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tv   Tavis Smiley  PBS  September 22, 2011 12:00am-12:30am PDT

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tavis: good evening. from los angeles, i am tavis smiley. tonight, a conversation with pulitzer prize-winning journalist ron suskind on his explosive text on the obama white house. he portrays a white house struggling to find a cohesive voice and a revealing look at the most powerful players. the controversial test is called "confidence men." >> every community has a martin luther king boulevard. know. it's not just a street or boulevard, but a place where wal-mart stands together with your community to make every day better. >> nationwide insurance supports tavis smiley. with every question and answer, help tavis improve financial literacy and remove obstacles
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to economic empowerment one conversation at a time. nationwide is on your side. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. [captioning made possible by kcet public television] tavis: ron suskind is a pulitzer prize-winning journalist whose text include "the test of loyalty." his newest text is called "confidence men." good to have you back on this program. >> nice to see you. tavis: i assume that you write
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at these kinds of books with this kind of insight and you expect there would be a response. has it been what you expected it to be or is it more than that? >> it is stronger than i thought, i will limit that. i have written books that have gotten two different responses. in one case, george bush and cheney launched a frivolous federal investigation into me and the former treasury secretary. this is a little personal this time. all of the key actors knew everything important going into the book next to their name prior to publication. that was helpful in the construction of the book giving it its wholeness. all of the key moments were read back to the various folks who said them and they got a chance to respond. in some cases, with a full suite
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inside of the book. as well and most importantly, at the end of this process in february, i sat down with the president and i read through letter and a first of what i found and the president did not deny anything. he was actually quite open and expert and elaborate in examining and talking about what these years have been in terms of his life. the difficulties he has faced, the hard lessons he has learned, how he has grown in office, as well as the fears he had coming in. i think it is the president saying that it has been a rough couple of years compared to those that i brought -- it has been a rough couple of years, now i have a new staff compared to those that i brought with me. tavis: i am glad that you raise
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the conversation with the president for the new book "confidence men." i cannot figure out why president obama keeps suggesting himself to this. put another way, why are you talking to bob woodward, ron suskind? i love all of you guys. every time these books come out, it kicks up some kind of controversy. this might be a strange question to ask you. when these books come out and i found out that the president and his people cooperated, i am like, why don't you stop talking to these writers. help me understand why he sits down and talks to so many people in this first term. >> you will have to ask the president and his staff about
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that. i think on balance when it comes to the coverage, one of the things that you find in this. -- this is something that bob woodward and i talked about is that in this era with the message and media management models that are accepted everywhere, what you find often is that lots of news is defaulting towards these books. we have a much longer turn to sit with sources. they are in the white house and they leave. that allows for a depth of reporting that i think at the end of the day the president rightly would like to respond to. i think it is better if you have these disclosures at the end of the day that to have the president so nimble and to say, let's go through it. this gives a whole mess to it and helps when the book comes out rather than hurts. it is an hour in each case.
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he goes through it a letter and verse. i really do think having read all of the interviews that he has done, he is stretching to think about how he has changed and maybe needs to change in terms of being a more engaged leader in a way that is not customary for him. readers can decide for themselves. tavis: tavis: there are some people who see his job speech and is throw down conversation where he drew a line in the sand with republicans. some say that he is a changed man. he is starting to find a spine, find a backbone. there are others who see this as pure political calculation. his back is against the wall, his numbers are in the toilet, he is up for reelection. it is he a new barack obama that
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we are seeing or is this a political calculation? >> i would say it is a little bit of both. the fact of the matter is that he said quite forcefully, it has been a rough couple of years. i have learned some hard lessons. i have learned things that have surprised me. i don't want to be a technocrat anymore. i realize that we have a policy wonk disease. i want to be a dynamic leader and focus more, he says, on symbols and gestures which are as important as the policies. what do you remember from roosevelt, even from kennedy? remember a few things that they did from policy. the most important thing you remember is that they were able to communicate with the american people. the most important thing that i can do as president, he says, is to tell the story of who we are,
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where we are going, and how we will get there. i think that that does fit based on what i have read in my investigations that that is the kind of thing that you point to after the interview. i am doing the kinds of things that people hoped i would do. this is about choices. everyone will not be happy here. there is a phrase in the book that is interesting and it develops the first two years in large measure and this is from larry summers and timothy geithner. they talk about risk from hippocrates, do no harm. this is what in habits the president's moments of decisions in these first six or seven months of his administration. the fact of the matter is that, paul volcker, who also speaks in my book, says that if you go with that philosophy, you will not get much done.
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paul volcker was cutting off the money supply is to kill off inflation. the government's job when they are acting boldly means that they will probably do harm to some people. maybe government's role is to soften the blow to them. the real action that changes the american landscape will mean harm to someone. obama seems to be embracing that somehow. this will allow him to free himself for what he calls the legislator in chief. he is looking for a perfect solution and hoping that he will come up with it and he will not have to come out of the mud and start swinging. tavis: you mentioned summers and a geiger and it leads me to ask how much of the trouble that this president has encountered have to do with an issue that you discussed in the book that team?ked the lonwrong
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-- you mentioned summers and timothy geithner air. >> i think a lot of it. he had a strong bipartisan said of advisers coming through the campaign. he had robert reischauer, robert wolf, this dynamic chairman, the head of pbs. he cast them aside when things got tough in the fall of 2008. he kind of broke into a cold sweat a little bit. he said, i have to save the economy. i need to the pros. very seasoned old hands. they came one after the other. he actually offered, they offered of rubin a dollar a year job to have an office in the white house. the godfather of whole old school clinton team.
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those guys really ran the show. the president breaks free to be more autonomous. a lot of that is not until 2010. larry and tim have a long history together. orzag breaks off from the trio. he gets to do more with the president wants, serve him directly. that makes him an out liar. the conversations between the three end up being defining a policy with the without the president's figure prince. some things are already done and prepackage. other times, we have a problem of slow walking. the president makes a decision and one of these guys says he does not know what he is deciding. that is very troubling. part of the book has uncovered
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that and is causing some discomfort. tavis: people like larry summers said that bill clinton would not have made these kind mistakes after walking out of a meeting. you have larry summers on the record here. you have timothy geithner their, you have romer talking about sexism in the white house. you have dunn talking about how they could be in court over some of the sexes and. what i want to get to is that you expect the white house now to push back on this text given all the stuff that i just laid out. i have noticed over the couple of days that some in the media are starting to push back on you. how do you explain the media push back versus the white house? >> there are a lot of folks going in a different direction. some folks have said, i am an
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expert on the president and dianne covered some of these things. this is -- and i uncovered some of these things. some people have seen some of these clear pieces of evidence and they're saying, while, i don't know what to think about that. that will cause some frustration and some action. tavis: some of the things that are getting the most press. i want to be fair to you and ask -- this is pretty dance -- dense. what is in here that is not being discussed that you would like to see discussed that you think you unveiled in the text? >> right off the bat i would say that one of the key pieces of hard evidence that is really
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quite startling and fascinating in the book is the memos from pete rouse. he was chief of staff to the former majority leader. he was a real character. he ends up being obama's chief of staff. then he ends up being a key adviser in the campaign. he is a brilliant memo writer. he writes memos that really guy obama. what happens here is that he is a senior adviser to the president. he is not the chief of staff, he was offered the job. he sees what has happened over the past year and he steps up. he writes a memo which is in the book where he really lays out a blueprint for how the president could take back control of the
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white house. one of the things in that memo, which any reporter should be following up on, is a couple of items where he talks about, specifically to the treasury department, when they disagree with what the president has decided, they tend to slow walk it. in this is a memo, not something with fiery language. essentially what that means is that if treasury does not think the president does not make the right decision, they either ignore, spin, slow. tim geithner has come out and the night that -- and denied that. >> this is crucial to this book's construction. i called tim geithner and i
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talked about these issues. what are other examples where the treasury department not carry forward the will of the president? tim geithner and i went went through it letter and a verse. the responses full, complete. this is in the book. two pages. if you read that, at the end of the day, it is hard to come to a conclusion other than tim geithner game to the president on his desire to really look at the taking down of the big banks, citibank, other big banks when they felt the urge to stock up. he was really study hard in january, february, march in 2009. the fact is that it did not happen. a month later, he thought that
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plans were being drawn up to dissolve city back -- citibank. he found out that they were not and he got quite agitated. i talked to the president about it and i talked to tim about it, everyone involved in that meeting where he raised his voice. there is not any dispute about it. there is no dispute that i have seen about what happened. the question is, what did the president do? did he ask lost did he take him to the woodshed? -- did he take tim to the woodshed? how does this president rise to the moment and have a white house around him that now carries forward with a seasoned and deeper experience to express his will, express his qualities. tavis: if you are the treasury
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secretary and you are gaming the president on behalf of your boys on wall street and the president comes to learn about that, how this tim geithner -- it is not just that he does not get asked to leave, it is not that he does not get shown the door. they were begging him to stay. if you are gaming the president, how do you not get asked to leave and moreover, how do you get asked tuesday? >> that is a president lost that is a question for the president. -- that is a question for the president. there has been difficult issues with tim geithner. i have pressed both of them on that. was there changes after this occurred? there are other things that are noted. let's talk about some of those.
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let's go through those as well. that is a question for the president in terms of his management. in terms of the president as boss in chief. there is plenty of natural sympathy that should go to the president. understandably, he sheltered one of the man who created one of the most extraordinary narratives. he arrives in the white house at a time of crisis with almost no managerial experience. not the politicians have it. he has no experience in the exercise of power. he had a little time in the senate. that sort of combination of circumstances, that is like bad luck. it takes precedence a while to learn had to do this job. barack obama had to do it under
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untenable circumstances. that creates the drama of the book but an awful lot is at stake. tavis: let's go back to the campaign, specifically the primary. there was the debate between hillary and barack obama. barack obama kept saying it is about judgment and clinton can't say it is -- kept saying it is about experience. i was just think about this the other day. if you are mad at obama for bringing in the clintonites, who would have hillary brought in? how much of this education of the president that you talk about in the book, has to do with judgment versus experience,
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maybe not enough of life there. i don't know, you tell me. >> you framed it beautifully. hillary clinton did have experience. i don't know if she would have brought in larry and tim. she might have brought in a more dynamic team. experience is important and the problem is that it is clear that the president is engaged in some faulty judgment in terms of bringing together that first team. the book shows how would happens. that dynamic team that was fascinating across party lines, talking about progressive reforms. how he lost that team in favor of a team a. tavis: many people have left the building. you talk about how he had a chance to push the restored
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building. for some people have seen the white house sends the pressing of the restart button -- since the pressing of the restart button. what does that mean economically? >> moral judgments are difficult. we need to move the big plates beneath the surface and that will take a different kind of action. this is split in the middle and saying a little here, a little there. this will create enemies but this will also create a new political conversation. basically, having washington supply, bailout, support wall street. this has been in some ways a real disaster for barack obama. someone i was talking to earlier today said i don't understand why barack obama did not
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separate wall street from american businesses. american businesses have no love for wall street. wall street is in its own world. they turn speculation into a business model and a managed to sever from accountability. whatever goes up or down, wall street still makes their money. they drove the economic collapse. that is how the book starts. in a way, what you find is that the great global batters -- battles are what wall street has accelerated. they have taken their capital and invested overseas and then sell debt to an increasingly distressed american public. that is their business model. it is one in which they figured
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out a way to package it as a kind of an elegantly wrap product that can be passed hand to hand. there is no holding of the risk, there is no accountability for the seller. paul volcker talks brilliantly and passionately that we need to change that. we are accelerating those issues, those trends, and profiting from it. that was right there for barack obama to take. everyone was talking about the 13 bankers coming at the end of march. that was a big moment. folbaum was getting tough on them. -- obama was getting tough on them. when he talks about -- when he talks about is that we have a public relations problem
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that is turning into a political problem. what can i do to help? tavis: the book is about wall street, washington, and the education of a president. the book is called "confidence men." this is causing a lot of conversation and consternation. it is written by ron suskind. thank you for coming on and sharing your insights. we appreciate it. >> thank you. tavis: that is our show. good night, from los angeles. as always, keep the faith. >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at tavis: hi, i'm tavis smiley. join me next time for a consersation with thomas friedman on his latest book. that is next time. we will see you there. >> every community has a martin
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luther king boulevard. it's the cornerstone we all know. wal-mart stands together with better. >> nationwide insurance supports tavis smiley. with every question and answer, help tavis improve financial literacy and remove obstacles to economic empowerment one conversation at a time. nationwide is on your side. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. [captioning made possible by kcet public television]
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