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Obama Video Clips > 2008-03-19 - Anderson cooper 360 DEGREES


Interview With Illinois Senator Barack Obama

Aired March 19, 2008 - 22:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, a 360 exclusive.
We're here at the University of North Carolina, at Charlotte, not far from where Barack Obama wrapped up a town hall meeting earlier this everything.

Now, he is under intense pressure, under the gun, coming off perhaps the speech of his political career yesterday, a speech many believe he had to make to save his campaign. Tonight, he's trying to move on, on to Iraq, but he's still answering some of the lingering questions about his association with the preacher Jeremiah Wright. He now admits that preacher spoke unpatriotic words from the pulpit.

And that's not all he said to me today. We have been traveling with him all day, given near total access.

Tonight, our exclusive interview on Reverend Wright, Iraq, and his opponent, Hillary Clinton. We will also cover Hillary Clinton today in Michigan trying to get the state to hold a new primary, and slamming Senator Obama, she says, for standing in the way. We will get her campaign's reaction to our interview with Obama. We will also get analysis, too, from the best political team on television, joined tonight by Dee Dee Myers, former Clinton White House press secretary.

A lot to cover in this special hour.

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...


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.