Thursday, November 02, 2006

Obama Interview

The following excerpts are from an interview of Barack Obama by David Remnick at the American Magazine Conference in Phoenix, Arizona.

And I guess what I was trying to describe is a faith that admits doubt, and uncertainty, and mystery. Because, ultimately, I think that’s how most people understand their faith. In fact, it’s not faith if you’re absolutely certain. There’s a leap that we all take, and, when you admit that doubt publicly, it’s a form of testimony. Then what I think it does is it allows both the secular and the religious to find some sort of common space where we say to each other, Well, I may not believe exactly what you do, what you believe, but I share an experience in wondering what does my life mean, or I understand the desire for a connection to something larger than myself. And that, I think, is in the best of the United States religious tradition.

There's too much certainty in the faith of our leaders... and our enemies. An admission of uncertainty leads to an understanding and tolerance of another's point of view. Which is not to say we should tolerate or understand the Islamic fascists who seek to destroy us, but it would benefit our country if we attempted to understand and tolerate the viewpoints of our neighbors who do not believe exactly the same things we do.

I think the next President is going to have a lot of problems to clean up and not a lot of resources to work with. So whoever is elected is going to have to have a conversation with the American people about what our challenges are, what steps we can take, how long it’s going to take, and ask that they join, that they take ownership in this project.

That’s the power of the Presidency that I don’t see used enough. The capacity to explain to the American people in very prosaic, straightforward terms: here are the choices we have. The biggest problem we have in our politics, and our campaigns press this upon candidates, is to lie about the choices that have to be made. And to obfuscate and to fudge. ... Everybody’s all happy and feel-good, until you actually say to them, Well, you know what? Actually, if we have a real energy plan it’s going to cost something. There’s not a magic energy store where we can buy a new gadget; we’re going to have to invest and make some tough decisions. But I do think the American people respond better to that conversation than we give them credit for, and it’s not tried often enough.

Tell me that you wouldn't want a President who is willing to shoot straight and explain the problems we face and offer solutions. A President who believes that we are smart enough to understand the issues. A President who doesn't lie or even obfuscate.

And audience member then asks this of Obama and gets a very straightforward complete answer that shows vision and practicality. (I numbered his response for clarity.)

Question: ...what would you say were the three most important priorities that the new President, with a Democratic Congress, should present to the American people as the things that need to get done?

(1) Well, it is hard to anticipate at this point where we’re going to be in Iraq. But first priority would be to stabilize and extricate ourselves from the morass that we’re in right now....More broadly, and this I think would be one of the most important things a new President can do, is to essentially figure out what is the updated version of the post-World War II order that was structured by Truman and Acheson, and Marshall and Kennan—what does that look like? What is our national-security strategy? Because we’ve never gone through that process. In the nineties, the basic feeling was, you know, as long as McDonald’s are opening up all over the world everything’s going to be O.K. And then we had 9/11, and immediately launched into a unilateral, sabre-rattling approach to foreign policy. But what we’ve never really done is thought strategically about how, in an age of asymmetrical warfare, with countries like China and Russia that are no longer direct enemies, but are clearly competitors, and huge chunks of the world that are essentially collapsing and ungoverned—what does that mean for us? And what does that mean for our military?

(2)...On the domestic front, I would say that it is time for the Democrats to get over what happened in ’94, and to move on an aggressive plan for health-care reform in this country. And I personally think universal health care remains a vital goal for us to meet.

(3)... energy. I believe Al Gore—and the other, you know, ten thousand scientists out there. ... From a national-security posture, there’s not a better thing we could do—for example, dealing with proliferation issues in Iran—than to drive the price of oil down to twenty-five bucks a barrel. It’s the single biggest thing we could do to effectuate change and cut the legs out of some of the fundamentalist impulses in the Middle East. And so why we’re not pursuing that in a very aggressive way baffles me. And I think the country’s ready for it. I mentioned that, travelling around the country, what I’ve been struck by is the degree to which, despite gas prices going down, the issue of energy policy is still registering very high among voters. They recognize that the current path we’re on is unsustainable.

Go here for the whole interview.


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