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2008-06-04

"America, This Is Our Moment": Sen. Barack Obama Clinches Democratic Nomination

Guests

Ron Walters, Director of the African American Leadership Institute at the University of Maryland. He is author of many books. His most recent is titled Freedom Is Not Enough: Black Voters, Black Candidates, and American Presidential Politics. Ron is also the chair of the advisory committee of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation.

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Barack Obama made history last night by sealing the Democratic presidential nomination to become the first African American nominee of a major party in the United States. Obama clinched the win after a wave of more than seventy uncommitted superdelegates announced their support on Tuesday, pushing his total over the threshold of the 2,118 delegates needed to secure the Democratic nomination at the party’s convention in August. We speak to Ron Walters. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Barack Obama made history last night by sealing the presidential Democratic nomination to become the first African American nominee of a major party in the United States. Obama clinched the win after a wave of more than seventy uncommitted superdelegates announced their support Tuesday, pushing his total over the threshold of the 2,118 delegates needed to secure the Democratic nomination at the party’s convention in August.

Obama won Tuesday’s primary in Montana, Hillary Clinton captured South Dakota in the last two of fifty-seven nominating contests. Obama’s win followed one of the closest and longest nomination fights in recent history. The sixteen-month primary campaign broke records on several fronts, including the number of voters who participated, the amount of money raised and the length of the race. Hillary Clinton, who would have been the first woman nominee in US history, did not concede last night and said she would consult with party leaders and supporters to determine her next move.

After securing the nomination, Obama spoke to more than 17,000 people, cheering supporters in St. Paul, Minnesota. Senator Obama is the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton spoke in New York.

We’re going to turn right now to Ron Walters. He’s the director of the African American Leadership Institute at the University of Maryland, author of many books, his most recent, Freedom Is Not Enough: Black Voters, Black Candidates, and American Presidential Politics. Professor Walters is also the chair of the advisory committee of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation and was the deputy campaign manager of Jesse Jackson’s 1984 and 1988 presidential campaigns.

We welcome to Democracy Now!

RON WALTERS: Good to be with you, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s great to have you with us. Your thoughts on this historic day?

RON WALTERS: Well, I think, first of all, that it certainly said a number of things about the capacity of Barack Obama to pull this off, in terms of his personal characteristics, of being able to articulate a vision of change, be then able to put together an organization that was just superior to everybody else’s organization.

But I think, most importantly, what it says is that the American people won, because they were the ones that were the wind beneath his wings, in terms of pushing him in the direction of change. We saw in the 2006 election cycle that American people changed the composition of the Congress from Republican control to Democratic control. Since then, they’ve said, in special elections, in Mississippi, Illinois, Louisiana, “We want change.” And he was prescient enough to put together a campaign around that theme and the ability to articulate it and caught everyone else flatfooted.

And so, I think that that’s the reason why he’s where he is, not necessarily because he is an African American. I don’t know how much it says about race in this country. But certainly, I think, in terms of the way in which this was managed, he managed change throughout this campaign. I think he has arrived at this moment.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to some of what Senator Barack Obama had to say last night in St. Paul, while 20,000 people packed inside the place where the Republican National Convention will be. Outside, there were well over 10,000 people, as well. This is Barack Obama.

    SEN. BARACK OBAMA: Tonight, Minnesota, after fifty-four hard-fought contests, our primary season has finally come to an end. Sixteen months have passed since we first stood together on the steps of the Old State Capitol in Springfield, Illinois. Thousands of miles have been traveled. Millions of voices have been heard.

    And because of what you said, because you decided that change must come to Washington, because you believed that this year must be different than all the rest, because you chose to listen not to your doubts or your fears but to your greatest hopes and highest aspirations, tonight we mark the end of one historic journey with the beginning of another, a journey that will bring a new and better day to America. Because of you, tonight I can stand here and say that I will be the Democratic nominee for the president of the United States of America.

    America, this is our moment. This is our time, our time to turn the page on the policies of the past, our time to bring new energy and new ideas to the challenges we face, our time to offer a new direction for this country that we love.

    The journey will be difficult. The road will be long. I face this challenge — I face this challenge with profound humility and knowledge of my own limitations, but I also face it with limitless faith in the capacity of the American people, because if we are willing to work for it and fight for it and believe in it, then I am absolutely certain that generations from now we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs for the jobless, this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal, this was the moment when we ended a war and secured our nation’s image as the last best hope on earth. This was the moment, this was the time, when we came together to remake this great nation so that it may always reflect our very best selves and our highest ideals.

    Thank you, Minnesota. God bless you. God bless the United States of America.

AMY GOODMAN: Barack Obama. Ron Walters, one of the things that Barack Obama said in his speech is John McCain has spent a lot of time talking about trips to Iraq in the last few weeks. You know, he was questioning when was the last time Barack Obama had been in Iraq. And Obama said, maybe if he spent time taking trips to the cities and towns that have been hardest hit by the economy, cities in Michigan, Ohio and Minnesota, he’d understand the change people are looking for. What about the Barack Obama shift from Hillary Clinton, praising her, to taking on McCain?

RON WALTERS: Well, I think it’s going to be a formidable task, and he cannot allow John McCain to dictate the terms of the discussion and the competition that they are going to face, because there are significant differences all along the line in foreign and domestic policy. And I think that if you look at the indicators, it looks as though Democrats are poised to be favored by the American people, so he should not give that advantage away.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn now to Hillary Rodham Clinton. She did not concede defeat last night at Baruch College.

    SEN. HILLARY CLINTON: I am just enormously grateful, because in the millions of quiet moments in thousands of places, you asked yourself a simple question: who will be the strongest candidate and the strongest president? Who will be ready to take back the White House and take charge as commander-in-chief and lead our country to better tomorrows?

    People in all fifty states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the territories, all had a chance to make your voices heard. And on Election Day after Election Day, you came out in record numbers to cast your ballots. Nearly eighteen million of you cast your votes for our campaign, carrying the popular vote with more votes than any primary candidate in history.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Walters, Hillary Clinton made a very big deal of representing eighteen million voters, not saying she is ending her run for the presidency, and saying she did not want them to be invisible. Your response?

RON WALTERS: Well, in 1984 and ’88, we had some difficulty, because Reverend Jackson wanted to bargain after both of those campaigns, and neither did Mondale or Dukakis in ’88 understand, that they wanted us to sort of go away and sit in a corner. We said that with the political resources that we had accumulated, that we were now in a position to be the leader of the progressive side of the Democratic Party, and pushed our bargaining and negotiation edge in that direction. This is precisely what Hillary Clinton is doing with her political resources. She’s striking a bargaining position. She said in her speech that she wants to hear from her supporters about what she should do. She is developing a new campaign to try to — I don’t know exactly what — maybe force her way onto the ticket. But in any case, I think that she — you will see them in the next few days, bargaining, negotiating. Perhaps most of it will take place out of public sight, but that’s where she is right now.

AMY GOODMAN: What about the possibility of a vice presidency for Hillary Clinton?

RON WALTERS: I think it’s problematic, because what has happened in terms of racializing the campaign and the —- I think the problems that segments of the Democratic constituency, like African Americans, might have with that. I also think Bill Clinton is a problem. To wake up every morning and see a 600-pound gorilla, someone pouring over your decisions, I think, is off-putting. I think he should want to run a clean sort of Barack Obama campaign, I think, to maximize change. And I think that, quite frankly, a lot of people think that they, combined, would be a drag on change. So he may, in the final analysis, be forced to take her because of this campaign and because of the need for party unity, but I think it’s going to be a terribly difficult decision on both sides and will continue a lot of the politics that we have seen, and then perhaps a lot of the tension and emotion.

AMY GOODMAN: Who do think would be a possible vice-presidential candidate to run with Barack Obama?

RON WALTERS: Well, I think that there are a number of people. I think one of the best people would be right here in my neighborhood, Tim Kaine of Virginia. I think if he could pull a state like Virginia over into the blue collar, I think that would be tremendous. Strickland in Ohio has also been mentioned. This is another one of the must-win states. And then, I think if you look at Nebraska, Chuck Hagel is resigning. If he picked him, he could solidify and prove that he wanted to run a bipartisan administration with somebody who is also antiwar. So I think those are my [inaudible] -—

AMY GOODMAN: And a Republican.

RON WALTERS: He is a Republican. And these are the three top choices.

AMY GOODMAN: Ron Walters, tomorrow is the fortieth anniversary of the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, the big controversy around what Hillary Clinton said, which goes to now, since she hasn’t ended her campaign, say — reminding people of what happened in June. Your thoughts?

RON WALTERS: Well, that’s true. And there’s a lot of symbolism around this because of the condition of Ted Kennedy, and I think that that’s another problem that the Clintons would have of being on the ticket, with respect to the remarks that have been made — she made about the Kennedys. I think that the symbolism continues, because on August the 28th, it’s the forty-fifth anniversary of Dr. King’s speech, when Barack Obama will be accepting the nomination at the Democratic convention. So the symbolism of this movement — Fannie Lou Hamer in 1964 at the Democratic Party — all of that really sort of is behind this historic moment of Barack Obama seizing the Democratic nomination for president.

AMY GOODMAN: And that point of the fortieth anniversary — not the fortieth anniversary, but the anniversary of Barack Obama accepting the nomination formally on August 28th, the forty-fifth anniversary of Dr. King’s "I Have a Dream" speech.

RON WALTERS: Right. Yes, that’s what I was referring to, and I think that that will sort of bring us full circle. I mentioned Fannie Lou Hamer, the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the struggle to get people like Shirley Chisholm into the nomination, and then, of course, Reverend Jackson, and then even in the 2004 election cycle, Reverend Al Sharpton and Carol Moseley Braun. There’s been a continuous stream of progress in this direction, and I think that one of the things we haven’t heard very much in the media is this background, this foundation, which has been built for Barack Obama.

AMY GOODMAN: Ron Walters, I want thank you very much for being with us, director of the African American Leadership Institute at the University of Maryland, also chair of the advisory committee of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation. His most recent book, Freedom Is Not Enough: Black Voters, Black Candidates, and American Presidential Politics. He was the deputy campaign manager for Reverend Jesse Jackson in both his 1984 and 1988 campaigns.

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