Video: Obama on campaign lies

By Keith Olbermann Anchor, 'Countdown'
updated 9/8/2008 8:44:40 PM ET 2008-09-09T00:44:40

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama talks with Countdown's Keith Olbermann about the attacks made by McCain and Palin on his campaign.

Below is a transcript of their conversation.

: Senator, thanks for your time.  I'm sorry I couldn't join you in person, but I had to update people on quarterback injuries or something like that.



OLBERMANN:  This is...

OBAMA:  Lousy day for quarterbacks.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, it is.  Brady is out.

This is more about campaign tactics to start with rather than issues.  But it seems sometimes like tactics have replaced issues altogether. "He fights pork barrel spending," said this new McCain/Palin ad, "she stopped the 'Bridge to Nowhere.'"

I mean, it sounds a little like "Remington Steele," but I'm confused otherwise.  As late as October of 2006, Mrs. Palin insisted to voters in Alaska that not only would she defend that infamous bridge, but she also said — and here's the quote — "She would not allow the spinmeisters to turn this project or any other into something that's so negative."

What are Sen. McCain and Governor Palin doing in this new commercial, do you think?

OBAMA:  They're not telling the truth.  You know, I mean, it's —I think we've all gotten accustomed to being able to spin things in politics.  But when you've got somebody who was for a project being presented as being against it, then that, you know, stretches the bounds of spin into new areas.

And you know, as far as John McCain is concerned, you know, I think that Sen. McCain has, on occasion, broken with his party, but this notion that, as he said at his convention, that he would tell the lobbyists that they're not going to be running Washington anymore, who is he going to tell, his campaign chairman, Charlie Black, his campaign manager, Rick Davis, two of the largest corporate lobbyists in Washington with client lists that extend into every major industry?

You know, there is just a sense that they're making these assertions that ignore the facts of their campaigns and their past history.  And I think people should be troubled by that.

OLBERMANN:  And Governor Palin hired a lobbyist to get earmarks to the tune of $27 million for a 6,000-person town which is — in its own scope, is kind of a neat trick, but it does seem to counterbalance the basic platform of the Republican Party.

You said that they're not telling the truth here, but when the stuff is a gross distortion, whether it's about their own positions or yours, or facts in your history or whatever, what can you do about it? And why do people hesitate to use the word "lie" about these things?

OBAMA:  Well, look, we have been very clear about the fact that this argument John McCain and Sarah Palin are making, that they are agents of change, just won't fly.  It defies their history and their background.  And we saw it in the convention that they wouldn't talk about the basic issues that are really going to make a difference in the lives of middle class families.

So you know, I'm happy to have legitimate policy debates with them on where we want to take health care, what we want to do about energy, what we want to do about education, what are we going to do about the war in Iraq.

But you know, for them to run an ad that basically doesn't present an accurate record of their positions on issues I think should raise some questions about how they would approach an administration.

OLBERMANN:  To something from your own convention, maybe the most compelling moment of your acceptance speech in Denver was that one strongly voiced word, "enough." A lot of people who have felt angry about what has been done to this country in the last seven or eight years have that same sense of urgency and simplicity to it.

Have you thought of using on the campaign trail and in your speaking engagements, more exclamation points?  Have you thought of getting angrier?

OBAMA:  Well, I'll tell you what, with two months to go, I think everybody needs to feel a sense of urgency.  You know, when I hear John McCain suggest that he is going to bring about change, I am reminded of the cartoon that Tom Toles did in "The Washington Post" where he has McCain say: "Watch out, George Bush, with the exception of the economy, tax policy, foreign policy, health care policy, education policy, and Karl Rove politics, we're really going to shake things up in Washington."

You know, the fact of the matter is, is that not only has John McCain agreed with George Bush 90 percent of the time, this is the party that has been in charge for eight years.  And they're now trying to run against themselves despite a few months ago having argued that — John McCain saying that, listen, I've been supportive of George Bush, boasting about it.

You know, I said, I think on Saturday in Indiana, the American people aren't stupid.  They are going to get it.  But we've got to make sure that we are being clear, not only that they will not bring about change, but the very specific kinds of changes we want to bring, in terms of green technology jobs in America, investing in our education system, making college more affordable, making health care accessible to every American, that contrast, if we go into November, with that contrast on the minds of the American people, I think we're going to do well.

OLBERMANN:  But clearly it must not be fully on their minds because the race is as close as it is.  And nobody's burst into laughter at the latest Republican ad, at least not many Republicans have.

Have the Republicans succeeded in muddying up this election in kind of overcomplicating it so the point is not as simple as you just made it.

Sixty years ago Harry Truman went out and campaigned very simply, looked out at people in trouble because of a Republican Congress at that point and the impact it had on their lives and he said, "How many more times do you have to be hit over the head till you figure out who's hitting you?"

I mean, has your campaign in some way not kept it that simple?

OBAMA:  You know, we've actually been driving this point home and I think the convention drove it home.  But look, the Republicans can't govern but they run smart campaigns and frankly, they are not always policed by the media as effectively as they should be.

I was struck with how little scrutiny some of the claims that John McCain and Sarah Palin were making, how little they were subjected to scrutiny coming out of the convention.  It's our job to press the point and make the case and I think that the Republicans have been pretty successful at working the refs during this game.

But yeah, I have confidence in the American people that if we just drum home the fact that the country is off course, that middle class families are struggling, your wages and incomes have gone down under George Bush.  Under Democrats, they went up.  Unemployment has gone up.  Unemployment was down under Bill Clinton.

If we just keep on being clear about how we are going to rebuild this economy, then I think we are going to end up winning this campaign.

OLBERMANN:  And there are extraordinarily large developments in terms of that economy.  Especially in the last couple of days, especially about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.  They were created as a kind of gentle encouragement by government to more home ownership, to make it more possible.

There is nothing gentle about it, it is now fully taxpayer funded subsidization of home interest rates and home ownership.  Should this be the way it is?  Is this a permanent solution or did we just add $5 trillion to the national debt?  What do we do now about this?

OBAMA:  Well, I don't think it's going to be $5 trillion.  That's the amount of debt that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are holding.  But a lot of those are good mortgages.  People are paying them.  We are going to see some losses.  Taxpayers are going to take a hit.  How big it is, we don't yet know.

And I have to be fair on this one.  Republicans and Democrats I think in Congress did not pay enough attention to the structural problem with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac which was, they are quasi public, quasi private institutions.  They are making big profits and their CEOs are taking in big bonuses when times are good.  But there is this implicit federal guarantee when times are bad.

And that was a structural problem that needs to be fixed.

But the problem of not regulating the financial markets effectively generally, not seeing that the subprime mortgage crisis was leading to a mess, not updating some of our financial regulations since the 1930s, that's been, I think, an example of the neglect on the part of the Bush administration over the last eight years whose view is basically anything goes and the government just has to stay out of the way.  That has ironically hurt the market and one of the things we have got to rediscover is a little bit of well-applied regulation and transparency and accountability actually helps the market, helps the economy grow.  And that's what I want to restore when I'm president.

OLBERMANN:  You pointed out last week how little time at their convention Republicans spent talking about the economy.  I think the time might have been zero, zero, zero.  I'm not sure.  We weren't running a clock.  But if the election does, in fact, hinge on the economy, on how Americans are doing, has there been thought given to breaking this down to its simplest element, in much the way one of the Republican icons, Mr. Reagan did during the 1980 campaign, and ask the voters if today, are you better off now than you were eight years ago?

OBAMA:  Oh, absolutely.  And I often do that on the campaign trail.  And we're going to just keep on repeating that.

I mean, this is — this should not be complicated.  Here's what it comes down to.  Under George Bush's stewardship, with an assist from John McCain and the rest of the Republican Party, the economy is weaker now than it has been in a very long time.  Unemployment is higher.  Poverty is higher.  More people are uninsured.  Wages and incomes have flat-lined.  Middle class folks who used to feel secure now feel unstable.  We've got more homes being lost to foreclosure than at any time since the Great Depression.

And John McCain does not have any discernible difference from George Bush when it comes to economic policy.  He's got the same economic policy.  So if you like what has happened under George Bush's presidency, you should vote for John McCain.  If you think that we have to move this country in a fundamentally different direction, then you should vote for me.  And that is going to be the case that we make throughout this election, and frankly, that's not the conversation that the McCain campaign wants to have.

Rick Davis was very explicit.  John McCain's campaign manager said this campaign is not going to be about the issues.  That was his assertion.  Well, I think that the American people expect it to be about the issues.  They deserve it to be about the issues.  That's what we're going to keep on pressing in the weeks that will remain.

OLBERMANN:  In terms of getting that and other messages out, Rachel Maddow wanted me to ask this question, so I'm doing this on her behalf, because her new show is starting tonight.  Given — given the tone that the campaign has taken, I mean, this Georgia congressman last week, Mr. Westmoreland, who called you and your wife, quote, "Uppity."  In that context, do you regret putting the brakes on the 527 groups who would have produced or could have produced hard-hitting ads that would have been sharing your sympathies?

OBAMA:  You know, I'll tell you what, Keith, I am confident that the American people, once the dust has settled, are going to say to themselves, "Do we really want to do the same thing we've been doing for the last eight years?  Or do we want something new?"  I think there's a genuine sense of anxiety out there, not just about immediate economic prospects but the sense that we are not living up to what's possible in America, that we're not delivering on the American promise.

And I think that understandably people are saying to themselves, gosh, we like Obama, we like his message, but we haven't known him that long, let's really lift the hood, kick the tires, you know, take them out and watch them work hard.

And you know, let's take a look at these debates and then we're going to make up our mind in mid-October.  And I think that by the time this thing is all over, the contrast is going to be clear and I believe the American people are going to make the choice for a new direction in the country.

And I'm looking forward to helping to lead that.

OLBERMANN:  One more campaign question.  It pertains to not knowing someone or something.  This is a question I have not really heard asked directly of anybody in a position perhaps to answer it, let alone answered.

In your opinion, is Governor Palin experienced enough and qualified enough to become president of the United States in the relatively short-term future?

OBAMA:  Well, you know, I'll let you ask Governor Palin that when I'm sure she'll be appearing on your show.


OBAMA:  But rather than focus on a resume, I just want to focus on where she wants to take the country.  As far as I can tell, there has not been any area, economic policy or foreign policy, in which she is different from John McCain or George Bush.

In many ways, in fact, she agrees with George Bush even more than John McCain.  So if John McCain agrees with Bush 90 percent of the time, maybe with her it's 97 percent.  And so my -- the thrust of our argument is going to be that the McCain/Palin ticket is offering the same stuff that has resulted in the middle class struggling, not seeing their incomes go up, seeing their costs go up, falling deeper into debt, at risk of losing their homes to foreclosure, unable to save or retire.

Those are going to be I think the issues that ultimately matter to the voters, and that's why I'm trying to offer to them a very clear set of prescriptions, very clear ideas about what we intend to do, how we want to change the tax code, stop giving tax breaks to companies that ship jobs overseas, give 95 percent of Americans tax relief.

Have an energy policy that is serious about climate change, is serious about weaning ourselves off of Middle Eastern oil, investing in solar and wind and biodiesel so we've got energy independence and creating jobs here in the United States, having a health care system that makes sure that we don't have 47 million people without health insurance.

That message of possibility is, I think, the one that the American people are looking for.

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