'Special Report' Panel on the Impact of Barack Obama's Pastor

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from March 17, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think the caricature that's being painted of him is not accurate. And so part of what I'll do tomorrow is to talk a little bit about how some of these issues are perceived from within the black church community, for example, which I think views this very differently.


HUME: Barack Obama talking today about his now famous minister, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, who is now the retiring pastor of Obama's church. There you see him there with Reverend Wright, the man he says brought him to Christ and with whom he has had a relationship for some 20 years, but whose most incendiary rhetoric Obama said he never heard, at least not in church.

He heard about it later, and that is the source of the big controversy that swirls around Obama tonight.

Some thoughts on this now from Fred Barnes, executive editor of The Weekly Standard, Mara Liasson, national political correspondent for National Public Radio, and Mort Kondracke, executive editor of Roll Call — FOX News contributors all.

Obama is going to make a speech tomorrow. What could he possibly say that would put this co controversy to rest, if, indeed, there is anything he can do — Mort?

MORT KONDRACKE, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, ROLL CALL: Look, I think he needs to do his version of John F. Kennedy's Houston ministerial speech, or Mitt Romney's Mormon speech, and put everything in context. I mean, he's going to talk about race in America, what his experience is, where Jeremiah Wright comes from.

Now, on the surface, on the basis of what we heard, you know there's always historically been the Martin versus Malcolm battle within the black community, Martin Luther King, nonviolent, and all that, and Malcolm X —

HUME: But Martin Luther King was a distinctly Christian message with an emphasis on forgiveness —


HUME: The issue here is — this is a Christian church —


HUME: — but what we heard, at least the most incendiary part of it, doesn't sound forgiving at all.

KONDRACKE: Jeremiah Wright on the basis of the quotes that we have heard sounds a lot more like Malcolm X, that everything is whitey's fault, the U.S. of KKK, and all that stuff — we are responsible, and we got our comeuppance on 9/11.

I don't know how you talk that away, how you explain that. I think what Obama has got — I think this is potentially a killer. If it's not a killer in the Democratic primaries, where Democrats will probably forgive him anything, I think it's a real killer in the general if he gets the nomination.

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: I think this is the biggest problem of the Obama campaign that they has faced, absolutely. And I agree with Mort that it is potentially and even bigger problem in the general election. There are already —

HUME: Is that because Democrats are so enamored of him, or because they are more forgiving of this kind of rhetoric?

LIASSON: I think both. I mean, they are enamored of him. His opponent does not seem to want to make this particular thing an issue.

HUME: Boy, did you hear Chuck Schumer yesterday on FOX News Sunday as his spokesman ran away from the issue?

LIASSON: They typically declined, but — look, there is no doubt that the Obama campaign opposition research department knew about this chapter and verse, whether or not he was in the church when these things were said or not. They took some baby steps to deal with this problem by distancing himself from Wright, by not having him give the invocation at his announcement speech.

I don't know if it would have been better if he dealt with this in a preemptive fashion, gotten this out in the open himself and then put it into the Congress text that he apparently is going to do tomorrow, but it is a problem, and taken — these quotes, standing alone, are offensive and scary to voters.

Now, there already is a poll out that I saw on the web about that, when these quotes are played for people, how they change their opinion.

HUME: They recoil.


FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: How did the media get these quotes? Did someone have to steel them somewhere and sneak them to the press? No. They went and bought them in the gift shop at the church.

HUME: The DVDs that contain the sermons that contain the quotes.

BARNES: Right. These are obviously the things that the church was proud of, and was —

HUME: Wait a minute. As incendiary as this stuff was, it was only part of what the guy's sermons were.

BARNES: Right. I would like to hear the rest of them that the chickens came home to roost and it was Americans fault for 9/11, which was drawn exactly from Malcolm X. Malcolm X's most famous statement after the JFK assassination was America's chickens are coming home to roost. That seems to be where he got that from.

This isn't at all — sorry, Mort — like JFK's speech or Mitt Romney's speech. They just had to explain their own religions in the context of American politics, and whether they — but this is very personal with Obama.

He has to explain, I think, his relationship with Reverend Wright, what it meant, as he said, that Wright was a guy he admired, someone who was his spiritual leader, his mentor. What was that relationship like?

Some people have already said, Brit, if you look at what Michelle Obama said with her idea, you know, that America's a mean country —

HUME: Downright mean.

BARNES: Downright mean country — and his objection in 2002 when he knew very little about Iraq and what might happen, he was against the war — it looks like these things are consistent with the views of Reverend Wright, particularly on American power, when executed, is always wrong and does terrible things.

I just think he has a lot of explaining to do about his personal relationship with Reverend Wright.

HUME: He has said, however, that what Reverend Wright did was lead him to Christ. We all know people who have been led to Christ by someone that you are without being grateful to the person that did that; it is a big thing in your life. And I see no reason to doubt that that happened.

And he distinguishes between Reverend Wright's religious message and these occasional political assertions. In light of the fact —

BARNES: I don't know that there is a difference.

HUME: Is there a difference?

BARNES: I don't know there is.

HUME: That is a church that is rooted in what is called "black liberation theology." So is that really a distinction that can be credible?

LIASSON: Well, I think he will probably try to explain that tomorrow.

BARNES: It may be credible for him, but he is running to be president of the United States as a racial unifier, as post-racial candidate. And to have a black nationalist, which is what his minister amounts to, as his spiritual advisor is a big political problem.

A post-racial candidate would be Colin Powell, or Condi Rice, or somebody like that —

HUME: Tiger woods.

KONDRACKE: — who has transcended racial divides. And this guy, you know, has been saying that that's who he is, but is that the reality? At this moment, you have to say no.

LIASSON: Well, Barack Obama and Reverend Wright are not one and the same person.

KONDRACKE: I know, I know, but, look, if my minister, and I don't care if he did lead me to Christ, suddenly came out as a member of the KKK, I would be gone from that church. And I don't know why he is still a member of the church and regards him as a spiritual advisor.

BARNES: I have gone to the same church for 25 years. I think both of you all know the pastor there, John Yates, one who has had a great influence on my life. If he one Sunday decided to announce he was giving a lifetime achievement award to Louis Farrakhan as Revered Wright did last year, I'd be out the door. There are plenty of good churches around. I like his the best, and

HUME: And you go because of him.


HUME: It must be said that when people pick a church, it is very often because they like the pastor.

BARNES: And if they decide they don't like his sermons, they move on. There are plenty of churches to go through.

HUME: So, can he do it, you think, Fred, tomorrow?

BARNES: I think he is probably not going to be very specific and talk more about race and less about Jeremiah Wright.

HUME: Do you agree with that, Mara?

LIASSON: I think if anybody can do this, it's him. Talk about giving great speeches man, he needs to give a really good one tomorrow.

HUME: Mort, do you think he can do it?

KONDRACKE: I agree with Mara. I think he can do it. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt until tomorrow.

HUME: Next up with out panel, how the Bush administration is responding to the country's economic issues. What are they doing? Is it enough? Will it work? We'll be right back.



SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Part of the reason we're in the very difficult economic situation we find ourselves is because of the fiscal irresponsibility of the Bush administration.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: One thing is for certain, we're in challenging times. But another thing is for certain, that we've taken strong and decisive action. The Federal Reserve has moved quickly to bring order to the financial markets.


HUME: Well, two politicians wearing the green today differing on issues involving the long green, the economy, money.

We all saw this astonishing buyout over the weekend of Bear Stearns a big and once thought largely impregnable financial fortress in New York that was swallowed for $2 a share, where it had once been worth about $160 a share within the past year. Wow.

So we had Secretary Paulson out yesterday, Secretary Paulson out again today, Secretary Paulson involved, it seems, in the negotiations over Bear Stearns and encouraging the Fed to infuse capital to pay for the deal.

But the charge of neglect is going to be hurled at the administration, and the question is, well —

BARNES: Neglect? There is only one thing more than neglect — fiscal irresponsibility? The deficit didn't cause this. Excessive spending on the farm Bill and some other things, that didn't cause it.

What in the world is Hillary Clinton talking about? It shows that she has no idea what is going on in financial markets if she thinks that fiscal irresponsibility by the White House and Congress is somehow the cause of this. That's a completely different cause.

What the Fed did, the Fed and Paulson and J.P. Morgan did exactly the right thing, and, look, the Bush administration and the Clinton administration or an Obama administration is not going to let financial markets collapse. I mean, what's the Fed here for? It's to maintain financial markets.

Look, this is not going to be a great reward for Bear Stearns employees and CEOs.

HUME: They're wiped out.

BARNES: They're wiped out. They own a third of the stock in the company, a third of the equity. Think if you're a retiree, or about to retire, and you have all you funds in Bear Stearns' stock —

HUME: You know what the message of that is? Diversify!

BARNES: Or keep working

HUME: Keep working and diversify.

BARNES: There is a whole problem about financial markets and about all these crazy new instruments and this whole architecture where you're selling risk and the lender doesn't have anything to do with the lendee, and so on —

HUME: The borrower.

BARNES: — the borrower. But look at the economy. They're financial markets, and they can lead to big problems in the economy, but the economy's in pretty good shape now, because we're not having a lot of layoffs. Hiring may be down, but there is not a lot of big inventory that companies have. There is not production excesses, all the things that if you have them can create a real problem.

LIASSON: Yes, that would make it a lot worse.

But, look, there is the argument that some conservatives might make that they should have just been allowed to fail.

BARNES: But who is going to do that?

LIASSON: It was their own fault.

HUME: We do hear that.

LIASSON: They took a risk that they shouldn't have taken.

However, the question I think for the Fed and for the administration is how many times can they do this? I mean, they can dig into their bag of tricks for one financial institution and then another and another —

HUME: It is all they can do, but is the question is, is it really all they can do, or should they be doing more?

LIASSON: I don't know what else they can be doing right now, because there may be more problems like this that are about to pop up, and they will keep bailing them out one after the other.

HUME: This was no bailout. The Fed did back the purchase, but this is a fire sale. That's a little different from a bailout, wouldn't you agree?


What the Fed also did, the important thing that it did beyond the Bear Stearns' thing, was to open the discount window to investment banks. It previously had been open to regular banks, ordinary banks, and now it's wide open to provide them with the money they need in order not to collapse.

I mean, this was a major step on the part of the president.

HUME: But they have to pay that money back. That's not being they are being given.

KONDRACKE: But, nonetheless, it's available to them.

I think Hillary is right to this extent — I think the current administration, Hank Paulson and the Goldman Sachs' game are terrific, but heretofore, this administration did not regulate — now Paulson wants to regulate this whole go-go mortgage business and the credit rating agencies, and all of them.

HUME: So it is a regulatory irresponsibility? We got to go.

KONDRACKE: And we're way overleveraged of a society, and it's partly Bush's fault.

BARNES: Who regulates banks, Mort? It's the Fed.

HUME: We've got to go.

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