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April 20, 2015 8:36 AM   Subscribe

The Ghost of Cornel West. President Obama betrayed him. He's stopped publishing new work. He's alienated his closest friends and allies. What happened to America's most exciting black scholar?
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates (181 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
 
I look at West's increasing willingness to put himself right into the middle of the fray on matters like Ferguson and Eric Garner and I see a man who is going to speak his piece at any cost and is completely out of fucks to give about who does or doesn't approve.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:49 AM on April 20, 2015 [37 favorites]


A new republic hit piece by a guy whose been saying something of this sort for years now. I think West was naive to ally himself with Senator Obama, given his slight (and not terribly encouraging) record at the time. What he's been saying since has generally been spot on. The meanie Republicans never made Obama choose Rubin, Geithner, Summers, Gates, Clinton, etc. The meanie Republicans never made him help turn Libya into a failed state/IS training ground, never made him the righteous dronekiller, never helped him turn the outrages against the 4th amendment by Bushco. into the new normal. I'm not saying West is right on everything, but this:
West remains an elite academic and can hardly be said to have ever been a true outsider, given his position in the academic elite and the upper reaches of the economy, but he hungers to be seen as rebellious. In truth, West is a scold, a curmudgeonly and bitter critic who has grown long in the tooth but sharp in the tongue when lashing one-time colleagues and allies.
This is the language of a Democratic insider hit job. Identity politics ('us' vs. the 'elites') used as cynical lever to excuse all manner of Democratic whorishness. It is, however, appropriate that it was published in the New Republic.
posted by nimmpau at 9:00 AM on April 20, 2015 [56 favorites]


I may not always agree with Cornel West, but unlike Obama, he has firm principles that he will not compromise on. Good on him.
posted by corb at 9:03 AM on April 20, 2015 [8 favorites]


Oh, come on. I don't like the New Republic either, and obviously Dyson has his ax to grind, but there's a lot of truth there. West is a brilliant man who started well but fell in love with his own reputation and descended into narcissism and generalized resentment; it's an old, old story but always sad to see. Of course Obama deserves criticism, and lots of it, but to accept West's rants as some kind of brave telling-truth-to-power is just silly.
posted by languagehat at 9:03 AM on April 20, 2015 [70 favorites]


Ha, I was just wondering when The New Republic would return to its roots in publishing anxiously aggressive hit-pieces on leftists by right-centrist "liberals." They must've been concerned that their new hires might be taken to mark some tiny leftward drift in position, but this nicely puts paid to that fantasy.
posted by RogerB at 9:03 AM on April 20, 2015 [12 favorites]


Based on the logic of this piece, I can only assume that Michael Eric Dyson feels really, really, really scorned by Cornel West.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:05 AM on April 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


Oh god, this article. "West should have known that Obama would just use him to get elected and then drop him! It's what politicians do!"
posted by corb at 9:05 AM on April 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


I distinctly recall when West Claimed that the OJ trial was but an example of racism...a bit less than scholarly
posted by Postroad at 9:06 AM on April 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


The conservative underpinnings of West’s views on nihilism […] his confrontations with progressives like Melissa Harris-Perry […] West’s accusation that some progressives are Obama apologists rings false

I genuinely, if grimly, LOLed a few times at this stuff. The anxiety level is palpably rising among the remaining rump of "progressive" Obama apologists.
posted by RogerB at 9:09 AM on April 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


The meanie Republicans never made him help turn Libya into a failed state/IS training ground, never made him the righteous dronekiller, never helped him turn the outrages against the 4th amendment by Bushco. into the new normal.

Well, c'mon, of course the "meanie Republicans" are part and parcel of how these things happened. Bushco's outrages &c. were almost certainly fated to be normalized by any subsequent administration, but it's not like you can somehow extract the GOP from that ugly matrix of fact while you're assigning blame for all the grotesque certainties.
posted by brennen at 9:11 AM on April 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


> Oh god, this article. "West should have known that Obama would just use him to get elected and then drop him! It's what politicians do!"

You quote that as if it's manifestly silly. It seems to me manifestly true. It also seems clear to me that West dropped his (justified) suspicions about Obama in order to ride the glory train to the White House, and became enraged and bitter when it turned out Obama wasn't going to be his best friend. This too is an old story, and it doesn't really square with your saying he has "firm principles that he will not compromise on."
posted by languagehat at 9:11 AM on April 20, 2015 [21 favorites]


Well, c'mon, of course the "meanie Republicans" are part and parcel of how these things happened. Bushco's outrages &c. were almost certainly fated to be normalized by any subsequent administration, but it's not like you can somehow extract the GOP from that ugly matrix of fact while you're assigning blame for all the grotesque certainties.
Certainly this has elements of truth to it. Much in the same way you cannot extract Obama from the 30+ year rightward drift of the Democratic party. 'Obama' as it were, is simply the figurehead we currently have for a regressively awful period of US politics.
posted by nimmpau at 9:16 AM on April 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


I am going to hypothesize that one of West's biggest problems is his nasty habit of lending his credibility to people who don't really deserve it. I'm going off of two data points here: his vexed/vexing relationship with Obama, and that time he agreed to do an event that was billed as "Cornel West in dialogue with Bob Avakian" (the Revolutionary Communist Party guy who legit believes that he's the American Mao), but which turned out to be five minutes of West and interminable hours of Avakian.

I don't count his appearance in the Matrix sequels as an example of him lending credibility to people who don't deserve it, because unlike Barack Obama and Bob Avakian, the Wachowskis are totally awesome I don't care what anyone says.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 9:16 AM on April 20, 2015 [12 favorites]


“[Obama] posed as a progressive and turned out to be counterfeit,” West complained in an interview with Salon. “He acted as if he was ... concerned about the issues of serious injustice and inequality, and it turned out that he’s just another neoliberal centrist with a smile and with a nice rhetorical flair.”

Haven't finished the whole article, but the above bit is either hopelessly naive or breathtakingly cynical. Obama absolutely did not run as the great leftist hope. His campaign content was basically "like Hillary but I didn't vote for Iraq." If you're really going to glom on to the pro forma populist ornamentation as what a candidate truly believes, you're going to be disappointed.

Of course Obama is fundamentally a neoliberal centrist. Not only is that who gets to run, but he really didn't even put on that serious a show of being anything else.
posted by PMdixon at 9:21 AM on April 20, 2015 [32 favorites]


Cornel West is Batman. He sees the truth, and he knows it. There is frustration when you see it, and know it, but just can't break down the barrier and people don't see what you see and then dismiss you as bitter and angry, never thinking there is a legitimate reason for the agony.
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 9:23 AM on April 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


If you want an example of how much The New Republic has changed since the management shake-up of last December, consider that the last big profile of West in the magazine was Leon Wieseltier's screed against him twenty years ago, in which he declared his work "almost entirely worthless." Now we have Dyson, West's former friend and protégé, writing a closely-argued critique that holds up what is great about West while also showing how he has fallen short of that greatness in recent years. If this is what a "vertically-integrated digital media company" looks like, then more of this, please.

On preview: It seems like a lot of folks are misreading Dyson. He isn't excusing President Obama for his actions. (He didn't have kind words to say about how Obama handled the Ferguson affair, for example.) Rather, Dyson is questioning what it means to speak truth to power, and particularly West's claims to be doing that. The heart of the article is that long section on prophecy--what it is, who can claim to be a prophet, who does a prophet answer to, etc. Fundamentally, this a religious argument Dyson is having with West, and I don't think you can understand his article without at least acknowledging its religious undercurrents.
posted by Cash4Lead at 9:29 AM on April 20, 2015 [39 favorites]


"Ha, I was just wondering when The New Republic would return to its roots in publishing anxiously aggressive hit-pieces on leftists by right-centrist "liberals."

Yes this is TNR but it is written by Michael Eric Dyson, who is far from a right-centrist "liberal".
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 9:30 AM on April 20, 2015 [11 favorites]


Obama absolutely did not run as the great leftist hope. His campaign content was basically "like Hillary but I didn't vote for Iraq."

Actually, to progressive organizations and individuals, he completely, completely did in such a way that they were stunned by the betrayal of it. Like, I'm talking weeping into their beer with the betrayal and anger.

Obama worked a really clever campaign, where he had his staffers promise the absolute world to more radical organizations that he thought might be able to get out the vote, particularly in the months leading up to the election. I know this, because before I lost all my optimism and became a cynic, I was associated with one of them. And it was a never ending stream of promises. Meetings were set up and then 'dropped for scheduling conflicts.' When they were set to have an effective protest about him, is staff would reach out, and explain how Obama was really sympathetic to the cause and probably would want to sign onto it, was there anything he could read? He just needed a little time to look things over, he was a busy man! His staff were provided with our relatively radical demands, and they made noises about how this was all in line with Obama's secret heart and we would understand that once we met with him, and would we just go home and be good radicals for a while?

He ran very succesfully on a pretense of "I just have to say this stuff to get elected, but I am ON YOUR SIDE." And you know, yes, we were all idiots and hopelessly naive to believe him. I rageflare when I remember how many people quit the anti-war movement after Obama was elected, because he was going to end the war, so they wouldn't have to bother fighting so hard anymore! Haha!

That fucker.
posted by corb at 9:30 AM on April 20, 2015 [58 favorites]


God, I remember how when Obama was elected I actually went out and got a big box of cigars and gave them to everyone on the base because he was going to bring us home hahahahahah oh god now I want a drink or ten.
posted by corb at 9:31 AM on April 20, 2015 [21 favorites]


Yes this is TNR but it is written by Michael Eric Dyson, who is far from a right-centrist "liberal".
Right, this is more right-centrist "liberal" solicited hippie-punching for hire piece.
posted by nimmpau at 9:37 AM on April 20, 2015


So you're saying that Dyson doesn't mean this, but he took the paycheck from TNR to write a hit piece on Cornel West?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 9:40 AM on April 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


No, Dyson means it. That's the troubling part.
posted by nimmpau at 9:42 AM on April 20, 2015


Obama worked a really clever campaign, where he had his staffers promise the absolute world to more radical organizations that he thought might be able to get out the vote, particularly in the months leading up to the election. I know this, because before I lost all my optimism and became a cynic, I was associated with one of them. And it was a never ending stream of promises. Meetings were set up and then 'dropped for scheduling conflicts.' When they were set to have an effective protest about him, is staff would reach out, and explain how Obama was really sympathetic to the cause and probably would want to sign onto it, was there anything he could read? He just needed a little time to look things over, he was a busy man!

So you begin by saying that his staffers made "promises" to "radical organizations" and you follow this up with nonspecific anecdotes of how they made "sympathetic noises." You're describing the basic process of massive projection (and an astonishing deafness to the specific things Obama was actually saying, publicly, in campaign materials and nationally televised speeches all over the country) that marked the progressive and radical response to Obama's campaign.

Of course staffers make "sympathetic noises" to ginger groups and other cranks. Republican candidates make "sympathetic noises" to flat-taxers and "abolish social security!!" nutters when they campaign. No need to lose any votes you don't have to lose--but that doesn't mean they're "promising" to abolish social security (and the ones who DO promise that, don't get nominated).

The stuff about bringing the troops home is particularly bizarre, because Obama was always very clear that A) he meant to increase the troop commitment to Afghanistan and B) that any troop reduction in Iraq would have to be carefully calibrated and take place over time. How that very specific set of detailed campaign promises got transmogrified in so many people's minds to "Obama said he'd bring every soldier stationed overseas home the day after the election" is one of the great mysteries of American politics.
posted by yoink at 9:43 AM on April 20, 2015 [64 favorites]


So whats' the problem? That Dyson wrote this? That this was written then published in TNR? Would it be ok if it was written but wasn't published in TNR? I'm having trouble figuring out what the objections are here.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 9:44 AM on April 20, 2015 [8 favorites]


this is more right-centrist "liberal" solicited hippie-punching for hire piece

So Dyson is wrong to suggest that West hasn't published a significant scholarly work of philosophy since the early 90s? Which work of West's would you argue has made a significant scholarly contribution since Race Matters?
posted by yoink at 9:46 AM on April 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


A universe of concerns for MED to write about, well meaning justice advocate that he is. He wrote it. He meant it. TNR was more than happy to pay him for it. No objections, just observing phenomena.
posted by nimmpau at 9:46 AM on April 20, 2015


I find the leftie vision of Obama (including West's) as unrecognizable as the right-wing one.
posted by Fnarf at 9:48 AM on April 20, 2015 [22 favorites]


I rageflare when I remember how many people quit the anti-war movement after Obama was elected, because he was going to end the war, so they wouldn't have to bother fighting so hard anymore! Haha!

Obama even won the Nobel Peace Prize on the strength of that hope! So it wasn't just you...
posted by chavenet at 9:49 AM on April 20, 2015 [20 favorites]


The only issue that I think Obama genuinely betrayed progressives over was climate change, which was documented very well in Naomi Klein's This Changes Everything. That is, if we're talking about Obama making specific promises about specific things his administration would do, but then proceeded to hew to the status quo after being elected. In pretty much every other instance, Obama has always been solidly centrist, or at least far enough away from progressives that you would have to be projecting to expect progressivism from the Obama White House.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 9:50 AM on April 20, 2015 [2 favorites]




I liked the part where West had a crush on Anita Baker.
posted by box at 9:54 AM on April 20, 2015 [7 favorites]


Obama absolutely did not run as the great leftist hope.

I mean.

This was the most emblematic image of the 2008 election.

It's interesting to watch the narrative of the 2008 election be rewritten so quickly after it occurred. I mean, personally I never believed the Obama - Next Great Progressive narrative, but I was never surprised by my friends that did believe, nor was I confused as to why they did. They believed it because of the campaign he ran.
posted by muddgirl at 9:56 AM on April 20, 2015 [30 favorites]


Anybody who thinks Cornel West is solely motivated by speaking truth to power needs to explain why he was less critical of Bill Clinton than Obama, especially at a point when Professor West's book sales were at their peak (with 1994's Race Matters) and West had a high cultural profile that would have exposed a lot of people to a critique of Clinton from the Left. West already had been tenured by the 1980s, so you can't explain his relative silence on Clinton due to that. I think Dyson is on to something that West feels more betrayed Obama than ever would have felt by Clinton, because West views Obama as betraying his own racial community.
posted by jonp72 at 9:56 AM on April 20, 2015 [9 favorites]


I'm having trouble figuring out what the objections are here.

I can't speak for anyone in this thread, but the objections I've seen elsewhere (from academics) are basically, "holy shit this is a massive breach of collegiality". I mean:
In Brother West, West admitted that he is “more a natural reader than natural writer,” adding that “writing requires a concerted effort and forced discipline,” but that he reads “as easily as I breathe.” I can say with certainty, as a college professor for the last quarter century, that most of my students feel the same way.
posted by asterix at 9:57 AM on April 20, 2015 [11 favorites]


So you begin by saying that his staffers made "promises" to "radical organizations" and you follow this up with nonspecific anecdotes of how they made "sympathetic noises."

So among the groups working against the war were two veterans groups - Veterans for Peace, and Iraq Veterans Against the War. Here is the latter marching to deliver their demands to Obama at the DNC. Their demands included an immediate end to the war. They were carrying American flags, and, it's hard to say or even to remember, were prepared to get shot down in the streets in front of the DNC because they thought that with news cameras rolling, the sight of veterans in full uniform dying or being beaten bloody on American soil while still making sure not to let the flag hit the ground, would kick off mass opposition to the war among the Democrats. They were literally bracing for bullets when the Obama staffer came literally running out waving his hands saying 'Hey, hey, hey, it's okay, we all agree, it's cool, you can read your points to the delegates at the DNC!" Here are the happy, stupid veterans celebrating because they thought they had won.

Oh god, I'm getting so angry writing about this! But basically, when you had veterans willing to get shot or beaten by cops and you had possible bad media, then came the promises from the Obama campaign, but once they had gone home, then it was like it never happened.

So yeah, I can feel Cornel West's pain.
posted by corb at 9:59 AM on April 20, 2015 [21 favorites]


The only issue that I think Obama genuinely betrayed progressives over was climate change

"Betrayed" seems like gross overstatement to me on that issue. Obama made a call: he could put all his political capital behind healthcare or behind cap-and-trade in his first two-years. He chose healthcare and managed to get it through by the thinnest imaginable margin (with "progressives" screaming the whole time for changes that would have guaranteed that absolutely nothing was achieved). Then, once the Republicans took control of the house, the legislative path to regulating carbon emissions was essentially dead (the Democratic house had, in fact, already passed a cap-and-trade bill in Obama's first two years--but it would have been a very dubious battle in the Senate).

Meantime, on the regulatory front, Obama has been very active on the climate front (CAFE standards, the EPA taking on carbon emissions as a pollutant, the deal with China etc.). If you measure it by the standard of "what would we ideally do" it's all falling far short, of course; if you measure it by the standard of "how would this compare to a Mitt Romney presidency" it's radically progressive.
posted by yoink at 10:00 AM on April 20, 2015 [23 favorites]


I mean, personally I never believed the Obama - Next Great Progressive narrative, but I was never surprised by my friends that did believe, nor was I confused as to why they did. They believed it because of the campaign he ran.

Two things:
1) That was only 4 years after he made his name with a speech talking about how there was no Red America or Blue America, but Purple America.
2) You can make a damn good case that he has, in fact, been the Next Great Progressive. Any argument to the contrary runs smack into the Affordable Care Act.

(That said, there's a reason my friend made this bumpersticker during the '08 primaries.)
posted by asterix at 10:02 AM on April 20, 2015 [6 favorites]


> I don't think you can understand his article without at least acknowledging its religious undercurrents

I've been working through the article for a couple days now, and I'm really enjoying the religious argumentation. I've recently gotten to know some modern liberal christians, and the way that "prophecy" is discussed is really interesting to me.

I'd always thought prophecy was some kind of supernatural direct-message kind of thing, where a Divine voice tells you something, and the prophet just transcribes the words. "Prophecy" in the modern, liberal sense looks a lot more like making a correct prediction in a science experiment ("when I pour this liquid into this one, the mixture will get hot and produce steam!")- where the power and accuracy of the prophecy comes from correctly understanding the situation in which we find ourselves, and the powers at work in our life. I don't think I really realized how much West had identified himself with that tradition until I read this article. This paragraph got me thinking:

"West’s lack of understanding of the prophetic tradition is perhaps most evident in his criticism of Sharpton and Jackson. He berates them for their appetite for access to power, their desire for insider status. Even if we concede for the moment that this is true, it isn’t a failure of their prophecy but of West’s ability to distinguish between kinds of prophets. In his 1995 book, The Preacher King, Duke Divinity School Professor Richard Lischer noted that in ancient Israel, the central prophet moved within the power structure, reminding the people of their covenant with God and also consulting kings on military matters and issues of national significance. Peripheral prophets were outsiders who embraced the poor, criticized the monarchy, and opposed war.

Because the left-right axis is so seemingly omnipresent, a lot of arguments get mapped onto it as though the only possible source of two people's disharmony is different positions L-R. From reading TFA, it certainly looks like MED and West are far closer to each other than either of them is to Obama, at least with regards to L/R. It's really interesting to see a distinction between the three of them on religious interpretation grounds, and it's going to lead to some great research on my end. Thanks!

also, please read the article everyone, it's not principally about Obama. There's a lot more in there.
posted by DGStieber at 10:04 AM on April 20, 2015 [13 favorites]


I really don't know what to think about this piece. Basically everything both critics and supporters have said seems true to me.

In large part, Cornel West strikes me as a brilliant scholar who hasn't been doing brilliant scholarship recently. He has been doing something else, and arguably that 'something else' is more important. As a lover of the man's early scholarship (especially The American Evasion of Philosophy) I feel biased a bit towards West the scholar and a bit against West the activist.

But who in their right mind would actually argue that that kind of scholarship is more important than the movement that started in Ferguson? Certainly not me. That is crazy talk.

Yet it's also kind of easy to see some of the stuff going on with West's advocacy for Obama and then his growing resentment at him as being too personal and not in keeping with his activist principles or scholarly principles. But who cares, even?

When West was supportive, he said smart things in support. When he has been critical he's mostly said smart things in criticism. It's the nature of an activist to push and pull against the levers of government and the representatives steering the state in ways that can look inconsistent. So what?

But also also I like Dyson, who is beefing simultaneously with Obama and with West, who are beefing with each other. So now there are three people I like who all seem not to like each other very much. Ho hum.
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:05 AM on April 20, 2015 [11 favorites]


So among the groups working against the war were two veterans groups - Veterans for Peace, and Iraq Veterans Against the War. Here is the latter marching to deliver their demands to Obama at the DNC. Their demands included an immediate end to the war. They were carrying American flags, and, it's hard to say or even to remember, were prepared to get shot down in the streets in front of the DNC because they thought that with news cameras rolling, the sight of veterans in full uniform dying or being beaten bloody on American soil while still making sure not to let the flag hit the ground, would kick off mass opposition to the war among the Democrats. They were literally bracing for bullets when the Obama staffer came literally running out waving his hands saying 'Hey, hey, hey, it's okay, we all agree, it's cool, you can read your points to the delegates at the DNC!" Here are the happy, stupid veterans celebrating because they thought they had won.

And, again, you're proving my point. The Obama campaign did exactly the right thing (defuse a standoff between police and protestors which could have been really ugly) by "promising" precisely nothing except that the protestors' case would be heard. In other words, this is exactly not what you seem to think it is--an example of Obama or Obama staffers making "promises" about policy which they later broke.
posted by yoink at 10:05 AM on April 20, 2015 [25 favorites]


It is really weird how West made Obama's inauguration announcement about him personally and his conference. It seems to me part of West's anger at Obama is that Obama failed to acknowledge his and others' perceived status as African American leaders, and pehaps resentment that Obama is seen as the prominent African American leader when he never earned that status within the community and its gatekeepers.
posted by Golden Eternity at 10:07 AM on April 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


They believed it because of the campaign he ran.

You mean, they "believed" a one-word poster and couldn't be bothered actually listening to any of his speeches or reading any of his campaign literature? Sadly, I think you capture exactly the problem there.
posted by yoink at 10:07 AM on April 20, 2015 [17 favorites]


Obama absolutely did not run as the great leftist hope.

I mean.

This was the most emblematic image of the 2008 election.


am I missing something here? Are "leftists" the only ones allowed to have hope?
posted by philip-random at 10:07 AM on April 20, 2015 [8 favorites]


The only issue that I think Obama genuinely betrayed progressives over was climate change

Or you could say progressives betrayed Obama by failing to get him enough progressive seats in Congress to get anything done.

Was there ever an issue where Congress was more progressive than Obama and would have enacted some progressive legislation if only Obama had let them?
posted by straight at 10:08 AM on April 20, 2015 [36 favorites]


The Obama campaign did exactly the right thing (defuse a standoff between police and protestors which could have been really ugly) by "promising" precisely nothing except that the protestors' case would be heard.

No, they made a very specific promise - that the letter could be read from the floor of the DNC to the delegates, that a meeting would happen at which the time for that reading would be established. And they made very specific statements - that from their understanding, Obama agreed with the points and might be willing to publicly endorse the three points, but he'd have to look at the specifics.

That promise was a lie. It was a lie to avoid blood in the streets, sure, but it was still a barefaced lie.
posted by corb at 10:09 AM on April 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


"Betrayed" seems like gross overstatement to me on that issue.

No, it really isn't. I am not talking about prioritization of issues, so I don't know why you even responded as if I were. As I said, he made specific promises to do specific things about climate change when campaigning, and then broke many of these promises once elected. "Betrayal" is a fine word for breaking a promise.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 10:09 AM on April 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


Yet it's also kind of easy to see some of the stuff going on with West's advocacy for Obama and then his growing resentment at him as being too personal and not in keeping with his activist principles or scholarly principles. But who cares, even?

What I always struggle with, with these sort of concerns and criticisms is that Cornell West has been gaslamped so often and so continuously, that I can't help but see any such criticism now as politically motivated.

Prominent and politically outspoken black men in America are always assumed to be crazy and treated as such by the media except and unless they're willing to be apologists for white supremacy. The New Republic has played a huge role in this, in driving those supremacist narratives for decades, so I don't give them the benefit of the doubt now.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:11 AM on April 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


Was there ever an issue where Congress was more progressive than Obama and would have enacted some progressive legislation if only Obama had let them?
NSA funding?
posted by nimmpau at 10:11 AM on April 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


In early 2009 Obama certainly broke promises made in mid and late 2008 about single-payer healthcare, dismantling illegal surveillance programs, and enforcing transparent governance. There may or may not be legitimate reasons for breaking these promises, but the compact between (progressive) voter and newly-elected President was broken fairly quickly, nonetheless.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 10:11 AM on April 20, 2015 [8 favorites]


Or you could say progressives betrayed Obama by failing to get him enough progressive seats in Congress to get anything done.

Or that Obama betrayed progressives by not, in his position as de facto leader of the party, organizing a good enough midterm campaign to get those seats. Progressive voters don't have the billionaire donors on speed dial.
posted by Drinky Die at 10:12 AM on April 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


And of course that whole cod psychoanalysing that the story opens with, quoted in the title here, neatly fits with this long tradition of gaslamping black progressives.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:12 AM on April 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


And of course that whole cod psychoanalysing that the story opens with, quoted in the title here, neatly fits with this long tradition of gaslamping black progressives.

You do realize that Michael Eric Dyson is Black, right?
posted by asterix at 10:13 AM on April 20, 2015 [8 favorites]


In other words, my main sentiment here is yes, Obama was certainly an open centrist and expecting sweeping progressivism from the executive branch is out of touch at best, but that does not mean we should just shrug and say "Well waddaya expect?" over him making specific promises, and then breaking them.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 10:14 AM on April 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


Prominent and politically outspoken black men in America are always assumed to be crazy and treated as such by the media

Like Michael Eric Dyson?

And of course that whole cod psychoanalysing that the story opens with, quoted in the title here, neatly fits with this long tradition of gaslamping black progressives.

Like Michael Eric Dyson?
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 10:14 AM on April 20, 2015 [8 favorites]


No, it really isn't. I am not talking about prioritization of issues, so I don't know why you even responded as if I were. As I said, he made specific promises to do specific things about climate change when campaigning, and then broke many of these promises once elected. "Betrayal" is a fine word for breaking a promise.

O.K., which specific promise that was entirely in Obama's power (i.e., was not a promise to "work with Congress to do X" but a promise he could achieve by a stroke of his pen) on climate change did he betray?
posted by yoink at 10:14 AM on April 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


It's pretty clear to me that Barack Obama has advocated more for troop level reductions around the world than any other president in recent history. As far as I can tell, he's reduced troops in, or completely withdrawn troops from, every country we were in when he took office. And he's consistently worked against the use of United States soldiers on the ground, in ways that have pissed of the right (i.e. his tendency to enter conflicts with the caveat that we will only engage in air strikes, nothing else) and the left (i.e. his unwaveringly firm support of drone strikes, which are intended to reduce direct troop involvement) equally.

So my tendency would be to say that, although he's big on compromise as an ethos, Barack Obama has pretty consistently and thoroughly been a partisan for troop reduction and disentanglement abroad in general. Some people think very strongly, in fact, that he's done this to a fault – that he's avoided going into conflicts we should be in, and that he's made our military more "soulless" with drone strikes just to keep troops off the ground.

But – this is based on my observations of the political outlook over the past seven years. I obviously don't know exact numbers on deployment around the world. Barack Obama has not, it is true, withdrawn all troops everywhere in the world; but I think he's reduced the numbers in every sane way he could come up with. If someone has numbers that contradict this conclusion, I'd like to see them.
posted by koeselitz at 10:16 AM on April 20, 2015 [6 favorites]


[Comment removed, cool it.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:18 AM on April 20, 2015


A rapper/union organizer I lm friends with posted this on Facebook with the caption:

"This is literally like Jon Starks trying to criticize Michael Jordan."
posted by elr at 10:22 AM on April 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


He had that dunk though.
posted by Golden Eternity at 10:23 AM on April 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


And they made very specific statements - that from their understanding, Obama agreed with the points and might be willing to publicly endorse the three points, but he'd have to look at the specifics.

Your own Democracy Now link doesn't agree with you on that point. No mention is made, whatsoever, of Obama agreeing with the protestors or being willing to endorse their letter; the only thing they claim is that they would at least get a hearing.
posted by yoink at 10:23 AM on April 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


O.K., which specific promise that was entirely in Obama's power (i.e., was not a promise to "work with Congress to do X" but a promise he could achieve by a stroke of his pen) on climate change did he betray?

Well, promising that his administration would see the slowing or stopping of rising global temperatures comes first to mind. No, the White House by itself does not have the power to lower global temperatures, but he certainly didn't have to sign on at the UN climate change summit of 2009, which effectively agreed that it was OK to not take any steps to slow rising global temperatures because it would be just too durned expensive (unlike perpetual war, apparently). He got on board with that sentiment, just as he's backed off of a federal mandate capping coal emissions, or supporting locally owned biofuels, or any kind of meaningful involvement over the Keystone XL pipeline (which he initially supported shutting down, and has now apparently washed his hands of entirely). And that latter point is something he could have stopped with a literal "stroke of the pen".

I mean, I get you have an ... abiding interest in reminding leftists where they've screwed up, and I agree that Obama has been demonstrably centrist overall. But a politician promises to do specific things, and either drops those things or does the opposite of those things, I think it's irresponsible to cynically dismiss criticising that politician on the basis that well, what did we expect, politicians are liars and they have to think of the bottom line or some such apologist bullshit.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 10:26 AM on April 20, 2015 [6 favorites]


The activists I follow on Twitter really don't have time for either Dyson or West, but feel Dyson's article was bad form anyway.
posted by kmz at 10:26 AM on April 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


> Cornel West is Batman. He sees the truth, and he knows it. There is frustration when you see it, and know it, but just can't break down the barrier and people don't see what you see and then dismiss you as bitter and angry, never thinking there is a legitimate reason for the agony.

Cassandra, meet Batman. Batman, Cassandra. I hear you have a lot in common.
posted by ardgedee at 10:26 AM on April 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


"This is literally like Jon Starks trying to criticize Michael Jordan."
posted by elr at 1:22 PM on April 20 [1 favorite +] [!]


If Michael Jordan spent two decades playing and sucking at pick up basketball, then yea.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 10:26 AM on April 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


Or that Obama betrayed progressives by not, in his position as de facto leader of the party, organizing a good enough midterm campaign to get those seats. Progressive voters don't have the billionaire donors on speed dial.

Huh? Most Democrats purposefully chose to disassociated themselves from Obama in the midterms. Refusing his help in many cases.
posted by Golden Eternity at 10:29 AM on April 20, 2015 [7 favorites]


Or that Obama betrayed progressives by not, in his position as de facto leader of the party, organizing a good enough midterm campaign to get those seats. Progressive voters don't have the billionaire donors on speed dial.

At the time it was shocking how quickly OFA was discarded -- basically the day after election day when establishment players were installed as the transition. That infrastructure could have been used to pressure Congress from the left. Seemed wrong-headed to give that up, unless a centrist agenda was already in place, which, given the move Clinton's donors had made to Obama a couple of months prior, post-nomination, shouldn't really have been surprising.

Shrug.
posted by notyou at 10:32 AM on April 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


I'm not invested in anybody involved and I found the article to be an indecent act, and the slimy, unctuous ill will that drips from it so repellant that I started to feel physically ill reading it.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:32 AM on April 20, 2015 [6 favorites]


My read on West these days is that yeah, he's full of bitterness and resentment because after multiple generations of civil rights activism, after a black president, after umpteen think pieces on a "postracial America," he cannot believe he is still fighting against the same old bullshit.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:35 AM on April 20, 2015 [18 favorites]


I'm not invested in anybody involved and I found the article to be an indecent act, and the slimy, unctuous ill will that drips from it so repellant that I started to feel physically ill reading it.

The pupil knifes his mentor, a grab for the crown.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 10:35 AM on April 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


The first campaign I seriously volunteered for was Dean's in 2004 (which, I guess, goes a fair bit toward explaining why I don't hold out much hope for electoral politics at the federal level, but never mind that). Although Dean got straightforwardly crushed by the mass media - sucks for him, running an Internet / social media campaign four years too early - his contributions to the Democratic Party as chair of the DNC were, IMO, an absolutely critical part of setting up Obama's win. If Dean hadn't sacrificed what was left of his personal brand to improve the Democratic Party as a whole by putting the 50 state strategy into place -- and remember, after the debacle of the 2004 elections, the Democrats were less a viable nationwide party and more a smoking hole in the ground where a party used to be -- Obama would have had a significantly harder time of it in 2008.

As such, you better believe I was disillusioned when Obama immediately 1) replaced Dean people and the 50 state strategy with old insiders and the same old shortsighted "let's focus on Ohio and Florida and everyone else can go hang" strategy, and 2) made Obama's charismatic leadership, rather than the Democratic Party, the focus of organizing.

The storyline that's going on here, wherein right wing democrats pretend that anything any national figure ever says to anyone who isn't already powerful is always by definition hot air and that therefore anyone who believes any of it is a fool, and that therefore no one with sense ever believed that Obama was anything but right wing, is flatly obnoxious. Essentially, these people are making the same argument that small socialist parties do: the argument that the Democratic Party is entirely controlled by the bourgeois class, and that supporting them, or expecting anything worthwhile from them, is stupid naivety.

My happy place is local politics; I am incredibly glad to have given, and to be giving, money to Kshama Sawant's successful campaigns under the Socialist Alternative banner for Seattle city council, and for my involvement in local Oakland politics. But at the national level... well, although I used to be more naive than I am, I am coming, more and more, around to yoink's view of the Democrats, which is to say, I am coming around to the idea that they are totally worthless pieces of shit.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:37 AM on April 20, 2015 [41 favorites]


Well, promising that his administration would see the slowing or stopping of rising global temperatures comes first to mind.

So...when I ask you for an example of a specific promise Obama made which was entirely within his executive privilege as President the first thing that comes to your mind is...this? Really?

In other words, no, you don't actually have any example of a promise he broke; you just have some vague sense that you want to be able to pin the blame on someone for the ills of the world, and he'll do.

I think it's irresponsible to cynically dismiss criticising that politician on the basis that well, what did we expect, politicians are liars


Yeah, I think that would be irresponsible too. That's not the position I'm taking. I'm saying that you're accusing him of "lying" and failing to actually support that case by quoting specific promises or commitments he made which he failed to live up to.

Once again, on climate change it doesn't matter what Obama personally believes or wants, legislation to take dramatic action on the climate could not get through Congress. In the first two years of his presidency some legislative action might just have been possible (although not easy--there are coal-beholden and oil-beholden Democratic senators, after all), but--as I say--Obama chose to go for healthcare rather than for climate change. After the Republicans won the house, legislative action was off the table. All you have left is regulatory action: on that front, Obama has been markedly and consistently progressive. What more would you have had him do, other than wave the "I make the world All Better!" wand that you seem to think Presidents are given when they enter the Oval Office?
posted by yoink at 10:37 AM on April 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


The storyline that's going on here, wherein right wing democrats pretend that anything any national figure ever says to anyone who isn't already powerful is always by definition hot air and that therefore anyone who believes any of it is a fool, and that therefore no one with sense ever believed that Obama was anything but right wing, is flatly obnoxious.

I take it this is directed at me. And it is, once again, flatly false as to its characterization of my position. I'm not saying that it's O.K. for Obama to tell lies to "anyone who isn't already powerful." I'm saying that he, by and large, DID NOT TELL SUCH LIES (at least on the showing, so far, of this thread). That saying, for example, to an Iraq Veterans' Anti-War group "O.K., I'll read your letter" is simply not the same thing as saying "I agree with your principles and will enact them as soon as I take office." And that he really can't be held accountable for some people's bizarre inability to tell the difference between "sympathetic noises" (like "I'll read your letter") and policy statements (like the fucking policy papers and campaign speeches and presidential debates etc. etc. etc. where he explicitly and repeatedly declared his intention of ramping UP the forces in Afghanistan and of withdrawing from Iraq in a measured and cautious way.
posted by yoink at 10:43 AM on April 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


Throughout Obama's presidency I've frequently referred to the Tampa Bay Times' "Obameter" which tracked various Obama campaign promises and whether or not they were kept. I wish more resources had been put into it by the paper to make it more comprehensive, instead of sort of a a rolling feature, but it has been interesting to follow. I think it reveals that Obama has been (shock!) a mixed bag for progressives. He has compromised on core tenets of his campaign, but has also kept promises. I think how you feel about his Presidency has to reflect the extent to which your own priorities overlap with his administration's. I personally have been very disappointed by him on environmental and privacy issues, mixed feelings about how he's handled foreign policy/defense, and general approval of his economic and health policies. (I also recognize the very tough Congress he's been forced to work with.)

As for the linked article, it was interesting but I felt like it couldn't decide whether it wanted to be a thoughtful piece on West and the state of black academia and black progressive leadership or a gossip piece on the drama surrounding West over the last 8 years. One shouldn't take a detached above-the-fray pose one paragraph then descend into half-baked armchair psychotherapy in the next.
posted by Wretch729 at 10:45 AM on April 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


O.K., which specific promise that was entirely in Obama's power (i.e., was not a promise to "work with Congress to do X" but a promise he could achieve by a stroke of his pen) on climate change did he betray?

I went through the Climate Change issues on Politifact's list of broken promises to look for ones where I think promises not being delivered can reasonably be blamed on the executive branch. There is always going to be a mix of factors though so you might come to a different conclusion on them. Very little is as simple as a pen stroke because even pen strokes can be blocked, like Congress preventing the Guantanamo closure after an executive order was signed.

Regulate pollution from major livestock operations

No evidence that Global Energy Corps has seen the light of day

Require plug-in fleet at the White House

Require new federal fleet purchases to be half plug-in hybrids or electric vehicles

Require more flex-fuel cars for the federal government

Double federal program to help "reverse" commuters who go from city to suburbs

Provide an annual report on "state of our energy future"

When you look through the other issues there is a lot of stuff that, yeah, it was blocked by Congress but it was also completely unrealistic even when it was said, even before the true depth of Republican obstruction was known. I think it's reasonable to consider those broken promises as well. Don't promise what you know you can't deliver.

Huh? Most Democrats purposefully chose to disassociated themselves from Obama in the midterms. Refusing his help in many cases.

Most Democrats? Are you kidding? No, most Democrats voted for Democrats and Obama's approval among Democrats has always been high. His approval among Democrats has been 80% or higher for like his entire Presidency. The midterms were a clear enthusiasm gap. People don't just get enthusiastic on their own, they need something to rally around and that is where campaigns come in.

When all you can offer them is a pragmatic holding pattern...it can take a lot of work to keep them from tuning out.
posted by Drinky Die at 10:47 AM on April 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


Your own Democracy Now link doesn't agree with you on that point. No mention is made, whatsoever, of Obama agreeing with the protestors or being willing to endorse their letter; the only thing they claim is that they would at least get a hearing.

You're right - all I can say is that I was there and heard it. That wasn't stuff that got to the press, honestly because we were all fucking idiots who believed that a major, relatively mainstream politician would engage in secret policy discussions with a rag tag bunch of activists.
posted by corb at 10:48 AM on April 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


could have stopped with a literal "stroke of the pen".

You mean this pen? Of course, I'll give you that he isn't killing it outright, but he certainly isn't "washing his hands" of it.

Anyway, I thought the piece in the OP was kind of a disgrace. You have to ask yourself why this was even published. I agree with others who say this was a hit-piece, and that no matter who peed in his cheerios, Dyson shows very poor judgement in attempting to get it published.
posted by smidgen at 10:50 AM on April 20, 2015


The first campaign I seriously volunteered for was Dean's

Which was another case where sheer projection showed its power to trump actual observation. Dean was a centrist Democrat who'd made a very explicit virtue of his capacity to govern across the aisle, and had, in fact, battled his own party to fight for a "balanced budget" and fiscal restraint. What is it about the US progressive movement that makes it so deeply attracted to the idea of the savior-politician and so uninterested in actually doing any homework or figuring out how politics actually works?
posted by yoink at 10:50 AM on April 20, 2015 [13 favorites]


Huh? Most Democrats purposefully chose to disassociated themselves from Obama in the midterms. Refusing his help in many cases.

I think this refers to Democratic candidates in "red states" who distanced themselves from Obama in the general election (e.g., Alison Lundergan Grimes refused to state whether she had ever voted for Obama, while at the same time she had been an Obama delegate), not the unwillingness of rank-and-file Democrats to vote for their party in the midterms. In addition, the crucial factor wasn't low mobilization by Democrats per se, but that Republicans mobilized at a higher rate than they did. Democratic mobilization can go up, but it can fail to make a difference if it is swamped by an ever higher increase in GOP mobilization. I don't have the exit poll data handy, but I think that's what happened in the 2014 midterms.
posted by jonp72 at 10:52 AM on April 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


and literally all of those policy papers were packaged up with assurances that he'd move to the left once elected, or that he'd move to his left in his second term, or that [insert other magic event here that would let him, Pokemon-style, evolve into a center-left leader], and that therefore Americans on the left and center-left should support him wholeheartedly.

fwiw, at the outset of the 2008 election season, I was an Edwards guy -- yeah, yeah, I sure know how to pick 'em, right? But I was an Edwards guy specifically because I had read policy papers from Clinton and Obama and understood how right wing the two of them are.

However, lying to the left — and lifting the rhetoric, and visual rhetoric, of the left wholesale — in order to turn out votes was nevertheless a key part of Obama's strategy. "You idiot, how could you believe he wasn't lying to you when he was clearly lying to you, this is all your fault" is maybe the least attractive argument purportedly in someone's favor that I've ever heard in my life. Especially because, look, the success of Obama's 2008 campaign shows that America is starving for legit left politicians, so much so that we'll even get enthusiastic about someone who just puts up a flimsy fake left facade in front of his campaign.

I mean, I didn't believe him? I voted for him with the knowledge that the betrayals were going to come thick and fast? But, good lord, I, at least, know that that's not an argument in his favor.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:56 AM on April 20, 2015 [15 favorites]


I think this refers to Democratic candidates in "red states"

Yeah, I totally misread that. But I was not talking about stumping for candidates that would directly associate them with him, more the background top level organizing. That's why I mentioned billionaire donors.

There were definitely some decisions that were made at top levels that absolutely did not pay off, for example delaying the executive action on immigration. The seats that was meant to protect were pretty much doomed by that point.
posted by Drinky Die at 10:59 AM on April 20, 2015


What is it about the US progressive movement that makes it so deeply attracted to the idea of the savior-politician and so uninterested in actually doing any homework or figuring out how politics actually works?

In both the case of Dean and Obama, opposition to Iraq. That was a pretty clear break they had with the centrists so it was easy to assume there would be more. Dean did also sign a civil unions bill, which may have been a bit to the left of the centrists. I don't quite recall how civil unions were viewed back then. Also, there aren't very many electable people to the far left out there so you take what you can get.
posted by Drinky Die at 11:05 AM on April 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


Dean was a centrist Democrat who'd made a very explicit virtue of his capacity to govern across the aisle, and had, in fact, battled his own party to fight for a "balanced budget" and fiscal restraint.

I knew his record in Vermont and I had a fairly good understanding of Vermont politics at the time (which were and are, to say the least, different from federal level United States politics). Dean's volunteers understood that he was a compromise, rest assured. Nevertheless, I must say that I have been impressed with just about everything Dean has done with the positions of (relatively insider-facing) power he's had since then, and with Democracy for America, the organization that his campaign developed into after the election.

Anyway. It's an odd argument we're having, since basically what's happening is that we're loudly agreeing about the nature of American federal level politics at each other.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:05 AM on April 20, 2015


Drinky Die: Though it's surreal to look back at this period now, when Dean pushed civil unions through in Vermont, that was the radical position — like, for a long time afterward Dean was receiving regular death threats from right wingers over signing the civil unions bill and (IIRC) couldn't visit certain Vermont counties without wearing a bulletproof vest.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:06 AM on April 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


When you look through the other issues there is a lot of stuff that, yeah, it was blocked by Congress but it was also completely unrealistic even when it was said, even before the true depth of Republican obstruction was known. I think it's reasonable to consider those broken promises as well.

You might think it's "reasonable" to count chickens as rhinoceroses, but that wouldn't make it so.

Regulate pollution from major livestock operations


Not a climate change measure (it's an air pollution issue, but not specifically a climate change one).

As for the others, they're either almost purely symbolic (like the White House vehicles one) or they're ones where the specific details of the promise have been overtaken by technological changes (like the flex-fuel tanks one) or they're very specifically results of Congressional action (like the "reversing" commuters one, where the program got the axe in the Transportation Bill--I'm not sure how you expect Obama to "double" funding to a program that no longer exists).

Meanwhile, the White House has recently issued an Executive Order that adds up to significantly more progress on all of these fronts than these original promises combined:
Specifically, the Executive Order directs Federal agencies to:

Ensure 25 percent of their total energy (electric and thermal) consumption is from clean energy sources by 2025.
Reduce energy use in Federal buildings by 2.5 percent per year between 2015 and 2025.
Reduce per-mile GHG emissions from Federal fleets by 30 percent from 2014 levels by 2025, and increase the percentage of zero emission and plug in hybrid vehicles in Federal fleets.
Reduce water intensity in Federal buildings by 2 percent per year through 2025.
posted by yoink at 11:07 AM on April 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


My read on West these days is that yeah, he's full of bitterness and resentment because after multiple generations of civil rights activism, after a black president, after umpteen think pieces on a "postracial America," he cannot believe he is still fighting against the same old bullshit.

one of my fave definitions of success is "the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm". It's been attributed to both Winston Churchill and Abraham Lincoln, and was probably said by neither. But either way, I believe it speaks volumes as to the reality of the political wars. Fundamental societal change just ain't easy.

But don't stop smiling.
posted by philip-random at 11:08 AM on April 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


Most Democrats? Are you kidding?

By "the Democrats" I was referring to the Democrats running for office. The Democratic campaign strategy was to purposefully distance itself from Obama.

2014 Midterms: Running Away From Obama Is What Cost Democrats
Rather than join forces and extol the president’s leadership on domestic issues, especially with regard to unemployment, health care and the environment, Democrats abandoned the president and, in the process, allowed Republicans to successfully shape this year’s message.
posted by Golden Eternity at 11:09 AM on April 20, 2015 [6 favorites]


and literally all of those policy papers were packaged up with assurances that he'd move to the left once elected

We keep seeing that claim. Amazing how these apparent assurances have left no trace on the public record.

"You idiot, how could you believe he wasn't lying to you when he was clearly lying to you, this is all your fault" is maybe the least attractive argument purportedly in someone's favor that I've ever heard in my life.


This is an argument that exists only in your mind; it is not an argument being made by anyone in this thread.
posted by yoink at 11:10 AM on April 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


Could we get back to Cornel West? Obama is a centrist and always was, but I'm more interested in the article on West. I would agree that his work has gone downhill; the question is why.
posted by librosegretti at 11:12 AM on April 20, 2015 [9 favorites]


Dyson is saying a lot of what I've been feeling about West for the past several years. And I've been a huge fan of his since the late 8o's. I saw him speak in the aearly 90's and new I was in the presence of greatness.

Lately, West preaches love and doles out a lot of what could pass as hate. And his self-importance is stomach-churning. The vignette about the inauguration tickets and the bellhop is emblematic. he has become a hypocritical caricature and it is saddening.

All of that said, I also think I agree that this would have been a great piece to include in MED's memoir later on down the road. Maybe he published at this time out of his own hurt? I wonder why he is publishing now?
posted by Cassford at 11:16 AM on April 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


yoink: ctrl-f "ginger groups and other cranks" HTH HAND
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:16 AM on April 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


Dyson seems to be saying that West got distracted by his own celebrity, librosegretti. Does that seem sound?
posted by Cassford at 11:17 AM on April 20, 2015


Cassford--I think that is part of it. He also seems to feel he has the truth and the solution, and is very frustrated no one (or not enough people) are listening to him. Still, the decline in his writing is shocking; his early work was so strong and influential, and now he writes works that have none of that.
posted by librosegretti at 11:26 AM on April 20, 2015


Anybody who thinks Cornel West is solely motivated by speaking truth to power needs to explain why he was less critical of Bill Clinton than Obama...

Cornel West made his career by peddling an already stale American pragmatism dressed up with 90's style multi-culti rhetorical flourishes in a interdisciplinary setting that allowed rapid advancement. And, it's telling that he took his first whitehouse tour during the period when Clinton took the union and civil rights parts of the Democratic party coalition to the woodshed. His current philosopher/jazzman routine is *beyond* embarrassing and a testament to how little feedback you get as a top flight academic.

In short, West is hack and has always been a hack and surrounded 24 hrs/day by his fellow Ivy league hacks.

Dyson is a second-tier hack who is going to get some excellent canapes over the next decade for this essay.

So, hack vs. hack at the new republic, nice to see that's still the same.
posted by ennui.bz at 11:28 AM on April 20, 2015 [8 favorites]


You Can't Tip a Buick: “yoink: ctrl-f...”

Which isn't what you said it was. You're claiming Barack Obama lied, that he promised things that he flatly did not do. yoink said there that Obama of course had conciliatory meetings with special interest groups – and of course he did! Of course he had a meeting with the Ladies Auxiliary Committee for the Preservation of Paired Socks, and made a nice little speech where he said "oh, certainly we all hate it when we lose one sock out of a pair, I hope we can all work together to make that a thing of the past," but that kind of vague posturing is very far from making promises. And you've admitted as much!

You have explicitly said that every Barack Obama policy paper promised a shift to the left after the election. That's not a claim I've seen backed up anywhere. Can you offer a citation?

In the meantime, yoink is clearly not saying "you shouldn't trust what's in policy papers, because politicians lie." He's saying having a meeting with a pro-environmental group and saying you like the environment is absolutely not the same thing as saying "I will sign an executive order which specifically limits greenhouse emissions to a certain amount," which is a concrete promise.
posted by koeselitz at 11:29 AM on April 20, 2015 [6 favorites]


So...when I ask you for an example of a specific promise Obama made which was entirely within his executive privilege as President the first thing that comes to your mind is...this? Really?

In other words, no, you don't actually have any example of a promise he broke; you just have some vague sense that you want to be able to pin the blame on someone for the ills of the world, and he'll do.


So it seems you either literally read as far as the first sentence of my post before you started banging out yet another scolding, or chose to ignore it altogether. Your projection of my intent is also way out of line, and this schtick of yours is tiresome.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 11:29 AM on April 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


The rhetoric in this piece is a bit harsh but it's the rebuttal I've seen from African American FB friends who are pissed about Dyson's article:
The Ghosts of Obama’s Victims: How Liberals’ Attacks on Cornel West Expose Their Political Bankruptcy
posted by graymouser at 11:31 AM on April 20, 2015 [6 favorites]


I remember skimming this book by some far-right female writer who's name escapes me at the moment. She fumed with rage, both political and personal against the usual suspects, but when she got to Cornel West, she decried his views but called him an 'affable gentleman."

FWTHTW.
posted by jonmc at 11:32 AM on April 20, 2015


koeselitz, I remember in 2009, Obama was deciding troop levels in Afghanistan. The Pentagon asked for 30k additional troops, and even leaked the request before his decision to pressure him. He ended up taking the US to almost 100k people in Afghanistan, and now has delayed removing everyone.
posted by Ambient Echo at 11:32 AM on April 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


When you look through the other issues there is a lot of stuff that, yeah, it was blocked by Congress but it was also completely unrealistic even when it was said, even before the true depth of Republican obstruction was known. I think it's reasonable to consider those broken promises as well.

You might think it's "reasonable" to count chickens as rhinoceroses, but that wouldn't make it so.


If I promise to pay you $1000 for 20 count of your rhinohens but it turns out I'm flat broke and knew it all along, I've broken my promise.

Regulate pollution from major livestock operations

Not a climate change measure


Factory farming is a major contributor to global warming.

As for the others, they're either almost purely symbolic (like the White House vehicles one)

You decided to limit the scope to stroke of pen issues, so that's what I looked at.

or they're ones where the specific details of the promise have been overtaken by technological changes (like the flex-fuel tanks one)

I'm not sure what you mean there. There are 10 million flex fuel vehicles on the roads in America, it's still a good technology.

or they're very specifically results of Congressional action (like the "reversing" commuters one, where the program got the axe in the Transportation Bill--I'm not sure how you expect Obama to "double" funding to a program that no longer exists).

I included it because Politifact seemed to suggest the authority and funding to take the action still exists even if the named program does not. But yeah, that one is iffy.

Meanwhile, the White House has recently issued an Executive Order that adds up to significantly more progress on all of these fronts than these original promises combined:

All of which congressional action or a Republican President may block. That order is as useful as any of the campaign promises they blocked.
posted by Drinky Die at 11:37 AM on April 20, 2015


At the moment, we're explaining to white people that, if we let cops murder random black people every day, then their own chances of being murdered by cops increases too. I'm doubtful that Cornel West has gone down hill per se. There are simply other vantage points that might be more expedient than his for the immediate goal of disarming police. We're turning up the volume on them, not ignoring him.
posted by jeffburdges at 11:44 AM on April 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


The biggest, least constrained, totally within his power Obama policy error is his complete neglect of the Fed and monetary policy generally. He could have just about made Chair Yellen the median FOMC voter instead of the effective left-most. (Poor neglected Kocherlakota. That's what you get for actually looking at data and drawing correct conclusions.)

You want a nice uncomplicated unstructural thing to yell at Obama for, yell about the Fed. He had basically a free hand with the nominations and both ignored and muffed them. Ironically, this is part of a larger pattern of neglect of monetary policy on the left.

Bringing it back to the article... I dunno, West as bitter-because-formerly-but-no-longer-trendy-academic seems to fit pretty accurately from what little I follow him.
posted by PMdixon at 11:49 AM on April 20, 2015 [6 favorites]


You want a nice uncomplicated unstructural thing to yell at Obama for, yell about the Fed. He had basically a free hand with the nominations and both ignored and muffed them. Ironically, this is part of a larger pattern of neglect of monetary policy on the left.

If you're talking about Obama reappointment of Bernanke, I think you can grant that, but wasn't Wall Street freaking out because Janet Yellen is ...shock of shocks... an "inflation dove"?
posted by jonp72 at 11:53 AM on April 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


I blame Obama's refusal to "hang the guilty out to dry" when said guilty hold power, but we witnessed that way back when he voted for telecomm immunity as a senator too.
posted by jeffburdges at 11:55 AM on April 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


I'm talking about the fact that there are 2 empty governorships right now, and his most recent nomination was a community banker, among other things.

Bernanke would have been fine if he had had backup. He wrote the papers on what to do here.
posted by PMdixon at 11:57 AM on April 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


(It is legitimately a problem with the left's intellectual infrastructure that the only person I have seen advocate any kind of aggregate labor compensation targeting, which is probably about as lefty a monetary policy as you can get in the current institutional setup, is at the freaking Mercatus Center. Inflation targeting has deep distributional implications, but you'd have no fucking clue if you were looking at any of the live issues.)
posted by PMdixon at 12:02 PM on April 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


My read on West these days is that yeah, he's full of bitterness and resentment because after multiple generations of civil rights activism, after a black president, after umpteen think pieces on a "postracial America," he cannot believe he is still fighting against the same old bullshit.

The thing is there was still bullshit when we had Democratic President Clinton in the White House in the 1990s. Now, I'm going on my old memories of reading Race Matters about 20 years ago, but my memory of that book is that it was rhetorically quite similar to the Obama's "post-racial" rhetoric circa 2008, even in the way that both men used religious tropes to argue that America had the wherewithal to create a more just, democratic multiracial society. You could even argue that Obama's 2004 DNC convention speech was filled with "prophetic" allusions that are similar to Cornel West rhetorically, if not in substance. Aside from the theory of racial betrayal that Dyson, I could see West being cheesed off by Obama having a similar rhetorical style, but completely different from West in substance. West wanted to see a prophet in Obama, but he failed to see the wonk cloaked within.
posted by jonp72 at 12:03 PM on April 20, 2015


You want a nice uncomplicated unstructural thing to yell at Obama for, yell about the Fed.

But the Fed is supposed to be nominally politically neutral, subject to congressional oversight, technocratic, etc. (regardless of whether that is remotely true or even plausibly possible.) The case against Obama is actually a lot simpler than that:
The savings and loan debacle was one-seventieth the size of the current crisis, both in terms of losses and the amount of fraud. In that crisis, the savings and loan regulators made over 30,000 criminal referrals, and this produced over 1,000 felony convictions in cases designated as “major” by the Department of Justice. But even that understates the degree of prioritization, because we, the regulators, worked very closely with the FBI and the Justice Department to create a list of the top 100 — the 100 worst fraud schemes. They involved roughly 300 savings and loans and 600 individuals, and virtually all of those people were prosecuted. We had a 90 percent conviction rate, which is the greatest success against elite white-collar crime (in terms of prosecution) in history.

In the current crisis, that same agency, the Office of Thrift Supervision, which was supposed to regulate, among others, Countrywide, Washington Mutual and IndyMac — which collectively made hundreds of thousands of fraudulent mortgage loans — made zero criminal referrals.
Under the 1st Bush administration, the justice department was somehow able to prosecute 30,000 cases for the S&L collapse, the Obama administration...

But, like so many other things, the failure of Occupy to articulate even this one fig leaf of justice (prosecuting wrong-doers) illustrates how completely checked out left-politics is in the US. If there is no pressure from the left except the blatherings of a bunch of academic showmen like West and the incoherent clown routines put on by erstwhile black-clad radicals, why would one ever think that politics would move in any direction other than right?
posted by ennui.bz at 12:08 PM on April 20, 2015 [14 favorites]


Isn't the economy doing fairly well? Especially considering how bad it was when Obama took office and had to make decisions without the benefit of hindsight. What did Bernanke mess up so badly? I remember hearing a lot about how the Fed's roll was more limited than people think.

Seems to me wealth inequality and the fact that minority communities have been hit the worst by it is the biggest knock against Obama. Maybe he could have done more with taxes initially, but that's hard to do while the economy is in the tank. The other knock is possibly foreign policy, but here it is removing troops from Iraq and disengaging from the ME and failing to support the Arab Spring that was the cause of the problems. Again, I don't get the left's silence on the Iran deal (and Cuba) which seems to be a big move in the right direction.
posted by Golden Eternity at 12:11 PM on April 20, 2015


[Comment removed, maybe don't address people in the thread with the collective "fuckers".]
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:22 PM on April 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


The Root spoke with Dyson about the article.

Meanwhile, while these two intellectual giants spar at each other and try their best to hog the media spotlight, another young Black man has died thanks to police misconduct and brutality.
posted by zarq at 12:24 PM on April 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


Isn't the economy doing fairly well?

The recovery has done very well for some, not so well for most.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 12:28 PM on April 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


This BBC interview snippet of West is telling--especially since he posted it Twitter himself.

It seems like West believes he is separating his personal feelings from his political statements, but some of the rest of us don't think he is doing as good a job as he thinks he is doing.

To me, part of love involves trying to understand the other's point of view. West ascribes views and motivations to Obama that can't possibly be true. There is no attempt to understand. Wests' version of "love" seems broken to me.

How is it that Netanyahu and many others in Israel see Obama as in opposition to their interests if West is correct about Obama's lack of heart for the Palestinians?
posted by Cassford at 12:29 PM on April 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


Yes, of course, the material reality of contemporary American electoral politics demands a certain range of tactics. For example, if you live in a swing state, vote for Clinton. If Republicans are threatening to win the governorship/senate seats of your state, vote for the Democratic Party candidate. If you're one of the twelve people in the world living in a contested congressional district, vote for the person who writes D after their name.

The other necessary tactical move, though, comes from understanding the material reality of the Democratic Party; it not just will not but actually cannot offer anything to people on the left who haven't built up some sort of real power outside the Democratic Party to either offer them or to meaningfully threaten them with. Right now, a good bet for developing independent power is through supporting those few radical groups who've demonstrated success in the few radical cities where radicalism is feasible. And, hell, support labor unions; they're small but they're feisty, and maybe they'll make a comeback some day.

I mean, what is there beyond that? Should we be publicly loyal to the Democratic Party in order to build their brand? Should people on the left think of the Democratic Party as a democratic centralist organization, and always therefore act as if it is our task to diligently uphold its policies once they've been decided upon? I mean, what?
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:32 PM on April 20, 2015 [9 favorites]


I mean, yes, this is a total derail and I am backing out now, but I guess the reason I've participated in it is because the disillusionment experienced by people on the left, the ones who were illusioned with Obama in the first place, is of a piece with West's disillusionment with Obama. How could someone with this history, from this place, who speaks the language of people with his history and from his place, turn out so damn right-wing? And should we blame ourselves for, at least partially, mistaking him for one of us?

Corb's story of organizational heartbreak only makes sense to people who've participated in real politics, instead of the politics-as-game version of electoral politics that's so popular among pundits and careerists. And Cornel West, no matter what his flaws (oh god you made people listen to BOB AVAKIAN, how could you do that Corny??), is at least participating in real politics.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:37 PM on April 20, 2015 [7 favorites]


How is it that Netanyahu and many others in Israel see Obama as in opposition to their interests if West is correct about Obama's lack of heart for the Palestinians?

A possibility: both groups have unrealistic expectations and are looking for full-throated support, as well as strong vilification of the other side's intransigence, yet aren't getting that. In Israel's case, I suspect Netanyahu feels he's entitled to a level of support that he believes has been given to Israel by past Presidents.
posted by zarq at 12:38 PM on April 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


Only scots can be involved in real politics.
posted by smidgen at 12:49 PM on April 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


Here is a recent article on West's approach to prophecy and prophets: "Cornel West Trumpeting Heschel’s Prophetic Vision," The Jewish Week, January 23, 2013. In this article, West says:
I’ve always believed that Christianity is a footnote to prophetic Judaism. It’s a very rich footnote, but the Jewishness of Jesus is fundamental. It’s central. And the coming out of the prophetic Judaic tradition is central and fundamental to Christianity. And unfortunately, given the vicious anti-Semitic dimensions of Christianity, the way it was invented and executed, there has been a distance from the radical Jewishness of Jesus.
This kind of thinking certainly does not demonstrate a loss in intellectual vigour.
posted by No Robots at 12:52 PM on April 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Heaven has no rage like my feeling when I read another piece of contemporary long-form journalism filled with gratuitous personal anecdotes and/or purple prose about writing and creativity.

>That same year, I divorced my son’s mother after moving South to attend the historically black Knoxville College. My father died two years later, and I made do for a spell with the only material inheritance he could pass on: a Chevy station wagon that had once served as the work vehicle for our Dyson & Sons grass-cutting, sod-laying, and odd jobs enterprise

> Writing is an often-painful task that can feel like the death of one’s past. Equally discomfiting is seeing one’s present commitments to truths crumble once one begins to tap away at the keyboard or scar the page with ink. Writing demands a different sort of apprenticeship to ideas than does speaking.

I don't care!

I feel like EVERY piece of "serious" journalism I've read in the past year has been way too full of the author's life story. Tighten that shit up.
posted by scose at 12:52 PM on April 20, 2015 [18 favorites]


I feel betrayed by
West
Obama
the New Republic
the writer
And my college basketball team
posted by Postroad at 1:00 PM on April 20, 2015 [7 favorites]


Only scots can be involved in real politics.

No, I mean in reality there is a difference between the type of involvement in politics where you are primarily involved by doing things like consuming coverage about what Hillary had at Chipotle and engaging in activism.
posted by Drinky Die at 1:05 PM on April 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Dave Zirin: Cornel West Is Not Mike Tyson
posted by graymouser at 1:14 PM on April 20, 2015 [6 favorites]


If this article wasn't collegial and in bad form, was West's attack on Dyson bad form as well?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 1:25 PM on April 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


/I feel like EVERY piece of "serious" journalism I've read in the past year has been way too full of the author's life story. Tighten that shit up.

You do realize that this is an essay, not journalism, by a guy who is writing about a guy who was his mentor and me member of his dissertation committee?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 1:26 PM on April 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


No, I mean in reality there is a difference between the type of involvement in politics

I read that as contrasting what some would term as "political operators" and those who comment upon them vs "on the ground" activists, not casual bloggers vs activists. Yeah, I'm not going to argue that bloggers are more involved.

On the other hand, I think it is all "real" politics, and that measuring political activity by its effectiveness is the only significant way you should measure it. By that measure, like most things in life, effort and involvement helps, but does not count. Marching doesn't count for much if no one pays attention or you have no clear plan when your target gives but does not break. And pundits can make a real difference if they are influential enough. By insisting on tests and bona fides, it feels like one ends up looking at the second order causes rather than what should be of primary concern.
posted by smidgen at 1:38 PM on April 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


And should we blame ourselves for, at least partially, mistaking him for one of us?

No, we should blame ourselves for being so personality focused and thinking that "one of us" is a meaningful marker, let alone a fixed or causal one. At the national level, thinking personalities matter, or that most outcomes are not overdetermined five ways from Sunday is exactly what the system thrives on.

Hate whichever players to whatever extent feels useful. But the actual problem is an emergent system that grows like a cancer and turns everything it can see into quantifiable capital. To the extent that system has wants, it would love for you to focus on whether or not someone is "one of us". Because what is actually a threat is coming up with a genuinely competitive system. And that doesn't happen by putting someone else up as the figurehead of the current one, however of us they may be.

The master's tools may or may not be of use in dismantling the master's house, but the master's blueprints sure as shit are.
posted by PMdixon at 1:44 PM on April 20, 2015 [7 favorites]


Honestly? I wasn't even thinking in terms of activism vs. political careerism. I was talking in terms of the effects that wins and losses have on the people involved, and for the people who they're aiming to, in whatever way, represent. If you are sad when your side loses, like you're sad when the Packers lose or whatever, or if you're sad because you'll be out of a job with that candidate (but it's okay, your network can get you another one), you're participating in politics in a very different way than people who are for whatever reason destroyed by a loss. If you or your neighbors have to move if you lose, or if your kid will die of untreated cancer if you lose, or the cops might shoot another kid in your neighborhood next week if you lose, or your service will go dishonored and your comrades-in-arms will continue to die in a pointless war if you lose, or if somebody's going to start up a fracking operation next door to you if you lose, or if it will stay legal to discriminate against you and your family if you lose, you're not just sad when you lose. Life is meaningfully narrowed by losses like this.

So I suppose in that sense "real politics" means participation in politics by people with real stakes in it, and on behalf of people with real stakes in it. Unfortunately, this means that, under this rubric, to participate in what I'm calling, somewhat polemically, "real politics," you have to be in some way either fucked or at least potentially fucked or maybe fucked identified, and America's political system is notoriously dismissive of America's more fucked residents. Since we lack real power, the best we can hope for, I guess, is to receive sympathetic noises alongside all the other ginger groups and cranks.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 1:56 PM on April 20, 2015 [7 favorites]


> Dave Zirin: Cornel West Is Not Mike Tyson

This appears at first to be merely criticism of a boxing metaphor but it lands some hard blows of its own:
But there are several holes in Dr. Dyson’s piece that are glaring. To read the article one would think that West’s anger toward Obama is solely rooted in snubbed invitations and unanswered phone calls. This ignores a series of key political criticisms that West has been raising for years.

Cornel West believes in Palestinian liberation. He believes in amnesty for undocumented immigrants. He believes that the bankers responsible for the 2008 crisis should be brought to justice. He believes that capitalism is a driving engine of much of the injustice in our world. He believes that Obama’s drone program is an act of state-sanctioned murder. One can choose to agree or disagree with these points but one cannot ignore that Dr. West has been relentless in his efforts to place them in the political discourse. The word "Palestine" or "Palestinian" does not once make its way into Dr. Dyson’s piece. Neither does “Wall Street” or "immigration." The word “drones” only comes up in a quote attributed to Dr. West. We can debate how sincere Dr. West's commitments are to these issues or whether they are a cover for his hurt feelings and heartbreak that Dyson posits is at the root of all discord. But they should be reckoned with.
posted by George_Spiggott at 2:01 PM on April 20, 2015 [15 favorites]


ut to accept West's rants as some kind of brave telling-truth-to-power is just silly.
posted by languagehat at 12:03 PM


This whole article isn't a rant?
posted by polymodus at 2:15 PM on April 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


I may not always agree with Cornel West, but unlike Obama, he has firm principles that he will not compromise on.

You know who else had firm principles he would not compromise on?

That's right, Ned Stark.
posted by Justinian at 2:17 PM on April 20, 2015 [15 favorites]


For an essay that burns West and Dyson, for good measure, as vapid, posturing and politically conservative, see this oldie but goodie: "'What are the Drums Saying, Booker?' The Curious Role of the Black Public Intellectual", by Adolph Reed
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 4:51 PM on April 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


The Cornel West-Michael Eric Dyson feud is petty. Black people are dying in the streets
The circular confrontation is of such an insular nature there are no sides to take. There are serious points that might be made about the plight of the celebrity academic – though those could relate to the author of The New Republic piece just as easily as the subject – but they are not pursued on their merits. There are also important arguments about the intellectual and his or her relationship to the polity. In the debris of Dyson’s demolition, one may find a broader critique that West’s “decline” is, in no small part, due to his refusal to embrace the symbolism of Obama’s presidency and tone down the critiques of its substance. But you’ll have to sift through the personal rancor to find them.
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 5:05 PM on April 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


For those who dont know, Reed founded the US labor party and writes for the Nation.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 5:35 PM on April 20, 2015


Which, among other things, means he is not politiclally conservative.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 5:43 PM on April 20, 2015


I assumed "burns West and Dyson, for good measure, as vapid, posturing and politically conservative" meant that Reed was putting them down for being less liberal than they look.
posted by teponaztli at 5:55 PM on April 20, 2015


For those who dont know, Reed founded the US labor party and writes for the Nation.

In addition to Reed's affiliation with the U.S. Labor Party, Cornel West has been a longtime member of the Democratic Socialists of America, which has a social democratic orientation, but has historically favored working with the Democratic Party. I wonder if whether West was closer to the DSA in the 1990s, which may explain why West was softer on Clinton than Obama.
posted by jonp72 at 6:07 PM on April 20, 2015


You know who else had firm principles he would not compromise on?

That's right, every great leader in the history of humankind. If you truly have no principles at all that you aren't willing to sell out, you don't have the character to rule.
posted by Drinky Die at 6:10 PM on April 20, 2015




"Not the most powerful ever; that's Henry Louis Gates jr."

-Ben Affleck
posted by clavdivs at 6:58 PM on April 20, 2015


If we put US politics on a 7 point scale from -3 (most conservative) to 3 (most liberal), the people I know who were most disappointed with Obama are the 2's. The 3's never believed anything he said or considered him anything other than another corporate Dem, while the 1's are largely satisfied with his pragmatic centrism (he tried to reach across the aisle, was rebuffed, got done what he could). The 2's genuinely thought he was one of them -- they were the "HOPE" crowd, and included millions of youths, the Nobel committee, etc. Both polling data and my own anecdata suggest there are a huge number of these people, including almost everyone I know under 30. Given that the models predicted Obama would win both 2008 and 2012 by the margins he did irrespective of whatever campaign he ran, it may have been a strategic long-term error to disappoint quite so many of the naive 2's. This is not to say he should have governed as a 2 -- the pragmatists assure me that was impossible because Congress -- but that perhaps he should not have made quite such a persuasive case of being a 2 while actually being a 1. Arguably it would have been better to have merely run as a 1 and not run the risk of alienating a whole generation of optimistic, naive, no-one-to-blame-but-themselves young people. That seems to be HRC's strategy, anyway -- not that "HOPE" is really an option for her campaign.
posted by chortly at 7:50 PM on April 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think coming of age in the Bush era will have a far greater impact on the partisan affiliation of my cohort and the strength of attachment thereto than anything Obama has will or could do.

I guarantee you that for my part, at least, I will still be spitting when I say the name well past senility.
posted by PMdixon at 7:56 PM on April 20, 2015


Good lord that Reed essay. If I lived to be 200 I would hardly dare dream of committing a burn as sick as just one page of that piece.
posted by PMdixon at 8:29 PM on April 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


I mean.

This was the most emblematic image of the 2008 election.

It's interesting to watch the narrative of the 2008 election be rewritten so quickly after it occurred. I mean, personally I never believed the Obama - Next Great Progressive narrative, but I was never surprised by my friends that did believe, nor was I confused as to why they did. They believed it because of the campaign he ran.


It's interesting that this references the Hope poster, as it was only after achieving a sort of underground status that the actual Obama campaign adopted it. There were always multiple Obamas running for office -- there was the Obama giving speeches and doing press events, who held, like all candidates, many positions, but the most radical of which wasn't his opposition to the Iraq war or promise to withdraw from Iraq, but was probably his promise to talk to Iran without preconditions, or to violate the sovereignty of Pakistan to get Bin Laden -- but there was also the Obama who lived in the minds of voters, who although they couldn't agree on what he really was, agreed that he secretly wasn't what he said he was in the campaign (whether or not he was a closet leftist or an agent of the devil depended on which side of the political spectrum they were on). I remember a lot of lefty activists, particularly in the Left Blogosphere (remember that?) who went on incessantly about how Obama was really just a politician, and that the lofty rhetoric of his campaign shouldn't be taken seriously. The most baffling thing happened in the first few years of the Obama presidency: those very same people seemed to have been the most betrayed that the Obama of their mind was not the one who showed up in office.

Even though I'm a long time supporter, I've always been much more radical than Obama, the Democratic Party, DailyKos, or what have you (when the 2008 debates sparked arguments over Public-Private Partnerships or Single Payer among my peers, I would usually chime in with something like "Full Communism!" just for perspective), which may be why the Obama presidency has satisfied me much more than it did any of the "betrayed" activists. Beliefs are weird things.

This whole thread has me remembering some of the more interesting stuff from the 2008 campaign -- remember when Mike Gravel stared in the camera for like two minutes and threw a rock?
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 8:35 PM on April 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


remember when Mike Gravel stared in the camera for like two minutes and threw a rock?

I'm pretty sure I'm still friends with him on Facebook...
posted by PMdixon at 8:38 PM on April 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Good god that was hard to read. Whether West is in professional decline or not, this reminded me of nothing as much as Eron Gjoni's manifesto about the evils of his ex-gf Zoe Quinn. I am embarrassed for both of these men but also wondering where this viciousness is coming from and why it's being published now. So Michael Eric Dyson is having a justified core meltdown over the police murders that just keep coming and that nobody serms to have the power to stop, so he's lashing out at the closest male authority figure, Cornel West? Is that what's going on here? Or is this just academic ego bullshit as the Younge piece thinks?
posted by moonlight on vermont at 9:51 PM on April 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


How is it that Netanyahu and many others in Israel see Obama as in opposition to their interests if West is correct about Obama's lack of heart for the Palestinians?

This isn't a zero-sum game: callousness towards Palestinians isn't in the interest of Netanyahu or "many others in Israel"; similarly, Obama's petty insults towards Netanyahu weren't in the interests of Palestinians. People on each side of many conflicts have been angered by the present White House's approach to foreign policy; this isn't a case of "well both sides hate us so we must be doing something right."
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:41 PM on April 20, 2015


Joe, I see your point. Do you think West is saying that though when he claims that Netanyahu and Obama are both war criminals? He has said that Netanyahu is guilty of crimes against humanity "because he has chosen to promote occupation and annihilation" and Obama is because he has chosen to support Israel and "because he facilitates the killing of innocent Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank."

I get your point I think, but it seems like West thinks that Obama and Netanyahu are on the same side--against Palestinian freedom.
posted by Cassford at 11:32 PM on April 20, 2015


Oh, I happen to think West is wrong about that accusation - or at least he's unhelpfully blaming one side in a situation where both sides have failed to cooperate. But the fact that he excoriates Obama for not helping the Palestinians wouldn't mean that Obama has favored Israel: I think the US strategy in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict has been confused and equivocal and has not been in the interests of either party.

For instance, both the Palestinian Authority and Israel were dismayed when the USA apparently decided to adopt Qatar's solution for ending the most recent Gaza conflict, because they considered that it gave too much support to Hamas. I don't think much of the PA, but it's the body that the USA considers to be the Palestinians' representative. So at least in that case Obama can be criticised for intervening in a matter while ignoring the interests of both Israel and the Palestinians.
posted by Joe in Australia at 12:05 AM on April 21, 2015


while ignoring the interests of both Israel and the Palestinians.

You mean the Palestinian authority. A peace agreement was in the interests of the Gazans being slaughtered. Since they were ruled by Hamas and Hamas was firing the rockets, it would seem any agreement would have to be made with Hamas.
posted by Golden Eternity at 12:26 AM on April 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


In the eyes of international law the Palestinian Authority represents the Palestinians and Hamas is an armed gang that resists lawful control. I know that factually the situation is somewhat different, but (a) it's not all that different; and (b) the whole US-mediated peace process is predicated on this assumption.

It's very arguable that strengthening Hamas was contrary to the Gazans' interest, even at the possible cost of a longer war, but strengthening Hamas at the expense of the Palestinian Authority certainly wasn't in the interests of Palestinians generally.
posted by Joe in Australia at 12:55 AM on April 21, 2015


[Let's veer off getting into a total I/P derail here, please?]
posted by taz (staff) at 1:06 AM on April 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


Good god that was hard to read. Whether West is in professional decline or not, this reminded me of nothing as much as Eron Gjoni's manifesto about the evils of his ex-gf Zoe Quinn. I am embarrassed for both of these men but also wondering where this viciousness is coming from and why it's being published now. So Michael Eric Dyson is having a justified core meltdown over the police murders that just keep coming and that nobody serms to have the power to stop, so he's lashing out at the closest male authority figure, Cornel West? Is that what's going on here? Or is this just academic ego bullshit as the Younge piece thinks?

Yeah I don't get it either. This stuff is just nasty and doesn't deserve eyeballs or brain cell time. /unread. Ivory tower is tarred by this. Unless someone can explain what this is supposed to accomplish from an intellectual standpoint.
posted by polymodus at 1:23 AM on April 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


The Obama campaign did exactly the right thing (defuse a standoff between police and protestors which could have been really ugly) by "promising" precisely nothing except that the protestors' case would be heard.

I think we can agree to disagree over whether 'defusing' or 'co-opting' is the 'right thing' for a campaign to do.

Smart, maybe.
posted by eustatic at 6:40 AM on April 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


anyway, i couldn't read this article over the sound of Dr West giving this bit of sermon to the divestment movement at Harvard Sunday
posted by eustatic at 7:08 AM on April 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


Love and Hip Hop Academia.
posted by box at 10:47 AM on April 21, 2015


corb: I rageflare when I remember how many people quit the anti-war movement after Obama was elected, because he was going to end the war, so they wouldn't have to bother fighting so hard anymore! Haha!
If anyone was actually that fucking stupid, I understand rageflare against their lack of commitment, but not against him. He's POTUS, not Jesus.

Also, he ended both wars, so... WTF?
posted by IAmBroom at 4:52 PM on April 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


There were American airstrikes on Iraq today.
America's war in Afghanistan continues.
...then for a bonus there's Libya a few years back, there were also airstrikes on Syria today, drones and special ops in Pakistan & Yemen... WTF?
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 7:39 PM on April 21, 2015 [2 favorites]




It's remarkable how little of the discussion here is about the political impact of this public feud on the #BlackLivesMatter campaign and the issues that campaign is about.

The section on prophecy and speaking truth to power was interesting. But the nastiness of the piece in general smells like a variation on "Divide and Rule" to me. By which I mean that I'm curious who decided it was a good idea to encourage Dyson to write this. I'm not questioning Dyson's sincerity, by the way. Just that this doesn't seem like a great time for public intellectuals from the Black community to be engaged in personal battle.
posted by bardophile at 9:11 PM on April 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's remarkable how little of the discussion here is about the political impact of this public feud on the #BlackLivesMatter campaign and the issues that campaign is about.

Probably because to first approximation, it's 0? I really don't think any contemporary political impact rests on the perceived authority of Cornel West.

More generally, I think the number of fights between PhDs in TNR that have had actual policy consequences is none. Elite discourse is much more often an epiphenomenon of politics than a driving force.
posted by PMdixon at 9:22 PM on April 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


So Dyson and West slugging it out in public has no impact on black solidarity? That's really interesting to me.
posted by bardophile at 9:45 PM on April 21, 2015


@tanehisicoates: "Half people critiquing Dyson for being too 'personal' have no problem with West regularly accusing whole swaths of blacks of being Toms."
posted by Golden Eternity at 10:21 PM on April 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


I think coming of age in the Bush era will have a far greater impact on the partisan affiliation of my cohort and the strength of attachment thereto than anything Obama has will or could do.

I was discussing the Bush administration with a highly conservative colleague at work who said, after I'd ranted for a bit, that "Bush was your Carter, wasn't he?" It actually made a lot of sense. I think that in the same way that Carter was the guy who pushed a lot of people away from ever voting for a Democrat again (including my colleague), the Bush administration has turned a considerable chunk of young voters, even ones with conservative sympathies, away from ever trusting the Republican party.

I'm not questioning Dyson's sincerity, by the way. Just that this doesn't seem like a great time for public intellectuals from the Black community to be engaged in personal battle.

I don't know. I think that the sort of hostile commentators who will exploit this are the sort of commentators who don't really need an event like this to exploit - they'd be portraying West, Dyson (and for that matter, Obama) as irrational, arrogant, unreasonable fanatics no matter what they were saying to or about each other. The Civil Rights movement in the 1960s was positively riven with internal debate and even personal feuds (read Taylor Branch's excellent trilogy if you don't believe me), and yet it survived and moved forward. I think there's just as much of a chance of crushing valuable and necessary internal debate among Leftists with a "don't argue among yourselves" shoulder-to-shoulder strategy. And its certainly true that Dyson seems to be raising issues that he thinks are important and problematic, in relation to a very well-known and prolific public figure.

I found the article interesting, but I frankly don't know that much about Cornel West and didn't even know that Dyson existed before now, so I'm not going to try to judge its wider merits. I just don't think that moderating internal discourse in the interests of getting a fairer hearing in mainstream media is a useful tactic anymore, if it ever was.
posted by AdamCSnider at 10:47 PM on April 21, 2015 [5 favorites]


For all my complaints about the way people routinely conduct themselves in my field of endeavor, at least they don't use the word "love" in every other sentence while slipping the knife in. That's some creepy shit right there.
posted by George_Spiggott at 7:04 AM on April 22, 2015 [1 favorite]




Obama is leading the cause in government transparency and has pushed for complete openness in treaty negotiations.

Or maybe I'm just being sarcastic? I can't tell sometimes.
posted by I-baLL at 9:01 AM on April 22, 2015


Just started listening to this. It is AWESOME so far:

Michael Eric Dyson - God Complex, Complex gods, or Gods Complex?
posted by Golden Eternity at 1:24 PM on April 22, 2015


At Black Agenda Report - Michael Eric Dyson: Crab in a Barrel
posted by graymouser at 1:58 PM on April 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


From the Race and Community blog, a post on Writing, Speaking, Reading:

This piece is about Cornel West. It is also about the Black academic. So it is also about politics. I was going to write about the local struggle with race today, how difficult this year has been for all of us on campuses across the country, as the reassessment throughout the society of racial politics after the death of Mike Brown understandably ripples through our institutions of higher learning. It makes sense, this anomie and lack of direction, the anxiety and urgency many of us feel. I know our students are caught up in trying to understand whether the racial equality regime is too complicit with a description of Black life that allows for police killings, for Black poverty, incarceration, and suffering. What needs to be changed, what should stay the same, how to make a difference, these are all phrases you constantly hear from students. What is our role supposed to be, as African Americans in the academy? I want to explore this question a bit here.
posted by bardophile at 1:00 AM on April 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


More from BAR: Seeking Hillary's Favor: Dyson Attacks Cornel West
posted by graymouser at 11:22 AM on April 23, 2015






I've been wondering a bit about whether these highly personal attacks ever have good effects. Like is there the possibility that this fight leads to a change in strategies or approaches? Does Dyson get more radical, or West go back to writing serious scholarship? We all talk like no one ever did something big and important because of a dare or jealousy or resentment, but that doesn't sound right.

The New Republic published a Nussbaum hatchet job of Judith Butler that made a massive difference in Butler's subsequent work (though I'm sure she'd deny it.) I've watched this happen to a lot of high-flying academics: the right disrespect at the right time can transform a career.

Certainly Cornel West repeatedly calling Dyson an Uncle Tom seems to have made a difference, too; but the fight isn't over and it's just true that West could knock out a work of serious, sustained scholarly writing just to prove that he can and rub Dyson's nose in it. In much the same way, I could see a future Dyson becoming a lot more active after hearing the accusations that he's a tool of the powerful.

Nobody does this kind of work because they are indifferent to their reputations.
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:14 AM on April 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


it's just true that West could knock out a work of serious, sustained scholarly writing just to prove that he can

West's 61. I can think of plenty of people who've put out work that matches the best of their career at that age; I can't think of any who've done it after such a long gap. Can you?
posted by asterix at 11:06 AM on April 26, 2015


I sure can! Hume is the best example, especially with the big gap between the Treatise and the Dialogues. Kant is often cited in these discussions as well, though for him it's especially notable how truly terrible his early work was. Gadamer also.

A lot of thinking about the "natural age" of genius is really driven by unmentioned institutional factors tied to the university system. West is largely free of those if he wants to be.

It also helps that I believe him when he says he reads prolifically but has a hard time writing. While there's a different kind of reading you do when you're writing regularly, it's not like West isn't up on the literature or somehow out of date. That would be a bigger impediment, but I don't think it applies.
posted by anotherpanacea at 1:35 PM on April 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


A lot of thinking about the "natural age" of genius is really driven by unmentioned institutional factors tied to the university system. West is largely free of those if he wants to be.

I don't think it's anything to do with the natural age of genius or anything like that; I think it's that working at a high level requires discipline, and once you lose that it's very hard to get it back. Particularly when there are plenty of incentives to do other, less demanding work.
posted by asterix at 9:40 AM on April 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


Well, you definitely need a lot of butt-in-chair time to write. My original claim was that maybe now the incentives aren't all keeping him out of the chair, maybe now there's a strong(er) incentive to prove Dyson wrong. Maybe.

Neither of us knows what happens next. But say West doesn't respond with a flurry of articles and a serious scholarly monograph. Even if I'm wrong, if I had to choose between the "lacks discipline" response and the "incentives still point to activism over scholarship" response, I'd lean on the incentives.
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:37 AM on April 27, 2015


Wow, this sure disappeared from the news after Baltimore, huh?
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 6:13 PM on April 29, 2015


Do you think there's something sinister behind that? I think it was just a relatively small story, and the media moved on.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:33 PM on April 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Obama and Mayor Rawlings-Blake may justify some of Cornel's insults when they refer to African American children as "thugs," a racist dog whistle often substituted for the n word.
posted by Golden Eternity at 8:42 PM on April 29, 2015


No, nothing sinister at all. It just was eclipsed by a much larger, more pressing and more important story. And rightly so, in my view. Just thought that the turnaround time was notable.
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 10:27 PM on April 29, 2015


Not new, but just getting around to it:

Black Agenda Report: Seeking Hillary's Favor: Dyson Attacks Cornel West
Dyson claims West lives by a double standard. Attempting sarcasm, Dyson writes: “West offers himself a benefit that he refuses to extend to others: He can go to the White House without becoming a presidential apologist or losing his prophetic cool. He can spend an evening with the president, the first of many such evenings, without selling his soul.”

Well, apparently, West can. And, just as clearly, after 19 or more visits to the White House, Dyson cannot. He not only sells himself, he tries to defame Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as a sell-out, access-monger, too. Without shame, honor, or a logical leg to stand on, Dyson writes:

“King was arguably more beneficial to the folk he loved when he swayed power with his influence and vision. When West begrudges Sharpton his closeness to Obama, he ignores the fact that King had similar access.” Dyson continues, “Sharpton and Jackson moved in the opposite prophetic direction of King. While King kissed the periphery with courageous vigor after enjoying his role as a central prophet, Jackson, and especially Sharpton, started on the periphery before coming into their own on the inside. Jackson’s transition was smoothed by the gulf left by King’s assassination, and while forging alliances with other outsiders on the black left, he easily adapted to the role of the inside-outsider who identified with the downcast while making his way to the heart of the Democratic Party.”

Dr. King and other members of the so-called “Big Six” organizations enjoyed some access to Lyndon Johnson’s White House because of the power of the movements they led. Dr. King did not become influential because he got invitations to the White House; he got invited to the White House because he was influential among millions of Black people. MLK made the principled, and possibly fatal, decision to break with Lyndon Johnson’s White House on April 4, 1967, with his “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break the Silence” speech. He effectively severed ties with an administration that had, at times, been an ally in the civil rights struggle. Singling out the U.S. as “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world, today,” Dr. King said:

“I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube. So I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such.”

Obscenely, Michael Eric Dyson attempts to depict Dr. King as of his own ilk of boot-licking, access-begging, job-seeking, misleaders in his attack on Cornel West, who made his own break with Obama’s wars at home and abroad, early on.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 8:01 PM on May 14, 2015


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