Candidate Obama's Sense Of Urgency

Dem. Says He's Not In A Hurry To Run, But Wants To Tackle Problems

Last Updated Nov 15, 2009 8:00 PM EST

He is a left-of-center Democrat who favors abortion rights, universal healthcare and wants to roll back tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. He is the only major presidential candidate who opposed the Iraq war before it began and wants to withdraw most U.S. troops by March 2008. He would redeploy some of them to Afghanistan, keep others in the region to protect strategic U.S. interests.

Asked if he would talk to Iran and Syria, Obama says, "Yes. The notion that this administration has that not talking to our enemies is effective punishment is wrong. It flies in the face of our experience during the Cold War. And Ronald Reagan understood that it may be an evil empire, but it's worthwhile for us to periodically meet to see are there areas of common interest."

In the Senate he has shown a talent and a willingness to reach across party lines and work with Republicans and conservatives to build consensus. He says it is an essential trait for a president and considers it one of his strengths, the product of an unconventional childhood.

He was born in 1961 to a father from Kenya and a mother from Kansas, who were both students in Hawaii at a time when black/white marriages were illegal in half the states. His father left when he was two, and eventually returned to Africa.

And as a young boy, Obama spent four years living with his mother and her second husband in Indonesia before returning home to live with his maternal grandparents in Honolulu. As a black child in a white family, he struggled with his racial identity.

"How important is race in defining yourself?" Kroft asks.

"I am rooted in the African-American community. But I'm not defined by it. I am comfortable in my racial identity. But that's not all I am," he says.

"You were raised in a white household…. Yet at some point, you decided that you were black?" Kroft asks.

"Well, I'm not sure I decided it. I think, you know, if you look African-American in this society, you're treated as an African-American. And when you're a child in particular, that is how you begin to identify yourself," Obama explains.

While he graduated with honors from Columbia and Harvard Law, he says the most valuable part of his education was the three years he spent on the south side of Chicago, earning $13,000 a year as a community organizer for a group of churches.

It was Obama's first real experience with urban politics and the problems of the inner city. Yet for some African-Americans, he remains an outsider, an immigrant's son not the descendant of slaves.

"There are African-Americans who don't think that you're black enough, who don't think that you have had the required experience," Kroft remarks.

"The truth of the matter is, you know, when I'm walking down the south side of Chicago and, visiting my barbershop, and playing basketball in some of these neighborhoods, those aren't those aren't questions I get asked," Obama says.

"They think you're black," Kroft asks.

"As far as they can tell, yeah. I also notice when I'm catching a cab, nobody's confused about that either," he says.

He doesn't like it, but it's something he had to come to terms with a long time ago.