Sunday, November 02, 2008

Cornel West Was Not Always an Obama Fan

Cornel West's appearance on Real Time with Bill Maher last night, and remarked on the campaign and on Obama.
Where the economics of greed, the culture of indifference and the politics of fear have been brought together in such a way that it hides and conceals the plight of poor people and working people. Look what they said about Martin Luther King, Jr. He was "communist." They'd probably say Jesus - Jesus loved the poor - "communist." Amos loved the poor. "Communist." So, in that sense, it's an exciting thing to behold. But, we're in a transitional moment. The real question is, can we generate a commitment to fairness and justice in the face of greed? Can we generate compassion in the face of indifference? And can we generate hope in the face of fear? And that's what Brother Barack is all about. – Cornel West

I found this intriguing because Prof. West was not always a fan of Obama's.   I recalled this piece from February 12th, 2008, which The New York Times printed Seeking Unity, Obama Feels Pull of Racial Divide  (note that this predates Obama's speech on race, which was in March)
Mr. Obama was sharply criticized by African-American academics, media celebrities and policy experts at a conference in Hampton, Va. Among the most often cited was Cornel West, the renowned Princeton scholar. He and others argued that Mr. Obama should speak forcefully about the legacy of racism in the nation and not cast the problems that disproportionately affect blacks as social ills shared by many Americans. “He’s got large numbers of white brothers and sisters who have fears and anxieties,” Dr. West said at the time. “He’s got to speak them in such a way that he holds us at arm’s length; enough to say he loves us, but not too close to scare them away.” 
Mr. Obama was so annoyed by the complaints, one aide recalled, that he asked staff members to invite more than 50 influential African-Americans, including some of his critics, to meet with him, hoping to win them over with the gale force of his charisma.
But his aides cautioned that such a large event would be sure to draw press attention. Instead, they suggested that Mr. Obama establish a smaller advisory council of prominent black figures. In a two-hour telephone call, he not only persuaded Dr. West to serve on the panel, but also convinced him that his rhetorical tightrope — reassuring whites without seeming to abandon blacks — was necessary.
Dr. West recalled the conversation, saying that if Mr. Obama focused on disparities caused by a history of white privilege, “he’d be pegged as a candidate who caters only to the needs of black folks.”
“His campaign is about all folks,” Dr. West said.

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