The Financial Times‘ Anna Fifield has lunch with Cornell West:
West says he lost faith in Obama when the president brought people with close ties to Wall Street and the financial crisis into his administration. West names the president’s former economic adviser Larry Summers, his current Treasury secretary Tim Geithner, and his budget chief, now chief of staff, Jack Lew.
The Obama administration has concentrated the power of both government and the financial sector, West says, in ways that have been good for banks and bad for common people. “I’m a Main Street brother and I’m very critical of all forms of concentrated power, be it in government or be it in the private sector,” he says, seeing little difference between the political parties.
Though conceding that liberals by far prefer Obama to the presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney, West describes the president’s neoliberalism – citing the deregulation of markets, social services cuts and the slashing of wages of government workers – as “morally bankrupt”.
“You’ve got some decent people there who know that the greed is running amok,” West says, referring to Gregory Smith, a former Goldman Sachs executive who wrote a highly critical opinion piece about the bank in the New York Times in March. “My brother Gregory Smith is a decent brother who says, ‘Look, this culture of greed and avarice is getting out of control. I can’t take it, my moral conscience is violated.’ We’re going to see many more people like Gregory Smith, even inside of the big banks, saying we’ve gone much too far in terms of spiritual emptiness and moral constipation.”
He believes that last year’s Occupy movement came up with a language for discussing these issues – one that will endure regardless of whether or not people are camping in public squares. “We have to come up with a democratic way of talking about it because it’s not a matter of hating oligarchs or taking revenge on the moneyed class, it’s a matter of hating injustice. That’s the [Martin Luther] King legacy.”