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Week In News: GOP Pledge, Obama's Image, Zuckerberg

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Week In News: GOP Pledge, Obama's Image, Zuckerberg

Analysis

Week In News: GOP Pledge, Obama's Image, Zuckerberg

Week In News: GOP Pledge, Obama's Image, Zuckerberg

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As the midterm elections approach, President Obama uses his weekly address to challenge Republicans on policy — amid comparisons to former Democratic presidents. Host Guy Raz speaks with news analyst James Fallows of The Atlantic about this story and others from the past week.

GUY RAZ, host:

We're back with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.

President BARACK OBAMA: So America may be speaking out, but Republicans in Congress sure aren't listening. They want to put special interest back in the driver's seat in Washington.

RAZ: President Obama in his Saturday video address, criticizing the Republican election manifesto that was unveiled this past week.

James Fallows of The Atlantic is with me in the studio.

Jim, because I work on Saturday, as do you, I've watched almost every single one of these presidential video addresses on Saturday.

And normally, you know, they're pretty dull, right? Full of decorum, no partisanship. This one really struck me. It seemed like it was the first the president was using it to make a full frontal attack on Republicans. Did you have the same reaction?

Mr. JAMES FALLOWS (National Correspondent, The Atlantic): I did, indeed. I think if you contrast this with the rhetoric of the president's first year in office when he's talking about looking everywhere for good ideas on health insurance, on saving the economy, et cetera, it certainly is a shift from that.

I would argue this actually is good for America to have the president taking this tone, entirely apart from its effect on the party in that election should not be purely negative, although there is always that component. But if he's saying we have our plan, look at the Republicans' plan, too, that makes at least for the possibility of a more informed election two months from now.

RAZ: And, Jim, two former Democratic presidents are offering up advice to this one, Bill Clinton and then Jimmy Carter, not coincidentally dropped his new book this week. Is there a subtext here, a kind of, you know, well, we know what it's like to feel beleaguered or is it genuinely useful?

Mr. FALLOWS: I think it is useful. I was fascinated to hear the contrast between these two living Democratic ex-presidents. For the record, I once worked for Jimmy Carter long ago...

RAZ: Right.

Mr. FALLOWS: ...as his speechwriter and that Carter was analytical. He talked about how hard the situation was because of Fox News. He talked about the role of the Tea Party. He talked, as always, about the situation that Barack Obama is in as the first non-white president, et cetera. Whereas Bill Clinton was much more operational and prescriptive, saying here's a story you tell, you can't let election be about emotions and about negativity. It has to be about X, Y and Z.

And so I thought you saw in just these many distillations those two different personalities and probably the more useful for the Democratic administration in the next six weeks would be listening to Bill Clinton.

RAZ: Yeah, that sort of bring out the optimism kind of talk.

Mr. FALLOWS: Yes, exactly.

RAZ: So this week, we learned that the recession has now been over for about a year, which I guess needs to be reframed in the minds of many of us because, you know, while it's certainly better than bad news, it's not necessarily great news.

Mr. FALLOWS: That's true. And there is this famous organization, the National Bureau of Economic Research in Massachusetts, which officially declares recession starts, recession ends. There's a variety of complex measures that they use for this.

But when every recession technically ends, there's a lag especially on unemployment. And what's so striking with this one is it's essentially the longest lag time in employment recovering with the most persistent hardship for people, you know, it's sort of the bottom of the economic distribution.

So that's why corporate profits are growing very strongly. The stock market is up strongly compared to a year ago. But unemployment remains a real issue, and that's the quandary of these days.

RAZ: Now, finally, Jim, to a story that seem to jump out of nowhere. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announced that he was donating $100 million to the Newark school district in New Jersey. Obviously, an incredible act of generosity, but one wonders about the timing. I mean, obviously, this movie, "The Social Network," which is a pretty negative portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg, comes out this week. I'm wondering whether you think that timing is a little fishy.

Mr. FALLOWS: I have not been an admirer of him in sort of a social citizen role. Facebook, I think, has pushed the boundaries on privacy a lot. They made it very hard to protect your identity as much as you should. There's all sort of controversy about the origin of this company as the movie lays out.

So, I think, again, looking on the optimism, which is our theme for this segment, whatever the reason for his wanting to be involved in education this way and to have Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark, be empowered, I'm willing to applaud it for today.

RAZ: That's The Atlantic's James Fallows. He joins us most Saturdays. You can find his blog at jamesfallows.theatlantic.com.

Jim, thanks for coming in.

Mr. FALLOWS: My pleasure. Thank you, Guy.

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