National Journal's Linda Douglass sat down with Sen. Barack Obama. This is a transcript of their conversation.
Q: So, welcome to Senator Barack Obama. Welcome to "National Journal On Air." Let me start right away by asking you about the contrasts that you are drawing between yourself and Hillary Clinton. Her campaign people, the people who support her, say by calling her somebody whose word can't be trusted, by suggesting that she's disingenuous, that that's really a character attack -- that that's the very thing that you said you weren't going to do in this campaign.
Obama: Well, I strongly disagree. Look we are offering our plans for the future on health care, on education, on energy, and the American people have a right to judge how clear and how consistent have the candidates been in their positions. Because if they're not clear and consistent, then it's pretty hard to gage how much they're going to fight on these issues. You know, Senator Clinton says that she's concerned about Social Security but is not willing to say how she would solve the Social Security crisis, then I think voters aren't going to feel real confident that this is a priority for her. And that's the kind of leadership I think that the Democratic Party has to offer in the years to come.
Q: But do you think that voters should be concerned about whether she's telling the truth?
Obama: I think that the voters should be concerned that she is running the textbook, classic Washington campaign, which is to avoid giving clear answers and getting pinned down, for fear that somehow you're going to be tagged, either in the primary or the general election. I think that's an old way of doing business. I think that's the kind of politics that has lead to gridlock and an ineffective Washington. That's the kind of politics I want to change.
Q: Former President Clinton was comparing some of the criticism of her to the Swift Boat ads against John Kerry, to the ads that were run against the disabled Senator Max Cleland. How did you react to that?
Q: You know, some people say the Clintons will do whatever it takes to win. Do you think that's true?
Obama: Oh, you know, I think that they have been around this track a number of times before. I think they are tough competitors. I respect that. Look, we're running for the presidency of the United States of America, and there's going to be some rough-and-tumble involved in this primary. But I have not seen anything said during the course of this campaign, including statements that have been directed against me, that I think are in any way out of bounds or not appropriate questions for voters to be asking.
Q: You know, John Edwards is starting to draw very strong, clear contrasts between himself and you. Are you going to start drawing clearer, sharper contrasts between yourself and him?
Obama: Well, you know, I'm not sure that I've seen those contrasts drawn. I know that today in the New York Times he suggested that somehow he would be tougher with the corporate lobbyists that he's decried, and as I pointed out pretty clearly when I read that statement, he had six years to work on those issues in the United States Senate and did nothing about them. I've got a track record of having done something about them, and passed substantial legislation that curbs their influence. So, I don't just talk the talk, I've walked the walk -- something that John, I don't think, can claim. And I'm happy to have that debate with him.
Q: He's said that he's going to get all combat troops out of Iraq by the end of his first year in office and is challenging the rest of you to say what you're going to do. Would you do that? Would you get all combat troops out of Iraq by the end of the first year?
Obama: You know, John on this one I actually think has been either misinformed or isn't being entirely straight. I am committed to getting all of our combat troops out by 16 months. So he can say first year. I've said 16 months based on what the generals and commanders tell me can be done. And we are going to have still, I believe, the need to have some forces that are available to go after terrorist bases should they emerge in Iraq. Now if he doesn't think that's an important function, then I'm happy to have that debate. But be perfectly clear, I will bring this war to an end as quickly as can be done with the safety of the troops in mind, and my belief is that we can get that done in 16 months.
Q: What do you think is going to have to happen to change the dynamic in this race?
Obama: It's changed.
Q: How so?
Obama: Well, I think that over the last two weeks what you've seen is that there are some very clear differences between the candidates emerging. I think that voters here in the early states like Iowa are paying very close attention. We're in a dead heat, and we expect to do very well here. And I promise you after we've emerged from Iowa with some considerable success that that will further accelerate a changed view on the part of the national press about where this race is going.
Obama: I believe I can bring this country together in a way that she can't. I think that half the country has a set view of her, and if we can't get that half of the country engaged and involved in solving problems, they're not going to be solved.
I have a track record of changing how business is done in Washington and pushing against special interests -- something that she's shown no interest in doing. And I believe that I've got a track record of being clear and consistent with the American people about how I would approach problems that she has avoided. And that sort of truth-telling, I think, is going to be important for the next president of the United States.
I also believe that I can be a more effective agent of change in the diplomatic sphere in repairing the damage that's been done by George Bush, partly because I haven't fallen in to some of the conventional thinking that Senator Clinton did, which led her to authorize the war in Iraq and to at least give George Bush the benefit of the doubt when it came to his approach on Iran.
Q: But you also mentioned you might change the image of the United States in the world in the talk that you gave tonight.
Obama: Well, and I believe that's true. I think that the day I'm inaugurated, the world will look at America differently. America will look at itself differently. And that's more than just symbolic, that is political capital that can be used to make America safer, and to restore its standing in the world.
Q: Thank you, Senator Obama.
Obama: You're welcome.