Obama as Job

The New York Times has tweeted an interview with President Obama that will run in its Magazine this Sunday. The interview was conducted by David Leonhardt, an economics columnist and staff writer for the NYT Magazine.

Throughout the interview, Obama reinforced what I’ll call his Job narrative, because he constantly says we’re going to have to suffer for awhile. Obama himself seems to have a Job-like patience, which on its flip side means he doesn’t seem to be doing enough to solve our problems. You could support either perspective in this interview. Many of the problems he addresses, healthcare, education, the fall of manufacturing, seem intractable. His answers suggest that we’re going to have to live with a difficult period, which of course none of us want to hear.

This was one of my favorite comments about the silver lining in the Wall Street bailout: “We don’t want every single college grad with mathematical aptitude to become a derivatives trader. We want some of them to go into engineering, and we want some of them to be going into computer design.”

From an economics perspective it was probably most revealing that he does not think his economic team is overly-dominated by the ghost of Robert Rubin, and that he plans to talk directly with Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz, two of his most outspoken critics. He again sat in the dust with Job, saying

as we’re making economic policy, I think there is a certain humility about the consequences of the actions we take, intended and unintended, that may make some outside observers impatient. I mean, you’ll recall Geithner was just getting hammered for months. But he, I think, is very secure in saying we need to get these things right, and if we act too abruptly, we can end up doing more harm than good. Those are qualities that I think have been useful.

The final piece of his Job narrative involves his political future:

whether I’m a one-termer or a two-termer, the problems are big enough and fundamental enough that I can’t sort of game it out. It’s not one of these things where I can say, Oh, you know what, if I time it just right, then the market is going to be going up and unemployment will be going down right before re-election. These are much bigger, much more systemic problems. And so in some ways you just kind of set aside the politics.

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