tv After Words CSPAN November 19, 2016 8:00am-9:01am EST
>> also this weekend on booktv on our "after words" program, author sebastian mall by talks about his new biography on former federal reserve chairman alan greenspan. you'll see the 2016 national book awards, and we visit pittsburgh to tour thatty's literary sites -- that city's literary sites. for a complete schedule, go to booktv.org. booktv on c-span2, it's 48 hours of nonfiction books and authors, television for serious readers. and now we'll kick off this weekend with a ram from 2009 -- with a program from 2009. this is the late gwen ifill who taped an "after words" program with us in 2009. she died at the age of 61 from cancer this week. she was a journalist, of course, and author with more than 30 years of experience covering washington and the white house.
>> host: hello. welcome to "after words," my name's david brooks, i'm a columnist from "the new york times," and i'm joined today by an author, gwen ifill, and we are not only going to talk about er book -- [laughter] no, we are going to talk about her book, though i think of this show as retribution. [laughter] because for many years, and i'm sure the audience will be familiar with this, gwen has hosted many question and answer shows, washington week most prominently, but also the "newshour" with jim lehrer, and that ends here -- >> guest: i'm kind of terrified. >> host: right now i ask the questions. let me give a quick bio. i pulled this off wikipedia -- >> guest: oh, no. [laughter] i'll be jumping in. >> host: you are the moderator of washington week, a senior correspondent with "newshour",
you are the fifth child of an african minister -- >> guest: sixth. >> host: already we've got an err error! [laughter] you went to simmons college, and your journalistic lightning rise, you worked at the boston herald, the baltimore sun, "the washington post," "the new york times," you escaped from our publication to nbc and now at pbs. >> 30-year lightning rod. >> host: and now you have written your first book. and we are taping this show the day after the inauguration of barack obama, and you spent -- you were out there actually doing reporting. >> guest: yeah. >> host: and i want to first ask you about that event, but i should preface by saying you did a fantastic report interviewing people on the mall. >> guest: thank you. >> host: and i know it's fantastic because mark shields and i were following you. and the worst thing happened to
us which is that we were watching your report, and you were interviewing two women in particular, one i think a 105-year-old woman and another woman on the mall who was talking about what this day meant for her son. and while she's talking, you know, tears are coming to jim lehrer, mark shields and our eyes. and because weaver manly men -- we're manly men, we can't admit that. so we sort of get allergies in the studio. [laughter] but you were out there on the mall. describe, first of all, your renexts on the -- reflections on the day. >> guest: it was like shooting fish in a barrel. even we talked to would start spouting off in these long and eloquent, perfectly formed sentences, and all you had to do was walk up and say hello, and they would start talking. this woman in particular was toward the very end right at the oath taking. we had talked to a lot of people all morning, and my cameraman
had turned around from one direction and i turned from the other, and we saw her falling on her knees and start crying. afterwards, we ran after her and started askinger if, can we -- asking her, can we tape you? these or were pbs viewers. [laughter] she was kind of funny, because when i first asked her why are you crying, she said, well, aye been crying all day, first because it was to cold. [laughter] and then she said you're going to get me in trouble here, and she started crying again. and it was impossible not to talk to someone like that who had a son, you see, i'm going to get thinking about it -- now he knows he doesn't have to be a rapper or to an athlete, he can be whatever he wants. the roof is off, no excuses. it's a theme which i've been hearing all inauguration especially from african-americans saying we
don't have excuses anymore. sure, we were denied things, sure, we had to fight for things, but here is a man who -- and, you know, it's exactly the message he's saying, is saying to you government ought to help, and i think government ought to help you, but you ought to give back too. this is something which not only do african-americans embrace, but it turns out all americans embrace. if there's been tension between the races over the years, it's had to do with the fact that someone thought an unfair demand was made of them. how dare you make me feel guilty for the sins of my ancestors? this is, there's always been this tension. finish and what obama represents on one level, he represents many things, of course, but it's the idea that wear going to try and -- we're going to try is and get past that and talk about the things we all need, not just one group or another. and oddly enough, people have completely embraced that. so that came out in a million different ways and not just from the black mother, but from the
105-year-old woman who heard w.e.b. due boys speak in 1926, you know? also from the white middle class family from champagne, illinois, and from boulder, colorado, who came all way because they wanted to stand in the cold in the maul maul -- mall for hours on inauguration day. >> host: and i think the book is about the story or at least a chapter in the exodus story of the civil rights generation x. the book, in my mind, the core story of the book is that barack obama is not alone. >> guest: right. >> host: that a lot of people had similar -- not the same, obviously, experience, but similar experience, similar rises, and he is part of a cohort, and you're telling that story. >> guest: absolutely. you know, the interesting thing about this book and people don't believe me, but i didn't set out to write an obama book at all. well, they believe me now that they can read it, but i set out
to write a book which had been knocking around in my head. as a reporter i encountered time and time again serendipitously people who were breaking through whether they were breaking through to be a dogcatcher for the first time or a mayor for the first time or governor for the first time. and as i started kind of searching my mind through all these people, i thought there is a common thread. so it had become a little bit commented on that there were these ivy league, young men mostly who had broken through, but no one had kind of said where's that coming from, and are they it? is barack obama the one-off? is there only ever going to be one black governor of virginia? who -- is there something else coming behind? it turned out the more people i talked to, the more they would say, oh, have you heard about this person? and it turned out there was this great kind of untold story of folks -- the story, it's not a very long book.
this is still a one-generation breakthrough. deval patrick talks about how when he was a kid on the south side, he had nothing. his break was going to a private school in massachusetts and not even realizing when they said bring a blue jacket, they meant a blazer, he brought a windbreaker. his daughter travels the world. so one generation of things have changed so dramatically. what we're on the lip of is another generation which is going to change again. so barack obama gives us an excuse to look at these people, but it doesn't end there. >> host: you've got the civil rights narration, the king and jackson general races, then really the obama generation, deval patrick, cory booker. how do you understand the difference? >> guest: part of the most interesting part of the book for me was talking to some of the civil rights veterans because some of them embrace this.
87 years old, he got that at some point you hand over the baton, that you don't hold, as someone said, hold onto the gale to the grave. he embraced barack obama, for instance, very early on. on the other hand, there are others who are typically thought of as civil rights leaders who have said, oh, there's nothing new here. we've seen this before. nothing to look at, move on. al sharpton, who supported obama, was wise enough and politically mature enough to do it quietly knowing it could hurt him, but he also said, listen, i remember what a generation of black mayors came to power, and we thought they were going to solve our problems, and they didn't. so he doesn't necessarily subscribe to it. more famously conflicted was jesse jackson who managed to always just at the wrong moment say something skeptical about barack obama which, of course, we all jumped on. the but the truth was people don't give jesse jackson credit
for being a complicated individual too. he was perfectly capable of appreciating barack obama's accomplishments and perfectly capable, his daughter is one of michelle obama's best friends. and on the other hand, perfectly capable of feeling a little bit, well, wait a second, i was the one who knocked down that wall, i was the one who challenged. no one's listened to me. and more importantly, is this breakthrough candidate going to speak for the underserved and under spoken for? so he feels he was greavesly misunderstood -- grievously misunderstood -- >> host: this decision to support clinton or obama for every individual in the book was not always a hard decision, but a key decision. and it revealed a lot about where they were coming from. >> guest: exactly. well, it's politics in the end. michael nutter, the mayor of philadelphia, said he never had any problem supporting hillary clinton. that was not what people were judging him on in philadelphia. he had bigger fish to fry. people would look at him and say i hear you're supporting hillary clinton, i don't like that, but whatever.
what are you doing to bring down the crime rate? and then old-fashioned politics, you know, he was not supported by the grand old black guard this philadelphia. so as a result, they didn't necessarily have to be on the same side politically, and he sided with ed rendell instead and with hillary clinton, the day that barack obama got the nomination, he switched on a dime, and nobody cared because that was not his main concern in philadelphia. >> host: but was the primary decision who you supported there, was that determined largely by are you with the machine or do you see yourself as sort of an outsider? some of the people in the book say, you know, i would go to these big events, i had to stand on the side. >> guest: true. there's a lot of that. it's more complicated with the clintons because when bill clinton ran for office, he gave a lot of people jobs. so there are a whole generation of government officials and people, especially in washington politics, who are black who got their first real breakthrough from bill clinton. so there was a lot of loyalty
involved in that. i remember early on in the period when barack obama was running, i would encounter black clinton officials who would hilled when they saw me, because i'd say what are you going to do. there was a lot of nervousness. they were being told they were being disloyal. donna brazile tells these stories. john lewis, most famous example. he didn't want to be on the wrong side of history. he was old friends with the clintons. bill clinton called him before the south carolina primary. he picked up, and it was bill clinton who said i need you here, man, to he got on -- so he got on a plane x he went to south carolina. as the time moved on and he saw what happened to his atlanta district went completely for barack obama, he just couldn't do it anymore. and i'm sure or the clintons had a real problem with that, but he switched, and a lot of people wrestled with that. >> host: does it say something
about the saliency? we've all got a bunch of issues on our table, so the salient issue is the one that is really hot in our mind. was race more salient in some people's decision. >> >> guest: i think it was less salient in some people's decision. the reason why people were able to cross the line is because they decided race wasn't going to be a barrier. a lot of black voters decided race wasn't going to be a reason, but it was a bonus. if you were supporting hundt automatically -- hillary clinton automatically, even black folks in iowa which there are some, they would say, but i know the clintons. they're friends of the black community. but given the opportunity to vote for an african-american who could win as he demonstrated for the first time really in iowa, all of a sudden they were reexpecting. it wasn't -- re-examining. >> host: yeah. let's talk about the generation.
obama was born in '61. some of the people profiled in the book, first tell us some of the main characters. >> guest: well, the main character, of course, barack obama, even though he was just supposed to be a character, and then, of course, he's president, so he kind of becomes the character. deval patrick, governor of massachusetts. never ran for dogcatcher before he got elected to statewide office in an adopted city, an adopted state, massachusetts. no one thought he had a chance. he was discouraged. he was running against a very popular white attorney general, tom reilly, who had a lot of support but not the same political charisma. if you go back is and look over his campaign, it looked a lot like what happened with barack obama, not by accident because president obama's chief political strategists worked for deval patrick. it turns out it helps to know politics. same thing happened to cory booker. brilliant young mayor of newark,
new jersey. all these guys could make a lot of must be doing other things -- of money doing other things. cory booker, oxford, you know, he went to stanford, he has got incredible support and a big fan club among a lot of elites. but he decided to go to newark, shocked even his own mother, and see how he could fix this horn my entrended -- horribly entrenched city. it was a city that had had black leadership for some decades. along comes this young man who is not tied to any of these machines, and he says people say, well, why not? we can't get worse than what we've had, let's give it a try. but a lot of those people's entrenched supporters were still this, so he had to go up against that. and then there's arthur davis, congressman from alabama, who i found most interesting. he was going to be a minor
character in the book until i talked to him and was struck by how much he had thought this through. the idea that he, at the age of 40 now, is going to run in 2010 for the seat held by george wallace in my lifetime. george wallace youed -- used the governorship of alabama to block integration. now, it's unclear whether he can do it. the election results don't show that barack obama did so terribly well in alabama. but the idea that he could and that he's thought out how and that the way he ran for congress was to run against the black establishment and, in fact, he says pretty directly if i had run with the black establishment, i could have never won. he knew he had to go from the outside in. that's what a lot of these guys do whether it's the mayor of columbus or cleveland or the district attorney of san francisco be, they're saying how can i win by talking about issues which appeal across racial lines without giving up my racial identity which is this
little -- >> host: right. i want to ask you about that. first, why are they all guys? there's all guys, and there's no women who i think of who you could put in there. >> guest: well, you know, i looked hard. after a while i started asking everyone, where are the women? why, why. and the answer finally came to me that it's not so different why black women are missing. let's say shirley chism and barbara jordan notwithstanding. i think the same decisions black women are making with even greater saliency is what the decisions white women have made. nancy pelosi and hillary clinton, two of the most powerful women in the country, didn't get to it until after they raised their children. the choices they made was somehow to have their families. they couldn't at 25 choose if they wanted to raise a family, choose to spend all their time chasing politics. the way the world works, that's the way it is. karen bass, african-american
speaker of the house -- >> host: mayor of atlanta doing she's actually an older generation. there is kamala harris, district attorney in san francisco, one of the people said to me, hey, i'd jutte gotten married be d i'd just gotten married, and i've got to decide if i'm going to have kids. i'm going to do that. do i run for governor? these are the chances. the mayor of baltimore who actually since the book was completed has been indicted for all kind of alleged chicanery, but she also told the story about how people -- her name is sheila dixon, people would walk up to her husband and say hello, mr. dixon, and that wasn't his name. it's one of those issues that guys just don't have to deal with. the choices make it really harder to find women who have the latitude to break through in the same way. >> host: let's talk about the south because, as you mentioned,
some of the politicians do have similar styles. and some of them have faced similar challenges. most notably, are they black enough. >> guest: gosh. when i started this book, that was the big thing. the very beginning of the obama campaign, and it's an infuriating question kept coming up always from black audiences. is he really black enough, and i finally thought to myself, okay, i thought it was stupid, but i thought i knew what it meant. every single character said, oh, yeah, i've been asked that. you know, the first, elected black mayor of baltimore, oh, yeah, i had to deal with that. there was this concept that that if you actually had gone to college and spoke clearly and rose above your station in some way, there was something not to be trusted there. but the more i asked, the more i decided, and i think kendrick mead crystallized it for you, all they want to know is are you
down for me? who are you really going to represent if i put you in there? and because black folks have always been suspicious of the good nature of the united states of america post-slavery, they are always looking for this idea that someone is a sellout. are you selling out to these over people, or are you really going to be speaking to me? for a lot of african-americans, the west thing that barack obama -- the best thing barack obama had going for him was michelle obama. he married a black woman. he's raising black children. well, that means -- and, of course, anybody who read his book knew he had the most famous wrestling with his identity of any of us and that he had thought about it a lot, much more than i ever had to. and it wasn't that he had a choice, but he did choose to be identified as african-american. so i still get mail from people say why do you talk about race? why can't we just all be what we are? well, what are or we? don cheadle, the actor, says you
are what you have to defend. and if you are sitting in a car if someone sees you, are they going to pull you over because you're a black man in a white neighborhood looking suspicious sitting in a car? if you are kendrick meek when he takes off his congressional pin and walks down pennsylvania avenue, can he get a cab? kind of hard. even if he's wearing a suit. it's happened to me. so people are always looking for ways to figure out how they dine themself. and once you have proven to black folk that you aren't abandoning them or turning into something else, being a sellout, then they will embrace you. plus you have to be able to win. >> host: now, are there certain tricks they've learned on how to campaign with mixed audiences, how much to play up certain things? >> guest: it is interesting to watch actually. i mean, i think everybody coaches a little bit, especially african-americans at a certain level. i do. you speak differently because you want to be heard, that's why you do it. but listening to jesse jackson is a great example. going back over, i worked his
campaign in 1938, i'd -- 1988, i'd written, i was at "the washington post" at the time. i realized what he did as he became more plausible, he won -- yes, wisconsin. no, it wasn't wisconsin. he won the michigan primary in 1988, and then it looked like maybe he was going to win wisconsin. he didn't, but he won, like, 13 contests that year. as he became more plausible thiess as a vice presidential -- at least as a vice presidential prospect, he became a lot more open about kissing white babies, speaking about coalition building and less about race-conscious solutions. and i think that's what they all do. they find in way to speak in a way that knocks down the barrier. whatever barrier is between you and who you're asking to vote for you, it's your responsibility to erase it. if you're from space else, whatever -- some place else, try to erase it,.
>> host: what about the rhetorical style that jesse jackson made famous for the country. is it something they use, don't use? >> guest: i can't imagine barack obama rhyming very much, yet we heard joe lowery do it to great effect yesterday. tom joyner show this morning, they said only joe lowery could get away with quoting quoting to national anthem, and that little riff he did at the end, if you're black, get back. it was kind of code. we knew where it came from, but most people didn't. everybody learns to speak in code as a way to get to certain audiences. >> host: right. and is there -- i've certainly experiencerd in this off the record, that the diction sometimes changes. >> guest: remember al gore? he was raised, he spent his childhood in washington. and when he got into southern audiences, he found a way. i saw him speak at a pentacostal
church where he was, like, a preacher. and i actually greeted him afterwards, hello, the reverend al gore. where did that come from? he knew he had to speak a surgeon way with, so it's not unique -- >> host: right. hillary clinton famously did it. >> guest: the anniversary of the selma march. >> host: right. we're talking with ben i fill -- gwen ifill. now let's talk a little bit about policy. there's been an evolution in styles and view of the world. this younger generation, is there an evolution in the policy choices they make? >> guest: yeah, i think there is. i remember i was talking to a congressman from missouri, lacey clay. his father was one of the founders of the congressional black caucus. he got elected by being an old-fashioned, straight down the middle civil rights advocate. that's how you got elected in the '60s. he basically handed his seat to his son who was a state legislator at the time.
his son now thinks that we should be examining things like school vouch arers. his son does not necessarily embrace lockstep the demands that are made on him by the labor movement. this would be anathema to the father. the father looked at this and thought, wait a second, what are you talking about? jesse jackson jr., jesse jackson sr.. we saw this interestingly played-out dispute between them. and jesse jr. when i talked to him for this book was before these other public disputes had happened, and he volunteers, and he said to me for the record, i think that a lot of our leaders have abandoned us, have taken on the wrong aroach. and he -- approach. and he was very openly and purposefully critical of his father's approach, the everything is a civil rights issue approach is the way he described it. and jesse sr.'s response when i asked him, well, you know, we're just different. we concern i encouraged debate in our house, which is the way
he put it. which i'm sure it must be an interesting debate when i'm not there. >> host: right. and somebody else you mentioned is harold ford who ran for the senate in tennessee, now the head of the democratic leadership council, a moderate organization from a very prominent -- >> guest: goes out of his way to let people know he's a card-carrying member of the national rifle association. you know f be he was going to get elected statewide in tennessee, he had to find a way to speak to a lot of people in eastern tennessee who aren't necessarily listening to not only a black candidate, but also a ford, the fords in tennessee or famously and slightly flawed, legally flawed family. and as a result, he had to always answer for his family which he said, hey, they're my family, what am i going to do? about the only thing he could say. he spent an inordinate amount of time working white voters going to kiwanis meetings like i watched him do. he would have never been invited. his father, who likes to think
he was not as liberal as people thought he was when he was this congress, just running for a congressional seat and had to rely being elected mostly by black voters in memphis. his son this trying to run statewide had to do something broader, so he spoke more broadly. he is married now. if he'd been married at the time, i think it was a narrow enough time that that would have embraced that one barrier which is are you like me. it doesn't matter whether you like me as race or whether you're a family person or did you go to ut or not. there's always some -- as hong as les a barrier, it's -- as long as there's a barrier, it's enough to help you lose a race. >> host: the evolution of policy on affirmative action. has there been evolution there or is that pretty much steady state? >> guest: i think we're seeing something evolve. we saw obama in some interview, i think it was on abc at one point during the campaign, he said he supports the notion of it, but the it means it would
benefit people like his daughters, he doesn't know if that's what it was set up to do. now, that is a pretty significant shift. the black civil rights establishment considers it orthodoxy that affirmative action is always good. he's saying, well, maybe not all the time. there's room for altering that so that significantly advantaged african-americans such as his daughters who are going to go to college and have great lives don't need a leg up. >> host: right. >> guest: but then the people who do need a leg up don't want to be left behind. so how do you walk that line? it's tough. >> host: okay. we're going to take a wreak now. we're here -- a break now. we're here with gwen ifill on "after words" on tv. hi, i'm david brooks from "the new york times." we're at "after words" on booktv and we're joined, or at least i'm joined, by gwen ifill, the author of "the breakthrough." >> guest: this is a delight. >> host: welcome back. i haven't begun the grilling. i've got to get tougher. >> guest: i'm waiting.
>> host: maybe hannity-like -- >> guest: no, that's okay. [laughter] >> host: let's talk about what the election of barack obama says about the country. i,al through the campaign and especially more a year ago, i had people come up to me, mostly black people, and say the country's not ready. the country is not ready. and i never said it because i didn't have the guts. i said, you're wrong. i was thinking, you are wrong. and that was based a little on the polls but mostly on my own personal experience in all-white settings. and i thought, you know, obviously there's racist. and believe me, i noted at the -- notice noticed at the end of the campaign reporters would go out to ohio -- >> guest: finally. >> host: it wasn't hard. and they would interview somebody that would say i'm not a racist, but -- and then you would want to shay shut up. [laughter] but i still think, and you may grow, that the election shows that race, i thought race on balance may have helped obama.
certainly didn't hurt him. ask so what, what's the verdict? obviously, the country's ready to elect as a whole, but what did we learn about the country? >> guest: andrew young, the famous former mayor of atlanta, u.n. ambassador, civil rights icon, lieutenant to martinnen luther king jr. was one of those people who not only out of loyalty to the clintons but also because he just didn't believe it was famously critical of barack obama. can't know who he was. -- didn't know who he was. but by the end he said i have to anytime one of the reasons i was so skeptical is was because my experience in this country was one in which this country was not going to accept him. i had an experience where my friends were killed, and i was still living that. and i think for a lot of african-americans, there's a group who are invested in the notion that we are always at a disadvantage. but for most african-americans it's just like i live every day
with the little insults which tell me the country's not there yet. i'm followed in stores, i'm denied loans when i know i can qualify. all these little insults, the way you're ignored when you're sitting right there in a room, and you start to speak, and no one hears you. and there's a generation -- now, i should say, it's a complete generational distinction, because our kids age just do not feel the same way. they grew up in more diverse environments. but if you didn't, if you group at a time where it was defined by denial instead of access, you're very skeptical about the idea of one generation. okay, fine. if they were ready to do that, why? what was bringing that on? what was driving that? now, i don't know that we're at the point, i certainly don't think we're at the point where race doesn't matter. i don't think there's any such thing as post-racial, post-civil rights anything. i got a tongue lashing from joseph lowery early on when i suggested it. but he was right. i don't think we're there yet.
but that doesn't necessarily mean it's bad thing. my basic understanding is that race is a positive. there's nothing wrong with being black. and a lot of people have never thought of it that way. a lot of people have always thought about the drag of being a minority in this country. a lot of people have always thought about the things you can't get to. and instead what we have now is the example of a guy who can get there which causes you to re-examine all your automatic assumptions. it causes all your politicians who are thinking about running for office to re-examine their automatic assumptions. lots of polling going on for local candidates trying to side, well, will i run for mayor of hoe boeing been afterward. now, everyone's not barack obama. everyone doesn't have his gifts, and and we're soon going to see what his flaws are as well that people don't have. but i don't think you can completely erase race quite yet. >> host: right. >> guest: maybe we'll get to that point to, or maybe we maine will, and race will become a positive. maybe people will say i'll vote for him because.
a lot of white voters felt proud of voting for a black man. >> host: well, you can see race and not -- and i have to confess be, i feel a little consulted. you guys think in private you have different conversation. >> guest: you do! >> host: we do. >> guest: we do. >> host: yeah, of course, but it's not necessarily a racial conversation. my own personal view the big difference is that we don't talk about race much. >> guest: i think you're absolutely right. but that's the point. if you're a minority and there's a majority society out there, the majority or society assumes their life is the norm. we know our lives are not the norm, so it comes up. we just laugh about it a lot of the time, or it's part of the definitional, or it's the cultural difference. not a, man, they're after me. >> host: right. >> guest: it's possible to talk about race -- most black people are perfectly happy to be black and say if white people knew how much fun it was --
[laughter] >> host: right. >> guest: it would be better if we could talk to each over instead of in separate silos. >> host: right. but i still think the election results, to me, proved that there's a large group of white people -- >> guest: who want to. >> host: not only want to, will just vote for the guy whether he's -- i mean, they liked barack obama. >> guest: well, welcome to our world because for years african-americans have been voting across racial lines. partly because who else was there, but it only occurred to them that they could only vote for the black candidate. bill clinton is a famous example. >> host: well, i guess i would say we're all members of different groups, and most of us get treated as minorities at certain times, and some of us sip what other people taste by the gallon gallon. >> guest: that's true. >> host: be i don't want to get too into it, but being conservative in the washington media allows me to sip what other people taste by the gallon. and it's not hard, but it's -- i'm not a person, i'm the conservative. and there's a category before
you get to me. >> guest: well, being the only african-american at any social event in washington -- [laughter] >> host: right, well, there is a story you tell of being at the gridiron dinner, and i think donna brazile and vernon jordan are there and you're the only black people. >> guest: and vernon jordan gripped us by the elbow and said this is not what they had in mind. literally, it was the whitest room in a pretty white town. once again only many that media establish. where everybody was in white ties. it was even worse. and we looked around and thought, wow, we kind of stand out. but we thought it was funny, not a bad thing. >> host: right. well, you know, in the -- after the jeremiah wright episode, obama said, all right, he doesn't understand how much the country has changed. what does that mean to you? what does he mean? >> guest: barack obama walked a really incredible line on that whole jeremiah wright, and he
didn't do it right at all in the beginning. first he said, oh, he's just an older man, then he said he's an old friend, and finally he had to cut him loose. jeremiah wright is actually a gifted preacher. i've heard his sermons for years in different churches. i'd been to trinity. he speaks in incredible hyperbole, something which in many black congregations we take for granted. we recognize he's saying crazy things, and we laugh. unfortunately, in a political environment, it kind of really is not something -- literal lives, and he was very literal many times ask was taken that way even her times. you know, i don't -- i think that he's right that jeremiah wright was speaking from the old grievance model, but he was speaking it for a reason. he is part of that coto horse of older black -- cohort of older black politicians and cultural leaders ask ambassadors who believes you can't forget that there are a whole lot of people
who are not spoken about or to by the shiny ivy league folks that are our leaders. i was thinking about this a couple days ago going through washington. everywhere in washington was caught up in the excitement and the glitz of the inaugustingal and the first african-american president, but i was driving through northeast washington and saw a guy walking down the street thinking i wonder if he's excited by this? he looks like he can barely find a job. he looks like he slept maybe in a corner in somebody else's basement apartment last night. does this mean anything to him except in the abstract? and that's what a lot of people, the jeremiah wrights among them, are speaking to. >> host: right. class really does intersect in all these -- >> guest: yes. >> host: jer high ya wright, if i'm not mistaken, went to boys high school, a very fine high school in philadelphia -- >> guest: he's a brilliant man. >> host: a ticket to high education. >> guest: yeah. >> host: many, most people you write about in the book, obama went to columbia, occidental -- >> guest: amazing education.
>> host: booker, all of them, amazing. >> guest: a lot of harvard in there. >> host: and when i was reading it, i was struck by a story, that 1961 robert frost comes down to the kennedy inaugural, and the night before he's over at the white house, and they have a chance to sit, and what does frost say as his advise to kennedy? and the advice he gives is be more irish than harvard. and what he meant, we can all imagine what he meant, but you've got be two identities, the hard voir dire thing is something that's -- harvard thing is something that's taken away -- [inaudible] do you think that's a similar conflict? >> guest: and here's a similar breakdown in that theory. jack kennedy came from a very privileged background. he was a long way away from being mr. irish paul. never happened in life before you think of who the kennedys before. and in a similar way, barack obama, it's like someone saying to him be more ghetto than, you know, i don't know, oxford. but the truth is, he didn't come from that. that's not what his background
was even though his mother was on food stamps once -- >> host: anthropologist. >> guest: yeah. he grew up with his grandparents in hawaii. so it's not quite the same thing, but he's just smart enough to know what that means and find his way of speaking to that. >> host: right. you know, obama went to a very fancy prep school in hawaii and all these very nice colleges. is there anybody in the book who actually did have a ghetto background? >> guest: no. not in this generation. if you look back to the previous generation, yeah. there was nowhere else for them to come from. but if you look at this generation, you realize most of them the there's one key thing they all share in common was this amazing ability to get education and make the most of it. there are people, however, like karen bass who's a speak or of the house, she came to politics late in her career. and she came to it after being a community organizer, that term, in her hometown of los angeles
because her neighborhood had become kind of a crack neighborhood, and she was trying to create an organization that would save it from itself. and her world view now that she's going to serve a short time, she's term limited as speaker, she wants someone else to take over that organization she left behind. that's her idea of passing on the baton. so she came from that. there are a lot of members of congress you can look at, many of them older because the congressional black caucus is not a young cohort, by and large. they came from places that were tough to break out of. but as far as this younger generation, many of them are much more privileged. it's part of it, some of them, because their parents were elected officials. >> host: now for people in their generation and maybe yours, they had a bunch of career choices. cory booker, you have a chance, you go to harvard, stanford, maybe you can go to goldman sachs, maybe you can be a community organizer or politics. what are, what's, what are the most popular options, do you think? kid -- did they face, the people
you wrote about, i could go to goldman sachs? >> guest: i think they all had the opportunity to do those thicks, and that's what i think is remarkable, is that they did choose public service. i think that's a generational thing. when i go to college campuses, i talk to a lot of young people who get that, and that's what rang a bell with them with obama as well. i think that's something which is generational which in some ways is kind of a bigger deal than the racial breakthrough. >> host: i was struck by the commitment to politics. i mean, i also see the incredible interest in public service and the gates foundation and all that stuff. i don't see commitment to politics. >> guest: teach for america. no, you don't. and i think that even these folks see politics as a way to getting back to public service. now understand, this generation, 40s, 50s, the next generation we're talking about where public service becomes the
politics is still coming up, and we don't know who all of them are yet. >> host: yeah. no, i would say the first time i knew i was in the same room with barack obama, though i didn't know who he was at the time, obviously, was in chicago. i was covering politics on the south side of chicago, and harold washington was elected mayor of chicago. first-time african-american mayor, city of chicago. and there were two styles. i remember vividly that night jesse jackson spoke early in the night and gave a rousing speech. harold washington spoke late at night and ghei a prosaic, governing speech. and actually as i watched obama at grant park, it reminded me very much. and i remember that year at chicago law school barack obama had harold washington's picture -- >> guest: well, and be keep in mind he was the original coalition builder. that's what he was. he got elected not because of some huge race pride, which
there was, but worked across-racial lines, and people like barack obama studied that and thought, hhm, i can do this if i don't just limit myself to a base which isn't necessarily growing. >> host: right. now, is that going across lines, is that getting the lakefront liberals as well as -- >> guest: oh, yeah. >> host: in chicago terms. >> guest: well, if you're cory booker who can lapse into portuguese and spanish in one sentence and who keeps, you know, poems from buddhism and christianity and judaism on his desk and yet a picture of the civil rights marchers in birmingham, he's a one-man coalition builder. it's the way he's got to do it. if you're arthur davis, you've got to win this huntsville and birmingham. if you're deval patrick, you've got to win in this boston which when i was a college student, still a bunch of racial unrest.
and here not that long later they were willing to vote for him. ed brook was a senator from massachusetts, but he was seen as patrician and not very black at all. >> host: but did they grow up, as obama did, in mostly white environments? >> guest: not deval patrick. he tells the story of leaving the south side of chicago and going off to milton economy and coming home for the first time and having his sister tell him you talk like a white boy. [laughter] he said, i was devastated. he grew up -- actually, i group group -- i go back to what you asked me about if anybody grew up in a tough environment, he did. >> host: did any of the people you talk about describe obama's books, dreams of my father, did you get a sense that the crisis he went through they went through it? >> guest: no, the only person -- he's biracial, and that's a big reason that drove his identity crisis.
people who are born of two black parents, cory booker's mother told me when she was raising her two sons and say it loud i'm black and i'm proud they kept saying, but mom, we're brown. his parents had integrated by suing. they're both ibm executives. they could have gotten this house, but they were denied a chance to get the house, so they sent someone in the to pretend that they were them, and they got it. but by breaking down the barriers to get their sons this suburban ex, their sons grew up going, huh, what? but mostly barack obama's situation is so unique because of his biracial background that it's not comparable to a lot of other experiences. >> host: right. did they talk about malcolm x? >> guest: you know, it's interesting, you have to read barack obama's book to understand how much he was a fan of malcolm x at the time. same stories about clarence thomas which i read in the book about him. you had no idea that when he was at holy cross that he, in the '70s, that this was what you
did, this is what you believed, this is what you embraced at the time. but you don't hear that from a younger group. you have to be about 50 in order for that to really have driven you. after a while that -- if you go a decade younger, malcolm x is a spike lee movie. [laughter] >> host: is that right? >> guest: yeah, yeah. >> host: and, of course, for a lot of white americans, martin luther king is very accessible finish. >> guest: except if you read the actual speeches. >> host: that's a good point. >> guest: he's a lot tougher than people give him credit for. >> host: remind us of that toughness. especially in the last couple years of his life, there was an economic toughness and certainly foreign policy. >> guest: that's right. he was making demands. he was asking for people to give things up. he wasn't just saying let's hold hands and all get along. we have chosen over the years to kind of erase, i mean, there was a dispute about a statue of martin luther king that looked too radical, and they wanted to make him look more benign. that's what people have tried to
do, redefine what he was actually about when he was tougher and more radical in his way, but the times demanded it. there was no voting rights act. there was no public accommodations law. so he had to push lbj and others in order to make these change. it required a whole different tactic. >> host: yeah. everyone watching and listening to this should read breakthrough by gwen ifill and also a book you reminded me of, a stone of hope. this is a book about the theology of martin luther king. andit compares the white liberal version of civil rights which was if we educate people, they'll come around. and it was very on optimistic in nature. this book makes the point that martin luther king took a much darker i view of human nature. >> guest: he did. >> host: if you educate people, they will not come around. the faith tradition teaches us things are much tougher and be, therefore, you have to be much
more aggressive and radical. and in one of my earliest interviews with barack obama, i asked him did you ever read ryan hold niebuhr, and i think through the especially prayings of king -- inspiration of king, he'd read a lot of him. which i was reminded of at the inauguration speech yesterday which was uplifting and all that, but it had a dark core to it. >> guest: it did. i was reminded of it. my father was an african methodist episcopal-inster. minister. he would speak about liberation theology which jeremiah wright got so much no trouble for. he would march in civil rights marches, speak about economic empowerment in the inner city. this is the sort of thing he
brought home every night with us, to us. he also sat us in front of the television which made sure we watched everything that happened which is how i became a political junkie. [laughter] we didn't get out very much. that world view was shaped by demand and shaped by they won't ever give it to us, so we have to go in and grab it, and that's just not the same anymore. and partly because of the achievements. partly because they pulled off what they were asking for. but when i do read king's letter from the birmingham jail, it is very critical. it's not a let us all get along, things will be good kind of speech. it's a letter about demands, about the things that we have to take because no one will give it to us. and, you know, he wrote it on scraps of paper while he was imprisoned. it was amazing. but he wasn't at all saying this is something which will happen on it own. >> host: right. now, and more of what you said earlier, you made a reference
very early in our conference to the idea of america not being the same as what you see every day. which is one of the themes of obama's speech. >> guest: it's true. most patriotic people i know in little p kind of way are folks who are making those demands. my parents being immigrants, i think immigrants are very patriotic because they've chosen to be americans. so as a result, they work harder, and they have this romanticism about their nation. so even though my dad would say america's not fair to black people and we have to push, he could also sing every verse to every, every line of america beautiful ask believe it with the same passion. to these two things could coexist. the biggest problem in politics and the way we cover politics often is we assume people can only hold a thought in their head at a time when, in fact, folks in this book are more complicated than that and, therefore, more interesting. >> host: let's use this segway to talk about you. you mentioned your parents were
immigrants. >> guest: yeah. >> host: obama's father was an immigrant, colin powell's parents were immigrants. what are we to make of that? >> guest: part of it is that immigrants do feel they've got -- [audio difficulty] i think part of it is a sense of fiction. it's often about how you accommodate all these different places to be. because we are immigrants, we almost always feel like outsiders. colin powell would tell you and i would tell you that as west indians, we were probably looked at -- in fact, he's written about it, with suspicion by some american-born blacks. who are you? [laughter] so you learn to live as kind of a sub, as a minority within a minority, that's something barack obama had too. and because of that, you breakthrough it. you push past it if you want to. you learn how to coexist in all of these different circles and
not feel. it's not unusual for me to be in the room with a majority of white people because i'm used to being in a room where i'm the only something else. and you just find a way to a accommodate it. >> host: your family's from barbados and panama? do you think not having actual -- well, that's a totally stupid question. i'm going to withdraw the question. [laughter] i was about to say, not having southern slavery in your roots, but you do have probably slavery in your roots. >> guest: we do. you're making an interesting point which comes up a lot in this whole internal dispute among black immigrants including black aftercat, which is are -- africans which is are you truly black if you're not descendants of slaves. in my case, they were just being -- not paid, they were being enslaved to reap sugarcane instead of cotton. >> host: they didn't just pleasure be cruise over to --
>> guest: my name is the name of a plantation owner in barbados. >> host: now, you mentioned earlier some of the slights, even today a well-educated, successful black woman suffers s and people will wonder, you know, ifill, she works at pbs, she's worked at the new york times, washington post, what's there to complain about? >> guest: oh, there's always something to complain about. [laughter] we're only human beings. >> host: you know, i ask that in a serious way and, you know, that even -- there still are these racial elements of life. >> guest: it is. and you know what you do? you take it into account, and you move on. you don't complain -- i don't actually complain about it very much. i acknowledge it as a fact of life and people take it as a complaint. you know that things happen. that questions are raised about who you are or what you do, what your suspicions are. there's a lively debate going on among black journalists about whether we can be seen as being fair to obama.
and that goes back to the idea of being able to hold two thoughts in your head. it is possible to say, wow, look at that, first african-american president in my lifetime, and it's also possible to say i'm going to the white house now, and i'm going to ask him some really hard questions. and i have hard questions which are rooted in a different bale of experience than maybe everybody else in that room. and there's nothing wrong with that. instead we think, ah, if you describe yourself as black, you have somehow compromised yourself. now, the question, of course, is why white men haven't been compromised in all these years covering white men in the white house, but that's the next book. that's another time. >> host: i want to ask you about one other identity which is more comfortable to talk about for me which has to do with aspects of our profession. in some sense we're in the same profession, we're both journalists, but in another side we're on different sides, i am an opinion journalist, and you are more of a reporter and interviewer.
in the book, you have to break a little out of that. >> guest: just a little. >> host: just a little. now, describe that process for you to -- >> guest: yeah. it's been very hard for me. you're right, i've spent so many years saying on one hand, on the other hand, that for someone to say it -- and my editor at doubleday would try to get me to do this, what do you think? tell me what you really think. my problem is i'm so schooled to listen to another point of view that i had some trouble declaring this to be the truth unless i had 85 people who said it. and so it's very much a pepper tore y'all -- renner tore y'all book. partly because i don't know what i think yet. still waiting for him to do this job before i know what i think. and i may never know. but it's really a new challenge, long-form writing to come up with conclusions. it's -- you can just say what you think. is that harder or easier? i don't know. for me, it would be incredibly difficult because i'm just trying, i feel if i decide what i think about something, i
automatically stop listening. that at some point i don't take into account the possibility that there's a reasonable alternative point of view. and that as a result, people i talk to don't trust me. oh, she knows what she thinks. since i still function as a reporter, i want to also hold up the possibility that i can be persuaded, and i want the person i'm talking to to think that too. i can persuade you, david, we're still working on it. [laughter] >> host: an opinion journalist wakes up with an assumption, quos to bed with a conclusion whereas reporters are always in process. >> guest: that's true. and that's, for people who want to assume things about me kind of famously during the run-up to the vice presidential debate, there was this silly kerfuffle about whether i was writing a pro-obama book, and i realized that conclusion was roached by people who just didn't have the
imagination to consider that a black woman could write about something else and that my 30 years as a journalist was, would trump any desire i was going to have to make a conclusion before the story had played itself out. but, you know, people say what they want to say. >> host: well, we've got one minute left, and i did want to talk about that episode. you became the story. rush limbaugh, others said, oh, the book -- she's going to be biased. you're sort of the walter cronkite of hosting vice presidential debates -- [laughter] you've done two now. what was it like to be the subject of sort of that furious -- >> guest: yeah. you know, it's funny, i hated it. the truth is i learned at the time protected by my posse who didn't let me see a lot of what was written and what was said which turned out to be a good thing because afterward i said, oh, my god, i would have never done this, but it was helpful. i was able to separate it out between the people i'd never met like rush limbaugh and the
person who should have made a small effort to get it right. and those are the people who i felt unfairly treated by. but people who i didn't know who were mean to me, i didn't care. and the people -- the vast majority, it turns out, were people who did know, who worked with me in the years i've been a reporter and who immediately said, oh, this can't be true, and i felt vindicated by that. >> host: okay, thank you, gwen ifill, author of "the breakthrough." also visible on your local pbs station. >> guest: thank you, david, this has been fun. >> host: thanks. >> c-span, where history unfolds daily. in 1979, c-span was created as a public service by america's cable television companies and is brought to you today by your cable or satellite provider. >> here's a look at some authors recently featured on booktv's "after words," our weekly author interview program.
george borjas discussed his research on the impact of immigration on the u.s. economy. bain capital co-founder, edward conard, argued how income inequality has contributed to economic growth. and columbia university law professor tim wu explained the way society has been affected by advertising. in the coming weeks on "after words," editor at large for the guardian, gary younge, on his investigate of violence in america. former senate majority leader george mitchell explores the potential for peace between israel and palestine. also coming up, harvard business school professor eugene soltis explores the motivation of white collar criminals. ..