Lauer to Obama: How Will You 'Manage Expectations' of Being 'Messiah?'

Reciting all the messianic nicknames given to Barack Obama, such as "The One," "The Savior," and "The Messiah," NBC's Matt Lauer, on Monday's "Today" show asked the Democratic presidential nominee, how he will "manage" such great, "expectations." During an interview, aired in two parts in the first hour of "Today," Lauer rarely hit Obama with a tough question, instead choosing to focus on recent campaign highlights such as all the recent endorsements for Obama from Colin Powell to the Washington Post. [audio excerpt here]

In the later portion of the interview Lauer recounted the biblical descriptions of Obama:

People have called you "The Savior," "The Messiah," "The Messenger of Change." The expectations have been raised to such a level. Some people say you're partly responsible because of your confident attitude. If you are, as you just say, lucky enough to be elected the next president are you going to have to consciously manage expectations, during the first several months of your administration?

In the first portion of the interview Lauer read from the newspaper endorsements, to get Obama to bash Sarah Palin:

The Washington Post in endorsing you, they were very tough on John McCain saying, "Anyone who talks about national security and says he feels as deeply about it couldn't have chosen Sarah Palin as someone who is a heartbeat away from the presidency." And I know you've been asked it, but Senator I've never heard you come right out and say, is she qualified to be president today?...Even the Chicago Tribune, historically a very conservative paper from your hometown, in endorsing you, was critical of McCain, saying, "Sarah Palin is not ready."

As for Powell, Lauer repeatedly pestered Obama to get the former Secretary of State to join him on the campaign trail as he eagerly inquired: "Do you then say, "Secretary Powell it would be great to see you out on the campaign trail over these next 16 days?"...Did you ask him?

At one point Lauer suggested to Obama that, "political strategists," say Obama should just "get on a bus," "simply waving out the window," and "avoid interviews with guys like me." Well given the softball nature of Lauer's interview that advice would've been downright foolish for Obama to follow.

The following is a complete transcript of Lauer's interview as it was aired on the October 20, "Today" show:

[7:05am]

MATT LAUER: Now to "Today on the Trail," and an exclusive interview with Barack Obama. On Sunday I caught up with him in the battleground state of North Carolina and I started by asking him about Colin Powell's endorsement and if the General had any advice or given him any advance notice.

BARACK OBAMA: No. You know we had obviously sought his endorsement for a long time. This is exactly what he told me. He said, "Barack I know you, I know John McCain. You're both friends of mine. I think you're both fine public servants. I think that this election is so important that I'm just gonna watch what you guys do. I'm not gonna make a decision early. I want to see how people respond. I'm gonna watch the debates. And I'll make a decision after that." And I did not speak to him until after he appeared on "Meet the Press." Which begs the question, as you talked to him afterwards, to thank him, I would imagine.

OBAMA: Absolutely.

LAUER: Do you then say, "Secretary Powell it would be great to see you out on the campaign trail over these next 16 days?"

OBAMA: You know I won't lie to you I would love to have him at any stop he wants to participate in.

LAUER: Did you ask him?

OBAMA: I, I did. And, and I think that, you know, this is an example of why General Powell is, is admired. He said, "Look, I'm not a politician and I don't want to go out there and hit the stump. That's just not what I do. I think it's best for you and John McCain to duke it out." Obviously if, if he wants to show up he's gonna have an open invitation.

LAUER: He told Tim Russert back in 2007 he really didn't have any intention of getting back into politics, at least in, for an elected office.

OBAMA: Right.

LAUER: But he said, "I've always got my ear open-

OBAMA: Right.

LAUER: -for the call to serve."

OBAMA: Right.

LAUER: Which also begs the question would you like to find a role for him if you're lucky enough to be elected?

OBAMA: Well I think here, here's what I can say for certain. He will have a role as one of my advisers. He's already served in that function even before he, he endorsed me. Whether he wants to take a formal role, whether there's something that's a good fit for him, I think is something that he and I would have to discuss.

LAUER: Let me ask you about another recent endorsement. The Washington Post in endorsing you, they were very tough on John McCain saying, "Anyone who talks about national security and says he feels as deeply about it couldn't have chosen Sarah Palin as someone who is a heartbeat away from the presidency." And I know you've been asked it, but Senator I've never heard you come right out and say, is she qualified to be president today?

OBAMA: I am going to let the American people decide on that. Frankly I just don't know enough about Sarah Palin. I haven't heard a long discussion about foreign policy.

LAUER: Even the Chicago Tribune, historically a very conservative paper from your hometown-

OBAMA: Yes, yes.

LAUER: -in endorsing you-

OBAMA: Yeah.

LAUER: -was critical of McCain, saying, "Sarah Palin is not ready."

OBAMA: Look I'm running against McCain/Palin. Anything I say about Governor Palin will be seen through that lens. I don't need to add to people's assessments. Let the voters and observers make their own judgments in terms of who's qualified.

LAUER: Let's talk about Iraq. Iraqi officials and U.S. officials are negotiating a deal, and they're pretty close apparently, where U.S. troops would be withdrawn from Iraq at the end of 2011.

OBAMA: Right.

LAUER: You've already said you want 2010-

OBAMA: Right.

LAUER: -as a date. So does that piece of paper, if it's formalized, become meaningless if there's a Barack Obama presidency?

OBAMA: No I don't think it becomes meaningless.

LAUER: The Washington Post, again, in endorsing you, did say that your call for defined time lines to get the troops out was, perhaps, a critical flaw. And, and that it could cost us the security that has been hard fought over this last year.

OBAMA: Keep in mind, as commander-in-chief, my job will be to keep the American people safe. Which means that if I ever make a determination that the American people will be safer by me making adjustments, I will make those adjustments because that's my job. My assessment, right now, is that in 16 months we can have our combat troops out. We will still have a residual force there.

LAUER: When you and the smart people in your campaign get together on the plane or wherever and you crunch the numbers and you look not only at the national polls but state-by-state in the battleground states, do you see a path to victory for John McCain?

OBAMA: There's no doubt. I mean I, we think that the race will tighten, just because that's what happens at the end of campaigns. They always have. Even when there are substantial leads. And in each of these battleground states you have got a lot of close races. One of the messages that I've had to my team, is that we don't let up. We do not let up.

LAUER TO OBAMA ON ESCALATOR: There are political strategists out there who say, "You know what you should be doing right now? You should get on a bus, you should go across the country, simply waving out the window. You should avoid interviews with guys like me. You should avoid any spontaneous interaction-

LAUER OFF-SCREEN: With just over two weeks until Election Day, on the trail, Senator Obama says his campaign is still making it's case to voters and hasn't forgotten a lesson from the primaries.

OBAMA: You remember we had those big leads. We had gotten 11 wins in a row against Senator Clinton. Then there was this of "okay things are kind working out," and, and thought that we could just ride momentum and we ended getting our head handed to us. Every time we've gotten into trouble in this campaign it's because we started trying to play ball-control offense.

LAUER: Senator Barack Obama on the campaign trail in North Carolina. We're gonna have more of that interview in our next half-hour, including what kind of sacrifices Americans will have to make if and when he's elected.

[7:30am]

LAUER TEASING SEGMENT: Coming up I'm gonna ask Senator Obama what sacrifice, specific sacrifice he might ask the American people to make if he's elected based on these tough economic times. Plus he'll talk about his emotional state, just two weeks now, before the nation chooses the next president.

...

MATT LAUER: But first let's have more of this exclusive interview with Barack Obama. On Sunday I sat down with the Democratic nominee on the campaign trail in North Carolina and with the nation caught in an economic tailspin and in fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan I asked the senator what he would expect of all Americans if he's elected. Could you give me one concrete sacrifice, that as president, you would look to the American people and say, "you must make this sacrifice."

BARACK OBAMA: On energy we are going to have to completely change our energy economy. And there are gonna be a whole bunch of changes that have to be made. Everything from how we build our buildings, to how we deal with our transportation sector, to retrofitting our power plants for how we produce electricity. All those things are gonna require not only government action they're gonna have to require individual action.

OBAMA AT A RALLY: I stand before you today to announce my candidacy for President of the United States of America!

LAUER: You declared you're running for President, February 10th, 2007. Since then, Senator, the country and the world have changed dramatically. Perhaps Iraq is, is the best news. But Afghanistan is less stable. The economy is in disastrous straits. You've got housing problems, energy problems, unemployment problems. Pakistan, Iran. A resurgent Russia. Is this still the same job that you signed on for?

OBAMA: I anticipated, and the reason I wanted to run, was because I felt there, there, there was gonna be a transitional moment in America. That we had sort of come to a dead end in, in the economic theories that were governing. In the foreign policy that the Bush administration had taken to its logical and I think unproductive conclusion. So I knew there was gonna be a shift. And that the next president would have to create a new economic approach and a new foreign policy approach. I didn't expect that the wheels would come off so badly on both fronts.

LAUER: This idea that you are, "The One," Oprah's words.

OBAMA: Or "that one."

LAUER: Yeah, yeah "That one," John McCain's words. People have called you "The Savior," "The Messiah," "The Messenger of Change." The expectations have been raised to such a level. Some people say you're partly responsible because of your confident attitude. If you are, as you just say, lucky enough to be elected the next president are you going to have to consciously manage expectations, during the first several months of your administration?

OBAMA: Yes. Even before I'm sworn in. Not in terms of what I think we can accomplish long term but I think it's very important to understand that we're not going to reverse all these problems overnight.

OBAMA AT A RALLY: God bless you! God bless the United States of America!

LAUER: Right now with two weeks to go, where are you emotionally?

OBAMA: When I get this close, with two weeks away, I try not to project forwards or backwards too much. I try to just stay focused on what will I have to do today, to deliver the message to make sure that our organization is working.

LAUER IN STUDIO: He says when he lies in bed at night he allows himself to daydream about both possible outcomes - winning and losing.

MEREDITH VIEIRA: And possibly losing. Interesting, interesting.

Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens is the Deputy Research Director at the Media Research Center.