Apr 19, 2011

 
 
 
 
Cornel West is turning up the heat on President Barack Obama. 

West, the outspoken Princeton University professor and civil rights activist, is unabashedly unloading on Obama, and he doesn't seem to care if the White House is offended.

Once an eager supporter of the president, West has turned on Obama and refuses to hold his fire. He accuses Obama of not doing enough to uplift the America's black citizens. He called Obama a "black mascot" for Wall Street and described the president as a weak leader.

"I just haven't seen the kind of backbone," West told Politico Monday. "I just haven't seen the real spine, not just at the level of rhetoric, but in execution."

That's tough talk from West, who enthusiastically backed Obama in 2008 and helped elect Obama as America's first black president. But two years later, West has become one of the president's most vocal critics, insisting that Obama is a poor advocate for underserved communities and people of color. 

"It's not just President Obama, but it's the whole [White House] team," West said. "They just tend to keep distance from black folk, politically" until election time; "then they come running back."

"There's too much social misery out there, man," West added. "The last thing we need is a weak and feeble reaction to the right wing." 

The "backbone" reference was especially harsh – even for West – but the scathing critique does reflect real sentiment among some frustrated African-Americans who agree with West but prefer not to criticize Obama in public. 

Some black professionals have told BlackAmericaWeb.com privately that they are livid about being asked to help raise an estimated $1 billion for Obama's re-election campaign at a time when so many African-Americans are out of work, behind on their bills and struggling to pay their home mortgages. 

And others question whether voting for Obama in 2012 will actually translate into jobs.  

"Are we voting for Obama simply because he's black?" one black professional asked. "Or are we voting for him because we honestly believe he can help make a difference in our lives? The jury is still out."

Meanwhile, the White House is puzzled about West's recent outbursts, and for the moment, officials have decided to ignore West and not respond publicly.

Administration officials are privately hoping that West will calm down because they realize he has a loyal black following. Some inside the administration are also questioning why West has taken his "moral outrage" with Obama to the media instead of meeting with White House officials to clear the air behind closed doors.
    
West's stinging criticism of Obama is a result of Obama's controversial deal with Republicans to cut $38 million in spending from the federal budget. West – and other black activists – viewed Obama's budget talks as capitulating to the GOP instead of standing his ground. Many of the budget cuts to social programs will adversely impact African-Americans, many of whom are already vulnerable as a result of a crippled economy.

Obama's solid approval rating among African-Americans slipped five percentage points to 85 percent last month, according to a new Gallup poll — the lowest rating since Obama's inauguration in 2008.

 

He [Cornel West] told POLITICO he questions whether the White House mounted an "aggressive" fight against the abortion and school vouchers policy riders, adding, "I have no problem holding the president accountable" for it and other concerns of the black community.

While vowing to bring national attention to Washington's plight, he carefully avoided blaming Obama. But said he understands why others might not be as understanding, adding, "We need to have that discussion."

But West was unmoved, pointing to Obama's failure to tackle juvenile justice reform, his deal to extend the Bush-era upper-income tax cuts and the administration's hair-trigger firing of Shirley Sherrod, a black Agriculture Department employee who was dismissed after a videotape surfaced showing her apparently making racially inflammatory remarks. The videotape was later discredited, and the White House apologized, but West said the damage had already been done to Sherrod and the black community.

"We could just go on and on," West said, dismissing as "hypersensitive" Obama's apparent reluctance to being seen by white moderate voters as a strong advocate for black people. "That's the kind of moral outrage I have, and it's not the kind of thing that will in any way be appeased by one speech."

Back in Washington, black political figures such as Gray and Norton are walking a fine line between channeling the anger of their constituents and absolving Obama of blame.

A few days after his arrest, Gray hit the local airwaves, urging the president to "stand up" for his city; Norton, who has represented Washington in Congress for 20 years, wants her constituents to follow Gray's lead and hit the streets in protest. Anger at the deal, she told POLITICO, was "boiling over everywhere I went" in the city.

"We're giving politicians in our own party a pass," including the president, if Washington residents don't speak up, Norton said. But she emphasized that Republicans who pushed for the deal "are the real villains in this."

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, sounded a similar theme: While acknowledging that Obama can do more for African Americans, he said the president "has to balance a multitude of different issues and concerns. When he can lift up or promote issues that are unique to the African-American community, he has tried to do so, and he will continue to do so."

Nevertheless, the budget deal with Republicans left a bitter aftertaste, and "there's no doubt we would have preferred a different outcome," Cleaver said. The president may have had no choice, he added, but "we'll never know. We weren't in the room."

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