Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

April 28, 2008

Host: Ted Simons

&mddot; Leonard Pitts

  • A conversation with the nationally syndicated and Pulitzer prize-winning columnist about 9/11 and the candidacy of Barack Obama.
  • Leonard Pitts - Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist

View Transcript
Ted Simons:
Pulitzer Prize winning syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts was at A.S.U. recently. He presented a 2008 A. Wade Smith memorial lecture on race relations. This was thrust into the spotlight immediately after 9/11 when a column he wrote ws given wide circulation on the internet. Larry Lemmons spoke with Leonard Pitts before Pitts delivered his lecture.

Larry Lemmons:
After 9/11 you wrote an editorial that was widely circulated throughout the internet calling the perpetrators of that "you monsters, you beasts, you unspeakable bastards." After this time now what sort of thoughts do you have about the direction the country has gone?

Leonard Pitts:
I'm disappointed in the direction the country has gone since then. I think we have taken our eye off the ball in terms of finding the people who were responsible for what happened on September 11th, 2001, and bringing them to justice. We got sidetracked in this massive misadventure in Iraq, but intelligence at the time properly read showed that had nothing to do with what happened on September 11th. I'm disappointed. I really want to see our efforts focused again where they should be, on not just capturing those who were responsible for September 11th but doing what needs to be done socially, politically and militarily to ensure that things like this don't happen again.

Larry Lemmons:
As a segue to what you're talking about tonight in Tempe, race, politics and the drama of Obama, Barack Obama was the only one who can say he was against the Iraq war from the outset. What does that do for him in this election?

Leonard Pitts:
I think it will help mainly with the ideologically driven voters, Democratic, Independent, maybe a few Republicans, there's a certain strain of the American electorate that demands purity. Ideological purity of its candidate so it's not enough to say I supported township and I don't now. That's almost not allowed. It has to be said I didn't support it then, I have never supported it. For a big slice of the electoral pie they belong exclusively to him. The question again is how big a slice it turns out to be.

Larry Lemmons:
What's the premise of your talk tonight?

Leonard Pitts:
The premise of my talk is there's a lot of premises but the main premise is Barack Obama by dint of his mere existence in this race, not so much by anything he's said or done but by the fact that he's a black man stands a very good chance of becoming the next president of the United States forces us into dialogues that we, you know, have needed to have for a long time but never have had. When I say us as African Americans, us as white Americans, us as Americans, period. His very existence is premise for a lot of healthy and unhealthy discussion that we have put off for way too long.

Larry Lemmons:
I would like you to speculate.

Leonard Pitts:

Larry Lemmons:
What if Barack Obama is elected president. What do you believe that will do for the African American community in the United States?

Leonard Pitts:
I think there will be a lot of -- a lot of pride. There may also be unrealistic expectations in terms of what he would be able to do to confront issues of race, issues of discrimination. I happen to be of the theory, this is just my personal suspicion, that he would actually be a little handicapped in dealing with those issues in a way that a white candidate would not. The theory that only Nixon could go to China. Can a black president really deal with African American issues without being seen as pandering to or giving something to the community he came from as opposed to being an American statesman dealing with an American problem. I think he would have great difficulty with that.

Larry Lemmons:
Will there ever come a time, and Barack Obama has to win to make this so, when people just won't be thinking about that sort of thing?

Leonard Pitts:
Yes, I'm looking for our first Jewish president, our first woman president, our first gay president. We have a lot of firsts to do before that's no longer remarkable. Our next African American secretary of state may not be such a ground breaker because we have had Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell. It takes that. It takes seeing those firsts normalized. I wrote many years ago, I'm tired of saying African American first because it's wonderful, it's great history but also the fact that we're still having firsts in the new millennium underscores for me how slow progress has been and again how far we have yet to travel.

Larry Lemmons:
Leonard Pitts, thanks for speaking to "Horizon."

Leonard Pitts:
Pleasure. Thank you for having me.

Ted Simons:
That is it for now. Thank you so much for joining me. I'm Ted Simons. You have a great evening.

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