Real Talk on Cornel West for President
Great on diagnosis, thin on solutions, unreal aesthetics
Dr. Cornel West just announced he’s running as the presidential candidate for the People’s Party, not the Democratic Party. His candidacy responds to something I’ve been monitoring in working-class politics, which is deeply dissatisfied with both Biden and Republicans.
My pundit brain wants to tell you all the ways he’s unelectable, because he’s unelectable. But Trump was unelectable once upon a time, and I happen to love Cornel West as a public intellectual (doesn’t mean I agree with his judgments, fwiw).
So here are some contradictory thoughts.
Dr. West cuts a radical figure, but, for the most part, speaks what I recognize as the truth about history. He wants to use the resources and authorities of the American state to correct a political status quo that he depicts as extremist and favoring the few over the many. Is that radical? Radically correct.
His politics is grounded in an understanding of a) the history of racial capitalism and b) a belief that we’re all connected. That’s an ideal foundation for a leader, but it’s certainly not enough.
A few years back, Dr. West had a famous but stupid beef with Michael Eric Dyson, which was really about the aesthetics of radical versus progressive politics (and perhaps narcissism). He also went hard in the paint on Obama while the man was still in the White House, and for that he garnered a lot of controversy, especially in the Black community.
But time has kind of proven West right about Obama, no? Much as I loved Obama at the time, he ended up being a neoliberal shill.
Anyway, there’s something to be said for a candidate who can see clearly that a) Trump is a neo-fascist, b) environmental degradation is a human travesty that must be urgently addressed, c) American inequality is a priority problem, and d) the interests and logic of the national security state are not shared by most Americans.
The problem is his radical aesthetic is a turnoff to most Americans. Liberals will call him a grifter, because, well, he might actually be a grifter (it’s not clear if he’s paid for it). He’s associated himself with some very not-good people and orgs. And, much as I’m sympathetic to some of his views of domestic politics, his foreign policy views are pretty…underdeveloped.
I like much of what he represents, and I wish him luck. But is he the right representative for workers and the disenfranchised? Not if you want him to unite the left, or perhaps even the country.
Here’s my take.