A Wall Street President
Parmbir Gill: Cornel, you campaigned for Obama in 2008 but unlike many other critical supporters of the President, your critique of his policies eventually eclipsed your support as his first term unfolded. And as a result you’ve found yourself in confrontation with former comrades – but still brother – like Michael Eric Dyson, Al Sharpton and others, who remain allied to the Obama regime while purporting to be critical of it from within.
Cornel West: You don’t see too much criticism coming from either one of them though! (laughs). I think they’ve sold their soul for a mess of Obama pottage!
PG: Right, and it’s obvious that these confrontations have led many in the mainstream American press to denounce you, but even then your popularity among poor and working people in America and across the world continues to grow. How do you account for that?
CW: Well, one important thing to keep in mind is that in the 65 events that I did, at each stop I would tell them that we must bring Reaganism to a close – McCain and Palin were the last moments of Reaganite policy (unregulated markets, indifference towards the poor, stagnating wages) – and that if Obama won, I would break dance in the afternoon and be his major critic the next morning. That’s how I ended every speech. And so I broke dance in the afternoon [when Obama won in 2008] because we did stop McCain and Palin. But the next morning I knew the social forces behind him (Wall Street and so forth) needed to be called into question. So when I went after Larry Summers, went after Tim Geithner, went after Gary Gensler and all the Wall St. folk who inhabited his space, his cabinet, Rahm Emanuel, his chief of staff, and so forth, they [his supporters] said ‘you’re turning on the President!’. I said ‘no, I’m just being consistent. I’m being true to what I said’. But then that’s where the demonization set in. But, you know, that goes with the territory.
PG: Was there a break-dance this November?
CW: God, no! He’s had four years and he’s proved himself to be a Wall St. President, he’s proved himself to be imperial to the core, he’s proved himself to be a war criminal. And you have to call that for what it is. And people say ‘oh you hatin’ ’ and I say ‘I’m a Christian. I hate the deed; I don’t hate the person’, because he has the potential to change. Malcolm X was a gangster for a long time; he was wrong, he changed and he became a great freedom fighter. All of us have the capacity to change, you see. And so in that sense, you know, as a Christian, ‘you love your enemies’ which means you better have some! (laughs) Because if you take a stand for poor and working people, you gonna’ have some enemies! That was part of what Jesus had in mind – if you go through life with no enemies, you’re probably not living a good life. You’re going to have enemies if you take a stance. And, the question about loving them is not sadomasochistic: you’re not loving your oppressors because they’re beating you down but because they’re still human beings and you know you have the capacity, inside of you, to actually engage in those same kinds of vicious forms of revenge, envy, domination, hatred and so forth. And therefore that allows a self-critique within your own soul. But, you know, I don’t want to get too theological here but the point is that it’s been a challenge. But what’s interesting now is that more and more people are coming around. I gave a talk in San Francisco with 4,000 people; in New York, 3,000 people. You think, ‘wow, this thing is getting bigger and bigger and bigger!’.