Is Obama Losing His African-American Base?

TV host Tavis Smiley on president's chances for reelection in 2012


This is a rush transcript from "Hannity," September 12, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

SEAN HANNITY, HOST: The 2012 election is just around the corner and President Obama seems to be losing support among African-American voters. Here with me to discuss the reasons why this is the case is the host of "Tavis Smiley Reports," it's on PBS. Tavis is also airing a special tomorrow night, which addresses what he calls the miseducation of African-American kids. Here with a sneak peek.


TAVIS SMILEY, HOST, "TAVIS SMILEY REPORTS": We traveled to Oakland, Philadelphia, Chicago and Los Angeles to meet other boys who are on the road to success and the dedicated educators who refuse to let them fail.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nobody deems of dropping out of high school. We would never be as honest as 5-year-old, 5-year-olds tell the truth. I want to be a fireman. I want to be a lawyer. They don't ever say I want to dropout. I want to murder, I want to be murdered. They don't say that.

SMILEY: If the crisis that black boys are enduring right now were crisis involving white boys, what would the response be in this country?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It would be immediate. It would be drastic.


HANNITY: Joining me now the man himself, author of the e-book "Too Important to Fail, Saving America's Boys".

Tavis, we go back a long way. It is good to see you. I mean, we don't agree a lot on issues. But I've always had a good respect for you. I appreciate you being back.

All right, before we get to that, which I think we're going to agree on. So let's start at the point we disagree.

I think Barack Obama has failed as president. You like him. Tell me where he's been successful.

SMILEY: Well, I don't think Barack Obama would say that he thinks I like him given the critique I've had of him of late. A lot of people would laugh at that, certainly inside the White House on poverty and on black unemployment, on these wars that we're still engaged in, I've had some critiques of the president.

My view is this and my friend Dr. Cornell West coined this phrase, I respect the president, I will protect the president, but I will also correct the president when I think he's wrong. I think that's how you handle any president, black, white, Republican or Democrat.

You respect the presidency. You will protect our president from any enemy foreign or domestic, but sometimes presidents have to be corrected. They are not right about everything no matter who they are.

HANNITY: Could you see yourself voting for a Republican?

SMILEY: For me, it is not so much about labels as it is on where they stand on the issues and the principles --

HANNITY: Is there anyone that's running against him that you could vote for?

SMILEY: Not at the moment no.

HANNITY: Do you see any area where he's been successful? I mean, he promised unemployment would stay below eight percent. He said Bush was unpatriotic when he hit the four trillion in debt mark. He did it in 2-1/2 years. What metric do you look that you say he is successful?

SMILEY: I think that it is true. I don't think this is a winning campaign strategy. I'm the last person to give the Obama people advice, they don't want to hear from me. But I don't think it's a winning campaign strategy.

But I think it is true that it could have been a great deal worse. It could have been much worse the economy, number one. Number two, I have major issues with the health care reform. Major issues.

HANNITY: It didn't go far enough for you.

SMILEY: It didn't go far enough for me -- I know you and I disagree on that.

HANNITY: Oh my goodness.

SMILEY: It didn't go far enough for me. But I think getting a step closer for all Americans having access to equal high quality health care is an important step. Again, I'm not the guy to run the Obama talking points that's not me.

But I think there have been areas where -- well, I think certainly our image around the globe. I was here in New York. I've been here for the last couple of days at an interdependent conference, which happens every year around this town, around September 11th to bring nations of the world together.

There's no doubt about the fact -- I travel all the time around the world -- that our standing around the world went up dramatically, post George Bush in era Barack Obama. That's a fact.

HANNITY: He said America is arrogant. He went on this apology tour. We don't have the right to impose our values. America is not a Christian nation. All these things he got a lot of criticism for. It is almost on a daily basis.

His poll numbers have tanked. He's accumulated over four trillion in debt at this point. He wants more spending, higher taxes. You know, why would you double down on something that has failed?

SMILEY: We disagree about that.

HANNITY: Where has it been successful?

SMILEY: Let me put it this way. Again, I'm in an awkward position because I'm not the guy to give the Obama talking points. I have a problem personally and politically with this deficit reduction package.

When you put together a deal that doesn't raise a single cent of new revenue, no taxes on the rich or the lucky, doesn't close a single corporate loophole, doesn't extend unemployment benefits. I oppose that deficit reduction package. The one we just passed a few weeks ago.

HANNITY: But this is what he is calling for now, $450 billion in new spending. They just announced today that -- majority of which is going to come through higher taxes.

SMILEY: This will surprise you, but I don't the scale of what he has presented is equivalent to the size of the problem. I think it ought to be bigger. And I'm not the only one that feels that way. Krugman, Paul Krugman. I'm not the only person that feels that way. But there ought to be more spending.

Here's the main thing, if you want to bring the deficit down, the fastest and surest way to do that, more jobs. You want to bring down the deficit, create more jobs.

HANNITY: I felt the rhetoric got insane during the Bush years. I try to criticize the president on substance. I have philosophical different vision. I think we should lower taxes, stimulate economic growth --

SMILEY: I respect that.

HANNITY: -- and be strong on the war on terror.

Here's the deal, when you see Jimmy Hoffa call Tea Party members sons of bitches and we are at war with them, or Maxine Waters say that they can go straight to hell, or Andre Carson saying that, you know, Tea Party members, conservatives in this country want black people hanging from trees.

I take personal offense on that. He lectured the country on civility. He's been missing in action and totally silent. The answer is we are not going to be the speech police now, but when it came to Sarah Palin, they were the speech police, hypocritical?

SMILEY: This might surprise you. Yes, on both sides. Again, this is not a Republican issue or Democratic issue, this for me is across the board. I was so moved, I think all of us were ,around Gabby Giffords, Congresswoman Giffords, when the country came together around in a unified way.

I thought that was a little corny, but I thought it was cool and cute that they sat with each other, Republicans and Democrats in the House. The problem with our nation is, this is true of 9/11 as it was true with the incident involving Gabby Giffords.

If it takes a tragedy like this, Sean, to bring us together, if it takes this kind of tragedy, 9/11, or members of Congress being shot to bring us together to talk about civility, that can't be the answer. We're not a civil enough society.

HANNITY: Shouldn't the president speak out now? You remember the big Sister Souljah moment?

SMILEY: I remember it well, yes.

HANNITY: Should the president, if he took on Andre Carson and said stop, if he said to Maxine Waters, stop. If he said to Jimmy Hoffa, stop or any of the other, you know, number of people out there that had been using this incendiary language recently, wouldn't he benefit politically?

SMILEY: He might benefit politically, but if he starts telling people to stop there's a long line, including a lot of Republicans starting with the congressman who stands up and said you lie.

HANNITY: He apologized. These guys never apologized. They never -- all right, last question. I'm a Christian, I believe this --

SMILEY: We are both Christians.

HANNITY: Every single kid -- the word education is to bring forth from within. If we don't educate our kids, this isn't a race issue, we don't educate our kids, we are destroying their God given talent.

SMILEY: I could not agree more, but here's where the race factor does come in. If the crisis that young black boys are enduring in this country right now were the same crises involving young white boys in America right now, there would be a state of emergency. There'd be a call to action. We would be doing something about it. Not writing off these boys as invisible or disposable --

HANNITY: It is happening across racial lines. When Reagan did his nation at risk, what has happened the educational system in America done by an outside entity force would be tantamount to an act of war. Kids in many places in this country, especially inner cities are not getting what they deserve. We should give every family a check, give them we're spending. Let the schools compete, would you support that?

SMILEY: George Bush and I agreed on one thing, when you use that phrase low bigotry, expectations. That's a great line. That is exactly what is happening to young black boys in this country.

But I repeat, if white boys were facing the same crisis -- not even half of black boys are finishing high school?

HANNITY: That's unbelievable.

SMILEY: It is a national disgrace. Would you agree it is an American problem?

HANNITY: Absolutely.

Last question, you said about George Bush that he's one of those guys that lied to the American people.

Let's see, John Kerry made the case, Hillary Clinton made the case. All the Democrats made the case.

SMILEY: All misled. All misled.

HANNITY: You said Bush lied. Did they lie? If you are going to say it about Bush to be fair you have to say it about everybody.

SMILEY: I'm not going to defend those guys. I'll make this one distinction, if the president provides the intel for them, if the president provides the narrative for them --

HANNITY: No George Tenet --

SMILEY: That's Bush's guy. That's Bush's guy.

HANNITY: Also Clinton's guy. Also Clinton's guy.

SMILEY: By any other definition, call it a lie, call it misled, bamboozled, hoodwinked, run amuck, led astray, duped, pick a word, we were led into a war, now the longest running. I see you every night talk about these issues. I know your heart is pained by the loss of American lives. We lost time. We missed the moment 10 years ago. We lost time, we lost treasure.

HANNITY: I think we did the right thing.

SMILEY: I don't think we did, but I still love you.

HANNITY: What a shock, we don't agree.

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