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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is Day to Day. I'm Madeleine Brand.

ALEX COHEN, host:

And I'm Alex Cohen. In a few minutes, a revolution of faith, the Archdiocese of Boston wants to shut down a church, but its parishioners refuse to go.

BRAND: But first, the world's richest man said this week that the economy has fallen off a cliff. Warren Buffett supported President Obama during the presidential campaign. Now, what power does he have to shape the president's economic policy? Slate's chief political correspondent John Dickerson is here now. And John, Warren Buffett spoke on Monday on CNBC and not only did he say the economy has fallen off a cliff but he also said that the White House is sending out, quote, "muddled messages" that are basically confusing Americans and are just not helpful. What effect do you think his remarks will have on the White House?

JOHN DICKERSON: Well, it certainly creates a public relations problem for the White House at the moment because what was striking about Buffett's comments is that basically he said because the economic policies of the administration are not being communicated effectively, the economy was kind of in lockdown, that people were pulling back because they were fearful and they were not being given a sense of confidence. And so, you know, Buffett is somebody that Obama talked a lot about during the campaign. He is well-respected. This is not some, you know, crank that the White House can kind of dismiss. So, they've kind of embraced other parts of Buffett's remarks where he said, you know, that Republicans couldn't just say no, and that gridlock was hurting the economic situation as well. But they're kind of sidestepping the remarks that Buffett made about the deficiencies from the administration. I should hasten to add, though, that he still said that he supported Obama and that Obama is the right man for the job.

BRAND: Well, you know, Warren Buffett himself is not without blemish. I mean, he's had a pretty spotty record investing lately. He admitted that actually, you know, so maybe no one's an oracle these days.

DICKERSON: Well, that's right. When I talked to a number of strategists who sort of circle around - Democratic strategists who help the White House and have its interest in mind, that was one of the things they pointed out quite quickly, that Buffett in this interview points out that he made a lot of mistakes. And in his annual letter to shareholders, which is a document that is very closely watched, he said, you know, I made some bad choices in 2008. So, perhaps no one is indeed an oracle at this point, but there are still a lot of people who listen to what he says.

BRAND: Well, so what do the American people think? Are they confused, as Warren Buffett says, by the president's message, by his economic policies?

DICKERSON: Well, the polls are actually quite favorable for the president on a number of fronts. He is popular, people approve of the job he is doing. They approved of the job he's doing specifically on the economy. They approve of his budget and they approve of his recent housing plan. Now, the numbers are slightly different here. It's only a small majority on some of the specific proposals, but he's doing quite well in terms of the political polls. Buffett's point, though, is that, you know, the economy is not moving and that he was making this case again, it's because it's not the government policies haven't been effectively communicated. So, that's harder to judge, harder to tell. We know the economy is not moving. The question is what's the cause for that, and the White House certainly and the president have been trying to kind of, on the one hand, paint the picture in its stark reality, but on the other hand, not be all doom and gloom. And the president at different times has said things like, don't put your money in the mattress, don't lose all faith in the financial institutions. They're trying to walk that delicate line.

BRAND: Well, it raises a good point, and that is how much sway or how much power do people who are not in government have, not only on White House policy but on what Congress does and on how the American public invests or feels confident about the economy. I mean, when Warren Buffett speaks now in this economy, do people listen?

DICKERSON: Well, one - it's hard to know what in fact affects, say, the stock market or the larger enormous massive economy. Warren Buffett made his remarks on Monday and the stock market, the Dow Jones went up nearly 400 points on Tuesday. So, if his remarks were making anybody nervous about Obama, it didn't reflect in the behavior of the stock market. I think it's generally seen as kind of nutty to link the movement - the day-to-day movement of the stock markets to anything that the government is particularly doing on that day, although certainly a lot of the president's critics have been trying to link him to the Dow's poor performance on a day to day basis. But that's one of the things we're in this unchartered economic period, and it's one of the things economists and policy makers are trying to figure out which is what exactly does influence the economy and its enormous capacity and what can they do to influence it to move in the right direction.

BRAND: John Dickerson is chief political correspondent for Slate. Thanks, John.

DICKERSON: Thank you.

BRAND: There's more coming up on Day to Day from NPR News.

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