How Dr. Cornel West Is Hurting Bernie Sanders’ Presidential Chances
It is Super Tuesday and many election watchers are predicting that if Sanders doesn’t score big today he might as well try to figure out some other way to fight against evil American capitalism. Because it likely won’t be happening from the Oval office.
There have been a lot of reasons put forth as to why Sanders, whose message is a pretty populist one on the Left, is struggling in the polls. I won’t rehash all of the theories. I am certain that you have heard them all and have even cited some yourselves.
But as I mentioned before, Sanders waited too long into the campaign to try and win over one of the DNC’s biggest voting block: and that is African Americans.
Today, I’ll go a step further and say that not only has his bid for the White House suffered from waiting to long, but also from not understanding Black voters and how we think.
I mean how else could you explain having Dr. Cornel West out in both the press and in the road, stumping for him?
Don’t get me wrong: ideologically, they are very much alike. Both are anti-capitalist and advocates for the poor. Both take issue with America’s imperialism particularly around the issue of foreign policy and drones. And both offer strong race-critiques. On paper Dr. West is the perfect Black representation of his campaign.
But that’s on paper. And this is real life.
More specifically as reported by Sophia Tesfaye of Salon:
“Cornel West told Vice News last week that he feared many of Clinton’s most prominent African-American supporters had lost their way. The vocal Sanders supporter singled out Congressmen John Lewis and Jim Clyburn repeatedly.
“There’s no doubt that the great John Lewis of 50 years ago is different than the John Lewis today,” West asserted. “He’s my brother. I love him, I respect his personhood, but there’s no doubt he’s gone from a high moment of Martin Luther King-like struggle to now [a] neoliberal politician in a system that is characterized more and more by legalized bribery and normalized corruption. That’s what big money does to politics. And the Clinton machine is an example of that.”
West argued that “most black politicians these days are neoliberal politicians, so it’s almost natural for them to side with Hillary Clinton.” West said that Clyburn and Lewis had become “too well adjusted to Wall Street” and are now a part of a system “in which politicians are well adjusted to injustice owing to their ties to big money, big banks, and big corporations, and turning their backs, for the most part, to poor people and working people. Poor people and working people become afterthoughts.”
“But with the neoliberal era coming to a close, four months from now [when the party picks its nominee], you watch how the shift sets in,” West forewarned.”
That might be all and true about the former civil rights leaders but I’ll tell you one thing about Lewis: at least he was one of the 11 Congressional Black Causes members who voted against this now hotly debated Crime Bill of 1994. The same hotly debated bill that Sanders – West’s boy – voted for, even without the urging of “big money.”
But that’s not the only question mark I have with the Dr. West and Sanders pairing.
For all intents and purposes, Dr. West has been pretty adversarial to President Obama. And that has not boded well with many within the community who hold President Obama (and his family) in such high esteem.
In fact, here is just a small sampling of things West said during in his “critiques” of the Obama Administration:
In June of 2015, Dr. West told CNN, “Too many black people are n*ggerized. I would say the first black president has become the first n*ggerized black president.”
In an exclusive interview with Salon from 2014, Dr West called President Obama a “neoliberal opportunist.”
He has also called President Obama a “Rockefeller Republican in Blackface.”
In a 2012 appearance on C-Span, Dr. West spoke out against the idea of President Obama using Martin Luther King Jr.’s bible to be sworn in to his second term in office.
Keeping with the theme of what President Obama doesn’t deserve, Dr. West told Democracy Now in 2014, “That is why I tell my young brothers and sisters when they walk around with their little sweater Martin, Malcolm and Barack Obama, I say, ‘Please. That’s like Coltrane and Sarah Vaughan and Pat Boone. They are a very different tradition.’ We love brother Pat, but he doesn’t belong on that shirt and Barack Obama doesn’t belong on that shirt.”
And that is not even including the whole Inauguration ticket debacle of 2008…
Likewise, when he is not challenging President Obama he is getting in very public tiffs with other Black intellectuals (and Administration supporters) including Dr. Melissa Harris Perry, Michael Eric Dyson and most recently Ta-Neishi Coates.
In some respects, I get why Sanders would want him on the team. He can use his as a surrogate to challenge Obama’s record in ways that Sanders can’t do on his own without alienating the people he is trying to appeal to. More specifically, Black Millennials voters who have a strong affinity for Dr. West as well as a deep personal respect for President Obama.
But at such a critical junction of the race – and when his campaign is already starting at a deficit in terms of all demographics within the Black vote – you do have to wonder about the strategic value in paling around with a man who turns a large segment of the Black community completely off.