Point of View Columns

Here’s What’s Wrong with Cornel West

It appears that ever since he did not get the prized inaugural tickets that his massive ego demanded, Cornel West has been determined to claw and gnaw at the presidency of Barack Obama. While he is free to permanently and totally disagree with any and all of the policies espoused by President Obama, it might be useful for Dr. West to remember that with freedom comes responsibility. And in that regard Cornel West has come up short – so to speak.

From the time that he took office Barack Obama has been subjected to ridicule and disrespect rarely seen in modern times. While it is true that John Adams was labeled a “hermaphrodite” and Abraham Lincoln was called a “baboon” and a “gorilla”, one would be hard pressed to recall another president who was called a “liar” from the floor of the House of Representatives by a member of the House of Representatives. President Obama’s wife, children, mother and mother-in-law have been fair game in the game that is being played by the right wing of the right wing.

Part of this has to do with the mud and dirt that one must endure when entering the political arena – just ask Bill Clinton or read about the full frontal attacks on Franklin D. “Rosenfeld” by the right wing of another era. But, as has been noted many times, there is a sharper and barbed edge to the arrows shot in the direction of Barack Obama and it is not being overly sensitive to suggest that this is because he is the first black President of the United States.

It is, therefore, odd and troubling that someone like Cornel West, a self-styled intellectual and self-anointed spokesman for oppressed black people, has taken it upon himself to castigate, demonize and trash the Obama legacy. One would think that there are enough white right wing zealots available to do that job – and then there are always the two Alans, Alan West and Alan Keys, if there is a need to add some color to the attack tag team.

As an accomplished academic, Cornel West has taught at Princeton and Harvard and is currently on the faculty at Union Theological Seminary. Although his multiple degrees do not include history or political science, it is fair to hold Dr. West to a higher standard of awareness than the man or woman on the street – wherever that street might be.

And by that standard it is incomprehensible that a presumably intelligent and educated man like Cornel West would engage in hurling playground invectives and insults at Barack Obama in the hope of…..what? Is he seeking to encourage thoughtful discourse and criticism regarding the policies of the Obama Administration? That is hard to believe when he labels the first black President of the United States “a lap dog for Wall Street”.

When he calls the man for whom over 90% of voting black Americans selected – twice – “a Rockefeller Republican in blackface”, exactly what point is he trying to get across? Aside from the very clear point of making sure that the name “Cornel West” stays in the media spotlight no matter how irrelevant he is becoming.

And in the middle of the distress and dismay following the despicable and damnable verdict in the George Zimmerman case did Dr. Cornel West offer some solace to the parents of Trayvon Martin. Did he try to put the case within the historical context of the seeming devaluation of black life by American institutions?

Of course not. Cornel West, a clear master of self-promotion, chose that very sad and somber moment to label President Obama “a Global George Zimmerman”, whatever the hell that is supposed to mean. In doing so Cornel West misdirected attention away from serious consideration of the Zimmerman trial and verdict to…..you guessed it, Cornel West. And one can be certain that this attention helps Cornel West as he charges $30,000 – $50,000 per speech as an advocate for poor black people. The irony is simultaneously inescapable and miserable.

The truth of the matter is that when the history of the Obama Administration is written decades from now, or next year, Cornel West will warrant something less than a footnote. He is a self-promoting and self-serving rhetorical provocateur who continues to do more harm than good every time he opens his mouth.

Perhaps one day Dr. West will come to grips with the fact that with freedom of speech comes some sort of responsibility for what one says. But don’t hold your breath.

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