Home / Culture and Society / Dr. Cornel West’s Message to the President is Lost in Personal Acrimony

Dr. Cornel West’s Message to the President is Lost in Personal Acrimony

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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.

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About Ronald W Weathersby

  • Clavos

    Clavos is a smart man…

    No I’m not, but I play one on TV.

  • Clavos mouths false conservative shibboleths as faithfully as any Fox News fan, so Ronald could be forgiven for not making the distinction. Clavos’s miniature ‘history’ of the financial crisis in his oh-so-ironclad-certain comments above is just about 100% distorted and/or false. If he believes this nonsense, he should read more. If he is just taking the party line [it sounds like it, deny it all you like], then for shame.

    Clavos is a smart man, capable of independent thought. He should demonstrate it more frequently,

  • Ronald W Weathersby

    “One of the central defenses of this president since the election of 2008 is to accuse his opponents of being racist. If your discussion always devolves to group ethicity identity or skin colour.”

    This statement is totally false. This president has never raised the issue of race as it pertains to his opposition. And, none of his spokespersons have either.

    Only after two years of relentless and unfounded bizzare attacks such as whether the president is an American and some other craziness some folks in the media finally began to ask the question if race has anything to do with the visceral opposition to Obama.

    Of course some folks brought this issue to the fore sooner. But they were not from the government.

    However, I must say that anyone who thinks there isn’t a small percentage of the American public who are upset at the fact that a black family resides in the White House is not acknowledging the reality of race relations in this country.

    We have obviously traveled a long way but there still is work to do.

    Once again it seems there is this notion that if you say something even a falsehood enough it will become true.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Yes, C-shop, we hear you – there’s no racism in the Republican party or the Tea party, no, not at all. The signs were all made up by sneaky Democrats, the comments were all falsified…and we only imagined hearing Rush Limbaugh et al playing “Barack the Magic Negro” over the airwaves….

  • Cannonshop

    Back to the article and away from the Israel “Debate” for a moment…

    I think you’re missing some vital piece of the background, Ron…

    West is, IIRC, a Democrat, a member of the left? Why would he specify, as you ask, the racial identifier “black” when referring to Barack Obama’s presidential performance?

    Could it, perhaps, have something to do with the “Historical History Hysteria” of the 2008 election cycle, and the reflex on the left to couch all discussion of the president’s performance in terms of race?

    One of the central defenses of this president since the election of 2008 is to accuse his opponents of being racist. If your discussion always devolves to group ethicity identity or skin colour, then in disillusionment, does it not seem likely that a former supporter, critical of the man, might couch their criticism in the same basis of thought? Especially if the race of Candidate Obama was critical in the making of President Obama?

    You’re right, of course-West should NOT have couched his argument in terms of the President’s ancestry. Not only is it counterproductive and rather idiotic to do so, but it telegraphs the core of why West and others supported him in the first place-not for his skill at policy, or his ability as an administrator, nor for his extensive and broad base of experience-but because he wasn’t white, and he wasn’t scary like Alan Keys.

  • yeah clearly west has jumped the obama shark and now has nowhere to go but down. he needs to step back from this position and let the other nay sayers do the talking. obama has enough critics and with friends like these…

  • Clavos

    …one of your FOX News icons…

    Ronald, you know what they say happens when you “assume.” I don’t watch Fox.

    I have no idea where you dredged up all that other bullshit in your #11, but I would very much like for you to stop trying to make me fit your assumptions by attempting to put words in my mouth.

    You’re way off base, dude.

    Have a good day.

  • Ronald W Weathersby

    “So no, the two proposals are not the same, despite Chris Wallace.”

    Excuse me for attempting to enlighten you through the eyes of one of your FOX News icons. I guess the source of information simply does not matter unless it suits your premise.

    Must be nice to cherry-pick facts in your very own “individual reality.”

    Sad thing is there are so many people like you who truly believe if you say something over and over, no matter how absurd, it will come true. Sorta like Dorothy clicking her heels and saying, “there’s no place like home” three times.

    Let’s see, maybe it does work for the right wing too. So here goes:

    Obama was born in Kenya.
    Obama was born in Kenya.
    Obama was born in Kenya.

    Let’s see, how’d that work out for you…not too good.

    Let’s try another one…

    The Republican budget plan saves Medicare.
    The Republican budget plan saves Medicare.
    The Republican budget plan saves Medicare.

    Wow, that lie isn’t working either.

    OK. One more shot at it.

    The war in Iraq was justified because of Saddam Hussein’s connections to Al Qaeda and his stockpile of weapons of mass destruction.

    The war in Iraq was justified because of Saddam Hussein’s connections to Al Qaeda and his stockpile of weapons of mass destruction.

    The war in Iraq was justified because of Saddam Hussein’s connections to Al Qaeda and his stockpile of weapons of mass destruction.

    Dang if that didn’t work either.

    How can you rewrite history when the truth keeps rearing up its ugly head?

  • zingzing

    actually, clavos, the center on budget and policy priorities says that the bush era tax cuts are the biggest part our problem (which obama admittedly continued, but only because he was forced to), with the “recovery measures” coming in a distant second. if you wanted to fix the problem, you’d cut one of those out. both of those are locked in place at the moment, but which one would you chop if you’re really all about balancing the budget? (there’s also the wars that can be cut, but i think everyone’s finally on board with that one, so we can just leave that out.)

    “Unemployment, debt, deficits — all up significantly since ’08.”

    because the second obama stepped into office, the world changed, right?

  • Clavos

    The Bush statement says nothing about reverting back to the 1967 borders, which is precisely the point that Netanyahu most objects to on the grounds that it is a death sentence for israel because it reduces it’s territory to an indefensible position, which is, of course, why they went to war in 1967 in the first place.

    From your quote of the GWB proposal:

    There must also be meaningful linkages between the West Bank and Gaza.

    From The Washington Post Fact Checker:

    In the context of this history, Obama’s statement Thursday represented a major shift. He did not articulate the 1967 boundaries as a “Palestinian goal” but as U.S. policy. He also dropped any reference to “realities on the ground,” code for Israeli settlements, that both Bush and Hillary Rodham Clinton had used. He further suggested that Israel’s military would need to agree to leave the West Bank.

    All of which puts Israel in mortal danger in terms of defense, and to which, according to the Post, Binyamin Netanyahu …appeared to outright reject Obama’s call that the boundaries in place on the eve of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war serve as a starting point for negotiations, calling the proposed borders “indefensible” and suggesting that the plan would weaken Israeli security and put Jewish settlers at risk.

    So no, the two proposals are not the same, despite Chris Wallace.

  • Ronald W Weathersby


    Here’s Chris Wallace writing on Hannity.com:

    “The two statements do seem to be virtually the same.”

    “The United States believes that negotiations should result in two states with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan, and Egypt and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine. We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.” – BHO

    “Any final status agreement must be reached between the two parties, and changes to the 1949 Armistice Lines must be mutually agreed to. A viable two-state solution must ensure contiguity on the West Bank, and a state of scattered territories will not work. There must also be meaningful linkages between the West Bank and Gaza. This is the position of the United States today; it will be the position of the United States at the time of final status negotiations.” – GWB

    “There are subtle differences, however. Bush’s statement appears to be contingent upon an agreement being reached. More of a “If the two parties agree, we think that this should happen…”. While Obama’s statement is more direct. He actually lays out his own position as if it is the one that should be followed. “We think it should be done this way…

    “They may be saying exactly the same thing and what we have here may just be a controversy arising from a lack of diplomatic tact on the part of Obama.”

    Facts. The enemy of the right strikes again!

  • Clavos

    The economic collapse took place under the previous administration.

    Not exactly. While some of its roots may date back to then, the “collapse,” as you put it, most definitely did not take place until Obama took office and added to Bush’s TARP foolishness by, among other things, bailing out nearly every failing business in the country. And he’s accelerated the spending (and thereby exacerbated the slump) from there. He hasn’t stopped yet.

    The budget was blown up under the previous administration.

    Again only partly true. The Bushies were running at a deficit, it is true, but the deficit today is magnitudes larger than theirs and still growing, with plans for the future that will grow it magnitudes more.

    …this president has said nothing more than the previous president said also.

    Bull. This ” president” just proposed going back to the pre-1967 territories, which is tantamount to a death sentence for Israel. Bush proposed nothing of the sort.

    It is you who is rewriting — not only history, but the present.

  • Ronald W Weathersby


    You are doing a great job attempting to rewrite history.

    The economic collapse took place under the previous administration.

    The budget was blown up under the previous administration.

    And finally, the right which has shown little interest in a Middle East peace all of a sudden is trying to spin the president’s message to the Israelis and Palestinians as a new policy that is throwing “one of our strongest and most loyal allies under the bus” when you know this president has said nothing more than the previous president said also.

    Argue something that is real not made up.

  • Clavos

    …we are faring much better now than we were when Obama was inaugurated.

    I don’t think so. Unemployment, debt, deficits — all up significantly since ’08.

    And now, he’s trying to throw one of our strongest and most loyal allies under the bus.

    Interesting definition of “faring much better.”

  • Ronald W Weathersby

    I am not attacking the good professor for what he said but how he said it. Maybe you should read this piece again.

    As for our freedom of speech the only time I am aware that it was attacked recently was during the G.W. Bush Administration when he authorized mass wire taps without any judicial oversight.

    As for the shape of our country we are faring much better now than we were when Obama was inaugurated. If you want to blame someone place blame where it should be placed: at the feet of the GOP.

  • Charles S

    Finally someone elite has spoke up in America. The Democrats are scared to death. This president has only brought this country nothing but the same. What has the Black Congressional leaders been saying? Nothing! The truth really hurts when your head is in the sand. The media drives this Bull Shi* all the time. This keeps you people totally distracted from what’s going on in the world. Wake up America or loss your way of life as we know it. This country is being sold to the highest bidder. Wall Street is Obama Street. Leave Cornel West alone. America was once a country where freedom of speech was accepted.

  • Ronald W Weathersby

    Interesting that they (West & Smiley) have talked, and talked and talked.

    Everyone on the left is frustrated but when given an opportunity to do something about that frustration last November we let the right do the walking while we kept talking.

    Civil disobedience? How about civil engagement? West and Smiley should be encouraging more participation so there will be more voters electing more and more progressive candidates to office.

    We have witnessed what happens when a Democratic president is confronted with a Senate that refuses to pass any of his legislative agenda. Our answer? We sat and let what majority he had in the Senate all but dissolve while losing the House.

    Getting angry in politics should translate to VOTING not whining and becoming disengaged.

    Cornel West and Tavis Smiley should use their clout to encourage participation not look for opportunities for media exposure. They have entered shaky ground with their incessant criticism of the president. Where are we going to go? Unfortunately politics often forces us to chose the less of two evils and we have to be sophisticated enough to understand that dynamic.

  • Dianne Dade Everett

    The following statement from Dr. West embody what he was saying. I disagree with attacks on President Obama but understand the frustration at how the President has not embraced some issues.

    “Our last hope is to generate a democratic awakening among our fellow citizens. This means raising our voices, very loud and strong, bearing witness, individually and collectively. Tavis [Smiley] and I have talked about ways of civil disobedience, beginning with ways for both of us to get arrested, to galvanize attention to the plight of those in prisons, in the hoods, in poor white communities. We must never give up. We must never allow hope to be eliminated or suffocated.”

    An icon and a politician make for plenty of press coverage, something both can enjoy!