September 7th, 2008
01:43 PM ET
10 years ago

Obama: I once considered joining military

Sen. Obama campaigned in Indiana Saturday.

Sen. Obama campaigned in Indiana Saturday.

(CNN) - Sen. Barack Obama - locked in a tight presidential race against Sen. John McCain, widely considered a war hero - said in an interview broadcast Sunday that he once considered joining the military himself.

Speaking to ABC's "This Week," Obama said, "You know, I had to sign up for Selective Service when I graduated from high school. And I was growing up in Hawaii, and I have friends whose parents were in the military. There are a lot of Army, military bases there. And I actually always thought of the military as an enobling and, you know, honorable option.

"But keep in mind - I graduated in 1979. The Vietnam War had come to an end. We weren't engaged in an active military conflict at that point. And so, it's not an option that I ever decided to pursue."

On the stump, Obama has praised McCain for his service in the Vietnam war.

The two candidates' stark differences over the Iraq war mark one of the central issues of the campaign.

The McCain camp argues that McCain's experience has prepared him to serve as commander in chief and lead the United States through the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

His running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, said in her speech at last week's Republican National Convention that while Obama and his running mate, Sen. Joe Biden, "have been going on lately about how they're always, quote, 'fighting for you,' let us face the matter squarely: There is only one man in this election who has ever really fought for you... in places where winning means survival and defeat means death."

In the "This Week" interview, Obama also expressed regret for how he handled a question about the Saddleback Civil Forum on Presidency last month.

At the time he said answering a question about when a baby gets human rights is "above my pay grade."

Asked by ABC whether that answer was "too flip," Obama answered, "Probably, yes." He added that as a Christian, "I have a lot of humility about understanding" when the soul enters into the body. "And so, all I meant to communicate was that I don't presume to be able to answer these kinds of theological questions."

"What I do know is that abortion is a moral issue, that it's one that families struggle with all the time, and that in wrestling with those issues, I don't think that the government criminalizing the choices that families make is the best answer for reducing abortions."

On a lighter note, "This Week" host George Stephanopoulos jokingly asked Obama whether he'd ever be willing to take on Palin in a game of one-on-one.

Both were avid basketball players in their school days, with Obama earning the name "Barry O'Bomber," and Palin nicknamed "Sarah Barracuda."

"You know, I would play her a game of horse. She looks like she's got some game," he said, adding, "I know she's a sharpshooter... I probably wouldn't do target practice with her. I think she'd be a better shot than me.

But on the basketball court, I think I'd stand up pretty well."

He agreed with host Stephanopoulos' suggestion that the game "would break all Nielsen records."

soundoff (129 Responses)
  1. Indus

    Really – How come he did not put that in his 2 fiction books. He would say anything to get an vote. May be he is playing the military card. I wanted to join the military before I went against it.

    September 7, 2008 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  2. Silky Terrier K

    After this weekend our only choice is Obama/Biden,Biden was excellent in explaining the differences and on CSPAN the reasons why we need an foriegn affairs expert as VP was clearly explain. THe need to choosing people that are likeable and can get only is the most important factor other than Pro Choice. The other tickets are mavericks & fighters. America does not need that now.We need to get alone with each other.

    September 7, 2008 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  3. Robin

    What convenient timing!

    September 7, 2008 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  4. Mike O

    Just one more accomplishment he 'thought' about. His actual accomplishments don't even match up well against the second slot on the other ticket.

    September 7, 2008 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  5. Jeff Brown

    The fact is, most of us who came of age after the Viet Nam war ended opted not to serve in the military. This does not mean we are less "patriotic" than our peers who did serve. Anyone who would condemn Obama for not serving in the military is wrong and a victom of buying into the Karl (The Traitor) Rove's book of lies...

    September 7, 2008 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  6. Jimi NY

    Enough already with McCain's "heroism." Okay . . . He served our country and he was a POW. But that's the past. Let it go . . . I was a drug addict and in prison, but that was in my twenties. Now I am an adult and I live a relatively successful life in my fifties. I've overcome my past by not dwelling on it. You can only use your past for so many years and then it's time to move on and look towards the future and living for today because today is all we have.
    He was a POW! He couldn't really serve the country by being incapacitated. He was a statistic. And what has Palin done other then shooting defenseless animals? These two will be the total destruction of this country if they are in the office.
    Perhaps Obama didn't serve the country in the military, but he didn't have to. We weren't at war. Instead, he prepared to serve our country in the highest office . . . President of the United States!


    September 7, 2008 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  7. Bill

    Obama would only join the military if we were at war? What!! Do you believe this? I don't. Obama will say anything for a vote. Vote for McCain/Palin

    September 7, 2008 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  8. Denny

    You know that would be great to have Palin and Obama play basketball one on one. The media keeps things so frigging intense all the time. It would be cathartic for America and Americans would love it if everyone would just lighten up a bit in this campaign, and this would probably do it. The best way to get people to work together is to get them to play together. And you know, they'd both come out winners, regardless of who actually won the game, because Americans like it when everyone comes together and works together. What a neat idea.

    September 7, 2008 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  9. Hillary Supporter

    Well Senator OBAMA now realizes that his hollywod elites are not going to help him to win this election at all. He has to portrait him as a patriotic . I still believe he made a mistake not offering HC the VP spot. We are going to lose this election because of Senator OBAMA's arrogance.

    MCCain/Palin 2008

    September 7, 2008 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  10. Unhappy Republican now for Obama

    John Kerry joined and Republicans made him out to be a traitor. Max Cleland joined and left limbs in Vietnam, but Republicans called him a traitor. Major Tammy Duckworth joined and left limbs in Iraq. Republicans called her a traitor for disagreeing with the Iraq War. Dick Cheney received five deferments because he had "other priorities". George W. Bush spent the entire Vietnam War hiding in the Texas National Guard (allegedly). This military experience canard is only important as a cheap campaign stunt.

    Most Americans (I hope) are not stupid.

    September 7, 2008 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  11. Jessica Ferry

    I'm glad Barack Obama is continuing to talk about his life and his policies. At least we know who he is, where he comes from, what he stands for, and what his policy commitments are...whether we like those things or not. By contrast, Sarah Palin has not spoken EVEN ONCE to the media without a script. When we she grant an interview. When will she tell us her positions on foreign relations. I just can't, in good conscience, vote for someone who I know NOTHING about, even though she would be knocking down a barrier that no woman yet has. I'm not really sure, that all the blood, sweat, and tears poured into womens liberation and rights for decades (nay, centuries), was done for the benefit of Sarah Palin, who cares nothing for that movement or, apparently, from what little we know, the rights and advancement of women.

    September 7, 2008 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  12. Bush/chenney for Democrats

    We were waiting for a savior to save our country we found Bush as Americans personal sevior. Now Bush as a god that kill and distroy economy will send McCain his son to finish the job. No way, No how, No McCain.

    September 7, 2008 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  13. Belle2

    Let's face it; Obama has considered every option, every political position, every nuance. He just can't decide which is more likely to get him elected President. When he figures that out, that is the option/position/nuance to which he will vow commitment.

    September 7, 2008 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  14. SG

    So now being in the military is a pre-requisite to running for the President of the US and only those in the military can claim patriotism? Being a Harvard/Yale graduate, dedicating your youth to community service and the people of America and being a Senator is just not enough and does not make you a patriot. Come on America, military service is to be honored and it a choice one makes, Being the President is more than just the Commander in Chief..... watch the deficit grow, jobs lost, people struggling to make ends meet, students making chices of whether to go to college or help their families by going to work, our inner city schools that need help....just some of the issues the Prsident will also have to address.

    September 7, 2008 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  15. outsider

    As a person who has lived in the US for half of his life, but is not a US citizen...

    I have looked on while the US has undergone several elections. If I had a say, I would have supported McCain in 2000 and Kerry in 2004.

    This election is by far the most fascinating to me... I agree with the general arguments that Obama has less experience and McCain does not differ significantly from Bush. In their VP picks, therefore, Obama went for some more experience, and McCain went for distancing himself with Bush a bit more (in addition to trying to lure in former Hillary voters). Both are understandable political moves. However, in picking Palin, I lost a lot of respect for McCain – I seriously do not see her being one step away from the presidency.

    It is not a matter of experience with Palin – arguably she has as much "experience" as Obama. What is disturbing to me is that I seriously doubt that she has had enough opportunities in her life to have thought seriously about national and international issues – immigration, economy, health care, global warming, national defense, foreign relations, etc. that a potential US president should have a firm grasp of. You can say Obama has no experience, but it is obvious that he has thought seriously about all these issues probably even way before he announced his candidacy (probably when he was pondering whether to run or not, and definitely when he was writing his book). He has also debated extensively, not only with fellow democrats, but with the press on these issues for the past year and a half. Tens of millions of voters seem to agree with his basic thoughts on these issues. The fact that we are less than two months away from the elections and Palin is not allowed to talk with the press is that much more disturbing. I don't care if she's a woman – I want to know how much she has thought about these issues seriously enough to be taken seriously.

    September 7, 2008 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  16. 8toolong

    I certainly respect the service McCain gave to our country, and the fact that he was a POW. But, what made me really lose respect for him was Palin's comments at the RNC, reffering to Obama. Here's the quote:
    "Al Qaeda terrorists still plot to inflict catastrophic harm on America ... he's worried that someone won't read them their rights?"

    September 7, 2008 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |

    Obama looks and acts like a wimp compared to Sarah...she rocks...

    September 7, 2008 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  18. Manuel TX

    Obama has a really difficult time thinking on this feet, that's why he makes so many odd comments during impromptu conversations with the press, like the "Above my pay grade", statement.

    This is also why Obama is also such a poor performer in debates. I cringe when I hear him run through 3-4 consecutive "Uhhs" before he can gather himself up to answer a question.

    Certainly he can deliver a nice performance while reading a prepared speech from a teleprompter, but that only tells me that he's pretty well packaged.

    I also can't see Obama joining the military. I think that that's an exaggeration.


    September 7, 2008 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  19. whiteboy for obama

    anyone who was tortured for years, does not have the mental capacity to lead my country, in my opinion. anyone 72 years old ,who was tortured for years, is even less capable than that,in my opinion..anyone who claims their military service makes them more patriotic than others is simply wrong. anyone who thinks republicans have a monopoly on patriotism pertaining to their military service is a liar. democrats have fought and died on the same bloody battlefields as republicans and independents. for patriotism to even be an issue in this election makes me sick to my stomach. shame on the mccain campaign.

    September 7, 2008 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  20. carlo

    Don't fret over it Obama. The two super patriots running the White House right now didn't serve in Vietnam, and they were old enough to do so. You are still very much the patriot.

    September 7, 2008 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  21. Dave

    what a bold faced liar. This guy will say absolutely anything to get elected.

    by the way, its ennobling with two n's. Do you think Obama meant ignobling? Which would mean "lowly" or "base". Probably what he really thinks.

    September 7, 2008 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  22. Errrrrr....

    In listening.....and observing very carefully to McCain

    I respect and honor McCain's service ....and sacrifice

    but the man said it himself, he loves to fight

    I believe at this stage of his life and reflecting on his actions..... his service qualifies him less as a world leader and more as an advocate for mental services for returning troops......especially P.T.S.D. (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)

    after all................stable mind, stable country, right?

    September 7, 2008 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  23. Ellen C

    Obama "once considering" joining the military is almost as lame and weak as Hilary "going down and talking to the Recuiters" who had no record of this, by the way. Oh please! Put on a uniform and stand a watch with the rest of us and stop trying to claim service where there is none!

    September 7, 2008 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  24. Tim

    A lot of Presidents did not have wartime experience. FDR got us through WWII without it. Reagan didn't have any such experience, at least not with combat. Neither have the current President and VP. And having such experience is no guarantee of success; look at the Bay of Pigs.

    September 7, 2008 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  25. Tamarra

    Why is it that people only think you can serve your country is by joining the military? I believe being a community organizer is just as important as military officers and that they both should be respected.
    He also had a great example of a military man from his grandfather who served as well. I believe that when he (Barack) fight for VA rights it is because of what he saw when the government turned its back on them.

    September 7, 2008 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
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