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Q&A: "I Appreciate This Unique Moment"

Interview with Barack Obama, Democratic presidential candidate

DETROIT, Sep 3 2008 (IPS) - Whether he wins or loses in the November election, Barack Obama will have made U.S. history as the first African American to lead a major political party.

Sen. Barack Obama Credit: Bankole Thompson/IPS

Sen. Barack Obama Credit: Bankole Thompson/IPS

In this Sep. 2, post-nomination exclusive interview with IPS correspondent Bankole Thompson, the Democratic presidential nominee defends his choice of Sen. Joe Biden as his vice president and answers wide-ranging questions, from the genocide in Sudan's Darfur region, the U.S. war in Afghanistan, and the state of the economy to improving incomes and health care for all U.S. citizens.

Excerpts from the interview follow.

IPS: When you picked Sen. Joe Biden as your running mate, your critics say it changed your message of bringing change to Washington.

BARACK OBAMA: Senator Joe Biden is not a politician – he is a statesman. What I mean by that is he understands the ways of Washington, but he is not ruled by the ways of Washington, and he has always worked to maintain a strong sense of self and service in his 30-plus years in the Senate. He takes the train home every night to Delaware and has for years. He has stood up against leaders in his own party when he needed to and his foreign policy expertise is unmatched in the U.S. Senate. I selected him with the interest of the country in mind, not the politics of the moment.

IPS: Washington is known as a place of partisan rifts. How can you build a consensus and bring the change you talk about on the campaign trail and deal with the state of the economy?

BO: Right now we have a situation in Washington that is simply upside down. The town is run by lobbyists and powerful interests often at the expense of the people's interest. As president, I'll work in Washington to do what I have done my entire adult life: build coalitions around common goals and values to get things done. Even in this environment, I'm convinced that we share more in common than many would appreciate. The key is identifying and developing those common bonds in a way that forces government to work for and not against the American people, and engaging more Americans into our government's decision-making.

IPS: The Bush administration has been criticised by human rights groups for not doing much in Darfur, Sudan. What will your approach be toward international conflicts like the genocide in Darfur?

BO: As president, I will make ending the genocide in Darfur a priority. I have traveled to the United Nations to meet with Sudanese officials and visited refugee camps on the Chad-Sudan border to raise international awareness of the ongoing humanitarian disaster there. As president, I will take immediate steps to end the genocide in Darfur by increasing pressure on the Sudanese and pressure the government to halt the killing and stop impeding the deployment of a robust international force. I will hold the government in Khartoum accountable for abiding by its commitments under the Comprehensive Peace Accord that ended the 30-year conflict between the north and south. I have also worked with [Republican] Senator Sam Brownback to pass the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act in 2006.

IPS: Which issue will be immediately addressed in an Obama administration? The Iraq war, labour, housing foreclosures, energy or college tuition?

BO: After eight years of President Bush and Vice President Cheney and the policies they have put in place, we know we have a lot of work to do at home and abroad. We have an economy in disarray and under assault because of rising foreclosures and falling home values, energy prices continue to consume more and more of our income and health care costs are spiraling out of control. Meanwhile, we continue to fight a war that should have never been authorised and never been waged while the real enemy continues to hide in the hills of Afghanistan. There is much work to do, but the key is to put the right people in place that allow us to begin tackling these big challenges head on.

IPS: Given the uniqueness of your nomination at this time in history, there are a lot of expectations from people about what you should do if elected in November. Do you see it as a burden or is it fair for people to expect so much out of your candidacy?

BO: Actually, I think expectations are high because people don't believe their government has served them well over the past eight years, and they appreciate what it is like when government is working as it was under President [Bill] Clinton. I can't view this charge as a burden because I chose to run for president, but I do appreciate this unique moment in history. From that standpoint, my main charge is to continue to acknowledge those who paved the way and to honour their work by always doing my very best. Anything less is unacceptable.

IPS: What role would former vice president Al Gore play in an Obama administration, since you've harped on global warming on the campaign trail?

BO: We would be honoured to have his support and expertise on a wide range of issues including fighting the causes of global warming and protecting the environment.

IPS: With the thousands that showed up at the party convention in Denver, are you confident that the Democratic troops are united behind you for November?

BO: I believe the Democratic Party is more united than it has ever been, and we are all dedicated to winning in November. We continue to welcome anyone who wants to join our cause to restore hope for our country and bring about the change we need in Washington.

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