Monday, August 25, 2014

Cornel West lights up President Obama in recent interview

Throughout his career, Cornel West has been an energetic, emphatic, and unapologetic speaker who doesn't hesitate to speak his mind - he always keeps it real. There perhaps is no better example of this style than West's recent interview with Salon's Thomas Frank, in which the distinguished professor targets the president, Reverend Al Sharpton, Attorney General Eric Holder, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Indeed, West gets rolling immediately. Reflecting on President Obama's progressive resume thus far, West begins:

[T]he thing is he posed as a progressive and turned out to be counterfeit. We ended up with a Wall Street presidency, a drone presidency, a national security presidency. The torturers go free. The Wall Street executives go free. The war crimes in the Middle East, especially now in Gaza, the war criminals go free. And yet, you know, he acted as if he was both a progressive and as if he was concerned about the issues of serious injustice and inequality and it turned out that he’s just another neoliberal centrist with a smile and with a nice rhetorical flair. 

According to West, Obama's failure to live up to his progressive promise stems in part from his fundamental misunderstanding about what is required of a great president. He argues:

He doesn’t realize that a great leader, a statesperson, doesn’t just occupy middle ground. They occupy higher ground or the moral ground or even sometimes the holy ground. But the middle ground is not the place to go if you’re going to show courage and vision. And I think that’s his modus operandi. He always moves to the middle ground. It turned out that historically, this was not a moment for a middle-ground politician. We needed a high-ground statesperson and it’s clear now he’s not the one.

He later explains:

I think part of it is just temperament. That [Obama's] success has been predicated on finding that middle ground. “We’re not black. We’re not white. We’re not rich. We’re not poor. There’s no classes in America. We are all Americans. We’re the American family.” He invoked the American family last week. It’s a lie, brother. You’ve got to be able to tell the truth to the American people. We’re not a family. We’re a people. We’re a nation. And a nation always has divisions. You have to be able to speak to those divisions in such a way that, like FDR, like Lincoln, you’re able to somehow pull out the best of who we are, given the divisions. You don’t try to act as if we have no divisions and we’re just an American family, with the poor getting treated in disgraceful ways and the rich walking off sipping tea, with no accountability at all, and your foreign policy is running amok with Israelis committing war crimes against precious Palestinians and you won’t say a mumbling word about the Palestinian children. What is history going to say about you? Counterfeit! That’s what they’ll say, counterfeit. Not the real thing.

West saves some of his harshest criticisms for Rev. Sharpton, who he claims has "no prophetic integrity in his leadership." He says: "MSNBC, state press, its all Obama propaganda, and Sharpton is the worst."

Finally, contemplating Hillary Clinton's potential candidacy for president, West laments, "Oh my God, here comes another neo-liberal opportunist par excellence. Hillary herself is coming around the corner. It’s much worse."

Frank's full interview with the renowned scholar is available here.

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You should not have posted this supposed interview uncritically, or without context. First of all, this was hardly an interview -- I generally like West, ever since I read “Race Matters” many years ago (but see below), and I like Frank, but a proper interview involves the questioner posing challenging questions to his or her interlocutor, and the person being interviewed responding. This so-called interview was simply two people who share antipathy for Obama rapping with each other. And West is hardly a disinterested critic – he, along with Tavis Smiley, have been making the same charges and allegations since Obama gained a national profile. West gives a number of these kinds of “interviews” a year. (For one of many good critiques of West and Smiley on Obama, see: A key quote -- “But more often than not, the two black intellectuals who stand to grasp the most limelight for taking spiteful jabs at President Obama are Cornel West and Tavis Smiley.” The linked piece also demonstrates that West’s attacks on Sharpton are nothing new as well.) There has been a fair bit of speculation over the last many years that the real reason West and Smiley have been so critical of Obama is that he refused to kiss their rings. What would be interesting is to see someone properly interview West about Obama, to have someone of equal intellect (Henry Louis Gates? Ta-Nehisi Coates?) go round-for-round with West on this subject. Now that would be enlightening.

Posted by: DHMCarver | Aug 26, 2014 8:19:11 AM

This comment section gives one a short period of time to articulate and post. Then it erases your comment before you post. I just had a good comment erased. I will save it for another blog.

Posted by: Liberty1st | Aug 27, 2014 6:53:55 PM

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