If We Call Obama "Progressive," Are We Ignoring His Record?
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TAVIS SMILEY: And to me, the most progressive—I want to add right quick, to me, the most progressive means that you’re taking some serious risk.
CORNEL WEST: That’s right.
TAVIS SMILEY: And I just don’t see the example of that. Even the healthcare debate, the president compromised against himself. He watered down what he promised on the campaign trail before we got serious. The promising—the promise of an open debate on C-SPAN never really quite materialized. So, I’m not suggesting that I’m unhappy with the fact that we got something done on healthcare, but it’s nowhere near what it was supposed to be.
And again, if you’re going to label somebody "the most progressive," you’ve got to show me where the risk was taken. Lincoln took risk. FDR took risk. LBJ took risk. We know, famously, LBJ said, "I know that advancing this legislation, voting rights and civil rights, is going to lose my party the South for two decades." And he turned out to be right, but it was the right thing to do at that time. And so, that’s what we’re saying.
In the president’s forward motion in the second term to establish a legacy—and I don’t think that being president ought to be about a legacy; it ought to be about advancing the best for the American people. But in this conversation about his legacy, I want to see what risk he’s going to take. Is he going to put himself on the line for poor people? Is he going have an honest conversation about drones? As Doc said earlier, you know, is he ever going to say the word prison—the phrase, "prison-industrial complex"? Reagan wouldn’t say "AIDS." Bush wouldn’t say "climate change." Will Obama say "prison-industrial complex"? I mean, I want to know where the risk is that equates to being the most progressive president ever. That’s the—I don’t get that.
CORNEL WEST: Is it progressive to sign the National Defense Authorization Act, in which you can actually detain American citizens with no due process, no judicial process, to assassinate American citizens based on executive power? That’s not—that is authoritarian. That’s autocratic. It’s crypto-fascist. We have to call it for what it is. Drones are war crimes. We have to call it for what it is. That’s the tradition that produced us. That’s what Frederick Douglass is about. That’s what Ida B. Wells is about. That’s what Abraham Joshua Heschel at his best was. That’s what Dorothy Day was. That’s our tradition. Now, if one doesn’t want to be part of that tradition and be inside of the White House, then stay in the White House and have a good time and breakdance. But don’t lie. Don’t try to tell us that lies are the truth.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to come back to this conversation in a minute. Our guests are Tavis Smiley and Dr. Cornel West.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. You like that music, Dr. Cornel West.
CORNEL WEST: Oh, that’s Curtis Mayfield, "Keep on Pushing." He’s on the love train. We on the love train.
AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Cornel West is with us, and Tavis Smiley, and they have a radio show called Smiley & West. That’s every week. It’s a weekly program. You were just having a debate with Jeffrey Toobin on it around the issue of third-party candidates and what we need in this country. Do you think movements are shaping up? And what do you think the movements that brought President Obama into office the first time—what do you think they are doing now after the second time? Tavis?