Samantha Power, Amy Goodman, and Cornel West (June 8, 2023)

June 9, 2023

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Former Obama administration official Samantha Power attended Henry Kissinger’s 100th birthday bash the other day. (If there’s a god, Professor Chomsky will outlive him; if he doesn’t, Dawkins is right.) On Twitter space, a lot of folks exclaimed shock. But why? True, Obama recalls in his memoir that Power “evoked my youthful idealism,” and swoons at “her almost sorrowful eyes that crinkled at the corners when she laughed.” But of what did this idealism consist. On Libya, Syria, Egypt, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Palestine, this war-monger-cum-hippie-love child was a monster. I carefully parsed her record on the Middle East in my book I’ll Burn That Bridge When I Get to It. She was a favorite of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as Power personally intervened at the UN to block any criticism of Israel and its periodic massacres in Gaza. Historian Richard Sakwa observed that, when it came to Ukraine, she was the “shrillest” member of the Obama administration. Small wonder, then, that this despondent, crinkly-eyed babe was the recipient in 2016 of the Henry Kissinger Prize, bestowed upon her by the Doctor of Death himself.


Amy Goodman recently interviewed presidential candidate Cornel West on Democracy Now! Goodman was very tough on Cornel. She came across as an MSNBC apparatchik ordered to do a hatchet job. Goodman wondered why Cornel appeared on Joe Rogan’s program and featured Rogan in his campaign ad when Rogan uttered the epithet “nigger” on his podcast. She wondered why Cornel is running on the People’s Party ticket when its founder was accused of sexual harassment. I’m surprised she didn’t fault Cornel for teaching at Princeton University when one of its presidents (John Witherspoon) owned slaves, and another (Woodrow Wilson) was a notorious racist. Pity she didn’t query Cornel whether he planned to pay Black reparations. Goodman sought to justify her bellicose tone: “So, you know Democracy Now!  We ask very critical questions.” Not to Woke guests, she doesn’t. I can think of many critical questions she could’ve posed to Angela Davis (Why do you charge tens of thousands of dollars in speaking fees for “solidarity” events?), Patrisse Cullors (What happened to the $90 million dollars collected by your Black Lives Matter organization?), Ibram X. Kendi (Why haven’t you answered any of the scholarly criticisms of your books?), Zooey Zephyr (Haven’t many medical experts questioned the infliction of puberty blockers on children?). On the other hand, I cannot say Cornel came off well. When I heard his presidential announcement, I resolved to campaign for him. He’s very smart, he’s principled, and he’s an activist. (I can do without his addressing as “Brother” dirt bags like Al Sharpton.) Cornel seems a worthy successor to Bernie Sanders and, if he manages to build an organization, might shake things up. But here’s an excerpt from what he had to say when Goodman asked him about the Ukraine war.


CORNEL WEST: And so we’re witnessing a proxy war. There must be a ceasefire. There must be a stopping of that war. Why? We’re on the road to nuclear war. That’s
the last thing we want to see, my dear sister.


AMY GOODMAN: And as president, what exactly would you do to stop that war?


CORNEL WEST: Oh, one is, I would pull back on the U.S. military support. I would sit down with the elites from the Chinese empire, given all of their forms of regimentation and repression in their own context. Think about our precious Muslim brothers and sisters in China, the Uyghurs. But I would sit down with the Chinese. I would sit down with the Ukrainians. I would sit down with the Russians, say, “We’re going to stop this war, and we’re going to come up with a plan, a process, with a variety of voices heard, to make sure that the suffering stops and we understand and we’re honest about the larger context of the war.”


And unfortunately, we just don’t get this kind of perspective, you know, in corporate media. Thank god for Democracy Now! And thank god for a few other venues that try to tell the truth about this. Because, you know, my dear Sister Amy, that I am — I’m a jazzman in American politics. And jazz is about blues, and blues is about catastrophe, lyrically expressed and candidly confronted and artistically transfigured. And the catastrophes have to be wrestled with. It could be ecological ones. It could be economic ones of grotesque wealth inequality. It could be social ones, political ones, psychic ones.


And then there is swing, which is a different conception of time. So we have ways of authorizing a better future, given what seem to be all of the closed routes, all of the foreclosures, all of the alternatives trumped. So you have to make sure that the vitality and energy that you have swings in such a way that you never lose hope in having
solidarity with oppressed people around the world. And, of course, the third element is improvisation. And improvisation is about what? Well, it’s not just an artistic skill, as the Ron Carters and geniuses like that still alive remind us. It’s also a form of practical wisdom. As freedom fighters, we’ve got to be improvisational. We’ve got to be flexible. We’ve got to be fluid. We’ve got to be protean. We’ve got to learn how to listen. We can’t be dogmatic. We can’t be ossified. We can’t be petrified in how we look at the world.


And right now we have to have presidential debates and politics in which people who look at the world look at the world through the lens of what the great Frantz Fanon called the wretched of the Earth — [End]


Cornel was asked a specific question: What exactly would you do to end war? How does he respond? “I’m a jazzman” blah blah blah. As not a jazzman but a Jew would say, Oy vey. For such a knowledgeable fellow, this was positively awful. The great appeal of Bernie Sanders was that he had a very concrete program that he reiterated almost to the point of tedium on every possible occasion. Cornel typically goes on and on about capitalism, racism, imperialism, sexism, neoliberalism… Such lifeless abstractions might excite a handful of activists but it will never generate a mass movement. I still believe that Cornel can pick up where Bernie left off. But I hope he will reflect hard on what Bernie did right.