Ralph Nader made some controversial comments regarding Barack Obama to the Rocky Mountain News. Nader alleged that only Obama’s race makes him different from any of the recent Democratic presidential candidates. He also said that Obama is talking white to appear to be a less threatening African-American politician, but is it possible that there is some truth in Nader’s comments?
“There’s only one thing different about Barack Obama when it comes to being a Democratic presidential candidate. He’s half African-American. 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,” Nader said.
There is a degree of truth in Nader’s observation. The Obama campaign knows that the one thing that could cost him the election is if he appears to be the “radical black candidate.” Notice how as the primary campaign went along, less was made of Obama the community organizer, also notice how Obama does very few public appearances with black political leaders. The campaign doesn’t want Obama lumped in with the perceived more extreme Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton.
The out of touch part of Nader’s comments come with his reasoning for why Obama is “talking white,” “He wants to show that he is not a threatening, a political threatening, another politically-threatening African-American politician. He wants to appeal to white guilt. You appeal to white guilt not by coming on as a 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.”
The reality is that the political parties are controlled by white people, but I don’t think Obama is talking white to try to appease white fears about him. I think the leadership in both parties only care about picking a candidate that can win. They don’t care about race. People who like Nader who remember the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s tend to view race relations within that prism. We saw similar comments from the Clintons during the primary campaign.
I think Nader’s talking white comment demonstrates how out of touch his view of the issue of race is. There has been progress on the issue over the past 40 years. Most importantly most Americans don’t view race the same way that they did back then. Nader’s comments represent an outdated view of race in this country. Racism still exists in the United States, but the Obama campaign should be viewed in the context of 2008, not 1958.