Transcript: Gibson Interviews Barack Obama

The following is an excerpted transcript of ABC News' Charles Gibson's exclusive interview with Sen. Barack Obama, as he takes his closing argument to voters across the country, for "World News With Charles Gibson" in Raleigh, N.C., Oct. 29, 2008.

GIBSON: Senator, everybody's so focused on what's going to happen November 4th. I wonder how much thought and planning you've given to what starts on November 5th?

OBAMA: Well, my singular focus is winning this election. And so we're not taking anything for granted. I mean, this is going to be a tough race. The national polls, at this point, don't matter. What's happening on the ground here in North Carolina and in various battleground states, that's the key.

Gibson and ObamaPlay

But it would be irresponsible of me as somebody who could potentially be president, not to recognize that we're going to have huge challenges. We've got two wars. We've got the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. And so there is a transition process that I'm not paying attention to on a day-to-day basis, but that has been set up. John McCain has the same thing. And whoever is elected is going to have to hit the ground running and make sure that they get a handle on the tough choices that are going to have to be made to get this country back on track.

GIBSON: So there's two scenarios. You can win. You can lose. So let's start with win. Let's talk about them, but let's start with win. From the beginning, you said you wanted new politics. You wanted to work with Republicans. An overwhelming likelihood is, if you win, you would have a very strong majority of Democrats in both the House and Senate. You've said you want to work with Republicans. Why would you need to?

OBAMA: Well, I think -- I think it's important that Democrats draw the right lesson from any victory. You know, it's easy to draw lessons from defeat because that's sobering. But in some ways, I think, in this election, it's going to be even more important for Democrats to come in with some modesty and humility if we win. And recognize that, first of all, a lot of the incoming Democrats come from swing districts and they have positioned themselves as centrists. But more importantly, when you look at issues like energy, that's a huge project creating a new energy economy.

And if we want to move forward in the kind of bold way that frees ourselves from dependence on foreign oil and prevents our economy from being hamstrung again by high gas prices and deals with global warming, we're going to have to everybody working together. The same is true on health care. The same is true on education. So on a whole host of these issues, I think we need Republicans, not just as show pieces. In some cases, Republicans have good ideas. And, you know, I've always been more than happy to steal good ideas from whatever the source.

GIBSON: When you started this campaign back in Springfield, Illinois, 20 months ago, you talked about a new politics, a new attitude, focusing on what binds us not what separates us.

OBAMA: Right.

GIBSON: And yet in recent months, you have hammered at the wealthy and CEOs and Wall Street and greed. Talked about taxing the wealthy to benefit lower- and middle-income people. Isn't that a kind of classic old-time class warfare?

OBAMA: No. You know, I'm reminded of my friend, Warren Buffett, whose support I'm very glad to have, who says if there's class warfare going on right now, my class is winning. (LAUGHS)

Look, what I'm talking about here is going back to the Bush tax rates -- or the tax rates that existed under Bill Clinton back in the 1990s for people making more than $250,000 a year. That's not a punitive rate. We're talking about a marginal rate going from 36 to 39.

GIBSON: Point six.

OBAMA: The -- and -- and the important point, I think, is that all of us who've been very lucky in our lives have, I think, part -- a partial responsibility for making sure that the people who are coming up behind us, that they've got opportunity, too.

GIBSON: So what...

OBAMA: And, you know, so it's -- I just find it very puzzling that, you know, people are surprised when I talk about the fact that over the last eight years, during the Bush administration, the -- the average wage and income for the average worker for the middle-class family has gone down $2,000. And yet people in our income brackets -- our incomes have skyrocketed. All we want to do is restore some balance so that the economy is growing from the bottom up. That's good for everybody.

GIBSON: So what'd you mean when you told that plumber you wanted to spread the wealth?

OBAMA: Well, if you look at the tape, what I said was exactly what I said right now, which is that if people are doing very well, then there's nothing wrong with us going back to these old tax rates in order to give tax relief to 95 percent of Americans who have been struggling even when the economy was growing. Now, that basic principle is as American as apple pie. You know, the irony of -- the biggest promoter of the early progressive income tax was John McCain's hero, Teddy Roosevelt. We have always said to ourselves that we want to make sure that the middle class is getting a fair shake, that they are able to buy a home, that they're able to buy a car. If they do those things, that's good for business. That's good for everybody. Henry Ford once said, you know, he was asked why do you pay your employees so well. He says, well, I want them to buy my product.

GIBSON: When John McCain calls you, then, a redistributionist, do you take that as a complement or an insult or an accusation?

OBAMA: Well, I -- I gather he means it as an insult. And I think it's part of an old argument, an old language that doesn't apply any more. I mean, I think there was a strong argument to be made when Ronald Reagan came in in 1980 that, marginal tax rates -- the tax rates for the very wealthy were so punitive that people were going through all kinds of changes to avoid them.

They would use tax shelters and tax loopholes, and money was being shifted in all sorts of ways. And in some cases, there was probably a disincentive to work and to invest in a business. That hasn't -- that certainly wasn't true in the 1990s, when wealthy people did very well.

Look, here's the bottom line. I want everybody to succeed. I want everybody to have the opportunity at grabbing the brass ring. And we need to grow our economy and expand the pie. So this notion that somehow I'm interested in punishing wealth or success is nonsense. I just want to make sure that every child in America gets a decent education so that they can achieve success. I want to make sure that every person in America, if they are working hard, they are getting a paycheck, that they're able to support their family, send their kids to college, have health care without being bankrupt, make sure they can retire with some dignity and some respect. There's no -- there's no class warfare involved in that. That's just basic American common sense and fairness. And if we are able to grow our economy that way, then everybody's going to be better off.

GIBSON: Should you win this thing, first priority as president-elect, what would you want to get out of the lame duck session of Congress?

OBAMA: Well, the lame duck session of Congress, I'm not going to be president. I'm going to be president-elect.

GIBSON: Elect.

OBAMA: And we have one president at a time. So I think that's been part of our tradition. I think you'd have a lot of problems if you had two parallel governments running at the same time. What I can tell you, my number one priority as president will be is to make sure that the current economic crisis is handled in a way that ensures that this coming recession is not long and deep. And that means getting a program in place to stop foreclosures and to really shore up the housing market. It means getting a stimulus package that actually creates jobs and puts money into the pockets of middle-class families.

GIBSON: So you want a second stimulus package?

OBAMA: I think it is absolutely necessary for us to have a second stimulus package.

GIBSON: How big?

OBAMA: Well, you know, I think that we've got to take a look at where the economy is going to be in a month. I think we've got to take a careful look at this budget. But I don't think that we should be focused on the deficit right now because if this economy continues to slide the way it is, then that, over the long term, will actually make our deficit worse.

GIBSON: You voted for the $700 billion financial stimulus package or financial rescue plan. The way the banks are spending the first installments of this, satisfied with what they're doing?

OBAMA: Well, I actually have had conversations with Secretary Paulson about this. I think it is very important that the banks who are participating understand that part of their obligation is to get some of that money out the door to small businesses that are having trouble making payroll.

GIBSON: And are they not doing that enough, to your satisfaction?

OBAMA: Well, I think it's a little early for us to make a judgment. But I think a strong signal needs to be sent that...

GIBSON: What would you say to them?

OBAMA: Well, what I would say is the taxpayers didn't put up $700 billion to stabilize the system just so you guys can sit on your hands and watch businesses collapse across the country.

Now, I want, actually, the government to get out of the banking business as quickly as possible. And I think that it's important for banks to continue to make good decisions, sound decisions about who they're lending to. On the other hand, there are an awful lot of terrific companies out there that are having trouble getting credit, and part of the rationale behind us shoring up their balance sheets is to make sure that they're getting some of that money out the door.

GIBSON: The second $350 billion was held back. Congress will have to approve it. If more lending doesn't get into the revenue stream, would you suggest holding that back?

OBAMA: Well, I'm going evaluate what they're doing carefully to make sure a couple of things are happening. Number one, that money is getting out. And if there isn't, then I'm going want to sit down with the banks involved and find out why not.

Number two, it is absolutely critical that we have a strong program to stop foreclosures or at least slow down the rate of foreclosures. And we have haven't -- the Treasury has not moved as quickly as I would like to have seen to stop foreclosures and help people stay in their homes and renegotiate mortgages between bankers and borrowers.

And I think that number three, we've got to make sure the taxpayers are protected, that the limits on executive compensation that were put in place, that those are real and that, more importantly, taxpayers are treated like investors, the same way that people like Warren Buffett, when he puts money into Goldman-Sachs, he's getting a pretty good rate of return.

I want to make sure that we're getting a good rate of return as well.

GIBSON: Coming back to November 5th and what comes after. Do you have a spreadsheet of people that you would like to bring into government?

OBAMA: No. I've got some pretty good ideas about the senior cabinet of government officials that I think could perform very well for the country.

GIBSON: So you don't have to tell us, but do you know now who you'd want as Treasury Secretary, State, Defense?

OBAMA: I have a good idea of who the candidates would be.

GIBSON: Would it be a non -- or a bipartisan cabinet? Would you be...


GIBSON: Would you want Republicans in it?

OBAMA: Absolutely.

GIBSON: Would you be receptive to Secretary Gates staying at Defense?

OBAMA: I'm not going to get into details, but I can guarantee you that it is important for us, particularly, when it comes to national security, to return to a tradition of nonpartisan national security. You know, we -- we have politicized our foreign policy in a way that I think has done us great damage, and I want to return to a tradition that says, you know, our differences end at the water's edge.

GIBSON: And given the present economic situation, is it necessary, in effect, to accelerate the transition? To make known those people early? So, particularly, at Treasury, they can begin to integrate into the system?

OBAMA: Well, again, I am not going to jump the gun on this. I want to get it right, if I'm successful. I -- you know, the next president is not sworn in until January 20th. But I think what the American people have every right to expect is that the time between the election and inauguration, whoever the next president is whether it's myself or John McCain, that we are using that time productively to set up a government that can hit the ground running. And that means that, you know, you have people in place.

And one of the things that, I think, we're going to have to spend a lot of time thinking about -- and I give George Bush credit. I think his White House has expressed some concern about -- is making sure that the confirmation process does not get bogged down the way it has in the past.

GIBSON: This is all talking about if you win.


GIBSON: If you lose, have you thought about November 5th and beyond?

OBAMA: Absolutely. Look, when I started this campaign, we were the longest of long shots. And, you know, one of the things that I think has benefited me during the course of this process is a recognition that, look, there are a lot of hurdles that I had to get through in order to be successful.

And Michelle and I were extraordinarily happy before I started running. And, you know, I'm a relatively young man. You know, they say that there are no second acts in politics, but, you know, I think there are enough exceptions out there that I could envision returning to the Senate and just doing some terrific work with the next president and the next Congress.

GIBSON: This is a divided country. Other that the perfunctory statements that losing candidates always make about helping the winner, what would you do to bind this country together?

OBAMA: As somebody who would...

GIBSON: Having lost.

OBAMA: Having lost, well, I think that, you know, the first thing I'd want to do is to send a clear message to my supporters that regardless of the differences I've had with Sen. McCain on policy, that we have every obligation to get behind him and make sure that he is as successful as he can be.

And that doesn't mean that all differences go away. But, look, there are some areas where John McCain and I agree. We both had identified climate change as an important issue. And I -- and I think that encouraging work between Democrats and Republicans on getting our energy policy right, something where, potentially, you can bring, you know, hawks from the right and, you know, tree huggers from the left together to agree that we need to wean ourselves off of Middle Eastern oil. I think that's a project that I would enjoy working with a John McCain presidency.

GIBSON: You're going to have a half an hour broadcast tonight on a number of the networks. And the expense is not inconsiderable to buy that much time.

OBAMA: Right.

GIBSON: Aren't you able to buy it only because you broke a promise on campaign financing?

OBAMA: Well, look, there is no doubt that the amount of money that we've raised in this campaign has been extraordinary and surprised me as much as anybody -- maybe more than anybody. What I would simply point to is that the way we have raised this money has been by expanding the pool of small donors in this country in an unprecedented way.

GIBSON: But you haven't released their names.

OBAMA: We've got...

GIBSON: We don't know who they are.

OBAMA: Well, look, the -- a whole bunch of them were out here today. I mean, you're looking the people who are giving 5, 10, $25. Ordinary folks who have gotten impassioned about this campaign in a way that is unprecedented. And that, really, is...

GIBSON: Shouldn't we know the names of that list?

OBAMA: Look, you know, 3.1 million donors would be a pretty hard thing for us to be able to process. And we have done everything that's been asked of us under the FEC guidelines. These are small donors. They're ordinary folks. And the idea behind all campaign finance reform is to make sure that the public official is not bought and sold; that that public official is accountable to the public, that they are not subject to undue influence by big special interests in Washington and lobbyists.

And we don't take lobbyists' money. We don't take money from PACs. And there's no industry, there's no group out there that I owe favors to as a consequence of this campaign. In fact, I would argue that probably -- should I be successful, I may come into the White House with fewer strings attached to me than just about any presidential candidate in history. I wasn't even supported by the establishment in the Democratic Party when I started this race.

So I don't have a lot of -- a lot of chits out there that are going to be collected.

GIBSON: And final question, coming back to November 5th, finish the sentence. On November 5th, I'm so happy I won't have to...

OBAMA: Pack. (Laughs.) I am so tired of packing. The, you know, every day, waking up in a hotel room. But, obviously, the most important thing is I'm so tired of not having breakfast with my girls. You know, waking up and hearing their chatter -- sometimes, they'll crawl into bed with Michelle and me and they're bouncing around and poking and prodding you and telling you about what's going to happen in their day. Then going downstairs and fixing them some waffles or something. That is -- that is the sweetest of moments. And I haven't had enough of those over the last two years.


GIBSON: Senator, thanks.

OBAMA: Thank you.