Former President Barack Obama says he was able to make solid “connections” with conservatives as a senator and a presidential candidate until Rush Limbaugh and Fox News destroyed the relationship.
Obama’s comments came Tuesday during a virtual gala with PEN America, which gave him its Voice of Influence Award, for “the power of his soaring words, the promises he has unlocked in our nation, and the enduring American values that he has embodied.”
“I ended up getting enormous support in these pretty conservative, rural, largely white communities when I was a senator, and that success was repeated when I ran for president in the first race in Iowa,” Obama said.
“By my second year in office, I’m not sure if I could make that same connection, because now those same people are filtering me through Fox News and Rush Limbaugh and an entire right-wing or conservative media infrastructure that was characterizing me in a way that suggested I looked down on those folks or had nothing in common with them,” he said.
The former president said there’s “no doubt that that is both a strength of mine as a politician was the ability to translate between worlds by necessity, because I was born into multiple worlds.”
Obama discussed his new memoir, “A Promised Land,” comparing it with his first, “Dreams from My Father.”
“As I describe in the book, it took me a while, and in some ways my first book was about how to integrate myself, how do I pull all these strands together to make a whole,” he said. “I guess this is the sequel where, having emerged relatively whole and having a sense of who I am and how I connect with everybody else, I now want to share the good news with the country as a whole.”
Former PEN America president and Pulitzer Prize-winning author and historian Ron Chernow, who conducted the interview, introduced a section from Obama’s new book.
“You’re a state senator in Illinois, you describe that you like to travel around the state, and the first time you went to downstate Illinois—which is a very conservative place, you said that your chief aide, I think his name was Dan Shomon, wondered how a black lawyer from Chicago with an Arab-sounding name would fare in southern Illinois,” Chernow said.
He read from the book: “Despite Dan’s worries that I’d be out of place, what struck me most during our travels was how familiar everything felt, whether we were at a county fair or a union hall or on the porch of someone’s farm in the way people described their families or their jobs—in them, I heard echoes of my grandparents, my mother, Michelle’s mom and dad. Same values, same hopes and dreams.”
But those “connections,” Obama said, were short-lived, because of Limbaugh and Fox News.
In Obama’s first presidential election, he spent nearly $11 for each vote he received, almost double the spending of his opponent, Sen. John McCain. According to a study, Obama also got 69% favorable coverage from the media to only 43% for McCain. Young voters also favored Obama heavily, along with Latinos, African-Americans and women.
The full interview:
Just the News noted that during his first presidential campaign, Obama said it was “not surprising” that small-town voters “get bitter” and “cling to guns and religion,” a comment that sparked an immediate backlash from conservatives.
In the interview, Obama contended the media “was unfair to me.”
He accused President Trump of “bullying” the media and claimed that a Joe Biden administration will return to the “norm.”
Obama said the “lines have blurred” between propaganda and journalism.
“The splintering of the press, the proliferation of outlets that can reach millions of people, the dissolution of journalistic standards that we had all come to expect in mainstream journalism—a lot of that has crumbled,” he said.
“So what you now have is a variety of very powerful news outlets that have no problem not just repeating falsehoods or misinformation, but disseminate them themselves, and the lines have blurred now between propaganda and what we would consider journalism in a way that has been described as truth decay,” he said. “You’ve got an epistemological problem where people don’t know now entirely what’s true and what’s not, and the old authorities and curators of what is factual are greatly weakened. That’s dangerous for our democracy, and I don’t think that that’s going to be solved just by a new president.”
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