(The Root) — Professor Cornel West has struck again. The always outspoken Obama critic recently said in an interview with Democracy Now: “I think that it’s morally obscene and spiritually profane to spend $6 billion on an election, $2 billion on a presidential election, and not have any serious discussion — poverty; trade unions being pushed against the wall, dealing with stagnating and declining wages when profits are still up and the 1 percent are doing very well; no talk about drones dropping bombs on innocent people … I mean, I’m glad there was not a right-wing takeover, but we end up with a Republican, a Rockefeller Republican in blackface, with Barack Obama, so that our struggle with regard to poverty intensifies.”
Putting aside the substance in West’s comments, since there are certainly valid and substantive policy critiques to be made of the Obama administration, it is completely unnecessary for him to attack the president in such a racialized and offensive manner. Any good points he made are lost.
This isn’t the first time that the Princeton and Union Theological Seminary professor has attacked the president as a person instead of sticking to policy. West has previously called the president a “black mascot of Wall Street oligarchs and a black puppet of corporate plutocrats.” West and his partner Tavis Smiley (they have a public-radio show together, Smiley & West), also an outspoken Obama critic, have failed, time and again, to keep their critiques focused on policy when commenting on the shortcomings of the Obama administration.
High-profile black intellectuals who dared to support the president in public are not immune from the wrath of West and Smiley, either. The Rev. Al Sharpton, Melissa Harris-Perry and Michael Eric Dyson are “for sale” for access to Obama, according to West. This an interesting choice of words, considering Smiley’s history with corporate sponsors including Wells Fargo and Exxon Mobil.
Perhaps, with a second Obama win, West and Smiley feel their influence diminishing within the black community, which supported the re-election of President Obama with even higher turnout than in 2008 in key states, despite criticism. President Obama has been elected and re-elected, and the old guard of black political thought is becoming more and more marginalized as a result. No longer does a black politician need to be ordained by Smiley or grace the stage of his (now-canceled) State of the Black Union speech-a-thon to be considered a contender for high office.
There are legitimate critiques of the president and serious issues to tackle during his second term. The challenge for Obama critics is to point out areas that absolutely need to be addressed — high black unemployment and, yes, poverty — without attacking the president as a man. With pride continuing to cloud their critiques of President Obama, West and Smiley have failed to do this time and again. It seems that they are facing a future in the black-intellectual wilderness over the next four years.
Let’s hope that during Obama’s next term, we can all work together to push the president and his administration to make big changes (or at least use his bully pulpit to talk about big changes, since the balance of power in Congress is unchanged) that will benefit the lives of the millions who voted for him. Offering constructive criticism and applying public pressure that is intended to assist the president rather than undermine him is a much more effective strategy going forward. Maybe more high-profile black thinkers will take note.
Zerlina Maxwell is a political analyst and contributing writer for Ebony.com, theGrio.com and Feministing.com. She writes about national politics, candidates and specific policy and culture issues, including domestic violence, sexual assault, victim blaming and gender inequality. Follow her on Twitter.
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