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CBS "Face the Nation" - Transcript


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MR. SCHIEFFER: Today on "Face the Nation," two frontrunners, Democrat Barack Obama and Republican Mike Huckabee. Eleven days and counting to Iowa, and the races for the nomination in both parties are too close to call. We'll be talking with two of those frontrunners, Democrat Barack Obama and Republican Mike Huckabee.

I'll have a final word on the newest thing under the tree, Christmas campaign commercials. But first, countdown to Iowa, Obama and Huckabee, on "Face the Nation."


MR. SCHIEFFER: And good morning, again. Joining us from Des Moines this morning, Senator Barack Obama.

Senator, thank you so much for coming in this morning. And you're in a very good place this morning it seems. You're leading out there in Iowa according to an average of the polls. It's getting very, very close in New Hampshire. And it turns out you're now leading in South Carolina. I want to begin this morning by asking you about something you said this morning in the Des Moines Register. You argued to two of their reporters that you are the most electable of the Democrats. And you said one reason for that, you point to what you said is that you would not automatically have the Republicans rallied against you in the way that you argue that Senator Clinton would have them rallied against here. I mean, what are you saying here, Senator, that she just brings out the worst in the Republicans and you don't? I mean, how can you say that?

SEN. OBAMA: Well, first of all, that was based on polls that we've seen, Bob, over the last several weeks that show me beating every single Republican and showing that I'm the only Democrat that does. And the difference, I think, is I attract more Republicans and Independents. And you know, I actually think that Senator Clinton is a capable, solid senator from New York. But because of the history of some of the battles that have taken place back in the '90s, it is true that she tends to galvanize the other side. But I was making more of a positive argument than a negative argument. What I've seen as I travel around Iowa and across the country is that people want to see the next president bring people together, push back the influence of special interests and lobbyists, talk straight with the American people and get things done.

And how we've been running our campaign I think is the same way we want to govern. I may have disagreements with Republicans, but I don't want to polarize and demonize those folks. I want to see if we can bring them in into a working majority to actually deliver on health care and education and a new energy policy and a foreign policy that can repair some of the damage that's been done. So the message was really one of what I can bring to the table as opposed to what others can't.

MR. SCHIEFFER: Well, in fact, do you think it would be a meaner and nastier campaign were she the nominee instead of you?

SEN. OBAMA: Well, my suspicion is that the Republican National Committee is going to be targeting any Democratic nominee. I'm sure that there will be a lot of negative ads out there. They don't have much to run on given what's happened over the last seven to eight years. So there's no doubt that there will be negativity. But I do think that if you start off with high negatives, then you're playing on a very short field. And it's hard for you then to persuade those who might be persuadable to come into your corner.

And one of the things I'm seeing is it's not just Democrats, but it's Republicans and independents who have also lost trust in how our government has functioned. They're concerned about profligate spending on things that aren't our priorities. They're concerned about the fact that we have a foreign policy that has diminished our standing around the world. They're concerned about inefficiencies. Katrina didn't just upset Democrats, it upset Republicans as well. And so we've got a chance potentially to bring in people who have seen the philosophy of George Bush and Dick Cheney not serve the country well and are, I think, willing to consider new approaches.

MR. SCHIEFFER: Let me talk to you about the centerpiece of your campaign. You say it is change. Well now, you've been in Washington, you've had a good record as a freshman senator from Illinois. Your party's been in the majority. You've been on one of the key committees. What could you say, at this point, that since you've been dealing with national matters that you have changed significantly? Have you changed anything yet, or is that still to come?

SEN. OBAMA: Well, actually, I think I've brought about changes over the last two and a half years. I passed, along with Russ Feingold, the toughest ethics reform since Washington. We eliminated meals and gifts and the use of corporate jets from lobbyists to congressmen. We mandated the disclosure of bundling by lobbyists, who they're taking money from, and who they're giving it to. I worked with Republicans across the aisle to set up a Google for government where every dollar of federal spending is going to be on a searchable database so that you as a journalist but also ordinary citizens can find out how we're spending our money. And if there's a bridge being built to nowhere or if there's a no-bid contract going to somebody, that will be transparent, and we will be able to hold our government accountable. On nuclear proliferation issues and arms control I've worked with people like Dick Lugar to get things done. On veterans affairs, in Walter Reed you had young men and women who were having to pay for their own meals after having been injured in service to our country. We eliminated that. So obviously, there's a record there that I'm very proud of.

But when I talk about change, it's not simply policies. It's also a change in leadership. And what right now the American people are desperate for is a president that they can trust, who's going to promote accountability and transparency in our government, who is going to take a new approach on things like foreign policy, talking not just to our friends but also to our enemies. And that's the kind of leadership I'm providing, and that's why we're doing so well in Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina and, I think, ultimately across the country.

MR. SCHIEFFER: Well, Senator Clinton's husband says, notwithstanding all of that, I'm sure he wouldn't concede that you've accomplished as much as you've just outlined there. He said that anybody who votes for you is taking a roll of the dice. What do you think about that? And are you surprised to find yourself running against Bill Clinton as well as Hillary Clinton?

SEN. OBAMA: (Laughs.) Well, look, I don't begrudge Bill Clinton helping his wife, you know. My wife's helping me, and I understand that, you know, he's loyal to her and wants to make sure that she can put the best face forward on her campaign.

MR. SCHIEFFER: Well, what about his criticism?

SEN. OBAMA: Well, what I would note would be that much of the criticism he's leveling at me is identical to the criticism that was leveled against him when he was running against George H.W. Bush. Folks said here's a governor of a small state, has no foreign policy experience whatsoever, and his argument was look, my experience is rooted in the real lives of real people and will bring real results if we have the courage to change.

MR. SCHIEFFER: Do you think he's helping her campaign or hurting it?

SEN. OBAMA: Well, there's no doubt that he's an asset to her campaign. Look, there's enormous fondness for Bill Clinton among Democrats. And I think that, you know, he brings the sort of megawatt celebrity that is almost unequaled anywhere in the country. When he shows up, there are big crowds. But what people I think recognize, despite their fondness of him and of her, I think, you know, people feel they respect her very much. But what people here in Iowa consistently tell me is they're looking for something different. They're looking for something new. They want to turn the page, and they want to deliver the sort of concrete goals of health care and improved education system, a new energy policy. And the reason I think we're doing well is that we represent a set of new ideas and a new attitude in terms of inviting the American people in to participate in their government.

MR. SCHIEFFER: Let me ask you about the war. You were one of the first to say we shouldn't go to Iraq. You say you've always been against it. You were against the surge. But when you look at what is happening over there, Senator Obama, there is no question that violence is down. This month compared to November of a year ago, there were 650 civilian deaths, a year ago there were 3,400-plus. Iraqi security forces are building up. Daily attacks are down from 180 last November to just 80 this year. What do you think would be the situation right now, Senator, if the president had taken your advice?

SEN. OBAMA: Well, if he had taken my advice, we would have never been in Iraq. And we would have saved ourselves $1.6 trillion.

MR. SCHIEFFER: Well, let's just talk about this recent surge of troops -- the recent surge.

SEN. OBAMA: Well, keep in mind what I said at the time when the surge was being proposed. I said that I had no doubt that additional U.S. troops would make some difference on the ground. We've got the best troops in the world. But George Bush's own premise was that, as a consequence of the surge, we would give breathing room to the Iraqis to start negotiating and to stabilize the political situation there. And that was what I was skeptical of and continue to be skeptical of. I am glad that the violence has gone down. But keep in mind, Bob, that we have essentially gone full circle. We had intolerable levels of violence and a dysfunctional government back in 2006. We saw a huge spike in violence to horrific levels. The surge comes in, and now we're back to where we were in 2006 with intolerable levels of violence and a dysfunctional Iraqi government.

If we want to stabilize the situation in Iraq over the long term, then we have to trigger different behavior among the Sunni, Shi'a and Kurdish factions and get them to come to an agreement on how they're going to govern. And that has not happened. The only way, I believe, to trigger that different attitude is going to be if we announced a phased, careful, responsible redeployment. And that's what I've proposed consistently.

MR. SCHIEFFER: All right. Well, Senator, we want to wish you the best out there. And I'm sure we'll be seeing you before those Iowa caucuses. We'll be back with Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee in just one minute.

SEN. OBAMA: Bob, Merry Christmas.

MR. SCHIEFFER: Thank you, Senator.


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