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What is Going On with Cornel West’s Presidential Campaign!? (And Why It’s a Damn Shame)


Americans are often accused of being politically “apathetic.” I think that “resigned” is a more accurate word. Even middle-class PMCs who habitually vote so they can virtue hoard their sense of “civic responsibility” acknowledge that electoral politics and politicians are controlled by big-moneyed interests. Regardless of which of the duopoly is in power, life for the vast majority of Americans continues on a downwardly mobile trajectory and they know it. 

As all major American structures continually underserve and exploit more people, people’s loathing of the politicians who are stewards for those institutions is also on the rise. At the same time, these conditions have induced polarization and the major two political parties, in spite of their unpopularity among the masses, have captured this to raise more support in donations and at the ballot box. 

Joe Biden triumphed over Bernie Sanders’ often bold, multifaceted platform and movement-based campaign by preying on people’s fear and cynicism. The Democrats defied the odds of a 2022 bloodbath in large part by running hawkishly on January 6th riots. 

In spite of the fact that Joe Biden’s approval ratings have been as low-energy as his “nothing-will-fundamentally-change” political program for most of his tenure in the White House, the “left takeover” of the Democrat Party (the gambit of the DSA, WFP, and other institutional left groups) has failed to deliver in the post-Sanders years. 

Left Third Parties and movements independent of Democrats have also made very little tangible headway in elections and policies; the most prominent elected socialist in American politics, Kshama Sawant, recently retired from her City Council seat after winning a recall referendum by the smallest of margins. This dynamic confirms This is Revolution Podcast co-host Pascal Robert’s observation that there is no left, only leftists. 

I was initially temperately optimistic, if not as excited as the gentlemen of Midwestern Marx, when Cornel West launched a surprise Presidential bid last summer. Unlike most third-party leftists, Dr. West is a very well-known figure to many average Americans. West has been heavily involved in political movements and academic scholarship for over 40 years and has a very deep knowledge of both. 

Furthermore, West is well liked (something most leftists can’t boast) by Americans of many various regional, socio-economic, political, and cultural backgrounds because he has consistently engaged with peoples and popular figures of those persuasions with his unique brand of truth and love. This certainly has the ingredients of an independent leftist potentially reaching the 5% vote threshold needed to get federal funds. 

Unfortunately, there was also much controversy from the beginning. Firstly, it had to do with the party with which Dr. West was first affiliated. The People’s Party, which launched in November 2020 after many years of planning, has unraveled because it is the Nick Brana party. 

It was odd how Brana, its founder, was the only spokesperson in spite of support from many prominent figures such as West, Susan Sarandon, Jimmy Dore and Code Pink’s Medea Benjamin. In its early run, Brana and his coterie, with their good comms skills, employed some fairly dynamic direct action (something the Greens aren’t as skilled in), but it has been intermittent since Force the Vote which ultimately riled up and divided leftists who followed it online. Ultimately, it seems that Brana failed in achieving in all of the basic logistics necessary to having a political party, such as ballot access. The brief infatuation with the People’s Party fuels the familiar accusation that too many leftists are “too online.” But I think it also points to how much people want and need change. 

Dr. West’s affiliation with the People’s Party has called into question his eclectic “jazz man” persona. On the one hand, it has helped him collaborate with so many groups and causes. Meanwhile, it opens up the charge that he is a “grab bag” in terms of his politics. 

Although, as a product of elite universities and corporate media, he has espoused views early in his career (his appearance with Sister Souljah on The Phil Donahue Show in the early 90s is widely circulated online by his detractors), his major politics are much more left-wing today and have always been on the left end of liberalism as evinced by his support for Jesse Jackson and opposition to the Crime Bill. 

In his first campaign video, one of West’s goals was to make inroads in poor white rural areas which voted for Trump. Even though he added the caveat that he would not excuse their racism, the “red-brown” alliance accusations were naturally hurled from race-first leftists and most stridently disaffected People’s Party staff and volunteers (many of whom, in my opinion, have gone down a counterproductive rabbit hole with their trauma. This seems to be a bug in many left movements and organizations). 

Jimmy Dore-People’s Party fans, angry that West jumped ship to the Green Party and now Independent (and has dropped that appeal) accuse him of being a Trojan-Horse spoiler for the Democrats. From my vantage point, West’s first major mistake was when he referred to Joe Biden as a “milquetoast Neoliberal” and Donald Trump as a “fascist.” This talking point plays right into the “harm reduction,” “lesser evil” paradigm, which is the favored gambit of the Democrats as they are more overtly right-wing (at times outflanking the GOP) in their policies.

The word “milquetoast” downplays the perniciousness of Joe Biden. For the vast majority of his 50+ year political career, Joe Biden has been a scourge for leftists. Unfortunately, Joe Biden is more of a bellwether for the Democrat (or more precisely the uniparty) Party than on the “old school,” “moderate” outlier as most of the press frames it. 

In spite of his reputation as a bumbling figurehead, Biden has been a party, if not a leader, to many of most heinously consequential political events from the War on Drugs to the Crime Bill, the Patriot Act, The Iraq War, America’s unconditional enabling of a psychotic genocidal Israel, and the events escalating to the Proxy War with Russia in Ukraine.  

Meanwhile, most of the corporate media was pearl clutching and hurling McCarthyist accusations of “Putinism” over West’s standardly left-liberal position on Ukraine; calling for the end of NATO and correctly pointing out how American foreign policy deliberately laid the trap for the proxy war where mostly working-class Ukrainians who can’t afford to expatriate are cannon fodder. 

Independent media, however, honed in on the other point raised in the previous two paragraphs. The most memorable was Jimmy Dore. The initial online reaction focused on Dore’s excessively zero-sum, pugilistic, and unprofessional interview style. 

As the heated exchange continued, it was clear that West was there to combat Dore, whose wildcard views and large right-wing following make him reviled among identitarian and particularly academic black nationalist left factions whom West has been courting after leaving the People’s Party, as much as vice versa. 

In one display of orneriness, West was indignant when Dore pointed out the fact that the draconian RICO Statute is being deployed against Trump and Stop Cop City activists, accusing Dore of besmirching the good name of the “freedom fighters” by comparing them to Trump. This harkens back to a tendency of West when he was loved by elites to frame things in terms of “radical love” morals rather than a more analytical structural analysis. 

Also, he misses the obvious point that the state is equating them and that leftists shouldn’t join liberals in weaponizing the security state even when it is against someone as unworthy as Trump as those laws, when they are so broadly worded, will inevitably be used against leftists whose politics threaten the status-quo. 

Although I think West is ultimately guilty of disorganization, his erratic actions give some ammo to claims of ulterior motives of political chess. The tactic of West’s surrogates, namely his wife, Tim Black, and Peter Daou (who has hopped on as many 2024 Presidential campaigns as Dr. West has changed parties), to label the criticism (both outlandish and valid) of West, especially by white people, as racist is underhanded and makes the campaign look more unprofessional. 

Unlike certain online leftist sectors, I take no pleasure from Dr. West’s implosion. While he has taken many questionable political and career stances, I believe he has acted with more principle than most people of his stature. 

He famously (or infamously, depending on your viewpoint) excoriated “hope and change” Barack Obama as a shill for Wall Street, the Military Industrial Complex, and all of Neoliberalism. While it would have been ideal had Dr. West never endorsed nor been a surrogate for Obama, and it might have saved him from the accusation that his animus was motivated by Obama passing him over for a cabinet position, he spoke out and held the line even after all the malicious backlash from the major institutions. West was practically persona non grata from “respectable” outlets for several years (many mainstream editorialists still paint him as crazy).

Another maverick moment for Dr. West was his no-holds-barred feud with Ta-Nehisi Coates, an academic who is very clever and is feted by many of the same left-liberals and identitarian leftists who like West, but does not have the historical breadth of Dr. West. 

Coates’ rise to prominence was in writing pieces in The Atlantic on the topic of the rhetorically eloquent, but politically counterinsurgent and Establishment status-quo-friendly Afropessimism and a best-selling Obama apologia book audaciously entitled We Were Eight Years in Power considering that Obama’s Citigroup-selected, banker-leaden administration curtailed middle- and working-class black people’s income significantly. (Coates cleverly claims the title is a reference to reconstruction, but knowing full well that his lay audience will associate it with Obama’s eight years in the White House). 

West was one of the few black intellectuals to support and stump for Bernie Sanders, who – in spite of his limitations – offered, for a time, a positive roadmap for the disaffected masses. Whereas Coates viciously accused the Vermont Senator, who exceeded the Establishment’s expectations for his populist, universalist platform that was in great contrast to Hillary Clinton’s technocratic Neoliberalism, of being uniquely bad on the race question. Coates’ “radical” critique was in perfect lockstep with the Hillary Clinton campaign who at one point argued against breaking up banks because it wouldn’t end racism or sexism

One of the greatest things West has done in recent years is use his clout to fervently challenge the Black Political Class for their insidious role in whitewashing left-wing black figures, namely MLK, and movements, while acting against current left-wing politics at home and abroad, as leverage for their own careers, which they pass off as “representation matters,” which will trickle down to all “their people” in a Party that is switching out alienated (mostly white at this time) working-class people with suburban PMCs and is a steward for Wall Street, the Security State, and the Military Industrial Complex. 

As West’s campaign limps on one year later (in spite of recent one-off endorsements from Roger Waters and Gerald Horne), his decisions are increasingly, excruciatingly baffling. The latest is in his choice of Vice President. Like West, Melina Abdullah comes from highbrow liberal arts academia and doesn’t bring any new constituency to the ticket. 

Although she’s on the outs with Black Lives Matter National, Abdullah, a co-founder of BLM Los Angeles and BLM Grassroots and a close affiliate with many of the people who misappropriated funds from the 90 million or so dollars they raised after the George Floyd protests, initially responded with a massive word salad and an accusation of COINTELPRO on the part of the whistleblowers sandwiched in. 

She is just really embarrassing. In 2021, the first year of Juneteenth (Biden’s idea of giving a major concession to black voters), Abdullah made the grand proposal of using the federal holiday as a day for black people to solicit money from white people, or as she argues it, reparations. 

The past seven months have viscerally demonstrated the palpable, dangerous authoritarianism of the “harm-reduction,” “adult-in-the-room,” technocratically staffed Democrat Party. The supermajority of our representatives joining in lockstep to fast-track billions of dollars of military aid exposes the rot that is “bipartisanship,” which is the fetishized mode of business favored by the “pragmatic” “centrists.”  

Dr. West deserves some credit for putting himself out there to challenge the insidious Power Elite. Yet his failures understandably point to the argument that many leftists make that electoral politics are futile and that all energy should go into organizing movements. Movements are very necessary. However, take, for example, the Populist movement in the 19th century.  It failed not only because of dividing tactics like identity politics wielded by figures such as Booker T. Washington, but because it didn’t have an organization with the means to enact policy changes to accompany its movement on the ground. 

Both of these things face continually steep obstacles in a country that is the leading world power in almost every major institution with the most effective and relenting propaganda machine. Yet there are many courageous people who resiliently fight everyday because they believe in a better future. Finding an equilibrium between retaining fundamental principles, but having a coalition broad and coherent enough to win political power, remains a challenging struggle.