My Interview about My Obama Book

Below is the transcript of an interview I did with the Indy newspaper in Normal, Illinois, with the questions in italics:

You mention in your book that Obama is opposed to the “ideological warfare” that is deeply entrenched in the politics of Washington. Obama has been known to work with people from a variety of backgrounds and beliefs. If Obama were elected president, would he purge Washington of these ideologues and usher in a new era that is free from ideological warfare?

No, and I’m distrustful of anyone who might claim to be “post-ideological” and is trying to purge anyone from Washington. What Obama opposes is not ideology but partisanship. Obama is still an ideologue of sorts, because he believes in a progressive agenda. But he believes in listening to all sides and working with Republicans to advance specific progressive policies, such as when he joined with right-winger Tom Coburn to pass earmark reform to try to reduce the political corruption in Washington. What Obama might be able to do is help purge Washington of the corporate lobbyists who wield so much influence over public policy. We’ll never get rid of ideological warfare, and we shouldn’t want to. But what we can achieve is ideological warfare on a level battlefield, where big money isn’t controlling the terms of the debate and dictating the results behind the scenes.

You mention the topic of “white guilt” regarding Obama and race. Do you think that this movement of “white guilt” has grown because of his decision to run in the presidential campaign, or is this an invention of the media?

White guilt is not a very powerful force in America. I’m not sure it exists at all. With regard to Obama, there may be a phenomenon that some whites are more likely to vote for a black man in order to persuade themselves that they couldn’t possibly be racist. What’s more significant than “white guilt” is “white comfort”–that is, most whites are uncomfortable with an Al Sharpton who is constantly bringing up race and focusing attention on it. But Obama is an Oprah-type figure, an African-American who can appeal to whites and not push them out of their comfort zone. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. The pursuit of social justice in America needs its Al Sharptons, but it also needs a Barack Obama, who represents a much rarer phenomenon.

The media is persistent in covering John Edwards touring the poverty stricken areas in the south. Do you think this aids black pessimism to African American voters who believe that Obama is an unelectable African American?

It’s interesting that Edwards, despite his rhetorical focus on poverty, has not gained much enthusiasm from African-Americans. The polls indicate that black voters are split between Obama and Hillary Clinton, and electability is a key reason for that. African-Americans, unlike most whites, see the persistence of racism in America. As a result, blacks are much more skeptical about the possibility of a black man being elected president. When you start from that position of hopelessness, it’s quite rational for blacks to oppose selecting a black man, because they don’t want to see another Republican administration.

Obama, unlike his peers on Capitol Hill, actually came from poverty. What can we expect regarding issues of poverty and homelessness in America?

Obama’s background is more from the lower middle class, but one where he was fortunate in Hawaii to get a scholarship at an elite private school. He has seen extreme poverty, particularly living in Indonesia as a child. His family couldn’t afford to send him to the elite private schools for Westerners, so he attended public school, where he was one of the wealthier students because he had shoes. He worked for little pay helping the poorest blacks in Chicago. But Obama is certainly rare among the millionaires’ club of the US Senate because he didn’t become one until after he was elected and signed his book deal. Unlike a John Edwards or a Mitt Romney or a George Bush or a Hillary Clinton, Obama didn’t have a personal fortune or a family name to give him an easy path to political power. He had to earn every office he won by persuading voters to support him, and he has been an underdog in every primary race he’s ever undertaken.

The question that inevitably comes up regarding Obama is his experience and whether or not he is qualified to be president. Why is Obama being asked these questions, where President George W. Bush wasn’t during his original presidential campaign?

Bush was asked those questions on occasion, but it was never emphasized even though he was up against Al Gore, who had a long record of experience. What’s so odd about the charge of inexperience against Obama (unlike Bush) is that it’s not true. Obama has more years of experience as an elected public official than Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, or Fred Thompson. Obama has more foreign policy experience than four out of the last five presidents did when they were elected president. In addition, Obama has the valuable experience of being a community organizer who directly worked with the poor, and a Constitutional law professor, which is exactly what the Bill of Rights needs after eight years of neglect by the Bush Administration. But Obama gets tarred as “inexperienced” because he violated the Washington media’s rules about waiting his turn. The Washington establishment likes obedient candidates who follow the mainstream ideology, and so there’s a strong distrust toward independent candidates like Obama who aren’t a product of this corrupt system of lobbyists and consultants and obedient reporters.

Though a single vote has not been cast, Hillary Clinton has been declared the winner by the media. If Obama were in that position, would the Right be as polemic towards him as they are currently towards her?

No, the vicious hatred of Hillary Clinton is something unique on the right. I went to the Conservative Political Action Conference this past spring, the leading conservative conference in the country, and the hatred of Hillary was everywhere. Obama was barely mentioned at all. The right-wing already had anti-Hillary websites, buttons depicting her as a witch, even a “Hillary barf bag.” The far right will stop at nothing to destroy Hillary because she’s a Clinton. If Hillary Clinton is the nominee, the far right will raise hundreds of millions of dollars to defeat her and the hatred of her will bring out the Republican base like nothing ever seen before. By contrast, Obama is easily the most popular Democrat among Republicans right now. He’s worked with Republicans in Springfield and DC to get progressive legislation passed, and he has an enormous amount of respect from conservatives who know him. The Republicans will certainly try to smear Obama, but the right-wing is desperate to have Hillary Clinton as the nominee because they know it’s really their only chance in the 2008 election and her presence as the Democratic candidate will mobilize their base and give them the only hope they have of avoiding a Democratic landslide nationwide.

Last week the defense industry threw their weight behind Hillary Clinton, and donations to democrats from the desfense industry is greater than donations to republican campaigns. Obama has said that he is opposed to “dumb wars” but what is his stand with the ever-growing military budget?

Some progressives have attacked Obama because he has called for increasing the size of our military force overall. But as the Blackwater scandals have shown us, the biggest defense expense comes when we outsource military functions to mercenary corporations with an enormous price tag. I believe Obama will sharply cut back on military privatization, and begin to reduce the defense budget by cutting out waste and corporate welfare. Unfortunately, he’s unlikely to be very aggressive due to the fact that the media attacks anyone who wants to cut the military budget, even though it’s very popular to reduce it in polls. However, Obama has no real connections to defense contractors, and so he’s much more likely to push Congress to stop these giveaways to military corporations. Of course, the best way to reduce the military budget is to avoid invading other countries, and Obama has already proven that he has the judgment to do that; no other major candidate, among Republicans or Democrats, has shown the ability to resist the drive of biased intelligence and biased media toward war.

Obama is a religious man, but doesn’t use his faith for political mandates like individuals in the current administration. Is there any appeal to the Christian Right about Obama and his faith? 

The Christian Right will never support Obama because he defends abortion rights. However, there’s a large group of religious believers who don’t belong to the Christian Right, and Obama offers a strong appeal to these political independents who have been angered by the Bush Administration’s manipulation of religion for political purposes. For a long time, the religious right has tried to claim the exclusive mantle of God in their political campaigns, and Democrats have been the secular alternative. What Obama offers is a different vision of religion that’s the opposite of this fundamentalist, intolerant approach. He comes to the separation of church and state from the religious viewpoint as well as the secular perspective, and he is someone who can make a religious connection to many Americans without letting religious ideology control his policies.

Instead of dodging questions and launching smear campaigns, will Obama’s ability to tell the truth make his campaign a success or a failure?

Obama right now is under intense pressure from the media to launch a smear campaign against Hillary Clinton; there’s an odd kind of political machismo promoted by the press that says if a candidate isn’t willing to fight like a tough guy, he’s not ready to be in politics. It’s notable that when Obama went on the offensive in last week’s debate, he was forthright about doing so, and he never sunk to the level of personal attacks. The Clinton campaign has mocked Obama for deviating from his “politics of hope.” But the truth is that the politics of hope is aimed at inspiring the American people to believe in the potential of government to be effective and a force for good; the “politics of hope” has never meant that Obama would be a punching bag for the Washington establishment.

You wrote that there won’t be an Obama Doctrine if he’s elected president. What’s the importance to this?

The wide range of failed Bush Administration policies on foreign affairs has been termed the “Bush Doctrine.” It’s a doctrine that believes in unilateral American action at every turn, a doctrine that treats America as the imperial ruler of the world and all other countries as subjects who are supposed to obey. There is an Obama Doctrine in the sense that he would end the Bush Doctrine of approving torture, he would end the Bush Doctrine of an imperial presidency with total power over military action, he would end the Bush Doctrine of refusing to negotiate with countries until they bow to American demands. For Obama, negotiation and diplomacy would be the key tools of American foreign policy rather than bombs and invasions based on imaginary grounds. Obama is an internationalist who believes in America working to improve the rest of the world as the best protection for American interests.

John K. Wilson is the founder of the Indy, and his new book is “Barack Obama: This Improbable Quest” (Paradigm Publishers) available at www.obamapolitics.com, Also he does helps a lot of students in free times and is already ready for college essay writing service so feel free to contact him. Wilson will speak on Obama’s foreign policy at ISU’s Global Review on Thursday, November 8 at 7pm in the Eleanor Kong room at Walker Hall.