- "Obama in Command: The Rolling Stone Interview" by Jann Wenner
"'Given how much stuff was coming at us,' Obama told me,
'we probably spent much more time trying to get the policy right
than trying to get the politics right. "
- "Education of a President"
The New York Times Magazine and Rolling Stone
While proud of his record, Obama has already begun thinking about what went wrong - and what he needs to do to change course for the next two years. He has spent what one aide called "a lot of time talking about Obama 2.0" with his new interim chief of staff, Pete Rouse, and his deputy chief of staff, Jim Messina. During our hour together, Obama told me he had no regrets about the broad direction of his presidency. But he did identify what he called "tactical lessons.î He let himself look too much like "the same old tax-and-spend liberal Democrat." He realized too late that "there's no such thing as shovel-ready projects" when it comes to public works. Perhaps he should not have proposed tax breaks as part of his stimulus and instead "let the Republicans insist on the tax cuts" so it could be seen as a bipartisan compromise.
Most of all, he has learned that, for all his anti-Washington rhetoric, he has to play by Washington rules if he wants to win in Washington. It is not enough to be supremely sure that he is right if no one else agrees with him. "Given how much stuff was coming at us," Obama told me, "we probably spent much more time trying to get the policy right than trying to get the politics right. There is probably a perverse pride in my administration - and I take responsibility for this; this was blowing from the top - that we were going to do the right thing, even if short-term it was unpopular. And I think anybody who's occupied this office has to remember that success is determined by an intersection in policy and politics and that you can't be neglecting of marketing and P.R. and public opinion."
Q. What do you think of Fox News? Do you think it's a good institution for America and for democracy?
A. [Laughs] Look, as president, I swore to uphold the Constitution, and part of that Constitution is a free press. We've got a tradition in this country of a press that oftentimes is opinionated. The golden age of an objective press was a pretty narrow span of time in our history. Before that, you had folks like Hearst who used their newspapers very intentionally to promote their viewpoints. I think Fox is part of that tradition ó it is part of the tradition that has a very clear, undeniable point of view. It's a point of view that I disagree with. It's a point of view that I think is ultimately destructive for the long-term growth of a country that has a vibrant middle class and is competitive in the world. But as an economic enterprise, it's been wildly successful. And I suspect that if you ask Mr. Murdoch what his number-one concern is, it's that Fox is very successful.
Q. Let me ask you about the Gulf oil spill. British Petroleum fired Tony Hayward, so my question is: Why does Interior Secretary Ken Salazar still have his job? The corruption at Minerals Management Service was widely known at the time he came into office, as was reported several times in Rolling Stone and other places, and that's what helped the Gulf disaster to happen.
For a few moments of comic relief (and a hilarious spoof on President Obama):A. When Ken Salazar came in, he said to me, "One of my top priorities is cleaning up MMS." It was no secret. You had seen the kind of behavior in that office that was just over-the-top, and Ken did reform the agency to eliminate those core ethical lapses - the drugs, the other malfeasance that was reported there. What Ken would admit, and I would admit, and what we both have to take responsibility for, is that we did not fully change the institutional conflicts that were inherent in that office. If you ask why did we not get that done, the very simple answer is that this is a big government with a lot of people, and changing bureaucracies and agencies is a time-consuming process. We just didn't get to it fast enough.
Having said that, the person who was put in charge of MMS was fired. . .
"A Very Modern President"
More related articles:
From the upcoming "The Case for Obama" by Tim Dickinson, the October 28th cover story in Rolling Stone:
The Wall Street Journal response to the Wenner Rolling Stone interview:During his campaign, skeptics warned that Barack Obama was nothing but a "beautiful loser," a progressive purist whose uncompromising idealism would derail his program for change. But as president, Obama has proved to be just the opposite - an ugly winner.
"How To Lose Friends and Alienate People"