Ralph Nader suggests Obama is a corporate 'Uncle Tom' on FNC.


Before reading on, take a moment and watch the clip above. The term in question here is “Uncle Tom”. Urban Dictionary has many user-submitted definitions that illustrate the incendiary nature of this term and the diverse viewpoints on its usage. According to Wikipedia, “Uncle Tom is a pejorative for a black person who is perceived by others as behaving in a subservient manner to White American authority figures, or as seeking ingratiation with them by way of unnecessary accommodation.”

Seeing that clip, one would think that Fox News is a bastion of decency (a well-documented falsehood) and Ralph Nader is a sad, out-of-touch racist. While his use of “Uncle Tom” is certainly impolitic, I don’t think it is racist. Shepherd Smith confronted him about his statement and gave him the chance to recant. Nader, being the crotchety old man of principle that he is, rightly refused because there was nothing inherently wrong with what he said. Take a look at exactly what Nader said.

But [Obama’s] choice, basically, is whether he is going to be Uncle Sam for the people of this country, or Uncle Tom for the giant corporations.Ralph Nader
Consumer Advocate

By not recanting, Nader fell prey to a damning catch-22: forgo your principles to achieve your larger goal or ride out the media shit-storm of your own creation. As a man of principle, he loses either way. Nader is a political pariah for both wings of the corporate party. The Democrats hate him for “stealing the election” from Gore in 2000. Republicans hate him for his populist worldview. He has no port in this storm.

Every word I write in this space is chosen to convey my message and evoke a response from my audience. Words unquestionably have power and their ethereal power can certainly be wrought in the physical world. But relegating the utterance of certain words to certain groups of people is wrong. Language belongs to everyone. The mere utterance of a word should not convict the speaker of a crime against society as a whole or in part. By bricking up certain words as unusable, we only amplify the havoc they can wreak upon us.

Context is everything. Moreover, Nader’s point is essential for us to focus on. Unfortunately, his refusal to capitulate to the principals of language politics means his message is lost. I truly wish he would have forgone his rhythmic flourish and simply used the word “toady” from the start. Disagree? Let me know in the comments.