Bloggers' Roundtable: Obama's Bad Behavior Presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama tells a group of students about his high school drug use and reignites a controversy. Plus, Jesse Jackson says most Democratic candidates are ignoring African Americans.
NPR logo

Bloggers' Roundtable: Obama's Bad Behavior

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Bloggers' Roundtable: Obama's Bad Behavior

Bloggers' Roundtable: Obama's Bad Behavior

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


We're going to move into the wider world of the World Wide Web. Say that five times fast. Presidential candidate Barack Obama says he used drugs in high school. Well, that was in his autobiography, but he reignited the controversy by talking about it in a speech to students. And Jesse Jackson says most Democratic candidates are ignoring African-Americans.

We've got with us Debra Dickerson, author of the books "An American Story" and "The End of Blackness." She blogs at Also, L.N. Rock, otherwise known as the African American Political Pundit. He's also a member of the Afrosphere bloggers' group. And education analyst and blogger, Casey Lartigue. His blog is The Casey Lartigue Show!

Hi, folks.

Mr. L.N. ROCK (Blogger, African-American Political Pundit): Hi.

Ms. DEBRA DICKERSON (Author, "An American Story," "The End of Blackness;" Blogger, How are you doing?

Mr. CASEY LARTIGUE (Blogger, The Casey Lartigue Show!): Hi, Farai.

CHIDEYA: I'm doing great. So why don't I start with you, Casey. Earlier in the show, we heard about this new survey that looks at how black Americans are likely to vote in the presidential primaries. Did you agree with the poll?

Ms. LARTIGUE: Well, you know what? It doesn't really matter who blacks vote for in the primary because Democrats can count on them during the general election. A point that my former radio co-host, Eliot Morgan makes is that the black vote is as mysterious and as unpredictable as who is in Grant's tomb.

After every election, we have, you know, like, 80 to 90 percent of black vote, the straight Democrat ticket. And we always hear that well, next time, this is not going to happen. They were going to try to put the black vote in play, that we're going to actually, like, participate in both parties. And then the same thing happens again.

Now, looking at this Joint Center survey, they say that 87 percent of blacks will be participating in a Democrat process, the Democratic primary. So I'm assuming that most of those people will vote for whoever is the Democrat who is left standing at the end.

CHIDEYA: Now, Debra, you're someone who has taken a broad look at different factors that sort of flow into how African-Americans identify with or don't identify with politics. Do you think that there is really space for the diversification among parties? People, you know, people who vote for the same party may have very different agendas. Is there a space to really diversify the party affiliation as well as different people's agendas?

Ms. DICKERSON: Well, I really thought that in the last go-round when we had Blackwell and Swann and Steele running, I thought that there was a really good chance that the overtures to which is a very real black social conservatism would be more fruitful. It was really interesting how nimble the black vote was. You know, yes, on average and gay marriage. They were right back over, you know, to vote for the Democrats in the general elections.

So I think that until racism seems, whether it is or not, to be more under control, blacks are - whatever they are actually thinking on a particular issue, when it comes to who's going to be occupying a particular seat, there is still a sort of very healthy fear there. And as your earlier participants were saying, you know, not coming to Tavis Smiley's debate and not really having any sort of a black agenda whether it is based on a lack of interest or on fear, which is I think will always be behind not coming to Tavis Smiley's event. The Republican Party has a long way to go in convincing black people that their interests are safe with them, let alone their persons.

CHIDEYA: L.N., one of the findings was really just about how sharply Obama and Clinton are dividing the vote. And then Mary Frances Berry made the point that people are not being called to task in her opinion for saying, well, I support Clinton who's white and as opposed to I support Obama who's black. Is there a way in which the racial dynamics within this primary have change as opposed to in the past, what they would have been?

Mr. ROCK: Well, I'll tell you, I think that there are a lot of challenges, and I think in many ways the fear factor is real. But at the same time, on both sides on the black community side and on those that would run for political office let it be on the Democratic or Republican side, they have a fear of black voters and accountability.

The issue of accountability continues to come up throughout the process sort of a - this election process. There are people that are saying that they're going to do certain things but there's no accountability in terms of how they're going to do it, why they're going to do and when they're going to do it. There's no specifics being laid out by the candidates. So there are many challenges.

And on the Republican side, there is an issue of this fear. But I remember someone saying there's nothing to fear but fear itself. And the Republicans fearing black voters is just outrageous.

CHIDEYA: Well, there's a lot more to say on that. But I want to move on to another topic that has really been quite prominent. Last week, Barack Obama talked to a high school audience in New Hampshire. He talked about experimenting with drugs and alcohol while in high school.

Here is what he had to say.

(Soundbite of video clip)

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois; Presidential Candidate): You know, I made some bad decisions that I've actually written on. You know, there were times when I, you know, got into drinking, experimented with drugs.

CHIDEYA: So we know the audio is hard to understand. It was actually recorded on a cell phone. But he said, I got into drinking, I got into drugs. He went on to say he didn't apply himself until he went to college, realized he was wasting a lot of time.

Now, the Republican candidate Rudy Giuliani says he was impressed with Obama's honesty. But Republican Mitt Romney said that Obama went too far with the discussion.

Let's go back to 1992. Bill Clinton said this.

(Soundbite of archive recording)

President BILL CLINTON: When I was in England, I experimented with marijuana a time or two and I didn't like it and didn't inhale and never tried it again.

CHIDEYA: And in 1999, George W. Bush, as governor of Texas, gave the ultimate not-answer. He refused to talk about whether or not he'd used drugs because he feared kids would think it was cool.

So Debra, with all that, is Obama's answer about drug use too honest?

Ms. DICKERSON: Absolutely not. It's - it was so past the point where people in public lives should be owning up to certain kinds of mistakes. You can't own up to rape or murder. But drug use and not applying yourself are things that our kids certainly suspect of us. And it only makes us human and lets you know that what I did was wrong. But look, I pulled it out. You got to say, Barack Obama went on to make something of himself.

But it's ridiculous for us to believe that we're going to convince our children that none of us ever, ever did anything wrong. I think it was a nice, fresh breath of honesty. And I think it's the kind of reason, that's the kind of thing that has people so energized about Barack. He may just be trying to inoculate himself, you know, from party showing up, you know, from 1984. But regardless, I think that the American public, this is part of what they love about him.


CHIDEYA: Casey and L.N., we're going to have to take a little break here. But we've got more from you guys coming up.

We have been talking with Debra Dickerson. We've also got Casey Lartigue and L.N. Rock. We're going to talk more about Obama, drugs, all sorts of other exciting political and blogosphere topics.

And next on NEWS & NOTES, we have black actors giving the good books some star appeal when they turn the Bible into a hit audio collection.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.