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Barnes and... A Conversation with Gwen Ifill

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HELLO AGAIN, EVERYONE. THANKS VERY MUCH FOR JOINING US. GWEN IFILL IS A PREACHER'S KID WHO WENT ASTRAY. THE BALTIMORE SUN, THE WASHINGTON POST, THE NEW YORK TIMES, NBC NEWS, AND PBC WASHINGTON WEEK IN REVIEW'S MODERATOR, GWEN IFILL, THANKS VERY MUCH FOR JOINING US.

GOOD TO SEE YOU AGAIN, STEVE.

AND THE AUTHOR OF THE BREAKTHROUGH:  POLITICS AND RACE IN THE AGE OF OBAMA. NEWLY PUBLISHED. CONGRATULATIONS.

THANK YOU. THANK YOU VERY MUCH.

A STUDIOUS WORK. A LOT OF WORK OVER A LONG PERIOD OF TIME.

A LOT OF WORK, BUT IT WAS SOMETHING THAT IT TURNS OUT I DIDN'T EVEN REALIZE I HAD BEEN WRITING ABOUT MY ENTIRE CAREER. I HAD ALWAYS THOUGHT I WAS WRITING ABOUT POLITICS, BUT WHEN I LOOKED BACK OVER IT, I REALIZED I'D ALSO BEEN WRITING ABOUT THIS COLLISION BETWEEN RACE AND POLITICS AND HOW GRADUALLY IT LED TO AND EVEN PRECEDED SOMEWHAT THE ELECTION OF BARACK OBAMA. SO WHEN I STARTED TO WRITE THE BOOK, I REALIZED I KNEW A LOT MORE AND HAD SEEN A LOT MORE THAN I HAD EVEN THOUGHT ABOUT.

LET'S TRY THIS. THERE IS EVERY EVIDENCE THAT BARACK OBAMA HAS NOT TRANSCENDED RACE, BUT THIS ELECTION HAS PROVIDED NEW PROOF THAT HE HAS REDEFINED WHAT RACIAL POLITICS IS. HOW? AND WHAT IS IT?

WELL, THE TRANSCENDENCE IS A HARD THING. I DON'T THINK, ESPECIALLY WHEN IT COMES TO RACE, WE ARE AT THIS POINT IN OUR COUNTRY WHERE WE CAN SAY RACE DOESN'T MATTER ANYMORE AND NOBODY KNOWS IT OR SEES IT, OBVIOUSLY, AND PRESIDENT OBAMA SAYS AS MUCH. HE DOESN'T BELIEVE IN THAT. BUT WHAT HE DID WAS HE BECAME A MAJOR AFRICAN-AMERICAN CANDIDATE WITHOUT MAKING HIS AFRICAN AMERICANNESS CENTRAL. IF ANYTHING, HE PLAYED DOWN THE NOTION OF HIS BLACKNESS. HE TALKED ABOUT IT IN HIS BOOK, ABOUT HIS RACIAL IDENTITY AND HOW HE CAME TO IT, BUT WHEN IT CAME TO RUNNING FOR PRESIDENT AND DOING WHAT IT TOOK TO WIN WHITE VOTES, BLACK VOTES, ASIAN VOTES, LATINO VOTES, AND EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN, HE WENT OUT OF HIS WAY TO NOT MENTION RACE AT ALL IF HE COULD HELP IT.

I NOTICED DURING THE CAMPAIGN -- AND YOU MAKE MENTION OF IT IN YOUR BOOK -- HE RARELY, WITH A COUPLE NOTABLE EXCEPTIONS, DIDN'T BRING IT UP. BUT YOU KNOW, HE LEFT IT TO SURROGATES TO HANDLE RACE MATTERS. I THOUGHT IT WAS PRETTY SHREWD.

EXCEPT EVERY ONCE IN A WHILE SOMETHING LIKE JEREMIAH WRIGHT WOULD POP OUT. WHEN HE GAVE HIS ONE BIG RACE SPEECH DURING HIS CAMPAIGN, IT WAS ONLY BECAUSE HE WAS CORNERED O ON THE ISSUE. IF HE HAD HIS CHOICE, HE WOULD NEVER HAVE TALKED ABOUT RACE IN THAT WAY. HE WOULD HAVE WEAVED IT INTO HIS OWN ISSUES. HE AND HIS ADVISORS THOUGHT IT WAS TOO POLARIZING AN ISSUE.

TO HIS DISMAY, THE ANGST AND ANGER OF SOME OTHER BLACK POLITICIANS IN AMERICA.

ANGST IS A GOOD WORD, AND THAT CONTINUES TODAY. THEY DON'T NECESSARILY QUESTION HIS ALLEGIANCE TO THE CAUSE, BUT THE QUESTION THAT HE DOESN'T MAKE IT PRIMARY. THEY WANT TO HEAR HIM GIVE A SPEECH -- AND THIS WAS TRUE THROUGHOUT THE CAMPAIGN AND IS STILL TRUE -- THEY WANT TO HEAR HIM GIVE A SPEECH IN WHICH HE TALKS ABOUT BLACK ISSUES. BUT THAT'S NOT THE KIND OF CANDIDATE BARACK OBAMA IS. HE'S NEVER BEEN A CANDIDATE, A POLITICIAN, OR EVEN A POLITICAL LEADER WHO CASTS THINGS SOLELY IN TERMS OF RACE. IF HE WANTS TO -- FOR INSTANCE, IF BLACK PEOPLE SUFFER DISPROPORTIONATELY FROM ACCESS TO HEALTH CARE, HIS THEORY -- AND A THEORY A LOT OF THESE BREAKTHROUGH CANDIDATES, NOT COINCIDENTALLY, IS YOU TALK ABOUT HEALTH CARE IN GENERAL AND HOW IT AFFECTS EVERYBODY WITH THE UNDERSTANDING IF YOU FIX THE PROBLEM, THE PEOPLE WHO BENEFIT WILL BE DISPROPORTIONATELY PEOPLE OF COLOR WHO ARE SUFFERING DISPROPORTIONATELY. THAT'S HOW HE TALKS ABOUT RACE WITHOUT TALKING ABOUT IT.

AGAIN FROM THE BOOK -- I HOPE I'M NOT VIOLATING COPYRIGHT HERE.

NO. READ AWAY.

IT WAS A FAIRLY PERILOUS -- TALKING ABOUT THE CAMPAIGN -- IT WAS A FAIRLY PERILOUS TIGHTROPE OBAMA WALKED AND ONE THAT HAD NEVER BEEN MANAGED AT THIS LEVEL BEFORE. HE HAD TO INTEGRATE THE TACTICAL WITH THE STRATEGIC, REACHING OUT TO SOME VOTERS WITHOUT ALIENATING OTHERS, AND CHANGED THE FACE OF BLACK POLITICS ALTOGETHER.

THINK ABOUT WHAT WE THINK OF WHEN WE THINK ABOUT BLACK POLITICS, WE THINK ABOUT JESSIE JACKSON, WHO WON NOT ONE BUT TWO CAMPAIGNS. HE ENGAGED IN COALITION POLITICS MORE THAN PEOPLE GAVE HIM CREDIT FOR, BUT THE BASIS OF HIS RUNNING BOTH CAMPAIGNS WAS RUNNING A PROTEST CAMPAIGN. THAT'S THE SAME TRUE FOR AL SHARPTON WHEN HE RAN FOR PRESIDENT, AND THE SAME HAS BEEN TRUE WITH A LOT OF MAYORS AND EVEN THERE HAVE BEEN A COUPLE GOVERNORS ALONG THE WAY, A FEW SENATORS, BUT THEY WERE ALMOST ALWAYS ABLE TO RUN RACE CAMPAIGNS EXCEPT WHEN THEY HAD TO THEN WIN WHITE VOTES AND WIN OTHER VOTES AS WELL.

YET YOU'RE NOT CERTAIN THAT HE IS -- THE TERM WAS BREAKTHROUGH. WHAT WAS A BREAKTHROUGH CANDIDATE?

A BREAKTHROUGH CANDIDATE IS SOMEONE WHO SAYS WHEN SOMEONE TELLS YOU YOU CAN'T DO IT, IT'S NOT YOUR TURN, SAYS REALLY, I'M GOING TO TRY IT ANYWAY. WHEN SOMEONE SAYS YOU DIDN'T ASK MY PERMISSION, THEY SAY I DON'T THINK I NEED YOUR PERMISSION. A BREAKTHROUGH CANDIDATE IS SOMEONE WHO, WHEN THEY'RE TOLD TO JUST WAIT OVER IN THE CORNER AND WE'LL GET TO YOU, AND WHETHER THAT ADVICE IS COMING FROM OLDER, ENTRENCHED BLACK POLITICIANS, OLDER ENFRENCHED WHITE POLITICIANS, THE POWER STRUCTURE IS SUSPICIOUS THE FIRST TIME. SHIRLEY CHISHM WAS A BREAKTHROUGH EVEN THOUGH SHE DIDN'T WIN. PEOPLE FORGET A LOT OF POLITICIANS THOUGHT HER RUNNING FOR PRESIDENT WAS A PIPE DREAM, WAS CRAZY. SHE BROKE THROUGH BY LAYING THE GROUND WORK FOR A WOMAN WHO COULD RUN IN THE FUTURE OR ANOTHER AFRICAN AMERICAN WHO COULD RUN AND WIN.

YOU, AS DID MR. OBAMA, AND YOU BORROW FOR FROM THE RHETORIC OR THE LANGUAGE OF THE CAMPAIGN AND THE MOVEMENT ITSELF. THERE WAS THE MOSES GENERATION. HE REPRESENTS IN SOME SENSE THE JOSHUA GENERATION. GENERATIONAL SHIFT.

WELL, AND IT'S INTERESTING. HE TOLD ME ONCE THAT HE TALKED TO JESSEE JACKSON BEFORE HE RAN, AND JESSE JACKSON SAID I UNDERSTAND, BARACK, YOU ARE NOT THE ONE WHO HAD TO KNOCK DOWN THE DOORS. I AM THE ONE WHO BEARS THE SCARS AND YOU GOT TO WALK THROUGH. HE UNDERSTANDS THAT'S WHAT IT DOES. IT'S RESPONSIBILITY FOR TAKING THE RISKS, RESPONSIBILITY FOR BREAKING THROUGH TO ANOTHER LEVEL. IT DOESN'T MEAN NO ONE HAS EVER BROKEN THROUGH BEFORE. IT MEANS THAT NOW THERE'S A LEVEL OF SUCCESS WHICH IS BUILT ON COALITIONS, NOT JUST ON AFRICAN-AMERICAN VOTES.

NEVER BEFORE AND YET AGAIN YOU NOTE -- I THINK I'VE GOT THE QUOTE HERE -- A POST-RACIAL -- I DO NOT BELIEVE THIS TO BE A POST-RACIAL MOMENT. I'M STILL NOT ENTIRELY SURE WHAT THE TERM MEANS.

A LOT OF PEOPLE WHO WANT THIS TO A POST-RACIAL MOMENT OR WANT US TO STOP THINKING ABOUT RACE AT ALL. THEY WANT US TO SAY ALL FIXED, WE HAVE A BLACK PRESIDENT NOW. WHAT'S THE PROBLEM? WHEN, IN FACT, WE HAVE A LOT MUCH ISSUES IN OUR COUNTRY THAT ARE STILL DRIVEN BY RACE. OTHERWISE THERE WOULDN'T BE DISPROPORTIONATE NUMBERS OF BLACK MEN IN JAIL AND NOT IN COLLEGE OR BLACK WOMEN WHO DON'T HAVE ACCESS, WHO ARE PAID LESS, AND ARE ALWAYS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE FOOD CHAIN. THERE'S GOT TO BE SOME DISCUSSION ABOUT THE LINGERING EFFECTS OF RACE. WHAT THE BREAKTHROUGH CANDIDATES SHOW IS IT DOESN'T HAVE TO ALWAYS BE A NEGATIVE CAMPAIGN, DOESN'T HAVE TO BE A CONVERSATION ABOUT REDRESS, GRIEVANCE, ARGUMENT. IT CAN BE A DISCUSSION ABOUT WHAT'S GOOD AND POSITIVE AND HOW DIFFERENCE CAN BE CELEBRATED IN OUR SOCIETY, AND FOR THE FIRST TIME, IT FEELS LIKE WE'RE ON THE VERY VERGE OF HAVING THAT CONVERSATION.

I WAS -- IN READING THE BOOK, I WAS REMINDED OF A COMMENT THAT I HEARD EDRUN -- ED RAWLINS MAKE -- I'M SORRY -- ABOUT GOVERNOR GENDLE FROM LOUISIANA. I THINK I'M QUOTING RAWLINS CORRECTLY. HE SAYS LOUISIANA DID NOT VOTE FOR THIS SON OF HINDU IMMIGRANTS BECAUSE IT WANTED TO DEMONSTRATE HOW MULTICULTURAL IT WAS. LOUISIANA VOTED FOR HIM BECAUSE THE STATE WAS SO THOROUGHLY SCREWED UP IT WAS WILLING TO TRY ANYTHING.

MY FAVORITE HEADLINE AFTER THE ELECTION WAS FROM THE ONION, THE HUMOR NEWSPAPER, THAT THE EDIT SAID BLACK MAN GETS WORST JOB IN WORLD.  [LAUGHTER] IT WAS LIKE FINALLY, WHEN THINGS ARE JUST THAT BAD, WE CAN GIVE THE JOB TO THE PEOPLE OF COLOR.

THEY PROBABLY WOULD HAVE SAID THAT ABOUT A WHITE GUY TOO. BUT YOU KNOW, YOU -- TO THE -- SOMETIMES THE AMUSEMENT OFTEN TO THE FURY OF AFRICAN AMERICANS, WE WHITE GUYS AND WOMEN IN THE PRESS OFTEN HAVE BEEN ACCUSED, PROBABLY FAIRLY, OF SELECTING A BLACK LEADER. SO-AND-SO SPEAKS FOR BLACK AMERICA.

IT'S LIKE IN HOLLEYWOOD, THEY CALL IT THE MAGIC NEGRO SYNDROME, WHERE THEY PICK ONE PERSON WHOM THEY DECIDED IS THE RIGHT PERSON, THE ONLY PERSON WHO CAN SPEAK FOR EVERYONE ELSE, AND EVERYONE ELSE IS IGNORED.

AS NO OTHER BOOK, I THINK, THAT CAME FROM THE CAMPAIGN, AT LEAST THAT I HAVE READ, YOU MAKE CLEAR THAT THERE WERE FISHERS IN THE OBAMA EFFORT EARLY ON ACROSS BLACK NOT JUST WITHIN THE CAMPAIGN, BUT ACROSS BLACK AMERICA.

BLACK VOTERS WERE NOT ONBOARD AUTOMATICALLY. THEY DIDN'T KNOW WHO HE WAS. HE WAS A GUY WITH BIG EARS AND A FUNNY NAME FROM CHICAGO -- WE THINK CHICAGO, MAYBE HAWAII. THAT'S EVEN FARTHER AWAY. FOLKS DIDN'T KNOW WHO HE WAS. A WHOLE LOT OF BLACK OFFICIALS, BLACK LEADERS, THOUGHT WHO IS HE? WE DIDN'T INVITE HIM INTO THIS PARTY. THEN A LOT OF BLACK VOTERS WERE VERY MUCH TIED UP WITH THE CLINTON LEGACY. I MEAN, THEY REALLY WERE FOND OF HILLARY CLINTON AND WANTED TO SUPPORT HER, AND IF NOT HILLARY, CERTAINLY BILL. SO IT WASN'T AN AUTOMATIC SLAM-DUNK THAT JUST BECAUSE THIS BLACK GUY SHOWED UP WITH RHETORICAL GIFTS THAT BLACK VOTERS WERE GOING TO SAY OKAY, FINE. IN FACT, BLACK VOTERS PROBABLY DON'T GET ENOUGH CREDIT FOR HAVING THOUGHT THIS THROUGH VERY CAREFULLY AND WRESTLED WITH HOW TO GET TO THE RIGHT DECISION ABOUT THE PERSON WHO WOULD BEST REPRESENT THEIR INTERESTS, NOT JUST RACIALLY, BUT AS AMERICANS. IT WAS ONLY WHEN HE BEGAN TO WIN WHITE VOTES, AS HE DID IN IOWA, THAT BLACK VOTERS SAID OKAY, MAYBE HE CAN DO THIS.

AS YOU POINT OUT IN THE BOOK, BLACK WOMEN WERE ESPECIALLY FOR A TIME PROBLEMATIC FOR MR. OBAMA.

WELL, AND THEY WERE PROBLEMATIC FOR -- BLACK WOMEN DON'T WANT TO BE DEFINED AS BLACK OR WOMEN. THEY DON'T WANT TO MAKE A CHOICE. THEY ARE ALL THESE THINGS. THEY LIKE THE IDEA, MANY OF THEM, OF SUPPORTING A WOMAN CANDIDATE. MANY OF THEM LIKED THE IDEA OF SUPPORTING A BLACK CANDIDATE. THE TWO THINGS COULD NOT BE TOGETHER. THEN YOU HAD TO MAKE THE DECISION BASED ON BROADER, MORE FUNDAMENTAL REASONS, WHICH IS WHO WILL SERVE MY BEST INTEREST?

MR. BIDEN, AGAIN, ON THE SUBJECT OF BLACK-WHITE IN THE NATIONAL CONVERSATION, PARTICULARLY IN THE POLITICAL CONTEXT, MR. BIDEN AS A CANDIDATE GOT INTO A LOT OF TROUBLE DEFINING OR SAYING ABOUT MR. OBAMA THAT HE WAS CLEAN AND ARTICULATE, AND YET THERE WERE A COUPLE OF POINTS IN THE BOOK WHERE I NOTICED HE WAS NOT THREATENING. THIS WAS A BLACK MAN WHO DIDN'T THREATEN WHITE AMERICA.

YOU WOULD NEVER CATCH HIM WITH HIS FISTS IN THE AIR.

EXACTLY. YOU WOULD NEVER CATCH THIS BLACK MAN WITH HIS FISTS IN THE AIR.

IT WAS INTERESTING WHAT HAPPENED WITH JOE BIDEN AND THAT. IT TELLS YOU ALL THE RACIAL POTHOLES WE HAVE IN THIS COUNTRY. I THINK A LOT OF PEOPLE WEREN'T CERTAIN WHAT IT WAS HE SAID WRONG. HE CALLED THE GUY CLEAN, CALLED THE GUY ARTICULATE. WHAT'S THE PROBLEM? WHAT I FIND WITH LANGUAGE, ESPECIALLY WHEN IT COMES TO CODED LANGUAGE ABOUT RACE, DO YOU YOU HAVE TO TURN IT ON ITS HEAD. DO YOU EVER HEAR SOMEONE CALL A WHITE PERSON ARTICULATE? IT'S ASSUMED UNLESS THE PERSON IS OTHERWISE CONSIDERED TO HAVE A HANDICAP. NORTHERNERS MAY THINK A SOUTHERN ACCENT IS A HANDICAP, SO THEY'LL SAY HE'S FROM THE SOUTH, BUT HE'S SURPRISINGLY ARTICULATE. THIS IS THE SAME THING YOU'RE HEARING WHEN PEOPLE SAY A BLACK MAN IS ARTICULATE. AND BLACK FOLK HEAR THAT CONDESCENDING ASSESSMENT AND FIND IT TO BE VERY BASICALLY INSULTING. IT'S LIKE YOU NEVER HEAR YOUNG PEOPLE CALLED SPRY. YOU ONLY HEAR OLDER PEOPLE CALLED SPRY. AND THAT MEANS THAT THEY ARE BASICALLY SAYING, OH, BLESS HER HEART, SHE'S REALLY TRYING TO GET AROUND, ISN'T SHE? IT'S THE SAME THING WHEN YOU CALL A BLACK PERSON -- LOOKS LIKE THAT PERSON'S EDUCATED, AS IF IT WAS IMPOSSIBLE.

YOU SAW ANOTHER DOUBLE STANDARD, TOO, IN THE BOOK. MR. OBAMA SOMEHOW MANAGED -- YOU WRITE -- MANAGED TO ESCAPE ONE RITE OF PASSAGE FOR BLACK POLITICIANS, AND THAT IS THE NEED TO DISTANCE HIS SEMIFROM WELL-KNOWN BUT DIVISIVE LEADERS SUCH AS SHARPTON AND FAIR RA AND FAIR RA GUT. HE WAS ALMOST DERAILED.

THE CAMPAIGN THOUGHT THE JEREMIAH WRIGHT EPISODE COULD COMPLETELY DERAIL THE CANDIDACY. WHY? BECAUSE IT WAS GOING TO REMIND VOTERS WHY THIS GUY WAS DIFFERENT THAN THEY, ALL THE THINGS ABOUT HIM, THAT WOULD REMIND VOTERS ABOUT WHAT ABOUT HIM WAS ALIEN TO THEIR EXISTENCE. THAT WAS A REAL THREAT. IT WASN'T JUST THAT HE SAID CRAZY THINGS. IT'S THAT THE CRAZY MESS THAT PEOPLE SAW IN THIS REMINDED PEOPLE WHO IS THIS GUY ANYHOW? IT WAS A REAL PROBLEM FOR HIM. BUT ESPECIALLY YOU LOOK AT THE WAY HE FINESSED HIS RELATIONSHIP WITH THE OTHER TRADITIONAL CIVIL RIGHTS LEADERS, JESSE JACKSON SR. ENDORSED OBAMA, EVEN THOUGH PERIODICALLY THROUGHOUT THE CAMPAIGN HE WOULD SAY THINGS WHICH ARE CRITICAL. AL SHARPTON ALSO SUPPORTED BARACK OBAMA BUT WAS CLEVER ENOUGH TO KNOW IT WOULDN'T HELP IF HE GOT OUT THERE AND TALKED ABOUT IT, SO HE KEPT A PRETTY LOW PROFILE. IN FACT, THIS WEEK WE SEE HIM AT THE WHITE HOUSE MEETING WITH THE PRESIDENT ON EDUCATION REFORM, NOT ABOUT RACIAL ISSUES, BUT ABOUT SOMETHING BROADER. SO THE PRESIDENT HAS MANAGED ALONG THE WAY TO MOLLIFY PEOPLE WHO WOULD AUTOMATICALLY BE HIS CRITICS, IN PART BECAUSE HE SAID TO ME FOR THIS BOOK, THERE IS A ROLE FOR THESE ACTIVISTS. THEIR ROLE IS TO HOLD HIS FEET TO THE FIRE. THEIR ROLE IS NOT TO BE PRESIDENT AND TO FORM A GOVERNING COALITION, BUT THEIR ROLE IS TO SAY DON'T FORGET ABOUT THIS ISSUE, AND THAT'S WHAT THESE CANDIDATES ALL DO. EVEN LOUIS FAIR RA CON, WHO YOU WOULD -- FARRACON  WHO YOU WOULD EXPECT TO DRAG UP THE POT, ASK WHETHER HE WOULD DENY, DENOUNCE LOUIS, HE STAYED OUT OF IT. HE COOLED HIS JETS BECAUSE HE KNEW THAT IF HE SPOKE UP AND DEFENDED BARACK OBAMA IN ANY WAY, THAT WAS GOING TO HURT HIS CANDIDACY. IT WAS KIND OF MATURITY ON THE PART OF THESE ELECTED OFFICIAL TO KNOW THAT THEY, STANDING IN FRONT OF A MICROPHONE AND SAYING HE'S A GREAT GUY, WAS ONLY GOING TO HURT HIM.

CALLED ON BY SENATOR CLINTON MORE OR LESS ENGINEERED WITH THE ASSISTANCE OF ONE OR TWO REPORTERS. WHAT ABOUT LOUIS FARRAC ON? DO YOU REPUTE HIM?

HE SAID SURE, IF YOU WANT ME TO, I WILL. WHAT DIFFERENCE DID IT MAKE? WHO IS HE A LEADER OF? IS HE TRYING TO BE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES? IS THERE ANY REASON WHY YOU WOULD ASK HIM? NO ONE EVER ASKED JOHN EDWARDS TO REPUDIATE JESSE HELMS. THEY WERE BOTH FROM NORTH CAROLINA. WHY WOULD ONLY THAT QUESTION BE HELD TO OBAMA? SO I THINK WHAT WE DISCOVERED IN THE WAY THAT PEOPLE VOTED WAS WE ARE NOT DRIVEN BY ASSOCIATED POLITICS IN THE SAME WAY WE MAY HAVE ONCE BEEN, NOT WHEN THERE'S SO MUCH AT STAKE.

FOR EXAMPLE, YOU CITE SENATOR McCAIN AS AN EXAMPLE, I THINK, IN THAT CONTEXT. BUT WAS HE NOT, AFTER LABELING SOME OF THE EVANGELICAL LEADERS AGENTS OF INTOLERANCE I THINK IN THE 2000 CAMPAIGN, IN '08, HE GOES TO BOB JONES UNIVERSITY. HE PALS AROUND, BUT HE -- BUT, YOU KNOW, THERE'S THE REVEREND ROBERTSON AND MR. FALLWELL, AND THERE'S AN OBVIOUS ATTEMPT TO MAKE PEACE, AND SENATOR McCAIN WAS --

HE WAS FOR A WHILE. I MEAN, THEN IT BECAME FAIRLY CLEAR THAT WHAT SENATOR McCAIN WAS TRY TO GO DO NIS HIS WAY IS WHAT BARACK OBAMA WAS TRYING TO DO WITH THE LEFT IN HIS WAY, WHICH IS TAKE THEM OUT OF THE ARGUMENT, TAKE THEM OUT OF THE DISCUSSION. AND HE WAS TRYING TO MOLLIFY THEM SO THAT THEY WOULD NOT BE A PROBLEM FOR HIM. IN FACT, THEY WERE MUCH LESS EASILY MOLLIFIED ON THE RIGHT THAN THE LEFT WAS IN THE END.

YEAH. DIDN'T WORK TOO WELL. YOU WERE ALSO -- YOU ALSO NOTED -- BACK TO

MATT FINLEY:ER OF MR. OBAMA BEING CLEAN, ARTICULATE, BUT YOU HAD A COUPLE OF OTHER ASIDES TOO. FOR EXAMPLE, AMONG THE WHITE LEADERSHIP CONFRONTED BY MR. OBAMA, THEY WERE WILLING TO EMBRACE A BLACK MAN WHO DID NOT MAKE THEM FEEL GUILTY ABOUT RACE, AND IN ANOTHER PART, TO WHITE PEOPLE WHO CONSIDERED THEMSELVES FORWARD THINKING, HE, MR. OBAMA, WAS A BLACK MAN BUT NOT TOO BLACK.

YOU KNOW, I HEAR THAT OVER AND OVER FROM ALL OF THE BREAKTHROUGH CANDIDATES I TALK TO. I TALK TO KENDRICK MEEK, A CONGRESSMAN FROM FLORIDA, AND HE TOLD ME HERE HE IS IN CONGRESS, A RISING YOUNG LEADER, AND THEY TELL HIM THAT, YOU KNOW, HE GETS ALONG FINE. SOME OF HIS BEST FRIENDS ARE WHITE, AS THEY SAY. THE MINUTE HE WALKS OUT THAT DOOR, HE KNOWS IF HE HAILS A CAB ON PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE, IT MAY NOT STOP FOR HIM. HE IS WELL AWARE OF HOW HE IS PERCEIVED. HE ALSO ISN'T BOUND BY IT, AND THAT'S THE KEY FOR ALL OF THESE CANDIDATES, WHICH IS HOW DO YOU RECOGNIZE RACE, ACKNOWLEDGE IT, AND REPRESENT AND THEN NOT BE COMPLETELY DEFINED BY IT. I DON'T THINK ANYONE WANTS TO BE COMPLETELY DEFINED SOLELY BY RACE ANYMORE.

WE MET -- YOU CAME HERE THE FIRST TIME IN, I THINK, 1992. YOU ARE NOW IN A LIBRARY THAT IS NAMED FOR THE PRESIDENT WHOSE CAMPAIGN YOU COVERED IN 1992.

YEAH.

AND YOU'VE WRITTEN A BOOK ABOUT THE MAN AND THE FORCES WHO HELPED THAT MAN DEFEAT THE WIFE OF THE MAN FOR WHOM THIS LIBRARY --

SMALL WORLD, ISN'T IT?

HAVE YOU COME FULD CIRCLE OR MODIFIED LIMITED CIRCLE?

MODIFIED LIMITED CIRCLE. I LIKE TO THINK THERE ARE STILL OTHER PLACES TO GO, EVEN THOUGH I HAVE TO SAY IT IS A REMARKABLE THING TO SEE THE OTHER SIDE OF A STORY WHEN YOU -- WHEN YOU'RE COVERING IT AS A DAILY REPORTER, YOU ARE JUST WORRYING ABOUT THE LITTLE BITTY PIECES. WRITING ABOUT IT AS A BOOK ALLOWS YOU TO STEP BACK -- I WAS GLAD TO HAVE A FRAME TO LOOK AT THIS LAST CAMPAIGN THROUGH -- TO STAND BACK AND LOOK AT THE IMPACT OF IT. LIKE COMING TO THIS LIBRARY, SEEING THE IMPACT OF WHAT I COVERED WITH MY NOSE PRESSED THROUGH THE GLASS WAS THE SAME WAY. IT'S FASCINATING AND IT'S THE WAY DEMOCRACY WORKS IN OUR SOCIETY TOO.

THE '08 CAMPAIGN KIND OF SUGGESTED -- MR. CLINTON, OF COURSE, RATHER FAMOUSLY CALLED AMERICA'S FIRST BLACK PRESIDENT, BUT CONFRONTED WITH THE OBAMA PHENOMENON, THEY LOOKED AS THOUGH -- THE CLINTON FORCES LOOKED AS THOUGH THEY WERE FUMBLING.

THEY DIDN'T DO WELL.

IN THE FINAL ANALYSIS, THEY WERE JUST --

THEY DIDN'T HANDLE IT WELL ON LOTS OF LEVELS, AND MOST OF THEM AND THE MOST DAMAGING OF THEM JUST PURELY POLITICAL. THERE WERE THE RACIAL ALLUSIONS AND HIM -- BILL CLINTON COMPARING BARACK OBAMA TO JACKSON OR SAYING HIS POSITION IN IRAQ WAS A FAIRY TALE, WHICH PEOPLE TOOK TO MEAN THAT HIS ENTIRE CAMPAIGN WAS A FAIRY TALE. BILL CLINTON GOT VERY, VERY UNHAPPY ABOUT THAT ANALYSIS. HE THOUGHT HE WAS GETTING A RAW DEAL. HE ALSO WAS UNHAPPY TO SEE A LOT OF HIS MOST LOYAL BLACK SUPPORTERS BASICALLY SAY, YOU KNOW WHAT, LIKE JOHN LEWIS IN GEORGIA, LISTEN, I DON'T WANT TO BE ON THE WRONG SIDE OF HISTORY, BUDDY. I LOVE YOU, BUT I'VE GOT TO GO WITH THE OTHER GUY. THAT WAS THE RACIAL SIDE OF IT. IN A BROADER SENSE, I THINK THAT HILLARY'S CAMPAIGN, PEOPLE WOULD TELL YOU NOW, THEY JUST DIDN'T SEE THIS COMING. THEY DIDN'T -- THEY WERE STUCK IN AN OLD WAY OF RAISING MONEY, OF SPENDING MONEY, OF GETTING ESTABLISHMENT SUPPORT, AND IT DIDN'T -- THEY DIDN'T SEE THAT THE MODEL WHICH THE OBAMA CAMPAIGN INVENTED, WHICH WAS REACHING DIFFERENT PEOPLE, RAISING MONEY DIFFERENTLY, SPEAKING DIFFERENTLY, APPEALING DIFFERENTLY, THEY DIDN'T SEE THAT IT WAS THE NEW WAY, AND THEY WERE STILL STUCK IN THE OLD WAY.

ABOUT THOSE WAYS, YOU WRITE THAT THE OBAMA CAMPAIGN, THE THEMES AND LAYERS OF MEETING THAT RUN THROUGH BLACK POLITICIAN IS NOT JUST OBAMA. THE LAYERS THAT RUN THROUGH BLACK POLITICS, AMBITION, ASPIRATION, FEAR, FOLLY, ALL WERE ON DISPLAY IN THE OBAMA CAMPAIGN.

OH, YEAH.

YOU SEEM TO BE SAYING THAT BLACK POLITICS ARE AS SCREWED UP AS WHITE POLITICS.

[LAUGHTER] I THINK ALL POLITICS IS A LITTLE SCREWED UP, BUT I THINK WHEN YOU ADD A LAYER OF RACIAL TRAUMA, THE TRAUMA WE HAVE IN OUR COUNTRY AND THE WAY WE SORT OUR WAY THROUGH IT AND THE SENSE OF INEQUITY WHICH STILL PERSISTS THAT IT'S ALWAYS GOING TO BE A COMPLICATED TUG-OF-WAR. HOW DO YOU GET TO THE NEXT STAGE? WHO GETS TO OCCUPY THE NEXT STAGE? WHO GETS TO ACCESS THE NEXT MICROPHONE? AND MORE FRAUGHT WHEN RACE IS INVOLVED.

DESPITE THE ASPIRATIONS OF MANY PEOPLE, WE STILL DON'T HAVE ONE POLITICS. IN THE FINAL ANALYSIS, WE STILL HAVE BLACK POLITICS, WE STILL HAVE WHITE POLITICS?

NO, I THINK WE NOW HAVE COALITION POLITICS. I THINK WHAT THE OBAMA CAMPAIGN AND ALL OF THESE BREAKTHROUGH CAMPAIGNS ARE BENEFITING FROM IS THE IDEA THAT WE'RE NOT VOTING ENTIRELY BASED ON RACE ANYMORE, THAT BARACK OBAMA GOT MORE OF THE WHITE VOTE IN 2008 THAN JOHN KERRY DID FOUR YEARS BEFORE. HOW DO YOU EXPLAIN THAT IF PEOPLE ARE ONLY VOTING FOR WHITE POLITICS OR BLACK POLITICS? I THINK MANY PEOPLE WHO VOTED FOR BARACK OBAMA WHO I TALK TO, INCLUDING REPUBLICANS WHO VOTE FOR BARACK OBAMA BUT ARE ROOTING FOR HIM TO SUCCEED, THEY ARE PATTING THEMSELVES ON THE BACK FOR THE NOTION THAT WE HAVE COME TO A DIFFERENT SPOT WHERE WE ARE USING RACE ONLY TO DEFINE OUR LIVES. WE ARE IN A BETTER PLACE NOW THAN WE WERE. THAT'S WHY LUNCH COUNTERS GOT SAT ON AND PICKETS AND MARCHES HAPPENED, SO WE COULD GET TO THIS POINT WHERE WE COULD ACKNOWLEDGE THAT RACE IS A FACTOR, BUT IT IS NOT THE ONLY FACTOR.

YEAH, AND WE'VE SPENT ALMOST ALL OUR HALF HOUR TALKING ABOUT THE OBAMA CAMPAIGN IN PARTICULAR, BUT THE BOCK IS ABOUT MUCH MORE THAN THAT. IT'S ABOUT THE RISE OF A NEW GENERATION. WELL, THE JOSHUA GENERATION, ACTUALLY.

YEAH. , MANY OF WHOM PRECEDED BARACK OBAMA IN OFFICE.

WHAT'S THAT GENERATION GOING TO DO WITH IT NOW?

WELL, IT'S INTERESTING BECAUSE WE'RE SITTING AT THE LIBRARY, THERE'S A PUBLIC SERVICE SCHOOL, AND I FIND THAT YOUNG PEOPLE ON COLLEGE CAMPUS WANT TO EMBRACE THIS NOTION OF PUBLIC SERVICE. FOR YEARS, HOWEVER, THEY DIDN'T EMBRACE THE NOTION OF POLITICS. THEY THOUGHT POLITICS WAS CORRUPT AND OFF THE POINT. NOW YOU CAN SEE YOUNGER PEOPLE EMBRACING BOTH NOTIONS, AND I THINK THAT'S TRUE FOR RISING BREAKTHROUGH BLACK POLITICIANS AS IT IS FOR -- OF POLITICIANS OF ANY RACE. THERE'S A DIFFERENT APPROACH NOW TO WHAT POLITICS CAN ACHIEVE AND HOW IT CAN BE ACCOMPLISHED, AND IT'S MOST STRIKING IN THE AFRICAN-AMERICAN COMMUNITY BECAUSE WE'VE ONLY SO RECENTLY COME TO ACCESS BY THAT POWER.

BUT IT'S THERE, AND AS I THINK YOU QUOTED MR. BROOK IN THE BOOK, I DETECTED SOME FRUSTRATION IN SENATOR BROOK'S VOICE WHEN HE TOLD YOU I THINK IN AN INTERVIEW, LOOK, YOU CAN'T WIN UNLESS YOU RUN. YOU HAVE TO GET INTO THE ARENA.

ABSOLUTELY, BUT THAT'S ALWAYS BEEN TRUE. THAT'S NOTHING NEW OR DIFFERENT. THE FACT IS, THE ONLY DIFFERENCE --

THE REALIZATION --

THE DIFFERENCE IS YOU CAN GET INTO THE ARENA NOW. A LOT OF PEOPLE SAT AROUND AND THEY WERE TOO DISGUSTED TO GET INTO THE ARENA OR THEY DIDN'T HAVE THE COURAGE TO GET INTO THE ARENA. NOW YOU CAN GET INTO THE ARENA, AND YOU LOOK AT THE SUCCESS OF CANDIDATES LIKE THESE, AND YOU THINK MAYBE IT'S POSSIBLE. IF THE CHANGE I SEEK IS TO FIND A WAY TO DIG MY CITY OUT OF A HOLE OR TO GET HEALTH CARE FOR AMERICANS OR TO PROVIDE EDUCATION FOR KIDS WHO DON'T HAVE ACCESS TO PRIVATE EDUCATION AND ARE COMPLETELY RELIANT ON THE PUBLIC EDUCATION SYSTEM, THAT MAYBE THE WAY TO GET THAT IS TO GO INTO THE POLITICAL REALM AND TRY TO WORK IT OUT THAT WAY. THAT'S WHAT'S DIFFERENT, I THINK, IS A LOT OF THESE PEOPLE WHO TOOK A LOT OF THEIR SKILLS A AND USED THEM IN DIFFERENT WAYS, WHETHER IT'S BEING LAWYERS, PUBLIC SERVICE ATTORNEYS, NONPROFIT LEADERS, AND NOW FUNNELING IT BACK INTO POLITICS.

ASIDE FROM THAT WE MAY OR THAT WE DON'T ANY LONGER CONSIDER RACE THE PARAMOUNT FACTOR IN POLITICS, HE SHATTERED THAT CEILING, MR. OBAMA SHATTERED THAT CEILING, IS THERE ANOTHER LESSON IN THE BOOK OR IN YOUR RESEARCH THAT YOU'VE COME AWAY FROM?

I THINK ONE OF THE OTHER LESSONS IS YOU CANNOT LET PEOPLE TELL YOU KNOW. I'M SPEAKING AT SOME COLLEGE COMMENCEMENTS THIS YEAR, AND IT'S THE ONE THEME THAT I'M CARRYING WITH ME FROM SCHOOL TO SCHOOL, WHICH IS IT SEEMS TO ME THAT WE -- WOMEN ARE ESPECIALLY VICTIMS OF THIS. PEOPLE SAY IT'S NOT YOUR TURN. YOU SAY OKAY, I'LL JUST GO IN THE CORNER AND SIT. PEOPLE AREN'T DOING THAT ANYMORE. IN ORDER FOR ANY ONE OF THESE CANDIDATES, TALKING NOT JUST THE FOUR MAJOR ONES, BUT THE MAYOR I TALK TO, CITY COUNCIL MEMBERS, ATTORNEY GENERAL, U.S. ATTORNEY, ALL THESE PEOPLE I TALKED TO, THEY WERE TOLD NO. THEY WERE TOLD IT'S NOT YOUR TURN AND THAT IF YOU'RE GOING TO BREAK THROUGH, IF YOU'RE REALLY GOING TO HAVE THE COURAGE TO DO SOMETHING OR TO ACCOMPLISH WHAT YOU THINK YOU WANT, YOU HAVE TO BE PREPARED TO HAVE SOMEONE TELL YOU NO AND THEN TO IGNORE THEM.

THE BREAKTHROUGH, POLITICS AND RACE IN THE AGE OF OBAMA. AGAIN IFILL, THANKS SO MUCH FOR YOUR TIME. WELCOME BACK TO ARKANSAS.

THANK YOU, STEVE. GOOD TO BE HERE.

THANK YOU, STEVE. GOOD TO BE HERE.

SEE YOU NEXT TIME.

AETN.org > Programs > Barnes and... > Barnes and... A Conversation with Gwen Ifill