A day after he clinched the Democratic presidential nomination, Sen. Barack Obama said Wednesday that he expected an organized Republican attack on his integrity and patriotism because “it’s very hard for them to talk about where they want to take the country.”
Obama, a first-term senator from Illinois, touched on a variety of issues in a wide-ranging interview with Brian Williams, anchor of “NBC Nightly News.” Among them were what roles his defeated rival for the nomination, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, and her husband, the former president, might play in his campaign, as well as how soon he expected to debate his Republican opponent, Sen. John McCain.
The important thing, Obama said, is to find the best way to build a united Democratic fall campaign to answer what he expects to be a Republican assault on his devotion to America — “the attempt to paint me as a very risky choice.”
Obama said he was bracing for Republican attacks not only on “national security but partly around cultural issues.”
Obama, 46, the first black candidate ever nominated by a major party for president, characterized the likely Republican message as: “You know, he’s got a funny name. And we don’t know where he’s coming from. And, you know, he may be not sufficiently patriotic.
“I think that’s going to be the race they run.”
‘Identical to George Bush’
Obama suggested that the Republicans saw a coordinated personal attack as their only way to keep the White House.
“If we end up debating the issues and governance and how we’re going to move this country forward, I think the Democrats are going to win, and I think I’ll be president,” he said.
Obama signaled his intent to tie McCain closely to President Bush, whose approval ratings remain extremely low. He outlined what he said were sharp differences on the war in Iraq, universal health care and tax cuts. On all three issues, he said, Bush and McCain were on the losing side.
McCain may cry foul when Democrats tie his economic platform to those of President Bush, Obama said, but “the central plank of his economic policy is to continue the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy and then to add an additional $300 billion worth of tax cuts for corporations.”
“That will not, I think, balance the budget,” he said.
Moreover, Obama said, “essentially, his position on Iraq is identical to George Bush’s at this point. And so there’s going to be some very sharp contrasts.”
Obama welcomes Clintons’ involvement
Crucial to answering the Republican charges, Obama said, was putting aside raw feelings from a fractious primary campaign and marshaling all of the Democratic Party’s resources. That includes making significant use of the Clintons, he said.
Obama said he bore no hard feelings over the occasionally bruising campaigning style of the former president, who made the case for his wife on the stump in terms that some Obama supporters considered insulting and demeaning.
“Look, there is nobody who is more talented, there’s nobody more gifted, than Bill Clinton when it comes to not just politics but understanding the broad crosscurrents of America,” Obama said.
Obama said he respected the former president for fighting so hard to preserve his own legacy, adding, “Understandably, he thinks that his wife would have been the best person to continue that legacy.
“But my strong feeling is that moving forward, I’m going to need Bill Clinton involved in this process,” Obama said. “He still is a transcendent political figure in this country. And I want him involved. And I’ll be looking for his counsel and his advice.”
Obama would not be drawn into specifying what roles he saw for the Clintons, sidestepping speculation that he might ask Hillary Clinton to join the ticket.
“I don’t think Senator Clinton expects a quick decision. And I don’t even know that she’s necessarily interested in that,” he said.
No concern over party divisions
In the end, he said, he expects Democrats of all stripes to rally to his side.
“You’ll recall in 2000, there were all sorts of John McCain supporters who said, ‘We’ll never vote for George Bush.’ And they ended up voting for George Bush,” he said. “You know, it's happened before.”
Because of the length of the primary campaign, Obama must immediately turn his attention to the fight against McCain. He acknowledged that that gave him little time to reflect on the historic nature of his nomination as the first black presidential nominee in the country’s history.
Still, he said, he had been touched by the stories of people he encountered who had clearly invested centuries of hopes and dreams in his campaign:
“Probably the most powerful story I heard was today at a conference. A woman came up to me. She said her son teaches in an inner-city school in San Francisco and said that he has seen a change in behavior among the young African-American boys there in terms of how they think about their studies.
“So those are the kinds of things that I think make you appreciate that,” he said. “It’s not about you as an individual, but it’s about our country and the progress we’ve made.”