Thursday, November 20, 2008

Cornel West on the Election of Barack Obama

Cornel West is one of my favorite people in the whole world. I love to hear him speak. The only problem I have is that he speaks about three times as fast as I listen! If he were a used-car salesman you wouldn't know what make you had just bought for a hundred miles! My great phobia is that someday I will be sitting between him and the equally fast-talking Rachel Maddow when they are discussing something of earth-shaking importance. I calm myself by realizing that if I string together the one word in ten that I catch, it will still make sense...

Print slows him down a little. Here's some excerpts from an interview with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!, today's 'recommended read'.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Cornel West, you were a big supporter of Barack Obama, but you also have been giving speeches about holding him to account. What are the issues you are most concerned about right now?

CORNEL WEST: Well, I think, as a deep Democrat, I recognize I have some significant differences with Brother Barack. He’s a liberal. It looked like he wants to govern as a liberal-centrist, given the choices of Emanuel—Rahm Emanuel and others. And one has to be honest and candid in terms of one’s criticism, because in the end, it’s not about Barack Obama, it’s about empowering working people and poor people. It’s about trying to accent the dignity of those Sly Stone called “everyday people.” And when he moves in that direction, it’s good. When he doesn’t move in that direction, we need to criticize him. Same is true in terms of foreign policy: Latin America, Africa and the Middle East. We have to be honest about it.

For me, my criticism of Barack has to do with trying to acknowledge the degree to which, one, thank God we’re at the end of the age of Ronald Reagan, we’re at the end of the era of conservatism, we’re coming to the end of the epoch of the Southern Strategy. For the first time now, we’ve got some democratic possibilities. This has been a political ice age, and the melting is just beginning. And Barack Obama is a symbol, but we’ve got to move from symbol to substance. We’ve got to move from what he represents in a broad sense—and it’s a beautiful thing to have a black man in the White House, we know that, and black slaves and laborers and other white immigrants built the White House. And to have a black family there, significant; black face for the American empire, fine. Can we revitalize democratic possibilities on the ground with Barack in the White House? I think we can. We can put some serious pressure on him, and we can actually continue the democratic awakening among working people and poor people and push Barack in a progressive direction.

AMY GOODMAN: How about your colleague at Princeton University, Paul Krugman?

CORNEL WEST: Oh, Paul Krugman. Oh, my god. Yes, indeed, indeed. Paul is probably even a little bit too progressive and prophetic. He probably needs to stay outside, like myself, and be Socratic and prophetic and just tell the truth to the people in power. But he’s my very dear brother and comrade, and of course I salute his Nobel Prize. It’s rare that you see a progressive economist receiving a Nobel Prize in that way.

I do still support Brother Barack Obama gaining access to the White House, because he was the best that America could do at this particular moment in the midst of imperial occupation in Iraq, war in Afghanistan, financial Katrina, legacy of Katrina in New Orleans, wealth inequality, dilapidated housing in chocolate cities, disgraceful school systems, unacceptable levels of unemployment and underemployment, not enough access to healthcare for fellow citizens across race and region, not enough access to childcare. At this moment, the best America could do was Brother Barack Obama, liberal, centrist.

Will he govern like a progressive Lincoln? Will he triangulate like Clinton? Will he be an experimentalist like FDR? Those are the challenges. I hope he’s a progressive Lincoln. I plan to be—aspire to be the Frederick Douglasses against, to put pressure on him.

Good on ya, Doc. We all have to do that.

Much more to read, but if you want to get the full effect, here's the video in three parts: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. Treat yourself to this fast-talkin' smart brotha. I put him on in one window and keep on keepin' on in another.

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