In one of the few bits of good news of late for former President Trump (indictment? what indictment?), Cornel West announced his candidacy for the next presidency, running under the banner of the progressive People’s Party.
Mr.—pardon, Dr.—West is a famous intellectual, a celebrated-in-some-circles professor whose work has perhaps best been described by the astute and eloquent thinker Leon Wieseltier as “sectarian, humorless, pedantic and self-endeared.”
The reason Mr. Trump likely danced a jig at the news is because any votes Mr. West manages to garner will have been siphoned off from supporters of President Biden or whoever the Democratic candidate will be.
It was to that fact that liberal Harvard Law professor Laurence Tribe was referring when he publicly addressed Mr. West, saying: “Ego trips can come at a heavy price, Cornel. Please stop this foolishness.”
He won’t, though. Mr. West’s personal history is a compelling example of the contention that intellectualism and foolishness are far from incompatible.
Mr. West was a professor of African-American studies at Harvard University in 2002 when he became embroiled in a dispute with then-President of Harvard Lawrence Summers.
Reportedly, Mr. Summers privately rebuked Mr. West for missing too many classes, contributing to grade inflation, neglecting serious scholarship, and spending too much time on political and economically profitable personal projects. The Harvard president also reportedly called a rap album Mr. West had recorded an “embarrassment” to the university. (Mr. West, ever the scholar, chose to describe his production with the fuzzy phrase ‘”danceable education.”)
In a huff—calling Mr. Summers, among other things, “a bully”—the petulant professor left Harvard for Princeton University, which had been wooing him.
In 2012, though, he left Princeton for the Union Theological Seminary, where he had begun his teaching career. Four years later, he returned to Harvard. But his new position there, Professor of the Practice of Public Philosophy, unlike his original one at the school, was nontenured. (Tenured professors cannot have their employment terminated other than in extraordinary circumstances, and have free rein to embrace and promote whatever views they like without fear of repercussion.)
When, in 2021, Mr. West’s bid for tenure was denied, he angrily resigned his newest position, and insinuated that the denial of tenure was retaliation for his views on Israel. In a fit of insult, he wrote: “Is Harvard a place for a free Black man like myself whose Christian faith and witness put equal value on Palestinian and Jewish babies—like all babies—and reject all occupations as immoral?” Talk about babies.
In what would surely stupefy many Jewish students on university campuses, Mr. West also asserted that “You could hardly get a faculty member to raise a public voice being critical of Israeli occupation… There’s this fear among the faculty, and among the staff.”
For his fearless part, though, over the years, he compared the IDF to Hamas, embraced BDS and, in 2013, called then-President Barack Obama a “war criminal” because of Mr. Obama’s support of Israel.
The previous year, he accused Mr. Obama of another crime: feeling “most comfortable with upper middle-class white and Jewish men.”
Tellingly, Mr. West has been more reluctant to criticize another famous fellow African American (well, Caribbean American), Louis Farrakhan. Asked to concede that the Nation of Islam leader is racist (as self-evident a truth as any intellectual has ever confronted), Mr. West responded in his characteristic obscurantic style, describing Mr. Farrakhan, the closest thing to a black Nazi one can imagine, as merely “a xenophobic spokesperson when it comes to dealing with Jewish humanity.” Oh.
Major elements of candidate West’s platform include the disbanding of NATO and the end to all US foreign military aid.
He also echoes the Kremlin’s line about the Russian “special military operation” in Ukraine being in part due to NATO’s expansion.
In a 2012 profile of the professor, New York Magazine’s Lisa Miller recounted that, having interviewed people who knew Mr. West well, “more than one person compared West to a precocious child, clamoring to be seen. ‘Look at me! Look at me!’ ”
The cat in the hat is indeed entertaining. But qualified to be the leader of the free world? Not so much.
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