The usually hard-hitting Chris Hedges has a column at truthdig.com that sharply critiques the critics of Cornel West. Ignoring the big debate over West’s personalizing and supposed ego-tripping in his critique of President Obama, Hedges nails the main point West made:
The liberal class, which attempted last week to discredit the words … West spoke about Barack Obama and the Democratic Party, prefers comfort and privilege to justice, truth and confrontation. . . . It refuses to challenge . . . the decaying structures of democracy or the ascendancy of the corporate state. It glosses over the relentless assault on working men and women. . . . The pillars of the liberal establishment—the press, the church, culture, the university, labor and the Democratic Party—all honor an unwritten quid pro quo with corporations and the power elite . . . on whom they depend for money, access and positions of influence.
Hedges then cites the troubling role of President Obama in this continuing U.S. political drama, much like Dr. West did:
The liberal class . . . functions like a commercial brand, giving a different flavor, face or spin to the ruthless mechanisms of corporate power. This, indeed, is the primary function of Barack Obama. The liberal class . . . will decry the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or call for universal health care, but continue to defend and support a Democratic Party that has no intention of disrupting the corporate machine.
He ends up with a kind of social realism that reminds me greatly of Derrick Bell’s racial realism:
To accept that Obama is, as West said, a mascot for Wall Street means having to challenge some frightening monoliths of power and give up the comfortable illusion that the Democratic Party or liberal institutions can be instruments for genuine reform. . . . It means a new radicalism.
Interestingly, even Hedges does not note just who the leaders of this corporate state and political-economic machine are, that is, elite white men. It is highly significant that even the most radical critiques of this society almost never call out and analyze in some detail exactly who are the elite white men who run almost all our major institutions—and how they view the world, make decisions, and oppress most of the rest of us one way or another. Elite white men make up at least 95 percent of the ruling elite in this country, even though white men are just a third now of the U.S. population. Why and how do they still rule this country so easily and without much sustained attention? What is your take on all this?
From the quotes I read, West does cross the line in my view. Obama afraid of an independent black man? That’s too much for me. It’s one thing to acknowledge that he grew up in white America – which is probably how he was able to try drugs and not end up in the system. But West makes Obama seem like a light-skinned Clarence Thomas, and that’s just too much.
That said, responding with ad hominem is equally foolish.
As to why and how white men can rule the country without attention – maybe it’s because for 70% of the country, white is normal. If 95% of the ruling elite were black, you can believe there would be some noise, right? When someone points out the disproportionate representation among the ruling elite, even if the person is the democratically elected president of Brazil, they’re treated is irrational along the lines of Marcus Garvey or John Brown. Or, the person is accused of racial grievance along the lines of, say, Rev. Wright.
It’s just all too easy to get the rest of white people to see their interests aligned with the white male elites rather than people of color, no matter the actual facts. For whatever reason, throughout history, white Americans have always felt themselves better judges of things like this, no matter the actual facts.
From what I can tell, the Democratic party went corporate as a matter of survival. They had to get money and support from somewhere other than people of color. If Southern white Democrats had remained in the party after 1965, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. If white people would vote their economic interests, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. But Dems had to go corporate (re: white) in order to build a racial coalition that would win. So I get frustrated with the argument that both parties are too corporate. After the mass exodus of Dixiecrats, what were Dems supposed to do? There weren’t enough voters of color to make up the difference.
At the end of the day, whites are just too invested in whiteness, too strongly identified with whiteness. I mean really. They admit voting against their own economic interest on the one hand, ie God, guns, and gays. Then, when they finally realize they’ve been screwed over, they blame Dems and Democratic policies. And since white leaders in the Dem party are also invested in whiteness, they just can’t find the words or the courage to speak out against white supremacy. Unless and until whites can see themselves as individuals rather than a race, we’re gonna have this problem.
That’s how I see it.