Hans Nichols and Peter Savodnik, The Hill.com, Jul. 14
Tensions between Ralph Nader and the Congressional Black Caucus flared again yesterday, after a letter from the independent presidential candidate to the caucus chairman, Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), demanded an apology for an “obscene racial epitaph” at a tense meeting last month.
Black lawmakers reacted to Nader’s letter with a combination of anger and disdain, questioning his mental health and accusing him of acute and advanced egomania.
“He ain’t playing with a full deck,” said Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), a member of the caucus and vice chairman of the Democratic caucus.
“I don’t think he gets it,” said Rep. Albert Wynn (D-Md.).
“The meeting was about strategy and the pragmatic planning to defeat [President] Bush,” said Wynn.
“We told him how at strategic level, his candidacy defeats a common a goal,” said Wynn, who criticized Nader for adopting a sanctimonious tone at the beginning of the meeting.
“We were particularly offended by Nader’s exhibitionism, his selfishness and egotism,” Wynn added.
Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) said, “If he didn’t understand what the meeting was about, not only is he an egotistical maniac, he’s dumber than I thought he was.”
Nader’s two-and-a-half-page letter, released to the media before many members of the caucus had a chance to see it, demanded an apology from Rep. Melvin Watt (D-N.C.). Nader took umbrage at Watt’s choice of words. Watt, Nader alleged, called him “just another arrogant white man, telling us what we can do. It’s all about your ego, another [expletive] arrogant white man.”
“Exclamations at the meeting descended into vituperative (e.g., Congresswoman [Carolyn] Kilpatrick’s [D-Mich.] tawdry, anatomical comment yelled loud enough so the press could hear it outside) and ending with the obscene racist epithet repeated twice by Yale Law School alumnus Congressman Melvin Watt of North Carolina,” Nader wrote Cummings.
As reported by The Hill, Kilpatrick told Nader to “get your ass out” at the June 22 meeting.
Caucus spokeswoman Candice Tolliver ruled out an apology. “It was a spirited exchange with the caucus,” Tolliver said. “We just share two different strategies, and that’s it.”
Black House members at the meeting had urged Nader to pull out of the presidential race so that votes wouldn’t be channeled away from Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), his party’s presumptive presidential nominee.
Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) dismissed the letter. “I’ll give as much consideration to that letter as constituents in my district will give him their vote,” he said.
Meanwhile, a left-leaning organization has accused a pro-business group headed by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) of drumming up support for Nader’s candidacy.
John Stauber, executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy, said, “The Republican machine is mobilizing for Nader. Major Republican funders are sending checks to Nader, and a far-right industry-funded front group, Citizens for a Sound Economy [CSE], is organizing to get Ralph on the November ballot in a number of
CSE spokesman Chris Kinnan said the group’s local chapters have gotten involved to get Nader on state ballots. He said Nader’s candidacy “helps illuminate that Sen. [John] Kerry (D-Mass.) is running from his position. Kinnan added that CSE opposes Nader’s positions, but his run for the White House “furthers our issue agenda.”