The Second McCain-Obama Presidential Debate
SENS. MCCAIN AND OBAMA PARTICIPATE IN A PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES
DEBATE, BELMONT UNIVERSITY, NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE
U.S. SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN (AZ)
REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE
U. S. SENATOR BARACK OBAMA (IL)
DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE
TOM BROKAW, MODERATOR
[*] BROKAW: Good evening from Belmont University in
Nashville, Tennessee. I'm Tom Brokaw of NBC News. And welcome to
this second presidential debate, sponsored by the Commission on
Tonight's debate is the only one with a town hall format. The
Gallup Organization chose 80 uncommitted voters from the Nashville
area to be here with us tonight. And earlier today, each of them
gave me a copy of their question for the candidates.
From all of these questions -- and from tens of thousands
submitted online -- I have selected a long list of excellent
questions on domestic and foreign policy.
Neither the commission nor the candidates have seen the
questions. And although we won't be able to get to all of them
tonight, we should have a wide-ranging discussion one month before
Each candidate will have two minutes to respond to a common
question, and there will be a one-minute follow-up. The audience
here in the hall has agreed to be polite, and attentive, no cheering
or outbursts. Those of you at home, of course, are not so
The only exception in the hall is right now, as it is my
privilege to introduce the candidates, Senator Barack Obama of
Illinois and Senator John McCain of Arizona.
Gentlemen, we want to get underway immediately, if we can. Since
you last met at Ole Miss 12 days ago, the world has changed a great
deal, and not for the better. We still don't know where the bottom
is at this time.
As you might expect, many of the questions that we have from here
in the hall tonight and from online have to do with the American
economy and, in fact, with global economic conditions.
I understand that you flipped a coin.
And, Senator Obama, you will begin tonight. And we're going to
have our first question from over here in Section A from Alan
QUESTION: With the economy on the downturn and retired and older
citizens and workers losing their incomes, what's the fastest, most
positive solution to bail these people out of the economic ruin?
OBAMA: Well, Alan (ph), thank you very much for the
question. I want to first, obviously, thank Belmont University, Tom,
thank you, and to all of you who are participating tonight and those
of you who sent e-mail questions in.
I think everybody knows now we are in the worst financial crisis
since the Great Depression. And a lot of you I think are worried
about your jobs, your pensions, your retirement accounts, your
ability to send your child or your grandchild to college.
And I believe this is a final verdict on the failed economic
policies of the last eight years, strongly promoted by President
Bush and supported by Senator McCain, that essentially said that we
should strip away regulations, consumer protections, let the market
run wild, and prosperity would rain down on all of us.
It hasn't worked out that way. And so now we've got to take some
OBAMA: Now, step one was a rescue package that was passed
last week. We've got to make sure that works properly. And that
means strong oversight, making sure that investors, taxpayers are
getting their money back and treated as investors.
It means that we are cracking down on CEOs and making sure that
they're not getting bonuses or golden parachutes as a consequence of
this package. And, in fact, we just found out that AIG, a company
that got a bailout, just a week after they got help went on a
And I'll tell you what, the Treasury should demand that money
back and those executives should be fired. But that's only step one.
The middle-class need a rescue package. And that means tax cuts for
It means help for homeowners so that they can stay in their
homes. It means that we are helping state and local governments set
up road projects and bridge projects that keep people in their jobs.
And then long-term we've got to fix our health care system, we've
got to fix our energy system that is putting such an enormous burden
on families. You need somebody working for you and you've got to
have somebody in Washington who is thinking about the middle class
and not just those who can afford to hire lobbyists.
BROKAW: Senator McCain?
MCCAIN: Well, thank you, Tom. Thank you, Belmont
University. And Senator Obama, it's good to be with you at a town
And, Alan (ph), thank you for your question. You go to the heart
of America's worries tonight. Americans are angry, they're upset,
and they're a little fearful. It's our job to fix the problem.
Now, I have a plan to fix this problem and it has got to do with
energy independence. We've got to stop sending $700 billion a year
to countries that don't want us very -- like us very much. We have
to keep Americans' taxes low. All Americans' taxes low. Let's not
raise taxes on anybody today.
We obviously have to stop this spending spree that's going on in
Washington. Do you know that we've laid a $10 trillion debt on these
young Americans who are here with us tonight, $500 billion of it we
owe to China? We've got to have a package of reforms and it has got
to lead to reform prosperity and peace in the world. And I think
that this problem has become so severe, as you know, that
we're going to have to do something about home values.
You know that home values of retirees continues to decline and
people are no longer able to afford their mortgage payments. As
president of the United States, Alan, I would order the secretary of
the treasury to immediately buy up the bad home loan mortgages in
America and renegotiate at the new value of those homes -- at the
diminished value of those homes and let people be able to make those
-- be able to make those payments and stay in their homes.
Is it expensive? Yes. But we all know, my friends, until we
stabilize home values in America, we're never going to start turning
around and creating jobs and fixing our economy. And we've got to
give some trust and confidence back to America.
I know how the do that, my friends. And it's my proposal, it's
not Senator Obama's proposal, it's not President Bush's proposal.
But I know how to get America working again, restore our economy and
take care of working Americans. Thank you.
BROKAW: Senator, we have one minute for a discussion here.
Obviously the powers of the treasury secretary have been greatly
expanded. The most powerful officer in the cabinet now. Hank Paulson
says he won't stay on. Who do you have in mind to appoint to that
very important post?
MCCAIN: Not you, Tom.
BROKAW: No, with good reason.
MCCAIN: You know, that's a tough question and there's a
lot of qualified Americans. But I think the first criteria, Tom,
would have to be somebody who immediately Americans identify with,
immediately say, we can trust that individual.
A supporter of Senator Obama's is Warren Buffett. He has already
weighed in and helped stabilize some of the difficulties in the
markets and with companies and corporations, institutions today.
I like Meg Whitman, she knows what it's like to be out there in
the marketplace. She knows how to create jobs. Meg Whitman was CEO
of a company that started with 12 people and is now 1.3 million
people in America make their living off eBay. Maybe somebody here
has done a little business with them.
But the point is it's going to have to be somebody who inspires
trust and confidence. Because the problem in America today to a
large extent, Tom, is that we don't have trust and confidence in our
institutions because of the corruption on Wall Street and the greed
and excess and the cronyism in Washington, D.C.
BROKAW: All right. Senator McCain -- Senator Obama, who do
you have in mind for treasury secretary?
OBAMA: Well, Warren would be a pretty good choice --
Warren Buffett, and I'm pleased to have his support. But there are
other folks out there. The key is making sure that the next treasury
secretary understands that it's not enough just to help those at the
Prosperity is not just going to trickle down. We've got to help
the middle class.
OBAMA: And we've -- you know, Senator McCain and I have
some fundamental disagreements on the economy, starting with Senator
McCain's statement earlier that he thought the fundamentals of the
economy were sound.
Part of the problem here is that for many of you, wages and
incomes have flat-lined. For many of you, it is getting harder and
harder to save, harder and harder to retire.
And that's why, for example, on tax policy, what I want to do is
provide a middle class tax cut to 95 percent of working Americans,
those who are working two jobs, people who are not spending enough
time with their kids, because they are struggling to make ends meet.
Senator McCain is right that we've got to stabilize housing
prices. But underlying that is loss of jobs and loss of income.
That's something that the next treasury secretary is going to have
to work on.
BROKAW: Senator Obama, thank you very much.
May I remind both of you, if I can, that we're operating under
rules that you signed off on and when we have a discussion, it
really is to be confined within about a minute or so.
We're going to go now, Senator McCain, to the next question from
you from the hall here, and it comes from Oliver Clark (ph), who is
over here in section F.
QUESTION: Well, Senators, through this economic crisis, most of
the people that I know have had a difficult time. And through this
bailout package, I was wondering what it is that's going to actually
help those people out.
MCCAIN: Well, thank you, Oliver, and that's an excellent
question, because as you just described it, bailout, when I believe
that it's rescue, because -- because of the greed and excess in
Washington and Wall Street, Main Street was paying a very heavy
price, and we know that.
I left my campaign and suspended it to go back to Washington to
make sure that there were additional protections for the taxpayer in
the form of good oversight, in the form of taxpayers being the first
to be paid back when our economy recovers -- and it will recover --
and a number of other measures.
But you know, one of the real catalysts, really the match that
lit this fire was Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. I'll bet you, you may
never even have heard of them before this crisis.
But you know, they're the ones that, with the encouragement of
Senator Obama and his cronies and his friends in Washington, that
went out and made all these risky loans, gave them to people that
could never afford to pay back.
And you know, there were some of us that stood up two years ago
and said we've got to enact legislation to fix this. We've got to
stop this greed and excess.
Meanwhile, the Democrats in the Senate and some -- and some
members of Congress defended what Fannie and Freddie were doing.
They resisted any change.
Meanwhile, they were getting all kinds of money in campaign
contributions. Senator Obama was the second highest recipient of
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac money in history -- in history.
So this rescue package means that we will stabilize markets, we
will shore up these institutions. But it's not enough. That's why
we're going to have to go out into the housing market and we're
going to have to buy up these bad loans and we're going to have to
stabilize home values, and that way, Americans, like Alan, can
realize the American dream and stay in their home.
But Fannie and Freddie were the catalysts, the match that started
this forest fire. There were some of us -- there were some of us
that stood up against it. There were others who took a hike.
BROKAW: Senator Obama?
OBAMA: Well, Oliver, first, let me tell you what's in the
rescue package for you. Right now, the credit markets are frozen up
and what that means, as a practical matter, is that small businesses
and some large businesses just can't get loans.
If they can't get a loan, that means that they can't make
payroll. If they can't make payroll, then they may end up having to
shut their doors and lay people off.
And if you imagine just one company trying to deal with that, now
imagine a million companies all across the country.
So it could end up having an adverse effect on everybody, and
that's why we had to take action. But we shouldn't have been there
in the first place.
Now, I've got to correct a little bit of Senator McCain's
history, not surprisingly. Let's, first of all, understand that the
biggest problem in this whole process was the deregulation of the
financial system. Senator McCain, as recently as March, bragged
about the fact that he is a deregulator. On the other hand, two
years ago, I said that we've got a sub-prime lending crisis that has
to be dealt with.
I wrote to Secretary Paulson, I wrote to Federal Reserve Chairman
Bernanke, and told them this is something we have to deal with, and
nobody did anything about it.
A year ago, I went to Wall Street and said we've got to
reregulate, and nothing happened.
OBAMA: And Senator McCain during that period said that we
should keep on deregulating because that's how the free enterprise
Now, with respect to Fannie Mae, what Senator McCain didn't
mention is the fact that this bill that he talked about wasn't his
own bill. He jumped on it a year after it had been introduced and it
never got passed.
And I never promoted Fannie Mae. In fact, Senator McCain's
campaign chairman's firm was a lobbyist on behalf of Fannie Mae, not
So -- but, look, you're not interested in hearing politicians
pointing fingers. What you're interested in is trying to figure out,
how is this going to impact you?
This is not the end of the process; this is the beginning of the
process. And that's why it's going to be so important for us to work
with homeowners to make sure that they can stay in their homes.
The secretary already has the power to do that in the rescue
package, but it hasn't been exercised yet. And the next president
has to make sure that the next Treasury secretary is thinking about
how to strengthen you as a home buyer, you as a homeowner, and not
simply think about bailing out banks on Wall Street.
BROKAW: Senator Obama, time for a discussion. I'm going to
begin with you. Are you saying to Mr. Clark (ph) and to the other
members of the American television audience that the American
economy is going to get much worse before it gets better and they
ought to be prepared for that?
OBAMA: No, I am confident about the American economy. But
we are going to have to have some leadership from Washington that
not only sets out much better regulations for the financial system.
The problem is we still have a archaic, 20th-century regulatory
system for 21st-century financial markets. We're going to have to
coordinate with other countries to make sure that whatever actions
we take work.
But most importantly, we're going to have to help ordinary
families be able to stay in their homes, make sure that they can pay
their bills, deal with critical issues like health care and energy,
and we're going to have to change the culture in Washington so that
lobbyists and special interests aren't driving the process and your
voices aren't being drowned out.
BROKAW: Senator McCain, in all candor, do you think the
economy is going to get worse before it gets better?
MCCAIN: I think it depends on what we do. I think if we
act effectively, if we stabilize the housing market -- which I
believe we can, if we go out and buy up these bad loans, so that
people can have a new mortgage at the new value of their home -- I
think if we get rid of the cronyism and special interest influence
in Washington so we can act more effectively.
My friend, I'd like you to see the letter that a group of
senators and I wrote warning exactly of this crisis. Senator Obama's
name was not on that letter.
The point is -- the point is that we can fix our economy.
Americans' workers are the best in the world. They're the
fundamental aspect of America's economy.
They're the most innovative. They're the best -- they're most --
have best -- we're the best exporters. We're the best importers.
They're most effective. They are the best workers in the world.
And we've got to give them a chance. They've got -- we've got to
give them a chance to do their best again. And they are the innocent
bystanders here in what is the biggest financial crisis and
challenge of our time. We can do it.
BROKAW: Thank you, Senator McCain.
We're going to continue over in Section F, as it turns out.
Senator Obama, this is a question from you from Theresa Finch
QUESTION: How can we trust either of you with our money when both
parties got -- got us into this global economic crisis?
OBAMA: Well, look, I understand your frustration and your
cynicism, because while you've been carrying out your
responsibilities -- most of the people here, you've got a family
budget. If less money is coming in, you end up making cuts. Maybe
you don't go out to dinner as much. Maybe you put off buying a new
That's not what happens in Washington. And you're right. There is
a lot of blame to go around.
But I think it's important just to remember a little bit of
history. When George Bush came into office, we had surpluses. And
now we have half-a-trillion-dollar deficit annually.
When George Bush came into office, our debt -- national debt was
around $5 trillion. It's now over $10 trillion. We've almost doubled
it. And so while it's true that nobody's completely innocent here,
we have had over the last eight years the biggest increases in
deficit spending and national debt in our history. And Senator
McCain voted for four out of five of those George Bush budgets.
So here's what I would do. I'm going to spend some money on the
key issues that we've got to work on.
OBAMA: You know, you may have seen your health care
premiums go up. We've got to reform health care to help you and your
We are going to have to deal with energy because we can't keep on
borrowing from the Chinese and sending money to Saudi Arabia. We are
mortgaging our children's future. We've got to have a different
We've got to invest in college affordability. So we're going to
have to make some investments, but we've also got to make spending
cuts. And what I've proposed, you'll hear Senator McCain say, well,
he's proposing a whole bunch of new spending, but actually I'm
cutting more than I'm spending so that it will be a net spending
The key is whether or not we've got priorities that are working
for you as opposed to those who have been dictating the policy in
Washington lately, and that's mostly lobbyists and special
interests. We've got to put an end to that.
BROKAW: Senator McCain?
MCCAIN: Well, Theresa (ph), thank you. And I can see why
you feel that cynicism and mistrust, because the system in
Washington is broken. And I have been a consistent reformer.
I have advocated and taken on the special interests, whether they
be the big money people by reaching across the aisle and working
with Senator Feingold on campaign finance reform, whether it being a
variety of other issues, working with Senator Lieberman on trying to
address climate change.
I have a clear record of bipartisanship. The situation today
cries out for bipartisanship. Senator Obama has never taken on his
leaders of his party on a single issue. And we need to reform.
And so let's look at our records as well as our rhetoric. That's
really part of your mistrust here. And now I suggest that maybe you
go to some of these organizations that are the watchdogs of what we
do, like the Citizens Against Government Waste or the National
Taxpayers Union or these other organizations that watch us all the
I don't expect you to watch every vote. And you know what you'll
find? This is the most liberal big-spending record in the United
States Senate. I have fought against excessive spending and
outrages. I have fought to reduce the earmarks and eliminate them.
Do you know that Senator Obama has voted for -- is proposing $860
billion of new spending now? New spending. Do you know that he voted
for every increase in spending that I saw come across the floor of
the United States Senate while we were working to eliminate these
pork barrel earmarks?
He voted for nearly a billion dollars in pork barrel earmark
projects, including, by the way, $3 million for an overhead
projector at a planetarium in Chicago, Illinois. My friends, do we
need to spend that kind of money?
I think you have to look at my record and you have to look at
his. Then you have to look at our proposals for our economy, not
$860 billion in new spending, but for the kinds of reforms that keep
people in their jobs, get middle-income Americans working again, and
getting our economy moving again.
You're going to be examining our proposals tonight and in the
future, and energy independence is a way to do that, is one of them.
And drilling offshore and nuclear power are two vital elements of
that. And I've been supporting those and I know how to fix this
economy, and eliminate our dependence on foreign oil, and stop
sending $700 billion a year overseas.
BROKAW: We've run out of time. We have this one-minute
discussion period going on here.
There are new economic realities out there that everyone in this
hall and across this country understands that there are going to
have to be some choices made. Health policies, energy policies, and
entitlement reform, what are going to be your priorities in what
order? Which of those will be your highest priority your first year
in office and which will follow in sequence?
MCCAIN: The three priorities were health...
BROKAW: The three -- health care, energy, and entitlement
reform: Social Security and Medicare. In what order would you put
them in terms of priorities?
MCCAIN: I think you can work on all three at once, Tom. I
think it's very important that reform our entitlement programs.
My friends, we are not going to be able to provide the same
benefit for present-day workers that we are going -- that
present-day retirees have today. We're going to have to sit down
across the table, Republican and Democrat, as we did in 1983 between
Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill.
I know how to do that. I have a clear record of reaching across
the aisle, whether it be Joe Lieberman or Russ Feingold or Ted
Kennedy or others. That's my clear record.
We can work on nuclear power plants. Build a whole bunch of them,
create millions of new jobs. We have to have all of the above,
alternative fuels, wind, tide, solar, natural gas, clean coal
technology. All of these things we can do as Americans and we can
take on this mission and we can overcome it.
MCCAIN: My friends, some of this $700 billion ends up in
the hands of terrorist organizations.
As far as health care is concerned, obviously, everyone is
struggling to make sure that they can afford their premiums and that
they can have affordable and available health care. That's the next
But we can do them all at once. There's no -- and we have to do
them all at once. All three you mentioned are compelling national
BROKAW: I'm trying to play by the rules that you all
established. One minute for discussion.
Senator Obama, if you would give us your list of priorities,
there are some real questions about whether everything can be done
OBAMA: We're going to have to prioritize, just like a
family has to prioritize. Now, I've listed the things that I think
have to be at the top of the list.
Energy we have to deal with today, because you're paying $3.80
here in Nashville for gasoline, and it could go up. And it's a
strain on your family budget, but it's also bad for our national
security, because countries like Russia and Venezuela and, you know,
in some cases, countries like Iran, are benefiting from higher oil
So we've got to deal with that right away. That's why I've called
for an investment of $15 billion a year over 10 years. Our goal
should be, in 10 year's time, we are free of dependence on Middle
And we can do it. Now, when JFK said we're going to the Moon in
10 years, nobody was sure how to do it, but we understood that, if
the American people make a decision to do something, it gets done.
So that would be priority number one.
Health care is priority number two, because that broken health
care system is bad not only for families, but it's making our
businesses less competitive.
And, number three, we've got to deal with education so that our
young people are competitive in a global economy.
But just one point I want to make, Tom. Senator McCain mentioned
looking at our records. We do need to look at our records.
Senator McCain likes to talk about earmarks a lot. And that's
important. I want to go line by line through every item in the
federal budget and eliminate programs that don't work and make sure
that those that do work, work better and cheaper.
But understand this: We also have to look at where some of our
tax revenues are going. So when Senator McCain proposes a $300
billion tax cut, a continuation not only of the Bush tax cuts, but
an additional $200 billion that he's going to give to big
corporations, including big oil companies, $4 billion worth, that's
money out of the system.
And so we've got to prioritize both our spending side and our tax
policies to make sure that they're working for you. That's what I'm
going to do as president of the United States.
BROKAW: All right, gentlemen, I want to just remind you
one more time about time. We're going to have a larger deficit than
the federal government does if we don't get this under control here
before too long.
Senator McCain, for you, we have our first question from the
Internet tonight. A child of the Depression, 78-year-old Fiora (ph)
Since World War II, we have never been asked to sacrifice
anything to help our country, except the blood of our heroic men and
women. As president, what sacrifices -- sacrifices will you ask
every American to make to help restore the American dream and to get
out of the economic morass that we're now in?
MCCAIN: Well, Fiora (ph), I'm going to ask the American
people to understand that there are some programs that we may have
I first proposed a long time ago that we would have to examine
every agency and every bureaucracy of government. And we're going to
have to eliminate those that aren't working.
I know a lot of them that aren't working. One of them is in
defense spending, because I've taken on some of the defense
contractors. I saved the taxpayers $6.8 billion in a deal for an Air
Force tanker that was done in a corrupt fashion.
I believe that we have to eliminate the earmarks. And sometimes
those projects, not -- not the overhead projector that Senator Obama
asked for, but some of them that are really good projects, will have
-- will have to be eliminated, as well.
And they'll have to undergo the same scrutiny that all projects
should in competition with others.
So we're going to have to tell the American people that spending
is going to have to be cut in America. And I recommend a spending
freeze that -- except for defense, Veterans Affairs, and some other
vital programs, we'll just have to have across-the-board freeze.
And some of those programs may not grow as much as we would like
for them to, but we can establish priorities with full transparency,
with full knowledge of the American people, and full consultation,
not done behind closed doors and shoving earmarks in the middle of
the night into programs that we don't even -- sometimes we don't
even know about until months later.
And, by the way, I want to go back a second.
MCCAIN: Look, we can attack health care and energy at the
same time. We're not -- we're not -- we're not rifle shots here. We
are Americans. We can, with the participation of all Americans, work
together and solve these problems together.
Frankly, I'm not going to tell that person without health
insurance that, "I'm sorry, you'll have to wait." I'm going to tell
you Americans we'll get to work right away and we'll get to work
together, and we can get them all done, because that's what America
has been doing.
BROKAW: Senator McCain, thank you very much.
OBAMA: You know, a lot of you remember the tragedy of 9/11
and where you were on that day and, you know, how all of the country
was ready to come together and make enormous changes to make us not
only safer, but to make us a better country and a more unified
And President Bush did some smart things at the outset, but one
of the opportunities that was missed was, when he spoke to the
American people, he said, "Go out and shop."
That wasn't the kind of call to service that I think the American
people were looking for.
And so it's important to understand that the -- I think the
American people are hungry for the kind of leadership that is going
to tackle these problems not just in government, but outside of
And let's take the example of energy, which we already spoke
about. There is going to be the need for each and every one of us to
start thinking about how we use energy.
I believe in the need for increased oil production. We're going
to have to explore new ways to get more oil, and that includes
offshore drilling. It includes telling the oil companies, that
currently have 68 million acres that they're not using, that either
you use them or you lose them.
We're going to have to develop clean coal technology and safe
ways to store nuclear energy.
But each and every one of us can start thinking about how can we
save energy in our homes, in our buildings. And one of the things I
want to do is make sure that we're providing incentives so that you
can buy a fuel efficient car that's made right here in the United
States of America, not in Japan or South Korea, making sure that you
are able to weatherize your home or make your business more fuel
And that's going to require effort from each and every one of us.
And the last point I just want to make. I think the young people
of America are especially interested in how they can serve, and
that's one of the reasons why I'm interested in doubling the Peace
Corps, making sure that we are creating a volunteer corps all across
this country that can be involved in their community, involved in
military service, so that military families and our troops are not
the only ones bearing the burden of renewing America.
That's something that all of us have to be involved with and that
requires some leadership from Washington.
BROKAW: Senator Obama, as we begin, very quickly, our
discussion period, President Bush, you'll remember, last summer,
said that "Wall Street got drunk."
A lot of people now look back and think the federal government
got drunk and, in fact, the American consumers got drunk.
How would you, as president, try to break those bad habits of too
much debt and too much easy credit, specifically, across the board,
for this country, not just at the federal level, but as a model for
the rest of the country, as well?
OBAMA: Well, I think it starts with Washington. We've got
to show that we've got good habits, because if we're running up
trillion dollar debts that we're passing on to the next generation,
then a lot of people are going to think, "Well, you know what?
There's easy money out there."
It means -- and I have to, again, repeat this. It means looking
(ph) at the spending side, but also at the revenue side. I mean,
Senator McCain has been talking tough about earmarks, and that's
good, but earmarks account for about $18 billion of our budget.
Now, when Senator McCain is proposing tax cuts that would give
the average Fortune 500 CEO an additional $700,000 in tax cuts,
that's not sharing a burden.
And so part of the problem, I think, for a lot of people who are
listening here tonight is they don't feel as if they are sharing the
burden with other folks.
I mean, you know, it's tough to ask a teacher who's making
$30,000 or $35,000 a year to tighten her belt when people who are
making much more than her are living pretty high on the hog.
And that's why I think it's important for the president to set a
tone that says all of us are going to contribute, all of us are
going to make sacrifices, and it means that, yes, we may have to cut
some spending, although I disagree with Senator McCain about an
across-the- board freeze.
That's an example of an unfair burden sharing. That's using a
hatchet to cut the federal budget.
OBAMA: I want to use a scalpel so that people who need
help are getting help and those of us, like myself and Senator
McCain, who don't need help, aren't getting it.
That's how we make sure that everybody is willing to make a few
BROKAW: Senator McCain?
MCCAIN: Well, you know, nailing down Senator Obama's
various tax proposals is like nailing Jell-O to the wall. There has
been five or six of them and if you wait long enough, there will
probably be another one.
But he wants to raise taxes. My friends, the last president to
raise taxes during tough economic times was Herbert Hoover, and he
practiced protectionism as well, which I'm sure we'll get to at some
You know, last year up to this time, we've lost 700,000 jobs in
America. The only bright spot is that over 300,000 jobs have been
created by small businesses. Senator Obama's secret that you don't
know is that his tax increases will increase taxes on 50 percent of
small business revenue.
Small businesses across America will have to cut jobs and will
have their taxes increase and won't be able to hire because of
Senator Obama's tax policies. You know, he said some time ago, he
said he would forgo his tax increases if the economy was bad.
I've got some news, Senator Obama, the news is bad. So let's not
raise anybody's taxes, my friends, and make it be very clear to you
I am not in favor of tax cuts for the wealthy. I am in favor of
leaving the tax rates alone and reducing the tax burden on
middle-income Americans by doubling your tax exemption for every
child from $3,500 to $7,000.
To giving every American a $5,000 refundable tax credit and go
out and get the health insurance you want rather than mandates and
fines for small businesses, as Senator Obama's plan calls for. And
let's create jobs and let's get our economy going again. And let's
not raise anybody's taxes.
BROKAW: Senator Obama, we have another question from the
OBAMA: Tom, can I respond to this briefly? Because...
BROKAW: Well, look, guys, the rules were established by
the two campaigns, we worked very hard on this. This will address, I
think, the next question.
OBAMA: The tax issue, because I think it's very important.
BROKAW: There are lots of issues that we are going to be
dealing with here tonight. And we have a question from Langdon (ph)
in Ballston Spa, New York, and that's about huge unfunded
obligations for Social Security, Medicare, and other entitlement
programs that will soon eat up all of the revenue that's in place
and then go into a deficit position.
Since the rules are pretty loose here, I'm going to add my own to
this one. Instead of having a discussion, let me ask you as a coda
to that. Would you give Congress a date certain to reform Social
Security and Medicare within two years after you take office?
Because in a bipartisan way, everyone agrees, that's a big ticking
time bomb that will eat us up maybe even more than the mortgage
OBAMA: Well, Tom, we're going to have to take on
entitlements and I think we've got to do it quickly. We're going to
have a lot of work to do, so I can't guarantee that we're going to
do it in the next two years, but I'd like to do in the my first term
But I think it's important to understand, we're not going to
solve Social Security and Medicare unless we understand the rest of
our tax policies. And you know, Senator McCain, I think the
"Straight Talk Express" lost a wheel on that one.
So let's be clear about my tax plan and Senator McCain's, because
we're not going to be able to deal with entitlements unless we
understand the revenues coming in. I want to provide a tax cut for
95 percent of Americans, 95 percent.
If you make less than a quarter of a million dollars a year, you
will not see a single dime of your taxes go up. If you make $200,000
a year or less, your taxes will go down.
Now, Senator McCain talks about small businesses. Only a few
percent of small businesses make more than $250,000 a year. So the
vast majority of small businesses would get a tax cut under my plan.
And we provide a 50 percent tax credit so that they can buy
health insurance for their workers, because there are an awful lot
of small businesses that I meet across America that want to do right
by their workers but they just can't afford it. Some small business
owners, a lot of them, can't even afford health insurance for
Now, in contrast, Senator McCain wants to give a $300 billion tax
cut, $200 billion of it to the largest corporations and a hundred
thousand of it -- a hundred billion of it going to people like CEOs
on Wall Street. He wants to give average Fortune 500 CEO an
additional $700,000 in tax cuts. That is not fair. And it doesn't
OBAMA: Now, if we get our tax policies right so that
they're good for the middle class, if we reverse the policies of the
last eight years that got us into this fix in the first place and
that Senator McCain supported, then we are going to be in a position
to deal with Social Security and deal with Medicare, because we will
have a health care plan that actually works for you, reduces
spending and costs over the long term, and Social Security that is
stable and solvent for all Americans and not just some.
BROKAW: Senator McCain, two years for a reform of
MCCAIN: Sure. Hey, I'll answer the question. Look -- look,
it's not that hard to fix Social Security, Tom. It's just...
BROKAW: And Medicare.
MCCAIN: ... tough decisions. I want to get to Medicare in
Social Security is not that tough. We know what the problems are,
my friends, and we know what the fixes are. We've got to sit down
together across the table. It's been done before.
I saw it done with our -- our wonderful Ronald Reagan, a
conservative from California, and the liberal Democrat Tip O'Neill
from Massachusetts. That's what we need more of, and that's what
I've done in Washington.
Senator Obama has never taken on his party leaders on a single
major issue. I've taken them on. I'm not too popular sometimes with
my own party, much less his.
So Medicare, it's going to be a little tougher. It's going to be
a little tougher because we're talking about very complex and
My friends, what we have to do with Medicare is have a
commission, have the smartest people in America come together, come
up with recommendations, and then, like the base-closing commission
idea we had, then we should have Congress vote up or down.
Let's not let them fool with it anymore. There's too much special
interests and too many lobbyists working there. So let's have -- and
let's have the American people say, "Fix it for us." Now, just back
on this -- on this tax, you know, again, it's back to our first
question here about rhetoric and record. Senator Obama has voted 94
times to either increase your taxes or against tax cuts. That's his
When he ran for the United States Senate from Illinois, he said
he would have a middle-income tax cut. You know he came to the
Senate and never once proposed legislation to do that?
So let's look at our record. I've fought higher taxes. I have
fought excess spending. I have fought to reform government.
Let's look at our records, my friends, and then listen to my
vision for the future of America. And we'll get our economy going
again. And our best days are ahead of us.
BROKAW: Senator McCain, thank you very much. I'm going to
stick by my part of the pact and not ask a follow-up here.
The next question does come from the hall for Senator McCain. It
comes from Section C over here, and it's from Ingrid Jackson (ph).
QUESTION: Senator McCain, I want to know, we saw that Congress
moved pretty fast in the face of an economic crisis. I want to know
what you would do within the first two years to make sure that
Congress moves fast as far as environmental issues, like climate
change and green jobs?
MCCAIN: Well, thank you. Look, we are in tough economic
times; we all know that. And let's keep -- never forget the struggle
that Americans are in today.
But when we can -- when we have an issue that we may hand our
children and our grandchildren a damaged planet, I have disagreed
strongly with the Bush administration on this issue. I traveled all
over the world looking at the effects of greenhouse gas emissions,
Joe Lieberman and I.
And I introduced the first legislation, and we forced votes on
it. That's the good news, my friends. The bad news is we lost. But
we kept the debate going, and we kept this issue to -- to posing to
Americans the danger that climate change opposes.
Now, how -- what's -- what's the best way of fixing it? Nuclear
power. Senator Obama says that it has to be safe or disposable or
something like that.
Look, I -- I was on Navy ships that had nuclear power plants.
Nuclear power is safe, and it's clean, and it creates hundreds of
thousands of jobs.
And -- and I know that we can reprocess the spent nuclear fuel.
The Japanese, the British, the French do it. And we can do it, too.
Senator Obama has opposed that. We can move forward, and clean up
our climate, and develop green technologies, and alternate --
alternative energies for -- for hybrid, for hydrogen, for
battery-powered cars, so that we can clean up our environment and at
the same time get our economy going by creating millions of jobs.
We can do that, we as Americans, because we're the best
innovators, we're the best producers, and 95 percent of the people
who are our market live outside of the United States of America.
BROKAW: Senator Obama?
OBAMA: This is one of the biggest challenges of our times.
OBAMA: And it is absolutely critical that we understand
this is not just a challenge, it's an opportunity, because if we
create a new energy economy, we can create five million new jobs,
easily, here in the United States.
It can be an engine that drives us into the future the same way
the computer was the engine for economic growth over the last couple
And we can do it, but we're going to have to make an investment.
The same way the computer was originally invented by a bunch of
government scientists who were trying to figure out, for defense
purposes, how to communicate, we've got to understand that this is a
national security issue, as well.
And that's why we've got to make some investments and I've called
for investments in solar, wind, geothermal. Contrary to what Senator
McCain keeps on saying, I favor nuclear power as one component of
our overall energy mix.
But this is another example where I think it is important to look
at the record. Senator McCain and I actually agree on something. He
said a while back that the big problem with energy is that for 30
years, politicians in Washington haven't done anything.
What Senator McCain doesn't mention is he's been there 26 of
them. And during that time, he voted 23 times against alternative
fuels, 23 times.
So it's easy to talk about this stuff during a campaign, but it's
important for us to understand that it requires a sustained effort
from the next president.
One last point I want to make on energy. Senator McCain talks a
lot about drilling, and that's important, but we have three percent
of the world's oil reserves and we use 25 percent of the world's
So what that means is that we can't simply drill our way out of
the problem. And we're not going to be able to deal with the climate
crisis if our only solution is to use more fossil fuels that create
We're going to have to come up with alternatives, and that means
that the United States government is working with the private sector
to fund the kind of innovation that we can then export to countries
like China that also need energy and are setting up one coal power
plant a week.
We've got to make sure that we're giving them the energy that
they need or helping them to create the energy that they need.
BROKAW: Gentlemen, you may not have noticed, but we have
lights around here. They have red and green and yellow and they are
OBAMA: I'm just trying to keep up with John.
MCCAIN: Tom, wave like that and I'll look at you.
BROKAW: All right, Senator.
Here's a follow-up to that, one-minute discussion. It's a simple
BROKAW: Should we fund a Manhattan-like project that
develops a nuclear bomb to deal with global energy and alternative
energy or should we fund 100,000 garages across America, the kind of
industry and innovation that developed Silicon Valley?
MCCAIN: I think pure research and development investment
on the part of the United States government is certainly
appropriate. I think once it gets into productive stages, that we
ought to, obviously, turn it over to the private sector.
By the way, my friends, I know you grow a little weary with this
back-and-forth. It was an energy bill on the floor of the Senate
loaded down with goodies, billions for the oil companies, and it was
sponsored by Bush and Cheney.
You know who voted for it? You might never know. That one. You
know who voted against it? Me. I have fought time after time against
these pork barrel -- these bills that come to the floor and they
have all kinds of goodies and all kinds of things in them for
everybody and they buy off the votes.
I vote against them, my friends. I vote against them. But the
point is, also, on oil drilling, oil drilling offshore now is vital
so that we can bridge the gap. We can bridge the gap between
imported oil, which is a national security issue, as well as any
other, and it will reduce the price of a barrel of oil, because when
people know there's a greater supply, then the cost of that will go
That's fundamental economics. We've got to drill offshore, my
friends, and we've got to do it now, and we can do it.
And as far as nuclear power is concerned, again, look at the
record. Senator Obama has approved storage and reprocessing of spent
And I'll stop, Tom, and you didn't even wave. Thanks.
BROKAW: Thank you very much, Senator.
Next question for you, Senator Obama, and it comes from the E
section over here and it's from Lindsey Trellow (ph).
QUESTION: Senator, selling health care coverage in America as the
marketable commodity has become a very profitable industry.
Do you believe health care should be treated as a commodity?
OBAMA: Well, you know, as I travel around the country,
this is one of the single most frequently asked issues that I get,
is the issue of health care. It is breaking family budgets. I can't
tell you how many people I meet who don't have health insurance.
If you've got health insurance, most of you have seen your
premiums double over the last eight years. And your co-payments and
deductibles have gone up 30 percent just in the last year alone. If
you're a small business, it's a crushing burden.
So one of the things that I have said from the start of this
campaign is that we have a moral commitment as well as an economic
imperative to do something about the health care crisis that so many
families are facing.
So here's what I would do. If you've got health care already, and
probably the majority of you do, then you can keep your plan if you
are satisfied with it. You can keep your choice of doctor. We're
going to work with your employer to lower the cost of your premiums
by up to $2,500 a year.
And we're going to do it by investing in prevention. We're going
to do it by making sure that we use information technology so that
medical records are actually on computers instead of you filling
forms out in triplicate when you go to the hospital. That will
reduce medical errors and reduce costs.
If you don't have health insurance, you're going to be able to
buy the same kind of insurance that Senator McCain and I enjoy as
federal employees. Because there's a huge pool, we can drop the
costs. And nobody will be excluded for pre-existing conditions,
which is a huge problem.
Now, Senator McCain has a different kind of approach. He says
that he's going to give you a $5,000 tax credit. What he doesn't
tell you is that he is going to tax your employer-based health care
benefits for the first time ever.
So what one hand giveth, the other hand taketh away. He would
also strip away the ability of states to provide some of the
regulations on insurance companies to make sure you're not excluded
for pre-existing conditions or your mammograms are covered or your
maternity is covered. And that is fundamentally the wrong way to go.
In fact, just today business organizations like the United States
Chamber of Commerce, which generally are pretty supportive of
Republicans, said that this would lead to the unraveling of the
employer-based health care system.
That, I don't think, is the kind of change that we need. We've
got to have somebody who is fighting for patients and making sure
that you get decent, affordable health care. And that's something
that I'm committed to doing as president.
BROKAW: Senator McCain?
MCCAIN: Well, thank you for the question. You really
identified one of the really major challenges that America faces.
Co-payments go up, costs go up, skyrocketing costs, which make
people less and less able to afford health insurance in America.
And we need to do all of the things that are necessary to make it
more efficient. Let's put health records online, that will reduce
medical errors, as they call them. Let's have community health
centers. Let's have walk-in clinics. Let's do a lot of things to
But what is at stake here in this health care issue is the
fundamental difference between myself and Senator Obama. As you
notice, he starts talking about government. He starts saying,
government will do this and government will do that, and then
government will, and he'll impose mandates.
If you're a small business person and you don't insure your
employees, Senator Obama will fine you. Will fine you. That's
remarkable. If you're a parent and you're struggling to get health
insurance for your children, Senator Obama will fine you.
I want to give every American a $5,000 refundable tax credit.
They can take it anywhere, across state lines. Why not? Don't we go
across state lines when we purchase other things in America? Of
course it's OK to go across state lines because in Arizona they may
offer a better plan that suits you best than it does here in
And if you do the math, those people who have employer-based
health benefits, if you put the tax on it and you have what's left
over and you add $5,000 that you're going to get as a refundable tax
credit, do the math, 95 percent of the American people will have
increased funds to go out and buy the insurance of their choice and
to shop around and to get -- all of those people will be covered
except for those who have these gold-plated Cadillac kinds of
You know, like hair transplants, I might need one of those
myself. But the point is that we have got to give people choice in
America and not mandate things on them and give them the ability.
Every parent I know would acquire health insurance for their
children if they could.
Obviously small business people want to give their employees
health insurance. Of course they all want to do that. We've got to
give them the wherewithal to do it. We can do it by giving them, as
a start, a $5,000 refundable tax credit to go around and get the
health insurance policy of their choice.
BROKAW: Quick discussion. Is health care in America a
privilege, a right, or a responsibility?
MCCAIN: I think it's a responsibility, in this respect, in
that we should have available and affordable health care to every
American citizen, to every family member. And with the plan that --
that I have, that will do that.
But government mandates I -- I'm always a little nervous about.
But it is certainly my responsibility. It is certainly
small-business people and others, and they understand that
responsibility. American citizens understand that. Employers
But they certainly are a little nervous when Senator Obama says,
if you don't get the health care policy that I think you should
have, then you're going to get fined. And, by the way, Senator Obama
has never mentioned how much that fine might be. Perhaps we might
find that out tonight.
OBAMA: Well, why don't -- why don't -- let's talk about
this, Tom, because there was just a lot of stuff out there.
BROKAW: Privilege, right or responsibility. Let's start
OBAMA: Well, I think it should be a right for every
American. In a country as wealthy as ours, for us to have people who
are going bankrupt because they can't pay their medical bills -- for
my mother to die of cancer at the age of 53 and have to spend the
last months of her life in the hospital room arguing with insurance
companies because they're saying that this may be a pre-existing
condition and they don't have to pay her treatment, there's
something fundamentally wrong about that.
So let me -- let me just talk about this fundamental difference.
And, Tom, I know that we're under time constraints, but Senator
McCain through a lot of stuff out there.
Number one, let me just repeat, if you've got a health care plan
that you like, you can keep it. All I'm going to do is help you to
lower the premiums on it. You'll still have choice of doctor.
There's no mandate involved.
Small businesses are not going to have a mandate. What we're
going to give you is a 50 percent tax credit to help provide health
care for those that you need.
Now, it's true that I say that you are going to have to make sure
that your child has health care, because children are relatively
cheap to insure and we don't want them going to the emergency room
for treatable illnesses like asthma.
And when Senator McCain says that he wants to provide children
health care, what he doesn't mention is he voted against the
expansion of the Children's Health Insurance Program that is
responsible for making sure that so many children who didn't have
previously health insurance have it now.
Now, the final point I'll make on this whole issue of government
intrusion and mandates -- it is absolutely true that I think it is
important for government to crack down on insurance companies that
are cheating their customers, that don't give you the fine print, so
you end up thinking that you're paying for something and, when you
finally get sick and you need it, you're not getting it.
And the reason that it's a problem to go shopping state by state,
you know what insurance companies will do? They will find a state --
maybe Arizona, maybe another state -- where there are no
requirements for you to get cancer screenings, where there are no
requirements for you to have to get pre-existing conditions, and
they will all set up shop there.
That's how in banking it works. Everybody goes to Delaware,
because they've got very -- pretty loose laws when it comes to
things like credit cards.
And in that situation, what happens is, is that the protections
you have, the consumer protections that you need, you're not going
to have available to you.
That is a fundamental difference that I have with Senator McCain.
He believes in deregulation in every circumstance. That's what we've
been going through for the last eight years. It hasn't worked, and
we need fundamental change.
BROKAW: Senator, we want to move on now. If we'd come back
to the hall here, we're going to shift gears here a little bit and
we're going to go to foreign policy and international matters, if we
MCCAIN: I don't believe that -- did we hear the size of
BROKAW: Phil Elliott (ph) is over here in this section,
and Phil Elliott (ph) has a question for Senator McCain.
QUESTION: Yes. Senator McCain, how will all the recent economic
stress affect our nation's ability to act as a peacemaker in the
MCCAIN: Well, I thank you for that question, because
there's no doubt that history shows us that nations that are strong
militarily over time have to have a strong economy, as well. And
that is one of the challenges that America faces.
But having said that, America -- and we'll hear a lot of
criticism. I've heard a lot of criticism about America, and our
national security policy, and all that, and much of that criticism
But the fact is, America is the greatest force for good in the
history of the world. My friends, we have gone to all four corners
of the Earth and shed American blood in defense, usually, of
somebody else's freedom and our own.
MCCAIN: So we are peacemakers and we're peacekeepers. But
the challenge is to know when the United States of American can
beneficially effect the outcome of a crisis, when to go in and when
not, when American military power is worth the expenditure of our
most precious treasure.
And that question can only be answered by someone with the
knowledge and experience and the judgment, the judgment to know when
our national security is not only at risk, but where the United
States of America can make a difference in preventing genocide, in
preventing the spread of terrorism, in doing the things that the
United States has done, not always well, but we've done because
we're a nation of good.
And I am convinced that my record, going back to my opposition
from sending the Marines to Lebanon, to supporting our efforts in
Kosovo and Bosnia and the first Gulf War, and my judgment, I think,
is something that I'm -- a record that I'm willing to stand on.
Senator Obama was wrong about Iraq and the surge. He was wrong
about Russia when they committed aggression against Georgia. And in
his short career, he does not understand our national security
We don't have time for on-the-job training, my friends.
BROKAW: Senator Obama, the economic constraints on the
U.S. military action around the world.
OBAMA: Well, you know, Senator McCain, in the last debate
and today, again, suggested that I don't understand. It's true.
There are some things I don't understand.
I don't understand how we ended up invading a country that had
nothing to do with 9/11, while Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda are
setting up base camps and safe havens to train terrorists to attack
That was Senator McCain's judgment and it was the wrong judgment.
When Senator McCain was cheerleading the president to go into
Iraq, he suggested it was going to be quick and easy, we'd be
greeted as liberators.
That was the wrong judgment, and it's been costly to us. So one
of the difficulties with Iraq is that it has put an enormous strain,
first of all, on our troops, obviously, and they have performed
heroically and honorably and we owe them an extraordinary debt of
But it's also put an enormous strain on our budget. We've spent,
so far, close to $700 billion and if we continue on the path that
we're on, as Senator McCain is suggesting, it's going to go well
over $1 trillion.
We're spending $10 billion a month in Iraq at a time when the
Iraqis have a $79 billion surplus, $79 billion.
And we need that $10 billion a month here in the United States to
put people back to work, to do all these wonderful things that
Senator McCain suggested we should be doing, but has not yet
explained how he would pay for.
Now, Senator McCain and I do agree, this is the greatest nation
on earth. We are a force of good in the world. But there has never
been a nation in the history of the world that saw its economy
decline and maintained its military superiority.
And the strains that have been placed on our alliances around the
world and the respect that's been diminished over the last eight
years has constrained us being able to act on something like the
genocide in Darfur, because we don't have the resources or the
allies to do everything that we should be doing.
That's going to change when I'm president, but we can't change it
unless we fundamentally change Senator McCain's and George Bush's
foreign policy. It has not worked for America.
BROKAW: Senator Obama, let me ask you if -- let's see if
we can establish tonight the Obama doctrine and the McCain doctrine
for the use of United States combat forces in situations where
there's a humanitarian crisis, but it does not affect our national
Take the Congo, where 4.5 million people have died since 1998, or
take Rwanda in the earlier dreadful days, or Somalia.
What is the Obama doctrine for use of force that the United
States would send when we don't have national security issues at
OBAMA: Well, we may not always have national security
issues at stake, but we have moral issues at stake.
If we could have intervened effectively in the Holocaust, who
among us would say that we had a moral obligation not to go in?
If we could've stopped Rwanda, surely, if we had the ability,
that would be something that we would have to strongly consider and
So when genocide is happening, when ethnic cleansing is happening
somewhere around the world and we stand idly by, that diminishes us.
OBAMA: And so I do believe that we have to consider it as
part of our interests, our national interests, in intervening where
But understand that there's a lot of cruelty around the world.
We're not going to be able to be everywhere all the time. That's why
it's so important for us to be able to work in concert with our
Let's take the example of Darfur just for a moment. Right now
there's a peacekeeping force that has been set up and we have
African Union troops in Darfur to stop a genocide that has killed
hundreds of thousands of people.
We could be providing logistical support, setting up a no-fly
zone at relatively little cost to us, but we can only do it if we
can help mobilize the international community and lead. And that's
what I intend to do when I'm president.
BROKAW: Senator McCain, the McCain Doctrine, if you will.
MCCAIN: Well, let me just follow up, my friends. If we had
done what Senator Obama wanted done in Iraq, and that was set a date
for withdrawal, which General Petraeus, our chief -- chairman of our
Joint Chiefs of Staff said would be a very dangerous course to take
for America, then we would have had a wider war, we would have been
back, Iranian influence would have increased, al Qaeda would have
re- established a base.
There was a lot at stake there, my friends. And I can tell you
right now that Senator Obama would have brought our troops home in
defeat. I'll bring them home with victory and with honor and that is
a fundamental difference.
The United States of America, Tom, is the greatest force for
good, as I said. And we must do whatever we can to prevent genocide,
whatever we can to prevent these terrible calamities that we have
said never again.
But it also has to be tempered with our ability to beneficially
affect the situation. That requires a cool hand at the tiller. This
requires a person who understands what our -- the limits of our
We went in to Somalia as a peacemaking organization, we ended up
trying to be -- excuse me, as a peacekeeping organization, we ended
up trying to be peacemakers and we ended up having to withdraw in
In Lebanon, I stood up to President Reagan, my hero, and said, if
we send Marines in there, how can we possibly beneficially affect
this situation? And said we shouldn't. Unfortunately, almost 300
brave young Marines were killed.
So you have to temper your decisions with the ability to
beneficially affect the situation and realize you're sending
America's most precious asset, American blood, into harm's way. And,
again, I know those situations.
I've been in them all my life. And I can tell you right now the
security of your young men and women who are serving in the military
are my first priority right after our nation's security.
And I may have to make those tough decisions. But I won't take
them lightly. And I understand that we have to say never again to a
Holocaust and never again to Rwanda. But we had also better be darn
sure we don't leave and make the situation worse, thereby
exacerbating our reputation and our ability to address crises in
other parts of the world.
BROKAW: Senator McCain, thank you very much.
Next question for Senator Obama, it comes from the F section and
is from Katie Hamm (ph). Katie?
QUESTION: Should the United States respect Pakistani sovereignty
and not pursue al Qaeda terrorists who maintain bases there, or
should we ignore their borders and pursue our enemies like we did in
Cambodia during the Vietnam War?
OBAMA: Katie, it's a terrific question and we have a
difficult situation in Pakistan. I believe that part of the reason
we have a difficult situation is because we made a bad judgment
going into Iraq in the first place when we hadn't finished the job
of hunting down bin Laden and crushing al Qaeda.
So what happened was we got distracted, we diverted resources,
and ultimately bin Laden escaped, set up base camps in the mountains
of Pakistan in the northwest provinces there.
They are now raiding our troops in Afghanistan, destabilizing the
situation. They're stronger now than at any time since 2001. And
that's why I think it's so important for us to reverse course,
because that's the central front on terrorism.
They are plotting to kill Americans right now. As Secretary
Gates, the defense secretary, said, the war against terrorism began
in that region and that's where it will end. So part of the reason I
think it's so important for us to end the war in Iraq is to be able
to get more troops into Afghanistan, put more pressure on the Afghan
government to do what it needs to do, eliminate some of the drug
trafficking that's funding terrorism.
But I do believe that we have to change our policies with
Pakistan. We can't coddle, as we did, a dictator, give him billions
of dollars and then he's making peace treaties with the Taliban and
OBAMA: What I've said is we're going to encourage
democracy in Pakistan, expand our nonmilitary aid to Pakistan so
that they have more of a stake in working with us, but insisting
that they go after these militants.
And if we have Osama bin Laden in our sights and the Pakistani
government is unable or unwilling to take them out, then I think
that we have to act and we will take them out. We will kill bin
Laden; we will crush Al Qaida. That has to be our biggest national
BROKAW: Senator McCain?
MCCAIN: Well, Katie (ph), thank you.
You know, my hero is a guy named Teddy Roosevelt. Teddy Roosevelt
used to say walk softly -- talk softly, but carry a big stick.
Senator Obama likes to talk loudly.
In fact, he said he wants to announce that he's going to attack
You know, if you are a country and you're trying to gain the
support of another country, then you want to do everything you can
that they would act in a cooperative fashion.
When you announce that you're going to launch an attack into
another country, it's pretty obvious that you have the effect that
it had in Pakistan: It turns public opinion against us.
Now, let me just go back with you very briefly. We drove the
Russians out with -- the Afghan freedom fighters drove the Russians
out of Afghanistan, and then we made a most serious mistake. We
washed our hands of Afghanistan. The Taliban came back in, Al Qaida,
we then had the situation that required us to conduct the Afghan
Now, our relations with Pakistan are critical, because the border
areas are being used as safe havens by the Taliban and Al Qaida and
other extremist organizations, and we have to get their support.
Now, General Petraeus had a strategy, the same strategy -- very,
very different, because of the conditions and the situation -- but
the same fundamental strategy that succeeded in Iraq. And that is to
get the support of the people.
We need to help the Pakistani government go into Waziristan,
where I visited, a very rough country, and -- and get the support of
the people, and get them to work with us and turn against the cruel
Taliban and others.
And by working and coordinating our efforts together, not
threatening to attack them, but working with them, and where
necessary use force, but talk softly, but carry a big stick.
OBAMA: Tom, just a...
BROKAW: Senator McCain...
OBAMA: ... just a quick follow-up on this. I think...
MCCAIN: If we're going to have follow-ups, then I will
want follow-ups, as well.
BROKAW: No, I know. So but I think we get at it...
MCCAIN: It'd be fine with me. It'd be fine with me.
BROKAW: ... if I can, with this question.
OBAMA: Then let's have one.
BROKAW: All right, let's have a follow-up.
MCCAIN: It'd be fine with me.
OBAMA: Just -- just -- just a quick follow-up, because I
think -- I think this is important.
BROKAW: I'm just the hired help here, so, I mean...
OBAMA: You're doing a great job, Tom.
Look, I -- I want to be very clear about what I said. Nobody
called for the invasion of Pakistan. Senator McCain continues to
What I said was the same thing that the audience here today heard
me say, which is, if Pakistan is unable or unwilling to hunt down
bin Laden and take him out, then we should.
Now, that I think has to be our policy, because they are
threatening to kill more Americans.
Now, Senator McCain suggests that somehow, you know, I'm green
behind the ears and, you know, I'm just spouting off, and he's
somber and responsible.
MCCAIN: Thank you very much.
OBAMA: Senator McCain, this is the guy who sang, "Bomb,
bomb, bomb Iran," who called for the annihilation of North Korea.
That I don't think is an example of "speaking softly."
This is the person who, after we had -- we hadn't even finished
Afghanistan, where he said, "Next up, Baghdad."
So I agree that we have to speak responsibly and we have to act
responsibly. And the reason Pakistan -- the popular opinion of
America had diminished in Pakistan was because we were supporting a
dictator, Musharraf, had given him $10 billion over seven years, and
he had suspended civil liberties. We were not promoting democracy.
This is the kind of policies that ultimately end up undermining
our ability to fight the war on terrorism, and it will change when
MCCAIN: And, Tom, if -- if we're going to go back and
forth, I then -- I'd like to have equal time to go -- to respond
BROKAW: Yes, you get the...
MCCAIN: ... to -- to -- to...
BROKAW: ... last word here, and then we have to move on.
MCCAIN: Not true. Not true. I have, obviously, supported
those efforts that the United States had to go in militarily and I
have opposed that I didn't think so.
I understand what it's like to send young American's in harm's
way. I say -- I was joking with a veteran -- I hate to even go into
this. I was joking with an old veteran friend, who joked with me,
But the point is that I know how to handle these crises. And
Senator Obama, by saying that he would attack Pakistan, look at the
context of his words. I'll get Osama bin Laden, my friends. I'll get
him. I know how to get him.
I'll get him no matter what and I know how to do it. But I'm not
going to telegraph my punches, which is what Senator Obama did. And
I'm going to act responsibly, as I have acted responsibly throughout
my military career and throughout my career in the United States
And we have fundamental disagreements about the use of military
power and how you do it, and you just saw it in response to previous
BROKAW: Can I get a quick response from the two of you
about developments in Afghanistan this week? The senior British
military commander, who is now leading there for a second tour, and
their senior diplomatic presence there, Sherard Cowper-Coles, who is
well known as an expert in the area, both have said that we're
failing in Afghanistan.
The commander said we cannot win there. We've got to get it down
to a low level insurgency, let the Afghans take it over.
Cowper-Coles said what we need is an acceptable dictator.
If either of you becomes president, as one of you will, how do
you reorganize Afghanistan's strategy or do you? Briefly, if you
OBAMA: I'll be very brief. We are going to have to make
the Iraqi government start taking more responsibility, withdraw our
troops in a responsible way over time, because we're going to have
to put some additional troops in Afghanistan.
General McKiernan, the commander in Afghanistan right now, is
desperate for more help, because our bases and outposts are now
targets for more aggressive Afghan -- Taliban offenses. We're also
going to have to work with the Karzai government, and when I met
with President Karzai, I was very clear that, "You are going to have
to do better by your people in order for us to gain the popular
support that's necessary."
I don't think he has to be a dictator. And we want a democracy in
Afghanistan. But we have to have a government that is responsive to
the Afghan people, and, frankly, it's just not responsive right now.
BROKAW: Senator McCain, briefly.
MCCAIN: General Petraeus has just taken over a position of
responsibility, where he has the command and will really set the
tone for the strategy and tactics that are used.
And I've had conversations with him. It is the same overall
strategy. Of course, we have to do some things tactically, some of
which Senator Obama is correct on.
We have to double the size of the Afghan army. We have to have a
streamlined NATO command structure. We have to do a lot of things.
We have to work much more closely with the Pakistanis.
But most importantly, we have to have the same strategy, which
Senator Obama said wouldn't work, couldn't work, still fails to
admit that he was wrong about Iraq.
He still will not admit that he was wrong about the strategy of
the surge in Iraq, and that's the same kind of strategy of go out
and secure and hold and allow people to live normal lives.
And once they feel secure, then they lead normal, social,
economic, political lives, the same thing that's happening in Iraq
So I have confidence that General Petraeus, working with the
Pakistanis, working with the Afghans, doing the same job that he did
in Iraq, will again. We will succeed and we will bring our troops
home with honor and victory and not in defeat.
BROKAW: Senator McCain, this question is for you from the
Internet. It's from Alden (ph) in Hewitt, Texas.
How can we apply pressure to Russia for humanitarian issues in an
effective manner without starting another Cold War?
MCCAIN: First of all, as I say, I don't think that --
we're not going to have another Cold War with Russia.
But have no doubt that Russia's behavior is certainly outside the
norms of behavior that we would expect for nations which are very
wealthy, as Russia has become, because of their petro dollars.
Now, long ago, I warned about Vladimir Putin. I said I looked
into his eyes and saw three letters, a K, a G and a B. He has
surrounded himself with former KGB apparatchiks. He has gradually
repressed most of the liberties that we would expect for nations to
observe, and he has exhibited most aggressive behavior, obviously,
I said before, watch Ukraine. Ukraine, right now, is in the
sights of Vladimir Putin, those that want to reassemble the old
We've got to show moral support for Georgia.
MCCAIN: We've got to show moral support for Ukraine. We've
got to advocate for their membership in NATO.
We have to make the Russians understand that there are penalties
for these this kind of behavior, this kind of naked aggression into
Georgia, a tiny country and a tiny democracy.
And so, of course we want to bring international pressures to
bear on Russia in hopes that that will modify and eventually change
their behavior. Now, the G-8 is one of those, but there are many
But the Russians must understand that these kinds of actions and
activities are not acceptable and hopefully we will use the
leverage, economic, diplomatic and others united with our allies,
with our allies and friends in Europe who are equally disturbed as
we are about their recent behaviors.
BROKAW: Senator Obama.
MCCAIN: It will not be a re-ignition of the Cold War, but
Russia is a challenge.
BROKAW: Senator Obama? We're winding down, so if we can
keep track of the time.
OBAMA: Well, the resurgence of Russia is one of the
central issues that we're going to have to deal with in the next
presidency. And for the most part I agree with Senator McCain on
many of the steps that have to be taken.
But we can't just provide moral support. We've got to provide
moral support to the Poles and Estonia and Latvia and all of the
nations that were former Soviet satellites. But we've also got to
provide them with financial and concrete assistance to help rebuild
their economies. Georgia in particular is now on the brink of
enormous economic challenges. And some say that that's what Putin
intended in the first place.
The other thing we have to do, though, is we've got to see around
the corners. We've got to anticipate some of these problems ahead of
time. You know, back in April, I put out a statement saying that the
situation in Georgia was unsustainable because you had Russian
peacekeepers in these territories that were under dispute.
And you knew that if the Russians themselves were trying to
obtain some of these territories or push back against Georgia, that
that was not a stable situation. So part of the job of the next
commander-in-chief, in keeping all of you safe, is making sure that
we can see some of the 21st Century challenges and anticipate them
before they happen.
We haven't been doing enough of that. We tend to be reactive.
That's what we've been doing over the last eight years and that has
actually made us more safe. That's part of what happened in
Afghanistan, where we rushed into Iraq and Senator McCain and
President Bush suggested that it wasn't that important to catch bin
Laden right now and that we could muddle through, and that has cost
We've got to be much more strategic if we're going to be able to
deal with all of the challenges that we face out there.
And one last point I want to make about Russia. Energy is going
to be key in dealing with Russia. If we can reduce our energy
consumption, that reduces the amount of petro dollars that they have
to make mischief around the world. That will strengthen us and
weaken them when it comes to issues like Georgia.
BROKAW: This requires only a yes or a no. Ronald Reagan
famously said that the Soviet Union was the evil empire. Do you
think that Russia under Vladimir Putin is an evil empire?
OBAMA: I think they've engaged in an evil behavior and I
think that it is important that we understand they're not the old
Soviet Union but they still have nationalist impulses that I think
are very dangerous.
BROKAW: Senator McCain?
MCCAIN: Depends on how we respond to Russia and it depends
on a lot of things. If I say yes, then that means that we're
reigniting the old Cold War. If I say no, it ignores their behavior.
Obviously energy is going to be a big, big factor. And Georgia
and Ukraine are both major gateways of energy into Europe. And
that's one of the reasons why it's in our interest.
But the Russians, I think we can deal with them but they've got
to understand that they're facing a very firm and determined United
States of America that will defend our interests and that of other
countries in the world.
BROKAW: All right. We're going to try to get in two more
questions, if we can. So we have to move along. Over in section A,
Terry Chary (ph) -- do I have that right, Terry? QUESTION: Senator,
as a retired Navy chief, my thoughts are often with those who serve
our country. I know both candidates, both of you, expressed support
QUESTION: If, despite your best diplomatic efforts, Iran attacks
Israel, would you be willing to commit U.S. troops in support and
defense of Israel? Or would you wait on approval from the U.N.
MCCAIN: Well, thank you, Terry (ph). And thank you for
your service to the country.
I want to say, everything I ever learned about leadership I
learned from a chief petty officer. And I thank you, and I thank
you, my friend. Thanks for serving.
Let -- let -- let me say that we obviously would not wait for the
United Nations Security Council. I think the realities are that both
Russia and China would probably pose significant obstacles.
And our challenge right now is the Iranians continue on the path
to acquiring nuclear weapons, and it's a great threat. It's not just
a threat -- threat to the state of Israel. It's a threat to the
stability of the entire Middle East.
If Iran acquires nuclear weapons, all the other countries will
acquire them, too. The tensions will be ratcheted up.
What would you do if you were the Israelis and the president of a
country says that they are -- they are determined to wipe you off
the map, calls your country a stinking corpse?
Now, Senator Obama without precondition wants to sit down and
negotiate with them, without preconditions. That's what he stated,
again, a matter of record.
I want to make sure that the Iranians are put enough -- that we
put enough pressure on the Iranians by joining with our allies,
imposing significant, tough sanctions to modify their behavior. And
I think we can do that.
I think, joining with our allies and friends in a league of
democracies, that we can effectively abridge their behavior, and
hopefully they would abandon this quest that they are on for nuclear
But, at the end of the day, my friend, I have to tell you again,
and you know what it's like to serve, and you know what it's like to
sacrifice, but we can never allow a second Holocaust to take place.
BROKAW: Senator Obama?
OBAMA: Well, Terry, first of all, we honor your service,
and we're grateful for it.
We cannot allow Iran to get a nuclear weapon. It would be a
game-changer in the region. Not only would it threaten Israel, our
strongest ally in the region and one of our strongest allies in the
world, but it would also create a possibility of nuclear weapons
falling into the hands of terrorists.
And so it's unacceptable. And I will do everything that's
required to prevent it.
And we will never take military options off the table. And it is
important that we don't provide veto power to the United Nations or
anyone else in acting in our interests.
It is important, though, for us to use all the tools at our
disposal to prevent the scenario where we've got to make those kinds
And that's why I have consistently said that, if we can work more
effectively with other countries diplomatically to tighten sanctions
on Iran, if we can reduce our energy consumption through alternative
energy, so that Iran has less money, if we can impose the kinds of
sanctions that, say, for example, Iran right now imports gasoline,
even though it's an oil-producer, because its oil infrastructure has
broken down, if we can prevent them from importing the gasoline that
they need and the refined petroleum products, that starts changing
their cost-benefit analysis. That starts putting the squeeze on
Now, it is true, though, that I believe that we should have
direct talks -- not just with our friends, but also with our enemies
-- to deliver a tough, direct message to Iran that, if you don't
change your behavior, then there will be dire consequences.
If you do change your behavior, then it is possible for you to
re-join the community of nations.
Now, it may not work. But one of the things we've learned is, is
that when we take that approach, whether it's in North Korea or in
Iran, then we have a better chance at better outcomes.
When President Bush decided we're not going to talk to Iran,
we're not going to talk to North Korea, you know what happened? Iran
went from zero centrifuges to develop nuclear weapons to 4,000.
North Korea quadrupled its nuclear capability.
We've got to try to have talks, understanding that we're not
taking military options off the table.
BROKAW: All right, gentlemen, we've come to the last
And you'll both be interested to know this comes from the
Internet and it's from a state that you're strongly contesting, both
of you. It's from Peggy (ph) in Amherst, New Hampshire. And it has a
certain Zen-like quality, I'll give you a fair warning.
She says, "What don't you know and how will you learn it?"
Senator Obama, you get first crack at that.
OBAMA: My wife, Michelle, is there and she could give you
a much longer list than I do. And most of the time, I learn it by
But, look, the nature of the challenges that we're going to face
are immense and one of the things that we know about the presidency
is that it's never the challenges that you expect. It's the
challenges that you don't that end up consuming most of your time.
But here's what I do know. I know that I wouldn't be standing
here if it weren't for the fact that this country gave me
opportunity. I came from very modest means. I had a single mom and
my grandparents raised me and it was because of the help of
scholarships and my grandmother scrimping on things that she might
have wanted to purchase and my mom, at one point, getting food
stamps in order for us to put food on the table.
Despite all that, I was able to go to the best schools on earth
and I was able to succeed in a way that I could not have succeeded
anywhere else in this country.
The same is true for Michelle and I'm sure the same is true for a
lot of you.
And the question in this election is: are we going to pass on
that same American dream to the next generation? Over the last eight
years, we've seen that dream diminish.
Wages and incomes have gone down. People have lost their health
care or are going bankrupt because they get sick. We've got young
people who have got the grades and the will and the drive to go to
college, but they just don't have the money.
And we can't expect that if we do the same things that we've been
doing over the last eight years, that somehow we are going to have a
We need fundamental change. That's what's at stake in this
election. That's the reason I decided to run for president, and I'm
hopeful that all of you are prepared to continue this extraordinary
journey that we call America.
But we're going to have to have the courage and the sacrifice,
the nerve to move in a new direction.
Thank you. BROKAW: Senator McCain, you get the last word. Senator
Obama had the opening. You're last up.
MCCAIN: Well, thank you, Tom. And I think what I don't
know is what all of us don't know, and that's what's going to happen
both here at home and abroad.
The challenges that we face are unprecedented. Americans are
hurting tonight in a way they have not in our generation.
There are challenges around the world that are new and different
and there will be different -- we will be talking about countries
sometime in the future that we hardly know where they are on the
map, some Americans.
So what I don't know is what the unexpected will be. But I have
spent my whole life serving this country. I grew up in a family
where my father was gone most of the time because he was at sea and
doing our country's business. My mother basically raised our family.
I know what it's like in dark times. I know what it's like to
have to fight to keep one's hope going through difficult times. I
know what it's like to rely on others for support and courage and
love in tough times.
I know what it's like to have your comrades reach out to you and
your neighbors and your fellow citizens and pick you up and put you
back in the fight.
That's what America's all about. I believe in this country. I
believe in its future. I believe in its greatness. It's been my
great honor to serve it for many, many years.
And I'm asking the American people to give me another opportunity
and I'll rest on my record, but I'll also tell you, when times are
tough, we need a steady hand at the tiller and the great honor of my
life was to always put my country first.
Thank you, Tom.
BROKAW: Thank you very much, Senator McCain.
That concludes tonight's debate from here in Nashville. We want
to thank our hosts here at Belmont University in Nashville and the
Commission on Presidential Debates. And you're in my way of my
script there, if you will move.
In addition to everything else, there is one more presidential
debate on Wednesday, October 15, at Hofstra University in New York,
moderated by my friend, Bob Schieffer of "CBS News."
Thank you, Senator McCain. Thank you, Senator Obama. Good night,
everyone, from Nashville.