Week In News: Hu Visit, Obama And Business
GUY RAZ, host:
We're back with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.
President BARACK OBAMA: The past two years were about pulling our economy back from the brink. Our job now is putting our economy into overdrive, to ensure that businesses can take root and folks can find good jobs and America is leading the global competition that will determine our success in the 21st century.
RAZ: That's President Obama speaking in Schenectady, New York, yesterday where he introduced GE chairman Jeff Immelt as the new economic adviser.
James Fallows from The Atlantic is with me now as he is most Saturdays.
Mr. JAMES FALLOWS (National Correspondent, The Atlantic): Hello, Guy.
RAZ: All right. So we are just days away now from the State of the Union address. The administration seems to be trying to move away from the perception, Jim - fair or not - that it's been anti-business.
Mr. FALLOWS: Certainly, the administration recognizes that this is the perception even though that fact must drive them crazy, because at the same time, the strongest criticism they face from the left is that the administration has been too cuddling of business, too soft on the financial sector, et cetera.
There is a movement on almost all fronts to the center by the administration. But I think there also is an important substantive issue here. As everyone has said, as we heard in the clip from the president, the issue of the next year or two is the creation of jobs in the United States.
And the administration's strategy partly relies on traditional Democratic stimulus measures like the payroll tax cut, where it's part of the tax deal last year. But also, on the fact that corporations, which are the institutions that create most jobs have now very, very substantial profits but had been slow in increasing their hiring roles once again.
So by bringing Jeffrey Immelt, the head of one of the major manufacturing powers in the world to lead this advisory board, I think the administration is showing that it's attacking this problem in all ways.
RAZ: Switching gears for a moment, Jim, this was, of course, a big week on the U.S.-China front. Of course, the visit of Chinese President Hu Jintao, a lot of symbolism, a lot of platitudes, does it actually change the game a whole lot?
Mr. FALLOWS: In terms of the actual deliverables, as they say, from this meeting, there was not much that was either anticipated or produced from these two days of meetings in Washington.
But I think the symbolism actually mattered in a couple of ways. It was quite significant that the Obama administration really did roll out the entire and literal red carpet treatment for President Hu Jintao. This was seen as a contrast to the 2006 visit that Hu Jintao had made during the Bush administration when instead of a state dinner, he was given a so-called working lunch. All of the pomp and glory of this event was reported very, very widely in China. So that mattered.
I think from the U.S. point of view, the idea was symbolically to convey the U.S. welcomes China's continuing prosperity. It doesn't feel threatened by it. It's not trying to throttle China. This is important in trying to, from the American point of view, avoid a sort of nationalistic reaction within China.
RAZ: And, Jim, I would not be doing my duty as a reporter if I didn't ask you about the state dinner, because you actually went. You didn't have to sneak in. I know you ate rib eye and apple pie, because that was made public. But once the cameras were off, what struck you about it?
Mr. FALLOWS: It was, you know, I wouldn't have been doing my duty as a reporter if I didn't go. And it was really, to be honest, a really exciting and thrilling event to go to.
RAZ: And I should mention that this was not open to the press, only a handful of people were invited.
Mr. FALLOWS: There were four or five journalists who attended and there was no sort of stricture on what you could say. And so it wasn't close in any sense and indeed everybody had to go through a gamut of reporters on the way in.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. FALLOWS: I could tell that when I walked by, nobody took a picture. It was the, oh, it's nobody moment.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. FALLOWS: I think among the many things I saw and I've tried to write a little about on The Atlantic's site, one of the things that probably was most impressive was the entire range of American presence that was there.
You had all three living Democratic former presidents there, Barack Obama and Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter. You didn't have either of the former Bush presidents there, but all the other Republican luminaries that had been involved in developing this relationship were present or represented. Henry Kissinger was there, George Shultz, who was one of the Reagan secretary of State, a number of others too, people from the business community, you had the director of Human Rights Watch who was there too.
So you had a sense that America in its varied aspects were showing the importance of this relationship. And it made it all the stranger and small-minded in retrospect that neither Majority Leader Harry Reid nor Speaker of the House John Boehner felt that he was able to attend.
RAZ: I bet the food wasn't so bad either, right?
Mr. FALLOWS: It wasn't half bad, but I didn't go for the eats.
(Soundbite of laughter)
RAZ: That's James Fallows. He's national correspondent for The Atlantic. He's with us most Saturdays.
Jim, thank you.
Mr. FALLOWS: Thank you, Guy.
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