America’s Obsession with Silencing Cornel West

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Michael Cottman at Black America Web wrote an interesting article about Cornel West and his on-going disagreement with the Obama Administration.   Cottman seems to feel that West is “obsessed” with President Obama, like a stalker baby’s mama seeking out another dollar of child support.   Cottman even goes as far as reducing West’s disagreement with Obama to a disappointment about inauguration tickets.  Says Cottman:

There was widespread speculation that West was upset because he didn’t get a ticket to the inauguration after campaigning hard for Obama in 2008. For West, it seems, Obama can’t do anything right: He’s not black enough. He isn’t doing enough or poor people. He lacks foreign policy experience. He doesn’t listen to black folks.  

What’s most interesting about Cottman’s “analysis” of Professor West is that he forgets that Cornel’s so-called obsession with President Obama is only exceeded by the obsession of those willing to protect Obama, even when he’s wrong.  Professor West has a legitimate right to critique President Obama, largely because, among other things, he helped get him into office.  He is also in the company of great men, like Martin Luther King Jr., whose “Poor People’s Campaign” was the last venture of his life.    Similar to King, West is the target of tremendous criticism from those who would prefer that poor people simply go away.  Obama, in fact, was the first Democratic President since Harry S. Truman not to mention poverty in the State of the Union Address. 

 There is nothing wrong with voting for Obama, but to give support to a politician and then ask him for nothing is just an inch short of maniacal buffoonery.  It’s interesting that having voted for Obama is not enough; some feel that you must be in love with him.   Protecting politicians like they are members of the family is simply bad politics, and makes you the laughing stock of those who understand how the game is really played. 

Rather than addressing the critiques that Professor West has brought to the table, Obama-ites (those who feel that no one has a right to openly challenge the president’s policies) focus on the fine print of Cornel’s media campaign, the sentence where he mentions the inauguration tickets, thus using that comment to invalidate a long list of legitimate issues Cornel mentions.  This disingenuous way of evaluating Cornel’s words is one of the many parlor tricks used by the African American attack dogs propped up by MSNBC to keep African Americans in line without actually giving them anything:  Why should I convince you to support me by offering you something, when I can discredit alternative viewpoints instead? 

I wonder if all of the liberals who’ve critiqued the president’s positions on gay marriage, women’s rights, immigration, etc are also considered to be “obsessed” with the president?  It seems that the Obama Administration becomes “obsessed” with the black community around election time (when they need us to show up to the polls), but doesn’t pay much attention to our key issues at any other time.  In a free society, should we not all be “obsessed” with pushing our political leaders (including Obama) to do the job that we sent them to Washington to do?  This is especially true of any politician expecting exceptional loyalty from the African American community.  Speaking up and using your voice is one of the most important rights you possess in an allegedly free democracy, and we can’t give up these rights for anyone.

Would critics of Cornel West be happier if he simply remained silent and chose not to speak about poverty, the deaths of black teenagers, mass incarceration or black unemployment?   Obama remains silent on these issues, but speaks to the concerns of other communities, which has allowed him to be co-opted by Newsweek as “The First Gay President.”

Obama-ites, your decision to enforce silence in the face of meaningful critiques has caused you to be ridiculed, as your hero has been strong armed into appointing a  Harvard alum (Elena Kagan) to the Supreme Court without even considering a black woman for the job.  It has led to Obama boldly speaking on behalf of gay and immigrant communities, while your fathers, brothers and husbands remain products of the prison industrial complex.  White folks are experiencing an economic recovery, while black unemployment remains at levels that would never be acceptable to the rest of America.  All the while, your president says that “the rising tide will lift all boats” and you just smile and marvel at how beautiful Michelle looked at the Beyonce concert.

Do you believe, for one second, that Democracy is made stronger by shutting down all dissenting voices?  Perhaps you also believe in White Supremacy 101, which means that Bill Maher can criticize President Obama nearly every week, but Cornel West can’t do the same thing.  This week, Maher made the remark that President Obama “couldn’t be less threatening if he were Trayvon Martin.”  If Cornel West had said the same thing, the Obama-ites would be up in arms.   Only Colin Powell understands how to offer support for President Obama without being a relentless cheerleader; he knows that unconditional support only weakens your negotiating position, which is why he has what is arguably the most valuable individual endorsement in the United States.

Rather than trying to get Cornel West to stop talking about poverty, how about seeing if Obama is willing to do something about it? Rather than asking Dr. West not to mention mass incarceration and inadequate inner city schools, why not review the Obama Administration’s policies on the issues?  Killing the messenger doesn’t squash the validity of the message.  Also, West was fighting for the black community before Obama came on the scene, and he will be battling for African Americans long after Obama has left the White House and retired with the other Harvard alums to Martha’s vineyard.

The critical point here is that supporting President Obama is fine.  But if there is anything that Bill Maher, Andrew Carvill, Paul Krugman or Chris Matthews can say that Cornel West cannot, then you’re being every bit as racist as the liberals who control your thinking.   Every man and woman has the right to form their own opinion, even if it is an uncomfortable truth.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Professor at Syracuse University and founder of the Your Black World Coalition. To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.

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