Charles Gibson Interviews Barack Obama
Presumptive Democratic Nominee Speaks with ABC News
June 4, 2008
ABC's Charles Gibson spoke with presumptive democratic nominee Barack Obama today. Below is the transcript of the interview.
GIBSON: Senator, I'm curious about your feelings last night. It was an historic moment. Has it sunk in yet?
OBAMA: No. You know ... you have been working so hard, 54 contests, so many months, meeting so many people, and then to suddenly walk into an auditorium with 17,000 people and realize you're the Democratic nominee. That's a pretty big dose to swallow all at once, but I will say that talking to my grandmother last night probably drove it home.
GIBSON: What'd she say?
OBAMA: Here's a woman, who, well, she just said she was really proud. And, I thought back to all the work she's put in, all the sacrifices she made, ah, she's now a little too fragile to travel and so she watches it on TV and she's going blind, so to hear in her voice, what this meant to her, that was a pretty powerful moment.
GIBSON: Public moments are not your own. There's a million people pulling you in a million different directions, but when everybody clears out, the staff is gone, you're in your hotel room at night and you're alone -- do you say to yourself: "Son of a gun, I've done this?"
OBAMA: You do say to yourself, "My, how far we have traveled." And, and I say a little prayer to not only thank God for the blessings, but also to make sure that you're worthy of the honor.
I've been -- there's something very humbling about this whole process. You know, you realize there are so many wonderful people in this country who are working so hard on behalf of their families and on behalf of their hopes and their dreams.
And when you run for president, you're -- you're saying to them, "I can help. I can make sure your children are safe. I can make sure you have a job that pays a living wage. I'm going to make sure that when you get sick, you've got some help." And you just want to make sure that you are doing everything you can to deliver on those promises.
And that's what keeps me awake at night. It's not so much the day-to-day politics -- it's sort of projecting into the future and saying to myself, you know, "How can I make sure that I'm bringing everything I've got to bear, but also all the talent and resources and energy of this country to move us in a direction where those individuals that you're meeting are actually getting the opportunities that they deserve?"
GIBSON: (inaudible) when you announced, did you truly, in your gut, think that a black man could win the nomination of a major party to be president of the United States?
OBAMA: Absolutely. I would not have -- I would not have run if I didn't believe that I could win. This is too hard a process.
You know, there's some races you get in just for, you know -- I know that politicians might say to themselves, "Well, I'll throw that trial balloon," or this or that.
No, being a presidential candidate is an enormous sacrifice for your family. I've got two girls that I love dearly. And to be away from them this much, I wouldn't have done it if I didn't think I could win.
And there was a feeling in my gut that not only were the American people ready for change, but that this country is a decent, generous place, and that people are going to make decisions based on who they think can actually lead, and that we're not in the same America that we were when I was born in 1961, that we've traveled a very long way. And I think that, you know, the outcome last night indicates how far we've traveled.
GIBSON: You don't get much time to enjoy this before people immediately start talking about the vice presidency.
On what criteria and what timetable will you choose a vice president?
OBAMA: Well, we have a committee that is going to be meeting with party leaders, is going to be working through lists of names. It will be a deliberate process.
You know, my charge is to cast a wide net. I will narrow it down. I will meet with a range of individuals and get my sense of whether they share a vision for where the country needs to go and whether they can provide me with the independent counsel and possess the integrity that I think are necessary for the presidency.
GIBSON: But there obviously is one name that looms over all. Hillary Clinton has already, to some extent, expressed her willingness. There are supporters putting out petitions. There is a drumbeat of pressure. There are those 18 million votes.
Is she a special case that you have to deal with before the others, or is she considered just like everybody else? How long can you let the "Hillary Clinton on the ticket" question linger?
OBAMA: Oh, I think Senator Clinton is a special case as a candidate. I mean, she's somebody who traveled this journey with me. She was extraordinarily capable and tenacious. I mean, she is just a great candidate. And she has really proven, not only to be an inspiring figure for women, but I think for people all across the country. So, yes, she's a special case. I think it's very important for me to meet with her and talk to her about how we move this party forward.
But I also believe that it's very important for me to, when it comes to choosing a vice president, to do it in a deliberative way.
GIBSON: Does there have to be a yes or no on the issue of Hillary Clinton before you get to the others, or can this issue linger on, because it pervades everything?
You want to move on to the general election. You want to pivot to a campaign against John McCain.
Can you do that while this question hovers over you?
OBAMA: You know, I am absolutely confident that Senator Clinton loves this country; she loves this party. She wants to win in November. And so, I'm confident that she and I are going to be unified in November.
In terms of the narrow question of the vice presidency, I'm going to do it in a deliberative way because I think that's one of those questions you want to get right, as opposed to get fast.
GIBSON: So, you won't do -- you won't deal with her first, get that out of the way, and then either move on or not?
OBAMA: You know, I'm going to have a conversation with Senator Clinton about how we can move the country forward. I don't, by the way, tend to -- no insult here, but -- do a lot of things through the press.
So, at some point, she and I are going to talk. I haven't heard directly from her, you know, how she wants to move forward. I -- my main goal is to make sure that the party is unified, so that we can unify the country around the issues that this campaign has been about, changing Washington, delivering on health care, making sure college is affordable, creating economic growth, keeping America safe.
GIBSON: As long as that question lingers, can you get about the business of unifying the party, or does that have to be taken care of first?
OBAMA: Oh, I think that we've got a lot of work, obviously, that has to be done in drawing a sharp contrast between myself and John McCain. And we already started seeing that happening tonight.
GIBSON: Did she squeeze you in any way by making known her interest in the job?
OBAMA: Well, as I said, I haven't heard her being quoted out there, I haven't heard her on television saying what she's interested or not interested in.
And, you know, I'm confident that she is going to be an integral part of the Democratic team as we try to win the presidency, more Senate seats and more House seats in November.
GIBSON: Should you choose her, how do you handle Bill Clinton?
OBAMA: All those questions are premature.
GIBSON: On what three issues will this campaign turn to you?
OBAMA: Issue number one, how we're going to keep America safe. John McCain has a vision that is very similar to George Bush's. He wants to continue in Iraq on the current course.
I believe that we need to begin a process of withdrawal, initiate tougher diplomacy and refocus our attention on Afghanistan. That's going to be a set of issues.
On the economy. John McCain's main economic platform is to continue the Bush tax cuts and then to add $300 billion worth of corporate tax breaks that aren't paid for.
I think that's not going to help ordinary American families who've seen their wages and incomes, on average, flat line or actually go down during the Bush presidency.
So, what we're going to talk about is universal health care, investing in clean energy, creating jobs through infrastructure development, making sure that we're making college more affordable. That's going to be a major difference.
And then, you know, I think that the American people are going to have to make some decisions about our personal qualities. Obviously, the presidency is more than just a set of talking points. It has to do with the American people lifting the hood and kicking the tires and seeing who do they trust, who do they think can lead us at this moment in history. And those are more intangible qualities, but, you know, those'll play into this race as well.
GIBSON: Do you worry that it could turn on race, age and class?
OBAMA: You know, I don't think so. I mean, look, we saw this in the primary, you know, -- will African Americans take pride over my candidacy? Of course. Will there be people who look at John McCain's military service and say, "Boy, we can identify with that"? Absolutely. Will they look at our respective ages and say, "We need new blood," versus, "We need experience"? Yes. You know, those are all going to be factors that people take into account.
But, ultimately, I think the American people are pretty wise, and they're going to, I think, look real long and hard and see who can deliver a -- who can create an America that continues to provide opportunity for everybody who's willing to work hard, that keeps us safe from very real enemies out there, but also makes sure that we're restoring our standing in the world and is managing this rapidly changing global economy in a way that's good for the American people.
Those are going to be the questions that they're going to have, and I trust that they'll have information by November to make a good decision.
GIBSON: John McCain has issued an invitation to do a series of town meetings (inaudible). Going to do it?
OBAMA: Oh, we're definitely going to be doing some town hall debates. I look forward to, you know, having more than just the three traditional debates that we've seen in recent presidential contests, so I'm glad that he's interested in doing it.
You know, we're going to have to figure out timing. I know that he wants to start, generously enough, a week from today. And since we just won the nomination, we may have to spend some -- a little bit of time over the next couple of weeks, you know, retooling for a general election.
OBAMA: Well, we are definitely going to be debating with John McCain, and we will do more than the three that -- that have been promised. And so, some of those will have to be done before our respective conventions.
GIBSON: Will you go to Iraq?
OBAMA: I will, almost certainly, travel to Iraq and probably engage in some other foreign travel, as well, during the course of the next four or five months.
GIBSON: Public financing: Going to take it or going to say no?
OBAMA: Yeah, well, this is part of the conversation that we've got to have with the McCain campaign. I have already seen and I've expressed concerns before about the capacity of third parties to infect the campaign process with a whole lot of money and a lot of resources.
And, you know, we had one of John McCain's, I guess, finance chairmen say that they were counting on the Republican National Committee to spend tens of millions of dollars going after Senator Obama. We've already seen Web sites developed for that, in which I'm being attacked, and are purportedly not coordinated with John McCain.
So, we've got to work out -- and I've said this from the start -- I'm interested in making sure that we keep this process intact, but what I'm not going to do is unilaterally disarm and allow hundreds of millions or tens of millions of dollars worth of attack ads raining down on my head from outside groups.
GIBSON: But there's a dynamic on your side, as well. You originally said you would take it.
GIBSON: That was before we saw a...
OBAMA: That's not exactly what I said. I mean, I don't mean to parse, but, you know, what I said was, I wrote a letter to the Federal Election Commission asking if we could preserve the right to potentially take public financing.
And what I said at the time was, I would like to work with my Republican counterpart to see what we could do to stay in the system and preserve it.
But what I also said at the time, and I've said repeatedly, is that, you know, we are not going to put ourselves in a situation where you've got tens of millions of dollars from outside groups that are...
OBAMA: ... in this campaign.
GIBSON: If you already see that money coming in, it seems to me you're saying...
OBAMA: Well, but I also have to -- you know, my belief is John McCain is now the leader of his party and that he's got some control over this process, just as I have some control over the Democratic Party and how they spend their money.
GIBSON: Is the hardest part of all this behind you or ahead of you?
OBAMA: I think that Senator Clinton was as good of a candidate as I've seen, politically. And before that, we had probably as good of a field, in the Democratic field, with people like Joe Biden and Chris Dodd, Bill Richardson, and John Edwards -- extraordinarily talented people.
So, you know, this has been a pretty good test. I mean, you know, we got taken through the paces on this one.
But, obviously, you know, what really matter is whether or not we ultimately change policy in the White House. And so, now is the time for the Democratic Party to be pulled together.
We're going to have a tough fight. John McCain is a formidable candidate. But the thing I'll say is that I know the hardest part's ahead of me, because it doesn't have to do with campaigning. It actually has to do with getting something done. It has to do with governing.
And when I think about what keeps me up at night, and what I'm spending a lot of time thinking about already, is how do we structure a government that works, that reflects the decency of the American people, that has strong debates around issues but is not so fiercely partisan that we can't ever get anything done?
And we've got big challenges. So, you know, how do you -- I've got a plan for creating universal health care, shepherding that through Congress so that I can actually sign a bill, then executing and implementing that.
You know, those are things that -- those are things that I worry about.
GIBSON: The picture of you in the paper, this morning, with your wife, watching the Clinton speech. What did you think of the Clinton speech?
She didn't exactly acknowledge your victory.
OBAMA: Well, look, this is a tough -- tough thing for all of us. You know, you go through 16, 17 months; you've made enormous sacrifices; maybe you've been planning this race even longer. And to, you know, come as close as Senator Clinton did and then not get the nomination, I think, is something that has to be processed.
But I think very highly of Senator Clinton and her commitment to making this country better. And so I'm confident that we're going to be unified come November.
GIBSON: And finally your daughters. What did they say to you? Did they take it as a matter of course that Daddy could be nominated to be president? They never knew what older people know in terms of discrimination, although they may still feel some. What did they say about that?
OBAMA: Well, it's interesting, Michelle had a conversation with Malia, who's our 9-year-old, soon to be 10-year-old, and Michelle brought up the subject. She said, "You know, Daddy's about to be nominated for the presidency, and he'll be the first African American ever to have that happen."
And Malia said, "Well, that doesn't surprise me. You know, I mean, I've read these histories about how blacks were discriminated against with slavery and Jim Crow," and she sort of ticked it off.
But you could tell that there wasn't that emotional impact on her because she has grown up in this environment where she can take it for granted, in the same way that she can take for granted that a woman is running for president and is this incredibly capable political figure.
And the fact that they're taking it for granted is a measure of progress in our country. It says something really good about America. And you think about the distance we've traveled since I was born, 1961, and for me to be standing on that stage in Minnesota 46, 47 years later is a testament to this country's urge to live up to its ideals, as imperfectly as that is sometimes.
GIBSON: I watched closely your countenance last night, your mien, as you stood in that hall. You didn't smile much. Has the joyfulness of this hit home yet? Do you take joy from it?
OBAMA: You know, I'll tell you where I feel joyful. I feel joyful when I think about all those young people who volunteered for our campaign, and I see them high-fiving and seeing the work that they put into this thing bear fruit.
I feel joy when a woman, this morning, tells me that her son teaches in an inner city in San Francisco and that during the course of this year, he's seen the behavior of the African American boys he's teaching change and them start thinking about their options and hitting the books a little harder. I take joy in that.
But -- but, look, there's no doubt that, you know, I tend to always be thinking a few steps ahead. I've been thinking about all the work that needs to be done. And I think it's good advice that I've received from several quarters to, sometime in the next couple days, sit back and reflect a bit.
GIBSON: Senator, thank you.
OBAMA: Thank you.