Cornel West Runs for President: You Can’t Be a Spoiler if the System Is Already Rotten

Under the less than inspiring implicit slogan of “You’re Stuck with Biden,” the Democratic Party has foregone presidential primary debates this election season. Not even bothering with the pretense of democratic people’s choice, naked bourgeois rule is offered to their captured constituencies.

Joe Biden’s approval rating has sunk to a dismal 40.5%. USA Today asks: “How can Donald Trump – a twice-impeached, four-times indicted former president… – be tied, or even leading, Joe Biden in the 2024 election?”

Progressive Democrats – an oxymoron – are alarmed. Pramila Jayapal, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, unconditionally endorsed a Biden rerun even before Joe announced; a raw demonstration that there is not even a glimmer of a progressive agenda in the Democratic Party.

Fellow putative progressive Jim McGovern explained that offering the voters a progressive alternative was verboten because “the stakes are too high this year.”

Call out the attack dogs

If you can’t practice internal democracy or offer an appealing candidate who speaks to the issues concerning the electorate, the course of action for the party faithful is a no-brainer – call out the attack dogs! Target anyone with the temerity to even raise the possibility of an alternative to the two-parties’ shared agenda of austerity for working people, ever more aggressive imperialism, and planetary global warming.

Washington bureau chief for the once progressive Mother Jones, David Corn, got the memo. He smeared independent candidate Dr. Cornel West for not being a Democratic Party sycophant.

Corn reports that West “hobnobs” with people who are not vitriolically opposed to China and instead espouse international peace. Otherwise, the article in MoJo (as the cool people at the publication call themselves) has nothing but bad things to say about West.

Actually, failing to be a Sinophobe is itself a major demerit for Corn. As an equal opportunity xenophobe against official enemies of the US state, Corn has made a professional career peddling the Russiagate conspiracy. Much to his embarrassment, Corn was a major promoter of the discredited Steele dossier, for which even the Washington Post ridiculed Corn’s journalistic malpractice.

Guilt by association

Corn’s hatchet job criticizes West, but he can’t find much to disparage about the esteemed academic and activist. So the ace reporter resorts to guilt by association. West, he argues, must be “judged by those who share the platform” with him.

West appeared on an October 3 forum with the likes of Medea Benjamin, co-founder of Code Pink. The feminist grassroots organization works to end US wars and militarism. Corn hastens to add that her organization was “the subject of a recent New York Times investigation,” which uncovered the unamazing scoop that some on the left have benefactors.

Worse yet, the forum also featured comedian and “far-left” podcaster Lee Camp who harbors resentment for the US “war machine.”

But that was not the end of it. West dared to share the stage with Eugene Puryear, a member of the Party of Socialism and Liberation which favors the “revolutionary overthrow of capitalism.” The accusation is repeated a second time in the short piece just in case you weren’t horrified the first time.

Premature Peacenik

Besides the indiscretion of hobnobbing with undesirables, the transgression that most rankled Corn was Dr. West’s recognition that the war in Ukraine was provoked by the US and its allies before the head of NATO made a similar observation.

The “hail Ukraine” crowd, led by Mr. Biden, are now telling us the Ukraine War was a brilliant strategy to weaken Russia on the cheap, and that it is a bargain to shovel billions more of tax payer dollars to prolong the carnage. But somehow Corn takes umbrage when West suggests the US had some hand in precipitating the debacle.

We are living in times when Rep. Margorie Taylor Greene, a person considered far right by liberals, poses for selfies with peaceniks who Corn now scorns. MTG tweeted: “Today, I met brave @codepink activists who protested for peace…We don’t agree on most things, but we do agree Congress should STOP fueling the war in Ukraine!”

When liberal Democrats find themselves to the right of the likes of Henry Kissinger on matters of war and peace, one needs a score card to know which half of the two-party duopoly is the lesser evil. Liberals who opposed the border wall, deportations of immigrants, aggressive militarism, continuing student debt, promoting oil drilling, and escalating defense budgets when these were Trump policies are happily sucking up when Biden continued and even upped the same measures. West is trying to provide a counterpoint.

West goes independent

Corn sloppily claimed that West is the “Green Party presidential candidate.” West had announced he would run for the Green Party nomination along with a number of other contenders. But the Green Party selection will not be made until 2024.

In any case, West has since announced that he will be running as an independent. As such, West will not enjoy the Green’s advantage of ballot status in around 18 states. West hopes to get on the ballot on 35 to 40 states, rejecting the argument that leaving the Greens would make him less challenging to the Democrats.

West’s departure is unfortunate for the Greens. Had he captured the nomination and run as a Green, his celebrity could have bolstered the party by attracting more registrations. Increasing voter dissatisfaction with the two major capitalist parties has not translated into resurgent third parties at a time when alternatives are ever more needed.

As an independent, West will no longer have the stabilizing bookends of an established party to provide feedback and policy guidance. Vanity and individualism are harder to correct when a candidate is accountable to himself only.

Finally, an independent West will not have to contend with the bureaucracy and internal politics of the Greens. More difficult, however, will be fighting for ballot status against major party-controlled electoral authorities. As Ralph Nader discovered, Democrats were willing to go to unprincipled lengths to keep him off the ballot, cheating and even going to jail.

Cornel West’s platform

The Democrats are marching lock-step on a “Biden’s not Trump” platform, so shut up.

West’s platform is arguably one that is closer to the sentiments of the voters. Some 65% Democrats, 40% independents, and even 10% Republicans support socialism in some form. Agreeing with West, 55% of the electorate oppose additional funding for Ukraine. In contrast, an unprecedented unanimity of House and Senate Democrats support war funding.

Most US voters identify as independents. If ours were truly a democracy, the West platform would qualify as mainstream and West would look like a centrist. But the US political center has shifted decisively to the right.

The two-party neocons have highjacked the US ship of state. Endless war and nuclear confrontation are not middle political postures. Cities of homeless and billionaires joyriding in outer space do not reflect a popular economy.

West’s rebuttal of the spoiler critique

The liberal mantra is to support the Dems despite their politics – not because of their politics – to avoid an even greater evil. Their solution, however, is to reward bad behavior by pledging to swallow whatever the Democrats cough up.

West advises the Democrats to stop obsessing about independents and concentrate on mobilizing their base because they have more registered voters than the Republicans. In the long run, replace the Electoral College with a direct popular vote.

Further, the best way for the Democrats to avoid losing votes to a progressive is to preempt their issues for combatting global warming, reducing income inequality, dismantling the national security state, and ending militarism.

A left alternative in the electoral arena, such as the one West poses, challenges the Democrats to be progressive. Otherwise they have little incentive to raise crucial issues. Removing a progressive challenge from the left is tantamount to encouraging the Democrats to shift further to the right with the assurance that their progressive-leaning captured constituencies, such as ethnic minorities and labor, have nowhere else to go.

Roger D. Harris is with the human rights group Task Force on the Americas and the anti-war group US Peace Council. Read other articles by Roger D..