December 18th, 2007
07:15 AM ET
11 years ago

Former senator: Obama's Muslim roots 'a substantial strength'

Watch former Sen. Kerrey's interview in the Situation Room Monday.

WASHINGTON (CNN) – Former senator Bob Kerrey, D-Nebraska, told CNN Monday that Sen. Barack Obama’s Muslim ancestry would add value in conducting American foreign policy if Obama wins the White House.

Obama is Christian but his father was Muslim as is his paternal grandmother and Obama lived in Indonesia, a Muslim country, early in his childhood.

While Kerrey acknowledged “there is a smear campaign going on,” in an effort to use Obama’s background against him, Kerrey told CNN’s John King “I feel it’s actually a substantial strength.” “That connection to Indonesia and a billion Muslims on this Earth, I think is a real strength,” explained Kerrey.

The former senator, who has endorsed Sen. Hillary Clinton, also said that “as an African-American,” Obama “can speak in an authentic way to underperforming black youth who I think will follow his example.”

Kerrey spoke with John King Monday on The Situation Room.

Watch Kerrey's entire interview.

–CNN Associate Producer Martina Stewart

Filed under: Candidate Barack Obama • Faith • Hillary Clinton
soundoff (97 Responses)
  1. Seth, Boston, MA.

    While the above statements from Kerrey are not the complete story, I think it does continue the same campaign tactics that Shaheen was used for recently. Hillary Clinton can say what she wants to try and deny any involvement or wrong doing, but in the end she is supposed to be leading this campaign of hers, and yet all we see are disruptions and confusion within her ranks. To me it has proven that she cannot lead this country if she can't even keep her own campaign in order. She is already resembling the current administration with her attempts to disassociate her involvement from negative aspects of her campaign, and it is rather pitiful to watch. You also have the fact that multiple people have resigned from her campaign, and I'll bet that a couple more will before the end of February.

    Kerrey does try to explain his statements, and I can't give him a hard time for trying to establish a different perspective on Obama's background. But if he were really trying to be positive about it he wouldn't bother to say Muslim this, and Muslim that. It's simply a bit tactless regardless of the truth. I too find Barack Obama's past to be one of great intrigue and I think it will be an important factor in his presidential success's should he get elected.

    I am curious to why he thinks so highly of Barack Obama, and yet is backing someone that has been rather childish about her sliding poll numbers, and has been attacking Obama almost exclusively because of it? And did he just admit to the smear campaign? I know he didn't say directly that it was coming from the Clinton camp, but in light of recent news I think it is pretty clear that would be the case. With Shaheen recently stepping down after his comments, and now this positive spin from Kerrey on Obama's background... I just like the fact that everytime Hillary Clinton and her campaign try to do to take down Obama, she loses more votes and supporters.

    December 18, 2007 09:08 am at 9:08 am |
  2. Psbro

    Either CNN cherry picked the hell out of this interview or Bob Kerry endorsed Hillary by mistake. Knowing CNN what they chose to put in print is highly selective especially if it makes Hillary look bad.

    December 18, 2007 09:15 am at 9:15 am |
  3. S.B. Stein E.B. NJ

    I think that Obama has made it clear several times that he is not a Muslim, but he is a Christian. His name might have some connection with Islam and the Muslims in this world, but I don't know if that is enough to give him "substantial strength" to persuade any predominate Muslim country more than if he had a African or European name.

    I believe that Senator Kerrey is incorrect about this. I am not quite sure that the family connection would be enough.

    December 18, 2007 09:16 am at 9:16 am |
  4. Tom Dedham, Mass

    I admit I am just a white guy who hates the Clinton's, but could these words EASILY be percieved as thinly veiled shots against Obama disguised as "good intentions"?

    First they push the drug thing out there, now applauding his muslim roots. Hmmmm.

    Maybe I am wrong, but I HONESTLY DON'T think I am.

    Read this and tell me it is either poorly thought out or flat out RACIST:

    "The former senator, who has endorsed Sen. Hillary Clinton, also said that “as an African-American,” Obama “can speak in an authentic way to underperforming black youth who I think will follow his example.”

    December 18, 2007 09:24 am at 9:24 am |
  5. Mike, Cleveland, OH

    Is anybody seeing this attempt at the Clinton Camp to use a surrogate to paint a negative light on Obama? This is actually a brilliant attack with a few factual inaccuracies. Obama's father left him when Obama was 2 years old. Furthermore Obama's father was (by all accounts) hardly a strict follower of Islam. Obama only spent 4 years in Indonesia and left when he was 10 years old. His real strength is honesty, charisma, integrity, and not speaking with forked some other candidates.

    This is more of the same smear campaign but with a twist...

    December 18, 2007 09:34 am at 9:34 am |
  6. Humor of the Hour Live from the Campaign Trail

    This from a man who has trouble tying his own shoelaces? Awww, Senator Kerry we still love you :o)

    December 18, 2007 09:36 am at 9:36 am |
  7. James, Minneapolis, MN

    This is clearly a thought out covert attack meant to spread fear throughout Hillary's mass of uneducated supporters.

    December 18, 2007 09:36 am at 9:36 am |
  8. AJ, IL

    I to think that Obama's exposure to many faiths gives him a better perspective on how to unite the world with America. It sounds high and mighty to suggest such a thing, but it is my audacity to hope for a better tommorrow.

    December 18, 2007 09:41 am at 9:41 am |
  9. TIM, Boston, MA

    an honest / honorable comment. agree on both points of his. nonetheless, until obama spells out his ideas and plans with courage and conviction, he deserves little.

    December 18, 2007 09:48 am at 9:48 am |
  10. Randy S. Lawton, OK

    Bravo, Sen. Kerrey, I've been saying that for weeks. At least he will be able to relate to Muslim heads of state and has a better chance of earning their respect and cooperation.

    December 18, 2007 09:49 am at 9:49 am |
  11. P. Blair, Cambridge, MA

    I was very disappointed in this interview, since I believe that Senator Bob Kerrey missed a golden opportunity to highlight a number of critical aspects of Senator Obama's candidacy, which now places him in the lead or a share of the lead for a number of the early voting primary states.

    Senator Obama brings to the American Presidency substantial experience as an expert in Constitutional Law, having lectured in Constitutional Law at the University of Chicago. His rise through the political ranks from a state legislator to the U.S. Senate demonstrates a bottom-up understanding of how politics connects with the American people in practical ways that affect their day-to-day lives.

    Moreover, Senator Obama's prescience on Iraq in 2002 and most recently on the unstable situation in Pakistan, demonstrate a nuanced understanding of how increasingly fragile and dangerous our world has become. In these uncertain times, American seeks a President who is ahead of the curve in discerning the global state of affairs; and Senator Obama has offered critical leadership in this area, most notably on Iraq and Pakistan.

    The forthrightness of Senator Obama on his foreign policy endeavors as President, namely engaging some of America's most vocal critics in Iran and Venezuela in direct high-level talks with the President, display, in my view a serious and practical in-the-trenches commitment towards restoring America's standing in the international community as a friend of all nations and the benevolent superpower of our times.

    As one of the youngest candidates in the Democratic Nomination race, he is an inspiration to ALL young Americans of our Ipod and MySpace generation, inclusive of the black youth that former Senator Kerrey mentions. In an age where the fresh faces of Mark Zuckerberg and the young billionaire co-founders of Google Larry Page and Sergey Brin dominate business headlines; and in a world where a precocious Tiger Woods sits at the precipice of rewriting all of golf’s records before the golden age of 40, an Obama presidency speaks to potent agency of young people in America. Young people can make a difference! - and even while they are yet young. Senator Obama speaks directly to our hearts as young people concerning the great wealth of talent resident within each of us for change. Senator Obama follows in the great legacy of our beloved President John F. Kennedy and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, who despite their youthful age - and because of their hope and optimism in America's greatness - lead America with wisdom and leadership beyond their years. Given a longer period of time in the Situation Room, I am sure that Senator Kerrey would have cited these positive attributes possessed by Senator Obama.

    The rest of America recognizes the great opportunity that we have to elect a President who would have kept us out of Iraq, kept Pakistan more accountable, and who having worked as a community organizer in the South Side of Chicago, following his graduation from Harvard Law School, understands the concerns of everyday Americas such as his wife, Michelle’s, blue-collarded dad or his own Kansas-born mother. Senator Obama looks like us - America, that is - multi-cultural, multiracial, hopeful and optimistic, yet practical and hardworking. He will get the job done and we know he will.
    Thank you, Senator Kerrey, for getting the conversation started on Senator Obama's strengths. You have allowed America to talk freely about the type of competent stewardship of our economic resources and military might that we require from our President, as well as the compassionate heart and hopeful leadership that led JFK and FDR to ignite the greatness within each and every American. America is stronger and safer with a President who understands the world abroad and connect with the hopes and aspirations of the American people at home. Senator Obama can do both, and will make a fine President as a result.

    December 18, 2007 09:51 am at 9:51 am |
  12. Gloria Brizuela, Halifax, Canada

    there is not a smear campaign against Obama to be Muslim. He is a Muslim person. His first and middle name say that,his ancestry and father are. If Obama will be president, he will represent the Muslim people and terrorist muslim too. The Muslim people will say " We have the power, one of us is President or vice-president of USA." Because we said that when a Latino is in the high level of United State government, we are proud of it. Here in Canada we have a color Governor General, who represent the Queen,she is nice, but she is not muslim. But the different between Latino people and Muslim is that we, latino not hate american people, because we are living in a Capital system and we like it, we are free people and we believe in the Law and Democracy. Never mind if Obama is Christian or not. He is Muslim. Why African America didn't elect his own people.He didn't represent the Slave people which Abraham L.believe in the change of America for a better future of liberty. He died for the color people that help them to be free of slave, and the color people that help to build America.I know Osama oop! Obama is the color, but it's not enough to be President of the United State. He is a descendent muslim, What American people are thinking? He is Senator is okay. But President of United State? give a break.I'm a emigrant and I send my son at the age of 6 to my country to live with my family and learn from them,our culture,food and believes, to be Christian and learn about the Bible,go the the church, etc. Now that my son is teenager,Until now, he remember and think in our people how to help them because our country is poor, and need help from American government. Thank God american always help our government. So, Obama parent send him to learn his culture.He didn't go there to learn English, to be Christian or learn American culture, or democracy.
    Now CNN, you need to do more about this topic. I think it's so important for American to discuss it. Don't think that it will be race, not, it's important to American to wake up.
    When I see Osama, oop! Obama on TV or debate, he need to learn more and the President position need somebody with experience,knowledge, and be tough. Like our Prime Minister Harper, here in Canada. The most Canadian didn't like him,but Canadian people were smart to elected him because he is Conservative,he believe in protect Canadian values,the family and the important of it (man and woman and children),the media didn't like him, but he is tough and he is getting the job done, he is cleaning the mess that other opposition party left.Our economy is strong and he is applying a lot new policies to get the job done. Now,our Prime Minister Harper is getting support for Canadian because he's getting the job done. Our Prime Minister said, that he will work with the next elect President of United State.If American want to continue with the power of the world, then you need to elect a tough president for the next election. I hope to help you with some ideas to discuss in the future. I like CNN a lot!! It's the best!!!

    December 18, 2007 09:52 am at 9:52 am |
  13. Hiding in the hills

    yeah that is what we need – someone who can "cooperate" with the terrorists. Obama will have this country under Islamic rule if he gets elected.

    We've got enough carbon footprints in this country already. All the Muslims need to go back and play in the sand. I hope you women don't mind wearing headgear everyday and receiving lashes for being seen with a man who you are not married to. But at least when we all die (at least the men) we'll get 70 virgins to make our trip to mecca more pleasant. I guess the women will just end up taking the eternal sand nap. Good luck folks, your gonna need it.

    December 18, 2007 09:52 am at 9:52 am |
  14. Brad, Omaha NE

    Mr. Kerry,

    While i respect your honesty on Obama, i'm still upset to see you hitching your horse to the Hillary post. As a Nebraskan who voted for you time and again, i am afraid i must say i am actually disappointed in your choice.


    as a good Christian i must forgive you – as you know not what you do.

    The Bush/Clinton Regime Ends NOW!

    thank you

    December 18, 2007 09:53 am at 9:53 am |
  15. Ray, Lima, Ohio

    It's good to see Kerrey praising Barack Obama as being diverse and able to connect with alot of people and bring about change more so than Hillary Clinton. But he is making these statements as if they are major revelations, I think people realize this. What is tricky about his statement however is that he is acknowledging the smear campain as if it were factual and is saying it's a "substantial strength". The smear campaign that some of Hillary's volunteer and supporters are emailing is not factual information and is used as a scare tactic, and that is not a "substantial strength". So Thanks Senator Kerrey just make sure you make that distinction about the smear campaign which are lies and the good things your saying about his background. As an Obama supporter I Look forward to having your formal endorsement after the primaries.

    December 18, 2007 10:03 am at 10:03 am |
  16. Mamoon Yunus, Boston, MA

    Is it just me or can others see through this as well. Bob Carey, a Hillary endorser, bring out the "Muslim" factor about Obama while keeping things positive. Now that's a great attack, if I have ever seen one.

    December 18, 2007 10:03 am at 10:03 am |
  17. Bukky, Baltimore, MD

    If america is open minded enough to elect a black man with muslim parents it would speak volumes to other countries and black youth that feel that they can't move foward in this country regardless of what they do.

    I say this AS a Black youth with a former Muslim parent

    December 18, 2007 10:04 am at 10:04 am |
  18. Marko, Chicago IL

    Funny how no other candidate's last name is ever mentioned.

    December 18, 2007 10:06 am at 10:06 am |
  19. S. Turner Chicago, IL

    Kerry says,

    The former senator, who has endorsed Sen. Hillary Clinton, also said that “as an African-American,” Obama “can speak in an authentic way to underperforming black youth who I think will follow his example

    Kerrey's comments also speak in an "authentic" American way to these youth - "Even if you black kids study hard, go to Ivy League universities, and make Harvard Law Review, you might be good enough to be a youth leader, but heaven forbid you should set your sights on being leader of the free world."

    December 18, 2007 10:27 am at 10:27 am |
  20. George Flower, Enosburg Falls, VT

    Hardcore and moderate Muslims tend to take a dim view toward fellow Muslims that switch to Chritianity, so I fail to see how this would help foreign policy.

    December 18, 2007 10:27 am at 10:27 am |
  21. Sophie, Dallas TX

    I think it's all the more powerful for his ability to really understand people of other cultures because he was exposed to different viewpoints at suhc a young age.

    December 18, 2007 10:30 am at 10:30 am |
  22. Bethany, St. Louis MO

    Too bad Obama isn't a Muslim and never was. He's a Christian!

    Shame on you, CNN, for repeating the lie!

    December 18, 2007 10:33 am at 10:33 am |
  23. Dave, Evergreen CO

    I absolutely agree with Senator Kerrey’s statement but question the timing and sincerity of his statements. I know the statement appeared to come across as a positive one but as a Clinton supporter did he bring this up just to link Obama to the Muslim religion? Is the Clinton team playing on the fears of the American public? If that was the goal of this statement it was executed brilliantly, in a way that will avoid criticism for both Kerrey and HRC.

    It’s a sad day in politics when we have to question the motivation behind every thing said about an opponent by anyone connected with a rival campaign but the Clinton team has clearly shown over the past few weeks that they will do and say anything to get her elected. Muslim e-mails, drug dealer implications, “rolling the dice”, I could go on.

    It’s interesting that three months ago when everyone was telling Obama he had to go negative he refused and insisted his campaign focus on the issues. Now when people started suggesting to Clinton that she go negative she either supported it (does any one really believe that Shaheen was acting on his own) or has lost control over a number of people on her campaign team. I ask you; who has shown the leadership and judgment you want in your next President?

    December 18, 2007 10:38 am at 10:38 am |
  24. Sam Ruskin

    Why do you guys even give the story any air time? Do you realize you're doing the exact same thing as was done with Kerry in 2004? Small story becomes overblown only because the media relentlessly covers it. You're giving credibility to a ridiculous rumor by even covering it...pathetic. This is going to be the swiftboating of Obama.

    December 18, 2007 10:41 am at 10:41 am |
  25. Daphne, Hartford, CT

    There's been a lot of chatter across the web about whether this was an attempt by the Clinton camp to smear Obama. Someone over at another forum posted this comment, which I think is right on the money:

    ". . . the test to see whether this was underhanded or not is simple. People are claiming that Kerrey's words don't amount to smear because (a) they're true; (b) Obama himself hasn't disavowed his mixed race heritage; and (c) they were framed in the form of a compliment.

    Suppose instead that someone from Obama's camp had expressed the hope that Hilary's experience as the wife of a cheating husband be "used in some way." It's all true, right? Hilary hasn't disavowed the fact, and like millions of women around America and the world, she nobly stuck by Bill despite his marital indiscretions. She could connect with this wronged segment of society by presenting women with the example of a wife who succeeds in her career despite the waywardness of a philandering spouse. As Kerrey says: that experience would be "a substantial strength."

    Such a remark would be little more than an attempt to smear Hilary with feigned praise. It's not about ignoring the facts; it's about using them to draw meaningful distinctions. And it's telling that you don't find Obama or anyone on his payroll stooping so low."

    December 18, 2007 10:48 am at 10:48 am |
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