Video: Obama on how to get out of Iraq

updated 4/2/2008 9:05:56 PM ET 2008-04-03T01:05:56
TRANSCRIPT

“Hardball with Chris Matthews” kicked off its 2008 college circuit today as the “Hardball College Tour” hosted Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama live from West Chester University of Pennsylvania.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST, HARDBALL:  Live from West Chester University outside Philadelphia, the “HARDBALL College Tour,” with our special guest, Senator Barack Obama!

(APPLAUSE AND CHEERS)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, D-IL, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  All right!

MATTHEWS:  Wow!

OBAMA:  How about that!

MATTHEWS:  Wow!

OBAMA:  Thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  One of the perks, Senator, of being president of the United States is that you have your own bowling alley.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Are you ready to bowl from day one?

OBAMA:  Obviously, I am not.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Ha!

OBAMA:  But I figure there might be some bowlers here at West Chester.

(APPLAUSE AND CHEERS)

OBAMA:  I just want to thank all of them for hosting us, Dr. Adler and all the students, so—this is a wonderful group.  Thank you so much for having me.

MATTHEWS:  I know you’re a pretty good b-ball player.

OBAMA:  Basketball I can play.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let me give you some good news.  This is good news.

I’m going to announce it here.  An endorsement from 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 AM phone call in the White House or the ramifications of NAFTA.  To us, the most important issue is 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 (ph)” magazine.

OBAMA:  That’s what I’m talking about.  That’s what I’m talking about.

(APPLAUSE AND CHEERS)

OBAMA:  That’s what I’m talking about.

MATTHEWS:  And now we play HARDBALL.

OBAMA:  Fire away.

Obama on Iraq
MATTHEWS
:  That was the warm-up.  How do we know that you’re tough enough to take the heat from the right, from the radio address (ph), 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.

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 it 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—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, then 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.

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?

OBAMA:  Absolutely.

(APPLAUSE AND CHEERS)

MATTHEWS:  And how many of you are for this gentleman?

(APPLAUSE AND CHEERS)

MATTHEWS:  And how many of you are for Hillary?

(APPLAUSE AND CHEERS)

MATTHEWS:  OK, fair enough.  What’s the difference between you?  I mean, this—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?

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 who 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 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 Shia 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 two 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 to us 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.

(APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS:  The way you tell it, 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?

OBAMA:  No, I don’t 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 a hundred years, if he had his way.  Now, he’s now arguing, Well, I didn’t mean that we would be fighting a war for a hundred 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 that’s money that could be spent giving college scholarships to all these young people.

(APPLAUSE AND CHEERS)

OBAMA:  It’s money that could be spent getting jobs here in America, rebuilding our infrastructure, as I’ve proposed.  But more importantly, it is—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.

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 Vertal (ph), a big industrial plant, build big things...

OBAMA:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  ... big jobs building trains, building subway cars and airplanes and provide for a whole family, get the kids through college, one guy working, one family member working.

OBAMA:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  Will we ever get back to those days?

OBAMA:  Well, 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.

And you know, 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 home owners 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...

MATTHEWS:  How about the previous administration?  How good was President Clinton in regulating the hedge funds?  Did he give them a free rein?

OBAMA:  Well, I—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...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  The Democrats, too?

OBAMA:  ... 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 mark 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...

MATTHEWS:  Like I-95 out here.

OBAMA:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  They got a little problem, you know, out here.

OBAMA:  And that puts people back to work.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

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 steel workers in those plants, making jobs.  That’s got to be the direction that we move on in the future.

MATTHEWS:  That’s out in Bucks County, right?

OBAMA:  Absolutely.

(APPLAUSE AND CHEERS)

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you—when we come back, I’m going to ask you

that’s the day job for the president.  I want to ask you what you’re going to be like at 3:00 o’clock in the morning when we get right back.

More with HARDBALL and Senator Barack Obama when we come back on the “College Tour,” West Chester University in Pennsylvania.

(APPLAUSE AND CHEERS)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  You’re watching the “HARDBALL College Tour” here at West Chester university, only on MSNBC!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You’re watching the “HARDBALL College Tour” here at West Chester university, only on MSNBC!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  You’re watching the “HARDBALL College Tour” here at West Chester university, only on MSNBC!

(APPLAUSE AND CHEERS)

Obama answers students' questions
MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to West Chester University outside Philadelphia.  The first question of the night.  Go ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  My name is Brittany Ransome (ph), and I’m a student here.  And in the past recent years, there have been some cuts in federal funding and student aid.  I would like to know personally what you plan on doing in increasing that aid for college students.

OBAMA:  Well, thanks for the question, Brittany.  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.

(APPLAUSE AND CHEERS)

OBAMA:  Number three—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.

(APPLAUSE AND CHEERS)

OBAMA:  So we’ll invest in you—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 loan institutions that are making billions of dollars off student loans.  That’s something that we’ve got to change.

(APPLAUSE AND CHEERS)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Hi.  My name is Shane Daniels (ph).  I’m interested in how has this campaign and the situation with your pastor affected your spiritual life?  And how will that influence your presidency?

OBAMA:  That’s an interesting question.  The—you know, I am—I am a Christian, and I pray every night.  And when you’re running for president, you pray even more.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA:  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’s OK, 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.
Video: Obama answers questions from students
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.  You know, 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 exists between the races.  And you know, my belief is that, you know, one of the important things about my Christian faith is that you forgive people.  You try to understand them.  And you know, ultimately, you know, the judge is going to be—God is going to be somebody who’s making judgments about many of these things.

(APPLAUSE AND CHEERS)

OBAMA:  So I’m going to stay focused on the job that I’m doing, and hopefully, you’ll pray for me, too.

(APPLAUSE AND CHEERS)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Hello, Chris.  Hi, Senator Obama.

OBAMA:  about many of these things.  So, I’m just going to...

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA:  ... stay focused on the job that I’m doing.  And—and, hopefully, you will pray for me, too.

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Hello, Chris.

Hi, Senator Obama.

I’m interested—I understand that you want to increase the teachers’ salaries, which I’m all for, since I will be a teacher.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  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.

OBAMA:  Well, the—I’m not in fair of merit pay as it is currently understood, which basically...

MATTHEWS:  Neither is that lady over there.

(LAUGHTER)

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 is 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.

I want to have...

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

OBAMA:  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 have done other things to improve their own professional development, that they can potentially get more pay.  I think that’s important.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS:  OK.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS:  We only have a couple seconds. Your question?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Yes.

Hi.  My name is (INAUDIBLE)

And as a type 1 diabetic, I was just wondering what you are going to do to gain further support for stem cell research and...

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 will do.  We just need one more vote, and that’s the vote of the president.  And since I will be the president, we will sign stem cell research.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS:  We are 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.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

Obama on 3 a.m. phone calls if elected
MATTHEWS:  Let me give you a scene that may face you in the next year or two, where the national security adviser calls you at 3:00 in the morning and tells that you a couple of jet—commercial jets have been hijacked.  And they believe it is 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?

OBAMA:  Well, look, I am hesitant to engage in hypotheticals like that, because...

MATTHEWS:  But it has been predictable.

OBAMA:  Oh, well, the—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 is, 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 vs. the potential benefits of it.  We want somebody who is going to be decisive.  And I won’t hesitate to strike against somebody who would do us harm, if that’s what is required.

But the most important thing that you need is somebody who is going to exercise good judgment.  And judgment is not simply a matter of sounding tough or talking tough.  It is a matter of weighing and making good decisions under stress.

And, if you think about, for example, John F. Kennedy, his biggest mistake was going ahead with military action that hadn’t been thought through. Video: Obama on 3 a.m. phone calls

MATTHEWS:  Right.

OBAMA:  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 have 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 is responsible, and weighs all the ramifications of action, and is based on the best available evidence, and not based on politics and ideology.

MATTHEWS:  Most people believe that the...

(APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS:  ... intelligence was corrupted in this administration, that it was manipulated—manipulated by civilians...

OBAMA:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  ... 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 twisted case made for whatever policy somebody is selling at the bureaucratic level?

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 are going to have a problem.

And that’s why I think it is 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—if they bring uncomfortable facts to the table, that somebody is going to listen to them, and they are not going to be punished for bringing bad news, that is how you actually end up making good decisions.

MATTHEWS:  Can you do this from day one?  Can you make sure that the intelligence agencies get that message fast?

OBAMA:  Absolutely.

I mean, I think one of the first things that you 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.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

Thank you very much.

We will be right back with Barack Obama with some personal questions.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

Obama gets personal
MATTHEWS:  We’re back.  I want to—this is a great audience, Senator Barama—I—Senator Barack Obama.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  This is a strange question, but everything is ethnic this year, so I will ask it.

What it’s like to be a black kid with a white mom?

OBAMA:  Well, I tell you what.  It is part of what America is about.

You know, we’re a melting pot.

And the...

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

OBAMA:  What it—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.

It is not just the fact that I have a black dad and a white mom.  It’s, I have got a sister who is half Indonesian, who is married to a Chinese Canadian.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA:  I have got a niece who looks like, you know, she’s all mixed up.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA:  And, you know, so when you get our family together—I have said this before.  I wrote a book.  I have got family members that look like Margaret Thatcher.  I have got family members that look like Bernie Mac.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA:  You know?  And, so what it does—what it means is, I—

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 thing.  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.

MATTHEWS:  When you—and everybody wants to know this stuff.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS:  See, the people here, the young people here, who are black don’t know what it is like to be white, and the white people don’t know what it is like to be black.  And you have a better look at that than anybody.

OBAMA:  Well, I think that, as I said before, people have a lot more in common than I think we give them credit for.

The—part of the problem is, our politics fans division.  It feeds on it.  It is not that it is not there already.  But, a lot of times, it is a convenient way to stir things up.  And one of the things that we have 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 have got to address some of that different history.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

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...

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA:  ... instead of based on who we are as Americans.

(APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS:  You know...

(APPLAUSE) 

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?

OBAMA:  No.  I—look, I think that—I think that...

MATTHEWS:  Are they playing that ethnic card?

OBAMA:  No.  Look, I think that’s fair game, 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, you know, I do think that it is important to keep things in perspective, and to remind ourselves that, over the last two weeks, we have marked the fifth anniversary of a war that has now lasted longer than World War I, World War II, and the Civil War.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

OBAMA:  I think it is 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, the people that are losing their homes. So, you know, my—the one thing I think about our politics that weneed to fix, aside from pushing the special interests that have come todominate Washington out, and let the American people back in, is alsonot to be distracted and to...

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 gaff 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.
Video: Obama gets personal

MATTHEWS:  That said, when you hear divisive language, whether from your preacher or from anyone else, why didn’t you walk out of that church?  When you heard that, what you called controversial language, why didn’t you go back and give him 27,000 dollars in contributions to your church.  Why did you just say, he’s on a different side of this fight than I am?

OBAMA:  I think that what has happened is we took a loop out of— and compressed the most offensive things that a pastor said over the course of thirty years, and just ran it over and over and over again.  There is that other 30 years.  I never heard him say those things that were in those clips.

MATTHEWS:  But you did say you heard him say controversial things.

OBAMA:  But I’ve heard you say controversial things.

MATTHEWS:  You didn’t give me 27,000 dollars either.

OBAMA:  The point is this is a church that is active in AIDS.  It’s active on all kind of thing.  And so this is a wonderful church.  But as I said, 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 host of issues.

MATTHEWS:  You know the Republicans will bring it back.

OBAMA:  Of course it will come back.  Of course the Republicans will bring it back.  The question is, what is actually going to make a difference in the lives of people who right now are on the verge of losing their home?  What is going to make a difference in their lives?

MATTHEWS:  When did you have your last cigarette?

OBAMA:  You know—

MATTHEWS:  Was that the last time you cried?  What was that like? 

Because that shows—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 to you and what advice can you give these kids?

OBAMA:  Don’t start.

MATTHEWS:  Don’t start.  What does it take, besides a lot of people watching you, in your case—

OBAMA:  Having your wife say on “60 Minutes” that if you see Barack with a cigarette, let me know.  That—

MATTHEWS:  No cheating.

OBAMA:  Well, you know—

MATTHEWS:  No cheating.

OBAMA:  I fell off the wagon a couple times during the course of it, and then was able to get back on.  But it is a struggle like everything else.  And I think that it is important to just keep in mind, I have 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 grand kids, and I want to set a good example for all these young people here, and I want to make sure 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.

MATTHEWS:  How many smokers are there here right now?  Smokers stand up.  Smokers stand up.  Come on.  Be honest.  Come on!  Smokers.

OBAMA:  All right, guys.

MATTHEWS:  Talk to these people.

OBAMA:  You need to get it straight.  You guys need get on the case.

MATTHEWS:  I applaud this school, a very low smoking school.  Or else a very dishonest school.  Let me ask you, any time in this campaign, did you have a chuckle that you just couldn’t get rid of?  Something weird that happened; it was so crazy that you just went to bed laughing about it.

OBAMA:  I think that happens once a day.  But then I stopped watching cable news.

MATTHEWS:  Oh.

I 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.  This is amazing to meet so many young people of different backgrounds, 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 it?  Did you learn anything or has it between fast?

OBAMA:  Well, it has been more confirmation of what I had hoped.  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 is the time for us to get involved.  I’ll be honest with you; I didn’t expect such an enormous wave.  We’ve seen record turnouts, record participation.

You had in Iowa—young people participated in the same rates as people over 60.  That’s unheard of in the annals of American politics.  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 thing happen.

Our problems always occur when nobody is 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.  We actually start solving problems.  That’s what I think we can do starting next year.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you.  We’ll be right back with more of Senator Barack Obama from West Chester University in Philadelphia.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

Obama on gay marriage, education
MATTHEWS
:  We’re back with the students at West Chester University.

Let me get it straight here.  You guys are unforgiving here.  A small technical error.  Let’s go to the first question.  

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Hi, Senator Obama.  My name is David Bernett (ph) and I just have a question for you, and that is where do you stand on gay marriage?

OBAMA:  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 is about 1,200 laws, rights and benefits that are not being given to same sex couples.  It is it is very important that those laws apply equally.  I think it is very important that we pass a human rights ordinance, like I passed along with another close sponsor in Illinois, to prevent discrimination in housing, in jobs.

I think young people are way ahead of the curve this issue.  And I think it is important for the rest of the country to catch up and make sure that everybody is treated the same regardless of sexual orientation.

MATTHEWS:  Isn’t it discrimination when you say people can’t get married?

OBAMA:  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.  

(INAUDIBLE)

OBAMA:  There you go.  And I think it is very important that the state makes sure that they are not denying the same kind 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 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.

MATTHEWS:  Next question.

Video: Obama on civil unions and education

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  My name is Tiara Smalls.  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?

OBAMA:  It’s a great question.  Part of what we have to do is start with the earliest years.  We’ve got to expand drastically early childhood education.  We’ve got—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 have books, making sure those children are getting regular check-ups, 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 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 investment, every dollar we invest in early childhood education, we get at leaf 10 dollars back in improved reading scores, reduced drop-out rates.  Then we have to improve K-12 education.  That primarily has to do with teachers, paying teachers more and giving them more professional development and support.

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, 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.  Matching them up with the possibilities of a career and a job there.  Or if they’re good manually, then getting them on 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 have a future that allows them to raise a family and live a productive life, I think most young people will see that.  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.

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?

OBAMA:  Well, if I have the most pledged delegates, meaning after all the votes have been cast in caucuses and primaries, if—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.

That’s not guaranteed and I don’t take it for grand.  But I think at that point, I will have shown myself to be the strongest candidate to run against John McCain.

MATTHEWS:  Is that the only legitimate result of this campaign?  The one who gets the most elected delegates is the nominee?  Could you imagine Senator Clinton being nominated in Denver in the last week of August, not having won the battle for elected delegates and you would support her?

OBAMA:  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. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you trust the Poobahs?

OBAMA:  What I know is that we’ve excited the electorate.  We’ve 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.

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.  Senator Barack Obama, thank you.

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