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Mystery Debate Theater 2008

Once again the Mystery Debate Theater team of Andrew Kingsford, Tim Willette and Steve Rhodes gathered to add value to a presidential candidates' debate in order to bring citizens a deeper understanding of our political system and the people inside it.

Well, Tim and Steve watched separately as each was felled by sniffles, congestion and ennui, while Andrew was . . . probably at Rainbo. Nonetheless, we have produced the most comprehensive and meaningful debate coverage on the face of the Earth. Remember, Texas and Ohio, you can take this with you into the voting booth.

As always, this transcript has been edited for space, clarity, sanity and comedy.


CLINTON: As I have said many times, I have a great deal of respect for Senator Obama, but we have differences. And in the last several days, some of those differences in tactics and the choices that Senator Obama's campaign has made regarding flyers and mailers and other information that has been put out about my health care plan and my position on NAFTA have been very disturbing to me.

You know, for example, it's been unfortunate that Senator Obama has consistently said that I would force people to have health care whether they could afford it or not.

TIM: My plan forces people to pay for health insurance whether they can afford it or not.


BRIAN WILLIAMS: On the topic of accurate information, one of the things that has happened over the past 36 hours - a photo went out the website The Drudge Report, showing Senator Obama in the native garb of a nation he was visiting, as you have done in a host country on a trip overseas.

STEVE: Lindsay Lohan has agreed to reprise the photo session here tonight.

WILLIAMS: Matt Drudge on his website said it came from a source inside the Clinton campaign . . .

STEVE: Senator Clinton, will you take Matt Drudge out of your top eight?

WILLIAMS: . . . Can you say unequivocally here tonight it did not?

CLINTON: Well, so far as I know, it did not. And I certainly know nothing about it and have made clear that that's not the kind of behavior that I condone or expect from the people working in my campaign. But we have no evidence where it came from.

STEVE: We can still detain you at Guantanamo without access to a lawyer.

WILLIAMS: Senator Obama, your response.

OBAMA: Well, first of all, I take Senator Clinton at her word that she knew nothing about the photo. So I think that's something that we can set aside.

I do want to focus on the issue of health care because Senator Clinton has suggested that the flyer that we put out, the mailing that we put out, was inaccurate.

I have endured over the course of this campaign repeatedly negative mailing from Senator Clinton in Iowa, in Nevada and other places suggesting that I want to leave 15 million people out.

According to Senator Clinton, that is accurate. I dispute it.

The reason she thinks that there are more people covered under her plan than mine is because of a mandate. That is not a mandate for the government to provide coverage to everybody; it is a mandate that every individual purchase health care.

Now, Senator Clinton has not indicated how she would enforce this mandate.

STEVE: I think she would force you to watch this debate if you don't comply.

CLINTON: Senator Obama has a mandate in his plan. It's a mandate on parents to provide health insurance for their children. That's about 150 million people who would be required to do that. The difference between Senator Obama and myself is that I know, from the work I've done on health care for many years, that if everyone's not in the system we will continue to let the insurance companies do what's called cherry-picking - pick those who get insurance and leave others out.

We will continue to have a hidden tax, so that when someone goes to the emergency room without insurance - 15 million or however many - that amount of money that will be used to take care of that person will be then spread among all the rest of us.

And most importantly, you know, the kind of attack on my health care plan, which the University of Pennsylvania and others have said is misleading that attack goes right to the heart of whether or not we will be able to achieve universal health care.

And what I find regrettable is that in Senator Obama's mailing that he has sent out across Ohio, it is almost as though the health insurance companies and the Republicans wrote it.

OBAMA: Every expert has said that anybody who wants health care under my plan will be able to obtain it.

STEVE: Hardly!

CLINTON: You know, Senator Obama has a mandate. He would enforce the mandate by requiring parents to buy insurance for their children.

OBAMA: This is true.

CLINTON: If you have a mandate, it has to be enforceable. So there's no difference here.

OBAMA: No, there is a difference.

CLINTON: It would be as though Franklin Roosevelt said let's make Social Security voluntary - that's - you know, that's - let's let everybody get in it if they can afford it - or if President Johnson said let's make Medicare voluntary.

What we have said is that at the point of employment, at the point of contact with various government agencies, we would have people signed up. It's like when you get a 401(k), it's your employer. The employer automatically enrolls you. You would be enrolled.

And under my plan, it is affordable because, number one, we have enough money in our plan. A comparison of the plans like the ones we're proposing found that actually I would cover nearly everybody at a much lower cost than Senator Obama's plan because we would not only provide these health care tax credits, but I would limit the amount of money that anyone ever has to pay for a premium to a low percentage of your income. So it will be affordable.

OBAMA: I do provide a mandate for children, because, number one, we have created a number of programs in which we can have greater assurance that those children will be covered at an affordable price. On the point of many adults, we don't want to put in a situation in which, on the front end, we are mandating them, we are forcing them to purchase insurance, and if the subsidies are inadequate, the burden is on them, and they will be penalized. And that is what Senator Clinton's plan does.

In fact, Medicare Part B is not mandated, it is voluntary. And yet people over 65 choose to purchase it, Hillary, and the reason they choose to purchase it is because it's a good deal. And if people in Cleveland or anywhere in Ohio end up seeing a plan that is affordable for them, I promise you they are snatching it up because they are desperate to get health care. And that's what I intend to provide as president of the United States.

WILLIAMS: Senator, I'm going to change the subject.

STEVE: Because you lost me at Medicare Part B.


CLINTON: About 20 percent of the people who are uninsured have the means to buy insurance. They're often young people -

WILLIAMS: Senator -

CLINTON: - who think they're immortal -

OBAMA: Which is why I cover them.

CLINTON: - except when the illness or the accident strikes. And what Senator Obama has said, that then, once you get to the hospital, you'll be forced to buy insurance, I don't think that's a good idea. We ought to plan for it -

OBAMA: With respect -

CLINTON: - and we ought to make sure we cover everyone.

That is the only way to get to universal health care coverage.

OBAMA: With respect -

CLINTON: That is what I've worked for for 15 years -

OBAMA: With respect -

CLINTON: - and I believe that we can achieve it. But if we don't even have a plan to get there, and we start out by leaving people, you'll never ever control costs, improve quality, and cover everyone.

MR. WILLIAMS: Well, a 16-minute discussion on health care is certainly a start. I'd like to change up -

TIM: A 16-minute discussion on health care is certainly a start. Now let's get back to who sent that picture to Drudge.


WILLIAMS: I - well, here's another important topic . . .

STEVE: I was reading Perez Hilton the other day . . .

WILLIAMS: . . . and that's NAFTA, especially where we're sitting here tonight. And this is a tough one depending on who you ask. The Houston Chronicle has called it a big win for Texas, but Ohio Democratic Senator Brown, your colleague in the Senate, has called it a job-killing trade agreement. Senator Clinton, you've campaigned in south Texas. You've campaigned here in Ohio. Who's right?

STEVE: They both are. But she'll get killed if she says that.

CLINTON: Well, can I just point out that in the last several debates, I seem to get the first question all the time. And I don't mind. I - you know, I'll be happy to field them, but I do find it curious, and if anybody saw Saturday Night Live, you know, maybe we should ask Barack if he's comfortable and needs another pillow. I just find it kind of curious that I keep getting the first question on all of these issues. But I'm happy to answer it.

You know, I have been a critic of NAFTA from the very beginning. I didn't have a public position on it, because I was part of the administration, but when I started running for the Senate, I have been a critic. I've said it was flawed. I said that it worked in some parts of our country, and I've seen the results in Texas. I was in Laredo in the last couple of days. It's the largest inland port in America now. So clearly, some parts of our country have been benefited.

But what I have seen, where I represent upstate New York, I've seen the factories closed and moved. I've had to negotiate to try to keep factories open, sometimes successfully, sometimes not, because the companies got tax benefits to actually move to another country.

So what I have said is that we need to have a plan to fix NAFTA. I would immediately have a trade timeout, and I would take that time to try to fix NAFTA by making it clear that we'll have core labor and environmental standards in the agreement.

I have received a lot of incoming criticism from Senator Obama. And the Cleveland Plain Dealer examined Senator Obama's attacks on me regarding NAFTA and said they were erroneous.

So I would hope that, again, we can get to a debate about what the real issues are and where we stand because we do need to fix NAFTA. It is not working. It was, unfortunately, heavily disadvantaging many of our industries, particularly manufacturing. I have a record of standing up for that, of chairing the Manufacturing Caucus in the Senate, and I will take a tough position on these trade agreements.

STEVE: The manufacturing caucus? I thought that was outsourced years ago . . .

OBAMA: Well, I think that it is inaccurate for Senator Clinton to say that she's always opposed NAFTA. In her campaign for Senate, she said that NAFTA, on balance, had been good for New York and good for America. I disagree with that

Now, I think that Senator Clinton has shifted positions on this and believes that we should have strong environmental standards and labor standards, and I think that's a good thing. But you know, when I first moved to Chicago in the early '80s and I saw steelworkers who had been laid off of their plants - black, white, and Hispanic - and I worked on the streets of Chicago to try to help them find jobs, I saw then that the net costs of many of these trade agreements, if they're not properly structured, can be devastating.

STEVE: Um, he moved to Chicago in 1985. NAFTA was passed in 1993. Do you need another pillow, Barack?

RUSSERT: I want to ask you both about NAFTA because the record, I think, is clear. And I want to - Senator Clinton. Senator Obama said that you did say in 2004 that on balance NAFTA has been good for New York and America. You did say that. When President Clinton signed this bill - and this was after he negotiated two new side agreements, for labor and environment - President Clinton said it would be a force for economic growth and social progress. You said in '96 it was proving its worth as free and fair trade. You said that - in 2000 - it was a good idea that took political courage. So your record is pretty clear.

In the debate that Al Gore had with Ross Perot, Al Gore said the following: "If you don't like NAFTA and what it's done, we can get out of it in six months.

The president can say to Canada and Mexico, we are out. This has not been a good agreement. Will you as president say we are out of NAFTA in six months?

CLINTON: I have said that I will renegotiate NAFTA, so obviously, you'd have to say to Canada and Mexico that that's exactly what we're going to do. But you know, in fairness -

RUSSERT: You will get out. You will notify Mexico and Canada, NAFTA is gone in six months.

CLINTON: No, I will say we will opt out of NAFTA unless we renegotiate it, and we renegotiate on terms that are favorable to all of America.

But let's be fair here, Tim. There are lots of parts of New York that have benefitted, just like there are lots of parts of Texas that have benefitted. The problem is in places like upstate New York, places like Youngstown, Toledo, and others throughout Ohio that have not benefitted. And if you look at what I have been saying, it has been consistent.

You know, Senator Obama told the farmers of Illinois a couple of years ago that he wanted more trade agreements.

RUSSERT: We're going to get to Senator Obama . . .

STEVE: After we grill you first again and give him time to prepare a judicious response . . .

RUSSERT: . . . but I want to stay on your terms because this was something that you wrote about as a real success for your husband. You said it was good on balance for New York and America in 2004, and now you're in Ohio and your words are much different, Senator. The record is very clear.

SEN. CLINTON: Well, I - I - you don't have all the record because you can go back and look at what I've said consistently.

TIM: "You don't have the complete record, Tim."

"Yes, I do."

"I'll bet you don't have the CD bonus tracks, though - eh, young voters?"

CLINTON: And I haven't just said things; I have actually voted to toughen trade agreements, to try to put more teeth into our enforcement mechanisms.

But you know, Tim, when you look at what the Cleveland Plain Dealer said when they examined the kind of criticism that Senator Obama was making of me - it's not me saying it - they said it was erroneous.

I would also say that you can go back and look at from the very beginning - I think David Gergen was on TV today remembering that I was very skeptical about it.

RUSSERT: But let me button this up. Absent the change that you're suggesting, you are willing to opt out of NAFTA in six months?

STEVE: Hasn't he been listening? Or is he too busy reading Drudge?

CLINTON: I'm confident that as president, when I say we will opt out unless we renegotiate, we will be able to renegotiate.

RUSSERT: Senator Obama, you did in 2004 talk to farmers and suggest that NAFTA had been helpful. The Associated Press today ran a story about NAFTA, saying that you have been consistently ambivalent towards the issue. Simple question: Will you, as president, say to Canada and Mexico, This has not worked for us; we are out?

OBAMA: I will make sure that we renegotiate, in the same way that Senator Clinton talked about. And I think actually Senator Clinton's answer on this one is right.

STEVE: Thank you for letting me listen to her first. Now, can someone get me a pillow?

OBAMA: I have to say, Tim, with respect to my position on this, when I ran for the United States Senate, the Chicago Tribune, which was adamantly pro-NAFTA, noted that, in their endorsement of me, they were endorsing me despite my strong opposition to NAFTA.

STEVE: From the Tribune now: "Obama has been consistently ambivalent.

"In his 2004 Senate campaign, he said the U.S. should pursue more deals such as NAFTA, and argued more broadly that his opponent's call for tariffs would spark a trade war. AP reported then that Obama had spoken of enormous benefits having accrued to his state from NAFTA, while adding that he also called for more aggressive trade protections for U.S. workers.

"Obama is correct that Clinton has praised NAFTA in various ways, but he leaves out the qualifications she's expressed along the way.

"And she did not say NAFTA was a 'boon,' as [an Obama] mailer states on its ominous cover, depicting a locked factory gate. 'Boon' was a newspaper's characterization of her position, which is reprinted inside the mailer [and has since been retracted by the newspaper, Newsday, as misleading]."

OBAMA: And that conversation that I had with the Farm Bureau, I was not ambivalent at all. What I said was that NAFTA and other trade deals can be beneficial to the United States because I believe every U.S. worker is as productive as any worker around the world, and we can compete with anybody. And we can't shy away from globalization. We can't draw a moat around us. But what I did say, in that same quote, if you look at it, was that the problem is we've been negotiating just looking at corporate profits and what's good for multinationals, and we haven't been looking at what's good for communities here in Ohio, in my home state of Illinois, and across the country.

STEVE: So I was very firm in my waffling.


RUSSERT: Senator Clinton, on the issue of jobs, I watched you the other day with your economic blueprint in Wisconsin saying, this is my plan; hold me accountable. And I've had a chance to read it very carefully. It does say that you pledge to create 5 million new jobs over 10 years.

And I was reminded of your campaign in 2000 in Buffalo, my hometown, just three hours down Route 90, where you pledged 200,000 new jobs for upstate New York. There's been a net loss of 30,000 jobs. And when you were asked about your pledge, your commitment, you told The Buffalo News, "I might have been a little exuberant." Tonight will you say that the pledge of 5 million jobs might be a little exuberant?

CLINTON: No, Tim, because what happened in 2000 is that I thought Al Gore was going to be president.


CLINTON: And the reason why we can create at least 5 million new jobs - I mean, this is not a big leap. Twenty-two point seven million new jobs were created during the eight years of the Clinton administration under my husband. We can create at least 5 million new jobs.

STEVE: None of them in journalism, of course, but still . . .


WILLIAMS: Senator Obama, yesterday Senator Clinton gave a speech on foreign policy and I'm going to read you a quote from it. Quote, "We've seen the tragic result of having a president who had neither the experience nor the wisdom to manage our foreign policy and safeguard our national security. We cannot let that happen again. America has already taken that chance one time too many."

The senator has compared your foreign policy expertise to that of George W. Bush at the same period. Provided you could be going into a general election against a Republican with vast foreign policy expertise and credibility on national security, how were her comments about you unfair?

TIM: In the general election, you could be up against a Republican with vast foreign policy expertise. For instance, on the need to bomb Iran.

OBAMA: Well, Senator Clinton I think equates experience with longevity in Washington.

STEVE: I associate it with longevity in Springfield.

WILLIAMS: Senator Clinton, in the last debate you seemed to take a pass on the question of whether or not Senator Obama was qualified to be commander in chief. Is your contention in this latest speech that America would somehow be taking a chance on Senator Obama as commander in chief?

STEVE: Pass.


CLINTON: Well, I have put forth my extensive experience in foreign policy, you know, helping to support the peace process in Northern Ireland, negotiating to open borders so that refugees fleeing ethnic cleansing would be safe, going to Beijing and standing up for women's rights as human rights and so much else. And every time the question about qualifications and credentials for commander in chief are raised, Senator Obama rightly points to the speech he gave in 2002. He's to be commended for having given the speech. Many people gave speeches against the war then, and the fair comparison is he didn't have responsibility, he didn't have to vote; by 2004 he was saying that he basically agreed with the way George Bush was conducting the war. And when he came to the Senate, he and I have voted exactly the same. We have voted for the money to fund the war until relatively recently. So the fair comparison was when we both had responsibility, when it wasn't just a speech but it was actually action, where is the difference? Where is the comparison that would in some way give a real credibility to the speech that he gave against the war?

And on a number of other issues, I just believe that, you know, as Senator Obama said, yes, last summer he basically threatened to bomb Pakistan, which I don't think was a particularly wise position to take. I have long advocated a much tougher approach to Musharraf and to Pakistan, and have pushed the White House to do that.

And I disagree with his continuing to say that he would meet with some of the worst dictators in the world without preconditions and without the real, you know, understanding of what we would get from it.

So I think you've got to look at, you know, what I have done over a number of years, traveling on behalf of our country to more than 80 countries, meeting and working out a lot of different issues that are important to our national security and our foreign policy and our values, serving on the Senate Armed Services Committee for now five years.

TIM: I've traveled to 80 countries. For instance, I once had a layover in Lesotho.

OBAMA: My objections to the war in Iraq were not simply a speech. I was in the midst of a U.S. Senate campaign. It was a high-stakes campaign. I was one of the most vocal opponents of the war, and I was very specific as to why.

STEVE: Not exactly.

OBAMA: With respect to Pakistan, I never said I would bomb Pakistan. What I said was that if we have actionable intelligence against bin Laden or other key al-Qaeda officials, and we - and Pakistan is unwilling or unable to strike against them, we should. And just several days ago, in fact, this administration did exactly that and took out the third-ranking al-Qaeda official.

STEVE: So he is just like Bush!


OBAMA: And so my claim is not simply based on a speech. It is based on the judgments that I've displayed during the course of my service on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

STEVE: All three years of service. Er, well, I've been running for president for a year, so two years. And the first year I was still trying to find the men's room, so one year. But still. I am on the committee. I have my own chair.

RUSSERT: Let me talk about the future . . .

STEVE: There's a photo that will appear on Drudge tomorrow . . .

RUSSERT: . . . If the Iraqi government said, President Clinton or President Obama, you're pulling out your troops this quickly? You're going to be gone in a year, but you're going to leave a residual force behind? No. Get out. Get out now. If you don't want to stay and protect us, we're a sovereign nation. Go home now. Will you leave?

OBAMA: Well, if the Iraqi government says that we shouldn't be there, then we cannot be there. This is a sovereign government, as George Bush continually reminds us.

STEVE: It was sovereign when we invaded it, too.

CLINTON: I believe that there is no military solution that the Americans who have been valiant in doing everything they were asked to do can really achieve in the absence of full cooperation from the Iraqi government.

RUSSERT: If this scenario plays out and the Americans get out in total and al-Qaeda resurges and Iraq goes to hell, do you hold the right, in your mind as American president, to re-invade, to go back into Iraq to stabilize it?

STEVE: Is Russert on crack?

CLINTON: You know, Tim, you ask a lot of hypotheticals.

STEVE: For example, if I move more of my armies into Irkutsk . . .

RUSSERT: But this is reality.

CLINTON: No, well, it isn't reality.

STEVE: Ah, but it is: New on NBC this fall!


CLINTON: I also have heard Senator Obama refer continually to Afghanistan, and he references being on the Foreign Relations Committee. He chairs the Subcommittee on Europe. It has jurisdiction over NATO. NATO is critical to our mission in Afghanistan.

STEVE: I can connect NATO to Afghanistan in four steps. Make that connection!

OBAMA: He's held not one substantive hearing to do oversight, to figure out what we can do to actually have a stronger presence with NATO in Afghanistan.

OBAMA: Well, first of all, I became chairman of this committee at the beginning of this campaign, at the beginning of 2007. So it is true that we haven't had oversight hearings on Afghanistan.

STEVE: So, really, I've only been in the Senate for two years. And the first year I was still trying to find my way to the men's room . . . But I was in the majority in the Illinois Senate for two years!


WILLIAMS: And Senator, I need to reserve -

CLINTON: Well, but I have - I just have to add -

WILLIAMS: I'm sorry, Senator, I've got to -

CLINTON: Now wait a minute, I have to add -

WILLIAMS: I've got to get us to a break because television doesn't stop.

CLINTON: - because the question - the question was about invading - invading - Iraq.

WILLIAMS: Can you hold that thought until we come back from a break? We have limited commercial interruptions tonight, and we have to get to one of them now.

TIM: I'm sorry, Sen. Clinton, but we really need to get to this commercial about cell phones.


WILLIAMS: Senator Obama, we started tonight talking about what could be construed as a little hyperbole. Happens from time to time on the campaign trail. You have recently been called out on some yourself. I urge you to look at your monitor and we'll take a look.

CLINTON: (From videotape.) Now I could stand up here and say: Let's just get everybody together. Let's get unified. The sky will open - (laughter) - the light will come down - (laughter) - celestial choirs will be singing - (laughter) - and everyone will know we should do the right thing, and the world will be perfect!

OBAMA: Sounds good! (Laughter.)

WILLIAMS: Of all the charges - (laughter, applause) - of all the charges and countercharges made tonight, we can confirm that is not you, Senator Obama.

OBAMA: (Chuckles.)

WILLIAMS: That was Senator Clinton. But since we played that tape, albeit in error, for this segment, how did you take that?

STEVE: Would you like a pillow?

OBAMA: Look, I understand the broader point that Senator Clinton's been trying to make over the last several weeks. You know, she characterizes it typically as speeches, not solutions, or talk versus action. And as I said in the last debate, I've spent 20 years devoted to working on behalf of families who are having a tough time and they're seeking out the American dream. That's how I started my career in public service, that's how I brought Democrats and Republicans together to provide health care to people who needed it, that's how I helped to reform a welfare system that wasn't working in Illinois, that's how I've provided tax breaks to people who really needed them as opposed to just the wealthy, and so I'm very proud of that track record.

STEVE: I'd especially like to thank Emil Jones tonight, who made it all possible.

OBAMA: And if Senator Clinton thinks that it's all talk, you know, you got to tell that to the wounded warriors at Walter Reed who had to pay for their food and pay for their phone calls before I got to the Senate.

STEVE: Again with Walter Reed.

OBAMA: And so I am not interested in talk. I am not interested in speeches.

STEVE: From now on, I won't talk!

CLINTON: The larger point is that I know trying to get health insurance for every American that's affordable will not be easy. It's not going to come about just because we hope it will or we tell everybody it's the right thing to do. You know, 15 years ago I tangled with the health insurance industry and the drug companies, and I know it takes a fighter. It takes somebody who will go toe-to-toe with the special interests.

You know, I have put forth very specific ideas about how we can get back $55 billion from the special interests - the giveaways to the oil companies, the credit card companies, the student loan companies, the health insurance companies. These have all been basically pushed on to these special interests not just because of what the White House did, but because members of Congress went along. And I want to get that money back and invest it in the American middle class - health care, college affordability, the kinds of needs that people talk to me about throughout Ohio, because what I hear as I go from Toledo to Parma to Cleveland to, you know, Dayton is the same litany that people are working harder than ever, but they're not getting ahead. They feel like they're invisible to their government. So when it came time to vote on Dick Cheney's energy bill, I voted no, and Senator Obama voted yes. When it came time to try to cap interest rates for credit cards at 30 percent - which I think is way too high, but it was the best we could present - I voted yes and Senator Obama voted no.

WILLIAMS: What I was attempting to do here is to show something Senator Obama said about you, and I'm told it's ready. Let's try it. Hang on. Watch your monitor.

OBAMA: (From videotape.) - herself as co-president during the Clinton years. Every good thing that happened she says she was a part of. And so the notion that you can selectively pick what you take credit for and then run away from what isn't politically convenient, that doesn't make sense.

WILLIAMS: Now, Senator Obama, you can react to it and whatever you wanted to react to from earlier, but I've been wanting to ask you about this assertion that Senator Clinton has somehow cast herself as co-president.

SEN. OBAMA: Well, I think what is absolutely true is, is that when Senator Clinton continually talks about her experience, she is including the eight years that she served as first lady, and you know, often says, you know, "Here's what I did."

"Here's what we did." "Here's what we accomplished" - which is fine.

And I have not - I have not in any way said that that experience is not relevant, and I don't begrudge her claiming that as experience. What I've said, and what I would continue to maintain, is you can't take credit for all the good things that happened but then, when it comes to issues like NAFTA, you say, well, I - behind the scenes, I was disagreeing. That doesn't work.

STEVE: Why not?

OBAMA: Now there are several points that I think Senator Clinton made that I - we need to discuss here. First of all, she talked about me objecting to caps on credit cards. Keep in mind, I objected to the entire bill - a bill that Senator Clinton, in its previous version, in 2001 had voted for. And in one of the debates with you guys said, well, I voted for it, but I hoped it wouldn't pass - which, as a general rule, doesn't work. If you don't want it to pass, you vote against it.

STEVE: Or you vote present.

OBAMA: You know, she mentioned that she is a fighter on health care. And look - I do not in any way doubt that Senator Clinton genuinely wants to provide health care to all Americans.

What I have said is that the way she approached it back in '93, I think, was wrong in part because she had the view that what's required is simply to fight. And Senator Clinton ended up fighting not just the insurance companies and the drug companies, but also members of her own party.

STEVE: And that's where I got the idea to bring Harry and Louise back.

OBAMA: But what I also believe is that the only way we are going to actually get this stuff done is, number one, we're going to have to mobilize and inspire the American people so that they're paying attention to what their government is doing. And there's nothing romantic or silly about that. If the American people are activated, that's how change is going to happen.

STEVE: And then what, storm Congress?


RUSSERT: Senator Obama, let me ask you about motivating, inspiring, keeping your word. Nothing more important.

STEVE: Well, in The Wild Bunch the point was that honor wasn't about keeping your word, but who you give your word to.

RUSSERT: Last year you said if you were the nominee you would opt for public financing in the general election of the campaign; try to get some of the money out. You checked "Yes" on a questionnaire. And now Senator McCain has said, calling your bluff, let's do it. You seem to be waffling, saying, well, if we can work on an arrangement here.

Why won't you keep your word in writing that you made to abide by public financing of the fall election?

OBAMA: Tim, I am not yet the nominee. Now, what I've said is, if I am the nominee, then I will sit down with John McCain and make sure that we have a system that is fair for both sides, because Tim, as you know, there are all sorts of ways of getting around these loopholes.

STEVE: I guess it depends on what the meaning of "Yes" is.

RUSSERT: So you may opt out of public financing. You may break your word.

OBAMA: What I have said is, at the point where I'm the nominee, at the point where it's appropriate, I will sit down with John McCain and make sure that we have a system that works for everybody.

STEVE: Don't you want to button that one up, Tim?


RUSSERT: Senator Obama, one of the things in a campaign is that you have to react to unexpected developments. On Sunday, the headline in your hometown paper, Chicago Tribune: "Louis Farrakhan Backs Obama for President at Nation of Islam Convention in Chicago." Do you accept the support of Louis Farrakhan?

STEVE: Oh Lord, what a waste of time. Wasn't there a Rezko headline that day?

OBAMA: You know, I have been very clear in my denunciation of Minister Farrakhan's anti-Semitic comments. I think that they are unacceptable and reprehensible. I did not solicit this support. He expressed pride in an African-American who seems to be bringing the country together. I obviously can't censor him, but it is not support that I sought. And we're not doing anything, I assure you, formally or informally with Minister Farrakhan.

RUSSERT: Do you reject his support?

OBAMA: Well, Tim, you know, I can't say to somebody that he can't say that he thinks I'm a good guy. You know, I - you know, I - I have been very clear in my denunciations of him and his past statements, and I think that indicates to the American people what my stance is on those comments.

STEVE: But do you reject his support? Say it! Say it!

OBAMA: I've been very clear, in terms of me believing that what he has said is reprehensible and inappropriate. And I have consistently distanced myself from him.

RUSSERT: The title of one of your books, Audacity of Hope, you acknowledge you got from a sermon from Reverend Jeremiah Wright, the head of the Trinity United Church. He said that Louis Farrakhan "epitomizes greatness."

He said that he went to Libya in 1984 with Louis Farrakhan to visit with Moammar Gadhafi and that, when your political opponents found out about that, quote, "your Jewish support would dry up quicker than a snowball in Hell."

What do you do to assure Jewish-Americans that, whether it's Farrakhan's support or the activities of Reverend Jeremiah Wright, your pastor, you are consistent with issues regarding Israel and not in any way suggesting that Farrakhan epitomizes greatness?

OBAMA: [blah blah blah]

CLINTON: There's a difference between denouncing and rejecting.

OBAMA: Tim, I have to say I don't see a difference between denouncing and rejecting. There's no formal offer of help from Minister Farrakhan that would involve me rejecting it. But if the word "reject" Senator Clinton feels is stronger than the word "denounce," then I'm happy to concede the point, and I would reject and denounce.

STEVE: The motion to reject and denounce passes.


WILLIAMS: The question beginning this segment is for you, Senator Obama. The National Journal rates your voting record as more liberal than that of Ted Kennedy.

STEVE: Oh God, here we go . . .

WILLIAMS: How can you run with a more liberal voting record than Ted Kennedy?

OBAMA: Well, first of all, let's take a look at what the National Journal rated us on.

It turned out that Senator Clinton and I had differences on two votes. The first was on an immigration issue, where the question was whether guest workers could come here, work for two years, go back for a year, and then come back and work for another two years, which meant essentially that you were going to have illegal immigrants for a year, because they wouldn't go back, and I thought it was bad policy.

The second - and this, I think, is telling in terms of how silly these ratings are - I supported an office of public integrity, an independent office that would be able to monitor ethics investigations in the Senate, because I thought it was important for the public to know that if there were any ethical violations in the Senate, that they weren't being investigated by the Senators themselves, but there was somebody independent who would do it.

It was rejected. And according to the National Journal, that position is a liberal position.

Now, I don't think that's a liberal position. I think there are a lot of Republicans and a lot of independents who would like to make sure that ethic investigations are not conducted by the people who are potentially being investigated. So the categories don't make sense.


RUSSERT: Before the primary on Tuesday, on Sunday, March 2, there's an election in Russia for the successor to President Putin. What can you tell me about the man who's going to be Mr. Putin's successor?

CLINTON: Well, I can tell you that he's a hand-picked successor, that he is someone who is obviously being installed by Putin, who Putin can control, who has very little independence, the best we know.

STEVE: Do you need a pillow, Barack? If you're going to play foreign policy gotcha, why don't you direct this question to Obama?

CLINTON: You know, there's a lot of information still to be acquired. That the so-called opposition was basically run out of the political opportunity to wage a campaign against Putin's hand-picked successor, and the so-called leading opposition figure spends most of his time praising Putin. So this is a clever but transparent way for Putin to hold on to power, and it raises serious issues about how we're going to deal with Russia going forward.

I have been very critical of the Bush administration for what I believe to have been an incoherent policy toward Russia. And with the reassertion of Russia's role in Europe, with some of the mischief that they seem to be causing in supporting Iran's nuclear ambitions, for example, it's imperative that we begin to have a more realistic and effective strategy toward Russia. But I have no doubt, as president, even though technically the meetings may be with the man who is labeled as president, the decisions will be made by Putin.

RUSSERT: Who will it be? Do you know his name?

CLINTON: Medvedev - whatever.



RUSSERT: Senator Obama, do you know anything about him?

STEVE: Now I do!

OBAMA: Well, I think Senator Clinton speaks accurately about him.

STEVE: Clockwork!

OBAMA: He is somebody who was hand-picked by Putin.

STEVE: Apparently. I mean, I'm just going by what I've heard.

RUSSERT: He's 42 years old, he's a former law professor.

STEVE: And he's pals with Tony Rezko. Eerie!

RUSSERT: He is Mr. Putin's campaign manager. He is going to be the new president of Russia. And if he says to the Russian troops, you know what, why don't you go help Serbia retake Kosovo, what does President Obama do?

STEVE: Russert played a lot of Risk as a kid. Probably still in a league.

OBAMA: We have recognized the country of Kosovo as an independent, sovereign nation, as has Great Britain and many other countries in the region. And I think that that carries with it, then, certain obligations to ensure that they are not invaded.

STEVE: Unless it's by us.


RUSSERT: Before you go, each of you have talked about your careers in public service. Looking back through them, is there any words or vote that you'd like to take back? Senator Clinton?

STEVE: Senator Clinton? Elbow, elbow. Hint, hint. Wink, wink.

CLINTON: Well, obviously, I've said many times that, although my vote on the 2002 authorization regarding Iraq was a sincere vote, I would not have voted that way again.

RUSSERT: To be clear, you'd like to have your vote back?

CLINTON: Absolutely. I've said that many times.

RUSSERT: Senator Obama, any statements or vote you'd like to take back?

STEVE: Perhaps a deal you made with a certain real estate partner?

OBAMA: Well, you know, when I first arrived in the Senate that first year, we had a situation surrounding Terri Schiavo. And I remember how we adjourned with a unanimous agreement that eventually allowed Congress to interject itself into that decision-making process of the families.

It wasn't something I was comfortable with, but it was not something that I stood on the floor and stopped. And I think that was a mistake, and I think the American people understood that that was a mistake. And as a constitutional law professor, I knew better.

And I think that's an example of inaction, and sometimes that can be as costly as action.

STEVE: And I promise to never let Congress intercede with a brain dead woman on a feeding tube without a fight again.

OBAMA: But let me say this, since we're wrapping up this debate. We have gone through 20 debates now.

TIM: And there are three dorks in Chicago who quite frankly have had enough.

Beachwood Analysis
Same as it ever was. Clinton wins on substance, Obama wins on tone. But it would be nice if someone fact-checked the guy. More than that, though, is that Tim Russert, Brian Williams and much of their cohort are perhaps the biggest threat to democracy going. I'm not sure they could have been more clueless. Can they be impeached?


Catch up with the entire scintilliating series!


Posted on February 27, 2008

MUSIC - Britney's IUD.
TV - Vizio's Best Product Is You.
POLITICS - UIC: Soda Taxes Work.
SPORTS - Locked Out And Loaded.

BOOKS - Foxconned.


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