Cornel West's Soapbox
San Diego- Who's afraid of Cornel West and what he has to say about Barack Obama?
a few folks. For the last few weeks, journalists, liberal bloggers and
academics have been piling on the Princeton professor and best-selling author
with one vicious attack after another. The gloves are off, and it's all because
one of the country's most prominent African-American intellectuals did the
unthinkable: He criticized the nation's first black president.
a recent interview with an online magazine, West called Obama a "black
mascot of Wall Street oligarchs and a black puppet of corporate
plutocrats." He also went so far as to suggest that Obama "has a
certain fear of free black men" because he grew up in "a white
are harsh words. But anyone who has followed West knows that belligerence is
how he gets his point across. Besides, the lefties like it when West's barbs
are aimed at Republicans. West campaigned on behalf of Barack Obama during the
2008 campaign, racking up 65 dates for the Democratic candidate. For which, he
received -- nothing. Not even a thank you, according to West, who was upset
that Obama stopped returning his calls and that he didn't get tickets to the
critics chalk up his tirade against Obama to sour grapes. But there is much
more to this story. In an appearance on MSNBC, West battled the Rev. Al
Sharpton, who was pushing back in the other direction and defending Obama.
a few days earlier, the supposedly post-racial president had traveled to New
York to pay homage to Sharpton by speaking at the national conference of his
organization, the National Action Network. So Sharpton was clearly motivated to
return the favor and show Obama some love. He vouched for the president's
progressiveness and attacked his "ivory tower" critics. West
responded by warning Sharpton that he was being "used" by the White
House to squelch dissent. Tempers flared, and talking turned to shouting.
the liberal establishment -- especially the white liberal establishment -- is too busy punishing West to
heed what is a liberal message about Obama not being progressive enough or
doing enough to serve the poor and downtrodden.
partisans don't want to hear this. They're in re-election mode, and they're
going to defend their man against all critics -- even ones with whom they might
agree. They know that West has influence with some African-Americans. Obama
supporters are not worried about losing the black vote to the Republican
nominee; a recent Gallup poll found that 84 percent of blacks approved of
Obama's overall job performance. But they might be worried that many black
voters have lost enthusiasm for Obama and will sit out the election. If West
says anything to help dampen that enthusiasm, then he has to be discredited --
firmly and publicly.
same thing happened last year to Tavis Smiley, who co-hosts a show with West on
Public Radio International. During the debate over the jobs bill, Smiley
bristled at the suggestion from establishment black leaders -- including
Sharpton -- that Obama didn't need a "black agenda." Appearing on Tom
Joyner's radio show, Smiley asked: "Do we think we can give President
Obama a pass on black issues and somehow, when he is no longer in office,
resurrect the moral authority to hold future presidents accountable to our
concerns?" Sharpton called into the show to confront Smiley, and things
got heated in a hurry.
significance of these episodes goes well beyond the African-American community.
We all need to pay attention to better understand race and power in America.
can also learn a lot about liberalism, which pretends to be all about freedom.
In the latter part of the 20th century, liberals fought and marched to give
African-Americans, Latinos and other minorities the freedom to attend public
schools and universities, the freedom to protest and vote, and the freedom to
have equal access to both public accommodations and private businesses. Somehow
those liberals didn't get around to something that was equally important:
giving African-Americans and other minorities the freedom to think and speak
with others in the black intelligentsia, Cornel West is doing that. You don't
have to agree with him. But that's no excuse for trying to silence him.
© 2011, The Washington Post Writers Group