Friday, February 15, 2008

Cornel West and His Support of Obama

Dr. Cornel West pushes for Obama, ‘new world order’
by Rhonda Gillespie
Chicago Defender

To hear him talk about the 'skinny guy with the funny name' who is the first African American poised to take the helm of the nation as the 44th U.S. president, you'd never know that Dr. Cornel West, initially, was skeptical of Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.).

The Princeton University dynamo with the unmistakable persona, replete with a funky afro and distinguished black-rimmed glasses, had been invited to Chicago by Rev. Michael Pfleger to bring the gospel message Sunday at his St. Sabina mass. But West ended up doing so much more. From the St. Sabina pulpit,West told of a nation entombed in an era that he said is marked by a loss of sensitivity to the plight of the most vulnerable citizens.

“We have been living for 40 years in a political, moral and spiritual ice age,” he told the congregation that included a number of candidates vying to take or retain office in the Super Tuesday elections. But a melt down, a phenomenon West, 54, said he didn't think he'd witness in his lifetime, is on the horizon. The professor of Religion called for a new world order, one that would begin with the election of Obama.

He continued his ardent push for Obama, talking to a crowd of volunteers and supporters at a downtown Obama campaign office Monday. West greeted the crowd by thanking them for “wisely choosing the right side of history.” He went on to tell the diverse gathering, “Because we're here not just to make history, we want to change history. We want not just to change history, we want to change it in a certain kind of way.

And Barack Obama is the leader…And what we will see is a change that involves what Sly Stone calls 'everyday people.'” But West wasn't always a staunch Obama supporter. “Initially I was very suspicious of my brother…because it looked as if, early on, he was such a darling of the mainstream media. And anybody who is a darling of the mainstream media warrants deep suspicion from me,” the acclaimed author and noted academe said.

But after having a conversation with Obama that West said delved into, among other things, the Senator's regard for the plight of Black people in the U.S. and the trailblazing strides made by Negro forefathers, West was sold. Now, like so many who have cleaved to the freshman senator's message of hope, West is one of Obama's most outspoken, prolific supporters. “I had a chance to look more closely at his record,” West said of his double-take of Obama.

He was struck by Obama's work for ex-offenders, the legislation he championed. “That was just my ignorance. I had to learn about the brother,” the Democracy Matters author said of his initial Obama assessment. As West pointed out to the Blacks, whites, Asians, women, men, young adults and baby boomers in the campaign office, Monday, Obama's support cuts across many social, ethnic and gender divides. In the Iowa Caucuses, a convincing number of white Americans propelled the mixedraced Harvard graduate to victory.

While women gave Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) a win in New Hampshire, the close race (39 percent Clinton; 37 percent Obama) showed that Obama was not a long shot. Nevada's primary, which was a win for Clinton in voting percentage, further substantiated that Obama was the first viable Black candidate for the presidency. Obama walked away from Nevada with 13 of 25 available delegates there. Then came the Jan. 26 South Carolina landslide defeat, furthering the Obama campaign's bite.

There, Obama won with 55 percent of the vote to Clinton's 27 percent. The Illinois senator garnered 52 percent of the non-Black vote in South Carolina, according to election data. And following the 21-state election day Tuesday, Obama remains in a tight heat, trailing marginally in the delegate count. Having experienced the tragedies of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, enduring the war in Iraq, and having to rebuild and restore major metropolises in the wake of the ravaging Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, West said the nation is looking for change.

“People see the country is in deep decline. People are hungry and thirsty for a hope and a uniter. And lo and behold the candidate who emerges is a Black man,” West said, rousing the crowd. Obama's message, called one of hope and unity, is credited by some with breathing life back into the Democratic Party. A registered Independent, West's support and vote for Obama is telling. He cautioned against being pro- Obama for race sake. “There are some people actually supporting the brother for the wrong reasons. But I'll take em,” West said, only half joking.

To support OBama simply because he is Black, “well that's not a good reason,”West said. “I'll take the vote and educate later.” It is not clear whether his support of Democrats begins and ends with Obama, but it is unquestionable that West is all aboard what has become Obama's vessel of hope.