Thursday, June 26, 2008

Ralph Nader and the Race Card

By Joe Sims
I got a call yesterday from a subscriber in Boston complaining that PA hasn't said much about Ralph Nader's ill-advised entry into the US presidential campaign. “Why aren't you covering him,” she asked. “Point taken,” I replied, “but don't you think he's playing a negative role both now and in the past? I mean, if it hadn't been for his campaign in 2000 we might not have the war in Iraq.” “Oh, we'd have it” she replied, “Kerry himself has big investments there.” Really? But I thought it was Gore who ran in 2000. Oh well don't confuse things with the dates and facts.

Little did I realize that a few hours later, the news would ablaze with racially inflammatory remarks by none other than Mr. Nader himself who accused the Democratic nominee of “talking white,” not threating the “white power structure,” and “appealing to “white guilt.” So dear reader, here's your column.

By “talking white” (whatever that means) one presumes, Ralph wasn't referring to the cadence of Mr. Obama's speech. Obama, who grew up in Kansas, Hawaii and other points on the globe in all likelihood speaks in tones in keeping with the dialects of the hoods whose corner's he hung out on. Rather to be fair Mr. Nader was making a more substantial point: namely that the Obama campaign wasn't addressing the race and class issues of poverty and discrimination facing Black America.

Ralph apparently hasn't been paying attention to the Democratic candidate's speeches or platform. Be that as it may, what is even more striking is the implicit assumption that in Nader's mind, poverty is a Black thing, as if white poverty, gender poverty, or Latino and Asian poverty didn't exist.

As curious is Mr. Nader's concept of what “Blackness” entails or in what “taking Black consists” a problem that may relate to the degree of his class and spatial remove from the problems of this and other communities of color. Al Sharpton was right yesterday when he said "I don't know how one "talks black or white,” and "There are clearly different styles and speech cadences in every community."

Mr. Nader also clearly doesn't understand the central most basic issue before the Black community today: the need to remove from power the conservative, backward, intolerant, racist minded forces now inhabiting the White House and other corridors of power in Washington. What greater challenge to the “white power structure” could there be? But the question must be asked, does he really care. After all, who are his remarks designed to appeal to? So dear reader, here's your dream come true as today's nightmare, I'm writing about Ralph, consumer advocate, corporate challenger, poor person's advocate, and now in this latest incarnation, race bater. Happy?


Harold said...

Do you really think that a Gore presidency would have been significantly different with Republicans and corporate Dems still dominating Congress? The wheels were turning on Iraq before Bush came into office. Don't forget Clinton and Gore's sanctions on Iraq that killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis during the 90s.

I think we would not have had the war in Iraq if people had been smart enough to take Nader seriously in 2000.

And about Nader being a race-bater... I think it's pretty preposterous. One speech (albeit and impressive one) does not a campaign make, in the case of Mr. Obama. His campaign is now focused on getting the "white working class" vote, but you'd be kidding yourself is you think Obama has any deep understanding of class.

Our choice is this: Do we vote for a guy who has been honestly and genuinely standing up for consumers' and workers' rights for his entire career, or do we vote for a guy who is knee deep in special interest money and has become a special friend of AIPAC and the racist state of Israel?

Race isn't only about white and black, as I'm sure you know, and it's not all about domestic issues.

CynicsSuck said...

It's a divisive tactic. Except that Mr. Nader doesn't get to conquer anything. But McCain might.

Harold said...

CynicsSuck, I don't think Nader is going to take away from Dems any more than Bob Barr (Libertarian) is going to hurt Republicans. They'll even each other out, and we'll get stuck with another corporate candidate. I'll pull for Obama because its a step in the right direction, but I won't harbor any delusions about what kind of presidency he'll amount to.

Anonymous said...

A few quick points. First, Ralph Nader in his long career as an environmentalist and consumer advocate always shied away from the racist implications of the policies that he was criticizing. He was an old fashioned early 20th century anti-monopoly progressive, someone who wanted to make capitalism work and also someone for whom minorities were essentially invisible.

In his comments about "Russia, in recent years" he summed it up best when he said that capitalism's job was to produce wealth and government's job was to make sure it was distributed fairly(idealism to say the very least).
What is Nader, whose support has always come from white liberals and radicals, who has refrained from emphasizing civil rights and affirmative action issues from the 1960s to the recent period doing by accusing Obama of "talking white" and reviving the Civil Rights movement's term of a white power structure(which he didn't use forty years ago when many people were using it) against Obama. Objectively, he is hurting Obama and helping McCain.

While I agree with Harold that it is unlikely that Nader will take that many votes away from Obama(he didn't in 2004 against Kerry) I strongly disagree with the view that Gore would have been no different than Bush, not out of any belief that the Democrats are a progressive party or that they are not controlled by the capitalist class.

We all should remember how extreme and ultra-right the Bush policies have been.
Would Gore have provided red carpet service for the bin Laden family, whipped up hysteria over the Anthrax letters and then pushed through the "Patriot Act." I really don't think so, at least not at that level. Given the level of global support for the U.S. after 9/11, I believe he would have launched an invasion of Afghanistan, a multi-lateral invasion and continued that war. I don't see him launching a war against Iraq, which was counter-productive to both the Afghanistan war and to the policy vis a vis Iran. In Iran, he probably would have built bridges to the more "liberal elements" of the clerical regime then in power, who were trying to improve relations with the U.S- NATO bloc, instead of giving them a complete cold shoulder.
I doubt that he would have used the term "Axis of Evil," since his policies would not be crafted by the legion of former Trokskyists and rightwing Social Democrats, who reconstituted themselves as cold war liberals in the 1950s and as "neo conservatives" in the 1970s and 1980s and have set the tone for the Bush administration even to a greater degree than they had for the Reagan administration.

As for domestic policy, environment, tax policy, labor policy, the core constituencies of the Democratic party and the great majority of congessional Democrats would have made it virtually impossible for Gore to do what Bush did even if he desired to(and in no way do I believe that he would have desired to pursue those policies)

I consider my vote for Ralph Nader in 2000 the worst political mistake I have made in my life. The Nader vote helped Bush steal the 2000 election(even with that vote, he lost the election, but without it, the nearly 3 million Nader votes, it would have been impossible for him to successfully steal it)
Whatever mistakes our movement and party have made, including at points in history, ultra-left mistakes when the ultra-left was really on the ascendancy and had some chance to triumph(which is not true today) we have always sought to connect our views and policies with ongoing peoples struggles to advance those policies and peoples struggles. Attacking Obama from the left, even from the pseudo-left position that Nader has taken, can only heighten internal conflicts, including real racist sensibilities, among the peoples movements, weaken and isolate us, and of course help McCain and the Republican right and also those DLC and other conservative Democrats who would profit from an Obama defeat.
Norman Markowitz

Harold said...

Norman, I have to ask you who you think will profit from an Obama victory? The so called "people's movement" (which, as a singular, unified movement does not exist)? What evidence can you give to back that up? Obama's rhetoric? Rhetoric that we've all heard before, replete with promises about progress and lies about where his campaign financing comes from and who he'll truly be indebted to after the election in November? Rhetoric designed to manipulate the masses, just like McCain's?

If you want to believe the rhetoric that Obama is selling, you're welcome to, but as I said, I won't be buying it, as tempting as it may be.

And let's not confuse the facts - the Nader vote did not help Bush steal the election, The Bush vote did. Blaming Nader is a cop-out - This is how a democratic election process works.

Obama gets attacked from the left because he is what Nader calls him - a corporate Democrat committed to the status quo while telling us he represents change. Sure that hurts left unity - because there is no unity when those who are supposed to represent the "left" speak out so fervently against Nader and support someone like Obama.

I hope Ralph is wrong, but again, I'm not holding my breath.

Anonymous said...

Harold, I disagree. Obama is a liberal labor Democrat. That doesn't mean he is a socialist but it does mean that he is different than either Clinton or Dukakis or even cold warriors like Mondale and Humphrey. I don't believe his rhetoric. I look at his record, which is actually very good and I look at the social forces supporting him. Of course, the movement isn't unified, but in my experience here in New Jersey, it is very open, filled with people who really are looking for and identifying with solutions like a public national health policy, public social protections etc
As for the term "corporate" democrat, we should remember that corporations, private ones, as institutions of the capitalist class, We are not fighting corporations or "corporate power" per se, but a capitalist system which, as Marx noted a long time ago, while continue to use all means at its disposal to maintain its power as long as it has such means, to buy off and repress opposition until it can no longer do so.
An Obama victory will be a huge step forward for the working class even if Obama fails to live up to the expectations of his followers. It will first of all be a huge victory against racism. I cannot imagine even a retreating Obama turning on the core constituencies of the Democratic party, the unions, the cities, the way both Clinton and Carter before him did, much less the new forces that are to the left of those traditional institutional groups.

It isn't a question of believing rhetoric, it is a question of mobilizing support to turn rhetoric into policy and reality.
Norman Markowitz

Harold said...

Norman, while I agree that electing Obama may be a step in the right direction, I can't help but think back to a month or so ago when Cheney was confronted with the public support for the war in Iraq being so lo and he could only say "So?" with that sh**-eating grin on his face. And I recall Dana Perino saying the following day that the nature of our system is that the people use their voices once every four years to elect a leader - essentially that elections are the extent of our democracy. Sure I realize those comments came from right-wing radical reactionaries, but these sorts of policies, where the people have very little voice in government outside of the election process, have been in place for 60-odd years, through Republican and Democratic presidencies. For that reason, I have a hard time believing that Obama will keep his word to let the people back into government. ANd as long as we continue to support reactionary Dems, the people will continue to believe that they don't have the strength to take the power back. The war of ideas is put on hold yet again.

And as I said, I don't think Obama represents a true victory over racism - maybe a victory on the homefront, but when his support for the obviously racist state of Israel is so front and center, the stain of racism remains. There's no way to explain it away, and no way around it.