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Feb. 1 2010 - 11:27 am | 560 views | 1 recommendation | 5 comments

Cornel West to Obama: ‘How deep is your love for poor and working people?’

Prior to last week’s State of the Union address, Princeton University professor, and longtime social activist, Cornel West released a video expressing his disappointment in President Obama’s lack of action on behalf of America’s poor and working class citizens. In the video, West invokes a firm tone: “Despite your brilliance, and despite your charisma, I’m disappointed when it comes to the fundamental question, which is a question of priorities, a question of urgency: How deep is your love for poor and working people?”

West’s question, which bluntly calls out Obama’s populist campaign platform, is followed by brief acknowledgment of the challenges he is faced with as president.

“You are in a tough situation, I understand that… but if you cannot keep alive the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and Myles Horton and Dorothy Day and Cesar Chavez, in the states, and connect it to the empowerment of those Frantz Fanon called the wretched of the earth, you will end up just another colorful caretaker of an empire in decline, and a culture in decay.”

These are harsh words from West, but words that many progressives have been echoing for months. Today, with a year of political turmoil at his back, 2010 can potentially define or destroy Obama. Republicans have proven they have no plans of working with him. If anything, they seem to be following a rule that mandates opposition at every front. So why is Obama still governing as if we, as a country, are in an era of post-partisan politics? And to make matters worse, his own party, the ever-useless Democrats, have shown their absolute inability to be effective leaders. In his address last week, Obama expressed his frustration with both sides. But, as always, his actions, or lack thereof, will truly determine how badly he wants to “fix Washington.”

West, in his critique, ends with a message that is by no means novel, but worth repeating:

“I believe, like Martin King, that democracy can be reinvigorated, revitalized, but it takes courage. You can’t just cut deals, you have to take a stand, you have to have backbone.”


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  1. collapse expand

    And you have to be willing to lose every upcoming election as the price of standing up for your principles. Is Obama, or his party, ready to do so? I think not.

  2. collapse expand

    There is a fundamental point missed here: Politicians today are whores first. Until the balance of power is returned to the people and away form the monied interests, the likes of GWB and BHO will occupy the highest office in the land, selling their policies to the highest bidders.

  3. collapse expand

    “You can’t just cut deals, you have to take a stand, you have to have backbone.”

    This is what some of us have been saying to the Democrats for years. Instead of looking at some polls to find out where the “middle” is, why not stand for something, explain it, defend it, fight for it, push for it, and get those in the “middle” to come to your side? You know – why not lead?!? If the Republicans are the party of “no,” the Democrats are the party of “can’t.” I have no use for either of them.

    For Caitlin – WATCH OUT! By typing those words, you risk having the rage of the pragmatists brought down upon your head!

    They will say you’re politically naive. They’ll say you’re obstructing reform by supporting reform. They’ll say you probably voted for Nader and blame you for the Bush years. They’ll say you can’t do anything if you don’t win – as they win and continue to do nothing.

    I hope that you, like I, will say, “F**k them!” Principles matter – and compromise should be the tactic of last resort, not the starting point.

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    I am a writer, editor, and blogger who lives and works in the once-decaying heart of America's Rust Belt (i.e. Pittsburgh, PA). My work focuses on subculture, crime, mental health, race, class, and creativity.

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