. Ryon

    I didnt realize she got the nod….

    But even her critique errors on the personal side. With someone as charismatic as Obama, hitting him on the pure issues is sufficient. Anything else (I believe she called him an Uncle Tom once) allows him to claim racism or disregard the issue at hand, if that makes sense.

  14. Wes

    Thanks for responding Joe.
    Didn’t Ron Paul publically refute that and other accusations attributed to his newsletter by stating to mainstream media pundits that someone else actually authored the articles in the newsletters under his name where those controversial statement were found? I remember thinking at the time how these attacks, and the timing of it, had all the earmarks of a “smear job.” And, if that was all of the damaging racist evidence they had on him? Unless I woke up this morning in an alternate universe the media in this dimension would normally cover-up the fact that some white guy is a racist — instead of doing the opposite. That should be enough to make anyone suspicious! Dr Paul’s ideas regarding governing, if implemented, would have benefited the common (and poor) people of all races and overturned the established political order — assuming he’d won and lived long enough to do these things.

  15. Joe

    Ryon, McKinney is just the leading candidate, not the nominee yet. The Green convention, I believe, is in July.

    Wes, I remember Paul making some general denials, but do not remember him calling back the infamous comment about black men. I have not seen a good analysis of his views on racial matters. That would be worth exploring. He certainly was good in some of the Republican debates in critiquing Bush policies.

  16. I don’t know that anyone ever really nailed Paul, but he certainly did a lot to build ties with a variety of far-right groups. Certainly, I didn’t think his disavowals of his own newsletter, claiming he wasn’t responsible for what was written there, were persuasive. And while we shouldn’t generally criticize politicians for a few fringe supporters, it has to be troubling that so much of Paul’s support has come from the far right. He is very much a white knight in the fascist worldview, “principled” enough to withstand the political forces that supposedly drown others. (A terribly misanthropic view, no?) Talk about Zionist Bilderberg lackeys feeds into that, and plays on antisemitic theories of Jewish control.

  17. Joe

    Matt, I think you got him on that far-right-support point. You can see it on his website too, though he does mix in some libertarian stuff that appeals to progressives. Here are some bits from Ron Paul’s former presidential website on “racism”:

    “The true antidote to racism is liberty. Liberty means having a limited, constitutional government devoted to the protection of individual rights rather than group claims. A nation that once prided itself on a sense of rugged individualism has become uncomfortably obsessed with racial group identities. The collectivist mindset is at the heart of racism. Government as an institution is particularly ill-suited to combat bigotry. Bigotry at its essence is a problem of the heart, and we cannot change people’s hearts by passing more laws and regulations…. By encouraging Americans to adopt a group mentality, the advocates of so-called “diversity” actually perpetuate racism.”

    There is no sense here of our 400 years of well-institutionalized racism here. Indeed up until 1969 most of this nation’s whites were extremely obsessed with racial group identities—to keep slavery and legal segregation going. that is not new…. And a majority still are. He seems clueless on this.

    His views on immigration and numerous other domestic issues on that website are also pretty right-wing, for the most part.

  18. Seattle in Texas

    Ahahaaaah, fair game. Well, I’ve already shared my views before on this stuff…. Personally for many reasons, I would like to see Nadar be Obama’s running mate–they could make a mean team (that would be my dream ticket). But, the Democratic Party does need criticism (and most deservingly from Nadar and McKinney)–it’s not a perfect party but can become better if the blue voters (regardless of prior political orientation, etc.) this year help address the weaknesses and take ownership, or just provide support, etc.–I see this being done in Texas. Interesting…(but I say Nadar for VP–Obama/Nadar) 🙂

  19. Wes

    For what it’s worth, I think Ron Paul accepted full responsibility for not reviewing those articles penned by some other individual in his newsletter.
    “There is no sense here of our 400 years of well-institutionalized racism here. Indeed up until 1969 most of this nation’s whites were extremely obsessed with racial group identities—to keep slavery and legal segregation going. that is not new…. And a majority still are. He seems clueless on this.”
    Good point, Joe. But since when do any of us always agree with any candidate about everything 100% of the time? As far as Paul being supported by the far right, I’ll say this: If the Klan believed in Jesus Christ, would their support of Him disqualify Jesus from being the Savior for all of the people? (By the way, Dr Paul’s supporters are comprised of Americans from all ethnic groups ranging from the far left to the far right.) I’m not suggesting that Ron Paul is America’s Messiah… though I am saying that the media and his own GOP party’s apparatus’ very shabby treatment of him ought to sound some alarms and warrant a closer look at just what he and his grassroots supporters are proposing.

  20. For what it’s worth, I think Ron Paul accepted full responsibility… No, he didn’t. And that he is supported by a range of people from the far right to the far left is absolutely typical of fascism. “Zeev Sternhell traces the roots of Fascism to revolutionary far-left French movements..” It’s unfortunate so few people know so little about fascism or antisemitism.

  21. Wes

    Wes wrote: “For what it’s worth, I think Ron Paul accepted full responsibility…”
    Matt wrote: “No, he didn’t.”
    Dr. Paul said: “… I have publicly taken moral responsibility for not paying closer attention to what went out under my name.”
    And Matt – please don’t accept my word that Dr. Paul said this…you can Google the quote.

  22. Seattle in Texas

    (“Google the quote?” What? blahahaaaa!) Matt, most awesome you’re back. Honestly I haven’t kept up on Paul that closely, though can say some of the (red?–not Green) Texan Independents down here think he’s a total nut (for wishing to abolish the IRS for example) and prefer Nadar (that says a lot about Paul…well, to say more about him actually–folks in the Eastern Washington/Idaho panhandle area seem to like him a lot, hmmmm). I am out of touch with the right for the time being, but definitely trust your thoughts. So, thank you–most excellent. Wes, enjoy your bliss world of “Dr. Paul”…make me laugh!

  23. Seattle in Texas

    Well keep commenting–tie-dye some sheets? 🙂 and crown the hoods with some hemp wreaths? (I can do that) but your input is always important and appreciated on my end and thank you for taking a stand here….

Leave a Reply