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Globe Editorial

Cornel West: Summers was right

Cornel West, far left, applauds then-Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama in 2008. Cornel West, far left, applauds then-Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama in 2008. (Associated Press)
May 24, 2011

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It takes a rare kind of moral philosopher to attack President Obama as a “black mascot of Wall Street oligarchs,’’ and then complain that a mere hotel bellhop could get tickets to Obama’s inauguration. But in his harsh comments about the president last week, a well-known former Harvard professor extrapolated too much from his own experience. In reality, not everything is always about Cornel West.

In an interview with the website Truthdig, West excoriated “my dear brother’’ Obama for relying on West’s old nemesis, ex-Harvard president Larry Summers, instead of tapping more liberal economists. Yet West also speculated, bizarrely, that Obama is “apprehensive’’ among other black people and more comfortable among “upper middle-class white and Jewish men.’’ Then there were more personal grievances: Obama won’t return West’s phone calls. “And then,’’ West recalled, “as it turns out with the inauguration I couldn’t get a ticket with my mother and my brother. . . . We drive into the hotel and the guy who picks up my bags from the hotel has a ticket to the inauguration.’’

Any “prominent and provocative democratic intellectual,’’ as West describes himself, should be pleased that a service employee could snag a ticket that a famous Ivy League talking head couldn’t. But West’s windbaggery shows the same self-involvement that soured his reputation at Harvard. Summers should be proud that he sent Cornel West packing to Princeton.