We are citizens, and Obama is a politician. You might not like that word. But the fact is he’s a politician. He’s other things, too-he’s a very sensitive and intelligent and thoughtful and promising person. But he’s a politician.
If you’re a citizen, you have to know the difference between them and you-the difference between what they have to do and what you have to do. And there are things they don’t have to do, if you make it clear to them they don’t have to do it.
From the beginning, I liked Obama. But the first time it suddenly struck me that he was a politician was early on, when Joe Lieberman was running for the Democratic nomination for his Senate seat in 2006.
I had a teacher at Columbia University named Richard Hofstadter, who wrote a book called The American Political Tradition, and in it, he examined presidents from the Founding Fathers down through Franklin Roosevelt. There were liberals and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats. And there were differences between them. But he found that the so-called liberals were not as liberal as people thought-and that the difference between the liberals and the conservatives, and between Republicans and Democrats, was not a polar difference. There was a common thread that ran through all American history, and all of the presidents-Republican, Democrat, liberal, conservative-followed this thread.
The thread consisted of two elements: one, nationalism; and two, capitalism. And Obama is not yet free of that powerful double heritage.
Thanks to Alex Read and Matt Korn for transcribing Zinn’s talk on February 2 at the Busboys and Poets restaurant in Washington, D.C., from which this is adapted.