Rather Pressed Obama: Do You Pray? Read Fiction or Nonfiction?

August 25th, 2008 8:08 AM

This is the first convention in many, many years without a prominent television platform for Dan Rather. You know it has to be just killing him. Wouldn’t he want to be the one at the top of the powder-puff pyramid, offering all the softball questions to Barack Obama in Denver? Actually, Rather did acquire an interview with Obama for his tiny corner of the TV audience on HDNet back in April before the Pennsylvania primary, and it sounded a lot like the traditional Rather interview with a Democratic contender, tackling such tough issues as "do you pray?," whether he reads "mostly fiction or non-fiction," and "More than any other thing, what rubs you in terms of the lie told about you or a misstatement about something you've done?"

HDNet's video and transcripts for Dan Rather Reports are here. The Obama episode is dated April 15.

The book discussion came as Rather asked about staying outside the bubble:

RATHER: How do you stay outside the bubble, how do you get outside the bubble, not stay outside, how do you get outside, or do you?

OBAMA: Well you know it helps having a 9 year old and a 6 year old daughter, that’s one. And it helps having friends who travel with me occasionally who have nothing to do with politics. Um, and who are old friends and people who I have known for a long time. It helps not watching cable TV or reading your own clips, which I just don’t do. I spent a lot of time, I just finished a novel by Philip Roth which is a good way…

RATHER: Did you like it?

OBAMA: It wasn’t bad.

RATHER: Yeah. You read mostly fiction or non-fiction?

OBAMA: Fiction or non-fiction but usually, if I can avoid it, I don’t spend a lot of time reading about politics.

RATHER: What’s the worst of this? I mean...

OBAMA: Being away from the kids. That’s the hardest thing. Being away from Michelle and the girls is by far the toughest part of it. And the other part of it is, ah, the political reporting now has become, the news cycle is so short that every gaffe by some surrogate somewhere or every comment is just parsed to death or ah, there’s that hall of mirrors. So at a certain point you just feel as if we’re not are talking about the things that are really relevant to people and that -- that trying to break out of that is difficult.

This interview came as Obama was struggling to capture white "working class" voters after the Reverend Wright controversy and his comments about bitter people clinging to guns and religion. Rather didn't ask Obama directly about that, only about his prayer life:

RATHER: Think anyone who's gone through anything even approaching what you go through, finds itsometimes difficult to stay in touch with their spirituality, their religiosity. Do you find that the case with yourself?

OBAMA: No. I actually think that I have strengthened my faith during the course of this campaign, partly be-- precisely because it's so big and busy and there's so much stress. I think—I’m much more prone to step back and ask myself why am I doin' this? What are my motivations? What does God want of me?

RATHER: Do you pray?

OBAMA: Pray every-- every night, absolutely. And my-- you know, my prayer beyond having my family cared for and protected, is that I'm doing His will, that I am-- that I'm taking my ego out of it, which is very hard to do when you're in national politics. I mean, we're all driven by ego to some level -- degree, otherwise, we wouldn't be here. But I think that the longer I'm in this, the more I think that if you're gonna be effective, you have to really try to take yourself out of it as much as possible, and stay clear about what the broader goals are,,,which is a country that hopefully is more just and more equal and more prosperous and more compassionate in a world that is the same.

RATHER: More than any other thing, what rubs you in terms of the lie told about you or a misstatement about something you've done -- one thing more than the other concerns you?

OBAMA: Well, you know, there were these e-mails that were being sent out, suggesting that I was a Muslim and that I was sort of unpatriotic-- which, you know, we have tried to dispel. It was an insult both to me, a Christian, but also an insult to the Muslim community 'cause it tried to play on those fears. But the-- you know, I think that, what really rubs me the wrong way ends up being this suggestion somehow that because I haven't worn a flag pin in the past, that somehow, I don't love this country as much as those who do. Because I wouldn't be doin' this unless I loved this country. I owe everything I am to this country. And, you know, one of the tasks I think in the general election is gonna be to have a healthy debate about what love of country means. And that's a debate I welcome.

Rather concluded his time with Obama and his program of April 15 with a lecture about how no one should be questioning the patriotism of the candidates:

Amidst the daily smoke of political battles, it is easy to miss the bigger goals at stake. While of course it’s important to ask tough questions of any person who is making the argument that he or she is the most qualified to hold the most powerful job on Earth [as if Rather did that?], it is also important that we let them explain themselves. And while we should question their policies and resumes, let’s be very careful in questioning their motives or patriotism.

Unless, of course, their name is George H.W. Bush. Twenty years ago, Rather yelled at him that Iran-Contra made us "hypocrites in the face of the world."