Sunday, April 17, 2011

West's criticism worth careful inspection

I have reverence for Dr. Cornel West, but found myself in conflict with his comments this week about President Barack Obama. I understand his well-articulated criticism of the president and realize that many blacks and progressives feel similarly.

After Obama's election I was concerned whether the grassroots movement that elevated him into the national spotlight and subsequently pushed him into the White House would continue to support him once he actually had the job. I thought it was an important consideration at the time because I figured his policies and positions would need that same level of support to be successful. He came in as a representative of those who have been marginalized, including people of color and poor people. West -- a preeminent intellectual and outspoken Democrat -- has been critical of the president in the past. This week he called called Obama a mascot, fueling this latest media frenzy.

I heard West say on the Tavis Smiley Show today that the president should be doing more to help poor people, and black people, and other minorities and disenfranchised Americans who supported him. I understand his point, and he does not stand alone in opposition to the president's efforts to address poverty, joblessness, and a growing sense of hopelessness among Americans who fully expected the Obama Administration to deliver on that "hope" and "change" we heard so much about on the campaign trail. It's fair criticism.

Given that black folks are often bothered when we begin to air our laundry, this was worth watching. But I wonder whether, while not totally off base, West's comments could prove be damaging long term.

After the president took office I wrote that I hoped everyone who came out and voted for the first time, who bought bootleg t-shirts and bumper stickers, and who suddenly took an interest in politics because they wanted to see a black president elected continue to provide support after Obama took office. I recall many people agreeing with me, and one friend, professor Lester Spence, who reminded me that "he works for us." That comment resonated with me, and spurred the first thought I had about how his supporters would hold him accountable. West's comments simply represent that call for accountability.

Every elected official should be accountable to those who put them in office. I just hope in this case those people who were motivated to become politically active for the first time aren't so turned off they sit out the next race. Without them, the president will have a slim chance of ever making good on the promises of hope or change for the voiceless. I don't believe I recall anyone else even putting those things on the table.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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