Monday, September 01, 2008

"Obama Explains His Choice, Reacts To Palin" (with video)

60 Minutes (CBS News) with video (14:37):
Sen. Obama went into the Democratic convention locked in a dead heat with Republican rival John McCain and needed to do three things: introduce his running mate to the country, draw sharp distinctions between himself and his Republican opponent, and unify a Democratic party badly split by a bruising primary campaign against Hillary Clinton. By most accounts he accomplished all three.
He attracted 84,000 people to Invesco Field in Denver and another 40 million to their television sets all across America - more American saw his speech than watched the opening ceremony of the Olympics.

We began our conversation with the new Democratic candidates backstage just moments after the most improbable nominee had given the most important speech of his young career.

Asked if he ever doubted it was going to happen, Sen. Obama told Kroft, "Of course."


"Well, let's see. About a year ago we were down 30 in Iowa. But I never doubted that it could happen. I never doubted that if we were able to mobilize the energy that you saw in that stadium," Obama said. "All across the country."

"I knew it was gonna happen before he did. I was running like the devil. I watched. I thought I was pretty good, but I watched. I watched. This guy just sort of grabbed the lightening, ya know, just grabbed it. And you could tell, Barack, I tell ya, my team knew, I knew in August," Sen. Biden told Kroft.

"We were doing okay. But this is exciting," Obama remarked.

"Were you surprised to be up here?" Kroft asked Biden.

"I was surprised, I'm truly honored to be up here. I'm a great admirer, we're friends and we fit," Biden said.

By the time Kroft continued the conversation with them the next day in Pittsburgh, the landscape had already changed: Senator McCain tried to steal the Democrat's thunder by announcing that Alaska’s conservative first-term governor, 44-year-old Sarah Palin, would be his running mate - a move widely seen as an attempt to try and siphon disaffected supporters of Senator Clinton and blue collar voters in battleground states where Obama has been the weakest.

And a few hours after McCain's announcement, Senators Obama and Biden seemed as surprised as everyone else.

Asked what he thinks of McCain's vice presidential choice, Obama told Kroft, "She seems to have a compelling life story. Obviously, she's a fine mother and an up-and-coming public servant. My sense is that she subscribes to John McCain's agenda."

"Does the fact that he chose as his vice president someone what has less experience than you take that weapon out of his arsenal?" Kroft asked.

"Well, you know, I think that's a good question to address to Senator McCain," Obama replied. "Of course, the issue of experience is going to be relevant. And if I were running against me, that's something that I would try to make an issue of as well. Particularly if I had been in Washington as long as John McCain had."

"She's a life-long member of the NRA. She's a hunter. Her husband's a member of the United Steel Worker Union. Blue collar guy. Got a son on the way to Iraq. It seems like just the kind of person who would appeal to voters in states that you absolutely have to win," Kroft remarked. "And they have to win."

"Well, look, I am happy if this ends up being a referendum on what's going to be good for blue collar workers," Obama said. "I'll put my guy, Joe Biden, up against anybody when it comes to fighting on behalf of those families, because he's been there. He comes out of Scranton, Pennsylvania. He's been fightin' for those folks ever since he got into the Senate. And he hasn't stopped. And he hasn't forgotten where he's come from."

"You know, I think we really underestimate people in the neighborhood. In the neighborhoods I came from, you came from. I really think we underestimate them," Biden remarked. "People get it. I think they're looking for more than whether or not Joe Biden's from Scranton and she hunts. I think that's you know, 'What ya gonna do about it?'"

"But you tried really hard to reach these people. You went and sipped beer, which I know you don't particularly like - I mean you even…," Kroft remarked.

"Steve, I had a beer last night. I mean, where do these stories come from, man?" Obama asked.

"I'm the one… [that] doesn't drink," Biden pointed out.

"Where does the story come from that…I don't like beer? …C'mon, man," Obama said.

"You even tried bowling," Kroft remarked.

"Time out there," Obama said.

"I've got to defend my bowling honor here," Obama said, laughing. "It is true that my bowling score left something to be desired. The reason I bowled though, wasn't to try to get votes. If I had been tryin' to get votes, I promise you I would have been avoiding a bowling alley. The reason I was there was to campaign. And we had great fun. But here’s the bottom line: I wouldn't have been elected to the United States Senate out of Illinois, which is 12 percent African American if I didn't have some broad appeal. So, the mythology that's developed that somehow I can't get those votes is refuted by the very fact that I'm sittin' in this chair."

"Is that one of the reasons you picked Senator Biden?" Kroft asked.

"What reason is that, Steve?" Obama asked.

"You said you've got Joe Biden working for you in Pennsylvania. …States like Pennsylvania," Kroft explained.

"Let me tell you the reason I picked Joe Biden. Number one, he can step in and become president. And I don't think anybody has any doubt about that," Obama said.

"Number two is that if I'm in the room making the kinds of tough decisions that the next president's gonna have to make, both on domestic policy and on international policy, then I want the counsel and advice of somebody who's not gonna agree with me a 100 percent of [the] time. In fact, somebody who's independent enough that can push back and give me different perspectives and make sure that I'm catching any blind spots that I have. And Joe Biden doesn't bite his tongue," he continued.

"You've had some differences over pretty substantial issues. Iraq for one," Kroft pointed out.

"Actually, we haven't," Biden said. "Look, Barack was right. He not only got it right about bein' against the war, I got it wrong about underestimating the incompetence of this administration when we gave the president the power we gave him at the time. He knew accurately that even, not even being outside. Maybe it gave you a better perspective. That that meant he was going to war. Bush told me he wasn't going to war. I thought they meant it. You're standing outside. You knew they didn't mean it."

"Well, one of the reasons that I love Joe and one of the reasons I think he's gonna be such an effective vice president is he's blunt when he's right, and he's blunt when he's wrong. And that means that I can trust his counsel. And that's what, I think, a president needs from a vice president," Obama explained. "Look there is no choice I could have made where the person's gonna agree with me a 100 percent of the time. And I wouldn't want that person. Michelle doesn't agree with me a 100 percent of the time. You know, in fact with Michelle, if I can get to 50 percent, I'm feeling pretty good. What you want is somebody whose core values you believe in, who you trust, who you think is a straight shooter."

Biden acknowledged that from time to time, he had put his foot in his mouth.

"There was an issue in 1988 involving plagiarism which I'm sure the Republicans are working on a campaign commercial now about it," Kroft pointed out.

"I'm sure that's probably true," Biden acknowledged.

Asked what he's learned about politics and running for office in those 20 years, Biden said, "I made a mistake. I made a mistake 20, 21, 22 years ago. I was arrogant. I didn't think I had to prepare. I showed up at the debate and I failed to quote somebody. A guy named Neil Kinnock. And I just ask people and everyone else, look at the last 20 years of my career since that allegation occurred."

"But, I think that I have a record that people can go back and examine and decide whether or not I mean what I say. No matter how I say it whether I'm consistent with what I've asserted I care about. That's all I care about. But, you know, there's gonna be a lot, I'm sure a lot of things said about it," he added.

"I like who he is. And I think the American people will. And I think, together we're gonna win this election. And Joe's gonna end up being one of the finest vice presidents we've ever had," Obama said.

"Have you talked? Have you spoken specifically about what your role would be in an Obama administration?" Kroft asked.

"Yes, he had just a few questions that were important to him, but were threshold questions. If we didn't pass that threshold, he wasn't interested," Obama said.

"I don't want to go and just hang out. I can help Barack a lot more from chairman from the Foreign Relations Committee or from the United States Senate," Biden explained. "But, when he indicated to me he was lookin' for me to give my best judgment and for him to consider it, that's good enough for me. I'm not lookin' for a portfolio. I'm not lookin' for anything other than to be able to be part of the change this guy's been talkin' about. And I very bluntly, I've been talkin' about."

"What's your role in the campaign? Can you make a difference in this race? And how do you do that?" Kroft asked Biden.

"The thing I can do is hopefully go into Scranton and Wilmington and Sacramento and other places and say, 'I know the guy,'" Biden replied. "Politicians know quality when they see it in other politicians."

Biden said he meant that as a compliment.

"'Cause he's spent most of his campaign trying to separate himself," Kroft pointed out.

"He is separate. But here's the bottom line: the thing about him that everybody misunderstands and this boss, here we go. We may have our first difference here. But, all kidding aside, here's the deal: everybody knows the way he's caught on to this yearning in the American public. But, the second piece of that is it's not only the idealism - you gotta be tough. You got to be tough to be the president of the United States of America. And if you don't have political good sense, if you're not politically tough, let me tell you something, I don't want you being my president," Biden said.

"And you think he is?" Kroft asked.

"Absolutely," Biden said.

"One of the weaknesses in terms of this campaign is that there are people out there who don't think that you have a punch," Kroft remarked. "A killer instinct. That you are a very deliberative, judicious person who prides himself on building consensus, but it's not in your DNA to be confrontational."

"The fact [is] that I don't go out of my way to call people names, or try to take cheap shots, and that I try not to throw the first punch. But, to see if I can find a way to work together with people, sometimes leads people to underestimate what I've got," Obama said. "I think it's fair to say that if I couldn't not only take a punch, but occasionally throw one, I wouldn't be sittin' here."

"You've just come through a very historic week. I mean, politically, this is a real milestone in American history. But, yet, there was also no mention made of it. You made no mention of it and the Democratic Party made almost no mention of it. Why is that?" Kroft asked. "I mean, you're the first black person ever to be nominated by a major party."

"Yeah, I think people notice that," Obama replied, laughing.

Asked if he didn't think he needed to bring it to people's attention, Obama told Kroft, "I think people understood the significance of it."

"Is part of the fact that you don't wanna be considered as a black candidate?" Kroft asked.

"Well, I look it is absolutely true that I wanna be the president for all America. You know, this is not a symbolic exercise on my part. I intend to win this race so that I can work on behalf of all families in America. If I can get healthcare for every American, if I can make sure that the economy is providing jobs that pay a decent wage. If I can solve this energy problem so that we're more secure, if I can make an education system work for every child, then that's gonna be good for black Americans, that's gonna be good for Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans, white Americans. That's gonna be good for everybody," Obama explained.

"One last question. You are running against the record of an administration that is one of the most unpopular in the history of the country," Kroft said.

"Good reason," Biden remarked.

"…And there are people that believe you should be much further ahead in the polls than you are. What do you say to that? And are you comfortable with the way this race is going and where you are right now?" Kroft asked.

"This is gonna be a rough, tough battle," Obama said. "The Republicans don't govern very well. But, they know how to campaign. And, you know, what I would expect is that it's gonna take-mid-October before a whole lot of people start making up their minds. And there's nothing wrong with that. This notion that somehow this should be a cakewalk and I should just walk into the election with, you know, a 10, 15 point lead, I think doesn't give the American people enough credit. They wanna get this thing right."
H/t to Alayna Setter.

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