Cornell West on His Enthusiasm for Obama: 'It Has Dropped Significantly'

Fred Lucas | September 13, 2012 | 12:19pm EDT
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Princeton professor Cornell West (AP Photo)

( – Liberal commentators Cornell West and Tavis Smiley – in the midst of their second “poverty tour” were highly critical of President Barack Obama Thursday, saying he’s more of a politician than a statesman and that black voters should hold him accountable.

West, African-American studies professor at Princeton University, was asked if his enthusiasm has waxed or waned for Obama since he campaigned for him in 2008.

“It hasn’t waxed or waned, it has dropped. It has dropped significantly,” West said on the “Washington Journal,” the morning C-SPAN program. “I thought that he was going to be a statesman like Lincoln and Roosevelt. It turns out he’s a politician like Bill Clinton.”

West and Smiley are on a poverty tour, hitting four critical swing states – Florida, Ohio, Virginia and Pennsylvania – to try to raise the issue of poverty in the presidential race. The two are also promoting a new book called, “The Rich and the Rest of Us.”

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Beyond his disappointment, West said Obama is a better candidate for president than his Republican opponent Mitt Romney, but fell short on numerous issues.

“Now he’s still a much better politician than Mitt Romney. I think Mitt Romney taking over the White House would be a catastrophe,” West said. “So in that sense, we recognize that Barack Obama is much better than Mitt Romney.

“But, at the same time, he’s head of a system where he doesn’t have the kind of statesmanship and leadership to say ‘I’m going to talk about poverty. I’m going to talk about the new Jim Crow. I’m going to defend unions. I’m going to take a stand in Chicago. I’m going to take a stand in Wisconsin. And I’m not going to drop those drones on innocent people. I don’t believe in militarism,” West added.

Smiley said that African-Americans should ask tough questions of Obama, in light of the 14.1 percent black unemployment rate, compared to 7.2 among Whites and 10.2 among Hispanics.

“It raises an impolitic question that Doc and I have caught a lot of hell for, which is to say to our fellow black American citizens, that because you love and support and campaigned for and contribute to this first black president that does not mean that you surrender your right to make demands,” Smiley said. “It doesn’t mean that you surrender your responsibility to hold him accountable.”

During the interview on C-SPAN, Smiley continued, by posing the question of how loyal black voters should be to the Democratic party.

“I don’t endorse candidates. My job is to try to raise critical questions about accountability, but for African-Americans in particular, we have got to ask ourselves whether or not the price we have paid for entrance into this party has been too high a price in that James Baldwin sort of context, has the price been too high,” said Smiley, who hosts a program on National Public Radio.

“There is a great debate we could have for hours about that,” Smiley continued. “We won’t hold that up now. The point here is that black people are in a crisis now, and this may be our last best chance in black America to turn around black people living beneath their privilege in this country.

“So, black folks have got some tough questions to ask. I’m not suggesting they won’t vote for the president - they will. There is going to be a question of turnout given the enthusiasm gap that the president rightly acknowledges,” he added.

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