We Talked to Russell Simmons About Last Night's Debate, And What Inspired Him To Campaign for Obama on His Birthday

It was "rope-a-dope" last night against Mitt Romney, says Russell Simmons. And now we're ready to see the president take the gloves off.
Publish date:
October 4, 2012

When I called Russell Simmons to say, "Happy Birthday," to the hip-hop mogul, to my surprise I found out he was actually hard at work campaigning for our president down in Miami -- yes, even on his big day. In the spirit of things, I asked the music industry legend what he really thought of the debate last night, and what he thinks we have in store.

Mandy: So what was your take on everything? Obama's been getting a lot of slack from his detractors.

Russell: The first presidential debate last night was like the classic Foreman-Ali fight, with Obama playing rope-a-dope and letting Mitt Romney show all of his flip flops and untruths by playing as soft-spoken as he could and letting Romney show his true colors. And now it's time for the President to take the gloves off.

Mandy: What does that mean for you personally?

Russell: That's why I'm down here in Miami today on my birthday doing whatever I can to get the word out to support our president and to get him elected again so that he can continue the job he needs to do of standing up to a party that is owned by money, corporations and special interests.

Mandy: Why do you think Obama played it so cool with Romney? Why did Obama take the tactic that he did last night?

Russell: Well, for one thing, he's letting Romney exhaust himself and self-destruct -- just like Ali did to Foreman back in 1974 when he went down in the eighth round. Obama is making Romney successfully reveal all the flip flops and untruths he's aired in the campaign so far, while being reserved and diplomatic and strategic.

Mandy: Where do you think Romney went wrong?

Russell: Anyone listening to Romney last night can tell that the discussion about the privatization of everything from health care to Social Security is a complete affront and disempowerment of the poor. Obama said his points quietly. He didn't argue loudly because he doesn't need to. Romney's untruths speak for themselves. The President showed that there are cheaper and more efficient ways than private industry running our government and promoting the destruction of our democracy.

Mandy: What would you like to see Obama do next? What do you think his move will be?

Russell: The President is not about sound bites, but about substance. Unfortunately, many of the American people are more interested in gossip than they are in the core issues that matter in politics. Now it's time for Obama to employ some of these weapons, and use the media-friendly sound bites to show why "the Money" Romney should not be running the country.

Mandy: What's your pitch for voting to re-elect Obama?

Russell: What it comes down to is that the Republicans are supporting an agenda that is hurting the underserved communities, and anyone who cares about social justice is going to support Obama to get re-elected again. That is one of the main ways that Romney, like Foreman, will be knocked out. President Obama was strategic in telling Romney that he understood that the two of them agreed on certain issues, and then Romney revealed himself to be the flip flopper that he truly is. If Social Security is privatized, it will be gone, and we will be bankrupt. Romney's contradictions on policy came through loud and clear. Obama's approach let Romney show that he is a man filled with contradictions, and, even more dangerously, horrible suggestions that will be forever damaging to America and its people.

The main thing to remember for any Democrat -- like me on my birthday today and every day until Obama wins the election this year -- is that he has the time to win this fight. And he will. The next debate will see him take the gloves off, as I think Democrats are ready for him to do. Romney didn't have a strong commitment to anything personally he said in all of the ideas that he voiced, and he showed himself to agree with anything that could be considered popular, including embracing ideas that he had previously discarded.

Mandy: Do you think Obama technically lost last night?

Russell: President Obama has plenty of rounds left in this fight -- and for all of his supporters, we need to remember the most important reasons for backing our president. To me, the Number One issue is the disempowerment of all the underserved people in America. The fact that the corporations and the special interests are able to dramatically influence legislation is one of the worst things that's happened to the fabric of the entire black community. The prison culture has become predominant in so many black communities, and the entire nucleus of the community is being destroyed around us. The prison-industrial complex is so connected and it's the main impediment to progress in all communities, and the black community especially. Our government has been hijacked by these interests, and President Obama is dedicated to reclaiming it for us, as he's done in his first four years. We can't be silent in the face of this.

Mandy: You think that Obama was playing it cool last night on purpose?

Russell: When I look at the debates last night, I see President Obama using a sly strategic soft-spoken strategy to put people at ease. He wasn't going to pound Romney. He was gracious and he was presidential. And now it's time for him to ready the boxing gloves for the next round.


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