now on sale at a bookstore near you
The New York Times Magazine published this interview of Barack Obama on October 12, 2010. Entitled The Education of a President, Peter Baker speaks with the President, whose first chapter of his Presidency has ended. He and Obama take an afternoon to reflect on the first two years, and wander into the plans for the next two.
It’s long, very long; I’m very glad that it wasn’t a video interview, so it may not get much attention. Some of the portions could be pasted into campaign ads for the opposition with not much doctoring; some will undoubtedly floor his supporters. Or not. I add a few comments in green italics along the way.
"During our hour together, Obama told me he had no regrets about the broad direction of his presidency. But he did identify what he called “tactical lessons.” He let himself look too much like “the same old tax-and-spend liberal Democrat.” He realized too late that “there’s no such thing as shovel-ready projects” when it comes to public works. Perhaps he should not have proposed tax breaks as part of his stimulus and instead “let the Republicans insist on the tax cuts” so it could be seen as a bipartisan compromise."
I absolutely agree; not doing their homework on projects caused not only spending delays, but also caused much of the money to go to large construction companies, likely with cost overruns built into the contracts. No ‘perhaps’ about his ceding so many tax breaks to the Republicans up front; he seems not to have learned anything yet about the art of negotiation.
"The friendly fire may bother him even more. “Democrats just congenitally tend to see the glass as half empty,” Obama said at a fund-raiser in Greenwich, Conn., last month. “If we get an historic health care bill passed — oh, well, the public option wasn’t there. If you get the financial reform bill passed — then, well, I don’t know about this particular derivatives rule, I’m not sure that I’m satisfied with that. And, gosh, we haven’t yet brought about world peace. I thought that was going to happen quicker.”
Oh, those damned dissatisfied Democrats; nothing ever pleases them; what do they want, more effective, non-mandated private insurance, and real financial reform? Don’t they realize I had to give in to the lobbies up front? Think of the lobbyist pressure that would have come! They’d withhold campaign contributions! If it weren't for the Democrats...
"Then again, it is Obama himself, and not just his supporters, who casts his presidency in grandiose terms. As he pleaded with Democrats for patience at another fund-raiser in Washington two weeks later: “It took time to free the slaves. It took time for women to get the vote. It took time for workers to get the right to organize.”
Whining while self-aggrandizing; bad form.
"As we talked in the Oval Office, Obama acknowledged that the succession of so many costly initiatives, necessary as they may have been, wore on the public. “That accumulation of numbers on the TV screen night in and night out in those first six months I think deeply and legitimately troubled people,” he told me. “They started feeling like: Gosh, here we are tightening our belts, we’re cutting out restaurants, we’re cutting out our gym membership, in some cases we’re not buying new clothes for the kids. And here we’ve got these folks in Washington who just seem to be printing money and spending it like nobody’s business."
“And it reinforced the narrative that the Republicans wanted to promote anyway, which was Obama is not a different kind of Democrat — he’s the same old tax-and-spend liberal Democrat.”
I’m sure the Democrats running right now thank you for putting that image into the minds of voters as they’re preparing to vote for more “tax and spend Democrats”. Or not.
"It would be bad form for the president to anticipate an election result before it happens, but clearly Obama hopes that just as Clinton recovered from his party’s midterm shellacking in 1994 to win re-election two years later, so can he. There was something odd in hearing Obama invoke Clinton. Two years ago, Obama scorned the 42nd president, deriding the small-ball politics and triangulation maneuvers and comparing him unfavorably with Ronald Reagan. Running against Clinton’s wife, Obama was the anti-Clinton. Now he hopes, in a way, to be the second coming of Bill Clinton. Because, in the end, it’s better than being Jimmy Carter."
Anticipating the need to make lemonade, he invokes Bill Clinton. Brilliant, but marginally better than conjuring up Reagan again would have been.
"Rouse and Messina see areas for possible bipartisan agreement, like reauthorizing the nation’s education laws to include reform measures favored by centrists and conservatives, passing long-pending trade pacts and possibly even producing scaled-back energy legislation. “You’ll hear more about exports and less about public spending,” a senior White House official said. “You’ll hear more about initiative and private sector and less about the Department of Energy. You’ll hear more about government as a financier and less about government as a hirer.”
Educational reform measures favored by conservatives and centrists: does that mean even worse things ahead than Arne Duncan’s Race to the Top same-old, same-old junk?
So no jobs programs, WPA or otherwise. ‘Government as financier’ could be good, but given the administration’s track record with banks…
But here’s the one that put my hair on fire:
Obama expressed optimism to me that he could make common cause with Republicans after the midterm elections. “It may be that regardless of what happens after this election, they feel more responsible,” he said, “either because they didn’t do as well as they anticipated, and so the strategy of just saying no to everything and sitting on the sidelines and throwing bombs didn’t work for them, or they did reasonably well, in which case the American people are going to be looking to them to offer serious proposals and work with me in a serious way.”
I asked if there were any Republicans he trusted enough to work with on economic issues. The first name he came up with was Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, who initially agreed to serve as Obama’s commerce secretary before changing his mind. But Gregg is retiring. The only other Republican named by Obama was Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin congressman who has put together a detailed if politically problematic blueprint for reducing federal spending. The two men are ideologically poles apart, but perhaps Obama sees a bit of himself in a young, substantive policy thinker.
I can see his point that it would be nice if Republicans would feel more responsible to do more than say no; but they may be too busy investigating everything and everyone in the administration. And Judd Gregg, I’m pretty sure he showed the President that he wouldn’t work with him, and he could take that Commerce Position and… Oh, and Paul Ryan? The one whose detailed budget plan would eliminate US debt by 2063, including ‘drastically changing social security and medicare? The one Paul Krugman called ‘a charlatan’, a flim-flam man, and worse?