Transcript: Obama and Clinton Debate

And let me just make one last point on this issue of the flag pin. As you've noted, I wore one yesterday when a veteran handed it to me, who himself was disabled and works on behalf of disabled veterans.

I have never said that I don't wear flag pins or refuse to wear flag pins. This is the kind of manufactured issue that our politics has become obsessed with and, once again, distracts us from what should be my job when I'm commander-in-chief, which is going to be figuring out how we get our troops out of Iraq and how we actually make our economy better for the American people.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And, Senator, if you get the nomination, you'll have...

(APPLAUSE)

... to beat back these distractions.

And I want to give Senator Clinton a chance to respond, but first a follow-up on this issue, general theme of patriotism, in your relationships. A gentleman named William Ayers. He was part of the Weather Underground in the 1970s. They bombed the Pentagon, the Capitol, and other buildings. He's never apologized for that.

And, in fact, on 9/11, he was quoted in the New York Times saying, "I don't regret setting bombs. I feel we didn't do enough." An early organizing meeting for your State Senate campaign was held at his house and your campaign has said you are "friendly."

Can you explain that relationship for the voters and explain to Democrats why it won't be a problem?

OBAMA: George, but this is an example of what I'm talking about. This is a guy who lives in my neighborhood, who's a professor of English in Chicago who I know and who I have not received some official endorsement from. He's not somebody who I exchange ideas from on a regular basis.

And the notion that somehow as a consequence of me knowing somebody who engaged in detestable acts 40 years ago, when I was 8 years old, somehow reflects on me and my values doesn't make much sense, George.

The fact is that I'm also friendly with Tom Coburn, one of the most conservative Republicans in the United States Senate, who, during his campaign, once said that it might be appropriate to apply the death penalty to those who carried out abortions.

Do I need to apologize for Mr. Coburn's statements? Because I certainly don't agree with those, either.

So this kind of game in which anybody who I know, regardless of how flimsy the relationship is, that somehow their ideas could be attributed to me, I think the American people are smarter than that. They're not going to suggest somehow that that is reflective of my views, because it obviously isn't.

CLINTON: Well, I think that is a fair general statement, but I also believe that Senator Obama served on a board with Mr. Ayers for a period of time, the Woods Foundation, which was a paid directorship position.

And, if I'm not mistaken, that relationship with Mr. Ayers on this board continued after 9/11 and after his reported comments, which were deeply hurtful to people in New York and, I would hope, to every American, because they were published on 9/11, and he said that he was just sorry they hadn't done more.

And what they did was set bombs. And in some instances, people died. So it is -- I think it is, again, an issue that people will be asking about.

And I have no doubt -- I know Senator Obama's a good man and I respect him greatly, but I think that this is an issue that certainly the Republicans will be raising.

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