Meet the Press   |  July 21, 2013

3: Obama's leadership: a 'transformative presidency?'

A Meet the Press roundtable discusses the president's plans for the American people on race, health care and other issues in his second term.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> in our remaining time i want to spend a few minutes of presidential leadership. the president talking about race. david brooks , i wanted your perspective. david who wrote a biography of the president writes this morning that his sense -- and i'm paraphrasing here -- that once the president reached the white house , now quoting, it appears his intense interest in the subject of race diminished, he would be judged by the content of his presidency, not the color of his skin. race seemingly became unimportant, if not irrelevant, to the first black president of the united states . he rarely spoke about it. this, a big departure.

>> yeah. it seemed superficially unimportant, but it's important to remember race is his first subject, as it would be if you had a black father and a white mother. he brings to all the other issues, the way he framed race and the way he started thinking about race, his tendency to do on the one hand, on the other, his desire to reconcile opposites, his ability to see different points of view, all the stuff we've seen him come to apply to every other issue, it started with race. i thought this speech was one of the highlights, i thought it was a symphony of indignation, professionalism, executive responsibility, personal feeling. it had all these different things woven together. i thought beautifully. but it's important to remember, race is how he started.

>> again, i come back because i want to make sure to represent that other side as well. some conservatives have said, look, this was the wrong moment to inject race into the trial, their view, and for the president to speak out in this way.

>> yeah. i guess i would disagree with him. i think if the young man had been a white kid and the older guy had been a black guy, it would be a different story. and the president said that. and i think that happens to be true.

>> i think this was the president speaking as a witness to white people . it was really a conversation to explain to white people why there was so much angst in the african-american community about this. and the reason why this was an important moment is because we have not arrived. and those in the conservative community that would say that this was not about race need to understand that the moment they can say that i would trade places with an african-american person and feel like i've not lost any of my benefits or privileges, that's the point we will have arrived. but we haven't gotten there yet.

>> i will say this. this is a moment for the obama presidency. and barack obama , the person. because i believe that he addressed something that i know was -- that had been deep in his consciousness for the first five years of his presidency. i think what he may have thought is that actions speak louder than words. that in fact, if you confront health care disparities through the health care law , predatory lending through dodd/frank, that if you, in fact, enforce the civil rights law , that would be enough. but i think what this may be a recognition of is that the power of the presidency is the bully pulpit . the power of shape hearts, minds and ideas. the power to lead the nation -- -ist important to look at barack obama 's presidency as a transformative presidency in terms of what the nation will become in the 21st century . we've got to see this moment as a nation. and i think barack obama opened the door. and my prayer and hope is that it's going to be a conversation that's going to lead to concrete steps and action, not just by the president, but that it's going to spur others.

>> and chuck, but if you look at other areas, how does the president use his second term? where does he intervene on some of these key issues? we see how he's done it here. and as the mayor points out, we'll see where he goes with that, whether it's immigration or the implementation of health care . he also is now starting to use that bully pulpit .

>> what was interesting about that conversation at the beginning of the show and the debate particularly with tavis, too much caution.

>> yeah.

>> that actually -- that in many ways, that description of president obama on many issues is too cautious. he waits too long to speak out and use the bully pulpit . one other observation that i wanted to give on the speech that he made on friday, that was also the son of an anthropologist. people always forget that. his mother was an anthropologist, "a," an observer of communities, interacting. she did it obviously overseas in indonesia. and you see that as always been the sort of intellectual way he looks at this, it bit him politically, cling to their guns and bible, again that was obama the anthropologist.

>> and a law professor . charles ogletree said before the program, he poses the uncomfortable question and lets people grapple with that.

>> and enhe backs away. when he was thinking about running for president, one of the greatest assets of him winning the president. he could be a total failure. winning the presidency meant he was going to have cracked a ceiling, broken a ceiling for young african-american men. he knew that just the action, not the words, the simple action was going to make him a role model and say you know what? this is no longer -- african-american -- young african-american men have -- you know, it's not just about getting out of poverty, athletics or through entertainment. there are other ways that he was going to be a role model.

>> gene robinson said, "no caption necessary."

>> remember, he's pushing immigration reform , among americans under 5 years old, whites are a minority. and we're going to have a very different conversation in a few years when it's much more multiethnic, latinos, asians and all these other groups, i'd be fascinated to see how the race discussion will look. it's not just two things.

>> and i was at the national council yesterday, and the discussion is already changing about the dynamic of the nation. but the important thing is, we are at the beginning of this transformation. and we've got to seize the moment.

>> david and i come from cities where this has already happened, miami and los angeles . where it was blacks and whites. it's a complicated conversation.