CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A previously unheard 1994 lecture by a young Barack Obama offers a new glimpse of his days as a up-and-coming, liberal Illinois politician.
The recording, given to BuzzFeed by a Republican source, comes from a lecture on the nature of community values he delivered at Nebraska Wesleyan University on September 9, 1994.
Obama told the students in Lincoln, Neb. that “values are dynamic,”and he dismissed appeals from everyone from Bill Clinton to Dan Quayle to “static” or “Ozzie and Harriet” values. Obama suggested those values — “The wife is at home, she’s not working, Dad’s got his 9 to 5, there are no African-Americans in these family values.” — were woefully out of date.
Obama argued that the talk of values was empty without social action, and without a vigorous government role: “It’s not easy to live up to your ideals, it requires sacrifice. It may require taxes on the part of the society. It may require that you go without certain luxuries that you become accustomed to.”
“There’s no discussion of poverty in these values,” Obama said. “There’s not much talk about a nuclear arms race that was taking place on the television programs,” he said. “So the notion is that we can somehow return to that time and recapture those values without acknowledging all the things that were left out. Well, that’s not the case.”
Obama also offered students an early glimpse of his own story, one that he said he would be putting in a memoir whose working title he gave as “Mixing Blood: Stories of Inheritance.” (It was published the next year as “Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance.”)
“When I was your age, I was an angry young man who thought that I had all kinds of values,” Obama recounts. “I was a leader of student protest and I wore [inaudible] and had a big afro. And when I look at pictures of the time I’m always a little embarrassed. You know I would read philosophers like Sarte.”
Obama goes on to recount trashing a university dorm room and leaving a mess for the cleaning staff in a effort to describe his only failures to practice what he preached.
The recording gives a glimpse of Obama before he began calibrating his political positions to a statewide and then national audience, a journey that moved him right on a range of issues including marriage — he endorsed same-sex marriage, and then opposed it, before endorsing it again this year.
In the 1994 recording, Obama speaks derisively of the “values” articulated by leading Democratic figures like Bill Clinton and Jesse Jackson.
“Values have made a comeback,” Obama is heard saying . “Dan Quayle talks about values. He talks about Murphy Brown and her lack of values. Bill Clinton talks about values. Jesse Jackson talks about values. So we have values all over the place. Politicians really like values now. Part of the reason for that is values are cheap, at least the way they talk about them. You don’t have to pay any money or tax anybody to talk about values. Family values, American values, values.”
“First as I said I think values are dynamic. Part of the reason I don’t trust Dan Quayle talking about values and I often don’t trust Bill Clinton talking about values is they tend to have a static notion of values. Dan Quayle talks about values in terms of Ozzie and Harriet values.
…[A]nd my wife who is an attorney, she likes to watch old TV re-runs and so she watches the Dick Van Dyke Show and Ozzie and Harriet and things like that.
I’m always struck by values that are embodied in these television shows which I think are the values that people have in mind when they talk about return to American values. The wife is at home, she’s not working, Dad’s got his 9 to 5, there are no African-Americans in these family values. There’s no discussion of poverty in these values. There’s not much talk about a nuclear arms race that was taking place on the television programs. So the notion is that we can somehow return to that time and recapture those values without acknowledging all the things that were left out. Well, that’s not the case.”
Obama’s past was explored deeply for the first time this year in David Maraniss’s “Barack Obama: The Story”, but that book ends with Obama entering Harvard Law School at the age of 27. The Nebraska speech comes a few years later, and offers an unusual glimpse of Obama between his youthful, inchoate liberalism and the more cautious politics of his mature years.
The audio recording is one of several moments in the 1990s in which Obama made clear that he didn’t consider himself a Clinton Democrat. It’s also an early precursor to the intra-party battle between Clinton Obama in the 2008 Democratic primary as Hillary Clinton competed for the nomination. As chronicled by The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza, Obama’s team sought to frame both Clintons as untrustworthy political opportunists, ready to abandon their principles — if they had any — if that’s what victory required.
But Clinton is expected to offer a ringing endorsement of Obama tonight in Charlotte, part of an all out effort to unite the Democratic Party’s various strands.
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