Much has been made of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s unbelievably (racist, insensitive) stupid comment about Mr. My Next President being tanned. Berlusconi says his critics are humorless, can’t believe folks didn’t get it: “Are there really people who don’t understand it was a cute thing to say?”
Cute. Cute. To make a joke about Obama’s color. Cute.
But Berlusconi doesn’t surprise me nearly as much as he seems to surprise other people. The man has proven over and over again just how much of a jackass he is. Why are people surprised that he would say something racist?
No, I have saved my surprise for Ralph Nader.
Obama’s choice is whether to be Uncle Sam or Uncle Tom. Uncle Tom. Like Berlusconi, Nader saw nothing wrong with his comment, saw no problem with using one of the most offensive and insulting terms in our culture to refer to the black man who had just been elected to the highest office in the land. Ralph Nader.
At one point, he restates his charge to Obama: “He can become a great president, or he can become a toady to the corporate powers …” Now, I would still find reason to be upset about this, it’s true. In response to this comment, I’d want to have a discussion about Nader’s claim that Obama has always been in the pocket of big corporations. That’s a conversation that would be based on Obama’s actions, a conversation that would have nothing to do with race. But the moment Nader throws in that “Tom,” the conversation becomes something different.
Only, Nader chooses not to see that. I won’t say that he can’t see it. Ralph Nader is a savvy, educated man. He knew exactly what he was saying. His choice of words enabled him to make a ‘cute’ comment of his own: the clever play of Uncle Sam/Uncle Tom. Cute. His unwillingness to revise his comment, to apologize for it stems in my mind from a belief that he is somehow ‘above’ or ‘beyond’ racism, that he can say things that he would damn others for saying because we all know where he stands, we all know he’s not a racist. Hmm … I seem to remember a comment I made a month ago about ‘racist is as racist does’ … If you’re not a racist, you don’t use the term Uncle Tom to refer to a black person … I would hope that you don’t have the thought, but you sure as hell don’t say it out loud.
And so little attention is being given to this. Yes, there is the melodramatic pause reaction of the Fox reporter in the vid, but I mean real attention. There hasn’t been much focus on this comment. One of the panelists after the Nader interview says, “That was the end of his career, right there.” Yeah, I don’t so much think so. Back in the summer, he said in another interview that Obama was trying to ‘talk white’ and that got even less play than this.
If Rush Limbaugh or Pat Buchanan or any other conservative newsmaker/pundit/blowhard had said either of these things, it would be all over the airwaves, they’d be pilloried. But Nader can speak with impunity because he’s a lefty?
* My apologies to Maya Angelou