Barack Obama photo

Interview with Michele Norris of National Public Radio's "All Things Considered"

June 10, 2008

NORRIS: Senator Barack Obama was in St. Louis, Missouri, where he shadowed a nurse on her rounds at the Barnes Jewish Hospital in St. Louis. And he joins us now. Senator Obama, welcome to the program.

OBAMA: Thank you so much for having me.

NORRIS: Now, as you well know, John McCain is also out this week talking about the economy. And his campaign has already said that your "Change that Works for You" campaign really amounts to change that this country can't afford. The GOP has used the same argument for decades, that tax-and-spend liberalism is bad for America. Tax-and-spend is almost a hyphenated phrase that's become equivalent to a dirty word. Is tax-and-policies – or are tax-and-spend policies really bad for America, or is that what you're intending to do?

OBAMA: Well, what I intend to do is to be fiscally responsible, something that John McCain fails to do. I think it's going to be very important as the debate goes forward over the next several months for reporters and the public to ask John McCain, how are you going to justify $300 billion in additional tax breaks for corporations and not lower taxes for the middle class? How are you going to pay for it? Right now, he has no way of paying for it and that is going to burden future generations. It is an irresponsible way to do budgeting.

At the same time, John McCain doesn't have a plan to make health care affordable and accessible to every American. And I do believe that it's important for wealthier Americans to contribute a little bit more by giving up some of the Bush tax cuts so that we can provide health care to every American. I think over the long term, we will save money because people will be getting regular checkups, regular screenings. That's something that John McCain does not do.

NORRIS: It's been said many times that the candidate who will actually win in November is the one who can convey to voters that they really feel their pain, that they understand their frustrations, and their economic failures. How do you convey that message that you understand what people are going through?

OBAMA: Well, look, you know, just listen. Because when you hear a teacher in South Dakota tell you that she has got to give up her job teaching on an Indian reservation, a job she loves, because she can't afford to fill up the gas tank. Or you hear a gentleman in North Carolina explain how his daughters have cystic fibrosis, and when they got sick, he lost his home. It doesn't take a lot of conversations for you to realize that people are hurting. And they're hurting deeply.

And then, I obviously refer back to my own experience and my own family. When I hear a young person saying they are worried about being loaded up with debt, I think about the $60,000 worth of loans I had to take out to go to law school and how long it took me to pay those back. When I hear stories about individuals who are worried that their salary can't support a family, I think about Michelle's dad – my wife's dad – and how on a single salary, he was able to raise a family of four and send his kids to a great college, even though he never got a college education.

And I think that what's going on right now is people feel as if the American dream is slipping away from them, that our children may not have the same opportunities that we did. There is something fundamentally un-American about that. And that's what is going to be, I think, the central debate in this campaign: How do we move forward and create a vision for America that is meaningful? And frankly, John McCain's agenda simply continues the same economic approach that we've had over the last eight years that's not working. And it's time for us to try something different.

NORRIS: You know, when you talk about people who feel that the American dream is slipping away from them, some of the places where that's most deeply felt are in those states that at one time had large manufacturing bases. And in your campaign, you consistently lost in states that have seen their manufacturing bases shrink: Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan. And it's said that one reason that happened is that you just didn't seem to connect with white, working-class voters in those states. How will you do that in the general election, because John McCain says that he can make a strong case to those voters?

OBAMA: Well, Michele, I lost those states to Senator Hillary Clinton who had a similar economic agenda to mine. I didn't lose those states to John McCain who has no economic agenda to address the problems in those states. And that's why, for example, in a state like Pennsylvania that I may have lost to Hillary Clinton, every poll shows me leading John McCain by a significant margin.

I think people ultimately are going to vote their interests. And if they hear that my economic plan involves giving them a tax cut, putting more money in their pockets, providing health care, making sure that their retirements are more secure, making sure that they can afford to send their kids to college, and they look at the contrast to John McCain's plan, which is $300 billion in new tax breaks for wealthy corporations and CEOs, that's going to be a contrast that they take into the ballot box, and I think we can do very well.

NORRIS: Now, I imagine everywhere you go, you hear about high gas prices, everywhere you go in America. And with gas at $4.00 a gallon, it seems like it's high to many people. But it's actually less than what many people pay for gas in many parts of the world. Do Americans, perhaps, need a reality check that high gas prices might be here to stay? And are you the person who, perhaps, is willing to deliver that unwelcome message?

OBAMA: Well, look, what I've said is that we are not going to be able to immediately lower gas prices in any realistic scenario, because demand in China and India keep on going up. What we can do is provide immediate relief to consumers by giving them a tax break so that they've got more money in their pocket to absorb these rising costs.

What we can do is lower gas prices over the long term by investing in alternative fuels and by making sure that we are increasing the efficiency of our cars and trucks. And that's going to require a significant investment by the federal government in research and development, helping our automakers retool. Those are significant commitments that I've made in this campaign and I intend to meet when I'm president of the United States.

NORRIS: Are these high gas prices here to stay?

OBAMA: Well, it is unlikely that we're going to go back to $2 a gallon gas. That's just a fact. World demand is outstripping world supply.

NORRIS: One last question: Lakers or Celtics?

OBAMA: I tell you what, I thought the Lakers were the better team. But the Celtics have been tough. I might have to revise my prediction here. I assumed Lakers in six. I don't think that's realistic now at this point.

NORRIS: Doesn't look like it.

OBAMA: It does not look like it. It may be Celtics in six.

NORRIS: I assumed that because you went to Harvard that you might be a Celtics fan.

OBAMA: You know, the truth is that I've got no dog in this hunt. I'm a Bulls fan. We've gone through a drought for quite some time now. But we got the number-one draft pick, so our games may get a little bit better.

NORRIS: Senator Obama, good to talk to you. Thanks so much.

OBAMA: Great to talk to you, Michele.

Barack Obama, Interview with Michele Norris of National Public Radio's "All Things Considered" Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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