THE BLOG
02/06/2008 08:11 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Senator Barack Obama Responds to the Open Letter

1. How do you view the importance of being open to welcome and to encourage a more inclusive political dialogue with those who may be at the margins of the political establishment or with those who may be at the distant edges of the perceived rigidity of the mainstream political parties?

The strength of our democracy is not measured by whether every American has the opportunity to participate in it. This is a minimum requirement. Instead, it is measured by how widely and how deeply Americans commit themselves to meeting our common challenges. Only when Americans of all creeds, colors, and classes feel invited to join a common dialogue about our nation's fate will we finally be ready to meet the challenges we face at home and abroad.

I have always believed that real change happens from the bottom up, and that ordinary people can do extraordinary things when they come together and organize. My campaign has adhered to this philosophy and has empowered hundreds of thousands of voters to join our movement for change. We have assembled the most diverse coalition of Americans we've seen in a long time: men and women of every race, religion, age, socioeconomic background, and region have joined with us in our effort to bring real change to America. And many of these individuals are participating in the political process for the first time in their lives.

My policy proposals have further sought to bring ordinary people closer to their government. I have proposed a number of initiatives in my campaign - from posting White House communications and executive agency decision making on the web, to expanding FOIA - that are geared toward shedding light on how Washington works. In this administration, corporate lobbyists have been allowed access that belongs to the American people and organizations that represents their interests. I've made it clear that lobbyists will not control an Obama administration, which is why I have proposed closing the revolving door between the White House and lobbying. Finally, my Cabinet will be required to meet with the American people periodically through "21st Century Fireside Chats," to discuss issues before their agencies in a national broadband town hall forum.

2. How do you view the importance of diversity in our representative, constitutional democracy?
With each passing year, the American identity gains another shade, another contour, and a new past. This is the fate of any nation that welcomes people from foreign shores, and our commitment to assimilating people from around the world into our ever-evolving American identity is one of our nation's proudest traditions.

Of course, that commitment is not without it challenges. Democracy at the hands of a diverse people can be raucous, but it need not be marked by the bitter partisanship that has shaped our politics for a generation. A diverse people can -- and must -- have common commitments without surrendering the differences of opinion and belief that make our country so rich and remarkable. This challenge of finding unity in diversity is one I have faced in my own personal life, and it will be the foremost goal I put before the nation as President.

I believe that a team that is diverse is a stronger team, and I am proud to say that my campaign is one of the most diverse teams ever assembled. I will assemble a similar team as president. And I will not just make a few high-visibility appointments and declare that my Administration is diverse. I will ensure that minorities are fully participating at all levels of government.

3. How will you use the office of President of the United States to work with the United Nations and other bodies to respond to the issue of global warming and to protect, nurture and respect the environment?

Global warming is one of the greatest challenges facing the world, today, and I have proposed bold initiatives to put America on the path to stop global climate change. My plan will set a hard cap on all carbon emissions at a level that scientists say is necessary to curb global warming - an 80% reduction by 2050. To reach that goal, I will implement a 100 percent auction for carbon allowances to ensure that all polluters have to pay based on the amount of pollution they release. I will use the proceeds from that auction to invest $150 billion over the next decade in developing and deploying clean, affordable energy and creating millions of new American jobs. A part of this effort will include launching a Clean Technologies Venture Capital Fund to get the most promising clean energy technologies off the ground so the American economy can benefit from America's innovations.

My plan also uses a variety of conservation and renewable energy policies to put America on the path of true energy independence, starting by reducing our national oil consumption by at least 35%, or 10 million barrels per day, by 2030. This will more than offset the equivalent of oil we are expected to import from OPEC nations in 2030. To meet this goal, I have called for both increasing the production of American-grown biofuels and improving the efficiency of our cars and trucks. I have called the production of 60 billion gallons of biofuels by 2030, including advanced biofuels like cellulosic ethanol and advanced biodiesel. I have also called for ending subsidies to the oil and gas industries to help level the playing field for biofuels producers, and I have helped lead efforts in the Senate to investigate whether big oil companies are preventing biofuels from coming into the market. I am also the only candidate to call for a National Low Carbon Fuel Standard to lower the carbon content of our fuels by 10 percent by 2020 and reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

And to reduce our demands for fuel, I have introduced a plan, based on my innovative bipartisan effort in the Senate, to double our fuel economy standards within 18 years and reduce oil consumption. Finally, my energy plan will both invest in advanced vehicle research and development and support efforts to build more sustainable communities to ensure a long-term strategy for energy independence.

Finally, I will re-engage the U.S. with the post-Kyoto international climate negotiations. I was the first presidential candidate to call for creating a Global Energy Forum - a body which will include the world's top emitters from the developed and developing world. This standing body will allow all participating countries to discuss their climate-related concerns.

I will also create a strong export program that promotes American green technologies abroad to the benefit of both U.S. businesses and workers and developing nations that are seeking to reduce their own emissions. This will ensure that as the U.S. reduces its emissions, it is working with the developing world to ensure its residents have access to non-polluting sources of energy production as well. At the same time, I will strengthen carbon sequestration and conservation efforts across the globe so the world's continued economic growth doesn't come at the expense of our mission to address global climate change and halt environment degradation.

4. Specifically, what is your plan of action to eliminate poverty in America?

Rising poverty is one of the most serious issues facing America today, and I believe that inserting simplistic tag lines or one-dimensional goals are unlikely to be helpful in meeting this challenge. As president, I will build off of my life experiences as a community organizer, civil rights lawyer and elected official to make poverty eradication a top goal of my administration. I have spent my career fighting poverty and hopelessness. I am especially proud of my successful efforts on the South Side of Chicago to organize residents to clean up environmental health hazards and improve the quality of life in their neighborhoods. Perhaps my most notable accomplishment to fight poverty, though, came when I was an Illinois state senator and I led efforts to create the Illinois Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), which put $100 million directly in the pockets of working parents. The EITC has often been described as the most successful antipoverty effort in U.S. government history, and I am proud that I was able to bring both parties together to create the first EITC program in Illinois. As president, I will work everyday to retire the phrase "working poor" from our national vocabulary. My anti-poverty plan will significantly improve opportunities for millions of poor children and their parents by strengthening the economy for working Americans and providing additional resources to programs that have proven to be effective in reducing poverty. For example, my plan will expand the EITC, which is considered one of the most effective pro-work anti-poverty programs to date, to 5.8 million more Americans. Additionally, my EITC plan will increase EITC benefits for another 6.2 million Americans. I will also extend affordable, quality and portable health insurance coverage to every American and make significant investments in early childhood education to help low-income families.

I believe strongly in ending childhood poverty. That's why I will mandate that all children have health insurance coverage and increase funding for high-quality early childhood education programs, which are considered a vital investment in improving the lives of poor children. I will also reverse the Bush Administration's repeated cuts to health care, food and housing programs that have led to an overall increase in childhood poverty over the last several years.

I will also work to tackle concentrated poverty by building off the successful efforts of the Harlem's Children Zone in New York City, which provides comprehensive antipoverty supports to ensure that chronic poverty ends with the current generation. I will create 20 Promise Neighborhoods throughout the nation in areas that have high levels of poverty, crime and low levels of student academic achievement in cities across the nation. My Promise Neighborhoods will provide a full network of services to an entire neighborhood from birth to college. The Promise Neighborhoods will seek to engage all resident children and their parents into an achievement program based on tangible goals, including college for each and every participating student, strong physical and mental health outcomes for children as well as retention of meaningful employment and parenting schools for parents. These efforts will help finally break the cycle of poverty that has lasted for too long in America, and help the next generation of children succeed and prosper.

My anti-poverty agenda reflects my experiences working directly with low-income families, government and the private sector to provide additional opportunities to more Americans. I have learned that government alone cannot eradicate poverty in American - rather, it is our responsibility to empower individuals to make responsible decisions for their well-being and to engage the private sector which has much to gain by helping all Americans succeed. That's why I will invest $1 billion in transitional jobs and career pathways programs that engage businesses because businesses often realize that helping their low-income workers succeed means that the business itself will succeed. I will also improve supports for low-income mothers and fathers, to help empower them to take responsibility for the success for their children and families. I'll pass the Responsible Fatherhood and Healthy Families Act, a bill I introduced last year that will provide more financial support to fathers who make the responsible choice to help raise their children and crack down on the fathers who don't. And I'll help new mothers with their new responsibilities by expanding a pioneering program known as the Nurse-Family Partnership that offers home visits by trained registered nurses to low-income mothers and mothers-to-be. My plan will assist approximately 570,000 first-time mothers each year.

5. What do you intend to do to end the war in Iraq?

I opposed the war in Iraq from the beginning. I thought it was a "rash war," that would damage our interests, trap us in a sectarian conflict, and divert us from finishing the effort against al Qaeda. Changing the definition of success to stay the course with the wrong policy is the wrong course for our troops and our national security.

The time to end the surge and to start bringing our troops home is now - not six months from now. That is why my plan would begin withdrawing our combat brigades immediately. We can draw down 1-2 combat brigades a month, getting all 20 out within 15-16 months. My plan envisions maintaining a small follow on force in Iraq or the region focused on force and facility protection and counter-terrorism. Because there is a humanitarian crisis unfolding in Iraq now - with more than 4 million Iraqis having been forced from their homes - my plan would also dramatically increase investment in refugee assistance. Lastly, in an effort to get Iraq's political leaders to resolve the political disagreements at the heart of their civil war, I would work with the United Nations to call a constitutional convention in Iraq, using aggressive diplomacy to get the neighbors to back that convention and stop the flow of weapons and terrorists into Iraq.

6. As President of the United States, how will you exemplify leadership domestically and internationally toward the fulfillment of "the beloved community"?

Several weeks ago, I had the privilege of speaking about this topic from the pulpit of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s church, the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. In those remarks, I touched on this theme of how each of us, individually and through our politics, can and should pursue fulfillment of "the beloved community." In his vision of "the beloved community," Martin Luther King dared Americans to extend "the concept of brotherhood to a vision of total interrelatedness." As it was then, unity is the great need of the hour in our nation and in our world. Excerpts of my remarks at Ebenezer, where I laid out my plan for fulfilling Dr. King's vision of the beloved community, are below:

We are told that those who differ from us on a few things are different from us on all things; that our problems are the fault of those who don't think like us or look like us or come from where we do. The welfare queen is taking our tax money. The immigrant is taking our jobs. The believer condemns the non-believer as immoral, and the nonbeliever chides the believer as intolerant.

For most of this country's history, we in the African-American community have been at the receiving end of man's inhumanity to man. And all of us understand intimately the insidious role that race still sometimes plays - on the job, in the schools, in our health care system, and in our criminal justice system.

And yet, if we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that none of our hands are entirely clean. If we're honest with ourselves, we'll acknowledge that our own community has not always been true to King's vision of a beloved community.

We have scorned our gay brothers and sisters instead of embracing them. The scourge of anti-Semitism has, at times, revealed itself in our community. For too long, some of us have seen immigrants as competitors for jobs instead of companions in the fight for opportunity.

Every day, our politics fuels and exploits this kind of division across all races and regions; across gender and party. It is played out on television. It is sensationalized by the media. And last week, it even crept into the campaign for President, with charges and counter-charges that served to obscure the issues instead of illuminating the critical choices we face as a nation.

So let us say that on this day of all days, each of us carries with us the task of changing our hearts and minds. The division, the stereotypes, the scape-goating, the ease with which we blame our plight on others - all of this distracts us from the common challenges we face - war and poverty; injustice and inequality. We can no longer afford to build ourselves up by tearing someone else down. We can no longer afford to traffic in lies or fear or hate. It is the poison that we must purge from our politics; the wall that we must tear down before the hour grows too late.

Because if Dr. King could love his jailor; if he could call on the faithful who once sat where you do to forgive those who set dogs and fire hoses upon them, then surely we can look past what divides us in our time, and bind up our wounds, and erase the empathy deficit that exists in our hearts.

But if changing our hearts and minds is the first critical step, we cannot stop there. It is not enough to bemoan the plight of poor children in this country and remain unwilling to push our elected officials to provide the resources to fix our schools. It is not enough to decry the disparities of health care and yet allow the insurance companies and the drug companies to block much-needed reforms. It is not enough for us to abhor the costs of a misguided war, and yet allow ourselves to be driven by a politics of fear that sees the threat of attack as way to scare up votes instead of a call to come together around a common effort.

The Scripture tells us that we are judged not just by word, but by deed. And if we are to truly bring about the unity that is so crucial in this time, we must find it within ourselves to act on what we know; to understand that living up to this country's ideals and its possibilities will require great effort and resources; sacrifice and stamina. And that is what is at stake in the great political debate we are having today. The changes that are needed are not just a matter of tinkering at the edges, and they will not come if politicians simply tell us what we want to hear. All of us will be called upon to make some sacrifice. None of us will be exempt from responsibility. We will have to fight to fix our schools, but we will also have to challenge ourselves to be better parents. We will have to confront the biases in our criminal justice system, but we will also have to acknowledge the deep-seated violence that still resides in our own communities and marshal the will to break its grip.

That is how we will bring about the change we seek. That is how Dr. King led this country through the wilderness. He did it with words - words that he spoke not just to the children of slaves, but the children of slave owners. Words that inspired not just black but also white; not just the Christian but the Jew; not just the Southerner but also the Northerner.

He led with words, but he also led with deeds. He also led by example. He led by marching and going to jail and suffering threats and being away from his family. He led by taking a stand against a war, knowing full well that it would diminish his popularity. He led by challenging our economic structures, understanding that it would cause discomfort. Dr. King understood that unity cannot be won on the cheap; that we would have to earn it through great effort and determination.

That is the unity - the hard-earned unity - that we need right now. It is that effort, and that determination, that can transform blind optimism into hope - the hope to imagine, and work for, and fight for what seemed impossible before.