It is just a sign of how clueless Bernie Sanders supporters are that they think Cornel West will bring Bernie the black vote. This is the man who just this past June on CNN called Obama the first N-wordized president. And repeated it. And went into a very long explanation of just what he meant.
It did not go over well with the voters whom Cornel West is supposed to bring to Bernie Sanders. Nor will it go over well when Bernie Sanders is asked about it. Or when Dr. West, called on to explain, repeats his comment. Dr. West is an impressive man, and not a man to back down, certainly not when pressed by a bunch of annoying reporters. It will be a great moment for Cornel West, the kind of battle he thrives on, the kind of battle that made his reputation, but it will not be good for the Bernie Sanders campaign. This is a presidential primary campaign, and unless Bernie Sanders can get several million black voters in the south to switch allegiance, his campaign will effectively end come Super Tuesday. This is not the time to agitate, agitate, agitate. This is the time to sweet talk, sweet talk, sweet talk. Dr. West’s job is to make people really like Bernie Sanders. But that is not quite the way Dr. West rolls. He’s not a feel good kinda guy. He’s an agitator from the days when the only way for a black man to make it in America was to agitate. But it’s a changed America now, and Barack Obama, more than anyone else, certainly more than Dr. Cornel West, is what changed it. Barack Obama, young enough to be his son (or Bernie Sanders’ son, for that matter) is a feel good guy. Which offends Dr. West. In fact, just about anything about Barack Obama offends Dr. West. “I just don’t respect the brother at all” he has said.
Hence, the problem.
Sure, there is a group of activists and intellectuals who support Dr. West in his opinion. Unfortunately, they are a very, very small minority of voters. Bernie Sanders doesn’t need to reach out to a very small minority of African-American voters. He needs lots and lots of them, including most of the 80% or more who plan to vote for Hillary and who are, overwhelmingly, intensely proud of Barack Obama for, among another things, being the first African-American president. What will Cornel West say to those voters? And why would anyone put Bernie Sanders in the position of having to defend the current Democratic president against the charges of Cornel West? Why would anyone put Bernie Sanders in the position of having to defend Dr. West against charges brought up by the press, in particular the black press, a press that already, looking at the tenor of the coverage he’s gotten this past year or two, really has it out for Cornel West?
This is one of those things that makes one wonder just how incompetent the people are who are running Bernie’s campaign. Apparently there are lots of very nice white people in Vermont watching Tavis Smiley. But unless Dr. West has turned a new leaf and promises to be nice and stay on message and never say anything nasty about President Obama again, this late starting Bernie Sanders outreach to African-American voters will be getting off to a very rocky start. African-American voters in the south love Barack Obama. They love him the way Irish-American voters love JFK. No one goes into an Irish bar in Boston and talks trash about the Kennedys. And I can’t see anyone going into a church in Atlanta to badmouth President Obama. That is not how one makes friends and influences people come voting day. I just wonder how Dr. West will handle this. Will he control his tongue? Apologize? Make a joke? What happens when someone–a Hillary supporter or a reporter–asks him about calling Obama a Republican in blackface, a brownfaced Clinton, a political minstrel show, or things I don’t feel comfortable writing here? Cornel West is an Obama hater. Why would anybody think he can win over Obama loving voters to Bernie Sanders? I am mystified.
It should be entertaining, though. Cornel West is always entertaining, even at his most infuriating. He has a huge personality, an enormous presence, and a magical gift of vocabulary. He knows he’s smarter than you, and makes sure you know it too. He knows he’s smarter than Barack Obama, than Bernie Sanders, than any reporter, than any Hillary supporter. And he’ll say so. He loves to talk. Give him a microphone and he’s John Coltrane on a wild, thrillingly extemporized ride. The campaign’s message, like the head arrangement, may not show up again for a long time. Things will be said that should not have been said, and reporters will not miss a word.
(And if any of you Bernie Sanders supporters are utterly unaware of Cornel West’s history regarding President Obama, then it’s time you did a little reading up. You can start with the essential New Republic piece “The Ghost of Cornel West”.)