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NBC "Meet the Press" Transcript


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NBC "Meet the Press" Transcript, with White House Senior Advisor Karl Rove; Senator-Elect Barack Obama (D-IL)


MR. RUSSERT: Senator-elect Barack Obama, welcome, and congratulations on your election to the U.S. Senate.

SEN.-ELECT OBAMA: Thank you very much, Tim.

MR. RUSSERT: Senator-elect, why do you think John Kerry lost the race for the White House?

SEN-ELECT OBAMA: Well, he was running against a very popular wartime president, and I think that that would have been a difficult circumstance for any candidate to run in. And I think that your previous guest Karl Rove had a lot to do with it. They've got one of the best political themes that we've ever seen in America, and I think that they deserve enormous credit for their win.

MR. RUSSERT: The Democratic Leadership Council, which has been a voice for more centrist views if you will in the Democratic Party, issued the following statement: "What happened? We have to face facts. We got our clocks cleaned up and down the ballot. We didn't effectively make the case for firing the incumbents and replacing them with Democrats. The dynamics of this campaign have confirmed beyond a shadow of a doubt that Democrats suffer from three persistent trust gaps in our message. The first was on national security. Kerry could not overcome the party's reputation for being weaker. The second was a reform gap. We never conveyed a positive agenda for reform. The third was values and culture. The problem is that many millions of voters simply do not believe that Democrats take their cultural fears and resentments seriously and that Republicans do." What do you think of that analysis?

SEN.-ELECT OBAMA: Well, I think that there's some important insights there. I absolutely think that when we talk about family, faith, community, I think it's important for Democrats to be able to connect with folks where they live. And I think that the Republicans have been more successful in some cases than we have in talking about values and morality with respect to our agenda and our program and our broader world view. I think that certainly with respect to national security that, as Karl Rove mentioned, they were interested in collapsing the issue of the war on terror with Iraq, and they did so successfully. And I think that we were less successful in making clear that we were as unified and as focused on the war on terror as anyone, but that the war in Iraq was a misguided strategy, at least in terms of how it was implemented. And I think that what is always true when you run against an incumbent president is that you end up talking more about that president's record than your vision for the future. And I think that the Democrats do have to present a proactive agenda and vision for the country, and not simply run against something if they're going to be successful.

MR. RUSSERT: When I asked Karl Rove about the meaning of moral values, he talked about he coarsening of our culture. It is possible for Democrats to speak to that feeling within the American people, particularly with the close relationship Democrats have with the Hollywood community?

SEN.-ELECT OBAMA: Well, you know, I think I spoke about it in Illinois. And one of the reasons that I got 70 percent of the vote, and that in fact I shared a million voters with George Bush, is that from a Democratic perspective I think I was able to talk to people about values in ways that people -- in ways that resonated with folks.

Look, the Democrats are as concerned about raising our kids and making sure that the values of empathy and hard work and discipline and self-respect are instilled in our children. And I've got a 6- year-old daughter and a 3-year-old daughter, and I'm not afraid to talk about how I want to provide them with the sort of cultural framework that's going to allow them to be successful, happy people. And I think that Democrats can in fact -- and have -- successfully talked about it. I think that sometimes the Democrats have to run upstream or swim upstream, because we've got the Republicans making it out as if we don't care about these things. And we should be able to engage, and be willing to engage, in a discussion about morality and values. Of course part of our message has to be that moral values includes the immorality of 45 million uninsured, or the immorality of working people who are having trouble raising a family despite working full-time. That has to be part of the moral equation. And if we are able to frame things in that fashion, then I think we can be successful.

MR. RUSSERT: Let me show you and our viewers a portion of your keynote speech to the Democratic National Convention in July, where you talked about the red states, the Republican states, and the blue states, the Democratic states. Let's listen:

SEN.-ELECT OBAMA: (From videotape.) We worship an awesome God in the blue states, and we don't like federal agents poking around our libraries in the red states. (Applause, cheers.) We coach little league in the blue states, and yes we've got some gay friends in the red states.

MR. RUSSERT: What was your purpose in those words?

SEN.-ELECT OBAMA: Well, I think what I wanted to indicate is something that at least I found in Illinois, and I think this is true across the country. The American people are a non-ideological people. They very much are looking for common-sense, practical solutions to the problems that they face. Oftentimes they've got contradictory senses of various issues and policy positions. And I don't think that either the Republican Party or the Democratic Party necessarily capture their deepest dreams when those parties are described in caricature or in policy terms. And part of the reason I think I've been successful in Illinois, and I think that the Democrats can be successful nationally in the future, is if we are able to capture some of the complexity of people's lives right now. I do think that when you go into red states they're so-called red states, I think they're troubled with certain excesses with respect to the Patriot Act, but they're also concerned with making sure that we're secure against terrorism. I think that people are concerned about the breakdown of the family. But they also don't want to see discrimination against gays and lesbians who they work with. And they want to be able to make sure that gays can visit each other in hospitals and be able to inherit property.

So I think that to the extent that we focus on problems where we can build a moral and a political consensus, then I think that we move the country forward. And when we are divided and our politics is focused on dividing, then I think we're less successful, not just from the perspective of the Democratic Party or the Republican Party, but from the perspective of the nation as a whole.

MR. RUSSERT: But, Mr. Obama, is it possible to find common ground on issues like abortion? If the president sends to the Senate a candidate for the Supreme Court who every indication would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, or if the Democrats want to have national legislation which would sanction civil unions for gays and the president opposed it, or the president wants private accounts for Social Security, or replace the IRS with a flat tax or a sales tax -- can you find common ground on those kind of issues where there are deeply held political and sometimes moral views?

SEN.-ELECT OBAMA: Well, I -- look, I think some are more difficult than others. There's no doubt that on the issue of abortion oftentimes it's very difficult to split the difference. Although we can agree on the notion that none of us are pro-abortion, and all of us would like to see a reduction in unwanted pregnancies, for example, and we could focus on those issues. I think that when it comes to Social Security, all of us want to make sure that our senior citizens can retire with dignity and respect. And everybody has to be open- minded in thinking how do we firm up a system that in fact is going to be in difficulty in the coming years.

So I absolutely think that it's possible for us to find common ground. You know, the president called me this week. He was extraordinarily gracious in congratulating me. We both agreed that our wives are sharper than we are, which was nice. And my sense is that if we can disagree without being disagreeable, and if we're not involved in the sort of slash-and-burn politics that I think has become the custom in Washington, but we seek out common ground on the enormous challenges that we face ahead, whether it's the global economy that Karl Rove just mentioned and how we make sure that the middle class is in fact sustainable in this global competition, or we're talking about how we provide the education that our children need, so that they can succeed. Those are issues where we all share, I think, success. And one of the things I told the president was that we all have a stake in seeing him have a successful presidency. I don't think that the Democrats succeed by rooting against the president in Washington, but we have to be honest where we disagree with him, and he's got to make his case where he's presenting issues that we're skeptical about.

MR. RUSSERT: Do you think part of your role as a Democrat, the party in opposition, is to on some issues go to the matrices and fight and resist the president and perhaps in 2006, the mid-term elections, reverse the fortunes of the party and regain a majority in the Senate?

SEN.-ELECT OBAMA: Well, I don't think the Democrats should think in narrow tactical terms about mid-term elections. What I do think is -- let's take the example of tax policy. I very much believe in reforming the tax system. We've got an extraordinarily complex tax system that's full of loopholes that are exploited by special interests. I'd like to see those loopholes closed. Now, if the president comes to me and says, Let's reform the tax system, and his agenda is one that would result in a move towards a more regressive tax system in which the middle class and the working class bear a greater burden than they do currently, then I will absolutely resist that. That from my perspective is not reform; that's a shift or a continuation of a shift onto the backs of the middle class that I don't think is appropriate.

If on the other hand he's interested in closing loopholes, simplifying the tax system, reducing the process in which ordinary working families can apply for a child credit or an earned income tax credit so that they can support their families more effectively, if they're interested in closing loopholes that incentivize companies to move overseas as opposed to investing in jobs here at home, then I think that I absolutely want to work with him. I don't expect he's going to agree with me on everything, and I think that he certainly has the prerogative as the president to frame the agenda in the way that he thinks is appropriate. But I do think the Democrats have to judge each and every one of these issues on the merits, based on our long-standing concerns for providing opportunity for all people.

MR. RUSSERT: Before you go, you know there's been enormous speculation about your political future. Will you serve your full six-year term as U.S. senator from Illinois?

SEN.-ELECT OBAMA: Absolutely. You know, a little -- some of this, I've been a little overblown -- it's flattering, but I have to remind people that I haven't been sworn in yet. I don't know where the rest rooms are in the Senate. I'm going to have to figure out how to work the phones, answer constituent mail. I expect to be in the Senate for quite some time, and hopefully I'll build up my seniority from my current position, which I believe is 99th out of 100.

MR. RUSSERT: Barack Obama, we thank you for sharing your views.

SEN.-ELECT OBAMA: Thank you so much.


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