Obama on FNS Posted by: McQ
on Sunday, April 27, 2008
Chris Wallace and Barack Obama sat down today for an interview.
The transcript is here. Mixed reviews from the leftosphere. Some liked it, some weren't at all impressed. Most recognized that Obama was taking the opportunity of an interview on a network considered to be right leaning to distance himself from the far left. He even went after the Daily Kos.
This was all about trying to sell himself to the demographic which watches Fox with the assumption they're not his normal constituency.
WALLACE: And we are back now with Senator Barack Obama. Senator, one of the central themes of your campaign is that you are a uniter, who will reach across the aisle and create a new kind of politics. Some of your detractors say that you are a paint by the numbers liberal and I’d like to explore this with you.
Over the years, John McCain has broken with his party and risked his career on a number of issues, campaign finance, immigration reform, banning torture. As a president, can you name a hot button issue where you would be willing to cross (ph) Democratic party line and say you know what, Republicans have a better idea here.
OBAMA: Well, I think there are a whole host of areas where Republicans in some cases may have a better idea.
WALLACE: Such as.
OBAMA: Well, on issues of regulation, I think that back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, a lot of the way we regulated industry was top down command and control. We’re going to tell businesses exactly how to do things.
And I think that the Republican party and people who thought about the margins (ph) came with the notion that you know what, if you simply set some guidelines, some rules and incentives for businesses, let them figure out how they’re going to for example reduce pollution. And a cap and trade system, for example, is a smarter way of doing it, controlling pollution, than dictating every single rule that a company has to abide by, which creates a lot of bureaucracy and red tape and oftentimes is less efficient.
I think that on issues of education, I have been very clear about the fact, and sometimes I have gotten in trouble with the teachers union on this, that we should be experimenting with charter schools. We should be experimenting with different ways of compensating teachers. That –
WALLACE: You mean merit pay?
OBAMA: Well, merit pay, the way it has been designed I think that is based on just single standardized I think is a big mistake, because the way we measure performance may be skewed by whether or not the kids are coming in the school already three years or four years behind.
But I think that having assessment tools and then saying, you know what, teachers who are on career paths to become better teachers, developing themselves professionally, that we should pay excellence more. I think that’s a good idea.
How well will that go over with "progressives"? Heh ... you can imagine. The next thing you know, he'll be talking about school vouchers for heaven sake. But this is all a ploy to sound reasonable and to laud the other party for some good ideas in the interest of being considered a uniter and someone not immune to considering ideas from "the other side". Of course his voting record isn't very indicative of such a propensity, and Wallace brings that up. Obama waves it off by declaring that he voted with a very liberal record because the bills were written to be polarizing. Uh, yeah, that works.
And this one. This one is so obvious as to be a bit cheesy. Speaking of taxes:
OBAMA .... In terms of capital gains, I’ve suggested we might go back up to 20 because –
WALLACE: You have suggested 28.
OBAMA: Well, but what I’ve said is, I certainly would not raise it higher than it was under Ronald Reagan. But the fact is, is that I’m mindful that we’ve got to keep our capital gains tax to a point where we can actually get more revenue.
Wright and Ayers? A couple of points to be made here.
First, in answer to those who continue to claim that Wright's relationship with Obama isn't a legitimate political issue, Obama disagrees:
Question: Do you think that Reverend Wright is just the victim here?
OBAMA: No. I think that people were legitimately offended by some of the comments that he had made in the past.
The fact that he is my former pastor I think makes it a legitimate political issue. So I understand that.
But then, after setting the ground work, he again essentially tries to wave it all off. Wallace tries to pin him down, but Obama isn't willing to be pinned down and again, doesn't handle the question of "what did you hear him say" very well:
WALLACE: But did he ever say anything about America or about white racism that troubled you?
OBAMA: Well, you know — well, I think that, you know, he has certainly preached in the past when I was there about the history of race in this country in very blunt terms, talking about slavery, talking about Jim Crow. The problem — and I pointed this out in my speech in Philadelphia — was where oftentimes he would err, I think, is in only cataloguing the bad of America and not doing enough to lift up the good. And that’s probably where he and I have the biggest difference, but –
WALLACE: Did you ever go to him after a sermon and say, you know –
OBAMA: Well, but keep in mind, it’s not as if his sermons were constantly political. I mean, I think most of the time he was talking about church and family and faith and scripture, and that’s what I got out of — out of church.
So I don’t want to exaggerate this notion that somehow he was on the soapbox each and every day. But the important point, though, that I tried to make in Philadelphia is that some of this is generational. I mean some of it is - he went through experiences that I never went through. I’m the beneficiary of the civil rights movement.
People I think noted that, if you run back some of Dr. King’s speeches, we always play “I have a dream,” but if you look at his sermon in Riverside church for example, when he spoke out fiercely against the Vietnam war, there’s some pretty jarring comments there as well. And part of it has to do with a very specific experience, a generation that was raised under Jim Crow, saw a lot of violence, saw a lot of racial discrimination.
I have a different experience and in part have a much more hopeful vision of where America has been and where it can go in the future.
This time we have MLK dragged into the equivocation. And Wallace missed the opportunity to explore the theology which underlies the church Wright pastored, that espoused by James Cone known as black liberation theology. So again, Obama leaves the questions hanging while admitting they're legitimate questions about his values.
He even admits as much when Wallace follows up on his last statement:
WALLACE: Senator, you say a lot of good stuff. Reverend Wright (INAUDIBLE) are distractions from the real issues. But especially for someone like you, who’s a newcomer to the national scene, people don’t know a lot about, don’t voters have a legitimate interest in who you are and what your values are?
OBAMA: Absolutely and so the question becomes, how do voters draw conclusions about my values? Do they talk about, do they look at the 20 years in which I’ve devoted my life to community service? Do they about the work I did as a community organizer working with Catholic parishes and churches to bring people together to set up job training programs for the unemployed and the poor. That’s a reflection of my values.
Do they look at how I’ve raised my children and how I speak about my family? That’s a reflection of my values. I don’t think that the issue of Reverend Wright is illegitimate. I just think that the way it was reported was not I think a reflection of both that church that I attend and who I am.
The answer, of course, to all of his questions, is "yes". But with the questions about the church - not those he's raised, but that have been raised by others - still unanswered, the evaluation of his values and any conclusion about them remains incomplete. And the same applies to the questions raised about his relationship with William Ayers. Obama again soft-pedals it and, frankly his answer is again completely unsatisfying to those who understand who Ayers is and what he did and also know that Obama's political career was launched in their livingroom back in the '90s.
About Iraq and Gen. Petraeus - this was an interesting exchange:
WALLACE: And we are back for one final segment with Senator Barack Obama. Senator, this week President Bush named David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, to be the head of Central Command, which controls overseas military operations across the Middle East and Central Asia. Will you vote to confirm his nomination?
OBAMA: Yes. I think Petraeus has done a good tactical job in Iraq. I think as a practical matter, obviously that’s where most of the attention has been devoted from this administration over the last several years.
I was also a big respecter of Admiral Fallon, who Petraeus is now replacing and I think it was unfortunate that the administration wasn’t listening more to the observations of Fallon that we have to think about more than just Iraq. That we’ve got issues with Iran and Pakistan and Afghanistan and our singular focus on Iraq I think has distracted us.
My hope is that Petraeus would reflect that wider view of our strategic interests.
WALLACE: I want to ask you about presidents and listening to generals. Petraeus, I don’t have to tell you, is the architect of the troop surge, a strong advocate of our continued engagement in Iraq. If you become commander-in-chief and he says your plan to get out of Iraq is a mistake, will you replace him?
OBAMA: I will listen to General Petraeus, given the experience that he has accumulated over the last several years. It would be stupid of me to ignore what he has to say.
But it is my job as president, it would be my job as commander in chief to set the mission. To make the strategic decisions in light of the problems that we’re having in Afghanistan, in light of the problems that we are having in Pakistan, the fact that al Qaeda is strengthening as our National Intelligence Estimates have indicated since 2001.
And so we’ve got a whole host of tasks and I’ve also got to worry about the fact that the military has no strategic reserve right now. If we had an emergency in the Korean Peninsula, if we had an emergency elsewhere in the world, we don’t have the troops right now to deal with it. And that’s not my opinion, that’s –
WALLACE: So would you replace him or would you just say, I’m the commander-in-chief, here’s my order.
OBAMA: What I would do is say — what I will do is say we have a new mission. It is my strategic assessment that we have to provide a timetable to the Iraqi government. I want you to tell me how best to execute this new assignment and I am happy to listen to the tactical considerations and any ideas you have.
But what I will not do is continue to let the Iraqi government off the hook and allow them to put our foreign policy on ice while they dither about making decisions about how they are going to cooperate with each other.
If you got a 'warm and fuzzy' out of that, you're a better person than I am. For all his "I'm willing to listen" you've just heard a man who is not and would not be willing to listen to a damn thing when it comes to Iraq. And while he's right about the job of the CiC, he's using it as a rationalization that is difficult to argue with instead of laying out reasons why a change of mission is both necessary and critical at this time, given the increasing probability of success in Iraq if we stay the course.
Debates with Clinton:
WALLACE: Let’s clear out this campaign business. Why are you ducking another debate with Hillary Clinton?
OBAMA: I’m not ducking one. We’ve had 21 and so what we’ve said is with two weeks, two big states, we want to make sure we’re talking to as many folks as possible on the ground, taking questions from voters.
WALLACE: No debates between now and Indiana?
OBAMA: We’re not going to have debates between now and Indiana.
Politically I understand the strategy. However, as I've mentioned before, such a strategy carries an inherent risk, and with polls narrowing (in fact some have Obama and Clinton tied), it may not be worth the risk to hand as determined an opponent as Hillary Clinton a gift like this.
Finally, what I consider to be the quote of the interview. It pertains to race looming as a major part of the campaign. Wallace points out that the Clintons are claiming the race card was used on them. Others are saying Clinton used it when he invoked Jesse Jackson's run in SC in the '80s. Whites backed Clinton 63 percent to 37 while blacks voted for Obama 90 to 10. 12% of whites who admitted race was a factor went for Clinton by more than 3-1. Asks Wallace, "for all your efforts to run a post-racial campaign, isn’t there still a racial divide in this country that is going to make it very hard for you to get elected president?
Obama essentially rejects the notion that race will be the deciding factor in this run for the Presidency:
If I lose, it won’t be because of race. It will be because, you know, I made mistakes on the campaign trail, I wasn’t communicating effectively my plans in terms of helping them in their everyday lives. But I don’t think that race is going to be a barrier in the general election.
Ummm ... "mistakes" and "communication". Of course it couldn't be the message itself, could it?
Where in the world (*cough* Kerry *cough*) have I heard all of that before?
This was all about trying to sell himself to the demographic which watches Fox with the assumption they’re not his normal constituency
Everytime FNC mentions Hillary or Obama, they should preface it with the disclaimer "When they needed to pander to the far left, they refused to participate in a debate on this network, but now that they need to pander to our viewership, they’ve agreed to appear"
"This time we have MLK dragged into the equivocation."
Obama is right about MLK. Dr. King is one of my historical heroes, so I wrote a paper on him in college during which I learned that he had two distinct phases as an activist. As a civil/political rights activist, Dr. King was as close to a latter-day Founding Father as we had in the 20th Century. He achieved the apex of his civil rights activism with the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, the same year he was awarded a highly deserved Nobel Peace Prize.
However, after the passage of the Civil Rights Act, American black dissatisfaction continued and protests intensified, especially in the North, over economic inequalities, police brutality, and other perceived and real race-based injustices. Many northern American blacks were unimpressed with King’s political activism, because they already weren’t affected by Jim Crow laws, and the same white northern liberal allies that King cultivated for his southern civil rights campaign did little to address race-based issues close to their homes.
By 1965, the upcoming generation of more-radical black activists such as Stokely Carmichael, though they respected King, sought to replace King’s peaceful, inclusive, patriotic themes with the angrier and separatist ’black power’. If a turning point in King’s activism can be pinpointed, it’s the unfriendly reception given to King by the LA black community during the Watts riots when he went there to appeal for peace.
As a widely learned man, King was aware of the economic plight of poor American blacks and democratic socialism appealed to him, which he expressed when he received his Nobel Peace Prize, but his activism had been focused on political rights. Perhaps, the delay was due to King’s own well-educated, nurturing, and relatively affluent background - he grew up as a privileged and idealistic American. After his Watts experience, King became increasingly radical in his sweeping class/race-based economic activism, which was tied directly with his anti-war activism (he linked the rejection and failure of his domestic economic initiatives with the Vietnam War). King also expressed bitterness towards whites and distanced himself from his white allies from the civil rights movement. Already famous for his religious oratory, King also took on an increasingly evangelical, strident tone. He would even dismiss disagreements from fellow black activists by claiming he spoke the "Lord’s truth".
What does this say about Obama’s ties to Wright and Obama’s ability to become a transcendant President? I don’t know, but I do know our heroes and our American history tend to be complex and not everywhere appealing.
Hillary’s blogs are digging into Obama - Ayers and coming up with interesting connections. Obama ran a Developing Community Project in Chicago. It was funded by the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, cofounded by Bill Ayers. It seems that Ayers was Obama’s boss for 6 years.
Both Barack and Michelle Obama worked for the Chicago Law Firm of Sidley Austin. Guess what other lawyer worked there - Bernadette Dohrn. It’s unusual to hire a lawyer who can’t practice because of her criminal past, but Dohrn was recommended by the CEO of Commonwealth Edison - Thomas Ayers - her father-in-law.
When your enemy is trying to commit suicide, let him alone.
This is the Obama statement I was responding to: "People I think noted that, if you run back some of Dr. King’s speeches, we always play "I have a dream," but if you look at his sermon in Riverside church for example, when he spoke out fiercely against the Vietnam war, there’s some pretty jarring comments there as well."
I didn’t hang onto my notes and source materials, but I should be able to dig up the paper and copy the quotes and cites I used.
As far as Black Liberation Theology, I wouldn’t attribute that off hand to MLK. Really, I don’t know enough about BLT to say either way, but at least I don’t recall ever seeing the term connected to MLK. As you mention in your post, if BLT is the core controversial issue and it’s the *political* belief system of Obama’s community church and mentor of 20 years, then I would like to see Obama comment on that directly.
Yes, of course, everything the other side says which is reasonable is a ploy because you’ve already decided that they are unreasonable and can’t be trusted. Sort of a kind of ODS now, eh? Obama really had a good interview, I think. Hillary did him a favor by giving him a foreshadowing of what he’ll have to handle in November, and while a few on the fringes will try to get into "black liberation theology," and push the guilt by association claims to their illogical extreme, thats for blogworld, not the real world. At Fox Obama showed a glint of that Reaganeseque quality. I’ve been getting skeptical as to whether or not he really has the political skills to pull off a victory, but I think he does — plus, he’s pretty disciplined.
McCain has political skills too, this will be a fascinating race. I think he’s laying the groundwork for an effective campaign, even though it’s been almost invisible thanks to the Democratic fight (which is a good news/bad news situation for McCain). McCain is not so disciplined, and that could end up being his Achilles heel. Then again, Bill Clinton was able to overcome a lack of discipline far more extreme than McCain’s!
Here’s the fuller context. I’m sorry that MLK came to such a negative opinion and that it should have been eagerly used by the Weather Underground to justify their violence. It’s good though to look at the fuller context of MLK’s remarks and note the sad, thoughtful tone as contrasted by the angry, almost gleeful ranting of Rev. Wright when he was calling for "God damn America."
My third reason grows out of my experience in the ghettos of the North over the last three years - especially the last three summers. As I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men, I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems.
I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through non-violent action.
But, they asked, what about Vietnam? They asked if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today, my own government.
I have always said that Malcolm X and and MLK were on crossing trajectories when they each died. Malcolm was becoming a lot more reasonable, and Martin was headed into neo-Marxist race and class theory. The most interesting question to me is whether he was just looking out for his own political marketability: pandering to rising black militance. This would make him a cynic, of course, but that was the path of least resistance by 1968.
I dug out my college paper about Dr. King. Here are relevant-to-this-thread MLK quotes I used in my paper, with cites:
“Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights.” (King, “I Have a Dream”)
Upon receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway on December 10, 1964, King was publicly confronted with the questions, “What now? In what direction is the civil rights movement headed?” In answer, King told an audience at the University of Oslo, “The time has come for an all-out war against poverty. The rich nations must use their vast resources of wealth to develop the underdeveloped, school the unschooled, and feed the unfed . . . . the wealthy nations must go all out to bridge the gulf between the rich minority and the poor majority” (Carson, Autobiography, 261).
Comparing the United States to Norway, King stated, “the limited, halting steps taken by our rich nation deeply troubled me” (Carson, Autobiography, 259).
By the time of the 1966 Freedom March, King was becoming increasingly sympathetic to the criticism of white liberals by black activists. In a January 1965 interview in Playboy, King stated, “Over the past several years, I must say, I have been gravely disappointed with such white ‘moderates’. I am inclined to think that they are more of a stumbling block to the Negro’s progress than the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner” (Cone, Martin & Malcolm, 223).
King concluded, “[white liberals] took a stand for decency, but it was never really a stand for genuine equality for the black man . . . it’s much easier to guarantee the right to vote than it is to eradicate an annual minimum income and create jobs”. Furthermore, while addressing blacks in Louisville, Kentucky, an increasingly bitter King stated, “I am sorry to say to say to you that the vast majority of white Americans are racist, either consciously or unconsciously” (Cone, Martin & Malcolm, 233).
King, in keeping with his intent to “use any means of legitimate nonviolent protest necessary to move our nation and our government” to adopt his domestic program, propagated the image of the United States as the sole cause of Vietnamese suffering, indeed as the “greatest purveyor of violence in the world today” (King, “Beyond Vietnam”).
King increasingly interpreted American government decisions at home and overseas and setbacks to his movement as motivated by racism: “Men of the white West . . . have grown up in a racist culture, and their thinking is colored by that fact” (King, “A Testament of Hope”).
King’s response to disagreement from Whitney Young of the Urban League regarding the Vietnam War was typical: “Whitney, what you’re saying may get you a foundation grant but it won’t get you into the kingdom of truth” (Cone, Martin & Malcolm, 239).
Dr. King . . . would respond to critics of his views about white America, the government, and the Vietnam War with retorts such as “I answered a call which left the Spirit of the Lord upon me and anointed me to preach the gospel . . . I decided then that I was going to tell the truth as God revealed it to me” (King, “Why I Am Opposed”).
Carson, Clayborne, Ed. The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. New York: Warner, 1998.
Cone, James A. Martin & Malcolm & America. New York: Orbis, 1991.
King Papers Project. The Martin Luther King, Jr, Research and Education Institute, http://www.stanford.edu/group/King/mlkpapers/. Stanford University.
Meier, August. “The Conservative Militant.” Martin Luther King, Jr: A Profile. Lincoln, C. Eric, Ed. New York: Hill and Wang, 1970.
Milller, William Robert. Martin Luther King Jr: His life, martyrdom and meaning for the world. New York: Weybright and Talley, 1968.
Thanks, Eric, but I see nothing comparable in MLK’s words (and I’m not waving off the work you did - I appreciate it) to those of Cone and Wright (especially given the context of the times in which they were spoken vs. Wright’s today).