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NBC "Meet the Press" - Transcript


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MR. BROKAW: We're back with "Meet the Press" and representing the Obama campaign, Senator John Kerry. Welcome back to "Meet the Press" -- four years ago you and I were in Madison, Wisconsin, just five days before the election, and I remember you saying to me, "No incumbent president who is below the 50-percent threshold has ever been reelected." Osama bin Laden came out with a tape that Friday, two days later, and then, of course, you lost the election to George Bush.

What is the cautionary tale, based on your own experience, for Senator Obama and his team, now with 48 hours to go?

SEN. KERRY: Well, the Obama campaign is practicing a cautionary lesson by working, working, working. I mean, the bottom line is you take nothing for granted, and I know that the candidate, every member of the campaign, and all of his supporters are taking nothing for granted. Presidential races tighten up, anyway. That year we had a particular event that pushed it, but I think everybody has to be very cautious here and simply work as hard as possible right up until 8:00 on Tuesday night.

MR. BROKAW: The McCain campaign does seem to be getting some traction -- how much, we can't say -- by attacking Senator Obama on taxes --


MR. BROKAW: His absence of experience, and he's never been tested. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the governor of California, was campaigning for Senator McCain in Ohio. Here is what Arnold had to say:

GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R-CA): (From videotape.) We are in a tough time right now -- Ohio cannot afford, America cannot afford, the economic proposals of Senator Obama. I tell you something, I left Europe four decades ago because of socialism has killed opportunities there.

MR. BROKAW: Do you sense that the campaign promises are slightly behind the curve of what is happening on the ground, in this economy, in this country, with the continuing meltdown, and that Senator Obama will have to defer any tax increases on those higher income groups?

SEN. KERRY: Certainly not on the highest income group. It is absolutely a certainty that 95 percent of all American families are going to get a tax cut of at least $1,000, and if we can pass health care, they'll lower the premiums to $2,500. You know, it's really interesting listening to Arnold and listening to Fred Thompson a moment ago. They are both trying to scare people. They are trying to use the time-honored tradition of the Republican Party in the last eight years to scare people. They want to take people backwards not forwards, Tom.

Barack Obama's campaign has been very clear about what it is fighting for. You never heard Fred Thompson mention the word "middle class," you never heard him offer one proposal for John McCain as to how he will deal with this economic crisis. You know, there have been two real presidential tests during this campaign.

The first was the choice of the vice president, and it is very clear John McCain went back on his own promises in the primaries, on Fred Thompson's own promises in the primaries, and chose somebody who has zero national security experience; who, by definition, is not ready to be president immediately, which is the very qualification John McCain set up secondly.

The second critical presidential moment was the economic crisis. On 15 September, John McCain said the fundamentals of our economy are sound. That was his judgment. Three days later he suspends his campaign and says it's the greatest economic crisis since World War II. He lurches erratically from one place to another, he doesn't offer any constructive suggestion as to what you do about it. Senator Obama did offer those. In fact, all four of his fundamental principles were passed by the United States Congress and put into effect.

So I think in the two critical presidential decisions in this campaign, Barack Obama has been calm and steady, and John McCain has been sort of erratic and, frankly, impulsive.

Now, come to the security issue -- Barack Obama has more security experience than Bill Clinton had when he became president. He has more security experience than Ronald Reagan had when he became president. And the fact is, it's not just time and a place. I love John McCain -- I've worked with him, I know him --

MR. BROKAW: You wanted him as your vice presidential candidate at one time.

SEN. KERRY: I wanted to talk to him about the possibility, but he was not willing to consider that, and that was the John McCain, incidentally, who had voted against George Bush's tax cuts calling them immoral and unaffordable. He had eloquently been the most powerful spokesperson against torture, because he himself had experienced it, and he's changed on all those things.

Now you have a Candidate McCain who wants to make the tax cuts permanent that we can't afford; who voted for George Bush's bill on torture, which sends a terrible message to the rest of the world. So -- just bottom line -- Barack Obama has offered a foreign policy that has shown judgment that is correct. And, in fact, McCain has been wrong again and again and again.

MR. BROKAW: Senator, as I go around the country, and I've been talking to a lot of voters from coast to coast and in the heartland and the large cities -- there is a lot of concern about one-party rule. It does appear that the Democrats could pile up a big majority. I just want to share with you what Charles Rangel, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, had to say. He argues that a President Obama would face a narrow window after the election to move on those big items -- health care and energy -- as well as his tax plan. That would raise the top two income tax rates, raise capital gains and dividend tax rates on upper income families and cut taxes on the middle class. "For God's sake," he said, "Don't ask me where the money will come from. I'm going to go to the same place that Paulson went." Is that responsible fiscal politics?

SEN. KERRY: I don't agree with all of that and nor does Barack Obama. Barack Obama is the person running for president, and he has made it very clear we're going to have to restore fiscal restore fiscal responsibility to Washington. Don't forget -- everybody in the country forgets this -- we Democrats are the ones who led the effort to balance the budget in the 1990s. We left George Bush with a $5.6 trillion surplus. They have now made a $10 trillion debt. We've borrow unbelievable sums of money from China, from India, and elsewhere, under a Republican administration. Talk about welfare and talk about socialism -- they're the ones who have created the situation where the government has had to bail out corporate America.

So I think Barack Obama has shown a responsible approach to how we're going to create jobs in America. Now, as to the management of the Congress -- my advice, if it was asked for, and I certainly, as a senator will weigh in, is we don't need to pass things by 51 votes or 60 votes. We need to build 85-vote majorities. And I am confident everything about Barack Obama's campaign has been inclusivity; has been reaching across the aisle.

General Colin Powell sat right here, an eloquent spokesperson and a respected figure in America, and said he thinks Barack Obama is ready to be president. An Eisenhower, a Reagan, a Chris Buckley, a Nixon, are all supporting Barack Obama, and he's going to govern in a way that brings the country together no matter what our majority -- he is going to seek to reach a broader consensus because that's the only way we can govern America at this time.

MR. BROKAW: Here is what your former colleague, Bob Carey, who shares a name with you, different spelling, had to say about one-party rule: "By my lights, the primary threat to the success of a President Obama will come from some Democrats who, emboldened by the size of their congressional majority, may try to kill trade agreements, raise taxes in ways that will destroy jobs, repeal the Patriot Act and spend and regulate to high heaven, to build up a political capital for the kinds of changes needed in these difficult times. Obama will need to communicate the following to Congress, in no uncertain terms -- the Democrats have not won a mandate for all their policies. Rather, the American people have resoundingly registered their frustration with the failed status quo, and the next president must chart a new left partisan course."

One of the primary and initial statements that Barack Obama makes, if he gets elected, is that he reaches across party lines and brings Republicans into his cabinet.

SEN. KERRY: Absolutely. And Bob Carey is correct in what he just said, and I am confident that a President Obama is going to reach across the aisle in many different ways, Tom. There is no way to govern at this point in time, but here is what's important: John McCain does not represent a break with George Bush. I mean, yesterday, he was endorsed by Dick Cheney. He earned that endorsement by supporting this administration 90 percent of the time.

And this has been one of the most divisive campaigns in history. John McCain ran -- you know, he announced for president saying he wanted this campaign to be about big ideas, and he wanted it to respect the American people's desire not to be negative. It's been the most negative -- 100 percent of his advertising is negative.

MR. BROKAW: But, Senator -- let me just ask you about advertising for a moment.


MR. BROKAW: Depending on your point of view, Senator Obama either changed his mind or broke his word when it came to public financing. He is outspending Senator McCain two to one. This campaign is going to cost more than $2 billion. Is this the end of public financing in America and will we --?

SEN. KERRY: I hope not, I hope not, but you have to fix the system, and I speak as somebody from experience, because I was forced to pull out of three states -- Colorado, Missouri, and Virginia -- three weeks before the election because the public financing system didn't give you enough money to compete.

Now, the American people, the people in those states deserved a presidential campaign that went to the end. What Barack Obama said, Tom, was that he would try to get the 527s out, and then they could reach an agreement. But John McCain hasn't gotten them out.

You know, when I ran for governor -- well, I ran for governor -- when I ran for reelection to the Senate against the governor of Massachusetts, we came to a mutual agreement where we limited the money we spent, but we did it by each keeping the 527s independent expenditures out.

So I think Barack Obama did the right thing because the American people deserve a race that can go to all of America and, secondly, he is not -- you know, he doesn't take lobbyist money. This isn't the fat cat Washington money. This is average Americans who come together in unprecedented numbers who are, in a sense, funding his campaign publicly.

MR. BROKAW: Well, he also has had 300 bundlers who have raised $500,000 -- that's $150 million. A lot of them came from Wall Street and from the upper reaches of American life.

SEN. KERRY: They have raised money, and that is something that happened under McCain-Feingold. They are allowed to do that, and we're living by the rules.

He wants to change those rules, and he's proven that he is a reformer with the talent and the ability to build a movement in this country to hold Washington accountable. This is a moment for change now, and I might add, you know, if John McCain were elected, you look around the world -- this is a man who is the biggest cheerleader for the war in Iraq, he was wrong about who is fighting whom -- Sunni, Shi'a, violence -- he was wrong about us being liberators; he was the first to stand on an aircraft carrier and say, "Next up -- Baghdad."

He cannot break the break we need from the Bush-Cheney years. We've got to have a fresh start for America. We need to move in a new direction, and Barack Obama brings us that.

MR. BROKAW: Finally, the last time you were here in August you sat next to Joe Lieberman. You've shared a party registration with him. At the end of a very spirited exchange, you turned your back on him, took off your microphone, and walked out of the room. Do you want Joe Lieberman to --

SEN. KERRY: Joe and I are friends who went to school together. We've talked many times since. I think I was in a rush to get an airplane but, I'll tell you --

MR. BROKAW: Do you want him in the Democratic caucus?

SEN. KERRY: I want him to be a Democrat, you bet.

MR. BROKAW: Are you going to get to 60?

SEN. KERRY: That's beyond my -- I can't -- I don't know. You know, we just have to work. We have to work for every vote. I'm not going to make predictions, but I'm very hopeful for Tuesday that we're really going to get the change America needs. The middle class needs to be represented in Washington, and we need to represent the people struggling to get into it, not the large corporations and the folks who have done so well these past years.

MR. BROKAW: Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts -- a Democratic presidential nominee in 2004. Thanks for being back on "Meet the Press."

SEN. KERRY: It's great to be back. Thank you for having me.

MR. BROKAW: Okay. Coming up next -- the final days of Decision 2008, our political roundtable -- David Broder, David Gregory, Michele Norris, and Chuck Todd -- only here on "Meet the Press."

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