Russell Simmons: From Hillary Clinton To Barack Obama: Why

Russell Simmons has some questions to answer regarding his recent ringing endorsement of presidential aspirant Senator Barack Obama. In a previous feature, Simmons told a plethora of rock-solid reasons for his support for New York Senator Hillary Clinton. He did not endorse the former First Lady, but it certainly sounded like a co-sign when he said, "My brain has been with Hillary Clinton a long time."

Now, Simmons explains why he changed his mind, why he’s not flip-flopping on his friends and why Barack Obama is the best man to lead America. First of all I sat with you in Detroit and we talked your views and opinions on the election at that time in January. And we talked about politicians on the scene, like how you went to yoga with John Edwards, how you had Hillary Clinton's personal number and Bill Clinton's for the last 10 years. And you mentioned all the things you have done [with Clinton] in the past and it came very shy…just shy of an endorsement for Hillary.

Russell Simmons: If I remember correctly, Kimora endorsed Hillary at that time. That's correct.

Russell Simmons: For very good reasons. At the time I still hadn't spent any time with Obama and it's not a personal choice. The fact that I had a kind of a faith in Hillary Clinton's work has not gone away, that's still a fact. I still believe she's a great candidate and she would make a great president. But I've come to believe there's something spiritual about Barack's campaign. Also, it gets people not involved in the process to become involved. At that time I also thought that navigating yourself through Washington would be very helpful with the legislature for legislative change and I thought that was something politically Hillary Clinton was very strong at.

But I've come to feel that when a lot of people are involved in an issue, and I have a lot of examples of this, that the people come out and make something important; the general population follows too. And when you're just silent and it's just the politicians and lobbyists coming out it's difficult for them to do things on behalf of the people. So the fact that so many people are engaged by Obama's campaign when their viewpoints at least today are very similar to the spiritual components of Obama's campaign, it's inspiring to a lot of people. And hopefully it means something to the rest of the world as an image of American not only tolerance but diversity and inspiration to a lot of the world to see a person of color cross foreign policy. I think either of these candidates would be very different, especially Barack Obama. I think his ideas about conflict resolution are very good, his idea to have open dialogue [are] very good. Right, I agree with that.

I heard him speak — I heard an excerpt from his speech, which one of the most important things he talked about was the prison reform issue and he talked about retroactive reform and that's something no one has talked about. He's talking about in the case of the Rockerfeller Drug Law allowing people, their sentences, to be reduced retroactively, so that's a step forward from the other candidates, McCain and Hillary Clinton. A number [of] issues like that politically but the greatest inspiration is the fact that so many young people and so many people from the aisle, independents and Republicans are coming together almost like a private endorsement, a private serious endorsement. You know I worked for the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding because I believe more than any revolution is the evolution of consciousness of the human mind. The most important thing and the only thing that will have human beings survive on this earth is the evolution of consciousness. Greater than any revolution. So the change politically is beckoned in the mindset.

"I believe more than any revolution is the evolution of consciousness of

the human mind. The most important thing and the only thing that will

have human beings survive on this earth is the evolution of

consciousness." Are you suggesting this is more of a public endorsement on behalf of the people where maybe privately you still endorse Hillary Clinton?

Russell Simmons: No, no, no, no, no. I went to the poll and voted for Obama. I had to have a compelling reason to come out and it was my conscious that said I have to come out to support Obama because I believe he is the right person to lead. And that spiritual component to his campaign is the leading factor. There [are] many political factors but the leading factor is the spiritual component and the transformative component he's brought to American politics. In other words, people who were not interested in voting because they felt apathetic are now changing their minds because of his candidacy. Do you feel that spiritual notion supports criticism that people like Hillary and others think about Obama supporters having a flowery, Utopian feeling that's not really indicative of knowledge of the political process?

Russell Simmons: Well, no. I think I know a lot about their opinions and I know a lot about Washington and I know a lot about the politics that they're promoting and how similar their ideas are, but that's not what I'm talking about. I am different from that way. That's why I believed early on in Dennis Kucinich. I have a lot of faith and a little less fear. Faith is critical and I think faith is a critical component. Not religious faith, but spiritual faith is critical. You've got to believe all creation comes because there's faith in some possibility and to have a person who's a leader who makes you have that kind of faith is a critical component of the campaign. How does collective faith work politically?

If [Obama] believes he can have health insurance for everyone and if he can inspire enough people on the ground to make the congressmen and senators follow through then that's deep. Like I said earlier it's nice that the politicians want to make change but without the people's support it seems nothing ever happens. Example, [New York Governor] Eliot Spitzer he went to office because we believed he worked hard with us when the world was fighting for prison reform. But when he got in the office and there was no rally, when there was no struggle he disappeared on that issue. If we go to the streets tomorrow, and we may have to, then he's going to change those laws because we say so. But other than that he's not going to react. So the people have to make the change and if you have a leader who inspires people like Obama does then change can happen even quicker. As far as the debates and everything there was a moment in the last debate where Obama specifically and pointedly denounced Minister Farrakhan. And he even went as far as clarification and rejection after a few rebuttals from Hillary Clinton.

Russell Simmons: That's his job. That's Obama's job. I certainly am not.... and I think the Minister sent out a press release about it. I don't think that he denounced the man, he denounced the word. I denounce any anti-Semitism as well, his other work is different but the point I'm making is that's Obama's job, people are afraid of those words and they're afraid of him [Minister Farrakhan]. Obama's job is to unify people but his job is not to cut people off. That's the difference between Obama and the other candidates is he believes we should have dialogue with everyone. And he understand the idea that any spiritual or any religious person if they were listening to the word of their prophet knows that inside of everyone is good and you have to work to get that out. To lock people out whether it's dialogue with religious leaders across the world or religious figures's very wrong so I think that's a different story. But I wasn't offended by it, I don't think anyone in [The Nation of Islam] was offended either."Obama's job is to unify people but his job is not to cut people off.

That's the difference between Obama and the other candidates is he

believes we should have dialogue with everyone." Did anything happen between you and Hillary that might have adversely affected your relationship?

Russell Simmons: No. Because I have a great respect and appreciation for Senator Clinton and the work that I did with her was special and I hope that she remains a senator in New York and I get to work with here again. I have a great respect for her, her work and even her candidate crew. I just think Barack is better at this time for America.

Can I say something? Yes.

Russell Simmons: It was a very, very difficult decision. And it wasn't about friendship, it's not my job. If I have any responsibility it's to myself and personal relationships and so it was difficult for me and I knew it's something I had to do. My conscious wouldn't allow me to just sit and not share my opinion because I think it matters. Understood. Do you have any advice for Obama? He has a great momentum but there's the actual general election. He may be the endorsed candidate and then he'll have to go against a different animal in John McCain.

Russell Simmons: I don't know, there's a lot. I can't tell him how to run his campaign. I think what's gotten him here is there's a spiritual component to his candidacy and paying the cost. In other words there are differences in the polls it said some of his ideas were a little too liberal or progressive so he has to come across as honest as he has. And I think people gravitate towards that, that's why he has so many Independents, Republicans who may not be in sync politically with every idea he has but trusts his honesty and I think that's what's gotten him here and I think that's what's going to get him to the White House.