When Ralph Nader announced that he would mount a serious campaign for president, there was much hope that he would do everything possible to reach out to black and Latino voters. This is no easy task. Black voters reflexively give 85 to 90 percent of their vote to the Democrats, and Latinos are almost as loyal. The Democrats vise-like grip on the black vote was especially obvious with Clinton. Blacks have nearly elevated him to deity status, proclaiming him the best friend they've ever had in the White House.
Yet Nader has many political assets that could appeal to many black and Latino voters. He has an impeccable record as an environmental warrior and consumer rights champion, and the Green Party has spelled out a solid anti-corporate, pro-consumer program. Black and Latino consumers and workers have benefited immensely from the campaigns that Nader has waged against environmental and corporate abuses and the protective legislation that resulted from those battles.
Nader's calls for corporate responsibility, massive funding of health care, gun control, and abortion rights strike a deep chord with younger black and Latino voters. His depiction of the Democrats and Republicans as clubby good ol' boys controlled by big money also touches a raw nerve among them. They are fed up with back room deal making by lobbyists and politicians.
But Nader has squandered these potential assets. Other than a brief appearance at the NAACP's annual conference in July, he has been a conspicuous no-show on the campaign stump in black and Latino communities. Nader's invisibility was especially apparent the first week of October, when he declined to appear at a political education forum in Harlem sponsored by the Unity Party of New York, a black-led, multi-ethnic activist organization.
This was a perfect chance for Nader to hammer home his positions on the tormenting issues of racial profiling, police abuse, failing inner-city public schools, racial disparities in the prison and criminal justice system, violence in poor communities, the economic plight of many young blacks and Latinos, and corporate racism. These are the issues that pound black and Latino communities; these are the issues that Nader must speak out loudly on if he is to have a prayer of making the Green Party a viable force in urban communities in future years.
The irony is that Nader's non-presence among black and Latino voters comes at a time when Bush and the Republicans are doing what he refuses to do: openly appeal to them. The Republican National Committee has announced plans to spend $3 million on ads on black and Spanish language radio and TV stations to bag more black and Latino votes. This has raised alarms among black and Latino Democratic elected officials, who are nearly panicking at the prospect of a Bush victory that could result in the final gutting of affirmative action and health and education programs, a quantum leap in imprisonment, and escalation of the Clinton administration's racially disfigured drug policy.
Their great fear now is that a big vote for Nader will dump the White House into Bush's lap. And it could happen, with the candidates neck-and-neck and Nader polling as high as six percent in key states like California. The fear of the Nader factor prompted Illinois Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. to bluntly admonish black and Latino voters that they can't afford the luxury of voting for Nader.
Jackson may not have to worry. Nader has proven that he can garner media attention, throw a scare into the Democrats, and probably draw a large number of votes. But the jury is out on how many of those votes he will or even should get from black and Latino voters.