Roundtable: Obama Run, Counting Single U.S. Women
FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
This is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Farai Chideya.
On today's Roundtable, Senator Barack Obama moves one step closer to a bid for president. And President Bush focuses on balancing the budget, but is his timing a little too convenient?
Joining us on the panel are E.R. Shipp, a professor in journalism at Hofstra University; John McWhorter, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute; Jeff Obafemi Carr, host of the radio show "Freestyle."
Welcome everybody and let's go to Senator Barack Obama. He is going to explore the possibility of becoming president of the United States. The Democrat from Illinois has filed papers to create a so-called presidential exploratory committee.
Yesterday, he announced his decision on his Web site.
Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois): I certainly didn't expect to find myself in this position a year ago. But as I have spoken to many of you in my travels across the states these past months, as I have read your e-mails and read your letters, I've been struck by how hungry we all are for a different kind of politics.
So I've spent some time thinking about how I could best advance the cause of change and progress that we so desperately need.
CHIDEYA: So John, explain an exploratory committee to us. There is so much exploring that goes into becoming president.
Mr. JOHN MCWHORTER (Senior Fellow in Public Policy, Manhattan Institute): Well, all of these things are kind of a series of gestures. And you don't just jump right in, you have to kind of stick your finger up into the air, and that's what Senator Obama has been doing. And obviously he has seen good things and I am always going to remember this candidacy because the fact is - and I've gotten into some trouble for saying this, which is why I'm going to say it again - here we have a candidate for president, I think we can call him that at this point informally, who's getting a disproportionate amount of attention because he is black.
It's a positive thing. Talk about how we have a long way to go. Well, we are a little closer to wherever it is that we're going in that. But I am at the point where I'm waiting to see how Obama holds up under genuine scrutiny, when people do start taking the gloves off. Because talking about the country together, our times are so polarized that I'm not sure how any one individual could rise about that. And one is lambasted for whatever one thinks, left or right. However, this is a very exciting time, and I'm glad to see that he has taken an actual step towards the real thing.
CHIDEYA: Well, E.R., he says he's going to announce a final decision by February 10th. If you were a betting woman, what would you say he will decide?
Professor E.R. SHIPP (Journalism, Hofstra University School of Communication): It changes everyday. I earlier was saying he would not run, but now it seems that he has gotten more confidence having traveled the country, spoken to lots of people. Obviously, he has heard good things and heard good things about money that could come in to the campaign to help support him.
So I'm going to bet that he says yes. Whether he ultimately ends up as the frontrunner for president will be interesting, but he might be in a great position to be vice president or to have some top Cabinet position, which would position him for the next go-around.
CHIDEYA: Jeff, what do you think about, you know, I mean first of all, he is not officially in the race but he is exploring. And there's the idea of running for president to run for president or running for president to actually get something else, to get more visibility, to get the vice presidential slot, to get something tangible but not the presidency.
Do you think that Barack Obama, and of course this is - I'm asking you to mind read and I am mindful that that's probably not a good thing to do - do you think he is the kind of man who would be satisfied with something besides the top prize if he decides to run at all?
Mr. JEFF OBAFEMI CARR (Host, "Freestyle"): Well, I think that in the end the top prize is the goal. As a dramatist, I'm often looking at the world as if it's one giant play. And you ask the question, what does a particular character in a drama want? What is their motivation?
Of course, I think he wants the presidency. Will he be satisfied with something else, something lesser? Yes, if it ends up amounting to the presidency later down the line. So the original intent is still the same. I think that he is using the right and proper psychological language to put himself in a position to be successful.
He is saying I travel the country. I have listened to your letters. I have heard your voices. I have read your e-mail. He is saying the American people are wanting me to be in this position. It's a tantalizing position and proposition to look at.
He has some unique attributes that I think make him quite electable across the spectrum. He is old enough to have some experience in life but young enough to still have the energy. He is smart. He is an open book.
And I think his ethnicity, in particular in this case, gives him a unique advantage. He is not quite a black American or a traditional African-American as we all think of, so it makes him appear to be more of an immigrant offspring, which stirs up in the majority population a kind of nostalgic early day of industrialized America.
And then regular black folks see him and his wife, and we claim him as our own. So I think with some great platform kind of ideas he can actually make a solid run for this thing. I think we might see him do that.
Prof. SHIPP: I hope so.
CHIDEYA: E.R., did I hear a chuckle?
Prof. SHIPP: Yes, just a little bit of chuckle when I was hearing that he is a regular black man and he is a - he can also be an immigrant. I guess all those things are true, but the other thing is on the youthful side he might be able to draw in a younger demographic into this political campaign.
I was impressed that he made his announcement via the Internet with a video and not just, you know, posting something the way the other candidates typically do it. So he's got a lot going for him, as Jeff said.
CHIDEYA: Well, John, do you - I mean it sounds like you've got something else to say, but I do want to ask you about Hillary Clinton as well. She postponed a media op. Do you think that she is now kind of biding her time or going to have to wait a while until Obama mania subsides?
Mr. MCWHORTER: Yeah, I mean she's got some real work to do because there's this fashionable idea that to be a Democratic candidate you have to be all for pulling out of the Iraq war last week, and Obama has that advantage that he wasn't in the Senate to cast a vote at the crucial time because he was not there yet.
And so Hillary now is - Senator Clinton now is in a position where she's going to have to craft some kind of message, a media-friendly message that doesn't make her look like a hawk or a collaborator in comparison to Obama.
But one thing, one brief thing that I think we need to hope doesn't happen, let's hope that Obama does want to be president of the United States as all this talk about vice president. But we have to remember that vice presidents typically don't ever become president unless the president dies.
You know, you don't aspire to be vice president thinking that then you're going to take the step upward. That would be kind of a dead-end. And so let's hope that if he's going to toss it in, he's really going for the big job.
CHIDEYA: That reminds me of a controversial Chris Rock routine. But I'm going to skip that right now and move ahead to another topic. But in case you're joining us, you're listening to NPR's NEWS & NOTES. I'm Farai Chideya.
And we've just been talking with John McWhorter, Manhattan Institute senior fellow in public policy; E.R. Shipp, professor in journalism at Hofstra University School of Communication; and Jeff Obafemi Carr, host of the radio show "Freestyle."
We're talking politics right now. And let's talk balanced budget. The State of the Union address is just a week away, and there is one major goal that the president has already put on Congress' radar - a balanced federal budget.
Now some say this is a new leaf for the president. In the past, his administration has presided over record deficits. Some conservatives have said, you know, this is not leading up to a conservative ideal. Now that the Democrats are in, President Bush is all for a balanced budget.
John, is this hypocrisy?
Mr. MCWHORTER: Yes, it is. I think that the balanced budget idea right now is kind of a smokescreen for really just going back to the ideas about Social Security and Medicare and reorganizing them that have been talked about before, and where the Bush administration has taken some pies in its face and been accused of not staying the course, so to speak.
And I don't know - to me, really, a lot of this is kind of a sell game because the idea that if we don't balance the budget there's going to be some kind of catastrophe. Notice how that catastrophe never seems to come the way it did in 1929, and the reason for that is that there are mechanisms that the government and the federal reserve have where we can take our debt and make money out of it.
We can create cash, and there isn't time on this show to talk about how it's done, the reference should be the Mandrake Mechanism - check it out on Google. But we're not really in any kind of serious trouble when we run this deficit. We have other real problems when it comes to the economy. So, for me, a lot of this is kind of a show, although it's always fun to watch how it unfolds.
CHIDEYA: So John, when we get off the air, you're going to tell how to get one those cash making machines so I can just put it in my bedroom.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. MCWHORTER: That's (unintelligible)
CHIDEYA: E.R., what do you think about the needs...
Mr. OBAFEMI CARR: For the little people like us.
CHIDEYA: What do you think about the issue of the balanced budget? Is it important right now?
Prof. SHIPP: Well, it's an important tactic for the president to take so that he can try to gain leverage with the Democrats who are controlling Congress. So whether he really does want to achieve a balanced budget or whether he wants to challenge them to do something about Medicare and Social Security, that is the critical issue here. But I find it interesting that - I attended a ceremony the other day where Representative Charles Rangel was essentially being coroneted in Harlem, his home. And all of the talk was of the various things he wants to accomplish as the chairman of what was constantly being called the most powerful committee in Congress, Ways and Means. That's the money committee. So it's going to be interesting to see what he does because he's talking about a very expansive agenda of reforming healthcare and doing something about education and also addressing the war.
So we're seeing the president, I guess, positioning himself to challenge the Democrats to walk the walk or whatever.
CHIDEYA: So Jeff, if you were someone who supports Democrats and you've been waiting for Democrats to fix A, B, C, D and E, whether it's education or Medicare, and all of a sudden you realize, wow, we really can't have everything but we want to have the social programs but the budget is over, you know. And it's kind of like your checkbook. What do you do as a person who is just thinking about politics?
Mr. OBAFEMI CARR: Well, as a person, I would first of all do what I think Bush is trying to do in this circumstance, situation. And that snatch control of the debate, that is focus the issue back on something that I can control. And Bush is kind of - he's kind of, as John said, he's putting a smoke screen up.
But the bottom line is, he actually - contributed to the deficit. So is he challenging Democrats to basically come in and fix the mess, you know, I made. Though Bush and Cheney do think that, as Cheney said once before, deficits don't matter. Common sense will tell you that if you keep creating output without comparable or surplus input, eventually you're going to get upside down.
In this case, a coming generation is going to see an empty day when it comes to their golden years. And although Malcolm X was talking about education, it's still rings true when we invoked the quote, and I paraphrase, "tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today."
So, I think there are other important issues that are on the forefront. But by throwing this issue on to the forefront, Bush himself has talked about an issue that everybody is concerned about, and that is my pocket and my bottom line. And people are thinking that. So I think the democrats need to go on the offensive here and be realistic with telling people that the deficit just doesn't go away with cutting a couple of line items in the budget.
CHIDEYA: So we have a few minutes left for one last topic. I am going to back into this a little bit. Tell you a personal story. I was in New Orleans well before Katrina for a couple of dear friends' wedding. And I met this woman at a bar where they were having a pre-wedding event for this couple. And she was -her family was an immigrant family and she was there on a date for a possible arranged marriage. And she was like, oh, I don't really like this guy. But she's a very modern American woman with an immigrant family. And I thought how fascinating that she's not into this process but she's willing to go along for the sake of her family.
Now I bring that up as the backdrop for this story. For possibly the first time in U.S. history, unmarried women outnumber those with a husband. The New York Times crunched some census data and determined that in 2005, 51 percent of women said they were living without a spouse. That was 49 percent in 2000. Obviously, just a couple of percentage points but a tipping point.
What do we think is going to happen with marriage in America? It has been critiqued so much as, OK, black America doesn't have its marriage game together. But it doesn't sound like Americans, period, do. Is that a good or bad thing, E.R.?
Prof. SHIPP: Well, for me it's a good thing because I'm not interested in marriage. But I find it fascinating that so much of the political agenda revolves around issues of marriage and traditional families. What this is going to do, looking at this trend, is going to make us rethink some of the policies that we have.
Now some people are not married, but that doesn't mean they don't have a partner. So there are issues to be raised about who benefits, you know, from the employment compensation or benefits or what have you. So there are issues about that. There's issues about child care, custody, et cetera. So these numbers are going to force us to rethink things.
CHIDEYA: John, in many European nations there is an extensive system of benefits for people's partners. And I'm talking, here in America, a lot of times partner refers to gay couples; but in Europe, a lot of times it's heterosexual couples with children. They just choose not to get married but they have those benefits. Are we going to rethink the role of marriage in civil society?
Mr. MCWHORTER: Yes. I really hope we do, too. Because the sad fact of the matter is that having 55- and 60-year relationships is very difficult. You're very lucky if you pull it off. And I think that a civilized society should have arrangements for acknowledging the fact that relationships very often will last 20 years or 10.
And I feel lucky. And I've always really thought too many people raise children for one thing. Too many people get married for another thing. And there's a reason why I, contrary to E.R., I was interested in marriage. There's a reason I waited until I was 40 to do it. I had stuff to do. And female people don't usually have that long for simple biological reasons. But I'm happy to see women waiting longer before taking that big step so that they can do some things. All of this to me is just progress. I love seeing that 51 percent number. Hope it goes higher.
Mr. OBAFEMI CARR: Yeah. Well, I think that the nature of marriage and relationships is definitely going to change. I've said this before, in life, you get what you inspect and not what you expect. So we can create this expectation that everybody is going to be alive, in love, and married 30, 40, 50 years.
But in reality, when we look at the landscape, that's just not the way things are happening anymore. So it's going to change the nature of what we do with insurance, with benefits, with employee policies. And I think the country should get with that. And we should also recognize, just as a social note, that there are a lot of people who've been married 25, 35, 45 years, but then when you put happily in front of it and ask the question...
Mr. MCWHORTER: Right.
Mr. OBAFEMI CARR: ...you don't find that. So there have been generations of people that I met that had been traumatized by marriages where, for 20 years, their parents were sleeping in separate rooms and cursing each other out every morning. So just to be able to say I've been married 50 years in this day and age means a little something different and we have to reconsider that.
CHIDEYA: All right. Well, we're going to leave it there. I will leave you with another story. A friend of mine said that her father would always say we've had 20 wonderful years in this marriage. Her mother would say, but we've been married 25 years. And he would say, like I said, we've had 20 wonderful years (unintelligible). But one must stand up for the institution. So, good luck to everybody who's married and everybody who wants it.
We've been talking to Jeff Obafemi Carr, host of the radio show "Freestyle", from Spotland Productions in Nashville, Tennessee; John McWhorter, Manhattan Institute senior fellow in public policy; and E.R. Shipp, professor in journalism from Hofstra University School of Communication. Thanks guys for a fun and enlightening show.
Mr. MCWHORTER: Yeah, Farai.
CHIDEYA: And next on NEWS & NOTES - because we've got more - the Sundance Film Festival showcases indigenous filmmakers. Plus, the plot thickens with a new television drama, "Lincoln Heights."
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