You are using an outdated browser.
Please upgrade your browser
and improve your visit to our site.
Skip Navigation

The TNR Q&A: Charles Barkley

Liberal is a word "rich people on television use to divide and conquer" and other life lessons from the (potential) future governor of Alabama.

With the political season kicking into high gear, it seemed like the right time for another chat with Sir Charles Barkley. Over the past year, he has been a vocal and active Barack Obama supporter, so we decided to talk to him about that, as well as the Democratic convention, his own future in politics, and his distressingly Luddite tendencies.

Have you been hanging out with Barack at all?

Not lately. He’s busy. I talk to him, though. And obviously I wanted to be in Denver [for the DNC]. It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Did you meet any other political or media figures recently in Denver that interested you?

Bobby Kennedy, Jr. Really cool.

Did you see the tribute to Teddy Kennedy?

I did not. I was flying in.

You should check it out online.

I have to get a computer first.

You should get on that.

I have made it these first 45 years without a computer. It is probably too late for me now.


I just got emails! Quit pushing me.

If Obama somehow loses this election, do you think it will be detrimental to the cause of racial equality in some way, that it will bring a bunch of tensions to the surface?

I think it has had a great effect already. He could not have gotten the nomination without a large percentage of white Americans voting for him. And I have to say, about Barack himself, I really hope that no matter what happens, he sets a great example for these young black kids and shows them that they can be intelligent and articulate. Always look at the big picture. We are struggling in the black community with kids not getting an education and the epidemic of black-on-black crime. And I think this does great things for those young black kids.

Do you share the concern of some civil rights leaders that if Obama becomes president, people will say, “Aha, look, race relations are good. Everything is solved”?

I don’t worry about what other people think first of all. And no one thing is going to solve all these racial and economic problems.

Okay, but do you think there is a chance that efforts to solve racial problems could be set back--

No. Having a black president is not going to set anything back.

Did you watch Bill Clinton’s DNC speech?

I did.

There has been a lot of talk about Clinton’s declining popularity in the black community.

Bill Clinton is the greatest president of my lifetime. Period. [long pause]

That’s it?

That’s it.

Do you have any sense of the relationship between the Clintons and the Obamas?

They were competing against each other! It ain’t always going to be peaches-n-cream.

How seriously are you thinking about running for governor of Alabama in a few years?

I have been seriously thinking about it for ten years. I have not made a final decision.

Does the type of media scrutiny that you would face as a candidate, in terms of your past and your personal life, deter you from running?

Not at all, man. I accept the media for what they are. Most of them are really good people. Some of them are scumbags.

Well, because Al Franken is running for the Senate in Minnesota--

That’s an example of bullshit racism. Nobody says anything about Franken, who I like, Lance Armstrong, who I like, Tom Brady, who I like, running for office. But certain black people or celebrities, when they want to run, the attitude is, “You are kidding me, right?”

But Norm Coleman, the senator Franken is running against, has been using things Franken said when he was a comedian against him.

People can always bring up stuff. When I get involved in politics, I am not even going to talk about what the other guys do. The media likes that. I am not going to sit around saying, “The other guy sucks worse than me.” I don’t need to be governor; I want to be governor.

How are players in the NBA feeling about Obama?

All the guys can’t believe a black guy has a shot at winning the presidency. We can’t believe he got the nomination. We are not stupid--we understand that racism exists. The truth of the matter is that this is going to come down to race. A lot of people are not going to vote for a black guy when they go behind the curtain. But look at the issues: Iraq, the foreclosures, jobs being lost. And McCain has similar policies to Bush. Still, the bottom line is that white America is going to go behind closed doors and vote. There is no sense coming up with other BS. That is the elephant in the room.

What do you think is going to happen, then?

I think positive. We need a change. The gap between rich and poor, the jobs, the things going on in this country--I just say, “Wow.”

One more question about politics before--

Go ahead!

You changed your political philosophy before Obama came along--

First of all, I never changed my philosophy. I have never been a Republican. I am an independent--just for the record. This myth started in the mid ‘90s with an interview with my mother and my grandmother, and my grandmother said something about Republicans being for rich people. I had to break it to her that we were rich! And people took that and ran with it. And let me get one other thing straight: Neither one of these parties is anything to write home about--just for the record.

But Charles, you don’t think you’ve become more liberal?

More liberal? I do not use words like liberal or conservative. You can ask me a question and I will give you an answer. Those are words rich people on television use to divide and conquer. I am pro-choice. And if gay people want to get married, that is none of my business. God bless them.

Okay, fine, but would you say that the awful governance of the past seven years has changed the way you look at issues?

It led me to realize that poor people have no chance. If you are born poor, whether white or black, you are going to be in a bad neighborhood and go to a bad school. If you are making three million dollars a year, a couple hundred thousand in taxes ain’t gonna kill you. You have got to look at the bigger picture, because poor people are getting screwed. It would be selfish of me or other rich people to vote Republican to save a little money.

Do you know McCain at all?

Nice guy. I respect anyone who goes to war, but he would be more of the same [as Bush].

Did you watch the Olympics?

Of course I did. It is the greatest sporting event in the world. And basketball in particular because that is our game, that is America’s game.

How did you compare this Olympic basketball team to the Dream Team, which you were on?

I don’t, and you better not, either.

I wouldn’t even think of it. To turn briefly to the NBA, which I thought had its best year last year since Jordan left, there was a study about referees and race which found that refs call fouls more often on black players.

First of all, that is so asinine! The league is 80-percent black. Of course there are more fouls!

But I think this was by minutes played.

There is no way you can come up with that stat. This is some group with a hidden agenda and way too much time on its hands. This is people trying to create racial BS.

Don’t you think that NBA officiating is terrible, though?

Yes, because these referees get intimidated on the road. In the playoffs it is the worst. The home team has a huge advantage.

Thank you, Charles.

Take care, my brother.

Isaac Chotiner is a frequent contributor to The New Republic.