So many black progressives have been thrown under Barack Obama’s bus (Jeremiah Wright, Van Jones, Shirley Sherrod, et. al.) that the bus no longer can move an inch. Let’s not add the corpse of Cornel West (pictured above with Barack Obama when Obama was campaigning for the White House) to the under-bus body count.
Left-wing activist and scholar Cornel West is under fire for, among other strong statements, recently having called President Barack Obama “a black mascot of Wall Street oligarchs and a black puppet of corporate plutocrats,” adding, “And now he has become head of the American killing machine and is proud of it.”
I have no real problem with those words because I have no problem with the truth. The truth is the truth, even if only one person in a thousand (or ten thousand or a hundred thousand or a million or…) is willing to utter it in a sea of lemmings. (Or, as Ted Rall aptly calls Obama’s allegedly left-of-center followers, “Obamabots.”)
The only exception that I can take to calling Obama “a black mascot of Wall Street oligarchs and a black puppet of corporate plutocrats” is that I don’t know that it’s necessary to emphasize “black.” A mascot of Wall Street oligarchs or a puppet of corporate plutocrats is a problem, regardless of the mascot’s or puppet’s race, sex, sexual orientation, religious orientation, age, etc.
Maybe West emphasized “black” because at least on some level he expects a fellow black man to be progressive, like he is. But, as West himself has acknowledged, Obama “[grew] up in a white context,” so “all he has known culturally is white.”
Because Obama is not the descendent of African slaves and because he was raised by his white mother’s family, it is unfair for descendents of African slaves, like West, to expect Obama to be a carbon copy of themselves*, and, it seems to me, because he is half white and half black, it always has been Obama’s own prerogative to embrace one half more than the other, even if he had a choice in the matter, but, given his upbringing, I don’t see that he had much of a choice. (Children don’t get to pick who raises them.)
My problem with Obama is that he has betrayed his progressive base. He made campaign promises — promises that I took seriously, not cynically, as in the assertion that all politicians make and then break their promises, and so you’re stupid if you believe otherwise — and then he systematically proceeded to break his promises, denouncing his left-wing critics as hopelessly delusional about political reality as he did so (and his “bots” dutifully, blindly follow his lead in that).
Obama promised “hope” and “change,” and because of his promises I gave him hundreds of dollars and my vote. But instead of “hope” and “change,” we still have an economy in shambles, we still hand over billions of dollars to corporate welfare recipients, and we still give the war profiteers billions of our tax dollars via the bogus warfare in the Middle East and elsewhere while the American empire rots from within here at home.
Oh, but we got Osama bin Laden! But that and a quarter won’t even buy us a Coke and a smile.
I don’t claim to agree with West on everything, because I don’t know everything that he has proclaimed, but I like him. I saw him speak here in Sacramento (where he was raised) some years ago, and I was moved by his talk about the black American experience to the point that I got tears in my eyes. (Unfortunately, I was one of the only white people in the audience, and maybe even the only one, and brother West was, for the most part, preaching to the choir; those who really should have been there, who really needed to be there, were not there. [But doesn’t it almost always seem to go that way?])
Yes, I consider Cornel West to be a brother, but I am concerned that perhaps he and I define the term “brother” differently. I consider someone who shares my progressive values and worldview to be my brother or sister, regardless of his or her race, age, sexual orientation or even religious orientation. As a fellow democratic socialist, I consider West to be my brother. But, because I am white, would West call me “brother”? I would like to think so, but I’m not certain.**
I can’t know what it’s like to be a descendent of black slaves, and I would never, like Bill Clinton or at least John Kerry did, insinuate that I, who although I’ve always been middle class was born into some degree of white privilege, truly feel black Americans’ pain. I have not walked in their shoes, so I cannot, and so I do not, make that claim. (Bill Clinton was called by many as “the first black president,” and Kerry once stupidly stated that he wanted to be “the next black president.” I find such faux familiarity to be disrespectful as well as false.)
Even if he would not call me “brother,” I am not going to jump on the bandwagon of throwing Cornel West under the bus like Barack Obama threw his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, under the bus, and then Van Jones and then Shirley Sherrod. I think that such rhetoric as that of Salon.com editor Joan Walsh (who was a staunch Billary Clinton ’08 supporter before she became an Obamabot) that West has had a “tragic meltdown,” not only is overblown but is deleterious to progressivism.
Walsh writes of “the unrealistic left” (which is, I surmise, akin to the Obama administration’s “professional left”) and proclaims:
I’m on record saying that despite my disappointments on the economic and civil liberties front, I support Obama’s re-election: He’s as progressive a leader as we’re able to elect right now, and if you have issues with him – as I do – it’s time to work to elect strong Democrats at the state and local level. I’m pro-Obama – and also pro-reasonable organizing efforts to push him left.
“[Un]reasonable.” “[Un]realistic.” These are interesting terms. Fucking fact is, Obama had the nation’s good will and both houses of Congress controlled by his party for two fucking years, and he squandered that rare opportunity to push through a progressive agenda.
For that alone he does not deserve re-election, but sellouts — Obamabots — like Walsh, who actually make such statements as “despite my disappointments on the economic and civil liberties front, I [still] support Obama’s re-election” since Obama is the lesser of the politically viable evils, are destroying what’s left of the left.
How can we actual leftists have “unrealistic” expectations when so-called “Democratic” sellouts like Obama don’t even try? How can you know what’s possible and what’s impossible to achieve, what is realistic and what is unrealistic, when you surrender from the very fucking beginning? The establishment Democrats almost always surrender before the game even begins. Meanwhile, the Repugnican Tea Party traitors roll out such radical ideas as decimating Medicare. Yes, they are stupid, but they’re bold.
As the Repugnican Tea Party traitors succeed in pushing the nation’s politics further and further to the right, Obamabots like Joan Walsh help the wingnuts by contributing to the rightward drift of the Democratic Party, which began under Bill Clinton, by excusing anything and everything that establishment/Clintonesque Democrats do or don’t do, simply because they use the “Democratic” label — and because these Democrats in name only are, the Obamabots assert, the best that we can do. (And besides, what do you want? A Repugnican president?)
That Barack Obama isn’t as bad as are the Repugnican Tea Party traitors who want to be president just doesn’t fucking cut it for me. He’d have to do much better than that for me to give him another penny or my vote again.
Obama’s new campaign in which you can buy a T-shirt or a mug displaying his birth certificate and the words “MADE in the USA” under his portrait —
— is clever, but the nation needs an awful lot more than more clever Obama campaigns right now, and on the heels of having been punk’d by the “hope” and “change” campaign, I, for one, am just not in the mood to fall for yet another clever Obama campaign. (Although if I were working on the Obama campaign, my snappy slogan might be something like: “Barack Obama 2012: Really This Time!”)
I suppose that I have to give props to Team Obama for finding a way to turn the pathetic and racist birth certificate bullshit into a fundraising campaign, but I cannot, in good conscience, give Team Obama even a penny, as clever as the new campaign is.
At some point this sellout shit has to stop. I, for one, don’t want to be responsible, even minutely, for its perpetuation — even by buying one of the clever T-shirts or mugs.
But back to brother West.
Let’s not make him into a scapegoat for the serious failings of Barack Obama as president of the United States of America. Instead, let’s continue to talk about identity politics versus political ideology and what roles they have and what roles they should have in rescuing the American experiment from the edge of the abyss.
As a gay man, for instance, while it would be great to have a gay or lesbian president, I’d much rather have a heterosexual president who actually is progressive than a gay or lesbian president who, like Obama, is too cowardly or too personally comfortable (or both) to pursue a progressive agenda.
Similarly, I’m not impressed by the mere fact that Obama is the first actual (half-)black president. There are plenty of wingnutty black men, such as (not in any certain order) U.S. Supreme Court “Justice” Clarence Thomas, recently booted Repugnican National Committee chair Michael Steele, former Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell (who delivered the pivotal state of Ohio to George W. Bush in 2004 much as how Katherine Harris had delivered the pivotal state of Florida to Bush in 2000), and presidential aspirants Herman Cain and Alan Keyes, and I’d never want any of them anywhere near the White House, not because of the color of their skin, but because of the content of their character. (On that note, I once saw Al Sharpton speak here in Sacramento [in early 2005, I believe it was], and I still remember his quip that “Condoleezza Rice [yet another black wingnut, as well as a war criminal] is of my color but is not of my kind.”)
The problem with Barack Obama isn’t that he isn’t “black enough.” The problem is that he isn’t progressive enough — and that he had promised to be progressive, but broke that promise.
That is the discussion that we need to be having instead of kicking around brother Cornel West.
P.S. I highly recommend the article on Cornel West by Chris Hedges that stirred the West brouhaha. It is here. In the article, Hedges quotes West as having said other things that are making people butt-hurt, such as that Obama “feels most comfortable with upper middle-class white and Jewish men who consider themselves very smart, very savvy and very effective in getting what they want,” which to me more or less seems to be true, whether it’s considered politically correct or not, but Hedges also quotes West as having said other things that aren’t being repeated as much as are his “controversial” statements, such as
“This [Obama’s presidency] was maybe America’s last chance to fight back against the greed of the Wall Street oligarchs and corporate plutocrats, to generate some serious discussion about public interest and common good that sustains any democratic experiment.
“We are squeezing out all of the democratic juices we have. The escalation of the class war against the poor and the working class is intense. More and more working people are beaten down. They are world-weary. They are into self-medication. They are turning on each other. They are scapegoating the most vulnerable rather than confronting the most powerful.
“It is a profoundly human response to panic and catastrophe. I thought Barack Obama could have provided some way out. But he lacks backbone.”
“Can you imagine if Barack Obama had taken office and deliberately educated and taught the American people about the nature of the financial catastrophe and what greed was really taking place?
“If he had told us what kind of mechanisms of accountability needed to be in place, if he had focused on homeowners rather than investment banks for bailouts and engaged in massive job creation, he could have nipped in the bud the right-wing populism of the tea party folk.
“The tea party folk are right when they say the government is corrupt. It is corrupt. Big business and banks have taken over government and corrupted it in deep ways.
“We have got to attempt to tell the truth, and that truth is painful. It is a truth that is against the thick lies of the mainstream. In telling that truth we become so maladjusted to the prevailing injustice that the Democratic Party, more and more, is not just milquetoast and spineless, as it was before, but thoroughly complicitous with some of the worst things in the American empire.
“I don’t think in good conscience I could tell anybody to vote for Obama. If it turns out in the end that we have a crypto-fascist movement and the only thing standing between us and fascism is Barack Obama, then we have to put our foot on the brake. But we’ve got to think seriously of third-party candidates, third formations, third parties….”
Yup. This perhaps was our last chance to turn it around, and Obama thus far has only blown it. Ironically, West could have been talking about himself when he noted that the people “are turning on each other,” “scapegoating the most vulnerable rather than confronting the most powerful,” because right now they’re scapegoating West instead of confronting Obama, who apparently likes the presidency only for its perks. He certainly has no stomach for the hard work that a truly progressive president has before him or her.
Anyway, I also recommend Chris Hedges’ book Death of the Liberal Class, which is about “liberal” sellouts like Joan Walsh who in their cowardice, laziness, selfishness and hypocrisy aid and abet the right wing in the right wing’s destruction of the nation and the planet.
*West also remarked that “Obama, coming out of Kansas influence, [with] white, loving grandparents, coming out of Hawaii and Indonesia, when he meets these independent black folk who have a history of slavery, Jim Crow, Jane Crow and so on, he is very apprehensive. He has a certain rootlessness, a deracination. It is understandable.”
“Deracination”? Is an identification with a history of slavery required to be considered to be black? Is Obama really required to identify with the descendents of black slaves when he is not such a descendent and was not raised by the descendents of slaves? Is this not demanding too much of Obama?
**West has referred to economists Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman as “brother Joseph Stiglitz and brother Paul Krugman,” and so I tend to believe that his definition of “brother” is about ideology, not race, but he also has referred to Obama as “brother,” yet rather clearly disagrees with Obama’s politics, so I am uncertain as to his own personal definition of the term.