Thursday, August 12, 2010

Dr. Cornell West Is Upset With President Obama.
By Dr. Boyce Atkins

Dr. Cornel West apparently has a bone to pick with President Barack Obama. Over time, the good Dr. West has become increasingly vocal in his critique of Obama, and even went as far as to say that Obama treated him "like a cub scout" when he allegedly refused to address West's concerns about the administration's behavior:

"Well, I'll tell you, I had not talked to my dear brother since the Martin Luther King gathering in South Carolina, and very briefly Super Tuesday. But he did come and make a beeline to me after his speech on I think it was Thursday morning in Washington, D.C. I hadn't seen him for two and a half weeks, and he made a beeline to me, though, brother, and he was deeply upset. He talked to me like I was a cub scout, and he was a pack master. You know what I mean?

I said, well, my mother and father raised me right. I respect my dear brother, but I don't like to be demeaned and humiliated in that way, and I didn't get a chance to respond to him. And I hope maybe at some time we can. But it was very, it was a very ugly kind of moment, it seems to me, and that disturbs me because then it raises the question for me: Does he have a double standard for Black critics as opposed to white critics?"

It's no surprise that West would be on the outs with Obama. The president has an intense loyalty to Harvard University and former Harvard University President Lawrence Summers, the man who has proven that he has almost no appreciation for black scholarship.

I, too, find myself irritated that Obama maintains such strong allegiance to those who don't respect the African American community or care to spend any time helping us address unique social and economic challenges.

A broader point to be made about the rift between professor West and Obama is one of class: Cornel West is not just a champion for Black people. He is also a champion for the poor, the powerless and the downtrodden. Dr. West's constituency is almost directly opposed to the latte-sipping, Martha's Vineyard-vacationing, Harvard University-attending folks who run with President Obama. This reminds us that fighting for Black people can be very different from fighting for poor Black people: Obama almost always stands up for black folks as long as they either went to Harvard or have millions of dollars in the bank.

Obama has chosen an unqualified woman, Elena Kagan, for the Supreme Court, primarily because she is associated with Harvard. He spoke up for Henry Louis Gates last year, not because he was a Black man, but because he was a Harvard professor who asked for his help. Obama lives among the elite, and Cornel West is an academic version of Jeremiah Wright. The relationship between West and Obama was doomed from the very beginning, given their glaring conflict of interest. For West to be surprised at Obama's behavior is like an LA Laker getting angry that the Denver Nuggets player put the ball in the other basket. My point is that Obama and West were never on the same team to begin with.

Another speculative point that can be made about Cornel West's outspoken opposition to Obama's policies is one that relates to Tavis Smiley. I've always been of the opinion that Tavis has personal reasons for accentuating his political disappointment with President Obama. I honestly believe that had Obama been more open with Smiley and provided him with the same opportunities he has received from Hillary Clinton, Smiley would not have been so harsh in his attacks.

Cornel West, being a great friend of Tavis, has been positioned within a camp of individuals who might be disappointed with Barack Obama no matter what he does. I don't believe West dislikes Obama as much as Smiley does. West's criticism lies far more with divisions in ideology than with personal differences.

The point is that our analysis of the president should be balanced with solutions, as well as a realistic understanding of the pressures he endures while trying to run the most powerful nation on earth. Being president is never as idealistic as we'd like to believe.

All the while, the notion that we must deal with Obama with kid gloves solely because we are happy to have a Black man in the White House is absolute nonsense.

Falling in love with a politician is like asking a prostitute to be faithful. We set ourselves up for disappointment when we relate to Obama with extreme emotion, while he deals with us using cold, calculated rationality. Professor West is correct that Obama manages his Black critics differently from white ones. The differential treatment is likely because Black people don't have enough votes to keep Obama in office, nor enough economic power to change his life the way other constituents can.

As a result, Black folks remain at the back of the political bus, without regard to the color of the man in the Oval Office.



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