Monday, June 9, 2008

A Conversation With the Next President

A hypothetical interview with Barack Obama, November 7, 2008, on the Today Show with Matt Lauer.

ML: Good morning Mr. President-elect, first off let me congratulate you on being elected the forty-fourth President of the United States, and on being the very first African-American in our nation's history to hold that office. Can you describe how you feel at this moment?

BO: Thank you so much, Matt. Of course there is a range of emotions that accompanies such an awesome responsibility, but I think the two that rise to the top are humility and gratitude. I am grateful to my family, my friends, my staff, and the thousands of volunteers who made this campaign a success. And I am humbled by the trust the American people have placed in me, and I am honored to serve. We are going to do our best, and like we've said all along, Matt, we're fired up and ready to go.

ML: Your success today is at the same time the failure of another man. What did you say to John McCain when he called you yesterday afternoon to tell you he was not going to challenge to the certification of votes in Ohio and was conceding the race to you?

BO: Well first of all Matt I would disagree with your characterization of John McCain's campaign as a failure. John McCain received over 50 million votes in this election, and should be commended for the fine race that he ran. I think it says a lot about our country that so many Americans wanted to be heard in this election, and clearly we need to reach out to the millions of Americans who voted for my opponent. I am going to answer to them for the next four years just as I am going to answer to the millions of Americans who voted for me.

ML: You mentioned the total vote tally, and of course you defeated Senator McCain by almost 10 million votes in the popular vote. But the electoral college was a different story, and were it not for your victory in Ohio, I might be having this conversation with Sen. McCain. What does it say about our electoral system that someone could win the popular vote so overwhelmingly, but just barely secure a win in the electoral college? And what would have been your reaction if you had lost in Ohio, giving Senator McCain the presidency despite your large margin in the popular vote?

BO: Well fortunately Matt we don't have to have that conversation this morning; we won not only the popular vote but also the electoral vote now that Senator McCain has decided not to challenge the certification of the vote in Ohio. It is of course troubling that the will of the American people might be thwarted in this way, the way it was in 2000, and it is something we will have to look at as a nation. This is not a partisan issue, it is an American issue. The electoral college serves the important purpose of ensuring that all Americans are heard and are relevant in the most important decision we can make as a nation, but we also need to make sure that no person or group of people has a disproportionate say over the election of a president.

ML: Let's talk about Ohio for a moment. On Wednesday morning, we awoke to yet another Presidential election that could not be decided on election night. The count in Ohio was within 0.1%, in your favor, which under state law meant that a recount was mandatory. At the same time, the McCain campaign raised allegations of improper counts in heavily Democratic counties. When the recount was over, you were ahead by less than 10,000 votes, and some members of the McCain campaign said privately that they were confident that they could have at least twice that number of votes disqualified in Cuyahoga County if they could make their case to a Federal judge. Did you win in Ohio, and was it fair?

BO: Yes and yes, Matt. We won Ohio by about 9,000 votes. It was a hard fought campaign, and we owe a lot to Vice President-elect Strickland for his tireless efforts in his home state. Not only did we win, we won fairly. The votes in Ohio were counted twice, and each time we came out ahead --

ML: -- but what about the McCain campaign's allegations that they could have votes in Cleveland disqualified --

BO: Well Matt I cannot tell you today what some supporters of John McCain think they could have done had the Senator elected to drag this nation through months of litigation and over the manner in which ballots were cast and votes were counted. While the McCain campaign was exploring its options in Ohio, we were looking at Virginia and Florida. We lost both of those states by tremendously narrow margins, but we lost them nonetheless. We had already decided that we would not challenge those results because of the uncertainty and prolonged animosity that would result from another election decided in the courts. I think John McCain was equally unwilling to put the country through such an ordeal, and I think he is to be commended for recognizing that our lead in Ohio was sufficient to withstand any legal challenge, to win the state, and therefore the election.

ML: Switching to Iraq. Over the last few months, the situation on the ground has deteriorated rapidly, with a new insurgency challenging Iraqi forces, and American soldiers remaining caught in the middle. What is the solution, and to what extent is President Bush required to consult with you on the conduct of the Iraq war between now and your inauguration in January?

BO: Well first off Matt, President Bush is the President of the United States until January 20, 2009. While I look forward to the opportunity to sit down with President Bush and ensure a smooth transition -- especially during this dangerous time for our troops and our nation -- the conduct of the Iraq war is ultimately his responsibility --

ML: -- but what if he wants to send in more troops despite your intention to withdraw troops --

BO: Well Matt we have said for a the last year that we would like to begin bringing the troops home, but the time and manner in which we do so will of course have to be dictated by circumstances on the ground. Having said that, I think it would be very unfortunate if President Bush were to send more troops to Iraq at a time when we need to be disengaging from that country. I've said all along that we need to be as careful getting out of Iraq as we were careless getting in. An increase in troop levels now will do nothing to secure the American people. That is George Bush's number one responsibility today, and it will be my number one responsibility come January 20, 2009.

ML: Would you make any efforts to stop him from sending more troops to Iraq before he leaves office?

BO: Together with all Americans I would try to persuade President Bush that such a move would be ill-conceived and ill-time, but as President-elect I have no constitutional authority to do anything more.

ML: Speaking of the Constitution, three weeks ago today, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas announced his intention to retire at the expiration of the current Supreme Court term, which ends in June of 2009. Many have speculated that this was a political maneuver intended to mobilize support on the right for John McCain's struggling campaign. Do you believe Justice Thomas will retire at the end of the next term, and if so, how will you go about replacing him?

BO: Matt I take Justice Thomas at his word, and I have never believed that his announcement was political. However, until he resigns from the Court, whenever that may be, he is a sitting member of a co-ordinate branch of government and I wouldn't be inclined to say more on the topic than what I've said already.

ML: But if he does resign, there will be no African-Americans left on the Court. Would you feel obligated to replace him with a black Justice?

BO: Absolutely not. If an when there is any vacancy on the Court, we will conduct a thorough search for the most qualified candidate, whoever that may be. We will look for jurists who recognize that the Constitution does not present us with static, immutable rules, but rather with fixed principles that have to be applied dynamically as our nation progresses and develops. My political opponents would accuse me of supporting judicial activism, but I think that's wrong. We need Supreme Court Justices who understand that the brilliance of our founders lay not in the creation of a set of commandments that would hold true in all circumstances, but rather in the formulation of an organic, living Constitution that is hard-wired to accommodate and adapt to evolution in our society and ourselves.

ML: Switching to the economy, you were opposed to the so-called "gas tax holiday" that your opponent supported throughout the campaign. It never got any traction in Congress, due in part to the fact that Democrats would not support a measure opposed by their candidate for President. With the national average for a gallon of gas now approaching $5.50, do you think you made a mistake in opposing some form of tax relief for motorists?

BO: Matt the gas tax holiday would have provided -- at best -- a few extra dollars per family at a time when our roads and bridges are crumbling. I was not willing to promise Americans a short-term solution at great long-term cost. I think most Americans recognized the proposed gas tax holiday for what it was. Our solution to the energy crisis is not going to come in the form of a one-time tax break of $80 or $90. The only way out is to reduce our dependence on foreign oil through alternative and renewable sources of energy, and to change the way we consume fossil fuels.

ML: President-elect Barack Obama, thank you for your time this morning, and congratulations on your historic victory.

BO: Thank you Matt.

What? A man can dream, can't he?

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