Weekend thoughts: Cornel West and Tavis Smiley on Obama 2013

Obama is not who he’s thought and pictured to be. He’s not even close to that person, according to many who get almost no mainstream press (see also James Fallows’ comment below).

Here is Dr. Cornel West’s most recent assessment, along with Tavis Smiley’s. I won’t put the headline quote in the headline; I’m not the right person to be that blatant. But Dr. West and his partner Smiley are fully capable of speaking for themselves.

Cornel West and Tavis Smiley appeared with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now. Dr. West’s striking characterization comes in his first response, beginning at 2:45 in the clip. Watch (h/t Huffington Post):

For starters, West is right about election costs:

“It morally obscene and spiritually profane to spend $6 billion dollars on an election, $2 billion on a presidential election.”

Yes — we talked about that here. And I don’t think $6 billion (that’s $6,000,000,000 in zeros) is the final number. Some of that Dark Money is dark indeed.

And the quote that has many buzzing (3:25 in the same answer; his emphasis):

“I’m glad there’s not a right-wing takeover, but we end up with a Rockefeller Republican in blackface with Barack Obama, so that our struggle in regard to poverty intensifies.”

Interestingly, a little later Amy Goodman reports a conversation Obama had with Harry Belafonte, in which Obama reportedly asked something like, “Why don’t you and West cut me some slack?” and Belafonte replied, “What makes you think we’re not?” Word.

The whole thing is worth a thorough, careful listen. The discussion of the right-wing meme — Obama bribed minorities with “things, stuff” is something you’re going to hear from the right for quite some time. Be ready to respond to that one too. (Your answer via Smiley: “This is precisely why they lost.”)

The critique of the “American left” who “won’t take responsibility” by Michael Eric Dyson (12:00) is priceless Hippie-punching. Hey dude; we got fists too. Read on.

And finally, do not miss the takedown of Dyson “Brother Sharpton and Sister Melissa and others” in West’s “Everybody’s up for sale” riff starting 15:30. Priceless. Truly and literally priceless — you couldn’t buy it, and money runs screaming from it.

Click here for part 2 of this discussion.

Why show this clip? Four years’ worth of leverage

I’m putting this up for two reasons. One, I personally agree with West and Smiley (or Smiley & West, since they’re a duo now). They talk here not only about poverty — a huge issue for blacks, as well as for a great many whites and others — but also about drone-kills, bankers, and a whole range of issues that concern progressives.

But the second reason  is even more vital, in my view. As I said up front, Barack Obama is greatly misperceived. Everyone paints him as varying flavors of this guy — the Bold but Frustrated Progressive.

No one paints him, comedicly or otherwise, as this guy — Betrayer of Hope and Change. Even Republicans missed that critique (thanks in large part to their drunk-with-racism beer goggles). But here we are, progressives watching “our champion” fail to defend us, time after painful time.

People can believe what they want, but at some point, we’ll have to face the truth. At some point, we’re just going to have to believe our lying eyes. And when we do, and are willing to say that truth out loud, we will have leverage.

I strongly believe that to frustrate Obama’s Rubinesque Neo-liberal agenda for the next four years, one of the angles we have on him is his legacy … more specifically, his hunger for his legacy, and most likely, all the money it will bring.

I think his model is post-electoral Bill Clinton — multiple millions in book and speaking fees, adoring worldwide crowds, and a family firmly levered into the class just below the actual rulers — the billionaires who funded him in this electoral life.

Here’s James Galbraith on Obama’s real legacy (my emphasis and paragraphing):

The President is not a progressive – he is not what Americans still call a “liberal.” He is a willful player in an epic drama of faux-politics, an operative for the money power, whose job is to neutralize the left with fear and distraction and then to pivot rightward and deliver a conservative result … a long-term lock-in of domestic spending cuts, and a path toward severe cuts in the core New Deal and Great Society insurance programs – Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. And, of course, no tax increases at all.


[T]he President too is a young man. Unlike say Lyndon B. Johnson or Jimmy Carter, when his term ends he won’t be able simply to go home. He’ll need a big house in a gated suburb, with high walls and rich friends. And a good income, too, from book deals and lecture fees.

He may be thinking about that now. … [But] it won’t save him.

For if and when he ventures out, for the rest of his life, the eyes of all those, whose hopes he once raised will follow him. The old, the poor, the jobless, the homeless: their eyes will follow him wherever he goes.

I think by threatening Obama with that fresh paint job now, starting today, we might frighten him into some mitigating action. Does he want to be “killer of Social Security“? No, he wants to be “savior of Social Security”. Well, we can fix that, but we have to decide to.

This is a call to action, and the time is now. By 2016 it will be too late — he’ll be on his endless (and undeserved) victory tour.

But we must be relentless. And bold. And frankly, honest. They can’t scare us with Republicans for another four years. Let’s do some good by doing some well-deserved damage, then negotiating from something like strength. For a change.

How about a stand-up Obama that catches the actual man?

Me, I’ll start with this. One of the best “scary Obama” stand-up routines I’ve seen. The eager glee expressed in this performance is frightening, but note how it gets the audience laughing. Pitch perfect from the performer:

Excellent impersonation, don’t you think? But with a twist; that’s a scary man. More please.

We have only four years to negotiate by broadcasting images like this. After that, the opportunity goes away. The gays were bold last round, and look what it got them — a big bunch of wins. Now it’s time for the rest of the progressive world to follow their lead.

Thank you, Smiley & West, for getting us started. (And points for the listeners who stayed for the phase “war crimes” — now go thou and … etc.)

UPDATE: And Obama responds, right on cue:

Already? Obama Tells Supporters to Expect ‘Bitter Pills’

In a conference call with key supporters Tuesday night, President Obama urged Democratic activists to stay engaged in the coming budget negotiations concerning the so-called “fiscal cliff” but also telegraphed plainly his intent to give away much in his showdown with Republican lawmakers.

As the [the excellent Sam Stein at the] Huffington Post, who listened in on the call, reports:

The president, speaking from a White House phone, cautioned listeners to expect disappointments during his second term. As he has in the past, Obama warned that he was prepared to swallow some bitter pills during the negotiations, including some that would agitate the base.

And that would be that. Game on? Better be, ’cause his is.

(UPDATED to correct several typos. Thanks to all in the comments for pointing these out.)


To follow or send links: @Gaius_Publius

Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States.

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