MSNBC "Hardball with Chris Matthews"
MR. MATTHEWS: Live from West Chester University outside Philadelphia, the "Hardball" college tour with our special guest, Senator Barack Obama. Let's play "Hardball." (Cheers, applause.)
SEN. OBAMA: All right. How about that? (Cheers, applause.)
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
MR. MATTHEWS: One of the perks, Senator, of being president of the United States is that you have your own bowling alley.
SEN. OBAMA: (Laughs.)
MR. MATTHEWS: Are you ready to bowl from day one?
SEN. OBAMA: Obviously I am not. (Laughter.) But I figured there might be some bowlers here at West Chester. (Cheers, applause.) I just want to thank all of them for hosting us -- Dr. Adler and all the students. (Cheers, applause.) This a wonderful group. Thank you so much for having me.
MR. MATTHEWS: I know you're a pretty good b-ball player.
SEN. OBAMA: Basketball I can play.
MR. MATTHEWS: Okay, let me give you some good news. This is good news. I'm going to announce it here, an endorsement for you from the Philadelphia area, an important endorsement.
"Forget issues like who's ready from day one or who do you want answering a 3:00 a.m. phone call in the White House or the ramifications of NAFTA. To us, the most important issue was very simple and one that no one is talking about in the battle for the Democratic nomination for president: Who's the biggest jock? And it is based on the answer to that obviously earth-shattering question that we proudly endorse Barack Obama for president. Philly Sport Magazine."
SEN. OBAMA: That's what I'm talking about. That's what I'm talking about. (Cheers, applause.) That's what I'm talking about.
MR. MATTHEWS: And now we play "Hardball." That was the warm-up.
SEN. OBAMA: Fire away.
MR. MATTHEWS: How do we know that you're tough enough to take the heat from the right, from the radio address, from the right-wing radio, from the right-wing columnists? If you begin to pull our troops out of Iraq and they start screaming, "Who lost Iraq?" how do we know you're as tough as Dick Cheney to ignore public opinion and do what you believe in? Because he's certainly tough enough to do it.
SEN. OBAMA: Well, first of all, you don't ignore public opinion. You try to shape public opinion. And you try to shape it with the truth, not with false facts, not by shading intelligence reports. And, you know, in terms of my toughness, look, first of all, I come from Chicago. And, you know, politics in Chicago, as was once said, is not tiddlywinks. It's not beanbag. You know, it's a tough town. But what I've been able to do is to rise politically without compromising my ethics, without compromising my principles.
I think, during the course of this campaign, we're going up against a pretty tough political operation with the Clintons. Nobody's ever accused them of being soft. And so far we're doing pretty well.
And, you know, I am very confident that when it comes to issues like Iraq, a war that I stood up against at a time when it would have been politically convenient to be for it, or at least to be silent, when it comes to tough issues like talking to leaders we don't like, something that defies some of the conventional wisdom in Washington but I feel very strongly about, that I'm going to stick to my guns and try to persuade the American people that we need to go in a new direction and fundamentally break with the failed policies of the past seven and a half years.
MR. MATTHEWS: When the Democratic voters of Pennsylvania -- and they're the only ones that can vote, and all these people told me they're all registered, right? (Cheers, applause.)
SEN. OBAMA: Absolutely.
MR. MATTHEWS: And how many of you are for this gentleman? (Cheers, applause.)
And how many of you are for Hillary? (Mixture of scattered applause and boos.) Okay, fair enough.
What's the difference between you -- I mean, their parents are watching. They're watching. Their friends are watching right now. And they want to go in that voting booth aware. What is the real difference in how you would get us out of Iraq from the way Senator Clinton would get us out?
SEN. OBAMA: Well, first of all, I think it does bear mentioning that Senator Clinton voted for the war. And I say that not because it is something that's in the past, but it points to judgment in the future. I think Senator Clinton was much more cautious. She got swept up in the arguments that were made by the Bush administration. And I think that what you want in the next president has confidence and judgment to move in a different direction.
She has said she wants to pull troops out, and I take her at her word. I intend to pull them out as well. And I think that we both agree that you have to be as cautious getting out as we were careless getting in. She has, though, suggested that she wants to leave troops in to blunt the influence of Iran in Iraq, that that would be one of the rationales or justifications for how she would structure forces inside of Iraq.
I think that's a mistake. I think that's mission creep. That is not the original reason why we went in. Originally it was because of weapons of mass destruction. We know those aren't there. It was because Saddam Hussein was a terrible tyrant. He is now gone.
We should not be maintaining permanent bases in Iraq. We should have no combat operations. If you look at the recent fighting in Basra, it's between Shi'a militias. And, in fact, we know that Iran had some influence in settling the dispute, partly because the government that we helped to install is very close to the Iranian government.
So what I want to see is getting our combat troops out, no permanent bases. We should protect our embassy. We should protect humanitarian forces in the region. We should up our commitment to humanitarian aid inside of Iraq, because we've got 2 million displaced persons inside of Iraq right now.
And we have to initiate the kinds of political settlement that includes all the factions inside Iraq but also those surrounding Iraq, the regional powers -- Saudi Arabia, Jordan, but also Iran and Syria -- who are going to have some say about what happens in Iraq no matter what we do.
And it's important for us to bring them to the table in a broader international effort so that we've got a stable country and we can start focusing on what we should have focused on in the first place -- the war in Afghanistan and going after al Qaeda and bin Laden and those who killed 3,000 Americans.
MR. MATTHEWS: The way you tell it -- (applause) -- it sounds like Hillary Clinton and John McCain have a similar policy of maintaining the American presence, military presence, in Iraq indefinitely.
It sounds like they're the same. Do you believe that?
SEN. OBAMA: No, I don't think -- I think there's a huge difference between any of the Democrats and John McCain. I mean, John McCain got upset, I think, today, apparently, because I had repeated exactly what he said, which is that we might be there for 100 years if he had his way.
Now, he's now arguing, "Well, I didn't mean that we would be fighting a war for 100 years; we might just be present." What he is talking about is having a permanent occupation and permanent bases inside of Iraq. We are spending right now $10 (billion) to $12 billion a month inside of Iraq. That's money that could be spent giving college scholarships to all these young people. (Cheers, applause.) It's money that could be spent -- it's money that could be spent getting jobs here in America, rebuilding our infrastructure, as I have proposed.
But more importantly, it would mean a sustained presence at a time when we should be focused on finishing the war that needs to be won against al Qaeda in their home bases in Afghanistan and in the hills of Pakistan, where we know that they are planning to attack U.S. targets.
MR. MATTHEWS: What's the impact economically -- this state has lost 183 guys and women killed in that war. Of course, the personal losses are unimaginable and hard to measure. But economically, we've lost in this state 200,000 manufacturing jobs under President Bush. A lot of people believe you can't reproduce those jobs. We're going to have to go to high-tech or something. Can you honestly do what Mitt Romney did in Michigan and say, "We're going to get those jobs back?"
When I was growing up here, a guy could come out of high school and he could go get a job at Bud or Murtaugh (sp), a big industrial plant, build big things, big jobs, building trains, building subway cars and airplanes, and provide for a whole family and get the kids through college by working, one family member working. Will we ever get back to those days?
SEN. OBAMA: I'm not sure that the same jobs are going to be back, but I think we can produce good jobs that pay good wages and good benefits. I mean, here's how we do it. First of all, we've got to stabilize the housing market, because right now even businesses with good track records, good credit, are having trouble getting financing to expand and invest because the financial markets are all screwed up. The only way we deal with that is to make sure that people aren't having their homes foreclosed on.
So I'm working with Chris Dodd to put together a program where the Federal Housing Administration helps borrowers and lenders negotiate to settle on a fixed mortgage that homeowners can pay and allows them to stay in their homes so we're not continuing to see home values drop. That's step number one.
We also have to have better oversight in the financial markets. That's been a disaster, something this administration has not done.
MR. MATTHEWS: How about the previous administration? How good was President Clinton at regulating the hedge funds? Did he give them a free rein?
SEN. OBAMA: Well, here's what I think. I think there's been a general tendency for the banks and the financial institutions to set the agenda in Washington and to --
MR. MATTHEWS: Under both administrations? Under Democrats too?
SEN. OBAMA: Under Democrats and Republicans. And what's happened is that they have constantly pushed for deregulation. Some of that deregulation is useful. Some of it allows for the kinds of predatory loans that have been getting us into trouble. So we've got to get the housing market set.
Then what we have to do is start ending the war in Iraq, reinvesting in infrastructure -- roads, bridges, locks, dams. That puts people to work.
MR. MATTHEWS: Like I-95 out here.
SEN. OBAMA: Absolutely.
MR. MATTHEWS: We've got a little problem, you know, out here.
SEN. OBAMA: And that puts people back to work --
MR. MATTHEWS: Yeah.
SEN. OBAMA: -- especially folks from the construction industry that have been laid off because of the housing slump. And then what we have to do is get our tax code right; stop giving tax breaks to companies that ship jobs overseas, invest in companies that are investing right here in the United States of America; and the last point -- the possibility of new jobs in new sectors like energy.
I went to a steel mill that had closed and now has been converted, and it's making something big, those big windmills that are producing green energy for America. Those jobs are not being shipped overseas. And you've got unionized steelworkers in those plants making jobs. That's got to be the direction that we move on in the future.
MR. MATTHEWS: That's out in Bucks County, right?
SEN. OBAMA: Absolutely.
MR. MATTHEWS: Let me ask you -- when we come back, I'm going to ask -- that's day job for the president. I want to ask you what you're going to be like at 3:00 in the morning when we get right back.
More with "Hardball" and Senator Barack Obama when we come back on the college tour from West Chester University in Pennsylvania. (Cheers, applause.)
MR. MATTHEWS: Welcome back to West Chester University outside Philadelphia.
You have the first question of the night. Go ahead.
Q My name is Brittany Ransom (sp) and I'm a student here.
In the past recent years there have been some cuts in federal funding in student aid. I would like to know personally what you plan on doing on increasing that aid for college students?
SEN. OBAMA: Well, thanks for the question, Brittany (sp). And this is something I hear about all across the country. And, first of all, I've got a personal stake in this, because when Michelle and I graduated from law school, our combined monthly student loan was more than our mortgage. And that was true for about 10 years. And we were luckier than most, because as attorneys we could make a little more than if somebody was a teacher or somebody was a social worker.
We've got to deal with this. I want to restore money that's already been taken away, number one. Number two, I want to expand Pell grants, because we need more grants, fewer loans, so that students aren't piling up huge amounts of debt. (Cheers, applause.)
Number three, I want to create a $4,000 tuition credit, every student, every year, but young people will not be able to get it for free. You guys are going to have to participate in community service -- work in a homeless shelter, work in a veterans' home, join the Peace Corps. (Cheers, applause.) So we'll invest in you. You invest in America. And together, the country will get stronger and you guys won't be loaded up with so much debt when you leave college.
And one of the ways to pay for it, by the way, is eliminating the middlemen in some of the federal direct loan programs. You've got banks and financial institutions that are making billions of dollars off student loans. That's something that we've got to change. (Cheers, applause.)
Q Hi. My name is Shane Daniels. I'm interested in how has this campaign and your situation with your pastor affected your spiritual life? And how will that influence your presidency?
SEN. OBAMA: Well, that's an interesting question. You know, I am a Christian and I pray every night. And when you're running for president, you pray even more -- (laughter) -- although it's interesting; what I pray for, the longer I'm in this, is less about me and more about, first of all, making sure my family is okay, but the second thing is that whatever I'm doing is actually good for the people I want to serve and good for the country.
The longer I'm in this process, the more you realize that you're going to be successful if you can get your ego out of it and focus on the job that needs to be done and what people are going through that I talk to every day.
You know, obviously there's a flap in terms of my former pastor, and that was a difficult moment. This is somebody who, on the one hand, is a good man, but said some things that I deeply disagree with. And, you know, I tried to give a speech here in Philadelphia to indicate the broader context of the anger that still exists and the resentments that still exist between the races.
And, you know, my belief is that one of the important things about my Christian faith is that you forgive people. You try to understand them. And ultimately the judge is going to be -- God is going to be somebody who's making judgments about many of these things. (Applause.) So I'm just going to stay focused on the job that I'm doing, and hopefully you'll pray for me too. (Applause.)
Q Hello, Chris.
Hi, Senator Obama. I'm interested -- I understand that you want to increase the teacher salaries, which I'm all for since I'll be a teacher. (Cheers, applause.) But I want to know your stance on merit pay and how it will affect special-education teachers and then those in low-(SES ?) areas.
SEN. OBAMA: Well, I am not in favor of merit pay as it's currently understood -- (scattered applause) -- which basically --
MR. MATTHEWS: Neither is that lady over there. (Laugher.)
SEN. OBAMA: -- which basically involves taking test scores and then rewarding people on how they score on tests, how students score on tests, because the problem is, let's say, special-ed students or ESL students. By definition, special-ed students are behind and may need special help. They may not move at the same pace, even though we can aspire to make sure that they get the best education possible. Students for whom English is a second language, they may be behind in terms of test scores even though they're very intelligent, just because it's not their native language that they're speaking.
This is a broader problem that has to do with No Child Left Behind. I want the highest standards for our students, but I don't want standards measured solely by a single high-stakes standardized test. (Cheers, applause.) I want to make sure that our standards are crafted with educators, with teachers.
I do believe in creating career ladders for teachers so that, if they become a master teacher, if they become nationally board- certified, if they've done other things to improve their own professional development, that they can potentially get more pay. I think that's important. (Applause.)
MR. MATTHEWS: We only have a couple of seconds. Your question?
Q Yeah. Hi, my name is Leslie Rupkay (sp). And as a Type 1 diabetic, I was just wondering what you are going to do to get further support for stem cell research.
SEN. OBAMA: Well, the thing is, actually, we have enough support in the Senate and the House to pass this bill. George Bush has vetoed it. Here's what we'll do. We just need one more vote, and that's the vote of the president. And since I'll be the president, we will sign stem cell research. (Cheers, applause.)
MR. MATTHEWS: We're going to come right back with some 3:00-in- the-morning questions for Senator Barack Obama; more of the "Hardball" college tour from West Chester University when we come back.
MR. MATTHEWS: Let me give you a scene that may face you in the next year or two. The national security adviser calls you at 3:00 in the morning and tells you that a couple of commercial jets have been hijacked, and they believe it's al Qaeda. And as we know, al Qaeda always tries a second time. They tried for the World Trade Center after '93; they came back in '01. They're heading for the Capitol. What do you do?
SEN. OBAMA: Well, look, I am hesitant to engage in hypotheticals like that because --
MR. MATTHEWS: But it's predictable.
SEN. OBAMA: Well, I don't think anybody predicted 9/11, and so we don't know what kinds of circumstances are going to come up.
Here's the important thing about that 3:00 a.m. phone call. What you want is somebody who's, first of all, going to get all the facts and gather up good intelligence. The second thing you want is somebody who is able to analyze the situation, the costs and benefits of action. And one of the things that we know this president didn't do is to weigh the costs of going into Iraq versus the potential benefits of it.
We want somebody who's going to be decisive, and I won't hesitate to strike against somebody who would do us harm, if that's what's required. But the most important thing that you need is somebody who's going to exercise good judgment. And judgment is not simply a matter of sounding tough or talking tough. It's a matter of weighing and making good decisions under stress.
And, you know, if you think about, for example, John F. Kennedy, his biggest mistake was going ahead with military action that hadn't been thought through. His greatest triumph was actually showing restraint in a very dangerous, difficult situation.
Now, obviously something involving al Qaeda is not comparable. And my whole plan for going after terrorists is to refocus attention on terrorist networks, something that the Iraq war has been a distraction from. And what I've said repeatedly is, for example, I won't hesitate to strike against al Qaeda bases and high-value targets. If Pakistan is not willing to act and we have our sights on somebody, we should go after them.
I was sharply criticized for that both by John McCain, Hillary Clinton and George Bush, except it turned out that three weeks ago we had one of our most successful strikes against one of the highest- ranking al Qaeda leaders doing precisely that.
And I think that indicates the degree to which I am more than willing to use our military power where necessary. But we have to use it in a way that's responsible and weighs all the ramifications of action and is based on the best available evidence and not based on politics and ideology. (Scattered applause.)
MR. MATTHEWS: Most people believe that the intelligence was corrupted in this administration, that it was manipulated by civilians with political and ideological intent. How do you clean out the intelligence agencies and let them know you want the real intelligence? You don't want a twisted case made for whatever policy somebody's selling at the bureaucratic level.
SEN. OBAMA: Well, it starts at the top. It starts at the top. If the president is basing his actions on ideas that are preconceived and wants to ignore facts and only wants to hear things that reinforce what he already believes or she already believes, then you're going to have a problem.
And that's why I think it's so important that we send a clear directive to everybody in our intelligence communities that I want independent thinking and I want people who disagree with me, as well as people who agree with me. I want to have everybody around the table.
This is one of the most important criteria, I think, for having a good Cabinet, a good sub-Cabinet, and an effective federal government is when people have confidence that if they bring uncomfortable facts to the table that somebody's going to listen to them and they're not going to be punished for bringing bad news. That's how you actually end up making good decisions.
MR. MATTHEWS: Can you do this from day one? Can you make sure that the intelligence agencies get that message fast?
SEN. OBAMA: Absolutely. I mean, I think one of the first things they have to do, even during transition, is to make sure that you send a message to everybody. I want all the bad news, and I want the bad news sooner than I want the good news.
MR. MATTHEWS: Okay. Thank you very much.
We'll be right back with Barack Obama with some personal questions. (Cheers, applause.)
MR. MATTHEWS: We're back. (Cheers, applause.) I want to -- this is a great audience, Senator Brama (sic) -- Senator Barack Obama. (Laughter.) This is a strange question, but everything's ethnic this year, so I'll ask it. What's it like to be a black kid with a white mom?
SEN. OBAMA: Well, I'll tell you what, it's part of what America's about. You know, we're a melting pot. (Cheers, applause.) And, you know, what I think it did for me was to give me a perspective that maybe is broader on some of the misunderstandings that people go through, but also an appreciation of everybody's cultures.
I mean, it's not just the fact that I had a black dad and a white mom. I've got a sister who's half-Indonesian, who's married to a Chinese-Canadian. (Laughter.) I've got a niece who looks like she's all mixed up. (Laughter.) And, you know, so when you get our family together -- I've said this before; I wrote a book -- I've got family members that look like Margaret Thatcher. I've got family members that look like Bernie Mac. (Laughter.
You know, and so what it does -- what it means is, you know, I'm not going to engage in stereotypes about people because you never know where people are coming from. And I really have learned to believe that everybody has common values and common ideals. And especially here in America, everybody wants the same things. They want a good job. They want to take care of their families. They want health care they can afford. They want to be able to send their kids to college, retire with dignity and respect. (Applause.)
MR. MATTHEWS: When you -- everybody wants to know this stuff. See, the people here, the young people here who are black don't know what it's like to be white, and the white people don't know what it's like to be black. And you have a better look at that than anybody.
SEN. OBAMA: Well, you know, I think that, as I said before, people have a lot more in common than I think we give them credit for. Part of the problem is our politics fans division. It feeds on it. It's not that it's not there already, but a lot of times it's a convenient way to stir things up.
And, you know, one of the things that we've tried to do in this campaign -- and I think young people are tapped into this -- is to say, look, people of different races occupy different situations and have a different history, and we've got to address some of that different history.
MR. MATTHEWS: Yeah.
SEN. OBAMA: But people's aspirations, their capacity for good and for bad, it really is the same. And we're at our best when we join together. We're at our best when we're unified. We're at our worst when we're divided and when our politics is based along tribal and ethnic lines instead of based on who we are as Americans. (Applause.)
MR. MATTHEWS: You know that term in politics called the dog whistle, where you say something and certain people hear it and they can't get caught using it, but they know what they're doing? Do you think the Clinton campaign is using a dog whistle by constantly talking about your former pastor?
SEN. OBAMA: No, look, I think --
MR. MATTHEWS: Are they playing that ethnic card?
SEN. OBAMA: No, look, I think that's fair game, you know, in the sense that what my former pastor said was offensive. And I think that in politics, whether I was white, black, Hispanic, Asian, somebody would be trying to use it against me.
And I do think that it is important to keep things in perspective and to remind ourselves that over the last two weeks we've marked the fifth anniversary of a war that has now lasted longer than World War I, World War II and the Civil War. I think it's important for us to remind ourselves 4,000 Americans have died, more than 4,000 Americans; that families are now suffering three, four tours of duty, putting enormous strain on military families, that people are losing their homes.
So my -- the one thing I think about our politics that we need to fix, aside from pushing the special interests that have come to dominate Washington out and let the American people back in, is also not to be distracted and to make sure we're focusing on the big things that are going to make a difference in these young people's lives 20 years from now, 30 years from now, 40 years from now, instead of what was the latest gaffe or what did this surrogate say or that surrogate say, which really, three weeks from now, everybody will have forgotten, but we won't have forgotten the fact that global warming is still a big issue and a war is still going on and our economy is starting to slip. (Applause.)
MR. MATTHEWS: That said, when you hear divisive language, whether it's from your preacher or from anyone else, why didn't you walk out of that church? Why, when you heard that, what you called controversial language, why did you go back and give him $27,000 in contributions to his church? Why didn't you just say, "He's on a different side of this fight than I am"?
SEN. OBAMA: No, because I think that the -- you know, what's happened is we took a loop out of -- and compressed the most offensive things that a pastor said over the course of 30 years and just ran it over and over and over again. Now, there's that other 30 years. I never heard him say those things that were in those clips, and --
MR. MATTHEWS: But you did say you heard him say controversial things.
SEN. OBAMA: Of course. Well, but I hear you say controversial things, Chris. (Applause.)
MR. MATTHEWS: But you didn't give me $27,000 either.
SEN. OBAMA: No, but the point is, this is a church that's active in AIDS. It's active on all kinds of things. And so, you know, this is a wonderful church. But as I said, you know, look at the amount of time that's been spent on this today, Chris, at a time when we haven't talked about a whole hosts of issues that are really going to make a difference.
MR. MATTHEWS: I know, but it'll come back. You know the Republicans will bring it back.
SEN. OBAMA: Well, of course it'll come back, and of course the Republicans will bring it back. But the question is, what's actually going to make a difference in the lives of people right now who are on the verge of losing their homes? (Cheers, applause.) What's going to make a difference in their lives?
MR. MATTHEWS: When did you have your last cigarette? (Laughs.)
SEN. OBAMA: You know --
MR. MATTHEWS: And was that the last time you cried? (Laughter.) What was that like? Because that shows -- I mean, Bush, the president, gave up booze. I always thought that was an impressive thing about him. I gave it up. I know how hard it is. You just give it up cold turkey. What was it like for you? And what advice can you give these kids? You're obviously not going to tell them to keep smoking.
SEN. OBAMA: Don't start.
MR. MATTHEWS: Don't start. What is it that it takes, besides a lot of people watching you, (which is ?), in your case, to quit?
SEN. OBAMA: Having your wife say on "60 Minutes" that "If you see Barack with a cigarette, let me know." (Laughter.) That -- look --
MR. MATTHEWS: No cheating.
SEN. OBAMA: Well, you know --
MR. MATTHEWS: No cheating.
SEN. OBAMA: I fell off the wagon a couple of times during the course of it and then was able to get back on. But, you know, it's a struggle like everything else. And I think that it's important to just keep in mind I've got a nine-year-old daughter and a six-year-old daughter, and I want to give them away in their weddings and I want to see my grandkids.
And I want to set a good example for all these young people here. And I want to make sure that, you know, as president of the United States, everybody knows that I'm going to try to stay healthy. I need you guys to stay healthy too, because we need to bring our health care costs down. (Applause.)
MR. MATTHEWS: How many smokers are there here right now? Smokers, stand up. Smokers, stand up.
SEN. OBAMA: Oh, no --
MR. MATTHEWS: Come on, be honest. Oh, come on. (A few students stand.) Smokers.
SEN. OBAMA: All right, guys.
MR. MATTHEWS: Talk to these people.
SEN. OBAMA: You guys need to get it straight. (Laughter.) You guys need to get on the case.
MR. MATTHEWS: Well, that's a pretty -- I applaud this school; a very low-smoking school. At least they -- or else a very dishonest school. (Laughter.)
Let me ask you about -- at any time in this campaign, did you have a chuckle that you just couldn't get rid of, something weird that happened that was so crazy that you just went to bed laughing about it?
SEN. OBAMA: Oh, I think that happens once a day. (Laughter.) But then I stopped watching cable news. (Laughter, cheers, applause.)
MR. MATTHEWS: I've got another set of cards in the back room. No, let me ask you about the campaign. Do you think that you've learned -- I know you've done a lot of this. I mean, this is amazing to meet so many young people of different backgrounds and to see these smiling faces.
It must be the most wonderful experience for you.
But what can you say, if you had to write another book after this campaign, and said, "What did I profoundly learn about this country of mine that I really, really didn't know before this thing started?" Can you come up with -- did you learn anything, or has it just been too fast?
SEN. OBAMA: Well, it's been more confirmation of what I had hoped. You know, when I got into the race, I hoped that people were ready for a different kind of politics. I hoped that young people, who had been sitting on the sidelines, decided "Now's the time for us to get involved."
I'll be honest with you; I didn't expect such an enormous wave. I mean, we've seen record turnouts, record participation. You had in Iowa young people participate at the same rates as people over 60. That's unheard of in the annals of American politics. And so that's been extremely encouraging, how interested people are in what their government is doing right now. And I think that when that happens, good things happen.
Our problems always occur when nobody's paying attention and the fat cats and the lobbyists end up setting the agenda in Washington. And when the American people are paying attention, they hold the government accountable. And it makes an enormous difference, and we actually start solving problems. And that's what I think we can do, starting next year.
MR. MATTHEWS: Okay, thank you. We'll be right back with more of Senator Barack Obama from West Chester University in Philadelphia.
MR. MATTHEWS: We're back with the students at the University -- well, West Chester University. Let me get it straight here. (Laughter, boos.) Oh, you guys are unforgiving here; a small technical error.
Let's go to the first question.
Q Hi, Senator Obama. How are you doing today?
SEN. OBAMA: How are you doing?
Q Good. My name is David Burnett (sp) and I just have a question for you, and that is, where do you stand on gay marriage?
SEN. OBAMA: You know, I'm not in favor of gay marriage, but I'm in favor of a very strong civil union. Right now states, even where you've got civil unions, still aren't getting the same benefits at the federal level. So the federal government just doesn't recognize them. And that's about 1,200 laws, rights and benefits that are not being given to same-sex couples. I think it's very important that those laws apply equally.
I think it's very important that we pass a human rights ordinance like I passed along with another co-sponsor in Illinois to prevent discrimination in housing and jobs. I think young people are way ahead of the curve on this issue, and I think it's important for the rest of the country to catch up and make sure that everybody is treated the same, regardless of sexual orientation.
MR. MATTHEWS: But isn't it discrimination when you say people can't get married?
SEN. OBAMA: Well, I think that it is important for us to make sure that all the legal rights that are conferred in a marriage are also conferred in a civil union.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: (Inaudible.)
SEN. OBAMA: There you go. And I think it's very important that the state make sure that they are not denying the same kinds of rights that have historically been denied, because when I think about a same- sex couple not being able to visit each other in the hospital, when I think about them not being able to transfer property or to pass on benefits, I think that's contrary to what most Americans believe, and that's why I'm going to change it when I'm president of the United States. (Applause.)
MR. MATTHEWS: Next question.
Q Hi. My name is Kiara Smullis (sp). My question is, how can you improve inner-city public school systems, making education a priority, and improving the quality of education so that urban students can be competitive?
SEN. OBAMA: Well, it's a great question. And part of what we have to do, I think, is start with the earliest years. We've got to expand drastically early-childhood education. (Applause.) And that's not just pre-K. It's also starting with at-risk parents, when they have their child, working with them to make sure that they are reading to their kids; and if they can't read to them, then teaching those parents to read, making sure they've got books, making sure those children are getting regular checkups, which means we've got to have a health care system that everybody can access, making certain that kids are being screened for hearing deficits or visual impairments, making sure that they're getting decent nutrition.
And if we are taking care of kids early, then they start school already prepared. If we don't, they're already behind, and they stay behind. Every dollar we invest in early childhood education, we get at least $10 back in improved reading scores, reduced dropout rates.
Then we've got to improve K through 12 education, and that primarily has to do with teachers, paying teachers more and giving them more professional development and support. (Cheers, applause.)
And the third thing is after-school programs and summer-school programs that can keep kids off the streets, give them constructive things to do after school.
And the final thing is giving young people a sense of a future. So if you've got a ninth grader or a 10th grader, maybe they're not going to go to a four-year college. But if they're good artists, they might want to be a graphic designer, and matching them up with the possibilities of a career and a job there; or if they're good manually, then getting them in apprenticeship programs while they're still in high school so that they can start seeing the possibilities of a career in the trades.
Those are the kinds of ways that you can tie what happens in school with kids' vision for their future. And if they have a sense that they've got a future that allows them to raise a family and live a productive life, I think most young people will seize it. The problem is they're just not seeing that right now. Right now all they see is drugs and jail. And if that's the only thing in front of you, then you're probably going to fail. (Applause.)
MR. MATTHEWS: Thank you. This primary in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania will be held in three weeks. It is an important part of the process. I want to ask you, if this process ends up after Puerto Rico, at the end of the schedule, where you have the most elected delegates, should you be the nominee?
SEN. OBAMA: Well, if I have the most pledged delegates, meaning after all the votes have been cast in caucuses and primaries -- I also think we will have had the most popular vote and we will have won the most states -- then I think most of the super-delegates, who have not yet decided, I think, will recognize that we've earned this nomination. (Applause.) That's not guaranteed, and I don't take it for granted. But I think that at that point I will have shown myself to be the strongest candidate to run against John McCain.
MR. MATTHEWS: Is that the only legitimate result of this campaign is the one who gets the most elected delegates is the nominee? Could you imagine Senator Clinton being nominated in Denver at the last week of August, not having won the battle for elected delegates, and you'd support her?
SEN. OBAMA: You know, I'm not going to worry about that right now, because what I want to do is to make sure that I've won as many contests as possible, won as many delegates as possible, and then I'll let the poobahs of the party make a decision in terms of how they want to deal with it.
MR. MATTHEWS: Do you trust the poobahs? (Laughter.)
SEN. OBAMA: What I know is that we have excited the electorate. We have brought people out. We have won every state -- every kind of state, all across the country. And I think in that circumstance, I will be the strongest nominee to go up against John McCain and serve as a sharp break and contrast from the failed policies of the last seven years.
MR. MATTHEWS: Watch the whole show again. We'll be back at 7:00 and 11:00 tonight, especially at 7:00, the whole show. You'll get the whole college tour from West Chester University with Senator Barack Obama. Thank you. (Cheers, applause.)