Obama On His "Sense Of Obligation"

CBS News anchor Katie Couric talked with Sen. Barack Obama in Columbus, Ohio, Sunday about - among other things - one of the fears of some voters that if he wins, both the White House and the Congress will be controlled by the Democrats. What follows is an extended transcript of their conversation.

Katie Couric: Let's talk about single-party rule for a moment. Some critics describe it as all accelerator and no brakes. There are fears that perhaps an unbridled, unchecked, filibuster-proof Democratic majority will overreach and move the country too far to the left. How do you assuage people's concerns about that?

Barack Obama:Well, look, I mean first of all, I think it's important to point out that the critics who make this claim are Republicans. (laughter)

Couric: But you know, against one-party rule.

Obama: I understand. I understand. But they weren't making those same complaints a few years ago. On the other hand, we've seen the example of a Republican Congress and President overreaching …

Couric: And a Democratic one in the Clinton administration.

Obama: And so I think the concerns are legitimate. Look, the benefit of having a Democratic president and a Democratic Congress will be that hopefully you can actually move on some big issues like energy or healthcare that have been sitting there for decades. We know they're huge problems. We know we've got to change how we do business there. But we just haven't been able to round up consensus to get it done.

The flip side of it is if Democrats come in and say to themselves, "it's our turn and we're just going to go crazy doing whatever it is that we feel like - I think then their majority won't last very long.

Couric: The Economist, while endorsing you, has also said there are some legitimate criticisms of you that John McCain should be focused on. They say that you are one of the least business-friendly Democratic candidates in a generation, that you have no experience in the business world aside from year as a consultant, and that you're too close to unions and trial lawyers.

Obama: Well, it is The Economist. And the fact that they endorsed me, how about reading all the good stuff they said about me? (laughter)

Couric: Well, that's in another issue. (laughter) That's later.

Obama: You know, I think there's a reason why people like Warren Buffet have endorsed me. I think that if you look actually at our business support, it's pretty remarkable. People like Eric Schmidt, the head of Google who … has said that, you know, I understand how the global economy works, how we have to adapt to a new 21st century competitive environment. Now, what is also true is that I think our economy works best when it grows from the bottom up, when everybody's benefiting. And that's one of the lessons I think of the last 16 years. We really had an experiment. We had Bill Clinton who was, you know, accused of, you know, raising taxes on business and so forth. But, in fact, what happened was the whole economy grew at every sector.

And businesses did well because their customers were doing well. On the other hand, you had George Bush who figured let's cut taxes for the wealthiest Americans. Let's deregulate to the hilt. And, you know, what we now see is that when Main Street is hurting, when its wages and income isn't going up, then businesses are hurt as well. So I actually think that the approach that I take is very business-friendly.

I think that capitalism and the free market is the best economic system ever devised to create wealth. But I also think there has to be some basic rules to the road. And, you know, we have learned that lesson during this latest financial crisis.

Couric: What are you most afraid of on Election Day?

Obama: You know, I have to say that I feel pretty good about the fact that our campaign has done - has made a good of case for change as I think we could have. I mean, I have been a highly imperfect candidate. But our campaign as a whole, I think, has delivered on its promise to reach out to people who hadn't been involved in politics; to go into places that hadn't traditionally looked at a Democratic candidate.

But ultimately it comes down to a bunch of people making their own individual decisions in that ballot box. And so I'm sure what I'll feel is great interest in terms of how it turns out. (laughter)

Couric: Great interest?

Obama: Great Interest.

Couric: Come on.

Obama: A little bit of anxiety.

Couric: Are you going to be a nervous wreck?

Obama: You know, I am sure that I won't be sleeping in on Tuesday morning. Let's put it that way.

Couric: Or maybe not sleeping much on Monday night.

Obama: That's exactly right.

Couric: There's been a debate about the Bradley effect, which as you know, in essence, is when some respondents lie to pollsters and say, "Sure, we'd vote for an African American candidate," but on Election Day they just don't do it. A lot of people say it's a phenomenon that's outdated, overstated and misunderstood. Having said that, do you think we'll see evidence of that on Election Day?

Obama: You know, I have to tell you, I'm in the camp that says it's outdated and overstated. I mean, the fact of the matter is that people have been worrying incessant about whether or not I'm hampered because I'm an African American since we were campaigning in Iowa. The reason I'm sitting here two days before election as a Democratic nominee is because the American people ultimately care about whether or not you can do the job.

Couric: The Pennsylvania Republican Party is starting to run an ad in that state that features your former minister Jeremiah Wright saying quote "God Damn America." Do you think they would have run that ad without the approval of the McCain Campaign?

Obama: I think the McCain campaign has generally been pretty restrained on that front. And I think they deserve some credit for that. And on the other hand, I don't know there's anybody in America who hasn't seen those videos that they're running. I don't think that's what the American people are thinking about right now.

Couric: What is the biggest mistake you think your campaign has made?

Obama: You know … I've gotta tell you, the mistakes that we made were mine and mine alone. My team has just been rock solid. I'm so …

Couric: What's the biggest mistake you made then?

Obama: Well, I think it was … that bitter comment in the fundraiser, only because as the irony was that what I was trying to describe was that Democrats hadn't reached out to people and had allowed themselves to get trapped in these, you know, social wedge issues and divisions. And it ended up being Exhibit A of Democrats saying something that made people feel like they were being insulted. And I think it was … it was a stupid mistake on my part. And, but, you know what? Over the course of two years, you know, hopefully you get better over time.

Couric: What did the McCain team do in the course of this campaign that made you the angriest?

Obama: You know, I think that, you know … a lot of the stuff that has made me angry hasn't directly come from the McCain campaign. I mean, I do think that … there is a Republican or right-wing media outlet -set of media outlets - that went after my wife for a while in a way that I thought was just completely out of bounds. And I, you know, frankly I, you know, I would have never considered or expected my allies to do something comparable to the spouse of an opponent. I just feel like family are civilians. And they don't sign up for this stuff. They support … their spouse. But generally, you know, they're really should be bystanders in this process, even if they're campaigning for you. You know, they're saying nice things about their in this case, their husbands. I mean, that's what you expect. And that doesn't make them suddenly targets.

Couric: If things go your way on Tuesday and you become this nation's first African American president, what does that mean to you personally?

Obama: There are times when you're shaking hands after a rally and you look out over the crowd and people are telling their stories. "I lost my job" or "my wife has ovarian cancer but she's out there campaigning for you." Or, you know, "my son for the first time has decided that he wants to apply himself in school because he was inspired by what you're doing." You hear those stories and, you know, you feel an enormous sense of obligation and responsibility to really just work your heart out for folks 'cause they're investing a lot.

Obviously there's a historic dimension - you know when a 90-year-old African American woman just grabs my hand and won't let go and says, you know, "I am so proud." You know, you think about what an African American woman's gone through over the course of her 90-year life, and that will move me. Deeply. But it's not just a sense of the history made because of race. There is also just this overwhelming feeling of humility and gratitude where you say "Boy, I really … better come through for folks if I win this thing. Because they really need it."
  • Katie Couric

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