November 2008 Interview: Keli Goff

Listen to an Mp3 of the interview here!

Introduction

Keli Goff is a journalist, blogger and political analyst that you may have seen on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360, FOX News’ O’Reilly Factor or read about in The Washington Post or the New York Times. The author of the critically acclaimed book, “Party Crashing: How the Hip-Hop Generation Declared Political Independence” Goff has been one of the most in-demand pundits of the 2008 election cycle. An alumni of New York University and Columbia University, Keli joins us over the phone from a conference in Europe. Blackademics, welcome Keli Goff.

Interview Transcript

Pierce Freelon:
My first question and I have three questions here this evening.

Keli Goff:
Oh great I love it, even better.

PF:
So the first question is – there has been a lot of resistance in the wake of President elect Obama’s selection. Not only conservative publications calling it “the end of the world” but if you even look on some of the social networking sites – facebook and myspace you see a lot of young people, conservative people that are really having a violent, scary backlash. So I’m wondering what your thoughts are on that and if you think there’s any danger or risk associated with the really visceral reaction that there’s been. Because we hear a lot about the positive but what about that negative side?

KG:
Well in the interest of full disclosure. You know this, but for the benefit of your readers – I did leave the country shortly after the election. So I have to be honest in that my vantage point is probably a bit more limited. Because obviously I’m online quite a bit while I’m here, I’ve been scouring the internet etc. not nearly to the extent that I would be if I were in the U.S. and the television that I’m obviously getting an opportunity to watch is very very different. So I’m having to view things through a bit of a different lens. Particularly because over here in Europe people are so excited, elated, enthusiastic about this election, I mean I really can’t tell you. Some of the people that I’ve been interacting with are very prominent. Whether they’re business leaders here, and hearing from them what the perspective is from some of the political types people are incredibly enthusiastic. And I have to even say that some of the people I’ve interacted with here who are diplomats from the Bush administration have had incredibly gracious things to say about him and what they hope for in terms of his administration. So I really only heard, for the most part, the positive. And I would say that the only negative, if you can call it that, that I’ve heard in terms of the people I’ve interacted with who were perhaps supporters of John McCain – because I have been interacting with some of them here at the conference I’m attending – has actually been more critical of the landscape in terms of the media and politically that allowed him to get elected as opposed to being directed more so at him. There has been some criticism of his liberal record in the Senate as I see it but I haven’t really heard a lot of this visceral backlash, like “I’m scared of Obama and I want bad things to happen (to him)” I haven’t heard any of that. In fact people that I’ve interacted with whose politics don’t even align with him have been pretty positive but have been critical of the landscape that allowed him to get elected. What I would say too, on top of that, is that I learned what I found to be a hysterically funny fact that I was going to write about but since I’m doing the interview with you, you’re welcome to mention it and I don’t know if you already heard this: what I found out when I got here from another journalist – and a couple of them have confirmed this I don’t know where I was when this happened – is that the American Nazi party actually endorsed Obama for President.

PF:
What? Wow!

KG:
I don’t know if you heard that. The American Nazi Party endorsed him over John McCain. Which is hysterical on so many levels. And I haven’t pulled up the article but I would encourage you to and I’m definitely going to at some point. I remember when I first heard this and another journalist said “oh no that’s totally true, that’s completely true. Apparently it happened in Esquire magazine.” They were the only ones clever enough to think well – hey it wouldn’t hurt, let me pick up the phone and find out what the American Nazi Party thinks about this election. And to their surprise they actually said something to the effect of – I haven’t seen the quote so you should pull it – something to the effect of, “it’s the worst of both worlds. We’re forced to choose between a negro or a crazy old man,” and of course that sounds like the punch line right there, but then it gets even funnier because they follow that up by saying “…and we’re not stupid so we’re going with Obama.”

PF:
Wow, wow.

KG:
Right. So I would safely say that when conservatives are losing the Nazi vote to an African American man whose middle name is Hussein I would say that probably, in terms of this backlash, it’s probably not nearly as bad for Obama and his side as it is for the conservative movement right now.

PF:
Yeah, wow.

KG:
I know, isn’t that hysterical? How did more people not hear about this? I was like how did I miss this, where was this? And I was told that it was quoted in Esquire Magazine, and I think that probably what happened – and I was discussing this with a couple of other journalists here – I’ve heard some other kooky things like from David Duke throughout this election and some other things I chose not to write about them. Because I didn’t want to give him a forum and a platform. And I kind of think that sometimes, when they make these off collar remarks – because David Duke had said some funny stuff. And had almost written about it, and then I thought – that’s what he wants for someone like me to write about this and for it to get picked up by 5 million blogs and be read by millions of people and I’m not going give him that platform. So I kind of think that’s what happened with this little tidbit too. So I would say that just in general, compared to what it could be, I don’t think the backlash is anywhere on par to what it could be.

PF:
Well, that’s good. It’s good to hear some inspiring words, especially for us down south it’s getting kind of a little scary, a little testy.

KG:
I try to have a sense of humor about those things though because I try to remember – as long as no one is shooting at me or chasing me with a rope or something, I try for the most part to keep it in perspective and have a bit of a sense of humor because words can do very little to hurt us in terms of the big scheme of things. And fundamentally someone who’s that angry you have to stop and look at why they’re angry and the reason they’re angry is because they lost.

PF:
Yeah, that’s true.

KG:
And they’re not in power. That’s what they’re angry about. And I kind of take that with a sense of humor. You can say all you want to but fundamentally at the end of the day the most powerful man in this country is someone that you don’t want to see there because of his skin color and how silly is that?

PF:
Yeah, okay. That leads very well into my next question. I’m curious about how the Republican party with Obama completely redrawing the electoral map – how they’re going to regroup, because inevitably the pendulum is going to swing in the other direction and I’m kind of curious about how that’s gonna to take shape. A lot of people are looking at Governer Palin. She’s doing this media spree now I don’t know if you’re up on that, but…

KG:
I have, I’ve been seeing it online.

PF:
All the people that she would never talk to – their phones are kind of ringing off the hook. So do you have any ideas about what that might look like – the redevelopment of the party?

KG:
It’s interesting that you say that because I’m at a conference and like I said, it’s a very diverse group of people in terms of political makeup and some of them are republican activists or unelected officials. And the conference is off the record so I wouldn’t go on any of our specific conversations but I would say that it’s definitely a topic of conversation across the board politically because I think the fundamental answer to your questions is I don’t know because no one knows. No one really knows the answer to that question in terms of the future of the party. No one that I’ve spoken to seems to really knows the answer. I think the Republican Party is going through a real identity crisis right now and I don’t know when it’s going to be solved because one of the things that I read in the New York Times several weeks ago was that there was an emergency meeting being planned by some evangelical leaders shortly after the election. It might have already taken place. But what I’m going back to is that there is – I personally believe that there is a lot more of the Republican Party that is much more of a Giuliani or a McCain type of Republican Party than many of us are led to believe. But the difference is – and I feel like that’s been confirmed with some of the Republican elected officials that I’m getting to know. The problem is that the Palin wing is much more vocal. They’re much more vocal and they’re much more passionate, quite frankly. It’s really tough for people to get super passionate about things like taxes. It’s kinda tough to get someone to say, “go stand in the rain for 4 hours to protest over taxes.” But people who really feel like they’re fighting over life. I remember even in high school someone said this – that it’s very different when people feel like they’re just voting over and issue versus someone who feels like they’re voting over a cause. Those are two very different sensibilities. And particularly when someone feels like they’re just voting for an issue versus someone who feels like they’re voting over a life or death issue. And the thing is, the Palin wing of the party does see a number of their issues as causes that are life or death – the abortion issue for instance is one of them. I think they are far outnumbered from a demographic standpoint and just statistically by other conservatives who feel that that’s just one issue among many. But the difference is those conservatives are not as vocal and that’s why they end up not dominating the power structure, like a McCain. They get the rap for going against the party. So I think that that’s what you asked. Unfortunately I don’t have the answer because I don’t think anyone does, including the Republicans. I don’t know that it’s going to change in what you just said about the pendulum’s going to swing in two years to four years. I don’t even know if they believe that. Because if you end up having a vocal minority – not just vocal, but drowning everyone out, then it’s very hard for the other wing to rise up. The last thing I would say on that though is I kinda think that just in general, Pierce – the research that I did for my book was a lot about the growing movement among young minority independents. But younger people in general are moving more towards the center and more towards – not just the center but moving away from party labels. I do think that the groundwork is being established for a real opportunity for a third party or at least a third rail if you want to call it that in our country. Part of me is beginning to wonder – because remember the people who voted the first time around, this time who are registered independents who say they voted for Obama. We’ve never been able to sustain a third party in this country because people are always forced eventually backwards to choose between someone. But one of the things that I’ve been mentioning in the last week is that I know in the city of California they’re saying statistically registered independents are going to outnumber registered Republicans and Democrats within the next twenty years. So one of the things that I think is a very strong possibility is that everyone forgets that in a lot of local elected offices, they’re non-partisan. You know, like Mayor of Houston, you don’t run a Democrat or Republican you run as independent – you run as non-partisan. But what happens is then when you want run for Governor or Congressmen, you have to pick a party. But I think that if we have a generation of people who voted for the first time for Obama, let’s say they’re 20 – they’re registered independents and they voted for Mayor this year. Well, if 5 years from the now, the Mayor that they like and that they think does a good job decides to run for Governer or Congressman and says “I don’t want to be a Democrat, I don’t want to be a Republican will you stick with me?” We could have a generation that’s ready to do that. You know, I think it’s possible and I think if that becomes the case, perhaps that will be an avenue for some of the disaffected Republicans and probably some of the disaffected Democrats, I’m sure we’ll have plenty by that time. All the people who are believing that Barack Obama is a favorite of the Democratic Party are wrong. I think that Barack Obama got elected because he’s Barack Obama not because he’s Barack Obama the Democrat. I think that some of the growing pains that the Republicans are having right now could end up benefiting a third party movement in this country, the same way that I think some Democrats could be looking for that too. So that’s my long non-answer to your question.

PF:
No, that was a great answer. Okay, cool last question. One of the big issues in this election, particularly on the west coast where it’s been getting a lot of press is the Proposition 8 referendum about same sex marriages. And an interesting statistic about that is that it did pass and polls show that African Americans voted for it – to ban same sex marriages by about 70%. It’s interesting to me, the “progressive” issues that permeate the Black/African-American community and same sex marriage is definitely an interesting one in there. So I was wondering if you could talk about why those numbers are so high in the African American community.

KG:
Well, I’m glad you asked that question, I’m particularly even more glad that I stayed up late searching the web because I would not have known part of what I’m about to say had I not been reading something before you and I ended up speaking this evening. The first thing I would say to your question – the short answer is that historically the Black community has been overwhelmingly homophobic. That’s just a reality that’s something you can’t really get around. When I was interviewing people about my book Party Crashing – I have a section on the church in the book and I spoke with a number of high-profile people whether it was Al Sharpton or Julian Bond or Russell Simmons. And pretty much everyone agreed in their own very polite, respectful way that the community definitely has some issues with homophobia. And it’s been incredibly devastating particularly to the fight against AIDS, which is the number one killer of young Black women my age. And part of the reason that it’s the number 1 killer is because people don’t want to talk about some of the practices that have helped continue it’s spread. And people get so afraid of going anywhere near the word, or the whole subject of homosexuality and education and it becomes this cycle, this unhealthy cycle. So that’s part of the conversation.

The other thing I would say is that, like a lot of other issues in a lot of communities, it’s largely generational. When polling for the book, we were doing survey research for only those who were members of the post-Civil Rights generation, so that’s ages 18-45. And what we found is among those 18-24, 50% of them supported either gay marriage or marriage benefits for gay and lesbian couples. So that’s obviously higher than the across the board community numbers. So like a lot of communities, a lot of the stuff is very generational their attitudes are just like attitudes about race when you’re talking to white people -some of that falls along generational lines as it does among Black people. The last thing I would say on the subject is that Nate Silver who is a statistician and he runs fivethirtyeight.com – he’s one of the people whose predictions about the election were, from the primary to the general, were bar none more accurate than just about anyone else, anywhere else. I guess he’s like a baseball fanatic statistician so that’s kind of how he approaches things. A little bit different from a traditional political pundit, he’s really interesting. He just did an analysis that I was reading about this evening that shows that while African American voters are getting a lot of the blame for the Prop. 8 fallout, the truth of the matter is, he basically confirmed what I just said to you, which is that it fell strictly along generational lines. And when you look at the actual numbers, it was not Black voters per say that cost gays and lesbians on this issue, it was older voters of every ethnic racial background. When you look at the numbers, the people who voted in support of it and against gay marriage were overwhelmingly older voters who turned out overwhelmingly in this election as well, for a variety of reasons. So I think it’s a bit unfortunate that it’s turning into this race-based argument when that’s not entirely factual.

PF:
So in the next 50 years, after these bigoted elders pass away – then we can start seeing rights for gay and lesbian couples. Is what we’re saying here?

KG:
I think it depends, I think it’s a much larger conversation. I’ve had this conversation with some of my gay brothers and sisters, if you will. I honestly think, this sounds so shallow to say this, but I think it’s more of a branding issue. I really do. I don’t think that a lot of these people who are voting it’s that they are incredibly anti-gay bigots, that’s not the way I see it, because one of the things – I’ve actually written about this – is that polling in support of gay adoption is much higher than polling in support of gay marriage. So you can’t tell me that people who would be comfortable with a gay couple raising a child, hate gay people or that they think that it’s some sort of horrible defect or makes you a bad person. You can’t tell me that. There is clearly some sort of disconnect going on with the language that’s being used. There’s a disconnect. So I think it’s less about the specific issue and more about how the issue is being positioned. I hate to make it sound so superficial, but a lot of times that’s the case, right? For instance, it’s not a coincidence that no one says they’re pro-abortion; they say they’re pro-choice. You know what I mean? I really think – and Rowland Martin mentioned this – I haven’t gone and dissected the numbers myself. I wrote a piece on the gay adoption issue earlier in the summer for Huffington Post that got a lot of response. And it was based on the last statistics I had on gay adoption, which again, weren’t substantially higher than their support for gay marriage. But Rowland Martin recently said on CNN that the states that had gay adoption provisions on the ballot, which I think Arkansas was one of them. The support among African Americans was higher in those states. So again, I think this is more of a conversational piece. I just think that it’s not that people are running around saying “I can’t stand gay people”. There’s something about the language and I’m not completely sure what it is or where it’s coming from but I actually think that that’s the bigger hurdle. I don’t think that it’s getting people to accept gay people, to accept gay couples, to accept them having the benefits that they should have. There’s something that’s going on in terms of how this is being positioned in the minds of some of the people that they need on their side that I think haven’t been addressed. And I don’t know if it’s because people aren’t aware of it or people don’t ever talk about it. But I think that people are perhaps closer on this issue than is realized in moments like this. That’s just my own personal perspective.

PF:
Okay, cool. Well, thank you for agreeing to speak with me in the wee hours of the morning.

KG:
No problem at all.

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