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Bellum intestinum

By Michael J. Smith on Thursday May 19, 2011 04:29 PM

Two of my very favorite people, Cornel West and Melissa Harris-Perry -- both of them "tenured professors", as Melissa never tires of pointing out -- have got a real Kilkenny Cats thing going recently.

It started when West finally jumped off the Obama bus -- motivated, it appears, largely by a sense of personal pique that America's second (or possibly third) Black President wasn't returning his calls.

Melissa promptly leapt into the fray, with perhaps the most entertaining column she's ever written (which is saying a lot). Or at least, it started out that way:

Professor West offers thin criticism of President Obama and stunning insight into the delicate ego of the self-appointed black leadership class that has been largely supplanted in recent years....

It began... when Cornel West’s “dear brother” Tavis Smiley threw a public tantrum because Senator Obama refused to attend Smiley's annual State of Black America. Smiley repeatedly suggested that his forum was the necessary black vetting space for the Democratic nominees. He needed to ask Obama and Clinton tough questions so that black America could get the answers it needed. But black America was doing a fine job making up its own mind in the primaries and didn’t need Smiley’s blessing to determine their own electoral preferences.

O joy! A twofer -- she takes a whack at that awful bore Tavis Smiley, too, the only guy on NPR who's more tedious and insufferable than Robert Seagal (and that, too, is saying a lot). But she soon manages to put her foot in it:
Cornel West ... has spent the bulk of his adulthood living in those deeply rooted, culturally rich, historically important black communities of Cambridge, MA and Princeton, NJ. And it is hard to see his claim that Obama is “most comfortable with upper middle-class white and Jewish men who consider themselves very smart, very savvy and very effective in getting what they” as anything other than a classic projection of his own comfortably ensconced life at Harvard and Princeton Universities. Harvard and Princeton are not places that are particularly noted for their liberating history for black men.
Danger, Melissa! Danger! She attempts to pull back from the brink, but it's feeble, feeble:
Let me be clear, being an Ivy League professor does not mean that one has no room to offer critical engagement on issues of race. Like Professor West, I too make my living at elite, predominately white institutions.
Oh, well, that's all right then.

It's curious, though, that for all her fury at West, she can't find much to say for Obie. Here's the high point of her apologia:

As tenured professors Cornel West and I are not meaningfully accountable, no matter what our love, commitment, or self-delusions tell us. President Obama, as an elected official, can, in fact, be voted out of his job. We can’t.
Not yet. But we live in hope, Melissa.

After this far-from-ringing endorsement, it's all downhill, into the self-exculpatory listing of her own "criticisms", a topic treated in an earlier post:

I have many criticisms of the Obama administration. I wrote angrily about his choice of Rick Warren to deliver a prayer at the inauguration. I have spoken on television about my disagreement with drone attacks in Pakistan and been critical of the administration’s initial choice to prosecute DADT cases. I worked for more progressive health care reform legislation and supported organizations that resisted the reproductive rights “compromises” in the bill. I’ve been scathing in public remarks and writings about the President’s education policy. My husband leads a non-profit that is suing HUD for its implementation of a discriminatory formula in the post-Katrina Road Home program.
Yet, presumably, she's still "in".

Oh, and "scathing," Melissa? Are you writing your own reviews now, a la Glenn Greenwald? Scathing, from Melissa, is a lot like being savaged by a dead sheep -- to quote the late Denis Healey.

Comments (11)

We used to get literature from Uhuru reds way back in the way back. Hard core (though I'm almost willing to wager that Owen has a point of discursive digression, there) folks.

I was young and naive, but I thought they were the future of black America.

Sucks to be wrong.


Brother Cornel is probably ruing the (habitual) fulsomeness of his praise:

"She has to be one of the most talented intellectuals of her generation," said Cornel West, the Class of 1943 University Professor of Religion. "She brings sophisticated quantitative skills, a sense of history and a synthetic imagination. That's rare among social scientists, and that's why I'm so thoroughly excited and inspired that she's here."


The idea of Cornel West assessing somebody's "quantitative skills" no doubt has Owen writhing, gasping, weeping on the floor, and generally disgracing himself, overcome with unconquerable mirth. I just got back into the chair myself, and the mellow old Persian rug will never be the same again.

Then of course there's the idea of Melissa having "quantitative skills" -- but no, stop, my old arteries won't take the strain. Not to mention the rug.


MHL: "I wrote angrily about his choice of Rick Warren to deliver a prayer at the inauguration."
A. She "wrote"? Where - A) on her church hymnal, next to the part where she wrote "It should have been me, Lord God," or B) on her father's scribbled-in dog-eared Nation magazine from 1984?
How about she "wrote" to her employer to protest its religious trappings? How about she and Parson Weems-Hedges chain themselves to the White House gates to protest the prayer jones this Jesus-fraud Obama and his frightful prayer-jonesing Jebus wife plaster all over the secular halls of the US government?

Damn, MJS, a BrotherWest-MHLHL two-fer - I'm not sure the universe can take that much tenured quantitative fandango in one post...


Is Smith doing request posts now?

But anyhow it's funny that MHL(n) is demanding props because current spouse is involved in a lawsuit against HUD. I men that is OUT THERE.

Is Smith doing request posts now?
Just hum a few bars. Warning, though: like Nixon, I can only play in the key of B-flat. (I know, I know: with Nixon, it was G.)

Mjosef: Yes, yes!

And I can't tell you how many times I hear people, including close friends, tell me about this or that "position" they've "taken" on this or that issue. One friend frequently, over beers, will note, "I am *on record* as being opposed to [this or that}...." On what record exactly?

Not saying I'm any better. But this sure is a nation (or Nation?) of position-takers and opinionators, and the machinery of power and privilege grinds on unmolested.

Joan Walsh posted a similarly tedious screed against Mr. West on Salon.



There's a rather fun video clip of some platitudinous talking head interviewing the two antagonists in this batrachomyomachia:


Melissa is actually quite charming and telegenic, and cute as a button. Nothing of interest to say, of course, but says it quite engagingly. I can sorta see now how she's thriven so well in the media-academic complex.


For the sake of the archives, Glen Ford with the consummate take on this puny brouhaha: http://blackagendareport.com/content/how-cornel-west-did-obamites-favor

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