Thursday, June 26, 2008

Lost It

Joan Walsh at Salon asks, “Is Ralph Nader losing it?”

There are right ways to talk about Barack Obama’s relationship with his progressive base, and there are wrong ways, and Ralph Nader chose one of the worst ways in an interview with the Rocky Mountain News this week.

Nader accused Obama of “talking white” by paying insufficient attention to the problems of urban poverty and the inner city. He went on: “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.

And there’s more: “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.”

There’s so much wrong with what Nader said, starting with the idea that Obama is “talking white.” I also, despite mixed feelings, ultimately reject the notion that an African-American has some special duty to deal with the poverty and alienation that is the legacy of slavery and racism. I know why Nader feels that way; I know many people do, some of them black; but I feel like it’s all of our responsibility, including John McCain, not the special burden of black people, including Barack Obama.

I don’t think Ralph Nader is losing it because I don’t think he’s ever really had it since he gave up his practice of being a consumer advocate and started being an advocate for himself and his ego.

If he was truly concerned about paying attention to the plight of the poor and the downtrodden, he wouldn’t just pop up every four years to play the role of the election-year gadfly; he’d be too busy trying to work for the solutions — as he used to — to run for office.