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NBC "Today" Interview with Senator Barack Obama (D-IL)


Location: Unknown


MS. VIEIRA: It was his electrifying keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention that put Senator Barack Obama of Illinois on the national stage for the first time.

SEN. OBAMA: (From videotape.) Hope in the face of difficulty, hope in the face of uncertainty, the audacity of hope. In the end, that is God's greatest gift to us, the bedrock of this nation.

MS. VIEIRA: And now the junior senator is traveling nationwide to help campaign for fellow Democrats before the midterm elections. And he also has a lot of people wondering, is he running for president in 2008? The senator is now out with his second book, "The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream."

Senator, good morning to you.

SEN. OBAMA: Good to see you, Meredith.

MS. VIEIRA: I couldn't help but notice you're watching yourself in that speech, and I don't know if you're self-deprecating, but you kind of roll your eyes a little bit. You know, you are the equivalent of a rock star in politics.

SEN. OBAMA: You know, we live in a celebrity culture, and so I'm always a little bit suspicious of the hype. And that's probably my Kansas side of me. You know, my grandmother, after I gave that speech, she was born in a tiny town in Kansas, and she called me up and she said, "That was a very nice speech, Barack."

MS. VIEIRA: (Laughs.) That's all she said?

SEN. OBAMA: That's all she said. You know, she left a message; that was it.

MS. VIEIRA: Meanwhile, that's the first time people heard -- that many people heard your name --

SEN. OBAMA: Right.

MS. VIEIRA: -- even knew who you were.

SEN. OBAMA: Right.

MS. VIEIRA: And that's the first time they heard you talk about the audacity of hope, which is the title of your book.

SEN. OBAMA: Right.

MS. VIEIRA: Many people afterwards, they weren't sure how to pronounce your name, but they were moved by you. People were crying. You tapped into something. You touched people. What did you tap into that was missing?

SEN. OBAMA: Well, you know, as I travel around the country -- I spend a lot of time now campaigning for other candidates and talking to groups and students at colleges -- and I've always felt like there's a core decency to the American people. You know, we get confused sometimes. We're busy. We're tired. We're not paying attention to the public debates. But people like the idea of doing better than we're doing right now, caring for our kids better, caring for our seniors more.

MS. VIEIRA: Well, why doesn't that translate in Washington? You said people in the country understand the concept of common ground, which is what your book is about.

SEN. OBAMA: Right.

MS. VIEIRA: But somehow in Washington there's a disconnect.

SEN. OBAMA: Well, you know, I think part of it is there are some institutional barriers to it. I mean, one of the things I write about is the minute you arrive in Washington, suddenly there are all these forces, whether it's the media or parties or the need to raise money, that kind of tamp down those basic human responses that you have towards other people.

MS. VIEIRA: So have you had to deal with that yourself? Have you felt that pressure on you?

SEN. OBAMA: Oh, absolutely. I mean, I think everybody does. And, you know, most -- I think the biggest problem in Washington is people get afraid to lose. What happens is you get there; a lot of senators have battled and they've invested their careers and sacrificed with their families to get there. And once you get there, they start thinking, "Well, I really want to hang on to my seat." So you start saying things or doing things not because of what you believe but rather because you think that it'll help you get re- elected.

MS. VIEIRA: I know you don't want to talk about 2008. I know you don't want to. But today's New York Times, the op-ed, David Brooks, conservative voice, "Run, Barack, run. Barack Obama should run for president. He should run first for the good of his party. It would demoralize the Democrats to go through a long primary season with the most exciting figure in the party" -- that would be you -- "looming off in the distance like some unapproachable dream."

SEN. OBAMA: (Laughs.)

MS. VIEIRA: If your party says to you, "We need you," and there's already a drum beat out there, will you respond?

SEN. OBAMA: Well, you know, the way presidential campaigns work these days, you're never drafted. I think you have to make an affirmative decision to run. And it's an enormous decision, because this is serious business and it's serious times.

MS. VIEIRA: Are you qualified, do you think?

SEN. OBAMA: Well, I think there are two people who are qualified to be president, Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush, because they've done it before. Everybody else, I think, has to figure it out on the job, because this is an immense country and we're facing issues around health care and energy and education and foreign policy, obviously what we're going to do in Iraq.

MS. VIEIRA: Well, what are we going to do? Let me ask you that. I know we're short on time, but nine months ago you were there.

SEN. OBAMA: Right.

MS. VIEIRA: You said, "If we don't turn things around, we have about nine months in which to do it."

SEN. OBAMA: Right.

MS. VIEIRA: "We're going to have to make some changes." Well, nine months --

SEN. OBAMA: Nine months are up.

MS. VIEIRA: They're up.

SEN. OBAMA: It is time for us to start a phased withdrawal. And that doesn't mean that we pull all the troops out at once, but we have to send a strong signal to the Iraqis that it is time for you guys to take control of your country, and to the powers in the region, including Syria and Iran, which have been standing on the sidelines, to say, "You have got to be invested in trying to bring about some sort of peaceful solution."

MS. VIEIRA: Well, if you were president now, when would you start that withdrawal? Immediately?

SEN. OBAMA: Well, I would start planning with the Joint Chiefs right now, yeah.

MS. VIEIRA: I mentioned, in setting you up outside, I said we're going to talk about your family and how they feel about all this, because in the book, if there's any place where you feel you might have been a failure, it's as a husband to your wife, Michelle, and a father to your daughters.


MS. VIEIRA: Why do you feel that?

SEN. OBAMA: Well, failure would be too strong of a word. I think they'd say, "Yeah, he's a pretty good dad; he's a pretty good husband." But it's the tension that I think all of us feel, but it's accentuated in politics, because you travel a lot, balancing work and family. And, you know, my wife is a wonderful woman, and she carries the burden at home a lot more than I do.

MS. VIEIRA: And I carry the burden to get us out on time, Senator Barack Obama. Good luck to you. If you change your mind about the presidency, we've got a band right here with Vince Gill. We can handle the whole thing.

We'll be right back after your local news.

SEN. OBAMA: I love Vince Gill.


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