After the Fox: Barack Obama, Chris Wallace, and Me
[Public Service Announcement: I think this post is the finest example of "I did, so you don't have to" that I've ever seen, and thanks to VastLeft for putting on his waders and working through the complete FUX transcript. Please, everyone, read the whole thing. It will be painful, but very, very instructive. And cue another round of W.O.R.M.--Lambert]
I hope you enjoyed my appearance yesterday on Fox News Sunday (DCOW), via satellite, along with Chris Wallace and Barack Obama. I think they were having audio problems in the studio, since they kept ignoring my questions and comments. I'm sure it was unintentional.
CHRIS WALLACE: Senator Obama, welcome to FOX NEWS SUNDAY.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you for having me.
WALLACE: Long time, no see.
OBAMA: Well, it takes me about 772 days to prepare for these questions. But I think there was a leap year in there so I think it’s only 771.
VASTLEFT: Barack, there are more days in a leap year, not fewer. Also, by the way, there are 50 states, not 48.
WALLACE: We checked - anyway. Your defeat in Pennsylvania raises new questions about your candidacy and especially about some of the pillars of the Democratic base. Let’s take a look at the numbers. Among white union households, Clinton beats you 72 percent to 28 percent. Among white Catholics, again, same margin, 72 percent to 28 percent.
Senator, why are you having such trouble convincing white, working class voters that you’re their guy?
OBAMA: Keep in mind that Senator Clinton was well-regarded in the state of Pennsylvania. Just as she was well-regarded in the state of Ohio. The fact that they voted for her shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. We started off 20 points down in that race. Just like we started 20 points down in Ohio. And we actually made significant progress there.
VASTLEFT: I hope Hillary was gracious enough to congratulate you on not losing by as much as some pollsters had predicted early on — especially since she had the unfair advantage of being "well-regarded."
OBAMA: And when you look at the polling that’s now being done, post Pennsylvania, about how we match up in a general election, I think Senator Clinton does a couple points better than I do. But it’s not substantial. Most of those voters will vote for me.
But they are more familiar with her. They shared a - she is from a bordering state. On the other hand, in Wisconsin I won those same voters over Senator Clinton. In Virginia I won those voters over Senator Clinton. In Iowa I won those voters over Senator Clinton.
So I think - I am confident that when you come to a general election and we are having a debate about the future of this country, how are we going to lower gas prices?
VASTLEFT: We're having a debate? When?
OBAMA: How are we going to deal with job losses? How are we going to focus on energy independence? Those are voters that I will be able to appeal to.
WALLACE: But some observers, and some liberal observers say is that part of your problem is you come off as a former law professor who talks about transforming politics when the lunch bucket crowd really wants to know what you’re going to do for them. Bob Herbert, columnist for the “New York Times”, happens to be a black man, says that Hillary Clinton seems tougher than you do.
OBAMA: Well, look, after you lose then everybody writes these anguished columns about why did you lose? After Iowa, everybody said Obama is transforming folks because he’s bringing in all these voters we never expected would vote for a black guy. This is the nature of politics.
The fact of the matter is that we have done well among every group because people are less interested in dividing the country along racial lines or regional lines. They’re really focused on how we’re going to solve these big problems right now.
WALLACE: But when you see yourself among these groups losing 70 percent to 30 percent, you aren’t troubled by that? Don’t you think to yourself maybe I need to have a different message or a new message? A different way of reaching out to them?
OBAMA: Look, what we have done has been successful throughout. It’s not like I have been winning in states that only have either black voters or Chablis-drinking limousine liberals. We’ve been winning in places like Idaho. We’ve been winning in places like Colorado.
VASTLEFT: In other words, states with undemocratic caucuses.
And thanks for the framing "Chablis-drinking limousine liberals," succinctly telling us lefties "get out of your limos and under the bus" (anyone remember that Billy Ocean song?).
Also, "Chablis?" Wasn't that in vogue between cold duck and wine spritzers? Maybe you mean "arugula-drinking limousine liberals"?
OBAMA: There is this selective memory about how this campaign has proceeded. There’s a reason why we’ve won twice as many states and more delegates and won a larger popular vote.
VASTLEFT: Except that Hillary has actually received more votes. Oh, sorry, 48 states, 48 states, I forgot.
OBAMA: Now, what I think is absolutely true is that Senator Clinton ran good campaigns in Ohio, she ran a good campaign in Pennsylvania. She deserves credit for that.
What I also think is true is that I am less familiar with some of these blue collar voters - she is less familiar, they are less familiar with me than they are with her.
VASTLEFT: Interesting that you say you are less familiar with them, rather than that they are less familiar with you. I believe you have that right.
OBAMA: So we probably have to work a little bit harder. I’ve got to be more present. I’ve got to be knocking on more doors. I’ve got to be hitting more events. We’ve got to work harder because although it’s flipped a little bit, we’ve always been the underdog in this race.
VASTLEFT: If by "underdog" you mean having a huge lead in money, endorsements by party regulars and celebrities, and generous press.
OBAMA: I mean, think about it. When we started off, I think nobody thought that we would ever be where we are today. And part of the reason is because I’m relatively new to the national scene and I’m running against the best brand in Democratic politics.
VASTLEFT: A brand which you've been systematically destroying for the good of the party, yes? Oh, and dehumanizing Hillary as a "brand" instead of a candidate, senator, woman, etc. is a very nice touch.
WALLACE: There’s something else that we saw in Pennsylvania. And take a look at this. Whites backed Clinton 63 percent to 37, while blacks voted for you 90 percent to 10. And if anyone has any doubts, 12 percent of those whites admitted that race was a factor, and they went for Clinton by more than 3-1.
Senator, for all your efforts to run a post-racial campaign, isn’t there still a racial divide in this country that is going to make it very hard for you to get elected president?
VASTLEFT: "All your efforts to run a post-racial campaign." And they say conservatives can't do comedy!
OBAMA: Well, Chris, if you look at the general election polls, we are doing better against John McCain than Senator Clinton is.
VASTLEFT: Barack, have you met my friend, Paul Lukasiak?
OBAMA: And we are putting states in play like Colorado and Virginia that have not been in play for a very long time. Here in Indiana, we just — you just saw polling by “The Indianapolis Star” showing me beating John McCain.
And so, look, is race still a factor in our society? Yes. I don’t think anybody would deny that. Is that going to be the determining factor in a general election? No, because I’m absolutely confident that the American people, what they’re looking for is somebody who can solve their problems.
VASTLEFT: So, if the superdelegates decide that Hillary is the better choice for the party and the country, there won't be any bad blood about it? That's a relief!
OBAMA: What they’re looking for is somebody who can pull the country together and push back some of the special interests that have come to dominate the agenda, who will tell them the truth about how we’re going to bring down gas prices, how we’re going to bring back jobs. And if I fit the bill, then they will vote for me.
If I lose, it won’t be because of race. It will be because, you know, I made mistakes on the campaign trail, I wasn’t communicating effectively my plans in terms of helping them in their everyday lives. But I don’t think that race is going to be a barrier in the general election.
WALLACE: Congressman James Clyburn, one of the top African-Americans politicians in this country, said this week that blacks are furious with Bill Clinton for playing the race card. Do you agree with him that there’s been a deliberate effort by the former president and some Clinton supporters to make race an issue in this Democratic race?
OBAMA: I don’t think there’s been a deliberate effort.
VASTLEFT: Aside from your own campaign's effort, of course.
OBAMA: You know, I take the president at his word that he is –
WALLACE: Which one?
VASTLEFT: Chris, you are supposed to be a journalist, right?
OBAMA: Well, oftentimes, you know, I think that he’s been going after me hard. He may not have intended it in a racial way. I think he just sees me as competition against his wife. And that’s what, you know, husbands do, hopefully, or spouses do in political contests.
WALLACE: Clumping you in with Jesse Jackson?
OBAMA: Well, you know, I thought that that was probably somewhat dismissive after we had won that contest pretty handily.
VASTLEFT: I agree with you, though to be fair, that win was fueled by your campaign's trumped up "fairy tale" and "MLK needed a white president" smears, with Obama receiving close to 100% of the black vote. So much for post-racial....
OBAMA: But look, you know, I’m confident that once this primary is over, the Democratic Party will come together. And I know that everybody’s feeling anxious right now and fretful, and, you know, all these articles are being written about, you know, isn’t the base being divided? But the fact of the matter is, is that come August, that convention, whoever’s the nominee, I think the Democratic Party will say, look, we’ve got a big fight ahead of us in November, and we are going to be unified to take the country in a different direction.
VASTLEFT: I hope you're right. If you aren't the nominee, you have a big job to do in healing a divide caused largely by your overzealous supporters, prodded by a campaign that inflated the ambitions of a modestly accomplished, young, centrist politician into a messianic movement.
WALLACE: I wasn’t sure whether I was even going to ask you about your former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, but he made it easy for me because he’s now begun this –
VASTLEFT: Better answer — a quote from North by Northwest — "wouldn't it be nice if my problems and your plans were somehow connected?" If only you'd show that chilly, "you're likable enough" tone here in the lion's den.
I guess it's easier to be edgy at the expense of a much-maligned woman than in the face of today's true destructive partisans. It can be done, though. Remember a show called "Crossfire"?
Anyway, Chris, do carry on....
WALLACE: — public campaign to redeem his reputation. The other night he said to Bill Moyers that he has been the target of a smear campaign.
Question: Do you think that Reverend Wright is just the victim here?
OBAMA: No. I think that people were legitimately offended by some of the comments that he had made in the past.
The fact that he is my former pastor I think makes it a legitimate political issue. So I understand that.
I think that it is also true that to run a snippet of 30-second sound bites, selecting out of a 30-year career, simplified and caricatured him, and caricatured the church. And I think that was done in a fairly deliberate way.
And that is unfortunate, because as I’ve said before, I have strongly denounced those comments that were the subject of so much attention. I wasn’t in church when he made them. But I also know that I go to church not to worship the pastor, to worship God. And that ministry, the church family that’s been built there, does outstanding work, has been I think applauded for its outreach to the poor.
He built that ministry. And I think that, you know, people need to take a look at the whole church and the whole man in making these assessments.
VASTLEFT: Well done. Why didn't you just say that at the time, instead of making the topic into a referendum on race — complete with stirring the pot on the Geraldine Ferraro gotcha story, while pretending to take the high road on it?
WALLACE: Did you talk to Reverend Wright recently about his decision to make public — a series of public appearances at this particular point?
OBAMA: You know, I didn’t talk to him about that. I had talked to him after all this had happened, partly because I regretted — I always regret people who are civilians, essentially, being dragged into these political fights. And the — and I expressed to him.
I said, “Look, we have very strong differences. I do not agree with the comments that you made. On the other hand, I regret that you have drawn so much attention.” And I also regretted the church drawing so much attention.
I mean, you had reporters who were coming in and taking church bulletins, you know, the sick and the shut-in (ph), and they were getting phone calls from reporters. And so that was something that I regretted, and I talked to him about that.
VASTLEFT: Alrighty. Maybe it's time to switch to a more substantial topic?
WALLACE: But you didn’t try to discourage him from going public? It obviously isn’t helpful to your campaign to have him on the scene right now.
VASTLEFT: OK, beating a dead horse is good, too.
OBAMA: Yes, I understand. But look, he is a former pastor of mine. He is somebody who has obviously been the subject of, you know, some pretty sharp attacks over the last — over the last month. And it’s understandable that somebody after an entire career of service would want to defend themselves.
WALLACE: By the way, in your speech on race, you said that while you haven’t heard these remarks that have been public, that you had heard controversial remarks from the pulpit.
VASTLEFT: Chris, could we please talk about something more significant?
WALLACE: But you’ve never said what those were.
OBAMA: Well, you know, I didn’t have any particular examples.
WALLACE: Can you tell us anything that you heard him say?
VASTLEFT: What I wouldn't give for a large sock with horse manure in it!
OBAMA: Well, you know, I think that he has oftentimes talked about some of the problems in the black community in very controversial ways. I mean, I think — or in sharp ways, in ways that are provocative.
You know, he will talk about the failure of fathers to look after their children in ways that sometimes people might be taken aback by. He can use street vernacular in his sermons in ways that people wouldn’t expect to hear–
VASTLEFT: I'm just going to pull over to the side of the road and wait for you two to stop!
WALLACE: But did he ever say anything about America or about white racism that troubled you?
OBAMA: Well, you know — well, I think that, you know, he has certainly preached in the past when I was there about the history of race in this country in very blunt terms, talking about slavery, talking about Jim Crow. The problem — and I pointed this out in my speech in Philadelphia — was where oftentimes he would err, I think, is in only cataloguing the bad of America and not doing enough to lift up the good. And that’s probably where he and I have the biggest difference, but –
WALLACE: Did you ever go to him after a sermon and say, you know –
VASTLEFT: La-la-la-la I can't hear you!
OBAMA: Well, but keep in mind, it’s not as if his sermons were constantly political. I mean, I think most of the time he was talking about church and family and faith and scripture, and that’s what I got out of — out of church.
So I don’t want to exaggerate this notion that somehow he was on the soapbox each and every day. But the important point, though, that I tried to make in Philadelphia is that some of this is generational. I mean some of it is - he went through experiences that I never went through. I’m the beneficiary of the civil rights movement.
VASTLEFT: And you didn't even have to listen to all those bickering radicals!
OBAMA: People I think noted that, if you run back some of Dr. King’s speeches, we always play “I have a dream,” but if you look at his sermon in Riverside church for example, when he spoke out fiercely against the Vietnam war, there’s some pretty jarring comments there as well. And part of it has to do with a very specific experience, a generation that was raised under Jim Crow, saw a lot of violence, saw a lot of racial discrimination.
I have a different experience and in part have a much more hopeful vision of where America has been and where it can go in the future.
WALLACE: Senator, you say a lot of good stuff.
VASTLEFT: Chris, you are supposed to be a journalist, right?
WALLACE: Reverend Wright (INAUDIBLE) are distractions from the real issues.
VASTLEFT: You don't say, Chris! Couldn't you have just run Conan O'Brien's "Frankenstein Wastes a Minute of Our Time"? Maybe two or three times over....
WALLACE: But especially for someone like you, who’s a newcomer to the national scene, people don’t know a lot about, don’t voters have a legitimate interest in who you are and what your values are?
OBAMA: Absolutely and so the question becomes, how do voters draw conclusions about my values? Do they talk about, do they look at the 20 years in which I’ve devoted my life to community service? Do they about the work I did as a community organizer working with Catholic parishes and churches to bring people together to set up job training programs for the unemployed and the poor. That’s a reflection of my values.
VASTLEFT: Do they look at the one year you spent in the U.S. Senate before you ran for president? Do they look only at a speech you did before you ran for national office (your repeated claims to the contrary), or all the votes you've done (when you've shown up for them) since, votes that thoroughly fail to differentiate you from the Democratic Senator your supporters pretend is radically to your right, Mr. Chris-Wallace-Says-You-Say-a-Lot-of-Good-Stuff?
OBAMA: Do they look at how I’ve raised my children and how I speak about my family? That’s a reflection of my values. I don’t think that the issue of Reverend Wright is illegitimate. I just think that the way it was reported was not I think a reflection of both that church that I attend and who I am.
VASTLEFT: To think, you could have been our first outed atheist President (now that's transformative!), and you would have skipped all this Reverend Wright crap. But you had to bow to the pressure of your community and get all Christ-y. As we say in Chablis Country, quelle drag.
OBAMA: I don’t think - let me just use another example. On flag pins, I have worn flag pins in the past. I will wear flag pins in the future.
VASTLEFT: A great way to put Americans back to work — building the flag pins of the future!
OBAMA: The fact that I said that some politicians use the flag pin and then aren’t acting in a particularly patriotic way, for that to someone be translated into me being anti-patriotic or anti-flag, I think that is a distraction.
I think that that is not reflective of me or the love that I have for this country. Keep in mind, I think (INAUDIBLE) the scene nationally at the Democratic convention, giving what I would say was about as patriotic a speech about what America means to me and what this country’s about as any speech that we’ve heard in a long time.
VASTLEFT: It was almost as good as your speech about modesty!
WALLACE: Let me ask you one other (INAUDIBLE) which some will call the distraction, some will call values. In the last debate, you were asked about your relationship with William Ayers, the former ‘60s radical and you said that you were no more responsible for what he did back in the 1960s than for your friendship with Tom Coburn, senator from Oklahoma, pediatrician, who has made comments about possibly taking the death penalty for cases of abortion. Do you really feel moral equivalency between what Ayres did and what Tom Coburn said?
OBAMA: No of course not. The point I was making and I actually called Tom Coburn afterwards, because I thought that people were suggesting that I had drawn a moral equivalent, so that’s what I was, (wasn't) what I was doing.
All I was saying was is that the fact that I know somebody, worked with them, had interactions with them, doesn’t mean that I’m endorsing what they think and Chris, I’m sure you’ve got people who you serve on a board with or have dinner with who you would never expect that somehow have that seen as an endorsement of their views.
Now, Mr. Ayres is a 60 plus year old individual who lives in my neighborhood, who did something that I deplore 40 years ago when I was six or seven years old. By the time I met him, he was a professor of education at the University of Illinois.
We served on a board together that had Republicans, bankers, lawyers, focused on education, who worked for Mayor Daley. Mayor Daley, the same Mayor Daley probably who when he was a state attorney prosecuted Mr. Ayres’s wife for those activities, I (INAUDIBLE) the point is that to somehow suggest that in any way I endorse his deplorable acts 40 years ago, because I serve on a board with him.
WALLACE: No, I’m just surprised that you brought Coburn in, because it seems to me it’s so apples and oranges.
OBAMA: No, no, no, no. The point I was making was that I’ve got a lot of - nobody is saying, you know what, Barack, he’s got a bunch of Republican friends or he’s got a bunch of people who are considered on the religious right who he gets along with, who he shares stories with, who he does work with. The focus is on this one individual whose relations with, whom I have a relationship is for more tangential than it is with somebody like a Tom Coburn who I’m working with all the time and who I consider a close friend. And yet that’s the relationship that gets the focus.
VASTLEFT: Maybe it's time someone was questioning why you're friends with a rightwing radical like Tom Coburn.
WALLACE: Senator Obama, we have to step aside for a moment, but when we come back, we will ask Barack Obama about his plan to change the way Washington works. Back in a moment.
WALLACE: And we are back now with Senator Barack Obama. Senator, one of the central themes of your campaign is that you are a uniter, who will reach across the aisle and create a new kind of politics.
VASTLEFT: And it's true! I've never felt more unity in my life. According to folks on sites like DailyKos and DU, I have all kinds of peers and friends that I never knew about: racists, morons, paranoiacs, Karl Rove, Rupert Murdoch, and many others.
WALLACE: Some of your detractors say that you are a paint by the numbers liberal and I’d like to explore this with you.
VASTLEFT: Impressive paint by the numbers conservative framing you got there, Chris.
WALLACE: Over the years, John McCain has broken with his party and risked his career on a number of issues, campaign finance, immigration reform, banning torture.
VASTLEFT: I'm pretty sure that single-handedly ensuring the legalization of torture didn't offend too many conservatives. And to be fair, apparently McCain has put himself above his own campaign-finance laws. So, he's a goodfella after all!
WALLACE: As a president, can you name a hot button issue where you would be willing to cross (ph) Democratic party line and say you know what, Republicans have a better idea here.
OBAMA: Well, I think there are a whole host of areas where Republicans in some cases may have a better idea.
VASTLEFT: Yes we can throw our own party under the bus!
WALLACE: Such as.
OBAMA: Well, on issues of regulation, I think that back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, a lot of the way we regulated industry was top down command and control. We’re going to tell businesses exactly how to do things.
And I think that the Republican party and people who thought about the margins (ph) came with the notion that you know what, if you simply set some guidelines, some rules and incentives for businesses, let them figure out how they’re going to for example reduce pollution. And a cap and trade system, for example, is a smarter way of doing it, controlling pollution, than dictating every single rule that a company has to abide by, which creates a lot of bureaucracy and red tape and oftentimes is less efficient.
VASTLEFT: If there's one place the GOP's got it right, it's environmental issues!
OBAMA: I think that on issues of education, I have been very clear about the fact, and sometimes I have gotten in trouble with the teachers union on this, that we should be experimenting with charter schools. We should be experimenting with different ways of compensating teachers. That –
VASTLEFT: Welcome, teachers! I know it's a little crowded here under the bus, but it beats the ice floe that senior citizens and sick people are getting.
WALLACE: You mean merit pay?
OBAMA: Well, merit pay, the way it has been designed I think that is based on just single standardized I think is a big mistake, because the way we measure performance may be skewed by whether or not the kids are coming in the school already three years or four years behind.
But I think that having assessment tools and then saying, you know what, teachers who are on career paths to become better teachers, developing themselves professionally, that we should pay excellence more. I think that’s a good idea. So –
WALLACE: But, Senator, if I may, I think one of the concerns that some people have is that you talk a good game about, let’s be post-partisan, let’s all come together — just a couple of quick things, and I don’t really want you to defend each one, I just want to speak to the larger issue.
The gang of 14, which was a group — a bipartisan coalition to try to resolve the nomination — the issue of judicial nominations. Fourteen senators came together, you weren’t part of it. On some issues where Democrats have moved to the center, partial-birth abortion, Defense of Marriage Act, you stay on the left and you are against both.
And so people say, do you really want a partnership with Republicans or do you really want unconditional surrender from them?
VASTLEFT: Go on!
OBAMA: No, look, I think this is fair. I would point out, though, for example, that when I voted for a tort reform measure that was fiercely opposed by the trial lawyers, I got attacked pretty hard from the left.
VASTLEFT: Welcome, John Edwards! Teachers, liberals, make a little room, willya please?
During the Roberts –
WALLACE: John Roberts, Supreme Court.
VASTLEFT: About that Roberts vote...
OBAMA: John Roberts nomination, although I voted against him, I strongly defended some of my colleagues who had voted for him on the Daily Kos, and was fiercely attacked as somebody who is, you know, caving in to Republicans on these fights.
VASTLEFT: Hi, Kos. Now that you're here, you'll be wanting us to leave, right? Hey, teachers, John Edwards, liberals, blue-collar workers, Chablis drinkers, Baby Boomers, we gotta find a new bus to get thrown under. The good news: there don't seem to be any Republicans down here!
OBAMA: In fact, there are a lot of liberal commentators who think I’m too accommodating. So here is my philosophy. I want to do what works for the American people. And both at the state legislative level and at the federal legislative level, I have always been able to work together with Republicans to find compromise and to find common ground.
That’s how I was able to provide health care for people who needed it in Illinois.
VASTLEFT: Fortunately, there are lots of people who don't need health care.
OBAMA: That’s how I passed ethics reform, both at the state and the federal level. That’s how I have worked with people like Dick Lugar, from here in Indiana, on critical issues like nuclear proliferation.
VASTLEFT: Not that you, or your friends at Exelon, see anything wrong with proliferating nuclear power plants.
OBAMA: It is true that when you look at some of the votes that I’ve taken in the Senate that I’m on the Democratic side of these votes, but part of the reason is because the way these issues are designed are to polarize. They are intentionally designed to polarize.
VASTLEFT: Would we want a Democrat who votes on the Democratic side of issues other than the most absurd rightwing proposals? Hell, no!
OBAMA: On partial birth abortion, I strongly believe that the state can properly restrict late-term abortions. I have said so repeatedly. All I’ve said is we should have a provision to protect the health of the mother. And many of the bills that came before me didn’t have that.
Now part of the reason they didn’t have it was purposeful, because those who are opposed to abortion, and I don’t begrudge that at all, they have a moral calling to try to oppose what they think is immoral, oftentimes what they are trying to do was to polarize the debate and make it more difficult for people so that they could try to bring an end (to) abortions overall.
VASTLEFT: So, Barack, how do you feel about Eric Rudolph? He seems to have a moral calling to bring an end to abortions. What, did you want him to stand on the sidelines while immorality was being practiced?
OBAMA: So the point I’m simply making is that as president, my goal is to bring people together, to listen to them.
VASTLEFT: I'll spare you the hassle of listening to me. I'm a baby boomer atheist who wants universal healthcare and a presidency that repudiates the greed-is-good Reagan-Bush-Bush Revolution. You don't want to hear any of that shit, do you?
OBAMA:And I don’t think there is any Republican out there who I’ve worked with who would say that I don’t listen to them, I don’t respect their ideas, I don’t understand their perspective.
VASTLEFT: That's just what I was looking for, a president who respects the ideas of this historically disastrous Republican contingent!
Well, it turns out there are a lot of Democrats out here who would say that you don't listen to us, don't respect our ideas, and don't understand our perspective. To be fair, you're a smart guy. Odds are you do understand our perspective and simply don't give a crap about us.
OBAMA: And I do not consider Democrats to have a monopoly on wisdom. And my goal is to get us out of this polarizing debate where we are always trying to score cheap political points and actually get things done.
VASTLEFT: Which particular Democratic Senators and issues are you referring to? We've ordered up yet another bus, and I'd enjoy the company of these mysterious hyperpartisan lefties, whoever they may be.
WALLACE: I want to ask you about more area during this segment. Tax and spending, the Republicans are keeping a running total of all of your plans. They say it’s $662 billion over four years. They say for all your promises not to raise taxes on the middle class that in fact you want to raise the cap on the Social Security payroll tax, and you also want to — let me get this straight here, you also want to increase capital gains.
Question, John McCain is going to go after you as another classic liberal tax and spender.
VASTLEFT: As opposed to a "classic conservative borrow and spender," Chris?
OBAMA: Well, I’m going to go right back at John McCain, because look at his tax proposals. He just went out there and not only wants to continue some of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and corporations, he actually wants to extend them and he hasn’t told us really how he is going to pay for them.
It is irresponsible and the irony is he said it was irresponsible. When George Bush initiated these tax cuts in 2001, he said this is shameful. He said that it offended his conscience. He said for us to give tax breaks to the wealthy, particularly at a time of war. Where somewhere along the line, you know, his conscience took flight because he was looking to get nominated for the Republican — as the Republican nominee.
VASTLEFT: Interesting isn't it, when you look at the record these Republicans aren't so respectable after all?
OBAMA: And so I’m happy to have that debate.
VASTLEFT: Since you're so debate-happy, I know this nice lady who would love to have one....
OBAMA: If you look at my approach to taxation, what have I said? I’ve said I would cut taxes for people making $75,000 a year or less. I’d cut taxes for seniors who are making $50,000 a year or less. It is true that I would roll back the Bush tax cuts on the wealthiest Americans, back to the level they were under Bill Clinton, when I don’t remember rich people feeling oppressed.
VASTLEFT: Well, that's very much the man in form, framing the Clinton era in one swoop as both a good yardstick and a time of porcine wealth.
OBAMA: In terms of capital gains, I’ve suggested we might go back up to 20 because –
WALLACE: You have suggested 28.
OBAMA: Well, but what I’ve said is, I certainly would not raise it higher than it was under Ronald Reagan. But the fact is, is that I’m mindful that we’ve got to keep our capital gains tax to a point where we can actually get more revenue.
But that’s not something that’s going to affect the average person with a 401(k).
When people start talking about how, well, there are millions of Americans who own stock, most of them own stock in 401(k)s that — where their taxes are deferred and they pay ordinary income taxes when they finally cash out.
VASTLEFT: Wonk is good. More like this please.
OBAMA: And in terms of raising the payroll tax — raising the cap on the payroll tax, right now everybody who is making $102,000 or less pays 100 percent — a payroll tax on 100 percent of their income. There are about 3 to 4 percent of Americans who are above $102,000 in income every year.
So if you want to talk about who is middle class, me giving cuts to folks making, $60,000, $70,000 and potentially asking more from friends of mine like Warren Buffett, who I have no idea what he made last year, you know, that’s a debate I’m happy to have with John McCain.
VASTLEFT: Ooh, and capped off with a nice Wall Street dogwhistle there — friends with Warren Buffett, you say? We must have you over for polo some time, my good man!
And again with the debates you're happy to have.
OBAMA: Because it’s the people making $75,000, $50,000, $60,000 who are hurting. And when John McCain promises tax cuts to corporations that are not paid for, then what we are doing is loading up this nation with debt and if we’re not paying for it now, our kids and our grandkids are going to have to pay for it and I think that’s objectionable.
VASTLEFT: Any chance you'll want to teach those kids and grandkids that the Republican values they've been raised under are killing our country (and other people's countries, too), so in case they don't have the awesomest guy in the world to vote for sometime, they'll understand why they're the first U.S. generation without much hope of being better-off than their parents?
WALLACE: Senator, we have to take one more break. But when we come back we’ll ask Barack Obama some questions about foreign policy and also how he thinks this long, tough Democratic campaign will finally get resolved. Stay tuned.
WALLACE: And we are back for one final segment with Senator Barack Obama. Senator, this week President Bush named David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, to be the head of Central Command, which controls overseas military operations across the Middle East and Central Asia. Will you vote to confirm his nomination?
OBAMA: Yes. I think Petraeus has done a good tactical job in Iraq. I think as a practical matter, obviously that’s where most of the attention has been devoted from this administration over the last several years.
I was also a big respecter of Admiral Fallon, who Petraeus is now replacing and I think it was unfortunate that the administration wasn’t listening more to the observations of Fallon that we have to think about more than just Iraq.
VASTLEFT: Barry, if you wouldn't mind, could you avoid saying things like "I'm a respecter" and "I'm a uniter"? Thanks.
OBAMA: That we’ve got issues with Iran and Pakistan and Afghanistan and our singular focus on Iraq I think has distracted us.
My hope is that Petraeus would reflect that wider view of our strategic interests.
VASTLEFT: Hope is all you need!
WALLACE: I want to ask you about presidents and listening to generals. Petraeus, I don’t have to tell you, is the architect of the troop surge, a strong advocate of our continued engagement in Iraq. If you become commander-in-chief and he says your plan to get out of Iraq is a mistake, will you replace him?
OBAMA: I will listen to General Petraeus, given the experience that he has accumulated over the last several years. It would be stupid of me to ignore what he has to say.
But it is my job as president, it would be my job as commander in chief to set the mission. To make the strategic decisions in light of the problems that we’re having in Afghanistan, in light of the problems that we are having in Pakistan, the fact that al Qaeda is strengthening as our National Intelligence Estimates have indicated since 2001.
And so we’ve got a whole host of tasks and I’ve also got to worry about the fact that the military has no strategic reserve right now.
VASTLEFT: This wouldn't be the same "whole host" where the Republicans have the better ideas, would it? Just checking.
OBAMA: If we had an emergency in the Korean Peninsula, if we had an emergency elsewhere in the world, we don’t have the troops right now to deal with it. And that’s not my opinion, that’s –
VASTLEFT: Couldn't you perhaps just say "our troops are stretched pretty thin," instead of saying that we can't handle an attack? Nuff said...?
WALLACE: So would you replace him or would you just say, I’m the commander-in-chief, here’s my order.
OBAMA: What I would do is say — what I will do is say we have a new mission. It is my strategic assessment that we have to provide a timetable to the Iraqi government. I want you to tell me how best to execute this new assignment and I am happy to listen to the tactical considerations and any ideas you have.
VASTLEFT: If elected, you're gonna be the happiest president ever, aren't you?
OBAMA: But what I will not do is continue to let the Iraqi government off the hook and allow them to put our foreign policy on ice while they dither about making decisions about how they are going to cooperate with each other.
VASTLEFT: Sometimes you gotta wonder... when the Iraqis attacked us, what the hell were they thinking?
WALLACE: Senator, we sometimes do a lightning round her(e). Quick questions.
OBAMA: I’ll try to be –
VASTLEFT: Too late!
WALLACE: Let’s clear out this campaign business. Why are you ducking another debate with Hillary Clinton?
OBAMA: I’m not ducking one. We’ve had 21 and so what we’ve said is with two weeks, two big states, we want to make sure we’re talking to as many folks as possible on the ground, taking questions from voters.
WALLACE: No debates between now and Indiana?
OBAMA: We’re not going to have debates between now and Indiana.
WALLACE: You say it’s premature to discuss running mates. Are you at least open to the possibility of running with Hillary Clinton with places on the ticket to be determined?
OBAMA: I’m going to punt on that question until I’m the nominee.
VASTLEFT: At 3:00AM, I want a guy who goes for it on 4th and long.
WALLACE: That’s quick.
VASTLEFT: Thank you, Chris!
WALLACE: If the voting ends in June and you are still leading in superdelegates - I’ll ask again. If the voting ends in June and you’re still leading in the popular votes and delegates and the superdelegates hand the nomination to Hillary Clinton, do you think the young people, the African American people, the young first time voters you brought into this campaign, aren’t they going to be awful angry?
OBAMA: I think there would be some frustration there. It’s not just young people, by the way. This event that we just had here in Marion, Indiana, I had a 48 year old white woman come up to me and say she is voting for the first time. Never voted before. She probably would not vote. It’s possible.
But here is my strong belief. Democrats are going to be unified. I think we should find that person who is going to be best able to not just defeat John McCain but also lead the country. I happen to think I’m that person. I will make that argument forcefully to the superdelegates prior to the convention.
VASTLEFT: You know, I'd appreciate your taking the high road if I didn't know that your operatives were so busy workin' the low one.
Also, at a certain point, this ultra-cool, dispassionate demeanor starts making me nervous. Wouldn't you be kinda pissed if you lost because the superdelegates didn't support you?
I know a lot of people hear you and feel inspiration; I'm trying to find signs of respiration.
Al Gore (I love ya) and John Kerry (I like ya) are object lessons in how "bottled up" may not be the most electable posture against the beer-buddy Repubs. The media may mockingly diagnose Hillary as having multiple-personality disorder, but voters surely want to know that you have at least one.
WALLACE: The Wall Street Journal says that you are prepared to run the first privately-financed campaign - presidential campaign since Watergate. True?
OBAMA: Look, we’ve done a wonderful job raising money from the grassroots. I’m very proud of the fact that in March, in February for example, 90 percent of our donations came over the Internet. Our average donation is $96. And we’ve done an amazing job, I think, of mobilizing people, to finance our campaigns in small increments.
I have promised that I will sit down with John McCain and talk about, can we preserve a public system, as long as we are taking into account third party, independent expenditures, because what I don’t intend to –
VASTLEFT: Would you say that he's preserving the public system?
WALLACE: If you could get that agreement you would go for a publicly financed campaign?
OBAMA: What I don’t intend to do is to allow huge amounts of money to be spent by the RNC, the Republican National Committee or by organizations like the Swift Boat organization and just stand there without –
WALLACE: If you get that agreement?
OBAMA: I would be very interested in pursuing public financing because I think not every candidate is going to be able to do what I’ve done in this campaign and I think it’s important to think about future campaigns.
WALLACE: Finally, and we have about a minute left, what have you learned in this campaign? And I don’t mean, gee, what a great country this is answer.
What mistakes have you made? What have you learned about running for president? What have you learned about yourself?
OBAMA: I’ve learned that I have what I believe is the right temperament for the presidency. Which is, I don’t get too high when I’m high and I don’t get too low when I’m low. And we’ve gone through all kinds of ups and downs.
VASTLEFT: And Hillary's the one they call robotic.
OBAMA: People forget now that I had been written off last summer. People were writing many of the anguished articles that they’re not writing after our loss in Pennsylvania. On the other hand, after Iowa, when everybody was sure this was over, I think I was more measured and more cautious.
That I think is a temperamental strength.
VASTLEFT: Or, it could be, you coasted after Iowa and then turned to impressively stealthy character assassination to regain the upper hand.
OBAMA: In terms of what I’ve learned or mistakes that I’ve made, I’m making them all the time and usually it has to do with me talking too much instead of listening. And what I’ve also learned is how much I’ve missed my family and my kids and my wife and that’s been the biggest hardship of this campaign.
I knew I’d miss them but sometimes you’re just - physically you need those two little girls in your arms and that’s something I’m looking to fix in the months to come.
VASTLEFT: C'mon Barack, tell it to us straight. This is a time of national crisis. We need to know: what have you learned about puppies and ponies?
WALLACE: Senator Obama, thank you so much for talking with us
OBAMA: I enjoyed it.
VASTLEFT: What I'm going to enjoy is hearing the same people who demonize the Clintons for appearing on Fox News saying what a brilliant maneuver this was!
WALLACE: Don’t be a stranger.
OBAMA: I won’t.