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CBS "Early Show" Transcript


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HANNAH STORM: Senator-elect Barack Obama of Illinois has not even been sworn in yet, but already he is the most well-known new face on Capitol Hill since former First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton was elected. Obama will be the only African-American in the upcoming Senate.

His unusual journey of his life is chronicled in his memoir, "Dreams From My Father," which has been reissued now to include his keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention.

Senator Obama, good morning.

SEN.-ELECT OBAMA: It's great to see you, Hannah.

MS. STORM: Congratulations on the election.

SEN.-ELECT OBAMA: Thank you so much.

MS. STORM: So happy for you. What a whirlwind.

SEN.-ELECT OBAMA: We were just talking about the last time I saw you was at the convention.

MS. STORM: Right. You --

SEN.-ELECT OBAMA: I was running down the Fleet Center steps to get to the interview on time.

MS. STORM: Yeah, right. And then that night you delivered that electrifying speech. You are such a big star. Everyone is calling you the future, the savior, of the Democratic Party. So are you?

SEN.-ELECT OBAMA: You know, I rank 99th out of 100 in seniority, so I'm going to be sharpening pencils and scrubbing the floors, I think, for the first couple of years.

MS. STORM: I doubt that.

SEN.-ELECT OBAMA: But, yeah, obviously it's a great honor. The people of Illinois embraced my candidacy with wonderful graciousness and generosity. And now the hard work begins of putting together a staff and making sure that I'm working effectively with my colleagues in the Senate, trying to get something done from a position of not only being a freshman senator, but also in a depleted Democratic caucus. So there are going to be a lot of challenges ahead.

MS. STORM: The things that people say about you are so amazing. You've been compared to everyone from Tiger Woods to Abe Lincoln. People talk about you as a future presidential candidate in '12 or '16. When you look at these high, high expectations, and maybe in the context of the neediness of your party for some strong leadership, do you feel that that's going to be tough to achieve, tough to live up to?

SEN.-ELECT OBAMA: You know, I really don't. I've got a simple mandate, which is to serve the people of Illinois well. And that means that I've got to answer the mail and respond to my constituents and move forward an agenda that I talked about during the campaign related to jobs and health care and education. And we've got some terrific leadership in the Democratic Party. We had a tough Tuesday back on November 4th.

MS. STORM: And why was that?

SEN.-ELECT OBAMA: Well, you know, I think that it was a combination of forces. You had a personally popular president during wartime. In that circumstance, no president has ever been beat. And that, I think, helped across the board with other Senate candidates and other House candidates.

And I think that we did make some mistakes that are long-term mistakes. We tend to talk more in policy terms and we've got our 10- point plans, but we don't have a narrative, I think, of what it means to be a Democrat. And I think that if you ask the average person on the street, "What does it mean to be a Republican?" whether they agree with the Republicans or not, they have a clear sense of what the Republican Party stands for.

And we're going to have to, I think, do some intellectual work to make sure that we understand what it means to be a Democrat. I think I've got a good sense of it. The people of Illinois had a sense of where I'm coming from. But I think, as a national party, we don't always do that.

MS. STORM: It's been a long journey for you in terms of not just a sense of who you are and where you are politically, but who you are as a person. You talk in your book about being the son of a Kenyan father. He left to pursue his education, went back to Africa when you were two years old.


MS. STORM: Your mother was a white woman from Kansas. You were brought up in a white household primarily in Hawaii. You go to a white primarily high school. And you said you turned even to drugs, alcohol, cocaine even, because you couldn't find your place in the world. What was that like for you?

SEN.-ELECT OBAMA: Well, you know, I think that all of us in modern America are trying to figure out our identities, because we've got these colliding cultures all the time, and very few of us stay in one place our entire lives. We're moving around. Obviously here in New York City it's the epitome of that kind of hybridization of the culture.

But I think when it happens along racial lines within a family, then I think it's especially tough. So I went through a period when I was a teenager where I was rebelling against everything, and I think embracing a lot of the exaggerated stereotypes of what it means to be an African-American.

But fortunately, I had some wonderful mentors and teachers who I think pulled me out of it. I had the love of my mother to stabilize me. And part of the reason I wrote about that period of my life in the book was to make clear that there are all kinds of young African- American males out there who are as talented as I am, as energetic as I am, but also as confused. And they may not have the same margins of error that I did.

MS. STORM: And given that background, and given your desire now to build bridges, and given the fact that your popularity spans races and spans, even to a certain extent, political parties, what can you accomplish in terms of coalition-building here as you head to Capitol Hill?

SEN.-ELECT OBAMA: Well, I think there's wonderful opportunities today. There was a poll that was done that showed that two-thirds of Americans think that because the election was so close, we should focus on common ground, bipartisanship, to solve problems. And that was something I talked about a lot in the campaign.

And I hope that the president, who's now been liberated from ever having to run again and doesn't have to think in political terms but can think about his long-term legacy, I hope that's the agenda that he embraces. Certainly I'm going to be encouraging the Democratic Party to think in terms of how can we solve problems and not just engage in the sort of scorched-earth politics that I think has become the habit in Washington.

MS. STORM: All right, Barack Obama, Senator, thank you so much for joining us this morning.

SEN.-ELECT OBAMA: It was wonderful to be here, as always.

MS. STORM: Good luck. Hope to talk to you again soon.

SEN.-ELECT OBAMA: Thank you.


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