July 29, 2014

Naivete of Tavis Smiley & Cornel West’s Attacks On Obama A Danger To Poor Generally & Blacks Specifically

Tavis SmileyDr. Cornel WestTavis Smiley and Cornel West have been running around the country for some time disparaging the president on his progressive values and on his specific action to attack poverty in general and on problems in the black community specifically. While there is much merit to what they say, generally their failure to understand the dynamics involved in navigating the presidency, especially the presidency of the first black president displays either an elevated level of naiveté, or a self-serving interest that presents a danger to both the poor and to African Americans. The fact that they were doing this during the heart of the election season likely makes the latter more consistent with their actions. If this is the case then they are doing what many leaders and false prophets have done, make money on the backs of the disenfranchised under the pretense of caring. One must ask how much of the proceeds from their books on these issues went to support projects to effectively help the poor.

Tavis Smiley Never A Supporter Of The President

Tavis Smiley was never an ardent supporter of President Obama. That of course is his right. His antagonism of the president during the 2008 Democratic Primaries hit a crescendo when the president did not attend Smiley’s “State Of The Black Union” forum in New Orleans even as Hillary Clinton did. In a further display of uncalled for arrogance, he rejected then Senator Obama’s request to have Michelle Obama represent him at the forum. Further he castigated Senator Obama for distancing himself from Reverend Jeremiah Wright, and for not attending African American events Smiley deemed he should attend. The height of this man’s arrogance, lack of scope, and self-serving hyperbole makes him an unfit spokesman for the cause of the poor and disenfranchised. That Dr. Cornel West has allowed himself to be Tavis Smiley’s sidekick speaks poorly of his judgment.

I received an email from a dear friend today that made me aware of an interview given to Smiley and West on Democracy Now with Amy Goodman & Juan González. In that interview Cornel West referred to the president as “a Rockefeller Republican in blackface”. He also implied that Al Sharpton, Melissa Harris-Perry, and Michael Dyson, three MSNBC personalities generally supportive of the President are on the take. Had such statements being made by others in the media, both Smiley and West would be up in arms making accusations of racism. They continued to bash the president on his progressive negotiating skills and his lack of doing anything for the poor. What their argument lacked was specifics of what they believe the executive could really do to correct many of the ills in the black community specifically and for the poor generally.

Here is the reality. America was not ready for a black president in 2008 or 2012. President Obama defied many realities with his political skills and a very competent campaign to win. He was aided by Bush fatigue, a depressed economy, and a lousy candidate in John McCain in 2008. In 2012 he was aided by a Plutocrat he made unelectable early in the campaign because to a sufficiently large percentage of prejudiced Americans, a black president they despise is better than the white president that will destroy their middle class life. One can only guess that Kansas is waking up. The President made himself the least fearful black man in the United States. He ensured that no events that he attended could possibly be used to insight white racial fears. He ensured that America was well aware of his white mother and that he was partially raised by his white grandparents.

Most of the black establishment because of history understood that progress requires compromise. Most understand that the president firstly is the president of all America. Doing a great job for all America ensures a likewise good result for the poor and minority America. More importantly they realize that to be reelected the President must make himself re-electable to those who vote.

I purchased two of Tavis Smiley’s books,” The Covenant with Black America” in 2006 and “The Covenant In Action” in 2007. They were good books that described many of the problems in black America and some solutions mostly in an abstract form. The problem I have with Tavis Smiley, Dr. Cornel West, and forums like the “The State Of The Black Union” is that they are all talk and no action. Having conferences with Harvard, Princeton, Ivy League, and other black intellectuals for all practical purposes are a waste of time. Many of these people seem to revel in listening to themselves and rarely participate in real grassroots movements that actually could effect change. While I give deference to Dr. Cornel West for participating in Occupy Wall Street, one rarely find these so called intellectuals physically being a part of the solution.

Tavis Smiley Needs Less Talk And More Action

Tavis Smiley and Dr. Cornel West will do much better by going into the community, rolling up their sleeves, and going door to door, and talk to the disenfranchised. Encourage them to vote and humbly teach them why their votes matter. Let them know that unless they vote, the President does not have a sufficient mandate to effect policies most beneficial to them. Teach those that require it, the need for personal responsibility and education. Build up their spirits by showing they matter.

Being critical of the President is one thing. Being critical of the President for navigating a Washington where he has at best partial control is a cop out from the duty Tavis Smiley and of those who should be the community organizers that help provide the president a mandate. Only then can he be held fully accountable.

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About Egberto Willies

Egberto Willies is a radio show host, author, blogger, political activist, DailyKOS Featured Writer, Vice President of Coffee Party USA, Executive Committee member of Move to Amend, 2nd Annual CNN iReport Spirit Award Honoree, HuffPost Live Contributor, self-employed software developer, & web designer. Egberto wrote the book ‘As I See It:Class Warfare The Only Resort To Right Wing Doom’ based on his belief that the mainstream media is derelict in its duty to relate what really ails the middle class and the complicity of the Right Wing in its demise. Bio: http://egbertowillies.com/bio/ Linked In: http://linkd.in/TOiHUS. Google


  1. Actually, progressive media remains the greatest source of harm to the poor, as does liberal TV programming (MSNBC). Poverty and the poor have virtually been censored out of the media since Clinton. Today, it’s all about/only about (what’s left of) the middle class. Interestingly, those who relentlessly pander to the middle class surely know that our current policies concerning the poor (workfare, etc.) have been serving to shrink the middle class. We also know that we chose a set of policies that virtually ended upward class mobility. Kind of hard to climb that ladder out of poverty when the rungs have been cut off. But we aren’t going to do anything to reverse the policies that have brought us to this point.

  2. I don’t agree with the author of this article and I believe that critic of Obama’s last four years is more than justified. There is no need to go on personal attacks on Smiley and West just look at Obama’s last four years…
    Changes in the healthcare are very far from the public option or medicare for everyone, he couldn’t even stop bush tax cuts for the wealthy to expire, reform of Wall street finished nowhere, banks are bigger than they were before the meltdown, government agencies are continuing to be services for the big companies, corrupt anduseless, and he opened the door to cut Medicare and Medicaid by appointing already people who’s job is to cut those services… not to mention war expansions, slashing privacy laws and personal liberties by indefinite detention (passed by the congress on New Year’s eve, away from the public eye or any debate). What kind of hope for the middle class, black people or minorities, or American people in general did the last four years give?
    And what is the worst, we gave him the mandate for the next four years just based on the promise “This time I will be better!” ?! Based on what? Who are the donors of Obama? Who are the memebers of his previous cabinet?
    Or in a nutshell : “Obama, who’s your daddy?”

  3. Donald Hart says:

    A very insightful and thought provoking analysis. You have captured the esscense of the African American experience. Intelligentsia that talk rather than do. Thank you for your comments.

  4. I just don’t get how anyone who claims to be an advocate of social justice can honestly looks at the first four years of the Obama Presidency and still see reason to support the man. There has never even been a serious attempt made at reforming Wall Street and the financial system, and his methods of fighting the so-called “War on Terror” EXCEED the extremism of Bush-Cheney. (Going to war with Libya without congressional approval, killing American citizens (including teenagers) in drone strikes, etc.)

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly not saying that Romney is any better. But the fact is that we Americans need to wake the eff up and demand real political leadership for our republic, lest we one day wake up and find all the principles that that republic is based upon pulled out from under us.

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