Hour Two: Obama Slams Focus on Race

Barack Obama wins the Mississippi Democratic primary Tuesday, but much of the attention centers now on Geraldine Ferraro, the Hillary Clinton adviser who said of his ascendancy: "If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position."

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BILL WOLFF: From NPR News in New York, this is the Bryant Park Project.

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RACHEL MARTIN, host:

Live from NPR Studios at Bryant Park in midtown Manhattan, this is the Bryant Park Project from NPR News. New, information, smart kids. I'm Rachel Martin.

ALISON STEWART, host:

And I'm Alison Stewart. It is Wednesday, March 12th, 2008. You will meet a 17-year-old who is going to blow your mind.

MARTIN: You know, earlier this week...

STEWART: Blow your mind!

MARTIN: We talked with a young woman who won a vocab contest, the National Vocab Championship. Today, we're talking to this young woman who is the winner of the Intel Science Talent Search. Our egos are, like, very, very small this week. We've been diminished to lesser people with these conversations.

STEWART: I'm so impressed and proud of - you know, I don't know one of these students, but reading all of the different things that they have done, I'm just so impressed and proud of them for being this devoted and this interested in something aside from "American Idol." Don't get me wrong. I love "American Idol."

MARTIN: Of course.

STEWART: But it's just really exciting.

MARTIN: Yeah. As one of our producers pointed out in one of our meetings, there's so much news about how lacking, shall we say, the American public education system is, that it's nice to highlight some students who are setting the bar a little higher, shall we say?

STEWART: Very exciting. Somebody setting the bar, perhaps, a little bit lower...

MARTIN: Maybe.

STEWART: Elected officials.

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STEWART: The Eliot Spitzer story will not go away. Every - I know we're in New York, but seriously, everywhere I went yesterday. The fact that my sister lives in another state, discussing it even - it's huge. Will Eliot Spitzer resign? That's sort of the day two part of this story, the governor of New York involved in some shenanigans. We'll talk to Rick Karlin with the Albany Times Union. He will join us. He's been following this.

MARTIN: Give us the lowdown from the capital. And a story about whether or not cancer can be contagious. This is a disconcerting headline, I understand. There's research going on right now with Tasmanian devils that's trying to answer that very question. We've ripped a story from the headlines of Harper's Magazine, and we'll delve into that provocative issue.

STEWART: Yeah, got The Most coming up this hour. That includes bad baby names. Also, some headlines. But first...

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MARTIN: Obama wins Mississippi. But the media's focus isn't on that race, but on race itself. Barack Obama won yesterday's Democratic primary by a wide margin, including 90 percent of the black vote, as racially-charged comments were made by Clinton advisor Geraldine Ferraro.

STEWART: Now, Ferraro, who became the first woman ever to appear on a major party presidential ticket back in '84, told the Daily Breeze of Torrance, California, quote, "If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position, and if he was a woman of any color, he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is, and the country is caught up in the concept," end quote.

MARTIN: She actually made those comments last week, but the Obama campaign did not respond until yesterday, when they demanded an apology from Clinton.

STEWART: So what does Senator Hillary Clinton think about Geraldine Ferraro's comments?

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York): I do not agree with that.

STEWART: That was the senator yesterday in Pennsylvania. She did continue.

Senator CLINTON: It's regrettable that, you know, any of our supporters, on both sides, because we both had this experience, say things that kind of veer off into the personal.

MARTIN: But no such backtracking from Ferraro. Last night, she responded to the Obama camp when she told the New York Times, quote, "Every time that campaign is upset about something, they call it racist. I will not be discriminated against because I'm white. If they think they're going to shut up Geraldine Ferraro with that kind of stuff, they don't know me."

STEWART: And as one of our listeners who follows our Twitter feed pointed out, Geraldine Ferraro said something similar about Jesse Jackson during his run for the presidency in 1988. Ferraro reportedly said that if Jackson, quote, "were not black, he wouldn't be in the race."

MARTIN: The issues of gender and race have been around the edges of this contest.

STEWART: Last week, I blogged about Maureen Dowd column in the New York Times, which touched on the same issues as Ferraro's comments. Dowd said that while Clinton is running in part on the basis of her gender, Obama is attempting to transcend his race. And she wrote, quote, "People will have to choose which of America's sins are greater, and which stain will have to be removed first. Is misogyny worse than racism? Or is racism worse than misogyny?"

MARTIN: We posted that column on our blog, and here is some of what you wrote. April said, quote, "Is it exciting to see an African-American candidate and a woman candidate get so close to the White House? Yes. But I don't vote by using my ovaries or my skin. I vote by using my brain, and I wish the media with stop insulting my intelligence."

STEWART: Matty (ph) wrote, quote, "People could choose which candidate they think would be a better chief executive of our government, but that's not nearly as fun as arguing about who is more oppressed."

MARTIN: And Michael (ph) said, "Picking between Obama and Clinton on the basis of which wrong needs to be righted first is, I'm very happy to observe, not how most people are voting."

STEWART: The next test for the candidates and the voters, Pennsylvania on April 22nd. Now, let's get some more of today's headlines.

WOLFF: This is NPR.

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