Political Strategist Brazile Says Scholar’s Obama Criticism is Valuable for Democrats

PRINCETON, N.J. — In the wake of his sharp critique of President Barack Obama, a number of Black activists and politicians have publicly chastised Princeton University’s Dr. Cornel West for voicing strong opposition to many of the president’s policies.

But a top Democrat and loyal Obama supporter says that she welcomes West’s analysis to help keep Democrats accountable.

“We have to have an inside, outside strategy. We have to do defense and offense,” says Donna Brazile, the interim chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee and a regular television commentator on ABC News and CNN. “The fact that Brother West is on the outside makes my job easier.”

Brazile, one of the nation’s most visible Democratic strategists, journeyed to Princeton University on Thursday to engage in a public discussion with West about the current state of American politics. During the conversation, she sharply criticized the Republican-led House of Representatives whom she says has waged an attack on poor and working-class people.

“It’s hard to get the truth out when there are so many lies out there,” says Brazile, who served as campaign manager for Al Gore’s presidential campaign in 2000 and is an adjunct professor at Georgetown University. “We know what the Republicans are going to fight for in 2012. Their message will be Obama is bad.”

Even though Obama remains popular among African-American voters, a growing chorus of prominent Black intellectuals, like West and Georgetown University’s Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, who campaigned for Obama when he was a candidate, are now consistent critics.  They argue that the president is a centrist who is willing to compromise too much.

In an effort to shore up his support in the Black community for 2012, Obama recently spoke at the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network Convention. Sharpton has been an ardent supporter of Obama and has been at odds with West.

“Too many of us are putting it all on the president. If I see a [Paul] Ryan in Congress, where is the counterpoint to Ryan? That’s not President Obama’s job. … He shouldn’t lead the civil rights marches against himself,” says Sharpton, who debated West recently on MSNBC. “Everybody’s sitting around acting like we can’t do anything; Obama’s going to do it. That’s hogwash.”

But West says that Obama could use his bully pulpit to train a spotlight on a jobs bill or the prison industrial system and mass incarceration that he says unfairly impacts a disproportionate number of African-Americans.  

“If the well-to-do and the powerful in government or in private sector can engage in illegal acts and get away with it, then what are we saying to Jamal and Leticia when they get caught with a crack bag?” says West. “It’s unclear what (Obama) really stands for.”  

Brazile says that Obama is governing at a time when the country is deeply divided and polarized. She says that he has to compromise.

” Barack Obama is a pragmatist,” says Brazile, who added that some of the issues that beset the Black community can’t be solved by government. “We have to put on our marching boots and fight, fight as if our lives depend on it.”