How Should Obama Cast Economic News?

Former President Bill Clinton says President Obama should try to be a little more upbeat as he offers the American people his view of the economy's future. Is it good advice?

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(Soundbite of TV show "Good Morning America," February 20, 2009)

Former President BILL CLINTON: It's a mistake to bet against this country over the long run.

ALEX COHEN, host:

Former President Bill Clinton had some words of advice for the current commander in chief about how to approach the economy. Here he is speaking earlier today on ABC's "Good Morning America."

Pres. CLINTON: I actually - I like the fact that he didn't come in and give us a bunch of happy talk. I'm glad he shot straight with us. I just want the American people to know that he's confident that we are going to get out of this, and he feels good about the long run.

COHEN: So far, no official response from the White House. For more on this and the rest of the week in politics, we're joined now by NPR news analyst Juan Williams. Hi, Juan.

JUAN WILLIAMS: Hi, Alex.

COHEN: So, I thought this was kind of interesting. You'd think that if Bill Clinton wanted to offer some advice to Barack Obama, he could just call the president directly. Instead, he goes on national TV. Why?

WILLIAMS: Well, Alex, I don't think they have an ongoing conversation. There's been some tension in that relationship even before the campaign last year, and I think it was exacerbated during that period. Remember some back and forth that President Obama referred to, even when he was debating Hillary Clinton. He said he didn't know if he was running against her or her husband. But of course, they do have some interaction. So, I don't mean to say that they never talk. But the key here, I believe, is something that I'm picking up pretty much across the country, which is people, especially, interestingly, people in the business sector, saying that they want President Obama to be more positive, be more sort of upbeat, when it comes to talking about the economy. Republicans have been picking up on this a lot in Washington and making fun of the kind of rhetoric that they think is hyperbole - you know, disaster, the economy is going to crater, it's going to get worse - that they say really discourages consumer confidence, which is key to the having the economy rebound.

COHEN: Let's move to Roland Burris, the Democratic senator from Illinois, who ran into trouble this week over whether he misled investigators in the corruption probe of the man who appointed him, Governor Rod Blagojevich. Looks like Roland Burris might be losing some key support today. What's happening?

WILLIAMS: Well, he is losing support among African-Americans in Chicago and Illinois, and I must say, picking up here in Washington as well is a notion among members of the Congressional Black Caucus, some of whom were really outspoken in saying, hey, there's no black people in the Senate. Why is everyone opposed to Roland Burris having the seat? Those people are suddenly silent, Alex. So, what you're seeing is here a lot of the racial push that had been so supportive of this elderly black gentleman from Illinois - you know, let him have the seat; it's an improper to assume that because he was associated with Governor Blagojevich that he is in any way tainted - that whole presumption has now turned on its head, because he keeps changing his story, saying initially that he had no conversations with Blagojevich or anybody in his team about raising money to, oh, yes, I did have a conversation, and now even more extensive conversations and maybe even tried to do some fundraising. So, I think a lot of people are just buying off that bandwagon, thinking it's going to damage Democrats in the 2010 Senate race in Illinois, and they don't want that. So, suddenly, even more important than race and Roland Burris is the idea of holding onto that Senate seat for Democrats, and that's why you're seeing this change in attitude.

COHEN: And finally, Juan, speaking of conversations, your best one this week?

WILLIAMS: You know, Alex, it really is an interesting conversation and it's sort of sub-rosa around Washington this week, which is that the decision the president made to send 17,000 more troops into Afghanistan this week, really, is making Afghanistan into President Obama's war. And it's something that's causing great discomfort among people who saw him as the anti-war president when he came to Iraq, but all of a sudden, people are saying, wait a second, he's bombing in Pakistan, he's willing to put more forces now into Afghanistan, and it's going to be a very difficult and possibly lengthy engagement. Is this going to be the war that defines President Obama's time in much the way that Iraq defined President Bush's era?

COHEN: NPR news analyst Juan Williams joins us each Friday. Thank you, Juan.

WILLIAMS: You're welcome, Alex.

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COHEN: Stay with us on Day to Day from NPR News.

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