Cornel West and the Insular World of the Obama-Hating Left

Historians in the News
tags: Obama, Cornel West



The political subculture of anti-Obama leftists has entered a phase by this point in the Obama presidency where the truth of its worldview is so well-established to its own adherents that it requires no exposition. Tom Frank, an anti-Obama leftist, interviews Cornel West, another anti-Obama leftist, in a conversation so deeply marinated in shared assumptions that, at one point, both interviewer and interviewee agree that nobody disagrees with them. Frank asks West, “Is there anybody who thinks he’s progressive enough today? West replies, “Nobody I know. Not even among the progressive liberals.” What about maybe the 61 million people who voted for Mitt Romney? Some of them may even think Obama is too progressive.

West and Frank are certainly correct about one thing: Obama does not fully subscribe to their point of view, and he never has. When he ran as a pragmatist who understood the value of the market, Obama was not lying. A world where Cornel West could govern without any constraints would look very different from a world where Obama could govern without constraints. In that one sense, the left’s mistrust of Obama has a fully rational basis.

But West, and much of the American left, doesn’t merely believe that. It also believes that a world where Obama can govern without constraints is the actual world we live in, or, at least, a reasonable approximation thereof. More inspiring speeches, harder fighting, or some other unspecified application of willpower is all it would take to have forced Olympia Snowe to vote for a larger stimulus or Scott Brown to go along with tougher financial regulation. Because they cannot conceive of any limits to Obama's power, betrayal and haplessness are the only causes they can imagine for their distress. (West: "What I hear is that, '[Obama] pimped us.' I heard that a zillion times. 'He pimped us, brother West.'”)

The field of political science, with its firm grasp of multiple veto points, the limits of rhetoric, and other structural realities of the federal government, is an alien field to the anti-Obama left. Its chosen field is history. (Michael Kazin's anti-Obama polemic in the New Republic likewise stays away from political science and lashes Obama with historical counterexamples.) Their version of history offers hackneyed, romanticized tales rather than the real thing.




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