Tavis: President Obama addressing Congress and the American people Tuesday night in his second State of the Union address. For reaction and a look at where this country is politically early in 2011, I’m pleased to be joined tonight by Charlie Crist, the former Florida governor and U.S. Senate candidate in Miami now. I assume he’s enjoying his new life out of politics. Governor, good to have you on this program again, sir.
Charlie Crist: Tavis, it’s great to be with you. It’s certainly my pleasure, thank you for the opportunity.
Tavis: I’m glad to have you. Let me start by asking, without coloring the question too much, what you made of the speech.
Crist: I thought it was great. I really thought that President Obama delivered a speech that took us to a higher place, that talked about the fact that we need to be unified, we need to work together as a nation, Republicans, Democrats, Independents, to pull us out of this economic difficulty that we’ve been dealing with for several years now.
I really thought he hit a high note, and I daresay, Tavis, I thought it was Reaganesque in the way he delivered it and also the tone that he set with the delivery.
Tavis: I guess the question is whether or not innovation is the answer. He seemed to build his entire case on innovation being the answer to advancing America to the place it needs to be. Is, in your mind, innovation the answer?
Crist: I don’t think there’s any question about it. I think innovation is absolutely critical. It’s what we’ve always done in the past. He talked about several examples about NASA following the Sputnik of the Russians and things of that nature. But I also really appreciated the emphasis the president put on education and innovation. I think that both are critically important to keeping America moving forward.
That we have to invest in education, invest in innovation, continue to make sure that resources are available in order to have our education, whether it’s at the K through 12 level or higher education. He stated, I believe, in the speech the fact that we have the finest universities on the planet, and that people from all over the world want to come to attend the universities in America.
That’s a very strong point of pride, and I think again, appropriately, the president emphasized education along with that innovation to keep our country prosperous and moving forward, and the building, too, I thought was very important as well.
Tavis: Let’s talk about education. I have heard more of these speeches, State of the Union addresses, than I can count now in my short lifetime, and I can’t recall a single State of the Union speech where I did not hear my president, Republican or Democrat, say to me and the nation that education was critical, that education was key.
Every president wants to be the education president. I raise that because you had your own unique battles in Florida around the issue of education, and it is true that all politics is local. So here’s the question: Why is it that every president raises the issue of education, says he wants to be the education president, and yet we are lagging so far behind in this fight, in this battle to right-size the education system in this country?
Crist: Well, it’s an enormous challenge, no question about that, and I think that the president and the secretary of education Arne Duncan really have seized the moment to try to move America forward as it relates to education specifically, and I think that one of the things that I was involved with as governor and a former education commissioner for our state of Florida was the Race to the Top that we just came through – a very competitive situation with all states throughout the country competing for a grant, if you will, in order to invest more in education and our hardworking public school teachers throughout the state of Florida.
On the first round, Florida was not successful in what Secretary Duncan and President Obama put forward, but we had the opportunity to try again, and before I left office we were successful, giving us the opportunity to get about $700 million to invest more into education in the Sunshine State, help our children for their future.
That’s why, as you say, I think every president – frankly, every governor – wants to be an education president or an education governor because the issue is so important to the future, and that’s really what the president talked about – winning the future.
In order for us as a nation to be able to do this, and Tavis, you know this as well as anybody, we’re going to have to really seize upon education, the competition that it can create there, the accountability that is necessary to have a better education system for our children going forward, so they truly can compete with young people that are graduating from universities all over the world.
Tavis: My dear friend, Dr. Cornel West, says of this Race to the Top program that education in this country ought not to be a race, it ought to be a right, and part of what’s wrong with this country is that we’ve made it a race where some are allowed to run, come out of the blocks the minute the gun goes off; others aren’t allowed to take off until the first runners have gotten three-quarters of the way around the field.
There’s no way, then, that these persons who are held back because of their race, because of their community, because of whatever, their gender, there’s no way they can get back in the race to ever compete fairly.
So in this country, do we have it all wrong where we are seeing education as a race and not as a fundamental right to an equal, high-quality education for all American children?
Crist: That’s a great point. In Florida’s constitution it is in essence laid out as, as you say, a fundamental right, and it’s important for anybody in public policy position, from a school board member, a schoolteacher, a governor or even the president of the United States to put an emphasis on that education as a right, a civil right, for every single American to have the opportunity to live their dreams and succeed in life, whatever that chosen endeavor might be.
That’s why I think it’s so important that the president spent so much time on it. You’re right, every president does and they all want to be the education president, but last night, President Obama spent, I think, an extraordinary amount of time on the issue of education, and I daresay appropriately so.
It is a fundamental right. It’s something we have to maintain a laser focus on for the benefit of our children and America’s future.
Tavis: We all know you are a former Republican; you are now a proud Independent. I’m curious now, on the politics of the speech last night, whether or not you heard anything that will accrue a political benefit to the president where Independents are concerned.
All the polls of late suggest that the coalition that he put together two years ago, he does not have that coalition together at the moment. Of course, he’s got two years before the next election to pull that coalition back together again, but anything you heard last night that might advantage the president in getting those independents back on board that he so needed and valued the first time around?
Crist: Yeah, I think so, Tavis. I think that many of the chords that he struck last night reminded me of some of the things we heard from President Obama when he was the Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate. I remember him speaking at the Democratic Convention in 2004, when he so famously said, “We’re not the red states of America, we’re not the blue states of America, we’re the United States of America.”
It’s abundantly clear to me that’s where this man is happiest. I really believe that his core is about being in the center, and I think that the more he has the opportunity to, as he did last night, I thought, in eloquent fashion have the opportunity to talk about the need and the desire and the importance of America coming together as a country, he’s going to do better and better.
I mean, we’ve seen it just since the lame duck. Accomplishments that were achieved between the election, which was a difficult time for the president, and the end of the year, and his numbers have continued to grow as a result thereof.
Getting things done is what the American people really want. I am convinced it’s what the president is striving to do, and I think the more he can reach out to Republicans, Democrats and Independents, that’s only going to help his effort going forward as it relates to Independents in particular.
Tavis: I’ve just got a minute to go here. I’ve asked this question of Republicans and Democrats but not of an independent; certainly not one of your stature. The problems some see with going to the middle is that you get Bill Clinton redux – that is, more triangulation, more compromise, more capitulation to put points up on the scoreboard just so you can get reelected.
Sometimes the center ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. Jim Hightower in Texas says, “The only thing you find in the middle of the road is a dead armadillo.” So why are we so excited about somebody moving to the center?”
Crist: Because people want to get things done in this country, and I really feel – and I’ve got to compliment you, Tavis, on the way you do your show. It’s not one of these screaming opportunities that you see so much today in the media, and that’s unfortunate that that happens in other places, but where you can have an intelligent discussion, realize that we’re all in this together.
We’re all Americans and that Republicans, Democrats and Independents, all of us need to be pulling together to make sure that our country is successful, maintains the great leadership that she has, and I believe that that’s exactly what we’re going to see happen.
Tavis: The former governor of the great Sunshine State of Florida, Governor Charlie Crist. Governor, always an honor to have you on this program, and look forward to talking to you again in the future.
Crist: Thank you, Tavis. An honor to be with you.
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