Ifill tackles race and politics

Her book may be called “The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama,” but bestselling author and journalist Gwen Ifill said she started her project thinking Barack Obama was going to lose the election.

“When I started writing it, it was with the premises that Obama was not going to be president,” Ifill told a crowd in the Jack Morton Auditorium Thursday evening.

Ifill laughed with the event’s host, GW professor and CNN correspondent Frank Sesno, throughout the event – which celebrated Black History Month, while they covered topics ranging from her new book to Queen Latifah.

The book centers around four young black politicians who are part of a new era of black leaders. Eloquent, educated and motivated, these politicians, which include Obama, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, Newark Mayor Cory Booker and Rep. Artur Davis, D-Al., began their careers in a markedly different way than their forefathers, Ifill said.

“Right now there are younger, better educated black men who are taking power, not waiting for it to be handed to them,” Ifill said. “One thing all of these breakthrough candidates have in common was that they were told they had to wait to be called on, but they did not wait.”

It is with these new politicians that the future of black politics lies, Ifill said.

“They had to change the law,” Ifill said. “A lot of decisions were not based on old political lines.”

Even while covering such tough issues as race relations, Ifill’s lighthearted moments kept the crowd laughing.

“People knew he was black,” Ifill said of Obama’s supposed campaign strategy to not bring up race. “It was not something he needed to bring up.”

Ifill said that during the campaign season she was often presented with the idea that Obama and the United States were in a position to “transcend” race. But Ifill said she does not even understand what that expression means.

“Barack Obama does not even think you can transcend race,” Ifill said.

Known for hosting the last two vice-presidential debates – most recently the Sarah Palin and Joe Biden debate, controversial for Ifill’s then-impending book – Ifill has had a long career as a journalist. She is now at PBS as the moderator for “Washington Week” and a senior correspondent for “The NewsHour.”

It was for the vice-presidential debates that Queen Latifah parodied Ifill on “Saturday Night Live,” something Ifill said she can only view as a compliment.

“Who can complain about Queen Latifah playing them?” Ifill asked.

The event was co-sponsored by the School of Media and Public Affairs, GW Alumni Association and the Graduate School of Political Management.

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