Clips from various parts of the 2008 election season, including President Barack Obama’s historic “race speech” in Philadelphia and dispatches from Vice President Joe Biden’s front yard.
Forced to deal with issue of race, Obama delivers message of healing
Ex-pastor’s inflammatory remarks lead to examination of divisions
By GINGER GIBSON — Wednesday, March 19, 2008
The News Journal
PHILADELPHIA — Confronting the anger and resentment of blacks and whites, Sen. Barack Obama on Tuesday delivered his deepest assessment yet on the politics of race.
Over the first 13 months of his campaign, Obama had escaped most attempts to define his candidacy in purely racial terms.
But weeks of criticism over racially charged comments made by his former pastor forced Obama to redirect his stump speech from the rhetoric of unity to an examination of our country’s mutual divisions.
The campaign has taken a “divisive turn,” Obama said.
“On one end of the spectrum, we’ve heard the implication that my candidacy is somehow an exercise in affirmative action, that it’s based solely on the desire of wide-eyed liberals to purchase racial reconciliation on the cheap,” said Obama, who chose the National Constitution Center, and the symbolism of the nation’s founding principles, as a backdrop.
“On the other end, we’ve heard my former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, use incendiary language to express views that have the potential not only to widen the racial divide, but views that denigrate both the greatness and the goodness of our nation; that rightly offend white and black alike.”
Before a small group of about 160 supporters, Obama reminded the crowd of his own heritage — the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas, and the husband of a woman with “the blood of slaves and slave owners” in her veins.
“I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins, of every race and every hue, scattered across three continents, and for as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible,” he said.
The politics of race have boiled just below the surface of Obama’s run for the Democratic nomination. A little more than a year ago, U.S. Sen. Joe Biden, a presidential hopeful until Iowa, said Obama was “the first mainstream African-American [presidential candidate] who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.”
Biden quickly apologized. Before the South Carolina primary, President Bill Clinton said his wife might lose the state because of race, eliciting a rebuke from the Obama camp and debate over which campaign was using race as a weapon.
More recently, Geraldine A. Ferraro, the Democratic vice presidential candidate in 1984, left Clinton’s campaign after suggesting Obama wouldn’t be where he is today if he were white. But it was a reexamination of Wright’s denunciations of the government and description of the United States as fundamentally racist that drove Obama to deliver his most deliberate examination of race since announcing his run for the nomination.
Wright, who was advising Obama’s campaign until the recent criticism, retired last month from Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ.
On this Tuesday, Obama avoided campaign promises. He again condemned Wright’s fiery sermons, describing them as “a distorted view of this country.”
He said his campaign could have ignored the comments and the matter of race in hopes the issue would fade.
“But race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now,” he said. “We would be making the same mistake that Rev. Wright made in his offending sermons about America — to simplify and stereotype and amplify the negative to the point that it distorts reality.”
The history of legalized discrimination, a lack of economic opportunity, and the “reality” that black people grew up with in the ’50s and ’60s have caused many to harbor a deep anger, he said. This anger isn’t discussed in front of white co-workers or friends, but often finds expression at dinner tables, barbershops and occasionally at the pulpit.
Similarly, white Americans — many of whom share the immigrant experience of working to build their lives from scratch — watch the economy sour, jobs shipped overseas and pensions lost, then see affirmative action as a punishment for a crime they never committed.
“Like the anger within the black community, these resentments aren’t always expressed in polite company,” Obama said. “But they have helped shape the political landscape for at least a generation.”
Refusing to turn his back on his longtime pastor, Obama said Wright is “like family to me,” and a more spiritual leader and tolerant person than the clips on “endless loop” on YouTube and news networks have depicted.
“I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community,” Obama said. “I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother … a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street.”
Obama’s speech drew praise from Biden, who called it powerful, truthful and “one of most important speeches we’ve heard in a long time.”
“He told the story of America — both the good and the bad — and I believe his speech will come to represent an important step forward in race relations in our country,” said Biden, who has not endorsed Obama or New York Sen. Hillary Clinton.
Clinton who spoke at Philadelphia City Hall just hours later, and placed Obama’s speech and campaign alongside hers in the annals of Democratic politics.
“Issues of race and gender in America have been complicated throughout our history, and they are complicated in this primary campaign,” said Clinton. “There have been detours and pitfalls along the way, but we should remember that this is a historic moment for the Democratic Party and for our country. We will be nominating the first African-American or woman for the presidency of the United States, and that is something that all Americans can and should celebrate.”
Aides said Obama wrote the speech himself, editing into the evening on Monday. His wife, Michelle Obama, rushed to Philadelphia to listen.
Ron Walters, a political scientist at the University of Maryland and former adviser to the Rev. Jesse Jackson, said the speech made an interesting tie between Wright and Obama’s white grandmother.
“That was about Obama saying that he could no more turn away from Rev. Wright for his racial descriptions of life than he could turn away from his white grandmother for her racial descriptions of life, that he disagreed with both, but that he was not going to disavow either,” Walters said. “A lot of people expected with this speech that Obama would throw the reverend under the bus, or the church under the bus. He did not do that.”
Those in the audience, mainly volunteers and supporters, called the speech “moving” and said it highlighted the need to discuss racial issues in America.
“He is uniquely positioned to deliver that kind of message,” said Sherly Mobley-Stimpson, 50, of South Philadelphia.
The country is ready to hear and discuss the message Obama delivered about race, said Jill Ross-Stein, 45, of Villanova.
Mobley-Stimpson and Ross-Stein had never met before Tuesday, but they found common ground as they waited for the speech to begin.
“He has a sensitivity to people,” Ross-Stein, who is white, said. “He gets it.”
“And communicates it,” said Mobley-Stimpson, who is black.
This story contains information from the Associated Press.
‘I will deliver,’ Clinton tells Philadelphia crowd
Candidate touches on race issue before turning to resolving Iraq war, economy
By GINGER GIBSON
The News Journal
PHILADELPHIA — During a quick campaign stop in this delegate-rich state, U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York briefly touched on the racial politics jarring her Democratic opponent before focusing her remarks on the economy and Iraq.
“The fact is there is no military solution to Iraq’s civil war,” Clinton said. “A well-planned withdrawal is the one and only path to a political solution.”
Speaking just hours after U.S. Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois delivered a landmark speech on race at the National Constitution Center across town, Clinton was joined by Mayor Michael Nutter, a key backer. In last year’s mayoral primary, Nutter defeated U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah despite Obama’s efforts on Fattah’s behalf.
“I did not have a chance to see or read yet Sen. Obama’s speech, but I’m very glad he gave it,” Clinton said. “It’s an important topic.”
This year’s election will be historic because either a woman or black man will be nominated by the Democratic party, Clinton said in a line she has often repeated. And Pennsylvania’s April 22 primary and 158 delegates are suddenly the focus of a race fewer than 200 delegates apart.
Responding to questions that her supporters are making race an issue in the election, Clinton said she has tried to steer her staff away from playing racial or gender politics.
“The opportunity for America will be in choosing a president who can best solve the big challenges our country faces,” Clinton said.
The next president must end U.S. military involvement in Iraq, she said, bring stability to the region, and provide for the veterans of the conflict.
“The test is not the speeches the president delivers, but if the president delivers on the speeches,” Clinton said. “And I will deliver.”
Valerie Plame, the CIA operative whose outing in 2003 prompted congressional hearings and debate about President Bush’s justification for invading Iraq, joined her husband, former Ambassador Joe Wilson, in supporting Clinton at the Philadelphia event.
Both praised Clinton’s plans for a beginning of the withdrawal of troops from Iraq within the first 60 days of her presidency.
Clinton acknowledged that the troop surge in Iraq has worked to slow the death toll, nearing 4,000 since the invasion five years ago. But she said it was not completely successful because it did not satisfy its declared goal — providing Iraqi government officials with the “time and space” to establish their own government.
“They will not step up and do what they must do unless they are convinced we’re in the process of a withdrawal,” Clinton said.
Clinton fielded several questions about the economy, the decision by the Federal Reserve to cut a key interest rate, and the downfall of the investment bank Bear Stearns Co.
Clinton said the root of much of the economy’s problems lies in the dramatic increase in home foreclosures and the mortgage problems tied to subprime lending.
“You can’t just focus on Wall Street, you have to focus on Main Street,” Clinton said.
MURTHA ENDORSES CLINTON
Pennsylvania Rep. John Murtha, a decorated Vietnam War veteran who caused an uproar on Capitol Hill in 2005 by calling for an end to the war in Iraq, announced Tuesday that he is supporting Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton for the Democratic nomination for president. A retired colonel in the Marine Reserves, Murtha was the first Vietnam War veteran elected to Congress and is chairman of the appropriations subcommittee that controls defense spending. Murtha is also one of the so-called superdelegates, prominent party officials and elected leaders who can side with any candidate.
Biden gives no clues to standing in veepstakes
Network reporters keep vigil at senator’s driveway
By GINGER GIBSON and NICOLE GAUDIANO — Wednesday, August 20, 2008
The News Journal
GREENVILLE — A few reporters, a security guard, and a pizza delivery man stood outside the home of Sen. Joe Biden on Tuesday afternoon, awaiting dinner and the name of the next Democratic candidate for vice president.
It could be Biden. Or Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine or Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh. Or one of the other buzzworthy candidates.
Biden, unusually shy for the cameras waiting outside his home, brushed off attempts to nail him down on his plans before Monday’s Democratic National Convention in Denver.
“You got better things to do, guys,” he told reporters. “I’m not the guy.”
Of course, he could be joking, playing coy, not know yet, or he really might not be the guy. Biden didn’t hang around for questions, driving down and out his long driveway before reporters could catch up.
Biden spokeswoman Elizabeth Alexander clarified later Tuesday that Biden was repeating to reporters outside his home what he has said previously: that he doesn’t expect to be asked. She said he hadn’t spoken with anyone at the Obama campaign as of early Tuesday evening.
Illinois Sen. Barack Obama has reportedly made his VP choice and is orchestrating the media blitz, complete with text messages and e-mail alerts to subscribers to his campaign Web site.
Biden was curt when asked where he would be on Saturday when Obama is planning on speaking in Springfield, Ill.
Biden pointed to his driveway and said, “Here.”
He ignored another question, flung from 20 yards, about Springfield. With reporters hanging on the answer, Biden showed his security guard one of the clubs from his golf bag.
Biden is supposed to be in Delaware on Saturday to teach a class in constitutional law.
Mary Allen, a Widener University School of Law spokeswoman, said the college has been in contact with Biden and his staff but the schedule remains in flux. “We’re in a little bit of limbo,” Allen said. “We are waiting and watching like everybody else.”
As the Democratic veepstakes nears its finish, political pundits continue to pore over clues. Obama is heading to Virginia this week — could it be Kaine? Bayh is speaking on Aug. 27 in Denver, the same day the vice presidential nominee will speak — could it be Bayh?
Not according to Howard Fineman at MSNBC, who is hearing from his sources that Biden is the front-runner.
Some of Fineman’s colleagues at NBC were dividing a pizza from Seasons outside Biden’s home Tuesday afternoon when the senator pulled his pickup to the gate separating his large front yard from the waiting reporters.
NBC sent a producer and cameraman. ABC had one guy waiting in the driveway, but the network also sent a crew to the New Castle Airport.
After Biden’s ambiguous quote, the network reporters returned to their pizza and lasagna and folding chairs.
Earlier Tuesday, Obama called Biden “my friend” in a speech praising the Delaware senator’s call for reconstruction aid for the Republic of Georgia.
Obama said he would join Biden in seeking $1 billion in assistance for the country invaded by Russia more than a week ago. Biden returned from a fact-finding trip on Monday with strong words for Russia and a call for aid and an international peacekeeping force.
Whether Obama’s speech at the VFW National Convention in Orlando, Fla., provides a clue in the veepstakes mystery is anyone’s guess. Biden and Obama also seem to be on the same page regarding Pakistan, whose president, Pervez Musharraf, stepped down this week.
Obama used a phrase Tuesday often associated with Biden about the United States moving from a “Musharraf policy” to a “Pakistan policy.”
“I argued for years that we need to move from a ‘Musharraf policy’ to a ‘Pakistan policy,’ ” Obama said. “We must move beyond an alliance built on mere convenience or a relationship with one man.”
Biden spokeswoman Annie Tomasini said the senator was unavailable for an interview Tuesday about the Georgia trip or his vice presidential prospects.
BIDEN COULD RUN FOR VP AND SENATE, TOO
If Joe Biden is selected to be the vice presidential candidate, he could run for the Senate at the same time.
Delaware Elections Commissioner Elaine Manlove said state law allows a person to run for two offices at once, a precedent that is not uncommon across the country. Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut ran for his seat and was on the Democratic ballot under Sen. Al Gore.
If Biden were to win both offices, he would have to resign one of them because a person cannot be sworn into two constitutional offices at once, Manlove said.
Biden would have until his term as VP begins — at noon on Jan. 20 — to resign his Senate seat. Once his resignation is submitted, the sitting governor would then appoint someone to replace him.
The matter of who would be the sitting governor is more complicated. Delaware’s new governor will be sworn in on the same day as the new president. Who picks the replacement could come down to a matter of hours.
Article III of the state constitution says the new governor will take office on the third Tuesday in January. The constitution does not specify a time.
When Gov. Ruth Ann Minner was sworn into office for her second term, the official oath of office took place at noon. But Manlove said she is unsure whether state law mandates it take place at a specific time.
If the new governor were to be sworn in before noon, Biden could wait until the last minute to resign and let the new governor make the decision.
Manlove said a special election would not be held to replace Biden in the Senate, and the replacement would serve for two years until the next federal election date in 2010.
— GINGER GIBSON
A day of deep drama — and doughnuts
By GINGER GIBSON — Saturday, August 23, 2008
The News Journal
The anticipation outside U.S. Sen. Joe Biden’s Greenville house — which has been growing all week — became even more tense Friday.
The mood was due to heightened speculation that Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama was about to name Biden as his vice presidential running mate.
And the nation’s press corps, stationed on a grassy patch along Barley Mill Road, was ready to report it.
Or at least try.
Here are some of the high points — or low points — of Friday’s high-tech watch:
9 a.m. — The crowd outside the home continues to grow, doubling in size from previous days. Armed with doughnuts, coffee and folding chairs, reporters so far have little cause to spring into action.
9:30 — That changes when a woman is seen leaving the Biden residence. She stops to take photos of the assembled media who photograph her in return. She’s only here, she says, to wish the senator luck. She leaves without giving her name.
11 — New Castle County police are called to the Biden home. Someone, police don’t know who, has expressed a concern that some of those camped outside are getting too close.
11 — The watch expands to the New Castle Airport. Word spreads that a jet is waiting to take Biden to Obama. Photographers are dispatched.
11:30 — A Biden spokesman rolls onto Barley Mill Road with a county police escort and parks inside the gate. Will police escort Biden out? The wait continues.
1:30 p.m. — The media briefly focus their spotlights on an unlikely trio of “insiders” — gardeners who were let onto the property to work on the lawn.
The lawn is healthy.
And there was no unusual activity around the house.
1:45 — Interest in the gardeners wanes. A woman, reported to be Biden’s mother, is driven away in a van.
2:45 — A neighbor, who asks not to be identified, says she is happy about the press presence. It’s caused motorists to slow down while driving down her street.
3:30 — Valerie Lee, another neighbor, stops by with a dozen apples for reporters to snack on.
Lee isn’t concerned about the possibility of the Secret Service and media moving into her neighborhood.
“Joe is very gifted in foreign affairs,” Lee says. “I’m hoping he’ll be used.”
5 — A third neighbor, Stephanie Cutrano, wants a picture of 3-year-old twins Robert and Alyssa, near history. So she brings them to Biden’s front yard to get a picture of the pair sitting among the media.
“Will you remember this?” Cutrano asks the twins.
They continue munching their mango treats.
5:30 — Biden still hasn’t emerged. The watch continues.