tv Book TV After Words CSPAN September 3, 2011 10:00pm-11:00pm EDT
>> coming up next, book tv presents "after words," and hour long program where we envies guest hosts to interview authors. this week, randall kenedy and the persistence of the color lain. in it, the professor explores the influence of racial politics with the administration of the first african-american president. ..
"the persistence of the color line" racial politics and the obama presidency. mr. kennedy, could you talk to me, we start out in the book with race, the historical perspective of race. can you start with how race played in this country from slavery to jim crow to civil rights? >> guest: one of the first things i wanted to do in the book was to explain to people frankly why was it such a big deal on election night, when barack obama was elected president of the united states. i mean, why were there parties all across the united states? why was there the sweeping? now, any time a president is elected, that's a big deal, and there is a motion, but clearly this time there was something very different, something very special going on.
why was that? well, one reason for that was this was the first black president, and so what's the big deal with that? one of the things i wanted to show is the degree to which black americans have been marginalized, have been snubbed, have been excluded from electoral politics. so, i thought that it would be useful for the readers to know about that history. it would be useful for the readers to know that for instance in the history of the united states, they're have only been to popularly elected black governor said: deval patrick massachusetts, and doug wilder in virginia. in the history of the united states there have only been three popularly elected united states senators. barack obama from illinois, carol moseley-braun from italy,
and from massachusetts -- it will come to me in just a second. [laughter] bruck, the first popularly elected -- now, one saying -- people talk about reconstruction. you know, during the reconstruction era in the 19th century it was legislature's selected who would be the center, so it was the legislators who selected the centers. that's why i say there were blacks who were elected by legislatures to go represent their states in the senate, in fact the first and one of the most interesting stories i think in the book is the story of levels, was the first black to represent a state in the senate. now the thing about hyrum rebels is that he was selected by the
mississippi legislature to fill in the seat that had been occupied by jefferson davis. jefferson davis had been the president of the confederacy. and then the mississippi legislature chose hyrum rebels, a black man how ha to fill the seat that had previously been occupied by jefferson davis and then again i talked about this in the book when hyrum revels goes to represent mississippi as a reconstruction era senator, there's a big debate on whether he can be defeated because some take the position he cannot lawfully be seated because after all, before the promulgation of the 14th amendment in 1868, blacks could not be citizens of the united states according to the infamous deride scott decision. and s o there was this big fight.
wellcome has he been a citizen of the united states long enough to fulfill the requirements to be the united states senator? and there was a big fight. and finally, he was seated but there was a big fight about it. and so, i thought about all of that history would be useful for the readers to understand as a way of appreciating just why it was that of the election of barack obama was so momentous and why it meant so much to so many people, particularly black people. >> host: i talked to al sharpton not long ago, and he said we have no model for this. the piers, the pride, but at the same time we have to hold this president accountable. and within the pages of this book, you talk about those who hold this president accountable. talk to me about your agreed for this president at this point in time. you are very critical of him.
you talk about how race is strategically placed for him, how he is acceptable for whites, but yet, he has not gravitated as much toward the african-american community. can you talk to me about that? >> guest: sure. point number one being president of the united states, and this is an extraordinarily difficult job for anybody. that's point number one. >> host: an extreme position. >> guest: extraordinary you are the most powerful single individual in the world. and so, it's going to be difficult for anybody. now, here comes barack obama with the two wars going on, an economic catastrophe, a politically divided country. and, and he is a black man. now, that is -- so, the purpose
of the level of difficulty, and think about athletic events, you get points for the levels of difficulty. the level of difficulty is very, very high. and that must be appreciated when it comes to judging the president. now, as you know from my book, i'm critical of the president, along a wide range of dimensions. and i don't have any problem with voicing criticism of the president. at the same time, when one faces criticism of the president, one must understand the difficulties that he faces including the special difficulties he faces because of his race. barack obama had to overcome his blackness to become president of the united states. he has had to overcome his blackness to effectively govern the united states, and he will have to overcome his blackness yet again in order to be reelected.
so, you know, i'm happy to go into the various issues. i'm happy to voice criticisms to the president. but it has to be against the backdrop of the special difficulties that he faces. >> host: and it's interesting, do have such a special perspective from this president. you were invited to the wedding. you are a harvard law professor. president obama was a student at harvard. first lady michelle obama was your research assistant? >> guest: yes, she was. >> host: you were invited to the wedding, unfortunately you didn't make it. talk about the special relationship and wrestling with this kind of book. >> guest: well, first of all i wouldn't say that i have a real special -- i knew of barack obama when he was a student. the reason i knew of him as a student and saw him and, you know, i think we talked a couple times when he was a student. the reason why i knew of him is because he was a quite outstanding student. he was president of harvard law
review, the first black president of the harvard law review. you know, several of my colleagues talked about this remarkable student they had, barack obama. and, you know, that is a very unusual thing. there are a lot of smart students at harvard law school. very smart, very outstanding. he really did stand apart. so i knew of him in that way. the first lady, michelle obama, i knew it. she went to princeton, i went to princeton. so when she came to harvard law school, we met. she was very impressive student, very, very well organized. she did some research for me. i have not really stayed in touch with them in the subsequent years. i've admired them from afar, but i'm not really part of their circle. i thought of me be trying to seek to have an interview with the president for this book.
i decided not to pursue that. the reason i decided not to pursue that is i thought well, if the president gives you an interview, the president is essentially giving you a favor, and i didn't want to feel -- i didn't want to feel beholden to fall even in the least little bit. i wanted to feel completely distance, like i could say what i thought without any in addition -- inhibition. in my book for whatever it's worth, i felt on inhabited, and in putting forth my point of view. >> host: well, just as a reporter's position for the last 14 years covering the president, when you interviewed him we've gained more perspective from this insight. and you have incentive we researched columns and of those
who have been for and against. going back in your book as well, you have used examples of fdr and jfk now, how do you link fdr with president obama when he wants to reach out to abraham lincoln, the team of rifles and things of that nature. how do you really tend to jfk? >> guest: first of all, for purposes of writing this i did research on the presidency, all the presidents. i was interested in knowing well, we have the first black president. people talk about his relations with, you know, black america. what about george washington, what about thomas jefferson? what about polke, lincoln, i went through the mall. >> host: many of them were slave owners. >> guest: that's right, many were slave owners, and not only were they slave owners, they were slave traders.
and jackson in particular comes to mind, he was an unembarrassed participant in slavery. there were people who brought their slaves to the white house. so, i go through the various presidents. there were a couple that you mentioned that i thought i was particularly useful to call upon. so even before obama occupied the white house, people were making analogies between obama and fdr. i think one of the reasons is because both assume the presidency in the midst of the financial crisis. so, the great recession, the biggest downturn in the american economy since the great depression. you think great depression, franklin delauro of duff roosevelt. >> host: in the new deal? >> guest: in the new deal. so what about obama?
how does he -- so, i try to use analogies. i try to compare and contrast. with fdr and came across one interesting thing. people talk about fdr. he was president 1930's-1940's. i point out much of franklin delano roosevelt's presidency, there was for much of his presidency he was never questioned by a black journalist. because for most of the time that franklin delano roosevelt was president, there was a rule that allowed only journalists from daily newspapers to question him. now, the white house made exceptions for certain journalists, but not for black journalists. and i talk about it in the book, it was that black journalists finally got to question the president. what happened is that the present -- fdr was seeking
reelection, and he went on -- he was campaigning in harlem and wasn't fdr's chief lieutenants dhaka in a scuffle with a black policeman and actually kneed the policeman in the groin. this caused a major scandal, and the policeman, given what's happened, are you still going to vote for fdr? this policemen's yes, i'm still going to vote for fdr. i'm a loyal supporter of fdr's. well, this lieutenant of the president who had assaulted this police officer says to himself and to others you know, we need to show in some way that we are sorry about this. and the way in which they showed that they were sorry about this.
it was to make it so that a black reporter could question the president coming and it was at that episode that was the entering wedge for blind journalists to be able to even question the president of the united states in press conferences. was to that's an amazing fact. >> guest: that wasn't so long ago. i talked to my students and i talk about the 1930's and 1940's or even the 1950's some of them looked at me as if i'm talking about the age of the dinosaurs or something. but the 1940's clearly was not that long ago. i talk about john f. kennedy a good bit in my book because i thought that it was useful to compare and contrast obama and john f. kennedy. john f. kennedy had a special burden when he ran for the presidency. what was his burden? he's catholic.
there had never been a class catholic president of the united states. he had a special burden. he had to go the extra mile in assuaging the anxieties of mom catholics who were going to be deciding whether they should vote for him, and he took special efforts to say he was not going to be subservient to the pope when it came to things political. he had to make a special effort to show he was going to recognize the wall between the church and state. he had to make special efforts to do that, just like barack obama had to make special efforts to assuage the anxieties of non-black people. based in his candidacy he made
and has made special efforts to show he wanted to be president of all the people now that he is president of all the people, that he's not going to engage in any sort of racial favoritism. that's when i say he had to overcome his blackness. this was a burden like john f. kennedy had a special burden, his catholicism. barack obama has had a special version, his blackness. >> host: in your book, chapter four, the race card of the campaign of 2008, why didn't john mccain use the race card towards the end of the campaign, and we know that race is set aside for many. why didn't john mccain use that to his advantage? >> guest: yeah, look, there are some people -- this is still recent history with various interpretations. there's some people who claim that, you know, the mccain campaign did play the race card.
my own view is that the mccain campaign did not play the race card nearly as much as they could have. john mccain, though he wanted to become president of the united states, did not pull out all of the stops in his fight for the white house. in my view, she is to be congratulated for that. and i don't think he is received the congratulations frankly that he ought to get. he could have done a lot more to try to stir up racial anxiety, racial resentment. he did not. why, it's not altogether clear. some people speculated he didn't because he calculated that it would be ineffective, and that in fact it might backfire on him. i am willing to believe that, you know, probably that may have been part of the calculation. my own sense is it's a bit more
generous towards john mccain. my own sense is that john mccain did not want to pull out all the stops. he wanted to be president. he wanted very much to be president, but he did not want to be president in that way. he did not want to engage in, you know, racial dirty tricks to increase his chances of being president. and i tip my hat to him. you know, you know from my book entry critical of john mccain. i'm especially critical of him for his selection of a running mate. >> host: sarah palin. >> guest: sarah palin. i am extremely critical of him for that selection, and i'm critical of him for various other things. it's not like i am and a keen supporter. but, i do think that with respect to the way in which he ran his campaign, i do think
that he thought that it would be a bad thing for him to engage in a concerted campaign of racial political dirty tricks. and, like i said, i don't think that he's gotten the recognition that he ought to receive. for taking that position. >> host: we can't talk about the race card with john mccain. we talk about the race card with barack obama in the presidential candidate. there's one specific time she came out on the race. many equated it to the new version of the i have a dream speech with dr. king. we are talking about the time he was in philadelphia addressing the issue of his former pastor, jeremiah wright. talk to me about why you felt -- we see many people in your book, you know, critiquing this. what did you feel personally about the speech?
>> guest: i felt a couple of ways about the speech. number one, i thought it was a brilliantly executed political intervention. the primary purpose of which was to tampa and on the uproar about his longstanding relationship with the pastor jeremiah wright. jeremiah wright for a couple of weeks was featured on cable television, mainly sitting very inflammatory things, incendiary things about the united states. >> host: but you have to remember this preacher was very well known in the religious community as well. he had a name beyond being the pastor of barack obama. >> guest: he was a very distinguished pastor. very well known, certainly in the black communities. in chicago and outside of chicago very well known and very well respected.
nonetheless, some of his statements were broadcast all over the united states, and it caused a ruckus. president obama, then a candidate obama, needed to tampa and down this controversy because its threatened to derail his candidacy so he produces a speech, more perfect union to read a speech given in philadelphia. did it and on the controversy to a very large extent it did. that's why i say so far as a doing with the candidate needed to be done at the moment, it worked. but that speech is viewed by some as more than just a speech aimed at a particular moment. some of view of the speech as one of the great american speeches. so right now, in bookstores all
across america, you go to anthologies of great american speeches and many include this speech. now, do i think it's one of the great american speeches? no, i do not. i think it was a useful political speech for an immediate purpose. but do i think that barack obama is a more perfect union speech, for instance should be on the same page with martin luther king jr.'s i have a dream speech? no. with all due respect to the president of the speech in philadelphia does not belong on the same page, doesn't belong frankly in the same chapter with martin luther king jr.'s i have a dream speech. why? well, frankly the speech -- some people say eliminating. i don't see it frankly has very
illuminating. it says things which would seem to me any well-educated american should know about race relations. it did not take any truly controversial bold, risky positions with respect to race. i'm not condemning him for that. he's an electoral politicians. he faces the discipline of electoral politics. so you don't want to make people angry. the potential voters and supporters, you don't want to make him angry. fine, i understand that. but let's just tell it the way it is. this is the speech, for instance, that takes pains to be non-accusatory.
the president knows his way around the english language very well. there is the reason why when he's talking about predicament of black people, he goes into the palace of voice. black people suffered enslavement. there is no talk about who was doing the enslavement. derwood require pointing an accusing finger at america. black people suffered on jim-crow segregation until frankly relatively recently in american history. they suffered under this. suffered under this? is this something that -- did the jim crow segregation come from mars? no. there were people who were doing the oppressing. candidate obama doesn't talk about that. now, again, i'm not condemning him for that rhetorical
decision. it was probably a proper decision for the candidate to make. but we ought to recognize what's going on and one of the reasons i wanted to recognize what's going on is because it shows that even a person -- he was a senator when he was running for the president, he wasn't an ordinary joe come he was already a powerful person in american politics. even a person who is a senator, even a person now who is president of the united states faces a predicament when they talk of race the face all sorts predicaments and the fact that there are some, an appreciable number of americans who are racially prejudiced. they face the fact that a much larger portion of the american populace wants to deny the reality of race even now. and, you know, as a candidate, he had to grapple with that and
he had to get past it, he got passed it by equivocating and by sort of engaging in my view in the euphemism. he's a political candidate, that's what political candidates to but let's recognize the speech for what it was and deal with it realistically at least in my view that's how i view this beach and continue to view the speech. >> host: did this president solidified the black vote with that speech, and what did he do for white america on the fence about this young candidate who was on the fast track to move up? >> guest: by the time he gave the speech in philadelphia, he already had the great black americans behind him. it's important to remember
initially he was unsure of the black vote. >> host: the clinton -- >> guest: in fact most of the certainly most vocal highly placed black elected officials were in her camp, not his camp. it was only after barack obama broke through a in iowa and showed that he had a realistic chance of winning the nomination and the general election. it was only after he showed people this candidacy is not just a symbolic candidacy. this is a candidacy that is aiming to win the white house after he showed he had a realistic possibility winning the white house. that's when black voters really gravitated toward him. so, by the time he gets to
philadelphia, the philadelphia speech, black voters were solidly behind him. what he had to do was continue to shore up white support and this was important in his doing that. what he was saying in this speech was to you white voters who are anxious about me, anxious about my sentiments come anxious about my background, anxious about my agenda, anxious about my allegiances, let me say something to you that will really your anxiety and that is was he presented to do. >> host: the author of "the persistence of the color line of racial politics in the obama presidency," randall kennedy is the author. we will be back to talk about this great book. your insight and much, much more. >> guest: great. thank you.
>> host: we are back with author and harvard law professor randall kennedy, the author of "the persistence of the color line racial policies -- racial politics and the obama presidency." mr. kennedy, this has been a fascinating read. very interesting to read as a reporter i take no sides, i just take it all in. but in talking with you moving to chapter 5 and i thought this was very interesting myself and listening to you, you said it was hard to grapple with. chapter five, talk to me about that since we just left off with hiram revels. >> guest: this is the chapter that concerned me most. i indicated earlier the most perilous moment in barack
obama's candidacy was over his relationship with reverend wright and he had to extricate himself from that relationship. he gets a speech in which he distances himself but he doesn't cut off reverend wright and then reverend wright comes back on the scene and really puts -- >> host: at the national press club. i was there. >> guest: at the national press club and he puts the candidate on a hot spot, and makes it seem actually -- i thought this was data forever and write -- makes it seem as though the candidate, barack obama, wasn't being candid that he was simply saying things because he was seeking the white house, that he wasn't completely sincere in distancing himself. well, at that moment when reverend wright said that, candidate obama came back and said well, let me make things clear. i am now cutting off my
relationship entirely but reverend wright and in fact he announce that he was resigning from the church where he had been a prisoner for a number of years. well, that was a big moment in barack obama's story and i thought i needed to confront it. i wanted to confront it using the prism of my father. the reason i wanted to come from this episode using the prism of my father is because if my father had been alive during this controversy, my father would have completely embraced reverend wright. my father's views were very similar to a different right's. if anything, my father was more extreme than reverend wright. more critical of the united states than reverend wright. and i add my ear my father.
my father was a very loving man. a wonderful father, great parent, and i wanted to revisit the whole restaurant right controversy and try to show people that -- a couple things. number one, reverend wright was not some kook who was a marginal figure. i wanted to show people that the ideas reverend wright had -- >> host: he was in the military to >> guest: he was in the military. he was the pastor of a major church. >> host: and he facilitated in the operating room for lbj, lyndon baines johnson. >> guest: he was very proud of that. he had pictures of him, ministering to lyndon johnson when lyndon johnson was at the hospital, the navy hospital in bethesda maryland. reverend wright, a marine, was assisting with the medical care,
but my father again was actually further over than reverend wright and talking about reverend fight how can you possibly say this i was telling my friends, listen you should listen to my old man, my father was. but i wanted people to understand, number one, again reverend wright wasn't a marginal figure in black america, he represented a considerable and historic stream of faults within black america. and i wanted people to understand the experiences that would believe someone of reverend light speed scheiffer advantage to take the position that he took. and i use my father to help with that pedagogical purpose. my father was born in 1917 and louisiana. he suffered terribly under the white supremacist oppression.
my parents were refugees from the jim crow south. i was born in columbia, south carolina in 1954. i asked my father, you know, why did you leave? my father said st. outcome he left the south because he thought he knew two things were going to happen. either he was going to be killed or he was going to kill somebody. and he left. >> host: the was a very perilous time back then. for the many african americans living on farms would have -- >> guest: he was a postal clerk, and there was a darn good job for a black man. jerry did. >> host: what time frame was that? >> guest: this was late 40's, early 50s my mother was a schoolteacher. like i said, my parents met in colombia south carolina, fort jackson. they left south carolina because my father thought something that was going to happen if he continued to stay.
so he left, came to washington, d.c., raised three kids, three children in washington, d.c.. really go back to the south, to south carolina on the holidays and contract to talk about a particular episode to try to bring this come to make this a vivid. i talk about how at easter time we go back to south carolina. and on at least two occasions i clearly remember as a youngster sitting in the back seat, the went on to south carolina, the police put on his lights, pulled my father over. the police officer, white police officer comes body and my father says officer is there a problem? the officer says no, i'm not pulling you over for anything that you've done wrong. but i noticed that you are driving this nice car and you've got these washington, d.c. license plates, boy. and my father is a grown man
with a family, live next to him, children in the back seat. , i just want you to know we do things differently down south than in washington, d.c.. i don't want you to get into any trouble. the police officer thought that he was doing my father a favor. and the officer probably -- my sense of it is he sincerely thought that he was helping out. he wanted to alert my father that he had to act differently than maybe he was used to acting. sevi officers -- this happened twice -- the officer said this to my father. and then he says, again, he says there is a little -- he says this to my father then he waits. my sense of this as a youngster is he was waiting to see how my father would react to read my father's reaction was as follows colin code yes, sir, i do know things are done differently down here.
i really appreciate it. what you've said. and then -- and my father said this with an extra dollop of difference. he probably did not say yes, sir. i said yes, sir. my father probably said yessa. my father felt humiliated by the visits and other episodes, deeply humiliated. those humiliations' really scarred my father and he never got over it. when i asked my father leader why he enlisted in the military in the 1940's my father didn't say anything about wanting to serve this country. he didn't say anything like that. i asked my father waited to enlist in the military and my father said to eat. during the vietnam war, my
father said to his friends and neighbors and anybody who would listen his position was in his view it didn't make any sense at all for black people to fight on behalf of the united states government, didn't make sense to him. he totally embraced muhammad ali's stance to it i could go on with the disputed >> host: muhammad ali is viewed as a hero. >> guest: but of course of the time he to get into -- ki took a very different stance. my point is my father's views were not the conventional patriotic reviews, and i wanted to alert the readers of the fact that there are black people who have views that are like reverend wright's these people
are not kooks, they are, you know, smart people, they are admirable people, they are loving people but they view the united states differently than other people because their experiences. does this mean i agree with my father? no, i love my father but i disagree with various positions that he took just like i disagree very strongly with various positions that reverend wright took. and i say that in my book but i wanted people to understand that conventional view of reverend wright really simplifies things and i wanted to make things a little bit more complex and show reverend wright in a way that i think hadn't been done or haven't been done sufficiently. >> host: let's fast-forward to
the election night. in the victory speech where were you and who did you think of? >> guest: i was at home watching this surrounded by my three children, and i got telephone calls, and i think if i felt like many people felt. i was -- you know, did i cry? yes, i did. i did cry. >> host: and why? >> guest: i cried because i -- i cried because this was such an extraordinary moment. and on election night, just like on the inauguration day come to ask me who did i think about? to tell the truth i thought about the people who i could not talk to because the if passed away. i thought of my -- i thought
frankly first and foremost of my wife. my wife died five years ago. my wife, who was a wonderful surgeon was in the audience when barack obama gave his speech at the democratic national convention that sort of made him -- hastert he was the prince of the democratic party that time. >> guest: he was, he was running for the senate speech. when he gave that, he became quite a political celebrity. my wife came home and talked about that speech and her admiration for barack obama. subsequently he passed away. he was a person who was of the belief that he could do anything and he was naive about race or gender in the various impediments and burdens but he believed he could overcome those and one of the things he loved
above barack obama was he perceived a kindred soul, but can do you can do it. so when barack obama won the presidency immediately i fought of my wife. i saw the others who did not live to see this day. i thought of my father who had a very different view of america than my wife did, but i fought my lord come here is a man who for much of his life had seen the most, the ugliest aspects of america. and here was a night that was a quite wonderful night. even people -- again, if one goes back to the night that barack obama was elected, black people weren't the only people
crying, there were white people, asian american people, latino, there were all sorts of people. there were people crying who did not vote for barack obama. i have friends who didn't vote for barack obama. white friends who did not vote for dhaka, but were crying on election night because they said that even though they did not vote for barack obama, his election deeply moved them. and even though they did not support him, they were nonetheless happy about his election because of what it symbolized. so that's why this -- that's why people are talking about am i dreaming? i had a friend who thought am i
in a dream. it was a deeply moving and night for a lot of people. was i deeply moved? yes. i was deeply moved and on inauguration day, too. >> host: with the christian to withhold change the anticipation of a new day we still have proposition 8, we still have the beerfest or the meeting with -- >> guest: henry louis -- >> host: yes and also the issue with the usda in the white house and we still have black unemployment is almost twice that of white america in 1963 during the i have a dream speech the black unemployment was three times that of white america. has the president lived up to the racial expectations of the black community? and i say that because leading into his presidency, people fought of hope and change and as a journalist i saw the level of
expectation that i didn't think anyone could humanly reach. is he doing his job as a regular president, or is he following? >> guest: again, barack obama has burdens that no white politician would have and you just mentioned one. he has special burdens, special racial burdens. white politicians have racial burdens, too. black people are the only people that have a race. everybody has a race, but a black president has a special burden. to answer your question directly, i think the barack obama has satisfied realistic expectations. some people truly did have unrealistic expectations. there were some people who really sort of swept up and had some sort of hopes.
>> host: even as a savior. >> guest: they did. there was this sense that the day after he was sworn in there was going to be a new blank page and that everything was going to be completely different. wellcome has he fulfilled that? no. but of course, that was naive expectations. i.t. if you're going to talk about black america i think most black americans actually had a more realistic notion. they recognized number one that he was inheriting tremendous difficulties especially with the economy. they recognized that as a black politician he would be
scrutinized more than a white politician with respect to racial policies. >> host: remember there are disproportionate numbers in every sector between blacks and whites and hispanics and whites. >> guest: i don't care if we are talking about life expectancy or access to medical attention. i don't care if we are talking about employment, housing, incarceration, you name it. and we still have a racial hierarchy where people color are getting the short end of the stick by and large. white americans are getting, you know, a better deal. it was the case before barack obama. that's the case now and frankly it's going to be the case after barack obama leaves the white
house. i think most black americans had some inkling of that. they understood that, and they also understood with respect to racial policies the detractors of the president that say barack obama would have -- they would be waiting for anything they could jump on to say this black guy is showing favoritism to black america. that's a dilemma. are there people that are coming you know, looking for any opportunity to accuse the president of racial favoritism? yes. there are. and to combat that, the president is very carefully around racial issues and he tiptoes around racial issues. some blacks are critical of him. some think that the president
has not been for friday enough, hasn't been forthcoming enough for militant enough with respect to racial issues. do i feel that they have a point? yeah if they have a point. i think it is an arguable proposition. what i would say though as he has a special dilemma facing him. he's going to be -- he's going to be criticized if he goes this way. he is going to be criticized if he goes this way. i think black people recognize the special dilemma that barack obama faces, and in the light of that special dilemma the great mass of people are showing, are being realistic, are being extremely patient and are giving him leeway given his special circumstances.
>> host: a white house official told me rye recent politics will always follow this president. why does he tiptoe around race? >> guest: he tiptoes around it because it is a volatile issue. you mentioned a moment ago the famous der senate. you may recall just as quickly one of my colleagues at harvard university henry louis gates, very well known academic is in his house. he's coming back from china trying to get in his house. a neighbor sees two black men trying to push a door to get in. the neighbor calls the police and says i dhaka know if these guys are trying to break in that meeting are you ought to go check it out but the police come and henry louis is in his house, the police officers as i am checking this out says show me some idea. he shows his ied and the police officer still seems to be somewhat skeptical. one thing leads to another.
they have words, the professor is quite upset and thinks that racial discrimination has something to do with the police officer. >> host: was the arrogance and insensitivity? >> guest: mabey. let's suppose henry louis gates was short tempered and suppose he wasn't being deferred until towards the officer but even suppose he was being arrogant with respect to a police officer or a crime i don't think so. i hope not and i would also hope the police officers, well trained police officers would be trained to deal with the citizenry and not arrest people simply because the citizen is for the sake of argument being arrogant. in any event, the officer of arrests henry louis gates even though the professor had shown that this was his house. well, this becomes something of the firestorm.
there is a press conference. if the president has asked his view of this. the president, barack obama says first of all we don't know all the facts. but he given what i do know, am i going to say this is racial discrimination? no, he does not accuse the police officer of engaging in racial discrimination. what he does say is this appears it was a stupid action insofar as the professor had given proof that this was his house. he said this was stupid. he doesn't say racially discriminatory but that it's stupid. there are people who immediately went on the attack and accused the president of engaging in a plea of the race card. to mention one person, gwen back, well-known tv personality. he says this showed that barack obama has a problem with a white culture, this shows that he is a
racist. the president didn't say anything about race with respect to the unrest. he did not accuse the police officer of engaging in racial discrimination. far from it. but, he had a black professor, white police officer, a black person who was arrested. there was the immediate jumping to the conclusion that the president of the united states was going to show some sort of racial favoritism. so, that and did very badly for the president. the president had to sort of retreat, he had to have a beer summit and invited the police officers to the white house and invite henry louis gates to the white house. that shows how volatile race is. let me give another example. remember the representatives that shouted "you lie! " to the president addressing the of the joint meeting of the
health care, representative willson. "you lie! " >> host: that was an attack on the presidency. >> guest: absolutely. people of all political stripes it must be said republicans as well as democrats condemn that this was rude, and the representative wilson himself apologized. question, was this racial? former president jimmy carter made no bones about it. he said yes this is yet another instance of racial resistance to the president. the president barack obama was asked do you agree with president carter? what did he say? barack obama said well, representative willson disagrees with me. he ought not have shouted out, but he has apologized.
let's move on. in other words, barack obama did not want to get mired in the racial discussion. he wanted to distance himself from the racial discussion, and he did. that's the obama way of dealing with race. >> host: in a few minutes we have left -- i could talk with you forever. i want to move in quickly about this. that wasn't handled well at all. >> guest: know, that wasn't handled well, and of course the obama administration said that they didn't handle this well as you, again, will recall this was a black -- >> host: high-ranking u.s. officials in georgia. >> guest: wright, who was accused of essentially racially discriminating against a farmer who sought her aid. he was speaking to the naacp. people sort of took out certain snippets of what he said to make
it seem as though he was discriminating against a white farmer who needed her aid. as it turned out, he helped this farmer and indeed the farmer came forward and said that's right. he did in fact help me to keep my farm, and he applauded her. well because there were some people that the white house, the obama administration fired her because they were so scared of claims that there was a person in the administration who engaged in the reverse discrimination and they were so scared of that that they jumped the gun, fired her without getting her side of the story. it was a terrible episode, and hopefully the obama administration learned something from it.
>> host: the book is "the persistence of the color line racial politics and the obama presidency. whether you agree or disagree it's a very thought-provoking and it's interesting and i love stimulating conversation and this is a stimulating conversation. a synopsis what would you say about this president now and moving forward? >> guest: i would say the central thing about barack obama is that he is a black man who climbed to the top of american politics, and that fact in and of itself is going to be his main legacy to america and to the world and that shows things have changed american and things are capable of even more positive change in america. triet >> host: what would you like to see him do specifically for the racism in the country
particularly african-americans? >> guest: i would like barack obama frankly to continue doing what he is doing and that is conduct himself in a dignified and thoughtful way. doing what he's doing itself leaves an important legacy to all americans that all americans can be upon. >> host: author randall kennedy, thank you. >> guest: thank you for having me. >> host: great discussion.