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November 5, 2008 5:53 PM   Subscribe

Gore Vidal. Ralph Nader. Two men, praise worthy in the past, who perhaps now need to go home and take a nap. 2LYT
posted by mojohand (134 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
saw vidal on the bbc last night. was wondering what that was all about. thanks for explaining.
posted by krautland at 5:58 PM on November 5, 2008


Vidal is incomprehensible. Nader is right. What's the connection here?

And I'm going to miss the faux outrage now that this election is over. I really am.
posted by allen.spaulding at 5:59 PM on November 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


That dude interviewing Nader is a real dick. America, you need better journalists.
posted by chunking express at 6:02 PM on November 5, 2008 [7 favorites]


Vidal is incomprehensible. Nader is right.

Pretty much. That Fox guy is hilarious though.

"Really."

last post?
posted by mrgrimm at 6:04 PM on November 5, 2008


Totally Fox News. Ignore the substance of the comment to focus on a possibly offensive term. Classic.
posted by mrgrimm at 6:05 PM on November 5, 2008 [7 favorites]


Maybe Nader deserves a pass. Seat belts have saved a lot of lives, after all.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:11 PM on November 5, 2008


Gore Vidal's old novel about Aaron Burr is 100% awesome, so it's too bad he's acting so daffy.
posted by johngoren at 6:15 PM on November 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


I love the Fox News idiot, acting shocked that someone would say something racially insensitive, after all the race- and religion-based fear mongering his channel does.
posted by paisley henosis at 6:18 PM on November 5, 2008 [2 favorites]


A Fox dipshit becoming indignant regarding a comment made about Obama? The next few years are going to be very interesting.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 6:18 PM on November 5, 2008 [3 favorites]


Was Vidal drunk? Or is he just turning into an old coot? That was a really weird interview.
posted by Dasein at 6:21 PM on November 5, 2008


It takes a special kind of smug jerk to make me sympathize with Ralph Nader.
posted by grobstein at 6:21 PM on November 5, 2008 [6 favorites]


Hmm, are you saying that Vidal's comments about the republicans were somehow as offensive Nader's comments about Obama potentially being an "Uncle Tom"?

It was pretty obvious that Vidal isn't exactly in command of his former mental faculties, but it's interesting how people when unable to think clearly can still come up with jokes to cover it up.
posted by delmoi at 6:21 PM on November 5, 2008


Gore Vidal continues to tell the truth as he sees it. He is always honest and interesting. What's wrong with that?
posted by MiguelCardoso at 6:24 PM on November 5, 2008 [4 favorites]


I think Nader made a good point, those are the questions that all heads of state should answer with their actions when they are in power. But if he wants people to listen to him, I think he has to choose his words more carefully, no doubt, because that was quite insensitive. It is ironic that someone at Fox would be the one to point it out.

As for the Fox people ... why does anyone watch Fox, again? I keep forgetting.
posted by TheyCallItPeace at 6:25 PM on November 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


I love the Fox News idiot, acting shocked that someone would say something racially insensitive, after all the race- and religion-based fear mongering his channel does.

Yeah, no kidding. This the the channel that first broadcast the "madrassa" smear on TV. This is also the channel that spent a ton of time talking about the bogus "black panther voter intimidation" story.

What Nader was saying that Obama had the choice of being an "uncle tom" or not. He used language that was racially inflammatory, but he wasn't actually calling Obama one (or perhaps it could be read as Nader saying he had been in the past, having been aligned with the corporate interests in the past). Still, it was a very poor choice of words.
posted by delmoi at 6:26 PM on November 5, 2008


First of all, I agree that Nader's criticisms are correct, except that I don't hold out any hope that Obama will go for the Sam option. It's going to be Tom all the way. This is not entirely his fault in the same way that it was not entirely Bush's fault that he was in thrall to the neocons; he was simply doing the job he was hired to do. If he hadn't done it, they'd have fired him and hired someone else. And before you object that that's impossible, remember they fired LBJ and Nixon.

Second, Nader's choice of the term "Uncle Tom" was either a smart move or a fortunate accident. It got him on the national, main stream news, something that happens rarely these days. If his intention was to get Obama's attention, he couldn't have devised a better strategy. I'm not saying the O man is now going to spend every waking moment worrying about what Ralph Nader thinks. Clearly, Nader doesn't wield anywhere near that amount of power. But this strategy gives Nader's threat to 'hold Obama's feet to the fire' its best possible chance of having an impact on the real world. Which isn't saying much. But, hey, Ralph's doing the best he can with what he has.
posted by Clay201 at 6:27 PM on November 5, 2008


It takes a special kind of smug jerk to cheer someone who's basically calling Obama a "house nigger." I thought that November 5th would bring the end of this bullshit, but perhaps I was too optimistic about y'all. To think that so many of you have cheered on this supposed new dawn of American politics while doing so much with your words to support anything but. I shudder at your irrelevance.
posted by dhammond at 6:28 PM on November 5, 2008 [9 favorites]


What is up with Nader's face? The left eye is a bit droopy and not blinking half as much as the right.
posted by piratebowling at 6:28 PM on November 5, 2008



Second, Nader's choice of the term "Uncle Tom" was either a smart move or a fortunate accident.


Err, using language like that doesnt make people think. It just makes me write off Nader. He marginalizes himself. Saying nasty things for attention isnt insightful, its juvenile. Nader belongs on the trash-heap of history with the other marginalized kooks like Rev Moon and Lyndon Larouche. He's not some hero, he's probably mentally ill.

What is up with Nader's face? The left eye is a bit droopy and not blinking half as much as the right.

Bell's pasley.
posted by damn dirty ape at 6:34 PM on November 5, 2008 [5 favorites]


Nader is already on the (quite slim) Wikipedia page for Uncle Tom.

Here's the gist of the "interview," which mostly consists of one Fox douche feigning outrage while Ralph Nader gets kinda pissed off and continues to try to make his point.

Fox douche: "You said Uncle Tom. I didn't say it, sir."

Nader: "I said that's the question he has to answer. He can become a great president, or he can become a toadie for the corporate powers that have brought both parties to their knees, against working people in this country, and have allowed our country to be hijacked 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, this is not celebrity politics. There are people suffering in this country. We expect a great presidency from Barack Obama, and we're going to try to hold his feet to the fire."

FD: "I just wonder if in hindsight you wish you'd used a phrase other than Uncle Tom.

Nader: "Not at all. Do you know what the historic..."

FD: "Thank you, we'll now hear our panel blather about how offensive the term Uncle Tom is, and pretend that Nader's positions are any more irrelevant than the Republican Party."

Nader is a pissed old man who wanted to say something slightly sensational to get attention. I do not think he is trying to inflame racial tensions. His crime is the loose use of a loaded racial term as a hypothetical scenario for Obama's presidency.

What's offensive to me (I thought McCain's acceptance speech was just as offensive) is the unnecessary racial reference.

I'd love to see Nader get involved with the Obama administration somehow, but it seems as unlikely as with other Democrats.

In essence, I agree with delmoi. Poor choice of words, but I bet he wouldn't have gotten on Fox News if he didn't say it.
posted by mrgrimm at 6:34 PM on November 5, 2008 [2 favorites]


remember they fired LBJ and Nixon

So is "they" our corporate masters? Or is it variously an angry public, an unyielding Supreme Court, and a Congress shamed into action?
posted by grobstein at 6:36 PM on November 5, 2008 [2 favorites]


Gore Vidal said that he was surprised that the Republicans didn't pull more, dirtier tricks, to try to keep the White House. I was surprised by that, too. He also seemed to be on a fairly shoddy connection, and is clearly advancing in years.

Ralph Nader said that Barack Obama has a chance to either (1) be an amazing president, or (2) be a corporate shill. This is true, and I don't see how anyone could argue with it. He did bring it up in a blunt way, using harsh language, but his actual point was a decent one, and the delivery was clearly not born out of hatred, but out of desire to actually get people to think about this.

Even if they were both out of their gourd, I think an FPP for laughing at old men would be thin, but apart from Vidal yelling at the host for some reason, neither one was particularly batshit, as far as I could tell.
posted by paisley henosis at 6:36 PM on November 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


Saying nasty things for attention isnt insightful

I didn't say it was insightful. I said it got him on the national news. Unless he didn't want to be on the national news, it was a smart move.
posted by Clay201 at 6:39 PM on November 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


So is "they" our corporate masters?

Yep.
posted by Clay201 at 6:41 PM on November 5, 2008


I'm not really sure how to feel about that Nader comment. It is such a loaded term. But man, that smarmy toned of the interviewer's voice. That was too much. Instead of addressing the valid issues Nader brought up, he just went straight to oh so much disingenuous shock.

Vidal just seemed drunk, like a drunk trying to sound intellectual.
posted by Belle O'Cosity at 6:44 PM on November 5, 2008


Expect to see this again and again the moment someone on Fox gets called on the carpet for saying something "racially insensitive".

"No, see, we're fair and balanced. We spanked some so-liberal he's politically non-euclidian third party guy when he did something insensitive, so you should give us a break for that "mud-people" thing."
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 6:52 PM on November 5, 2008 [3 favorites]


some so-liberal he's politically non-euclidian third party guy

Is Nader really that liberal? He seems quite protectionist economically. (or is that "liberal"?)
posted by mrgrimm at 6:59 PM on November 5, 2008


Jesus Christ.

We won, dudes. What's with the jerk-circular firing squad?
posted by joe lisboa at 7:03 PM on November 5, 2008



What a shock: Obama-giddy pop-culture addicts can't make any sense out of two free-thinkers.

The Fox creep was harping on the term "Uncle Tom" because he has a low IQ and wants to manufacture a racial incident. Nader is simply asking a valid question: Will Obama serve the people or corporate Amercia? Nader answered his own question the next morning*.

If you think Vidal has "lost it" you're simply not bright enough to understand his karma.

I love the nervous laughter of the BBC talking heads at the end as they pondered whether Vidal just owned them. "Whoosh", indeed.



*AMY GOODMAN: Ralph Nader, I’d like you to respond to that and also this latest news that ABC News is reporting, that Barack Obama has offered Rahm Emanuel the job of the White House chief of staff, the Illinois Congress member, the Congress member from, well, his area.

RALPH NADER: Well, there you are, a traditional politician, Rahm Emanuel, reactionary, right-wing Democrat, a former Clintonite, a guy who knows how to raise special interest money in the White House, is well-known for it, and a hard-line militaristic supporter of Israel’s repression of the Palestinian people. So, you will know in the next few days, by his choices, Barack Obama’s choices, that this is going to be a very traditional corporate-indentured Democratic Party. That’s a very sorry spectacle.
posted by Zambrano at 7:04 PM on November 5, 2008 [3 favorites]


That Fox dude immediately brought to mind last night's coverage from The Daily Show, wherein Larry Wilmore (one of the black correspondents) came in to take over the show from Jon Stewart, because now he could do anything he wanted to. Jon Stewart protested, but Stephen Colbert turned to Larry and said, "New Jon, let me ask you..." :)
posted by airgirl at 7:06 PM on November 5, 2008


While Nader's point is valid, and a real concern, there were more thoughtful ways he could have expressed it. To explicitly use the term "Uncle Tom" added a racial element that was completely unnecessary and tactless. That he did it intentionally feels tone-deaf at best, at worst, bitter and malicious. I'm disappointed. There is much to admire about Nader, to be sure, but this is not the first time he's made remarks regarding Obama's race, and I'm not sure he should get a pass for that.

Look, I detest FOX "News" and Shep Smith is smarmy and weird and looks like he's coated with wax, but I kind of had the same reaction ... "Really."
posted by louche mustachio at 7:09 PM on November 5, 2008 [3 favorites]


Nader is simply asking a valid question:

... will I be forgotten by history for being (A) an ego-driving perpetual spoiler candidate, or (B) an out-of-touch ideologue.

Look, I took a year off from life to try and get Nader elected in 2000. Guess what? I grew up. I tried to take the high road in my previous comment, but you guys are fucking nuts. Good luck with that Mayan apocalypse or wheat germ or whatever. Seriously, get the fuck over it. The adults have work to do.
posted by joe lisboa at 7:10 PM on November 5, 2008 [5 favorites]


Alexander Cockburn said it a little more eloquently in this column.

Nader is right, btw, but Nader should have known that they would jump all over the Uncle Tom bit.

Hmm, three other cadidates besides McCain and Obama. And then there's Ron Paul.
I am very glad that the Democrats made incredible gains, but I hope that in my lifetime, more in-roads will be made for other parties.
posted by captainsohler at 7:23 PM on November 5, 2008 [2 favorites]


Vidal seemed pretty fab to me. Just an imperious, ornery old gay who was rightly contemptuous of the shallow, uninspired questions he was being asked, but did his interlocutor the courtesy of responding with impish humour instead of outright disdain. Jesus, haven't any of you ever met a grande dame? This is queenery in the classical mode. It will soon perish from the earth, so treasure this great exponent of the art while we still have him.
posted by ShameSpiral at 7:24 PM on November 5, 2008 [4 favorites]


I think I disagree with most of you. Regardless of being on Fox, good on that guy for putting Nader to task for his choice of words. It was absolutely, positively racist, as no one ever calls a white person an "Uncle Tom." If he really wanted to discuss the issue, he could have apologized for it on the spot, admitted it was a mistake, and moved on. All it would have taken was a simple, "I regret the terminology I used, and I'm sorry. Let us move on to the crux of my argument."

The other problem is that Nader had no point. "Will (s)he serve the people or lobbyists" is a question that you can ask about absolutely every politician from the local level all the way to national. He brought up nothing at all new or interesting, and he was clearly fishing for more attention. It's almost as if he thrives on hatred; I'm truly surprised that he didn't retire to a life of a self-flagellating monk after 2000.

Ralph Nader is just a different flavor of asshole, and that he was called out by a Fox News employee doesn't make it less so.
posted by explosion at 7:26 PM on November 5, 2008 [18 favorites]


We won, dudes.

Whoa there. Maybe you won, but I certainly didn't. I know Metafilter is home to lots of liberals who think Obama is practically Gandhi, but I'm not one of them. I'm not even a liberal, I'm a leftist. And, while I voted for Obama (in a hopelessly red state), I don't for two seconds consider this a victory for the good guys. This is simply the lesser of two evils. And I always reserve the right to criticize evil.

Are we "fucking nuts" if we object to the slaughter and oppression of innocent people in Afghanistan? Obama is talking about increasing the number of troops there. Someone's got to talk about this stuff in front of a TV camera. Maybe Nader really does have too many miles on him, but he seems to be the only one who can still get the air time. Given the stakes, I'll take what I can get.
posted by Clay201 at 7:31 PM on November 5, 2008 [11 favorites]


no one ever calls a white person an "Uncle Tom."

I do. (And I'm white.)
posted by Clay201 at 7:34 PM on November 5, 2008


The other problem is that Nader had no point. "Will (s)he serve the people or lobbyists" is a question that you can ask about absolutely every politician from the local level all the way to national. He brought up nothing at all new or interesting, and he was clearly fishing for more attention.

It tires me to think that if you just cast off that you have heard this rhetoric too many times before, that it does not matter. This Nation is in control of the very few and very wealthy. We are in what many now call the second Guilded Age. I was trying to convince a friend the other day that the Establishment will never let anybody into The White House that will get in the way of Wall Street and the Pentagon. Her answer? "Oh, well that goes without saying..."

Thats how the intellectual propaganda machine in America works I guess. Come on everybody! We have made great gains this year...theres more work to be had.
posted by captainsohler at 7:34 PM on November 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


You'll take what you settle for, Clay201. The perfect is the enemy of the good, and all that. I've lived through it. I've been there, Mr. Whoa There. My politics are further left than you or Obama, I reckon. Shit, Bill Ayers and I probably could go dutch on a "mandate" (hurf durf redistributor) but none of that distracts from the fact that tilting at windmills doesn't protect a single fucking Afghani.

But whatever. I'm a "liberal." Where's the bakesale for Palestine, again? I have a tin can to recycle. You know, for JUSTICE. Can I sign your online petition?
posted by joe lisboa at 7:36 PM on November 5, 2008 [6 favorites]


"Nader is right."

You're never right to use such an ugly, loaded, racist expression.

If he wanted to say that Barack Obama should be held accountable for helping people, and not big corporations, fine... I agree. But he was absolutely wrong to say this.

Would anyone seriously be defending McCain if he had said the same thing about Obama?

I doubt it...
posted by markkraft at 7:43 PM on November 5, 2008 [3 favorites]


The BBC audience likes "The Facts of Life." Are they still showing reruns of that show in the UK?
posted by Rarebit Fiend at 7:43 PM on November 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm sorry, Clay201. I may be taking things out on you unfairly. As a former Nader backer, I can't happen but suspect that the friend of mine being shot at in Iraq as we speak wouldn't fucking be there under a President Gore. And, no, I'm not interested in a footnoted "dialogue" about Nader's spoiler bona fides. Again, I was a hardcore supporter of his in 2000. But we do what we can with we have where we're at. Or we bitch about it on the internet and make Ron Paul look like a genuine political light in the process. Only for "our" side. You know "leftists" or whatever. Look, there's real politics and there's realpolitik. I'm not going to lecture anyone about the difference. I can't but happen imagine I'm more cynical than you'll ever hope to be, but at least I'm working on it. And doing something in the world in the process. I'm sorry for any cheap shots, but I don't even know the difference these days when otherwise well-meaning folks on the "left" seem to be doing more harm in the pursuit of ideological purity. But, again, whatever: I believe you when you (unwittingly) say we're on the same side. I don't doubt it, but I'm thinking tactically as well as strategically, or so I HOPE. You know, if The Party's cool with that whole hope thing. I look forward to the pamphlet.
posted by joe lisboa at 7:46 PM on November 5, 2008 [2 favorites]


Gore Vidal is a little weird, no doubt, but he has had a vision of America that will open your eyes. He went to high school with my father, and my father is such an arch conservative, but even he will acknowledge Gore's erudition. They were an intense group of intellectual stars, and Gore was a star even within this group, and then he proved it on the national stage. That he has gotten old and lost his edge, well that happens. Hopefully it will happen to you, as the alternative is less pleasant. To mock him for this, well that is pretty petty. This post blows chunks. Shame on you mojohand. Pray for forgiveness, and that is a big prayer.
posted by caddis at 7:50 PM on November 5, 2008 [2 favorites]


I should make it clear, perhaps, that I also voted for Nader... and I find his comments to be detestable.

Good luck *EVER* getting another progressive party to allow you to take up one of their slots on the ballot, Ralph. You've burnt your bridges with the Greens, and now you've burnt them with everyone else.

Go find a refrigerator box and a f'ing streetcorner next time!
posted by markkraft at 7:52 PM on November 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


Wait, we're paying attention to Nader again? Why, exactly?

I'm with joe...I loved the guy in 2000, and still don't blame him for Republicans stealing that election--he had a right to run, and he did; if our elections were handled properly and if Gore had run a better campaign, Nader would have made zero difference, end of story.

But it's like he got drunk on the surge of attention, and just can't let it go, no matter how out of touch and harmful it makes him. He took money from the Republicans in 2004 to try to run against Kerry, and he has the gall to get up on his mountaintop to look down on Obama for being too corporate? Dude. You're dirty, you whored your soul for glory, and nobody gives a flying fuck what you think anymore. Go away.
posted by emjaybee at 8:02 PM on November 5, 2008 [7 favorites]


On the eve of election day, third party presidential candidate Ralph Nader planned to hold a press conference on the terrace of the Independence Center overlooking the mall and Independence Hall. The event, which was to have started at three o'clock, was setback when the only people in in attendance were a newspaper photographer and a TV camerman.
posted by The Straightener at 8:04 PM on November 5, 2008 [5 favorites]


Stop me when you get offended.

OBAMA: UNCLE SAM OR UNCLE TOM?

Well, we know there's nothing wrong with calling Barack Obama an "Uncle Tom," and only Fox News would even care. So let's move on.

OBAMA: WHITE HOUSE OR BLACK HOUSE?
OBAMA: TERRORIST OR PATRIOT?
OBAMA: HOUSE NIGGER OR SAND NIGGER?

Whether Nader was right or wrong, who knows. Your point kind of gets lost when you start rambling about whether our first black president might be an "Uncle Tom."
posted by punishinglemur at 8:19 PM on November 5, 2008 [2 favorites]


The latest election sure has done a good job rooting the deadwood out of the liberal ranks though, I find...

FOXNEWS: I just wonder whether if in hindsight, you wished you used a phrase other than Uncle Tom?

NADER: Not at all!

FOXNEWS: Well, Mr. Nader... everything seems to be in order here. You should get a formal offer in a few days, once Rupert signs off on everything. Congratulations on your new show "Leftside Politics"! Your co-anchors will be Geraldine Ferraro and Jesse Jackson!

posted by markkraft at 8:27 PM on November 5, 2008 [3 favorites]


What Mark Kraft said.
posted by joe lisboa at 8:29 PM on November 5, 2008


Whether Nader was right or wrong, who knows. Your point kind of gets lost when you start rambling about whether our first black president might be an "Uncle Tom."

Whether or not he's our first black president is less important than whether he supports the people or his corporate masters (or would you be just as satisfied with Alan Keyes?). 30% of Obama's money came from 512 people. Overall, 60% came from lobbyists and bundlers.
posted by 445supermag at 8:45 PM on November 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


So Nader's problem is essentially that Obama isn't a race hustler or a poverty pimp? Wow, everything else in Naderland must be going swimmingly.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 8:55 PM on November 5, 2008


Elsewhere, some famous faces—including a teary-eyed Rev. Jesse Jackson and Oprah Winfrey — were on scene at Grant Park in the Obama family tent. Guests of Vice-president-elect Joseph Biden were in the tent next door. And two other tents flowed (as did the bubbly) with Mr. Obama’s important bundlers: Friends and associates who raised more than $500,000 were in one tent and those who raised $50,000 to $500,000 in the other.
posted by 445supermag at 8:57 PM on November 5, 2008


Whoa, politicians take donations? Campaigns cost money? You sir, have truly blown my mind!
posted by damn dirty ape at 9:05 PM on November 5, 2008 [3 favorites]


Oh my God, someone tell Counterpunch, there's corporate influence in the Democratic Party!

What I haven't seen refuted is the point made in the original post, which is that Ralph Nader doesn't seem to be able to work up any dignity.

Or competence in coming up with one-liners. "Uncle Sam vs. Uncle Tom?" Isn't Uncle Sam the guy who recruits you for World War I? So is Uncle Sam supposed to be a patriot or a profiteer?

There's an unwritten rule that you are only allowed to make offensive cracks if they're clever, and the problem here is the muddlement and mouthbreathing crudity. I admire Nader, but here he comes off sounding like he copied slogans from a Lyndon LaRouche pamphlet about Dick Cheney and Felix Rohatyn teaming up to betray humanity. It's clear from this that the great man needs a new media advisor, maybe someone who has more on their resume than running the Tom Morello Web Ring from 1994-1998.
posted by Kirklander at 9:15 PM on November 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


I admire Nader, but here he comes off sounding like he copied slogans from a Lyndon LaRouche pamphlet

Off-topic: The other day I was leaving Union Station in DC when a bunch of LaRouche supporters filled in between several jersey barriers and forced people exiting the station to walk a gauntlet of attempted pamphleteering. I decided to make the most of this opportunity by removing my headphones and walking through them. One offered me a pamphlet; I said "No thank you, but...", pointing to a twitching, muttering mentally ill person nearby "...good job rallying your base!" His face flushed to match his douchey crimson sweater vest; mission accomplished.

I'm not sure whether LaRouche is a crypto-fascist or what - and I suspect he's been all over the political spectrum - but at least die-hard Nader supporters can conduct a conversation without descending into tinfoil-hat territory.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 9:19 PM on November 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


445supermag: I'm not being a mindless cheerleader for any black person at all being in the White House. You have to be incredibly thick to not realize how Nader's point, regardless of validity, was bound to lose impact when he decided to bring in loaded racial terms.
posted by punishinglemur at 9:20 PM on November 5, 2008


It's cool, I'm taking it back.
posted by saraswati at 9:22 PM on November 5, 2008 [2 favorites]


Gore Vidal's performance is the highest of camp, and I love him and give him a total pass.
posted by the_bone at 9:33 PM on November 5, 2008 [3 favorites]


I'm honestly confused as to why people are defending Nader's comment. Here's the problem: Whether he had a legitimate point about Obama being a corporate shill or not is completely irrelevant to the color of his skin. He basically called him a house nigger for no fucking reason. How is this acceptable just because he was maybe making a good point in an oblique way?

And yeah, the Fox News anchor was a smug douche (big surprise), but I actually took this differently: If whatever you just said was so out of line (and it was) that Fox fucking News was shocked, you know you went too far. They would love something to drag Obama down, but know that's taking it way too far.

I'm a little dismayed that the consensus here is to give Nader a pass because of the "point" he was trying to make just because the anchor was annoying. No, what Nader said was vile, any way you cut it. Believe it or not you could make the same exact point without mentioning the fact that Obama is black. Since it has nothing to do with the subject.

Grrrr.
posted by cj_ at 9:37 PM on November 5, 2008 [17 favorites]


"I just wonder if in hindsight you wished you'd used a phrase other than 'blow job'."
posted by theiconoclast31 at 9:41 PM on November 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


Ralph Nader speaks on the Obama presidency: part one | part two | part three
posted by sluglicker at 9:53 PM on November 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


(And for the record, I hate the so-called circular firing squad as much as anyone. But what I hate isn't my participation, it's that I have to. Brushing off such blatant racism is just not OK with me, no matter what point they were trying to make. Nor is giving it a pass because "that's what he needed to say to get on Fox News". Look how well that worked out. He got on Fox News alright. And managed to make us look like racist assholes. Fuck him and fuck you if you think that's peachy.)

OK, stepping away from the thread now. I don't trust myself to participate here anymore.
posted by cj_ at 10:02 PM on November 5, 2008 [4 favorites]


I'm a little dismayed that the consensus here is to give Nader a pass...Obama being a corporate shill or not is completely irrelevant to the color of his skin.

Okay, are you saying that the term "Uncle Tom" is a racial insult like "nigger" and that no one should ever use it in any civilized debate? Or are you saying that Obama doesn't meet the criteria necessary to be considered an Uncle Tom?
posted by Clay201 at 10:19 PM on November 5, 2008


are you saying that the term "Uncle Tom" is a racial insult like "nigger" and that no one should ever use it in any civilized debate?

I'd say yes, wholeheartedly, and completely. Nader just sunk his career in my mind.
posted by mathowie at 10:49 PM on November 5, 2008 [8 favorites]


What is up with Nader's face? The left eye is a bit droopy and not blinking half as much as the right.
posted by piratebowling


Damn dirty ape is right, it's probably Bell's Palsy:

Ralph Nader came down with it in the midst of a speaking tour. He was in Boston debating someone when his eye started to water and his mouth sagged.

Of course, Nader's Bell's itself could be (likely is, I believe) a sign of an underlying brain atrophy; as the brain shrinks within the skull, it can move around more and is more prone to pull the nerve in question roughly through its opening, damaging it and giving rise to the palsy.
posted by jamjam at 10:55 PM on November 5, 2008


Nader's point is correct, if badly worded. Still, and perhaps it's just me, but I find the lightning-fast editorial sex change being performed by the Fox network, on the eve of electing a Democratic President, to be more of an important long-term story than Nader. Weren't they the Bush/McCain channel two days ago?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:58 PM on November 5, 2008 [2 favorites]


Nader just sunk his career in my mind

I think there's a subtle difference in using the terms. Betraying principles is what makes one an Uncle Tom. It really doesn't have anything to do with race. Unfortunately, we've made it so.
posted by sluglicker at 11:10 PM on November 5, 2008


> Okay, are you saying that the term "Uncle Tom" is a racial insult like "nigger" and that no one should ever use it in any civilized debate?

Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying. Was I not clear?

> Or are you saying that Obama doesn't meet the criteria necessary to be considered an Uncle Tom?

My friend, he also meets the criteria of being a "nigger". I don't think that's acceptable either. Try to keep up.
posted by cj_ at 11:17 PM on November 5, 2008


Okay, are you saying that the term "Uncle Tom" is a racial insult like "nigger"

cj_: Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying.

So you're saying that the people who coined the termed are racist? Seriously, you doth protest too much, methinks.
posted by sluglicker at 11:28 PM on November 5, 2008


sluglicker: Regardless of Stowe's intentions in 1852, it's an offensive term today.
posted by punishinglemur at 11:46 PM on November 5, 2008


I love the nervous laughter of the BBC talking heads at the end as they pondered whether Vidal just owned them. "Whoosh", indeed.

It's whoosh fucking central in here.
posted by fullerine at 11:50 PM on November 5, 2008


To put that brief clip of Gore Vidal into context, for years he has seen the governing party--whether Democratic or Republic--as a shill for "the National Security State" whose purpose is to keep Americans cowed and terrorized by phantom menaces so that the President can decrease individual liberty through searches, censorship, official bullying, and so that he can order the armed forces into combat in order to increase the Pentagon budget thereby passing billions to people like Cheney and his ilk. Vidal believes this state of affairs started with Harry Truman, whom he detests, and has continued unabated to this day. Even the Kenndeys, he didn't think much of after the fact--"Pay any price, bear any burden" is just a way of keeping Americans down and pouring millions into the pockets of the top 1%. So here you have a guy with a very adamant and extremely cynical yet consistent and well-reasoned view about all presidents and all parties, a view similar to H. L. Mencken's, saying in that clip that he was *thrilled* with the election of Obama. Thrilled! You would've expected him to say tweedle-dum and tweedle-dee. And then just when I thought he would expand on that point, they cut him off and giggled.

I really wanted to hear what Vidal had to say, to see if he thinks this time it is finally different, whether at his old age he finally feels hope. And they cut him off and giggled. Assholes.
posted by mono blanco at 11:56 PM on November 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


Regardless of Stowe's intentions in 1852, it's an offensive term today.

Offensive to whom?

"A more offensive term with the same meaning is "house nigger" and its euphemism "house slave." The term contrasts field workers from the days of slavery with those who worked in the master's home, who historically received preferential treatment. In 2002, actor/singer Harry Belafonte used a variation of the term, "White House nigger," to characterize certain political figures." (wiki)

Someone who betrays the common good of a people is an Uncle Tom. It's kind of like adopting gospel music or blues. The notes and phrases are true, no matter what the race of the musician.
posted by sluglicker at 12:01 AM on November 6, 2008


Nader, like so many others who've been "analysing" Obama since the start of this election cycle is that they are constantly looking backwards for references. Tone deaf to the moment, Nader looked back to the 60's and 70's for analogies and used terminology that had a different meaning in that era. It is the equivalent of a well meaning older relative referring to "the coloreds" or "those people". It speaks of their irrelevancy to the on-going problems of the day, and to their reliving days gone by. Uncle Tom was once used by blacks to chastize other blacks for not fighting the good fight, and I would say that was Naders presumed intent here, but in this era and at this moment, to single out Obama by his race is wrong and offensive. Meanings of words and terms change over time and the times have changed since that type of categorizing was acceptable.
posted by mr.grum at 12:04 AM on November 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


mr.grum, you've made some good points. I'm not convinced that Nader "single[d] out Obama by his race" though. Listen to what he said. Those seem like pretty good benchmarks with which to judge.
posted by sluglicker at 12:19 AM on November 6, 2008


I concede that "single out" was the wrong way to phrase my point, and I also have very little question over Nader's honorable intent, I merely am suggesting that using the phrase he did suggests a frame of reference that isn't current and will have a hard time finding finding traction at this time. Whether Obama will be active "enough" in addressing social and economic inequality is a fair question, but using a phrase that has such a troubled history and such strong connotations to people is not, I think, going to help anything other than turn even more people off to Nader and his message. Which is unfortunate since Nader has always been an honorable fighter for the rights of the underpriviledged and a stalwart critic of abuses of coporate and government power. I believe, however, that he would be better served by finding a new paradigm for discussing the issues. (I am also a little troubled by Nader's frequent somewhat grandiose self-referencing that seems to have increased since his failed presidential bid in 2000. (But that could also just be a skewed take based on a few samples.))

Incidently, I don't think that this thought paradigm is unique to Nader, I think it also tripped up Jesse Jackson and others who've seemed toview Obama as a black candidate rather than a candidate who is black. I think the Obama election suggests to many people that race shouldn't be an issue, not that there isn't racial issues, but that people don't want to think in the terms of the past regarding race, they want to rid the conversation of that dialogue entirely and talk about trying to find a way foward that speaks more to the identity of the problems than it does to the identity of the people with the problems.
Whether this can happen or not, I obviously don't know. But I think that is an underlying desire in this election and it is also what Obama has pointed towards in his speeches on race.

Once in office, I imagine that Obama will try to avoid and/or finesse the most divisive issues, ones that are unlikely to be changed without great political cost and that are likely to build anger and resentment, and will instead try to move issues that are equally or perhaps even of greater importance to our future; Issues with less set opposition; economics versus abortion for example. But that's just a guess. Maybe he is the secret superliberal that some accuse him of being, or perhaps his surprisingly frequent references Reagan will mean he will be farther to the right than expected. Whatever the case, he is an extraordinarily confident man who seems to have big plans. Now let's wait and find out what those are.
posted by mr.grum at 1:52 AM on November 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm not going to defend what Nader or Vidal said in these particular videos, but each of them, despite any crazy ideas they might have in the mix, is worth a hundred of those Fox boys. And I mean that literally -- if I had to throw a hundred of those Fox script readers to the sharks to save one Gore or Nader, I'd do it, and if they were going to be eaten by sharks anyway, I might even punch the hundred Fox guys in the face, one by one, before throwing them in.
posted by pracowity at 1:54 AM on November 6, 2008 [2 favorites]


Only watched the Nader one. I don't find it offensive. I get his point, he's absolutely correct.
posted by peppito at 2:08 AM on November 6, 2008


(Ach. Where I said Gore, I of course meant to say Vidal, though I might say something similar for cousin Al, too.)
posted by pracowity at 2:08 AM on November 6, 2008


Vidal knows more about politics than the rest of us will ever forget.

And really, am I the only looking forward to the main privilege of old age, which is the ability to do and say crazy shit?
posted by troybob at 2:18 AM on November 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


The beauty of free speech is that you are free to tell people whose opinion you don't like (or agree with, or think is crazy, or whatever) to shut up and keep their opinions to themselves, and they are free to ignore you.
posted by moonbiter at 2:33 AM on November 6, 2008


MiguelCardoso, people! Another rare sighting!

I think that getting upset about the use of the Uncle Tom term is an example of 'political correctness gone mad' ; ) What other sound-bite friendly term would you use to describe selling out in this way? Do you honestly think that using another term would have increased media attention? Why is it so important to appear to be blind to race?

I can assure you that Obama's election is important to black people all over the world. Look at the Nigerians partying. My Zambian friend did not think it was possible for a man who people identify as being black to win the election in the US. He is pleased and feels pride in his blackness. Look at Condi Rice barely suppressing a grin in her recent interviews. To ignore race in this election would seem illogical.

People have previously suggested that Chomsky has issues with concision when appearing on TV. I would suggest that his arguments are not suited to sound-bite style journalism because they are not trite and simplistic. Nader has the same challenges, as the questions he asks are outside the officially sanctioned talking points.

Considering the sensitivity in the US to any race related (i.e. black) term, I would consider Nader's informed use of 'Uncle Tom' to be contentious. However, dealing with the notoriously disingenuous media makes it difficult to rise above their idiocy whilst using them to broadcast your message. Unfortunately, he has sunk to their level. But what choice did he have? Is he an 'Uncle Tom' himself, in that way?

Gore Vidal is simply a cantankerous old queen.
posted by asok at 4:33 AM on November 6, 2008


Ground Control to Uncle Tom. Ground Control to Uncle Tom.
Take your protean pills and put your helmet on.
Ground Control to Uncle Tom, commencing countdown, engines on.
Check ignition and may God's love be with you.

This is Ground Control to Uncle Tom, you've really made the grade
and the papers want to know whose shirts you wear.
Now it's time to leave the capsule if you dare.

This is Uncle Tom to Ground Control, I'm stepping through the door.
And I'm floating in a most peculiar way and the Hollywood stars look very different today.
For here am I sitting in a tin can, far above the world.
Planet Earth is blue and there's nothing I can do.

Though I'm past one hundred thousand miles, I'm feeling very still.
And I think my spaceship knows which way to go. Tell my wife I love her very much.

She knows. Ground Control to Uncle Tom, your circuit's dead, there's something wrong
Can you hear me, Uncle Tom? Can you hear me, Uncle Tom? Can you hear me, Uncle Tom?

Can you- Here am I floating round my tin can far above the Moon.
Planet Earth is blue and there's nothing I can do.
posted by strawberryviagra at 4:36 AM on November 6, 2008


Miguel, as he often is whenever he's around, is right. the Vidal thing is no biggie, he's saying that he doesn't trust the Republicans. 2000 and 2004 should have made that point clear, I guess. he sounds drunk, but don't tell me you weren't, too, the other night. I know I was.

Nader's comment, on the other hand, is an obscenity that, if only it had been uttered by Sean Hannity or Tom De Lay, everybody here would shitting themselves in anger. Uncle Tom? Seriously? And the alleged progressives here defend him? Nader's a primadonna who's pissed off because he's the guy who lobbied for seatbelts a long time ago, but he also ran twice as a spoiler with Republican money targeting swing states, and paved the way for George W Bush, and nobody gives a shit about him anymore and instead Obama is President, and made history, and that makes Nader mad. Because now Nader is a footnote, Obama is History. Nader did more for Bush in 2000 than Fox ever did against Obama this year, face it. I have lost all respect for him and, frankly, for those who think that "Uncle Tom" is bad only if a Republican says it. come on, there's the first black President in history and all this alleged progressive has to say is "Uncle Tom"? I have more respect for Joe Lieberman then, he wears his shamelessness with more grace than Nader does.

Shep Smith -- I actually watch Fox, not just bits uploaded on YouTube -- is the rare sentient being in the middle of that zoo; just the other day, he was horrified by Joe the Plumber's comments about Obama being the death of Israel and set the record straight right on the air because he couldn't believe his ears. he also once had this wonderful Freudian slip and said, live on the air, "blow job". Shep's cool, I like him. I suspect he voted for Obama. he's going to get fired soon.
posted by matteo at 5:29 AM on November 6, 2008 [4 favorites]


Vidal is incomprehensible hilarious and even mildly insightful. Nader is right a fucking loony-tune.

And by the way, Naderites, thanks for throwing Missouri to McCain! I hope it felt as good for you as it felt for Johnny Mac.
posted by octobersurprise at 5:34 AM on November 6, 2008


I only heard that Nader used the phrase 'Uncle Tom' yesterday and now that I read the full text of what he said, I agree with others here that he made a very good point that's unfortunately getting overshadowed by a poor choice of words. While much of the left seems to have turned into a Jonas Brothers groupie, it's good to hear someone asking hard questions about a man who has taken millions in special interest money and will soon be presiding over, and continuing, the war in Afghanistan.
posted by mattholomew at 5:38 AM on November 6, 2008


But what choice did he have?

At the very least he could have shut his pie-hole for a few days. I don't give Ralphie a lot of credit, but I will give him credit for being smart enough to not make the innocent mistake of calling the first black president an "Uncle Tom" on a right-wing television network where he just happens to be a guest.

But you know, no big deal. Obama's in the White House and Nader's on Fox News. I think we'll start seeing him on Fox pretty regularly from now on. Maybe Rush Limbaugh will even invite him over to chat. Now that would be a meeting of the minds.
posted by octobersurprise at 5:52 AM on November 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm a huge fan of Gore Vidal, but it's clear he shouldn't have been put on this show. He's making no sense, whether because of drunkenness or the fog of old age. Either way it's a bit humiliating to see such a brilliant wit diminished.
posted by Nelson at 5:53 AM on November 6, 2008


"Circular firing squad?" What, did I time-warp back to 2003, when it was still considered a bad thing that liberals felt free to criticize each other while Republicans marched in lockstep? I could have sworn I remember living through five years afterward, and seeing the "we protect our own" philosophy lead the Republican party to self-destruction. I watched as they became unable to admit their mistakes until long after everyone else in the world was disgusted by them. I was stunned when they were unable to place competence above loyalty, regardless of whether their failure to do so might be politically damaging or even illegal. I was saddened that they still wouldn't have even considered the one presidential candidate who might have won over independents, except that he first changed half of his beliefs to match Bush's positions (and then picked a VP to match Bush's mind).

I suppose the Democrats are eventually going to go through such a self-destructive cycle, and possibly in the exact same way... but please, please, could we have a couple years of sanity first?
posted by roystgnr at 6:08 AM on November 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


The Fox news reporter is a dick. That guy is always a dick. That said, maybe calling Obama an Uncle Tom was an innocent mistake, but it is one he should have apologized for before moving on to making his actual point. And FOX News isn't the place to be doing that.
posted by chunking express at 6:22 AM on November 6, 2008


"Uncle Tom" isn't really surprising coming from the man who dismissed gay rights from his platform by referring to it as "gonad politics". In honor of the end of the hyperanalysis and tea-leaf-reading engendered by the obscure and malaproptastic Bush administration, can we just agree that when someone opens their mouth and obnoxious comes out, it might just be because he's an asshole?
posted by Your Time Machine Sucks at 6:22 AM on November 6, 2008


Asshole vs. Asshole: too close to call.
posted by chunking express at 6:32 AM on November 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


when it was still considered a bad thing that liberals felt free to criticize each other

No one's objecting to criticism, we are (or I am) objecting to the source; and we're objecting to nonsense fed to a right-wing television network and passed off as serious criticism.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:36 AM on November 6, 2008


Huh, I thought Vidal was funny, if a bit loose. He certainly punctured that pompous balloon, Dimbleby.

Also, I'm constantly surprised to find that Ralph Nader is a real person. Reading The Atrocity Exhibition as a kid I took him to be one of Ballard's inventions, a sort of safety-obsessed opposite of Dr. Nathan (because I'd never heard of him, unlike the other public figures in the book, and the web didn't exist then, so I couldn't check).

Sixties iconography: the nasal prepuce of LBJ, crashed helicopters, the pudenda of Ralph Nader, Eichmann in drag, the climax of a New York happening: a dead child.

posted by jack_mo at 6:41 AM on November 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


Silly anecdote: A couple of years ago I was in the Vanity Fair mag office and asked somebody in the staff where the bathroom was. They said they would show me the way. As they accompanied me, they pointed out various members of the staff, at one point saying "He's in charge of the Gore archive. We just received some photographs from his boyfriend." I thought in shock, "Al Gore has a boyfriend?!" On the way back from the bathroom I quietly said to the staff member, "I didn't know Al Gore was gay." They said, "The other Gore, Vidal."
posted by nickyskye at 7:26 AM on November 6, 2008


I work in a big city social services agency, my office is majority black and yesterday you could have roasted marshmallows on the energy in here. I would love to see Nader take that Uncle Tom shit into the neighborhoods so he could explain to black America why this is actually a massive defeat for them because they're all still chattel to their corporate plantation owners. Because, you know, black people can't come to responsible voting decisions that best represent their interests without the help a superiorly informed and educated white man to lift the veil of ignorance from their eyes. You go ahead, Ralph, take your paternalistic old white ass out there and run that game in the black community. Let us know how that works out for you.
posted by The Straightener at 7:33 AM on November 6, 2008 [4 favorites]


PS In that video Vidal has the classic speech pattern of someone with low level geriatric dementia, short term memory loss and irascible.

Yeah, lousy choice of words Nader. Ugly. That sucked. Be good enough to apologize. Then make your worthwhile points.
posted by nickyskye at 7:39 AM on November 6, 2008


What a shock: Obama-giddy pop-culture addicts can't make any sense out of two free-thinkers.

"I'm so much more fucking leftist and smarter than you I'm allowed to slur black people."

no one ever calls a white person an "Uncle Tom."

I do. (And I'm white.)


Oh yeah, I remember that. It was ridiculous stuff from someone who never got over high school.

But as to your point,

Betraying principles is what makes one an Uncle Tom. It really doesn't have anything to do with race. Unfortunately, we've made it so.

"Listen, I just call blacks who are lazy and criminals niggers. White people can be niggers too! I'm totally not racist!"

Well, there you are, a traditional politician, Rahm Emanuel, blah blah blah, oh god we're all doooomed!
posted by Snyder at 8:42 AM on November 6, 2008


Snyder,

I wrote the bit about calling white people "Uncle Tom." Someone else wrote the bit about "betraying principles."

But with regards to the first, you label it "ridiculous." Would you care to offer an argument to support your opinion?
posted by Clay201 at 9:05 AM on November 6, 2008


As a former Nader backer, I can't happen but suspect that the friend of mine being shot at in Iraq as we speak wouldn't fucking be there under a President Gore

Never said I agreed with Nader's decision to run for president or the way he went about it. I tend to agree with Chomsky on this one: a third party bid for the presidency works best as a publicity stunt to get your ideas out there and should certainly not be conducted in such a way that it'll throw the election to the far right candidate. And the whole thing may just be a bad idea, period.

We certainly would have been better off with eight years of Gore than with eight of Bush. However, don't underestimate Gore's bloodthirst. As VP under Clinton, Gore had already helped kill a whole lot of Iraqis before Dubya even took office. When Bushists pointed out that "regime change in Iraq" had been the explicit policy of the US since the Clinton administration, they were quite correct. The 9-11 attacks were used as an excuse by governments all over the world (Spain, Indonesia, Russia, Isreal, etc.) to ratchet up their own terrorism and aggression. Is there any reason to think a Gore administration would not have done likewise?

Your friend may still have ended up in Iraq. Or Afghanistan or Lebanon or Venezuala. What would have kept him out would not have been having Gore in office but, rather, massive opposition to military action from the public. It's possible that Gore would have been more succeptible to this type of pressure than Bush, but, then, if Gore had been in office, would MoveOn.org have been off polishing its nails during the effort? There are a lot of factors at work there. It's hard to say what would have happened.
posted by Clay201 at 9:20 AM on November 6, 2008


"Betraying principles is what makes one an Uncle Tom. It really doesn't have anything to do with race."

"Why, the fact is, Haley, Tom is an uncommon fellow; he is certainly worth that sum anywhere,--steady, honest, capable, manages my whole farm like a clock. . . . Why, last fall, I let him go to Cincinnati alone, to do business for me, and bring home five hundred dollars. 'Tom,' says I to him, 'I trust you, because I think you're a Christian--I know you wouldn't cheat.' Tom comes back, sure enough; I knew he would. Some low fellows, they say, said to him--Tom, why don't you make tracks for Canada?' 'Ah, master trusted me, and I couldn't,' . . . "Well, then, Haley, how will you trade?" said Mr. Shelby, after an uneasy interval of silence.

"Well, haven't you a boy or gal that you could throw in with Tom?" . . . Here the door opened, and a small quadroon boy, between four and five years of age, entered the room . . .

"Hulloa, Jim Crow!" said Mr. Shelby, whistling, and snapping a bunch of raisins towards him, "pick that up, now!"

The child scampered, with all his little strength, after the prize, while his master laughed. . .

"Now, Jim, show this gentleman how you can dance and sing." The boy commenced one of those wild, grotesque songs common among the negroes, in a rich, clear voice, accompanying his singing with many comic evolutions of the hands, feet, and whole body, all in perfect time to the music.

"Bravo!" said Haley, throwing him a quarter of an orange."


No sir!... nothing there that could possibly be a painful reminder of ugly stereotypes and horrible indignities!
posted by markkraft at 9:32 AM on November 6, 2008


Betraying principles is what makes one an Uncle Tom. It really doesn't have anything to do with race. Unfortunately, we've made it so.

Who has made it so? It was a term heavily loaded with racial meaning when it was simply the name of a character 150 years ago. Since then it has always ONLY been a racially loaded term. It has, since its inception, always been the term used to say that a black person is betraying his heritage, and whatever other meaning you think it originally had never actually existed. If you'd like to say that the term isn't originally racially loaded, then go find me somewhere that it has been used seriously and without irony to simply describe someone who isn't black and betrays their principles. That Nader said it doesn't make the term okay. The term makes what Nader said completely insensitive, regardless of his intentions, to the point where I'm forced to question his mental competence, and not for the first time.

And I say this as a firm supporter of Nader's ultimate message. That his political career has been an unmitigated disaster is unfortunate, but I've always thought of him as the legendary advocate who accomplished so much and inspired so many. But even knowing that I can't possibly defend him using that term in that way.
posted by shmegegge at 9:33 AM on November 6, 2008


The term makes what Nader said completely insensitive, regardless of his intentions

Given that there are any number of words in English to communicate similar ideas--dupe, pushover, sell out, whore, fake, etc.--I can only assume that Nader chose the phrase he did intentionally. The only question is why? And why do it on Fox News?
posted by octobersurprise at 9:48 AM on November 6, 2008


So, how many here feel that it would be acceptable and non-racist to call a Jewish "sellout" a Kapo?
posted by markkraft at 9:50 AM on November 6, 2008


I asked whether "Uncle Tom" was as universally offensive as the word "nigger" (and for the same reasons). Two people responded:

I'd say yes, wholeheartedly, and completely.

Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying.

Two black comedians on In Living Color used to play these characters, both named Tom, who were sort of the Smothers Brothers from the Twilight Zone. The characters had dark skin, but acted like square white guys and were apologists for racism. I think one of them played the cello. One was the straight man and they did jokes. In one sketch, they performed a song defending the Arizona referendum that nixed the MLK holiday (In which, apparently, the vote was very close). The brothers, trying to convince their audience not to hold it against Arizona, sang: "They're not all bigots, just fifty percent."

One of their jokes went like this:

First Tom: Hey, Tom. you know why we're both named Tom?
Second Tom: I don't know, Tom. How come?
First Tom: Because we're both named after our uncle.

While the term in this context is certainly pejorative and it obviously relates to race, I don't see how it can be considered on par with "nigger." The latter, when used as an insult, carries the implication that there's something wrong with being black. "Uncle Tom" carries no such implication. If anything, it implies that there's something wrong with being white.

But alright, let's suppose you're right and "Uncle Tom" is unacceptable. Wouldn't "supporter of terrorism" be just as inflammatory, if not more so? Or how about "baby killer"? That one never fails to get the blood pressure up.

My point here is that you guys seem to be squeamish about certain things being said during the course of a political debate, but what if those things happen to be true? The "supporter of terrorism" charge, for example, is absolutely accurate and extremely easy to prove. (Obama voted to fund the Iraq occupation. The Iraq occupation is terrorism). I just don't think there are nice ways to say some of these things.

The question Nader raised is a serious one. He wanted to know whether the guy is going to represent the people who voted for him or, instead, the wealthy elite. Think about all those Obama supporters on election night shedding tears of joy. Fastforward two years and he's sending poor black kids to die in Afghanistan. That's the sort of thing that could provoke soul crushing rage. If the parent of one of those kids called Obama an "Uncle Tom" would we be just as offended as we are right now? These subjects are very emotional and painful. The language we use to discuss them is likely to reflect that.

So is there a way to ask Nader's "Uncle Tom" question that would carry the same emotional impact but wouldn't use the offensive term? Suppose that, instead, Nader had chosen a term like Judas goat, traitor, sell-out, con-man, boot lick, butt boy, wolf in sheep's clothing, turncoat, Benedict Arnold, double dealer, fraud, or crook? Would the point have been made as effectively? Would you still be offended?

(Note: I had this written up before octobersurprise posted. I swear.)
posted by Clay201 at 9:52 AM on November 6, 2008


what if those things happen to be true?

You mean, what if Obama really is an uncommon fellow, steady, honest, and capable, a man who will manage our whole farm like a clock, a man whom we then decide to sell down the river, anyway?

When you're in a hole, quit digging, Clay. Want to argue that Obama will betray left ideals? Then do so. That's a rational discussion to have. But there's no defending Nader's specific choice of phrase.
posted by octobersurprise at 10:08 AM on November 6, 2008


"I asked whether "Uncle Tom" was as universally offensive as the word "nigger"

"Universally offensive" simply doesn't apply when you use that word against someone who is black.

The implications of "Uncle Tom" for black people is arguably worse than dropping the N bomb, because you're saying:

A. That they have a slave mentality.
B. That they betray their own people.
C. That they're a dehumanized black person.

(And guess what the common word is for that one!)
posted by markkraft at 10:10 AM on November 6, 2008


Uncle Tombama! That's an Obamanation!

I just watched "An Unreasonable Man" last weekend and Ralph has never cared about whether or not his remarks would be seen as offensive.

His latest remark is really no different than when former Nader's Raiders went into the Carter administration and he warned them that he reserved the right to attack them if they didn't follow through on what he saw as their commitments.

He has always been that way and I think the bigger mystery is how he got so much done in the 60's and 70's. There's no point in anyone getting upset about it.
posted by notmtwain at 10:34 AM on November 6, 2008


Oh Jeesh... Clay's from Alabama. And no, I don't want to demean Alabama, but something tells me that the phrase "Uncle Tom" is both more common there, and that it's more accepted there as well.

BTW - You know how the Republicans are all over themselves, suggesting that this result just proves that racism isn't a problem anymore?

Well, all I can say is that in 2004, John Kerry ran against an incumbent president who was popular in Alabama, and despite being a fairly unpopular candidate, outspent 2-1 with minimal national advertising and no ads in Alabama, he got 19% of the white vote.

In 2008, Barack Obama ran against a non-incumbent, and despite being a popular candidate who outspent his opponent over 2-1, with lots of national ads, Obama got 10% of the white vote.

But hey, I'm sure there was a good reason, right...?!
posted by markkraft at 10:35 AM on November 6, 2008 [2 favorites]


I wrote the bit about calling white people "Uncle Tom." Someone else wrote the bit about "betraying principles."

But with regards to the first, you label it "ridiculous." Would you care to offer an argument to support your opinion?


I was unclear. I quoted both posts because I thought you and sluglicker were making the same point.

As to your post in the "Knocked Up" thread, it was ridiculous because you talked about nerd/popular girl movie plots being an example of "Uncle Tomism", as if they were betraying some smart people class interests by consorting with jocks and cheerleaders. That is ridiculous, at least to those of us who don't see everyone around them as belonging to some Hollywood high school movie clique.
posted by Snyder at 10:52 AM on November 6, 2008


Ralph Nader speaks on the Obama presidency: part one | part two | part three

That was worthwhile watching. Thanks.

All of this fauxtrage seems moot when the last few words of Mr. Nader's sentence are included in the quote: "for the giant Corporations?" In other words, only when the term is taken out of context does it have any outrage potential for me.
posted by peppito at 10:57 AM on November 6, 2008


Race is a major part of the canvas on which old people paint their thoughts. There are no uncle toms. None that matter. People can in will always compromise their principles in some way. Nader is old, from a very, very, very old political family. He sounds like my grandmother. Old ways, out the door. I like the way the other guys said black. So much emotion for an 80year old! Awesome
posted by Flex1970 at 11:33 AM on November 6, 2008


can AND will
posted by Flex1970 at 11:34 AM on November 6, 2008


I love how the people suggesting Nader is justified because "he's right, and how else are you going to say it?" manage to actually use alternate phrasing themselves.

Nader is simply asking a valid question: Will Obama serve the people or corporate Amercia?

Look at that: the question is raised, and without racially loaded terms. Somehow you just did what you're suggesting Nader couldn't do. Was it that hard, really?

I think that getting upset about the use of the Uncle Tom term is an example of 'political correctness gone mad' ; ) What other sound-bite friendly term would you use to describe selling out in this way?

Yes, if only there were another word that isn't used nigh-exclusively to mean a black man who isn't black enough ... some kind of simple, catchy term for one who sells out, that isn't racially loaded ... a short phrase that indicates one who has sold out his values to the highest bidder ... oh well. Guess not.
posted by Amanojaku at 11:35 AM on November 6, 2008 [4 favorites]


You mean, what if Obama really is an uncommon fellow, steady, honest, and capable, a man who will manage our whole farm like a clock, a man whom we then decide to sell down the river, anyway?

No. That's not what I meant.

Want to argue that Obama will betray left ideals? Then do so.

No, that wasn't my main point. I just happened to mention in passing that Obama supported terrorism.

But suppose you'd said the same thing to Nader, before he did those interviews and suppose he'd taken your advice. What might the result have been? Something like this, maybe?

Hypothetical Nader: "It remains to be seen whether Obama will live up to the hopes of his lower income black supporters or whether he'll sell out completely, stab them in the back, and lick the boots of the rich and powerful instead. In no time at all, he could be lowering wages, sending poor black kids to bomb poor brown kids, and doling out money to the wealthy. He could end up being the best friend rich white people ever had. He may very well betray everything people like to think he stands for."

So you're saying that this would be less offensive than the "Uncle Tom" comment, right? I'm not necessarily saying that it wouldn't be. Maybe it would. I'm just pointing out that there's really no way to make this accusation in a direct and honest manner without touching some very raw nerves, regardless of the terms one chooses.

Actually, I can imagine an Obama-ist hearing the above, getting pissed, listening to it a couple of times and saying "Hey! Wait a minute! He's calling Obama an Uncle Tom!" If that happens, do we still chide Nader? Are we objecting to just the term "Uncle Tom" or to the idea of Uncle Tomism? How far back do we intend to prune, here? Are we sure we're not limiting the range of ideas that are tolerated in the debate?

One more point. Metafilter is much more likely to give Ralph Nader a fair hearing than 97 percent of the other web sites and media outlets in creation. Many of us here are part of his audience and representative of it; the people who are actually interested in what he has to say. So if we do decide to limit the scope of the debate, it could have a real effect on Nader and the groups he represents. He may be forced to change his rhetoric. Or, if he doesn't, he may lose a large chunk of his audience.
posted by Clay201 at 11:38 AM on November 6, 2008


I am a believer that if one wants to make a point, one chooses the best words for the argument.

If Nader wanted to say that the question for Obama now is, "Will he work as he has claimed for the good of the people, or will he be like every other president of the last fifty years and betray principles and the people to be a shill for unbridled, unregulated corporate interests?" He could have found a trope that was not so loaded with the cheap and insensitive, but easy to blurt in a sound bite, Uncle Sam/Tom formula that he used.

Some have argued that he should have been smarter than that. I believe he is "smarter than that" in that I think he is a bitter and marginalized curmudgeon who knew exactly what he was saying and obviously unapologetic for doing so. His rationaliziations afterward were shallow and pathetic. His long-form question to Obama is valid and in framing it the way he did, he eliminated his chance of being in on the answer.

He has some good ideas, and some others that are as crazy as any dues-paying member of the tinfoil hat brigade. He wanted to come off as a prick, and he did so. Bravo, sir. You have relegated yourself to the ignominy you so richly deserve.
posted by beelzbubba at 11:46 AM on November 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


Oh Jeesh... Clay's from Alabama. And no, I don't want to demean Alabama, but something tells me that the phrase "Uncle Tom" is both more common there, and that it's more accepted there as well.

Wow. I've been called a racist. How amusing.

For the record, I haven't taken a poll of my white, right wing, racist family members or any of the other racists I know, but I'll bet you money most of them don't even know what an "Uncle Tom" is. Before now, I've only ever heard the term used by black people to describe other black people, and most of those occasions were probably on TV. (Except on a few occasions when I've used it myself).

If you explained the concept to the white racists, they'd most likely be confused. They wouldn't understand why it's considered an insult. Or they'd just say that any discussion of an individual siding with whites against blacks is idiotic since, in their minds, whites aren't oppressing blacks. They firmly believe that, if anything, whites are the ones who are now oppressed. In any case, I doubt they'd care enough about the matter to even take the time to form an opinion.
posted by Clay201 at 12:07 PM on November 6, 2008


I'm just pointing out that there's really no way to make this accusation in a direct and honest manner without touching some very raw nerves, regardless of the terms one chooses.

Declining to go on a right-wing television network and make the argument that the black president could sell out his black supporters is a good way to start. Casting the discussion in racial terms to start with is pointlessly inflammatory since at this point if Obama betrays his promises to his African-American supporters, he betrays them to us all. What's Nader's point--that black Americans have more to lose than white, or Latino, or Jewish Americans? And if that is his point when did the black community appoint Ralph Nader their ambassador to Fox News?
posted by octobersurprise at 12:44 PM on November 6, 2008


Declining to go on a right-wing television network and make the argument that the black president could sell out his black supporters is a good way to start.

This is exactly what I was talking about. I was asking: How far is the leap from "He shouldn't make his point in that manner" to "He shouldn't make his point at all."? If your suggestion is any indication, it's a pretty short one.

What's Nader's point--that black Americans have more to lose than white, or Latino, or Jewish Americans?

I don't know whether that was his point, but it's a discussion that someone ought to be having.
posted by Clay201 at 12:52 PM on November 6, 2008


If your suggestion is any indication, it's a pretty short one.

You're right. I fail to see how white guys who try to pit African-Americans against African-Americans and Democrats against Democrats on a right-wing television network further any remotely progressive interests.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:04 PM on November 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


To put that brief clip of Gore Vidal into context.... I really wanted to hear what Vidal had to say, to see if he thinks this time it is finally different, whether at his old age he finally feels hope. And they cut him off and giggled. Assholes.

Sadly, that kind of treatment is common currency in UK mainstream media. Everyone is so fragile with their own grim fakery that they can only listen by speaking.
posted by specialbrew at 1:15 PM on November 6, 2008


So clay, you're saying none of your best friends are black?
posted by nomisxid at 1:16 PM on November 6, 2008


nomisxid;

I didn't say that, but since you asked, I have about five or six close friends I still see regularly and they're all white.

And now am I supposed to get defensive and make some sort of declaration to the effect that I'm not racist and that I have nothing against any particular color or creed? I'm really not even sure what we're talking about here, exactly. Did you have a point or something?
posted by Clay201 at 1:48 PM on November 6, 2008


Clay, it's a riff on the all-too-common "I'm not a racist" defense, some of my best friends are black.

While it was mostly tounge-in-cheek, I must admit I find it interesting that someone can live in alabama, but not know any black people well enough to know how they'd feel if you called a black man "uncle tom" in front of them. It's kind of like how there weren't any black people on friends until the last season. I'm not saying it's impossible to live in NYC, and go to a coffeehouse facing Central Park, without having even casual friends who happen to be black. I'm not saying it's a 100% sign that friends' was racist. I am saying it's something that catches my eye, and makes me go hmm.
posted by nomisxid at 2:12 PM on November 6, 2008


A better Vidal interview.

My ears, (not watching the video) heard something different. Vidal is still the sharpest tool in the shed, delightfully cranky, and not one to suffer fools gladly. So when Dimbleby starts pulling the kind of "gotcha" bullshit of trying to reframe the Vidal's answer as a simplistic conspiracy theory, by pushing a loaded yes/no question (a tactic cribbed from the likes of O'Reilly), Vidal refuses to play along and goes into insult mode. "I don't know what you are saying what I'm saying, could you do it again?" and "I hinted at it, I thought you would take the hint." Vidal knows that the yes/no question was a clumsy rhetorical trap that missed the point, and he's not going to take the bait. So he's going to point out that Dimbleby is a stupid prat for asking it.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:48 PM on November 6, 2008


He does the same thing in the Goodman interview, but Goodman has the good sense to let him talk and back off on the warnings:
AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean, Magna Carta?

GORE VIDAL: Well, you know what Magna Carta means?

AMY GOODMAN: Explain it.

GORE VIDAL: Tell your readers, your viewers...
then later...
GORE VIDAL: ...They seized the state. And from that moment on, they were appointing all the judges, they were doing this, they were doing that, they got rid of Magna Carta—I will not explain what that is a second time—and they broke the republic.
I fell in love with him on those words. An interview subject who demands basic literacy and an extended attention span from his audience. Beautiful.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:56 PM on November 6, 2008


but not know any black people well enough to know how they'd feel if you called a black man "uncle tom" in front of them.

Montgomery is fifty percent black. You'd have to be one seriously rich, reclusive, and racist mother fucker to not be on a first name basis with any black people. You asked me about my best friends, not about all the poeple I know or have known.

I didn't mention any examples of "Uncle Tom" popping up outside of TV because I don't recall specifically any conversation I ever had with a black friend in which we discussed the use of the term or where it was used in conversation. It's quite possible that one took place and just don't remember it. I've had many conversations with people of various races (yes, plenty of them black) on many social and political topics. I like to talk about such things and do so whenever I can. For various reasons, I don't interact with a wide circle of people these days, but as recently as eight years ago, it was a very different story.

My guess is that most of the black people I've known would probably judge the use of "Uncle Tom" on a case by case basis. That is to say, even where they disagreed (for example, if I called Obama an Uncle Tom), the disagreement would probably be about whether he was in fact one, not about whether the term should be used at all. However, I've found that the cultural and political opinions of blacks tend to vary pretty widely, even in Montgomery, Alabama. Most of my black friends have been Generation X types who think weed and gangsta rap are good things. There are plenty of others who are more socially conservative and religious and they might have a different reaction.
posted by Clay201 at 2:58 PM on November 6, 2008


the disagreement would probably be about whether he was in fact one, not about whether the term should be used at all.

you should go ask them. I'm always uncomfortable listening to people attempt to speak for others.
posted by shmegegge at 3:26 PM on November 6, 2008


Clay201: You'd have to be one seriously rich, reclusive, and racist mother fucker to not be on a first name basis with any black people.

Sadly, America is still a strongly segregated country in many respects, so I don't find this surprising.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:27 PM on November 6, 2008


"Wow. I've been called a racist. How amusing."

Did I say you were racist? No. I implied that you most likely have Alabama-like sensibilities on the issue, given that you're from Alabama and all, which would definitely effect your attitudes on what words and phrases are acceptable, under what circumstances.

And as for Alabama itself, I think the fact that Kerry was 90% more popular in Alabama among white voters than Obama speaks for itself... which was precisely why MLK in his famous speech said "let freedom ring" from a bunch of Northern and Western states, all of which Obama won...

But also said... "But not only that. Let freedom ring..." from a list of Southern states, all of which Obama lost.

The fact is, lingering attitudes exist in the deep south which are smply unacceptable to practically everyone else in this country. Call it political correctness if you will, but it really does offend an awful lot of people, especially at the time it was uttered. And frankly, what we sometimes demean as "political correctness", other people in the rest of the world call "tact"... which, incidentally, is a trait that they tend to feel is missing in Americans.

If Ralph Nader -- or anyone else -- doesn't intentionally intend to offend or incite, they should be at least *somewhat* aware of what they are saying, and the fact that it could be unnecessarily offensive and hurtful to others.
posted by markkraft at 5:20 PM on November 6, 2008


I'm always uncomfortable listening to people attempt to speak for others.

As am I, which is why I didn't do it when the subject first arose. But then nomisxid decided that I'd lived my entire adult life without talking to a single black person.

My rule in these debates is that when someone attacks me personally I just ignore it. I broke the rule this time and I now I regret it.
posted by Clay201 at 5:24 PM on November 6, 2008


And I should say that it wasn't *just* that Obama lost in Southern states. That certainly shouldn't be a bellweather of white attitudes regarding race.

Rather, it's HOW he lost, amongst white voters. Overwhelmingly and disproportionately, relative to the race of other Democratic presidential candidates who ran in the same state, to the point that any reasonable person would be shaking his head.
posted by markkraft at 5:24 PM on November 6, 2008


America's racist belt.
posted by caddis at 8:24 PM on November 6, 2008


That's a fairly informative map, Caddis, but I hope someone does the same thing in order to chart actual white voter turnout and political orientation, relative to the norm.

Although this map *DOES* point out areas with some of the worst white racial bias against Obama, we aren't seeing the full effect in strongly mixed white/black counties.

Imagine, for example, that you have a county which is 60% white, 40% black.

Black turnout could be much higher than average and more slanted than average, due to the strong inspirational effect of Obama, and the historic opportunity to elect the first black president. This, in turn, would keep the county from voting more Republican than in past elections... but at the same time, white voter turnout could be 20% higher than average and Obama could get only 12% of the white vote instead of an average of 20%.

So, really, what we're also seeing is that white racial bias against voting for a black candidate is being overwhelmed by a historic black turnout.
posted by markkraft at 9:05 PM on November 6, 2008


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