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From meisenscher@igc.org Sun Oct 22 12:50:54 2000
Date: Sat, 21 Oct 2000 22:53:06 -0500 (CDT)
From: Michael Eisenscher <meisenscher@igc.org>
Subject: Nader's Curious Lack of Black Support
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Article: 107474
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Nader's Curious Lack Of Black Support

By Salim Muwakkil, in the Chicago Tribune,
Monday 16 October 2000

Ralph Nader, the presidential candidate of the Green Party, came through Chicago last week and churned up more political excitement than has been seen in these parts in many moons. He attracted an intergenerational audience of about 10,000 to the UIC Pavilion where they roared their approval of Nader's maverick campaign. The overflow crowd's giddy enthusiasm, the involvement of veteran and student activists and the rally's charged political atmosphere, all gave the impression that a new social movement was in the making. A social movement that is almost exclusively white.

This lack of racial diversity among Nader supporters is particularly striking, given the 66-year-old candidate's progressive positions on economic democracy and social justice. His campaign themes echo many of the issues pushed by civil- rights leadership. In addition to his well-known attacks on the corrupting power of corporations, Nader also advocates universal health care, ending the destructive drug war and treating drug addiction as a health rather than criminal-justice problem, eliminating the death penalty and addressing the nation's obscene incarceration epidemic.

He speaks to problems that have their most damaging effects in African-American and Latino communities.

A Nader presidency would support the idea of reparations for slavery and Jim Crow discrimination. He doesn't call it reparations but what does this sound like: "It is necessary that we implement a system of institutional `Marshall Plans' to correct what has been taken away and is still being taken away from African-Americans and their children in terms of economic and educational opportunity, self confidence and overall quality of life."

That passage is a portion of Nader's reply to an article entitled "Ralph Nader's Racial Blindspot" that appeared in the fall 2000 issue of the Oakland-based magazine ColorLines. The article, by Vanessa Daniel takes Nader to task for seemingly downplaying the issues of race and identity while stressing a cold, anti-corporate orthodoxy. "To Nader, racism is apparently an addendum to `real' social justice issues," she wrote.

Nader counters that he cares deeply about issues of race but prefers to limit his focus to issues of economic democracy and corporate power lest his principle message get diluted. If you resolve the issue of class you resolve many issues of race, he argues. He believes this "big tent" strategy allows progressives with a wide array of concerns to cooperate effectively.

Still, his campaign has been stung by the criticism and he has been speaking out increasingly on the need to implement a domestic Marshall Plan. Despite Nader's support for programs of racial compensation--a position well beyond that of other national candidates--his campaign has attracted little support from those black activists pushing for reparations.

For them, Nader apparently personifies a brand of colorblindness that has long clouded relations between black and white progressives. As Daniel wrote in her article, "Most people of color are tired of colorblind politics that are designed to shut race out of the conversation and keep white America comfortable."

What's more, Nader refuses to use racial symbolism as a prop for his political positions. You'll probably never hear him trying to imitate the oratory of Baptist preachers--in the mode of President Clinton or Vice President Al Gore--when addressing black audiences. He won't deploy black supporters as strategic symbols or strain to make pop cultural references in his speeches. This may be a shortsighted tactic; the image-conscious media are his only route to the black voter. But part of Nader's critique is just this tendency of media to focus on symbols rather than substance.

Despite perennial complaints about being taken for granted by Democrats, black leadership is in the pocket of Al Gore. There's a good reason for this; the vice president is part of an administration that is black America's all-time favorite. Bill Clinton is beloved by many blacks primarily because of his attention to symbolic issues.

Gore gains from his proximity to Clinton.

Most blacks are Democrats and thus have vested interest in the fate of the party. They see Nader's Green Party candidacy as a threat to that fate.

Those strong partisan sentiments are likely to be reinforced by the prospect that as many as 22 members of the Congressional Black Caucus stand to take over the chairmanships of 22 House committees and subcommittees if Democrats regain control of the House. That would be an amazing reversal of congressional power. Nader's campaign ironically furthers that effort, since those voters likely energized by his candidacy will vote for Democratic congressional candidates. It turns out that a vote for Nader is more than just a vote for George W. Bush.

Salim Muwakkil is a senior editor at In These Times magazine.

Copyright 2000 Chicago Tribune

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