Intertview with Kam Williams
KW: What did you think of Governor Christie’s decision not to run, and which Republican do you think has the best chance of beating Obama in 2012?
MS: I think Gov.Christie made the right choice because, as he says in his own words, he’s not ready. He’s a friend, I take him at his word and, when the time comes, I look forward to supporting his leadership nationally. In terms of who’s going to take on Barack Obama, that’s going to be measured out over then next four or five weeks, quite honestly. I don’t have a particular favorite in the race. In fact, I’m contractually bound not to under my analyst’s responsibilities at MSNBC. However, we have on the stage individuals who will be able to go toe-to-toe effectively with Barack Obama.
KW: Given the success of the Tea Party and now the demonstrations against Wall St. in NYC which is mushrooming into a national movement, do you think the time is ripe for a viable third party?
MS: Yes, I do. The real seedlings for what could become a third party or at least a third way probably began around 2005 with people who were disappointed with the party. The Tea Party grew out of a frustration with big government Republicanism. And this movement we now see on Wall Street is something that started in Wisconsin this past winter in response to what Governor Walker was doing with respect to state employees and collective bargaining. So, you’re seeing these elements in society beginning to voice their opinions. Personally, I think that’s exciting, and we should pay close attention to it. And if you’re really moved by it, get involved.
KW: Do you ever get embarrassed by fellow Republicans, like Gov. Perry’s association with a place called N-word Head Ranch?
MS: Yes, I do, and it frustrates me to no end because, in politics, perception is reality. And it’s doubly painful when reality exacerbates the perception. I know the Governor, and this wasn’t a racist act on his behalf.
But it wasn’t enough just to paint the rock over. Remove it, because you know what’s still beneath the paint. And you know what that rock stands for and symbolizes. That is a measure of your appreciation and your sensitivity that we as a nation can’t and won’t tolerate that.
KW: Is it lonely being a black Republican? How did you even get mixed-up with the wrong crowd in the first place?
MS: [LOL] Well, I tend to be a contrarian, so that makes it pretty easy for me to get mixed-up with the wrong crowd. Look, you chart your own path in life. You assess the various options that lie before you, and you figure out where you can make a difference. When I first considered getting involved with the Republican Party, I decided to make the GOP confront not only its past and its present, but its future, including all the young African-Americans, the entrepreneurs, businessmen and women, teachers, moms and dads that we need to go out, talk to and attract.
KW: Do you think that there is really any difference between the left-wing and the right-wing in terms of concern for the plight of black America, or is that an illusion?
MS: Ahhh, that’s a good question… That’s a good question, and an important one for how we as a community go forward. On paper, yes. In reality, no. It is true that Democrats, Liberals and the Left take the African-American vote for granted every single moment of every single day while Republicans, Conservatives and the Right ignore the African-American vote every single moment of every single day. As a result, there is no political effort addressing what have become systemic problems for the African-American community. For all of the talk and hand-clapping, Democrats have not produced a hell of a lot to fix what’s wrong. Meanwhile, we have not made the concrete effort to help the community figure out how to tackle those problems. That being said, we are just as responsible for our situation as the political parties for being in the mess we’re in because we take the one thing politicians want the most, the vote, and misuse it. We don’t leverage the vote effectively by pressuring politicians to pay attention to our agenda. Just look at other communities and ask: Do they have the same problems that we do?
KW: You have been a political trailblazer. What advice do you have for minorities, the handicapped and females who want to break through the glass ceiling?
MS: Have the courage of your own convictions in terms of what you believe, and don’t back down from that for one moment, because every day, you have to be able to look in the mirror and say, “I like that person. I understand that person.” If you can’t do that, then your dreams won’t materialize. They just won’t. They’ll be co-opted by others, put on a shelf, or dismissed. But when you believe very firmly in who you are, everyone will pay attention and respond to that and appreciate the leadership and the qualities which make you unique, and they’ll embrace it and want to be a part of it, even if they disagree with some of your beliefs, because they’ll see the total person. That’s the key, getting people to see the total person.
KW: How do you define success? And, what key quality do you believe all successful people share?
MS: Knowing you’ve done your best. As a society, we tend to be outcome determinative and only care about winning, without concern for how we get there. But for me, how you get there factors into it. How you get there is everything. As for the quality successful people share, I’d say it’s perseverance.
KW: What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned from politics?
MS: [Chuckles] Man, that’s a good question. First, have someone watch your back, and then have someone watch them. Second, remember that you can’t please everybody, but you certainly can tick them all off at the same time. And third, keep smiling; it’ll confuse the hell out of them.
KW: What was it like having Mike Tyson for a brother-in-law? That must have made for some very interesting family get-togethers.
MS: [Chuckles] Really cool. Michael is a very warm guy. He’s funny and very smart, and he’d be the first one to tell you that a lot of his boxing persona was just for the ring. He’s still a part of the family, and we get together with him for various occasions that are important to us and certainly to his kids.
KW: What is your most valued spiritual practice and how does it help you in the political arena?
MS: Prayer! Would not survive without it. Would not be where I am today without it. I probably say forty to fifty prayers a day in various ways. Sometimes, it’s just to say, “Thank you, Lord,” and He knows the rest. I turn to prayer in those moments when I need to stop and recognize that there’s something greater than me that’s going to heal me or give me the wisdom I need right then. And that’s powerful. It’s a practice that became a part of me in the monastery. I’d probably be a very different person, if I hadn’t entered the monastery before I began my public life, and one you might not want to deal with. [LOL]
KW: Why did you leave the monastery?
MS: Because God leads you to your vocation and to follow your calling. I had needed to confront my demons and my shortcomings, along with my positive qualities and put them all in proper perspective to understand that it ain’t all about you. That’s the problem with most public officials today. They really believe it’s all about them. So,public service takes on this sort of star quality, despite the fact that as the Bible teaches they’re supposed to be served last, not first. If you don’t understand that in your leadership, you will end up failing. Look at people like Cong. Weiner, Sen. Vitter and others who have had their personal shortcomings exposed because they thought it was really all about them.
KW: Rev. Florine Thompson also asks: What do you see as your greatest accomplishment?
MS: It’s still happening, and that’s helping my two boys become strong black men.
KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?
MS: Is there such a thing? [LOL] Oh, man, these are some good questions.
KW: T Are you ever afraid?
MS: Yeah, absolutely! I’m afraid every day.
KW: Are you happy?
MS: Yes, and you can be both, afraid and happy. One feeds off the other. It just depends on which one hits first. [Laughs]
KW: When was the last time you had a good laugh?
MS: It’s been a long time. There wasn’t a lot funny about the last two years. It’s been a long time.
KW: What is your guiltiest pleasure?
MS: I have expensive tastes. For example, I love collecting watches, and I’ll spend a little coin on that.
KW: How do you want to be remembered?
MS: He tried.
KW: Thanks again for the time, Michael, and best of luck on MSNBC and with all your endeavors.
MS: No, thank you, Kam!