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Sweet blog special: Obama on cover of Newsweek talking about race.


WASHINGTON---During the the Iowa road trip last week, White House hopeful Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) granted several one-on-one interviews with Iowa AP and Readers Digest. Obama also gave exclusive access to a Newsweek photographer to shoot him playing with one of his daughters in the RV the Obama's were riding in during the swing where his family joined him.

The result: Obama scores a cover in the new edition of Newsweek in an issue that deals with race and politics. Click below for portions of a transcript of an interview where he talks about his failed run against Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) for a House seat, where he fits in the civil rights struggle and Rev. Jesse Jackson.

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By Richard Wolffe and Daren Briscoe
July 8, 2007 - NEWSWEEK interviewed Sen. Barack Obama on June 27 in Washington. Here are excerpts from that exchange:

NEWSWEEK: Cornel West said some pretty rough things about you.
Sen. Barack Obama: Have you talked to him lately?

I have.
And you won him over. How did you react when you read what he said? And how did you win him over?
Why don't I start it this way? I have not been in national politics very long. I've been in politics for a long time, but for many people I was an unknown commodity. So as certain stories circulated about me, or what my priorities were, or where I came from, not surprisingly people were willing to give credence to some of those assumptions. So with Cornel it was just a matter of calling him up, introducing myself and having a conversation.

In some ways that's a metaphor for what this campaign is about. Me introducing myself, having a conversation, and trying to cut through the noise that is created by political opponents or media that's looking for a good story or my own fumbles and gaffes, trying to make sure by the end of this process people have a good sense of what my history is, what my values are, where I want to take the country.

He's a pretty frank guy. He said, “You're not going to agree with everything I say, and I'm not going to agree with everything you say.” Maybe you also said that to him?
I said that to him.

He had this whole Shakespearean line about “To thine own self be true.”

What do you say to that?
He's absolutely right. This is a very improbable candidacy, I think it's fair to say. And for me to win, it is important that those qualities that got me into politics in the first place—those values that led me to become a community organizer or a civil rights attorney, that passion for justice and fairness—that those attributes come through. And if I start sounding like everybody else, if I'm just another Washington politician then there's no reason for people to choose me as opposed to people who have been in Washington longer and play that particular game better than I can. So maintaining my voice through this process is critical and it can be a difficult task. There are a lot of forces at work designed to homogenize candidates and there's a premium placed on risk avoidance and not making mistakes. And what I'm trying to do is to say what I think and not be governed by a fear of making mistakes. That means I will make some mistakes.

Let me ask about one. Maybe you don't think it was one. You got into a tangle with your pastor, Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. of Chicago, over your announcement and him giving the invocation prayer—in public, at least.
Tangle may be overstating it. But that's OK. It was a blip.

Looking back, do you think you maybe overreacted to some of the press about him being radical?
No. I think that was a pretty simple story. We were doing our announcement and a story came out in which he was sort of singled out as being more radical than he was. Given that we knew we had given 500 press credentials that day, I didn't want him placed in the position where he had to defend himself or the church without any kind of backup or knowing what he was going to get into. I would have done the same thing for my sister or a co-worker. So I guess it's conceivable I might have been overprotective and probably didn't anticipate that he might feel hurt by it. So we had a discussion about it and everything is fine at this point.

So I shouldn't read anything into the fact that he didn't show up when you spoke at the United Church of Christ meeting last month in Hartford?
No, no. He had a wedding. He was actually upset that he couldn't come. That was entirely a scheduling conflict.

I talked to your friend Kirk Dillard about your time together in the Illinois General Assembly and he related a story to me that goes back to the time when you were working on the racial profiling legislation. He says that he walked in on a confrontation between you and another senator in the bathroom, by your seat there on the back row, where he said you were being challenged forcefully on your toughness and questioning whether you really understood what it was to be a young black man on the streets of Chicago getting pulled over by the police. What's your recollection of that encounter, and what was your response?
You know, I don't remember that particular confrontation. I'm not disputing anything of what Kirk remembers. I just don't know exactly what he's referring to.

I think that there's always a tension between getting things done and how people experience issues in very visceral, emotional ways. And that's certainly true any time race is involved. What I'm constantly striving to do—whether it was on the racial profiling legislation, whether it was on the death penalty issues that I worked on in the state legislature, whether it was on some of the criminal justice bills that came up—was to see how could I be true to the core values of fairness and equality and move the ball forward. My experience tells me that we have a better chance of making progress on these issues when we can ground them in a broader appeal to America's aspirations and values than when we simply are shouting racism and trying to guilt people into acting.

Now that doesn't mean there aren't times for some righteous anger. But I strongly believe that Americans want to do the right thing. And if you can show them that racial profiling is neither a smart way to fight crime, nor is it consistent with our values as Americans, then we can get a bill passed. If you can argue to defenders of the death penalty that at minimum we should be able to agree that nobody innocent should be on death row, and by videotaping interrogations and confessions you are not only protecting the innocent person in custody but you are also protecting the police, then you have got a better chance of passing legislation.

So not everybody is going to take that same approach. But I like to say that the proof of the pudding is in the eating. We got those two bills passed.

To the death penalty legislation, one of the people you sat on the judiciary committee with was Ed Petka. From everything I understand about Ed Petka, including his nickname, “Electric Ed” …
Electric Ed. That's what they called him.

It sounds like he was a person who needed no small amount of convincing in terms of reforming the death penalty law. I know there were other people who were key to getting this done, but you played a crucial role in winning people round. Is there anything you can tell me about how your interactions with him, how you brought him round?
I don't remember the specific conversations I had with Sen. Petka, or some of these other senators. What I think is always important to me is trying to see the world through the eyes of people you don't agree with. My starting point on the death penalty legislation was, if I'm a sincere believer that the death penalty is a deterrent, if I'm a sincere believer that people who have engaged in heinous crimes deserve the ultimate retribution, if I sincerely believe that generally police arrest people who are guilty, how do I look at the world? If I can imagine myself in their shoes, if I can see the world through their eyes, I can answer their objections in ways that are consistent with their values. So I can say to an Ed Petka that even supporters of the death penalty should have a deep interest in making sure that the innocent are not on death row. It undermines the credibility of the criminal justice system as a whole. You've been a prosecutor, it's much harder for you to be able to bring successful convictions if juries start thinking that evidence is concocted or coerced. So this is good for law and order and that's why we need to make progress on this one.

When you ran against Bobby Rush for the House of Representatives in 2000, you seemed to face in that race for the first time this question that had been with you throughout—this question of belonging, and could you really understand people in a certain place and area whose experience you hadn't shared growing up. But here it was being used politically against you. Did you learn something from that race about how to deal with that issue politically?
I have to say that aspect of the race probably has been thoroughly over-hyped. I think people are trying to fit that into a narrative that isn't entirely there. Were there moments during the campaign where the suggestion was that the Harvard-educated, Hyde Park law professor wasn't keeping it real? Yes. Did that have any significant influence on the outcome of that race? No.

The issue in that race was, as I wrote about in my book, the fact that I didn't do a poll until after I had announced and discovered I had 11 percent name recognition and he had something like 95. And people just didn't know who I was, and as people got to know me we ended up moving from single-digit support to I think we ended up with 31 percent. Without any TV advertising, it wasn't bad. The problem with that race was not in execution; it was in conception. There was no way I was going to beat an incumbent congressman with the limited name recognition that I had.

So there weren't moments in that campaign where I anguished, “Oh goodness, is my black authenticity being questioned?” Most of those problems or issues were resolved when I was 18, 19, 20 years old. The fact that they have resurfaced in this presidential campaign says more about the country than it says about me. I think America is still caught in a little bit of a time warp: the narrative of black politics is still shaped by the '60s and black power. That is not, I think, how most black voters are thinking. I don't think that's how most white voters are thinking. I think that people are thinking about how to find a job, how to fill up the gas tank, how to send their kids to college. And I find that when I talk about those issues, both blacks and whites respond well.

You described your mistake as one of conception. Rush describes that race as your ambition coming up against his legacy.
Now that I think is fair, in the sense that he had been there a long time. He had a long track record. I may have believed I could do a better job in highlighting some issues, but I think that it was a young man's mistake. Just because you think you're smart, you think you can shake things up, then everybody else is automatically going to see that.

He also says he thinks to this day, he thinks you were put up to it by your advisers and people around you. You just decided on your own?
I couldn't afford advisers.

I don't necessarily mean paid advisers. I mean people around you.
This is something that I think is important for people. Bobby may just be saying that because now that he's come out in support of me, he may want to relieve me of the burden of having run against him. But I haven't had a bunch of people plotting and planning on my behalf. I didn't know a soul when I moved to Chicago. As an organizer, I was pretty much out there on my own. I ran Project Vote without much supervision. I just haven't had a series of political operators who can give me advice. I've been going by my instincts of what I think is right.

for rest of transcript and story click to


I would be very careful about voting for any candidate that Pravda, oops, (I mean Newsweek) features or endorses. For those of you so far left that you think the center has moved, I can assure you that Newsweek is still very left of center to those of us that still have objectivity.

The way Obama addresses these questions is very interesting. The issue of race in America is here to stay for a very long time but the truth of the matter is that, no human being is born prejudiced. Prejudice is an acquired trait which develops and reacts on the emotionality of man so that he behaves unreasonably and unfairly. Today you have more whites backing Obama than blacks. Most of these people have gotten to know him and have identified with his natural talent and ability. The interview he gave before the war spoke volumes about him. If you have not seen it you must see it.

It's a good thing Newsweek, who is assoc. with NBC, has Obama on it's cover this week. David Sirota has a story today about Andrea Mitchell, NBC political reporter, was at a Hillary fundraiser and is donating big money to her.
This could be as much an embarassment for NBC as the story of CNN having their polling done by super Clinton backer, Gupta, who owns opinion research.
Seems our media is being compromised by the Clintons and their willingness to be compromised.
Anyway, the Newsweek story was very good.

It is obvious that Newsweek has taken sides in the Democratic race for president. In the last 6 months Obama has been on the cover of Newsweek 3 times. There was no rationale for the last cover story except to boost Obama`s sagging poll numbers. Furthermore, in my opinion, a woman president is far more historic than even a black man being elected president.

Of course most of the media is going to try to get a democrat elected President. That's why it is amazing that Bush was able to win twice, and it's also equally amazing that the Republicans have dominated the White House for the last forty years despite all the slanted, negative media coverage Republicans get.

"Furthermore, in my opinion, a woman president is far more historic than even a black man being elected president."


You're entitled to your opinion, Reba, but I can't think of the last time a black man led a predominantly white, world power. We have numerous examples throughout history of women doing so (and very capably at that). Angela Merkel of Germany immediately comes to mind. We've also seen the Catherine the Great's, Elizbeth I's, Golda Meir's, Indira Ghandi's (India does have the "bomb" after all), etc. Segolene Royal came pretty close to leading France this last go 'round. And who can forget Margaret Thatcher?

I'm an African-American male who a fervently supports Hillary Clinton, but I give the edge to Senator Obama on the "historical significance" issue.

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on July 8, 2007 11:53 AM.

Sweet column: In Iowa, Obama jousts with Bill. was the previous entry in this blog.

Sweet blog extra: Clinton new strategy memo by strategist Penn suggests her nomination inevitable is the next entry in this blog.

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