Saturday, March 04, 2006

A TfK exclusive Barack Obama Interview

This year's Washington Days, the Kansas Democratic Party's annual bash, are generally agreed to be the biggest ever.

Senator Barack ObamaI had 5 minutes to speak with Senator Barack Obama before he addressed the overflow crowd. Obviously, this was a tremendous opportunity, and I had about an hours worth of questions, but I'm pretty happy with the brief chat we had.
Q. The question that I wanted to ask is: You are an unabashedly progressive, and in your campaign, you did very well in areas that are not that dissimilar from the politics of Kansas. So, what is there that we can learn – that politicians or activists in Kansas can learn – from your example?

A. Well, you know, a couple of things. One, I think you can promote progressive values if you describe those values in pragmatic, common sense terms as opposed to ideological terms.

Q. So, for example…

A. If you're talking about an issue like health care, it's not necessary to rail against drug companies and insurance companies because a lot of people work at insurance companies. It is sensible to talk about the fact that the system right now is not working for people, and that we're wasting a lot of money in the system, and there's no reason that people should be bankrupt if they get sick. Those kinds of common sense attitudes cross party lines, cross divides of class and race. I think that's important.

The second thing that's important is that you don't shy away from the so-called values debate. Being willing to talk about faith and family and the challenges of raising children. Those are things that people feel very intimately. I think sometimes Democrats are a little patronizing about those issues, but those are in fact issues that people feel very deeply. They want meaning in their life, they want a sense of community in their life, they feel overwhelmed with all the different forces coming at them. Not all those problems are amenable to legislation, but if you recognize them and talk about them people feel that at least you're identifying with their experience. Those would be the two main pieces of advice.

Q. Are there … the other part of the question I wanted to ask, sort of the mirror image, how do we take the progressive values that are already here in Kansas or Illinois and get them to Washington, whether it's getting Nancy Boyda or John Doll in Congress or even push Congressman Moore further toward progressive values?

A. Well, I think it's important for activists to be practical. You can't ask Congressman Moore to have the same kind of politics as Barbara Boxer, he's got a different constituency. and if those are your expectations you're always going to be disappointed because one of two things will happen. Because either Congressman Moore will not vote the way you want him to vote or he will and he'll lose.

Ultimately, progressive… Let me say this, Harry Reid, the leader of the Democratic party in the Senate comes from Nevada, and personally is a pretty conservative guy and probably wouldn't agree with you on a bunch of stuff

Q. Sure.

A. On the other hand, him being majority leader means I can get my bills on the floor. And over all then, a progressive agenda can move forward or at least be debated in a way it can't as long as Bill Frist is majority leader. So I think there's got to be some sense of strategy.

Now people get frustrated, especially in the blog community, in the blogosphere, because there is a tendency to divide people in terms of they're either hard-core left-leaning Democrats – Paul Wellstone Democrats – or they must be sell-out, DLC, centrist Democrats who will just split the difference. I think that's a false dichotomy. I think what people should be looking for is: do the Democrats that they support care about the core values that are important to all of us.

Jobs at a living wage, health care for all people, educational opportunity for all people, environmental sustainability, foreign policy that is smart and not just belligerent. And if those values are important to whoever's running, people need to be flexible in terms of recognizing that there may more than one way of doing things. Single payer healthcare may not be the only way to provide healthcare to everybody and we should be agnostic, we should be open minded about what strategies or approaches we get to deliver those issues.

That wasn't bad for five minutes.
No indeed. I was hoping to follow up on some of the issues and concepts he raised. I think he's pretty much right, and I think he took my second question as more of a criticism than it was meant.

The TfK exclusive interview with Congressman Moore will be up later, as will a round table with Janet Waugh, Kent Runyan, Don Weiss, and Tim Cruz, Democratic candidates for Kansas school board, and overall reaction.

Busy, busy, busy.