Radio legend Tom Joyner and co-host Sybil Wilkes of the Tom Joyner Morning Show were invited to the White House for an exclusive one-on-one interview with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office!
President Obama opened up to the syndicated radio hosts about Dr. Martin Luther King’s legacy, commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington, the Affordable Care Act, Lee Daniels’ “The Butler” and more.
Read the entire interview below.
TOM JOYNER: Okay. We’re in the Oval Office of the —
SYBIL WILKES: We’re in — wait, wait, wait. Take that in. Can you take that in? We’re in the Oval Office.
TOM JOYNER: We are in the Oval Office with the President on the day before he does his speech for the — commemorating the I Have A Dream speech. Is it ready?
THE PRESIDENT: Not quite yet. Still working on it. But let me just say for the record right now, it won’t be as good as the speech 50 years ago. (Laughter.) I just want to get that out there early. Because when you are talking about Dr. King’s speech at the March on Washington, you’re talking about one of the maybe five greatest speeches in American history. And the words that he spoke at that particular moment, with so much at stake, and the way in which he captured the hopes and dreams of an entire generation I think is unmatched.
And so all I can do on an occasion like this is just to celebrate the accomplishments of all of those folks whose shoulders we stand on and then remind people that the work is still out there for us to do, and that we honor his speech but also, more importantly in many ways, the organization of the ordinary people who came out for that speech. We honor them not by giving another speech ourselves — because it won’t be as good — but instead by just doing the day-to-day work to make sure this is a more equal and more just society.
TOM JOYNER: Fifty years later, what do you think Dr. King would have said about our progress and his dream?
THE PRESIDENT: I think that Dr. King would be amazed in many ways about the progress that we’ve made. I don’t think that he would look and say nothing has changed. He would say, the fact that we have equal rights before the law; the fact that the judicial system and the courts are accessible; and that African-Americans serve on juries; and that we have thousands of African-American elected officials all across the country; and that we’ve got African-American CEOs of Fortune 100 companies; and we have a large thriving congressional black caucus, and that, as a consequence of some of the doors that he and others helped kick down, Latinos and women and Asians and the disabled and gays and lesbians, that they all also suddenly found a seat at the table — I think he would say it was a glorious thing.
What he would also say, though, is that the March on Washington was about jobs and justice. And that when it comes to the economy, when it comes to inequality, when it comes to wealth, when it comes to the challenges that inner cities experience, he would say that we have not made as much progress as the civil and social progress that we’ve made, and that it’s not enough just to have a black President, it’s not enough just to have a black syndicated radio show host. The question is, does the ordinary person, day-to-day, can they succeed. And we have not made as much progress as we need to on that, and that is something that I spend all my time thinking about, is how do we give opportunity to everybody so if they work hard they can make it in this country.
TOM JOYNER: What do you think he would say about Obamacare?
THE PRESIDENT: Oh, he would like that. Well, because I think he understood that health care, health security is not a privilege; it’s something that in a country as wealthy as ours, everybody should have access to.
And starting on October 1st, because of the Affordable Care Act — Obamacare — anybody who doesn’t have health insurance in this country is going to be able to get it at an affordable rate. And we were just talking with some folks earlier about the fact that, for a lot of people, it will be cheaper than your cell phone bill, and as a consequence you’ll be getting free prevention, free checkups. And, if heaven forbid you get sick or some family member gets sick, even if you have a preexisting condition, you know that you’re going to have the security — you’re not going to lose your house, you’re not going to suddenly go bankrupt, and you’re going to be able to get the treatment that you need.
So the key is going to be just signing folks up. And one of the things that we’re really going to be emphasizing in the month of September, October and then all the way through March of next year, is letting people know it’s simple to sign up. You go to healthcare.gov. You find out exactly what plan is right for you. It’s going to be affordable. You’re going to be able to get a subsidy, help in terms of paying for it. And we’re really counting on everybody out there to get informed. If you know what it’s about and you screen out all the misinformation, you’ll discover this is something that really is going to help millions of people.
SYBIL WILKES: That’s a big part of it, is the misinformation. And that’s a big battle that you’re having to fight. But breaking it down and making it a common-sense effort for a lot of us, especially for young people — we’re talking about the 18- to 35-year-olds, and — what are you telling them? And especially, like — because part of the problem is, now that they are maybe off their parent’s insurance rolls — 26, 27 — and so, what are you talking to them and saying?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, this is very straightforward. If you’re — first of all, if you’re 26 or younger and your parents have health insurance, you can stay on your parent’s health insurance plan in part because of the law that we passed. And that’s obviously helpful and cheaper for a lot of young people.
But let’s say you’re 27, 28, you’re working, you don’t have a job that provides you health insurance on the job. If you have an accident, if you get an illness, you may have $5,000 out-of-pocket, $10,000 out-of-pocket. It might wipe out your savings. You might not be able to pay rent. And for, again, a cost that is less than your cell phone bill, you can go on what we’re calling these marketplaces, but they’re basically a website like — you buy a —
SYBIL WILKES: An airline ticket.
THE PRESIDENT: — a ticket, an airline ticket, or book a room, or rent a car, and you can take a look and you can find out, all right, here’s a good price for me and here’s the coverage that I get. And in a simple form, you can sign up. And if you still can’t afford it, you may qualify for the government giving you help to get that health insurance.
It’s good for everybody. It’s good for the young person. It’s good for a young person’s mama who’s worrying about you because you don’t have health insurance. It’s good for the taxpayer because you’re not going to have to go to the emergency room, which means that we’d end up paying for you anyway, but it’s just — you wouldn’t go there until you were so sick that it ends up costing more. And you’re going to be getting regular checkups — for young women who tend to visit doctors more often, it probably pays for itself just in a few months.
So this is something that I think can really make a big difference in the lives of a lot of people, will give people a lot of security. But I don’t want people to take my word for it. I want people to check out the website, check out what’s available to them, choose what’s going to work for them, and I think they will end up being happy for it.
SYBIL WILKES: Do you think Obamacare and the passing of the original health care law, and — as you go into this next stage, is that going to be your legacy?
THE PRESIDENT: I hope it’s one of many. I mean, there is still so much that I want to get done in these next three and a half years.
SYBIL WILKES: Such as?
THE PRESIDENT: Such as I want to make sure that every young person in America — every child, every toddler — can get early childhood education, preschool, that is high quality, that’s affordable. This is a big burden on a lot of parents. In our communities, a lot of single moms, they’re just scrambling trying to find someplace where their child can be when they go to work.
And obviously, there are a lot of wonderful, informal arrangements people make — you’ve got an auntie or you’ve got a neighbor who’s looking after your child — and I respect that. But if we can get more young people, more children into the programs that prepare them so that the day they start kindergarten, the day they start first grade, they’re already prepared. That carries over for years.
Every study shows that it’s the best investment we can make. You start reducing drop-out rates. You start reducing juvenile delinquency. You start reducing teen pregnancy. You start reducing drug abuse. And kids are smart. They know when they’re behind. And if you make sure they’re not behind when they’re young, they don’t fall out and decide to push against education, they are hungry for education. And that can improve outcomes, and obviously, ultimately, mean they’re much more employable when they get older.
So that’s an example of something that we should be doing right now. And we’re going to keep on fighting Congress to try to get them to see that this is a smart investment for the future.
TOM JOYNER: Education is the answer.
THE PRESIDENT: Absolutely.
TOM JOYNER: Okay. Before we get out of here, did you see “The Butler,” and did you cry?
THE PRESIDENT: You know, I did see “The Butler,” and I did tear up. I teared up just thinking about not just the butlers who have worked here in the White House, but an entire generation of people who were talented and skilled, but because of Jim Crow, because of discrimination, there was only so far they could go. And yet, with dignity and tenacity, they got up and worked every single day, and put up with a whole lot of mess because they hoped for something better for their kids.
TOM JOYNER: Your favorite part of the movie?
THE PRESIDENT: What’s that?
Your favorite part?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, my favorite part was probably some of the jokes Cuba Gooding told.
TOM JOYNER: Mine too.
THE PRESIDENT: We can’t repeat — but we can’t repeat them on the air.
TOM JOYNER: Exactly. I know what you’re talking about. I know the scene you’re talking about, and I love that scene too.
THE PRESIDENT: But all of the acting was terrific, and I thought Forrest Whitaker was wonderful. And Oprah, my girl, she can act.
SYBIL WILKES: Wasn’t she great? She really was.
THE PRESIDENT: She’s just a wonderful actress. So I’m glad they did it. And I will tell you that the butlers who are now here in the White House, when we first arrived, when Michelle and the girls just — first arrived, they could not have been kinder to us and warmer to us. And part of it, I suspect, is they look at Malia and Sasha and they say, well, this looks like my grandbaby, or this looks like my daughter. And I think for them to have a sense that we’ve come that far was a powerful moment for them, and certainly a powerful moment for us. We love them to death. They look after us just wonderfully.
TOM JOYNER: Thanks for the invitation.
SYBIL WILKES: Thank you very much, sir.
THE PRESIDENT: I enjoyed it. Thank you.
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(Photo: Courtesy of the White House)