Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Obama on 60 Minutes

Text of the Obama interview on CBS' "60 Minutes"

(CBS) One thing you can say with certainty about Illinois Sen. Barack Obama is that there has never been another presidential candidate like him.

He has a foreign sounding name that rhymes with "Osama," his middle name is Hussein, and he has admitted to using marijuana and cocaine as a teenager. Racially he is half black, half white, and in terms of political experience, green.

With just seven years in the state legislature, and two in the United States Senate, it would be easy to dismiss him, were it not for the fact that he is running second in the polls behind Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination. On Saturday, 17,000 people braved frigid weather to watch him declare his candidacy in Springfield Ill., where correspondent Steve Kroft joined him on the eve of his speech.

"Three years ago, you were a state legislator here in Springfield. What makes you think that you're qualified to be president of the United States?" Kroft asks.

"You know, I think we're in a moment of history where probably the most important thing we need to do is to bring the country together and one of the skills that I bring to bear is being able to pull together the different strands of American life and focus on what we have in common," Obama replies

Obama says he has no doubts that he's ready to run. Asked where he gets all this confidence, the senator jokes, "My wife asks me that all the time.

As he gave 60 Minutes a tour of the old Illinois capitol where Abraham Lincoln served in the legislature and delivered the House Divided speech, there was much for Obama to be confident about. At age 45, he is one of only three black senators since Reconstruction, the first African-American President of the Harvard Law Review, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Chicago, and the author of two best selling books.

He is ambitious and just daring enough to invite comparisons to one of the few American presidents, who was elected with even less political experience than he has: Abraham Lincoln.

"He grew into the presidency in ways that I think no body would have anticipated," Obama tells Kroft.

"I know I haven't spent a lot of time learning the ways of Washington. But I've been there long enough to know that the ways of Washington must change," the senator told the crowd during his announcement speech.

On Saturday in Springfield he began a campaign that seems to have morphed out of his latest book tour.

Propelled by the media hungry for a fresh face and a good story, he has graced the covers of Time and Newsweek, the pages of Men’s Vogue, and has been endorsed by Oprah.

But it has also been driven by his personal charisma and an ability to connect with people, especially young people, that is rarely seen in American politics.

He has challenged the post baby boom generation to cast aside its cynicism of politics and engage the system. In a speech at George Mason University earlier this month, he evoked Martin Luther King.

"The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice. It bends towards justice," he told the students. "But here’s the thing, young people, it doesn't bend on its own. It bends in that direction because you decide you're gonna stand up to a war that should have never been waged. It bends because you decide that we need a healthcare system for all Americans."

On the campaign trail he is routinely received like a rock star, a far cry from the way he is treated in the corridors of power in Washington, where he is 88th on the Senate’s list of seniority.

"I wanna read you a quote from The St. Petersburg Times. 'The world is too complex and dangerous for this likeable, charismatic, African American neophyte to practice on-the-job training,'" Kroft reads.

Asked why he is in such a hurry to run, Obama tells Kroft, "You know the truth is I'm not. We have a narrow window to solve some of the problems that we face. Ten years from now, we may not be in a position to recover the sense of respect around the world that we've lost over the last six years. Certainly, when you look at our energy policy and environment and the prospects of climate change, we’ve gotta make some decisions right now. And so I feel a sense of urgency for the country."

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.

Obama does think the U.S. is ready for a black president and he doesn't think his race is going to hold him back.

"I think if I don't win this race it will be because of other factors. It's gonna be because I have not shown to the American people a vision for where the country needs to go that they can embrace," he tells Kroft.

"There's one poll that shows Hillary Clinton is leading 53 to 27 among African-Americans," Kroft says. "Are you surprised by that? Are you disappointed by that?"

"Not at all," Obama says. "I think that there is a assumption on the part of some commentators that somehow, the black community is so unsophisticated that the minute you put an African-American face up on the screen, that they automatically say, 'That's our guy.' A black candidate has to earn black votes the same way that he's gotta earn white votes. And that's exactly how it should be."

And he has done it in Chicago, where he began his political career after meeting and marrying Michelle Robinson, another Harvard Law School graduate, 14 years ago. She is an executive with the University of Chicago Hospitals, and they have two children Malia, who’s eight and Sasha, five.

His daughters are interested in their father’s campaign only to the extent that it influences their campaign to get a dog.

Their only memory of the White House when they made the tour was President Bush's dog, so that was their main focus—the possibility," Obama tells Kroft.

"This is our in—to get a dog," his wife Michelle adds. "Good. Really. You run for president. But, if we get a dog, we don't care what you do."

Michelle, on the other hand, did care and Obama had to persuade his wife to let him run. Political campaigns make her feel like a single mother.

Asked if it has put strains on the marriage from time to time, Michelle Obama says, sarcastically, "Oh-nooooo."

"Absolutely it has," he husband adds.

"But, you'd let him go ahead and do this?" Kroft asks Michelle Obama.

"I think if I weren't married to him, I'd want him to be in there," she says. "So, I don't wanna stand in the way of that, because we have to work out a few things. So, we've kind of, you know, we figured out those, we've had those arguments, and…" she says.

"And, I've lost them all," the senator throws in.

"This is a tough question to ask, but a number of years ago Colin Powell was thinking about running for president, and his wife Alma, really did not want him to run. She was worried about some crazy person, with a gun…. Is that something that you think about?" Kroft asks.

"I don't lose sleep over it because the realities are that, you know, as a black man, you know, Barack can get shot going to the gas station, you know. So, you know, you can't make decisions based on fear and the possibility of what might happen. We just weren't raised that way," she says.

And there are other concerns: the loss of privacy and people poking around in their closets looking for skeletons. Obama has already opened the door on a few.

"I want to ask you a question about your past. I mean, you've been very frank in your books, with particularly the first book, with your language," Kroft remarks, laughing.

"Yeah. Don't quote those on-air, or you'll get fined," Obama replies.

In his book, he wrote that when he was in high school and in college he smoked marijuana and inhaled. He also wrote that he did a little "blow"—as he put it—when he could afford it.

Asked to explain why he did that, Obama says, "Well, you know, I think it was typical of a teenager who was confused about who he was and what his place in the world was, and thought that experimenting with drugs was a way to rebel. It's not something that I'm proud of."

But the senator says he does not regret being so candid. "You know, I don't. I mean, I think one of the things about national politics is this attempt to airbrush your life. And it's exhausting, right, you know. 'This is who I am. This is where I've come from.' And you know, if we have problems in this campaign, I suspect it's not gonna be because of mistakes I've made in the past. I think it's gonna be mistakes that I make in the future," he tells Kroft.

Until recently, he did admit to still having one vice, but he was forced to give it up as the quid pro quo for running: smoking.

His wife Michelle says she "hates" smoking. "That's why he doesn't do it anymore. I'm proud to say. I outed him on—I'm the one to out him on the smoking. That was one of my prerequisites for, you know, entering into this race. Is that, you know, he couldn't be a smoking president," she explains.

Of his smoking habit and the effort to quit, the senator says, "It's like a recovering, it’s like an alcoholic."

"He's gonna have a lot of people watching," Kroft says.

"Absolutely. Please, America, watch," Michelle Obama says, laughing. "Keep an eye on him, and call me if you see him smoking."

It’s not the only thing people will be watching for over the next two years. It’s the beginning of a long examination in which every utterance will be scrutinized, every speech dissected, every gaffe and foible magnified for close inspection to determine whether he is up to the task.

It's possible that, you know, after we go through this whole process that the voters conclude: 'You know what. He's not ready.' And I respect that," Obama says. "I don't expect that simply because I can move people in speeches that that automatically qualifies me for this job. I think that I have to be tested and run through the paces, and I have to earn this job."

Produced By Tom Anderson and L. Franklin Devine
© MMVII, CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.
AddThis Social Bookmark Button


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home