Contextual Content

Reactions to Obama’s speech

Tom Morris, Pepe Escobar and Phyllis Bennis (part of a live show aired after the speech)

Post-Obama Reaction

Story Transcript

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, US PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (D): With profound gratitude and great humility, I accept your nomination for presidency of the United States. We meet at one of those defining moments, a moment when our nation is at war, the economy is in turmoil, and the American promise has been threatened once more. We are the party of Roosevelt. We are the party of Kennedy. So don’t tell me the Democrats won’t defend this country. Don’t tell me the Democrats won’t keep us safe.

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR: Good evening, and welcome to our live coverage of the Democratic National Convention. Endless wars, declining living standards, abuse of power, and the climate change crisis—the stakes in the 2008 presidential election are decisive. Will Barack Obama provide answers to these questions tonight? Tom Morris is a senior correspondent on America’s Most Wanted, a host of the satellite radio program Capitol Hill Blues. Welcome, Tom.

TOM MORRIS, JOURNALIST, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Thank you, Paul.

JAY: So what did you think of Barack Obama’s speech?

MORRIS: I thought it was quite a broad speech that really defined, once and for all, in front of the largest audience possible, exactly what he plans to do if elected president. The rap on him has been that he’s given grandiose speeches for 18 months that didn’t get down to the nitty-gritty nuts and bolts of what will you do to tackle these problems that you care so passionately about. And tonight he got into his speech, and then he hit that point where he said, "Okay, now I’m going to break it down for you. And this is what I’m going to do about the environment. This is what I’m going to do about taxes: I’m going to cut taxes for 95 percent of working families. I’m going to do this, this, and that." And as a result, I think he defined himself for the first time definitively for the largest audience possible.

JAY: People, as I said when I was speaking to Gore, people are enamored with him as a personality. And I think, in my own opinion, it’s been a long time which we have seen a personality of his stature, presence, articulateness, intelligence at that level of politics, I mean, especially the last eight years, but I would say even before. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen a man of his caliber as a person. But when you actually look into his policies, I find there’s another conversation to be had, because from climate change to Iraq, to Afghanistan, I think one can raise some very serious questions, beginning with climate change. His targets are extremely conservative. And I know you and I have talked before, and I know you share, I think, some of the critique at the policy level. Yet you’re very enamored with Obama, knowing the issues of policy. Why?

MORRIS: Well, I’ve been in this town a long time. I’ve worked in the federal government, and I’ve been back in television, and back and forth. And I’ve seen a lot of politicians in this town. I’ve seen even some presidents in my time. And you have to look back to just where I come from, being born in the 1950s, growing up in segregation. Barack Obama represents many, many things to me in general about what is possible and how far America has come. He has some policy things that he wants to implement that sound good to the middle-of-the-road people, the people that are really a little bit more pro-war, a little bit afraid that if we move too fast on the environment, that we’ll just, you know, go willy-nilly, and I think that he’s trying to play it a little safe on some of those. But he does worry me when he talks about sending more troops to Afghanistan in particular.

JAY: Tom, we’re going to be joined now by Pepe Escobar. He’s at the stadium in Denver. So, Pepe, are you there?

PEPE ESCOBAR, TRNN ANALYST: Yes, I am.

JAY: Hey, that’s a—we have an excellent connection with you there. Pepe, Tom’s on the line with us as well. Pepe, so go ahead: what’s your reaction to the speech? So far, Gore Vidal and Tom were very enthused.

ESCOBAR: The main problem is how Obama characterized, for instance, al-Qaeda, Iran, and Russia. These are the three main foreign policy themes at the moment. What he talked about Iraq we already know: he’s against the war; he has a plan—it’s withdrawal in sixteen months, leaving a residual force of up to 30,000 soldiers. Everybody knows about that. The thing is: how does that connect to the broader, let’s say Eurasian policy of Obama, which is more or less conducted in the shade, very informally, and very discretely by Zbigniew Brzezinski, famous rusophobe? What is Obama saying? Curbing Russian aggression. This—it’s a big—it’s not even a conceptual mistake; this is a geopolitical mistake, because it was Mikheil Saakashvili, an ally of the US, who started the whole imbroglio in Georgia when he wanted to take out, basically, South Ossetia and destroy its capital, which it did, and then came the counterpunch in 24 hours. Obama talks about preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. Well, Iran is not after nuclear weapons. If the Obama campaign had dialed Supreme Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Tehran, he will say in Farsi translated into English that "We are not after nuclear weapons, because the Koran says we cannot have nuclear weapons. This is anti-Islamic."

JAY: Joining us on the phone now is Phyllis Bennis. Phyllis, are you there?

PHYLLIS BENNIS, INSTITUTE FOR POLICY STUDIES: I am. Hi, Paul.

JAY: Alright. Phyllis is a senior analyst at the Institute for Policy Studies. She’s author of Before and After: US Foreign Policy and the September 11th Crisis. And I believe she has a new book out. Phyllis, what’s the name of the new book?

BENNIS: The new book is called Understanding the US-Iran Crisis: A Primer. I think that this is part of the obligation of progressive forces, and particularly the peace movements and movements for human rights in this country, to demand that that be one of the areas that Barack Obama take up as part of distinguishing himself from the Bush administration. His detail was all on the domestic side. When he came to foreign policy, it was a combination of kind of chest-thumping rhetoric—"I’m tougher than John McCain"—but very little detail, and the detail that was there was completely confusing. There were a few things he said that were quite good. He said you don’t defeat a terrorist network by occupying Iraq. Well, that’s certainly true. That’s a good thing. Then he said, about Israel and Iran, something that sounded like he was talking about using force, because he said you don’t protect Israel or deter Iran just by talking tough in Washington. Well, what’s he saying we should do? So that has to be challenged.

ESCOBAR: But if you renounce American militarism, things for the average American worker and family obviously would improve. But they haven’t made that connection yet.

BENNIS: I agree. And, in fact, it’s not realistic, as we know, for someone who thinks they’re going to maintain the support of elite forces in this country from either party to fully renounce US power and dominion around the world.

JAY: I would just add to that that I would like to just say I think Obama’s being very honest and sincere that the foreign policy he’s articulating I think is the one he believes in. I don’t think we’re dealing with someone who’s just taking positions tactically for an election campaign.

ESCOBAR: You’re totally right. In fact, the basic theme of the speech was the Promise.

BENNIS: Right. And as you said, Pepe, it was primarily about the domestic issues that are so immediately important to Americans without having anybody else take the lead.

JAY: But it’s also the promise of Kennedy and the vision of the democratization of the world. I don’t think it’s the neocon version, that we’re going to do it with guns, but I think it’s very much a traditional view of what America’s role in the world should be. I think he probably—.

BENNIS: That’s absolutely right. And it doesn’t take into account how that role was perceived from the receiving end, that democratization, liberalization of laws, of, you know, bringing democracy to the benighted people of the third world, these kind of colonialist dreams. I think you’re right that he does believe it. I also also think that he doesn’t necessarily recognize, at least fully, what the consequences are.

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