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If We Call Obama "Progressive," Are We Ignoring His Record?

Broadcaster Tavis Smiley and professor and activist Dr. Cornel West discuss President Obama’s re-election, and what kind of president we have on our hands.

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TAVIS SMILEY: I’ve known Michael Eric Dyson for a long time, and I love him with all of my heart. It is so disappointing, though, to hear Michael, Professor Dyson, advance that kind of argument. He comes out of a black prophetic tradition that is rooted in speaking truth to power—and, I might add, to the powerless. But to somehow try to suggest in any way that this president has been progressive or is the best example of progressivism that we could put forth in this country is just inaccurate.

This is precisely why Dr. West and I and others—you know, we don’t have a monopoly on the truth, and we’re not the only ones—but this is why we believe that the president has to be pushed. I’ve said so many times across the nation that great presidents aren’t born, they’re made. They have to be pushed into their greatness. There is no Abraham Lincoln—I just saw the movie coming out this weekend, I think, the Lincoln project. And Lincoln isn’t Lincoln if Frederick Douglass isn’t pushing him. FDR isn’t FDR if A. Philip Randolph and Eleanor Roosevelt aren’t pushing him. LBJ isn’t LBJ if MLK isn’t pushing him.

And so, what I hear in Professor Dyson’s critique is that there is some excuse to be made or that we have to settle for this as the best example of progressivism that we can find. And Doc and I just don’t believe in settling. We don’t believe in making excuses. We believe that if he is not pushed, he’s going to be a transactional president and not a transformational president. And we believe that the time is now for action and no longer accommodation. But that doesn’t happen unless you’re pushed.

So, the excuse making and the settling for the fact that this is the best that we can do—can you imagine what this country would be if women had settled? "This is the best that we can do"? If black folk in slavery and segregation had said, "This is the best that we can do"? That’s not—that’s not even the spirit of America, much less the spirit of those who come out of the black prophetic tradition. So that’s disappointing to hear, even though I love him with all my heart.

CORNEL WEST: And Brother Tavis is being very kind, because he’s right. I love Brother Mike Dyson, too, but we’re living in a society where everybody is up for sale. Everything is up for sale. And he and Brother Sharpton and Sister Melissa and others, they have sold their souls for a mess of Obama pottage. And we invite them back to the black prophetic tradition after Obama leaves. But at the moment, they want insider access, and they want to tell those kind of lies. They want to turn their back to poor and working people.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, he’s—Michael Eric—

CORNEL WEST: And it’s a sad thing to see them as apologists for the Obama administration in that way, given the kind of critical background that all of them have had at some point.

AMY GOODMAN: Michael Eric Dyson isn’t saying that Obama is progressive, but he’s the most progressive of the presidents that we’ve had.

CORNEL WEST: When FDR says, "Bring the economic royalists on; they are my foes. I’m fighting on behalf of poor people," has Obama not just said that, but done that? Did LBJ, who declared a war on poverty, that generated the kind of legislation against American terrorism called Jim and Jane Crow for voting and—come on, Dyson. But it’s not just what he said there; it’s what he’s been saying as a whole. Brother Glen Ford crushed him in that debate. Listen to what the arguments are. You see what I mean? And again, we’re sending out our love for Dyson, because he’s been our partner, and he can be our partner again. But these kind of lies, we can’t live with.

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