In an interview with the Rocky Mountain News last week, quadrennial presidential candidate and Gore spoiler Ralph Nader seemed to suggest that Barack Obama is not black enough for his taste and is trying to talk white to appeal to white guilt:
“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.
"I mean, first of all, the number one thing that a black American politician aspiring to the presidency should be is to candidly describe the plight of the poor, especially in the inner cities and the rural areas, and have a very detailed platform about how the poor is going to be defended by the law, is going to be protected by the law, and is going to be liberated by the law. Haven't heard a thing.
“He wants to show that he is not a threatening . . . another politically threatening African-American politician. 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."
Nader later added to these remarks:
“What difference it should make is that he would be more sensitive and determined to bring elevated visibility and concrete programs to deal with these issues. Wouldn’t a woman president be expected to be more responsive to women’s rights? It’s just more natural. Obama obviously made a tactical decision that he’s not going to campaign politically as Jesse Jackson did. He wants to come across that he’s not politically threatening to the white power class and the liberal intelligentsia. It’s been a brilliant tactic.”
All this earned Nader the usual denunciations. But is it really racist to compare Barack Obama to Jesse Jackson? That’s also the offense Bill Clinton was accused of committing back after the South Carolina primary.