Monday, November 10, 2008
With enemies like these...
Nader's "Uncle Tom" comment is not in his "open letter". I believe that was made in an interview on Fox tv.
From what I understood (from an earlier age of literacy), the term "Uncle Tom" was used by radical blacks, to refer to what they perceived as a servile, non-threatening, accommodating attitude, of accepting the white man's game and his domination but seeking something better for oneself within that.
The term itself of course comes from the novel "Uncle Tom's Cabin", by Harriet Beecher Stowe, where the protagonist, a slave, Uncle Tom, silently suffers indignities, but never turns against his white masters, whom he continues to love and whose overlordship he neither questions nor rejects.
If I am not wrong, Dr Martin Luther King had also been called "Uncle Tom" a few times.
Ralph Nader has contested the US presidential election a few times. I don't think he or anyone else seriously believes he will ever win. He has a specific political objective in contesting the elections. To say certain things, to raise certain issues, to ask certain questions. He is ultimately a valuable asset to the US democratic system. In fact this time I was surprised to learn - 2 days ago - that he had contested. That says how marginalised he was in the mainstream media.
Even if no one else does so, perhaps Nader sees it as his task to say certain things, to call a spade a spade. For instance, the whole Israel-Palestine thing, on which he has elaborated in detail in his "open letter". I was struck by the fact that notwithstanding Obama's bending over backwards to please Israelis and thus the decisive Jewish lobby, most Israel-based Americans apparently did not vote for Obama.
Electoral politics is, as we know, a dicey matter, a game that has to be played cunningly. So I suppose non-cunning people should not be in that game, and only cunning people will play. But I would like to think that "cunning" need not always be a negative term! (The Indian word chatur, for instance, makes "cunning" something like "clever"). But I would also like to think that by and by, the ways of electoral politics will change, and people can by the force of their convictions, speak the truth, be honest, say what has to be said, and yet prevail.
I would like to see Nader as a conscience keeper, rather than a sore, sour-grapes loser, or sniveler. He is holding up the mirror to Obama. He is challenging him with what he must do, if he is to be true to the expectations and hope he has unleashed. I have learnt from life that one's harshest critics turn out to be one's best supporters. "With enemies like these, who needs friends!"
Cartoon: Conscience keeper, by Ranga.