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CAMPBELL BROWN: NO BIAS, NO BULL
Obama Cabinet Nominee Withdraws; No Connection Between Vaccines and Autism?
Aired February 12, 2009 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, there, everyone.
President Barack Obama will be speaking while we're on the air tonight. Of course, we're going to bring it to you live as it happens.
But the last few hours, his focus has been on breaking news. The Republican senator who accepted the president's offer to take a powerful Cabinet position now says, thanks, but no thanks. He's dropping out.
Bullet point number one tonight, we're standing by to bring you President Obama live on Abraham Lincoln's 200th birthday. You're looking at a live picture right there, where he will speak tonight. But while the president is saluting Lincoln, you can't afford to spend too much time looking back.
Why? Bullet point number two, commerce secretary nominee and Republican Senator Judd Gregg pulling out, citing irreconcilable differences over the president's stimulus bill, calling his decision to say yes on the first place -- quote -- "a huge error on my part."
We're going to have a lot more on that. And as for our economy and the president's stimulus package, he's pushing Congress to get it to his desk now, vowing it will save and create jobs.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Once Congress passes this plan and I sign it into law, a new wave of innovation, activity and construction will be unleashed all across America.
Here in America, even in our darkest moments, we've held fast to a vision of a better future. We've been willing to work for it and struggle for it and sacrifice for it. That's how it's going to be again.
I have the fullest confidence that, if we think boldly and we act quickly and fully devote ourselves to the work at hand, than out of this ordeal will come a better day and a brighter future for our children and our grandchildren.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: Again, more from the president coming up later in the show with a live speech. But bullet point number three tonight: We're going to talk about a very important story, after emotional arguments, a court decision that touches every family. The court found there is no connection between autism and vaccines.
Tonight, a NO BIAS, NO BULL look at the realities. And that's where we're going to start tonight.
The ruling has so many parents' attention. A special court says the evidence in three cases shows no link between autism and the childhood vaccines for measles, mumps, and rubella. The panel also says its ruling is backed by years of science.
So, we're breaking this down tonight.
Our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, with us, and senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen also joining me from Atlanta.
Sanjay, most people have never heard of this court. How significant is today's decision?
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think it's very significant.
We're talking about three test cases that were to be emblematic of so many other thousands of cases waiting to be heard in this special court, a vaccine court, as it's called colloquially.
You have these special masters, who are legal people, not medical people, who sift through all this evidence, and they have been doing it for years, trying to come to some sort of decision on these test cases. Now, some of the cases were filed a couple of years ago. And they were literally -- the decisions were hundreds of pages thick.
I read through them today. And, as you mentioned, in all three cases, looking at the possible connections between MMR vaccine, as well as thimerosal-containing vaccine -- that's a mercury preservative that a lot of people talked about -- they found no connection.
Now, one thing I think is sort of interesting with these cases, Campbell, is that the standard was that they had to prove -- the petitioners had to prove that there was some sort of biological plausibility.
Was it possible in any way that these vaccines could be linked to autism? And, in this case, the people who were the special masters said it wasn't even biologically plausible, let alone cause and effect, which is much a higher standard. So, I think it was a significant ruling and a lot of people are going to be paying attention to this.
BROWN: Elizabeth, you have been looking into the idea of where the idea of an autism-vaccine link came from.
ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Campbell.
It all started with a man in England named Dr. Andrew Wakefield. And that name is probably pretty unfamiliar to most people. But, boy, has he had a big impact.
In 1998, he published a study in a very prestigious journal called "The Lancet" saying that 12 children with developmental disabilities, he linked to disabilities to the MMR, the measles, mumps, rubella, vaccine.
Fast-forward six years later, vaccine rates in England plummeted, and "The Sunday Times of London" said, hey, wait a minute. Dr. Wakefield received money from lawyers who were trying to sue pharmaceutical companies that make vaccines. They say that this isn't -- this just isn't right.
Dr. Wakefield still stands by his research and he says there was no financial incentive for what he did. But he had a huge impact.
BROWN: Elizabeth, this one study is what started all the hysteria about it?
COHEN: It did in many ways. It was small. Not a lot of people knew about it in the beginning.
But it sort of had this snowball effect. If you read on the mommy blogs, people still to this day sort of will kind of quote from him and will say what he had to say.
And take a listen to this. We're going to have on here in a minute a clip from "LARRY KING LIVE" from last year actress Jenny McCarthy, whose son has autism. She got into a vehement debate with some of the nation's leading pediatricians. And much of what she said people would say is very influenced by Dr. Wakefield.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "LARRY KING LIVE")
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But the financial amount that we invest in this...
JENNY MCCARTHY, ACTRESS: But the increase is ridiculous, you guys. Look it, it's plain and simple. It's (EXPLETIVE DELETED)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, it's not.
MCCARTHY: Yes, it is, too many shots too soon.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But do you have -- do you know who have been hospitalized with influenza?
MCCARTHY: My son died in front of me due to a vaccine injury.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COHEN: Now, we want to be clear, Jenny McCarthy's son did not die. He does have autism. But there are many people who feel the way Jenny McCarthy does, that their children have autism because of vaccines.
BROWN: And, Sanjay, let me go back to you and just have you bottom-line this.
What does this mean for everybody out there who is still concerned about the possibility of a link?
GUPTA: Well, you have very passionate views on both sides of this.
I don't think that's going to change, frankly, Campbell. I have been following this story for years now. And I think that is going to continue.
But I think for the thousands of people who were sort of waiting for these decisions, thousands of people who are still waiting to be heard by this vaccine court, this is going to be a significant blow.
The American Academy of Pediatrics, just about every other scientific organization, recommends getting your children vaccinated and getting them vaccinated on schedule, on time, as a second point.
So, their advise is going to stay the same. The people who are concerned about the link, their concerns are probably going to remain. I have two daughters. I have a third daughter on the way. I got my kids vaccinated on time.
But you sort of do understand some of the concerns, some of the worries of a lot of parents out there. So, I think this issue stays alive for a little bit longer -- Campbell.
BROWN: Sanjay and Elizabeth, thanks very much to both of you. Appreciate it.
As for me, I'm among those who wish this would end the debate over the real cause of autism. We're going to be "Cutting Through the Bull" on that next.
And then later:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Clearly, Judd and I don't agree on every issue, most notably, who should have won the election.
(END VIDEO CLIP) BROWN: First, Republican Senator Judd Gregg said yes and accepted the president's offer to be his commerce secretary. Well, now, nine days later, he changes his mind and he says no. What is really going on here? We have been working the phones. We're going to have some answers for you coming up.
And we're just minutes away from President Obama's speech in Springfield, Illinois, honoring Abraham Lincoln, who was born 200 years ago today. The president just entered the room there. You can see him live shaking hands, working the Romney.
We're going to bring you that speech live in its entirety just moments from now.
BROWN: Take a look right now. We want to show you this picture., Barack Obama in Springfield, Illinois. We're waiting to hear him speak on the birthday of Abraham Lincoln. We are going to bring you that live as soon as his remarks begin.
Now tonight's "Cutting Through The Bull."
And what I'm about to say, I know, is controversial. I know there are a lot of people who are going to disagree with me. But, as a mother with a second child on the way, I believe this is vital to the safety of all our children and must be said.
The verdict is in. There is no connection between vaccines and autism. And it is time that all of us get our children vaccinated. In 2008, the U.S. had the highest measles rate in 10 years. An increasing number of parents have been refusing to vaccinate their children against measles because of this fear of a connection. It's not grounded in science.
There's no evidence to support it. Major medical groups and government research are unanimous. The measles vaccine is safe. And you must get your children vaccinated, because, if you don't, you're endangering my children, you're endangering your neighbor's children. You're endangering all of our children.
A baby needs to be 12 months to get the measles vaccine. That means that infants are protected from the measles only because everyone they come in contact with, we hope, has already been vaccinated. Infants hide in the herd of other vaccinated people.
As adults increasingly refuse to vaccinate their children, we will continue to see a rise in measles outbreaks. This is serious stuff. Measles can be deadly. I do feel for the parents of autistic children. I can't even imagine the pain and the frustration they must feel, the desperation to find a cause for your child's illness.
But, parents, please don't endanger all of our children based on a myth. Medical science has proven there's no link. Let's all move on together and focus on finding the real cause of autism, and, at the same time, protect all of our children from deadly diseases, like measles, that we know how to prevent.
I'm sure many of you are passionate about this. So, please e- mail me. Send us your I-Reports and let's continue the conversation.
Coming up next, the inside story, why another one of President Obama's Cabinet nominees, a Republican this time, dropped out. First, he said yes. Then, more than a week later, he changed his mind and said no. We have just gotten in tape of the president himself, I understand, talking about it. And as we wait for the president's speech honoring Abraham Lincoln, we will show you the ripple effect that the bad economy having in Lincoln's home state of Illinois.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Do you have anything to celebrate today?
RANDY JACKSON, FORMER ILLINOIS STATE EMPLOYEE: Oh, yes. I'm a blessed man.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: Getting back in the saddle, battling the economy with a great attitude and some ingenuity.
Plus, the octuplet mom has received worldwide attention, but some of it is turning ugly -- why police are now getting involved.
BROWN: We're waiting to take you to President Obama's speech in Springfield, Illinois, where he will talk about the legacy of Abraham Lincoln.
But first to the breaking news, Judd Gregg, the Republican senator who President Obama picked for commerce secretary, suddenly saying he doesn't want the job anymore. Big surprise.
Listen to what the president said just a little while ago. This was on the plane to Springfield -- new tape just into CNN.
Take a look.
OBAMA: On the -- on the issue of Judd, I think Judd's a good man. And I think that he sincerely wanted to work with us.
I think he had a change of heart about the idea of leaving the Senate. You have heard his interview. I continue to think that he's somebody that we're going to work with together on issues like fiscal responsibility, the fiscal summit that is coming up.
And the one thing I want to make sure of is, people don't take from this the notion that we can't get Democrats and Republicans working together. I'm going to keep on working at this.
And, eventually, we're going to break down some of these barriers, because the American people need it. They are desperate for us to find common ground. And I actually think more exists than it appears right now. But it's just taking some time to break down the bad habits. I'm going to keep on at it.
QUESTION: ... is a possibility, sir? What do you see that maybe we don't?
OBAMA: I'm an eternal optimist, but also because, well, in conversations -- I think Judd didn't share private conversations. And I don't want to violate that either.
But I can tell you that, generally speaking, Judd Gregg and I probably agree on 80 percent of the things that matter to the American people. There's 20 percent that we disagree on. I have always felt that we can find areas to work on that we share, and then have a vigorous, heated debate on some of the things that we don't. And I think we're going to get there.
QUESTION: Did he call you and tell you he was dropping out?
OBAMA: Well, we had had a discussion over the last couple of days. I wasn't sure whether he had made a final decision or not.
But, clearly, you know, I think he was just having second thoughts about leaving the Senate, a place where he's thrived and been there for a long time. And, you know, I think the one thing that I give him credit for is having searched his heart before he took on the job, because, obviously, you don't want somebody having a change of heart after they have already been confirmed and they're in the process of building a team.
QUESTION: Mr. President, when did realize that he had made a final decision?
QUESTION: ... you disappointed?
OBAMA: Well, you know, as I said, I think that he is -- I think Judd is a good man. And I'm looking forward to working with him on some of the daunting budget challenges that we face.
He's one of the foremost budget experts. That's part of the reasons why I thought it was going to be really productive to have him as part of our economic team, because those are going to be some really tough nuts to crack, trying to figure out how to bend the deficit curve down after we get through this economic recovery. And, so, I'm optimistic that we're going to be able to still work together. I have got to get my commerce secretary, though.
QUESTION: Mr. President, a setback for you or a setback for the country?
OBAMA: No, I -- I mean, look, this kind of thing happens all the time. People change their minds.
It's just, usually, there aren't a lot of reporters around when it happens.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: New sound from President Obama on Air Force One.
Now, with another nominee out, still plenty of lingering questions here about what really happened.
And national political correspondent Jessica Yellin has been working her sources on this all evening for us.
So, Jessica, what's the real story here?
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, Campbell, inside the White House tonight, there's a real sense of irritation over this.
One angry Democrat close to the process told me that they feel like Gregg's decision to withdraw was erratic. I mean, Gregg says he changed his mind when he realized the president's politics were too different from his own and he just couldn't compromise.
But White House folks are privately wondering, well, what did he expect? Gregg knew that he was joining a Democratic administration. It must have occurred to him that he would be expected to carry out President Obama's agenda.
Now, in a statement, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs made it clear that the White House had no reason to believe Gregg was uncomfortable with the role that he had accepted in the administration. The statement says Gregg was very clear throughout the interviewing process that, despite past disagreements about policies, he would support and embrace and move forward with the president's agenda.
In other words, what changed? Now, as you can see, the president was much more conciliatory just now, but one top Democrat tells me, look, the guy just got cold feet. Better now than later.
BROWN: And, Jessica, Republicans really haven't been willing to play ball with President Obama. He sort of talked about that a second ago. Was that a factor at all in Gregg's decision, do you think? YELLIN: Absolutely, yes.
There was enormous decision on Senator Gregg to reconsider. Look, 10 days ago, when he signed on, that was before the Republicans revolted against Obama's stimulus. There was still reason to believe, at that time, that bipartisanship might rule in the new Washington.
But, then, as the stimulus fight developed, it became clear that Gregg really would be joining a rival team. And that became difficult for him. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JUDD GREGG (R), NEW HAMPSHIRE: The bottom line is, this was simply a bridge too far for me. The president asked me to do it. I said yes. That was my mistake, not his.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
YELLIN: So, there were two big issues for him.
One, he's a fiscal conservative and was upset about the price tag on the stimulus deal. He didn't even vote on it, which made White House aides very unhappy.
But the other big issue was the census. It might sound minor, but the White House planned to take oversight of that out of the Commerce Department. And the Census helps determine congressional districts, which party has power.
And Republicans started to howl about this, saying it's a pure power grab by the White House. They put enormous pressure on Gregg to fight this. And, tonight, Republicans are saying that Gregg's withdrawal is a real blunder by the White House. They're working this for all it's worth -- Campbell.
BROWN: Jessica Yellin with the inside scoop for us -- Jessica, thanks.
Again, we're going to take you to Springfield the minute the president starts speaking. That should be in just a few minutes. You can see the event there getting under way.
But, coming up, a man who's made his living honoring Lincoln sees his job disappear. It's part of the ripple effect in this economy. But you're going to love this guy's attitude.
Also ahead, the eerie similarities between Barack Obama and Abraham Lincoln.
And, then, later, swimming superstar Michael Phelps may beat the rap, but we will tell you who else was not so lucky. The latest on the Olympic star's marijuana scandal.
BROWN: You're looking right there at a live picture. This is in Springfield, Illinois, where President Obama is about to speak.
He's going to talk about the legacy of Abraham Lincoln. We're going to be taking you to that speech live as soon as it begins in just a few minutes. So, sit tight. Stay with us.
First, though, earlier today, the president pitched his economic plan at a Caterpillar construction equipment plant in Peoria. Caterpillar recently announced thousands of layoffs.
Here's what the president told the workers.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: And it's about the ripple effects across this community, from restaurants with fewer customers because folks can't afford to eat out anymore, to shops that can't sell their goods because people can't afford to buy them, to the companies that do business with Caterpillar but now find themselves cutting back because Caterpillar's cutting back.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: Now, we have been focusing on this ripple effect across the country.
And, tonight, our series takes us just east of that Caterpillar plant to Lerna, Illinois.
David Mattingly has the story for us. And he's live at the Lincoln Library in Springfield for us tonight -- David.
DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Campbell, at a time when the president and the country are celebrating all things Lincoln, we're finding, a popular Lincoln historic site has become the center of a very unexpected ripple effect.
JACKSON: This is Abel (ph).
MATTINGLY (voice-over): It's part of the job. Every year, Randy Jackson celebrates Lincoln's birthday by dressing up as an officer in the Union Army. For 27 years, he's made his living honoring Lincoln, but not anymore.
(on camera): How would you describe your economic situation right now?
JACKSON: Dire. Unexpected.
MATTINGLY (voice-over): Jackson worked for the state, a kind of curator, at Illinois's Lincoln Log Cabin State Park.
But two-and-a-half years short of his retirement, budget cuts forced park closings and layoffs. In the land of Lincoln, Jackson and his wife thought his job was recession-proof. JOYCE JACKSON, WIFE OF RANDY JACKSON: I think that was my biggest shock, is that they would actually close the Lincoln site here in Illinois.
MATTINGLY (on camera): It's locked.
(voice-over): I went to visit where Jackson used to work, only to find buildings padlocked, the park empty.
But the economic effects of declining state revenues don't stop here. In fact, these rustic displays mark the quiet beginning of a ripple effect.
(on camera): Because, when the park is closed and Randy Jackson is out of a job, then the 200,000 visitors who come here every year will probably go somewhere else, and take their money with them.
Does stuff like this sell pretty good around here?
RHONDA ADAIR, ANTIQUE SHOP OWNER: Well, sure, yes.
MATTINGLY (voice-over): At Copper Eagle Antiques in nearby Charleston, this collection of Lincoln pennies costs $35. And owner Rhonda Adair is concerned about how the closing of the park will effect business.
ADAIR: A lot of times, they're directed down here, and they're looking for some Lincoln memorabilia when they come in here.
MATTINGLY: Down the street, at What's Cookin', the restaurant used to cook dozens of meals for special events at the Log Cabin Park. Manager Dwayne Lovell (ph) tells me they will have to regroup if the summer tourist season is weak.
(on camera): And that strategy might be getting by with fewer people?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Correct.
R. JACKSON: Hey (INAUDIBLE) out, out.
MATTINGLY (voice-over): Fewer people, fewer jobs.
Randy Jackson has a few suggestions on coping, like they did in the 1800s. Jackson says, cut back everything you can. Then don't be afraid to accept the kindness of those close to you.
(on camera): Do you feel like you have anything to celebrate today?
R. JACKSON: Oh, yes. I'm a blessed man.
MATTINGLY (voice-over): Jackson now rides his horse everywhere he can. He's gone weeks without buying gasoline. I followed him to the bank where he goes to check on the arrival of his unemployment check.
MATTINGLY (on camera): Well, was the check in?
R. JACKSON: Yes, it is. It's in the bank, so I can go pay some bills now.
MATTINGLY: What are you going to pay with it?
R. JACKSON: Well, first, I owe money to Verizon Wireless.
MATTINGLY (voice-over): That only leaves the utilities and the mortgage and the food to worry this month, along with where and how to find a job.
MATTINGLY: Jackson actually got called back to work for two days this week because of birthday celebrations for Lincoln, Campbell, but that was only for two days. He's now going back next week to the unemployment line.
BROWN: All right, David Mattingly for us tonight -- David, thanks very much.
BROWN: As we said, we are set to bring you President Obama. You're looking at a live picture there, where he's about to speak from the land of Lincoln, on this 200th birthday of the American leader who saved the Union.
We're going to take a very quick break. We will be right back with the president's speech. Stay with us.
BROWN: We are keeping this eye -- our eye, rather, on this picture. This is in Springfield, Illinois. The president about to go to the microphone to begin his speech. Here he goes.
That was Senator Dick Durbin just introducing him, the senator from Illinois. He's going to talk about the legacy of Abraham Lincoln. Obviously, he has drawn many parallels between the two of them. Let's listen right now to President Barack Obama.
OBAMA: Thank you so much. Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you very much.
Please, everybody, have a seat. Thank you. Thank you very much.
Well, it is wonderful to be back in Springfield, and I see so many familiar faces. To Mr. Hart, to Marilyn, to my secretary of transportation, Ray LaHood.
To two of the finest governors that we've had in the past, Jim Thompson and Jim Edgar. To Laura Lynn Ryan (ph) and to our new governor who is going to be doing outstanding work for us in the future, Pat Quinn.
To Reverend McCants and to my dear friend Loretta Durbin, I do feel guilty because Dick was the one who brought this event to my attention. I'm here and he's there.
But part of the reason that Dick Durbin has been such a great friend, not just to me, but to the people of Illinois, is because his work always comes first and he has been unbelievable in providing leadership in the Senate through thick and through thin. I'm very, very grateful to him. He is one of my greatest friends, and I would not be standing here if it were not for Dick Durbin. So please give Dick Durbin a big round of applause.
So it is wonderful to be back in Springfield, the city where I got my start in elective office, where I served for nearly a decade. I see some of my colleagues, your attorney general, Lisa Madigan, in the house. You've got some constitutional officers there.
I think that's Alexi (ph). Your treasurer, who is going to be playing basketball with me at some point, Dan Hines, comptroller and just an incredible supporter during this past race. And your new Senate president, John Cullerton, one of the sharpest legislators that we've ever had.
Is the speaker around? He's over there. Mr. Speaker, it's good to see you. Thank you.
So I've got a lot of friends here. I've got to stop there. Otherwise, I'm going to be using up all my time.
I served here for nearly a decade. And as has already been mentioned, this is where I launched my candidacy for president two years ago this week on the steps --
On the steps of the old state capital where Abraham Lincoln served and prepared for the presidency. It was here, nearly 150 years ago, that the man whose life we are celebrating today, we have been celebrating all week, bid farewell to the city that he had come to call his own. And has already been mentioned on a platform at a train station not far from where we're gathered, Lincoln turned to the crowd that had come to see him off and said, "To this place and the kindness of these people I owe everything." And being here tonight, surrounded by all of you, I share his sentiment.
And looking out at this room full of so many who did so much for me, I'm also reminded of what Lincoln once said, "To a favor-seeker who claimed it was his efforts that made the difference in the election." Lincoln asked him, so you think you made me president? Yes, the man replied. Under providence, I think I did. Well, said Lincoln, "It's a pretty mess you've gotten me into, but I forgive you.
Whoever of you think you're responsible for this, we're taking names.
It's a humbling task, marking the bicentennial of our 16th president's birthday. Humbling for me in particular because it's fair to say that the presidency of this singular figure who we celebrate in so many ways made my own story possible.
Here in Springfield, it's easier, though, to reflect on Lincoln the man, rather than the marble giant. Before Gettysburg, before Antietam, before Fredericksburg and Bull Run, before emancipation was proclaimed and the captives were set free, in 1854, Lincoln was simply a Springfield lawyer who served just a single term in Congress. Possibly in his law office, his feet on a cluttered desk, his sons playing around him, his clothes a bit too small to fit his uncommon frame. Maybe wondering if somebody might call him up and ask him to be commerce secretary.
(LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE)
He put some thoughts on paper, and for what purpose, we do not know. "The legitimate object of government," he wrote, 'is to do for the people what needs to be done, but which they cannot." By individual effort, do it all, or do so well by themselves. To do for the people what needs to be done but which they cannot do on their own. It's a simple statement, but it answers a central question of Abraham Lincoln's life.
Why did he land on the side of union? What was it that made him so unrelenting in pursuit of victory that he was willing to test the constitution he ultimately preserved? What was it that led this man to give his last full measure of devotion so that our nation might endure?
These are not easy questions to answer. And I cannot know if I'm right, but I suspect that his devotion to the idea of union came not from a belief that government always had the answer. It came not from a failure to understand our individual rights and responsibilities.
This rugged rail splitter born in a log cabin of pioneer stock, who cleared a path through the woods as a boy, who lost a mother and a sister to the rigors of frontier life, who thought himself all that he knew and everything that he had was because of his hard work.
This man, our first Republican president, knew better than anybody what it meant to pull yourself up by your boot straps. He understood that strain of personal liberty and self reliance, that fierce independence at the heart of the American experience. But he also understood something else.
He recognized that while each of us must do our part, work as hard as we can, be as responsible as we can, although we are responsible for our own fates, in the end, there are certain things we cannot do on our own. There are certain things we can only do together. There are certain things only a union can do.
Only a union could harness the courage of our pioneers to settle the American west, which is why Lincoln passed the Homestead Act, giving a tract of land to anyone seeking a stake in our growing economy. Only a union could foster the ingenuity of our farmers (ph), the ingenuity of our farmers, which is why he set up land grant colleges that taught them how to make the most of their land while giving their children an education to let them dream the American dream.
Only a union could speed our expansion and connect our coast with the transcontinental railroad and so even in the midst of civil war, Lincoln built one. He fueled new enterprises with the national currency, spurred innovation and ignited America's imagination with the National Academy of Sciences believing we must, as he put it, add the fuel of interest to the fire of genius in the discovery of new and useful things.
And on this day that is also the bicentennial of Charles Darwin's birth, it's worth a moment to pause and renew that commitment to science and innovation and discovery that Lincoln understood so well. Only a union could serve the hopes of every citizen, to knock down the barriers to opportunity and give each and every person the chance to pursue the American dream.
Lincoln understood what Washington understood when he led farmers and craftsmen and shopkeepers to rise up against an empire. What Roosevelt understood when he lifted us from depression, built an arsenal of democracy, created the largest middle class in history with the G.I. bill. It's what Kennedy understood when he sent us to the moon.
All these presidents recognize that America is and always has been more than a band of 13 colonies, or 50 states, more than a bunch of Yankees and confederates, more than a collection of red states and blue states, that we are the United States.
There isn't any dream beyond our reach --
There is no dream beyond our reach and obstacle that can stand in our way when we recognize that our individual liberty is served, not negated, by a recognition of the common good. That is the spirit we are called to show once more.
The challenges we face are very different now. Two wars, an economic crisis unlike any we've seen in our lifetime. Jobs have been lost, pensions are gone, families' dreams have been in danger. Health care costs are exploding. Schools are falling short.
We have an energy crisis that's hampering our economy and threatening our planet and enriching our adversaries. And yet while our challenges may be new, it did not come about overnight. Ultimately, they result from a failure to meet the test that Lincoln set.
I understand there have been times in our history when our government has misjudged what we can do by individual effort alone and what we can only do together when we didn't draw the line as effectively as we should have, when government has done things that people can and should do for themselves. Our welfare system before reform, too often dampened individual initiative, discouraging people from taking responsibility for their own upward mobility.
In education, sometimes we've lost sight of the role of parents rather than government in cultivating a thirst for knowledge and instilling those qualities of good character, hard work and discipline and integrity that is so important to educational achievement and professional success.
But in recent years, we've seen the pendulum swing too far in the opposite direction. What's dominated is a philosophy that says every problem can be solved if only government would step out of the way. That if government were just dismantled and divvied up into tax breaks, that it would somehow benefit us all.
Such knee jerk distain for government, this constant rejection of any common endeavor can not rebuild our levies or our roads or our bridges. It can't refurbish our schools or modernize our health care system. It can't lead to the next medical discovery or yield the research and technology that will spark a clean energy economy. Only a nation can do those things.
Only by coming together, all of us, in union, and expressing that sense of shared sacrifice and responsibility for ourselves, yes, but also for one another, can we do the work that must be done in this country.
That is -- that is part of the definition of being American. It's only by rebuilding our economy and fostering the conditions of growth that willing workers can find a job and companies can find capital, and the entrepreneurial spirit that is the key to our competitiveness can flourish. It's only by unleashing the potential of alternative fuels that will lower our energy bills and raise our industry sites, make our nation safer and our planet cleaner. It's only by remaking our schools for the 21st century that our children will get those good jobs so they can make of their lives what they will. It's only by coming together to do what people need done that we will, in Lincoln's words, lift artificial weights from all shoulders, give an unfettered start and a fair chance in the race of life.
That's all people are looking for, a fair chance in the race of life. That's what's required of us now and in the years ahead. We will be remembered for what we choose to make of this moment.
And when posterity looks back on our time as we are looking back on Lincoln's, I don't want it said that we saw an economic crisis, but we did not stem it. That we saw our schools decline and our bridges crumble, but we did not rebuild them. That the world changed in the 21st century, but America did not lead it. That we were consumed with small things, petty things, when we were called to do great things.
Instead, let them say that this generation, our generation of Americans, rose to the moment and gave America a new birth of freedom and opportunity in our time. These are trying days and they will grow tougher in the months to come.
And there will be moments when our doubts rise and our hopes recede. But let's always remember that we as a people have been here before.
There were times when our revolution itself seemed all together improbable when the union was all but lost, when fascism seemed set to prevail around the world. And yet what earlier generations discovered, and what we must rediscover right now, is that it is precisely when we are in the deepest valley, when the climb is steepest, that Americans relearn how to take the mountaintop together, as one nation, as one people.
As one nation, as one people -- that's how we will beat back our present dangers. That is how we will surpass what trials may come. That's how we will do what Lincoln called on us all to do. And nobly save the last best hope on earth.
That's what this is -- the last best hope on earth. Lincoln has passed that legacy on to us. It is now our responsibility to pass it on to the next generation.
Thank you. God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America.
BROWN: That was President Obama speaking to the 102nd Abraham Lincoln Association Annual Banquet in Springfield, Illinois. We're going to take a quick break. I'll be back to talk about the speech with the best political team on television. Stay with us.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BROWN: Now, let's go from Lincoln to Obama with the best political team on television. With me tonight, CNN senior political analyst Gloria Borger, Republican strategist Kevin Madden, and CNN political analyst Roland Martin, who's in Los Angeles tonight to receive an NAACP image award. Congratulations there, Roland.
ROLAND MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, thanks so much. My Michelle Obama interview on TV won(sp). So, real good.
BROWN: Oh, wow. That's great. That's great.
MARTIN: And I won last year, so back-to-back.
BROWN: You wouldn't share it. Roland, I love it. OK.
Let me start with you, Roland, and just get your take. I know you've been following Obama for a long time, and the comparisons, the parallels that he often draws between himself and Lincoln. And you heard in the speech, you know, comparing the country torn asunder then to what's happening in our country now. Do you think that's a fair comparison?
MARTIN: Well, I think there are some comparisons that are fair in terms of when you talk about this whole notion of red states and blue states. I mean, look, Lincoln's whole focus even when it came to freeing slaves was about saving the union. He often said if he could save the union without freeing slaves, he would. If he could save the union by freeing slaves, he would. His whole focus was saving the union.
I still think that a civil war is a far different times than what we are in now. And so I can't necessarily make the comparison that much between Lincoln and Obama because the stakes and the times are far different.
BROWN: Is it about symbolism, Gloria, or does he see lessons in terms of how to govern?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it's about symbolism. It's about bringing the country together in the way that Lincoln spoke of the union.
You hear President Obama talking about bringing the country together and what we can do as a country if we come together. It also doesn't hurt that he likes to remind people that Abraham Lincoln was a man with little experience who became a great president.
BROWN: And Kevin, what did you think?
KEVIN MADDEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, look, I think that President Obama is just trying to save the local credit union right now. He's got a whole different set of challenges in front of him. But look, Presidents always have the urge to look back into that historical mirror and try and see where it is -- essentially try and gain comfort from what they've learned from previous presidencies. And I think that, you know, the comparisons right now are still between President Obama and President Lincoln are somewhat superficial, and instead that, I think even historians would ask any president to guard against, you know, using historical templates to guide their presidencies. And instead, I think President Obama has a very unique set of challenges right now that are far different from what President Lincoln faced.
BROWN: And in the context of that, let's talk about today's challenges too.
I mean, Gloria, I got to ask you about this Judd Gregg thing. A Republican, he basically volunteered for commerce secretary and then he drops out and says he can't work with this president. What are we supposed to make of all that?
BORGER: I call him the runaway bride, Campbell.
He decided he couldn't just go to the altar at the very last minute. Look, this was a political decision that was made at the White House.
Judd Gregg was very interested in this job. And some folks in the White House thought, gee, this would be a great short-term tactic. We want another Republican in the White House. That would be great for us. But as a long-term strategy, it turned out to be a complete failure.
Why? Because they don't agree on much. The White House didn't trust him particularly to deal with the census. And he couldn't even vote for the president's stimulus package. And in the end, I think Judd Gregg discovered he wasn't going to really run the Commerce Department. President Obama's people were going to end up running the Commerce Department and he couldn't live with that.
BROWN: Was there arm twisting going on, too, Kevin? I mean, were Republicans out there saying what are you doing?
MADDEN: No, I think Gloria is absolutely right. I think her reporting, and she's been talking about this all through the day, that at the end of the day, Judd Gregg just had a little bit of cold feet here. I think that he ultimately could not reconcile his rather very conservative fiscal principles with this president's agenda. And it's better that he did it now both for Judd Gregg and for President Obama than to do it later when it was too late.
BROWN: Well, Roland, it would have been better if he had done it before he hadn't accepted, right?
BORGER: Exactly. Exactly.
MARTIN: Of course. Can we stop dancing around this? Why did he want the job in the first place? He knew exactly what Obama's views were when it came to the economy. He knew exactly what his views when it came to the census.
Here's the reality, Campbell. You have Democrats who did not like the fact that you have a Republican who will be over the census in 2010, knowing full well their views on. And you have Republicans who are saying look, we need your strong voice when it comes to the Senate. And so we can dance around this about, well, he got cold feet and the ideological.
The fact of the matter is Obama was under lots of pressure from his own party. Look, Congresswoman Barbara Lee, Congressional Black Caucus, sent a blistering e-mail last week going against Gregg because they were concerned about him over the census.
BORGER: But I know why -- I know why Judd Gregg wanted this job. He wanted this job because it's not a lot of fun to be a Republican in the Senate these days. And he thought, gee, being a member of this cabinet would probably be a better job for him.
MADDEN: And look, there is a lot of tokenism, a lot of pageantry with all the talk about bipartisanship. At the end of the day, you know, I don't think that Senator Gregg, like Gloria said, was going to have a lot of impact over some economic policies. So it had much more to do with a clash of the way the role was going to be defined.
BROWN: All right, guys. Ending it there.
No, OK, Roland. I know it.
MARTIN: No --
BROWN: Go ahead, if you got one more.
MARTIN: I don't think the Obama folks need to go in, appoint Democrats, people who believe in ideology, and stop playing footsy when it comes to Republicans. Move on, go with your party. You won, now govern.
MADDEN: What about bipartisanship?
BORGER: I think they're going to do this.
BROWN: I know. Come on, Roland. What does he believe in all this?
MADDEN: This is a different Roland that I remember from last week.
MARTIN: No, no, no. Kevin, Kevin, nonsense. No, no, Kevin. It's all the same.
When Republicans are in control, they always say bipartisanship but we run the show and Democrats complain about it.
MARTIN: When Democrats are in control, Republican complain. We're on a D.C. game.
BROWN: All right, guys. We're out of time. We're out of time. We got to go.
Gloria Borger, Kevin Madden, Roland Martin, thanks a lot. Appreciate it guys. Thanks for sticking around.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thanks so much.
BROWN: We'll be right back right after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RIA BAGGA, 3RD GRADER, STONY BROOK ELEMENTARY: Dear President Obama, congratulations. You are our 44th president.
When you were a candidate, you always had my vote. Since citizens are losing jobs, I think you should help people all over the U.S. to get their jobs back. I also want the troops to come home from war. They have been fighting for a long time.
Good luck being the president, and come by and visit Stony Brook any time. I would be so happy to meet you. Sincerely, Ria.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: Ria Bagga of Rock Way, New Jersey, had plenty to say there to the president. Yes, Ria, the White House does have a swimming pool.
That's going to have to do it for us tonight. We will see you tomorrow.
"LARRY KING LIVE" starts right now.