Jonathan Alter

  • Aired:  01/26/11
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Jonathan Alter says Barack Obama has struggled to connect with the American public, yet he's accomplished more than any president since Lyndon Johnson. (7:02)

>> Jon: WELCOME BACK.

MY GUEST TONIGHT NATIONAL

CORRESPONDENT FROM "NEWS WEEK"

AND A BESTSELLING AUTHOR WHOSE

LATEST BOOK,"THE PROMISE:

PRESIDENT OBAMA YEAR ONE" IS NOW

OUT IN PAIP BACK.

PLEASE WELCOME TO THE PROGRAM,

JONATHAN ALTER.

THANK YOU FOR JOINING US ON OUR

HISTORIC STATE OF THE UNION

COVERAGE.

THE "THE PROMISE: PRESIDENT

OBAMA PART ONE."

THIS WAS HIS SECOND STATE OF THE

UNION ADDRESS?

>> THAT'S CORRECT.

>> Jon: IS HE BETTER NOW?

IS HE A BETTER PRESIDENT THAN HE

WAS?

>> I THINK HE IS.

IT'S ACTUALLY THE FOURTH TIME

HE'S APPEARED BEFORE A JOINT

SESSION OF CONGRESS.

THIS IS HIS VENUE OF CHOICE.

IT'S BETTER WHEN HE HAS AN

AUDIENCE TO INTERACT WITH.

HE'S NOT AS GOOD IN THE OVAL

OFFICE ADDRESSES.

HE TEND TO DO WELL IN THESE

EVENTS.

HE DID WELL WHEN HE ADDRESSED

CONGRESS ABOUT HEALTH CARE IN

THE FALL OF 2009.

BUT GENERALLY SPEAKING, THE BIG

SURPRISE ABOUT OBAMA IS WE

EXPECTED HIM TO BE THIS GREAT

COMMUNICATOR, AND TO STRUGGLE IN

EXECUTIVE LEADERSHIP, STRUGGLE

AT GETTING THINGS DONE BECAUSE

HE HAD NO EXPERIENCE, YOU KNOW.

AND IT TURNED OUT TO BE THE

REVERSE.

HE STRUGGLED MOST THE TIME TO

COMMUNICATE, TO CONNECT WITH THE

AMERICAN PUBLIC.

>> Jon: RIGHT.

>> AND, YET, HE'S ACCOMPLISHED

MORE IN TERMSES-RECORD THAN ANY

PRESIDENT SINCE LYNDON JOHNSON.

>> Jon: HOW DO YOU JUDGE

THAT?

>> I DO A LOT OF THAT IN THE

BOOK.

A LOT OF IT IS SORT OF

BEHIND-THE-SCENES STORIES OF

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN THEY CLOSE THE

DOOR TO THE OVAL OFFICE BUT A

LOT OF IT IS TO SAY HOW DOES HE

STACK UP?

>> Jon: IS THE METRIC JUST

WHAT HE GETS DONE OR THE AMOUNT

THAT HE GETS DONE?

BECAUSE I IMAGINE THAT THERE IS

A QUANTITATIVE ANALYSIS AND A

QUALITATIVE ANALYSIS.

SO IMAGINE QUANTITATIVELY YOU

CAN SAY HE'S GOTTEN A TREMENDOUS

AMOUNT DONE BUT NOW CHILDREN

UNDER 5 ARE NOT ALLOWED TO LIVE

AT HOME.

MATCHING IT UP, IT SEEMS HARD TO

ADJUST LYNDON JOHNSON'S CIVIL

RIGHTS ACT TO MAYBE DON'T ASK,

DON'T TELL.

I GUESS THAT WOULD BE THE

ANALOGOUS LEGISLATION.

>> I'M NOT SAYING HE EXCEEDED

JOHNSON.

WHEN YOU LOOK AT SOCIAL

LEGISLATION, THE HEALTH CARE

BILL IS THE BIGGEST PIECE OF

SOCIAL LEGISLATION SINCE

MEDICARE AND MEDICAID --

>> IT'S A GOVERNMENT TAKEOVER

THE HEALTH CARE.

>> WE'VE BEEN TOLD.

BUT INSURING 30 MILLION

AMERICANS AND ENDING

DISCRIMINATION AGAINST SICK

PEOPLE.

I THINK WE'LL LOOK BACK AND SAY,

"CAN YOU BELIEVE WE USED TO LIVE

IN A COUNTRY WHERE IF YOU GOT

CANCER YOU HAD TO SELL YOUR

HOUSE."

WE'RE NOT GOING TO LIVE IN THAT

COUNTRY ANY MORE, AND THAT'S A

GOOD THING

( CHEERS AND APPLAUSE ).

>> Jon: UNTIL, OBVIOUSLY,

IT'S REPEALED

( LAUGHTER )

THEN YOU LIVE IN THAT COUNTRY

FOR JUST A LITTLE WHILE LONGER.

I WAS SURPRISED WHEN HE WENT

WITH -- THEY HAVE TO GO WITH A

CERTAIN URGING US ON IN THE

STATE OF THE STIEWN-- WITH THE

PHRASE, WE CAN WIN THE FUTURE."

>> YEAH, THEY WANT THAT TO BE

THEIR BUZZWORD.

THEY TITLE THE THE SPEECH --

>> WIN THE FUTURE.

I DIDN'T KNOW WE WERE TRYING TO

DEFEAT THE FUTURE.

BECAUSE THE FUTURE ALWAYS SEEMS

LIKE, NO MATTER WHAT, IT WINS.

THERE'S A CERTAIN INEVITABILITY

TO THE FUTURE.

>> YOU KNOW, THIS IS PART OF

THEIR EFFORT TO TURN THIS INTO A

COMPETITION BECAUSE THEY KNOW

AMERICANS LIKE TO COMPETE.

AND I DO THINK THERE WAS A

CERTAIN TONE TO THE SPEECH, A

STRUCT TOWER IT WHERE HE SAID,

YOU KNOW, WE WILL OUT-INNOVATE,

OUT-EDUCATE, AND OUT-BUILD THE

REST OF THE WORLD.

AND HE KNOWS THAT THIS SPUTNIK

MOMENT DOES GET PEOPLE'S USES

FLOWING A LITTLE BIT-- ALTHOUGH,

AS YOU POINT OUT MAYBE NOT FOR

AS BIG ENDS AS J.F.K. WAS

LOOKING FOR.

HE HAS BEEN KIND OF SOUNDBITE

CHALLENGED.

THERE'S NOT A LOT TO CHISEL AND

MARBLE MUCH LESS TWEAK ABOUT THE

KINDS OF THINGS HE SAYS AND I

THINK THEY'RE TRYING TO FIX THAT

A LITTLE BIT, THAT HE NEEDS SOME

SLOGANS GOING INTO THE NEXT

CAMPAIGN.

>> Jon: THERE ARE PEOPLE

SITTING IN A ROOM IN THE WHITE

HOUSE, WITH A BLACKBOARD, AND

THEY'RE JUST THROWING OUT LIKE,

"WIN THE FUTURE."

AND THEN SOMEONE ELSE WILL BE

LIKE, "U.S.A. FEAR FACTOR."

YOU KNOW, WE CAN EAT MORE BULL

TESTICLES THAN CHINA.

LIKE THAT KIND OF THING, SETTING

IT UP AS THOUGH THE WAY TO PROD

US, TO MOVE FORWARD, THEY FEEL

THAT IT HAS TO BE PITHY.

>> AND THEY'VE HAD A PITHY

PROBLEM?

>> Jon: HAVE THEY?

AS YOU AGE, IT'S HARDER AND

HARDER TO TELL.

>> THEY HAD A PROFESSORIAL PITHY

PROBLEM WHICH THEY ADDRESSED A

LITTLE BIT LAST NIGHT.

IT WAS LESS PROFESSORIAL.

>> Jon: DO YOU SENSE,

THOUGH, THAT AMERICANS HAVE

THAT-- THAT SENSE OF, LIKE,

DON'T WE NEED TO BE GIVEN A

GOAL?

ONCE YOU SAY, "THIS IS OUR

SPUTNIK MOMENT" ISN'T YOUR NEXT

STEP TO SAY, "SO HERE'S WHERE

WE'RE GOING," RATHER THAN THE

LIST OF THINGS THAT HE LISTED

THAT WERE OUR GOALS OF

ACHIEVEMENT SOUNDED VERY SIMILAR

TO EVERY STATE OF THE UNION.

I REMEMBER BUSH SAYING WE'RE

GOING TO MARS.

HE TALKED ABOUT NO ANIMAL--

HUMAN HUBRIDES OR SOME OTHER

THINGS.

OBAMA'S LIST STRUCK ME AS WE'RE

GOING TO HAVE 80% WIFI.

>> OH, WE'RE ALL GOING TO BE

DRIVING A NISSAN LEAF OR

SOMETHING LIKE THAT.

>> Jon: IT DIDN'T STRIKE ME

AS A SPUTNIK MOMENT AS LET'S ALL

CHANGE OUR LIGHTBULBS.

>> WE DON'T HAVE THE MONEY.

WE DON'T HAVE THE MONEY TO GO TO

THE MOON.

THAT WAS THE INTERNAL

INCONSISTENCY HERE.

THEY LAID OUT AN INVESTMENT

AGENDA-- THE REPUBLICANS CALL

SPENDING AND THE DEMOCRATS CALL

IT INVESTMENT.

>> Jon: IT STRIKES ME AS

OBAMA BASICALLY IN THE WAY THAT

THAT-- WHEN WE WERE YOUNGER AND

MAYBE OUR FAMILY DIDN'T HAVE

THAT MUCH MONEY THAT YEAR, THEY

TRIED TO CONVINCE YOU THAT THE

BEST CHRISTMAS IS THE POOR

CHRISTMAS.

IT'S LIKE, "HEY!

WE'RE ALL GOING TO HAVE THE

GREATEST CHRISTMAS EVER THIS

YEAR!

YOU KNOW WHY?

WE'RE GOING TO MAKE EACH OTHER

SOMETHING."

IT'S THAT URGING ON OF, "WE CAN

DO THIS.

IT'S OUR SPUTNIK MOMENT, BUT

WE'RE GOING TO USE ALUMINUM FOIL

INSTEAD OF A SATELLITE."

>> OR WE'RE GOING TO GET RID OF

THE SALMON BUREAU WITH THE

COMMERCE DEPARTMENT.

>> Jon: YOU'LL BE

SURPRISED, ONCE THEY'RE GONE,

THE WHOLE THING TURNS AROUND,

BABY.

>> THEY COULD REORGANIZE.

THAT COULD BE THE BIG THING

COMING OUT OF THE SPEECH, JON.

THEY DO HAVE A REAL, 21st

CENTURY REORGANIZATION.

A LOT OF TIMES THEY'RE JUST

MOVING THE PIECES ON THE

ORGANIZATION CHART, BUT IF HE

MAKES GOOD ON THAT, THE

REPUBLICANS MIGHT WANT TO DO

THAT, TOO, BECAUSE THEY WANT TO

TELL THEIR CONSTITUENTS THAT

THEY WHACKED SOME AGENCIES SO

THERE ARE SOME AREAS, PERHAPS

IMMIGRATION--

( LAUGHTER ).

>> Jon: THE REPUBLICANS

JUST GO BACK TO THE DISTRICT

LIKE, "I TOOK CARE OF THAT

THING.

"THE PROMISE: PRESIDENT OBAMA

YEAR ONE" IS ON THE BOOKSHELVES

NOW.

>> I'VE GOT YEAR TWO IN THE

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