12/08/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Bob's Your Uncle

Because of something Ralph Nader said on Election Day -- he asked whether Barack Obama was going to be an Uncle Sam or an Uncle Tom -- I feel obliged to take note of an interview (as posted on YouTube) that Nader did shortly afterward with Fox Report news anchor Shepard Smith, who was shocked by the remark.

Here's my transcription of the interview, followed by my own conclusion. I've also embedded the YouTube video because it conveys the nuances of tone, showing at least to my eyes and ears that Smith was calm, levelheaded, and wholly different from his bombastic colleagues at Fox (despite what looks in print like an excited opening that attempts to bait Nader).

SMITH: Guess who's here? The Independent Party candidate Ralph Nader. This is his second run for the presidency since he played spoiler in the close 2000 contest. This year he was on the ballot in 45 states, plus D.C. This year he was polling about one percent. Ralph, you spoke to Fox News radio's Houston affiliate today and said this [sound excerpt of Nader]:

To put it very simply, he is our first African-American president, or he will be. And we wish him well. But 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.

Really. Ralph Nader, what was that?

NADER: It's very simple. He has gone along with corporate power from the moment he entered politics in the [Illinois] state senate. Voted for the Wall Street bailout. Supports expanding the military budget that is desired by the military-industrial complex. Doesn't really have a tax-reform thing for the ordinary fellow in this country. Opposes single-payer full Medicare for all because the giant HMOs, Aetna and Signa, do. Doesn't have a living wage [policy]. He's supposed to be respectful of the poor. Hardly mentions them in his speech. It's all the middle class.

SMITH: You talk "respectful" and you utter the words "Uncle Tom"? Are you kidding me?

NADER: That's the question. Yeah, that's the question he's got to face. He's the first African American --

SMITH: He didn't have to face it until it came out of your mouth. I just wonder if you don't realize you had a number of supporters out there. You were running a percentage [sic]. This year you were reduced to irrelevant, and I just wonder now if that's what you want your legacy to be: The man who on the night that the first African-American president in the history of this nation was elected you ask if he is going to be Uncle Sam or Uncle Tom.

NADER: Yeah, of course. He's turned his back on a hundred million poor people in this country -- African Americans and Latinos and poor whites -- and we're going to hold him to a higher standard. It's just not an unprecedented career move in[to] the White House. We expect more of Barack Obama. It's his big chance --

SMITH: You were reduced to irrelevance here. You weren't able to play spoiler. Will you run again?

NADER: Look, I don't like bullies like you. I can't see you. You can pull the plug on me. I'm look at a dark camera.

SMITH: You said "Uncle Tom. I didn't say it, sir. With respect, I did not say it.

NADER: I said, that's the question he has to answer. He can become a great president, or he can become a toady for the powers that have brought both parties to their knees against working people in this country, and have allowed our country to be highjacked by global corporations who have no allegiance to this country other than to ship its jobs and industries to fascist and communist dictators abroad who know how to keep their workers in their place. This is reality here. This is not show business. It's not celebrity politics. There are people suffering in this country. We expect a great presidency from Barack Obama, and we're going to try and hold his feet to the fire.

SMITH: I just wonder if in hindsight you wish you used a phrase other than "Uncle Tom"?

NADER: Not at all.

My own take is that I understand Nader's points about policy and agree with him, but he should have offered some kind of apology for the personal nature of his attack on Obama, or at least said something to clarify what could be heard -- and doubtless was heard not just by Smith -- as a racist remark.