Thursday, October 23, 2008

Me on Obama on dang Italian national radio

The St. Louis American has been making some national and international news these days. Yesterday, Wiley Price's historic photo of the African Methodist Episcopal pastors praying over Barack Obama was the lead illustration on The Drudge Report, the national conservative blog. I got excited calls and emails from the Obama campaign all day.

Respect from a friend is sweet indeed, but respect from an enemy is perhaps sweeter. I consider it a complement that our shooter's image was seized upon by the right-wing blog, presumably as an image of all hell breaking loose. "What is this country coming to?" the use of the photo seemed to imply. We're getting ready to elect as president a black man with a black preacher - indeed, an entire posse of black preachers!

Also, I heard our City Editor Alvin A. Reid carrying on the other day with a French reporter who was covering the presidential campaign for his newspaper back in France. Alvin is big in France now.

Today, it was my turn. I did a scheduled phone interview with a reporter from Italian national radio, RAI. I've done a smattering of radio in various capacities over the years, and it doesn't really rattle me, but I was anxious to do this one since I have some good friends in the northern Italian rock music scene and look forward to cueing them up to tune in when the piece airs.

I took the call from RAI outside of the office of a St. Louis County doctor who specializes in pediatric vision testing. My kid had a routine eye exam this morning. My wife sat with the girl while I stepped out into the parking garage, looked out into the rain and gabbed about Obama to a future Italian audience of millions.

I'll try to reconstruct the interview from memory and from the notes I jotted down afterwards.

Italian national radio: How is race an issue in voting in the United States?

Me: Historically, people have had to fight for the right to vote in this country. The historical record will reflect what, for example, black people and all women had to go through in this country to earn the right to vote. And there is a history of very determinedly trying to deny or block black people from voting after they had earned the right to do so. In more recent years, there has been a very demoralized black vote. The electorate overall has been demoralized, but this has been especially bad in black communities, which have shown a pattern of not voting anywhere near their true strength. With the unprecedented outreach that the Obama campaign has shown in black communities and the excitement it has inspired, this is about to change in a big way.

Italian national radio: Is is true that a record turnout is expected for the election?

Me: Very recently, I visited with Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, who is the chief election official here in Missouri. She has done a lot of good work to see that voter registration goes smoothly and that we can expect a fair election. And she told me just that - that we are set for a record turnout at the polls on Nov. 4, with voter participation in Missouri as high as 80 percent, which is just unheard of.

Italian national radio: Do you think the economy will have an effect on the election?

Me: Yes. Economic downturns are always hard on incumbents. Fairly or not, voters tend to blame the problems with the economy on the elected officials. The incumbent president is George W. Bush, who can't stand for re-election - you can only serve two four-year terms as president, and he has already been reelected once. But his party is the Republican Party, so this is expected to be a bad year for Republicans, and John McCain is a Republican - who has said himself that he voted for President Bush 90 percent of the time.

Italian national radio: Has Obama's use of race in this campaign been traditional?

Me: I don't there was any tradition for what he has done. We are a very mixed country, mixed in race, but people tend to deny this. We have never had a presidential candidate stand before us and we all know his father was a black African and his mother was a white American. We have this metaphor that America is a "melting pot," but Obama is showing us what a melting pot really is. He is a melting pot candidate running a melting pot campaign. Obama is mapping new terrain - or, maybe, he is just revealing the map that was always there and that so many people wanted to deny. No, his use of race has not been traditional. The tradition starts with Obama.

Italian national radio: What impact will it have on African Americans if Obama is elected as president?

Me: I'm a journalist, so I tend to be realistic about these things. There are things a president can and cannot do. He can guide his party and influence legislation, but he doesn't cast a vote. So, in terms of legislation, a lot comes down to how skilfully he can lead his party and build consensus. His leadership in the campaign has been masterful, so I have every reason to expect his leadership of the party from the White House would be very skilled as well. The president is the commander in chief of the armed forces, and our armed services are disproportionately poor and black. Our armed forces are stretched very thin right now, and I do believe that Obama will make an effort to disengage us from some of these military commitments if elected, so a lot of black soldiers would be spending more time at home rather than in Iraq. And then there is the spiritual impact for Black America to see a black president. I think it's fair to call that "spiritual." Having a black president would have to enlarge everyone's sense of what a black person is capable of, for a black person to succeed at the highest level in this exclusive field of electoral politics and leadership. It would have to enlarge our sense of African-American potential - I don't think it's possible that it wouldn't do that.

Anyway, it went something like that.

The guy who interviewed me and his producer said they will come to the art show I am in Friday night, 7-10 p.m. in a loft at 2101 Locust downtown. So come say hi to our Italian brothers.


Shot of RAI radio tower from somebody's Flickr site.

1 comment:

nosey parker said...

This art show sounds hot! My King drawing will assuredly increase in value. Hopefully I can make your show. I've got some studio time to make up this evening. Ciao!