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Jewish World Review Feb. 3, 2000 /30 Shevat, 5760

Evan Gahr

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The red and the Black: The Left-wing Extremist in Bill Bradleyís Camp


http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- QUICK TEST: Which advisor to a Democratic presidential candidate indulges bigotry and in many other respects is well outside the political mainstream?

If you picked Donna Brazile, the race-baiting campaign manager for Al Gore, youíre only half right. Gore recently took flak for Brazileís racially-charged attacks on Republicans. But another advisor with a perhaps even more dubious record remains comfortably enconsced in the Bradley campaign.

Harvard professor Cornel West, who advises Bradley on racial matters and is co-chair of his campaign in Massachusetts, compares cop killer Mumia Abu Jamal to Martin Luther King, plays footsie with Louis Farrakhan, and continues to beat the drum for socialism.

Socialism? Didnít that pernicious dream go down with the Berlin Wall? Not according to West. "Marxist thought becomes even more relevant after the collapse of communism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe than before," he has written.

An honorary chair of the Democrat Socialists of America, West welcomed the Soviet Unionís collapse as a opportunity to put real socialism into practice. When the Socialist International gathered in October 1990 at (figure this out) New Yorkís opulent Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, West told his comrades "Our values can be played out. We can begin to translate them into programs of action"

An engaging orator, and quite dapper in his trademark three piece suit, West reportedly makes more than $12,000 per speech. But though he seems to practice capitalism, he has no use for it intellectually He blasts multinational corporations for "unleashing...racist ammunition on the black and brown working poor and underclass."

"What to do? What to do? We have never had a public debate in this country about 1 percent of the population owning 37 percent of the wealth," he has lamented. "That debate's never taken place. It's not a just distribution if you're interested in justice."

Anyone who would use Westís paper trail against Bradley faces an uphill battle. The good professorís prose has all the clarity of Egyptian hieroglyphics. In one essay he writes that, "We are impelled into a pulsating world of surfaces, seeking to secure some vitality and vigor for our desperate selves."

We are?

West calls his own philosophy "prophetic pragmatism--an attempt to revive a grand yet flawed tradition, a rapprochement between the best of liberalism, populism, and democratic socialism, that takes race, class, and gender seriously."
West
This is a man so PC he even uses "Jim and Jane Crow" as his shorthand for segregation.

Or, as he explained in his typically humble fashion to the Washington Post, "I represent a stand of the black freedom struggle that, these days, is very much cutting against the grain. You talk abut an all-embracing moral vision, you talk about an analysis that highlights class and gender as well as race, and sexual orientation, and ecology. To try to be synthetic and synoptic in that way is very much cutting against the grain.

Sounds like one bold headbanger to us.

Although heís heralded as one of the countryís premiere public intellectuals, Westís views are rarely scrutinized, let alone debated. On Crossfire December 30, conservative co-host Mary Matalin called West "one of the centuryís intellectual giants." She further identified the unabashed socialists a merely a "liberal." The following night, a spellbound Peter Jennings gushed over West in much the same fashion.

Interestingly, the sharpest criticism of West has come from genuine liberals. In 1995, the New Republic ran a highly critical cover story on West, and has devoted a number of Notebook items to the good professor since then.

Leftist political science professor Adolph Reed -- Nation contributor -- has complained that "Cornelís work tends to be 1,000 miles wide and about two inches deep." Indeed.

Although West constantly talks about the importance of multi-racial alliances, he is quite cozy with with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan -- no friend of integration. In addition to supporting Farrakhanís March on Washington, West rationalizes the Nation of Islam leaderís praise of Hitler as appropriate "because he [Farrakhan] wanted to talk about somebody who created a people out of nothing." In 1995, West attended a Houston meeting held by a new organization that explicitly barred non-blacks. Farrakhan was the headliner, many anti-Semitic books were on sale.

West, 46, grew up in Sacramento. Quite the independent thinker even at an early age, he was expelled from elementary school after he smacked a teacher who he felt was forcing him to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. He was soon entranced by the black panthers and helped run their school breakfast program while a Harvard student in the early 1970s. After earning a PhD. from Harvard, he began teaching at the Union Theological Seminary. He soon he jumped to Princeton, later Harvard.

The question remains: whatís this unabashed American socialist doing in the middle of a "New Democrat"ís campaign? Bradley has dismissed criticism of his ties to West. "Iím my own man. I always have been," Bradley told Boston Phoenix writer Seth Gitell.

Itís mighty doubtful that such an explanation would prove acceptable if offered by a GOP candidate with an adviser as far right as West is left. (In 1996, Pat Buchanan jettisoned a campaign official after she was linked to the David Duke-founded National Association for the Advancement of White People.)

Itís time for some straight answers: Does Bradley agree with West about Farrakhan? That capitalism is oppressive? What does Bradley think of Westís proposed solutions? These are not idle questions. There is speculation that West has already wielded considerable influence over Bradleyís thinking.

Meanwhile, the next time Democrats yelp about extremists in the GOP camp they would do well to take a good look at the socialist in their midst.



JWR contributor Evan Gahr is a former New York Post press critic. This piece is adapted from one that appeared on The American Enterprise Online. Send your comments by clicking here.


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© 2000, Evan Gahr