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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, January 13, 2008

COMMENTARY
Obama up to task of leading nation

By Brian Schatz, Hawaii for Obama spokesman

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Brian Schatz Hawaii for Obama spokesman.

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Each week Editorial and Opinion Editor Jeanne Mariani-Belding hosts The Hot Seat, our opinion-page blog that brings in elected leaders and people in the news and lets you ask the questions during a live online chat.

On The Hot Seat last week was Brian Schatz, spokesman for Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama's Hawai'i campaign.

The following is an excerpt from that Hot Seat session. To see the full conversation, go to The Hot Seat blog at www.honoluluadvertiser.com/opinion and click on "The Hot Seat." (Names of questioners are screen names given during our online chat.)

Joe M.: Why do you think Obama is ready to become president, and what qualifications does he have that are better than the other candidates? And do you think a Democrat can beat a Republican candidate? If so, why?

Brian Schatz: I believe Senator Obama is the best positioned to unite America around a common purpose. While he's a proud Democrat, he has a proven track record of working across the aisle on nuclear nonproliferation, ethics reform and healthcare. And his ability to inspire is bringing scores of new people into the process.

I think he's the best general-election candidate because he's got such broad appeal and widespread enthusiasm. I like all of the Dem candidates, but Barack has clearly touched a nerve and started a movement.

hherrera: If I remember correctly, the two senators from Hawai'i have said that they endorsed Hillary Clinton for president. Will Mr. Obama, the candidate with ties to Hawai'i, be supported by its people or is he going to be left alone in this race by the top Hawai'i leaders? Is Hawai'i still supporting status quo, or are we ready for a positive change of pace?

Schatz: Sen. Daniel Inouye has endorsed Sen. Clinton, as has (state) Senate President Colleen Hanabusa. But we have many elected officials supporting our hometown candidate, including Congressman Neil Abercrombie, Sens. Clarence Nishihara and Russell Kokubun, Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi, and about a dozen members of the state House. We feel that we are doing very well among elected officials, but the main thing is that those who support Obama actually show up on Feb. 19. Remember, this is different than a regular election you have to physically show up on Feb. 19 in the evening.

Jennifer Megahan: What are Sen. Obama's ideas on the state of education, specifically in regards to No Child Left Behind and standardized testing? Does he believe he truly can understand the impact that using class time to "teach to the test" and administering the tests has on students learning? How does Sen. Obama support not only gay rights, but the rights of all minorities, including women?

Schatz: Sen. Obama believes that teachers should be treated like the professionals that they are, and that NCLB has overemphasized testing, and teaching to the test. He is strongly in favor of fully funding NCLB, and changing the emphasis from high-stakes testing to what really matters, which is teaching each individual student. His sister, Maya, is a teacher in Honolulu and speaks eloquently about Barack's understanding of education.

On civil rights, he was a civil rights attorney, representing those who have been disenfranchised, and feels strongly in equality for everyone, including women and gays. He got a 100 percent rating from various pro-choice groups, and has many GLBT supporters.

Jason S Nichols: Why should anyone in Hawai'i care about politics on the national level, when no candidates visit this state and our four electoral votes are almost completely meaningless on the national level? Without a popular vote this state has no voice, especially in the general election where it is assumed by all candidates that Hawai'i will go to the Democrat.

Schatz: Well, that's not entirely accurate, Jason. We don't know whether or not Feb. 5 will be decisive for any Democratic front-runner, but if it's not, we're next. And we have roughly the same number of electoral votes as Iowa or New Hampshire.

And many of us in Hawai'i understand that war, global warming and healthcare are issues that hit us in our real lives, not in some abstract way. We have to participate, because, as someone once said, democracy is not what we have, it's what we do.

Kevin: Just before the New Hampshire primary (candidate John) Edwards proposed to bring the troops home within a year. Don't you think Obama could draw more traditional Democratic votes away from Edwards and (Dennis) Kucinich if he pledged to reverse the nation-building fiascos of the Bush and Clinton administrations?

Schatz: Perhaps, but Sen. Obama has been clear from the beginning about the war, and I believe he has demonstrated foreign policy judgment on Iraq, Iran and Pakistan that demonstrates his ability to be a great commander in chief. This past week, in between campaign rallies, he's been working with the State Department trying to help negotiate peace in Kenya.

Karen: What's Barack's solution for the rising cost of healthcare insurance? I recently became unemployed and am paying for my health insurance out of pocket and it's outrageous on the budget.

Schatz: On healthcare, he has a plan that you can find on his Web site, that was praised by former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich as the superior plan out of the three front-runners.

Bill Prescott: Brian, what kind of changes does Sen. Obama intend to make? And hasn't he been party to what he now wants to change?

Schatz: Sen. Obama would be a dramatic change in three areas:

First, he would reverse the eight-year slide from George Bush's presidency, in terms of foreign policy, global warming, runaway budget deficits and inaction on healthcare. But to be fair, so would the other Democrats.

Second, he understands that in order to get anything done in the political system you need to be able to talk to the other side in a civil manner. And his tone, his leadership style and his demeanor lend itself to civil discourse rather than stone throwing and attack politics. This is what people are hungering for.

Finally, he's reaching out to new voters. Not since Bobby Kennedy has a generation of voters been so inspired to participate in the process. And that's not just good for him (although it seems to be bearing fruit electorally) but it's good for democracy and America.

Jere Krischel: How does Mr. Obama reconcile his call for unity with his support of the race-based Akaka bill?

Schatz: Sen. Obama is a strong supporter of the Akaka bill. In fact, when the bill was up in the Senate, he gave an extemporaneous speech on the Senate floor defending the legislation and Sens. Akaka and Inouye. He understands that Hawaiians have a special relationship with the United States, as recognized by Clinton's Apology Resolution.

Moke Young: Sen. Obama appears to be really popular here in New York despite Hillary Clinton's popularity with much of NYC's democratic backers. I really liked Sen. Obama's sportsmanship congratulating Ms. Clinton on her victory because it shows more than just class.

Without knowing Sen. Obama, I can sense that he is genuine and has a great passion for what he is doing.

Can you share your personal input regarding the senator's passion?

Schatz: I see Sen. Obama's passion for America's potential come through. That's one of the reasons that he's caught fire with young people. They see a real person motivated by a sense of public service. And he's got a great sense of humor. One of the best stories I heard was that on the morning of the Iowa caucuses, three of his buddies from Punahou actually flew out, and they made time for some basketball.

He's grounded, and it shows.

Kekoa: Why isn't Obama willing to work with Hillary and accept a vice-presidential slot, gain some experience, then move ahead after he logs some experience? This is a crucial time for our country; we have no room for error or inexperience.

Schatz: I believe that Senator Obama has demonstrated superior judgment to all of the presidential candidates, and that is what counts. On the big issues Iraq, how to approach Iran, what to do about Pakistan he has gotten it right the first time.

I don't accept the premise that one can only become president by becoming a Washington insider.