Political Junkie: Obama Press Conference Preview

Guest junkie Ron Elving previews President Obama's Tuesday night news conference and assesses the president's performance so far. And David Greene joins us for details on testimony from Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke on Capitol Hill.

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ALISON STEWART, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. Okay, so I'm not Neal Conan. I'm Alison Stewart.

RON ELVING: And I'm not Ken Rudin. I'm Ron Elving.

STEWART: And it isn't Wednesday, it's Tuesday, but because there's a big primetime presidential press conference tonight, and there's testimony from Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke on the Hill today, and well, because Neal and Ken are out of town, and we decided that it's time for an edition, a special edition, of the Political Junkie.

President RONALD REAGAN: There you go again.

Vice President WALTER MONDALE: When I hear your new ideas, I'm reminded of that ad: Where's the beef?

Mr. BARRY GOLDWATER (Former Republican Senator, Arizona): Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.

President RICHARD NIXON: You don't have Nixon to kick around anymore.

Governor SARAH PALIN (Republican, Alaska): Lipstick.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: But I'm the decider.

Mr. HOWARD DEAN (Former Governor, Vermont; Former Chairman, Democratic National Convention): Aaaagh!

STEWART: On deck today, the Obama administration unveiled another layer of its financial rescue plan. The market seemed to like it. One part is especially interesting. It will give the Congress folks - it will give Timothy Geithner special powers. We'll talk about that in a little bit.

Congress folks, not necessarily Geithner himself, we should be clear about that, congressional folks continue to hammer taxes on big bonuses. President Obama makes his message straight to the people through the TV machine, appearing on "The Tonight Show" and "60 Minutes" and even tonight for a primetime press conference.

In a few minutes we'll talk about President Obama's message machine, but we begin, as always, with a trivia question. Ron, guest political junkie, how are you, first of all?

ELVING: I'm pretty good.

STEWART: All right. So, trivia. I know you dug deep for this one.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ELVING: While trying to be relevant with Secretary Tim Geithner up on the Hill and with all of these congressmen raking him over the coals, here's the question. By far the largest source of campaign contributions to federal candidates in the 2008 election cycle was the financial services industry. We like to say that the strongest stream of contributions came from the fire hose. And in this case, fire is an acronym, F-I-R-E, financial, okay?

STEWART: Okay, insurance.

ELVING: Insurance.

STEWART: Yeah, okay.

RUDIN: And real estate. Take all those as the financial services industry, and they were by far and away the number one source of contributions for candidates for federal office. Who was number two? What profession, what industry was number two?

STEWART: All right. So if you think you know, give us a call. The number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. You can also answer via email. The address is talk@npr.org. We want to know who's number two.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: We're number two - in campaign contributions in the '08 campaign. All right, let's talk about the news of today. Timothy Geithner, Treasury secretary. He began addressing outrage. Many Americans have it, obviously, over the retention bonuses being paid to employees of AIG.

Secretary TIMOTHY GEITHNER (Department of Treasury): I share the anger and frustration of the American people, not just about the compensation practice at AIG and in other parts of our system, but that our financial system permitted a scale of risk taking that has caused grave damage to the lives of so many Americans.

STEWART: Now, Mr. Geithner also said the CEO of AIG, Edward Liddy, shouldn't take the blame for the bonuses.

Sec. GEITHNER: I know that much of the public anger has fallen on Mr. Liddy, but this is not fair. Mr. Liddy did not create this mess. He did not seek this job. He agreed in a response to a request by the government of the United States to work to restructure the company and help us get back the assistance provided by the taxpayer.

And in taking on what I think is the most challenging job in the American financial system today, he inherited an enormous range of problems, including these retention contracts that are the understandable source of public outrage.

STEWART: Maybe the second most challenging job after his, Ron, I might say.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ELVING: I wasn't sure which one he meant, you know.

STEWART: That was Secretary Geithner speaking on the Hill earlier today. Did he do anything to assuage anger today, Ron?

ELVING: Yes, I think to some degree he may have been able to assuage it a little bit by attempting to defend his own position, by putting it in a larger context, but assuage, really, not by any means eliminate, not my any means answer. And I think the rage is going to continue. But he did try to at least move on, to pivot, if you will, from the rage over these bonuses to moving some of that energy, if you will, some of that drive into his own push and President Obama's push to regulate some of these industries in a new and rather bold way.

Specifically, to give the secretary of Treasury power, in coordination with the Federal Reserve board, to take over non-depository institutions, that is to say, not banks - that's the FDIC's job, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation - but people who are in other financial lines such as insurance, so that he would have, theoretically, had the power last fall under these proposed rules to take over AIG lock, stock and barrel.

STEWART: And go in and break those contracts.

ELVING: That is correct. To go in and to say, look, you don't get that money because what you were doing got us into trouble and, you know, so sue me. Now that, of course, gets into all kinds of controversies about legal interpretations of what their obligations are, but at least it would have given the federal government an entirely different option other than what it was done.

STEWART: I want to get your impressions on the way Mr. Geithner rolled out this series of planks of this platform because when he first came out, and they had his first big news conference about this is what we're going to do with the economy, it fell sort of flat. It sort of fizzed out like a balloon. This was done on a much smaller scale.

ELVING: You know, it would've been nice if it had fallen flat, back several weeks ago when he first talked about the bailout plan, the toxic asset plan because flat would've looked good in the market that day.

STEWART: That's true.

ELVING: Instead, what he got was an enormous drop. You know, hundreds of points melted off the Dow in a matter of hours. Yesterday, instead of going out in front of the cameras and trying to do a standard sort of news announcement, what they did was they had a pencil and pad briefing, no cameras, no recording equipment, just a few sketchings and the details were provided by other officials off-camera.

So we didn't see Tim Geithner, but what we did get, and which we didn't get back in February, was detail, lots of detail, a mechanism so that people could actually understand where the risk would stand and where the benefits would flow. And that was much more popular on Wall Street. And instead, the Dow went up almost 500 points, and it's holding onto most of those gains so far today.

STEWART: A week ago, if we had been doing the Political Junkie, you and I, we would've been discussing whether Timothy Geithner was going to keep his job.

Just within seven days - a week ago, people thought that, you know, this man, maybe he's not up to the challenge, maybe he doesn't know what he's doing. Maybe this isn't the right course of action. Do you think we've left that argument behind?

ELVING: No. I think that there is still a great deal of pressure on Tim Geithner, and we heard from a number of the congressmen this morning, their anger, their suggestions that Mr. Geithner should go. And there are many people still who feel that the mistakes that he's made far outweigh what good moves he's made, but just for this 24-hour period, this is little bit like a hitter who's been completely in a slump for months and hasn't been pulling his weight. Suddenly, he has one day where he hits three home runs. That's not the one day that you want to call for him to be fired.

STEWART: Right.

ELVING: So that's a little bit where Geithner is today. Overnight, people were talking about the Geithner plan and that being the reason that the stock market rallied yesterday. Stock market rallies are always complicated things that have as much to do with the market itself as any outside factor.

But in this case, Geithner clearly pleased the market in a way that he had displeased it before. So he looks a little better today, tune in tomorrow.

STEWART: All right. Tune in tonight. President Obama on your local network. What should we expect? Let's just ask a basic question.

ELVING: We should expect, number one, a relatively long news conference. We've been told it'll be about an hour. Now, about an hour could be 45 minutes. It could be an hour and 15 minutes. Barack Obama likes to answer questions in full. He has already set down an expectation that when he gets a question on a big issue, he's going to try to answer it as fully as he can.

And there are an awful lot of big issues out there, just starting with the bank bailout, the talking about this budget, this multi-trillion dollar budget with unprecedented deficits, not only this year, but in several years to come. He also has all of the foreign policy questions, potentially, to answer about Afghanistan, number one, where our policy seems to be very much in the balance, very much in renegotiation.

STEWART: Iran.

ELVING: Iran, where we have to, in some sense, re-project the entire relationship. Are we going to try to open a door to them? Has that door already been closed by the Iranians? Big questions there. Iraq. We're still wondering, will he be able to meet the August 2010 deadline that he has set for himself to have the combat mission come to an end? And that's just taking the ones off the top. There are many, many others.

The Chinese are suggesting maybe the dollar shouldn't be the world currency of a repository of value. It shouldn't be the centerpiece of the world economy anymore. That's an interesting challenge to the United States. And there are just many.

STEWART: All right. We'll discuss this a little bit more, but you know what? We can't ignore the trivia question because we've got our lines all lit up. Do you want to throw it out one more time?

ELVING: Yes. The question is, since we know what the number one source of contributions was, the financial services industry, the financial industry writ large, what was the number two largest source of contributions? Was it defense related? Was it health, energy, big labor?

STEWART: All right. Let's see what Joe from Havertown, Pennsylvania thinks. Hi, Joe.

JOE (Caller): Hey. Long-time listener, first-time caller. Just one quick guess and then I'll be off the air. Teachers.

STEWART: And Ron?

ELVING: Nope, teachers were not.

JOE: All right.

ELVING: Not one of the biggest.

STEWART: All right.

JOE: Thank you very much, sir.

STEWART: Play again. Call again. Let's talk to Jake, who's calling us from Michigan. Hi, Jake.

JAKE (Caller): Hi.

STEWART: What's your guess?

JAKE: Oil industry.

STEWART: Oil.

ELVING: That's in the top 10 if you broadened it out to include all kinds of energy and natural resources, but it wasn't number two.

STEWART: All right, Jake, thanks for calling. Let's let, let's see, let's let a lady in here. Hi, Betty. Betty, what's your guess?

BETTY (Caller): My guess is pharmaceuticals.

ELVING: Another good guess, but no, that was not the industry or profession that was in the number two slot.

STEWART: All right, Betty, thank you for calling. We're going to talk to Nat in Vine Grove, Kentucky. Hi, Nat.

NAT (Caller): Hi there. I was thinking it was probably the auto industry and auto workers.

ELVING: No. Even if you take the auto industry and broadened it out to all manufacturing, and if you include their corresponding unions, that would still not be as big as the number two profession or industry.

STEWART: Oh, Nat, thanks for trying. It's interesting here, Ron, we've got another one is health care, drug industry. Another one, drug companies - a fellow from Kansas, Scott, called in - wrote in, excuse me. Defense from Anne(ph) in Virginia Beach. Let's try Gary in Ithaca. Hi, Gary.

GARY (Caller): Hi, speaking of legal interpretations, my guess would be lawyer.

ELVING: Could we have your name again, sir?

GARY: Gary.

ELVING: Gary, you are correct.

STEWART: Now Gary, what made you go there?

GARY: Oh, I'm a lawyer.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ELVING: We do - when we say lawyers, we're also including lawyers who lobby, that is to say, lobbyists, but the lawyer and lobbyist category is the second largest industry or profession after finance, insurance, real estate.

STEWART: All right, well, Gary, for your efforts, for your wisdom, you're winning yourself, and I've got this in my hand, they actually brought this to me, Ron, I'd never seen this before, the official winner of the Political Junkie segment contest. So I'm going to ask you to hold on. Gary, thanks a lot for calling in.

GARY: Okay, thank you very much.

ELVING: Alison, let me just mention that some of the other sources that people mentioned were all in the top 10. And there are also a lot of people who give on the basis of ideology of single-issue interest. But as far as a profession or an industry, right behind FIRE, you have lawyers.

STEWART: Ron Elving is our guest political junkie today. I'm Alison Stewart. I'm the guest host of TALK OF THE NATION. We're going to continue this conversation about President Obama, what he needs to say tonight, what he's been saying over the past week.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of song, "I Wanna Grow Up to be a Politician)

The Byrds: (Singing) And take over this beautiful land, and take over this beautiful land.

(Soundbite of music)

STEWART: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Alison Stewart in Washington, joined by Ron Elving, our guest political junkie. And Ron, you want to add one more thing before we roll on?

ELVING: Yes. In answering the question about where the campaign contributions most came from, we turned to our own Peter Overby, who is our correspondent covering money, power and influence for NPR. And he turned to a site that all of our listeners can turn to, opensecrets.org. That is the Web site for the Center for Responsive Politics.

STEWART: Excellent. We're going to continue our Tuesday edition of Political Junkie. Now, this past week, President Obama has tried to explain the country's economic problems and his plans to fix them. He took his case right to the American public. First stop, California. He appeared on "The Tonight Show" with Jay Leno. President Obama became the first sitting president to appear on a late-night talk show.

(Soundbite of TV program, "The Tonight Show")

Mr. JAY LENO (Talk Show Host): It's like I had to laugh the other day when the CEO of AIG said okay, I've asked them to give half the bonuses back. Now if you rob a bank, and you go into court and you go, your honor, I'm going to give you half the money back.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LENO: And they seem stunned that we're not jumping at this wonderful offer.

President BARACK OBAMA: Well, you know, the only place I think that might work is in Hollywood.

Mr. LENO: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: Now, the laughs continued on Sunday, at times awkwardly, on "60 Minutes" in an interview with correspondent Steve Kroft. President Obama seemed to be all smiles, despite the bad economic news.

(Soundbite of TV program, "60 Minutes")

Mr. STEVE KROFT (Correspondent): You're sitting here, and you are laughing about some of these problems. Are people going to look at this and say, I mean, he's sitting there just making jokes about money - how do you deal with it? I mean, explain the - your mood and your laughter.

Pres. OBAMA: Yeah, I mean, there's got to be…

Mr. KROFT: Are you punch-drunk?

Pres. OBAMA: No, no. There's got to be a little gallows humor to get you through the day. You know, sometimes my team talks about the fact that if you had said to us a year ago that the least of my problems would be Iraq, which is still a pretty serious problem, I don't think anybody would've believed it. But we've got a lot on our plate and a lot of difficult decisions that we're going to have to make.

STEWART: In addition to television programs, there have been town halls. Tonight he'll give a primetime press conference. We want to know, what do you think? How well has President Obama gotten his message across? Has he said too much? Has he said too little? Our number here in Washington is 1-800-989-8255. Our email address is talk@npr.org, and you can always join the conversation at our Web site. Go to npr.org and click on TALK OF THE NATION.

In studio 3A here, we have Ron Elving, who is our guest political junkie. And joining us now, as well, is NPR correspondent David Greene. He's been traveling the country for a series called 100 Days: On the Road in Troubled Times. Today, you are joining us from Yellow Springs, Ohio. Is that right?

DAVID GREENE: You got it, WYSO, 91.3 in Yellow Springs, Ohio, the nicest people I've come across, I have to tell you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: Well, good to know, good to know. Now, you've been out speaking to Ohioans. What have they told you? Do they think that President Obama is communicating effectively right now?

GREENE: I think, you know, the people I spoke to this morning, Alison, all around Dayton, they know what President Obama is trying to do. That's no secret. I mean, they feel like he wants to keep connecting with people and continue playing on what were the strengths during his campaign, his, you know, ability to really reach people out in the country and be likeable at a tough time.

Some of the concerns that I heard were where exactly he's decided to go, ESPN talking about, you know, his NCAA bracket and then, as you just heard, you know, "The Tonight Show" with Jay Leno. It's been mixed. Some people have said, you know, he should be everywhere. I mean, he should be plastering himself all over television because this is a time that people want to hear from their president.

And others, you know, even people who were big supporters of Mr. Obama during the campaign, saying, you know, maybe he should tone down the laughter a little bit and not go on a late-night talk show when times are so tough. So people definitely talking about it, I have to say.

STEWART: Ron, what do you think? Is it a politically effective tool to go on the most popular and mass media?

ELVING: I would say that the ESPN shot last week got him more replays to a particular audience that he usually does not reach so well. That is an audience that is primarily interested or very largely interested in sports on a 24/7 basis and probably doesn't watch CNN, or CSPAN or CNBC quite as often - not trying to characterize all of them, just some of them.

And that is an audience he very much needs to reach and he wants to communicate with. Plus, he is also indulging himself a little bit here because the man loves basketball, and he really does care about this. And he's letting people see a little bit of his human side, much as he does frequently with his family.

STEWART: Now David, as you're speaking to people, what is the one thing they really want to talk to you about? What do they get fired up about when they discuss the economy? Is it AIG? Is it the bonuses? Is it bailout? Is it lack of jobs, loss of jobs in their own towns?

GREENE: You know, Alison, it's really - people want to talk about themselves and their own communities. I've been struck by, you know, I was out on the road during the campaign and in September, October, I mean, you know, everybody was watching the news. They were talking about whatever the issue of the day was.

And now people, a lot of them, have turned inward. Now, when I bring up AIG and the bonuses, and we talk about, you know, bailouts and large budgets, it gets people going. I mean, people are excited to talk about it. But you know, the first thing that people bring up, you know, a couple times I've been in a store and said, you know, I'm a reporter with NPR, and they say, you know, I lost my job in December, and I want to tell you about that and how hard it's been.

So it's a different atmosphere out there. It's really been night and day since the campaign now. People are struggling. They're thinking about the economy. They're trying to stay optimistic. They're thinking about their families, whether they can go on vacation. All through this trip so far it's people talking about sort of their own predicament and thinking about it a lot.

STEWART: All right. Let's get to some of our callers, since we're talking about what people are actually thinking. Mike from San Antonio, Texas. Hi, Mike.

MIKE (Caller): Hey. How are you this morning?

STEWART: I'm doing well. Are you going to watch the president's press conference tonight?

MIKE: Absolutely. I've already got - and if I get caught in a meeting, I've got it TiVoed. So I will absolutely watch it. And I really want to hear more from him. What I think a lot of people inside the Beltway perhaps don't understand is I voted for him. I trust him, and I will vote in 2010, Republican or Democrat, on how they align themselves with his policy. So I want to hear more from him.

STEWART: Anything specifically that you want to hear more about? Do you want to hear more about the bailouts, or do you want to hear about jobs?

MIKE: No. I really want to hear about 5 and 10 years down the road. I think we're going to deal with these issues, and I think he's done a great job trying to explain that so far. But you know, I've got kids, one going to college next year, and I'm ready to see how we're going to deal with some of the issues that are going to plague us long term. Health care is primary on my list.

STEWART: Can I get your response to the president going on these outlets like ESPN and "The Tonight Show," did you watch those, and how did you receive his message?

MIKE: I watched all of those. And when he goes on the air, there is a calmness and there's a assurance that he projects, and I trust him. I can't say the same for some of the members of Congress, but I do trust him. And when I went to the polls last year, I voted for him and his vision and that's what I want to hear more of.

STEWART: All right, Mike from San Antonio, thanks for calling in. Since Mike brought up the congressional issue, you and I were talking in the office earlier today about the House has made a move on that legislation to tax the bonuses at AIG. They say tax away, correct?

GREENE: Ninety percent. They want 90 percent of that money back through taxation, if you qualify under this language. I mean, it's not just the named people at AIG. It's anybody who's receiving federal funds in a bailout cannot pay out a bonus of such and such and such a size. And if they do, 90 percent of it is supposed to go in taxes. Alison, can I make a prediction? And I don't normally do this.

STEWART: Okay.

GREENE: Because I normally don't think that it's a good idea to make one. But I think people should understand that while the House did this, the Senate is just not going to follow suit. They've already put off the discussion until late April. If it happens even then, I will be surprised.

They are not eager to do this. They have a somewhat different proposal. They don't see this as a good way to use the tax code. And the president has shown he has very little enthusiasm for this 90 percent taxation way of getting the money back.

Let's also note that Andrew Cuomo, the attorney general of New York, says he's already recovered the bonuses, worth about $50 million. That's only 30 percent of the total. But he says he's got a lot of the top guys. If they could get back the money from all the people with the most, with the largest of these bonuses - and I think he said he's gotten 15 of the largest to give the money back - that's going to take a lot of the wind out of the sails. I don't think this 90 percent tax is going to become law.

STEWART: David, have you heard a lot of talk about the bonuses out on the road?

GREENE: Yeah. Like, starting when I woke up this morning. You know, I was actually eating breakfast in my hotel and a guy from New York was talking to one of the employees at the hotel, and he was saying, you know what? Back in New York, we need people to have money in their hands. And when executives have bonus money, they can spend it, and that helps businesses in New York. I mean, businesses count on that, which was an opinion I had not heard yet.

But as I kept asking people about AIG throughout the day, I mean, the words, you know, shocking, crazy, insane, you know, they were incredulous. You know, they just don't understand it. And, you know, whenever someone would bring it up, they would say then, you know, and look, my, you know, brother or sister, mother or daughter, son or myself, you know, I'm out of work. You know, where's my bonus?

STEWART: All right. Let's go to Evan in St. Louis. Hi, Evan.

EVAN (Caller): Hi. How are you?

STEWART: I am doing well. How do you feel about the way President Obama has been delivering his message on the economy?

EVAN: Well, in general, I am a Obama supporter. But I will say - a minute ago, you were talking about different mediums that are being used.

STEWART: Sure.

EVAN: And recently, he was on "Late Night," on Leno's show, and referenced his bowling game. And I really - I'm, honestly, a very big Obama supporter, but when I've heard the reference to the Special Olympics and bowling that he made, I was hugely disappointed. Really, because I - there's nothing funny about it.

STEWART: Right.

EVAN: I think it was an attempt at humor. But I really thought, you know, it's so easy not to say things like that…

STEWART: Mm-hmm.

EVAN: …that it was just a huge gaffe, you know, for our president to say something like that about the Special Olympics on national TV. There's just nothing funny about it. And, you know, to be blunt, I think it's inexcusable.

STEWART: Evan, thanks for calling in. That was also very interesting, Ron, that that story ended up dominating the news cycle…

ELVING: Mm-hmm.

STEWART: …in many ways.

ELVING: Yes. And it's amazing, because it does highlight the degree to which a moment of bad taste can obliterate what was otherwise - and in some people's minds - obliterate what was, in most people's minds, otherwise a pretty smooth performance, a pretty impressive performance. And I think for a lot of people, it just sort of went right past them and then they came back and confronted it and said, oh, that is an instance of bad taste, and I wonder, you know, does that change the way I feel about him and his sense of humor?

STEWART: Let's go to Jane in the Hudson Valley. Jane likes the fact that this president is out there talking to the people. Hi, Jane.

JANE (Caller): Yes, hello. I do. I think we are - too easily have we forgotten that the previous president never spoke to us and we never knew what he was thinking or doing. And this president is letting us know every day, just like he said he would. I think it's terrific. And he may make some flubs, like the previous caller said, but he seems to be so human. I think that's really terrific.

STEWART: Jane, thanks for calling in.

JANE: You're welcome.

STEWART: Let's talk to - I think the way I pronounce your name is Kofas(ph). Is that right? Kofas, in Denver?

KOFAS (Caller): Yes. Thank you for the (unintelligible).

STEWART: Sure.

KOFAS: My biggest concern - and I agree with the other caller. I appreciate our president's openness to speak with the nation on the different venues that he has gone to, it's just that providing security and transportation for the president to go to all these different venues must be causing us, the taxpayer, thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars every time he leaves the White House to, you know, jet off to New York or L.A. And so my concern was who's picking up the tab every time the president decides to take off for one of his speeches?

STEWART: All right. Kofas, in Denver, thank you so much.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And, Ron, there is a certain orchestration to all of this that we can't discount. I mean, these are the most scripted events, even though they seem like a casual chat on the couch of "The Tonight Show." I was watching "60 Minutes" with my husband, and we both work in TV sometime, and we kept saying, look at that jib shot. That giant - you know, they put a big jib camera on the front lawn. How long did that take to get on the White House lawn, to get that lovely walking shot of the president with Steve Kroft?

ELVING: Exactly. Obviously, there's a tremendous amount of thought that goes into the presentation of the president, and I mean by a lot of different people talking about how they want to present him, what programs they want to put him on, what interviewers they want to have him subjected to. They're talking about this a lot of the time. And he's obviously involved in it. He obviously vetoes some ideas and suggests others.

And then, when it comes right down to it, he has to actually script himself, and some of it has to be fairly spontaneous. And he's going to make flubs, as the callers suggested. He's going to attempt some kind of a moment of levity, some kind of humor. Sometimes it's going to fall flat. Sometimes it's going to be a bad taste. Sometimes it's just not going to be funny. He can't be batting a thousand, perhaps. But it's going to be revelatory.

And I think the caller had a good point about making him human, making him seem like he is communicating with us. We see so much of him. Perhaps it's going to get to be too much if it goes on at this rate. But we get to see him a lot. We get to sense his humanity.

STEWART: One of the things I think has also been interesting that's happened in the past week is that the Obama administration has begun to harness the power of their supporters - we heard a lot of supporters call in - going out and going door-to-door and trying to get people to understand his message.

David, have you run across the former candidate Obama supporters who have now become President Obama supporters and foot soldiers in getting the president's message out there?

GREENE: You know, Alison, I haven't come across anyone who's been, you know, doing those door-to-door - the door-to-door knocking. But I've been really interested in the transformation that people have made from, you know, Obama the candidate supporter to President Obama supporter. It's really an interesting psychology because these are very hard times.

I was actually - I was talking a guy named Joe Gruninwald(ph), who just lost his job in December. He supported, you know, candidate Obama in a big way. I mean - and he said I was so excited back then in November and through the inauguration, and now it's just really hard to be excited. And, you know, he had some questions about whether President Obama should be spending his time, you know, on ESPN and on "The Tonight Show."

And, you know, Joe said he still supports the president. You know, he has faith in him kind of helping the country through this. But he's beginning to just almost fathom the possibility that if, you know, he doesn't come through, if this economy doesn't come back, if he doesn't have a job in three, six months that, you know, maybe he might be disappointed.

So hearing people, you know, move from October, November and, you know, certainly Inauguration Day, when the excitement was just uncontrollable, to a point where, you know, it's people being a little more sober has been fascinating to watch.

STEWART: I do want to slide one more call in here - Don from Grand Rapids, Michigan. Don, do you like what you've heard from President Obama in the past week?

DON (Caller): Yeah, for the most part. You know, it - his job right now is to convince people to let money move around. The economy is nothing more than a movement of money from place to place. And the biggest reason we're in trouble right now is those who have money are basically hanging on to it.

So he's going to places that are not terribly traditional. And it appears that it seems to be working. And it probably helps him that the competing message of the party I've identified myself with for over 20 years is so pathetically weak. So, you know, until the Republicans figure out what is wrong with the way they're doing things, he could do pratfalls and probably get away with it.

STEWART: Don from Grand Rapids, Michigan, thank you so much.

We're wrapping up our special edition of Political Junkie. And I have to - I'll throw you one question, which is not about the presidency or the economy. We have 55 seconds left. Will we get a senator from Minnesota yet, Ron?

ELVING: Yes, we have one. Amy Klobuchar.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: Another senator from Minnesota?

ELVING: How about will get second one? That's a much tougher question. The last we have from Minnesota is that Al Franken is still leading by 225 votes. And that decision is now before the courts, a three-judge panel, which will be reviewed by the - on to the state Supreme Court, and then maybe on into the federal courts. You'll have to stay tuned. It's going to take some time.

STEWART: You can't tell me today. Okay. Hey, David Greene, traveling on the road with the first 100 Days series from WYSO. Thank you so much for joining us, David.

GREENE: Thanks, Alison. Have a good one.

STEWART: Thanks. You, too. Ron Elving, NPR's senior Washington editor, our guest Political Junkie. Thank you for joining us in Studio 3A. It was a lot of fun.

ELVING: Thank you, Alison.

STEWART: You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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