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NYT Mag Interview: Here Comes Obama 2.0

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Obama on Mistakes Made

Baker asks 2010 Obama what he would tell 2008 Obama. The president focuses on what he suggests were the tactical failures of the stimulus.

I would have told Barack Obama back in 2009 that just be warned, structuring the tax cut the way we did, where people basically got a small bump in their paycheck every two weeks, was the right thing to do economically, but politically it meant that nobody knew that they were getting a tax cut. And in fact what ended up happening was six months into it or nine months into it, people had thought we had raised their taxes instead of cutting their taxes.

Obama On How Seeing Is Not Believing

Is Obama's popularity drain a result of communications fails (as his supporters claim) or policy fails (as his detractors howl)? The president puts the blame -- what blame he finds that is -- squarely on the messaging end of things.

"We probably spent much more time trying to get the policy right than trying to get the politics right," the president said.

Obama On "Oh, They'll Come Around"

Once the public has a chance to live with what he's done, Obama tells Baker, they'll realize that the Obama administration has kept its promises and been good for the country.

People who are already cynical and skeptical about Washington generally look at it and say, This is the same old mess as we've seen before. The president's poll numbers drop. And you have to then sort of wrestle back the confidence of the people as the programs that you've put in place start bearing fruit and people can suddenly start seeing, Hey, you know what, this health care bill means my kid isn't losing her health insurance once she leaves college even though she doesn't have a job yet. Or you know what, the credit-card company can't jack up my interest rate suddenly, and this is actually saving me some money. Or I'm a small business, and lo and behold, I don't have to pay capital gains on my start-up, and I can plow that money back into my business.

And what you hope is that over time, despite all the rhetoric, people start seeing concrete benefits from what you're doing and what was a valley goes back into a peak.

Obama On That Other Party

Are there any Republicans Obama 'trusts'? Baker asks. The president names just two -- and one of them won't be in DC next year.

Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH), once Obama's choice for Commerce Secretary, makes the list. But, as the president laments, "Judd's retiring." Then there's Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), who Obama says "has got a lot of attention is absolutely sincere about wanting to reduce the deficit." Still, Obama says that Ryan's plan doesn't "add up."

Obama on Silver Linings

The president says he's been reading Taylor Branch's The Clinton Tapes and taking solace in its tales of 1994.

"I was looking over some chronicles of the Clinton years," Obama says, "and was reminded that in '94 -- when President Clinton's poll numbers were lower than mine, and obviously the election ended up being bad for Democrats -- unemployment was only 6.6 percent. And I don't think anybody would suggest that Bill Clinton wasn't a good communicator or was somebody who couldn't connect with the American people or didn't show empathy."

Read Baker's piece here.

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