Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Obama on the Daily Show

On Wednesday's Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Senator Barack Obama joined the parade of Presidential candidates stopping by for an interview. I got to see Senator Obama up close and personal at the YearlyKos Convention a couple of weeks ago, and I can tell you that the enthusiasm he generates is palpable. I was glad tonight that he addressed some of the "gaffes" he has supposedly made on foreign policy issues. The video and transcript are below the fold.

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, original air date 2007-08-22, ©2007 Comedy Central
Jon Stewart: Welcome back. My guest tonight, a Democratic Senator from Illinois, he is also running for President. Please welcome back to the show, Senator Barack Obama. Senator!

some audience members: [in unison] You rock, Barack!

Jon: "You rock, Barack!"? Senator, thanks for joining us.

Senator Barack Obama: Jon, it is good to be here.

Jon: The effect you have on a crowd, it's unusual for a politician. You do have — there's a certain inspirational quality to you. My question is, is that really something America is gonna go for?

Obama: Well, we're gonna find out! We're gonna find out. You know, we've been just having a wonderful time travelling all across the country, and we've been getting these enormous crowds — 20,000 people in Atlanta; 20,000 people in Austin, Texas; 10,000 people in Iowa City — and we're especially seeing a lot of young people, and that is one of the things that's most exciting about the campaign, is folks who haven't seen a whole lot of inspiration in politics most of their lives, suddenly taking this seriously.

Jon: And comin' out to see you. And do you have, if I may, kegs? 'Cause that also can draw them.

Obama: We don't like to divulge our secrets.

Jon: I think that's wise. You've been taking — this is amazing — I just pulled some quick clips from the paper, because the process that we have in which we elect our officials is so insane. I was on the web yesterday; your wife, I guess, had been giving a speech in Iowa in which she mentioned that she feels that she wanted to take care of her own household. She felt like, you gotta be able to take care of your own house to really feel like you can take care of the White House. I turned on Drudge; it said, "Obama's Wife Slams Hillary." You mentioned something about going after al Qaeda in Pakistan; this says, "Obama Stumbles and Bumbles on al Qaeda Question," "Bam Bombs Himself in New Gaffe," this is my favorite: "Angry Obama the pothead is not how they remember him on Hawaii." Has the insanity of this process sunk in on you yet?

Obama: You know, every day it reveals itself in new ways, and, you know, I think that's part of what people are looking at our campaign to see, is just some normalcy and some common sense. You know, I was mentioning that we were preparing for the debate, and we had an 8:00 in the morning debate in Iowa —

Jon: This was like the 27th debate, for real.

Obama: — and it's always a shock to the system when, Sunday morning, you wake up and you're face-to-face with Mike Gravel. (Yes.) So, we're preparing, and one of my staff said, "The thing you gotta understand is, this isn't on the level." And I think that really strikes to what people are frustrated with in politics is that so much of what we talk about in politics, so much of what we say — it's not true, people know it's not true, all the insiders understand that we're just game-playing, and in the mean time you've got these hugely serious problems which are true.

Jon: Do you feel like you're stuck in a narrative now? And the narrative is, Hillary Clinton is unlikable but knows what she's doing, Obama is inexperienced but brings change, and that narrative, no matter what you do, because it's easily categorized, the media or everyone else will just slip whatever happens into those two narratives?

Obama: That's what's happening right now; they will probably find something new later to talk about. You know, the whole —

Jon: Could you tell us what that will be?

Obama: We don't know yet. Whatever sells papers.

Jon: Whatever sells papers.

Obama: Whatever sells papers.

Jon: Does your campaign — do you find yourself falling into promoting those narratives as well? Is it hard, as a campaigner, to not see yourself then as a product as well and —

Obama: Well, what happened: let's take the example of experience. We try to remind people, nobody had a longer résumé than Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, and that hasn't worked out so well. So what we try to do is break down these narratives and get to the heart of the question. So, when people talk about experience, what they really want to know is, does he have good judgment? And you hope that if somebody has more experience, it gives them better judgment. Of course, everybody knows a lot of 50- and 60- and 70-year-olds that don't have good judgment; they keep on making the same mistakes over and over again. So what we want to do is start talking about judgment, how do we get things done, what's common sense. What's been interesting, for example, on not using nuclear weapons to bomb an al Qaeda camp, for example. Iniitally, everybody said, "Oh, that's a gaffe," and then suddenly reporters started talking to military experts who said, "Well, why would you even consider using nuclear weapons?" Some of the press scratch their head and say, "hmm."

Jon: It turns it around.

Obama: It turns it around. And that's how we have to continually respond, is to just push against the conventional wisdom, push against the habits of thought. It's the same way that we got into Iraq was, nobody is willing to ask tough questions, and there is this —

Jon: And challenged conventional wisdom.

Obama: — and challenged conventional wisdom. That's what we've gotta do.

Jon: Well, that's what's great about it is, the way they've responded is, "We agree with Barack on those things, we just didn't know you were allowed to say it publicly." That's been the best part about it. We'll take a commercial break and be right back with Senator Barack Obama. [commercial break]

Welcome back! We're here with Senator Barack Obama. With the experience thing, have you thoguht about running a smaller country first?

Obama: No, you know, what I did think about, though, was invading a smaller country.

Jon: Great way to get some popularity.

Obama: Grenada (gruh-NAD-duh), or Grenada (gruh-NAY-duh), or —

Jon: Well, that's a gaffe; I don't know how that's gonna show up in the headlines tomorrow. That's a big one. Now listen, what do you think about, you definitely also have a little bit of that Hollywood flair. You're gonna start drawing the celebrities. Oprah is gonna throw a fundraiser.

Obama: Right.

Jon: That doesn't seem good. I still remember Howard Dean in Iowa, with Martin Sheen introducing him, quoting an Indian poet to a caucus group of literally like AFL–CIO workers, and just seeing their faces like this: "Huh?? What is he talking about?"

Obama: Well, you know, you don't use folks in that way. I think Oprah's support is wonderful. I think having the celebrities want to do stuff for you — but the truth is, in Iowa and New Hampshire, people just want to talk to you. They want to lift the hood, they want to kick the tires, they want to look you in the eye, they want to get a sense, are you telling the truth? There's nobody that can do that job other than you.

Jon: And Iowa can be won on the ground.

Obama: Iowa can be won on the ground, and one of the things that we've been so excited about is just seeing the volunteer energy. You get these young people, from Iowa, who are volunteering, coming into the office, and people, you know, they're impressed by that. That's part of the message we're trying to send in the campaign is that the only way we can break out of the gridlock and overcome the special interests and the lobbyists is if people get involved and they get engaged and we break out of this sort of Red State/Blue State, half the country's divided, there's nothing we can do about it, you know, we've just gotta battle it out.

Jon: Can a Senator do it? So often now it's the governors. Is there something about — because the Senate — it's very hard to run on your record in the Senate because the Senate is so paralyzed and nuanced.

Obama: Well, it's paralyzed and it's designed for you to take bad votes, right? And, you know, a governor is more likely to be able to set the terms of the debate. They can give a speech; they say, "This is my initiative, this is my proposal, I won't sign it unless I agree with it." You know, with Senators you end up having to actually vote on stuff that has no relevance whatsoever, but can be used later on to attack you.

Jon: The whole meme that Hillary Clinton is very experienced — she's been in the Senate a few years longer than you, and then she was the First Lady. Are they counting that? Does that go on the résumé? 'Cause I'm not sure, I mean, if that's — they keep saying, "She's the experienced candidate," and I keep wondering, man, she's been in the Senate a couple of years, but I don't think First Lady counts. Does it? Or does her husband's résumé somehow —

Obama: I think that, first of all, she's a very capable Senator. She's very smart. I think people rightly give her credit for having been a participant in the Clinton Administration, and that she was doin' some heavy lifting on issues, but I do think that, increasingly, what Americans are looking for is not Washington experience, but do you have life experience that is gonna lead you to make good decisions, and are you in touch with what's happening on the ground.

Jon: Would you take any Democrat in the field over any Republican? Is there a Republican in the field that you admire, that you think would do a nice job?

Obama: You know, I think some of these folks are decent people. I mean, Mike Huckabee — no, no, no.

Jon: [in character voice] Ooh, worst back-handed compliment ever!

Obama: No, I think there are guys like Huckabee who I think are sincere and decent, but if you look at how they were trying to outbid each other on Guantánamo, you know, we're gonna detain even more people, and alienate even more folks outside our borders — that kind of stuff, I think, is not serving the Republican Party well, and is not gonna serve the country well.

Jon: Well, here's to staying above the fray and not having the Red–Blue divide any more, and we hope you come back and see us again soon.

Obama: It is a thrill; I love this show. Thank you. I appreciate it.

Jon: Thank you very much. Senator Barack Obama; we'll be right back. Nicely done.
Personally, I think the single most important quality I'm looking for in a President is the international perspective to see the position of the United States in relation to our allies, our adversaries, and the uncommitted people in the world. George W. Bush, who had literally never even been to Europe before becoming President, demonstrates the danger of looking only within our own borders. Barack Obama, who has lived overseas; Bill Richardson, who was our U.N. ambassador; Chris Dodd, who was in the Peace Corps; Joe Biden, who has been on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for many, many years; and Hillary Clinton, who was involved in the inner workings of the White House for eight years; all easily sail past Bush on that score. However, I think it's fair to say that Obama's Presidency would fire the world's imagination, and change the world's view of America, more than any other candidate in the race. The real lesson of 9/11 is that the way the world sees the United States, has a direct bearing on our national security. Huckabee is interesting, most particularly for his comments about Bush's place in the ranks of our greatest Presidents, but his position on evolution is the most obvious deal-breaker for me with Huckabee.

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