Anderson Cooper Talks To Barack Obama -- Part I
CNN’s Anderson Cooper spent the day with presidential hopeful, Sen. Barack Obama and was granted behind-the-scenes access throughout the day, followed by an in-depth interview.
Part I of the transcript from tonight’s show below.
Transcript courtesy of Anderson Cooper 360° - View the video at http://www.cnn.com/360
ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, "ANDERSON COOPER 360°": We begin with the issue that is still front and center for Barack Obama and has threatened to derail his campaign. When he and I sat down today, he mentioned that he hadn't slept much, between crafting today's foreign policy address and yesterday's message on race, a speech that is still echoing across the country tonight.
The campaign trying to move on today, but still doing damage control.
COOPER (voice-over): By now, you have heard the sermons...
REVEREND JEREMIAH WRIGHT, TRINITY UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST: Not God bless America. God damn America.
COOPER: Played endlessly for much of the past week, today, Senator Obama continued to distance himself from his former pastor's angry rhetoric, and tried to gauge how his speech yesterday on race was playing on the campaign trail.
(on camera): How badly do you think this has damaged you? How much has it hurt? "National Review Online" says, bottom line, will the speech help you win white working-class voters?
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, you know, one of the things I said early on in this campaign was, if I was just running the textbook campaign, doing the conventional thing, I probably wasn't going to win, because Senator Clinton was going to be much more capable of doing that than I would be.
We had tremendous success, and I think we were starting to get a little comfortable and conventional right before Texas and Ohio. And, you know, in some ways, this controversy has actually shaken me up a little bit and gotten me back into remembering that, you know, the odds of me getting elected have always been lower than some of the other conventional candidates.
And, if I bring something to this conversation, it's going to be because I do what I did yesterday, which is hopefully open up a new conversation about a new direction in the country.
As a practical matter, in terms of how this plays out demographically, I can't tell you. I don't know. And, you know, this is one of those things you can't poll. And the speech I gave yesterday obviously was not crafted to hit a particular demographic.
COOPER (voice-over): The speech was widely praised for its eloquence.
OBAMA: What's remarkable is not how many failed in the face of discrimination, but how many men and women overcame the odds.
COOPER: But Obama himself acknowledges, for some, nagging questions remain.
(on camera): In the past, you said you didn't think that your church was particularly controversial. Yesterday, in the speech, you said that -- you admitted that you did hear in the church remarks that could be considered controversial.
Do you know specifically? Do you remember what you heard?
But let me give you examples. It didn't necessarily relate to some of the statements that have caused such controversy over the last few days.
Reverend Wright, on occasion, for example, would talk about infidelity or issues having to do with family life in pretty blunt terms from the pulpit.
And people would blush and blanch.
So, it wasn't just related to his political views. He had a blunt style. And so there are -- no doubt that there were times where he might have said something that I didn't agree with politically. As I said before, I had never heard him say things that were as incendiary as the clips that have been shown.
COOPER (voice-over): Perhaps more incendiary of all, Reverend Wright's comments just days after 9/11 blaming the attacks on U.S. policy.
WRIGHT: Because the stuff we have done overseas is now brought right back into our own front yard. America's chickens are coming home to roost.
(on camera): His conversations regarding 9/11, which you said you were not there for...
OBAMA: That, I was not aware of.
COOPER: Right, but was made aware of, I guess, a year ago, when you were running, did you -- have you talked to him about that?
OBAMA: Well, you know, I told him that I profoundly disagreed with his positions.
As I said before, he was on -- at that stage, on the verge of retirement. And you -- you know, you make decisions about these issues. And my belief was that, given that he was about to retire, that for me to make a political statement respecting my church at that time wasn't necessary.
COOPER (voice-over): By yesterday, however, the necessity of making a political statement on his church and on race was clear to Obama.
OBAMA: Thank you so much. Thank you.
COOPER: Even if the controversy dies down in the coming days, in a general election, if Obama is still in the race, it's likely we will hear more of Reverend Wright's most outrageous sermons.
(on camera): In a general election, though, patriotism is going to come up. I mean, in a general election, patriotism is going to be used by whoever it is who you are facing.
OBAMA: And it would have been -- it would have been used -- it would have been used anyway.
COOPER: But they certainly have more fodder now, and they're going to use the Reverend Wright. They're going to use the comments made by your wife about the United States, about you not wearing a flag pin.
Do you define patriotism differently than, say, John McCain? Do African-Americans define patriotism differently than white America?
OBAMA: I don't think so.
But what I do think is that we have come to use patriotism as a cudgel in politics. And I think that, oftentimes, it's spoken about in ways that don't get to what I think is the core of patriotism, which is, you know, are we caring for each other? Are we upholding the values of our founders? Are we willing to sacrifice on behalf of future generations?
COOPER: Do you think what Reverend Wright said was unpatriotic or un- American?
OBAMA: I absolutely think that some of the language was unpatriotic.
And I think that, as I said yesterday, his biggest failure was not to criticize America, because I think there's always been a tradition of patriotism through dissent.
I mean, Dr. King criticized America. But I think that his failure was to think that America was static, all right? And, you know, when Dr. King criticized America, it was then with the prospect that we would be true to our best selves.
And that, I think, is the essence of my patriotism, the belief that America is constantly changing and constantly improving, and we will never be perfect, but we can -- we can move in the direction of perfecting our union.
And that is the reason I'm in public service.
COOPER: Well, there's little doubt that Senator Obama's statements on the Wright affair have evolved since this controversy began. Some have interpreted that as spin. Others say it is simply due to the painful personal nature of this with the Obamas.
We can only say that you should judge for yourselves.
Tonight, joining me now, CNN senior political analyst David Gergen, CNN political analyst Amy Holmes, and Dee Dee Myers, former Bill Clinton press secretary and author of "Why Women Should Rule the World."
David, very briefly, does Obama need to do more on this issue, or should he try to move off it, as he has today, talking about Iraq, talking about other issues?
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Glad to see you in North Carolina, Anderson, God's country.
I think he needs to pivot off and go on to Iraq and then talk about the economy. But he cannot pivot off completely. He's invited the country to have a serious conversation in this campaign about race. He does need to weave it into his campaign now, and not try to avoid it.
I thought the conversation with you tonight, one more example of trying to deal with it. And -- but -- but he needs to move the conversation into a broader framework, get it beyond Reverend Wright, into a general racial reconciliation.
COOPER: We're going to have a lot more from our panel coming up after this short break. We will have more with the panel.
Also, politics up close -- the part of a campaign you don't often get to see, what it's like between the events behind the scenes on the road -- that and more tonight only on 360°, live in Charlotte.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
COOPER: The crowds here have already assembled. They have been waiting now for about an hour. They're kept back by -- by barricades. Most of these people won't even be able to get in to hear him speak, but they just wanted to come in order catch a glimpse of the candidate.