The Choice 2008

This two-hour program examines the rich personal and political biographies of John McCain and Barack Obama and goes behind the headlines to discover how they arrived at this moment and what their very different candidacies say about America.

AIRED: October 14, 2008 | 1:55:47


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>> Tonight on Frontline...

>> Two candidates emerge from this crucible.

>> Just two totally implausible people.

>> It is one of the great political stories

that anyone has ever seen.

>> 'Cause it's so clear and so different,

and two great men.

>> I don't think it gets much more interesting than this.

>> We often joke that if there's a saloon fight going on,

he's going to go in there to pick up a chair.

>> Here's a guy who's going to do

whatever he thinks ought to be done.

And we don't know what that's going to be.

>> If there's one S.O.B. who could pull this out,

it's John McCain.

He's at his best when the odds are seemingly insurmountable.

>> McCain resurrected himself by hard work and courage

at a time when everyone thought he was gone.

Obama turned out to be disciplined

and designed a strategy which had a little bit

of Barry Goldwater and a little bit of John F. Kennedy.

>> He's smart enough to look into the future

and gutsy enough to take it on.

>> He's very idealistic, very romantic, very symbolic,

and very much charisma driven.

>> Obama has got inner toughness--

the velvet glove around the steel fist.

>> That's somebody who started out as a state senator,

is now the Democratic nominee.

That's a pretty spectacular rise in 12 years.

>> The choice between these two guys is, to a large extent,

a choice between who can make sense of the world

and represents actual progress.

>> NARRATOR: "The Choice," 2008.

>> The delegates are trickling into Boston...

>> 35,000 people are expected to descend on Boston...

>> The convention is being held in the heart of the city...

>> NARRATOR: In July 2004,

as the Democrats were nominating John Kerry,

a young newcomer was about to steal the show.

>> ...the next senator from the state of Illinois, Barack Obama.

(cheers and applause)

>> The buzz was there was this up-and-coming

young state senator from Illinois.

Most people probably couldn't pronounce his name.

>> NARRATOR: Barack Obama's moment had begun

one month earlier with a telephone call.

>> Thank you.

Thank you so much.

>> We were riding around in downstate Illinois,

and the phone rang, and it was the campaign manager

for John Kerry.

>> They needed somebody who was charismatic and optimistic

and could electrify a crowd.

>> When he hung up the phone he was excited and he said,

"I know exactly what I want to say."

He said, "I really want to talk about my story

as part of the larger American story."

>> Tonight is a particular honor for me because, let's face it,

my presence on this stage is pretty unlikely.

My father was a foreign student, born and raised

in a small village in Kenya.

>> He really emerged from very, I think, unlikely circumstances.

His mother was a young woman who had been raised in the Midwest.

>> She was born in a town on the other side of the world

in Kansas.

>> She met in a Russian class a student from Africa,

during her freshman year, named Barack Obama.

>> My parents shared not only an improbable love;

they shared an abiding faith in the possibilities

of this nation.

>> They very quickly got married,

and Senator Obama was born in August of that year.

>> NARRATOR: In his first book,

Obama writes about his parents' struggle.

>> "The year that my parents were married,

miscegenation still described a felony

in over half the states in the union.

In many parts of the south, my father could have been strung up

from a tree for merely looking at my mother the wrong way."

>> I stand here knowing that my story is part

of the larger American story, that I owe a debt

to all of those who came before me,

and that in no other country on Earth

is my story even possible.

>> NARRATOR: Obama used the facts of his own life

to define his interpretation of American politics

and to challenge in important ways the ideas of the past.

>> I remember going across the convention hall

while he was speaking.

During a convention, there's chaos,

and the audience is restless and people are talking all the time.

And so virtually all of the standard speeches

are drowned out.

But his presence and his delivery caused people

to quiet down, listen, and then began to respond to him.

>> ...a belief that we're all connected as one people.

If there's a child on the south side of Chicago who can't read,

that matters to me even if it's not my child.

If there's an Arab-American family being rounded up

without benefit of an attorney or due process,

that threatens my civil liberties.

(cheers and applause)

>> I remember very distinctly standing in the hall,

watching him give the speech and watching the reaction to it.

And all around were people with tears in their eyes.

And I realized at that moment

that his life would never be the same.

>> It is that fundamental belief--

I am my brother's keeper, I am my sister's keeper--

that makes this country work.

>> NARRATOR: Backstage, his wife, Michelle,

offered her advice.

>> Michelle didn't want him to go out there

and come across as too arrogant.

She gave this little, "Don't screw it up, buddy" line to him,

which probably calmed his nerves a little bit.

>> I say to them tonight, there is not a liberal America

and a conservative America--

there is the United States of America.

(cheers and applause)

There is not a black America and a white America,

a Latino America, an Asian America--

there's the United States of America.


>> I knew much of it was rhetorical,

and when he said there's no white America,

there's no black America, I kind of winced a little bit

because I know that there is certainly a black America.

But I understood where he was coming from.

>> Hope, in the face of difficulty,

hope in the face of uncertainty--

the audacity of hope.

(cheers and applause)

>> Michelle sees this happening.

And she has tears streaming down her cheeks.

I'm sitting in the crowd and a woman next to me is crying,

bawling her eyes out.

And she just keeps screaming, "This is history.

This is history."

>> We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance

to the stars and stripes,

all of us defending the United States of America.

>> And Obama comes along with a message that says,

"We're going to look beyond red and blue.

I am going to transcend many of these traditional divisions,

not only ideological and partisan, but also racial."

And he embodies his message in a unique way, and I think that,

to me, is the core of his political strength.

>> Thank you very much everybody.

God bless you!

(cheers and applause)

>> This guy's going places.

>> This is like watching Tiger Woods.

>> It's amazing he's still a state senator in Illinois.

>> NARRATOR: Immediately, the pundits and journalists

began casting Obama in a new light.

>> Forget "uniters and dividers";

tonight, we heard from a transcender.

He lit it up.

People talk about him, quite openly,

as the first black president of the United States.

>> The speech he gave in 2004 was a stump speech

that he gave...

I mean, I was literally watching it on television and,

like, reciting it.

And I was calling a friend of mine,

and both of us were cracking up that this was the same speech

he used to give to crowds of, like, ten people,

or in some church on the south side, where no one,

you know, knew how to pronounce his name

and they were just meeting him for the first time.

And this was a speech he would give.

>> All news, all the time.

>> In New York City today, Republican delegates

are enjoying a sunny afternoon touring the town.

>> NARRATOR: Four weeks later, in August of 2004,

the Republicans held their own convention.

>> This week brings their national convention.

>> NARRATOR: It would be George W. Bush's party,

but one guest wasn't entirely welcome.

>> Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome my friend,

a true American hero, Senator John McCain.

(cheers and applause)

>> NARRATOR: Arizona Senator John McCain had been wrangling

with the Bush administration for nearly four years.

>> We were in very icy relations with the White House.

And when I say, "icy," that's not really giving it justice.

I mean, Siberia doesn't have that much ice.

>> NARRATOR: These Republicans remembered the story--

back in 2000, McCain had nurtured the image

of a maverick,

surprisingly and dramatically beating George W. Bush

in the New Hampshire primary.

He'd run an insurgent's campaign out of this bus.

>> Did you instruct the party not to take any money

from the tobacco...

>> NARRATOR: He had put together a coalition of moderates

and independents and won.

>> Victory over the favored son...

>> ...extraordinary political day

as the voters of New Hampshire have spoken.

>> The McCain win was so overwhelming...

>> We got our ass kicked.

We got humbled, we got put on our knees in the snows...

the cold snows of New Hampshire.

>> I knew we were going to lose;

I just didn't know it was by 19 points,

thank you very much.

>> I think he loved it.

I think he loved the experience of New Hampshire.

The primary night itself, he smiled, he was pleased,

he was happy-- I could detect no great joy.

That's a fascinating quality in a personality.

He always calls it "steady strain."

It's a nautical term when you throw a line to another ship,

you don't want any slack in the line.

You want to keep the strain on it steady.

And he always tells us that, "steady strain."

And that's... moments when we're erupting in happiness or joy,

or moments where we'd just gotten our asses kicked

and aren't feeling too good.

>> NARRATOR: Two weeks later, in South Carolina,

steady strain would be sorely tested.

Karl Rove and the Bush insiders were ready to strike back.

>> Things happened in South Carolina that were pretty ugly.

South Carolina's got a long tradition of being very tough,

and it lived up to its tradition.

And it was very, very tough.

>> It was a series of attacks-- personal life distorted,

political record distorted.

It's a real smear campaign, but it hurt.

>> There were rumors all over the state

that McCain had fathered a black child

out of wedlock, and that his wife, Cindy, was a drug addict.

>> It's just despicable.

What they did was despicable.

I think they were desperate.

And if you think about it, had Bush lost South Carolina,

it was over for George Bush.

>> And it's wrong, and it's wrong.

My friends, this is what's going on around here...

>> Senator McCain was so angry, at one point, that he said that

"George Bush was the combination of the scarecrow, tin woodman

and cowardly lion."

In other words, a man with no brain, no heart and no courage.

And that's what he said in public.

Imagine what he said in private.

It was something I think that colored his view

of President Bush for a long time to come.

>> NARRATOR: McCain lost his temper...

>> You should be ashamed.

(overlapping argument)

...and he lost the primary by 12 points.

He quit the race.

>> He assumed he'd never get a chance to run

for president again, that his time was done.

>> NARRATOR: Still, McCain was a political player.

Two months later, an unhappy alliance.

>> Looks like we drew a crowd.

John McCain and I just had a very good meeting.

>> McCain was forced to really bite his tongue in 2000

after losing and to go play nice with Bush.

>> ... over a hundred people to hear how the meeting went...

>> It just... you could just see how much he didn't like it.

>> I have said from the very beginning

that I will support the nominee of the party.

I look forward to enthusiastically campaigning

for Governor Bush for the next six months

between now and November.

>> You go back to the day he endorsed Bush for president

in 2000, and it... we had to force the word

"I endorse him" out of him.

>> Why do you have difficulty using the word "endorsement"

when you talk about your support for Governor Bush?

>> I endorse Governor Bush.

>> The nature of the front...

>> Could you say that again?

>> I endorse Governor Bush.

I endorse Governor Bush.

I endorse Governor Bush.

I endorse Governor Bush.


I endorse Governor Bush.

>> By the way, I enthusiastically accept.

>> It was just...

it was one of the most awkward endorsement moments

that I had ever seen as a political reporter.

That carried through-- I mean, he grudgingly helped out in 2000

in that campaign, but really not a lot.

>> Thank you very much.

>> NARRATOR: In the fall of 2000,

George Bush would win the presidency.

A deeply angry John McCain decided to focus

on his own agenda.

>> McCain came out of the 2000 campaign

drawn to the idea that he had become a brand.

He represented something to the American public of independence,

pragmatism, bipartisanship.

And he moved very aggressively to maximize the leverage

of that brand legislatively.

>> NARRATOR: He fought the administration's tax cuts.

He pushed campaign finance reform,

held hearings on climate change,

building his reputation as a maverick.

>> It had been bad for him in the Republican caucus.

He had been booed at one point when he walked in.

He really felt like these are not the guys

he was comfortable with.

They didn't have that much in common.

He was really a bitter man in those days.

>> He was angry for the way he was treated.

He was angry because his staff were not asked

to be part of the new administration.

He was angry because he thought George Bush was playing

to the most conservative elements within his own party.

And for all those reasons, he felt alienated.

>> NARRATOR: Sources say one way McCain expressed his anger

was to threaten to change parties.

He denies it, but here's the way others tell it.

It started with his top aide, John Weaver.

>> Well, what I've heard-- I've heard from Tom Downey,

a former Democratic congressman,

was having lunch with John Weaver.

Weaver said to him, "Why has nobody ever approached

John McCain about leaving the party?"

And Downey was flabbergasted.

He said, "If John McCain wants a call

from somebody in the Democratic Party,

let me know and I will have anybody in the party

call him immediately."

>> NARRATOR: In 2001, the Democrats had one less vote

than the Republicans in the Senate.

They were hunting for Republicans

who might switch sides.

>> So, Senator McCain received a phone call

one day from Senator Kennedy,

who is a very good friend of his.

He asked him to come to a meeting in his office,

and they made the full court press,

asking him to switch sides of the aisle.

>> There was a time when we came very close

to convincing him to join our caucus.

He certainly left us with the impression

that that possibility was a very real one.

I don't think we would have spent the time

and made the effort we did had it not been perceived

to be real and sincere and genuine.

>> He had long, long conversations with Ted Kennedy,

with John Edwards, with Tom Daschle, with Chris Dodd.

>> NARRATOR: The discussions lasted for weeks.

McCain finally decided not to do it.

>> This was something he considered very carefully

and chose not to do for a lot of reasons.

>> NARRATOR: One reason--

some thought McCain might be setting himself up to run again.

>> He decided that to become the nominee,

he had to make peace with the Bush wing

of the party and with people who were avid Bush supporters.

And he set out to do so.

>> NARRATOR: John Weaver made a phone call

that would signal it was time to make amends.

>> I called Mark McKinnon, a friend of mine from the 1980s

in Texas, who was an intimate of both the president

and Karl Rove, and asked for a meeting with Karl.

>> I said, "Great, I'll give Karl a call."

And I called Rove.

Rove was surprised, but he said, you know,

"I appreciate the thought, and I...

and I'd like to get together.

I'd like for you to come and be a witness."

I said, "okay."

>> We know that John McCain's popular,

more popular than President Bush at the time.

Probably one of the most popular Republicans in the country

at the time.

And that he could give entree to voters

that George Bush couldn't get.

>> Karl said there was a place right across the street

from the White House, a little coffee shop.

And so we all met and we sat down.

And it was a very heartfelt,

sort of straightforward conversation.

John opened it and said, you know,

"Listen, I think it's time to put this behind us."

>> And at some point during the conversation, I said to Karl,

"Why isn't... why isn't John campaigning for the president?"

And Karl said, "We didn't think he would."

And I said, "Nobody has asked him."

And he said they would.

>> And they walked out of that coffee shop that day,

determined to get through 2004 as a team;

however uncomfortable it might be,

however unlikely it might be--

that George Bush and John McCain were going to go

to November together as partners.

>> Four more years!

Four more years!

>> Please... please, my friends...

>> NARRATOR: And that's how John McCain found himself

center stage at the Republican Convention in 2004.

>> We need a leader with the experience...

>> NARRATOR: In front of extremely ambivalent

Republicans, Mr. Outside was trying to become Mr. Inside.

>> Appearing at the convention in such a prominent way

is a complex political strategy.

It's a balancing act between his identity

as someone who transcends party and also, at the same time,

trying to become more acceptable to the party.

>> Keep that faith.

Keep your courage.

Stick together.

Stay strong.

Do not yield.

Do not flinch.

Stand up.

Stand up with our president and fight.

We're Americans.

We're Americans, and we'll never surrender.

They will.

>> NARRATOR: The Republicans now knew John McCain

hadn't given up on another run for the presidency.

>> Obama is expected to be thrown into the limelight.

>> He can barely show his face in public

without creating some kind of sensation.

>> NARRATOR: January 2005-- it's been five months

since Barack Obama's speech at the convention in Boston.

Now, he's the newly elected senator from Illinois.

>> And he arrives in the Senate, a celebrity,

in the way that sort of Hilary Clinton was a celebrity

when she arrived.

>> NARRATOR: The Democrats had failed to recapture

the White House or the Congress.

Obama was their superstar and, to many, their future.

>> He was sort of a person

who Democrats were placing their hopes in.

>> NARRATOR: The veterans knew it in their bones.

They gathered around him.

>> He came to the Senate, almost immediately,

with everyone's high expectations,

with everyone's assumption that this was a man

who was on a fast track.

>> NARRATOR: Former Democratic Senate leader Tom Daschle

had lost his bid for reelection.

As he left, he decided to protect

and nurture the party's newest asset.

>> He was looking for staff;

I had what I considered to be some of the best staff

on the Hill.

>> NARRATOR: Daschle's top aide, Pete Rouse, was so powerful,

they called him the "101st Senator."

Rouse wanted to retire.

Obama courted him.

>> I may be the one person in politics

who have never seen his speech at the convention.

I've never seen it.

Never even read it, for that matter,

which I probably shouldn't admit to.

>> NARRATOR: Obama got his man; Rouse signed on.

>> You could tell he had the magic.

What he said to me-- "I know what I'm good at,

I know what I'm not good at.

I can give a good speech.

But I don't have any idea what it's like to get established

in the Senate."

>> They wanted more than anything else

to make him look like a serious senator.

So, from the very beginning,

everything was done with that in mind.

>> NARRATOR: Obama and his team designed

a detailed two-year plan.

>> They put together a two-year plan to put him

at the highest possible political peak

going into the 2008 election cycle.

>> NARRATOR: The plan called for Obama to avoid

controversial issues and slowly raise his profile.

>> We took no out-of-state speaking engagements

in the first nine months.

Didn't do any Sunday shows.

He didn't want to get out there

and expose himself to being attacked

for being somebody who was more interested

in getting headlines than really doing his homework.

So he had bigger plans than that.

But he was very aware of the importance of being

a team player and not raising people's hackles.

>> NARRATOR: But it was a big challenge to fit

into the rigid traditions of the United States Senate.

>> It's a seniority system.

He was the last person to ask a question

on every committee hearing.

So he would have to sit there

for at least two hours before he could be heard.

So there was no question that he was very much a freshman,

no question at all.

>> There was a story that one of his staffers told me.

He goes in with Obama to the first meeting

of the Foreign Relations Committee,

which is Obama's big play.

And Joe Biden is chairing the meeting.

And it's a confirmation hearing for Condoleezza Rice,

and so it's kind of a historic moment.

And midway through the meeting-- Biden is just going on and on--

Obama scribbles, looking very serious,

scribbles a little note on a piece of paper

and passes it back to his aide.

And the aide's very excited because this is

the first communication from Senator Obama.

And the note says, "Shoot. Me. Now."--

"Shoot," period, "Me," period, "Now, " period.

>> NARRATOR: But there's another side of Obama.

>> He's someone that's long been involved

in the nitty-gritty of this stuff.

I don't think that's something that people always realize.

I think the soaring rhetoric, the sort of icon-like image

that Obama has attained in this country

sometimes blinds us to the fact

that he wasn't born onstage in 2004,

but he had to rise through the ranks of machine politics

in Chicago to get where he is.

And that's made him an incredibly effective politician.

Chicago is the capital of black America.

This is the city, within a few miles of each other...

>> I'm telling you what the facts are...

>>...Louis Farrakhan has his headquarters...

>> The honorable Elijah Muhammad took sharp disagreement

with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

>> ...Jesse Jackson has his headquarters.

>> America, our time has come.

>> On the south side, Trinity is a big church...

>> In a conversation with Christ,

even the race issue gets clarified.

>> ...Reverend Wright's church.

>> The culture says, "Your skin is black";

the Christ says, "And so was mine."

>> It's the city where Harold Washington was mayor...

>> The whole nation is watching as Chicago has sent

a powerful message.

>> ...this guy who overcame great odds and lot of racism

to lead this city.

>> Our government will be moving forward as well,

including more kinds of people than any government

in the history of Chicago.

>> It's the capital of black America,

and I think that's one of the things

that drew Barack Obama to that city.

>> NARRATOR: In 1984, Obama was 23.

He'd grown up in Hawaii and Indonesia,

went to college in California and New York, and now,

he was determined to put roots down, to try to be part of

the African-American political struggle.

>> "But at night, lying in bed,

I would let the slogans drift away,

to be replaced with a series of images,

romantic images of a past I had never known.

They were of the civil rights movement, mostly.

They told me that I wasn't alone in my particular struggles."

>> NARRATOR: He would look for a job in Chicago,

a meaningful job.

>> "In 1983, I decided to become a community organizer.

There wasn't much detail to the idea;

I didn't know anyone making a living that way.

When classmates in college asked me just what it was

that a community organizer did, I couldn't answer them directly.

Instead, I'd pronounce on the need for change:

'Change won't come from the top,' I would say.

'Change will come from a mobilized grass roots.'"

>> We had put an ad in a number of newspapers

for a community organizer in the south side of Chicago,

and Barack sent me a resume.

I'm looking for anybody who might be a good organizer,

but I particularly need somebody who's African American.

>> You know, one way to put it is Barack Obama's looking

for an authentic African-American experience,

and Gerry Kellman, the Chicago organizer,

is looking for an authentic African American.

>> He was a skinny young man,

and in some of the communities he worked,

there were a lot of single moms, single grandmothers,

and they wanted to take him in and feed him and fatten him up.

He was an eligible young man.

They wanted to introduce him to their daughters

and to their granddaughters, and he found a home

and he was very comfortable here.

>> NARRATOR: But he wasn't always welcome.

>> He had to work with a lot of different church leaders

who weren't necessarily receptive to this young guy

who came from the Ivy League and did not have Chicago roots.

>> You know, Chicago's a town that says,

"We don't want nobody that nobody sent."

Well, Barack was somebody that nobody sent.

>> Blacks, whites...

>> NARRATOR: Still, Obama did have a model

for how to succeed putting coalitions together:

the newly elected mayor, Harold Washington.

>>...have joined hands to form a new Democratic coalition.

>> Harold Washington was surely a phenomenon.

Harold Washington had to be mayor

for all the people of Chicago

and had to be perceived as somebody who was prepared

to be mayor of all the people of Chicago,

and not just a mayor for the black community.

>> What Washington was able to do was to put together

these coalitions-- African Americans, Latinos

and progressive whites.

And he was able to pull that together

and beat the machine.

And that kind of coalition building

was incredibly influential for Barack.

>> NARRATOR: Obama had a small measure of success

as an organizer, but he wanted more.

>> After two and half years, he realizes you just can't get

very far at community organizing.

>> It, structurally, was not going to change

racial discrimination, was not going to change

poverty in the United States.

There simply would not be enough power there.

>> At that point, he begins thinking about,

"Is there some other way to do the same job

that I'm trying to do," which is lift people out of poverty.

>> He decided he needed to sort of see how politics worked

on a sort of higher level than what he had access to

as a street organizer in Chicago.

He needed to go off to law school.

>> NARRATOR: He took out student loans and was accepted

at one of the nation's most prestigious law schools:


>> We're all precious...

>> We're all precious...

>> God's sight.

>> God's sight.

>> Everybody...

>> Everybody...

>> somebody.

>> somebody.

>> The political environment on the law school campus

in the late '80s and early '90s was borderline toxic.

>> No more racism.

>> No more racism.

>> No more sexism.

>> Harvard Law School was a very divided institution.

>> There's a lot of mutual animosity

surrounding affirmative action.

It's racially a very charged time.

>> I want women of color in permanent positions.

>> People just did a lot of talking and a lot of fighting.

By the end, it's like one big unhappy family.

>> ...its first black member...


>> NARRATOR: Barack Obama found himself in the midst

of the protests, at one point championing the cause

of a black faculty member, Professor Derrick Bell.

>> And I remember him sauntering up to the front

and not giving us a lecture,

but engaging us in a conversation.

>> He was a very public figure on campus.

>> ...and speaking the truth.

>> Everyone knew who he was.

He was a very well-respected leader,

probably the most well-respected student on campus.

>> ...simply by his good looks and easy charm.


>> NARRATOR: In the superheated racial disputes,

Obama had become the middleman, a conciliator.

>> He's always been very adept at walking this fine line

between two dramatically different worlds,

whether it be black and white, liberal and conservative.

He's just extremely adroit at walking that tightrope.

>> He was raised in a white family, he learned early on,

I think, to move back and forth between different communities

of people.

>> NARRATOR: The intellectual epicenter

of the ideological battles tearing the law school apart

was the prestigious "Harvard Law Review."

>> I don't remember any physical violence.

I certainly remember plenty of raised voices.

I've worked at the Supreme Court,

I've worked at the White House, I've been in Washington now

for almost 20 years, and the bitterest politics

I've ever seen in terms of it getting personal and nasty

was on the "Harvard Law Review."

>> NARRATOR: Brad Berensen was a member

of the conservative Federalist Society.

One day, he and his associates would help run

the Bush administration.

>> The conservatives on the Harvard Law School campus,

at that time, were severely outnumbered.

>> NARRATOR: Inside that toxic environment,

Obama's affinity for the Federalist students

surprised his black associates.

>> I don't know why at the time he was able to communicate

so well with them, even spend social time with them,

which was not something I would ever have done.

I don't think he was agenda-driven.

I think he genuinely thought some of these guys are nice,

all of them are smart, some of them are funny.

All of them have something to say.

>> NARRATOR: No African American had ever been president

of the "Law Review."

In his second year, Obama decided to run for it.

>> If being on the "Law Review" is a great credential

and a high honor, being the president of it

is the greatest credential and the greatest honor.

>> The voting for the presidency was an all-day process

in which it started out in the day with a lot of candidates,

and they got basically voted off the island

as the day progressed.

>> One of my most poignant memories

of the "Law Review" election process

was late in the process,

it's late at night, we're trying to figure out

how to resolve this thing.

Clearly, Barack has a lot of support,

but it's not resolved yet.

And a conservative editor who probably disagreed

with just about everything that Barack stood for

got up and said that he was firmly behind Barack.

Because we were a divided institution,

this was the best person to lead the institution

and to reach out to all constituencies,

even though he had his own political views

and made them known.

>> NARRATOR: Just after midnight, he won.

It was national news.

>> Oh, I'm honored.

I think people can say that my election symbolizes

some progress, at least within the small confines

of the legal community.

I think it's real important to keep the focus on the...

the broader world out there and see that, for a lot of kids,

the doors that have been open to me aren't open to them.

>> NARRATOR: The African- American editors were ecstatic.

>> I think a lot of the minority editors

on the "Review" expected him to use his discretion

to the maximum extent possible to empower them.

>> There was an expectation on the...

on the part of his more progressive colleagues

at the "Law Review" that he would side with them on issues.

>> Barack was reluctant to do that.

It's not that he was out of sympathy with their views,

but his first and foremost goal, it always seemed to me,

was to put out a first-rate publication.

And he was not going to let politics or ideology

get in the way of doing that.

>> NARRATOR: Only one African-American student

received a top editor's job;

Federalist Society members were given three.

>> A whole Federalist slate was taking over.

I was kind of hoping to get a masthead position,

and I did not get a masthead position.

I was hurt.

I think I would call it very hurt.

And I told him so.

I mean, certainly, he was aware of how I felt.

>> I think Barack took ten times as much grief

from those on the left on the "Review"

as from those of us on the right.

And the reason was, I think there was an expectation

among those editors on the left

that he would affirmatively use his position

to advance the cause.

>> NARRATOR: He would return to Chicago to write a book,

to teach law, and to return to the streets.

>> In my mind, there's no doubt he would have ended up

with a Supreme Court clerkship.

But he turned his back on that and saw himself

running separate from the pack, even back then.

>> NARRATOR: It was in March of 2003

that the country went to war with Iraq.

>> My fellow citizens, at this hour,

American and coalition forces are in the early stages

of military operations to disarm Iraq,

to free its people and to defend the world.

>> No one was a bigger supporter of the original decision

to go to war in Iraq than John McCain.

He co-sponsored legislation in the Senate

that gave President Bush authority to do it.

He was somebody from the very beginning,

even before President Bush started talking about it.

He was somebody who talked about the need

to take out Saddam Hussein.

>> Victims of sectarian revenge killings

are turning up here now every day.

>> NARRATOR: But when things started to go badly in Iraq,

McCain broke with the administration.

>> Some 60 city councilors have been killed over the past year.

>> He went in August of '03 to Iraq and came back convinced

that if a full insurgency didn't exist at the moment,

it was just weeks away.

Asks to see Secretary Rumsfeld, privately spoke to him.

"You got to completely change the way we're doing things."

No response.

No response.

>> The relationship really started to get bad,

and it wasn't just McCain and Rumsfeld.

You could almost go through almost any office

in the Pentagon-- major office--

and McCain and his staffers were having problems

with people there.

>> NARRATOR: McCain remained a supporter of the war,

but continued to complain about the strategy.

Then, in 2004, a real breaking point.

>> Demonstrators gathered outside

Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison today.

>> Shocking snapshots that embarrassed the Pentagon

and enraged the Muslim world.

>> NARRATOR: When Congress went after the administration,

John McCain led the charge.

He would take on the Secretary of Defense.

>> He was incensed.

He thought it was shameful.

>> I'm gravely concerned that we risk losing public support

for this conflict, as Americans turned away

from the Vietnam war...

Now, Mr. Secretary, I'd like to know,

what were the instructions to the guards?

>> That is what the investigation

that I've indicated has been undertaken is determining.

>> Mr. Secretary, that's a very simple,

straightforward question.

>> Well... the... well, as Chief of Staff of the Army...

>> NARRATOR: McCain would ultimately offer legislation

to change American policy about torture.

Torture, of course, had a special meaning to McCain.

>> Want some light?

>> NARRATOR: In 1967, McCain was 31, a prisoner in North Vietnam.

>> In which circumstances have you been shot down?

>> I was on a flight over the city of Hanoi,

and I was bombing and was hit.

And I ejected and broke my leg and both arms

and went into a lake-- parachuted into a lake.

>> ...somehow managed with his teeth to pull the plug

that caused his life vest to inflate.

>> NARRATOR: McCain wrote about it in his autobiography.

>> "A crowd of several hundred Vietnamese gathered around me

as I lay dazed before them, shouting wildly at me,

stripping my clothes off, spitting on me,

kicking and striking me repeatedly."

And I was picked up by some North Vietnamese

and taken to the hospital, where I almost died.

>> John wouldn't go to sleep.

He's in a cast, his eyes are feverish.

He's in bad, bad shape.

I thought he was going to die.

>> NARRATOR: And then, the North Vietnamese discovered McCain

was not just any captive.

>> May I know who is your father?

Could you name him and tell me who is...

>> Yes, his name is Admiral John McCain.

>> NARRATOR: McCain's father would soon be in charge

of all forces in the South Pacific.

>> Oh, John was a prize.

They referred to him as "the prince."

"We've got the prince."

>> They realize that they have

this exceptional public relations tool,

and they say to him, "Ah-ha, you're the crown prince!"

>> NARRATOR: "The prince" and his father, the Admiral,

had never been particularly close.

>> I think it was a relationship of high regard and respect,

but I think he didn't see his father

as much as he would have liked.

>> NARRATOR: McCain's grandfather--

they called him "Popeye"--

was a legendary admiral in World War II--

here posing with McCain's father on the last day of the war

in Japan.

Inevitably, reluctantly, John McCain would follow them

to the naval academy.

>> "I was an arrogant, undisciplined,

insolent midshipman who felt it necessary to prove my mettle

by challenging authority."

>> He graduated fifth from the bottom of his class,

and he managed to accumulate, as he calls it,

a very impressive catalogue of demerits.

>> It's hard to grow up in a family with a military legacy

that his family had.

It goes back to George Washington's general staff.

That stuff is there, it's like osmosis,

so John's got all of this.

Then he gets shot down, and now he's almost dead,

and he fights to survive.

>> NARRATOR: John McCain often defied his captors.

He would be regularly threatened and beaten to force him

to confess war crimes.

>> "The Prick came in with two other guards,

lifted me to my feet and gave me the worst beating

I had yet experienced.

They left me lying on the floor, moaning from the stabbing pain

in my refractured arm."

>> There was the sheer pain of it,

and the deprivation and the humiliation.

It's a horrible experience.

We had to endure it 24 hours a day, seven days a week,

for five, six, seven, eight, nine years.

>> NARRATOR: At one point, McCain was offered

an early release, a propaganda move to embarrass his father.

>> "No way. Can't do that.

Honor won't let me do that.

Sense of duty won't let me do that."

>> NARRATOR: It meant he would be in prison

for five more years.

>> If you have anything to say to the people you love

and the people who loves you, please tell it now.

This time is yours.

>> I would just like to tell my wife I'll...

I'll get well, and I love her and hope to see her soon.

And I'd appreciate it if you tell her that.

That's all I have.

>> We today have concluded an agreement to end thewar...

>> NARRATOR: He came home angry

about why America had lost the Vietnam War,

and he spent the next year at the National War College

trying to find out why.

>> "The experience did not cause me to conclude

that the war was wrong.

But I did resent how badly civilian leaders had mismanaged

the war and how ineffectually our senior military commanders

had resisted their mistakes."

>> A core group of us, we said,

"If we ever get out of this place,

we've got to do everything we can to be involved

in the political process so we never repeat

this kind of conduct again,

where we get involved in something

that we probably don't understand,

noble cause or not.

If we don't understand it and if we aren't committed to victory,

then we shouldn't get involved in it."

>> NARRATOR: His body was badly damaged.

Active duty was challenging.

The navy decided on a different kind of posting.

He was a war hero, celebrity,

and so they put him right out front with the politicians.

>> When members of Congress travel,

they usually have a captain or colonel as escort officer,

and John was our escort officer on several trips.

>> He was just fun to be with.

And he had a sense of derring-do

and "Let's go do some things."

"Let's hop on a plane, let's go to such and such a country."

>> Rather quickly, he becomes friends

with some of the younger senators--

Gary Hart, Bill Cohen, later Secretary of Defense.

>> We would hit a couple of bars and have some beers together.

It was mostly three relatively young guys

who were having a good time together.

>> NARRATOR: After a while, he began to get interested

in a political career.

>> We talked about politics,

but more from a practical point of view.

How do you do you get elected?

What kind of campaigns?

So it was clear he was learning.

>> He's a bright, sharp guy.

And I'm sure he looked around and said,

"Boy, if these guys can do this, I can do this."

>> NARRATOR: But McCain's personal life was a mess;

his wife Carol had dutifully waited through the P.O.W. years.

A former model, she'd been severely injured

in a car accident while McCain was in Vietnam.

Now, McCain wanted a divorce.

>> My marriage's collapse was attributable

to my own selfishness and immaturity

more than it was to Vietnam, and I cannot escape blame

by pointing a finger at the war.

The blame was entirely mine.

>> NARRATOR: He was known to have an eye for women

and a taste for the good life.

One night in Hawaii, he found what he was looking for.

>> It was love at first sight, and that was it.

He said, "I met a gal that you've just got to meet."

And he said, "I think this is... this is the gal

I'm in love with."

That was it.

>> Bill Cohen and I were members of his wedding party

when he and Cindy were married in Arizona.

>> NARRATOR: Cindy's father owned

a lucrative beer distributorship in Arizona.

He was rich and connected.

Soon, John McCain would be, too.

>> For me, it was natural, saying,

"You're in love with this young woman from Arizona.

You're a conservative.

Arizona's a conservative state.

Go run in Arizona.

You'll have family there, and that will be the basis,

where you'll start."

>> NARRATOR: In 1982, he ran for Congress and won.

Then, four years later, he would take Barry Goldwater's seat

in the Senate.

>> NARRATOR: 2006.

For a year, Barack Obama had kept his head down.

Now, it was time for year two of his plan to kick in.

He would ramp up his visibility.

>> In 2006, he had a different strategy in his second year,

and that was to be helpful to other Democrats.

>> NARRATOR: The Senator from Illinois had national ambitions.

>> This was part of the plan, was to go out and...

I guess crassly say, "build IOUs."

>> And how better to sort of get the support from people

in the Senate than to help them?


>> It is a battle about education,

it is a battle about health care,

it is a battle about energy...

>> NARRATOR: And he would use the speaking engagements

as an opportunity to hone his political message.

>> This is the wrong war at the wrong time.

Every child is my child,

every senior citizen deserves protection.

Government can help.

The government can make a difference in all of our lives.

>> Everywhere he went, crowds were huge and enthusiastic,

record crowds at all these fundraising events.

>> NARRATOR: As the crowds grew, Obama and his advisors began

to seriously consider whether the time was right

for a presidential run.

>> I think Obama had a lot of questions

and a lot of skepticism about it,

and wanted to approach the whole process in a methodical way.

>> NARRATOR: Obama often relied on the advice

of political wise men;

one of them was former Democratic leader Tom Daschle.

>> We went to my favorite restaurant

and took the kitchen table in the back

where nobody could see us.

Well, I tell him he should do it and that he shouldn't assume,

if he passes up this window, that there will be another.

Because the longer he's in Washington,

the more history he has.

And the more history he has,

the more he's going to be explaining his votes

and his actions and his statements and his positions

that undermine his message.

>> NARRATOR: Then, Obama gathered his closest friends

and advisors.

>> He asked us to challenge him on what he would face

in running for President, to really ask the tough questions.

>> And some of the most skeptical people

about making this race were some of his very accomplished,

successful African-American friends.

And I remember one saying... one person saying that,

"You know, I just don't think America's ready, you know,

to elect an African American."

I remember Barack's immediate reaction was,

"I don't agree with that, and I think they are ready.

But if they're not,

they're not going to be ready in my lifetime.

So I'm willing to challenge that assumption."

>> NARRATOR: Obama had been challenging

political assumptions for some time.

His first race offers an example:

an older, experienced state senator, Alice Palmer,

in effect, offered young Barack Obama her state senate seat.

>> Alice Palmer had decided she was going to run

for a congressional seat that had suddenly become open.

>> She gets crushed by Jesse Jackson, Jr.

>> Came back to Barack with the hope and expectation

that he would drop out in deference to her.

He declined to do so.

>> A delegation on behalf of Alice Palmer,

including some very august figures

from the south side of Chicago, came to him

and asked him to step out of the way and let her,

you know, run again for her seat.

>> So here's Barack Obama.

He's not from Chicago.

He's desperately trying to break into politics,

and he's being approached by

some of the elder African-American leaders

of the community, people who've been around

a whole lot longer than he has.

People telling him, "Your time will come, just back down.

Just cede this seat to Alice.

She's the only reason you're in this race anyway.

You owe her."

>> Barack wasn't thrilled about it.

"I've gone out and raised money, opened up an office,

recruited people, put my name out there.

And I'm supposed to take that back

because you now want to change the agreement

we already had?

That just doesn't make a lot of sense."

>> His behavior was political in Chicago style.

He did what Chicago politicians do;

he challenged her petitions.

>> NARRATOR: Obama played hardball.

The signatures

on Palmer's hastily assembled election petitions

would be compared to the actual voter registry.

>> So I went down to his office and looked at petitions and,

late into the night, checked them against the key book

and did what I had to do.

>> NARRATOR: And while they were at it,

Obama checked his other opponents, too.

>> Not just Alice Palmer, but all of Obama's opponents

are knocked off the ballot,

and Obama wins his first election without an opponent.

That's a pretty good way to win.

Some of his sort of idealistic message of hope

has confused people to his sort of inner toughness,

you know, the velvet glove around the steel fist.

>> NARRATOR: In 2000, Obama set his sights

on a Congressional seat-- but not just any Congressional seat.

This one was held by yet another older,

highly regarded figure in the black community:

Congressman Bobby Rush.

>> Bobby Rush has real strong roots in the community.

Bobby Rush was, you know, a Panther.

His friends, Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, were killed.

Bobby would've been killed.

He was not there that night, but he emerged out of that fight,

out of that season, as a kind of tough street guy.

And then he matured as a Congressman into a guy

that took that toughness and broadly applied that.

So Bobby Rush had very real strength in the community.

>> What has he done?

(talking over each other)

>> NARRATOR: To compete with Rush,

Obama tried to reach a new generation of voters

in the predominantly black district.

>> Who can best articulate and frame the issues

that are most important to voters in the district?

>> It was very much this theme of unity.

"We can all get along with one another.

We should help the most... the most vulnerable in our society.

We need to rebuild our communities from the ground up."

>> I think what Barack's strategy is

is to emphasize the common challenges

that black and white Americans face.

>> I know that you are a wise man

and you seem very astute on the issue, but...

>> NARRATOR: But in Bobby Rush's district,

they publicly questioned whether Obama had enough experience

and privately wondered whether he was black enough.

>> ... African-American ministers have endorsed me

based on my record.

>> How dedicated is he to the black struggle?

>> He was fighting off these "Is he black enough?" charges.

>> That's always been a subtext of the opposition to him

from other black politicians.

>> They looked at him with a little apprehension.

>> All of these things come back in the Bobby Rush campaign,

and they come back in a very nasty way.

>> The charges of elitism.

Here's this Harvard guy with well-modulated eloquence.

What does he know about the black struggle?

>> There's a long article about the race

in the "Chicago Reader," the local alternative paper

in Chicago, where one of Obama's opponents, he says,

"Obama is viewed as the white man

in blackface in our community."

>> It got bad.

It was real bad.

A number of Black Nationalists and other observers

in the African-American community, you know,

made all sorts of allegations

about Barack being a tool of, you know,

Hyde Park and the University of Chicago,

which are both code words for both whites and Jews.

>> It wouldn't be the first time that someone had called him

not black enough.

I think what was probably surprising for him

was how much traction it got and how effective it was

against him in that particular circumstance.

>> NARRATOR: He believed he'd already put down roots

in Chicago's black community.

He lived in the district, worked on civil rights cases,

and perhaps most importantly, he'd fallen in love with

and married a woman from the neighborhood.

>> Her roots in Chicago went deeper

than his roots in Chicago.

She comes from a middle class working family

with working family values and strong church values.

She went to public school,

and she and my daughter were classmates, they were friends,

and so she has roots there.

And so, she would know people he did not know,

and know places he would not know.

>> That alliance gave him a kind of rootedness in that community

that he really didn't have

because of the relative rootlessness of his childhood

and upbringing.

>> "For someone like me, who had barely known his father,

who had spent much of his life traveling from place to place,

his bloodlines scattered to the four winds,

the home that Fraiser and Marian Robinson had built

for themselves stirred a longing for stability--

a sense of place-- that I had not realized was there."

>> It was a very important personal connection.

In Michelle, he found a partner

who was able to ground him personally.

The fact that-- that she was so rooted in the community was--

had obvious value.

But, you know, it was very personal.

>> NARRATOR: There was, inside black Chicago,

another place Barack Obama wanted to put down roots:

the church.

>> Obama was very sort of meticulous

about going to the various pastors,

interviewing them, talking to them

about their churches and their reputations.

So, he was... he was on a sort of quest to find a church home.

>> NARRATOR: Obama settled on Trinity Church.

>> It's a big, popular inner-city church

that was known for its community work.

>> It probably gathers the most members

of Chicago's black elite.

>> NARRATOR: Trinity was led by Reverend Jeremiah Wright.

>> Reverend Wright is a very profound preacher,

very scholarly, very popular in the church circles.

>> Apartheid is wrong!

Oppression is wrong!

Anybody who feels white skin is superior

to black skin is wrong!

>> He had the reputation of a militant guy

who could provide kind of a vicarious militance

for a lot of Chicago's black elite,

so they could get a dose of militance on Sunday

and then go back home and feel pretty good

about doing their part for the black movement.

>> NARRATOR: So membership in Trinity might have been good

for Obama personally and even politically--

but it didn't help on election day against Bobby Rush.

>> The last week of the campaign Bill Clinton did radio spots

for him on black radio.

>> I'm President Clinton, urging you to send Bobby Rush

back to Congress where he can continue his fight

to prepare our children for the 21st Century.

>> It was hopeless.

>> ...and America need Bobby Rush in Congress.

>> We lost badly-- two to one.

I was the deputy campaign manager and the field director

in that race and we lost badly.

>> It was the first time in his life

where people didn't just really accept him immediately,

where things didn't really go perfectly for him.

>> The Bobby Rush defeat helped him understand

that his natural constituency were not these working class

African Americans with nationalist aspirations,

but rather with progressive whites,

progressive African Americans, those who had a wider view

of what politics was all about.

>> NARRATOR: Obama would pursue that coalition in 2004,

when the state senator decided to try to become

the United States senator.

>> Obama was a little bit too much of a lone wolf

in the 2000 campaign.

He didn't have enough support, had sort of gotten into the race

without thinking it through,

which is uncharacteristic for Obama.

And as he plotted his next political campaign,

he avoided all the mistakes of that 2000 race.

>> If there's a child on the south side of Chicago

that can't read, that makes a difference in my life,

even if it's not my child.

>> NARRATOR: This is the time he signed up David Axelrod.

>> If there is an Arab-American somewhere getting rounded up

without benefit of an attorney or due process,

that threatens my civil liberties,

even if I'm not an immigrant.

>> He had a political story to tell,

and Axelrod knew how to pick out the various aspects

of that story and really sell them to voters.

>> I worked on the south side of Chicago

with a group of churches that had come together to try...

>> His community organizing days went over extraordinarily well

with blacks.

His time at Harvard...

>> ...had never led the "Harvard Law Review"

until I changed that.

>> ...suddenly whites are like, "Oh, okay."

They're very accepting of him.

>> I'm Barack Obama.

I'm running for the United States Senate,

and I approve this message to say, "Yes, we can."

>> That television campaign really sold voters

on the story of Barack Obama.


>> Yes, we can.

Thank you, Illinois.

I love you!

>> NARRATOR: And so, just four years after his loss

to Bobby Rush, Obama put together

that special coalition and a victory.

>> At the victory party for his election,

it looked like a replay

of Harold Washington's mayoral victory party.

It really did.

I mean, there were black people there who were ecstatic

about the rise of this young brother.

And a range of white supporters, primarily these progressives

who supported Harold Washington.

It was extraordinary, really,

the way that the crowds echoed each other.

>> NARRATOR: Two years later, in 2006,

as a United States senator, Obama had to decide

whether he could put together an even bigger coalition

to run for the presidency.

>> He went off to Hawaii at the end of 2006 with his family

thought hard about it and came back and said,

"I think I want to do this."


>> NARRATOR: It was 16 degrees on the cold February day

when Barack Obama announced his candidacy.

>> Obama's scheduled to deliver this big event in Springfield.

And that was going to be Springfield,

home of Abe Lincoln,

it's like a big deal for the campaign.

>> Oh, praise and honor to God for bringing us together

here today.

>> NARRATOR: They had even invited his minister

from Trinity Church, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright,

to deliver the invocation.

But there was a problem-- a story in "Rolling Stone"

quoted some of the pastor's fiery sermons.

>> "Racism is how this country was founded

and how this country is still run!"

>> His advisors knew that Wright was a big problem;

that if people went back and mined what he had said,

if they looked at Obama and looked at Wright

in their relationship, that it could change the impression

that people had of Obama.

>> What Axelrod told me later is that the campaign became worried

that Fox News would blast these quotes

from Obama's crazy pastor.

So they yanked Wright.

They basically told him that he couldn't be part of this event,

and Wright got very mad.

>> I stand before you today to announce my candidacy

for president of the United States of America.

>> On that cold, cold morning,

not to have Reverend Wright give the invocation

was certainly a sign that they knew

there was some problem brewing.

I think the question was, how big a problem was it?

How could they deal with it if it erupted?

And could they just kind of keep it in the back?

>> Thank you very much, everybody.

Let's get to work!

I love you.

Thank you.

>> NARRATOR: This building has been the site of many scandals--

careers broken, lives altered.

Such a moment happened to John McCain back in 1989.

>> He understands, and he will admit that when his obituary

is written, the Keating scandal will be somewhere high

in the obituary.

And so, he understands the dark stain that that had

on his career.

He understands that.

>> Never before have five senators been accused

of intervening with federal regulators.

>> The Keating Five.

Four Democratic senators, one Republican.

>> This man is a United States senator, and you are about

to hear him say something that

very few senators have ever said before.

Listen, carefully.

>> It was a very serious mistake on my part.

The appearance of a meeting with five senators was bad and wrong,

and I agonize over it all the time.

>> Here's John McCain, he's doing great in the Senate.

He's starting to get national recognition and prominence.

People are starting to put him on the list

of possible vice-presidential running mates.

Everything is going great.

And then, bam, this scandal hits.

And even by today's standards, it was a big scandal involving

five very important members of the United States Senate.

>> Four of the best known names in the U.S. Senate

pressured a government regulator...

>> Today's testimony may just be the beginning

in a scandal that seems to grow wider

with each public hearing.

>> That scandal took off pretty quickly,

and it was like a tsunami.

>> Now the procedure will be as follows:

Senator McCain and he and his lawyer will appear first...

>> NARRATOR: At the center of the scandal was

McCain's friend and contributor, Charles Keating,

an Arizona high roller and owner of a failed savings and loan.

>> In 1987, Keating was engaged

in a war the with federal regulators who were on his case,

who looked at his investment portfolio, examined his books

and were astonished and alarmed and horrified at the way he was

throwing around his money, which were federally-insured deposits.

>> Do you solemnly swear that the testimony that you will give

in this hearing will be the truth, the whole truth,

nothing but the truth, so help you God?

>> I do.

>> And Keating, having donated more than $1 million

to these five Senators who became known

as the Keating Five, called upon them and asked them to intervene

with the regulators on his behalf.

>> On April 2, I attended a meeting

in Senator Deconcini's office to inquire whether

American Continental Corporation and Lincoln Savings

were being treated fairly.

>> NARRATOR: McCain and the other senators met

with the top federal regulator...

>> They were United States Senators who oversaw our agency.

You know, I considered Senators pretty important,

especially a lot of them at one time.

>> NARRATOR: The FBI dug into the case, Congress began

an investigation, the press had a field day.

McCain desperately wanted to clear his name.

He decided straight talk was called for.

>> And he says, "So from this day forward," he says,

"we're going to take every interview we can take.

We're going to prioritize Arizona media

over national media, but we'll do them all."

>> Yes, mistakes were made.

Yes, the appearance of five senators in one meeting is...

poor, to say the least.

But to translate that into improper behavior

or abuse of office is simply something

that I don't believe the that people of Arizona would do.

>> This was the beginning of a pattern that he has developed

at a moment of crisis.

He'll stand there until the last reporter sits down.

And I think it's worked very well for him.

>> NARRATOR: The press backed off,

and the Congress all but cleared him of wrongdoing.

>> Senator McCain has violated no law of the United States

or specific rule of the United States Senate.

>> NARRATOR: They said he was guilty of poor judgment.

>> He wasn't corrupted in the sense of abusing his office.

I think you could say that he was compromised in the same way

that all politicians who develop buddy-buddy relationships

with powerful businessmen who bankroll their campaigns are.

Because I think inevitably there's a certain reciprocity

that's expected.

>> Most people said, after having gone through

what he went through in the Keating Five, "That's it.

His chances of any national office are over, are done with.

And by the way, he's probably not going to be very successful

in the United States Senate."

He proved them wrong.

His life has been proving people wrong.

>> To the surprise of nearly no one, John McCain has officially

made it not quite official.

>> The Arizona Senator John McCain moved a step closer

to making his candidacy official.

>> Yesterday, the early frontrunner

for the Republican nomination filed some papers,

and that's all John McCain has to do to make news.

>> NARRATOR: By 2007, John McCain, long past

the Keating Five scandal, was busy positioning himself

as the Republican frontrunner for the presidency.

>> He wanted to be the establishment candidate,

the vision that the Republicans always nominate the next guy

in line-- George H .W. Bush in '88,

Robert Dole in '96, Reagan in '80.

He wanted to be that guy.

>> He wanted to be, for the first time, an elder statesman,

someone who was inheriting the mantle of the Republican party.

>> NARRATOR: But McCain had made some important enemies

inside the Republican base.

Back in 2000, running against George W. Bush, McCain incurred

the wrath of the religious right.

>> They aligned themselves with Bush

and allowed their organizations to spend

hundreds of thousands of dollars,

particularly in South Carolina, against McCain.

>> NARRATOR: At this town hall meeting,

McCain let them have it.

>> Neither party should be defined

by pandering to the outer reaches of American politics

and the agents of intolerance,

whether they be Louis Farrakhan or Al Sharpton on the left,

or Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell on the right.

(cheers and applause)

>> McCain had called leaders of the Christian Right

"Agents of Intolerance."

This was a phrase never forgotten.

>> NARRATOR: But six years later, McCain changed course

in a meeting with evangelical minister Jerry Falwell.

>> Reverend Falwell came to see him, said, you know,

"Put our past differences behind us, or acrimony behind us"

or something.

And then asked him on the spot if he would consider

giving the commencement address at Liberty.

And he responded on the spot, "Sure."

>> Senator!

I heard this crazy story that Senator John McCain is giving

the commencement address at Jerry Falwell's University.

>> Well, before I bring on my two attorneys, I'd like to...

(laughter and applause)

>> Don't make me love you!

>> It cut against, you know, everything that McCain had done

and said up to that point.

>> Why I did it is because of the fact that my kids said,

"Why haven't you been on the Jon Stewart show lately?"

And I figured that was the best way to do that.

>> Senator!

>> John McCain is a politician.

He's been elected to the Senate.

He's involved in politics.

He understands that yesterday's battles are yesterday's battles.

And if you're going to win tomorrow's,

you may have to do things differently.

>> So are you freaking out on us?

Because if you're freaking out

and you're going into the crazy base world...

Are you going into crazy base world?

>> I'm afraid... I'm afraid so.

>> McCain has demonstrated both a temperamental inclination

and a real ability over the course of his political life

to... to do things that are politically expedient

and at the same time signal

with a sense of irony and detachment

that he doesn't really like doing it;

that, in a sense, he's being forced by political necessity

to do it.

>> NARRATOR: He did it again with the announcement

of his candidacy.

Instead of a traditional setting,

McCain chose a different venue.

>> Are you thinking seriously of running?

Are you running?

Are you going to announce that you are running?

>> You asked me if I would come back on this show...

>> Right?

>> ...if I was going to announce.

I am announcing that I will be a candidate

for president of the United States.

>> Oh.

(cheers and applause)

(band playing)

>> Good for you.


Seems to be a very popular announcement.

>> Paul, can we try that again?

♪ Da-Da-da-da... ♪

("Hail to the Chief" is played)

>> The struggle for John McCain's heart and soul

is the part of the story of the last eight years.

>> How about that!

>> John McCain sees himself as a maverick

and has always operated in that way.

At the same time, he is determined,

and has been determined for the last four years,

to become the nominee of the Republican Party.

That requires a set of trade-offs.

>> NARRATOR: He would have to position himself

as the heir apparent to George W. Bush.

On issue after issue,

McCain moved closer to the party faithful,

becoming an outspoken advocate

for the president's controversial plan to change

Social Security.

Once an opponent of the president's tax cuts,

McCain voted to extend them.

On torture, he agreed with the administration's plan

to limit the rights of detainees.

And he agreed with the Vice President that the CIA could use

tougher interrogation techniques than the military.

He even copied

Bush's huge and expensive re-election campaign of 2004.

The bare-bones "Straight Talk Express,"

McCain's famous bus from 2000, was transformed.

>> It was a huge, expensive bus with leather seats

and flat'screen televisions.

>> NARRATOR: The bus cost $10,000 a day.

>> They very much believed that in order to win,

he had to sort of be like George Bush.

And they drew up this $150 million campaign plan

that very much looked a lot

like the George Bush model and machine.

>> It was a frontrunner's campaign, a big, well-funded

frontrunner's campaign, and one that depended on the prospect

of inevitability rather than fighting, underdog, maverick,


It was not a very good fit for him, and it crashed and burned.

>> We had a budget that was based on being

the preemptive favorite.

We assumed things that did not happen.

We hit a wall.


We hit a wall.

>> People who had made pledges wouldn't go through with them.

And so, the McCain campaign realizes all estimates

that we have of the amount of money we're going to have

are completely wrong.

>> NARRATOR: The smart money was on the sidelines,

watching Guiliani and Romney.

McCain's high end campaign was going bust.

>> His obituary was being written every day

in about ten different ways.

Every talk show, every newspaper had written John off.

We were fifth in a four-person race, you know?

Had them right where we want them, right?

>> NARRATOR: McCain asked one of his oldest friends,

former POW Orson Swindle,

to take a hard look at the campaign's management.

>> When things started to go awry, he asked me,

"Go over there and sit in on the meetings

and tell me what you think."

And, you know, I did that for a week or two.

And he said, "What do you think?"

I said, "It's a bleeping mess."


>> NARRATOR: McCain's team had locked up

much of the high-priced consulting talent

and created offices all across the country,

trying to scare off potential opponents.

>> The spending was out of control.

That there was, you know, there were sort of different

power centers in the campaign.

No clear lines of authority.

Just, you know, it had the feel of a campaign

that was in free fall.

>> There was no clear chain of command.

The finance division totally separate

from the political division.

No one knew how much money we were raising,

so we couldn't match... spending with that.

>> The money has just vanished.

$24 million is gone.

There's a staff of 150 that can't be paid.

People are just laid off, fired.

>> He's not used to having hundreds and thousands of people

around him in this huge bureaucracy, and it didn't work.

It didn't work.

And one of the legitimate questions people raised

during the primary process was,

"Look, if he can't manage this campaign

better than they have-- think about all the money

that they had that went down the drain--

if they can't manage the campaign better, how's he going

to run the United States?

>> The big news is about John McCain.

He's spent every penny he raised and more.

>> His campaign piggy bank has been hemorrhaging money.

>> Out of money, sinking in the polls and hemorrhaging staff.

>> NARRATOR: It was a wake-up call for McCain.

Embarrassed and angry, he decided to clean house.

John Weaver would have to go.

>> To lose John Weaver is to lose, for McCain, his right arm.

>> McCain did the hardest thing in the world to do, is he pulled

the trigger on some people who'd been around him, you know,

most of his political life.

A pretty tough thing to do.

>> The night before I resigned, we had a wonderful conversation.

And I told him I loved him and that we didn't want to...

I didn't want to argue with him any more about these...

all these various issues that we had been arguing about.

And... and it didn't take me more than a nanosecond to know

what I needed to do.

>> I think John McCain, more than anything, is embarrassed.

And I say that because I believe that McCain saw that campaign

come undone and said to himself,

"I should have known more about this.

I should have taken a more active role in it.

I have failed in some fundamental way as a leader."

And I think he was embarrassed at the state of his campaign

and the state of his candidacy.

>> NARRATOR: McCain headed for his ranch in Arizona.

He'd worry about the future with a small group of loyalists.

>> Literally, the plan was the Merle Haggard Strategy.

Merle Haggard has a great song

called "If We Make It Through December, Every Thing's Going

To Be All Right, I Know."

>> ♪ If we make it through December

♪ Everything's going to be all right, I know... ♪

>> And that was just it.

It was as simple as just, let's

just make sure we're on the field in the fourth quarter

when the game gets decided.

>> He got everybody in a room and said, "Here's the deal.

We're going to run this campaign

on a million dollars if I have to."

You know, "If I have to take a cab, I'm going to take a cab.

If I have to fly coach, we're going to fly coach."

>> The fancy bus is gone.

The charter planes are gone.

Literally, overnight, became a campaign that was

on a shoestring budget for months.

>> You know, packs an overnight bag

and boards a discount airline

and flies up to New Hampshire by himself.

He's the campaign.

He's met by an aide with a family car.

And they decide they're... they're going to live

off the land and just... just focus all their efforts

on New Hampshire.

>> You know, we've always known

that to survive what he did in Vietnam,

in that prisoner of war camp,

takes an extraordinary human being.

This is a guy who is willing to do what is necessary

when he thinks he has to do it

in order to survive and keep going.

>> Today, Iowans make the first decisions that will count.

>> NARRATOR: If Barack Obama wanted to be president,

there would be no more difficult time and place

than Iowa in 2008.

>> Who is going to get out the vote...

>> The Obama campaign had to win Iowa.

If we won Iowa, it would give us life, it would give us

an opportunity to compete elsewhere.

>> NARRATOR: There were seven other candidates in the race,

but one everyone knew he had to beat.

The best political brand in the Democratic party:

Hillary Clinton.

>> In those first early days, it was very hard to see

how she wasn't going to be the nominee.

>> She had the money, she had most of the party,

and for what it was worth-- and I think it was worth

a good deal in certain precincts-- she was a Clinton.

>> NARRATOR: Clinton would run on her experience,

but Obama had devised a different strategy.

>> The premise of this campaign is that people want

a different way of doing things in Washington.

They want to turn the page.

They want to change.

>> NARRATOR: And Obama had a ready-made issue

for one important constituency: the anti-war movement.

>> The point of entry for them was his position on Iraq,

the fact that he had good judgement

on... on that decision which was pretty significant.

>> I don't oppose war in all circumstances

and when I look out over this crowd today,

I know there is no shortage of patriots or patriotism.

What I do oppose is a dumb war!

>> NARRATOR: It was a speech he had made

as an Illinois state senator

at a small anti-war rally in Chicago,

but now it would play to his advantage.

>> He set himself out against the war,

from the very beginning,

while other candidates, such as Hillary Clinton,

John Edwards, you know, these folks had to combat

their votes on that.

>> The time for us to ask how we were going to get out of Iraq

was before we went in, and that is something too many of us

failed to do.

We failed to do it, and I do think that that is something

that both Democrats and Republicans have to take

responsibility for.

>> That anti-Iraq war speech that he gave in 2002 was

the gift that just kept on giving for him.

>> NARRATOR: Obama's plan in Iowa was to mobilize

his coalition of anti-war voters,

young people and progressives.

>> It was his vision to run a campaign

that was a grass-roots organizing campaign,

very much influenced

by his community organizing experience.

>> The organization of the Obama people you talk to on the ground

was surprisingly impressive and actually better

than Hillary Clinton's was.

For all the campaigns the Clintons had run,

for all the talent they had locked up

early in the campaign, he was beating her

in the operational aspects of the campaign in Iowa.

This was a guy who was running a really professional,

lock-down campaign operation.

And that... that indicated to me that he was not going anywhere

anytime soon.

(cheers and applause)

>> NARRATOR: The war, the grass- roots, the yearning for change

yielded huge crowds.

>> And because somebody stood up, a few more stood up,

and then a few thousands stood up

and then a few million stood up.

Iowa, I need you to stand up!

>> Obama in Iowa was pretty extraordinary.

I mean, I've witnessed some pretty cool things in politics.

Every four years there's something, but Obama really had

something going, you know, in Iowa.

It was clear, because the size of those crowds, he was packing

thousands of people into really impressive venues.

>> We will win this election, we will change the course

of history, and the real journey to heal the nation

and repair the world will have truly have begun.

Thank you, Iowa!

>> But I think Barack Obama gave something new.

He inspired people.

Hillary Clinton is a worker, and she understands the process

and she can get in there and know how to pass a bill.

But Barack Obama's a poet.

And I think a lot of people--

especially a lot of younger voters--

were sort of looking for a poet.

>> We are at a defining moment in our history.

>> NARRATOR: Obama was doing something else in Iowa:

devising a strategy to prove he could win

with a majority of white votes.

In fact, he had intentionally not courted blacks.

>> There was a perception that an African American candidate

could do well with African American voters,

but not much beyond that.

And so Iowa turned out to be the real litmus test.

Did he have the capacity to draw votes

from other demographic groups?

>> If white people would vote for a black candidate

in a mainly white state, it said "this guy really has a chance."

This is not playing anymore, this is not Jesse.

>> Ladies and gentlemen, can I have your attention?

>> NARRATOR: By the day of the caucuses, it was not clear

the Obama organization could overcome the Clinton machine.

It was all on the line.

>> We start to initially get sort of turn out reports.

Very anecdotal.

The lines are out the door.

>> Nobody foresaw 239,000 people participating

in the Iowa Caucuses.

So when 239,000 people came out,

like, you know, they just blew the doors off every assumption

about the campaign.

>> The front-runners lost their footing on the Iowa ice

and suddenly the entire presidential race seems

a little slippery.

>> New voters were especially key for Barack Obama,

who got the youth vote.

>> The results of the Iowa caucuses are in.

Barack Obama won the Democratic caucuses...

>> And Hillary Clinton's potential coronation crashed

into a third-place finish with 29%...

>> NARRATOR: His victory in a state that was 90% white,

sent a message to a potential constituency

that hadn't fully gotten behind him...

>> All of a sudden, people woke up and said,

"My God, maybe it can happen."

That's what happened.

It was like a jolt of electricity

going through the entirety of the black community.

>> NARRATOR: But Obama's message went beyond race.

>> Barack Obama told a different story than anyone had ever told

as a presidential candidate.

It is a post-historical, post- racial, post-modern,

and it fits not just his biography,

not just his style of rhetoric,

but the vision he has for America.

>> All right, everybody.

It was good to see you.

We had a good night.

My throat is hoarse but my spirits are good.

>> NARRATOR: Obama then ran into a formidable obstacle:

the Bill and Hillary Clinton political machine.

>> This whole thing is the biggest fairy tale

I've ever seen.

>> NARRATOR: They would engage Obama

in a long and bloody battle in one primary state after another.

>> Give me a break!

>> At this point, Bill Clinton is not simply a surrogate,

he's kind of a separate force within the campaign.

>> Not everyone is comfortable with Bill Clinton's role

as the aggressor...

>> His job this time as designated hitter for his wife,

attacking Barack Obama so she doesn't have to...

>> He has been the attack dog for this campaign.

>> This is what she wants him to do, this is a strategy...

>> She will be a great president.

>> I think that there were some times when Barack thought of it

as being Bill Clinton versus Barack Obama.

You know, I think it definitely felt that way.

President Clinton was a presence,

a significant presence.

>> I believe she is the best candidate for president...

>> NARRATOR: It seemed Obama now had two opponents.

>> You talked about Ronald Reagan being

a transformative political leader,

I did not mention his name.

>> Your husband did.

>> Well, I'm here, he's not.

>> Okay, well, I can't tell who I'm running against sometimes.

>> They really went at each other in a way they hadn't.

>> ...committed spouses who stand up for us

and I'm proud of that.

>> So the whole atmosphere was, you know, rife with tension.

>> Wait, Hillary, you just spoke for two minutes.

>> I did not say anything about Ronald Reagan.

You said two things.

You talked about admiring Ronald Reagan.

>> Iowa?

That was so yesterday.

With the caucuses behind them, the presidential candidates hit

the campaign trail in New Hampshire today.

>> Turnout is expected to be very high as voters choose.

>> NARRATOR: John McCain had not really competed in Iowa,

he had bet everything on New Hampshire.

>> I actually think he felt somewhat liberated.

"What the heck, you know?

I mean, we have no money.

We have no money, you know, everybody has counted us out.

Well, I'm going to do what I can do and either I will win

or I won't."

>> My friends I'd like to get right to it

with a few of the issues...

>> NARRATOR: McCain decided straight talk was the way to go.

>> ...what town meetings are all about...

>> NARRATOR: And he'd do it in as many town halls as he could.

>> He was a different candidate, he was almost free,

it was almost like chains were off of him.

We went to some VFW somewhere.

There were 12 guys showed up.

The average age was 90.

And they couldn't hear a word he was saying hardly.

I'm sitting there and I'm beginning to laugh,

because these are wonderful old guys.

"What'd he say?"

And, but they were got bits and pieces.

And they stood up or tried to at the appropriate times and cheer.

And I said, "John, here's the good news, buddy.

We're killin' 'em with the over 90 crowd."


>> It's nice to see all this snow and water.

In Arizona we have so little water, the trees chase the dogs.

>> People are starting to see McCain again.

He's out in the town halls.

You know, the first one, there's like seven show up.

But then, you know, each successive one we do,

more people are showing up.

Not less. So it's building.

We can feel it building. It's getting stronger.

Something's happening.

>> Hey!

>> NARRATOR: He appeared at over 100 town hall meetings.

>> John, I don't know how many town halls...

I think people ran away from him.

"I've seen you 12 times."


I think he's met every man, woman and child

in New Hampshire.

And he loves it.

>> Put your hand out there.

>> There's a genuine affection for John McCain

in New Hampshire.

>> Thank you very much.

I had no idea.

>> He built the bond with New Hampshire voters in 2000

that gave him the ability to come back as John McCain,

not as some imitation of John McCain.

>> NARRATOR: They picked up a new bus--

they called it "No Surrender."

The straight talk was about his most controversial

public position: support for the Iraq war and the surge.

>> And he said, as to the war, "we're going to commit ourselves

to winning this thing like the troops have."

>> NARRATOR: But some on his staff were dead set against it.

>> I could tell you that there were plenty of voices,

that were saying, "Stay away.

It's political suicide."

>> The war was extremely unpopular.

We picked that up in the polling.

We're not... we can read a poll.

And you know, plenty of us thought, "you know, you got

to get out from under this thing.

It'll kill you.

Absolutely not."

>> INTERVIEWER: Wouldn't move?

>> No!

>> He's tough.

He's just tough, and just tough in a very batten down way.

He's just an immovable object

when it comes to issues like that.

It's just... there's no discussion.

It's just, "This is the way it's going to be."

Very unpopular position,

doubling down on the most unpopular issue in America.

He doubled down.

>> NARRATOR: Ever since the summer of 2003, McCain had been

pushing the administration to add more troops.

>> John McCain is on "Meet the Press" every week saying,

"We got a surge. We got to have more troops.

We got to have more troops."

>> He was opposed to the way the war had been waged

in the first four years.

He was opposed to Rumsfeld.

He was opposed to the general incompetence

on the part of the White House.

>> John McCain sat down in December of 2006

to write a letter to the president.

Private letter.

The letter was not released publicly.

Three pages and said, "We are going to lose this war

unless we make a more serious effort here,

it's a matter of will not of capacity.

>> NARRATOR: But most in Washington wanted the president

to bring the troops home as soon as possible.

Bush decided to send in even more.

>> The new strategy will change America's course in Iraq

and help us succeed in the fight against terror.

>> John McCain looked at George Bush and saw that he resisted

all the pressure around him.

Saw that he stood up to conventional wisdom and said,

"I'm going to do this because I think this is right."

And nothing in John McCain's mind is a bigger test

of leadership than that.

>> NARRATOR: In New Hampshire,

John McCain stood by the president and the surge.

>> I would rather lose an election than to stay silent

and watch my country lose a war.

(cheers and applause)

>> NARRATOR: And on election night, he won.

>> My friends, I am past the age when I can claim the noun "kid,"

no matter what adjective precedes it.

But tonight, we sure showed them what a comeback looks like!

>> The room was packed.

It was... given everything

that John had been through the past year

and essentially being pronounced dead,

it just was pretty damn satisfying.

>> NARRATOR: But for all the fun McCain had in New Hampshire,

there was one undeniable reality: it wasn't

the Republican faithful that were responsible for his win.

>> He only runs even in the exit poll

among self-identified Republicans.

Again, he depends on moderates and independents,

and he faces the same question coming out of New Hampshire

that he did eight years ago:

could he get core Republicans to vote for him

in sufficient numbers?

And to a remarkable extent, the answer once again is "no."

>> Enjoy this.

You have earned it more than me.

Tomorrow, we begin again.


Thank you.

>> John McCain!

John McCain!

John McCain!

>> The next big battlefield is South Carolina.

>> Big, big race in South Carolina for the Republicans

this weekend.

>> The candidate coming into South Carolina

with the most momentum, Senator John McCain,

may also be the one with the most to lose here...

>> NARRATOR: John McCain came to South Carolina

with the urgent need to demonstrate

to the conservative base of the Republican party

that he could be their candidate.

>> You could write New Hampshire off as just a different place

that likes John McCain.

He's the king of New Hampshire.

But to become the frontrunner, you had to win in a red state,

and you had to win where I live.

>> I have a 25-year pro-life record.


>> NARRATOR: McCain would need to appeal to the very people

who had helped destroy his candidacy in 2000.

>> To the McCain campaign this was the scene of the crime.

This is where he had gone down in defeat in smear tactics

that he, to this day, thinks were orchestrated

by... by the Bush campaign.

>> Some of the most horrific things ever said

about a candidate were said by Bush people

against John McCain.

>> These were people who fought against John McCain in 2000,

who by 2005 and 2006, he was actively courting, recruiting,

trying to bring them around to his campaign.


>> NARRATOR: He'd paid his dues: working hard for the reelection

of George W. Bush in 2004

and reconciling with the Reverend Jerry Falwell.

>> We were able to put together

a coalition of evangelical Christians who saw John fight

for Roberts and Alito.

We were able to convince people that he was

a social-economic conservative,

and on the signature issue of our campaign,

winning this war, he was the best qualified.

>> NARRATOR: To emphasize the candidate's war record

and his religious faith, the McCain campaign created

a TV commercial.

>> One night after being mistreated as a POW,

a guard loosened the ropes binding me, easing my pain.

On Christmas, the same guard approached me

and without saying a word, he drew a cross in the sand.

We stood wordlessly looking at the cross,

remembering the true light of Christmas.

>> And that turned out to be, according to polling,

an extremely effective ad for conservative voters

in South Carolina.

>> I'll never forget that no matter where you are,

no matter how difficult the circumstances,

there will always be someone who will pick you up.

>> You know, it was one of the most effective things we did

during the campaign.

And it really, really worked.

>> Jack is back!

Jack is back!

>> Thank you, thank you, thank you, my friends!

Thank you, South Carolina!


>> South Carolina's a big victory for McCain,

because of what had happened in 2000.

And as a psychological victory it's huge for him.

>> You know it took us a while,

but what's eight years among friends?


>> NARRATOR: But once again, the margin of victory for McCain

inside his own party was slim.

>> Jack is back!

>> If Fred Thompson had dropped out three days earlier,

probably Mike Huckabee would have won.

So you had the conservatives split.

You had a pro-military, relatively conservative McCain

do well and win by a narrow margin in a multi-way race.

But he won by a pretty narrow margin.

(cheers and applause)

>> Good night and God bless you, as you have blessed me.

Thank you, thank you again.

(cheers and applause)

>> Super Tuesday is over,

but the presidential nominating contests are not.

>> On the Democratic side, the waters are as muddy as ever...

>> Both are set to sustain the struggle...

>> NARRATOR: Last spring, as Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton

continued to slug it out in primary after primary,

a controversy erupted.

>> No, no, no!

Not God bless America!

God damn America!

That's in the Bible, for killing innocent people!

God damn America for treating its citizens as less than human!


>> NARRATOR: Those videotapes of Obama's minister,

Jeremiah Wright, hit the airwaves.

>> There was a lot of consternation

in the Clinton campaign

that they didn't discover this themselves,

that this was the lowest of low- hanging fruit

for an opposition researcher to go and find these tapes.

I mean, his name had been in the paper.

We knew he was out there.

He had cited him in his book.

And so the Clinton people were saying to themselves,

"Whose job was it to go find the old tapes

of Reverend Wright, and why didn't we do it a year ago?"

>> Yes, 9/11/01 happened to us,

and so did slavery happen to us.

>> He saw them on television.

We're told that he was jarred by it.

He knew it was a problem.

>> And I'm sure that was a painful thing for him.

They had a bond together.

They were very close at one time in their lives, and I'm sure

it was painful for Obama.

>> I am sick of Negroes who just do not get it!

>> I was surprised at seeing the film of Reverend Wright.

It's not evocative of the Barack Obama that... that I know.

These two things seemed to be quite at odds with one another.

And I was very disconcerted by it.

>> NARRATOR: The pressure on Obama to do something

was enormous.

>> He could completely distance himself

and denounce Reverend Wright, and just say, you know,

"This stuff is outrageous; I never knew about it;

I want nothing to do with it; it has nothing to do with me."

Tough thing to do, because he'd been close to the man

for many, many, years and had been in the church.

>> His hand is forced to finally really tackle this issue

ironically so that he's not perceived

as an angry black politician,

in association with the rhetoric of Reverend Wright

would suggest.

>> NARRATOR: Senator Clinton had fumbled an opportunity

to attack him on a vulnerable front,

but even more remarkably, Obama, the ever-careful planner,

had failed to prepare a defense.

>> I'm sure that there were conversations

about whether Barack should try to distance himself

from Reverend Wright or how to manage it,

but there was no plan in place for how to deal with it.

>> NARRATOR: It would be left to Obama to figure out

how to handle it.

After a few days, he decided.

>> He said, "I want to do a speech on race.

I want to put this in context."

He said, "And I want to do it on Monday or Tuesday."

He said, "But I have to be... I have to write it."

>> Today, Obama promises to tackle the race issue head on

in Pennsylvania.

>> Race is now officially on the table.

>> He must get beyond this race debate and soon.

>> This campaign is calling this speech an important moment...

>> Major address on race, politics

and unifying our country...

>> What may be the most important speech

of his campaign.

>> NARRATOR: Obama chose the Constitution Center

in Philadelphia for the speech.

>> Thank you, thank you so much.

I believe deeply that we cannot solve the challenges of our time

unless we solve them together,

understanding that we may have different stories

but we hold common hopes.

>> I mean, this is a moment of sort of maximum peril

for a candidate.

And his goal was to elevate out of that moment

into something broader.

>> We've heard the implication

that my candidacy is somehow an exercise in Affirmative Action.

>> Jeremiah Wright, God bless him, allowed Barack Obama

to confront this issue sooner rather than later,

and I think it allowed him to regain the upper hand.

>> I can no more disown him than I can disown

the black community.

I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother--

a woman who helped raise me,

a woman who sacrificed again and again for me,

a woman who loves me

as much as she loves anything in this world,

but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men

who passed her by on the street,

and who on more than one occasion has uttered

racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.

These people are part of me.

And they are part of America, this country that I love.

>> This was not your usual Barack Obama event.

>> The speech was a political necessity.

>> It was a nuanced take on race relations in this country.

>> I give Senator Obama a lot of credit.

>> Barack Obama gave the most expansive

and most intensely personal...

>> One of the most of his career

that will likely be talked about

for the rest of this campaign...

>> I've had it up to here with John McCain.

>> He is confusing Republicans with his liberal friends.

>> The piece of legislation

that John McCain became most famous for

he co-authored with liberals.

>> He's going to reach out to Democrats

and get even with Republicans...

>> NARRATOR: McCain's team knew he could not win in November

without the conservatives, and they weren't happy

that he had prevailed.

>> You know, all the talk around the issues John McCain has

as he cruises towards the nomination

is how's this guy going to unite his party?

What's he going to do?

Rush Limbaugh's out there on the radio every day

telling people they'd be crazy to vote for this guy.

>> NARRATOR: At the annual meeting of CPAC--

the Conservative Political Action Conference--

they gathered to mourn the loss of Mitt Romney

and to reluctantly hear John McCain plead for their support.

>> I've never seen an instance where somebody in his position,

who is the de facto leader of the party

heading into the next election,

walks into an audience like that

and gets the kind of boos that he got.

I mean, it was extraordinary to hear it.

It's not as though everybody in the audience was booing,

but it was loud and it was real.

>> It's been a little while since I've had the honor

of addressing you, and I appreciate very much

your courtesy to me today.

You know, we should do this more often.


>> John wanted to make the case that,

"Here's who I am on judges.

Here's who I am on taxes.

I believe in limited government.

Here's why I fight earmarking.

Earmarking is a corruption of government."

>> I believe today, as I believed 25 years ago,

in small government, fiscal discipline,

low taxes, a strong defense, judges who inform, and not make,

our laws.

>> It's like this thinnest balance beam

that's probably existed, because on one side

he's trying to still retain the "I'm the independent,

I'm the moderate.

I can appeal, I'm the maverick."

On the other side is, "You can trust me.

I'm a good Republican."

>> I am pro-life and an advocate for the rights of man

everywhere in the world.

I will never waver in that conviction, I promise you.

>> It was clear that the room was still deeply skeptical

about whether they really wanted John McCain

as the leader of their party.

>> Thank you and God bless you.

(cheers and applause)

>> That day was a reminder

that he still had a considerable amount of work to do

to make his comfort level

with the conservative base of the party real.

>> I think what McCain did, which almost killed him,

was he tried to become Mr. Insider,

and he tried to become Mr. Establishment.

And the truth was, it didn't work.

Nobody believed it on either side,

and it made him look kind of foolish.

He's not an insider.

>> NARRATOR: But McCain kept trying.

One endorsement really mattered to the Republican faithful...

and McCain finally received it.

>> After all this bad history,

McCain turns up at the White House for the laying on of hands

from the President.

And the two have a hot dog lunch together, you know,

at the White House.

>> It's been my honor to welcome my friend, John McCain,

as the nominee of the Republican Party.

>> What was interesting about the endorsement was...

was how much that they both stammered

about whether or not Bush would campaign with McCain

or even appear at his side.

>> I intend to have as much possible campaigning events

and... together as in keeping

with the President's heavy schedule.

>> Bush didn't mince as many words as McCain did.

>> If my showing up and endorsing him helps him--

or if I'm against him and it helps him-- either way,

I want him to win.

>> As the campaign progressed, I think by June of 2008,

McCain and Bush-- aside from the endorsement at the White House--

had spent about 50 seconds in public together.

And that was it.

>> Yeah, thank you all very much.

>> NARRATOR: The President would also give McCain

something else: some of the best talent

from his 2004 reelection effort

would now be in charge of McCain's campaign.

>> The Reverend Wright is speaking out louder than ever.

>> This has been narcissistic and has been destructive

for the Obama campaign.

>> NARRATOR: One month after his speech about race,

Barack Obama again had a Jeremiah Wright problem.

>> We both know that if Senator Obama did not say what he said

he would never get elected.

>> I was traveling with Senator Obama that day

and the first reaction from Senator Obama was

to sort of blame it on Republicans and the media

for making so much out of this.

He distanced himself a little bit.

>> He had to distance himself because he's a politician.

He said "I didn't offer any words of hope."

How would he know?

He never heard the rest of the sermon.

You've never heard it.

>> Less than 24 hours later he came out

at this press conference; he had this pained look in his eye,

you know, and he strongly broke from his pastor.

>> It is antithetical to our campaign;

it is antithetical to what I am about;

it is not what I think America stands for.

>> And I think it took

the second appearance of Reverend Wright

for it to be much easier for Barack Obama

to make a real break.

>> When I say I find these comments appalling, I mean it.

It contradicts everything that I'm about and who I am.

>> It was a painful withdrawal for both of them

because here were men who had done a lot together.

>> Thank you, guys.

>> And that was a very... a very painful separation.

>> NARRATOR: But the political damage had been done.

>> Senator Obama's support among hard-working Americans,

white Americans is weakening again.

>> NARRATOR: In Pennsylvania,

Hillary Clinton beat Barack Obama by nine points.

>> The Clintons were very, very formidable.

And of all the aspects of their base, there is no stronger part

of their base than blue-collar workers.

>> NARRATOR: Winning that group's support would continue

to be a challenge for Obama.

>> For Obama, it's one of the greatest frustrations.

You talk to white, working-class voters

or he listens to his pollsters, and they say,

"We don't know if he's authentic.

We don't know if he understands us."

For Obama, who came from a family of limited means,

who believes that he projects an authenticity

that's his greatest strength, this is a frustrating thing

and one that he'll have to solve

with white working-class voters if he's going to be

the president of the United States.

>> NARRATOR: By last June, it was finally over;

they'd made peace.

>> I pledge my support to the next president

of the United States, Barack Obama.

>> It is good to be back in Springfield!

>> NARRATOR: When it came time to choose

his Vice Presidential running mate, Obama picked a man

with working class roots, a foreign policy expert

with years of experience in Washington:

65-year-old senator Joseph Biden.

>> The next vice president, Joe Biden!


>> Obama is this agent of generational change,

and he picked a person who couldn't be

a bigger creature of Washington, Joe Biden, 36-year senator,

white-haired, you know, standing next to him.

>> I'm here for everyone I grew up with

in Scranton, Pennsylvania, who's been forgotten.

>> The most important decision

he's ever had to make in his life,

he did not take a huge gamble.

It's very much in line with the Barack Obama we know

from Chicago, from Harvard Law School

and from his days in the Senate--

someone who is, at a certain level, very cautious;

in a sort of old-fashioned sense, a conservative guy.

>> NARRATOR: John McCain spent the summer behind in the polls

and still trying to do something to motivate conservative voters.

>> John McCain is a fighter pilot in the world of politics,

who kind of lives by his instincts.

And he is not someone who it is easy to chart out a course for

and expect him to stay on it.

>> NARRATOR: McCain made a surprising and bold move.

>> Governor Sarah Palin of the great state of Alaska!


>> NARRATOR: Palin, with her pro-life, pro-gun,

social conservatism

seemed to please the party faithful.

>> My agenda was to stop wasteful spending

and cut property taxes and put the people first!

>> If he wanted to win this race, he had to take a gamble.

Sarah Palin was his gamble.

He decided that he had to shake up the race

with something that would transform the environment,

transform the dynamic,

and he thought she was his chance to do it.

>> NARRATOR: And so two very different men

are asking the American people for their vote.

>> Both of them, in their essence,

both of them in what they convey to voters--

one in a long career spanning decades;

the other in a lightning flash of a career--

both of them convey to voters

a sense of breaking with the status quo,

a sense of change,

a sense that things need to be done differently

than they've been done before.

And the question I think

a lot of voters will have to ask themselves is

"Who's actually going to deliver?"

>> NARRATOR:The Choice in 2008.

>>This report continues on our website,

where you can watch the program again online.

>> It's so clear and so different, and two great men.

>>Explore more on the candidates' character,

personality, temperament...

>> John McCain is a fighter pilot in the world of politics

who lives by his instincts.

>> Obama has got inner toughness-- a velvet glove

around the steel fist.

>>...what has shaped them, decisions they have made,

and why their nominations may indicate an historic change

in American politics;

links to in-depth stories;

and read what experts say are the leadership qualities

essential for a president to succeed.

Then, join the discussion about this program at

>>Next time on Frontline...

>> If we don't do something about global warming,

our children are going to be living

on a different planet.

>> The thought of green is nice, but when people flip the switch,

they want the lights to come on.

>> If everybody else was to live like in America,

then the planet is doomed.

>> ♪ There has got to be a way ♪

♪ Burning down the house... ♪

>>"Heat," a Frontline globalinvestigation,

next time on Frontline.

>> Frontline is made possible

by contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you.

Thank you.

With major funding

from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation,

helping to build a more just world.

And additional funding from the Park Foundation.

With additional funding for this program

from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.


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