For those of you who may have been under a rock for the last few years and do not know Roland Martin, you have several ways to get to know him: he has penned three books, he is a commentator on TV One Cable Network and is currently host and managing editor of Washington Watch with Roland Martin, a one-hour Sunday morning news show. He has interviewed both the president and the first lady of the United States of America. And now, there is one other way: a rare one-on-one sit-down with one of African American’s most popular political journalists.
Courtney Penn Blevins: In your political experience so far, what has been the worst move you’ve seen politically; the move that has had the most surprising outcome?
Roland Martin: Well, that’s a very broad question. I mean, what do you mean by “worst move” and what do you mean “politically”?
Courtney Penn Blevins: OK, let’s try this: what do you wish Obama had done differently in his administration?
Roland Martin: Van Jones has said, and I agree, that one of the mistakes [this administration has made] is to have allowed that massive online group of supporters to stop driving the agenda. Jones talks about that in his book, Rebuild the Dream. A lot of it [the grassroots support] went silent but then, when the Obama administration needed that group of people to be out, countering the Tea Party, it wasn’t there. Their forces decided to allow the administration to pretty much take over that aspect and I thought that was a bad mistake. He needed to have that group still there.
Courtney Penn Blevins: Well, speaking of questionable decisions, Obama’s personal decision about gay marriage seems to have caused quite a ripple. But isn’t this more of a personal, moral decision on Obama’s part? In your opinion, how blurred is the line between church and state becoming?
Roland Martin: I think when people talk about church and state they don’t recognize the current level of influence faith and religion has on politics. However, the Constitution bars a national religion; in fact, the words church and state are not in the constitution. Most people don’t know that; most haven’t bothered to understand that, so as a result, people make political decisions based on their lens of religion. I wrote a column about the lawsuit about the suspension of Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore over his refusing to remove the statue of the Ten Commandments. Justice Roy was someone sworn to protect the Constitution which is not based on the Bible. When we have had to make political decisions, we are asking for prayer but then, when that happens suddenly their faith informs their decision; this isn’t something we can just pick and choose.
Courtney Penn Blevins: But how do you weigh in? Given your connection and involvement with the church, do you find it difficult personally to separate the two?
Roland Martin: Have we ever had a president who is an atheist or a non-Christian?
Courtney Penn Blevins: Not to my knowledge.
Roland Martin: No, of course not. We haven’t because it matters to voters but they are saying two different things. There was a picture of Obama surrounded by a group of apostolic pastors and that picture was popular and they want to keep church in politics but that can’t be.
Courtney Penn Blevins: Well, how about wins for Obama? What do you think of Obamacare?
Roland Martin: Oh, I don’t call it Obamacare, because opposition uses that term to belittle it.
Courtney Penn Blevins: I’m so sorry.
Roland Martin: Yes. I call it by its correct name: the Affordable Health Care Act signed by congress. This is something that presidents for years have been trying to get done and it’s finally gotten done. There is no way to say this is not a coup.
Courtney Penn Blevins: Another win?
Roland Martin: The economy. We have been seeing starts and stops and we’re finally seeing more jobs. Another win for the Obama administration? They have been attempting to reinvigorate community colleges throughout the US and that is great. Some difficulties the current administration has been experiencing: foreclosures and the housing ordeal. There have been some stops and starts with the housing crisis, too, but in addition to the obvious problem, fifty-three percent or more of Black wealth has been wiped out due to this housing crisis. And, finally, the Financial Reform Bill, which passed Congress and was touted by the administration as one of the toughest bills in years, included some unwise concessions and it did not include many things that could have been done with this legislation that were not. If we’d had a far more aggressive term, not so focused on the “do no harm” mantra, we could have made some substantive changes.
Courtney Penn Blevins: Obama’s election has had a remarkable effect on African Americans’ participation in politics, from rallying to the polls, to table conversation. Do you think we as African Americans will maintain our interest levels in politics with this campaign or will it falter?
Roland Martin: First and foremost, it’s important to realize the factors are different in terms of what we’re dealing with and seeing. People got involved in 2008 for different reasons. The thing I’ve always said about “hope” and “change” is that it could mean 1,000 different things to 1,000 different people. This time around, it is difficult because we don’t have the same motivation. We must recognize what has changed, what is different and what makes this [campaign] unique. We’re not going to see the same level of intensity because of those changes and the different factors. The messaging, frankly, from the campaign is also going to be different because it is coming from an entirely different move.
Courtney Penn Blevins: And those differences?
Roland Martin: Last time, you had forces that were very vocal and ready to take President Bush on in a significant way. An anti-war movement had mobilized in 2004 and that is not at play this time. This time, people are on the other side: oppressed and out. The other difference is Obama will be running on his actual record, versus what he would like to do; this significantly changes how you run. And also, although the economy was a huge deal last time, it’s going to play a different sort of role this time because of how entrenched the economy has become: how slow it has been for us digging out of this hole.
Courtney Penn Blevins: Your show, Washington Watch, gives you a most advantageous position as a political leader…
Roland Martin: I am not a political leader. I am a journalist.
Courtney Penn Blevins: Well, if people see you as a leader, you are, right? You may not want to be one, but oft times, one is as people perceive one to be. But, I will concede: you are a journalist. Your guests, people like Maxine Waters, Angela Rye, Hilda Soldis, Pete Olson are incredibly diverse and offer a wide-range of viewpoints and experiences for your viewers. What is your main goal with bringing on the types of guests you do?
Roland Martin: For us: the guests and myself: to speak clear and uncompromised truth. If we disagree, we disagree. I do not allow “alternative” facts. I do not allow people to “spin” and not be truthful because it does not do anyone any good. I am looking at these issues from an African American perspective and I want to have those people coming on to the show looking at our issues from our perspectives. Too often we look at those other shows and our issues get too wrapped up in their agendas.