President Obama & Marilynne Robinson: A Conversation in Iowa

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Interviews, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2015-11-27 01:16Z by Steven

President Obama & Marilynne Robinson: A Conversation in Iowa

The New York Review of Books

President Barack Obama

Marilynne Robinson

President Obama and Marilynne Robinson at the Iowa State Library, Des Moines, September 2015 (Pete Souza/White House)

The following conversation between President Obama and Marilynne Robinson was conducted in Des Moines, Iowa, on September 14. An audio recording of it can be heard at —The Editors

The President: Marilynne, it’s wonderful to see you. And as I said as we were driving over here, this is an experiment, because typically when I come to a place like Des Moines, I immediately am rushed over to some political event and I make a speech, or I have a town hall, or I go see some factory and have wonderful conversations with people. But it’s very planned out and scripted. And typically, we’re trying to drive a very particular message that day about education or about manufacturing.

But one of the things that I don’t get a chance to do as often as I’d like is just to have a conversation with somebody who I enjoy and I’m interested in; to hear from them and have a conversation with them about some of the broader cultural forces that shape our democracy and shape our ideas, and shape how we feel about citizenship and the direction that the country should be going in.

And so we had this idea that why don’t I just have a conversation with somebody I really like and see how it turns out. And you were first in the queue, because—

Marilynne Robinson: Thank you very much.

The President: Well, as you know—I’ve told you this—I love your books. Some listeners may not have read your work before, which is good, because hopefully they’ll go out and buy your books after this conversation.

I first picked up Gilead, one of your most wonderful books, here in Iowa. Because I was campaigning at the time, and there’s a lot of downtime when you’re driving between towns and when you get home late from campaigning. And you and I, therefore, have an Iowa connection, because Gilead is actually set here in Iowa…

Robinson: And also, one of the things that doesn’t take into account is that local governments can be great systems of oppression. And it’s a wonderful thing to have a national government that can intervene in the name of national values.

The President: Well, that was the lesson of the entire movement to abolish slavery and the civil rights movement. And that’s one thing—I mean, I do think that one of the things we haven’t talked about that does become the fault line around which the “us” and “them” formula rears its head is the fault line of race. And even on something like schools that you just discussed, part of the challenge is that the school systems we have are wonderful, except for a handful of schools that are predominantly minority that are terrible.

Our systems for maintaining the peace and our criminal justice systems generally work, except for this huge swath of the population that is incarcerated at rates that are unprecedented in world history.

And when you are thinking about American democracy or, for that matter, Christianity in your writings, how much does that issue of “the other” come up and how do you think about that? I know at least in Gilead that factors into one major character, trying to figure out how he can love somebody in the Fifties that doesn’t look like him.

Robinson: Iowa never had laws against interracial marriage. Only Iowa and Maine never had [them]—

The President: Those were the only two.

Robinson: Yes. And [Ulysses S.] Grant really did call [Iowa] the shining star of radicalism, and so on. We never had segregated schools; they were illegal from before, while it was still a territory, and so on. And these laws never changed and they became the basis for the marriage equality ruling that the Supreme Court here [in Iowa] did.

So that whole stream of the culture never changed. And at the same time, the felt experience of the culture was not aligned with the liberal tradition [of the] culture. And so in that book, Jack has every right to think he can come to Iowa, and yet what he finds makes him frightened even to raise the question…

Read the entire conversation here. Read part 2 of the conversation here.

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A Change Has Come: Race, Politics, and the Path to the Obama Presidency

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science, United States on 2015-11-27 00:25Z by Steven

A Change Has Come: Race, Politics, and the Path to the Obama Presidency

Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race
Volume 6, Issue 01, Spring 2009
pages 1-14
DOI: 10.1017/S1742058X09090018

Lawrence D. Bobo, W. E. B. Du Bois Professor of the Social Sciences
Harvard University

Michael C. Dawson, John D. MacArthur Professor of Political Science
University of Chicago

Has Barack Obama’s success transformed the racial divide? Did he somehow transcend or help bring to an end centuries of racial division in the United States? Did he deliberately run a strategically race-neutral, race-evading campaign? Did his race and ingrained American racism constrain the reach of his success? Have we arrived at that postracial moment that has long been the stuff of dreams and high oratory? Or was the outcome of the 2008 presidential election driven entirely by nonracial factors, such as a weak Republican ticket, an incumbent party saddled with defending an unpopular war, and a worsening economic crisis? It is at once too simple and yet entirely appropriate to say that the answers to these questions are, in a phrase, complicated matters. These complexities can, however, be brought into sharper focus.

Read the entire article here.

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NASA Mathematician Receives Medal of Freedom

Posted in Barack Obama, Biography, History, Media Archive, United States, Videos, Women on 2015-11-26 02:42Z by Steven

NASA Mathematician Receives Medal of Freedom

NBC News

Katherine G. Johnson calculated the flight path for the first American mission to space. The 97-year-old was one of 17 Americans who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom Tuesday.

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President Obama Names Recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Biography, History, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2015-11-26 01:52Z by Steven

President Obama Names Recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom

Office of the Press Secretary
The White House
Washington, D.C.


WASHINGTON, DC – Today, President Barack Obama named seventeen recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the Nation’s highest civilian honor, presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors. The awards will be presented at the White House on November 24th.

President Obama said, “I look forward to presenting these 17 distinguished Americans with our nation’s highest civilian honor. From public servants who helped us meet defining challenges of our time to artists who expanded our imaginations, from leaders who have made our union more perfect to athletes who have inspired millions of fans, these men and women have enriched our lives and helped define our shared experience as Americans.”

The following individuals will be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom:…

Katherine G. Johnson

Katherine G. Johnson is a pioneer in American space history. A NASA mathematician, Johnson’s computations have influenced every major space program from Mercury through the Shuttle program. Johnson was hired as a research mathematician at the Langley Research Center with the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), the agency that preceded NASA, after they opened hiring to African-Americans and women. Johnson exhibited exceptional technical leadership and is known especially for her calculations of the 1961 trajectory for Alan Shepard’s flight (first American in space), the 1962 verification of the first flight calculation made by an electronic computer for John Glenn’s orbit (first American to orbit the earth), and the 1969 Apollo 11 trajectory to the moon. In her later NASA career, Johnson worked on the Space Shuttle program and the Earth Resources Satellite and encouraged students to pursue careers in science and technology fields…

Image of Katherine Johnson at NASA Langley Research Center in 1980. (Source: NASA)

Read the entire press release here.

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People talked of a ‘post-racial’ US when I arrived in 2008. That seems ludicrous now

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2015-11-13 19:43Z by Steven

People talked of a ‘post-racial’ US when I arrived in 2008. That seems ludicrous now

The Guardian

Hari Kunzru

I arrived in New York in 2008, in the midst of a bitterly fought election campaign. When Barack Obama declared victory, I was standing at the corner of 125th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Jr Boulevard, the historic heart of Harlem, as part of an emotional crowd watching the speech on a big screen. People around me were in tears. I have never been hugged by so many strangers. Even for someone sceptical about the new president’s ability to deliver on his promise of “hope and change”, the symbolism of a black family in the White House was deeply moving.

Everyone tends to see the world through the prism of their own experience, and I had been lucky enough, in Britain, to live through a period of real racial hope and change, from the frank terror I had felt as a “Paki” kid in the early 80s, to feeling part of a confident “second generation” of British Asians who were suddenly visible in many areas of public life in the late 90s and early 2000s. That period of progress was brought to a grinding halt by 9/11, of course, but those years left me with a streak of Whiggish optimism that now seems naive.

The viciousness of the backlash against Obama was, I thought at the time, only to be expected – all the watermelon jokes and Republican intransigence just the nasty death throes of a racist culture that was steadily being consigned to history. Still, it was a surprise to hear that we were suddenly living in a new “post-racial” era. It was self-evidently childish to imagine that the toxic social legacy of slavery could be eradicated at a stroke by one man’s election, yet many commentators were claiming precisely that; it was as if they couldn’t wait to draw a line, to consign it definitively to the past.

As Obama prepares to leave office, nobody is talking about a post-racial America. Since the Ferguson uprising of summer 2014, the largest movement for black civil rights since the 60s has coalesced. Their enemies have intersecting agendas. Adherents to the millennarian ideology that misleadingly calls itself conservatism are itching to tear everything down and build the City of God, which for a good many of them is apparently a place where white householders shall have justified dominion over the dusky races. Law and order fundamentalists see any questioning of the police’s use of deadly force as the first step on the road to anarchy, and point to the high murder rates in some poor black communities as evidence that, without armed white “supervision”, some innate racial tendency to crime will manifest itself…

Read the entire article here.

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Young Mr. Obama: Chicago and the Making of a Black President

Posted in Barack Obama, Biography, Books, Media Archive, Monographs, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2015-10-26 00:54Z by Steven

Young Mr. Obama: Chicago and the Making of a Black President

Bloomsbury Press
288 pages
5 1/2″ x 8 1/4″
Hardback ISBN: 9781608190607

Edward McClelland

Barack Obama’s inspirational politics and personal mythology have overshadowed his fascinating history. Young Mr. Obama gives us the missing chapter: the portrait of the politician as a young leader, often too ambitious for his own good, but still equipped with a rare ability to inspire change. The route to the White House began on the streets of Chicago’s South Side.

Edward McClelland, a veteran Chicago journalist, tells the real story of the first black president’s political education in the capital of the African American political community. Obama’s touch wasn’t always golden, and the unflappable and charismatic campaigner we know today nearly derailed his political career with a disastrous run for Congress in 2000.

Obama learned from his mistakes, and rebuilt his public persona. Young Mr. Obama is a masterpiece of political reporting, peeling away the audacity, the T-shirts, and the inspiring speeches to craft a compelling and surpassingly readable account of how local politics shaped a national leader.

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I Heart Obama

Posted in Barack Obama, Books, Forthcoming Media, Monographs, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2015-10-26 00:23Z by Steven

I Heart Obama

University Press of New England
256 pages
5 1/2 x 8 1/2″
Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-61168-536-7
Ebook IBSN: 978-1-61168-967-9

Erin Aubry Kaplan

A personal and cultural exploration of Barack Obama as black president, black icon, and black folk hero

In his nearly two terms as president, Barack Obama has solidified his status as something black people haven’t had for fifty years: a folk hero. The 1960s delivered Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, forever twinned as larger-than-life outsiders and truth tellers who took on racism and died in the process. Obama is different: Not an outsider but president, head of the most powerful state in the world; a centrist Democrat, not the face of a movement. Yet he is every bit a folk hero, doing battle with the beast of a system created to keep people like him on the margins. He is unique among presidents and entirely unique among black people, who never expected to have a president so soon.

In I Heart Obama, journalist Erin Aubry Kaplan offers an unapologetic appreciation of our highest-ranking “First” and what he means to black Americans. In the process, she explores the critiques of those in the black community who charge that he has not done enough, been present enough, been black enough to motivate real change in America. Racial antipathy cloaked as political antipathy has been the major conflict in Obama’s presidency. His impossible task as an individual and as a president is nothing less than this: to reform the entire racist culture of the country he leads. Black people know he can’t do it, but will support his effort anyway, as they have supported the efforts of many others. Obama’s is a noble and singular story we will tell for generations. I Heart Obama looks at the story so far.


  • Introduction
  • Obama the Folk Hero: What He Means to Us
  • Obama Represents
  • Obama Leads
  • Who Is This Guy?
  • Is Obama Bad for Us?
  • Epilogue: I Heart Obama
  • Bibliography
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Why Today’s GOP Crackup Is the Final Unraveling of Nixon’s ‘Southern Strategy’

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Economics, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2015-10-16 17:56Z by Steven

Why Today’s GOP Crackup Is the Final Unraveling of Nixon’s ‘Southern Strategy’

The Nation

William Greider

Tea Party rebels are exposing the deep rifts between country-club elites and social-issue hard-liners.

Fresh chatter among Washington insiders is not about whether the Republican Party will win in 2016 but whether it will survive. Donald Trump — the fear that he might actually become the GOP nominee — is the ultimate nightmare. Some gleeful Democrats are rooting (sotto voce) for the Donald, though many expect he will self-destruct.

Nevertheless, Republicans face a larger problem. The GOP finds itself trapped in a marriage that has not only gone bad but is coming apart in full public view. After five decades of shrewd strategy, the Republican coalition Richard Nixon put together in 1968 — welcoming the segregationist white South into the Party of Lincoln — is now devouring itself in ugly, spiteful recriminations.

The abrupt resignation of House Speaker John Boehner was his capitulation to this new reality. His downfall was loudly cheered by many of his own troops — the angry right-wingers in the House who have turned upon the party establishment. Chaos followed. The discontented accuse party leaders of weakness and betraying their promises to the loyal rank and file

At the heart of this intramural conflict is the fact that society has changed dramatically in recent decades, but the GOP has refused to change with it. Americans are rapidly shifting toward more tolerant understandings of personal behavior and social values, but the Republican Party sticks with retrograde social taboos and hard-edged prejudices about race, gender, sexual freedom, immigration, and religion. Plus, it wants to do away with big government (or so it claims)…

…In 2008, when Americans elected our first black president, most of the heavy smears came after Barack Obama took office. Grassroots conservatives imagined bizarre fears: Obama wasn’t born in America; he was a secret Muslim. Donald Trump demanded to see the birth certificate. GOP leaders like Senator Mitch McConnell — who had been a civil-rights advocate in his youth — could have discouraged the demonizing slurs. Instead, McConnell launched his own take-no-prisoners strategy to obstruct anything important Obama hoped to accomplish.

At least until now, Republicans have gotten away with this bigotry. As a practical matter, there was no political price. Democrats often seemed reluctant to call them out, fearful that it might encourage even greater racial backlash. Indeed, the Dems developed their own modest Southern strategy — electing centrists Jimmy Carter of Georgia and later Bill Clinton of Arkansas to the White House. But the hope that Democrats could make peace with Dixie by moderating their liberalism was a fantasy. Conservatives upped the ante and embraced additional right-wing social causes…

…A Republican lobbyist of my acquaintance whose corporate client has been caught in the middle of the political disturbances shared a provocative insight. “I finally figured it out,” he told me. “Obama created the tea party.” I laughed at first, but he explained what he meant. “We told people that Obama was a dangerous socialist who was going to wreck America and he had to be stopped, when really we knew he was a moderate Democrat, not all that radical,” the lobbyist said. “But they believed us.”

In other words, the extremist assaults on the black president, combined with the economic failures, were deeply alarming for ordinary people and generated a sense of terminal crisis that was wildly exaggerated. But it generated popular expectations that Republicans must stand up to this threat with strong countermeasures — to win back political control and save the country. I suggested that racial overtones were also at work. “That’s your opinion,” the lobbyist said. “I don’t know about that.”…

Read the entire article here.

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The Year We Obsessed Over Identity

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2015-10-15 01:40Z by Steven

The Year We Obsessed Over Identity

The New York Times

Wesley Morris, Critic at Large

2015’s headlines and cultural events have confronted us with the malleability of racial, gender, sexual and reputational lines. Who do we think we are?

A few weeks ago, I sat in a movie theater and grinned. Anne Hathaway was in ‘‘The Intern,’’ perched on a hotel bed in a hotel robe, eating from a can of overpriced nuts, having tea and freaking out. What would happen if she divorced her sweet, selfless stay-at-home dad of a husband? Would she ever meet anybody else? And if she didn’t, she would have no one to be buried next to — she’d be single for all eternity. And weren’t the problems in her marriage a direct result of her being a successful businesswoman — she was there but never quite present? ‘‘The Intern’’ is a Nancy Meyers movie, and these sorts of cute career-woman meltdowns are the Eddie Van Halen guitar solos of her romantic comedies.

But what’s funny about that scene — what had me grinning — is the response of the person across the bed from Hathaway. After listening to her tearful rant, this person has had enough: Don’t you dare blame yourself or your career! Actually, the interruption begins, ‘‘I hate to be the feminist, of the two of us. … ’’ Hate to be because the person on the other side of the bed isn’t Judy Greer or Brie Larson. It’s not Meryl Streep or Susan Sarandon. It’s someone not far from the last person who comes to mind when you think ‘‘soul-baring bestie.’’ It’s Robert freaking De Niro, portrayer of psychos, savages and grouches no more.

On that bed with Hathaway, as her 70-year-old intern, he’s not Travis Bickle or the human wall of intolerance from those Focker movies. He’s Lena Dunham. The attentiveness and stern feminism coming out of his mouth are where the comedy is. And while it’s perfectly obvious what Meyers is doing to De Niro — girlfriending him — that doesn’t make the overhaul any less effective. The whole movie is about the subtle and obvious ways in which men have been overly sensitized and women made self-estranged through breadwinning. It’s both a plaint against the present and a pining for the past, but also an acceptance that we are where we are…

In June, the story of a woman named Rachel Dolezal began its viral spread through the news. She had recently been appointed president of the local chapter of the N.A.A.C.P. in Spokane, Wash. She had been married to a black man, had two black sons and was, by most accounts, a black woman. Her white biological parents begged to differ. The ensuing scandal resurrected questions about the nature of identity — what compelled Dolezal to darken her skin, perm her hair and pass in reverse? She might not have been biologically black, but she seemed well past feeling spiritually white.

Some people called her ‘‘transracial.’’ Others found insult in her masquerade, particularly when the country’s attention was being drawn, day after day, to how dangerous it can be to have black skin. The identities of the black men and women killed by white police officers and civilians, under an assortment of violent circumstances, remain fixed.

But there was something oddly compelling about Dolezal, too. She represented — dementedly but also earnestly — a longing to transcend our historical past and racialized present. This is a country founded on independence and yet comfortable with racial domination, a country that has forever been trying to legislate the lines between whiteness and nonwhiteness, between borrowing and genocidal theft. We’ve wanted to think we’re better than a history we can’t seem to stop repeating. Dolezal’s unwavering certainty that she was black was a measure of how seriously she believed in integration: It was as if she had arrived in a future that hadn’t yet caught up to her…

Read the entire article here.

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Art for Obama: Designing Manifest Hope And The Campaign For Change

Posted in Anthologies, Arts, Barack Obama, Books, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2015-10-14 00:33Z by Steven

Art for Obama: Designing Manifest Hope And The Campaign For Change

184 pages
150 full-color illustrations
Trim Size: 9 x 11
Paperback ISBN: 0-8109-8498-9

Edited by:

Shepard Fairey

Jennifer Gross

Few events in recent memory have captivated the world’s attention like that of Barack Obama’s historic presidential campaign. Not only did it stir passionate political momentum, but it also inspired the creative talents of a world of artists, illustrators, and graphic designers.

Shepard Fairey’s iconic Hope portrait became the face of the campaign and, more than ever before, innovative graphic design became a central strategy for winning the race.

Comprised of collages, paintings, photo composites, prints, and computer-generated pieces, Art for Obama showcases the well-known images of the campaign as well as less famous but equally creative pieces from around the globe. This is a volume for design and art aficionados, as well as supporters of the 44th President of the United States who want a keepsake as uncommon as his extraordinary campaign.

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