'Special Report' Panel on Michelle Obama's DNC Speech; the Clintons and Kennedys

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from August 25, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL BURTON, OBAMA CAMPAIGN SPOKESMAN: So what Michelle Obama is going to do tonight is go out there, talk about their family, talk about their kids, and talk about the values that got Barack Obama. -- And we will have a big audience watching, and we are really excited about the speech.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIT HUME, HOST: Miche lle Obama, wife and mother. -- Some thoughts on this now from Mort Kondracke, the Executive Editor of Roll Call, from Bill Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, Mara Liasson, National Political Correspondent of National Public Radio, and, last but certainly not least, Fred Barnes, Executive Editor of The Weekly Standard. They're all FOX News contributors. We're glad to have them all here.

Mara, what do you expect tonight, and what is this speech really intended to do for Barack Obama's candidacy?

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: I think one of the main tasks for Barack Obama this week is to reassure Americans that he is really just like them. All conventions try to kind of sand down the rough edges of their candidate and make them as mainstream as possible.

And Michelle Obama is going to talk about her family in an extremely mainstream way--their values, the fact that they're middle class, that they were paying off college loans until recently, how they're trying to raise their two girls, her background growing up in Chicago on the south side.

She's going to end up this evening, if they do it correctly, as being about as apple pie as anybody could be. And that's going to help Obama.

HUME: Partly, of course, Fred, this is an effort to undo what the Obama campaign appears to think is some damage that was down to her image by some things that she has said and some things that have been said about her. How deeply ingrained do you think those images are, which raises, of course, the question of how much of a task she has to do tonight?

FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: I don't think they are really that deeply ingrained. I don't think people know her that well. But she has become a controversial figure.

Her speech tonight it is not at all about Barack Obama. It is all about Michelle Obama. She has to sell herself. I mean, everybody who speaks will be talking, saying wonderful things about Barack Obama.

But she's got to, you know, to make it clear that she's a likable person who doesn't really believe that she was only "proud" once as an adult, and that's when her husband was doing well in the Democratic primary...

HUME: ...Proud of her country.

BARNES: Yes, proud of her country.

So this is a selling job of Michele Obama, and people care about first ladies.

MORT KONDRACKE, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, ROLL CALL: I don't agree. I think there are two questions about Barack Obama, and this is about Barack Obama the nominee, not Michelle Obama.

So, one is he qualified to be President of the United States and commander in chief, and the other, is he sort of one of us? Does he share American values? Or is he an elitist, which he he's been accused of being?

So this is going to try to humanize him, make him out and the whole Obama family to be middle class, from middle class origins.

Now, he's got a background, which is very unusual in American history. I mean, he is the child of a Kenyan father and white mother from Kansas. He grew up in Hawaii. So they've got a job to do, and the job--

HUME: What is it you don't agree with that he said?

KONDRACKE: She is not selling herself. She is selling herself in part, but, basically, she is selling him. The task of this convention is to overcome these doubts that the people have about Barack Obama's values.

HUME: But certainly we all remember, Bill, vividly , the speech that John Kerry's wife Teresa Heinz Kerry gave four years ago, and, obviously, in the long run it probably didn't make any difference, but in terms of what was attempted that night at that convention, it did seem to make a difference. It was an unusual speech.

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: I think Michelle Obama will give a better speech than Mrs. Kerry, or a better received speech, less about her. I mean, I think Fred is partly right that it will be a bit about her, but I think she will try to reintroduce her husband to the American public.

The Democrats want to accomplish two things at this convention, make the case for Barack Obama and make the case against John McCain. The case against John McCain will be tomorrow night and Wednesday night. Tuesday and Wednesday night--Bush-McCain, Bush-McCain, Bush-McCain.

The case for Obama is Monday night, tonight, with Mrs. Obama speaking, and then, of course, Obama Thursday night.

LIASSON: One more thing about Michelle Obama. You know, Teresa Heinz decided to do her own thing. She is very strong willed and she wanted to give the speech she wanted to give.

Michelle Obama is completely 100 percent on board here. And I am told that when earlier in the campaign when the problems occurred after her statements, and they came to her and said "Look, we have a problem with you your image," she said "Why didn't you tell me this before?"

In other words, she is completely 100 percent on board with having a makeover or doing whatever she needs to do to reassure people about her husband. She's not going to give a Teresa Heinz Kerry's speech.

BARNES: You know, I love speeches by potential first ladies, because--I'm almost sure she will do one thing tonight, and she will tell some funny stories about her husband, and act like he doesn't really want to you hear this story, but I'm going to tell you anyway. And, of course, it will all be in the script.

KONDRACKE: Let's not forget the other high point tonight, and that is the Kennedy tribute.

HUME: We will come to that in the next segment. But go ahead and get us started.

KONDRACKE: In 1964 after John Kennedy had died, Bobby Kennedy came and made a speech, and there was a wonderful video--the applause lasted 20 minutes. It will be interesting to see how long the applause lasts tonight.

HUME: I think they booked him for ten, and they suspect it could be more.

Mort, thanks very much. Thanks to all of you. We will be back to talk about the next four days and see and what is in store for the Democrats and for John McCain. Stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HOWARD DEAN, DNC CHAIR: Welcome delegates, alternates, standing committee members, special guests, and other friends, members of the news media, guests from around the world, and our fellow Americans.

During our national convention, we will demonstrate to all Americans why we need Barack Obama and Joe Biden in the White House.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HUME: And with those words, and some others, Howard Dean, the Democratic National Chairman, gaveled this convention to order. It is now officially in session, and its activities can be heard behind us here.

Tonight, in addition, of course, to the Michelle Obama speech, as we noted earlier, there will be a very, very big tribute to Ted Kennedy. There'll be a video produced by Ken Burns, a noted documentarian, about him.

There is even some possibility that Senator Kennedy, who is here, might say a few things. What effect is that? Is there some possible calculation in here to rival the two days we're going to hear from the Clintons coming up?

KONDRACKE: Well, maybe. But look, this is Monday. Tomorrow is Clinton night. That's when the expectation ism does Bill Clinton do what he's supposed to do--

HUME: Does she?

KONDRACKE: Does she?

Well, I think she's going to do it. She has been a good soldier in every speech that she has made. The problem is Bill Clinton, as usual.

Howard Wolfson, the communications director for the Clinton campaign...

HUME: Now a FOX News contributor...

KONDRACKE:

said--wrote in "The New Republic" today that Hillary is on board, but Bill there is still a problem with, because he feels that Obama did not pay him the proper respect for his grand economic record, and he still hasn't been paid adequate respect. So there's still struggling about that, and the question is whether he can swallow it and do what he is supposed to do. But it is a Bill story. It's the great narcissist in action again.

HUME: And, frankly, I guess we all can't wait, can we, Bill?

KRISTOL: No, we're looking forward to it. It will be all Clinton all the time on Tuesday and Wednesday night.

And an interesting story--Ted Kennedy, of course, it's ironic, in 1980, when he ran against Jimmy Carter, as we all remember, he was way behind. It wasn't like Clinton against Obama. Carter put him away pretty easily. But Kennedy did not concede. He kept it going until the convention. He turned the convention into something about him, and he really damaged, I think, President Carter at that convention, I think he made Carter look even weaker perhaps than he would have inevitably.

And I think in that respect it is ironic that the tribute to Senator Kennedy here tonight reminding people really of the last Democratic Convention--

HUME: Big spoiler.

KRISTOL: Yes.

HUME: Although, I must say, Mara, losers sometimes can dominate a convention, as we saw Jesse Jackson do in 1988 for awhile.

LIASSON: They can. They can. Jesse Jackson did it, and if losers aren't handled correctly, they can. And I think the Obama camp has gone to great lengths to handle the losers properly. They've given Hillary a roll call vote, which may not be all 50 states-she might call it off.

They also have given Bill Clinton a prominent slot. However, it is on the same night as the vice presidential nomination, which I think will be the big story that night, unless Bill Clinton turns in some kind of a surly performance, which we all will be, you know, on our toes watching for--

HUME: What do you expect? Do you think it will happen?

LIASSON: No. I think he will be well behaved because I think it is in Hillary Clinton's interest, if she wants to run again in 2012 -- in case Obama doesn't get elected, to be seen as nothing but completely 100 percent enthusiastic, sincere, not under my skin at all.

HUME: And not carrying a dangerous piece of baggage wherever she goes and no matter what she does.

LIASSON: That's right.

HUME: Fred, your thoughts?

BARNES: I remember the Republicans said in '76 and Reagan after that, and a lot of Republicans though he didn't play a big enough part, didn't help Gerald Ford who lost to Jimmy Carter. And you know what? It didn't have any effect on this race in 1980. He won the Republican nomination easily.

So I don't think there will be hard feelings about what Hillary says.

Now, look, this convention right now is about one thing. It's not about selling Barack Obama as commander in chief. It's about whether the Democrats can unify or not.

And so far, they haven't, because the Clintons have grievances. They have issues. Bill Clinton has some. Hillary Clinton has some. What they say up on the podium won't matter, because there is an undercurrent here of dissatisfaction on the part of the Clintons and that is going to have to be satisfied. It will be reported, that's for sure.

LIASSON: I think--look, everybody has been going out and digging up a Hillary Clinton female delegate who says they're going to vote for John McCain. And you can find them, but there are fewer of them than there were last week, and, hopefully, if the Obamas do their job correctly for them, at the end of this week they will be even fewer.

BARNES: Teddy Kennedy can help, because he is a force for party unity. He backed Obama, but you know everybody in the party loves him. And so he could help.

HUME: Bill?

KRISTOL: Well, I just hope the Clintons, you know--

(CROSSTALK)

HUME: You don't hope he behaves!

What do you think?

KONDRACKE: Oh, look, I think they're going to behave. As a matter of fact, Obama today said something, apparently on the road, said something nice about Clinton's record. And so they're patching it up. They want to go out of this convention unified. They don't want to mess up their chances.

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