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Nader, Unsafe at Any Speed, Says Obama Wants to "Talk White"

06/25/2008 02:11 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

There's room for a progressive critique of the Democratic Party, but Ralph Nader isn't the one to fill it. Here are some Nader gems from an interview with the Rocky Mountain News:

"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?"

Let's deconstruct Nader's words here:

Obama's only "different" because he's black. His effect on young people and his stance on lobbyists don't matter. (Could there be a little jealousy here?) Geraldine Ferraro, we've found your soul mate.

If you have a darker skin tone, you're obligated to base your campaign on "race" issues.
In Nader's world, payday loans and the health effects of inner city construction are the only issues an African American is allowed to emphasize. Downplay them and you're trying to act all toney or something.

If you don't emphasize these issues, you're trying to "talk white." Which, after all, is a white person's job.

That isn't to say there aren't legitimate progressive criticisms that could be levelled at any mainstream party candidate, Obama included. A progressive movement that applies constant pressure on the Democrats makes some sense. But Nader's presidential runs, especially the 2004 one, were never designed to build that movement. They were ego trips for Nader and little more.

What a sad career arc: From Lone Ranger to Lyndon LaRouche.

We should honor Nader's many career achievements -- some of which might not have been possible had he been a more "reasonable" person. But we need to thank him for his service, then stop paying any attention to him.

That's a shame, because he can still make some astute observations. Here's his overall take the Obama campaign:

"He knows exactly who has power, who has too much, who has too little, what needs to be done right down to the community level. But he has bought the advice that if you want to win the election, you better take it easy on the corporate abuses and do X, Y, Z. When I hear that I say, 'Oh, I see. So he's doing all this to win the election, and then he'll be different.'"

Not a bad summary, if you ask me. He and I draw different conclusions about whether that's a candidate we can support, which is fine. But Nader has a reckless tendency to inflict needless damage, in the mistake belief that what's good for Nader is good for the country. That was evident in 2004, and even more so now.

This is the perfect example: Nader's promoting the idea that any black candidate who doesn't sound like a 60's-era preacher must be trying to "talk white." That's damaging in a number of ways -- from reinforcing racial stereotypes to "ghettoizing" minority candidates around a limited set of issues.

More in sorrow than in anger, it's time to draw a discreet curtain around Ralph Nader's final act.