President Obama’s African-American supporters are in turmoil after one of their most prominent members, Princeton University professor Cornel West unleashed a powerful, race-tinged attack against his former friend.
West ripped Obama, calling him a “white man with black skin” and “a black mascot of Wall Street oligarchs and . . . corporate plutocrats,” reports The Washington Post.
In the interviews, which have roiled progressives, West also described the president as “head of the American killing machine and proud of it.”
He told MSNBC’s Ed Schultz that Obama’s upbringing inevitably means he “has a predilection much more towards upper and middle class white brothers and Jewish brothers and a certain distance from free black men who will tell him the truth.
“The system is rigged against poor and working people and Obama is the head of it.”
West also attacked Obama for failing to kill off the tea party before it gained momentum. “He missed the moment,” he said.
“He could have nipped the bud of the right wing populism of the tea party movement by focusing on homeowners who were losing their homes, on workers with a job creation program, with some kind of job corps and declaring war on poverty instead of this abstract war on terror.”
Earlier, West had told the liberal blog Truthdig that Obama lacks backbone.
“More and more working people are beaten down. They are world-weary. They are into self-medication. They are turning on each other. They are scapegoating the most vulnerable rather than confronting the most powerful. It is a profoundly human response to panic and catastrophe. I thought Barack Obama could have provided some way out.”
West, an African-American studies professor at Princeton, had a rift with the president soon after the 2008 election. He said he went to 65 campaign events but then was unhappy when he couldn’t get his mother and brother tickets to the inauguration.
He also claims Obama “cussed him out” last July for claiming that the president was not a progressive. The White House did not dispute West’s account of that meeting at the National Urban League’s annual conference.
But West denies his latest barrage of attacks is personal. In a message sent out on Twitter, he said, “This discussion is in no way about me, it has to do with poor and working people having low priority in U.S. governmental policy including the Obama Administration.”
However, leading black supporters of the president quickly accused West of letting his grudge cloud his judgment. “The attack is personal, vague, not rooted in policy,” West’s Princeton colleague Melissa Harris-Perry tweeted.
And in an article she wrote for the Nation, Harris-Perry said the attack on Obama’s upbringing is “utter hilarity,” comparing the president’s background to West’s “own comfortably ensconced life” at Ivy League universities.
“Harvard and Princeton are not places that are particularly noted for their liberating history for black men,” she pointed out.
The Rev. Al Sharpton also joined in the attack on West. “This is the first time in the country that we have an African American president. He is not the president of African Americans,” said Sharpton. “The problem we’re seeing with too many older-minded people is you don’t want the next generation. You want clones.”
But West’s position has its supporters. Syracuse scholar in residence in entrepreneurship, Boyce Watkins said West “must ultimately be given credit for guiding the conversation back to poor, black, and brown people.
“Those who are quick to implement the ‘stop snitching on Obama’ policy on Cornel West should stop trying to counter his argument by telling West to remain silent. Instead, he should be silenced with relevant and meaningful action on the part of the Obama Administration.”
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