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'Race for the White House with David Gregory' for Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Read the transcript to the Wednesday show


November 5, 2008


Guests: Joe Scarborough, Lawrence O'Donnell, Jesse Jackson, Jr., Bob Shrum, Mark Penn, James Clyburn, Michael Gerson, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Jon Meacham

DAVID GREGORY, HOST: The day after an historic night. Not only will Barack Obama ascend to the presidency just four years after being elected to the U.S. Senate, he will enter the White House as one of the most powerful presidents in recent times after a commanding electoral victory and with the strength and Democratic Congress behind him. The Obama campaign's slogan was "Change We Need," and already change is in the air as Obama makes his first moves as president-elect.

We're going to look back and examine the meaning of the Illinois senator's victory and take stock of the emotions so many Americans feel today regardless of their political views.

And Barack Obama's new address is our new address as well, as the RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE moves to 1600 PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE.

Seventy-six days to the inauguration of the President-Elect Barack Obama.

Welcome to the premier of 1600 PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE.

I'm David Gregory.

My headline tonight, "The Obama Era."

With tears in their eyes and joy in their hearts, Obama supporters across the nation reveled in the solid victory for the Illinois senator, who will become the first African-American president in American history. But in the glow of victory stands the reality of what lies ahead. And this was evident in Obama's victory speech last night.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENT-ELECT: There will be setbacks and false starts. There are many who won't agree with every decision or policy I make as president. And we know the government can't solve every problem. But I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face.

I will listen to you, especially when we disagree. And above all, I will ask you to join in the work of remaking this nation the only way it has been done in America for 221 years, block by block, brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand.


GREGORY: And as Dan Balz writes in "The Washington Post" today, "After a victory of historic significance, Barack Obama will inherit problems of historic proportions. Not since Franklin D. Roosevelt was inaugurated at the depths of the Great Depression 1933 has a new president been confronted with the challenges Obama will face as he starts his presidency."

And as a reminder of the challenges ahead, the stock market plunged today, down almost 500 point on fears of a recession. But to try and tackle the economic problems, President-Elect Obama will have a solidly Democratic Congress behind him.

The Democrats picked up at least five seats in the Senate and 17 in the House. On the other side of the aisle, the GOP is now picking up the pieces. The party finding itself in perhaps its weakest position since before the Reagan era.

But last night, John McCain was gracious in defeat. And today, President Bush also was eloquent as he promised complete cooperation with President-Elect Obama.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Across the country, citizens voted in large numbers. They showed a watching world the vitality of America's democracy and the strides we have made toward a more perfect union. They chose a president whose journey represents a triumph of the American story, a testament to hard work, optimism, and faith in the enduring promise of our nation.


GREGORY: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also called the election an extraordinary step forward in the nation's history and promise to a smooth transition period.

Joining me now, Joe Scarborough, host, of course, of MSNBC's "MORNING JOE," and MSNBC political analyst Lawrence O'Donnell.

Welcome both.

Joe, we started this conversation this morning. And I have to tell you, as the day wore on-and I'm a little bit tired today, but as I got farther from the coverage of the news of last night and what a big story it was, and the political dimension of it, I think what has settled in for me is a sense that this is a transcendent moment, a moment that is bigger than ideology and bigger than politics. And I point to Republicans, like the president of the United States, who I thought was so moving in his words today as he captured this moment, the historical nature of this moment.

I got a sense being black Americans today coming back from New York and feeling a sense that this was not a day just for them, it was a day for all of us. And this is not about Barack Obama as a president, whether you agree with him or not, because clearly the country is still very divided and there's lots of people who don't believe in what he wants to do. But they can believe in what he is and what Americans have accomplished together.

JOE SCARBOROROUGH, HOST, "MORNING JOE": And I'm one of those guys. But you know, David, it's interesting you say that, because that takes me back to Barack Obama's first book where he talked about how he was a blank slate and people would put on to that blank slate what they liked best about him.

Think about this for African-Americans and many Americans. Last night was transcendent because of race.

For many progressives who have seen their party go down to defeat year after year in political battles where they are constantly outsmarted, last night was a transcendent moment for ideological reasons. I can tell you for me personally, last night was transcendent for generational reasons.

Barack Obama is, for the most part, my age. I have grown tired through the years of hearing the battles of 1968 refought time and time again. It took me about three weeks on the campaign trail in my first race in 1994 to realize that that campaign wasn't about 1994. It was about the battles of 1968.

So we all have reasons to look at last night as being transcendent moments. But all of us have reason to cheer.

Listen, I think his economic policies are disastrous. But I think what happened last night is great for America, one of the greatest moments since Neil Armstrong walked on the moon in 1969.

GREGORY: Lawrence, do you share this sense of transcendence, that last night was a huge political story, we elected a new president, but that it took on importance beyond politics? Because I think it's so important to say, and it's what I mean, that the country is still divided. And I fully recognize there are people who don't agree with President-Elect Obama. I'm not making a statement either way, of course. I'm simply talking about the moment that was, and a sense of pride that I think Americans feel across the political spectrum about what the election represents.

LAWRENCE O'DONNELL, MSNBC POLITCAL ANALYST: Yes, because the election revealed who we are as a people, and to the world. It answered the question of, are we ready to do this?

Now, in fact, given that this country has voted for an African-American president in 2008, I think it actually means that we were ready a significant time before that. The option had just never been realistically presented to us before.

And I think, David, of a guy I met in Azerbaijan. I was in Azerbaijan in the middle of October when they were having a presidential election there. And I was with a young recent college graduate fluent in English, and he was talking about the American presidential election.

His name was Mohamed. And I said I thought Obama was going to win. And he just looked at me as if he knew something I didn't know. And he just smiled and said, "Oh, no, he's not going to win."

And I said, "Look at the polls." And he just would not consider it.

And he was very reluctant to tell me why. He was very reserved about it.

And then eventually he said, "Well, his middle name is Hussein. It would be impossible in the United States. Just impossible."

And here I was in the middle of a Muslim country where that was the dominant belief, that in the United States of America, minds are not open to the point where a majority of Americans could vote for someone who shares a name that so many people in that country also share and people of Muslim heritage share. And so it goes so far beyond what it means to African-Americans to have traveled this road, what it means to all of us in this country who has seen racial progress over the course of our lifetimes. It is an indescribably large statement to the world about who the American people really are.

GREGORY: Joe, how does he now approach the what's next moment? Because the what's next part is going to come real fast, and it's not going to be pretty as he really settles into some of the difficulties he's going to face.

SCARBOROUGH: I think he has to take Ronald Reagan as his model. With apologies to Dan Balz, I don't believe this is the worst situation any president's faced since 1932. I think it's the worst situation any president's faced since 1980.

I mean, just look at interest rates, inflation, the Iranian hostage crisis. Look at the chaos that the Carter administration ended with.

Ronald Reagan went 90 miles an hour, he never looked back, he never slowed down, he never apologized for his ideology. And he very quickly consolidated his grip on Washington, D.C.

He said this is what I believe in. And he ruled with a very strong, very firm hand.

I think Barack Obama needs to do the same thing. He needs to say, these the areas that we fought on, and this is what I believe.

And I do believe that he ran a centrist campaign for the most part, despite his voting record in the Senate. And I don't think he's going to make the same mistake as Clinton in '93 and '94.

I'm not saying he needs to be stupid politically, but he does need to be bold and needs to come out very quickly. I would suggest with an energy independence plan, and give the United States of America their first forward-looking energy policy in half a century.

GREGORY: Right. And one thing we know is that with the ascension of power to this extent comes a tremendous responsibility. And he will be judged by how he governs. The notion of political realignment will only be a function of how he governs in the days and months and years ahead.

So a lot more to come.

Lawrence O'Donnell, Joe Scarborough, thank you both for being here on the busy day after.

SCARBOROUGH: Thanks for having us on your premier, David.

GREGORY: Premier, that's right, 1600.

O'DONNELL: David, did you consider using the title "The West Wing?"

Was that in the list of possibilities?


GREGORY: I don't know. I kept feeling it felt familiar to me, like somebody had taken it before.

O'DONNELL: It works. It works.

GREGORY: It does work.

Thank you both very much.

Coming next, the new politics of race, what Obama's election means for the next generation of African-American leaders. I'm going to go one-on-one with Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. right after this.



CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: One of the great things about representing this country is that it continues to surprise. It continues to renew itself. It continues to beat all odds and expectations.

As an African-American, I'm especially proud because this is a country that has been through a long journey in terms of overcoming wounds and making race not the factor in our lives. That work is not done, but yesterday was obviously an extraordinary step forward.


GREGORY: Welcome back. That was Secretary of State, of course, Condoleezza Rice earlier today echoing the spirit of cooperation.

Also heard from President Bush today, who also spoke of the significant historical moment this election represented.

How will an Obama presidency transform the politics of race in this country? What will it mean for the next generation of African-American leaders?

Joining me now to talk about it all is the man who has been mentioned as a possible replacement for Barack Obama in the U.S. Senate, Representative Jesse Jackson, Jr., son of, of course, the Reverend Jesse Jackson.

Congressman, welcome.

REP. JESSE JACKSON, JR. (D), ILLINOIS: Good evening, David.

GREGORY: I want to talk to you about your day, because one of the things that I have felt today listening to a Republican president, a Republican secretary of state, who also happens to be an African-American, General Colin Powell, a Republican, also happens to be an African-American, John McCain, a Republican presidential candidate, and lots of Obama supporters, is this sense of last night being something more than just a political moment and milestone, the election of a new leader, but a transcendent moment for the country.

Tell me about your day.

JACKSON: Well, it has been extraordinary. I have to pinch myself every five minutes just to recognize that something truly extraordinary has happened in the United States of America.

Yesterday the American people moved beyond many of their traditional barriers of race, of sex, and class, to do something extraordinary, to give an extraordinary gift not only to our country, but to the entire world, in the very redemptive story of Barack and Michelle Obama. His inauguration on January 20th is going to be a statement about how far we've come as a nation, and it also says something about the American people, who have been criticized in the past for being exploited by racial fears and racial divisions.

They made a big step yesterday. And on January 20th, we're going to celebrate the American story.

GREGORY: We have pictures of your father from last night that we can put on the screen that million of Americans around the country watched last night. And of course, of all of our coverage.

The emotion is obvious. The tears streaming down his face. He represents a past that was, in some ways, redeemed last night. His work and the work of Congressman Lewis and so many others was to get to a moment where not only a black president was possible, but a president whose blackness was not primary, as being the point of the civil rights movement.

Talk about that moment for him and for you last night.

JACKSON: Well, David, the genius of the Barack Obama campaign was that he ran as an American who happens to be African-American. And so whether it was John Lewis and others who walked across Edmund Pettus Bridge, and Jesse Jackson who joined the Selma to Montgomery campaign for the right to vote, they saw in their lifetime Viola Liuzzo, a white Italian housewife killed for helping register people, Americans to vote. They saw Swarner, Goodman and Cheney killed for participating in voter registration drives in the South, two Jewish-Americans, and an African-American who were killed in that process.

And then to watch Barack Obama, the president-elect, the 44th president to be of the United States, emerge as the beneficiary of that extraordinary struggle, that had to be an emotionally difficult time for John Lewis, Jesse Jackson and others. And so yesterday for them, those who have held on to many of the tragedies of the American past, they walked into a brand new America just like millions of Americans walked into a brand new America this morning.

GREGORY: Congressman, rightly or wrongly, a lot of Americans perceive the politics of your father as a black political agenda. They don't necessarily associate that with Barack Obama, President-Elect Obama.

Do African-American have an expectation of President-Elect Obama that's specific?

JACKSON: Well, I don't believe that they do. They want Barack Obama to be successful, they want him to be the very best president that he can be.

They don't want America to have a different standard for President Barack Obama. They want him to have the same latitude as presidents of the United States that 43 of his predecessors will have had, except for one who obviously broke into the Democratic National Committee. They don't want Barack Obama to break into the RNCE.

But they want him to have the same latitude. They want him to have the ability to do as president of the United States what is in the best interests of all of the American people, regardless of their race, their sex, or their class.

And I'm confident from day one, when we watch Barack Obama build his economic team, appoint a cabinet that represents diverse and divergent points of view, including points of view from different political parties in his presidential cabinet, Barack Obama is establishing a tone for all Americans. Make no mistake about that. Barack Obama wants to change discourse in this nation, and the very act of his ascendancy to the president of the United States accomplishes that.

GREGORY: All right. Let me conclude with a more politically pressing question.

Do you want his Senate seat?

JACKSON: If offered by the governor of the state of Illinois, obviously I would not say no. I would be honored and humbled to serve in that seat. But it is a decision that the governor of the state of Illinois ultimately will have to make. I'm confident he will make a decision in the best interest of the state and the nation.

GREGORY: Have there already been discussions about it?

JACKSON: I understand today the governor of the state of Illinois had a press conference at 1:30 announcing a process. A number of names, including myself, have been mentioned. I'm interested in hearing more about the governor's process, and we'll find out in the next coming weeks what the governor's decision will be.

GREGORY: All right. Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr., thank you very much for your time tonight.

JACKSON: Thank you, David.

GREGORY: Coming next, the Oprah effect. She was in the crowd in Grant Park last night. What she had to say today, right after this.


GREGORY: We are back and going into the briefing room tonight to give you an up-to-date look at everything else that's in our radar today.

Oprah Winfrey was in Grant Park last night. You probably saw her at Obama's victory speech. She was one of the president-elect's earliest supporters-a pretty powerful surrogate, wouldn't you say-and fund-raiser for him, especially during the hard-fought primary against Hillary Clinton.

Here's what she had to say today on her program.


OPRAH WINFREY, TALK SHOW HOST: During this long campaign, I made a vow at the beginning that I would not use my show as a platform. So I kept my mouth shut and supported Barack Obama as a private citizen.

Today, though, the election is over, and I'm unleashed!


So with 338 electoral votes, 52 percent of the popular vote, Senator Barack Obama is now President-Elect Barack Obama.


GREGORY: Let me bring back MSNBC political analyst Lawrence O'Donnell.

Very interesting, the Oprah effect during the primaries, and the fact, Lawrence, that she made a real stand here. She took a real stand to say she was not going to use her program at all to weigh in. I'm sure at some point, Barack Obama wished she had.

O'DONNELL: Yes, and I thought that might have been part of it when she announced she was going to endorse.

You know, I said at the time of the endorsement, David, normally endorsements don't mean much to me. I don't think they almost ever matter, but especially show business endorsements, but that this was the one showbiz endorsement that could have impact.


O'DONNELL: And it's very hard to measure whether it did or not. It came before South Carolina. It came after Hillary Clinton had won New Hampshire.

South Carolina is where Barack Obama surged back into a huge win that reset the table from that point forward and showed just how powerful he could be. And Oprah Winfrey was down there on the stage with him.


GREGORY: Talk about it-talk about it going forward though. I mean, if you use what he accomplished on the Internet, his ability to speak directly to his voters, and now this is a cultural portal that he can use very effectively as president...

O'DONNELL: Yes. And it's not just the Internet. It is text messaging. The Obama campaign is constantly sending out text messages. And they aren't the annoying kind, David. I mean, many of them are "thank yous" for things that have happened.

GREGORY: Yes. But I mean Oprah as a cultural portal as well. I mean, that relationship and her program, et cetera.

O'DONNELL: Well, it's a question of, again, how much would she use her program in an overt way?


O'DONNELL: But I think her audience knows exactly what she thinks about Barack Obama. They identify with her very closely. And she is a great salesman for whatever it is she wants to sell.

And so that is what I thought was powerful about her endorsement in the first place. I mean, this is a woman who can sell, you know, a million books when she mentions the title of a book she likes on the show. She has a very strong audience connection, more so than most people on television.

And so, it's into a demographic that Obama definitely needs. So she can be very helpful over time, also.


All right, Lawrence. Thank you very much.

Coming up next, how did Barack Obama make history? We're going to look at some of the key numbers as Hillary Clinton's former chief strategist Mark Penn joins us at 1600 PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE.

Don't go away.


GREGORY: Tonight, the start of the Obama era; how President Obama will tackle the unprecedented challenges the country faces. Democrats victorious; how they came back from the political wilderness to win control of both Congress and the White House. And the Republicans start the rebuilding process now. Who will be the future of the GOP? It is all ahead on 1600 PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE.

Welcome back to 1600 PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE. The 2008 presidential election got the highest turnout in 100 years, and the Obama campaign achieved its goal of reshaping that political map. Obama netted 349 electoral votes to McCain's 173, and North Carolina is still too close to call. 2008 marks a remarkable turn-around for the Democrats.

Joining me now are two veteran Democratic strategists, Mark Penn, former chief strategist for Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, and Bob Shrum, who has worked on the campaign of Ted Kennedy, Al Gore and John Kerry. Welcome to you both.

I want to talk about one of the compelling figures of this race, Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska. She spoke out on the loss. Listen.


GOV. SARAH PALIN ®, ALASKA: I don't think anybody should give Sarah Palin that much credit that I would trump an economic woeful time in this nation that occurred about two months ago, that my presence on the ticket would trump the economic crisis that America found itself in a couple of months ago, and attribute John McCain's loss to me.


GREGORY: Bob, John McCain's loss. Why would anybody attribute that to me? Pretty striking. She has just been a compelling figure throughout. Is she setting herself up for more to come?

BOB SHRUM, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I believe so. I think that a lot of Republican who don't want to do the hard work of reexamining, as we had to do, where they stand and what their principles mean, just want to say they weren't conservative enough, want to run her in 2012. I kind of wish them well.

Look, the problem for Sarah Palin was that in July, when the "New York Times"/CBS poll said does the identity of the vice presidential choice matter in your vote, 15 percent of people said yes. By the week before the election, 36 percent said yes. Three quarters of them thought Biden was ready for the job and 60 percent thought Sarah Palin wasn't. So she was a negative factor in this campaign for McCain.

GREGORY: Mark Penn, our pollster did a survey asking Republicans, who should lead to GOP next. And it was Mitt Romney on top of that list, followed by Mike Huckabee and Governor Palin was down at 18 percent. Is that about where you think the rankings are for who should speak for the GOP now?

MARK PENN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, I think that the GOP has been basically split between, you know, economic conservatives and religious conservatives. And I think what happened here is that Sarah Palin played for the religious conservatives, did well with the core Bush group that McCain already had, but turned off a lot of former Republican economic conservatives.

The most fascinating thing in the exit polls is that Obama got 49 percent of those making over 100,000 dollars, and got 52 percent of those making over 200,000. And I think she turned those voters off.

GREGORY: I want to stay with you. Let's talk about how he won this thing last night, and go back to the primary. You were chief strategist for Hillary Clinton, and you and the Clintons made a strategic assessment about Barack Obama. In your view, he couldn't win the general. He couldn't become president. Talk me through what-how he surprised you in pulling off this victory.

PENN: Well, I think at the end of the day, we raised the question, who is ready to answer the 3:00 a.m. call. In the general election, he answered the 3:00 a.m. call. He answered the 3:00 a.m. call on the economy when it came, in real-time. He seemed cool, confident. He seemed knowledgeable. McCain maybe had experience behind his back, but he couldn't-he seemed erratic. He didn't seem to understand the economic crisis. And the answer the economic 3:00 a.m. call I think gave both Obama the leadership issue and the election.

GREGORY: Bob, demographically, Barack Obama's path to power in the White House was not just about African-Americans, though he got 95 percent of that vote. You would expect that. He increased the gains of Senator Kerry among Hispanic voters, younger voters, and this is what is interesting, white voters. Upscale white voters with a college education or better, he improved upon Senator Kerry's numbers in 2004. He still lost that upscale white vote to John McCain, but he got closer. No Democrat has won the upscale white vote.

SHRUM: As Mark points out, if you go to 200,000 in income, he did actually-he got a narrow victory there with those voters. I think one factor was Sarah Palin. The other factor was that the McCain campaign assumed that all these folks were primarily or simply economic voters. And I think that Obama was very smart to take the tax issue head on, to pound two numbers into people's heads, 250,000 dollars, 95 percent. And to tell the people who made above that that they were going back to paying the tax rates they paid under Bill Clinton. I think they're perfectly accepting of that.

And as a result, when they sort of looked at the country, looked at the social issues, and looked at the crises we face, they said I am going to vote for Obama.

GREGORY: And Mark, in the end, did race only help and not hurt him?

PENN: Well, I think when you look at-I think the size of the minority electorate grew to 21 percent. It was 18 percent. It was 18 percent in 2004. It was 15 percent in 1996. But I think pivotally, as you pointed out, he reached up to a new professional class. If you look at it, in 1996, when I was chief strategist of Clinton's effort, only nine percent of the voters made over 100,000. Now 26 percent made over 100,000. And this dramatic increase in the professional class is part of a whole new coalition for change that I think is really one of the most unique things about this election and their campaign.

GREGORY: Bob Shrum, finally, the Bush factor. How big, how important?

SHRUM: Very big. Bush, Bush, Bush. But when-this got certified and burned into people's minds when John McCain said the fundamentals of the economy are strong. And the McCain-the Obama campaign did a very good job of constantly reinforcing that all the way to the last weekend, when Dick Cheney, for heaven's sakes, went to Wyoming to campaign for Republican who were going to win anyway, and gave this kind of pro forma endorsement for McCain and Palin, which ended up being one of the last spots run by the Obama campaign. It was a very powerful spot.

GREGORY: Bob Shrum, Mark Penn, thanks to both of you. A lot of conversation still to go on looking at the electorate as we move on.

Last night wasn't just historic in that America elected an African-American president. It also marked the Democrats gaining control of the White House and Congress. Joining me now is Majority Whip Democratic Congressman from South Carolina James Clyburn. Congressman, welcome.

REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D), SOUTH CAROLINA: Thank you so much for having me.

GREGORY: Is the lesson of last night that race is no longer an impediment in electoral politics?

CLYBURN: Well, I think we took a giant step toward the creation of a more perfect union. I do believe that Barack Obama, in his victory on yesterday, took us to a point that we've never been before. Have we gone all the way to where we should be, I don't think so. We still have-when he leaves the Senate, there won't be an African-American in the Senate unless someone, the governor, replaces him with one. We still have other positions in government where we don't have the kind of representation we ought to have from Latinos, from Asian, Pacific Islanders, from African-Americans.

We have come a long, long ways, but there is still a long way to go, because so much of the racial thing in our society has been institutionalized over more than 200 years. And I don't think that one evening, one election will get rid of all of that. But I am very proud of the fact that we can now have a better, a more open discussion of these kinds of issues. And I think we will soon get it behind us, but not yet.

GREGORY: Let's talk about the agenda in Congress. And first of all, let's talk about your leadership ranks here. Is Rahm Emanuel going to go to the White House to be chief of staff?

CLYBURN: I don't know. I have not talked to Rahm. I've been reading the press reports. I saw what has been said in the media about it. He would make an outstanding chief of staff. He knows the White House. He's worked there. He knows the Congress very well. He is a real good policy person. I enjoy working with him, and I would think he would make an outstanding chief of staff. Now whether or not he decides to do that, I don't know.

GREGORY: What about this idea, on terms of the economy, turning the economy around, are you going to do a lame duck session, a stimulus bill where you push for additional-some tax cuts or additional spending to help the poor infrastructure, to sort of pave the way for what may be a bigger stimulus bill when President Obama comes into office? What are you trying to achieve between now and then?

CLYBURN: Well, I do believe that we ought to do something in a lame duck. I know that that is not a unanimous thought. I think we ought to do both a tax cut, focus on the way Senator Obama campaigned on the tax cut for the middle income in our society. I do think we ought to do a recovery bill that would emphasize jobs and the rebuilding of infrastructure. I don't think they would have to be all in the same bill. Some people like to do it that way.

Maybe we can wait on January to do the tax cut. But I do believe we ought to move quickly to put people back to work. People feel better about themselves if they've got jobs to go to, and if they can begin to really pull off these foreclosures. I think we ought to do that now, so while we're doing the longer term stuff, people can feel better themselves.

GREGORY: All right. Congressman Jim Clyburn, thank you very much for being here tonight. Appreciate it very much.

CLYBURN: Thank you so much for having me.

GREGORY: Coming up next, the Obama era. What kind of leader will America's 44th president be? What can he learn from the past inhabitants of 1,600 PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE. We look at that when we return.



OBAMA: As Lincoln said to a nation far more divided than ours, 'we are not enemies but friends. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.' To those whose support I have yet to earn, I may not have won your vote tonight, but I hear your voices. I need your help. And I will be your president, too.


GREGORY: Welcome back. The annals of history were forever changed last night, as has the American political system as we know it. Here with me to look forward to how President-Elect Obama will lead and how he'll handle all the test that will come with the office are three notable masters of history, "Newsweek" editor Jon Meacham, also the author of the soon to be released "American Lion, Andrew Jackson in the White House," Michael Gerson, former speech writer for George W. Bush and "Washington Post" columnist, and also with us, U.S. presidential historian and MSNBC analyst, Doris Kearns Goodwin. Welcome all.

Michael, I want to start with you. First of all, in that sound bite, there were echoes of President-Elect Bush back in 2000. Didn't he say something similar about I may not have earned your votes, but I am going to try earn your respect along the way.

MICHAEL GERSON, "THE WASHINGTON POST": That was an election really unlike this one where division was much more pronounced. And the heroes of America are heroes of unity. That's why Obama quotes Lincoln. That's why he-Bush made that statement in 2000.

GREGORY: Do you agree the idea that this election is a transcendent moment, not because of politics, not because whether you support Barack Obama, President-Elect Obama politically, but because of the moment it represents historically for the country, the achievement for the country?

GERSON: Absolutely. For anyone who loves history, loves Washington, it's a town filled with ghosts. The reality is that Obama will speak on the mall, yards from where there were slave pens in the 19th century. He'll go into a house, the White House, that was built in part with slave labor. These are extraordinary events. They're great shining moments in the history of the country, no matter what you think about the politics. It is an extraordinary achievement.

So many cycles of history, so many cycles of justice will be fulfilled in the events of his presidency.


DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: There's no question. When you see the response that was in city after city, where perfect strangers were hugging one another. And it wasn't simply because they were blacks feeling and crying that an African-American had reached the White House. They were whites feeling that the country had moved a huge step forward to get closer to the ideal that was part of the Declaration of Independence in the beginning, that all men are created equal.

So there is a sense potentially of common purpose out there right now, that he has-rather than a big partisan mandate, he has this amorphous sense of common purpose, of our wanting to move the country forward together. If he can mobilize that, then he could really have something special.

GREGORY: That's what I'm so interested in, because covering President Bush, as I have, and remembering the recount, remembering 2000, Jon Meacham, there was not a sense of common purpose. There was a real sense of division. 9/11 happened, there was that reset, a sense of common purpose. And that began to untangle as the administration wore on. You wrote this in "Newsweek" in your special edition, quote, "like Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932 and Reagan in 1980, the Obama win of 2008 marks a real shift in real time. It is early yet, but it is not difficult to imagine that we will, for years to come, think of American politics in terms of before Obama and after Obama."

Yes, there is that moment that we got caught up in, where we see that sort of potential. So what does he have to do to really carry that idea forward?

JON MEACHAM, "NEWSWEEK": Well, he has to do I think what he has shown he can do in the campaign, which is remain incredibly grounded while many of the rest of us around the country and around the world tend to go a little off-sometimes off the handle with joy at this. It is an amazing moment. But he also-and I think in that really remarkable speech in Grant Park last night, he talked about, in very concrete terms, that the road will be long, the climb will be steep, and that we aren't always going to agree.

And what he has to do is rather clear. He inherits the situation with two hot wars, one ongoing global war on terror. He inherits a complex and confounding, in many ways, economic situation, and a crisis of confidence in the American soul, really. I don't mean to overstate it. But nine out of ten Americans think we're on the wrong track. That's hardly a position beginning with a position of strength.

So he has to deliver on the promise. And I think the promise is very clear. What is so wonderful I think about the Obama campaign, and about the past day or so, has been, he is not explicit about the remarkable historical moment that Doris and Mike just spoke so eloquently about. He is implicit. He is talking as any politician and any president would. But he is doing it in the way he looks, it is remarkably historic.

GREGORY: The idea of a change in our politics though, Michael; you take some exception with in something you wrote in your column. I'll put it on the screen. "I come to this moment of national decision with deep concerns about the next president. His victory is likely to unleash an ideological and vengeful Democrat Congress. In the testing of a long campaign, Barack Obama has seemed thoughtful, but sometimes hesitant and unsure of his bearings. He promises outreach and healing, but holds to a liberalism that sees no need for innovation."

It's the skepticism beneath the celebration of the moment.

GERSON: I agree with that. I think the two can co-exist in a certain way. I think Obama's challenge is that he ran a reassuring, stable, moderate campaign in tone, but that his policies were not particularly innovative. They were not particularly oriented towards outreach. His convention speech could have been given by any liberal Democrat from the last 15 or 20 years. Unlike Bill Clinton, for example, who ran as a new Democrat. Unlike George Bush, who ran initially as a compassionate conservative.

He has not run as a policy innovator, challenging his party in key ways. The question is, how will he govern? His manner, his rhetoric is all one direction. But he is not really shown the policy that would unite the Congress around key goals in the common interests.

GOODWIN: Yet, perhaps even more important is that he has a kind of equable temperament. He sees things from other people's point of view. He never demonizes the opposition. My guess, if you have to look at history, there will be both Lincoln, who the minute that burden was on him said I'm going to surround myself with people who can question me, rivals, people from other parties. And even FDR-I don't think he'll be the FDR of the New Deal, who was confrontational and demonizing, in a certain sense, people in business. The FDR of World War II, who created a coalition cabinet, a partnership with business, who had a sense of shared sacrifice and got the country behind a war.

This is a situation not unlike war, where you'll to have get a common purpose for energy, for example.

GREGORY: I'll get a break in here. We'll come back and continue our discussion on 1600 PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE. Don't go away.


GREGORY: Back now on 1600 PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE: You know, we were going to play this sound bite from Senator McCain, but we got started talking about something in the break that I wanted to continue with. And, Doris, this idea of what Obama expects of himself in the course of his presidency. He is a guy who speaks about great things.

GOODWIN: Absolutely. I think he decided to run at this moment, even though if he just wanted the office of the presidency, he could have waited another eight years. He saw something in the country that was a potential common purpose. I've often said, he doesn't want to be Millard Fillmore. He doesn't want to be Franklin Pierce. He wants to be a person who is remembered 200 years from now. That means huge ambition.

The ambition's is a good thing if it is for something worthy. But then he's going to have to translate that into a master of timing. LBJ knew the minute that JFK died, he was going to go for one thing, the Civil Rights Act of '64, bank his whole presidency on that. In a certain sense, he could bank his on energy right now. I think if he went for energy, it has common purpose, shared sacrifice. It's the kind issue that could create a coalition that then he could move on to more partisan ones like health care and other issues that might be more divisive.

GREGORY: But Jon, is there any president that doesn't want to be great, that doesn't see himself as having a certain destiny?

MEACHAM: I think that is part of the job description, yes, that and the capacity for self-pity, the drive for greatness. I think he has a particular sense of narrative. He is a very good writer. He thinks he's a good writer. We report in the magazine that's coming out today and tomorrow that in a tape about debate prep, he talked about how his distance, his ability to look at himself from the outside was one of the thing that made him a good story teller, a good maker of myths.

Therefore, I think wants a happy ending. I think he will be relentlessly in pursuit of that.

GREGORY: Yet, Michael, he will have the challenge, when all of this wears off, of using all of these strengths dealing with both opposition, partisanship in the country, and great problems facing the nation.

GERSON: I agree with that. His immediate focus will be and has to be the economy. The discussion will be a stimulus. The approach will be about jobs. That will dominate the initial period. It absolutely has to.

GREGORY: Can he capture that sense of common purpose? Is the moment right for that?

GERSON: I think his biggest obstacle in that is not the Republicans. It is actually his own Democratic leadership, his own party that had eight years of pent-up liberal demand. If they pick fights on cultural war issues, trying to get fairness doctrine, other things, it could quickly unravel this sense of common purpose. He needs to focus on things like energy, on things like health care, real legacies. And it is-there will be other people who don't want to do that.

GREGORY: One of the things I experienced covering this White House is that George Bush, above all, made Democrats really, really mad when he continued to beat them politically. And so that's one of the great questions. Jon Meacham, Michael Gerson, Doris Kearns Goodwin, always a pleasure to have the three of you on and the discussion continues. Thank you all very much.

Thanks for finding our new address here at 1600 PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE.

I'm David Gregory. We'll be back here tomorrow, same time, 6:00 p.m. Eastern on MSNBC. Stay where you are, "HARDBALL" with Chris Matthews up next.



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