Cornel West is Crazy

Cornel West is a bright and accomplished man. He has his PhD from Princeton and has inspired bidding wars between prestigious universities for his services. But, man, he's out there.

Cornel West is a bright and accomplished man. He has his PhD from Princeton and has inspired bidding wars between prestigious universities for his services. But, man, he’s out there.

NYT: Cornel West Flunks the President

What’s with the black suit, white shirt, black tie outfit you always wear? Do you have anything else in your closet?
I’ve got four black suits that I circulate, and they are my cemetery clothes — my uniform that keeps me ready for battle.

Your cemetery clothes?
It’s ready to die, brother. If I drop dead, I am coffin-ready. I got my tie, my white shirt, everything. Just fix my Afro nice in the coffin.

So let me ask you: in 2007, you introduced Barack Obama as your “brother, companion and comrade.” But in May, you referred to him as “the black mascot of Wall Street oligarchs” and the “head of the American killing machine.” What in the world happened?
It was a cry from the heart. What happened was that greed at the top has squeezed so much of the juices of the body politic. Poor people and working people have not been a fundamental focus of the Obama administration. That for me is not just a disappointment but a kind of betrayal.

But you have also acknowledged that this is more than just political — you’ve said that after campaigning for him at 65 events, you were miffed that he didn’t return your phone calls or say thank you.
I think he had to keep me at a distance. There’s no doubt that he didn’t want to be identified with a black leftist. But we’re talking about one phone call, man. That’s all. One private phone call.

He was running a successful candidacy for president. He might have been busy.
So many of the pundits assume that it’s just egoism: “Who does Cornel West think he is? The president is busy.” But there’s such a thing as decency in human relations.

O.K., but did you also have to say that Obama “feels most comfortable with upper-middle-class white and Jewish men who consider themselves very smart”?
It’s in no way an attempt to devalue white or Jewish brothers. It’s an objective fact. In his administration, he’s got a significant number of very smart white brothers and very smart Jewish brothers. You think that’s unimportant?

When Larry Summers was president of Harvard, he told you your rap album was an “embarrassment” to the university, and you quit soon after. He was one of Obama’s first appointments. Did that strike a particular feeling in your heart?
I couldn’t help it. I’m a human being, indeed. Given the disrespect he showed me? Oh, my God. Again, it’s political much more than it’s personal. Summers was in captivity to Wall Street interests. But it’s personal too.

You have 30 seconds of private time with the president — what do you say to him?
I would say: “Look at that bust of Martin Luther King Jr. in the Oval Office and recognize that tears are flowing when you let Geithner and others shape your economic policy, when you refuse to focus on poor and working people or when you drop the drone bombs that kill innocent civilians. Tim Geithner does not represent the legacy of Martin King.”

Larry Summers must feel more vindicated by the day. And, surely, it’s no wonder that Barack Obama feels more comfortable around sane Jewish brothers than this cat.

He’s got a good point, though, about the Treasury Secretary bombing civilians and making Dr. King cry. That’s just not right.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Rick Almeida says:

    Harry Summers must feel more vindicated by the day.


  2. Nick says:

    What did he say in that article that makes him ‘out there’ in your opinion? The kidding about ‘cemetary clothes”? The assertion that this administration has curried favor with Wall Street at the expense of the poor, and his disappointment? HIs thinking that the president owes him a short, personal phone call after the campaign work he did for him? The ‘objective fact’ that Obama is surrounded largely by smart white and Jewish men? Finally, note that the last paragraph contains a compound sentence with three complaints; Geithner is not being blamed for ‘bombing civilians’, but rather for helping shape Obama’s economic policy, something Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman and others have also criticized. The bombing of civilians and the failure to focus on the poor are the other two complaints, unrelated to Mr. Geithner.

  3. Loviatar says:


    What has Cornell West said that would cause you to call him Crazy? the fact that he has called out the president for what he feels is a lack of support for his community. You were in such a hurry to insult the professor that you misspelled the name of the most recent former head of the National Economic Council.

    Is it because Cornell West is a Liberal – Nahh, there are a lot of liberals out there who’ve said worst about the president and you haven’t called them crazy.

    Could it be because he is a professor – Nahh, you haven’t looked in the mirror and called yourself crazy yet. Have you?

    Could it be becuse he wears an ascot and speaks with a slight lisp – I hope its this one because I’m running out reasons for the name calling and insults.

    If its not the ascot and lisp then I can only think maybe its the fact that he is a BLACK man speaking out, tell me its not so James. Please explain why you would call the good professor crazy.

    Oh by the way, nice image grab to back up your assertion.

  4. What did West say that was “Crazy”?
    Frankly, this piece (and the ridiculous picture you chose to print with it) seems like something Glenn Beck would have done.
    Look, I get the fact that anybody who actually represents a leftist point of view becomes the target of marginalization, because (God forbid) that we actually have a debate about capitalism and the really structure of American society. But next time try and be a little more artful about your prejudicial efforts, OK? If I want something this simplistic and biased, I’ll go watch a Breitbart/O’Keefe video!

  5. Gustopher says:

    Cornel West does seem to be flirting with anti-Semitism, but he doesn’t sound crazy. I don’t know Cornel West, I don’t know what else he has said, so I don’t know whether this is an inartful way of saying that Obama has lost touch with his own roots, or whether Mr. West believes that Larry Summers is one of the seven Jews that rule the world.

    The point that Obama has become very comfortable with the wealthy interests, and hasn’t really focused his Presidency on helping the less fortunate is a good point. The Jew thing is a bit of a distraction.

  6. An Interested Party says:

    Cornel West is “crazy”…meanwhile, Michelle Bachmann and Rick Perry are potential GOP presidential nominees, Paul Ryan is considered the man with the plan when it comes to “fixing” our fiscal problems, and the overwhelming majority of Republicans in Washington grovel to Grover Norquist…crazy times…

  7. OzarkHillbilly says:

    He’s got a good point, though, about the Treasury Secretary bombing civilians and making Dr. King cry. That’s just not right.

    Lazy James, just plain lazy. As to the rest of what he said, his facts were accurate, his interpretation of those facts trend to the left (as one would expect) and his words leave little room for misinterpretation. If that is crazy, we are in a whole lot of trouble……

  8. OzarkHillbilly says:

    If you want crazy, just look at Grover Norquist. That man is absolutely bat guano insane…

  9. Hannibal Smith says:

    Call me crazy but I get the feeling that every comment above mine was written by the same person.

  10. LaurenceB says:

    Like some of the others, I didn’t see any “crazy” there. Maybe the guy is a little full of himself and maybe some of the stuff he says seems a bit over the top, but I didn’t see any “crazy”.

    Now Dr. Joyner’s last sentence about “the Treasury Secretary bombing civilians and making Dr. King cry” – that was kinda crazy. If West had actually said it. But that was Dr. Joyner.

  11. Moderate Mom says:

    It seems some people around here are lacking a sense of humor.

    Yes, it does seem as, the way the article quoted him, Dr. West was accusing Tim Geithner of being in charge of dropping bombs from drones.

    James was being funny, riffing on that. Too bad so many didn’t get it.

  12. An Interested Party says:

    Hmm…looking at the like/dislike votes, I wonder if this post has been linked to by Glenn Reynolds or someone like him…

    By the way, Moderate Mom, it isn’t about a lack of a sense of humor, but, rather, a lack of perspective in characterizing West as “crazy”…