Sometimes I truly think that if President Obama had just invited Cornel West to the White House and baked him some cookies he'd never have anything to mean to say. In the professor's latest interview, West wraps up legitimate concerns about the poor and Civil Rights with "Where's my extra Inauguration tickets?" and "Why didn't you call me back?"
Falling the logic line of "jilted lover," West goes from a "Neo-Liberal" critique about Jews and finance reform to his version of Prince's "How Come You Don't Call Me Anymore."
First, West was totes calling Obama all the time, praying for him and such, but the presidential hopeful wouldn't return his calls in a timely manner:
I used to call my dear brother [Obama] every two weeks. I said a prayer on the phone for him, especially before a debate. And I never got a call back. And when I ran into him in the state Capitol in South Carolina when I was down there campaigning for him he was very kind. The first thing he told me was, ‘Brother West, I feel so bad. I haven’t called you back. You been calling me so much. You been giving me so much love, so much support and what have you.’ And I said, ‘I know you’re busy.’
But, oh snap! He had time to call everyone else back!
But then a month and half later I would run into other people on the campaign and he’s calling them all the time. I said, wow, this is kind of strange. He doesn’t have time, even two seconds, to say thank you or I’m glad you’re pulling for me and praying for me, but he’s calling these other people. I said, this is very interesting.
And then the Heartbreak Kid messed up West's Inauguration tickets:
And then as it turns out with the inauguration I couldn’t get a ticket with my mother and my brother. I said this is very strange. We drive into the hotel and the guy who picks up my bags from the hotel has a ticket to the inauguration. My mom says, ‘That’s something that this dear brother can get a ticket and you can’t get one, honey, all the work you did for him from Iowa.’
Continuing the jilted lover theme, West also complains that Obama "had no sense of gratitude, no sense of loyalty, no sense of even courtesy, [no] sense of decency, just to say thank you." Yet that little Skip Gates was having beer at the White House and ol' Rev. Al Sharpton was coming over for play dates every other day. Just throwing it in his face. WHY WOULDN'T THEY JUST GET A ROOM ALREADY AND STOP THROWING THEMSELVES IN WEST'S FACE!?!?!
Then, sez West, the President started being friend with all these smarty-pants "Jews." (And you totes can't trust Jews, apparently. All the anti-semites say so!) But why? Why would the first black President choose to hang out with a bunch of white Jewish guys? (And a bunch of former Clinton staffers, and Chicago people, and black women, and young folks, and gay people and white women, and former First Ladies-turned-Senators-turned-Presidential candidates and other folks from the Democratic voting bloc?)
Why? Because President Obama, like that cheap punk who refused to marry you, is scared of a "strong free black woman man!"
As a young brother who grows up in a white context, brilliant African father, he’s always had to fear being a white man with black skin. All he has known culturally is white. He is just as human as I am, but that is his cultural formation. When he meets an independent black brother, it is frightening. And that’s true for a white brother. When you get a white brother who meets a free, independent black man, they got to be mature to really embrace fully what the brother is saying to them. It’s a tension, given the history. It can be overcome. Obama, coming out of Kansas influence, white, loving grandparents, coming out of Hawaii and Indonesia, when he meets these independent black folk who have a history of slavery, Jim Crow, Jane Crow and so on, he is very apprehensive. He has a certain rootlessness, a deracination. It is understandable.
Which is why the President "feels most comfortable with upper middle-class white and Jewish men who consider themselves very smart, very savvy and very effective in getting what they want." Just like that cheap punk who left you for some "Kim Kardashian" looking chick? Ugh! Isn't that just like a biracial black man raised by white people who marries a black woman to cheat on you with some old, rich Jewish guys? Why does this keep happening!
But then, the President is a self-made, smarty pants, rich guy and you surely can't trust that.
He’s got two homes. He has got his family and whatever challenges go on there, and this other home. Larry Summers blows his mind because he’s so smart. He’s got Establishment connections. He’s embracing me. It is this smartness, this truncated brilliance, that titillates and stimulates brother Barack and makes him feel at home. That is very sad for me.
But then, you know? West admits that maybe he did read what he wanted to read into Obama. He, after all, is holding Obama to a populist, Progressive standard when Obama ran for the Presidency on escalating the war in Afghanistan and was against gay marriage (but kind of considering civil unions). Also: He was running for the President of the United States -- a position that comes with one seat at the military table and one seat at the Wall Street table and if anyone thought there was ever going to be an American President who wasn't going to be eyeball deep into jingoism and capitalism, I don't know what to tell you. Perhaps you watch too much FOX News. Obama is about as socialist and peacenik as Rappin' Ronald Reagan*.
So, West admits that, you know, maybe he screwed up. Maybe. And perhaps the red-hot Obama love affair he was having was pretty one-sided.
“I have to take some responsibility,” he admits of his support for Obama as we sit in his book-lined office. “I could have been reading into it more than was there."
The messed up thing is, West has a few points if you can dig through the hurt feelings. Like, how you want the President to be more proactive, to have more backbone, to stand up for the poor, to be more pogressive, to take risks, to stand up to the banks and whatnot. Yes! That all sounds awesome! But when the bulk of your interview is about "he didn't call me back" and getting tickets to things it SEVERELY makes it seem like you're equating your ego being stroked with cuts to food stamps. And SURELY, West can't be doing that. Surely, he can't be phrasing this in a way that makes it seem like he could have been bought off by the White House if they'd made him Poet Laureate and invited him to Martha's Vineyard in the summer? He cannot possibly be tossing in his personal "Obama doesn't love me anymore" hurt feelings with bailing out Wall Street. Surely, he's not playing the old race-baiting, class/colorism game of "black is, black ain't" where you argue the President's personal black experience is inauthentic because it isn't exactly like your own?
But then, he kind of is.
EXTRA: For more on why Cornel West sounds like a jilted lover, check out Melissa Harris-Perry's latest for The Nation where she states the following about his lack of inauguration tickets:
Let me get this straight--the tenured, Princeton professor who collects five figures for public lectures was relegated to a hotel television while an anonymous hotel worker got tickets to the inauguration! What kind of crazy, mixed up class politics are these? Wait a minute…
What exactly is so irritating to West about inaugural ticket-gate? It can't be a claim that the black, progressive intellectual community was unrepresented. Yale's Elizabeth Alexander was the poet that cold morning. It can't be that the "common man" was shut out because the Neighborhood Ball was reserved for the ordinary women and and men who worked to make Obama '08 possible. It must be a simple matter of jealous indignation. While I appreciate the humanness in such a a reaction, it hardly counts as a prophetic critique.
Read the rest at The Nation's blog. (H/T Zerlina)
*I actually hated all the Rappin' Ronnie Reagan songs, so I'm using this as an excuse to post my favorite novelty rap , Rappin' Duke. It's like Rappin' Ronnie in the sense that "Why on Earth is John Wayne rapping?" But he mentions Ronald Reagan in the lyrics, so ... IT COUNTS!
"Aretha Franklin. Aretha Franklin. Let me rock you, Aretha Franklin ..."