Cornel West Made a Huge Mistake

Howdy folks. Here's my latest video project, on why it was such a disaster for Cornel West to run even for a week on the People's Party ticket:

And here's a transcript with links to sources:

You may have seen that famed leftist philosopher and activist Cornel West is running for president. He announced the run with a video on Twitter.

West’s platform isn’t too objectionable. I’d strongly contest his argument for ending all foreign aid and disbanding NATO, but that’s what my next video will be about, so I’ll leave that aside for the moment. Medicare for all, expanding Social Security, getting money out of politics, protecting the environment, these are all good ideas.

The real problem here is the context. West is running not under the Green Party, or as an independent, but under the so-called People’s Party, which isn’t even a real political party. In reality it’s a sectarian groupuscle that is associated with numerous cranks and reactionaries, including the Lyndon LaRouche cult.

Quick update here. After I wrote and recorded the first draft of this video, West announced on Twitter that he would instead seek the Green Party nomination, though as of right now he hasn’t updated his website. Nevertheless, it’s still worth exploring the People’s Party so people aren’t hoodwinked by its duplicitous rhetoric, and why it was such a disastrous decision for West to embrace it.

So: The People’s Party used to be called the Movement for a People’s Party, and it was founded by a guy named Nick Brana, who worked for the Bernie Sanders campaign in 2016. It attempted to draft Sanders as a third-party candidate after he lost to Hillary Clinton, but he refused.

The People’s Party was centrally involved in the online “Force the vote” … thing in late 2020 and early 2021, after Democrats won the presidency and both houses of Congress, which viewers may remember. But if you don’t, the supposed idea was to pressure leftist members of Congress like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to demand a vote on Medicare for all before Nancy Pelosi could be elected as Speaker of the House. This barely broke the surface of mainstream media coverage. AOC and others dismissed it out of hand, because it made no sense. What’s the point of forcing a vote on Medicare for all that probably wouldn’t even get the support of half the Democratic House caucus, much less pass the Senate and be signed by the president, only to piss off Pelosi and the rest of the party leadership? It was very underpants gnomes logic.

The actual function of “force the vote” was to provide a way for cranks like Jimmy Dore (check out my video on his anti-vaccine bullshit here, by the way) to give themselves permission to castigate folks like AOC as sellouts for not taking dictation from Youtube personalities—don’t forget to like and subscribe by the way—and then pose as the real voice of Pure Leftism. Subsequently, Brana hasproposed Dore as a presidential candidate.

The People’s Party hit controversy in mid-2022, when Brana was accused of sexual assault by a former party member Paula Jean Swearengin. She told journalists Eoin Higgins and Jordan Chariton that she witnessed Brana assaulting the party’s former executive director Zana Day. Day subsequently confirmed the account, and posted on Twitter that Brana fired half the party’s board and staff to stay in power, which apparently worked.

The People’s Party was supposedly going to run a bunch of candidates for office in the 2022 midterms, but did not actually contest a single election.

Instead, it focused a lot more on the war in Ukraine, specifically trying to cut off the flow of aid to the Ukrainian military. Itsmarquee effort here was a rally called “Rage Against the War Machine” in Washington DC in February this year. My buddy David Weigel was there to cover it, and his reporting showed two main things. First, this is a group with no wide membership or broad appeal whatsoever. Turnout was a couple hundred at most. I’ve seen bigger crowds at a high school punk rock show.

Second and more importantly, it demonstrated the affiliation with the LaRouche cult. I won’t get into the full history of the LaRouche “movement,” because that would take hours. But in brief, Lyndon LaRouche was a former Trotskyist who founded a cult in the 1960s, organized with all the usual manipulative and abusive tactics. His group started nominally on the far left, but swerved to the far right in the 1970s, getting deep into antisemitism, racism, homophobia, and sundry lunatic conspiracy theories. LaRouche denied climate change, the ozone hole, the toxicity of DDT, and thought the British royal family was secretly orchestrating the international drug trade, just for starters.

Money is often a central issue with cults. You need funds to keep the organization going, and they often turn to crime to get it. So it’s no surprise that in the mid 1980s, LaRouche was charged and convicted of mail fraud and tax evasion, and sentenced to 15 years in prison. That was major dent in the cult, but it survived.

Anyway, LaRouchites have run for office on thousands of occasions, either on their own party or by attempting to win Democratic primaries with entryist tactics. They actually did win a statewide primary in Illinois on one occasion, but lost when the actual Democrats ran on a third party. LaRouche himself ran for president eight times.

If you live in a city of any size, you’ve probably seen LaRouche nuts passing out fliers on a street corner at some point, like the ones where they put a Hitler mustache on Obama. When I was in college, they used to sneak into classrooms and put pamphlets on every desk.

LaRouche died in 2019, but his cult survives. A central figure is his widow Helga Zepp-LaRouche, a German woman who is still in charge of various LaRouche organizations, like the Schiller Institute, though as usual with cults whose leader has died there are a number of succession disputes. But that brings us back to the rally in February.

Helga Zepp-LaRouche gave a speech there warning about the danger of nuclear war. But that’s not all. Searching Twitter shows that both the Rage Against the War Machine account and the People’s Party account have promoted her and other LaRouche members and affiliate organizations on several occasions. The party account has praised the cult by name.

Conversely, Caleb Maupin, who is affiliated with the Schiller Institute, has defended West from lefty criticism.

Again, I’m going to talk about the Ukraine war in my next video, so I’ll set the content of the rally aside for the moment. The main point here is the People’s Party is quite obviously composed of a bunch of wacky and dangerous cranks.

It’s frankly kind of baffling that Cornel West would associate himself with a lunatic fake party like this. He is, or at least used to be, a serious academic philosopher and public intellectual. It might be that West is just getting on in years and doesn’t understand the context here. Or it might be that he has become a crypto-right wing crank. He eagerly welcomed the endorsement of Russell Brand, the actor and former leftist who has like Jimmy Dore become an anti-vaccine conservative who hangs out with Donald Trump Jr. and Kimberly Guilfoyle.

But while either of those might be true, or both to some degree, I think there is also something else at work here. One aspect of the 2016 Bernie campaign that was both a virtue and a problem was that it brought in a lot of fringey people who had previously been totally alienated from the political system. They believed for a moment that democracy might actually be worth investing in. But when Bernie lost the primary that year, and again in 2020, they were even more alienated.

That prompted all the usual behaviors of fringe types—extreme, self-isolating demands, sectarian accusations, and openness to anyone who seemed like they were against the system, man.

Now they’re faced with a president who, while not remotely up to any kind of leftist ideal, is certainly the best president this century, and arguably for a lot longer than that. The left has some actual policy influence now, and it can be seen in national legislation passed in the form of the American Rescue Plan, an economic stimulus twice the size of Obama’s Recovery Act, and the Inflation Reduction Act, the biggest climate bill in U.S. history. Biden also ended the war in Afghanistan, taking a tremendous political beating to do so, and drastically cut back the drone war. Again, all this very far from perfect,but it is dramatically better than anythingBill Clinton or Barack Obama have done.

And that suggests that even if the left couldn’t get Bernie Sanders elected president, it can influence the political process through organization, argument, winning elections, and negotiation. And when it really gets its act together, the results can be very impressive—look at Minnesota, where the state’s Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party has passed the most sweeping policy reform of any state in decades, with a major expansion of labor rights, a new paid leave program, protections for abortion and trans rights, marijuana legalization, and much more.

All this is anathema to someone with a fringey worldview. Such people isolate themselves from the political mainstream on purpose, and tend to think that if someone is winning power or if the dread American government is doing it, it is bad by definition. It’s more of a rebellious countercultural pose than any kind of worked-out political perspective, and so is highly vulnerable to conservative ideas if they are framed properly. Basically you just put conservative ideology in a leather jacket with a cigarette.

Hence the attraction to anti-vaccine bullshit on the part of Russell Brand and Jimmy Dore, since the vaccines were developed by Big Pharma and the government together, as well as the attraction to quack Covid remedies like ivermectin, since the government disapproves of that. Hence also the People’s Party sympathy for Glenn Greenwald (see my video on how he became a conservative here, by the way) and Tucker Carlson.

I suspect this also explains the tone of West’s video. He basically admits that there is no possibility whatsoever of winning. The idea is to go down in a romantic blaze of glory espousing a good cause rather than try to actually line up his goals with some plausible method of achieving them. The idea that he might actually help Republicans by splitting the lefty vote goes unaddressed.

I also think it’s fair to conclude that had Bernie Sanders actually won the presidency in 2016, and faced the inevitable compromises and tradeoffs that come with serving as president, most of these clowns would have turned on him as an imperialist sellout.

At any rate, Cornel West has accomplished a lot of great academic and activist work. But even if he’s now switched to the Green Party, running with the People’s Party even for a week and continuing to praise it reveals disastrous carelessness at the very minimum. These people should be anathema to any serious leftist. And in my view running third party at all is basically pointless, I think Bernie Sanders had the right idea in 2016 and 2020, but that’s a subject for another video.

That’s it for today folks. Stay tuned for my Ukraine video coming up soon, so make sure to subscribe so you don’t miss it. The more time passes, the more important I think the war is both on its own merits and in what it reveals about the international left. If you want to support the channel, you can subscribe to my newsletter. I’ll be back soon.

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