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Obama Talks Civic Engagement With Young Leaders; Obama Urges Young People To Vote, Stay Engaged. Aired 12:30-1p ET
Aired April 24, 2017 - 12:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[12:30:00] BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Because what certainly true is one voice by itself rarely changes something. Two voices have a better shot. Twenty voices, OK, we're getting somewhere. And it begins with that listening process that you're talking about so the people feel like they're being heard at the outset. So I think that's a great point.
Max, the -- were you somebody who was always interested in politics generally or is this something that kind of came to you? And since, you know, you've been active in College Republicans, two questions around that. Number one, do you feel as if on college campuses sometimes, you know, you're not heard as much as you'd like to be? And, you know, because there's -- I think there's certainly a perception sometimes among young people who are on the more conservative end spectrum that colleges are a bastion of political correctness and how do you sort of sort through that?
But also have you found ways in which you can connect and have a conversation with the College Democrat and the person who has a different point of view so that we can encourage better conversations and better understanding and hopefully more progress?
MAX FREEDMAN, UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO: Yes. So I think being interested in politics, you know, I don't know that I came from a particularly politically active family. My mother was involved in the PTA when I was a child. And that -- it's real --
OBAMA: PTA is a lot of work. You all have, you know.
FREEDMAN: I mean, in Connecticut it is blood sport, but --
FREEDMAN: You know, I think the message that something like that would send, you know, she didn't need to do that.
FREEDMAN: She did that because the educational system and more broadly the community that was fostered in the town was important to her and something worth giving her time to and something worth, you know, going out and -- no one pays you to do this and you take a great deal of flack. So I, you know, I certainly honor that commitment.
And I think, you know, in eighth grade, which was your first election, we -- in social studies we're told --
OBAMA: Can I just say --
OBAMA: -- I'm old. Yes. That's -- but please continue. In eighth grade. Wow. Go ahead.
FREEDMAN: In eighth grade we were -- all right. I'll pick a different age development. You know, we -- each of the beginning of the year we picked a campaign to follow, you know, sort of through to fruition and each week we did a report for our teacher on how the candidate had been featured in the news, any sort of polling information that we had a accumulated. We never got them back, but we, you know, it was an interesting process in that it taught us to care about the news in a time when, you know, maybe that wasn't something that you went home and watched.
FREEDMAN: And it was something that made you more cognizant of the issues.
You know, I was fortunate enough to go to high school in New Hampshire where pandered too immensely heavily. And, you know, even our -- it's just part of the whole issue (ph) that every four years they care. But that people care about what New Hampshire has to say. And I think that one of the things that is a shame in that process is that there is a group that is as active every four years because they're influential. They're big in the towns they're from. But, you know, you said don't move vote, but do acts might be more act because you have a lot of these people who engage with the process only every four years and then are sort of gone for the in between period.
And then you have some who if you're brought up that way and brought up to believe that your opinion is going to count for something, then go on to do big things. I had a friend whom I went to high school. I think she's been from New Hampshire her whole life. She's like 20 now and she's a state rep. Because, you know, she ran for an open seat and that's just how it goes up there. There was a commitment.
In terms of being involved in politics, I was fortunate enough to take a year between high school and college and I worked in Washington, D.C. in the Senate and that's an eye opening experience because it forces you to confront in a real way what you believe and why and you gain a lot of information very, very quickly. I'm immensely grateful for the opportunity.
[12:35:07] And then, you know, after coming here, that sort of changed my world view. I thought I would come here and be an economist like every first year believes at some level here. And that coupled with my time at the Institute of Politics which was a good structured force to show that, you know, there was a way, there were many, many venues for us to engage civically. That makes four things that campaigning in Iowa. I man as for being a Republican in the college campus, you know, I -- yesterday NBC ran an article about this on their website and it didn't say who we were. Just that the composition was one Republican and the rest were Democrats or Progressives. And I had maybe three people send me the article and say is it you.
FREEDMAN: But -- and it is if you're watching. But, you know, I would say it depends on the setting whether it's something particularly forthcoming with. But at the Institute of Politics itself, I think most people know at this point and certainly in the beginning of 2016 when caucus season is going on. Those of us who have been in Iowa and could do caucus math which is, as you know, not real math.
But the, you know, the major -- the high commodity in the room when you would watch the votes tally, but there were, you know, there were venues certainly where I wouldn't have brought it up or wouldn't have been particularly forthcoming with it. I think people suspected it. But, you know, I didn't -- I'll leave that to the other student government people in the room to confirm or not.
But I -- and I don't necessarily know what I was afraid of, but I think that there's a sense that if you harbor a view that doesn't jive with the majority view that you can expect some level of ostracization for certain people, where you can expect people to assume that worst aspect of you based on beliefs you may or may not hold, right?
And I don't think anyone sitting in this room agrees with their party on 100 percent which is a 100 percent of their time or 100 percent people on their party. I mean, I might be wrong but -- if you raised your hand, I can't see you.
And so I think that being a Republican on a college campus is in and of itself sort of an honor because, you know, most people don't agree with you and when you engage in the dorms and in the dining halls and, you know, with those people who are able to see you, the person, and then you the person with political views, you're forced to know yourself well and to do soul searching well and to understand why it is that you think what you think and what parts of your past impact what you believe now and might believe, you know, tomorrow. I think the other thing is there is a significant empathy gap. Not just here but everywhere.
You know, I think most people haven't had in their homes for dinner, you know, in a real way somebody who is significantly different from them, either politically or racially or -- for whatever reason, we've questioned (ph) ourselves. And so I think that the liberal bastion after the college campuses certainly can be true. I've been, you know, lucky here. The school is certainly committed to accepting, you know, our thoughts.
But I think a broader societal problem is that as we, you know, if you have a county map of 2016, you had, you know, a lot of counties where Secretary Clinton won over 80 percent of the vote and the inverse (ph) is true for the president now. But -- I mean, and there's not understanding. We're not talking -- it's not just that we're reading different news but it's that we don't talk to each other anymore. And I think, you know, it would be -- good civic engagement at some point will require a level of civility I think.
There's a lot of problems with our politics that begin at home. I think we blame intransigent politicians a lot for the failure of us, of each of us to grasp each other well. So your mentor when you were a new senator, Dick Luger.
OBAMA: Great guy.
FREEDMAN: And ultimately lost his primary for that reason.
OBAMA: He did. Because he talked to me.
FREEDMAN: Yes. Because people couldn't stand to see their member, you know, bridge a gap on a human level.
FREEDMAN: And, you know, I think that's sad. I think there's both empathy gap but also I think a lot of people see politics, especially in this generation and they say this is ugly, this is mean, this is something that you have, you know, pretty experienced people doing. And, you know, if the country is a ship and politicians are sailors, maybe the boat moves like a degree either way, but I think the lack of results stems from a lack of us understanding each other well.
[12:40:10] I think, you know, Marco Rubio said it pretty well a couple months ago that you can't really run a country when half of it hates the other. And somehow we're going to have to find ways to bridge that and to meet people who aren't like us.
OBAMA: Good. Good. Bridge the -- on this stage, other than me, I guess you're the other guy who's run for office.
HARISH PATEL, NEW AMERICA: The oldest.
OBAMA: Well, I wasn't going to say you're the oldest. But I was going to say you're the other guy who ran for office. And I know you lost, but I did too once. Right here in this community.
PATEL: I got some great too.
OBAMA: There you go. But what prompted you to run for office, which is a different kind of engagement and what did you take from the experience? Did you feel discouraged by it? Did you feel like, OK, this was fun or if it wasn't fun then it was worth it? And you would encourage other young people to take their shot. Tell me a little bit about your thought process there.
PATEL: Yes. And for me -- I mean, I want to start with the first time I ever did something that is considered civically engaged. I was an immigrant. So I couldn't vote until after Iraq War had already started. But the first thing I ever thought I'm doing just like for this country was actually protesting the Iraq war because I felt passionate that we were on the wrong side of history there. I think you were also at that point.
OBAMA: I agreed with you at the time.
PATEL: So I couldn't vote, but I felt like a lot of the times civic engagement in a sense gets stuck in the dynamic of voting or electoral engagement and doesn't always expand. I think we have to sort of expand it, too, maybe what your mother did or being on a board for nonprofit or -- there are tough positions to have or a lot of work there, and I think I would hope moving forward we're sort of thinking about civic engagement beyond voting.
But to directly answer the question around why I went from protesting to working on nonprofit and organizing to thinking about, oh, electoral politics is one of the many routes that I'm going to engage in. And (INAUDIBLE) for me that actually happened in 2010. It was after I was done organizing that I saw a lot of the jargon that was used against us as young people at that time. I didn't understand, that's why I went back to college to understand some politics language.
When I ran, it was too -- I don't have -- my last name is Patel. There's not a lot of Patels in office. I just feel like --
OBAMA: Lot of Patels in India, though.
PATEL: There's a lot.
OBAMA: I'm just saying there are a lot more Patels than there are Obamas. I want to be clear.
PATEL: Agreed. I had a Hussein joke, but I'm not going to make it. So -- I mean, so at some point, I sort of felt that both or more than -- you know, I don't want to get stuck in these two-party sort of language, but there's a lot of different culture personalities and culture politics that people -- young people specially get sort of drawn to. And they can't really go beyond the questions you're allowed to ask within.
And so I wanted to be able to protest and be able to run for office and run a small business and do the organizing and be able to figure out which is the most effective way that I want to won, live my life and be happy, but also sort of inspire a whole generation of folks that may be look like me or come from a Muslim background or South Asian immigrants or I want them to -- and most young people of color to feel that they can literally do anything. So that was one of the major reasons.
Also Illinois has an establishment politics that is really old. Not old in age, but old in thinking. And there's a monopoly of power, money, ideas that only come from few families or sometimes a few zip codes. And I wanted to say that it's not how we should move forward.
OBAMA: OK. Good. Couple of thoughts based on some of the things that folks have said. First of all, what you said, Harish, about there are a lot of different ways to engage I think is important. Because sometimes people think if you're not running for office or it's not Election Day, there's no other ways of getting involved. And the PTA is a perfect example of the kind of thing that we want to encourage.
[12:45:09] There are a bunch of writers out there and social scientists and thinkers that would argue that one of the problems that we had with our politics right now is that the mediating institutions, the unions, the churches, the PTA groups, the rotary club, a lot of the voluntary organizations that used to exist, like sororities and fraternities that used to bring people in together to then work on issues, that those have declined. And the statistics show that people are less likely to be involved with various organizations in their community than they used to be.
And what that means is then people don't have some of the same habits of being together on a common project that they used to. We've become a more individualistic society. And that I think has some spillover effects when it comes to both political participation but also in terms of empathy because you're interacting with fewer people on a regular basis.
The second thing, though, it has to do with how we get information. So I want to throw this out and see what people think. I think a lot of us who have been in politics for a while do see a change from 20 years ago, certainly 30 years ago, where it used to be everybody kind of had the same information. And we had different opinions about it, but there were a common baseline of facts. And that the internet in some ways has accelerated this sense of people having entirely separate conversations.
And if this generation is getting all of its information through its phones that you really don't have to confront people who have different opinion or have a different experience or a different outlook. If you're liberal, then you're on MSNBC and conservative you're on Fox News. You're reading "Wall Street Journal" or you're reading "The New York Times" or, you know, whatever your choices are. Or maybe you're just looking at cat videos, which is fine.
So, one question I have for all of you is how do you guys get your information about the news and what's happening out there and are there ways in which you think we could do a better job of creating a common conversation?
Now that you've got 600 cable stations and you've got all these different news outlets that basically are offering one set of opinions. And if they're two sets of opinions, then they're just yelling at each other. So, you don't get a sense that there's actual conversation going on. And the internet's worse, right? You know, it's become more and more polarized. How much do you think that affects how people think about issues and are there ways that that could be changed given that most of your information and certainly for the younger people coming up behind you even more they're getting their information primarily off their phones? So, Ayanna?
AYANNA WATKINS, KENWOOD ACADEMY HIGH SCHOOL: I think social media has its pros and its cons in situations like this. So for instance, when it comes to gaining information about what's going on in the world, it's way faster on social media than it is on a news cast.
WATKINS: But on the other hand, it can be a downfall because what if you're passing the wrong information or the information isn't presented in the way it should be? So, that causes a clash in our generation. And I think it should go back to the old school which --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No phones.
WATKINS: Right. I think phones, social media should be eliminated because the younger generation -- OK, wait, wait, wait.
I think I should rephrase myself. I think when it comes to politics and important information that can influence younger generations, it should be organic. So politicians should actually reach out and actually physically talk to the community. So it can't be any misconception on the information being passed.
[12:50:04] Because social media going to Twitter or Facebook, anybody can hack your social media page. That causes a lot of problems. And to actually go out to the community, the community will feel more welcomed. And I think that goes back to actually getting involved because to have somebody shake your hand and to actually look at you and talk to you is a more heartfelt feeling to actually listen to what that person has to say.
OBAMA: That's interesting. But Kelsey, you have something to say?
KELSEY MCCLEAR, LOYOLA UNIVERSITY: I think one of the other things you bring up and you said was almost exactly what I was thinking and sort of going back to the basics and really having those in-person conversations. I think one of the things that I see the most important is people being able to listen to understand rather than listen to respond. There doesn't have to be an immediate response. Let's understand where both viewpoints are coming from.
OBAMA: I learned that in marriage, by the way.
OBAMA: Just a tip for you young people. Listening to understand rather than listening to respond. That will save you a lot of heart ache and grief.
MCCLEAR: You're fine.
OBAMA: Just a little tip there.
MCCLEAR: No, but I think it's something that our generation, we find it easier to hide behind Facebook screens, behind Twitter, between Instagram post but really being able to have those in-person conversations and to listen to the other side is the only way at the end of the day.
JOHN KING, INSIDE POLITICS HOST: We've been listening to former president of the United States, Barack Obama. Little roundtable there on civic engagement community activist in the president holding court. Students around him. Talking to them about his view they should get involved and seeking their input and how to get involve.
Let's bring it around the table as we've been listening. Interesting from the president because we were told going in he did not want to get involved in any of the issues of the day. The repeal and replace Obamacare couldn't have this week, didn't touch it.
Hundred days of the Trump administration, didn't touch it. Danced a little bit around saying you should get involved. We talked about political gerrymandering, how that was fun. He talked about voter turnout and had conversations with the children about that. But if we're look for a -- what we would call a safe soft landing back into the public sphere, that was it, right?
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITUCAL REPORTER: Yes, it was. Then it was mostly the student there is who are very articulate, very well spoken, very brave to be sitting there and then talking with the president in that way. So, yes, I mean, I think if you were a Democrat sort of looking for him in this rallying cry for Democrats to be involved and engage, that wasn't it.
It's also interesting in terms of Obama and his role in the Democratic Party, he says here now, he's got to figure out how to get people engaged, what the new generation is passing is the baton unto the next generation. A lot of Democrats feel like he should have done that when he was in office, right? That he left at DNC essentially whether -- and if there is no binge because he didn't really mind being a party of one.
KING: He didn't tend to the garden of the levers of government, the infrastructure of government. And he gave no indication, I mean, that he's planning on getting people involved in it now. He said he's looking for his best job, what can he do best. A lot of issues I care about, but that community activist in getting young people involve in this, number one.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
KING: We've been talking he's (INAUDIBLE).
AMY WALTER, THE COOK POLIYICAL REPORT: And I don't think that's where he should be right now. The party needs to figure out who it is in post-Obama era. And I remember that the Democratic Party in the '90s spent all this time trying to figure out who our next Bill Clinton was. Bill Clinton wasn't exactly nurturing the guardian of the next generation either and that's not their job. Quite frankly, it's the job of the party. And let's face it. We -- the system that we're in, our American political system, we don't have opposition leaders. When you're out of power, you're out of power and there's nobody leading your party. The person that leads your party is your nominee and Democrats will get that person in 2020. Until then, there's going to be a series of leaders, a series -- but that's the way it works and then there may be a 75 way primary in 2020, which if I were Democrats I would want something like that.
KING: Right. What (INAUDIBLE) the other day. Here you go. Elizabeth Warren book tour. But we haven't seen him in 13 weeks. You know, if you go on the internet, you see he's had some -- David Geffen apparently had a really nice yacht.
KING: Yes. I didn't know.
KING: Yes. Yes. So what do we make?
LAURA MECKLER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: I mean, I think that he is -- I think that it is a challenge for all people who have served as president to figure out what is their post presidency going to be about. You saw with George W. Bush he really took a back seat and he almost disappeared. Now he's emerged as a painter, you know, and somebody who occasionally.
And when you see with President Bush that every so often --
MECKLER: -- he'll weigh in and it carries weight because it is so rare. You saw with Bill Clinton, obviously the huge public face of the Clinton Foundation, you know. Obviously turned out to be problematic for his wife later on, but it was done a lot of good. You know, and he spent a lot of time engaging with the world. So I think he needs to figure out -- and I'm not sure that what we've seen today is really exactly the answer for Barack Obama. You know, he needs to -- I think be doing something, not just having a forum.
[12:55:06] KING: The thing that is striking is Bill Clinton then George W. Bush, now Barack Obama. He's 55 years old. This is three successive two-term presidents to leave office as young men.
MARY KATHARINE HAM, THE FEDERALIST: Right. Look, I think this is a fairly subdued opener as he probably planned to be and it should be. I think the people who love him and love listening to him and think oh my gosh, really enjoyed his presidency. Loved him, the people who are devotees but annoyed that he did not sort of foster this new generation that he brought up will continue to be annoyed. And those were the street that annoyed will continue to be annoyed.
But I wonder -- because (INAUDIBLE) because he is political and ideological animal even though he thinks of himself is very pragmatic, I think he will want to do more and be more active and be more political totally (ph). KING: And he's sorting that out as we go here. That's it for us. Thanks for dealing us through the life event. Wolf Blitzer in the chair after a quick break.