Our President and a Real Activist

Harry Belafonte and Eleanor Roosevelt in Brussels, September 6, 1958.

We have learned to expect this Administration to constantly veer to the right, to collapse on matters of principle, to accept substandard just to get something done. We’ve heard Rahm Emanuel’s attacks on liberals, read of Robert Gibbs’s whining about how little credit they get, watched the President pick advisors and administrators who have historically sided with the accumulators of wealth and power at the expense of the country, and even heard him tell the people he wanted campaign contributions from that his supporters should swallow their “anger” at him.

James Forman, Martin Luther King Jr., and Harry Belafonte. (UPI/File 1965.)

But it is still striking when you hear him act as though he were entitled to the support of progressives and liberals and activists no matter what he does. I’ll give you an example from a community activist who has more street cred in that department by a long shot than the person he was talking to.  Democracy Now! has a video of an interview of Harry Belafonte by Amy Goodman in connection with a  new documentary about his life, called Sing Your Song, which will air on HBO in the fall. You can watch the video or read the rush transcript here. He talks about his entire career, and it is of course a compelling story. When he talks about the President, however, it is clear that he is talking carefully and tamping down his disappointment in a man he clearly wanted to see to do good and to do well. I only want to highlight this exchange:

Wall Street's enablers: Peter R. Orszag (former OMB director, now Vice Chairman of Citigroup); Ben Bernanke (Fed Chairman, disciple of Greenspan); the former community organizer; Tim Geithner (Treasury Secretary, former Kissinger Associate, collaborator with Paulson on Bear Stearns bail out and one time tax evader). (June 28, 2010 - Photo by Pool/Getty Images North America.)

AMY GOODMAN: Have you let President Obama know your views? You have been with him.

HARRY BELAFONTE: Every opportunity I’ve had to put that before him, he has heard. I have not had a chance to put it to him as forcefully as I would like to, because he has not yet given us the accessibility to those places where this could be said in a more articulate way and not always on the fly.
But he once said something to me during his campaign for the presidency, and he says—he said, you know—I said, “I’ve heard you”—he was talking before businessmen on Wall Street here in—there in New York. And he said to me—I said, “Well, you know, I hope you bring the challenge more forcefully to the table.” And he said, “Well, when are you and Cornel West going to cut me some slack?” And I got caught with that remark. And I said to him, in rebuttal, I said, “What makes you think we haven’t?”

The first underlined statement shows who this President makes time for and who he doesn’t. The second reveals a degree of entitlement he expects from liberals that he has not earned. The real tragedy of the last two Administrations, in some ways different but in too many ways the same, is that both Presidents developed their skills as politicians and neglected developing skills as statesmen. The former President simply didn’t care about it. This one seems to be in too much of a hurry.

    • crljones
    • July 26th, 2011

    Harry Belafonte + Cornel West are the worst examples of socialists I can think of and they have been cut way to much “slack” as far as I’m concerned. I look forward to the day when both of them leave us – or America leaves stops supporting the hateful UN. Anyways, Cornel West just punted Obama., so it may be a good thing.

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