I have great love, respect and admiration for Dr. Cornel West, currently a professor at Union Theological Seminary. I always thought that he's one of the best and brightest thinkers in America today -- Black or white. And I've always admired his ability to take complex socio-political and economic issues and break then down into bite-sized morsels of brazen plain talk that "we laymen" could absorb and understand. There is absolutely no question that Dr. Cornel West is, without question, one of America's premier intellectuals of our time.
But in a recent outburst, he's called President Barack Obama "a Rockefeller Republican in blackface." That was, in my view, hate speech and was the culmination of a long, one-sided row between Dr. West and President Barack Obama, in which Dr. West has leveled criticisms at the president, even going so far as to question is racial identity. Let me say that there's nothing wrong in criticizing President Obama about policies and issues that you feel strongly and disagree about. Heck, I don't agree with him on any number of issues; and I guess that many on the Left (certainly on the Right) routinely express these disagreements in many ways.
But as an intellectual and philosopher Dr. West must know that objective criticism leads to, in most cases, a better outcome and improvement of circumstances. On the other hand subjective, self-opinionated criticism of the kind that he's engaged in only helps to reinforce negativity and come over as petulant, angry, peevish and sulking. Dr. West, I thought, was above this. In going down this road he's put both his public image and reputation in jeopardy. And he's further supplemented this by railing against people who do not agree with him in a childish display of intolerance that he's fond of criticizing.
His attacks on Michael Eric Dyson, former MSNBC journalist, Melissa Harris-Perry, and Rev. Al Sharpton, smack of misplaced anger and insensitivity and were downright rude. Dr. West's equally inflammatory tirades against President Obama now appear to be a peevish obsession and reflex action for some real or imagined slight on the part of the president. His use of the term "blackface" suggests that President Obama is a performing minstrel mimicking and mocking Black people in furtherance of a supposed Republican objective.
That's plain stupid.
Like him or hate him, President Obama evokes very strong emotions on BOTH sides of the political aisle. Moreover, calling the president a Republican would be patently hilarious if it was not so deadly serious, since Republicans are UNITED in their collective hatred for Barack Obama. Maybe Dr. West is so angry with the president that he's now suffering from a self-induced political amnesia. Or maybe the good professor was simply making the point that President Obama was a political and racial sell-out who was promoting policies that are harming and hurting the Black community. But Dr. West forgets that Republicans in Congress (and some Southern Democrats) have been, FROM DAY ONE, committed to a program of obstruction and a la Donald Trump, "delay, delay and delay," on almost every policy and program initiative that the president put forward.
And while the president has tried to find ways around Republican obstruction and at times used Clintonian political triangulation techniques to get things done, Dr. West has not helped by his unrelenting and jaundiced criticism of the president. I contend that this spat should have been handled differently. As Dr. West well knows that it was Malcolm X who admonished Black leaders to iron out their differences and problems in private and when in public "pose a united front." Meaning, Dr. West: don't wash dirty linen in the Republican's public cesspool.
America's first Black president has had nearly eight years of Republican hostility to immigration reform, public safety net programs, historical entitlement programs (Medicaid and Medicare), relief for poor people and families, a jobs bill to rebuild America's aging infrastructure, and just about ANY progressive bills and programs that would benefit America's poor and working class -- many of them Black. By contrast, Republicans have doubled down on their support and embrace for borderline racist programs as voter identification and have pushed with alacrity various policies that favor tax breaks and cuts for the uber-wealthy -- all of which President Obama has opposed and vetoed.
So in my opinion President Obama is a mix of a progressive, conservative and moderate liberal all rolled up in one. He's the proverbial unreadable political conundrum that so baffles and confuses -- and angers -- Republicans AND Liberals. Yes, during the economic meltdown of 2008 he bailed out big - "too big to fail" -- banks and no one went to jail for causing the fiasco; and, much to the Liberals' chagrin he also extended the Bush tax cuts in exchange for getting the debt ceiling lifted/passed in 2011. And he also angered many Liberals by proposing cuts to historical scared cows like Medicaid and Medicare that Republicans have long demanded.
Deconstructing President Obama is no easy task. For example, on foreign policy he's certainly no Liberal but a decidedly aggressive conservative hawk albeit one who, unlike George W. Bush, his predecessor, would make up his mind to act only after reviewing all of the facts. He's no "shoot first and ask questions later" kind of guy but methodical, deliberate and calculating. President Obama is not the typical prototype of the swaggering, Southern president, given to hyperbole and bombast that delights a nation brought up on a "hero cult worship and Wild West gun-toting complex." In short, he does not have to prove just how tough he is. This president is not insecure.
But let's talk about foreign and domestic policy a bit.
President Obama INCREASED and SUPPORTED the Afghanistan military surge. He's authorized more drone attacks than any president to date. He's deported more immigrants than ALL United States presidents -- combined. And he's not hesitated to order the killing of America's enemies abroad. In those areas of foreign policy President Obama has been more conservative than George W. Bush, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio AND Donald J. Trump.
On domestic policy Dr. West is right that President Obama has not done enough to alleviate the crippling poverty plaguing African-Americans. While much of the poverty alleviating challenges and failures cannot be squarely placed at the president's doorstep, ultimately the buck stops with him. As we get set to elect a new president, over 28% of Blacks now live in poverty as compared to 10% of whites. Over 13% of Blacks are unemployed. The Black community is hurting - bad.
Still, Dr. Cornel West is entitled to his opinion -- not the facts. His is a voice that has historically supported and lent credence to the Black Liberation struggles. His heart is definitely in the right place and I understand his frustration that I think was born by to high expectations from America's first Black president. That said, I, we, need to hear from Dr. West because he a vital and critical weapon in the arsenal of day-to-day struggles and public discourse of all oppressed peoples. That's why I believe that he'll come to the realization that his individualistic, subjective and emotionally charged criticisms against President Barack Obama, was first, counter-productive and secondly, obfuscates the genuine intellectual and philosopher that is sorely needed during these trying times.