This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from March 18, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Had I heard them, had I been sitting in the church at the time that they were spoken, I would have been absolutely clear to Reverend Wright that I didn't find those acceptable.
Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. I did ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in the church? Yes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HUME: And so what Barack Obama described in a somewhat different way than, as you could see, he had before his knowledge of the strong medicine uttered from the pulpit by his former pastor, or, I guess, his continuing friend and pastor, although he is not the pastor of that church anymore, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright.
Some thoughts on this speech now from Fred Barnes, Executive Editor of "The Weekly Standard," Mara Liasson, National Political Correspondent of National Public Radio, and Mort Kondracke, Executive Editor of "Roll Call," FOX News contributors all.
My question after listening to the speech, the first question I had is — is the "I didn't know about it" denial now out the window?
FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": Of course it is. He said he did hear some things. Remember he also said in that denial, which I guess was from the FOX News interview last Friday —
HUME: Friday night, yes.
BARNES: Was that if he had heard some of these statements, that he would have gotten up and confronted Reverend Wright, which, I gather from his speech today, he didn't do. And that's something I think he needs to answer for. He didn't. He really didn't.
HUME: It's not clear that he has done it yet.
BARNES: He needs to explain why, with all these objectionable statements, ones like "god damn America," and "America's spreading AIDS purposely among black people," and so on, why he didn't confront him and why he stayed in the church for 20 years.
But the part that bothered me the most was his excusing and explaining away, usually by ideological equivalents, the things that Reverend Wright had said. He said, just like Geraldine Ferraro and what she had said, and just like he said these things at his church, but this happens in all kinds of churches, and people strongly disagree with the pastor.
HUME: There was one more thing along those lines, which is something he said about a close relative. Let's listen to it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can disown my white grandmother, a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed her by on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BARNES: That is not the same at all. What he did was throw his grandmother under the bus.
But to throw an analogy between these statements about America is at fault, America has chickens coming home to roost because of 9/11, and likening statements like that to something his grandmother said.
MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: First of all, he said those things about his grandmother in his book, so this isn't the first time he has talked about that.
I don't think he made an actual equivalence between Wright's statements, which he denounced pretty specifically, and he said why they were wrong and divisive, why they had a profoundly distorted view of the country — he said they elevated everything that was wrong with America, above all that we know is right with America.
He explained that. He even talked about the Middle East, you know, putting Israel's actions against the Palestinians instead of talking about the hateful ideologies of the —
HUME: This is all kind of for the first time, isn't it?
LIASSON: That is for the first time. The grandmother stuff is not.
Look, I think that he was doing something very difficult. He was trying to explain why what Reverend Wright said was wrong, divisive, and hateful —
HUME: In his book, did he liken his grand mother to Reverend Wright?
LIASSON: No, but he talked exactly about this thing —
HUME: I understand that, but he didn't raise the question in his book of ever disowning her, or comparing that to anything else —
LIASSON: No, no, but the stories about —
HUME: I hear you. An old anecdote used in a new way.
LIASSON: Yes, yes.
I don't think he was making an equivalence between his grandmother's comments and Wright's statements. Wright's statements are from a public pulpit. They are completely different than a private —
HUME: Wait a minute — he is the one that said he could no more disown him than he could disown her, and then he sites remarks by her that he finds unacceptable.
LIASSON: Yes, but I took that to say that she is a member of my family, and I feel so is Wright a member of my family.
MORT KONDRACKE, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, "ROLL CALL": If we are going to pay attention to that, when "I could no more disown Wright than I could disown the black community," as if everybody in the black community agrees with Wright.
KONDRACKE: Well, that's what he said.
What he did was he distanced himself from the extreme statements of Wright, but he also explained it away. And I think that this was designed — where it's coming from — the anger, the bitterness, and all of that stuff — which is designed, I think to partly evoke white guilt.
I mean, I think it's designed to get some, and will succeed in getting some white liberals, maybe, who otherwise were for Hillary Clinton to look favorably on him.
But I don't think it is going to do anything for the white, hardcore, anti-black people, who —
HUME: He's not going to get them, anyway; or any black people, Mort.
KONDRACKE: But — and then, what does it do to white independents who he is going to have to rely upon in the general election? Now, they're probably going to vote lots on economics, but insofar as he has claimed to be a healer and a unifier, he is not.
HUME: We actually have —
KONDRACKE: I have one more thing to say.
HUME: Go ahead, Mort, I'm sorry.
KONDRACKE: The other thing I have to say is he talks about unity between the white working class and African-Americans, and he said they are both victims of what the great corporate conspiracy, economic policies that favor the few over the many and stuff like that.
It is a populist appeal which is not unifying when it comes to solving problems, and is not unifying in the general election.
HUME: OK. I've got some data on this. This is an overnight poll, or current poll done by CBS news, 355 registered voters. That's a pretty small sample, but let's see what it shows about how voters view this in terms of Obama: made more favorable: 2 percent; less favorable, 30 percent; no difference, 65 percent.
But, within that, there are some Democratic voters, if you look at that — 76 percent of them said it didn't make any difference. Republican voters, you will now see that it is a different story altogether — 63 percent say it made no difference, but 47 percent of Republicans said it made them less favorable.
And now, the all important Independents that Mort mentioned, look at this — 36 percent, hat's more than a third of Independents said they now are less favorable disposed to him. That is a measurable, meaningful difference, I think.
BARNES: I think it is, but I don't know how many people actually watched the speech today and know enough about it.
BARNES: OK, look, here's what he could have done, and I wished he had done it. He could have said, "look, I made a mistake. I made a mistake. I should have gone and complained to Reverend Wright when he made these statements about 9/11 and these other things. I didn't do it. I regret it, and maybe I should have left the church, but I didn't because of family reasons and so on."
John McCain is a good example of exactly what you can do. Remember John McCain and the Confederate flag? He defended it in 2000 when he was in South Carolina, and later said it was a horrible mistake I made.
People will forgive you if you admit mistakes.
HUME: Wait a minute. Isn't it possibly political meaningful that he says he could no more disown this guy than he could disown the black community? That may be a political reality for him?
HUME: Well, disavow.
BARNES: You didn't have to disown either one of them.
HUME: He can disavow.
BARNES: He should disavow Reverend Wright.
LIASSON: If he wanted to say it was a mistake to have gone to the church —
BARNES: No. I want him to say it was a mistake I didn't confront the Reverend.
HUME: Next with the panel, five years after the U.S. invasion, this debate over the Iraq war continues and picked up pace today. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN, HILLARY CLINTON, (D) NEW YORK: In the end, the test is not the speeches a president delivers. It is whether the president delivers on the speeches.
And I will deliver. I have not and will not waver from my commitment to end the war.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think it highlights the differences between myself and Senator Clinton and Senator Obama. I do not think there is any doubt that if we withdraw the way they want to, it will be a huge setback, not only for democracy and freedom in Iraq, but in the entire region.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HUME: And so the lines are drawn very clearly now between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama on the one side, whoever wins, and John McCain on the other on the war. What about this issue, how is it playing?
BARNES: She's trying to draw a line between herself and Obama.
HUME: I know, but is there really one?
BARNES: Yes, there is one here. She has gone to the left of Obama. She is criticizing Obama: "he may talk about getting out, but he probably is not." And you can point to Samantha Power and what she said — what he'll do — the aide who called Hillary Clinton a "monster," but who was actually a national security adviser to Obama, and what she was that what he does he will judge by what are the facts on the ground.
I was told that on a conference call today with the Clinton people, she is going to pull out regardless. They do not care about —
HUME: Yesterday she said the answer is pulling out, regardless of military conditions, the answer is yes.
Go ahead, Mara.
LIASSON: Up until now, the debate in the Democratic primary has been 180 degrees different than what the debate on Iraq is going to be when we get to the general election. It has been is quite Obama and Clinton trying to outdo themselves in either how fast you would pull or who was right from the start.
And I think once we get a nominee and John McCain is in the debate, it is going to be about what are you going to do about the situation on the ground right now as it is when you inherit it? And there has been very little discussion of that in the Democratic primaries.
HUME: They won't talk about it. They say they are going to get our regardless.
LIASSON: With the exception of a Samantha Powers, who actually made a Michael Kinsley style gaffe, which is when you say the actual truth, which is of course he will decided after he gets into office and sees what the situation is.
KONDRACKE: Frankly, I will bet you that by the general election they will both be adopting the position that they are going to get out, whoever the Democratic nominee is, as carefully as we recklessly got in, according to the Obama line, because they will be trying to appeal to a general electorate audience.
Now, if the war is going better, I think you will see the Democratic nominee moving more toward the center. If it is going badly, then they will say, see, we are right all along, and we have to get out as fast as we can.
BARNES: But don't they have any views? They should take the view, unless they are absolute defeatist about Iraq or want to be out of touch with reality, there are dramatic improvements militarily, less dramatic improvements on reconciliation and meeting the benchmarks.
I think you look ridiculous right now if you say the things they do, that no progress has been made, and so on, but if you're out of touch with reality in Iraq.
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