Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama talks with Countdown's Keith Olbermann America's fiscal responsibilities, the approaching anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and the situation in Iraq.
Below is a transcript of their conversation.
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST, COUNTDOWN: I asked a couple of malleable conservatives over this weekend what they would want to ask you. And their answers were strikingly similar. One guy who makes about $40,000 a year said, "Ask him why he's going to raise my taxes." Another guy makes about a million dollars a year, said, "Ask him why he's going to raise my taxes."
Is there a third — is there a third group out there that thinks, "Well, it's bad now. McCain's not going to make it any worse. I don't know what's going —what Obama is going to do"? Is that — is that an identifiable group? And how do you answer those two malleable conservatives I just mentioned?
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I mean, I think you make an important point. And this is an example of how the Republicans, the McCain campaign have tried to muddy the waters. The fact is, is that guy making $40,000 a year will get a tax cut under my plan. I provide a tax cut to 95 percent of Americans. Independent studies have shown that I provide about three times the amount of tax relief to middle-class families than does John McCain under his plan.
What is true is that guy who makes a million dollars a year, it's true. His taxes are going to go up, the same way mine will, because we both make more than $250,000 a year. They'll go up, back to the place that — the marginal rates that existed under Bill Clinton, when we were probably doing just fine.
And the reason is, is because we've got to make sure that the 95 percent of folks get a little bit of relief. We've got to stop borrowing from China and running up the credit card on the next generation.
There is a sense of fiscal responsibility that we've got to have here in this country, and the notion that those of us who have been extraordinarily lucky can't pay a little bit more so the waitress down the street or the guy making $40,000 or the guy making $70,000 can get a little bit extra so that he can put away some savings and watch his child eventually walk off that stage with a college diploma in her hand.
I think America is better than that. I think we want to make sure that everybody's got a fair shot in this society. That's what the American dream's about. And that's what we're going to be fighting for during this campaign and hopefully as an Obama administration.
OLBERMANN: Let me switch over to Iraq and people's reaction to you and Iraq and Iraq as a subject in general. Your predictions about the surge, your language about the surge, seem to have turned out to be just about 100 percent on the spot. Simple facts: whatever is done to lessen violence against American troops and others in portions of that country, the Iraqis are still not paying for this war fully, either with money or personnel. And Mr. Bush has just been advised not to bring any more of our troops home this year.
If you are right, why have the Republicans and the conservative media been so effective in suggesting that you were wrong and somehow you need to atone for that?
OBAMA: Well, you know, it's interesting. It's not just the conservative media. I think that a lot of the mainstream media has picked up on this. Partly, I think, it is a legitimate surprise on the part of a lot of people that the immediate violence went down so significantly. And I think our troops deserve all the credit in the world for that happening, along with the Sunni awakening that occurred, the Shia militias standing down. There was a convergence of forces that have reduced violence in a way I think many of us didn't anticipate, including me.
What has not changed at all is the underlying fact that, No. 1, Iraq was a huge strategic blunder that strengthened Iran, took our eye off the ball in Afghanistan, let al Qaeda off the hook, and we've got to make a strategic shift.
The second thing that hasn't changed is the Iraqi government still hasn't taken responsibility, that they aren't spending their own oil revenues. They've got $80 billion parked in New York banks while we're spending $10 billion a month. And I believe, and continue to believe, that until we send a clear signal that we are going to withdraw in a phased, systematic way, that they're not going to start getting their act together.
Now, Prime Minister Maliki has suggested that a timetable now makes sense. Even the Bush administration has been discussing a time horizon. John McCain is the only guy who still is trying to figure out ways to stay, instead of ways for us to go.
And it is important for us to understand that, unless we start putting more responsibility in the hands of the Iraqis, we are going to be hamstrung in dealing with the larger battle against terror that is so critical to our long-term security.
OLBERMANN: Let me close with one last topic. This pertains to Thursday, obviously the seventh anniversary —our terrible anniversary of 9/11. How do you think the Republicans who were — for whatever this means, they were, as a matter of fact, in the White House in 2001 when this happened, how have they managed to paint themselves as the only people who could prevent anything resembling terrorism?
And what do you do about however much of that perception remains?
OBAMA: Well, look, 9/11, I think, unified the country. And George Bush was the president at that time. And I think the American people did what they should have done, which is to rally around the president in this moment of crisis.
That opportunity was squandered by the president, who talked about going shopping instead of pulling together to get serious about energy independence and to get serious about pulling the country together to meet our long-term challenges.
But, you know, one of the things that the Republicans have done is to constantly talk tough, even though they act in not very intelligent ways. And, you know, if you repeat enough bluster, and if you're constantly talking about how you're going to go after folks, and if you launch war and show a lack of strategic judgment, some people can interpret that as, well, these guys are tough. They — they may not be very effective, but at least — at least they're tough.
And one of the things that I need to communicate to the American people is talking tough in Washington and deploying our military on missions that are not central to our defense — we can't afford to continue on that kind of path. We need a tough and smart strategy that focuses like a laser beam on al Qaeda, that focuses on rolling up terrorist networks, that focuses on finishing the job in al Qaeda, and focuses on rebuilding our alliances and our reputation around the world. There's nothing weak about that. That, I think, is going to be the measure of strength and ultimately is going to be one that keeps us — keeps us more safe.
OLBERMANN: I must ask about the next step beyond tough talk, and then I'll let you go with our great thanks. But I don't know if you saw what the Republicans called the 9/11 tribute video during their convention, which was played on all the cable networks. It was graphic, and it used video that had long since been put on the shelf, out of bounds by news organizations, to the widespread approval of our viewers and mental health organizations, I might add.
Should a video like that, with such graphic images of that horrible day, be shown in the context of a political campaign by anybody, by any campaign, by any candidate?
OBAMA: Well, it's not something we would have done, because I think that 9/11 is beyond partisan politics. You know, that's why I'm going to be appearing with John McCain on Ground — at Ground Zero on Thursday, because that was something that should be pulling us together. It's not something that should be, I think, trotted out in political moments.
But obviously, they made a different judgment. They are free to do so. I believe that the American people are interested in who's going to make sure that the next administration is keeping us safe in the future, and not looking backwards.