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'Meet the Press' transcript for May 25, 2008

Transcript of the May 25, 2008 broadcast of NBC's 'Meet the Press,' featuring David Brody, Maureen Dowd, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Gwen Ifill, Ruth Marcus and Jon Meacham.

MR. TIM RUSSERT:  Our issues this Sunday:  Explaining why she stays in the race, Hillary Clinton creates an uproar with these controversial comments.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY):  You know, my husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June...

Offscreen Voice:  June.

SEN. CLINTON:  ...right?  We all remember, Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California.

MR. RUSSERT:  This just days after Barack Obama claims a majority of the elected delegates.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL):  And you have put us within reach of the Democratic nomination for president of the United States of America!

MR. RUSSERT:  What role did race, gender and religion play in this campaign? John McCain deals with his pastor problem, releases his health records and visits with VP hopefuls.  And the nation hopes and prays for the senior senator from Massachusetts, Edward M.  Kennedy.

With us, David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network, Maureen Dowd of The New York Times, presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, Gwen Ifill of PBS' "Washington Week" and "The NewsHour," Ruth Marcus of The Washington Post, and Jon Meacham of Newsweek magazine.

And in our MEET THE PRESS Minute, Hamilton Jordan, the man who helped elect Jimmy Carter president of the United States, died this week at age 63.  He appeared right here on MEET THE PRESS July 22nd, 1979, the week Carter appointed him White House chief of staff.

But first, so this is what you all do on Memorial Day weekend, huh?

MS. GWEN IFILL:  Only if you ask.

MS. RUTH MARCUS:  Where's the barbecue?

MR. RUSSERT:  Everybody else is eating barbecue, we're talking politics.  But let's go right to it.

Hillary Clinton, South Dakota on Friday at the Argus Leader editorial board, a newspaper there, had this to say.  Let's watch.


SEN. CLINTON:  Between my opponent and his camp and some in the media, there has been this urgency to end this.  And, you know, historically that makes no sense.  So I find it a bit of a mystery.

Offscreen Voice:  You don't buy the party unity argument...

SEN. CLINTON:  I don't.

Voice:  ...for it?

SEN. CLINTON:  Because, again, I've been around long enough--you know, my husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June...

Voice:  June.

SEN. CLINTON:  ...right?  We all remember, Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California.  You know, I just--I don't understand it.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  The Obama campaign quickly responded.  Bill Burton, the campaign spokesman, saying this:  "Senator Clinton's statement before the Argus Leader editorial board was unfortunate and has no place in this campaign." Shortly thereafter, Hillary Clinton sought out the TV cameras to make an apology.  Here's what she said.


SEN. CLINTON:  I, you know, regret that if my referencing that moment of trauma for our entire nation and particularly for the Kennedy family was in any way offensive.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Robert Kennedy's son, RFK Jr., issued this statement:  "It's clear from the context that Hillary was invoking a familiar political circumstance in order to support her decision to stay in the race through June.  ...  I understand how highly charged the atmosphere is, but I think it is a mistake for people to take offense." Kennedy is a Clinton supporter. Michael Goodwin, of the New York Daily News, the home state paper of Senator Clinton, had a much different view.  Here he wrote this on Saturday.  "Her colossal blunder simply the last straw.  We've seen an X-ray of a very dark soul.  One consumed by raw ambition to where the possible assassination of an opponent is something to ponder in a strategic way.

"Many black Americans have talked of it, reflecting their assumption that racists would never tolerate a black president and that Obama would be taken from them.

"Clinton has now fed that fear.  She needs a very long vacation.  And we need one from her.

"Say good night, Hillary.  And go away." Very complicated, controversial subject.

Doris Kearns Goodwin, your take.

MS. DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN:  Well, neither historical parallel that she offered were true, because Clinton had already sewed up the nomination by June, and in Bobby Kennedy's case, he'd only gotten into the race like six weeks prior to his assassination.  I don't think she even needs to argue.  She should acknowledge that party unity probably is hurt, but that this election is so unique that having more people vote and more people registered and more people excited is worth taking it to June.  The problem is that the argument that the Clintons supporters have sometimes made is the superdelegates shouldn't even decide in June.  They should wait until August, end of August, because who knows what might happen in the summer--a gaff, another pastor coming out of the woodwork, or, God forbid, what this thought suggested.  And I think once it played into that, it became much more troubling.

MR. RUSSERT:  Maureen Dowd, raising the notion, specter of assassination, how has this played out within the Democratic Party, within the electorate?

MS. MAUREEN DOWD:  Well, I think her timing was excruciatingly bad.  I mean, right after the anniversary of King's death, right before the anniversary of Bobby's death, right when we learn the tragic news about Teddy Kennedy, and right when she and Bill seem engaged in kind of a hostile takeover of Obama's vice presidential mansion.  So, beyond that, I think it gave delegates and a lot of Democrats the creeps, because basically the only reason she is still is in the race is that something bad will happen.  Of course she doesn't wish him bodily harm, but she does want--she does wish him ill in the sense that they want a big horrible story that would debilitate him to break.

MR. RUSSERT:  Gwen Ifill.

MS. IFILL:  One of the things we should learn from the last couple of weeks, first with what President Bush talking about appeasement and then this week the assassination comment is never talk about Hitler in politics and never talk about assassination in politics.

MS. DOWD:  Exactly.

MS. IFILL:  Exactly.  Why would you even suggest it?  And the backdrop is what's important.  There's probably no one who's ever been in a room with Barack Obama at one of these huge rallies or even just seen a photograph of it where it hasn't crossed their mind, if you're of a certain age and survived and lived through these assassinations and assassination attempts.  So the question with, with the Clintons especially is we know that they are wordsmiths, that we know that they very carefully think about what it is they say.  She's said this several times before.  And so you have to think what do they think people would think?  We've heard her campaign spokesman say things like, you know, "Who knows what could happen?" Well, they could suspend their campaign and still come back if something happened.  That's not what she's arguing.  And so, you know, unfortunately, it poked a sore that, that keeps existing throughout this campaign, and it, and it never is going to go away. A lot of women feel that sores have been poked and a lot of African-Americans feel sores have been poked.  The future of party unity lies in them not continuing to reopen these scabs.

MR. RUSSERT:  Doris raised the second piece of Senator Clinton's comment about Bill Clinton still, in effect, contending for the nomination well into June.  And on April 8th, 1992, right after the New York primary, many political observers said the race was over.  Here's one on the "Today" show 16 years ago.

(Videotape from "Today")

MR. RUSSERT:  I think Bill Clinton's the nominee of the Democratic Party.

Mr. BRYANT GUMBEL:  Plain and simple.  Period.

MR. RUSSERT:  Absent major scandal.  He survives the minor ones pretty well. He only needs every other delegate from here on out.  Jerry Brown could win every delegate between now and the end of the primary season and he still would still mathematically not have enough delegates.  Clinton has a lock on this.

Mr. GUMBEL:  But have...

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Now, back then the Clinton campaign thought I was a mathematical genius.  I knew how to add.

Jon Meacham, the fact is that Bill Clinton, at that point, had three times as many delegates as anyone else.


MR. RUSSERT:  He had locked down the nomination in April of 1992.

MR. MEACHAM:  Right.  It is a technicality that I think probably President Reagan didn't ultimately get the number you needed until June.  It's kind of irrelevant.  It depends on--to use another Clintonism--what's the meaning of June?  Because clearly things are moving in Obama's direction.  The Clinton campaign privately will, with great anguish in their voice, acknowledge that. The candidate may not.  But I think this is a great example of what our colleague Michael Kinsley called a gaff in Washington.  It's when someone tells the truth by accident, and I think this is exactly what Maureen and Gwen were saying.  It's not that she wishes him bodily harm, it is that she is counting on cataclysm.  And at this point, at this hour in, you know, Memorial Day, you do wonder whether this is ultimately good for a party that, by every mathematical and every atmospheric measure, should be burying John McCain in the polls.  I have something I keep trying to call the new misery index--it's not catching on as it, as it should.  So try for me.

MS. IFILL:  Here we go!

MR. MEACHAM:  Here we go--which is, if you add up the wrong track number with--the people who think the country's on the wrong track--with the number of people who disapprove of the president's performance, it's 152 percent. That's a pretty tough thing for a Republican.  It's hard to imagine a worse year for a Republican to run.  And yet he's running even with both Clinton and Obama.  I wonder if Senator Clinton may not go down in a way as President Reagan, Governor Reagan did in 1976 and Senator Kennedy did in 1980, as someone who ran a very strong primary challenge, but who ultimately did represent one of the reasons the party lost in November.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let's look at the latest delegate count.  These are both pledged delegates and superdelegates.  Obama, here's the total on the board, 1971.5; Clinton, 1784.5.  That's 187 lead for Barack Obama.  There are only 86 delegates available in Puerto Rico, South Dakota and Montana.  If you assume they split those, 43 apiece or thereabouts, Obama would be within about 12 delegates, a dozen delegates, of securing the nomination.  If you introduce Florida and Michigan, say there's a settlement on seating those delegations, half of them--for conversation's sake--he'd need about 50 of the superdelegates out of a pool of 250.

David Brody, you've been covering this race.  Is it over?

MR. DAVID BRODY:  Well, it's very close.  I mean, she needs, with all apologies to Doris, you know, a Bill Buckner moment.  I mean, you know, in 1986, the ball needs to go through the legs.  Clearly, that's part of it, and we've talked about that here.  But let's also remember something else.  I mean, this is another sports analogy.  You know, at the end of the game where they keep calling time outs in basketball to let, let, let the other team shoot free throws and hopefully miss?  I mean, that's what it is about, it's elongating the game here a little bit.  And if she can do that--because, let's remember, it's not just the Clinton campaign trying to come up with something on Obama, it's also now the McCain camp as well.  There's two oppo-research teams here going.  So double the odds, potentially.  I mean, she's got to, she's got to look at something here.

MR. RUSSERT:  Ruth Marcus, question is, Hillary Clinton, how would this affect her chances if, in fact, she wants to be vice president.  Time magazine wrote this:

"What will Clinton's" term of surrender be--out--"terms of surrender turn out to be?  Her husband, for one, seems to have a pretty clear idea what he thinks she should get as a consolation prize.  In Bill Clinton's view, she has earned nothing short of an offer to be Obama's running mate, according to some who are close to the former president.  Bill `is pushing real hard for this to happen,' says a friend." Which triggered this headline in the New York Post: "Man and Vice:  Calls for an Obama-Hill union surge" on the wedding cake. What has her comments in South Dakota done to that discussion?

MS. MARCUS:  Not so good.  I think if that's the goal, this was a bad way to get there.  I would differ a little bit from some of the people around the table who thought this was intentional and raising a specter.  I don't see the political advantage for Senator Clinton in having said what she said.  The way I see it is, if you take exhaustion and you add a very heavy dose of self-pity, because she does believe that she's being elbowed out of the race, and even though the historical examples are, in fact, not true that June is the regular month for having races decided in the Democratic primary, if you add the exhaustion and the self-pity, you're going to get dumb remarks.  I think this was a dumb remark.

MS. IFILL:  That she said in March to Time magazine.

MS. MARCUS:  That she said in March to Time magazine.  I think there was elements of self-pity going on then.  I just don't see what she hoped to gain, and I think, to get back to Tim's question, she has a good deal to lose, both in the question of whether she and/or her husband would like to be the vice presidential candidate, and in terms of her future standing in the party. Because one of the things that's in, I believe, her mind, and certainly in the mind of her advisers is how this ends and how it ends in a way that leaves her looking good as she exits the stage for right now.

MR. RUSSERT:  Doris, in Boca Raton on Thursday, Barack Obama was asked about vice president, specifically about Hillary Clinton, and here's his answer, which talks about you.


Unidentified Man:  When the time comes, will you be willing to consider everybody who is a possible help to you as a running mate, even if his or her spouse is an occasional pain in the butt?

SEN. OBAMA:  I, I--well, look.  Well, look, look, look.  The--we've got a little more work to do.  So I don't want to jump the gun.  I will tell you, though, that my goal is to have the best possible government.  And that means me winning.  And so I am very practical-minded.  I'm a practical-minded guy. And, you know, one of my, one of my heroes is Abraham Lincoln.  And a while back there was a wonderful book written by Doris Kearns Goodwin called "Team of Rivals," in which--talked about how Lincoln basically pulled in all the people who had been running against him into his Cabinet because whatever, you know, personal feelings there were, the issue was how can we get this country through this time of crisis?  And I think that has to be the approach that one takes.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Who did Lincoln take into his Cabinet?

MS. KEARNS GOODWIN:  Lincoln took all of his chief rivals into his Cabinet--Seward, Chase and Bates.  He also took Stanton in, who had called him an ape, who had said terrible things about him, much worse than Clinton has ever said about Obama.  But what it showed--and I think that's what Obama is suggesting--is that he was big-hearted enough, he was confident enough not to have to have just people who would be his personal supporters and not question his authority.  And I think what Obama is saying is if this person can help me win this election, fit the jigsaw puzzle pieces together, she has one part of the map, I have another, I can rise above those personal feelings.  But I suppose--and Lincoln put it in noble fashion, he said, "Look, people are wondering why have I done this?  First of all, the country's in peril.  These are the strongest and most able men in the country.  I need them by my side." But perhaps my old buddy Lyndon Johnson might have put it in less noble fashion, "better to have your enemies inside the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in."

MR. RUSSERT:  I just heard the beep.  Like keep your enemies closer?

MS. KEARNS GOODWIN:  Keep your enemies closer.

MS. DOWD:  Both of them?

MR. MEACHAM:  I like the way Doris says it.


Ruth Marcus suggested Hillary Clinton--self-pity, angry.  One of the things that she's been talking about over the last week or so is sexism.  This is what she said to The Washington Post, Lois Romano, and here's an audio recording.

(Audiotape, May 18, 2008)

SEN. CLINTON:  The manifestation of some of the sexism that has gone on in this campaign is somehow more respectable, or at least more accepted.


SEN. CLINTON:  And I think there should be equal rejection of the sexism and the racism when...


SEN. CLINTON:  ...and if it ever raises its ugly head.

MS. ROMANO:  Mm-hmm.

SEN. CLINTON:  But it does seem as though the press, at least, is, is not as bothered by the incredible vitriol that has been engendered by the comments and the actions of people who are nothing but misogynists.

(End audiotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  "Nothing but misogynists." Bill Clinton weighed in on Tuesday.


FMR. PRES. BILL CLINTON:  I don't think there's any question there have been moments in this campaign when the sort of gender bias and presuppositions have come out.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Maureen Dowd, "misogynist," "gender bias," it seems as though the Clintons are being--trying very hard to lay that out as a premise for Hillary Clinton's difficulties in this primary contest.

MS. DOWD:  I think it's poppycock, really.  I mean, Hillary Clinton has allowed women to visualize a woman as president for the first time, in the way Colin Powell allowed people to visualize an African-American.  And she dominated the debates, she, she proved that a woman can have as much tenacity and gall as any man on earth.  We, we can visualize her facing down Ahmadinejad.  But the thing is, Hillary hurts feminism when she uses it as opportunism.  And she has a history of covering up her own mistakes behind sexism.  She did it with health care right after health care didn't pass.  She didn't admit that she was abrasive or mismanaged it or blew off good advice or was too secretive.  She said that she was a Rorschach test for gender and that many men thought of a female boss they didn't like when they looked at her. And now she's doing the same thing, and it's very--you know, in a way it's the moral equivalent of Sharptonism.  It's this victimhood and angry and turning women against men and saying that the men are trying to take it away from us, in the same way she's turning Florida and Michigan and riling up and comparing them to suffragettes and slaves.  And it's very damaging to feminism.

MR. RUSSERT:  Ruth Marcus, you wrote a piece in The Washington Post on Wednesday which I'd like to share with our viewers and our roundtable.

"Hillary Clinton isn't going to be elected the first female president--not this year, anyway.  The reasons for this outcome have gratifyingly little to do with her gender.  ...

"The notion that Clinton was the victim of unrelenting, vicious hatred because she is a woman--is it safe to call this reaction overwrought?  Clinton managed to win more votes than any primary candidate in either party ever had before. It's hard to square that result with the notion that her candidacy exposed a deep vein of misogyny.  ...

"From a feminist perspective," Clinton, "Clinton's was not a perfect candidacy.  Part of this stems from a fact outside Clinton's control, that her route to power was derivative, the Adam's rib outgrowth of her husband's career.  Hillary Clinton had been elected to the Senate, twice, in her own right, but the fact that her road to the White House involved standing by her man, no matter how badly he behaved, made her a flawed vessel for the feminist cause.

"And Clinton's least attractive campaign moments came when she took up the gender card and chose to play it as victim instead of a trailblazer.  The notion that the male candidates were ganging up on her because she is a woman instead of--remember back when?--because she was the front-runner was silly. The complaint that asking her the first question in debates was evidence of a double standard was even sillier."

And your same Washington Post, Marie Cocco disagreed.  She offered this: "There are many reasons Clinton is losing the nomination contest, some having to do with her strategic mistakes, others with the groundswell for `change.' But for all Clinton's political blemishes, the darker stain that has been exposed is the hatred of women that is accepted as a part of our culture."

MS. MARCUS:  Well, I think I would look at it at, the question being "Are women in politics better off than they were eight months ago?" And I think Senator Clinton's candidacy has proved actually that they're much better off, for some of the reasons that Maureen said.  She has shown you can be tough. She has shown that you could be tough, but also be human and show a little bit of emotion without getting elbowed out of the race.  She's shown that you can be a little bit playful and call yourself a girl, but that there's also no question she's outwonked everybody on the campaign trail.  She's as tough as any man on the campaign trail.  I think that, while she is not going to be the first woman president, at least not this year, that she's really plowed the field very well for the next candidates who come along.

That isn't to say that there haven't been moments that are ugly, that are offensive.  Some people in our profession have said things that are regrettable.  Other, you know, the famous Hillary "Nutcracker" is regrettable. But overall, I think there's been relatively little of that.  And I think, overall, if you look at the composition of the Democratic electorate, you have to see that Senator Clinton's been helped by her gender and not hurt by it.

MR. BRODY:  Plus, I would also say that, you know, this is also bad timing for her, too.  I mean, it's coming at the end of a campaign, and so that's a problem.  So have there been incidents?  Sure, there have been incidents.  But at the same time, when you look at the timing of it, it comes across as a little, for lack of a better word, whiney, and that's not where she wants to be right now.

MS. MARCUS:  Unh-unh, danger.  Whiney.

MR. BRODY:  Yeah.  Well, and I said for lack of a better word.  I'll rethink that word here in a little bit.

MS. MARCUS:  I had said overwrought.

MR. BRODY:  Yeah.  Right.

MS. MARCUS:  So I guess you get whiney.

MR. BRODY:  But, but clearly, but clearly, let me quickly think of another word.

MR. RUSSERT:  I knew I shouldn't have invited two men.

MR. BRODY:  But I, I would say either way, I mean, that, that goes for both male and female.

MS. IFILL:  I'd say...

MR. RUSSERT:  You know--go ahead, Gwen.

MS. IFILL:  Just something, keep in mind what her audience is at this stage. Her audience, assuming she's trying to get out of this campaign with something intact and with some sort of power base intact, her audience is the truly, deeply angry women out there, who I run into, and I know who you hear from, who say, "How could you do this to us?  We"--I, I talk to a woman who said she had planned a dance at an inauguration of the first woman president before she died, and now she'll never be able to do it.  They believe that Hillary Clinton is not the beginning of the road, but the end of the road for women in--and--with a shot at the White House.

My thinking is, we didn't know two years, or we never heard of, a couple years ago that Barack Obama would be in this position.  We didn't know eight years ago that she was going to be in the Senate.  So things change a lot.  But the despair and the anger and the fury about this is real.  And that's what she's speaking to.

MS. GOODWIN:  But, you know, despair and sadness is understandable, but resentments, when you let resentments fester, I think it poisons a part of you.

MS. IFILL:  Mm-hmm.

MS. GOODWIN:  And what you don't want women to take away, instead of seeing her as a champion who actually did some great things for women, see her instead as a victim, it doesn't help the next women coming along.  So I just wish those resentments could go on--could go away.

MR. RUSSERT:  In The Wall Street Journal, a Professor Donald Boudreaux from George Mason University, said he's not a Democrat or Republican, but he's just watching and listening, and that this is a Democratic primary that we're talking about where Hillary Clinton carried white men, and if she thought she encountered sexism in a Democratic primary, then how can she say she's a stronger candidate in the general election, where she's going to deal with independents and Republicans, which might have even a more pronounced attitude towards Hillary Clinton?

MR. MEACHAM:  No, absolutely.  Senator Clinton and Senator Obama and Senator McCain, I think, are--to use business speak--stand-alone brands, in many ways. It's why I don't think the "this is the third Bush term" argument ultimately will work, because McCain seems like a public figure in his own right.  The other important--two quick things.  One is, Senator Clinton can run until Labor Day if she wants, you know?  No, no one's--she keeps talking about people forcing her out.  It's a democracy.  She's running, she's winning the popular vote, God go with her.  So that's, that's that.  The other thing that's important, I think, for all of us, and the press in particular, to remember is you can be for a female president or for an African-American president or for a Latino president and be against Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama or Bill Richardson or whomever.  One of the great things, I think, about this election is, while these issues are live, important and real, the issues of identity, you can, I think, oppose these folks on meritorious grounds and not be somehow consigned to a hopeless retrograde category.

MR. RUSSERT:  Just to put facts in their perspective.  David Brody, on Tuesday you wrote about what actually launched Barack Obama, and it was Iowa--when you saw him back in Iowa giving his victory speech the other night, you went back to January 3rd and you wrote this:  "As I watched Obama's speech [Tuesday in Iowa], I couldn't help but think ...  if and when Obama goes on to win the nomination, he can look back to his victory in Iowa as the turning point.  It was that victory, in snowy white Iowa where a black man won.  At that point, African-Americans across the country started to really believe what--that Obama could win.  What happened?  South Carolina became a, became a blowout."

Just go back and look at these numbers.  This is December, the Democratic primary race:  Clinton, 45; Obama, 27; Edwards, 15.  Cash on hand:  Clinton, nearly 38 million; Obama, 18.6.  That's the end of 2007.  Here's South Carolina in July of '07:  Clinton, 43; Obama, 27; Edwards, 17.  Amongst African-Americans:  Clinton, 52; Obama, 33; Edwards, 5.  After Iowa, Obama won north--South Carolina 55-to-27, he carried blacks 17--78-to-19, which changed the whole dynamic of the campaign.  It was Hillary Clinton who had said this back in December:  "I have a campaign that is poised and ready for the long term.  We are competing everywhere through February 5th.  ...  So I'm in it for the long run.  It's not a very long run.  It'll be over by February 5th."

MS. MARCUS:  Oops.

MR. RUSSERT:  That was the strategy.  That was the strategy, Maureen Dowd.

MR. BRODY:  Oh, well, I was, I was, I was just going to say quickly on Iowa, I mean, it goes back to Iowa and that the Clinton campaign readily admits that they, they blew it when it came to the caucus strategy.  I mean, they just did.  And from Iowa what happened was is look what happened in South Carolina, where we saw so many African-Americans say, "You know what?  He won in Iowa. Well, wait a minute here." And it changed the whole complexion of the race. So it was the caucus strategy that really was a problem for the Clintons since day one.  They recognize it internally, and now they're having to deal with the fallout from it.

MR. RUSSERT:  And at a time when sexism and misogyny and gender was not being talked about as a detriment to the campaign.

MS. DOWD:  Yeah.  It's inexplicable, because Harold Ickes, who works for Hillary, helped write these rules, right, about the caucuses.  So I, you know, the--there's--Michelle Cottle has a piece in The New Republic quoting different people anonymously inside the Clinton campaign about saying what went wrong, and one of them said that the mismanagement of money borders on fraud, because this was someone who had raised a quarter of a billion dollars and still now has had to give 20 million of her own money because of mismanagement and still didn't have a campaign in half the states she needed.

MS. MARCUS:  And the...

MS. IFILL:  And the other thing those numbers kind of explode is the notion that black voters were always on board for the black candidate out of race pride.  Black voters got on board for Barack Obama after it looked like he could win.  It was really very simple, and it was pretty much the same.  Maybe there was some race pride that kicked in later, but in all of the analysis, we, we tend to say, "Oh, well, we know black voters were always going to vote for Barack Obama," and that's not--just not true.

MR. RUSSERT:  Did some of the comments of Bill Clinton add fuel to that?

MS. IFILL:  Oh, yes.  I think we can, I think we can safely assert that they didn't help, yes.

MR. RUSSERT:  We're going to take a quick break and come back and talk about the role of race in this campaign, the role of faith.  The cover of Newsweek magazine, Jon Meacham, as you know, is race.  And John McCain, his VP visits out in Arizona.  A lot more coming up in a special edition of MEET THE PRESS, right after this.


MR. RUSSERT:  An incredibly busy week, the race for the White House.  Much, much more from our roundtable after this.


MR. RUSSERT:  And we're back.  Let's show the cover of Newsweek magazine, and there it is, Obama on the cover, talking about the issue of race.

Jon Meacham, based on your reporting, on the polling you did, a simple question that leads the Newsweek Web site, "Is America ready for a black president?"

MR. MEACHAM:  In theory yes, in practice it's a toss-up.  In theory, 70 percent of Americans, American voters, say they are ready.  That's up from 37 percent just eight years ago.  And yet, when you then go to specifics, Senator Obama is running even with Senator McCain.  He--our pollsters polled a--went inside the numbers and looked at white Democrats who scored fairly high on something they called the racial resentment index.  People expressing some hostility toward racial questions.  Thirty percent, 29 percent of white Democrats fell into the high category there.  And, of those folks, nearly twice as many were ambivalent, obviously, about Senator Obama as for Senator Clinton.  And so you have a large number of people who are, in fact, still affected by the issue of race.  To my mind it is one of the great questions of the campaign.  It is very difficult to talk about.  It makes white people very queasy and...

MS. IFILL:  Black people, too.

MR. MEACHAM:  Black people, too.  I wasn't going to...

MS. IFILL:  I'll speak for them.

MR. MEACHAM:  Well, I was--we were joking earlier, I was going to say, "As a white Southerner, I have these important views."

I think it's--I think we have to talk about it.  And I know the Obama campaign doesn't love it, to put it mildly, but you look at the results in Kentucky, you look at the results in West Virginia, this is--it's still a, it's still a big deal.  And again, to go back to where--why isn't McCain at 30 percent in the polls, it's partly because both Senator Clinton has her issues and Senator Obama has his issues.  Is it entirely racial?  No.  But is it clearly a factor?  I think it would be foolhardy and naive of us to act as though his race is not a factor going forward.

MR. RUSSERT:  In Kentucky and West Virginia, Gwen, people who said race was important to them, they voted overwhelmingly against Barack Obama.  On the other hand, in states like Virginia and Iowa and Wisconsin, overwhelming numbers of white Democrats embraced Barack Obama.

MS. IFILL:  I want to revise and extend my remarks.  Black people are not queasy about talking about race, they're only queasy when we talk about it with white people who are queasy about talking about it.  Because it's part of our lives.  We have to think--it comes out of the filter of everything we talk about.  I've always found it interesting when--especially in this latest kind of conversation about gender that we've been having.  You know, these same exit polls that show that people vote against the black candidate who say that race matters to them, show that people vote for the woman candidate who say that gender matters, which means that gender is a positive.  The difficulty throughout this campaign, Barack Obama's, has, has been trying to figure out how he draws that line.  Some people ask me, "Why, why do you call him black? Why don't you call him biracial, that's what he is." Well, he is what he defines himself as.  But then, if he defines himself as African-American, he then has to take on all the baggage that comes with that, which I, I think that Newsweek does a service to try to peel back what people really mean when they say these things.  So not only has he had this two steps forward, three steps back in this campaign--primary campaign, talking about race, in which he really only gave that big race speech when forced to turn a corner under--after Jeremiah, Jeremiah Wright.  But it's only going to get to be a bigger and more important conversation as we go forward into the general.

MR. MEACHAM:  We get a--we have a good piece, open letter to Obama from Harold Ford, the congressman from Tennessee who very nearly won a Senate race there in 2006, in which he talks about "just get out and let them meet you. Walk across Kentucky, walk across West Virginia." Because I think, as we all know in our own lives, it's harder to caricature someone whom you've actually spoken to or whom you actually know.  Complexity in this case, I think, is Senator Obama's friend.  And the more he can show that he is a man of parts, the more Americans will make a more rational political decision.

MS. IFILL:  And where should John McCain walk across?  Which state should he be walking across?

MR. MEACHAM:  There are a lot of states.

MS. IFILL:  Yeah.

MR. MEACHAM:  But I think he--but, but McCain is a slightly better-known national figure.  I mean, he has been in national life, more or less, for 30 years.

MS. KEARNS GOODWIN:  I think you're right.  I mean, I think his life story is so compelling, and many people don't know it.  One of the comments in your article, somebody said, "He's not real.  He's not an American." Which means they don't know about the fact that he has a white mother, a black father, grandparents who fought in the war.  When that life story becomes known, he will not seem too--you know, too different, as he seems right now.

MR. RUSSERT:  One of the other issues...

MS. KEARNS GOODWIN:  At least that's the hope.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...he's dealing with is faith.  All these Internet rumors rampant "He's a Muslim, he's a Muslim, he's a Muslim." Well, he's a Christian and, and was baptized very publicly in the Trinity Church in Chicago.

David Brody, you unveiled this flyer in Kentucky:  "Barack Obama for President.  My faith teaches me I can sit in church and pray all I want, but I won't be fulfilling God's will unless I go out and do the Lord's work." Obama openly professing his belief in Jesus Christ, as a candidate and comfortable in talking about it.

MR. BRODY:  Very comfortable.  And the real untold story of this campaign from a faith perspective is what the Obama campaign is doing all across this country with the religious outreach programs.  I mean, this weekend they're in Montana, and they're having faith and value discussions--family, faith, value discussions about Barack Obama's faith and all of this other stuff that is in homes across this country; that they're actually having 20 to 30, sometimes a hundred people or so gathering around family rooms, you know, just living rooms and talking about this.  You know, John McCain is not doing that.  You know, their religious outreach team is more talking to national religious leaders and, and like.  But the--but Joshua DuBois and some of the--that's the religious outreach director for the Obama campaign--I mean, they have been on this for a year.  They did it in Iowa; we were with them there.  And this is very important because, at the end of the day, they--what Jon, you were talking about, that they need to go ahead and walk with these folks all across the country, and, and they are doing that.  And they're doing it from a faith perspective.

MS. IFILL:  But after a year, the Newsweek poll shows, what, 58 percent say he's Christian, 22 percent say they don't know what he is, 11 percent still say Muslim.  But after a year, the Newsweek poll shows, what, 58 percent say he's Christian, 22 percent say they don't know what he is, 11 percent still say Muslim.  This is after a year of that.

MS. DOWD:  That's right.

MS. MARCUS:  This is the paradox, I think, of Senator Obama.  He is, amazingly enough--I say amazingly because it's not what we're used to in presidential politics--as a Democrat, more comfortable about talking about his faith, I think, than Senator McCain is talking about his.  It's, I think, more central to his life.  At the same time, the degree of ignorance about his faith, even what his faith is, that persists after this campaign that seems endless is really remarkable.

MS. IFILL:  Yeah.

MR. RUSSERT:  One of the endorsements that John McCain actively sought was John Hagee, Pastor John Hagee.  This is McCain in February when he received that endorsement.

(Videotape, February 27, 2008)

SEN. JOHN McCAIN (R-AZ):  I'm very honored by Pastor John Hagee's endorsement today.

Pastor Hagee, I'm grateful for your support.  I'm, I'm grateful for your guidance.  I'm grateful for your leadership.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  "Grateful for your guidance, for your leadership." Sam Stein, in the Huffington Post, broke this story:  "John Hagee, the controversial evangelical leader and endorser of Senator McCain, argued in a late 1990s sermon that Nazis had operated on God's behalf to chase the Jews from Europe and shepherd them to Palestine.  According to the reverend, Adolf Hitler was a `hunter' sent by God who was tasked with expediting God's will of having the Jews re-establish a state of Israel."

This is after Hagee had said some very scornful things about Catholicism. McCain on Thursday was forced to issue this statement:  "Obviously I find these remarks and others deeply offensive and indefensible, and I repudiate them.  I did not know of them before Reverend Hagee's endorsement.  I feel I must reject his endorsement as well.  I have said I do not believe Senator Obama shares Reverend Wright's extreme views, but let me also be clear, Reverend Hagee was not and is not my pastor or spiritual adviser.  I did not attend his church for 20 years.  I've denounced statements he made immediately upon learning of them, as I do again today."

Maureen Dowd.

MS. DOWD:  Well, I'm going to have to come back to Gwen's line.  I think it's always better not to riff on Hitler.  And here's a guy who thinks we're in a nice little cult called the Catholic Church, and McCain stuck with him after that.  But then when he got in trouble with the Jews, that was one too many, you know, ethnic groups that McCain couldn't offend, so he dropped him.  But it makes you miss the McCain who, you know, stood up against the agents of tolerance rather than pander to them.

MS. IFILL:  And...

MR. RUSSERT:  The fact that he has now separated himself from Hagee and from the pastor from Ohio, Rod Parsley?

MR. BRODY:  Yeah.

MR. RUSSERT:  What happens now to McCain with the evangelical community?

MR. BRODY:  Well, it's a tap dance.  I mean, and this is going to be a tap dance all the way through November.  I, I think part of the problem with the, with the McCain camp with looking at it, is they're looking at it as an endorsement strategy.  "Let's get a couple of big evangelical leaders to endorse McCain." But what they really need to be looking at is infrastructure. They need to be looking at, you know, how do they mobilize the base.  How do they turn out the base.  They need to really concentrate more on that, and instead of going for the, you know, the big endorsement.  I mean, the John Hagee situation is a good example of John McCain not really knowing much about the evangelical community.  I mean, John Hagee is a guy that was big on, on Israel, and that's how they saw it, but they didn't realize that, oh, by the way, if you do a quick Google search, I mean, you're going to see that he said some controversial things along the way.  And so, you know, if, if you have a George Bush in 2004, you know, and people that were with him in that campaign, they would've been able to flag that for McCain.  They don't have the same infrastructure, and that's part of the problem.

MR. RUSSERT:  McCain is in Arizona--here's some tape--meeting with Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts; Bobby Jindal, the governor of Louisiana; Charlie Crist, the governor of Florida.  All--there he is coming down the stairs in the gray hair.  Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania was in Europe. Mike Huckabee is at a wedding anniversary, didn't make the trip.  But now we're in full throttle of a VP selection, Gwen.

MS. IFILL:  You know, it's such kabuki theater.  I mean, we, we know, and we do this every four years, where we have, you know, by the end, it's kind of the ritual, we start to think, "OK, now what's next?  Oh, the vice presidential nomination." And, and, and almost--who knows how much it matters at the end, but we can't help it, it's how we spend our summers every four years.

MS. MARCUS:  What else would we do?

MS. IFILL:  What else would we do?  And therefore, but now they've decided this year, all--both sides, is to just strip it back and let us peek.  When have you ever seen people going for serious vice presidential opportunities, walking down the stairs holding hands before with their significant others? You've just never seen that before.

MR. MEACHAM:  Well, remember, yeah.  Remember, yeah.

MS. IFILL:  And then this week the Obama people carefully let it out that Jim Johnston was doing their vetting process for them.  That wasn't a secret that that got out, you know?

MR. MEACHAM:  Remember, Mondale had people come up the driveway.

MS. IFILL:  Yeah.  The old days, yeah.

MR. MEACHAM:  There was, there was a kind of beauty, there was a kind of beauty pageant quality.

MR. RUSSERT:  Saunter down the driveway as opposed to sprinting down the steps.

MR. MEACHAM:  That's right.  That's right, explains, explains what happened in 1984.

Just very quickly on the pastors, I don't think we talked about Henry II enough in campaigns, and who....

MS. MARCUS:  When did he run?

MS. IFILL:  He ran with Jon.

MR. MEACHAM:  Just stay away from the pastors, you know.  "Who shall rid me of this troublesome priest?" Turbulent priest.  Insight, very quickly, I just think, whenever we can get Henry II.

MR. RUSSERT:  Amen, Brother Jon.

MR. MEACHAM:  Just to throw that out.

MR. RUSSERT:  John McCain, Barack Obama had an exchange about GI bills. Obama has embraced Jim Webb's bill, who was here last week talking about it. Senator McCain opposes it because he thinks it would hurt the retention of people in the military.  Let's watch that exchange.  It's pretty good insight into where the campaign is.


SEN. OBAMA:  I can't understand why he would line up behind the president in his opposition to this GI bill.  I can't believe why he believes it is too generous to our veterans.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  "I take a backseat to no one in my affection, respect and devotion to veterans.  I will not accept from Senator Obama, who did not feel it was his responsibility to serve out--serve our country in uniform, any lectures on my regard for those who did."


MS. KEARNS GOODWIN:  Well to be sure, military experience adds breadth to a person, the willingness to withstand adversity.  But on the other hand, you can take two of, arguably, our best commanders in chief, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt.  Franklin Roosevelt never served in the military.  Abraham Lincoln said that the only blood he ever served in his three months--he ever saw in his three-month term of service in the Black Hawk War was, was fighting mosquitos.  So you cannot argue.  In fact, I'm surprised that McCain has done that.  Because, previously, hasn't he said that military experience should not matter.

MR. RUSSERT:  It was a strong statement.  Some described it as harsh.  And it was in contrast to, on Thursday, when he was joking about the youth and inexperience of Barack Obama, ala Ronald Reagan and Walter Mondale.  Here's John McCain.


SEN. McCAIN:  For a young man with very little experience he's done very well.  So I appreciate, with his--with his very, very great lack of experience and knowledge of the issues, he's been very successful.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Maureen Dowd, is it two John McCains on display?

MS. DOWD:  I think we learn something very interesting from this exchange. For one thing, McCain really doesn't like Obama.  And, you know, he thinks he's the punk who hasn't bled, as McCain people like to say, and doesn't deserve to be in this arena.  And we also learn that Obama is not as intimidated by John McCain as he was by Hillary Clinton.  He is much freer when he goes on the attack, much more confident.  And McCain has another problem.  He doesn't sound as fun and genial as he does when he's--as Reagan did when he said those lines.  And also he tends to take any policy criticism as an attack on his integrity, and then attack back on the other person's integrity, and it sounds nasty.

MR. BRODY:  Well, it's interesting, because, you know he was joking in that clip, "lack of experience," as in, you know, "Ha ha." That's exactly what they're going to do.  That's--you know, it's going to go to the judgment issue.  This is what the McCain camp will lay on Obama.  They'll say, "the judgment," "rogue leaders," "What are you, crazy?" That's what they'll say. Jeremiah Wright, that'll come up.  Rezko, I mean, you just go down the line. They're going to, they're going to make that case.  They'll talk about guns and taxes and all of that.

MS. IFILL:  Well, on the flip side, in which you heard not only what Barack Obama said about the GI bill, but also what he said about Cuba this week.  And they said he's always going to try to do what, what John says won't work, which is link John McCain to George Bush, third term of George Bush.  Every pushback this week included that McCain/Bush link.  And, you know, at least they're being very clear to us about what they're going to do so we know we have, we have the puzzle laid out for us and we know what to follow.

MR. RUSSERT:  But...

MR. BRODY:  Well, this is--it's also a problem, though, for McCain, because now he has to do that tap dance.  You know, how close does he get to George Bush and how far...

MS. IFILL:  That's always going to be a problem.

MR. BRODY:  Right.  And, and so he's got problems there.

MR. RUSSERT:  But we're going to have a campaign, it looks like, big differences on big issues--the war in Iraq, Iran, Social Security, taxes--which is going to be interesting to cover, and I think it could...

MS. MARCUS:  There's issues?

MR. RUSSERT:  Oh yeah.  Oh yeah.  Oh yeah.

MS. MARCUS:  I hadn't remembered.

MR. RUSSERT:  Oh yeah.  Stay tuned.

Before we go, Ted Kennedy.  Terrible news this week.  Diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor.  But it has been remarkable watching this country respond to that news.  Liberals, conservatives, Democrats, Republicans all talking about him with such fondness and respect.  The Boston Herald, a paper that doesn't often agree with him in, in Boston, wrote this editorial. "Kennedy becomes profile in courage.  There are few political figures who in the course of their careers and their lifetimes attain the status of beloved. Ted Kennedy's one of those rare individuals, and the very thought of a world without him in it is a painful one.

"Kennedy's appeal and the affection in which he is held, is held transcends party and ideology.  This liberal lion has always been able to reach across the aisle because his word is his bond--and because it's no secret that he just wants to get things done.  ...

"This editorial page has differed with him on issues about as often as it has agreed.  But we could count on one thing:  Unlike most political figures Ted Kennedy didn't shift his positions with the prevailing winds.  ...  Some would call it noble and courageous.  And in a world where courage is a sometime thing, Kennedy has it in abundance.

"We have seen him marshal strength and courage than men half his age to battle injustice and to fight for what he believes in.  May that strength and that courage never leave him in the days ahead."


MS. KEARNS GOODWIN:  Well, it's a remarkable editorial, because it is true that the Herald has fought him for so many years.  But I think, in a certain sense, what the outpouring of emotion has showed in this last week is that even though he, of course, would have liked to have been president, going back to the Senate, where he belonged, in many ways showed what an incredible impact you can have in the Senate.  He will go down as one of the great senators, and people will remember what he did in terms of ordinary people getting a better life--minority rights, civil rights--more than they're going to remember some presidents.  Who could tell us what Millard Fillmore did? Maybe Jon.  Who could tell us what Benjamin Harrison did?  You know, who could tell us what Franklin Pierce did?  People will know, over the years, what he did in the Senate.  And it shows if you work in an institution on teamwork, you really--and that's what we want in this country.  We want people to come together to do something across party lines.  And, boy, how lucky that he's been able to hear this.  Hopefully he'll live for 10 more years.  But he's heard these wonderful remarks before he died, which is great.

MR. RUSSERT:  If there is one--there is one blessing in that.

MS. KEARNS GOODWIN:  That's the silver lining.

MR. RUSSERT:  John and Bobby never had a chance to know what people--how people felt about them...

MS. KEARNS GOODWIN:  That's right.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...and to hear it, and certainly said, Ted Kennedy has that opportunity.  Jon, anyone want to offer something?

MS. MARCUS:  Well, I think that...


MS. MARCUS:  ...Doris touches on something very important, not just--and there's relevance to this--the really critical role that you can play as a senator, but the yearning in this country that you also see played out with Senator McCain and Senator Obama for people who can transcend these poisonous differences that we have.  And Senator Kennedy has managed, as the Herald said, to stay true to his beliefs even as he also reaches out.  And we could use more of that in political life.

MR. RUSSERT:  Maureen.

MS. DOWD:  Also, I think, in families like ours, working-class Irish families, we had the Kennedys' pictures mixed in with our family pictures.  We grew up feeling that they were almost part of our family.  And my brothers were Capitol Hill pages for JFK, Prescott Bush and Richard Nixon.  And Teddy Kennedy would ask my brother Martin to play touch football with him, and he was always scared because he thought it would be like that scene in the "Wedding Crashers," part touch football, part pro-wrestling.  But, I mean, they just seem like part of our family.  And as Bob Schieffer said, it's like--he's like a Washington monument, you can't imagine the town without him.

MR. RUSSERT:  Amen.  Senator Ted, hang in there.  We're thinking about you.

We'll be right back.  Coming next, we'll remember Hamilton Jordan and look back at his first MEET THE PRESS appearance as chief of staff for President Jimmy Carter in 1979.


MR. RUSSERT:  And we are back.  In 1972, a 28-year-old political aide, Hamilton Jordan, wrote a memo to his boss, the then governor of Georgia Jimmy Carter, outlining how Carter could capture the presidency in 1976.  With Jordan's help, Carter did just that.  Two years into his presidency, Jimmy Carter appointed Hamilton Jordan his White House chief of staff.  A few days later, Jordan appeared on MEET THE PRESS and talked about loyalty to the president.

(Videotape, July 22, 1979)

MR. HAMILTON JORDAN:  The question of loyalty that you raise, I have heard in the past few days loyalty described as a bad thing.  Loyalty and competence are both required to be successful in government.  I think loyalty is an admirable trait--loyalty to one's friends, to one's family, to one's country. Loyalty in itself is not a bad thing.  In government, to be loyal, that means that you fight hard for those policies that you believe in.  But it also means that, once the president has made a decision, you then have to embrace that decision as if it were your own.  There is no way for a president of the United States to deal with the great issues that face our country today if he does not have a team of men and women around him who are competent and loyal.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  In 1992, Jordan, for a brief time, managed Ross Perot's presidential campaign.  But Jordan, who battled prostate cancer, melanoma and lymphoma, spent most of the past 25 years devoting his time to Camp Sunshine, a summer camp he and his wife founded for kids with cancer.  Hamilton Jordan, a loyal and competent man.  He's in our thoughts and prayers.

And we'll be right back.


MR. RUSSERT:  That's all for today.  We'll be back next week.  If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS.

Before we leave, tomorrow, Memorial Day, wherever you are, pause at 3 PM in an act of remembrance for America's fallen heroes.  The National Moment of Remembrance created by Congress in 2000 is an act of national unity to honor the more than one million Americans who've given their lives for our country. Happy Memorial Day.