Cornel West Running on Platform of 'Catastrophes'


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May 20, 2023

Cornel West Running on Platform of 'Catastrophes'

Progressive philosopher Cornel West can be described as a number of things: a

Progressive philosopher Cornel West can be described as a number of things: a social critic, an actor, a radio host and a political activist. And as of this week, a candidate for president of the United States.

On Monday, the noted liberal activist announced a surprise run for president as a candidate of the People's Party, a progressive coalition initially formed as a platform for independent Senator Bernie Sanders' 2016 presidential run.

And like Sanders in both of his campaigns, West is seeking to needle the Democratic Party establishment from the left, pushing a series of progressive policies that left-wing activists have long yearned the party to pursue more vigorously—Medicare for all, aggressive action on climate change, and an anti-interventionist stance on foreign policy.

Entering what will likely be yet another contentious election year, the impact the 70-year-old could have on the tenor of the 2024 election cycle—should he gain his footing—could be substantial, particularly as Democrats' unpopular incumbent, Joe Biden, looks to solidify support among members of his party and independents.

And that's assuming he even makes the field: at this point, the People's Party only has ballot access in a single state.

However, a case could be made that West, based solely on his remarks from his freewheeling announcement Monday, seeks more to introduce the idea of reforming a society built around the legacy of catastrophe after catastrophe, whether against indigenous people and America's poorest or through the atrocities of American foreign policy. His campaign, he said, aims to tell the truth about the state of America, rallying everyone around the common idea that life for the average working American is being held back by a wealthy cabal of elites.

"You tell the truth about catastrophe," West said in his announcement on actor Russell Brand's Stay Free podcast Monday. "On the one hand, you authorize a different future in light of a different conception of time in the present, and then you improvise. And you improvise based on what? Because you love something bigger than yourself."

I am running for truth and justice as a presidential candidate for the People's Party to reintroduce America to the best of itself - fighting to end poverty, mass incarceration, ending wars and ecological collapse, guaranteeing housing, health care, education and living wages for…

Newsweek reached out to West and his campaign via email for comment. But his chances, at this point, appear bleak.

Democrat Robert F. Kennedy, whose economic policies West channeled during his announcement, is polling in single digits in the current Democratic primary field. Marianne Williamson, who also ran in the 2020 election cycle, is polling similarly low. And historically, third-party candidates for president can rarely expect success, with the best-performing recent example, deep-pocketed conservative Ross Perot, barely clearing double digits in the 1992 general election against the unpopular George H.W. Bush.

While talk of a progressive challenger to Biden has persisted throughout his first term, even progressivism's most prominent voices have expressed concern over the implications of challenging an incumbent.

"I think it's pretty unlikely that a serious progressive challenger would emerge if Biden stays in the race," Max Berger, former director of progressive outreach for Senator Elizabeth Warren's 2020 presidential campaign, told Politico Magazine in a 2022 article. "It would so go against the sensibilities of rank-and-file Democrats that I don't think it would necessarily be a great service to the progressive cause to have our ideas seem so marginal."

Most polls show Biden—regardless of the winner of the Republican primary—projected to be in a tight single-digit battle for the popular vote, with his prospects in swing states like Arizona, Georgia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin likely resting on a knife's edge. And while Biden carried the national popular vote by nearly five points in 2020, just 44,000 votes in key states like Georgia, Arizona and Wisconsin ultimately netted him his victory in the electoral college, securing the presidency.

But for West, winning might not necessarily be the goal.

To win his party's nomination in 2020, Biden was forced to move to the left on multiple issues in an effort to remain competitive with candidates like Sanders and Warren, with the former expressly striking a deal with Biden to mold the former Senate moderate into what Sanders described in an interview with MSNBC's Chris Hayes at the time as "the most progressive president since FDR."

Expanded government health care, expanded federal housing assistance, an abandonment of the federal "war on drugs" were all listed as top priorities, with Biden pledging to unify a party that had grown increasingly splintered against an insurgent—and unified—Republican front.

Up for reelection next year, some on the left see multiple facets of Biden's pledge to the country as unfulfilled. While Biden still maintains a 79 percent approval rating among Democrats, according to the most recent Reuters/Ipsos poll, nearly twice as many Democrats (15 percent) disapprove of his performance than the percentage of Republicans (7 percent) who approve of him.

It's that coalition West seeks to tap into.

Where some have long speculated that Sanders could have beaten the party's moderate nominee, Hillary Clinton, in 2016, recent survey data from the Pew Research Center show 12 percent of the Democratic Party's voters consider themselves members of the "progressive left"—a similar proportion of the party to the percentage that currently disapproves of Biden's performance.

And within that group, most favors heightened government intervention in solving social problems, higher corporate taxes, and a higher federal minimum wage at a time Biden has largely been forced to compromise with a conservative—if fractured—majority in the U.S. House of Representatives.

West—a several-times surrogate for Sanders' campaigns—seeks to take ownership of progressive policy issues from what he describes as the "milquetoast" progressivism of the Biden administration, which he claims is ill-equipped to overcome the policies of the right. And by embracing those policy positions, he claims, he'll be able to win over those on the left and right alike.

"You cannot defeat Neo fascism by milquetoast neoliberalism," West said Monday. "There's no way you can do it. You've got to get at the roots of it. You've got to bring vision and passion to convince people not to follow Neo fascist Pied Pipers, but actually let them know that there are persons on the so called left—which is simply to say persons of integrity, honesty and decency—looking at the world through the lens of poor and working people. That's really what it is. So I don't want to get into the labels. I'm talking about the substance."