By Brent Gardner-Smith, Aspen Journalism
Saturday, June 30 2012
Joe Klein of TIME caught some ears last night during a discussion of the presidency at the Hotel Jerome. The subject had turned to the growth of minority voters in America when Klein made the following comments.
“There is a fear out there,” Klein said. “When I talk to Tea Party groups out in the middle of the country, the subtext is this: ‘You know, we can deal with white-black stuff, we understood that, and we know that blacks are inferior. But all of a sudden we got all these other people coming in. Where do these South Asians, who are running all the convenience stores come from? And we got all these Mexicans who don’t even want to learn English. And my granddaughter just announced she’s a lesbian and my grandson is dating this black girl and the president of the United States doesn’t have the good sense to be either white or black and his middle name is Hussein. What happened to my country?’ It is very legitimate and tremendous fear.”
Andrea Mitchell of NBC followed up and talked about a subject that seems both over-covered and under-covered: the president’s race and people’s response to it.
“You hear it when you go out,” Mitchell said. “And Joe, you’ve touched on it. Some of it is race. Let’s face it. The White House doesn’t want to acknowledge that, certainly, but some of it is race.”
At an earlier session on politics this week, it was pointed out by E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post that President Obama did the worst in the 2008 election among white voters in the South. And Ron Brownstein on the National Journal pointed out that President Obama got the lowest percentage of votes by white voters in history, at 43 percent.
Former Senator George Mitchell then got the biggest applause of the evening when he addressed the idea that progress among minorities is somehow a “zero-sum” game.
“This is the last gasp of people who remember things better than they were and want to hold on to things and feel that is a zero-sum game and a fixed pie,” Mitchell said.
“And if those blacks and those Hispanics get something, it means I get less,” Mitchell said, paraphrasing the atitude of the people he was referencing.
“The challenge of leadership is for a president, black or white, to make clear that America was built on the opposite premise,” Mitchell said. “It isn’t a zero-sum game. Let’s expand the pie and everybody benefits. And I benefit when black children are educated. And you benefit when Hispanic children get to go to school, and everybody is better off. And that’s the real challenge of leadership in this country.”
Earlier in the panel discussion, which was entitled, “What does it take to be an effective president?” Joe Klein summed up what he has learned in covering different presidents.
“With Jimmy Carter I learned that an essential quality is that you got to respect the town,” Klein said. “You got to respect Washington and deal with it.
“With Ronald Reagen I learned that you got respect the details. You just couldn’t let the staff do it for you.
“With George. H.W. Bush, I learned that you had to have a vision.
“With Bill Clinton, I learned you that you had to have discipline,” Klein said, to laughter.
“With George W. Bush, I learned that you had to have an intellectual curiosity that invovled incovenient thoughts for yourself.
“And with Barack Obama, I’ve learned that you got to love the game,” Klein said.
“There’s a sense … that I’ve gotten from him that he finds the hugger-mugger, you know the gritty dirty dealing of politics, somehow demeaning and something that he wants to rise above, Klein said. “And if you don’t love the game, it’s gonna hurt you.”