18 May 2011

Debating Obama & His Policies

There has, over the past few weeks, been a set of fairly vituperative encounters among black intellectuals and politicians regarding the Obama administration. Not long ago there was the on-air dust up between Cornel West and Al Sharpton with the latter defending the Obama administration in the face of the former's frank criticisms. That prompted a visit to Princeton (West's place of employment) by interim head of the Democratic National Committee, Donna Brazile aimed at sorting out the issues.

Apparently the professor and the politico have agreed to disagree. West just has published this interview in which he remains resolutely critical of Obama and his policies. He characterizes the president as providing "a kind of black face of the DLC [Democratic Leadership Council]." That interview, in turn, has prompted this rejoinder in The Nation, with Melissa Harris-Perry coming to Obama's defense.

Much of this dispute is conducted in personalized, indeed psychologized terms. That is more or less wholly unhelpful. And all of the participants have substantial egos. That does not help either. But both of those things are, in my estimation, totally beside the point. It seems to me that on matters of substance West's criticisms of Obama's politics and policies are more or less right on point. Moreover, I think it is healthy to have critical debate in a party seemingly intent on running to the middle on virtually every issue. Because in that direction there is no help for those, regardless of color, who constitute the middle and working classes or the poor in the United States. And while Dr. West speaks in a colorful way that is not to everyone's liking, he regularly speaks up for those from whom the Democrats are turning away.

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