But do you have a favorite?On race:
P. Diddy I enjoy quite a bit.
Do you want to rethink that?
[laughs] I guess I’m sorta old-school that way. Remember, I came of age with the DJ and all this other stuff, so I’m also loving Grandmaster Flash, and that’s not hip-hop, but… Um, you know, I like Chuck D. And I always thought Snoop Dogg was—he just reminded me of the fellas back home. So I’ve always thoroughly enjoyed him.
I like Sinatra. I like old-school. You know, Bing Crosby, Sinatra, Dean Martin. Love Dean Martin. He was one of these guys who just didn’t give an F. He just didn’t. Life was a party, and you either want to party or you don’t. But yeah, I like those. I’m a big Pack Rat. I love the Pack Rats from the 1950s—Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Frank Sinatra, those guys.
You mean the Rat Pack.
The Rat Pack, yeah.
Okay, so tell me about this hip-hop plan of yours.
Well, I have to admit, I’m rather amused. It was a conversation I had with a Washington Times reporter, and we were talking about the breadth and depth of the reach that I would try to bring to the party. And I told him, everybody’s in play. I want to reach everybody; I want to touch everybody. I think we have a very strong and powerful message to deliver. The urban community is a center for economic activity. It always has been, particularly in the black community. We are very much an entrepreneurial people, and I think the Republican message is one that speaks directly to that. It’s self-empowerment, it’s ownership, it’s opportunity. And hip-hop—I used hip-hop more as a symbolic term. I know some people started going a little nuts about “Oh, well, you know, they’re misogynists!” And some call them urban terrorists, which I think is an offensive term. But you know, they miss the point of what hip-hop is. Hip-hop is about economic empowerment. You’re talking about a generation of men from, you know, P. Diddy to Russell Simmons and the like who have created empire from their talent. Russell Simmons has empire. His reach is beyond hip-hop.
You’re not gonna convert Russell Simmons, though.
I’m not trying to convert anybody. If I wanted to convert somebody, I’d have kept my collar on, as a monk. What I’m trying to do is to inform. I have enough respect for people that they can make their own decisions. I just want to be in a situation where every time they’re not against me.
You made the comment at the convention about the sea of white faces. And you got a little bit of heat for that.
I sure did. And I looked at the people who gave me the heat and said, “What’s your problem? You tell me I’m wrong. Look at the room. Thirty-six black folks in the room? What, are you kidding me? Out of 4,000 people? Come on!”
Why do you think so few nonwhite Americans support the Republican Party right now?
’Cause we have offered them nothing! And the impression we’ve created is that we don’t give a damn about them or we just outright don’t like them. And that’s not a healthy thing for a political party. I think the way we’ve talked about immigration, the way we’ve talked about some of the issues that are important to African-Americans, like affirmative action… I mean, you know, having an absolute holier-than-thou attitude about something that’s important to a particular community doesn’t engender confidence in your leadership by that community—or consideration of you for office or other things—because you’ve already given off the vibe that you don’t care. What I’m trying to do now is to say we do give a damn.
When Barack Obama gave the speech on race, did you agree with what he said?Some man jealousy going on:
I did. I mean, some of it. But my concern throughout this campaign was, people were treating him like he was going to be the Second Coming on the question of race. And because you have a black man as president doesn’t mean that tomorrow morning a black business is not gonna get redlined or a black family’s gonna be able to get their house. Those issues still exist. So the reality of it is, electing Barack does not necessarily change the underlying concerns and issues related to race. On one level it does, but I’m still a black man; when I walk in a room, you have attitudes about black folks. I can’t change that. And I’ve gotta deal with that reality regardless of my title. There are people in this country right now who would look at Barack Obama and still refer to him as “boy.” Period. That’s the reality of America. So my point is, just recognize that while the election is historic, while it is important, while it is transformative, it does not absolve us of having to deal day in and day out, in my life and your life, with the question of race.
Was it emotional for you when Barack was sworn in?
I don’t get caught up that way.
Have you had any dealings with Barack Obama?There's so much more on abortion (which he's now shifted positions on-Roe v. Wade should be appealed, he says) and gay marriage. Check it out here.
Nooo. I tried, I tried. When he first came to Washington, I was two years into my term. At that time, I was the only African-American lieutenant governor in the country. And when Obama became senator, my office called his office several—no, more than several—times, to invite…for the two of us to sit down and get to know each other. I was gonna welcome him to my hometown, Washington, D.C. I figured, you know, take him out and get to know each other. And his office told my staff they didn’t see any need for the two of us to meet. So I’m like, “Oh-kay. All right. I don’t know what that’s all about, but that’s fine.”
And did you do that with everyone who was newly elected in the Senate?
No. I reached out to him brother to brother.
Brother to brother?
Yeah, you know: “There are only two of us, Barack, just you and me. You’re the senator, I’m the lieutenant governor.” ’Cause you didn’t have, you know, the black governors in New York and Massachusetts. It was just us. And I don’t know if it was a staff thing, I don’t know if it was a personal thing, I don’t know what it was. But we never got to meet. And then, when I ran for the senate [in 2006], he was the only African-American elected official in the country to come and campaign against me. Nobody else.