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Reid Or Boehner Budget Plan? Either Way, The Poor Lose, Says Cornel West

Professor and author Cornel West in 2008. i i

Professor and author Cornel West in 2008. Richard Alan Hannon/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Richard Alan Hannon/Getty Images
Professor and author Cornel West in 2008.

Professor and author Cornel West in 2008.

Richard Alan Hannon/Getty Images

Dr. Cornell West isn't one to mince words.

In an interview with Tell Me More's Michel Martin, the author and Princeton University professor took some heavy shots at the budget plans presented this week by Democrats and Republicans, who he believes are in the pocket of "Wall Street oligarchs and corporate plutocrats."

"We have a choice between a Reid plan, which is one of Milquetoast spinelessness and we've got the Boehner plan, which is catastrophic mean spiritedness," he said. "Poor people will lose based on both plans. Working people will lose based on both plans."

Over the past few months, West has been airing some very personal criticism of President Obama, whom he supported during the 2008 campaign. But beyond all the theatrics — like West's complaints that he did not get tickets to Obama's inauguration or him calling Obama the "black mascot of Wall Street" — West's criticism of the president is fairly simple: President Obama, he said, came into office promising to follow the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. But during the first two years of his administration, Obama, he says, "has not made poor people a priority."

To that end, West is embarking on a 16-city "poverty tour" with public radio personality Tavis Smiley, the co-host of Smiley & West from Public Radio International.

Cornel West On Tell Me More

"What we are trying to do is cast ... a spotlight on the plight of poor people, working people, accenting their humanity, their dignity and their sense of resiliency."

During his interview with Martin, West did talk about the criticism he has received within the black community, specifically from radio personality Tom Joyner, who said West and Smiley have "set the tone" for attacks on the president from the far right.

Cornel West On Tell Me More

West called Joyner's comments "ridiculous." But he always brought the conversation back to what he feels is Obama's abandonment of poor people.

"[Joyner's comments are part of ] a backward looking view that says that somehow black folk ought to close ranks and in no way engage in criticism of a black president," he said. But, he added, when 38 percent of black babies are living in poverty and 20 percent of all babies are living in poverty, West said he would criticize.

"The legacy of Martin Luther King was, I'm critical of black mayors, I'm critical of black governors and now ... we're going to be critical of black presidents," West said.

The bottom line, said West, is that he's telling the president, "You have done more for oligarchs, than you have for homeowners. You have done more for corporate plutocrats than you've done for poor people."

Tune into your local NPR member station to listen to Martin's full conversation with West. We'll also post full audio of the conversation here a bit later.

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