The Case Of The President's Missing Charisma
NEAL CONAN, host:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. The health care bill gets 60 votes in the Senate, this time; South Carolina's governor faces 37 ethics charges; and the president hosts India's prime minister and 400 A-listers at the White House. It's Wednesday and time for a black tie 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?
Senator BARRY GOLDWATER (Republican, Arizona): Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.
Senator LLOYD BENTSEN (Democrat, Texas): Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.
President RICHARD NIXON: You don't have Nixon to kick around anymore.
Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York): Lipstick.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: But I'm the decider.
Governor HOWARD DEAN (Democrat, Vermont): (Screams)
CONAN: Every Wednesday, NPR's political editor, Ken Rudin, joins us for a round-up of all things political, and as always, there's a lot to talk about. The president will go to West Point to talk Afghanistan and to Copenhagen to talk climate change. The Governator names a new lieutenant. Lou Dobbs emigrates from primetime to politics. And the Senate Ethics Committee admonishes Roland Burris. And as the president's approval ratings drop below 50 percent, we'll focus on the missing mojo, plus lessons learned from shifting Shakespeare's time and place but keeping the dialogue.
And first, though, political junkie Ken Rudin joins us here in Studio 3A. As always, we begin with a trivia question. Hey, Ken.
RUDIN: Hi, Neal. Okay, well, we're talking about Lou Dobbs. That'll be part of the conversation today and always a lovely conversation.
CONAN: Always good, yeah.
RUDIN: Who was the last former CNN star to run for office? Actually, it's a two-part question. The last CNN, the former CNN star to run for office, and who was the first person to run for office who later became a CNN star?
RUDIN: So we have two of them.
CONAN: So if you think you know the last person to run, last former CNN star to run for office, give us a call, or the first person to run for office who later became a CNN star, 800-989-8255. Email us, firstname.lastname@example.org.
And Ken, well, let's get right to Lou Dobbs. First tells Fred Thompson, interesting choice, that he plans to run for president, and now apparently wants to run for Senate in New Jersey, according to some�
RUDIN: Well, that's right. Fred Thompson asked Lou Dobbs, has he ever thought about running for president, and obviously Fred Thompson never thought about running for president, or you'd never know it by his 2008 campaign.
Lou Dobbs said yes. A lot of people are very coy when they're asked about whether you're thinking about running for president. When Tim Russert asked Barack Obama about that, shortly after his election to the Senate, Obama said I had no thoughts about it at all, and several months later, of course, he changed.
CONAN: Well, there you go.
RUDIN: But Lou Dobbs said yes, I've thought about it, and people have thought about it, and of course the question is whether he would run as a Republican or more likely as an independent. Now, of course, if you think of independents who have run for president in the past, they really haven't made much of a difference except to help elect somebody else. You can make the case that�
CONAN: Ross Perot.
RUDIN: Ross Perot helped elect Bill Clinton. You can make the case that Ralph�
CONAN: Nader, you remember his name.
RUDIN: Yes, I do.
CONAN: "Unsafe At Any Speed" - Ken's mouth.
RUDIN: A lot of people would rather not remember Ralph Nader, but Ralph Nader may have helped elect George W. Bush in 2000. So third-party candidates usually have some effect but not get elected. Ross Perot got 19 million votes in 1992 and didn't carry a single state. So you don't know what the - but there's also talk about - the fact is that Lou Dobbs lives in New Jersey.
CONAN: Or has a farm in New Jersey.
RUDIN: Has a farm in New Jersey, and this perhaps may make it even more contentious than anything else. But the next Senate seat up in New Jersey is that of Robert Menendez, the nation's only Hispanic senator, and he's a Democrat running in New Jersey in 2012, and so there's some talk about Lou Dobbs running for the Senate there.
Now, that's also - 2012 is also, according to the Mayan calendar, the year the world ends.
(Soundbite of laughter)
RUDIN: So you know, if the world ends before Lou Dobbs runs for the Senate, it's going to be very upsetting for a lot of people.
CONAN: We'll have more on that on Monday. Anyway, 60 votes in the Senate. All of the Democrats and independents lined up on the procedural vote to go ahead with the debate on the health care bill. Nevertheless, its prospect for final passage unclear at this point.
RUDIN: It is unclear, and yet there was a lot of drama behind last Saturday's vote. All 60, as you say, the 58 Democrats plus the two independents, voted for, to bring the measure to the floor, and that's probably the easy part, because there are still Democrats like Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, the independent, all say that they're not going to vote for a bill that has the public option in it.
And so it's interesting, Sharon Brown, the progressive senator, a Democrat from Ohio, said wait a second, we have 56 Democrats here who support the public option. We're worried about the Landrieus and the Ben Nelsons.
CONAN: The tail wagging the dog.
RUDIN: Exactly. So there's that out there too. So Harry Reid would love to have this pass by Christmas in the Senate, and then of course it goes back to the House and Senate to merge the two differences. And look, they want it out before the Senate 2010s have to run for re-election again because a lot of Democrats are nervous about this vote.
CONAN: And we have some people on the line who think they know the answer to this week's trivia question, the last former CNN star to run for president of the United States or�
RUDIN: Or any office.
CONAN: Any office, and then the first, 800-989-8255, email us, email@example.com. Mark on the line from the Twin Cities in Minnesota.
MARK (Caller): Hi, how are you doing?
CONAN: Very well, thanks.
MARK: Good, well, I love your show. I think you do amazing work.
CONAN: Thank you.
MARK: You're very welcome.
CONAN: Even with Ken on the show.
RUDIN: Both of us, or just Neal?
MARK: No, no, actually, this one has a blanket coverage for both of you.
CONAN: All right.
MARK: But Mr. Conan, I have to say that you've sort of carried the heavier load, I'm afraid.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: Well, I have to carry Ken every week, but anyway, go ahead with your answer.
MARK: I was wondering if the last one to run for president was Pat Buchanan and if he is, if the first one was also Pat Buchanan?
CONAN: Ooh, Pat Buchanan, a double on Pat Buchanan.
RUDIN: That would have been too clever for me, even. Actually, the last one is correct. It is Pat Buchanan. He ran for the - he was a Reform Party candidate for president in 2000, also ran for president in '92 and '96, but he is not the first. The other question is: Who was the first person to run for office who later became�
MARK: Oh, who later became.
MARK: Later became.
CONAN: Oh, I apologize. So that's my mistake in phraseology there, Mark, but even though you said some very nice things, you don't win a no-prize T-shirt.
MARK: Yeah, well, just have to go shirtless. What am I going to do?
CONAN: All right, thanks very much.
RUDIN: In Minneapolis this time of year.
MARK: It's not fun, but what are you going to do? Happy Thanksgiving, gentlemen.
CONAN: All right, bye-bye. Let's see, we can go next to - this is Anthony, Anthony with us from Eureka in California.
ANTHONY (Caller): Yes, would that be Alan Keyes?
CONAN: The other one being Alan Keyes, who of course ran for Senate most recently in, I guess, Illinois.
RUDIN: Losing to Barack Obama in 2004. No, but the answer is - he also ran for the Senate in 1982 in Maryland and I think lost to Paul Sarbanes.
RUDIN: But the answer is not Alan Keyes.
CONAN: This is a toughie, this first one.
RUDIN: Tough one.
ANTHONY: Thank you.
CONAN: We got Pat Buchanan. Anyway, 800-989-8255, the CNN star who was the first person to run for political office, 800-989-8255. Email us, firstname.lastname@example.org. It's not going to be easy.
In the meantime�
RUDIN: We don't give away these T-shirts�
CONAN: For nothing. This is taking the shirt off my back. In any case, we have a member of Congress, a Democrat from Kansas, the only member of the Democratic delegation from Kansas, who has announced plans to not run again.
RUDIN: And that's Dennis Moore, who represents, I guess, Kansas City and Lawrence, where the University of Kansas is, the only liberal bastion of Kansas. The rest of it is rock-solid Republican. Dennis Moore was first elected in 1998, and he is a blue dog. You know, he's certainly no liberal Democrat, but he's the only D in that delegation, and it's going to be a tough seat for the Democrats to hold.
Of all the Democrats who decided not to run for re-election in the House, all of them, except for Dennis Moore, are either running for governor or the Senate. Dennis Moore is the first retirement we're having so far.
CONAN: We have a new lieutenant governor in the state of California.
RUDIN: Well, not yet. What's happened is, of course, the old one, John Garamendi, was elected to Congress. He's a Democrat, was elected to Congress on November 3rd, and Arnold Schwarzenegger picked a fellow Republican, a state senator by the name of Abel Maldonado, who is basically one of the few Republican Schwarzenegger allies in the state legislature. He voted for the tax increases.
So not only do the conservatives hate this guy's guts because they feel he's Republican in name only, but the Democrats in the legislature, who control the legislature, may not want to confirm Maldonado as lieutenant governor because they don't want an incumbent running in 2010.
In California, Schwarzenegger could nominate whoever he wants, but the legislature has to confirm him, and there's no guarantee the Democrats will do that.
CONAN: And what it is about New Jersey? A former football player for the Philadelphia Eagles plans to retire at the end of this year, Jon Runyon, and he says he's going to plan to run for Congress in the state of New Jersey.
RUDIN: That's right. He is looking at John Adler, who is a first-term Democrat.
CONAN: First-term - Democrat, rather.
RUDIN: And of course nobody knows where this guy, where Runyon stands, except he's left tackle. I mean, you don't know�
CONAN: He'd have to shift to the right side to run as a Republican.
RUDIN: As a Republican. So he's one of the people - look, Adler's very, very - on tenuous ground, a long-time Republican seat, one of the few Democrats who voted against the health care plan because he feared for his political future.
CONAN: Let's see if we can get some more answers to our trivia question. We already know that Pat Buchanan is part of the answer. We're looking for the other part of the answer of a former CNN star. This was the first of them to run for political office.
RUDIN: Who later became�
CONAN: Who later became a CNN star. Let's see if we can go to Alan, Alan in Lawrence, Kansas.
ALAN (Caller): Yes, hello.
CONAN: Go ahead, Alan.
ALAN: Yeah, I think that the last CNN star to run for president was Wesley Clark in 2004.
CONAN: No, we already have that one. It was Pat Buchanan.
ALAN: Yeah, but I don't think that's right. Wasn't the question: Who was the last one to run for president?
CONAN: Well, Ken is looking bemused.
RUDIN: Well, the reason - because originally the question was�
CONAN: (Unintelligible) host.
RUDIN: Who was the host�
CONAN: I changed it to star.
RUDIN: You changed it to star. So we might give you a little of Wesley Clark on that, but we're looking, actually looking for the first person to run for office who later became a CNN star.
ALAN: Okay, well, I just thought that the answer to the first question should have been Wesley Clark.
CONAN: Well, we'll take your correction. Point taken.
ALAN: All right, well, thank you.
CONAN: Thank you, Alan.
RUDIN: That'll teach us to change the question before�
CONAN: Yeah, change the question. Joseph with us from Long Island in New York.
CONAN: Hi, you're on the air, go ahead.
JOSEPH: Yes, is it James Carville?
CONAN: Did James Carville ever run for political office?
RUDIN: No, he ran a lot of campaigns, including Bill Clinton and Harris Wofford, but he never ran for office.
CONAN: Alright, nice try, Joseph. Bye-bye. Let's see if we can go to Harold, Harold in St. Louis.
HAROLD (Caller): Hi.
HAROLD: I remember a number of years ago that Jesse Jackson had a program on, and it was after he ran for president.
HAROLD: So I'm going to say Jesse Jackson.
CONAN: Both those things are true, however�
RUDIN: Jesse Jackson did run for president in 1984 and 1988, but he is not the first. The person we're looking for is the first guy to run for office who became a CNN star.
CONAN: Nice try, Harold.
CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's see if we can go next to - this is Mike, Mike with us from Nashville.
MIKE (Caller): Yeah.
CONAN: Go ahead, Mike.
MIKE: I'm going to guess that it was Oliver North in Virginia, 1994. He lost to Chuck Robb in a three-way race.
RUDIN: He did lose, but again, we want to go well before 1994 because obviously Jesse Jackson was '84, and we want to go before that as well.
CONAN: And this - we're running out of time in this segment. So I think we may have to concede defeat here, Ken.
RUDIN: The answer is Tom Braden, who�
RUDIN: Exactly. Well, he ran for lieutenant governor of California�
CONAN: Speaking of lieutenant governors in California.
RUDIN: �in 1956(ph) and later became a famous newspaper guy, as well as a CNN star.
CONAN: All right, and speaking of famous�
RUDIN: Do I get the T-shirt?
CONAN: No, you don't get the T-shirt. You already stole a T-shirt.
RUDIN: All right.
CONAN: Tom Schieffer, the brother of a media star, has dropped out of the race for Texas in the Senate.
RUDIN: Right, he did. Actually, he was running for governor, and what happened is Tom Schieffer dropped out and endorsed Bill White. Bill White is the mayor of Houston. Democrats think they have - I'm hearing music - the Democrats think they have a good shot at the governor of Texas because the Republicans look like they're going to beat each other up between Rick Perry and Kay Bailey Hutchison in the primary.
CONAN: All right. We'll talk more with Ken Rudin, our Political Junkie, in a moment. Up next, politico.com asks: Where did president leave his charisma? It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
(Soundbite of music)
CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Ken Rudin is funny, but on Monday we'll be talking with a real comedian: Charlie Murphy, Eddie Murphy's older brother. You may have seen him on Chappelle's show. He's now touring with his own stand-up show, and he's got a new memoir out. You can join us in the studio for the interview. If you'll be in D.C. on Monday and you'd like to join us in the audience, drop us an email. Put Charlie Murphy in the subject line. Give us your name, the number of seats you need, and a phone number to reach you. We'll write you back to confirm availability.
Ken Rudin is furiously typing on his Blackberry right now. NPR's political editor and our political junkie joins us every Wednesday afternoon. Read his blog, listen to his podcast at npr.org. Just click on the Political Junkie.
Fred Barbash is a senior editor for Politico. He's the organizer and moderator of the Politico Arena, where a number of people are answering this question: Obama's charisma, where did he leave it? You can find a link to that conversation on our Web site at npr.org.
We're going to ask you the same question. As we see the president's approval ratings dim, let's - is he missing the same flashes of charisma he showed on the campaign trail? If so, has it changed your opinion of him? 800-989-8255. Email us, email@example.com. And Fred Barbash has been kind enough to join us here in Studio 3A. Happy Thanksgiving, Fred.
Mr. FRED BARBASH (Politico): My pleasure. Happy Thanksgiving to you.
CONAN: And what prompted this discussion? Was it that 49 percent approval rating?
Mr. BARBASH: Well, less the approval rating than some of the commentary you're seeing, even from people who are staunch Obama supporters - a couple of columns in the New York Times, Maureen Dowd this morning wondering sort of what became of the man who they voted for and who was so inspiring on the campaign trail.
CONAN: And indeed, you've gotten some interesting responses.
Mr. BARBASH: Yes, and there are several schools of thought. One is that he never really had it, that it was in the eyes of the beholders and the worshipful crowds and the young people and the media. So the - questioning essentially the premise. I don't accept that because I think he did have a huge amount of charisma, depending on how you define that. Another common theme today is that, well, this is the difference between governing and campaigning.
CONAN: That's what Dana Perino, the former White House press secretary�
Mr. BARBASH: Dana Perino, who ought to know, had something to say about that, and I think it was very wise that when you're dealing with the difficulties, the day-to-day difficulties of that job, it's difficult to maintain the same level of flash and enthusiasm that you have on the campaign trail, which is an entirely different stage.
CONAN: I was also interested, Republican strategist and Reagan biographer Craig Shirley said from the vantage point of the peanut gallery, it appears to many he is simply lost in power, that neither he nor his people understand the difference between stagecraft and statesmanship.
Mr. BARBASH: Yes, and Craig knows something about that because he helped manage President Reagan's stagecraft, and here this theme is essentially that his managers have done him in. There's a couple of people who say get rid of Rahm Emanuel�
CONAN: Big shakeup.
Mr. BARBASH: �and it'll all come back. And there's also a theme that, you know, our perception of the president is determined by the circumstances. The circumstances are not so good, and when you get, particularly in the media, when you get somebody who appears to be, shall we say, less than successful, every perception about that person changes accordingly, and the media is fickle that way.
CONAN: Walter Russell Mead, the historian and foreign policy expert, said: No president is charismatic when unemployment is in double digits and rising.
Mr. BARBASH: Exactly, but there's a deeper thing going on here because people are commenting, and if you read some of the comments about Obama's specific style, one of them even calling it robotic, business-like, methodical, and there really is, let's face it, a very different style that he's adopted as president, and it goes beyond the no-drama and it's very different than when he was in a large room with 70,000 or whatever that maximum figure was.
CONAN: And we're seeing very different styles of the president, of course. Last night at the formal setting of the state dinner for the Indian prime minister, who was visiting, then today, when he issued his first presidential pardon, that of course to a turkey named Courage.
President BARACK OBAMA: You know, there are certain days that remind me of why I ran for this office, and then there are moments like this, where I�
(Soundbite of laughter)
President OBAMA: �pardon a turkey and send it to Disneyland.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: And Ken wasn't even there.
RUDIN: No, actually, I was going to say I think the last turkey to be pardoned was Marc Rich.
(Soundbite of laughter)
RUDIN: No, but besides that, first of all, I hope we're not talking about lack of charisma because Maureen Dowd decided that. I mean, that would be upsetting. But two things hit me. One, he was actually dispassionate when he was a candidate. I think one of the reasons people liked him so much was he was not the kind of guy who would get excited about things, and he would just be very methodical about the way he ran things.
Two, as we've pointed out before, charisma is not going to end wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and it's not going to reduce unemployment. But three, Dick Cheney was not Mr. Charisma either, and he may have been the most effective vice president in history.
So I think the word - using - thinking that charisma is the answer to things may be overstated as well.
CONAN: Well, Fred, there were some people who had some things to say about his, what some would call dithering. And it was interesting, just in the Washington Post this morning, when they were talking about his slow decision-making - Obama goes with his head, not his gut. That's the analysis headline from Joel Achenbach.
Mr. BARBASH: Yes, and that was one of the pieces that I cited in the Arena this morning.
CONAN: It's interesting, but Lawrence Wilkerson, the retired Army colonel who served as chief of staff to then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, said he's establishing his decision-making process as diametrically the opposite of the previous administration. The Bush-Cheney style, he said, was, quote, "cowboy-like, typical Texas, typical Wyoming and extremely secretive." In contrast, a lot of people cite President Obama's style as - well, Mr. Spock.
Mr. BARBASH: Yes, well, that's the robotic argument. But here's the thing. It does matter. One of the commenters says this is a grown-up and we should be glad to have him, but the way you lead, particularly when you're leading in difficult times and trying to do ambitious things, I think it's very important whether you can rouse people to your support. That may or may not be charisma. It may be persuasiveness, maybe, and he changed from the moment - if you remember the inaugural address, there was a lot of comment, wait a minute, is this the right - is this the same guy?
Mr. BARBASH: And Dana Perino points that out, and my son said that when we watched the inaugural address. So something changed.
CONAN: Dana Perino pointing out that Mr. Uniter took a few swipes at the former president in his inaugural address.
Mr. BARBASH: Yes, well, that's her own grievance there, you know. Indeed.
CONAN: Let's see if we can get some callers in on the conversation. We'll start with Melissa, Melissa calling from Columbus.
MELISSA: Good afternoon.
CONAN: Good afternoon.
MELISSA: I don't think he lost his charisma, and your guest already kind of mentioned how there's a lot of - you know, the seriousness as far as Afghanistan and the war in Iraq, he's dealing with that situation, not to mention health care and the joblessness in the states.
I think some folks are just unrealistic. These issues did not occur overnight, and they're not going to go away overnight. But what I think that he still has is that I think he is able to communicate effectively as far as what he's doing. He is communicating it to the people, and I just think we're being a little unrealistic as far as everything he has to deal with.
I don't think he's lost his charisma. I just think he's dealing with some serious issues, and that's taken his attention.
RUDIN: I agree with what Melissa says, but also if you think of the addresses, the nationally televised addresses that Barack Obama's made regarding health care or regarding war policy and things like that, you notice that after he speaks the polls don't indicate much of the public changing, much of a public movement.
So I don't know if it's charisma or leadership or whatever we're talking about, but ultimately when you address the nation on something so important as war or changing the health care, some - there should be some movement in public opinion, and we have not seen that.
CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Melissa, appreciate it.
MELISSA: Thank you.
CONAN: And talking about the setting, or at least the stagecraft for comments about war, it was interesting to see there was - in the middle of your conversation news came down the president plans to go to West Point on Tuesday to make his address to explain the policy in Afghanistan, and you had two rival comments on that.
I think it was one saying this is exactly the right place, he needs to look these young men in the eye, they're the ones who are going to be the second lieutenants in the field, carrying out his policies; and another saying no, no, no, he's got it all wrong, he should do this from the Oval Office and go to West Point the next day to reinforce it.
Mr. BARBASH: Right, and you know, it's going to be judged by his success. The standards of how a president ought to conduct himself are - have been determined by decades of successful presidencies, and if he is successful, people might say, well, this is the way to do it.
If he's unsuccessful, they might, as they do with Jimmy Carter, say this is the way not to do it. The man clearly has a style that doesn't suit the traditional managers of presidencies, I think, and there's beginning to be a lot of comment on that, and there's also a little bit of disappointment.
The guy is capable of turning on and off his charisma. We all wish we had that ability.
CONAN: Sure, yeah.
Mr. BARBASH: And he's chosen to turn it off and probably for a calculated reason. Maybe he's uncomfortable with it�
CONAN: Or to save it for when he really needs it.
Mr. BARBASH: To save it for when, and Sharolyn Eiffel(ph), one of Arena contributors, points that out, that it's a precious commodity. Use it carefully, use it when you need it and not otherwise, because it can get stale.
CONAN: We're going to take some more calls on this in just a minute. Here's a couple of emails, this from Thomas in Baton Rouge. I believe the longer Obama equivocates on issues and seeks to please everyone, people are seeing more and more resemblance to Jimmy Carter, which we just mentioned. People remember how ineffectual Carter was and fear this will be four to eight years of talk, compromise and failing to accomplish anything of substance.
This from Betsy in Ann Arbor. No, he has lost nothing. We're expect way too much too fast. He can't fix problems years in the making instantly, and yet every group demands their cause be addressed now. We're beating him down with unreasonable expectation.
In the meantime, we spoke earlier about the state dinner at the White House yesterday. Among the lucky 300-plus people in the tent on the South Lawn was Deepak Chopra, the bestselling author and doctor who specializes in alternative medicine. He joins us now by phone from San Diego. I guess you had a quick flight back home.
Dr. DEEPAK CHOPRA (Chopra Center for Wellbeing): Yeah, we just got back, very early in the morning, about six o'clock.
CONAN: And we have to nominate you as perhaps the most unlikely guest ever on the Political Junkie segment.
Dr. CHOPRA: Well, I don't know about that. I think I have the unique advantage of coming from India, being India's economic and political rise in the world, and having access to both worlds, having trained in the medical tradition by the schools that Nehru put up.
You know, when Nehru became the prime minister, he focused on education and said the most important thing we can do for India is to have educational institutions. And we're reaping the benefits of that now. And my only hope is that - is President Obama and Mr. Manmohan Singh can start a partnership for economic development and help Pakistan come along the way. It might actually help the problem in Afghanistan.
You know, ease tensions, get the Kashmiris to be a little more independent and foster economic partnerships, decrease the tension between India and Pakistan, focus on Afghanistan with Pakistan's help by building their infrastructure. And perhaps these troops that are being sent are just, you know, a temporary alleviation of the problem in the long-term.
CONAN: Mm-hmm. Well, before we get�
Dr. CHOPRA: �(unintelligible).
CONAN: �too far to the problems of South Asia, let me ask if you'd ever been to a state dinner before.
Dr. CHOPRA: Yes. I was there when President Clinton invited Mr. Vajpayee. That was also a very elegant and celebrative occasion. This one was actually a little more subdued, a little more controlled, because there were fewer people.
CONAN: Uh-huh. The thing that most of us would ask ourselves if we were unlikely enough to get an invitation would be, oh, my gosh, what am I going to wear?
Dr. CHOPRA: Well, for a man, it's not very difficult. Just wear a tux.
CONAN: Just wear a tux?
Dr. CHOPRA: Yeah. I mean, that's - what to wear is the problem for women, I think, not for men.
CONAN: And what was the most interesting�
Dr. CHOPRA: We all look like waiters.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: What was the most interesting conversation you had last night?
Dr. CHOPRA: Well, actually, it was the president himself. He said, keep sending the advice, I read your stuff. And with Mrs. Obama who said, finally, we get to meet. I said, yes, finally. And I said to the president, I'm so proud of you. I thought I could say that because I'm 63 and he's still in his 40s.
CONAN: Deepak Chopra, thank you very much for taking the time out to speak with us today.
Dr. CHOPRA: Thank you very much.
CONAN: Dr. Deepak Chopra, founder of the Chopra Center for Wellbeing, a guest of President Obama's at the White House state dinner for the prime minister of India last night. He joined us by phone from San Diego in California. Everybody comes on the Political Junkie. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
And Ken Rudin is still with us, of course. Also, still with us is Fred Barbash of Politico, who's been anchoring their conversation, has -�Where Did President Obama's Charisma Go?� 800-989-8255. Email us: firstname.lastname@example.org. Let's go next to Joel. Joel with us from Muskegon in Michigan.
JOEL (Caller): Hi, Ken and Neal. A pleasure to call in and actually speak with you.
CONAN: Well, go ahead.
JOEL: I am a big Obama supporter, but I do think that his charisma has suffered, and I think you can tell. And it's really evident to me in a lot of the times that he's speaking now. And I think some of the reason might actually be the weight of responsibility. I mean, his mind is definitely processing a lot more things than it was during the actual campaign. And I think it's coming through.
CONAN: Yeah. He was the one who said, you don't have to be a president on one issue at a time. You can focus on a number of things.
CONAN: Yeah. Well, I guess be careful of what you ask for.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: Well, thanks very much, Joel.
JOEL: Thank you.
CONAN: Bye-bye. And let's go to - this is Corinne(ph). Corinne with us from Long Island.
CORINNE (Caller): Hi. How are you today?
CONAN: Very well, thanks.
CORINNE: I think that President Obama is doing an amazing job of juggling so many tasks and responsibilities and handling them with grace. And I don't think he's lost his charisma. But there are times when it's not appropriate. If he's always charismatic and dynamic and showing a lighter side, other people will be critical that he is not taking his job seriously enough. (Unintelligible)�
CONAN: And, Fred Barbash, Corinne is making a point that some of your contributors made as well.
Mr. BARBASH: Yes. They did make that point. And the other point that's been made is that when he turns on the charisma, he is often criticized for it.
Mr. BARBASH: It's all about me.
CORINNE: Mm-hmm. Exactly.
Mr. BARBASH: And so, when he turns it off, he's being criticized, or it is being commented upon as well. Again, I think it's really a question of circumstances. If things were going stingingly(ph) for him, nobody would be talking about where is his charisma. The other thing is, you know, I met a lot of - had a reason not worthy of discussion here, to meet a lot of actors in my time.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. BARBASH: And on stage, almost all of them were, of course, incredibly charismatic. That's how they earn their living. But privately, many of them are quite - the good ones are cerebral, often quite shy. And they're able to make that distinction. I'm beginning to think - and I don't know the president personally - I'm beginning to think that he has that kind of dichotomy in his personality, an extremely cerebral, thoughtful man. And yet, he knows as a politician, when he goes on stage, he has to be something else.
CONAN: All right. Well, that�
CORINNE: My last comment about this is simply that if you look at the variety in his job, I was glued to the coverage last week about his speech in Fort Hood. I don't think that anyone could have done it as gracefully, passionately and sincerely as he. And yet, he just pardoned a turkey this morning.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CORINNE: You know, look at the variety of his job and give the man a break that he has the charisma, but you could only use it appropriately. Thank you so much for allowing my comment.
CONAN: Corinne, thanks very much for the call. And Ken Rudin, of course, is only charismatic on the radio. Very shy off the air. Ken, we also have to remember, it's early yet.
RUDIN: Well, of course, it's early. I mean, we talk about - look, Richard Nixon, at this point, in 1970 or '69 was a one-term president. Bill Clinton was a one-term president. So this is very, very early. And as Fred says, it made an important point that all you need is something gigantic like health care passage or successful end to a war or two.
RUDIN: And that charisma and the ratings change.
CONAN: Who knows, he could even get a Supreme Court nominee through.
RUDIN: Or TALK OF THE NATION, I guess.
CONAN: Yeah. Fred Barbash, thanks very much for your time today.
Mr. BARBASH: My pleasure.
CONAN: Fred Barbash is senior editor at Politico, responsible for their arena conversations, with us here in Studio 3A. You can find a link to their latest about President Obama's charisma on our Web site at npr.org.
And coming up, Shakespeare Caribbean style. We'll talk with the director of a new interpretation of "Much Ado About Nothing" with a reggae beat. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.