The Candidates Respond To "Elitist" Label

In November, Americans decide whether Barack Obama or John McCain becomes the 44th President of the United States. In the series "Presidential Questions," CBS News anchor Katie Couric asks questions that move the candidates well beyond the usual sound bites. Some questions concern policy. Others are more personal. All will give you a better sense of who these men are - and what has shaped them. What follows is Couric's question - and the candidates' full answers.



Katie Couric: You and your opponent have both been criticized as elitists. Given the way you live today, why isn't that a valid criticism?

Barack Obama: Well, look, look at how I came up. Raised by a single mom. Family had very little money when I was growing up. We were on food stamps at some points. I went to school on scholarships.

Michelle, coming from the south side of Chicago, to a working class shift worker who never graduated from, never even went to college, and a stay-at-home mom. That's our background. And, up until - I can provide you the date exactly - up until I spoke at the Democratic National Convention, where suddenly my book sold as a consequence of people knowing who I was, we were living in a two, three-bedroom condo that was already getting too small. Two kids. No college fund set up yet. Not much of a retirement fund to speak of. At the end of every month - sometimes having to figure out whether or not we could pay all of the bills. So the things that middle class families are going through right now, Michelle and I went through five years ago. So the point is that we are about as ordinary a pair, a couple, as probably as ever embarked on this journey to the White House.

Couric: I think it's the Ivy League education - that somehow going to Harvard Law School and being the head of the Law Review and for Michelle, going to Princeton and Harvard Law School, it puts you in this rarified air.

Obama: Well, you know, I think that's an interesting point. And Michelle talks about this quite a bit because - and sometimes this is something that in the African-American community has been a problem. As Michelle puts it, we have done everything that you said you wanted your kids to do. Right? We worked hard. We focused on school. We reached for, you know, what we were told was the best education possible. To then suggest that that makes us elitist, or that we're no longer part of the community, which again, has not only been part of the public dialogue but Michelle and I and a lot of other African Americans sometimes have had to struggle with. The notion is, if you're authentic in the community, you wouldn't go to a place like Harvard. I think that's a perverse incentive, a perverse message in terms of what we want to send to our kids.

John McCain: Well, let me just say to start with I grew up as the son of a Naval officer. I don't believe that most Americans would believe that's an elitist lifesyle. In fact, that entails a lot of sacrifice on the part of the family. Second of all, I lived for five and a half years without a kitchen table or a chair in a small cell sometimes by myself. But the point is that you get in touch with the American people by doing the town hall meetings where you hear the hopes and the dreams and the aspirations and the concerns of the American people and you come in direct contact with them. In all due respect to programs like these, you can look into people's eyes and hear what's on their minds. And that way, you can learn so much about what's going on in America, especially during these tough times. There are people that are coming to these meetings and losing their jobs, that are facing losing their homes. You--that's the way you stay in touch with the American people, in my view.
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