The discussion about race in the 2008 presidential contest continued on Saturday though it looks like both sides may be moving on.
The story so far: some Obama supporters said McCain's use of Paris Hilton and Britney Speaks--young white blonds--in a spot hitting Obama had racial overtones. McCain's campaign manager said Obama's talk about how Republicans will attack him because he does not look like other presidents was playing the race card. At first the Obama team said those comments were not about race; now the Obama says indeed they were......
At a press conference in Florida on Saturday, presumptive Democratic nominee Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) said his problem with the McCain campaign's Paris/Britney spots were that they were cynical--not racist.
"Let me be clear. In no way do I think that John McCain's campaign was being racist. I think they are cynical. I think they want to distract people from talking about the real issues," Obama said.
Tucker Bounds, McCain campaign spokesman, pouncing on being called cynical "for highlighting Barack Obama's worldwide celebrity status" said "We're glad the Obama campaign retracted Barack Obama's accusation because it was absolutely false, and we're moving on.
The only 'cynical' candidate in this election is Barack Obama, who has opposed every element of John McCain's comprehensive energy plan that includes additional oil drilling, affordable nuclear energy and gas tax relief for hardworking families."
Text of press conference, courtesy of the Obama campaign....
BO: Before I take your question I want to say a few words about our worsening economy. Yesterday there was a story on the front page of the St. Petersburg Times saying that Florida's officially in recession and that the economy here is declining for the first time in 16 years. Families across the state though don't have to read the newspaper to know what's going on in the economy, they feel it every single day of their lives. They're working harder, they're making less and struggling to pay soaring prices for gas and food, health care and tuition. And for many of these people, the anxieties are only growing worse. That's why this election's so important. It's our chance to put an end to the failed economic policies that led us into this situation and take our economy in a new direction. Florida residents have to ask themselves whether they are better off now than they were four or eight years ago and whether they can afford another four years of the failed economic policies of George Bush, because that's what John McCain is offering.
Unemployment is rising here in Florida, but he is proposing to continue tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas. The five biggest oil companies made $44 billion in the past three months, Exxon is making more in 30 seconds than a typical worker makes in a year, but he's proposing to give oil companies like Exxon another $4 billion in tax cuts. Floridians are hurting, but under his economic plan, 101 million middle class households would not get a penny of direct relief. Now, those policies are not the answer to our economic problems. We need to provide immediate relief to families who are hurting. And that's why yesterday I announced a two-part emergency economic plan to help struggling families make ends meet and get our economy back on track. We'll provide a $1,000 emergency energy rebate for every family that will offset the increased costs of gas for a working family for the next four months. Or, it could be used to pay any of your other bills. The second part of my plan is a $50 billion stimulus to help jumpstart job creation and help local communities that are struggling due to the economic downturn.
Of course, short-term relief is not enough. We need to make the kind of long-term investments in America's competitiveness that will ensure our prosperity in the 21st century. And that's why I have proposed an ambitious plan to create an American green energy sector so that we're not vulnerable to oil price shocks and a $4 a gallon gas price. That's why I've proposed a plan to guarantee health care for anyone who wants it, make it affordable for anyone who needs it, and reduce health care costs for manufacturers so they're more competitive. That's why I'll invest in building our roads and our bridges, creating nearly 2 million jobs in the process. And that's why I want to make college finally affordable for anyone who wants to go, so that we're preparing all of our students to compete and succeed in the global economy. These are the investments that we can make. And these are the challenges that we can meet, if, and only if, the people of Florida and all across this country decide to reject the failed economic policies of the past that John McCain wants to continue and choose to change our economy that our country so desperately needs. So, with that, I will open it up to question.
Q: [inaudible] ...offshore drilling, so you could you accept some as a part of a larger energy compromise? What brought about the change in position?
BO: Well, this wasn't really a new position. What I'm saying is, that we can't drill our way out of the problem, that every energy expert I have spoken with, every scientist, every engineer, will tell you that with 3% of the world's oil reserves and 25% of the world's oil utilization, we can keep on drilling all we want. But the long-term trend is for flat or decreasing oil supply and increased consumption. And so what that means is, is that if we want to have true oil independence, if we want to have true energy independence, then we're going to have become much more efficient in terms of how we use energy. What I said was that the gang of 10 bill, what I've seen so far, and we haven't seen final legislation, has some of the very aggressive elements that I've outlined in my plan to move us in the direction of genuine energy independence. You know, a good example is their goal that in 20 years, 85% of the cars on the road are no longer petroleum-based. That, I think, is the kind of bold step that we need. The fact that they're willing to put in $7 billion to help the auto industry retool, so that those new energy efficient cars are made in America, I think, is a positive step. So, there are a whole bunch of good things that have been proposed by this bipartisan group. I remain skeptical of some of the drilling provisions. But I will give them credit that the way they crafted the drilling provisions are about as careful and responsible as you might expect for a drilling agenda. And what I don't want to do is for the best to be the enemy of the good here. And if we can come up with a genuine bipartisan compromise in which I have to accept some things I don't like or the Democrats have to accept some that they don't like in exchange for actually moving us in the direction of energy independence, that's something I am open to. Obviously, this is very preliminary. These are early details. But I wanted to, you know, send a strong signal that we can't allow, you know, partisan bickering or the desire to score political points to get in the way of providing some genuine relief to people who are struggling.
BO: Guys, what I'm interested in ultimately is going to be governing. And what that means is, is that we're going to have to try to get things done. That's what the American people are looking for. And so I have very clear ideas about where America needs to go. I also recognize that in the House and the Senate, there are Republicans who have very clear ideas about what they want. At some point, people are going to have to make decisions, do we want to keep on arguing or are we going to get things done? What I will not do, and this has always been my position, is to support a plan that suggests that drilling is the answer to our energy problems. If we've a plan on the table that I think meets the goals that America has to set, and there are some things in there that I don't like, then, obviously, that's something that, you know, I would consider because that's the nature of how we govern in a democracy.
Q: This is a state that broke Democrats' hearts in the last eight years. Why do you think it's different this year, and how are you going to make it different from what John Kerry and Al Gore found?
BO: Well Democrats have their hearts broken generally over the last two election cycles, so here is what I think is different. We have had four more years of bad economic policies that have run the economy into a very bad place. And the American people are feeling the effects. Just traveling yesterday, talking to people who had lost their homes, were at risk of losing their homes, had lost their businesses, were at risk of losing their businesses, had lost their jobs or were at risk of losing their jobs, people are hurting. And they recognize that the policies that John McCain offers don't seem to provide anything different, anything new from what has been tried by George W. Bush. So, I think that creates a profound shift in attitude when it comes to the election. Now we can't take anything for granted, we're going to have to work hard, we're going to have to work smart, I'm going to have to make my case to the American people in order to win the presidential election. John McCain and his team are going to be fighting every inch of the way. So, just because things are bad doesn't mean that we win. I think what is going to be required is people having confidence that an Obama administration can make things better. And that requires me putting forward the kinds of specific ideas that we've been trying to do in -- over the last several months. Adam?
Q: 60 miles off of the Florida coast for drilling is a huge shift in where we are now. Are you going to do anything to discourage or oppose that element of the bill?
BO: You know, again, we don't have legislation yet. So I don't want to prejudge what's out there. I made a general point about the fact that we need to provide the American people some relief and that there has been constructive conversations between Democrats and republicans in the senate on this issue. So I applaud them on that. But I'm not ready to sign off on any particular approach or proposal, because I think that these are very important issues. the one thing that I have said consistently when it comes to the Florida coastline is that as dependant as this state is on tourism, as important as that coastline is, we've got to proceed with extreme caution when it comes to anything that would have an impact on that extraordinary treasure, not just of Florida's, but of the country as a whole.
Q: Senator, (inaudible) it was about this time four years ago that republicans really began to paint a picture of Senator Kerry that stuck through the general election. Are you concerned at all that with the celebrity ad this ad that's portraying you as 'the One' perhaps a little bit too arrogant, that there is a picture being painted that you can't escape at this point and can we expect to see you respond more aggressively to these?
BO: Well, first of all, I think it's -- the one thing we know about the team that John McCain has assembled, because it's a carry-over from some of the folks that worked on the Bush campaigns, and some of the republican campaigns of the past is that they are very good at negative campaigns. They are not so good at governing. And that's why, if you think about this week, what they've been good at is distraction. You've got statistics saying we lost another 50,000 jobs. That Florida is in recession for the first time in a decade and a half. And what was being talked about was Paris and Britney. And so they're clever on creating distractions from the issues that really matter in people's lives. We have to make sure that we keep focused on people's day to day concerns. And we've got to drive that very hard. And I will keep on driving that hard. I want to talk about how are we going to put more money in people's pockets and how are we going to make their jobs more secure. How can we finally have an energy policy that works for all Americans, how can we provide health care to people that don't have it and lower prices for people who do? How do we make college affordable? How do we begin winding down this war? We have some of the biggest challenges that certainly I've seen in my lifetime. And that is what the American people want to hear. What are the solutions to these big challenges? And so we don't take the skill of the Republicans in engaging in negative attacks lightly. We think it is something that we've got to be mindful of, but what we also have confidence in is that the American people feel that we're offering real solutions that are going to make their lives better, that that's going to be the overriding determinate in terms of who wins the election.
Q: How do you take this idea that you are presumptuous?
BO: I don't know that there is that perception. That's something that is being fed to the media by them. I guess no sense that it's taken. I think what would be useful is to ask the question, what's this based on? It's not really clear exactly what it is based on. If I was presumptuous or taking this for granted, I wouldn't be working this hard this week. I'm beat, so obviously, we think we are in a tight race. And we think that this going to be a close race all the way through. And I will say that I think the American people as a whole are watching what John McCain this week and saying to themselves, what does this have to do with me? As I said in one of my town hall meetings, is that the best they can offer, ads about Paris and Britney at a time when we should be talking about the loss of 50,000 jobs? What does that have to do with how anybody's lives are going to get better? That's the message we want to keep on driving.
Q: Senator, you said you are not injecting race into the campaign race. Your surrogates have said that your comments about not looking like other presidents on the dollar bill is not about your race. But you did say that, back at a fund-raiser in Jacksonville, that they are going to try to make you afraid of me, that he is young and inexperienced, he's got a funny name and did I mention that he is black. How do you reconcile that?
BO: I don't think it is accurate to say that my comments have nothing to do with race. Let me make this first point. Most of the people here here at this event in Union, Missouri. Almost none of you, maybe none of you, thought that was making a racially incendiary remark or playing the race card. It wasn't until John McCain's team started pushing it that it ended up being on the front page of the New York Times two days in a row. Here is what I was saying. I think this should be undisputed, that I don't come out of central casting when it comes to presidential races, for a whole range of reasons. I'm young. I'm new to the national scene. My name is Barack Obama. I am African-American. I was born in Hawaii. I spent time in Indonesia. I do not have the typical biography of a presidential candidate. What that means is that I'm sort of unfamiliar. People are still trying to get a fix on who I am and where I come from, what my values are and so forth in a way that might not be true if I seemed more familiar. And, so, what I think has been an approach to the McCain campaign is to say that he is risky. To try to divert focus from the fact that they don't have any new ideas when it comes to fixing the economy or dealing with health care or dealing with education. All those elements that make me unfamiliar feed into this notion that he may be a, quote, unquote, risky choice. That point, I don't think, is disputable. I don't think that's a point that has not been made by every single one of your publications, that you guys haven't pulled on repeatedly. It's a fact. Let me be clear. In no way do I think that John McCain's campaign was being racist. I think they are cynical. I think they want to distract people from talking about the real issues. So it's at peace with the Britney/Paris ad or the most recent website or the allegation that somehow I wouldn't go visit the troops unless I had reporters with me, which every reporter who was on the trip knows this is absolutely not true. It goes to the point I was making earlier. Their team is good at creating distractions and engaging in negative attacks and planting doubts about people. And what we've got to do is make sure that we are very clear to the American people about how my policies will make a difference in their lives. They can have confidence that I'm going to be for them and I am absolutely confident that the people in Union, Missouri or Jacksonville, Florida, or any other city or town across the country, at the end of the day, is going to be making their decisions based on what they think is going to be best for their lives and their children's lives. And if we can keep focus on that issue, how to make people's lives better, how do we get our economy out of the hole that we are in, I think we will do well. Somebody over here had a question? Go ahead.
Q: You are saying that they are not being racist but that they are deliberately using race to keep that in the foreground?
BO: No. what I am saying is that because I don't have a conventional biography, that I am not, that I don't look like I'm coming out of central casting, then it's worth trying to see if they can paint me as a riskier choice. I would argue that issues like my relative youth or the fact that I have been on the national stage, a relatively or, you know, not as long as somebody like John McCain has been, those are issues that they are going to try to play up. Last question.
Q: Last night you talked about them as kind of being grade schoolers taunting. You have talked about John McCain is basically just a Bush clone. How is your negative campaigning different from their negative campaigning?
BO: Well, you know, I mean, this is the classic dilemma of politics. We get four, five shots in a row. I would rather lose a war so I could win a campaign, that I am not willing to visit the troops, that I'm somehow full of myself, that I'm an empty-headed celebrity. I mean, whatever repeated attacks have been launched this week. And so when I say that's kind of silly, those are kind of silly arguments then the press says, well isn't that being negative. Well no, I'm describing what their strategy has been for the last week and I would argue for the last month. I'm just stating the facts. When you've got factcheck.org saying eight of nine last ads have been factually incorrect and they know better. Well I think that sums it up. But ultimately what I think we've got to do is just keep on driving home the central message of this campaign which is we've got to change business as usual. We've got to change economic policies and we've got to change Washington and we've got to change how our politics is done and what we've seen this week has been politics as usual. And again that's not coming from me that's coming from you. We just heard it from the questions. This is the same thing that was done four years ago or eight years ago, and you guys are all familiar with it. You've seen this before, we have seen this movie before. And so for me to name what's going on, is not being negative, it's, you know, it's part of what has to change. Because the American people deserve serious answers, they deserve a serious debate. And there are some serious differences that can be talked about, they, you know, John McCain and I have a very different view of where we need to take our energy policy. We have a profoundly different view of what the tax code should look like. We've got a very different approach to our healthcare agenda. We have different ways of thinking about education and making college more affordable. We have a very different view of what needs to be done with respect to Iraq and Afghanistan. Those are profound issues that are going to help set the American agenda for decades to come. And I am going to fight my hardest to make sure that those are the topics of this debate. And I'm not going, I'm not going to be successful. There are going to be weeks where what ends up dominating the news is phantom offenses or accusations going back and forth. But I have enormous confidence that the American people understand how serious this moment is. And ultimately that's, that's what I'm staking my campaign on, that the American people are going to be looking for serious solutions to their problems. And they don't expect government to solve all these problems but they do expect that their elected officials are not going to be playing games or trivializing what's at stake, but their government officials are going to be rolling up their sleeves to try and get things done.
Q: Senator can you expand on the conversations you had this weak with Paulson and Bernanke (inaudible)?
BO: Well, I asked both of them what they saw in terms of current economic conditions and what might be around the corner. They both, I think, indicated that the economy was in a difficult state that the financial markets were still skittish, that credit contractions were still serious. Obviously, both were concerned about Freddie Mac and Fannie May. And I talk to them about how the authorization that had been provided by Congress might be used to stabilize the housing market. I think they both shared the view that stabilizing the housing market is the most important short term thing that we can accomplish to get the economy going again. Obviously, Chairman Bernanke is balancing the down turn of the economy with a spike in inflation that is largely as a consequence of the price of oil. I came away with the impression that they are working very hard to calm the waters. And that they are resolved to steer the economy to a place where at least we have stabilized, that the markets have more confidence and that we can slowly move back on to a path of economic growth. But there is no doubt that we still have some big difficulties in the months to come. Michael I will make this the last question.
Q: Just to follow up on that were there any areas of disagreement, at least different, in terms of trend lines, where you would prefer to go one way and they would prefer to go another.
BO: Well, I mean I don't want to get to deep into the details here. I think that, the conversation was broad and didn't focus on specific proposals. I have said publicly that I believe we need a second stimulus package - they did not respond positively or negatively. I think they kept their cards close to the vest, which is appropriate. I mean it's very important for the Federal Reserve to remain outside of politics. And I think Secretary Paulson obviously has to be very careful speaking on behalf of the administration at a time when people are watching their every word. I did express one broad concern that, again I don't want to characterize their comments, but that the authorization for the GSEs - the Freddie Mac and Fannie May that the way that authorization is used does not end up being a big bail out for shareholders or management of those companies. Those institutions play a huge role in housing liquidity, so stabilizing those two institutions I think was the right thing to do and is important. On the other hand investors in those institutions have made a lot of money during the upside, during the housing boom and one of the structural problems that we have there is that private investors in these private companies do very well during good times and it appears that maybe taxpayers end up bearing the brunt during bad times. I think that is a structural problem with those institutions that has to be dealt with and the way that Secretary Paulson and the administration sue the authorization to the extent possible I think has to prevent this from being a big bailout for people who did very very well over the last decade investing in these companies. All right? Thanks guys.