Cornel West is professed to be a brilliant scholar. He is a product and staple of the East coast academic and cultural elite. He is a celebrated lecturer and has also become a pop culture icon.
Dr. West has made some news this week for his verbal assault on President Barack Obama. The professor called the president, “a black mascot of Wall Street oligarchs and a black puppet of corporate plutocrats.” The harsh criticism was immediately pounced upon by many Democrats, the liberal media and especially the African American political, social and cultural elite.
However, West may have a point. Unfortunately he turned his venom singularly on the president when in fact it is apparent that Washington politicians en masse are mascots of Wall Street oligarchs and are indeed puppets of corporate plutocrats. It can be maintained that our country has indeed been taken over by corporate plutocrats and Wall Street. The evidence is clear and readily apparent for all of us to see. The problem is that many of us still believe the old axiom that what’s good for Exxon-Mobil or Walmart is good for America. Okay, you’re right, I changed it. We used to say General Motors but saving that corporation was seen as political payback to its thousands of unionized workers whose hierarchy tend to support Democrats, although only about 50 percent of their rank-and-file follow suit and actually vote for the Democratic party.
Since 1971 we have socialized corporate and Wall Street loses and liabilities while at the same time we have increasingly privatized their profits. According to propublica.org, our nation has spent $2.066 trillion (in 2008 dollars) in the last 40 years bailing out companies ranging from Penn Central Railroad, Lockheed, the savings and loan industry, Bear Stearns, Bank of America, Citigroup, AIG and lest we forget, the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). Of the 14 corporate bailouts which have taken place during that time all but two, the 1980 bailout of Chrysler and the bailout of our auto industry occurred while a Republican sat in the White House. Several of the earlier bailouts, including Chrysler and Lockheed, were paid back in full, but the precedent of utilizing public money to prop up private corporations had taken hold in Washington. During that same period, data from the Department of Commerce and Internal Revenue Service point out that income inequality in this country has been increasing. Socio-economic indicators show that the distribution of income in the United States is becoming increasingly unequal. Beginning in the 1970s, income inequality sharply increased. Paul Krugman, a Nobel laureate, has labeled the period after 1979 as the “Great Divergence” for the rapid increase in income inequality. At the same time, corporations and the wealthy have reaped the rewards of continuous tax cuts from Washington as their burden of paying for the government has lessened considerably. So you see our politicians in both parties are indeed legislating in favor of corporate interests over those of the middle class and therefore Dr. West has a point to a certain extent. But why does he feel it necessary to identify Obama as the black puppet as opposed to being just the puppet?
West also delivered some pointed remarks about the president’s upbringing that some have equated to the talk from the discredited birther movement:
I think my dear brother Barack Obama has a certain fear of free black men. It’s understandable. As a young brother who grows up in a white context, brilliant African father, he’s always had to fear being a white man with black skin. All he has known culturally is white . . . When he meets an independent black brother, it is frightening. Obama, coming out of Kansas influence, 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.
If his observations weren’t so bad-tempered and contemptible, the professor may have made a salient point. Indeed I have often wondered why the president, in the face of unwarranted and unwavering attacks on his person and his policies by his political opposition, continues to hold out an olive branch to that same opposition. As he continually moves towards their positions on issue after issue they continue to move the goal line further and further away from him. As he capitulates their attacks continue unabated.
I have speculated that maybe his upbringing as a child of a white mother and white grandparents has allowed him a different perspective than that of most African Americans. I believe he continues to trust individuals I would have stopped believing long ago, and that this behavior maybe a direct result of his upbringing. But to call his personal history and viewpoint rootlessness and to say it then makes the president have a fear of free black men carries the line of reasoning to a place that is irresponsible and tactless.
Dr. West’s observations, which may have some legitimacy, are ostensibly further lost in his petty and unbecoming diatribe about how he felt slighted by the president and his inner circle because he could not get enough tickets to the inauguration and that his phone calls to Obama went unreturned. It’s rather unfortunate. Cornel West has certainly minimized his stature during his week-long campaign against the president.
I always thought one of the precepts of being scholarly was to be objective. However, never having been confused with being a scholar, I could be wrong.