Boxing gloves vs White gloves

Cornel West and Charles Pierce have had a lot to say as Barack Obama is installed for his second term. There is joy in some of the ideas put forth by the President and concern over the continued use of drones, the human rights record and the seeming coziness with opponents to the point of what looks like caving in to their demands when it is not necessary.

Boston 99% writes:

Today is the US federal holiday called “Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.” Also today, Barack Obama was sworn in for a second term as President of the United States using a Bible that Martin Luther King, Jr. once owned. Cornell West has a problem with this particular Bible being used in this particular way, and he said so in an expressive monologue last Thursday.

The forum was “Vision for a New America: A Future without Poverty,” a symposium in Washington, DC hosted by Tavis Smiley. Newt Gingrich and Marcia Fudge were among the other panelists, but Cornell West definitely made the comments that have attracted the most attention. Presented below is both the video that has become so popular and my transcript of West’s words.

What do you think of what Cornell West had to say? Was it a moving speech? Was it over-inflated rhetoric? Was it both?

See West’s speech below…

Charles Pierce a frequent critic of the President about his use of drones, about pandering to the powerful, and giving in too quickly to opponents, writes in Esquire tells Why the Speech Was Important:

The problem I’ve always had with Barack Obama’s endless paeans to how everyone in politics should get together and devise bipartisan solutions to our most difficult problems is that it always seemed to me to be so formless, a wish rather than a plan. Martin Luther King talked about dreams and visions, but he wasn’t shy about marching children into the fire hoses, either. He knew exactly where the opposition’s pressure points were, and exactly how hard to push them to get them to do what he wanted. I was willing to buy the president’s approach in the 2008 campaign because I thought the country, having labored under the burdens it had put on itself through the blunder of electing George W. Bush one-and-a-half times, really was looking for someone to absolve its sins for it and make it clean and wash it in the blood of the Lamb. My only real reservation, as I wrote at the time, was that the president was offering absolution without penance — without, say, public criminal trials that would force the country to look at what it allowed to happen to itself. As any good Catholic lad can tell you, that’s not the way it works.


We will wait and see, of course, what happens once the scaffolding and the bunting come down, bearing in mind always the scriptural caution about faith without works being dead. But, for an afternoon, anyway, a Democratic president reclaimed the language of freedom from those for whom it means merely lower taxes and more guns. He reclaimed government as a manifestation of a country’s aspirations, and not as an anchor on its progress. And he refuted, with precision and neatly camouflaged contempt, many of the most destructive ideas that have poisoned out politics for nearly four decades now. He did nothing less than redefine patriotism in a progressive way. That is already bothering all of the right people. This, I tell you, is what gives me hope.

And on human rights, the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice asks:

Many human rights and civil liberties advocates hoped that the 2008 election of President Barack Obama would herald a sea change in national security and foreign policies by strengthening respect for fundamental rights at home and abroad. Four years later, advocates now debate whether the first Obama Administration created a new bipartisan consensus on national security issues, and the extent of policy difference between the Obama and Bush Presidencies. There has been no high-level accountability for torture, Guantanamo remains open, and secretive “targeted” killings by drones and other means have expanded. Moreover, human rights were barely mentioned in the Romney-Obama Presidential debates.

What role will—and should—human rights play in the new Administration’s foreign policy? What will it take to improve respect for human rights while countering threats to security? What is the place of human rights—and concern for their violations abroad—in the American public consciousness?

The question of the day is how to make things change without sounding like a crank? Or do we need the boxing glove voices like Cornel West and calmer but still critical Charles Pierce and Center for Human Rights and Global Justice to make space for those wearing the white gloves?

h/t to Elizabeth Kaeton, Gary Gilbert, Murdoch Matthew and June Butler.

Cornel West speech:

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