On Martin Bashir's show today, Dr. Cornel West took aim at President Obama's speech to the Congressional Black Caucus. At one point West said the President should apologize to critics like Tavis Smiley and himself, because they are speaking out of love for African-Americans and poor people, something he doesn't believe President Obama is doing.
Their discussion led off with Martin Bashir asking Dr. West point-blank whether or not he was hurt when he wasn't contacted by the White House after doing campaign events for then-Senator Obama. Here is his response:
OBAMA: Look, the other thing I don't want you to just kind of slip in there is this notion that African-American leaders of late have been critical. There have been a handful of African-American leaders who have been critical. They were critical when I was running for President. There's always going to be somebody who's critical of the President of the United States. That's my job, in part, particularly when the economy is going as badly as it is right now. People are going to have concerns and they should.
BASHIR: Dr. West, you opposed him in terms of policy, in terms of economics. But were you also hurt personally, because as I understand it, you kept calling him in the early stages of his Presidency. You said you prayed for him, prayed for him on the telephone --
WEST: Oh, absolutely --
BASHIR: But he didn't return your calls. Did that hurt?
WEST: Well, no I think the only thing we do -- we just wanted a 'thank you' after 65 events. That's not a petty thing. It's personal, but I take these kind of things quite seriously in terms of the sacrifice one makes. But keep in mind --
BASHIR: So you were hurt.
They then transition into the discussion about the Congressional Black Caucus speech (transcript clip at the end of this post for reference).
WEST: Well, I was hurt only in the sense when you do sixty-five events and there's no thank-you, there's no gratitude, it says something about the person, you see what I mean? And not only that but when you look at the speech that he gave at the, uh, the Congressional Black Caucus, you know, offensive, condescending, insulting, disrespectful -- stop
BASHIR/WEST: Stop grumbling, stop complaining, stop crying
WEST: I said to myself Oh my God, can you imagine him saying that to Wall Street people, saying that to the Catholics, saying that to the gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, saying that to the Jewish brothers and sisters? Something hit me so deeply in terms of this sense that he can somehow say what he wants to say and get along with it, because black people have been so protective, because black people know that vicious right-wing critics, who I actually -- I'm in solidarity with him against those critics. It's clear the Republican party is a combination of mendacity as well as mean-spiritedness, but at the same time here he comes along with this kind of disrespect for language toward the very people who have been protective of him. I'm saying what is going on, what is going on in his mind?
BASHIR: Do you heed what he said? Stop complaining?
WEST: Well, let me put it this way. There is a genius named Bob Marley who named his group the Wailers. There's a qualitative difference between wailing and whining. Wailing is a cry for help against a backdrop of catastrophe. That's what Wall Street had. They cried for help, they got $700 billion dollars. Working people cry for help, poor people cry for help, they get very little. Whining is a cry of self-pity associated with a sentimental disposition. Wall Street whines when it's doing very well but they want more from the President. You see what I mean? The well-to-do groups whine when they have wealth privilege but want more from the President. Can you imagine Brother Barack Obama going to the Business Roundtable and saying stop grumbling, stop complaining, stop whining, stop crying? Never. What did he say to them? He said, I'm going to deliver for you. He said I'm sorry, I should of brought you a cake.
We have got 42% of our black children living in poverty. 22% we talked about before living in poverty. They have a right to cry. They have a right to have a legitimate grievance, so I think the President ought to apologize, I think he ought to ask for our forgiveness.
WEST: Yes, we've been subdued. The only persons who have really been out there and critical -- Tavis Smiley, myself and a few others. We get demonized, and keep in mind when he says African-American leaders, I want to make this very clear: I'm not a black leader. I'm a lover of black people. I'm not a leader of black people. I'm a leader of anybody concerned about poor people --
There is more, but this is the key part for this post.
A couple of things come to mind. First, the reference to the Business Roundtable. Here's a transcript of the first speech he gave to them in March, 2009. It seemed pretty firm, upbeat, determined. Here are his 2010 remarks, also upbeat, but focused more on health care reform. I can't find any speech of his in 2011, but he did speak to the US Chamber of Commerce, and he did suggest that if he had brought a fruitcake maybe they might have started on the right foot. It was a joke, but certainly ironic, given the millions the US Chamber spent to make sure he had a Congress he couldn't work with.
Also, TARP was a Bush policy that West is putting on Obama's head. So he's just wrong on that one. And I know for sure that President Obama has rapped those groups West mentioned on their knuckles for their own impatience. To me, the key phrase in the speech to the CBC was this one: "With patient and firm determination...". Regardless of what you think about the specific policies, I don't think anyone will argue that he comes at things with a great deal of patience, perhaps more than others would like. So what is West's point? And why doesn't he mention the expansion of health care to poor children, or the extension and expansion of the EITC as something he was able to do to help those in poverty?
I guess I'm a little confused by West's remarks and even more confused by what he expects. On the one hand, he's saying poverty and unemployment is higher among African-Americans than other communities. This is true. But on the other, he seems to be critical of any efforts to get business leaders to start hiring. Ok, there are differing opinions on this, but what I'm not hearing from Dr. West is what he thinks should be done.
My final thought goes to his remarks about how he is not a leader but loves black people, whereas black leaders don't love black people. Here is my question, phrased as best as I can: Isn't this President supposed to be the leader of all Americans? Wouldn't we expect the same from a white President? Should there be some sort of racial preference in leadership?
I don't have answers to these questions. But maybe you do.
Oh, I just received this via Twitter: Dr. West evidently left the MSNBC studios and headed over to join the Occupy Wall Street protests.
For reference, here is the excerpt from the President's CBC speech which he is most angry about (h/t TheGrio):
And I know at times that gets folks discouraged. I know. I listen to some of you all. (Laughter.) I understand that. And nobody feels that burden more than I do. Because I know how much we have invested in making sure that we're able to move this country forward. But you know, more than a lot of other folks in this country, we know about hard. The people in this room know about hard. (Applause.) And we don't give in to discouragement.
Throughout our history, change has often come slowly. Progress often takes time. We take a step forward, sometimes we take two steps back. Sometimes we get two steps forward and one step back. But it's never a straight line. It's never easy. And I never promised easy. Easy has never been promised to us. But we've had faith. We have had faith. We've had that good kind of crazy that says, you can't stop marching. (Applause.)
Even when folks are hitting you over the head, you can't stop marching. Even when they're turning the hoses on you, you can't stop. (Applause.) Even when somebody fires you for speaking out, you can't stop. (Applause.) Even when it looks like there's no way, you find a way -- you can't stop. (Applause.) Through the mud and the muck and the driving rain, we don't stop. Because we know the rightness of our cause -- widening the circle of opportunity, standing up for everybody's opportunities, increasing each other's prosperity. We know our cause is just. It's a righteous cause.
So in the face of troopers and teargas, folks stood unafraid. Led somebody like John Lewis to wake up after getting beaten within an inch of his life on Sunday -- he wakes up on Monday: We're going to go march. (Applause.)
Dr. King once said: "Before we reach the majestic shores of the Promised Land, there is a frustrating and bewildering wilderness ahead. We must still face prodigious hilltops of opposition and gigantic mountains of resistance. But with patient and firm determination we will press on." (Applause.)
So I don't know about you, CBC, but the future rewards those who press on. (Applause.) With patient and firm determination, I am going to press on for jobs. (Applause.) I'm going to press on for equality. (Applause.) I'm going to press on for the sake of our children. (Applause.) I'm going to press on for the sake of all those families who are struggling right now. I don't have time to feel sorry for myself. I don't have time to complain. I am going to press on. (Applause.)
I expect all of you to march with me and press on. (Applause.) Take off your bedroom slippers, put on your marching shoes. Shake it off. (Applause.) Stop complaining, stop grumbling, stop crying. We are going to press on. We've got work to do, CBC. (Applause.)