In a rare interview covering a wide array of topics, Attorney General Eric Holder said that he would not back away from a controversial speech he gave in 2009 in which he called the United States “a nation of cowards” on the topic of race.
“I wouldn’t walk away from that speech,” Holder told ABC News in an interview. “I think we are still a nation that is too afraid to confront racial issues,” he said, adding that Americans are still hesitant to reach out to “one another across the color line [to] talk about racial issues.”
In Feb. 2009, in his first speech after taking office, Holder told a crowd gathered at the Justice Department to celebrate Black History Month, “Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards.”
Those remarks led to vigorous and divisive debate, with critics saying that Holder’s idea of openly discussing racial issues involved a one-way conversation led by the attorney general and the Obama administration.
While acknowledging that when it comes to race relations, the U.S. is “a fundamentally better place than we were 50 years ago,” Holder also called for more work to be done.
“But there’s still more we have to travel along this road so we get to the place that is consistent with our founding ideals,” he told ABC.
In the interview, Holder also reiterated claims he has made in the past that both he and President Obama are treated differently than their predecessors, partially because of their race.
“There’s a certain level of vehemence, it seems to me, that’s directed at me [and] directed at the president,” Holder told ABC, citing “people talking about taking their country back” as an example.
“There’s a certain racial component to this for some people. I don’t think this is the thing that is a main driver, but for some there’s a racial animus.”
Holder also spoke of what he sees as unprecedented Republican opposition.
“For whatever reason, [some] Republicans decided early on that this was a president they were just simply not going to cooperate with,” Holder said.
“And over the past five-and-a-half years, we have seen demonstrations of that, where the president has reached out his hand, offered compromises that have simply not been met [in the way] they have been in the past by a Republican Party willing to do the appropriate things.”
Holder was also asked about a number of other issues, including the escalating situation in Syria and Iraq, the on-going IRS scandal, the immigration surge, and Sarah Palin’s recent call for Obama’s impeachment.
On Palin, Holder took a direct shot, saying that “she wasn’t a particularly good vice presidential candidate.”
“She’s an even worse judge of who ought to be impeached and why.”
Holder also stood firm on his refusal to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the IRS, which faces allegations that Lois Lerner, a former agency official, covered up its targeting of conservative non-profit groups.
Holder said that a special prosecutor is not necessary because FBI agents are “doing a good, professional job.”