Black Intellectuals Bashing and Bailing on Hillary — But No One Cares

By The Stream Published on March 1, 2016

They may get the media coverage but few seem to be listening. Leading black intellectuals are rejecting Hillary Clinton and embracing Bernie Sanders, but at least in South Carolina, their opinion didn’t seem to matter at all. Clinton won an estimated 84% of the black vote — beating Sanders among those voters by an even bigger margin than Obama had beat her in 2008. Significant: Over 7 in 10 of black voters wanted the next president to continue President Obama’s policies and fewer than 2 in 10 wanted him or her to pursue more liberal — more Sanders-like — policies.

“We’re in a paradox,” Cornel West told Anderson Cooper before the primary. Cooper had asked the former Princeton professor now teaching at Union Seminary in New York City, how Bernie Sanders could gain black votes. “Black people have been the most progressive group when it comes to social justice. No doubt Bernie Sanders is the most progressive when it comes to social justice. He’s not tied to Wall Street in any way. … And he doesn’t use the language of our dear sister Hillary Clinton when she talks about young black youth as ‘super-predators,’ that justified the expansion of mass incarceration and pulling the rug from under welfare.”

West, one of the leading black intellectuals in America — and a good friend and sparring partner of conservative Catholic intellectual Robert P. George — continued: “We’ve got a neo-political, black political class that confuses the gravy train with the freedom train. They’re not providing the kind of leadership they should and they’re afraid of Bernie Sanders in part because they’re afraid of Wall Street. Hillary’s a Wall Street Democrat.” Sanders is “hard” on elites of all sorts, he said, including the black elite.

Mystified by Their Support

“I am mystified by robust black support for Bill and Hillary Clinton,” wrote Guardian columnist Steven W. Thrasher, reporting on filmmaker Spike Lee’s endorsement of Sanders. Lee, the highly-praised director of Do the Right Thing and the recent Chi-Raq, said in a radio commercial aired in South Carolina,

I know that you know the system is rigged. For too long we’ve given our votes to corporate puppets. Sold the Okie-doke. … And that’s why I am officially endorsing my brother Bernie Sanders. Bernie takes no money from corporations. Nada. Which means he is not on the take. And when Bernie gets into the White House, he will do the right thing.

Echoing West, Thrasher claims the black political establishment is too politically compromised to support Sanders. When “the corporate-funded Super Pac of the Congressional Black Caucus” endorsed Clinton,

the only reason seemed to be political expediency. The black members of congress seemed intent on maintaining their relationship within the Clinton power structure, no matter how deeply invested it may be in white supremacy. Like Clinton, much of the CBC is beholden to Wall Street. So Sanders — with no connection to Wall Street or to a global foundation ripe for harvesting political chits — offers CBC members little possibility of power except by way of his gamble for the White House.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Atlantic magazine’s national correspondent and recent recipient of a MacArthur “genius” grant, recently told the leftist radio show Democracy Now!, “Like a lot of people, I’m very, very concerned about Senator Clinton’s record.” In the 1990s, she supported “some of the most disgusting legislation in terms of our criminal justice, really, in this country’s history. I get really, really concerned when I see somebody taking $600,000 in speaking fees from Goldman Sachs, will not release what they’re actually saying. That’s concerning.”

Coates, who came to national notice with an article in The Atlantic demanding reparations for black people, criticized Sanders for not supporting reparations. But, he told Democracy Now!, “One can say Senator Sanders should have more explicit antiracist policy within his racial justice platform, not just more general stuff, and still cast a vote for Senator Sanders and still feel that Senator Sanders is the best option that we have in the race.” When pressed, he said he would be voting for Sanders.

Without endorsing Sanders, Michelle Alexander describes the Clinton administration policies, publicly supported by Hillary, that she believed had “punish[ed] black people so harshly.” The candidate, she said, is “still singing the same old tune in a slightly different key.” Writing in The Nation, the author of The New Jim Crow concludes: “In short, there is such a thing as a lesser evil, and Hillary is not it.” The Democrats — including the party’s front-runner — are “now owned and controlled by a relatively small number of millionaires and billionaires,” she writes, calling for a new party representing “a revolutionary movement.”

84% Didn’t Listen

Cornel West, Spike Lee, Steven W. Thrasher, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Michelle Alexander and others. Some of the most influential black intellectuals in America support Bernie Sanders in his campaign for the presidency and reject Hillary Clinton. Their criticism of Clinton is often deeply critical and sweeping. Still, in the first primary in a state with a significant black population, Clinton decisively beat Sanders 84% to 16% among black Democratic voters.

The reason? At least in part, it’s that Sanders appeals to the intellectuals because he’s a socialist, and Clinton appeals to everyone else because she’s not.

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