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Exclusive: Obama: We screwed up
Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC
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June 19, 2007 05:22 IST
United States Senator Barack Obama told in an exclusive interview that the controversial document his campaign circulated last week, attacking his Democratic rival Senator Hillary Clinton's Indian links, "was not a memo that reflected my views or my attitudes, and didn't reflect my long-standing friendship with the Indian-American community."

The document attacked Clinton's record on outsourcing, on protecting American jobs, in addition to the Indian-American fund-raisers of her campaign. It dubbed her the 'Democrat from Punjab.'

As the Senator and his campaign came under attack from the Indian-American community, Obama acknowledged that "the concerns are entirely justified."

He told "I was furious when I heard about it," and noted that "we are taking corrective action to make sure that people understand how this could be potentially hurtful."

Obama pointed out that "I have always been, as somebody who myself comes from a multi-cultural background, promoted the most inclusive politics possible."

"My support among Indian Americans, South Asians, and Asian Americans generally, has been very strong and that's the culture within which I was raised, as having grown up in Hawaii and Asia myself," he added.

Obama said, "this is just an example of I think (where) staff were trying to make a point, they made it clumsily. I don't believe they understood how it came to be interpreted, but they should have understood it. I hope and trust that all my friends in the Indian-American community understand that it did not reflect my views, either on the complex issue of outsourcing or on my attitude towards the enormous contributions of the Indian-American community that they have made to this country."

He explained that "I think what happened was that the people who were writing the memo thought that to quote back Hillary Clinton was clever somehow. They were wrong and I let them know in no uncertain terms that this was unacceptable."

Obama acknowledged he had no idea about the document that was being circulated by some members of his campaign staff till the controversy erupted, when the Indian-American community was in uproar and his Indian-American supporters contacted his campaign expressing their concern.

Asked what kind of corrective measures he intended to put in place, the Illinois Senator asserted, "The main thing is just to make certain that anything that goes out under my name or goes out under our campaign's name -- whether it's for attribution or otherwise -- is screened by all senior staff to make sure that we don't make mistakes like this in the first place."

"The other thing I am obviously doing is reaching out to all my supporters in the Indian-American community to assure them this isn't reflective of my views," he said.

Obama said he hoped that "people recognise that this is just an anomalous situation as opposed to any more serious issue in terms of my grasp and understanding of the importance of the Indian-American community and the relationship between the United States and India."

In a message to the mushrooming South Asians for Obama chapters across the US, the majority of whom are young second-generation Indian Americans, Obama said, "I want them to know how much I appreciate their support, I want them to know how much their involvement means to our campaign."

"Look, part of the reason, I think, there has been so much of interest and excitement on their part has to do with the fact that they recognise that I was very similar to many of them just a few years ago," he said. "Somebody, who was able to take advantage of a good education, who doesn't look like the traditional presidential candidate, doesn't have a traditional name, but loves the United States, loves the idea of public service and believes in an America that is tolerant and provides equal opportunity to all people."

Obama declared that "my commitment to principles has never changed and my regard and concern for the South Asian community in general and young members of that community who are interested in public service continues. So, I want them to understand that this is part of the process of a presidential campaign that when you have a large far-flung operation, mistakes are going to be made and that people need to understand that these are not reflective of who I am and what my core values are."

"My core values are ones that I share with them and I take this as hopefully a good learning opportunity -- certainly it is for me -- in terms of recognising how important it is for me to make sure that we have good quality control in terms of anything that is produced in our office. I have the opportunity to teach members of my staff how they need to approach issues."

Obama acknowledged that in the rough and tumble of politics, particularly a presidential campaign, he could understand if the Hillary Clinton camp went to town with this mistake by his campaign and his unequivocal apology, saying, "I think whenever we make a mistake, our competitors will try to take advantage of it. I don't blame them for that. I think it's just a matter of us making sure that we don't compound the mistake by trying to pretend that we didn't screw up."

"And," Obama added, "I want to make sure that I take responsibility for it because ultimately that's going to be my job, and when I am President, you know it's going to be important for me to make clear when we do make mistakes that hopefully one of the strengths of our campaign is that we learn from them."

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