#1 President Obama: Not black enough?05-18-2011, 12:10 PMPresident Obama: Not black enough?
A self-appointed black leadership class that's been largely supplanted has begun focusing its ire on the president
By Melissa Harris-Perry
Professor Cornel West is President Obama's silenced, disregarded, disrespected moral conscience, according to Chris Hedges's recent column, "The Obama deception: Why Cornel West went ballistic." In a self-aggrandizing, victimology sermon deceptively wrapped in the discourse of prophetic witness, Professor West offers thin criticism of President Obama and stunning insight into the delicate ego of the self-appointed black leadership class that has been largely supplanted in recent years.
West begins with a bit of historical revision. West suggests that the President discarded him without provocation after he offered the Obama for America campaign his loyal service and prayers. But anyone with a casual knowledge of this rift knows it began during the Democratic primary not after the election. It began, not with a puffed up President, but when Cornel West’s “dear brother” Tavis Smiley threw a public tantrum because Senator Obama refused to attend Smiley's annual State of Black America. Smiley repeatedly suggested that his forum was the necessary black vetting space for the Democratic nominees. He needed to ask Obama and Clinton tough questions so that black America could get the answers it needed.
But black America was doing a fine job making up its own mind in the primaries and didn’t need Smiley’s blessing to determine their own electoral preferences. Indeed, when Smiley got a chance to hold candidate Clinton “accountable” he spent more time fawning over her than probing about her symbolic or substantive policy stances that impacted black communities. Fiercely loyal to his friend, Professor West chose sides and began to undermine candidate Obama is small and large ways. Candidate Obama ceased calling West back because he was in the middle of a fierce campaign and West’s loyalties were, at best, divided. I suspect candidate Obama did not trust his “dear brother” to keep the campaign secrets and strategies. I also suspect he was not inaccurate in his hesitancy.
West may have had principled, even prophetic reasons, for choosing this outsider position relative to Obama, but it is dishonest to later frame that choice as a betrayal on the part of the President. After what I had written about Senator Clinton during the campaign I wasn't expecting an offer from the State Department.
Furthermore, West’s sense of betrayal is clearly more personal than ideological. In Hedges's article West claims that a true progressive would always put love of the people above concern with the elite and privileged. Then he complains, “I couldn’t get a ticket [to the inauguration] with my mother and my brother. I said this is very strange. We drive into the hotel and the guy who picks up my bags from the hotel has a ticket to the inauguration... We had to watch the thing in the hotel.” Let me get this straight—the tenured, Princeton professor who collects five figures for public lectures was relegated to a hotel television while an anonymous hotel worker got tickets to the inauguration! What kind of crazy, mixed up class politics are these? Wait a minute…
05-18-2011, 12:17 PM
Another view of the West-Obama thing:
You are indeed right regarding Cornel West. He is a an articulate, well-read, pseudo-intellectual who plays the part of the black Yoda well, but is ironically very provincial. His world is literally black and white which limits his analytic powers and makes him ineffective as a true intellectual and impotent as a true force for change. Contrast this with Barack Hussein Obama.
Obama, is what we call, a TCK—A Third Culture Kid. TCK’s grow up as the children of missionaries, or as military brats, or as the children of businessmen. It means that you grew up during your early developmental years in a culture outside of your parents’ home culture.
TCK’s are usually unable to view the world in a simplistic dualistic way. On the contrary, they are usually over-achievers, get advanced degrees, and are infinitely curious about the world. They can accentuate different facets of their personality and experiences based on who they are talking to—and it’s not fake. This is the reason Obama really could connect and appreciate rural farmers in Illinois, fit in with the Harvard crowd, and work as an effective community organizer in Chicago’s South Side. Obama is the classic TCK. This is why he represents the new America so well—he is post-racial, globalized, and a great example of America’s own Third Cultural nature. It also helps to explain why he is so loathed by provincial Middle America.
Yet, you notice that Obama seems to deeply understand them better than they seem to understand themselves. He can be Kansan, Chicagoan, Bostonian, and fittingly really enjoys Hawaii. His key speeches including the Philadelphia race speech, his famous 2004 Democratic Convention speech, and his Cairo speech show that propensity to truly get all sides. This also helps to explain why he’s not a closet Muslim terrorist. He is the anti-thesis of Osama Bin Laden with his provincial, dualistic, desire to homogenize the world by creating a Muslim Caliphate. This is the exact opposite of who Obama is at his core. Osama looked for his father figure in the provincial world of 7th Century and 20th Century Arabia. Obama looked to go beyond his father’s provincial, naïve aspirations and became a little bit of everything.
The liberal label doesn’t fit Obama either. As you have pointed out, like Reagan or Thatcher, at his heart he is a pragmatist. Like a true TCK, he doesn’t romanticize any one culture or ideology. He understands that there is good or bad in everything. Yet another reason why he can also be called the anti-Bush who along with Cheney is trapped in a juvenile Manichaeism.
Look closely at Sarah Palin and George W. Bush. They are not just anti-intellectual but they are deeply provincial people that made sure not to expose themselves to much outside of their comfort zone. Sarah bounced from college to college unable to really fit in anywhere but Wasilla. Not even the Governor’s mansion felt like home to her so she left that too. Bush grew up in the upper crust East Coast and found his identity as a simple, “aw’ shucks” Texan who just knows what to do in his gut. He can be detached from the real world when necessary. TCK’s have no choice. They must engage the world.
This is one reason why I do not believe Sarah Palin will ever really run for President: She is deathly afraid of the world. She’s fine with fame and money (and pretending to be relevant assures the cash flow)—but she will always need to hide in the tundra from this complicated world. No surprise that on her recent trip to India, she mainly stayed in the hotel and the mall and got out of there as soon as possible.
Cornel West and Sarah Palin have a lot in common. They speak the language of a time gone by and really get very little of what is going on.
05-18-2011, 12:38 PM
I don't really see how this analysis even made it into print. Assuming this TCK profile even exists, it wouldn't apply to Obama. He didn't grow up in a third culture: he grew up in a tediously "diverse" state, in a ordinary middle-class household. I doubt those few years in Indonesia were more important to his development that all those many years in Hawaii.
Obama doesn't seem to have much insight into working class/middle class non-liberal Americans. The author has missed the mark on that assertion. Neither Palin nor Bush strike me as the fearful creatures this author sees them as. Whether you like them or not, they are assertive, confident players on a very large stage.
05-18-2011, 12:50 PM
05-18-2011, 01:43 PM
05-18-2011, 01:50 PM
- Join Date
- Apr 2011
- Lawrenceville, Georgia
Regardless of the legitimacy of TCK, I think the OP is incorrect in its application here because Obama does not exhibit the attributes she says...my observation is that he does not connect well with people and that that is beginning to bite him in the ass now.
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