Obama Takes Responsibility Talk to NAACP Presidential contender Barack Obama addressed the annual gathering of the NAACP last night, echoing his calls for more responsibility and accountability in black America. For more, Farai Chideya speaks with NPR's Audie Cornish.
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Obama Takes Responsibility Talk to NAACP

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Obama Takes Responsibility Talk to NAACP

Obama Takes Responsibility Talk to NAACP

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

Now, joining us from Cincinnati, we have Audie Cornish. She is covering the NAACP convention for NPR. How are you doing, Audie?

AUDIE CORNISH: Hi, Farai.

CHIDEYA: So, what was the takeaway from the Obama speech?

CORNISH: Well, the takeaway was that Senator Barack Obama gets what his presidency means to people of color, and it seems like that would be an obvious thing. But remember, a while back, just in the early part of the primaries, there were pools out saying that they weren't sure of what people of color would do in terms of voting for him. But he used the word "we" quite a bit in this speech, and he talked about his place within the legacy of civil rights. But he also talked about his domestic policy issues in the context of that, and in the context of bringing African-Americans and their political agenda to the table with everyone else's.

CHIDEYA: Now, in a speech last year to the NAACP, Obama said there is more work to do when there are more black men in prison than in college. And last night he focused on personal responsibility. Let's take a listen.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois): I know there are some who have been saying I've been too tough talking about responsibility. NAACP, I'm here to report, I'm not going to stop talking about it. Because as much as I'm out there fighting, to make sure government is doing its job, and the marketplace is doing its job, and we are passing laws to bring more investment, and more education, and more infrastructure into our communities and putting our young people back to work. No matter how much money we invest in our communities, how many 10-point plans we propose, how many government programs we launch, non of it will make a difference, at least not enough of a difference, if we also, at the same time, don't seize more responsibility in our own lives.

CHIDEYA: Now, when you listen to this, there was the flap with Jesse Jackson last week. Did the crowd seem receptive to this message, or suspicious, or both? ..TEXT: CORNISH: Well, this is a very politically-savvy crowd. I mean, it's the NAACP chapters from around country. They're all politically active or connected, and they're very pragmatic about politics, especially when it comes to Senator Barack Obama and even with this issue with civil rights activist Jesse Jackson. I mean, was this speech as folksy as I've heard him be, say, in the early primaries in some - in front of some other black crowds? Definitely not. There was definitely a little more policy in this speech and a lot more reverence for civil rights history. And I think what you heard from Barack Obama last night was that he was trying to strike some kind of balance between his self help and self responsibility and more of his regular policy issues. And this crowd was very responsive to that approach.

CHIDEYA: Now, Cincinnati had race riots after police in 2001 shot an unarmed black man. Did he raise issues about what the government should be doing to deal with social issues, and not just what black people should be doing with family issues?

CORNISH: He did, but he raised it sort of in the context of domestic policy. So there was conversation about things like the Earned Income Tax Credit or school and education and policies there. But there wasn't a sort of specific agenda that the government should be doing to provide for African-Americans. I think this speech was more about bringing in this African-American audience into the fold and into the conversation he's trying to, I guess, have with the rest of America.

CHIDEYA: Now, Senator McCain decided not to attend the convention last year before the GOP pack was narrowed. Why do you think now, as the presumptive nominee, he sees things very differently and he seems, at least - or he's stated he's enthusiastic about coming?

CORNISH: Well, you know, it's all about location, location, location. And this year's 99th annual convention is in the key battleground state of Ohio. And the thing about Ohio is while the conversation during the Democratic primary race was about working white voters in that state, it is a state that has a significant African-American population. And perhaps the McCain campaign finds that this is the year that it makes sense to bypass this sort of event, in considering how close this race could be come fall.

CHIDEYA: That was NPR's Audie Cornish, joining us from Cincinnati. Audie's going to join us again on Thursday for another update, following John McCain's speech. To watch highlights of Barack Obama's NAACP address, go to our blog, nprnewsandviews.org.

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