A Short Conversation With Columbia University Professor Dr. Marc Lamont Hill

As President Obama readies to sign the Health Care Reform Bill any minute now in the East Wing before it heads to the Senate for fixes, the country is in the throes of the most important social legislation in the last half of the century. Here comes the aftermath and with reaction, there will be voices. There’s something impressive with the myriad of talented progressive intellectuals gaining soul across the nation and one of the most promising is Marc Lamont Hill. The political contributor to Fox News…namely the O’Reilly Factor…adds necessary commentary to both younger and older generations alike. I dig this dude because his is a relative voice in a time of social development and the brighter the perspective, the better for change. I caught up with Dr. Hill at the conclusion of Sixers/Magic.

Michael Tillery: What brings you to Sixers/Magic?

Dr. Marc Lamont Hill: I’m a native of Philadelphia so every time I get the opportunity, I come to the city and check out the Sixers…even when they are not winning. I come back here to stay involved in the community and keep doing what I do.

MT: We’ve just had a historical vote on health care reform, where does America go from here?

MLH: Two things: One, we should celebrate this victory. That 426 days into President Obama’s administration we’ve been able to pass the most sweeping piece of policy in recent times is nothing short of stunning. At the same time, we need to heal. We’ve had so much fragmentation, we’ve had fighting, we’ve had divisiveness, we’ve had racism…homophobia. We’ve seen the ugliest sides of America in the midst of a health care debate. What we have to do now is find a way to heal, come together and move beyond partisan differences.

Not just a way we talk about in the media…as soundbites and nice slogans…but really find a way to move beyond differences and focus on the most vulnerable people in this country.

MT: Everyone says it’s always the right, always the right, always the right. What is the responsibility of the left to reach across the isle to get things done instead of forever pointing the finger at the political opposition?

MLH: One thing the left has to do is organize. One of the problems is we have our firing squads in a circle (great analogy) so we are always focused on each other whereas the right, which may disagree on a range of issues still comes together. People are Republican because of their stance on abortion, their stance on the free market, their stance on religion.

They may not have nothing in common, but when it is time they come together and work on a common goal.

The left? We argue amongst each other about things. Democrats had a super majority for a whole year…a filibuster proof majority and still couldn’t get legislation through. That means what we have to do at some point is come together, organize and think about the bigger picture. We need to have the courage to stand for our convictions. Republicans are the minority in every House. There is almost a 41% in the Senate. Despite being in the minority, they (Republicans) are still able to control policy decisions. We have to start having the courage to push back and say look…momentary unpopularity doesn’t matter…we have to get legislation through and focus on the American people. Bush got two terms being unpopular, Republicans swept through Congress in the ’80’s in the Senate and in the ’90’s in both Houses by being unpopular but being firm in their beliefs. We have to do the exact same thing.

MT: Where does this Health Care Reform Bill vote sit historically regarding putting America on a different level?

MLH: Well we don’t want to be too optimistic about this vote. We didn’t have public option. We didn’t allow enough buy ins by people under 55. There are a lot of things we didn’t do with this vote. What we did do is create a context where 90% of people in this country have health care. Health care is no longer seen as something for the rich but something every American is entitled to. It’s a fundamental right just like education…just like housing.

This is an important moment. The American people need to look forward to this and think about how we can affect every sector of life in this way. Every single thing that people who are comfortable have…housing, health care, education, fruits and vegetables…the most basic things…everybody needs to have them. This vote set us on that path. We have a lot of work to do to keep corporate capitalism in check. We have a lot of work to do to keep racism and homophobia in check. We are on the right path, but we have to keep fighting.

MT: What does this vote put Nancy Pelosi and to a lesser extent Harry Reid regarding public standing?

MLH: The narrative about Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid has been they can’t get anything through because they are so divisive. What we’ve seen is something can get through if Democrats stand firm on their ground.

Do I think Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are the best leaders? No. Was it unwise for Barack Obama to put health care in their hands this past summer? No. The bottom line is Nancy Pelosi is safe. Harry Reid is not safe and he wasn’t going to be safe anyway. We can move forward with leadership in the House and it will be interesting to see who the next Senate Majority Leader is now.

MT: What does this say about Barack Obama? He remained steadfast during a major national crisis where he caught a lot of wreck and conceivably could have given in.

MLH: Had Obama given up he would have been handing in any possibility of a second term because he promised us his presidency in the first term could be measured by health care legislation…so he had to hold firm.

I think he learned a lot of valuable lessons. He needed to be tighter. He needed to be stronger and exercise more leadership up front. Over the course of the last twelve months, he’s learned a lot about leadership. He learned a lot about Congress. He learned a lot about how Congress and Washington more broadly, really works.

He held firm to his beliefs. He was willing to compromise and do whatever he needed to do to get this thing through.

I hope the next three years of his presidency are evidence he’s learned his lessons and I think he has.

Anthony Gilbert, who went to school with Marc, interjects a lighter moment by asking Marc: How can Temple lose to an Ivy League School?

MLH: Only in spelling bees and science fairs should Cornell beat Temple or Villanova. It was ugly and embarrassing.

MT: You are that much of a sports fan?

AG: He loves the Phillies.

MLH: I live and die with Philly teams…I always have…so I’m looking forward to Philly winning the World Series this year. They have a strong shot of going to the World Series. The Yankees are gonna have a tough time in the American League simply because it’s hard to repeat…we saw that with the Phillies last year. We’ve gotten stronger at the number two spot 9 (batting order) and we’ve gotten stronger pitching wise with Roy Hallady. The biggest question is still the bull pen. If the bull pen is tight, I think we go to the World Series and never even win it.

MT: What do you have going on? What’s next for you?

MLH: I have a couple of projects in the works. I have one project that’s very close to being done and I don’t want to talk about it to jinx it but you’ll definitely hear something in the next two to three weeks. It’s a major deal that’s getting done on radio and on TV. I’m on Larry King tonight doing some stuff. Other than that, you’ll see me on the O’Reilly Factor regularily. We’ll just keep fighting and keep working.

5 Responses to “A Short Conversation With Columbia University Professor Dr. Marc Lamont Hill”

  1. michelle says:

    Good stuff. I don’t know how he deals with those nuts over at Fox.

  2. Mizzo says:

    He has that chill gear that keeps it professional.

  3. michelle says:

    I guess….:)

  4. AXG says:

    Great story man! You did a great job of recreating that moment. I was there and I could see it all over again reading this! Dr. Hill is a true Philly natural resource!

  5. […] Studies at the Institute for Research in African American Studies at Columbia University.” We’ve spoken previously and as I scoured the arena post game for someone to chat with, Hill was in the path of Ron Glover […]