For the last few weeks, following former Rep. Bob Barr’s entry into the presidential sweepstakes on the Libertarian Party ticket, Democrats were breathing easy. Finally, it was the turn of the GOP to worry about a third-party candidate draining away enough votes to turn the tide in November. Finally, Ralph Nader was drifting off into the ozone and no longer threatening Sen. Barack Obama’s prospects.
But Ralph didn’t get the message.
Yesterday morning, the Washington Post published a lengthy profile of Nader in its Style section. The article’s writer, Paul Farhi, stressed Nader’s status as a pariah on Capitol Hill, contrasted that to his glory days of the 1960s, and assured readers that there was little chance Nader would affect Democratic fortunes in any state in 2008 the way he did in Florida in 2000.
But even as these confident words were being written, the irrepressible Nader had managed to locate a newspaper ready to air his most explosive observations – the Rocky Mountain News in Colorado, a state where Nader has managed to get on the ballot, and where he could really be a factor on Election Day – and he took advantage of this forum to inform readers in the Rockies and websurfers across America that, in his view, Obama has not addressed the issue of “economic exploitation in the ghetto,” by which Nader said he meant “payday loans, predatory lending, asbestos, lead,” substandard food, and so forth.
Then the perennial candidate asked a question with a bite that Harold Stassen never managed: “Is it because he [Obama] wants to talk white?” Amplifying on this, Nader stated the presumptive Democratic nominee “wants to appeal to white guilt. You appeal to white guilt by not coming on as a black-is-beautiful, black-is-powerful [candidate].”
The curious thing about this argument is that in France, Obama’s candidacy has touched off a black-power movement among French intellectuals and celebrities of African and Caribbean descent not seen since the heyday of Frantz Fanon a half-century ago. But Nader’s words, while seemingly going unheard on the Left Bank, definitely had an impact in Chicago. Yesterday Obama and his aides were furiously disputing Nader’s assertions, and, thanks to Al Gore’s mighty invention, the debate is echoing across thousands of blogs, not least those of the New York Times.
Well…..this brings 1972 to mind. That year, there was a presidential candidate to the left of Sen. George McGovern – Dr. Benjamin Spock and the People’s Party. Spock’s campaign got very little attention and McGovern ignored the pediatrician-turned-protester’s bid. But now, we see Obama managing to get himself into a debate which is bound to increase Nader’s visibility and raise his support in the polls from the 4 to 6% he is now averaging. And if he can get on the ballot in just a half-dozen states where he could siphon enough votes to swing them to Sen. John McCain, Obama may wind up regretting the moment he decided to counterattack. After all, he got the nomination in the first place partly because enough superdelegates concluded he had a better chance of neutralizing Nader than Sen. Hillary Clinton did.