Cornel West lashes out at civil rights icons after Bernie Sanders suffers resounding South Carolina defeat

"There's no doubt that the great John Lewis of 50 years ago is different than the John Lewis today"

By Sophia Tesfaye

Senior Politics Editor

Published February 29, 2016 3:12PM (EST)

Bernie Sanders, Cornel West       (AP/John Locher/Richard Drew)
Bernie Sanders, Cornel West (AP/John Locher/Richard Drew)

On Saturday, the Sanders campaign suffered what the candidate described as a decimation at the hands of Hillary Clinton in South Carolina, losing his third election by nearly 50 percentage points.

"In politics, on a given night, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. Tonight we lost," Sanders gracefully conceded that evening, before moving on to campaign in the Super Tuesday state of Minnesota. But some of Sanders' surrogates haven't been so graceful in their concession of defeat after putting up a valiant fight for the African-American vote.

Cornel West told Vice News last week that he feared many of Clinton's most prominent African-American supporters had lost their way. The vocal Sanders supporter singled out Congressmen John Lewis and Jim Clyburn repeatedly.

"There's no doubt that the great John Lewis of 50 years ago is different than the John Lewis today," West asserted. "He's my brother. I love him, I respect his personhood, but there's no doubt he's gone from a high moment of Martin Luther King-like struggle to now [a] neoliberal politician in a system that is characterized more and more by legalized bribery and normalized corruption. That's what big money does to politics. And the Clinton machine is an example of that."

West argued that "most black politicians these days are neoliberal politicians, so it's almost natural for them to side with Hillary Clinton." West said that Clyburn and Lewis had become "too well adjusted to Wall Street" and are now a part of a system "in which politicians are well adjusted to injustice owing to their ties to big money, big banks, and big corporations, and turning their backs, for the most part, to poor people and working people. Poor people and working people become afterthoughts."

"But with the neoliberal era coming to a close, four months from now [when the party picks its nominee], you watch how the shift sets in," West forewarned.

In the lead up to the Saturday's vote, the Sanders campaign had amassed an impressive roster of black surrogates and supporters that included West, Spike Lee, former Ohio state senator Nina Turner and the daughter of Eric Garner, Erica. Additionally, other prominent thinkers of the so-called Black Left like Michelle Alexander and Ta-Nehisi Coates have spoken favorably of Sanders recently. Still, the arguments of such intellectuals could not outmatch the organization and apparent good will Clinton built in the state, awarding her with a stunning 86 percent of the black vote in South Carolina -- outdoing even Obama's showing in 2008.

By Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's senior editor for news and politics, and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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