From July 28, 2008 Democracy Now!:
Remarks by journalist Ryan Lizza
RYAN LIZZA: Look, you have to remember, Obama was from Hyde Park. It’s one the most liberal State Senate districts in Illinois. He could have been as left-wing, as liberal as he wanted. But he wasn’t. He was always—and, you know, there are various reasons he wasn’t. I think genuinely he’s—he was a little to the right of some of his constituents. But I also believe that he had his eye on higher office, and he was careful not to be pigeonholed as too far out on the left.
And his speech at the antiwar rally is a good example of that. And just like redistricting, I think you can argue that if he hadn’t opposed the war in Iraq, he would not have been a plausible presidential candidate, because that was the key distinction, of course, with Hillary Clinton. But the speech was not a—what you might call a typical antiwar speech. He started off by talking about wars that he supported: the Civil War—he talked in almost glorious terms about the Civil War and World War II. Now, nobody opposes the Civil War and World War II, so they’re not exactly the riskiest things to support. But he was in front of a pretty, you know, partially pacifist crowd, and it is an antiwar rally, and he was very careful to point out that—where he disagreed with folks in that crowd. In other words, he was trying to push off the left a little bit. He was trying not to be defined as strictly an antiwar candidate.
At the same time, he made a—if you read it today, it still stands up very well. He made a very powerful case against the Iraq war at a time when a lot of Democrats weren’t doing that. But there were certainly some politics in mind. And if you talk to some of the people who were in that audience that day, one of the common things you hear is, “Wow, this guy is not just talking to us, he’s talking to either some statewide or national crowd. This speech seems pointed for the—seems more like for the history books than just for us here at this antiwar rally.” And this comes up throughout Obama’s political history. He often had his eye on the next rung of the ladder, if you know what I mean.
Also, balanced, interesting, and challenging comments from Cornel West on DN! here.
AMY GOODMAN: Who else would you like to see in President Obama’s cabinet?
CORNEL WEST: In terms of various other positions?
AMY GOODMAN: Sure.
CORNEL WEST: God, that’s a good question. I mean, I haven’t really thought about it. I just want to see some progressives. I just want to see some folk who are willing to take a stand for working people, take a stand for poor people, willing to talk about poverty. I mentioned some of economists themselves—
AMY GOODMAN: Right.
CORNEL WEST: —the Kuttners and the others, but I don’t have a—
AMY GOODMAN: How about your colleague at Princeton University, Paul Krugman?
CORNEL WEST: Oh, Paul Krugman. Oh, my god. Yes, indeed, indeed. Paul is probably even a little bit too progressive and prophetic. He probably needs to stay outside, like myself, and be Socratic and prophetic and just tell the truth to the people in power. But he’s my very dear brother and comrade, and of course I salute his Nobel Prize. It’s rare that you see a progressive economist receiving a Nobel Prize in that way.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, why is it that the names you’ve just named of progressives are not being bandied about in any way as possible people in his cabinet?
CORNEL WEST: That’s a good question.
AMY GOODMAN: And the names that you named, like Larry Summers, Robert Rubin, these are the closest advisers to Barack Obama.
CORNEL WEST: You know, I fear that Brother Barack might be challenged by what Bill Clinton was. When you have been an outsider to the establishment, you want to make the establishment feel secure, and therefore, you want to recycle names that the establishment feels are legitimate names. And therefore, you’re reluctant to step out too far, because you’ll be unable to proceed and unable to govern with a smoothness that you think ought to be characteristic of your regime. And so, he ends up selecting people who the mainstream are going to herald as legitimate, rather than make that break and acknowledge this is a new day, and it ought to be the age of everyday people, the age of ordinary people. That’s what I think. And it’s ironic, because there’s a sense in which Brother Barack Obama might be reluctant to step into the new age of Obama and remains looking backward to the end of the Clinton moment. And I say, no, we need to break free. Now, it could be like FDR: he’s just reluctant, and we’ll have to push him. And that’s fine.
AMY GOODMAN: And how will that pushing take place, do you think, with such tremendous passion—
CORNEL WEST: We’ve got to organize—yes.
AMY GOODMAN: —supporters—passionate supporters of Barack Obama, who pushed him from the outside?
CORNEL WEST: That’s right.
AMY GOODMAN: Now that he is the state, how do people organize?
CORNEL WEST: Well, we use, in many ways, his own words. He says that he wants the bottoms up. That’s fine. We organize, we mobilize. We don’t look simply for a top down. The Clintonites have often been top down. It’s the bottom up. We organize, we mobilize. We consolidate our organizations. And in the end, of course, we may have to take to the streets. That’s how people’s power is expressed, but it’s expressed in a critical and, for me, in a loving way.
I do still support Brother Barack Obama gaining access to the White House, because he was the best that America could do at this particular moment in the midst of imperial occupation in Iraq, war in Afghanistan, financial Katrina, legacy of Katrina in New Orleans, wealth inequality, dilapidated housing in chocolate cities, disgraceful school systems, unacceptable levels of unemployment and underemployment, not enough access to healthcare for fellow citizens across race and region, not enough access to childcare. At this moment, the best America could do was Brother Barack Obama, liberal, centrist.
Will he govern like a progressive Lincoln? Will he triangulate like Clinton? Will he be an experimentalist like FDR? Those are the challenges. I hope he’s a progressive Lincoln. I plan to be—aspire to be the Frederick Douglasses against, to put pressure on him.