Tags: Chris Hedges, Cornel West, Melissa Harris-Perry, Obama, Travis Smiley
By Zoltan Zigedy
What the voters wanted was unquestionably significant change. What they were promised was change. Whether change will come from the Obama administration is – at best – questionable….
And every indication is that the Obama administration will continue down the path of advancing imperial interests and privileging corporate America.” ZZ’s Blog, 11-06-08
“Has Obama betrayed his progressive promise? Obama never made a progressive promise. The idea of Obama as a water-bearer for liberal or progressive reform came not from Obama’s mouth, but from the sheer wishes and dreams of the left…”
In fairness, Obama has betrayed no one. His vast centrist following and the Democratic Party old-guard have shown no fear of Obama’s perceived “progressive” agenda, an agenda that appears to be more and more in the minds of a self-deluding left. ZZ’s Blog, 12-09-08
Liberals and the celebrity left are in a catfight over their relationship to the Obama Administration and it’s not a pretty thing. Chris Hedges stirred the pot recently with an interview of Cornel West on Truthdig, augmented with his own angry voice, denouncing Obama: The Obama Deception: Why Cornel West Went Ballistic. The interview circulated widely on the internet, generating discussion and controversy like few other internet commentaries.
Hedges postures the Obama “deception” as a Shakespearean tragedy and West depicts it as a personal affront. While many of my left brothers and sisters have hailed this personal mea culpa and attack on Obama as welcome, joining those sending the interview far and wide, they have only added to the tiresome finger pointing that advances our struggles very little.
West earns no thanks for placing the character flaws of the current President, as he reveals them, at the center of the political universe. It is especially embarrassing that he cites the personal slights – the absence of inaugural tickets, missing handshakes, unreturned phone calls, official jabs – as the fulcrum of his argument.
It really is not about Cornel West.
At one point, Hedges senses that the interview has gotten too personal. He writes: “But there was also the betrayal on the political and ideological level.” Yet a few lines later, he returns to the personal: “Obama and West’s last personal contact took place a year ago at a gathering of the Urban League when, he says, Obama ‘cussed me out.’”
In its essence, the interview is an indulgence in Cornel West’s personal pique — a People magazine-style profile breathlessly hanging on the words of one of our “stars.” If Obama had proved to be everything that the “hopey-changey” left had forecast, West’s complaints would now be viewed as they are: an irrelevant exercise in self-indulgence. This interview is unbecoming of Chris Hedges, who has shown a deep understanding of the issues and has put his own body on the line to stop the war and fight corporate power.
Predictably, The Nation magazine – the most prominent periodical on the left and an early champion of the Obama-as-savior perspective – unleashed its star TV-commentator upon the Hedges/West interview (Cornel West v. Barack Obama, The Nation blog). Melissa Harris-Perry grasped the opportunity afforded by West’s “ballistic” personal tirade and lunched on West’s celebration of self-worth. She wrote: “I can tell the difference between a substantive criticism and a personal attack. It is clear to me that West’s ego, not the health of American democracy, is the wounded creature in this story.”
While establishing her own modest, tepid criticisms of the Obama administration, she further charges West with an unholy alliance with TV personality Tavis Smiley, a counter-charge of the same irrelevance as West’s outburst.
What do we ask of those who promoted the mistaken view that Barack Obama was the second-coming of FDR? Do we want a public tirade denouncing Obama? Do we expect a period of self-flagellation or contrition? Should those who eagerly signed onto “Progressives for Obama” be taken to the woodshed?
None of these options shows even a measure of political maturity. The battle then, and the battle now, is a battle of ideas and not personalities. Revealingly, the exchange between Hedges/West and Harris-Perry says little about the way forward. Absorbed in a clash of celebrity egos, they are more intent on settling scores than mapping a way to mount a counter-offensive to the relentless advances of monopoly capital.
A left constructed on wishful thinking and opportunistic campaign promises is little better than a right based upon fantasy and eighteenth-century dogma. But it is not helpful to promote the cult of personality that has become so prevalent in our culture.
In today’s climate, charges of “betrayal” or “deception” are hollow. They reflect a misreading of the history and social role of monopoly capital and its bankrupt two-party system; they obscure the deep mechanisms that sustain the capitalist system. We desperately need acts of resistance and not web battles between our luminaries.
For those who want to go beyond the trivial, beyond the wars on the web, the road is clear: look at what our brothers and sisters are at this moment doing in Greece, Portugal and Spain. Faced with the austerity that will soon visit the US, they are in the streets, anchored by militant labor movements that understand the stakes and confront the enemy: capital. It’s time for our own labor movement to go beyond electoral maneuvers and bring the fight to the streets in the US. We should help them figure out how to get there.
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