Saturday, October 18, 2008

Barack Obama, of all people, called me today

As his friend and longtime supporter U.S. Rep. Wm. Lacy Clay was warming up the crowd under the Gateway Arch on the St. Louis Riverfront just before noon this morning, Barack Obama made time for a few, last-minute, one-on-one local media calls. One of them went to The St. Louis American, where I work, which also received the first one-on-one call from Obama at the beginning of his primary campaign, which I also took, back when few believed in his candidacy.

We only were given five precious minutes, which I used to ask about Obama’s skillful handling of race, his dedication to reaching the black press and what guidance he has maintained in his mind from the examples of his deceased parents.

This will be elaborated into a story in next week's paper.

St. Louis American: We have been struck at The St. Louis American by how you have maintained your strong identity as a black man and your respect and advocacy for black people without letting race be used against you successfully. What have been your guidelines in pulling this off?

Barack Obama: Our starting point has always been to assume the best of the American people. No doubt, there may be people who don’t and won’t vote for me because of my race, but the overwhelming majority of Americans are more interested in who will help them be able to pay their mortgage and who will work to help them keep their jobs. We just started our campaign with the assumption that if we talk about the issues that matter, it doesn’t matter if you are black or white or Hispanic or whatever race, you will respond to the important issues.

African Americans may experience more severely many of the things other groups are also experiencing. For example, there are health care disparities by race. But the biggest contributing factor to these disparities is that African Americans are more likely to be uninsured. So if the focus of the talk is making health care more affordable and available and in insuring all Americans, then African Americans in particular will be helped, along with the whites and Hispanics and others who have no health insurance. The important message here is that we are all in this together – the more people we help to live out their hopes and their dreams, the more we help African Americans as a subset of the American people.

St. Louis American: In the black press, when we get attention from candidates at all, we have grown accustomed to getting attention from Democrats during the Democratic primary and then getting dropped during the general election campaign as the Democratic nominee panders to the center and works for the independent vote. Your campaign has stayed on us from the beginning until the end. What direction did you give your campaign regarding the black press and what guided your thinking?

Barack Obama: Look, not only is it the right thing to do, to pay attention to the African-American press, like all specialities within the media, because you have a voice that needs and deserves to be spoken to, but from a practical political perspective, African-American vote totals are still far lower than they should be. In the battleground states, if African-American voters turn out in large numbers, they will be the decision makers. Here in Missouri, the campaign is very close, it will go right down to the wire, and it’s a paper like your paper that is able to reach people and inspire African Americans to come out and vote in large numbers.

St. Louis American: As a strong and dedicated father yourself, you have gone through this incredible, historic, grueling campaign without either of your parents, who both have passed. How have their examples guided you in this campaign?

Barack Obama: My mother always insisted you have to stand in somebody else’s shoes and see the world through their eyes with a sense of empathy. That’s the message I have been trying to communicate in this campaign, that we are all in this together and we must try to understand one another’s hopes and dreams, and in that way we will be more successful than if we turn on one another. We need to know this country is in its greatest crisis since the Great Depression, and America is always better when we pull together.


Yes, I know how lucky I am, yes, I know how good I have got it, yes, I love this man, and yes, it is our responsibility to elect him as the next president of the United States.

The historic photo of the AME Bishops praying over Obama is by Wiley Price of The St. Louis American.


Roy said...

You, my friend, are a great interviewer.

And good lord there were a lot of people at the arch today. You could almost believe this state will go blue.

Steve Pick said...

So, since of course I know you, and you've spoken to Barack Obama, and I've had Kevin Bacon walk right by me in a local restaurant, this moves Barack to only three degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon (unless, of course, he's actually met Kevin Bacon - I wouldn't put it past him).

Anonymous said...

Wow Chris, count youself the blessed one today. He is going to be in Fayetteville tomorrow at the Crown Center. I will try making it into the arena to have that first glance of him. What was your first reaction when the call came in? Did you know that was coming?

Lives in Washington DC said...

So proud of you Chris. Three strong questions that speak to your readers and beyond.

I nominate you to moderate a debate in 2012!

Confluence City said...

Thanks for the comments. I did know it was coming. The Missouri campaign called on Friday and said to keep my Saturday morning open because they were trying to get me a phoner before he went on at noon. This is my second one-on-one phoner with the candidate. I'm sure he didn't remember who I am in particular, but he knows very well who and what The St. Louis American is (the best black newspaper and newspaper website in the country) and he has played us as close as he has played any media source. It's been an amazing experience.

Bob Ray Starker said...

Nicely done Sir! I'm envious of the opportunity, and grateful that the task fell into your capable mitts.

As for red things turning blue, if you and Roy can deliver MO, I'll see what I can do about Ohio...

Stef said...

Chris! Our computer has been wheezing and I wasn't able to log on much this week - I meant to tell you thank you for the lovely post on D.W.U., but I'm going to post here, because this interview just stunned me, and blew away the soot cloud from my heart. Wiley's photo brought tears to my eyes, too, truly.

Christopher V said...

Thanks for channeling Barack's view of the big picture, it is well worth sharing, and we're all enriched by your purposeful and inspired support for this brave man.