Obama Hews To Campaign's Consensus Theme

Obama wants very much to be a consensus president, but a president needs an enemy, NPR Senior News Analyst Daniel Schorr tells Scott Simon. Obama's working to get some Republican votes for the economic stimulus bill, but it comes down to this, Schorr says: Does spending create jobs or do tax cuts create jobs? He's also moving cautiously on the crisis in Gaza.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. This week, an $819 billion stimulus plan passed the House of Representatives. No votes from Republicans. Meanwhile, new numbers from the Commerce Department showed the nation's economy shrank at a 3.8 percent rate in the final quarter of 2008, the worst drop since 1982. President Obama had tough words for some Wall Street executives. And Illinois kicked its embattled governor out of office. NPR senior news analyst Dan Schorr joins us. Hello, Dan.

DANIEL SCHORR: Hi, Scott.

SIMON: And first, let's get to the stimulus package. It passed the House on Wednesday. No Republican votes. Many Republicans said it is not just a stimulus plan, but they thought a lot of it constitutes spending without job creation. How important is it to President Obama to have some Republican votes?

SCHORR: Well, it's very important. He wants very much to be a consensus president, and in order to get some Republican votes, he invited them to see him alone, with Democrats and so on. He really has gone very far out of his way to try to get Republican votes. The fact that he didn't get votes in the House, however, should not necessarily be taken to mean that the Senate will be just the same.

SIMON: You think he might win some Republican votes in the Senate.

SCHORR: There were indications that some of the - Olympia Snowe of Maine and others are indicating interest. They want changes. And now it comes down to a very tense negotiation.

SIMON: All of this is going on as the economic numbers seem to be getting worse. The nation's GDP dropped at a 3.8 percent rate at the end of last year. Consumer spending fell, 3.5 percent pace. President warned, says there will be an even worse slump if Congress doesn't act. How do you assess what seems to be now the central face-off between spending that's going to create jobs with projects and those that say a lot of this spending doesn't necessarily lead to jobs?

SCHORR: Well, it's a question of, does spending create jobs or do tax cuts create jobs? It comes down to that. The Republicans say, as they have always said, that the best thing you can do is to give them their money back, that is to say, to cut taxes.

SIMON: Yeah.

SCHORR: And that will inevitably flow into the economy. It doesn't always work that way. The Keynesian principle, which is a principle which the Democrats are following, that you need a big massive infusion into the economy, which cannot come from tax cuts alone.

SIMON: Meanwhile, President Obama denounced a massive infusion into the pockets of Wall Street executives who got $18 billion in bonuses last year even while their firms were tanking and had to get support from the taxpayers.

SCHORR: Yes. And the president called that an outrage. And I must say, I've never seen him quite so publicly angry as he was about this. If you think back to Lincoln, Roosevelt, and how you get things done when they're very hard to do, what you really try to do is first of all, you make a lot of friends. Then you need an enemy. For President Roosevelt, the enemy was so-called economic royalists, the fat cats. Here you have, in this new president, he would rather do it by consensus, but short of that, he could look for an enemy. And any kind - anybody on Wall Street who at a time like this while taking taxpayers' money goes out and buys big airplanes or otherwise uses the money for bonuses and so on, is a pretty good candidate for enemy.

SIMON: Let's turn to Illinois. I've been restraining myself for a couple of minutes. But the state senate voted 59 to zero to remove Governor Rod Blagojevich from office.

SCHORR: Yes.

SIMON: He is now banned from holding state office in the future. Do you see some spillover effect into American politics generally? I mean, will this be dismissed as, oh, that's just Illinois?

SCHORR: Well, I don't know. Well, Illinois is Illinois. Chicago is Chicago. And I must say, things like this have happened before, although I must say, never quite in such a dramatic fashion. What this has done is to simply dramatize the great problem of creeping corruption.

You know, when I was in the Soviet Union, corruption was taken as a matter of course. You could see a doctor. It was free, socialist medicine, but you had to bribe the doctor if you didn't want to wait two years to see him. You want to get a seat in a restaurant, you have to bribe the headwaiter. Bribery was taken as a matter of course. I often used to think then, thank God I come from a country where bribery is not a matter of course. But now I'm not so sure anymore.

SIMON: Middle East. Special envoy George Mitchell traveled there this week for talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders and came back and said, you know, we have a lot of hurdles. This is going to be tough. Now people have sometimes cautioned over the years that envoys are for window dressing. In the end, the countries themselves have to want to talk.

SCHORR: Well, that's right. And he's apparently going very cautiously. First of all, he says, you've got to solidify the ceasefire, make sure that that's in place. Secondly, you've got to provide humanitarian aid for Gaza, and he comes with over $20 million that has been authorized by the president for UN agencies to help. Then thirdly, after done all that, in a very gingerly fashion and very carefully, he was then saying, can we get together and talk about a future peace settlement? That will take a while, but he's not hurrying.

SIMON: In Iraq, citizens voting in provincial elections today. How does the stability of that young democracy look?

SCHORR: Well, they had a big security clampdown to make sure that there isn't too much trouble. And it's very important to them because as a way of becoming part of the international community and becoming a sovereign state again, you demonstrate that by having elections and the elections work, and so they're working very hard to have this come out. It's only provincial elections and it doesn't change the whole government and so on, but the Iraqis think it is very important to demonstrate that they can vote.

SIMON: Thanks very much, Dan Schorr.

SCHORR: Sure thing.

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