After the 2008 presidential election, Barack Obama told the assembled crowd that he was president to all America and not just his legion of supporters who worked tirelessly on his campaign. Shortly after taking office, racists began murmuring that President Obama was pursuing a legislative agenda to repay his black race and punish white people. This past week, the debate was joined by Dr. Cornel West who assailed the president for not fulfilling his campaign promises and being a “black mascot of Wall Street oligarchs and a black puppet of corporate plutocrats. And now he has become head of the American killing machine and is proud of it.” Dr. West’s comments would be excusable coming from a radical extremist intent on widening the racial divide between the president and African Americans, but West is an intelligent professor who should know better than to invoke the race card just because Obama is not president to Black Americans exclusively.
Apparently Dr. West harbors animus against the president for some perceived slight over an inauguration invitation, and joined by Tavis Smiley, has mercilessly demeaned President Obama over every single policy decision he has made since taking office. West has challenged Obama’s adherence to progressive standards and offensively questioned the President’s degree of racial purity by asserting that the president “has a certain fear of free black men” because, “As a young brother who grows up in a white context, brilliant African father, he’s always had to fear being a white man with black skin. All he has known culturally is white. . . . When he meets an independent black brother, it is frightening.”
Dr. West must be aware that it is a slippery slope to challenge the degree of blackness of any bi-racial individual, because despite West’s all-knowing prescience and wisdom, the president’s life-experiences are solely those of Barack Obama and not Cornel West. The esteemed professor can only speak to what it is to be an African-American intellectual and not a bi-racial man, and certainly not the President of the United States of America. Perhaps if President Obama had anointed Dr. West the crown prince of America, the slander and attacks on the president would never have materialized, but alas, Dr. West is not a crown prince or any kind of politician. It is apparent that West forgets his own admonition to white America that they will never understand the experience of being African-American and therefore not presume to speak for or opine about being Black in America.
The result of West’s comments about Obama has been a spirited defense of the president by the Reverend Al Sharpton, Professor Melissa Harris-Perry, and Jonathan Capehart who understand the life experiences as African-Americans. Capehart in particular compared West’s remarks to the birther movement by questioning the president’s inherent blackness and indulging in the “Obama-as-other” meme white bigots perpetuate with the help of the Republican Party. Whatever West’s motivation, he has joined the ranks of liberals using divisive tactics that may seal America’s fate if not stopped.
Dr. West’s outburst against the president is insignificant if not for the chorus of disparate groups on the left who assail Obama for every imagined slight borne of self-importance and lack of unity America needs now more than ever. Indeed, even after the 2010 midterm elections where anger at the passage of the Affordable Healthcare Act and regulatory reforms contributed to Republicans taking control of the House of Representatives and numerous governorships and majorities in state legislatures, there are rumblings of primary challenges to the president in 2012.
Advocates of a public option in the healthcare law sat out the 2010 midterm elections because the president did not insist on a single-payer or public option feature that although desirable, would have doomed the health law to stagnation in committee. Ezra Klein pointed out that if the president had demanded a public option, conservative Democrats would have balked and the measure would have been dead on arrival reminiscent of the Clinton health care proposal. There are still public option advocates on the left who will sit out the 2012 elections like spoiled 7th graders who did not get the video game they wanted for Christmas.
There are members of the gay community who are incensed that Obama has not waved his scepter and commanded Congress to make same-sex marriage a Constitutional law and are threatening to abstain from voting in 2012 like they did in 2010. Anti-war advocates did not vote in 2010 because Obama did not withdraw all fighting forces from Iraq and Afghanistan on his first day in office, and their inaction contributed to Republican victories in the midterms. When the president failed to close and abandon Guantanamo Bay, he was criticized and some on the left withheld their votes adding to Republican victories in 2010. Some of the professional left has used the arrest of Bradley Manning as a reason to attack President Obama, and are relentless in their baseless accusations that the president is responsible for torturing the intelligence analyst even though the soldier admitted to stealing State secrets and passing them to foreign agents.
The list of groups that oppose the President for perceived slights is inexhaustible and grows daily despite the damage Republicans are doing to this country. It is true that Obama has not been all things to all people, but there are two minor aspects that the disparate groups fail to recognize. The president is not a monarch or dictator, and he is the president for all Americans. Many on the left mock teabaggers for their ignorance of the legislative process and the Constitution, but they too misunderstand the limits of power of the presidency. The misguided belief that President Obama can or will fulfill every whim of every group contributed to Republicans taking power in 2010 and the country is perilously close to becoming an oligarchy because a fair number of Democrats failed to vote.
Although President Obama received much of his support in 2008 from Independents, he and Democrats are going to need all the support they can get in 2012 or Republicans will gain control of the Senate as well as increase their majority in the House. The Republican propaganda machine is well-funded and despite the weak presidential field, conservatives are angry and driven to win at all costs in 2012. In several states, voter suppression measures are being enacted that will give advantages to Republican candidates, and anti-union legislation is meant to weaken support for Democratic candidates. Even with Republicans losing support among voters, their base is still energized to defeat Obama and the last thing the country needs is another Republican sweep in 2012.
Cornel West may have legitimate ideological differences and complaints about the president, but using race to drive a wedge between Obama and African-Americans is irresponsible and in bad taste. It is one thing to differ on policy, but there is no excuse for someone with Dr. West’s stature implying that the president’s race is relevant in governance. West is aware that there are myriad racists who are making Obama’s presidency about race so his foray into the field puts his character in question. If there was ever a time for Americans to stand together against the right-wing takeover of the entire government, it is now. If all Democrats, liberals, and progressives unite, the Republicans have little chance of maintaining their majority in the House much less take the Senate. Constructive criticism is good in a free society, but degradation of the president because he is not Black enough is beyond comprehension. Republicans are searching for any advantage in 2012 and the last thing liberals need is for some of their own to supply advantages to defeat Democrats. It doesn’t matter if it is the anti-war crowd or Cornel West, not supporting the president is tantamount to voting for a Republican takeover and either group knows better.