This is a great end of year interview with April D. Ryan, White House Correspondent of American Urban Radio Networks. It took place just before the holidays began in the Oval Office on Dec 21st, 2009. What’s historic for me here: a black journalist interviewing a black president and addressing black issues. Shazam. It’s probably his last conversation of 2009 that speaks directly to African-Americans – a community in which he clearly sees himself as a member, i.e. he says “We” in the interview when referring to black folks. Which is so cool.
April & Barack touch on how swine flu, unemployment & healthcare access are impacting black folks disproportionately. It’s too bad our community is hurting so badly — I would enjoy this more. Obama addresses the “grumbling” as he calls it within the African-American community, acknowledges it and presents a hopeful yet practical outlook for 2010. We’ll see. The interview does brings a little funny at the start though. Here’s a few excerpts but I recommend reading or listening to the whole thing.
Q: Well, first of all, let’s start off on a light note. You’re preparing to go away to Hawaii for vacation, and everyone around here is talking about you body surfing. Is that a healthy thing to do? (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: It’s a wonderful thing to do. I grew up doing it, love the ocean. I’ll admit to you that the Secret Service these days does not like me doing it. The last time I tried it they had a bunch of people out on jet skis in the water and surrounding me with all kinds of stuff and it was a little distracting for the other swimmers. So I don’t know if I’ll get out there this year, but I tell you what I will definitely be enjoying some sun.
Q: That’s interesting you talk about the disparities in African Americans, because many civil rights leaders, to include persons in the NAACP, are upset that the Senate version does not have the public option; the House has the public option. And the Senate and the House version are very far apart. What are the fears that you have going forward with trying to get a health care reform bill together in a timely fashion?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, I think it’s important to understand, April, that the Senate and the House bills are 95 percent identical. There’s 5 percent differences, and one of those differences is the public option. But this is an area that has just become symbolic of a lot of ideological fights. As a practical matter, this is not the most important aspect to this bill — the House bill or the Senate bill.
But either way, whether there’s a public option in there or not, if you don’t have health insurance, you are going to have now the option of getting it at a reasonable cost. And that’s the most important thing. And as I said, nobody has a bigger stake than the African American community in this, because disproportionately, we’re the ones without health insurance.
Q: Speaking of the African American community, this seems to be a shift in black leadership, as it relates to supporting you. You have the CBC that’s upset with you about targeting on the jobs front — African Americans, 15.6 percent unemployment rate, expected to go to 20 percent; mainstream America 10 percent. Then you have black actors who supported you — Danny Glover, who’s saying that you’ve not changed, your administration is the same as George W. Bush. What are your thoughts about the fact that black leadership is grumbling, and the fact that people are concerned with you being the first African American President, and they thought that there would be a little bit more compassion for black issues?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, April, I think you just engaged in a big generalization in terms of how you asked that question. If you want me to line up all the black actors, for example, who support me, and put them on one side of the room, and a couple who are grumbling on the other, I’m happy to have that.
I think if you look at the polling, in terms of the attitudes of the African American community, there’s overwhelming support for what we’ve tried to do. And, so, is there grumbling? Of course there’s grumbling, because we just went through the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. And everybody is concerned about unemployment, everybody’s concerned about businesses not hiring, everybody’s concerned about their home values declining. And in each of these areas, African Americans have been disproportionately affected. We were some of the folks who were most affected by predatory lending. There’s a long history of us being the last hired and the first fired. As I said, health care — we’re the ones who are in the worst position to absorb companies deciding to drop their health care plans.
I’m optimistic about the long term future of the African American community, but it’s going to take work. It was never going to be done just because we elected me. It’s going to be a collaborative effort between people in the community who recognize that we’re going to have to rely on government to do some things, but a lot of these things we’re going to have to do ourselves.
Q: Mr. President, thank you so much. Happy holidays. It’s awesome to be here in the Oval Office. It’s very nice — (laughter) — to say the least. But thank you so much, and thank you for giving us this interview for American Urban Radio Networks.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, it was great to talk to you. And I wish everybody out there a blessed and happy New Year, a wonderful Christmastime. And I feel pretty confident that 2010 is going to be better than 2009.
It’s interesting that how Obama portrays his relationship with the African-American community — important, non-exclusive, collaborative yet reliant on hard work & individual responsibility. Hmmm… what do you think?
Overall, Obama has a lot to be proud of re: 2009, his first year in office. He’s clearly a man who — once he sets a goal or two — will do his best to achieve it. It’s not a perfect performance IMHO, but I’d still give him an strong A-.
Poor Prez — the Secret Service won’t let a brother bodysurf or boogie board in peace. Stand your ground, POTUS – once they take away ocean swimming, it’s a slippery slope to no more artery-clogging hamburgers…