MSNBC "Hardball with Chris Matthews" -Transcript
MR. GREGORY: Senator Obama, I want to begin by asking you about Don Imus. You have condemned his remarks about the women's basketball team at Rutgers. Let me ask you pointedly: Do you think he should be fired?
SEN. OBAMA: I don't think MSNBC should be carrying the kinds of hateful remarks that Imus uttered the other day. And, you know, he has a track record of making those kinds of remarks.
Look, I've got two daughters who are African-American, gorgeous, tall, and I hope at some point are interested enough in sports that they get athletic scholarships. And my wife and I every day are reinforcing our love for them and how special they are. I don't want them to be getting a bunch of information that somehow they're less than anybody else, and I don't think MSNBC should want to promote that kind of language.
MR. GREGORY: So he should be off the air, off of MSNBC and off of CBS, off the air completely, in your judgment.
SEN. OBAMA: Ultimately you guys are going to have to make that view. He would not be working for me.
MR. GREGORY: Is there a larger conversation that this incident has started about public discourse in this country, about race in this country? And, if so, what is that conversation you'd like to see?
SEN. OBAMA: Well, I think it goes beyond race. Obviously what this reveals is that we still have a host of racial stereotypes that are out there and that we are fast and loose in playing with those racial stereotypes and bandying them about and thinking that there aren't going to be any consequences to it. And that's a problem.
But I also think there's a broader problem of a coarsening of the culture where we think that it's entertainment to insult people. And I don't think it's that funny. And I think that we need to think about how are we promoting tolerance and how are we promoting intelligent debate? And that's not been the trend in too much of our media. That's something I think that we've all got to think about.
MR. GREGORY: Final point on this: You've been a guest on the Imus program to promote your books. Will you or would you be a guest on his show in the future?
SEN. OBAMA: No, I would not. I was on there once, actually, after the Democratic National Convention; spoke about my book briefly. That's been my only experience on the show. And he was fine when I was on that show. But I don't want to be an enabler or be encouraging in any way of the kind of programming that results in the unbelievably offensive statements that were made just a few days ago.
MR. GREGORY: Senator, let me turn to Iraq. As you know, Senator McCain gave a rather pointed speech today about the war and about Democrats who, like yourself, want to see a time line for the withdrawal of U.S. troops.
In response, you had some pointed language yourself in a statement, saying that what's needed in Iraq is a, quote, "surge in honesty." That was a response to the McCain speech. Do you think that John McCain is dishonest about Iraq?
SEN. OBAMA: I think John McCain is sincere, but I think that everything he says is belied by the facts on the ground. You know, witness the recent visit where you've got 100 armed guards, Black Hawk helicopters and Apaches protecting a congressional delegation and John McCain pointing that as evidence that things have improved in Iraq.
The fact of the matter is that what John is touting and what the president has been touting is more of the same. We send more troops in. We spend more billions of dollars on what has been a fundamentally failed strategy. They make the argument that the success is right around the corner if we just give it a little more time. And then their timetable passes and they say, "Well, we're going to try it a little more." And the American people have said, "Enough." And the reason they've said "Enough" is they've recognized that we are not going to make progress in Iraq unless we fundamentally change the political dynamic on the ground.
MR. GREGORY: Right. But part of that argument is that to change the political dynamic, you've got to at least have security in Baghdad. Whether you agree with the surge strategy or not, it's less than 50 percent implemented at this stage. Why not give it more of a chance?
SEN. OBAMA: Well, keep in mind that the bill that we sent the president does give it a chance. What it says is, in fact, that you will have an entire year to make Baghdad more secure. But what it also says is that we've got to send a signal to the Shi'a, the Sunni and the Kurdish factions in Iraq that they need to begin planning and coming to a political accommodation that is not dependent on hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops being present, helping to fan the flames of anti-American sentiment throughout the Middle East, providing a ready target for recruitment for al Qaeda.
That is the dynamic that has to change. And unless we send them that strong signal, my fear is -- and I think many experts around the world view as an unsustainable policy that will result in the same kinds of problems that we have now, simply further down the road.
MR. GREGORY: Final question. You know about the news today by the Defense Department that deployments will be extended to 15 months, a real hardship on our young men and women who are over there.
You have said about the troops that Democrats shouldn't play chicken with the troops on the ground. So why not do what the president has said -- send a clean bill that does not include time lines that he objects to, to ensure that the funding for the troops stays up even while this debate continues?
SEN. OBAMA: Well, I wasn't quite quoted properly there. What I have said is that Democrats aren't interested in playing chicken with our troops. I certainly am not. I am committed, as is Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi and every other Democrat, to making sure that our troops on the ground have the night-vision goggles and body armor and hopefully the proper training that they need. That's one of the problems with the current deployment schedule.
It's the president who has decided to make this an issue by threatening to veto what I think is a responsible, well-thought- through piece of legislation. And if he chooses to veto it and he sends it back, then we will continue to try to find ways to ratchet up the pressure on him, and do so in a way that is responsible to make sure that our troops come home safely.
MR. GREGORY: Senator, just one more, to go back to the topic of Senator McCain. And the issue of credibility on the war is going to be a big issue in this campaign. Does Senator McCain have more or less credibility than you do in the debate on the war?
SEN. OBAMA: Well, David, look, I think that John McCain is a genuine American hero who has made enormous sacrifices on behalf of the American people. I leave it up to the judgment of the American people to decide who's got more credibility on this particular war.
I was against it in 2002. If they go on my website, BarackObama.com, they can see the speech that I delivered at that time that anticipated most of the problems that we've had subsequently. So on this war, at least, I think it's fair to say that my judgment was the right judgment. And I think John has been mistaken consistently in his approach.
MR. GREGORY: Senator Barack Obama, thank you very much for your time.
SEN. OBAMA: Thank you.