I'm sure that you have seen by now, but last week there was an issue regarding a memo that one of our campaign staffers sent out. The memo was in response to comments made by Senator Clinton, but it was in poor taste and in no way reflected the thoughts, beliefs, or opinions of Senator Obama. Having worked for him for over 3 years, I can tell you that there is not one ounce of him that would say something even remotely close to what was put in the memo. Senator Obama was understandably furious and has been working to repair any damaged relationships.
Below is the text of an interview he did with www.rediff.com as well as an editorial from the Des Moines Register. Please share information with anyone who has come to you with questions or concerns.
Thanks, as always, for your support.
Des Moines Register: Basu: In revealing flaws, Obama scores points
By REKHA BASU
June 19, 2007
Politics can be an underhanded, hypocritical, grubby affair. No matter how many presidential candidates start out pledging to rise above it, it's the rare one who gets through the process without taking the low road at least once.
You could blame the stress, the growing length of campaigns that make front-runners the targets of attacks, or the press for our endless quest for salacious scoops. But whatever the reason, once tarnished, it's hard for a candidate to recover.
Barack Obama has positioned himself as someone who stays above the fray, sticks to the issues and offers an alternative to the old political gamesmanship. So, people were disappointed recently to see his campaign resort to questionable tactics to discredit Hillary Clinton, his leading opponent for the Democratic nomination. And no one was more so than the Indian-American community.
A document prepared by the Obama campaign and slipped to reporters took aim at Clinton's support from an Indian-American businessman and companies that do business in India. It referred to Clinton as "Mrs. Clinton D-Punjab." Punjab is a state in northern India, and Clinton had joked that she could win a Senate seat in Punjab because of her ties to the Indian community. But the issue is touchy because of the outsourcing of jobs to India. The document landed in the Clinton campaign's hands, which shared it with the media. Obama's campaign apologized, but the senator himself hadn't commented until Monday in a meeting with Register staffers.
The question first came up after he was talking up how his global background - his father was from Kenya, and he lived in Indonesia - had helped shape his perspective, and discussing the need to understand how people in the rest of the world feel.
It seemed an appropriate time to mention that, after having been on vacation and away from the news, I'd called my parents in India on Father's Day and learned about the memo from them. It made the Indian papers and was angering Indians in both countries for its disparaging tone.
Calling it a "screw-up" by the research side of his campaign, Obama said that neither he nor senior staff had seen the memo, and that it was "stupid and caustic" and unreflective of his views. He said he's had longstanding support from the Indo-American community, and that outsourcing is a complicated issue.
Obama went on to candidly reveal some of the internal conflicts we seldom get to see that go on in the minds of candidates.
"Look, I'm running for president, and there are certain conventions we engage in. I have to raise money. It would be wonderful if we didn't. Opposition research is part of the game that's played, partly because you guys rely on it for stories."
"I'm not so naïve as to believe I can win without being rough and tumble," he said. But he noted there's a big difference between putting out a memo contrasting candidates' positions or pointing out the hypocrisy of another's, and taking "cheap shots."
This memo was a cheap shot, he said, but acknowledged there is a constant temptation to "play the game as it is played," and that it's his job to make sure the campaign resists that temptation. He said he has to "make sure I'm pushing a culture that reflects the culture I want in the White House when I'm president."
That includes the need to be mindful of how he debates, he said: "We're trying to get better, and I'm trying to get better." But he admitted, "There are times I find myself slipping into the sort of caustic 'tit for tat' politics that is typical..."
The senator didn't try to gloss over the subject or pass the buck. He spoke unguardedly and sincerely. After that, his tone seemed to change from upbeat and jovial to more somber.
For the press, which can be jaded and guilty of trying to rationalize our own sometimes caustic tactics, it was a valuable moment of candor. It made Obama seem real and flawed, just like the rest of us and - more importantly - willing to work on it.
He had many more things of value to say Monday, but for that willingness alone, he'd already scored high in my book.
REKHA BASU can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (515) 284-8584.
Exclusive: Obama: We screwed up
Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC | June 19, 2007 | 05:22 IST
United States Senator Barack Obama told rediff.com in an exclusive interview that the controversial document <http://www.rediff.com/news/2007/jun/15clinton.htm> his campaign circulated last week, attacking his Democratic rival Senator Hillary Clinton's Indian links, "was not a memo that reflected my views or my attitudes, and didn't reflect my long-standing friendship with the Indian-American community."
The document attacked Clinton's record on outsourcing, on protecting American jobs, in addition to the Indian-American fund-raisers of her campaign. It dubbed her the 'Democrat from Punjab.'
As the Senator and his campaign came under attack from the Indian-American community, Obama acknowledged that "the concerns are entirely justified."
He told rediff.com "I was furious when I heard about it," and noted that "we are taking corrective action to make sure that people understand how this could be potentially hurtful."
Obama pointed out that "I have always been, as somebody who myself comes from a multi-cultural background, promoted the most inclusive politics possible."
"My support among Indian Americans, South Asians, and Asian Americans generally, has been very strong and that's the culture within which I was raised, as having grown up in Hawaii and Asia myself," he added.
Obama said, "this is just an example of I think (where) staff were trying to make a point, they made it clumsily. I don't believe they understood how it came to be interpreted, but they should have understood it. I hope and trust that all my friends in the Indian-American community understand that it did not reflect my views, either on the complex issue of outsourcing or on my attitude towards the enormous contributions of the Indian-American community that they have made to this country."
He explained that "I think what happened was that the people who were writing the memo thought that to quote back Hillary Clinton was clever somehow. They were wrong and I let them know in no uncertain terms that this was unacceptable."
Obama acknowledged he had no idea about the document that was being circulated by some members of his campaign staff till the controversy erupted, when the Indian-American community was in uproar and his Indian-American supporters contacted his campaign expressing their concern.
Asked what kind of corrective measures he intended to put in place, the Illinois Senator asserted, "The main thing is just to make certain that anything that goes out under my name or goes out under our campaign's name -- whether it's for attribution or otherwise -- is screened by all senior staff to make sure that we don't make mistakes like this in the first place."
"The other thing I am obviously doing is reaching out to all my supporters in the Indian-American community to assure them this isn't reflective of my views," he said.
Obama said he hoped that "people recognise that this is just an anomalous situation as opposed to any more serious issue in terms of my grasp and understanding of the importance of the Indian-American community and the relationship between the United States and India."
In a message to the mushrooming South Asians for Obama chapters across the US, the majority of whom are young second-generation Indian Americans, Obama said, "I want them to know how much I appreciate their support, I want them to know how much their involvement means to our campaign."
"Look, part of the reason, I think, there has been so much of interest and excitement on their part has to do with the fact that they recognise that I was very similar to many of them just a few years ago," he said. "Somebody, who was able to take advantage of a good education, who doesn't look like the traditional presidential candidate, doesn't have a traditional name, but loves the United States, loves the idea of public service and believes in an America that is tolerant and provides equal opportunity to all people."
Obama declared that "my commitment to principles has never changed and my regard and concern for the South Asian community in general and young members of that community who are interested in public service continues. So, I want them to understand that this is part of the process of a presidential campaign that when you have a large far-flung operation, mistakes are going to be made and that people need to understand that these are not reflective of who I am and what my core values are."
"My core values are ones that I share with them and I take this as hopefully a good learning opportunity -- certainly it is for me -- in terms of recognising how important it is for me to make sure that we have good quality control in terms of anything that is produced in our office. I have the opportunity to teach members of my staff how they need to approach issues."
Obama acknowledged that in the rough and tumble of politics, particularly a presidential campaign, he could understand if the Hillary Clinton camp went to town with this mistake by his campaign and his unequivocal apology, saying, "I think whenever we make a mistake, our competitors will try to take advantage of it. I don't blame them for that. I think it's just a matter of us making sure that we don't compound the mistake by trying to pretend that we didn't screw up."
"And," Obama added, "I want to make sure that I take responsibility for it because ultimately that's going to be my job, and when I am President, you know it's going to be important for me to make clear when we do make mistakes that hopefully one of the strengths of our campaign is that we learn from them."