Ralph Nader about Obama : Uncle Sam or Uncle Tom?

Updated November 6, 2008

I originally posted this article with the headline ‘Ralph Nader calls Obama “Uncle Tom.”‘ This was inaccurate; it did not correctly reflect Nader’s words. Nader actually said, “His choice, basically, is whether he’s going to be Uncle Sam for the people of this country or Uncle Tom for the giant corporations.”

However, even when placed in this context, I believe Nader’s comments to have been jarringly inappropriate. The social usage of the term “Uncle Tom” has always been explicitly or implicitly racist and it is certainly out of line when uttered by a white man.

Which is not to say that Nader’s speculation about what role Obama will play in relation to the corporate domination of America is inappropriate. That is a question we are duty-bound to ask of Barack Obama throughout his presidency.

Ralph Nader, a man whose historical credentials as a social critic are impeccable, continues to have an astute analysis of the problems confronting America. But he has become essentially tone deaf and, to this observer, greatly functions as an obstacle to the basic social change he so correctly demands.

Thorne Dreyer / The Rag Blog / November 6, 2008

‘It’s a stunning bit of television and a lot of people missed it.’
By Tim Goodman / November 5, 2008

See Video of Nader on FOX News, Below.

As if Ralph Nader wasn’t a big enough tool already, he went on Fox News on election night – the very night Barack Obama broke the racial barrier on the presidency – and uttered the words “Uncle Tom.” Not only that, after being called out on the words (which he initially said in a radio interview) by Fox News anchor Shepard Smith – and given a point-blank chance to apologize and take them back, Nader said he wouldn’t.

It’s a stunning bit of television and a lot of people missed it. (No doubt a good portion of the Bay Area, not exactly a bastion of Fox News watchers, did).

Up until he spewed out the words, the biggest shocker in this scenario was A) That anybody still cared enough to talk to a washed-up political hack like Nader and B) That Nader could actually hear Smith call him on the offensive language. Nader rarely stops his mouth moving – he’s always so caught up in his monotonous blather and meritless belief that he’s making points people want to listen to.

Give Shep Smith a lot of credit here. “Really? Ralph Nader – what was that?” And then he just fried Nader. (I love the look on his face when Nader calls him a bully – it’s that same look people should be giving Nader right about now for completely not getting it.)

So, let’s go to the big board here for the tally: Nader helps the Democrats lose the election in 2000 and then slanders the Democratic winner in 2008? Well played, Ralph. At least this moment brings you (temporarily) back out of obscurity and irrelevance.

Ralph Nader on FOX News

Source / The Bastard Machine / SF Gate

Thanks to Harry Edwards / The Rag Blog

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14 Responses to Ralph Nader about Obama : Uncle Sam or Uncle Tom?

  1. I couldn’t believe my ears; what a terrible thing to have done, and I never would have figured Ralph Nader for something like this.

    Having been such an admirer of his for 40 years, it stunned me when I heard these words come from his lips.

    Truly a sad day – sour grapes doesn’t even come close as being the appropriate remark in my response to what Nader said….

  2. Jesse James Retherford says:

    Are we really agreeing with FAUX news here? Nader’s statement was taken completely out of context by both the reporter on FAUX and the article above. Yes Nader has become irrelevant in current politics. But the only thing he is guilty of in this case is poor judgement in his terminology. Using the term Uncle Tom was just stupid because of its obvious racial underpinnings. The question he raises is a very real and good one. Simply, without the racial tinge of an Uncle anything, he was asking; what will you do now Barrack? Will you fight for the common good, or will you fall pray to the corruption of power? And we will hold your feet to the fire to keep even you honest.
    America today is the same one of Nov 3rd, minus one enormous wall. We are still a nation on the brink of disaster from multiple fronts, although with a little more hope on the horizon. The worst thing we as an electorate can do is become complacent because our guy won. At least Ralph Nader recognizes that! We should all be asking the same question from Obama and ourselves. What do we, together as a people united, do next?
    Jesse James Retherford

  3. Sarito says:

    Ah, poor old Ralph. In their respective old ages, both he and Joe Lieberman seem to have lost the capacity to keep a lid on whatever deep psychological wounds created such a pathetic need for attention. If it weren’t so ugly, I’d feel sorry for them.

  4. RogerB says:

    Everyone likes to dismiss Nader as irrelevant these days. But in fact I still agree with almost everything he says, and someone of high public profile needs to be saying them.

    He was running for president on an explicitly anti-corporate platform; he is raising a key irrepressible issue that, like slavery in the USA in 1850, is going to come back and haunt Obama, no matter what.

    The unavoidable issue of our times as is whether we are to be ruled by a rapacious corporate empire, or for the benefit of the average citizens. Nader tells the truth, while Obama avoids the issue.

    I think both are doing what they can, but its going to take tolerance and appreciation of mavericks like Nader to help Obama get the job done.

  5. thorne dreyer says:

    Certainly it’s hard to argue with Ralph Nader’s politics, it’s just impossible for me to comprehend how his actions and his public posture do anything to further those politics.

    Seems just the opposite: that he’s a sad egoist and an opportunist and an obstructionist. Makes his legitimate positions seem fringe and his credibility marginal.


  6. Anonymous says:

    That Ralph could repeat this comment on the very night that Obama was elected by a giant majority of Americans- proving that the country is ready to move past racial stereotypes is horrible to me.

    I think that Ralph, and his supporters, who have been venomous trashers of progressives who support Obama- need to carefully look at their personal racism.

    The gracious thing to have done, would be to congratulate Obama, and realize that millions of Black Americans and their allies see the beginning of an end to the most blatant forms of U.S. white supremecy in this election and the Obama campaign.

    To fail to comprehend the huge significance of this election makes Ralph beyond irrelevant, it places him squarely in the right-wing, Palin-esque “we can’t allow these ‘others’ to lead us” camp.

    I’m done listening to Nader- besides the fact that he’s a “has been” and should have gotten off the stage while his self-respect was still intact- he has now demonstrated that he has zero comprehension of how to lead.

    One thought: What would have happened if Ralph had thrown his support (and money) behind
    McKinney? We would have had more of an opportunity to hear her voice throughout this election season.

    Again, Thorne has it right, Ralph’s an egoist and his actions amply put the lie to his words.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Thorne, it is professionally appropriate to note the contextual difference in your original posting, but the last sentence of your email sums it all up nicely. The paring of Uncle and Tom in any context has only one interpretation. Nader’s nadir is a clear signal that he needs to go to the house and stay there.

    Larry Ray

  8. Zwarich says:

    It’s at times like these that I think that the American Left has such a deeply ingrained instinct for self-destruction that it will never rise above its inclination to eat its own. We seem to be constitutionally incapable of respect for any points of view that challenge our own, so we make enemies of anyone not in lockstep agreement with whatever we think at any given moment.

    It is just incredible that Mr. Dreyer would choose to forge an alliance with Shepard Smith, a proud right wing bigot, in his attempt to politically assassinate one of the greatest Americans, certainly of our generation, and arguably in our nation’s history. Minutes after Nader used this phrase, the assembled Fox pundits of bigotry announced that this was officially the end of his career. Don’t they wish. But they must be having a good laugh at the realization that the Left is going to pick up on their initiative to help assassinate one of the few figures in modern politics who tells the truth, consistently and without compromise, irregardless of any possible cost to his own interests.

    Is this a harbinger of things to come? Is it a sign that we will completely ignore what Barak Obama has said about moving on into a post-racial America in which frank and honest discussions can take place without this kind of shameless race-card politics? Is this a sign that people will continue to use this variation of narrow-minded ‘gotcha’ political correctness to enforce their own point of view?

    Many people on the Left, (though obviously not those who are currently engaged in these jubilant celebrations over Obama’s election, who are becoming ever more mean-spirited towards anyone on the Left who does not yet see any cause for celebration), think that the massive degree of financial backing that Obama received from the status quo power structure has resulted from their realization that he will provide them with a perfectly saleable ‘brand’ that they can use successfully to advance their cause of ever expanding economic and military hegemony. What better ‘brand’ to lead the way for the American Empire, which Obama has, in no uncertain terms, pledged to protect and support, that a brilliant black man who can weave silver-tongued oratory to inspire the masses with illusions of “change”, while he advances the cause of the status quo power structure with his actual policy decisions.

    I am NOT saying that those are MY beliefs, (not that I think that anyone will listen to or accept this honest disclaimer), but they are certainly concerns that any reasoned observer of this campaign should at least guardedly consider as possible. And THAT is what Ralph Nader said. Will this man be an ‘Uncle Tom’ who fronts for the ‘powers that be’, or will he actualize his soaring rhetoric into policy, which would make him one of this nation’s greatest presidents? THAT is the question that Nader asked.

    Is Mr. Dreyer accusing Ralph Nader of being a racist? What exactly is he accusing him of? He’s accusing him of being ‘irrelevant’ because he refuses to play the game of self-censorship that the rigged American system requires of its political candidates? Because he doggedly insists on telling the truth? And for THAT he is now ‘irrelevant’?

    Talk about a self-defeating death wish. Let’s all hop on board this hatchet job of this man who tells the truth. Let’s jump on board and help assassinate Nader because he is pointing out facts about Barak Obama that we find inconvenient in our indiscriminate eagerness to anoint him as our champion and savior.

    We just don’t want to think about this man’s clearly stated support for expanding the US military, and escalating US wars overseas. We don’t want to hear about how he’s not even talking about ending the occupation of Iraq, about how he’s only talking about a troop reduction and ‘permanent’ redeployment to the mega-bases that Haliburton has built to command the oil fields, (that we forced the Iraqis to sign over to US companies). We don’t want to know about his support for the cruel Zionist project that has held an entire nation of people under the iron heel of military occupation for three generations. We don’t want to remember his support for the massive bailout of Wall Street that he helped stampede through Congress in complete disregard for the overwhelming majority opinion of the nation’s citizens who were crying out at the top of their lungs that this highway robbery of a bailout be stopped. We don’t want to know any of these things because we are so busy having fun pretending that they are not true.

    So when Ralph Nader reminds us that they ARE true, we jump on the right wing bandwagon, like lemmings, to help assassinate a man that History will surely remember as one of the greatest figures of our times.

    This is very sad. C’mon, Mr. Dreyer. We gotta do a LOT better than this.


  9. I agree with Thorne that Ralph Nader’s choice of imagery is jarring. Whether it is appropriate or not is subjective — and hardly relevant to the overall story. A discussion about EFFECTIVENESS might be more useful.

    I emphatically disagree with Thorne’s overreaching characterization of the term “Uncle Tom’ [as having] *always* (my emphasis) been explicitly or implicitly racist and it is certainly out of line when uttered by a white man.”

    Uncle Tom was first uttered by a white woman, a single-minded abolitionist and underground railroad activist. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom was a stoic man with fierce inner character, and he ultimately suffers a cruel death rather than betray his core beliefs.

    The much-bawdlerized Uncle Tom, over the years, became the sterotypical passive, smiling Negro, and to James Baldwin and the generation of Black Power activists who followed, Uncle Tom came to represent what happens when black people capitulate to white authority. Uncle Tom (or Tio Tomas and Uncle Tomahawk in the emerging liberation lexicons) not only internalized a perverse mentality of race- and class-[self]oppression but often took equally perverse pride in his overly enthusiastic enforcement of white authority. Frantz Fanon (Black Skin, White Masks) helped unlock the key to understanding what creates the brutal black gendarmes of the colonial world, and more recent studies of concentration camp kapos (Jewish “cops” selected to enforce Nazi policy) provided more insight into the psycho- and socio-pathology of oppression. Fanon describes “moral consciousness” in “a kind of scission, a fracture of consciousness into a bright part and an opposing black part.”

    “In order to achieve morality,” he says, “it is essential that the black, the Negro vanish from consciousness. Hence a Negro is forever in combat with his own image.” (BSWM p.174)

    As Uncle Toms and Tio Tomases and honky pigs exist in every class- and race-oppressed culture, the psychology of oppression and its subgenres of disassociative behaviors is something that we all must understand and be able to talk about across race and class lines if we are serious about pushing forward. Self-censorship is not helpful to the discussion.

    Now back to Nader. Jesse and Roger have it right. Nader has good analysis and really really destructive politics. His destructive politics are what I dislike about the man. With Nader getting less than one percent of the national vote, apparently I am not alone. Tim Goodman, however, is moved to write several hundred words about the “washed-up political hack.” Interestingly enough, the RagBlog thread has echoed again and again Shep Smith’s main point: Nader is fucking irrelevant. But if he is irrelevant, why are we laboring on and on about this non-story, about his age, his ego, his opportunism, etc, ad nauseum. RagBloggers, we have achieved the transmogrification of a nonentity by restating time and again that Nader’s irrelevance somehow continues to be relevant? Give me a break.

    A final word on proof. Did this election PROVE that the country is ready to move past racism? No. Does it PROVE anything. No. What it does do is to demonstrate that an extraordinary conflux on American racial, class, economic, and foreign policy contradictions has produced an extraordinary event in American history — the election of a black president with a stirring populist message and a big white political machine standing backstage. Uncle Sam to the people or Uncle Tom to corporate oligarchy? It’s a fair question at this moment in history, regardless of who asks it and how jarring it is to our politically correct sensibilities.

  10. Anonymous says:

    In reviewing Mr. Dreyer’s comments I do not find that he castigated Mr. Nader in any way. In fact he went so far as to acknowledge his many contributions in his fearless stand against corporate greed at the expense of American citizens. Mr. Dreyer:

    “Ralph Nader, a man whose historical credentials as a social critic are impeccable, continues to have an astute analysis of the problems confronting America.”

    He did point out that those words (Uncle Tom) in that context were not well chosen – which may be one reason that Mr. Nader has not enjoyed more success in the political arena. I greatly respect Mr. Nader’s contributions and hope he will continue to speak truth to power. But I do believe it is clear he is not a serious contender for President. I believe there is an overwhelming need for voices to point out the truth about the negative consequences of corporate greed and stupidity – no one does that better than Mr. Nader.

    The process of nominating and electing a President of the United States does require a certain accommodation with “the powers that be”. I believe that is what Mr. Chomsky referred to in his statement about voting for “the lesser of two evils”. Zwarich raises valid issues going forward. We must keep an eye on what’s going on. The election is not the end of the need for citizen engagement – it is the real beginning. This intensity of feeling and involvement is encouraging – if it requires us to aggravate one another sufficiently to keep us awake, so be it.

    William Michael Hanks

  11. Mariann says:

    missed all this and just want to add brief support for Zwarich’ p.o.v. — story this week about a 21-year old white UTexas football player who stupidly posted a racist remark about Obama on his Facebook page that had been e-mailed to him by someone else; almost immediately realized he was an idiot and pulled it down, apologizing profusely to all and sundry; he has been dismissed from the team. This is no doubt a devastating event in an “athalete’s” young life, and I think it’s an over-reaction. Wish the coach had given him over to his black teammates for some re-education. Maybe there is some former black athlete in a wheelchair who could use a big strong personal assistant, in return for teaching him something about black people. Wdn’t be the first time the university experience had cleared up a case of racism. As for Nader, he is certainly brilliant but flawed; I have personally never viewed him as a “leftist” per se and don’t think he has either; he is a “reformer” first-and-last and yes, there is usually something a little creepy about that.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Like most straight white men, Nader does not get identity politics–which is alive and well; contrary to many pundits and Ward Connerlly, we do not live in a post-racial, color-blind, gender-blind society. Please let me know the first time you don’t notice the color or gender of the person you are talking with.

    –Jeff Jones

  13. Mariann,

    It might be noted that the UT football player — backup center Buck Burnette — didn’t just slur Obama. According to the Ft. Worth Star Telegram, he said: “All the hunters gather up, we have a [racial epithet] in the White House.”

    There was even early speculation the FBI would investigate it as a threat.


  14. Anonymous says:

    You know after Tues night, I thought, I might just stay here in America rather than move to Canada as I thought I would probably do, having been completely worn out from fighting fascism here in America for the last 8 years. But now that I have read this little slice of American Presidential Idol from a few, I think I will go up and pack my bags once more! Nadar was stating very clearly that Obama had a choice now to choose on the side of the people of America, his people, all of us, or to lean to the side of the military-corporate cabal that has taken over this country. The reference to Uncle Tom is apt and is that of a character who chose to stab his own people in the back, it is approriate, it reflects one of the choices in front of Obama at this very moment! We have got to get a grip on this hypersensitivity to everything said in America and the demonization of people. For Christ’s sake Nadar was just making a point and a very important one at that! Who amongst you knows for sure which way Obama will chose, us or the military-corporate cabal, none of you can tell me for sure that you know the answer to that question! Obviously all of you have drank the Obamaid so can not be trusted to think critically or reasonably about the man, if he chooses to move in a direction against us, who amongst us will care if he is black or white? Get a grip America, we must not idolize anyone in Government, we must only hold their feet to the fire! There are too many forces pulling them to decide against us for us to be adolescent about this situation! Wake Up!
    Educate yourself and then monitor and speak up to Obama’s every decision! He is not the captain of your high school football team, he will be the President, the Commander and Chief of the largest military known in the history of mankind. Obama could end up bringing in a New Deal or drive this country into bankcrupcy.
    Get real, it does not really matter what color the thin layer of cells are on the top of his skin, what matters is the measure of his courage, his compassion and his wisdom!

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