Cornel West says Obama’s homies are Jews who think they’re smart, and Larry Summers blows his mind

on 39 Comments

Brother Cornel West talks to brother Chris Hedges at truthdig about his Obama disappointments:

“I was thinking maybe he has at least some progressive populist instincts that could become more manifest after the cautious policies of being a senator and working with [Sen. Joe] Lieberman as his mentor,” he says. “But it became very clear when I looked at the neoliberal economic team. The first announcement of Summers and Geithner I went ballistic. I said, ‘Oh, my God, I have really been misled at a very deep level.’ And the same is true for Dennis Ross and the other neo-imperial elites. I said, ‘I have been thoroughly misled, all this populist language is just a facade. I was under the impression that he might bring in the voices of brother Joseph Stiglitz and brother Paul Krugman

“He feels most comfortable with upper middle-class white and Jewish men who consider themselves very smart, very savvy and very effective in getting what they want,” he says. “He’s got two homes. He has got his family and whatever challenges go on there, and this other home. Larry Summers blows his mind because he’s so smart. He’s got Establishment connections. He’s embracing me. It is this smartness, this truncated brilliance, that titillates and stimulates brother Barack and makes him feel at home. That is very sad for me.

39 Responses

  1. matter
    May 16, 2011, 10:56 pm

    Is it “sad” for him, or was he being sarcastic? Seriously, does Cornel West really think Larry Summers is smart? I don’t. I think Summers is a dumbass and a douchebag.

  2. MRW
    May 16, 2011, 11:05 pm

    Which of course makes brother Barack pretty stupid if he couldn’t grasp the range of Larry Summers’ smarts. Summers doesn’t have smarts, he has derision. He has that suffocating kind of arrogance that thinks he’s the smartest guy in the room, and refuses to brook opposition or consider that anyone around him might be smarter.

    Speaking of brook, he’s the guy along with Greenspan and Rubin who viciously went after Brooksley Born who — had these three led by Summers (because Rubin can’t stand confrontation) not succeeded in damaging her reputation — could have prevented the financial meltdown.

    But Summers is getting the slow hands-off from the economic community now. His showing at Bretton Woods recently wasn’t exactly a wower—yes, I watched it—as his public interview with Financial Times columnist Martin Wolf underscored. It just so happens that today on Yves Smith’s highly regarded nakedcapitalism blog, Doug Smith (no relation) wrote “For now, though, let’s put aside the serious lack of self-respect in paying any attention at all to a world historical failure like Summers (Why is this arrogant sophist even on anyone’s C list, let alone A list? Why isn’t Summers wearing sack cloth and rolling in ashes?).”

    That’s going to be Summers’ legacy, and he knows it. He helped create the financial disaster in the late 90s (fighting vociferously with Greenspan, Rubin, and Levitt in the Oval Office in 1996 to prevent regulation of derivatives and getting rid of Glass-Steagall) but when it came time to fix it, he couldn’t.

    Arthur Levitt had the character in October 2008 to call that day in 1996 “the worse day of my life” and to publicly rue believing Greenspan, Summers, and Rubin’s opinion of Brooksley Born.

    • Thomson Rutherford
      May 17, 2011, 1:47 am

      “Why isn’t Summers wearing sack cloth and rolling in ashes?”

      Why? Summers is the nephew of two Nobel laureates in Economics – Paul Samuelson and Kenneth Arrow – who happen to be the most outstanding theoretical economists ever produced in the U.S. From an early age he has been treated like royalty within the Economics profession. Unlike his fantastically productive uncles, who by all accounts were disarmingly modest and courteous, Summers was born arrogant.

  3. Keith
    May 16, 2011, 11:43 pm

    “It’s easy to believe what is convenient to believe.” (Noam Chomsky)

    “Self deception is the rule, not the exception.” (Keith)

    Brother Cornell has seen the light now that he has had his nose rubbed in it. But in the not-too-distant past, he sure did deceive himself.

  4. Krauss
    May 17, 2011, 12:57 am

    I read the piece before Weiss made this post and it’s pretty obvious the man is betrayed at a deep level.
    Cornel West, like so many other black lefties, have had a free pass on their own subtle racism. There is a clear anger that Obama isn’t surrounding himself with blacks, rather than white Jews for the most part.

    He also attacks Obamas blackness(or lack thereof), says he is ‘afriad’ of ‘independent strong blacks'(if it sounds bizarre, then it’s because it is).

    If you read the whole piece, Obama comes across as a sociopath, and Obama did treat West like a tramp to be used and abused and then thrown away like trash. West went on the campaign trail a mere 67 times, called him every two weeks, prayed for him on the phone etc. He fell in love with him. Obama didn’t call back once (ouch).

    The final humiliation was when he and his family couldn’t even get tickets to the inauguration, but the hotel guy that he was staying with had them, despite the fact that he knew Obama, met him many times, and campaigned tirelessly for him.

    So yes, West is acting more like a scorned lover than anything else, laced with a sublte racial subtext against both Jews and European whites.

    His final point, that Obama essentially has sold out the people that elected him, is definitely true. You can see it in his appointments and lacklustre attempt to regulate anything. But of course, the democrats have always been much closer to Wall St(Schumer et al), and these days even some republicans are. Support for Wall St, like support for Israel(no matter what it does), crosses party lines.

    So the question remains if Obama wanted to change but couldn’t, or if he was content with reforming bits and parts of it, but essentially did not want to upset his Wall St financiers. I’m leaning to the latter and I think more and more progressives are.

    • Citizen
      May 17, 2011, 7:32 am

      Krauss, it’s not hard to see Obama has retained as counsel the very key folks most responsible for the reality of Wall St & Israel uber alles. Look at Treasury, and look at the Fed, and look at Dennis Ross.

    • Donald
      May 17, 2011, 7:42 am

      “So yes, West is acting more like a scorned lover than anything else, laced with a sublte racial subtext against both Jews and European whites.”

      I disagree with this, though maybe it depends on what you mean. West is saying that whites accept blacks who don’t make them feel uncomfortable by advocating for poor blacks and talking about social justice. A black politician who spent a lot of time pointing out racial disparities (for instance, in drug laws and who gets sent to prison) and seems morally outraged by them is someone who has no chance of getting into the White House. Jesse Jackson could win a significant fraction of the Democratic vote in the primaries, but he had zero chance of making it into the White House. Obama went to a black church that emphasized those issues, but when he ran for President he distanced himself from those issues and when Wright spoke out (saying a mixture of smart and stupid things, in my opinion), Obama pretended he’d never heard Wright saying such nasty things about US imperialism.

      Saying that this shows a subtle racial pretext against whites and Jews gets the cause and effect backwards. Whites as the dominant culture in the US (though this is changing) are the ones with the bias against people who make them feel uncomfortable. I gather it is similar in Israel between Israeli Jews and Palestinians. It’s probably the same in every country with a history of serious discrimination.

      The rest of your post I agree with. I mostly sympathized with West, but he was foolish to expect real friendship from a man with serious Presidential ambitions. People like that are almost certainly going to be Machiavellian in their approach to people on a personal level and it was both naive and silly for West to think otherwise. West left himself wide open to having the important parts of his critique dismissed because of he so obviously resented being dissed on a personal level.

  5. Thomson Rutherford
    May 17, 2011, 1:58 am

    Cornel West raises an interesting question: What is the antonym of “brother”?
    The world is divided into “brothers” and – what?

    • Donald
      May 17, 2011, 7:44 am

      West commonly uses that term “brother”–in this case I think it means someone who shares his concerns over social justice issues. The opposite of “brother” would be “selfish a**hole”.

    • Leper Colonialist
      May 17, 2011, 8:00 am

      “Non-brothers” and/or “sisters,” obviously.

      But seriously, Cornel West is a goofy as the day is long, but his heart is generally in the right place. From having parsed a few of his works, West’s use of “brothers” is clearly meant to indicate someone with who [whom?] West feels some sort of ideological kinship and politcal commonality of interest[s].

      Plus, don’t forget – West, in a great quip, referred to the unspeakable Larry Summers [during Summer’s reign of error as Harvard University president] as “the Ariel Sharon of American higher education.” Wish I’d said that first!

      West – 1 ; Likudist lackey – 0

      • AnaSanchez
        May 17, 2011, 10:18 am

        Brother West is a true follower of Jesus Christ, therefore, all men are his brothers and all women are his sisters. Even the ones he disagrees with.

      • Mooser
        May 17, 2011, 11:09 am

        “all men are his brothers and all women are his sisters.”

        Oh boy, am I in trouble. Incest is illegal, or so they tell me.

    • Woody Tanaka
      May 17, 2011, 9:50 am

      “What is the antonym of ‘brother’?
      The world is divided into ‘brothers’ and – what?”

      I think that there is no antonym. I think it is a term of endearment; a token of solidarity.

  6. notatall
    May 17, 2011, 6:16 am

    Cornel West needs to recognize that Obama is not a brother who has gone astray or been misled by clever whites (Jews) but the class enemy, as much as Donald Trump or Michael Bloomberg. How can anyone betray a cause he was never part of? It was their lack of a class analysis that led West and a lot of others to expect something else.

    • Thomson Rutherford
      May 17, 2011, 11:18 pm

      notatall writes,
      “It was their lack of a class analysis that led West and a lot of others to expect something else.”

      I agree with that.

  7. pabelmont
    May 17, 2011, 7:22 am

    Page 1 of the 3-page Cornel-West article is here.

    It is normal, with the dreadful Democrats we get these days, for a progressive person to be annoyed and outraged. Various questions remain, however, such as “Who will appoint the Supreme Court and other judges?” and “Is Palin an acceptable alternative?”

    • notatall
      May 17, 2011, 11:05 am

      “Who will appoint the Supreme Court and other judges?” and “Is Palin an acceptable alternative?”

      Comments like the above reinforce my suspicion that the Republican Party’s reason for existence is to persuade well-meaning people to vote Democrat. Are the Dems’ past Court appointments better than the Republicans’, and is the difference worth all one had to swallow? Is Obama an acceptable alternative to Palin? Acceptable to whom?

  8. seafoid
    May 17, 2011, 8:51 am

    I think this idea that Jews are smart goes so far but runs into trouble in the case of Israel. Or maybe the kind of smartness you need to run a country is different. For me it comes down to the difference between Yiddish and Hebrew. Yiddish is the language of knowing there are other people out there. Hebrew is the language of Jewish exceptionalism. With Hebrew the
    Zionists tried to forge the modern Jew and leave the world of Yiddish behind. The point is that Yiddish has all the insights the Hebrew speakers lack. Plus they could never escape their culture. Nu.

    • patm
      May 17, 2011, 12:58 pm

      “For me it comes down to the difference between Yiddish and Hebrew. Yiddish is the language of knowing there are other people out there. Hebrew is the language of Jewish exceptionalism. With Hebrew the
      Zionists tried to forge the modern Jew and leave the world of Yiddish behind. The point is that Yiddish has all the insights the Hebrew speakers lack. Plus they could never escape their culture. Nu”

      Seafoid, this comment is a very interesting one. Could you perhaps expand a little on it, or point me to a book I could read on this subject? I think other non-Jewish mondo readers would also be interested.

      Also, the word “Nu”? Google was no help. What do you mean by it?

      • seafoid
        May 17, 2011, 5:28 pm


        I’m not Jewish either but I could recommend “Original sin” by Beit Hallahmi and “Just say nu” by Michael Wexman.

        Wexman writes about “the historical conditions that led to the development of the mentality that holds the real value of an education to be that they can never take it away from you”.

        ” Like most people with no real power, Yiddish speakers are obsessed with respect and are quick to take umbrage when they are improperly treated”

        “Yiddish conversation progress as much by means of rhetorical questions and outright contradictions as by supposedly direct paths leading from point A to point B”

        Hebrew on the other hand is “what the f*ck do you want” sort of direct,

        Yiddish is Martin Buber. Hebrew is Jabotinsky.

        And Yiddish is very Palestinian.

        Nu is defined as “go on! well! come on! or “when you can’t think of anything else to say”.

    • wondering jew
      May 17, 2011, 5:33 pm

      There certainly was suppression of a language and a point of view when the Zionists emphasized the use of Hebrew and denigrated Yiddish, but the fact that Yiddish could never have been the common language between Middle Eastern and Eastern European Jews makes the ascendance of Hebrew an accomplishment and an “inevitability” given the demographics of Jewish Israel over the last sixty years. Although the nuance of Yiddish is humorous and supple, whereas Hebrew comes off as arrogant and know it all, this is a stereotype and Jews can be self introspective in Hebrew as well.

      A Palestinian-Israeli woman who specialized in ethnographic music was being interviewed on t.v. and she used a Yiddish phrase, saying that her predilection for folk music has to do with her interest in old things, “alte sachen” and even though there is just pure Germanic words involved in alte sachen, nothing middle eastern about them, there was a pathos in the words and an image of a man on a cart yelling and selling. And her body language indicated none of the militaristic defensiveness that Palestinians sometimes mirror when they use Hebrew phrases. And it is that image and feeling that Yiddish seems to infer and Hebrew does not.

      • seafoid
        May 18, 2011, 8:01 am

        Very interesting WJ. Thanks.

        I always think of Hebrew as the space in which the system of oppression is rationalised. It didn’t have to end up like that but that is what happened. Here is a comment from a settler I know

        “Jabotinsky foresaw the coming Holocaust. He warned Jews to get out of Europe before the German conquest. He also saw how the British were betraying the Jews, encouraging Arab attacks on Jews. The fools were Buber and Magnes who wanted a bi-national state with bigoted Arabs whose religion mandates oppression and exploitation of Jews as “dhimmis.” And Jews in the Land of Israel were oppressed and persecuted by the Muslims, even worse than were the Christian dhimmis.” This kind of nonsense became policy.

        You could also look at the case of Amos Oz’s mother vs his father- have you read his autobiography ?

  9. Les
    May 17, 2011, 9:06 am

    One wonders why it took so long for West to catch on to Obama. The naivete is akin to calling Clinton a black President.

  10. hophmi
    May 17, 2011, 9:16 am

    Cornel West said the J word! Cornel West said the J word!

    That pretty much sums up this post.

    Cornel West is as loud as he is inconsequential.

    • Robert Werdine
      May 17, 2011, 4:46 pm

      And, I would add, he is as inconsequential as he is unserious.

      Dennis Ross of the “imperial elite”? Please.

      Cornel West seems to believe that Obama has the “wrong” Jews tending his ear, and needs the “right” ones.

      Among them: Brother Stiglitz and Brother Krugman, in the economic sphere.

      How about Brother Chomsky? Surely he would do.

      Well, on the other hand, that might be a little awkward; Chomsky is still sorting out his distress over Bin Laden’s timely demise, and advising the man who ordered the hit might be a bit much for him . So I guess that’s a no-go.

      • stevieb
        May 21, 2011, 10:26 pm

        “Chomsky is still sorting out his distress over Bin Laden’s timely demise, and advising the man who ordered the hit might be a bit much for him .”

        I’m thinking Chomsky’s sorting out his distress, much like myself, over how many American’s unquestioningly believe what has to be the most transparent bunch of BS I’ve just about ever heard. He made Bush look like an honest man with that bunch of hokey nonsense….

        Ordered the “hit”.

        He, he, he…..

  11. Kathleen
    May 17, 2011, 10:19 am

    Cornell always nails it. Although I watched and listened to Obama in the Senate for those 2 years and he always moved cautiously. But am totally with West when Obama appointed Summers, Geithner and then Ross was in total shock. The only thing one could figure is that he was trying to have those who would undermine some of the what he sold the public “hope and change” that he chose to have the underminers close to him.

    Not sure what Cornell meant here
    “He’s embracing me. “

  12. Chu
    May 17, 2011, 10:20 am

    “I have to take some responsibility,” he admits of his support for Obama as we sit in his book-lined office. “I could have been reading into it more than was there.

    And that was the problem with Barack. Everyone was desperate to believe in an outsider candidate in 2008. And here was the unknown message of ‘hope and change’. It didn’t take long for us to realize, after Barack did absolutely nothing after the financial crisis, we were dealing with a massive betrayal of leadership.

  13. MRW
    May 17, 2011, 12:17 pm

    West may be wrapping this in a black thing, but he nails what Obama could have done, but didn’t when he told Hedges this, ““Can you imagine if Barack Obama had taken office and deliberately educated and taught the American people about the nature of the financial catastrophe and what greed was really taking place?” West asks. “If he had told us what kind of mechanisms of accountability needed to be in place, if he had focused on homeowners rather than investment banks for bailouts and engaged in massive job creation he could have nipped in the bud the right-wing populism of the tea party folk.”

    Obama had the world eating in the palm of his hand when he took office. He blew it.

    • Donald
      May 17, 2011, 12:46 pm

      “Obama had the world eating in the palm of his hand when he took office. He blew it.”

      Boy, ain’t that the truth. And you can’t even get the Obama fanatics to understand this. It’s an article of faith with them that Obama is secretly on their side and everything he says and does is the best possible response given all those evil Republicans.

    • Keith
      May 17, 2011, 1:21 pm

      MRW- “He blew it.”

      Whoa, partner! Your phraseology implies that you are privy to Obama’s unstated goals and objectives which, you believe, at least somewhat resemble those in the “Can you imagine ….” quote. As in he failed to seize the opportunity. May I respectfully suggest that this is a serious misreading of the man and the circumstances. Obama is an ambitious spokesperson for Wall Street and the entire ruling oligarchy. He shares their goals and objectives, including neo-liberal globalization and American structural adjustment. He was specifically chosen because of his demonstrated loyalty to empire, and because as a black man with considerable rhetorical skills (salesmanship), he could implement the neo-liberal agenda while minimizing opposition and protest among the minority communities, usually the first to feel the effects of social impoverishment. He has expanded wars abroad and repression at home, and what is the consequence? A remarkably docile population who would likely be apoplectic if Bush was in office. As I see it, Obama has been wildly successful in achieving his rather obvious objectives. It is his supporters who “blew it,” and will continue to do so in 2012.

      • annie
        May 17, 2011, 1:38 pm

        M.J. Rosenberg seems to be under the illusion obama is waiting for us to rescue him, or something.

        The President seems to be going out of his way to make sure everyone understands why he is doing what he’s doing. It is as if he was saying: “what choice do I have between AIPAC donors and Democrats in Congress who get their marching orders from AIPAC. I’m boxed in.”

        But why would he want to send the message that he can’t implement the policies he wants to because he is trapped by a special interest. Just maybe, it is because he he wants our help.

        In 2007, the day after Obama declared his candidacy for president, I met with him in his office (I was then working for Israel Policy Forum).

        Obama listened carefully while I explained why it was critical that he be an “honest broker” on Israel-Palestinian issues. Nothing I said, including my opinions of AIPAC’s influence, would surprise anyone who reads my columns. My bottom line was that the occupation was terrible for the United States, for Israel and, most of all, for the Palestinians and that he should understand that the status quo lobbyists who defend everything Israel does are not representative of the Jewish community or anyone else.

        Obama listened, cupped his ear, and said, “I can’t hear you.”

        I didn’t understand; I was sitting right next to him.

        He then said: “No, not literally. I mean that I don’t hear from people like you. But I hear from AIPAC {he then named the local AIPAC leader in Chicago} every week. I’m going to be President and, when I am, it is your job — you and all the people who feel the way you do — to make sure I hear that message. You cannot simply rely on the belief that you are right. You need to raise your voice so that I hear you and not just them.”

        So maybe, just maybe, the President wants us to shout and holler about, what appears to be, a sellout to AIPAC. After all, he is making no attempt to cover up what he’s doing or why he’s doing it. He only hears one voice.

      • American
        May 17, 2011, 4:19 pm

        What a bullshit excuse. LOL

        I didn’t vote for Obama..or McCain….after donating to Obama and supporting him initially my bullshit o’meter finally clicked on and I changed my mind at the last minute and wrote in a name…Chuck Hagel’s. I’ll write in another name in the next election too.

      • MRW
        May 18, 2011, 6:44 am


        MJ may be right, but access to an even playing field is impossible. The voices are crushed. Look at the lack of real uproar over what was done to Nir and Sanchez and Thomas. Regular people allowed specious charges of anti-semitism to derail their careers. No one is taking away the careers of people engaging in vicious anti-Muslim racism.

        We get caught in this bung-hole by narrowing our focus to the deleterious effects of Zionism, when what we should be concentrating on is the damage to our values—and you can now see it in every aspect of our society—that unchecked pro-Israel politicization has done to the US, from local law enforcement to free trade (the first free trade agreement in 1985 was with Israel) to airports and border fence security, to the concept of warehousing whole segments of the society a la I/P, and the concept that oligarchs should rule.

        Obama had a chance to describe the US world as he sees it from where he sits and he is failing to do that, has failed. That is his job. It is not our job, a second job without pay, to intuit it. It’s not his job to sit in the Oval Office and flips quarters until he hears a second voice. He has a bully pulpit, and he has a perch from which he sees things that we can’t. It is his duty to comment on that, and he’s not doing it.

      • Keith
        May 17, 2011, 1:51 pm

        No sooner do I submit my comment above, when I receive a Zmail (e-mail from Znet) by Shamus Cooke titled “The Democrats Attack Unions Nationwide.” I am going to copy and paste the first two paragraphs below, followed by a concluding comment.

        “Obvious political truths are sometimes smothered by special interests. The cover-up of the Democrats’ national anti-union agenda is possible because the truth would cause enormous disturbances for the Democratic Party, some labor leaders, liberal organizations and, consequently, the larger political system.

        Here is the short list of states that have Democratic governors where labor unions are undergoing severe attacks: Massachusetts, Connecticut, Oregon, California, New York, Illinois, Washington, Hawaii, Minnesota, Maryland and New Hampshire. Other states with Democratic governors are attacking unions to a lesser degree.”

        We have entered a period of extreme discontinuity. America is undergoing structural adjustment with all that this implies. We are under attack. It is all about power. Respond as best you can.

      • MRW
        May 18, 2011, 6:25 am

        You’re right, Keith. We blew it.

      • MRW
        May 18, 2011, 6:53 am

        But see my reply to annie above.

  14. Richard Witty
    May 18, 2011, 4:47 am

    I thought the post was disrespectful to Obama, materially so, and dishonest in portraying his feeling of disappointment that Obama didn’t act more idealistically, rather than practically.

    It is a common occurrence among idealistic ideologs, imagining that democracy means what they think should happen. Its much less comfortable than that. It is the will of the people, not the will of the self-appointed vanguard idealists.

    It remains a responsibility of Cornel West and Chris Hedges to persuade, not just to rant and complain. My 87 year-old mother is good at that. Participating adults have more responsibility.

    • Richard Witty
      May 18, 2011, 6:04 am

      Just to clarify, my mother is good at much more than ranting and complaining, and she is 86, not 87.

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