Fox News Sunday’s “Obama Watch” came to an end this week, when the frontrunner for the Democrat presidential nomination granted an interview to Chris Wallace. The 35-minute interview took up three segments, and covered everything from Rev. Wright to Gen. Petraeus. Despite widespread criticism of Fox News’ rightwing bias, Obama ended up giving one of his better interviews.
Obama opened the interview collegially, joking that “it takes me about 772 days to prepare” for an interview with Wallace. Throughout the interview, Obama appeared relaxed and willing to discuss any issue. He didn’t (usually) try to dodge questions or proclaim certain issues out of bounds. The frustrated, I’m-too-good-for-your-silly-questions Obama of the ABC debate in Pennsylvania was no where to be found. The Fox News Sunday Obama was not always completely forthcoming (he is still a politician, after all) but for the most part, Obama delivered serious, thoughtful answers to questions about his character and values.
Wallace opened the interview with a discussion about the racial dynamics of the campaign – Wallace noted that Clinton won white voters in PA (63%-37%), and she overwhelmingly won white voters who admitted that race played a factor in their vote (76%-24%). Wallace asked, “Isn’t there still a racial divide in this country that’s going to make it very hard for you to get elected President?” Obama responded by saying that many current polls show him matching up better against John McCain than Hillary Clinton. Obama even went so far as to say, “If I lose [the general election to McCain], it won’t be because of race.”
That may come as news to many of Obama’s supporters in the media. Writing in the L.A. Times earlier this month, David Shipler claimed that to call Obama “elitist” was unacceptable racialist discourse. In light of a recent North Carolina Republican Party television ad that features now-infamous footage of Obama’s former pastor Rev. Wright, both the New York Times editorial board and Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne (among others) accused the N.C. GOP of making an oblique racial appeal. Based on his answer to Wallace’s question, it seems Obama doesn’t share many of his followers’ desire to cry “racism” when he is criticized.
Obama also answered questions about Rev. Wright, proclaiming his former pastor’s statements as a legitimate political issue. He attempted to explain his relationship with one-time domestic terrorist William Ayers, saying that his association with Ayers is a very loose one. He also clarified his previous remarks that wearing an American flag lapel pin isn’t necessarily an indicator of patriotism, and in doing so, Obama somewhat redeemed himself after having said during the ABC debate that such questions were “distractions.” Obama even made positive (although brief) comments about free markets.
Obama was less impressive during other portions of the Fox News Sunday interview. When asked how he can present himself as a post-partisan candidate when his voting record is unwaveringly leftwing, Obama offered nothing new or convincing. He repeated previous statements that he’s not necessarily opposed to merit pay for union school teachers, and that he’s generally willing to give Republicans a respectful hearing before voting against them. When asked how he will respond to McCain’s inevitable portrayal of him as a “tax and spend” liberal, Obama responded with his own criticisms of McCain’s vague promises to cut spending without tax increases. Fair enough, but Obama failed to explain how his own domestic proposals can be paid for without middle class tax hikes.
Obama also rejected the possibility of any further debates with Hillary Clinton before the Indiana primary. He said, “I’m not ducking. We’ve had 21 (debates), and so what we’ve said is, with two weeks, two big states, we want to make sure we’re talking to as many folks possible on the ground taking questions from voters.” Of course, he’s only had four debates one-on-one with Clinton. He’s obviously ducking another debate because his last performance in PA was uninspiring, to say the least. Obviously, there’s no political advantage for Obama in debating Clinton again, but if he had the courage of his convictions, he would be willing to debate Clinton anywhere, any time.
In the end, Obama came off fairly well on Fox News Sunday. He took the opportunity to bring his message to a skeptical Fox News audience, and he acquitted himself well. He probably should have done it sooner.