NEW YORK, September 2, 2012— -- STEPHANOPOULOS: Good morning and welcome to This Week.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The next president of the United States of America!
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STEPHANOPOULOS: Mitt's Moment.
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MITT ROMNEY, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know there's something wrong with the kind of job he did as president, when the best feeling you had was the day you voted for him.
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STEPHANOPOULOS: The challenger makes his case.
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PAUL RYAN, REPUBLICAN VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What is missing is leadership in the White House!
GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE, (R) NEW JERSEY: Mr. President, real leaders don't follow polls, real leaders change polls.
ANN ROMNEY, MITT ROMNEY'S WIFE: This man will lift up America.
ROMNEY: Now is the moment when we can stand up and say, I'm an American. I make my destiny. We deserve better.
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STEPHANOPOULOS: Today, we debate the big convention questions. On the biggest stage of his life, did Mitt Romney seize the chance to connect with voters? Will he see a convention bounce? Or, did Isaac and Eastwood...
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CLINT EASTWOOD, ACTOR/DIRECTOR: I'm not going to shut up.
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STEPHANOPOULOS: Upstage his message?
And as the focus shifts from Tampa to Charlotte, can President Obama persuade skeptical voters he deserves a second chance? We'll ask the president's top political adviser, architect of his 2008 victory David Plouffe.
Plus, debate and analysis on our powerhouse roundtable with George Will, Donna Brazile, Matthew Dowd, Bill Burton and Mitt Romney's lieutenant governor Kerry Healey.
ANNOUNCER: From ABC News, This Week with George Stephanopoulos. It's your voice, our vote. Reporting from ABC News election headquarters George Stephanopoulos.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Our friend George Will calls conventions the seventh inning stretch of presidential campaigns. So, halfway through, where do we stand?
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ROMNEY: What a welcome, Cincinnati! Thank you so much.
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STEPHANOPOULOS: The race is still pretty much a tie. Early polls show only a slight bounce for Mitt Romney so far. But his crowds in Ohio and Florida yesterday, were huge. And the Republican nominee tried to reach beyond his base by admitting his party's mistakes.
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ROMNEY: We're going to finally have to do something that Republicans have spoken about for a long time and for a while, we didn't do it. When we had the lead, we let people down. We need to make sure we don't let them down this time. I will cut the deficit and get us on track to a balanced budget.
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STEPHANOPOULOS: President Obama was on offense, in another battleground, Iowa. His take on the Republican convention, he called it a tired TV rerun in black and white.
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BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When Governor Romney had his chance to let you in on his secret sauce, he didn't offer you a single, new idea. It was just a retread of the same old policies that have been sticking it to the middle class for years.
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STEPHANOPOULOS: And as the president makes it way to North Carolina for the start of the Democratic convention on Tuesday, we are joined by his top White House strategist David Plouffe.
Good morning, Mr. Plouffe.
PLOUFFE: Good morning, George.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Thanks for joining us today.
You know, the core of Governor Romney's argument was pretty straightforward. His answer to the classic Reagan question, take a look.
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ROMNEY: This president can ask us to be patient, this president can tell us it was someone else's fault, this president can tell us that the next four years he'll get it right. But this cannot tell us that you're better off today than when he took office.
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STEPHANOPOULOS: Is he right, can the president argue unequivocally that Americans are better off today than they were four years ago.
PLOUFFE: Listen, George, I think the American people understand that we got into a terrible economic situation, a recession, only that the Great Depression -- the only thing the country has ever seen like it. So they know we had a deep hole. It took us a long time to get into that hole, it's going to take a long time to out of it.
First of all, Governor Romney is offering the same, exactly policies that led to the recession in the first place.
One thing they didn't do last week in Tampa is explain how huge taxes for wealthy, cutting back regulations on Wall Street is going to lead to economic growth or help the middle class, because the answer is, it's not.
So what we're going to lay out this week, is we're going to explain to the American people and the middle class of this country, how we're going to continue to recover, but do more than just recover from the recession, to build an economy from the middle out. What Mitt Romney is going to offer America is top-down, trickle-down fairy dust. It didn't work then, it's not going to work now. And I don't think he advanced the ball last week, in convincing people, particularly the middle class in this country, that he would be a president that has them every day in mind as he's making decisions.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes or no, are Americans better off today than they were four years ago?
PLOUFFE: Listen, George, they did a good job of reciting all the statistics that everyone is familiar with. I think everybody understands we were this close to a great depression we staved that off. We're beginning to recover. We have a lot more work to do. We need to grow jobs more quickly, we need to grow middle-class incomes more quickly.
But the question for American people, is which path are we going to take? If we take Mitt Romney's path, economists have looked at this, the recovery would slow down, we wouldn't produce jobs. He would give huge tax cuts to people like himself and send a bill to the middle class and seniors.
So, the question is we're going to be far worse off if Mitt Romney is elected president. And he gets a chance to enact the same economic policies that created the mess in the first place.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So, it sounds like, a year ago, the president told me, I don't think Americans are better off than they were four years ago. You still can't say yes?
PLOUFFE: Well, we clearly improved from the depths of the recession. We were losing 800,000 a month, we're now gaining them. The unemployment rate was around 10, it's come down. We're beginning to see a manufacturing sector emerge, one of the great, bright spots right now is we're adding manufacturing jobs. The American automotive industry was close to extinction. Mitt Romney would have let it go away, by the way. We wouldn't have an automotive industry if he was president. President Obama secured that. We are beginning to really make advances in alternative energy in things like batteries.
So we have made a lot of progress from the depths of recession. We have a lot more work to do. And that's the question we're going to lay out for the American people is the Romney path would be the wrong path for the middle class, the wrong path for this country. We have got to continue to recover not just from the recession, but again how do we build an economy from the middle out so that we have an economy, a tax policy all centered on on how do we make the middle class more secure in this country?
STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me ask you another question about the president's speech. You heard Mitt Romney's pitch to those disappointed Obama voters, does the president need some sort of mea culpa to get them back?
PLOUFFE: Listen, I think this president, next week, what we're going to do today in Colorado through the duration of this campaign, is going to explain what he did to move us away from -- again we were on the precipice of a great depression -- health care, ending the Iraq war, focusing on rebuilding this country.
I think the American people know that we have got a tough economy, largely what the Republican Convention last week was, was hiding their own agenda, a bunch of platitudes and angry insults. And reminding people that we have got a tough economy. People know that. They want to know how we're going to move forward.
And I think we have energized here in Colorado today, great volunteers. We're beginning to see great voter registration in the battleground states. So we think we're going to be able to build the kind of excitement on the ground to win this election.
But again I think the question for the American people, particularly for the middle class voters in this country, and Americans is, who do you trust to make economic decisions with you at the core?
STEPHANOPOULOS: And one of those economic decisions...
PLOUFFE: And Mitt Romney -- well, no George, Mitt Romney is clearly going to make every decision through the prism of he believes that if people like him get a huge tax cut, somehow that's going to trickle down to everybody else. And that's simply not the recipe for growth in this country.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Another big economic decision people are going to have to make is about Medicare.And, you know, Medicare has been a political winner for Democrats for a generation. But in his convention speech, Paul Ryan really seemed to signal that the Republicans aren't going to cede that ground at all. His central message was bring it on. Here he was.
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RYAN: In this election, on this issue, the usual posturing on the left isn't going to work. Mitt Romney and I know the difference between to protecting a program and raiding it. Ladies and gentlemen, our nation needs this debate, we want this debate, we will win this debate!
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STEPHANOPOULOS: Of course, he took on those more than $700 billion in savings in the president's health care plan. I we all know that savings were included in congressman Ryan's budget as well. But the Republicans made some headway with this argument in 2010. Are you worried about it now?
PLOUFFE: George, this is a place where we're in full agreement with Paul Ryan. We think that this is an important debate to have. And we're anxious to have it.
First of all, it's remarkable when Paul Ryan was first picked as Mitt Romney's vice president, itwas praised because here's someone who's going to tell hard truths. I mean, he sounded like the second coming of Claude Pepper last week, OK. Let's be clear about, first of all, the president's approach to Medicare, which was supported by AARP -- extended Medicare solvency for eight years. The savings all came from waste and fraud and subsidies that shouldn't have been going to the insurance companies, not a dime came from Medicare beneficiaries.
The Romney/Ryan approach is voucherized Medicare. So when you run out of vouchers, seniors are going to be on their own. It's estimate that the Ryan plan would add $6,400 to every Medicare...
STEPHANOPOULOS: That's the old Ryan plan, isn't it...
PLOUFFE: And so this is -- well, George, here's the thing, and the Romney/Ryan approach would bankrupt Medicare in four years. So you've got solvency through the president's approach of Medicare, bankruptcy through the Romney/Ryan approach.
You've got the president getting savings from the system -- from insurance company, from fraud, from waste. You got the Romney/Ryan approach, which is we're going to get all of the money from Medicare beneficiaries.
So I think on the question, in Florida and Ohio and other states of who do you trust to protect Medicare and who do you trust as we reduce our deficit to get the savings from the system, not putting it on the backs of Medicare beneficiaries, we think that's a debate we're well positioned to have, to execute and to win.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So that's somewhere you agree as you said with Paul Ryan.
One place you disagree with the Romney/Ryan ticket is the ads they have been sending out on welfare reform, neither Governor Romney nor Congressman Ryan mentioned welfare in their convention speeches, but here's the ad they've been running in a lot of battleground states.
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ANNOUNCER: President Obama quietly announced a plan to gut welfare reform by dropping work requirements. Under Obama's plan, you wouldn't have to work and wouldn't have to train for a job. They'd just send you your welfare check. And welfare to work goes back to being plain old welfare.
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STEPHANOPOULOS: I know you disagree with the ad, and a lot of independent fact checkers have backed you up on that. My question is, it doesn't seem to deter Governor Romney. The question is, why? And many of your supporters have accused the Romney team of playing the race card. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the DNC chair, called it quote, "a dog whistler for voters who consider race when casting their ballot." Does the president agree with that?
PLOUFFE: Well, first, George, on Medicare, I want to make clear, I don't agree with Paul Ryan. I agree that it's an important debate for the country.
PLOUFFE: So, first of all, George, right now, their campaign, is built on a tripod of lies. A welfare attack that is just absolutely untrue. The suggestion that we're raiding Medicare, absolutely untrue. And then this whole we can't build it nonsense. The president, as I think everybody in America does, believes that small businesses are built through the drive and innovation and hard work. The point he was trying to make is, things like education, roads, or infrastructure, it's something we all do together.
So it is amazing, by the way -- I don't think we have ever seen a presidential campaign, ever, that's built on a foundation of absolute lies. And I think ultimately they are going to pay a price on that.
On welfare, it's absolutely untrue. Everyone who looked at it is outraged that they're making this. The president, actually, these waivers strengthen work. You would have to get 20 percent more work in the state to even qualify.
Now, as to their motivations, I'll leave that to them. It is remarkable that the entire--
STEPHANOPOULOS: But (inaudible) the DNC chair who says it's a dog whistle playing on racial resentment?
PLOUFFE: Well, listen, I think they'll have to answer what they're trying to do. I think they're trying to suggest somehow that we're trying to give a bunch of handouts to people, which is just not true. This is a president who believes in his core that hard work must be rewarded. And if people aren't willing to work harder and be responsible, we shouldn't help them.
But here's the question, George. Their whole theory was -- our whole campaign is just going to be the economy is not great, and it's Obama's fault. Now they are on this Medicare thing. Now they're on this welfare thing. It's a remarkable thing. And so he didn't talk about welfare in his speech on Thursday night.
The other thing he didn't talk about welfare -- didn't talk in his speech, which I think is remarkable, is he didn't talk about the war we're waging in Afghanistan. Or our troops. Which is an amazing thing for someone who wants to be 66 days from now elected as our commander in chief. Not even talk about our troops or the war we're waging in Afghanistan. And maybe that's because Governor Romney called our ending of the Iraq war tragic. Has opposed our plans in Afghanistan, in terms of bringing troops home. We're recovering 33,000 in September. So that was a huge omission, and I think a really remarkable thing.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Final question, I have got to ask you about Clint Eastwood. The president sent out that tweet on Thursday, and we're going to show it right now. Put it up there. But I just (inaudible), this seat's taken. I guess Governor Romney thought Clint Eastwood was pretty funny. The president?
PLOUFFE: Listen, I think the president, myself, we all, I think, everyone in America thinks he's been an amazing actor and director and an American treasure. I do think the Romney campaign would probably not, three days after their convention, still having questions raised about Clint Eastwood. So you'll have to ask them how that all went down. I don't think it probably -- I think they probably had other business they wanted to transact. But we're all Clint Eastwood fans here in the Obama campaign.
STEPHANOPOULOS: David Plouffe, thank you very much.
PLOUFFE: Thanks, George.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And we'll be right back with our powerhouse roundtable in just 60 seconds.
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CLINT EASTWOOD, ACTOR/DIRECTOR: So, Mr. President, how do you -- how do you handle -- how do you handle promises that you have made when you were running for election, and how do you handle -- how do you handle it? I mean, what do you say to people? Do you -- do you just -- you know, I know -- people -- what? What do you want me to tell Romney? I can't tell him to do that. He can't do that to himself. You're crazy. You're absolutely crazy.
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STEPHANOPOULOS: Clint Eastwood debating an empty chair. We have got five fill chairs on our roundtable this morning. I'm joined as always by George Will, Donna Brazile, Matthew Dowd, Dr. Kerry Healey, lieutenant governor of Massachusetts under Mitt Romney, now a senior adviser to his campaign, and a former Obama adviser Bill Burton, now the head of the Priorities USA Action. That's a super PAC supporting President Obama.
Let's talk about the Republican convention this first round, George. We saw three nights, one night short because of Isaac. In those three nights, did they do what they needed to do?
WILL: It's not clear. It's the question, George, of who's watching and why at this point. Are the kind of people who tune in conventions, the kind of people who are unusually interested in politics? If so--
STEPHANOPOULOS: Viewership was down about 30 percent from four years ago.
WILL: That's right. And this matters, because the voting starts in this country in Iowa in 25 days. And five days after that, in Ohio. A third of the American people live in the 35 states, 32 states, I guess, that permit early voting. So we're really on the edge of something here, and the question is, did Mitt Romney tell us something we didn't already know? We know he's against, as he says, throwing borrowed money at bad ideas. We know he's against what they call trickle-down government. But did he tell us something we didn't already know? I doubt it.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Did he, Donna?
BRAZILE: No, I don't believe he closed the deal. And I also believe it was a missed opportunity. Look, George, when you attend a Republican convention as a Democrat, you suspect that they're going to hammer your side. What we saw for three nights is the Republican Party basically trying to figure out their path forward. We had the rising stars of 2016, and we had a conversation with Ann Romney, who said, look, I'm going to tell you why he made me laugh, why we should trust him, but they didn't close the deal. So I think we left there after that bizarre performance by Clint Eastwood, whom I really like, we left it still wondering who is Mitt Romney?
STEPHANOPOULOS: Although, I will go to Dr. Healey now, we did see Ann Romney's speech, where she let us in on a lot of this personal biography, and Governor Romney did that himself on Thursday night.
HEALEY: Well, not only that, but you also saw people from throughout his life on Thursday night, people whom I had never met before, coming forward to tell their own stories about the incredible charitable acts that Governor Romney had done throughout his lifetime in secret. I mean, often people wonder, why don't we hear more about Mitt Romney's charitable acts? Well, obviously he feels that these things are private. But on that night, people came forward and said, let me tell you about the kindness that he had with our sick child, or how he helped our family when we were in need. And then people came forward and said, this is what it was working with him at Bain Capital and how he helped created jobs. And that was a side to him that I think most people hadn't seen before.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Why do you think (inaudible) instead of Clint Eastwood?
HEALEY: Well, I think that was really a decision that the networks made, not to cover more of that, and I hope that people go online and look at those speeches, because that was really, to me, some of the most powerful moments of the convention.
DOWD: Well, for me, the convention, they're not used to close the deal, but they're used to make building blocks in a tight race to -- in order to convert people by the time you get to the end.
I think what the convention did, because it didn't fully do I think what they wanted to do, which was convert people from anti-Obama to pro-Romney, which is what you have to have. It raises the stakes for October 3rd, which is the first vice presidential debate.
The other thing, if I were the Romney campaign, I would be worried about, is that normally, if you take a look at history, conventions and messages that are primarily about biography don't usually win. If you think about Bob Dole's convention was primarily about his biography, and he lost. Bob Kerry's (sic) convention was primarily about biography and he lost. And John McCain's convention.
And so what I think they missed was an opportunity to take the man and connect it to a vision, and that's the part I think they missed.
STEPHANOPOULOS: I want to talk about that, but on the other hand, he did, Bill Burton, make that strong case for a lot of Americans who are not feeling any better off than they were four years ago, and you saw David Plouffe still couldn't give a yes, we are better off than we were four years ago.
BURTON: Well, the flaw in that question is that if you look at when the president took over, we were still losing 800,000 jobs a month. So, the situation didn't get to the very worst point until into the president's term. But since the recovery has started, yes, more than 4 million jobs have been created.
But what Mitt Romney missed -- I thin the lieutenant governor is right, one of the most powerful parts of their convention was some of the personal stories that came from some of the people who weren't in primetime. But what he missed was the opportunity to talk about not just how much he loves his family, but what he's going to do for the American people and their families.
There was no specificity. There was no defense of his economic strategy. And I think that was the biggest missed opportunity for him.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me go to Governor Healey on that, because that was a point -- Bill Burton obviously an Obama partisan, but The Wall Street Journal editorial page basically made the same point yesterday. They said that he didn't lay out his economic policy agenda with enough specificity.
HEALEY: Yes, I would strongly disagree. And I would also disagree with the idea that he didn't get the message across, that the whole point of his administration would be the American people, and their jobs and their families. He made that very clear. That's how he closed his speech.
So -- and he also has been talking, for the last month, and also at the convention, his policies to expand the welfare of the middle classes, to talk about job creation there, to create 12 million new jobs to bring down unemployment.
Unemployment now has been over 8 percent for 43 months. So, of course, you can't say that you're better off than you were four years ago. I think he made a very specific appeal to people to, you know, repeal "Obama-care," which there's a lot of support for.
Empower small businesses. Lower taxes on everyone, not just upper income folks, but everyone and small businesses. And to get us to a point of energy independence. So he did lay out the specifics.
STEPHANOPOULOS: One of the other points that I thought was especially effective, George Will, is that pitch to the disappointed Obama voters, that imagery of the fading Obama posters on the college students' wall.
WILL: Americans want their presidents to succeed, partly because they put them there, and they don't want to say they made a mistake. So I thought that tone, more in sorrow than in anger, it's all right to change presidents.
I mean, after all, you know, if we have a third two-term president in a row, it will be the only second time in American history we have had that: Jefferson, Madison, Monroe. So turmoil and change is perfectly normal in the chief executive office. And I think that's something that Mr. Romney was trying to say. Don't be afraid, we can do this.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Was that the best part of the convention?
BRAZILE: No. The best part of to convention really was getting to know the Ron Paul people who really left with a bad taste in their mouth.
BRAZILE: But the truth be told is that two-thirds of Mitt Romney's speech -- I listened to his speech, I loved the video because, you know, we got a glimpse into his life -- his family life. I enjoyed meeting his sons.
But two-thirds of his speech was all about emotion. It was all about him the man, him the person, he didn't lay out his policies or his policy prescriptions until the last 15 minutes. And he did it in such a moving -- quick way, I've got a five-point plan, I kept thinking, you had 59 points, you reduced it to five, but there was still no meat. No meat.
DOWD: To me, that whole sort of, we're disappointed, you voted for it, was actually the fundamental the most powerful part of the message, I believe in Paul Ryan's speech and in Mitt Romney's speech, because who they have to win to win this election is people that voted for Barack Obama, were enthusiastic for Barack Obama, but don't like the current direction of the country.
It's sort of the gold watch strategy for the CEO. Give him a gold watch, let him go on his way, we need a new CEO in this country. If they have that tone and not out of anger, not try to get people to hate Barack Obama, but say, you can like Barack Obama, but he just shouldn't serve.
I want to make a point which I think people misinterpreted about the question, are you better off than you were four years ago? We did a whole bunch of -- when I was working for President Bush in 2004, a whole bunch of research on this question.
And the question really is, is twofold: Is the country better off? Not are you, but is the country? Because people will vote for somebody even if they are worse off, if they think the country is better off.
And secondly, almost as powerful, will the country be better off four years from now? And I think what you're going to see is Mitt Romney is going to make an argument that says the country is not better off, it's worse off than it was.
And I think Barack Obama needs to make the argument, the country will be better off if I get four more years.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And that is clearly the argument, Bill Burton, that David Plouffe was making today.
BURTON: Well, clearly. I think that -- you know, and this also what was missing from Romney's speech was, you know, a very forward-looking vision for where he's going to take the country, what he is going to actually do.
If you look at what President Obama did in 2008, in his speech where he introduced himself to the American people, people talk about the rhetoric and what a great speech it was, and how it was delivered. But actually he talked very specifically about things like health care, fuel efficiency standards, equal pay, Iraq, Afghanistan, and then he accomplished all of those things.
Mitt Romney didn't really lead you down the path of the things that he's actually going to accomplish.
STEPHANOPOULOS: I think there might be some disagreement on accomplishing all those things. We have a lot more "Roundtable" after this break, including the Democrats. A look ahead to the Democrats' big week.
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JAY LENO, HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW": President Obama is seeking to make his case with first-time voters. Well, you can understand why. I mean, second-time voters have graduated and can't find a job.
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STEPHANOPOULOS: Are campaigns becoming fact-free zones?
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DAVID GERGEN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: There were some misstatements of the facts. But let's not forget this was a speech about big ideas.
STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, "THE COLBERT REPORT": Yes, huge ideas. Ideas like, lying is handy.
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STEPHANOPOULOS: And what about foreign policy and that Navy SEAL's book about the killing of Osama?
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CONAN O'BRIEN, HOST, "CONAN": A former Navy SEAL has a book out that claims Osama bin Laden was unarmed when he was shot. Yes. The book is called "Who Cares, He's Dead."
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STEPHANOPOULOS: And lots more "Roundtable" coming up, after this from our ABC stations.
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OBAMA: What the naysayers don't understand is that this election has never been about me. It's about you.
You have shown what history teaches us, that at defining moments like this one, the change doesn't come from Washington, change comes to Washington.
Change happens because the American people demand it, because they rise up and insist on new ideas and new leadership, a new politics for a new time. America, this is one of those moments.
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STEPHANOPOULOS: Far fewer gray hairs on Barack Obama four years ago. Let's talk about his convention with our roundtable. George Will, Donna Brazile, Matthew Dowd, joined by Dr. Kerry Healey, former lieutenant governor of Massachusetts now an adviser to Mitt Romney, also former Obama adviser Bill Burton, now head of the Priorities USA action Super PAC supporting him.
And George Will, let's talk about President Obama. You heard all that hope four years ago. How does he calibrate the pitch four years later?
WILL: I think he runs at his opponents now. He's got the opponents he says he wants. He's presented himself as the first president as history to ever inherit from his predecessor an imperfect world. So he has this kind of comprehensive alibi.
I think judging by his campaign to date and his list of convention speakers, I think he's going to make six arguments for a second term.
STEPHANOPOULOS: That's a lot of arguments.
WILL: Well, they're very quick.
First is, Mitt Romney is rich.
Second, we need a serious vice president, Joe Biden instead of Paul Ryan.
Third, Republicans hate women.
Fourth, the only woman they don't hate is Ayn Rand. And she's dead. And she wrote bad novels.
Sixth, something must to be done to present Sandra Fluke from paying for her on contraception.
And all will be well. Sixth and finally, all will be well if i can raise by 4.6 points the top income tax rate on fewer than 3 percent of American people. That's it so far as I can tell.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Is that it, Donna?
First of all, President Obama should not spend his speech refuting all of the arguments that the Republicans have made against him since day one.
Secondly, he shouldn't try to reinvent himself or reintroduce himself. I think the most important the president can do is, talk to the American people and tell them about the journey that we have been on as a country, the solutions that he has offered, the progress he's made and give us a glimpse into the next four years.
If he can do that and give the American people a sense of pride in our accomplishments, not justhis, because he had help in doing this, then I think the American people will rally to his cause and willput those posters back up on the wall.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But how about the question I posed to David Plouffe, does he have to make some kind of a mirror image argument of what Mitt Romney was making the other night where he was talking to those disappointed supporters as well and say listen I know I didn't get everything right.
BRAZILE: Well, look, George, that's the elephant in the room. I mean, nobody wants to go out there and brag about I'm doing a great job when there are millions of Americans still unemployed. President Obama has to say, I feel your pain. I got your back. I'm working hard every day to get you back to work.
DOWD: I think he has to do much more than just say he feels their pain. I mean, I think they're the same voters that Mitt Romney needs obviously Barack Obama needs. And there are people that voted for him who were really enthusiastic about him, but now are leaning away from him, or disappointed in him along with a lot of other Americans.
I think he has to do something, convey some modesty, some humility, and some humbleness and some idea that maybe he doesn't say I made a mistake but he comes really close to saying I've learned in office and I'm going to take responsibility for what's happened.
STEPHANOPOULOS: He has. He's talked about the communications problems...
DOWD: And that's like -- when people say communications problem, you're basically saying I didn't do anything wrong. I think it's -- we have had two presidents now in a row, Barack Obama and George W. Bush who have an incredible incapacity to admit they made a mistake. And for the American public, the American public thinks it's a very powerful thing when you stand up and say I made a mistake and it means you learned in office and you're taking responsibility.
When you don't do that, the public sort of tunes their ears out and says this person will not take responsibility for what happen.
STEPHANOPOULOS: From discussions I've had with people inside your campaign, I think they agree with that. They think that some kind of mea culpa would be a powerful move for the president.
HEALEY: Well, it was very clear from your conversation with David Plouffe that even he couldn't say that in fact the American people are better off than four years ago. So, obviously, there is a reticence to discuss the record.
And as George was mentioning it's quite likely that, unfortunately, the focus of the convention may be simply trying to continue to denigrate or continue say negative things about Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, as opposed to actually explaining why they were unable to accomplish almost any of the goals laid out during the 2008 campaign.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Won't they zero in on the economic plans of Romney and Ryan?
HEALEY: And we will have many robust discussions about that. We welcome that discussion because honestly we -- they don't have a record to run on. And when you have 50 percent of the young people coming out of college today with no jobs, when you have high unemployment still in place, I think that this is a discussion that's just going to have to be had after the convention.
BURTON: I think there's no doubt that if the president were here right now he would say that he wishes that more progress could have been made. And I think when you get away from President Obama's speeches, I think it takes on a life of rhetoric and loftiness and things like that. But when you actually listen to the words he says, if you listen to what he said yesterday in his campaign speech, you listen to the '08 speech, he gets really down and dirty about what needs to get done and about the fact that we need to make more progress.
I bet he does talk about why we didn't make more progress. And I bet he also does talk about the economic argument that Mitt Romney did not make on Thursday night. Because he didn't, the president is going to be able to fill in the blanks on the what the consequences for American people.
DOWD: George, I think what the missing piece of this entire campaign on both sides of it, and the first I think that does it, is going to have an advantage in this race, is neither side has conveyed a compelling vision for the future, neither side has. What you saw, I think, in a large degree at the Republican convention, was a vision of the past, was a the past was so great, look at what the past was like, America was extraordinary, families were like this. We can go back to the past by going into the future with Mitt Romney. That was their's.
Barack Obama up to this point, which is why I think their convention, though it's going to be contrast, and they need to have some about Mitt Romney, it has to be, if he's going win, it has to beprimarily about what he's going to do in the next four years and what his vision of the future. If it goes back into this he said, she said thing, this race is going to stay tied
STEPHANOPOULOS: It's also got to be why things will be different in the next four years.
WILL: The president's fundamental approach is backward looking. He talked in that clip we showed at the beginning of this segment about new ideas. The Democrat's idea is that programs 77 and 47 years old, Social Security and Medicare, don't need to change at all ever.
The world has changed, our demography has changed. We can't end any of them as we know it.
I think what Mr. Romney has do is say that we have a fundamentally reactionary liberalism party. And we will change to suit a changed country.
BRAZILE: But George, we have been talking about trickle-down economics for the last 30 years. And that's the reason why we're stuck in this economic situation that we're in. We face a balance sheet recession when you have the housing market and the financial market go under. And we're trying to come above that cloud storm.
29 consecutive months of job growth, 4.5 million jobs, a manufacturing sector that's getting stronger. The auto industry saved.
I think this president has a remarkable record. Our troops home from Iraq.
And while Mitt Romney didn't talk about our 70,000 men and women risking their lives in Afghanistan, President Obama will give their story as well.
So I don't feel like I'm going into a convention on defense. We're going to play offense. We're going to take it from Mitt Romney. And if he wants to come back tell us why we need to go back to Leave it to Beaver and the 1950s, fine, President Obama will go forward.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Leave it to Beaver?
HEALEY: I understand that President Obama didn't actually even see any of the convention. So his characterization of it being almost in black and white Leave it to Beaver terms is purely from what other people have told him. And if he had seen it, he would have seen a President Romney in the future looking toward the future, looking toward energy independence, looking toward job creation, getting the engine of job creation going again and knowing exactly how to do that thanks to his experience in the private sector.
STEPHANOPOULOS: In order to make the economic argument, President Obama is going to be calling out a big gun, this week. Wednesday night, Bill Clinton. Here was the pitch he made four years ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL CLINTON, FRM. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Middle class and low-income Americans are hurting with incomes declining, job losses, poverty and inequality rising.
The job of the next president is to rebuild the American dream. Barack Obama is the man for this job!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: Bill Burton, it's no secret that the two presidents haven't had the closest of relationships, but I think shows how much at this point President Obama wants to win. He's not only calling in Bill Clinton for the big speech on Wednesday night, also using him in so many of his ads.
BURTON: Well, President Clinton is a uniquely qualified surrogate for the president on the economy. And he takes this conversation from the theoretical to the empirical. He shows what kind of economic strategy can actually work for the American people. And I think a big mistake Republicans have made here is elevating President Clinton and putting him in their ads and talking about him so much, because it makes him a very important arbiter in this race. And I think we all know if this race comes down to one vote and it's President Clinton's, it's who he's voting for.
WILL: Again, it's this retrospective cast of mind. Let's go back to the 1990s. If we can't go to the 30s or the 60s, the 90s.
Bill Clinton has the exquisite good fortune to be the first post-Cold War president. And to be president when the commercialization of the Internet drove the Nasdaq in five years from 800 to 4,500.
Now if you think you can reproduce those conditions, good luck.
DOWD: Well, two things I think are fascinating about the Bill Clinton thing. First of all, I remember in 2000, Al Gore could barely mention Bill Clinton's name and he served with him on the ticket. And we've come a long way...
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, he did speak at the convention.
DOWD: He did speak at the convention. But basically, he wouldn't let him campaign for him. He wouldn't let him cut commercials. And for a guy, President Obama, who beat his wife and now in the position to basically please save me in the course of this campaign is a fascinating thing.
The other fast fascinating thing is, the last two-term Republican president was barely mentioned at the Republican Convention. So the idea that you have this guy who the president has never had a relationship is going to be used to prop him up is, I think, fascinating.
I think they have to be careful. Bill Clinton is a very popular figure. He is beloved by Democrats and independents like him. They think his time in office was very well (ph). I think they've got to be careful that basically people don't walk away from him, like, well, we kind of like that president, and now we're stuck with this president, President Obama.
They have got to be careful that it is about the future and it is about President Obama. It's not about the great days in the past of Bill Clinton.
BRAZILE: One thing, I don't want to correct all of the things you said about Bill Clinton. But Bill Clinton did campaign for us. And that's why we did so very well and we won the popular vote.
BRAZILE: He didn't campaign in all of the states that he wanted to campaign in, but he campaigned in a sufficient number. And he did not beat his wife, they competed and President Obama won the nomination. Those are the two things I would correct you on.
STEPHANOPOULOS: One thing that I'm going to be watching for, Dr. Healey, is whether Bill Clinton in that speech on Wednesday night -- as Bill pointed out, Clinton does appear in the Romney welfare ads, whether or not Bill Clinton does bring up and take on this whole welfare argument, which a lot of Democrats have called race-baiting.
HEALEY: Yes, well, it's very interesting that the signature accomplishment of the Clinton administration, the welfare reforms that were bipartisan and embraced by many and rejected by Obama at the time, he felt that they were a bad idea, have become so central to this race.
And what we have seen is that a unilateral action by the Obama administration, saying, we don't feel that we need to enforce these anymore, we will release the states from enforcing the work requirement, and, you know, you can make the argument, and I'm sure some people are spoiling to do that, you know, that that isn't actually abandoning the core of the legislation, but it is.
You never give government a power and say, don't worry, we won't use it.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But even Republican governors asking for the waivers.
HEALEY: But this is something that we're not even sure that a president has the power to do under this legislation.
BURTON: I just have to -- everything you're saying, Lieutenant Governor, has been widely debunked. And I think there's a reason that Mitt Romney did not bring this up at his convention floor. If you don't have the guts to make an argument to the American people in the light of day, but you spend $10 million of it making that the core of your campaign, it says something about the character of you who are, and it says something about the kind of campaign that you're running.
If it's -- $10 million is a lot of money. And if that's really the centerpiece of his argument to people in their living rooms, late at night, when they're watching TV, then why didn't he say anything about it at the convention?
HEALEY: I think one of the most important things you can do is actually go back and look at the documents here, because there's a lot he said-she said going on about these welfare reforms. But the memo sent out said nothing about enforcing higher standards. That was something Katherine (sic) Sebelius went back later and said, oh, yes, oh, don't worry, we'll insist that they have better outcomes in the end. All the memo says is, we have the power now to release states from enforcing these standards.
DOWD: George, I think that -- I mean, to me, the biggest problem with this argument, and if -- like if you can still find a little -- tiny little kernel way down deep, it's like partially true and we're going to make this argument.
The truth has become a casualty in the course of this campaign on both sides of the aisle. The truth is a casualty in this. It's as if we're going to make any argument possible that's going -- advantageous our side in order to overcome the other side.
The Republicans do it. The Democrats do it.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Same scale?
DOWD: Not necessarily on the same scale. But we'll see it at this convention. Because, I think, from my perspective, what happened at this convention is that nobody is calling on it, or maybe a few people are calling on it. Paul Ryan, what he did in his speech, I think, so stretched the truth, and I like Paul Ryan, I have a lot of great respect for Paul Ryan, but the (INAUDIBLE) that he said about closing the GM plant, which closed before Barack Obama took president, about the Simpson-Bowles bill which -- Simpson-Bowles, which he opposed, and then all of a sudden you see faults Barack Obama for, at some point the truth should matter.
WILL: At every particular and what he said about the GM plant was right. He did not say it closed before Obama became president. The one who said that was the so-called fact checker at The Washington Post who got it wrong. He said it was closed in December 2008. In fact it was making trucks in April 2009.
DOWD: George, the way he -- when anybody that is watching that that didn't know the facts of it, anybody watching that speech, whether they -- as I say, just like the welfare thing, anybody coming away from that believes one thing.
And you're saying the fact may be right, he was trying to convey that Barack Obama was responsible for the closing of the GM plant, and that isn't true.
WILL: He said, especially in Janesville, where we were about to lose a major factory, entirely true.
HEALEY: And the point is that Barack Obama had said specifically about that factory that, you know, this kind of factory, you know, with government intervention should be able to be open for another 100 years and then it was announced that it would eventually close, and it did close after Obama was in office, not before, no intervention occurred.
HEALEY: The whole idea is that this is precisely the type of thing that Obama said that he was going to be able to accomplish and he has not.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But Paul Ryan supported the auto bailout.
HEALEY: The point is, we're talking about fact-checking here though at the moment. I mean, this is one of those cases where the fact-checkers just had it wrong.
BRAZILE: I disagree. You know, now the fact-checkers are liars too. I mean, at some point...
WILL: Not liars, just don't have their facts right.
BRAZILE: George, you know, I mean, I can get into the weeds of all of that. And I have my paper, too. No, no, please don't give me any more paper, my handbag is full.
The point is, is that, Paul Ryan, a rising star in the Republican Party, clearly he exaggerated a lot of points. And we spent the next day trying to clear up all of the exaggerations.
There's a larger issue here, George, and that is the American people are sick and tired of politics. They're sick and tired of the back and forth, the acrimony, which is one of the reasons why I think President Obama, Vice President Biden, and Bill Clinton, who I believe is a key leader next week for us, they need to make sure they talk directly to the American people, encourage them to be partners in what we need to do together as a country, and not get into trying to refute all of the Republican arguments.
WILL: This isn't the weeds, this is, again, Mr. Kessler of The Washington Post, the plant was closed in December 2008, before Obama was sworn in, false.
Now, a subtext of all this is that we're all racists. Can I ask you a question? What is the largest city in Illinois?
WILL: You're a racist.
WILL: Well, the guys over at MSNBC have said that when Republicans talk about Chicago, it's a subtext for racism.
BRAZILE: George, you know, let me just tell you, as the first African-American woman to manage a presidential campaign, I will never forget the conversation I had with my dad. I thought he would be excited. I'm the first black woman.
My dad said, Donna, it's just a job, it's just a job. So, I mean, look, racism is a subtext, context of every campaign in modern history and past history. And so whether it's the use of the word "y'all" to "Chicago," I don't get drawn into those conversations.
I heard about a camerawoman at a network I also work for, getting pelted with peanuts at the convention, I don't get drawn into that. Because I understand when you put this conversation on the table we cannot have a substantive conversation about welfare reform, about social policy, because we want to get drawn into that conversation.
Look, we need to have a forward-looking conversation about what it takes to grow our economy in the 21st Century for all Americans.
DOWD: To me, and we -- also we get to a better conversation on this, to me is, there's a difference between getting the letter of the facts right and the spirit of the facts right. And both sides, and you could see it loud and clear at the Republican Convention, the spirit of what they were saying was just not true. The spirit of what they were saying, you could go and find an element of it.
But to me, I'm with Donna on this. The American public is tired of all this argument. And this whole empty chair thing we had with Clint Eastwood, which was obviously a bizarre moment and I think a misuse of resources by the Romney campaign in the most prime real estate you had.
To me the empty chair that matters in all of this, which neither side has talked to, is the empty chair of the man or the woman that didn't come home from Iraq, that people are sitting around the table because their husband or wife is gone or their daughter is gone.
It's the empty chair of the woman that can't -- has to work two shifts because she doesn't have flex time, and who is going to provide that for you? It's the empty chair of the grandfather with Alzheimer's that can't be there because they're in a home because the family can't manage him and all that.
That is what people want to talk about. In -- going four years, they don't want to talk about what happened three years ago, they don't want to talk about what happened four years ago. They want to know how that empty chair is going to be fixed and who is going to manage that.
STEPHANOPOULOS: It brings up the empty chair of the soldier doesn't come home from Afghanistan. Did it surprise you we didn't you hear more about the war?
WILL: Here I'm in complete agreement with what David Plouffe said in your interview with him. Twenty-one hundred Americans have died in Afghanistan, 53 died in August. If the mission is not so important that someone running for commander-in-chief won't mention an ongoing war, much the longest war in our national history, that, more than any other thing makes the case as to why we should have been out two years ago, and why we should be out now, as fast as is logistically possible.
HEALEY: Governor Romney had just given a major speech the day before on this topic, and so, I'm sure that he was trying to cover different territory there. He has discussed Afghanistan on many occasions. And made it very clear that he finds it's inappropriate and dangerous for our troops that the president gave a date certain for withdrawal. But he is going to conduct a review of the conditions on the ground if he's elected as president and make sure that our interests in Afghanistan are preserved.
And there's no conversation, no conversation with the Democratic Party right now, around what those interests are. Do they still care if Afghanistan becomes a haven for terrorism? Are they going to postpone their withdraw if they feel it's not appropriate at this time, if it's not safe for our nation to be withdrawing troops on this expedited level?
It really seems as though this withdrawal level in Afghanistan has been set on a political time schedule.
WILL: But what Mitt Romney said during the primary, and I quote, "we do not negotiate -- we should not negotiate with the Taliban, we should defeat the Taliban."
If Mitt Romney's position is we should fight on in Afghanistan until we defeat the Taliban whatever that means, he will lose and he should lose.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You get the last word.
HEALEY: His position is that we should not be looking at Afghanistan through a political lens. And I can only say that when we look at this pre-announced withdrawal schedule, it only be viewed as political.
STEPHANOPOULOS: I wish we had more time. We don't. This was a fantastic roundtable. Thank you all very much. I'm sure we're going to have a lot more to talk about next week after the democratic convention.
We conversation is going to continue online. Matt and Donna will answer your questions today on Twitter @Matthewjdowd and @Donnzbrzile. Just use the hashtag #ThisWeek.
We'll be right back.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Three moments from This Week history, what year was it?
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial opened.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When that war was over, there was little public honor for those who had survived and only slightly more for those who had not. Now, we are remembering them.
STEPHANOPOULOS: The nuclear freeze movement was born.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: American people are more concerned about the dangers of a nuclear confrontation and nuclear war than any time that I have served in public life.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some critics call ET the best film in 20 years.
STEPHANOPOULOS: A movie about a boy and his alien friend became an instant classic.
E.T.: ET, phone home.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Was it 1981, 1982 or 1983?
We'll be right back with the answer.
ANNOUNCER: This Week with George Stephanopoulos brought to you by Audi.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So, what year was it? When did the Vietnam Veterans Memorial open and E.T. break records at the box office? 30 years ago in 1982.
And now, we honor our fellow Americans who serve and sacrifice. This Week, the Pentagon released the names of three soldiers killed in Afghanistan.
And finally, your voice This Week. Today's message is for our friend Robin Roberts. It comes from Lissa Forbes who writes, "Robin, you are an amazing woman, beautiful inside and out. We're praying for your health and strength." We are all, Lissa.
The grace Robin Roberts demonstrates every day inspires all of us who works with her.
And you should know how much strength Robin gets from your prayers as she begins the medical treatment that will bring her back to GMA and all of us.
The next phase will start after her mother's funeral on Wednesday. And Robin will be posting updates at gma.yahoo.com/robin. You can also found out there how to join Be the Match and become a bone marrow donor.
That's all for us today. Thanks for sharing part of your Labor Day weekend with us. Check out World News with David Muir tonight. And tune in all week on air and online for our live coverage from the Democrat in Charlotte.
I'll see you on GMA.