Thoughts on Princeton Professor Cornel West and his egregious attack on the President. Does the intellectual really have any ideas?

by Dr. Jeffrey Lant

First, the facts.

Just the other day, April 11, 2011, Princeton professor of African-American studies and religion Cornel West managed, in one fast-moving interview with the political blog Truthdig to

* make a series of outrageous, unsubstantiated remarks about his now former friend Barrack Obama, president of these United States,

*  act like anything besides the Ivy League social scientist and truth seeker he claims and is supposed to be,

* show that just because you have a fancy title at a fancy institution doesn’t necessarily mean you’re any better informed than the guys on the street who mouth off without one scintilla of fact,

* prove conclusively that West has aged from being an enfant terrible to being a thin-skinned cry baby, petulant, spoiled, coddled, and an embarrassment to himself and the great institution which, in getting West, clearly got a pig in a poke and may well wonder why they didn’t scrutinize longer and better and what it says about their selection process.

Because he is a professionally angry black  man, he must always have a Cause (and because causes need to be photogenic and a fountainhead of publicity), these days West has massaged himself into advocate of the poor, clothing himself in moral hauteur and cheap outrage. Yes, when he sees himself in the mirror (no doubt frequently) he sees — vox populi, and very much, vox dei.

Yes, to listen to West, he’s morphed into a protege of Emma Lazarus, maybe la Lazarus herself whose iconic words (written 1883) grace the Statue of Liberty…

“Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,  the wretched refuse of your teeming shore,  send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me”.

West seems to think and certainly acts as if that last word, “me”, meant  him, their self-appointed, self-aggrandizing, tenacious (for now), unyielding (until something better comes along) but never get your hands dirty advocate, thank you very much.

Well-known 18th century British author Dr. Samuel Johnson one April day in 1775, pronounced in his magisterial fashion that “patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” Boswell  hurriedly wrote it down. I’ll update that aphorism here and now for West’s benefit: “the poor are the last refuge of the demagogue”. ( Remember born-again populist Al Gore and that other glib Southern boy who belatedly discovered the poor,  former North Carolina senator John Edwards? Gore ditched his populist mode in favor of things green; Edwards is seeking a berth as a Trappist monk… or any locale that makes women difficult to access while keeping a photograph of wronged ex-wife Elizabeth always at hand.)

It was in this mode of unassailable moral superiority, as one of America’s overfed collegiate intellectuals, and a pampered black intellectual at that, that Cornel West mounted his high horse… and made one thing shockingly clear: the intellectual has no ideas, just pettiness, bile, self- pity, and now a social calendar which will no longer feature cozy chats with the president chez 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Oh, my!

“Those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad.” Euripedes. (485-406 bc)

One may imagine West’s state before this now infamous interview.  Like a colossus he strode forward, resolute, confident, his mere name a progressive statement, and much beloved too, of callow undergraduates. He would take his bro’ Barrack to task in no uncertain terms and so reframe the whole debate on the poor… and keep the president where West wanted him, under his thumb, to be let loose only at the professor’s dictate and whim and following a long course of Professor West’s approved bromides and idiosyncracies. The gods had, as usual, done their work well…

This then is what esteemed Professor West outrageously said, each word an arrow into himself and any claim he could make, not just to truth, but to common sense and common civility.

Obama is a  “black mascot of Wall Street oligarchy and a black puppet of corporate plutocrats”. There was more of this red meat, much more:

“I think my dear brother Barack Obama has a certain fear of free black men… It’s understandable. As a young brother who grows up in a white context, brilliant African father, he’s always had to fear being a white man with  black skin. All he  has known culturally is white. He is just as human as I am, but that is his cultural formation.”

And still more…

Obama, he said, is “most comfortable with upper middle-class and Jewish men who consider themselves very smart, very savvy and very effective in getting what they want.”

Then, after much more of the same, a glimmer of why this is all happening now: our pampered house intellectual has been disrespected:

“I couldn’t get a ticket (to the inauguration) with my mother and my brother. I said this is very strange. We drive into the hotel and the guy who picks up my bags from the hotel has a ticket to the inauguration… We had to watch the thing in the hotel.”

Of course, lese majeste’, not what the majestic West is accustomed to and perhaps the reason for his astonishing words and equally astonishing foolishness. Political sage Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527) knew that if you intend to kill the king, make sure you do not just wound the king, for then of a  certainty, the king will kill — you!

This is why, so long as former buddy Barck Obama, remains president,  Cornel West will learn why Machiavelli, long dead, is smarter than West, long on words and short on sense. For West is now not only intellectually irrelevant but a dead man, too, by his own hand.

One who no doubt saw this coming is Larry Summers. When he was president of Harvard, he had a celebrated run-in with West, (then on the Harvard faculty) whose friendships and professional relationships are prone to fray as folks come to know the man. Summers, a man of brilliance with his own propensities for self-destruction, rebuked West in 2000 for missing classes and other misdemeanors. But his major criticism was just: West needed to do a major book in keeping with his rank, giving tv talk shows and other trivial pursuits a pass, to concentrate on the really important.

Diva that he is, at this revolting development, West complained  high and low; he ranted, he raved, he took umbrage, he played for sympathy. And in due course, he took his leave of Harvard where, to his surprise, a great research institution demanded — great research, not trite opinions masquerading as undisputed fact.

To the surprise of cognoscenti of such games, Princeton University took West; no doubt they needed his brand of glib inconsequence. Or maybe it’s just, as Cambridge folks suspected, that Princeton is a backwater, out of touch with neo-realities. West, from his new tenured perch, did what West always does… he lashed out at Harvard… the hand that had fed him so well for so long. Such ingratitude being one of the things he does best, as in due course Princeton will no doubt discover.

In any event, this tempest in a tea-cup proved at least one thing: Cornel West is irrelevant as he has been for a long time. The black community has grown up; they wanted — and got — a president. Such men as West, with only rants and cants became, at the inauguration he wasn’t invited to attend, obsolete in an instant. For all his high titles and purported intelligence, it took him a while to figure that out. I suspect he knows it now.


About the Author

Harvard-educated Dr. Jeffrey Lant is CEO of Worldprofit, Inc., providing a wide range of online services for small and-home based businesses. Dr. Lant is also a historian and author of 18 best-selling business books.

Republished with author’s permission by Graham Lee – The Income Zone

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