Monday, November 24, 2008

Worthy of Note

Posting this here, without much more comment -- too much to do right now, I'm afraid.

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?


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—


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.


Daktari said...

Juicy tidbits. Don't know that I have much to comment on. Although Cornel West has always made me shift in my seat a bit for reasons I never quite understood. He looks straight out of the 70s, he talks like no one I've ever heard. I never understood his calling everyone Brother. I have this friend, who every time he talks to a black man, calls him "my brother". Something about that makes me mad. Don't ask me why. I'm rambling now.

In any event, I keep thinking I'm going to dig into this West guy, so I go to his official website and it smacks me in the face why you like him so much:

"West was an influential force in developing the storyline for the popular Matrix movie trilogy and has served as its official spokesperson, as well as playing a recurring role in the final two films."

Ahhh ha.

J said...


Actually, his role with the Matrix is on the bubble for me. It was cool to see him there as an elder, and it was fine/cool for him to talk about it, but as I've said before with some friends, he's fantastic, but the Brother believes his own press too much. It makes me squirm when he talks about reaching out to the next generation -- he has a rap CD from some years ago. It's not as cringe-worthy as adults talking to the next generation usually is, but it's still a little bit.

That said, your view of him is interesting. He certainly has elements of another era about him, but of course crazy 'fros may've started in the 60s but he's hardly the only one sporting one now. Perhaps the only Ivy League professor, though.

It's interesting that he speaks like no one you've ever heard of -- his cadence and diction are quite "classically" that of the black preacher. His analytical literature background makes the details a little different, but he's basically a black preacher in his speech.

Is your friend who calls people "My brother" black or white? The brotherhood and sisterhood between blacks goes back, even before the civil rights era I'd guess, though don't hold me to it. I was just telling my parents that every time I go to Brazil I miss the fact that there's a tradition among African-Americans of acknowledging each other in public, regardless of whether you know them. This community feeling makes me happy and I miss it when I leave the country.

Cornel West comes from this school of brotherhood/sisterhood I'm guessing, but either as an intellectual or a humanist, he doesn't confine it to black people, which I think is inspired. It bothers me when people use it as artifice, but West, to me, sounds genuine every time he says it.

Anyway, the reason I like West so much is that he is, to my mind, an eloquent and passionate modern advocate for civil rights, universally -- gay, straight, white, black -- with the additional benefit that he also is a black anti-imperialist, something you don't see much even among black public intellectuals. And I tend to think his analyses are brilliant.

If you want a taste of why I like him so much, simply read "Democracy Matters," a brilliant book imho. Cornel West is, to make a crude crude analogy, the Black Noam Chomsky (or Noam Chomsky is the white Cornel West), a brilliant analyst whose analyses I largely agree with and whose patent humanism I have a near-spiritual affinty with.
Perhaps being black, I know more people who actually still continue the tradition of calling each other "brother/sister"? (And Cornel actually does preach, I think he's ordained in something. Brother/sisterhood has that additional source, then, in the black church tradition of calling each other this.)

Daktari said...

I wasn't talking about his cadence...that is easy enough to spot. I was talking about his ideas. Ok, maybe I was talking about his cadence a little bit. I mean, he talks less like a black preacher to me than one of those jive-talking, leisure-suit wearing, basketball players that they parodied in those Airplane movies. Actually, I think it's the combination of his ideas, his intellectualism, and his cadence. You mean to tell me that you don't find the general aura about this guy to be a bit....odd? In any event, I admitted earlier to not having a thorough understanding of the good Doctor Brother, and you can rest assured that my opinion is based on a paucity of exposure and a snap decision.

My friend is black. Invariably, he does this to someone in a service position. Nonetheless, when he says "my brother" it sounds disingenuous and leaves me with a sense that he is patronizing those with whom he is speaking. Although I think that is far from his intent.

I hope things are going well for you, thesis-wise and otherwise. I've missed our conversations. I've been a bit melancholy of late and need something to get seriously pissed about to cast off this cloak.

J said...

Hmm... I suppose I could see the parallel to jive-talking basketball players. He's sometimes more like that and sometimes less. He certainly is different, but having followed him somewhat since I saw him on Book TV ca., I don't know, 1999? 1998? he's become thoroughly naturalized to me. I seem to remember finding him weird, but what kept me fascinated was that he talked (somewhat) like antiquated jivers but with that incredible depth. It probably helped that one of the first times I saw him, I think he made some point that was one of those where you're yelling at the TV, "Why hasn't anyone pointed BLAH out!!!?" and then he pointed "Blah" out.

Thesising goes apace. It's the final countdown. I gotta get back to it right now actually. I've missed our convos too. And I agree, being single is suck (in response to your blog post).