Mutual Respect: Merkel and Obama with Claudia Clark

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Our Guest

Claudia Clark

Claudia Clark has worked on numerous political and social justice campaigns, including serving as a campaign manager for a school bond measure for the South San Francisco Unified Schools Campaign; a community organizer with ACORN; a field organizer for the South Bay Labor Organization, San Jose, CA; and a field organizer for the South Dakota Campaign for Healthy families. Her volunteerism includes: many Democratic Party organizations, NAACP groups, Planned Parenthood affiliations, and Toastmaster’s International.

Her Book is titled “Dear Barack” and is available from her website and other book retailers using the ISBN code.

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Show Transcript

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Claudia Clark 0:00
And I, I paid enough attention to Merkel over the years that I, because I knew we wanted to move to Germany. I knew she had a reputation among the journalists of being they’d love to call her poker face because she’s very, very, very low key, you don’t get a reaction out of her very often. And one of the journalists asked her what she was going to do, because this was clearly her final encounter working with President Obama in an official capacity. And she looked like she was about ready to break down in tears because she was so this was really hard for her. And I and I made a note of that, and I just said, this is really interesting. This is so uncharacteristic of her.

Doug Berger 0:46
In this episode, we interview author Claudia Clark about her book, “Dear Barack”, that highlights the working relationship between former German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Barack Obama. Then we also talk to her about what the US and Europe should do about the current conflict between Russia and Ukraine. And then finally, we talk about her time as a community organizer with the group ACORN. THIS is Secular Left.

Doug Berger 1:30
Our guest today is Claudia Clark. She has worked on numerous political and social justice campaigns, including serving as a campaign manager for school board measure and South San Francisco Unified Schools. She was a community organizer with Acorn, a field organizer for the South Bay labor organization, a field organizer for the South Dakota campaign for Healthy Families. Her volunteerism includes many Democratic Party organizations in double ACP groups Planned Parenthood and Toastmasters International, and she has written a book or she has wrote a book that is out now. It’s called “Dear Barack”, and it highlights the working relationship between President Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Thank you, Claudia, for joining us today.

Claudia Clark 2:15
Thank you for having me. I’m glad to be here.

Doug Berger 2:18
As I said, your book is titled “Dear Barack” highlights the working relationship between President Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who just recently retired from office. What inspired you to write the book?

Claudia Clark 2:31
Well, there that’s kind of a long story. But the short version is, I knew that I wanted to move to Berlin or Germany, that had been a lifelong goal of mine. But despite that, I don’t speak German very well. I speak French and Spanish, but German is another another story. And I happened to watch the final press conference in 2016. Obama was in Europe for his final President trip, presidential trip, it was post election. And I just I remember, I just happened to turn the television on, and it happened, it was on and I, I paid enough attention to miracle over the years that I because I knew we wanted to move to Germany, I knew she had a reputation among the journalists of being they’d love to call her poker face because she’s very, very, very low key, you don’t get a reaction out of her very often. And one of the journalists asked her what she was going to do, because this was clearly her final encounter working with President Obama in an official capacity. And she looked like she was about ready to break down in tears because she was so this was really hard for her. And I and I made a note of that. And I just said, this is really interesting. This is so uncharacteristic of her. And so I just, you know, I thought okay, this is interesting, but I didn’t think too much of it at the time. And again, this was in November of 2016. And then I happen again, I just happened to turn on the television in March of 2017. When she made the first trip overseas back there, she made her first visit to Washington after Trump had been elected. And when Trump wouldn’t even shake her hand, and I saw the contrast, not just personally, I saw the contrast between the two. But the media just went wild. They were showing all over the media. They were showing pictures of Obama and miracle together, and then they’re contrasting it with America, America and Trump together. And you know, and I thought it was pretty interesting and kind of funny. And then what the final straw though was when I learned in May of 2017, Obama’s first official trip, post presidency was to a Berlin, Berlin, it was an he was going to visit Chancellor Merkel. Now the invitation it was for the 500th anniversary of of reformation, you know, which is, you know, a big deal in German history. And the invitation came from the German from the Lutheran church, it had nothing to do with with miracle or her office. But nonetheless, I thought it was really telling that the very first trip that he made poor spouse didn’t see was to see Chancellor America. And I remembered that other books had been written about other world leaders in their their relationship, you know, FDR, and Winston Churchill during World War Two. And so I thought, Well, I wonder if there is something to this relationship. And, you know, I, you know, I knew we were moving to Germany, I didn’t, I don’t speak the language, I needed something to do that wouldn’t interfere with my German classes. And so I began research. And the next thing I know, I have a 250 page manuscript.

Doug Berger 6:03
And it just kind of came together quickly for you are pretty much sure and

Claudia Clark 6:09
writing it and researching it came pretty quickly, initially. But getting it published was another story. A lot of there’s a lot of sitting in waiting, and COVID kind of threw a monkey wrench into into a lot of that. And so, during COVID, when I had the manuscript is off to publishers, and I was waiting to hear back, because it hadn’t been published. I said, Why don’t we do a revision? So I so I added the COVID things, and I addressed how the differences between how Trump handled COVID versus how America and the European leaders handled it. So, you know, it took from start to finish it took about four years. But I, I would say probably three of those years, it’s, it was waiting in their transition. It wasn’t constant writing, it took me, you know, between research, and when I handed over to the first editor, it took about seven or eight months.

Doug Berger 7:13
Okay. And we do know, from the historical record, that President Obama and Angela Merkel work together quite often on different issues and different current events that were going on at the time during when he was in office. But they didn’t share the same views on some of the issues. What is what was their biggest differences that you think might shock some people?

Claudia Clark 7:40
Well, first of all, I’ll just give a little history on the relationship between the two of them. They, they did not start off, most people know this, but they did not start off on the best of circumstances to begin with, you know, President Obama at the time when he was just a candidate. And July of 2008, he wanted to he was going to Berlin, and he wanted to speak before the Brandenburg Gate, and Chesler miracle, he was an upcoming rock star, everybody loved him. The German people loved him, the the other European countries loved him. The one person that didn’t like him was was America, she was very skeptical of him. She she thought he was all talk. And she thought, you know, I like President Obama a lot. But he’s very, very arrogant and miracle kind of agreed, you know, she thought he was full of himself to be to be blunt. And so she denied him the opportunity to speak before Brandenburg Gate. And that kind of she was the first person to kind of tell him no, and that didn’t overwhelm. And so that was one of the that. So the relationship kind of got off on a rocky start to begin with. But once he was in office, one of the big, big issues that differences that they had was on how to get the economies back the world economies back, because, as you recall, you can recall, he took office in 2008, the height of the global economic recession. And there was a big difference of opinion among world leaders on how to get the economy stimulated again. France and Germany were of the mindset that they wanted stricter regulations to ensure that this type of overspending didn’t happen again. And on the other side, the United States and Great Britain wanted, they didn’t want government regulations, they wanted more money pumped into the economies to help stimulate for job growth and for public services. So there was a lot a lot of disconnect between the two of them and that to begin with, so that was one of the main main issues that they disagreed with. on. The other thing in the later years of of Obama’s presidency was, what to do about Ukraine, Russia, because in 2014, it’s no now that we talk about it a lot now, because of what’s going on in Russia right now. When Putin illegally annexed Crimea. President Obama was receiving a lot of pressure from, from Congress from from Senate primarily, to engage militarily in to help Ukraine fight militarily. And France and Germany were of the mindset. Absolutely not. We cannot do this. We can’t engage militarily, because well, they share a border with Russia for one thing, but but for another miracle was Merkel was of the mindset that you can’t win a war against Russia militarily at the time, that was kind of what was thought. So there was, and at the end of the day, Obama agreed and caved and said, No, we’re what we’ll issue sanctions, and we’ll, we’ll be strict about it. But we’re not going to help militarily. But he was really getting closer and closer to engaging militarily. And so that was something that they that they they disagreed with about. And then of course, one thing that that was really hard for me to as a civil libertarian, and someone that really respected Obama that I you know, I dedicate an entire chapter to this. But it was known when the Snowden Eric Snowden events came out with the leaks came out with about the alleged spying, miracle was one of the people that was the biggest target of that. And it was revealed that Obama had had her or his administration, I shouldn’t say him personally. But his administration had her where her cell phone were tapped. And so that was they, she was not real happy about that frog. Yes, reasons. And so they had to work. Obama had to do a lot of mundane offenses to fix that problem because of a mistake that his administration made.

Doug Berger 12:23
Okay, and you mentioned that you mentioned about what is currently happening in Ukraine, and about the previous annexation of Crimea. How do you see Europe responding to it this time, then it’s different than what then it was different than before? Are they more on on our side now? Or on our page? Or are they trying to do the same thing?

Claudia Clark 12:49
Well, what’s interesting is that in back in 2014, they their primary goal, Europe, and even the United States, I should say all have the LIS, their primary goal was to hit Putin where it hurt what they thought financially. So they did other things, you know, they they issued sanctions against Russia for trying, you know, they were trying to warn the Russian economy. And they also did other things, like they kicked Russia out of the G, you know, the g8, or the g7, used to be the g8. And one of the things that they did was they kicked Russia out because of his annexation of Crimea. And they they moved to the Special Olympics are supposed to be held in Russia, they they wouldn’t do that they moved on to another location because of that. So so there were tactical things that they did. But I think one, one thing where they really made a mistake is now now that the war has happened, and we’re seeing all the devastation now. Germany, mostly Germany, but but other European countries have been reluctant to issue how initially hardcore sanctions against Russia because they relied them rely on them for a lot of the energy nucular and other energy. And I think that is I have a lot of respect for America. But one of the things I do think they, they could have done is when when Putin annexed Crimea, what they what the European countries should have done is they should have started getting their act together then to say, Okay, we need to we can’t trust Putin, we have to be careful. And they should have started making plans at that point to find alternative ways of of getting the energy that they needed. Now, now that the time has come they’re they’re acting like they’re caught with their pants by on their around their ankles, because they’re, they’re acting unprepared. Like putting this on all these nasty things. You know, this was devastating but what But we need to rely on Russia. So we can’t really, we’re limited and what we can do when they could have done something when they were warranted in 2014, that Putin can do this. And so I do think that they should have done a little more than they did. And they’ve been over they bent to the, to the surprise of a lot of people, they’ve been bending over backwards, trying to, you know, supply Ukraine with what they need. Germany’s coming around. Schultz was a little if wishy washy, upfront, but he’s, he’s, and I think he could he could be doing more, but one of the reasons they’re they the European leaders have been working so hard, is I think they feel guilty, because it’s like we could have we saw this coming, and we should have done more, and we didn’t.

Doug Berger 15:53
And following along that similar line of thought, we pretty much experienced how President Trump pretty much destroyed the relationship with our allies during his term of office, including that classic photograph of Merkel and the other g7 ganging up on on Trump, when he’s sitting down at a table. Do you see the Biden administration restoring that relationship? And can it be repaired?

Claudia Clark 16:27
Yes, I am. It’s going to take some time at Trump did a lot in someone that lives over here lives in Germany now. I see it on a daily basis. Trump did a lot of damage to the relationship between the United States in our allies. But one of the things that was reassuring was after the election was called. And it was they called it in favor of, of Biden, there were tweets and across from European leaders across the world. And the mayor, the mayor of France, sent out a tweet saying the United States is back. There were church bells that went off in different parts of, of Germany were at the time. I’m living in Berlin now. But at the time, I was living outside of Munich, and they were the church boss and celebration. So I so I think people were relieved. Because they, they figured they could deal with four years of Trump. But the big scare was if he got reelected, what was going to happen if he had had four more years. And so there was an over overwhelming sense of of relief when when by no one and I think one of the things that I’ve noticed about Biden leading up to what’s going on in Ukraine is he’s done an amazing job of relit rallying our allied leaders to gather around how to deal with Putin, you know, for the for the most part, they’ve all been in lockstep with how how to deal with Putin with regard to sanctions with regard to providing military aid. They’ve all and I think Biden has done a tremendous job of getting everybody on the same page with that.

Doug Berger 18:22
For more information about any of the topics covered in this episode, check out our show notes at

Doug Berger 18:35
If you don’t mind, I’d like to move into your history of activism that that you’ve done. And I noticed in your bio, that you had worked for acorn. And for people that don’t know who acorn is, because in the United States, it’s kind of defunct now. It stood for Association of Community Organizations for Reform now. And it was a nonprofit that worked on voter registration, community organizing and advocacy for low and moderate income people. And it was targeted back in really there were several years back in the early aughts of 2000. By right wing conservatives, and in 2009, some heavily edited hidden videos came out that showed some acorn employees in a bad light and that caused them eventually to declare bankruptcy and go out of business. Did you work for acorn during that time when it was being targeted?

Claudia Clark 19:36
I was there I’m trying to think I was. I think I had just, I was there just as it was as picking up steam. There was a lot of controversy. Over You know, there was they were being targeted because they were the right thought that people were organized. As we’re as we’re registering people that didn’t exist, you know, they were, they were turning in voter registration cards for Scooby Doo and that kind of thing. That was kind of I was in during that period of time. But I left for, for medical reasons shortly I was there, I think 2008 2009. So I laughed right before it got as Controversial. Controversial, and before the the right wing really, really went after it.

Doug Berger 20:31
Yeah, and people don’t don’t realize that the right has been targeting voter registration groups for years. And this was just in a long line of targeting. And and what these hidden videos were supposedly showing employees making, like trying to suggest illegal acts and things like that. And it was nothing of the sort. All the all of the accusations were investigated. And the employees were cleared by all of the law enforcement agencies that took a look at it. Right. But it blew up the group. Yeah. Yeah. And that was the point. And they they had a, they even had a bill in Congress that stripped money from acorn. Yeah. You know,

Claudia Clark 21:20
and well, and not only acorn was on the radar for a lot of reasons. Because when I was there in 2007 2008, this again, it was at the height of the economic recession. And we were one of the things one of the primary things we did and one of the things I did as an organizer was we tried to when people were losing their homes, because they had received mortgages that they should not, and they never were qualified for. That was one of the big problems with fallout of the economic recession. And one of the things we did as organizers at ACORN was we we would do everything we could to keep people in their homes, we would we would go to the bank, we’d protest banks for for bad mortgages. We, you know, we fought for things like national health, healthcare or for or for the Affordable Care Act. I was working there when when that was going through Congress. And so we were as the left organization, we were a couple of hot button issues that that the lot that the right really did not like. And so they they would they did what they could to discredit us.

Doug Berger 22:33
Yeah. And I really, I just thought it was, you know, bad, bad, bad thing that they did, but in targeting the group. And now correct me. You said you worked on the housing, but you didn’t work on the voter registration?

Claudia Clark 22:46
I did. Yeah. That wasn’t that wasn’t we we usually as organizers, we had several campaigns that that we worked on, and so that my main goal was was the the mortgages and healthcare. And I also tried to get people to join in, I did a lot of the neighborhood stuff. So I would go out to the different neighborhoods and where I, where we lived in South San Francisco to find out what the neighborhoods needed. So that was primarily what I did is. But that isn’t to say, when when I wasn’t out trying to get support for national health care or for the mortgage issue, if people weren’t registered to vote, I was able to that was I had voter voter registration cards that I carried with me and we registered people to vote. That was just kind of part of our daily work.

Doug Berger 23:44
So So basically, as a community organizer, you went and knocked on doors and talk to people.

Claudia Clark 23:49
Yeah, yeah. And to find out what what they want me because I was in South San Francisco as a, it was a lower economic community and Daly City area. And we went out to find out what what people wanted, you know, and it was a lot of what I did was just what they wanted at the local level, you know, for example, the were one of the areas that I was responsible for organizing was very, very dangerous, because you couldn’t, the people parked on both sides of the street, and there was no parking and you’re up on hills, and so people can see. And so there were a lot of accidents were happening. So one of the tasks I was assigned to do as well, a community meeting with people so that we could just get try and get in those mirrors that you could put on the on the streets so that you could see when you’re backing out, you could see traffic and so I would do things like that I would organize community meetings where we could talk about, about doing things like that, and and then as an organizer, what my task was was really not to speak for the people, but to teach them how to do it themselves how to contact their elected Officials how to go into a city council meeting and advocate for themselves because many people didn’t know how to do that, or were intimidated by it. And so that’s what we would do is we would have meetings on okay, this is this is your, your state representative, this is how you address them. When you go on you talk to them, this is what you say. And that was a large part of what we did as well. In what

Doug Berger 25:24
was what was your favorite part of community organizing.

Claudia Clark 25:30
For me, my I, it’s interesting, because I am I’m, I’m an introvert, I really I small talk, and one on ones is not my thing. But I, I like, as a community organizer, I’d like going up and holding the community meetings with with 500 people, and many of whom we were dealing with, in the northern California area, we were dealing with people who are immigrants who, you know, this was the first time they had ever they never voted before, because they hadn’t been eligible, whatever. And so I liked going into, into a group of, of newly, you know, people new into the community and talking to them and telling them, you know, you are US citizens, this is your, this is what you can do, and getting them excited and getting them engaged and getting them riled up. When, and that, you know, I could do that all day long. And I could actually, I can’t do it anymore. But there was a time I could do it in Spanish as well. So so that was really exciting. And in you and you’ve seen these new citizens who never, ever voted before in their entire lives, registering to vote and or actually voting for the first time and seeing that. So that was really exciting to me, because that is for me, as an activist, that’s one of my biggest things is, is voting. I have pretty, pretty high tolerance for everything. But people not voting. I really I don’t have any use for people who don’t vote just because they don’t want to, you know, and especially women and minorities, it’s just, it’s when those things were women were force fed, for the right to vote. And for women not to vote, I think it’s just a slap in the face to all the women who fought. And similarly, you know, how many how many times was John Lewis arrested? For out so African Americans could vote. So that was even that’s what I tried. That’s my, that’s my passion is trying to get people convincing them of the importance of voting.

Doug Berger 27:40
All right. And as we wrap up today, what bit of wisdom or last thoughts would you like to leave us with?

Claudia Clark 27:48
Right now? I think I, you know, there’s a lot of controversy, a lot of frustration right now going on in the United States about what’s happened with the Supreme Court, and Roe versus Wade. And I think a lot of a lot, there’s a lot of finger pointing. And the bottom line is a lot of people I think sometimes you sometimes voting is a matter of plugging your nose and voting for a candidate that a lesser of two evils. And unfortunately, that’s the way it is. And sometimes you have to, you know, some people, a lot of people didn’t vote in the 2016 election, because they didn’t think Trump would ever get elected. And as it turns out, that people that didn’t vote, are the ones responsible for Trump. And I think that I do think that people oftentimes are pickier about who they’re going to vote for than who they they’re going to date. And sometimes you just have to look at the it’s I think it’s really important that you look at the broad picture and okay, you don’t like a candidate you you know, this this candidate supports the death penalty and you don’t support the death penalty, but but they’re good on immigration, they’re good on women’s rights, they’re good on on minimum wage, but you’re but you’re but people don’t vote because of that one issue. And sometimes you just have to look past that and our democracy is hanging by a thread and I think now more than ever, in I know it’s easier said than done to tell people how important it is to vote and that they need to vote with all these voter registration restriction laws going into effect but really put just look at the the greater picture and look what could happen if you don’t vote and just how important it is to vote because if you don’t it could be the last election you know, the 2022 midterm could be one of the last elections were eligible to vote it.

Doug Berger 29:44
Very well said I appreciate that because that’s pretty much how I feel sometimes when when those issues are coming up. And again, Claudia, I really thank you for your time and your book is called “Dear Barack”, and it is available from your website and is it also through Amazon and booksellers? And

Claudia Clark 30:05
yes, if you if you go to my website, the ISBN is on there so that you can you can go to your local mama pop bookstore and order it if you’d like, you can order it on Amazon or you can get it from Barnes and Noble. Or you can get it from my publisher as well.

Doug Berger 30:23
Okay, and again, thank you for your time. Appreciate it.

Claudia Clark 30:27
Thank you.

Doug Berger 30:30
Thank you for listening to this episode. You can check out more information, including links to sources used in our show notes on our website at secular Secular left is hosted, written and produced by Doug Berger, and he is solely responsible for the content. Send us your comments, either using the contact form on the website or by sending us a note at comments at secular Our theme music is dank and nasty composed using amplify studio. See you next time

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