Leading Black Activists Spar over Obama's Policies

Michael Eric Dyson’s recent takedown of Cornel West in the New Republic pulled no punches, chastising the outspoken academic and media commentator for his often personal attacks on critics. As Dyson says in the the article, “West is still a Man of Ideas, but those ideas today are a vain and unimaginative repackaging of his earlier hits.”

It seems things are getting personal.

West is Dyson’s former mentor and friend of more than 35 years. While promoting his recent book, “Black Prophetic Fire,” West argued “the Sharptons, the Melissa Harris-Perrys, and the Michael Eric Dysons…end up being these cheerleaders and bootlickers for the president, and I think it’s a disgrace when it comes to the black prophetic tradition of Malcolm and Martin.”

Dyson counter punches and ends his New Republic article by saying, “Now [West] lumbers into his future, punch-drunk from too many fights unwisely undertaken, facing a cruel reality: His greatest opponent isn’t Obama, Sharpton, Harris-Perry, or me. It is the ghost of a self that spits at him from his own mirror.”

But it isn’t only the personal attacks that are at issue here. West is a vocal critic of the presidency of Barack Obama, and most of Dyson’s New Republic article addresses West’s vicious attacks of the President. For example, West has called President Obama “a black mascot of Wall Street oligarchs and a black puppet of corporate plutocrats.” After the shooting of death of Trayvon Martin, West called Obama “a global George Zimmerman” due to the President’s continued use of drone attacks in Pakistan.

Back in 2011, just before President Obama started campaigning for a second term, Cornel West spoke with To the Best of Our Knowledge while he and Tavis Smiley were on a bus tour of the US. During the interview, Cornell West gave a much more nuanced, and deeper, response to his criticism of President Obama.

“There’s no doubt that the election of a variant and charismatic President Barack Obama was a major breakthrough given the history of slavery and Jim Crow. The problem is he’s a neo-conservative abroad, neo-liberal at home therefore he’s still very much a part of the structural constraints of a system that is fundamentally tilted against poor and working people.

Young people need to be informed by and inspired by the best and the tradition of those who came before them. And what did they do? They were willing to live and die for something bigger than themselves…That is a precondition for revitalization of any democracy, and if you don’t have that, you’re gonna lose your democracy and you end up with a crypto-fascist regime. And those folk who struggled in the past, they cry from their graves.”

Listen below for the full interview with Cornell West and Tavis Smiley:

Cornell West and Tavis Smiley on Democracy

Cornel West and Tavis Smiley on Democracy

Cornel West and Tavis Smiley take on the mainstream media and the political establishment.

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