tv After Words with Jonathan Chait CSPAN January 22, 2017 12:00pm-12:57pm EST
public service by america's cable television companies and is brought to you today by a cable or satellite provider. >> "after words" is next on booktv. cnn senior white house correspondent jim acosta interviews new york magazines jonathan chait author of "audacity" which examines president obama was legacy. >> host: and joining us now is jonathan chait, the author of tonight. thanks for joining us. i love the book. really fascinating look back at the obama presidency. i was struck by the way it begins. it begins with th a chapter on t you call america's final sin. why is that? >> guest: because when people look back at obama 100, 200 years from now, when his presidency is summarized for schoolchildren, the first thing
we'll do is he was america's first african-american president or maybe learn he was first, america's first nonwhite male president. and that was not just a historical footnote and this is not just a breakthrough, but it's something that defined him in the public mind, something he had to grapple with. i try to make an argument in the book is not just something that happened to him but that this is something he helped shape, that he helped create a narrative of race in america that help to bring america forward. so it was hardly incidental. it drove support for him. it drove opposition for him in a huge way. race was just absolutely central to perceptions of obama. in absolutely everything he did from healthcare onward was driven and you can show it tended to try to show it in an empirical way. it was driven by racial perceptions but also something that he struggled with at first
and i think eventually mastered in a way that a think we should study and is an important part of his achievement. >> host: one thing i noticed covering the white house during the obama presidency is how much barack obama tried to get away from this issue. he tried to avoid dealing with this issue. he was brought to deal with the issue from time to time, www.trayvon martin shooting and so on. how did that affect the way you think the public perceived his presidency, proceed to him, perceived his ability to move legislation in washington when he was someone who just didn't want to always have this front and center? >> guest: i think the way he dealt with race changed dramatically throughout his presidency. in his first couple of years he was clearly afraid of the question he wandered into it in a press asked about skip gates. he gave an answer about a distinguished harvard professor
who was arrested outside his own home, a pretty outrageous case. that may be not the worst, the most violent case of police abuse but an outrageous case. and he gave his opinion about this professor who was his friend and this became huge controversy, a problem he to resolve by bringing both the parties to dispute in high-profile way. the beer summit. this was a cleanup operation and to try to stay away from it. over his presidency he learned how to wait into the issue in a way he could control it and he could shape the narrative. the chapter ends with his speech on the admin pettus bridge commemorative 50t 50th anniversy of the march on selma. and in this dramatic speech he gave in which you really wove the civil rights movement into the story of america. he made it not just a thing that happen incidentally pick in the way i learned american history
when i was a kid lies and more progressive version of history than probably my parents were taught in the schools but i think still it sidelined race. i was reading history when i was a kid and you would read your chapter and here's what happened in the '20s, here's what happened to 30s and then there would be a box at the end of the chapter and here's what happening to african-americans at the time. they were inventing jazz or inventing the peanut butter, or some other little trivial thing that put them off to the side of what was going on. i think obama told the story of race that needed central, that the african-american experience was the heart of america's journey to a more perfect union. and the story to begin telling to america in 2004 when he burst onto the scene was really almost completed not only through his presidency but by this version of history that he formed as president. he was really acting as a public intellectual as president in
using race to tell the american story. >> host: he still had to deal with animosity. and part ratio driven at times that you saw this in the tea party rallies, and the way you remember his dealings with congress you also talk about that moment when congressman joe wilson said you lie during that one speech. he had to deal with ugliness at times that of the president did not have to deal with. >> guest: i want to make, i make this case in the book, but first let me give conservatives there do. i think conservatives are rightly indignant, that the ideas more constantly investigated and interrogated for signs of racism when you couldn't always be sure it was there. joe wilson is a great example. joe wilson screened at obama, and you could say he never would have done that to a white president, but on the other
hand, you can look at the way republicans treated bill clinton and in many ways it was just as bad. you had jesse helms threatening violence to bill clinton when bill clinton visited his home state or who were saying, or warning that he would be shot. you had these insane conspiracy theories in places as dignified as the walter desha "wall street journal" editorial page as clean as a murderer, a drug dealer. you had some serious derangement strength cleanse time as well. so conservatives have a point when liberals say the only did because he was black. this became a way for a lot of people on the left to dismiss all conservatives such objections, all politics and all the theories and simply racism. i think that was -- however, it was true and you can show it about politics became much more racialized during a bomb is time. the degree to which people that
racial animosity, drove their politics much more under obama when obama appeared on the scene and they had before hindered objected to interracial marriage, people who were suspicious of african-americans can any measure want to take of racism. racist feelings became much more tightly mapped onto partisan politics when obama came on the scene than they were afterward. so obama had to deal in the world in which racism, racial feelings, racial feelings became almost impossible to pull away from other kinds of conservati conservatism. this confounded in at the beginning of his presidency but over time he found a way to deal with it in a way that was to his advantage and i would argue to america's advantage as well. >> host: do you think this time will be looked at at a time of racial healing under the obama presidency, or was it really ripped apart, do you
think? >> guest: i think there are clearly elements of both. i think white america became more aware of racism, and you can look at polls about police abuse. that's a clear issue where i think most white americans were just not aware of the scale of the problem. this was not all or even mostly obama is doing. cell phone videos i think made a lot of white americans i went of the kind of mistreatment of african-americans that goes on routinely touted think many of us just assumed must be a rarity. >> host: and i came onto the scene during his presidency. >> guest: i do think he had a lot of success in looking at different visions. you could always say look, police have a tough job picks some of them have legitimate reasons for fear. we can't hate them all with the same brush. because there's a lot of bad
things -- he could also empathize with and relate to the fear that african-americans do with police. he had a marvelous ability to see all sides of the issue and think you are practical ways we can move this issue forward. this is an example i think of the ways he dealt with the racial question. he could -- >> host: no drama obama. >> guest: he could speak to the issue in a way that i think was relatable to the majority of americans. all americans didn't see it that way. there was a significant minority, almost entirely white, that saw him as a black man speaking for black america coming to white america in a spirit of hostility. this was the minority of america, but a powerful minority of america.
enough of the minority enough to give donald trump the nomination and then through a series of strange events, allowed him to squeak into the presidency with a minority of the vote. nonetheless, obama i think is the figure who can speak to a conciliatory majoritarian vision of racial understanding, as indicated by his approval ratings, which are very high, in a way that no other figure in the united states can do. >> host: moving forward in the book, i always find this a fascinating subject when tackling the obama presidency, because it's the aspect that is advisable to you doesn't get enough credit for, and that is preventing a second great depression. you make the observation in the book that the president was not going to get credit for this. you don't get credit for preventing something really bad from happening. explained that.
>> guest: that's just the nature of the people credit politicians. you credit him for improvements to see. you don't in -- credit president for things that didn't happen. roosevelt got credited for helping an end the depression wt you did although it took a very long time to do that, because of the depression had already gone through years of reaching the absolute bottom before roosevelt took office. if roosevelt had taken office and instituted the same policies three years earlier, no one would have credited him with what happened. because you can't say that would've been so much worse if obama had not been there. part of the problem was they didn't know how bad the crisis was. all of the models of what it happen to the economy in 2009 understated the extent of the crash in 2008. the economy contracted much more than anyone you at the time. they didn't have majors quite large enough to contain all the damages on a plane without.
there was a lot of pain and it took a long time to heal all the pain that resulted from the depression. so all people so was that obama got in office and then things got worse. they couldn't say, they couldn't see is what would've happened if he didn't introduce all these policies. >> host: people don't remember, i remember he was inaugurated, there were hundreds of thousands of jobs being lost on a monthly basis. he almost come he came into office ruled as a firefighter. you talk about a point in the book where timothy geithner come his treasury secretary, who is an economic advisor was basically saying this is really bad and this is probably how you're going to be remembered. and that is preventing a second great depression and obama i guess that to them, i don't want to be remembered for that. i want to be remembered for being a transformative president. he really had to be a fireman at first. >> guest: that's exactly right. he had an ambitious structural agenda that he wanted to tackle.
the main two items being climate change and health care reform, but also education and some other areas. and they comes to office and all of a sudden this is the greatest emergency and 75 years and timothy geithner telling him forget all that other stuff, the house is on fire. we will put out the fire and that's it. obama says no, i want to do both. i make the case in the book that he did do both. he put out the fire. he stops the recession from spiraling into another great depression. you can argue that he could've done more and i can see that there are ways in which he could've done more. but the united states came out of this crisis much better than any other advanced economy that had a financial system and went through a financial crisis. compared to all our peers, obama is response was first in class, and wanted what else including in his administration were telling him that this would supersede all the other structural reforms he planned to do come he still managed to get to those things anyway.
>> host: people forget the bank bailout start at the end of the bush administration. president obama comes in office and asks to pass the stimulus package or at least they feel like they had to pass the stimulus package. what you lay out in the book very well, you start to see the beginning of the obama white house and republicans in congress at loggerheads. although we did have the democratic-controlled congress in the beginning in both houses of congress, but getting republicans to come along and support the stimulus comes up with these other measures that were needed at that time, that was difficult for him. >> guest: it was. at the beginning of 200 2009 hey had 58 democratic senators. so arlen specter was still a republican. he was driven out of the part and he became the 59th vote and al franken was not seated because there was a long recount. he only had a short period where hit 60 votes. you need to republicans in order to pass the steelers.
he assumed republican would pass the stimulus. republicans did pass the stillness of the year before. at the beginning of 2008 when in the first time inklings of this crisis, congress passed a stimulus and it was overwhelmingly popular. it was well over 300 votes. paul ryan was for stimulus. to everyone on the republican side just about was for stimulus. they said that's what economics says, you primed the pump. you put money into peoples pocket and expended. there was republican office and he was the one who's going to suffer the damage of the crisis if they didn't pass the stillness and stop this recession. so then fast-forward almost two years later, now they realize the crisis is dramatically worse than they ever thought. the arguments for stimulus are much greater. what they thought was this tiny little breeze fire fire to wanto put out is now a 10 story blaze, and now the republican party
says we are against stimulus, we don't believe in this theory, this is all nonsense. john maitre gains have no idea what he's talking to. when you to cut the deficit now. right now in the middle of this crisis and that's the way were going to solve it. they turn on a dime. at the same time they were meeting and concluding that their political success depended on maintaining partisan opposition to everything obama did. if you look at the sequence of events you can clearly say republicans made a political decision about what was in their parties best interest, how to record retur returned to power,d that drove their policy stance and that was the reason why they suddenly decide this economic theory that they believed in when their guy was in office no longer applied. >> host: this isn't tackled a whole lot in the book but i remember it being in the complaint among republicans at the time so i wanted to get your take on it. nancy pelosi saying we won.
having brought a manual very pugnacious house democrat, how much of that do you think was productive or counterproductive in trying to republicans on board early in the administration? if you talked to republicans on capitol hill they will say that did it to some extent, poisoned the atmosphere, to have these very hardcharging democrats at the tip of the spear for barack obama at the beginning of this administration. >> guest: i think nancy pelosi made the comment about we want in response to come in the context of an atmosphere which is trying to get republican votes and republicans were saying we are against stimulus, we don't believe in this keynesian stuff at all, so that has to somehow, so they had to reconcile these two ideas of how to craft the steelers. one idea was based on keynesian
economics which used to be the theory which was the 30 both parties had embraced the year before and now republicans were saying they didn't believe it anymore. how do you reconcile these two ideas. she said we won so we should at least have the upper hand in crafting this. she wasn't saying to republicans we will not accept your input but she was saying look, the starting point for this bill is going to be the theory devised by the winning party which is usually how it goes. >> host: moving forward after the stimulus measure and so forth, we got right into the thick of the affordable care act, health care reform. even some in the white house were saying to the president at that time, wait a minute, going after healthcare reform right now might not be the best political decision, barack obama said no, we are doing this. how did that shape his first term?
for the most part people look at the first term as probably be more successful than his second term, although pursuing health care reform did plant the seeds of republicans taking control of the house in 2010. so those health care town halls and so forth as you recall and i recall, they were pretty fiery stuff and they started putting the president on this path to eventually do with divided government. >> guest: i wouldn't accept the premise that democrats would've helped the house if they had not tried healthcare reform. in that at mr. www.total control of government and you had an economic crisis that was going to be that conditions were going to get worse no matter what they did, people were going to turn against the party in power. i think they would've lost congress no matter what they did. >> host: even without pursuing health care reform? >> guest: absolutely. i don't think that any chance to hold onto congress. when you take power when the economy is going off a cliff i think it would've lost no matter
what. the question was what are they going to do with the two gears for which they have majority quirks are they going to try to change the country in a lasting way? this was their chance. a lot of people even if the democratic party let alone the whole political establishment urging them not to do this. it was the conventional wisdom really in washington that he was making a huge mistake by going forward with healthcare reform. i think he saw it as a moral imperative. i think he was right to do it. there were moments when he had to decide what he was going to go forward. healthcare reform was dying by the fall. you had democrats spending month after month of the month trying to get republicans to agree with a bill saying what can we do? what would you sign? you write the bill, we will put our name on it. we will give you a foot massage, you drinks. you tell us what you need.
eventually won by won every republican dropped off and asked the remaining republicans, what could you possibly agree to? and they said, nothing. >> host: they were hanging onto olympia snowe. >> guest: she would only signed a bill of the republicans would go along. so her term for essentially chuck grassley and other republicans go along. so she could, they said what can you give us? she said you've got to get other people. the other people said -- mitch mcconnell had gone to them and said we need to have unified opposition. mitch mcconnell said openly, he described his theory which was headed people in both parties were signing onto these bills, the public would get the message that people had solved the problems and wer the were no real controversies and this was bipartisan and they would support obama and they would vote for his party. conversely, if republicans opposed everything they would see a lot of conflict in washington, think things are going badly, all the measures for partisan and they would punish the government party and he was right. >> host: you into all the
maturation of getting to the sign of the affordable care act. initially there was this thing called public option which was attached to essentially meant from his version of healthcare reform in massachusetts which people call romneycare and in the heart of that is an interest meant it forces you to buy insurance. the insurance mandate is something that not only mitt romney support in the past but it was somewhat of a conservative healthcare reform concept. you talk about in the book a little bit even the president obama had essentially a conservative healthcare concept at the heart of his health care reform package, he was still struggling to line up republican support and so they give up the public option to sort of get it to the finish line. of all the legislative pieces of business he had to tackle during his administration, this was perhaps the most fascinating
piece of business to watch for me legislative standpoint. >> guest: at the beginning like you say, obama favored the public option. when republicans had to explain what they didn't like in the bill they said the public option. the rest of the bill is romneycare, we kind of like that stuff. it's this public option that makes it unacceptable. they thought i was going to always be a part of the bill. so the obama says all right, we will cut that out. i think he needed to because you had a handful of democrats who also opposed that and they needed 60 votes to get it to the senate. he needed every single democrat plus some republicans. he jettisoned that and the republicans came up with different reasons to oppose the bill. it's notable that the bill, even the one that paul ryan was a boarding at the of 2009, was very similar to what obama ended up signing. but it was the same thing that happened when bill clinton
tackled health care reform in 1993-1994, which is republicans ended up repudiating ideas that they themselves had imposed. >> host: you describe the signing of the affordable care act as one of the most successful social reforms in the united states. and now that we are on the cusp of the beginning of the trump administration, he has made this and republican leaders have made this job on to repeal obamacare. they haven't laid out how they will replace it. we have not seen everyplace built or even the contours of her replace bill presented at this point but i want to get rid of obamacare. how does that affect, i remember saying from the north lawn of the white house repeatedly, this is the president signature legislative achievement those of you were sticking out of your mouth every time you describe
obamacare. what happens now to that piece of his legacy? >> guest: we will see what happens now, but i think what you described indicates how lasting this is going to be. if republicans really believe that the bill was standing, collapsing, party more people than was helping, and it would just eliminate it right away. and they could do that but they won't do that. the reason is because they know it's not failing. they know to a lot of people who depend on this bill. so there position that is the same as their position has been since 2009. it's we oppose your bill. we agree the status quo is terrible, and unacceptable. what we need is some alternative vision, some better plan that does all the great things your bill does but without any of the parts that nobody likes. we are working on this planet and we will come up with it next week or next month or next year,
and they've been promising to bill would come out now for seven years and it still hasn't. the reason is, of course, there is no bill that can do all the wonderful things obamacare does, i can take care of everybody as donald trump promised her that will be something terrific which is also a term phrase but without harming anybody. it's not possible to create this kind of bill. right now what you're trying to do is to just punt it another two years or three years, or maybe even four years. know how long they will put it out but -- >> host: they will repeal it but then say -- >> guest: put authors repeal for years to get it sells more time to pretend they can come up with an alternative that comes up with all these wonderful things. it's going to stay in place and they are not going to get rid of it because they are going to make a lot of people upset. what does this tell us? this tells us before obamacare was put into place you had tens of millions of americans who were uninsured, who outside the system and could be ignored by
the people in washington because they didn't have any program that took care of them. but they were not organized. they didn't have an existing benefit. so they could just be ignored every single day because it wasn't on the agenda. it's very hard to take away a benefit that somebody has in washington. it's easy to prevent someone from getting something new. so it was easy for proponents to continue to ignore these people day after day after day. once they have republicans are discovering it's really, really hard to take it away. that's why they are willing to take it away. i don't know what's good happened to obamacare. it's possible at one end that republicans will end up just extending and extending and extending, and they won't end up changing the law at all. it's possible they will get democrats agreed to relatively small changes so they can say they repealed it and replace with something that happens to be 90% original and they will
call it trumpcare. it's possible they will just repeal it and come up with nothing. but if they do that they will have a plot of angry people and domestic backlash. >> host: new kinds of health care town halls. >> guest: whatever happens i think it's fair to say obama has changed healthcare politics forever, that a republican administration can't come in and late 30 million uninsured without any cost to itself. they did that under bush. they didn't touch the issue at all and it didn't hurt them but they can't do that anymore. they can't go back without immense political cost. >> host: moving for too another big piece of the obama legacy, and that is his attempts to deal with climate change, his environmental legacy. you talk about in the book how we tried to bring about cap-and-trade. that went nowhere. even fellow democrats like west virginia senator joe manchin.
you talk about this in the book. we remember when he put the bill up against the tree and shot it dead. that was the end of cap-and-trade. the president had to turn to regulation. he had to do this administratively. not very sexy. there's not a big bill signing anything attached to it, but you still consider this to be a big part of his legacy? >> guest: i do. this is another issue where he had ever reasonably he had republican support. john mccain had run as an advocate of cap-and-trade. that republicans and assent to the favored. newt gingrich favorite cap-and-trade. >> host: provokes an audience who may not understand what cap-and-trade is. >> guest: cap-and-trade was the conservative plan for dealing with climate change. the camp was set an overall cap on how much emission would fall and that's how we would -- it would leave it to the markets to decide how to allocate those cuts of the mark would find the most efficient ways that the
private sector could find those savings, and the trade part was firms that could come up with the cheapest way to get rid of the missions that change those rights to other friends and that's what the market would work. this has been done with other pollutants in the past successful in the 1980s. reagan had supported it and they use it to reduce other pollutants and the costs have been way below projections because they said the market worked. conservatives who cared said we had this plan cap-and-trade. they really develop this idea and said this is how we're going to solve climate change. republicans seem to be on board but again once obama was for it, republicans were against it. republican support disappeared. so cap-and-trade died, and so then there was a long period of racing like obama really had no recourse on the environment. environmentalists spent a lot of time writing and talking about barack obama as if he was a complete failure on what they
understandably regarded as the most important issue in the world. this was irreversible damage to the fate of the entire planet. but like you say and like the book shows, he found another way around it. it wasn't his first choice but they just used a series of regulations of existing laws, the us government had already been regulating auto emissions, auto efficiency for years. so it would just tighten up the regulation and work out deals with detroit to make cars more fuel-efficient. cars were using less and less energy. air conditioners, building standards, they all had to get signed up and had to bring emissions out of it. the biggest piece of this was a power sector. he came out with the clean power plan in 2013 every state would have to reduce its emissions in its power sector. natural gas is already displacing coal.
coal was the dirtiest energy source by far. natural gas which is not emissions free but much cleaner than coal was already taking uncle everywhere. how can people get on price. but again a lot of things that he did at a try to make the case in the book escaped notice because they happen ways people didn't pay attention to. the environmental regulations, there were no signing ceremonies. this was just -- >> host: pan and phone. >> guest: right. what we're doing with air-conditioned standards, with building standard it's just piece by piece by piece. the stimulus had $90 billion in green green energy investment. but hardly anybody paid attention to it at the time. why? because the economy was falling off the cliff. people didn't care about whether the stimulus was going to reduce emissions 60 years later, 10 10 years later. they cared about whether we're all going to die right now. that's what i would cared about because of the stimulus had a
huge environmental reform and that actually mattered. because of the wind energy and solar energy became much, much cheaper over the course of obama is term. you had a massive expansion of those things. >> host: this got thrown into the election of 2012 because mitt romney of 1., i would arise on that trip, took reporters to solyndra to highlight here are some energy money, here's some environmental money that the president had gone to the company that failed. another part of the boat you talk about how mitt romney went after the president saying i'm going to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the earth and so forth. you why is the point at one point mitt romney said in a speech the president wants to do that, i just want to help you get a job or help make your life get better. the republicans were making hay out of this. they were going after his environmental legacy, and making more difficult for the president
to achieve his goals. >> guest: that's right. because looking after the long-term interest of the country, and even more so the other countries in the whole planet is a thankless task for a politician. that's why people don't do it. politicians on people to be happy right now. so if there's a trade-off between what we can do for our constituents right now but between now and the next election and what's going to happen 20, 30, 50, 100, to what are just down the line they were usually do what's going to help them get elected right now. he said forget about the oceans. ongoing help you get a job right now. i do want, it was a good line. i do want to point out before, we will return to the topic i will think but romney promised if he was elected he would get rid of all these supposedly job killing regulation and taxes of ahmed going and you would get unemployment down to 6% by the end of his true. that would be the measure of success. if i don't get that you can fire
me but that's how successful my point is going to be. and, of course, unemployment is below 5% now and has been with months to go. >> host: you mentioned mitt romney had an environmental official in his administration, gene mccarthy became the administrator which is interesting to see. >> guest: one of the arguments i tried to make in this book is obama bars the best ideas from the provoking party. -- borrowed. this didn't result in bipartisanship. gina mccarthy was an official under mitt romney who helped build this northeast emissions compact that help reduce emissions in new england and they believe that they could import this model nationwide and they did. they have. through the clean power plan. but again this was another one of these issues where he had the old moderate liberal position within republicans just moved to the extreme right wing and
abandoned him. but on environment i think the case you could make is that he drove a huge amount of progress. the progress got no credit, no attention. again, he was mitigating a a disaster that had not happened. again -- >> host: sort of like the second great depression. >> guest: right. even if climate change can happen right away and if miami is going to be submerged in 2015 and abandoned in 2015, obama would have gotten no credit. all he's doing is just delaying the date of which were going to have to abandon miami. this is a leader taking on a thankless task, and it has, leaders have to have been willing to take on which is why there was no international agreement on climate change before 2015, and obama is actions were integral in bring it about. >> host: i want to talk about
foreign-policy because it is such a huge part of the obama legacy. as i saw covering donald trump on the campaign trail that was something called don't want to talk about all the time and you talk about you and your book, donald trump saying he wanted to bomb a you know what out of isis and so forth. but people forget, some people forget although the president likes of my people that a big part of his foreign-policy legacy is killing osama bin laden, getting american forces by large out of afghanistan totally withdrawing iraq although there's that status of forces agreement that is debated so much, toppling gadhafi. that became messy. the red line in syria. there is a huge, a huge, huge subject to tackle when it comes to the presidents foreign-policy legacy. how do you see it come how do you think will all see it used from the? it's hard to square going on this ambitious mission to take out osama bin laden with i draw a red light in syria and that they don't enforce it?
>> guest: right. so one thing i want people to understand about this book is it's not an official account. it's not obama is argument for itself. i try to account for his mistakes and failures and shortcomings. it's a positive account because that's the conclusion i can do. i think is been a tremendously successful president but not a perfect one. and foreign-policy is married we can find more mistakes than domestic policy. i would argue, i argue in the book he has been a transformative domestic president. i wouldn't argue he's been a transformative foreign-policy president. he has managed foreign-policy competently. he is managed much better than his predecessor george w. bush who left him a world that was an absolute shambles and america's reputation plunging and managed to reverse a lot of the damage. but the red line in syria was a mistake. that was a blunder that obama himself was responsible for why
blurting out this comment in a live interview about the red line, a position he didn't intend to take. >> host: if assad uses chemical weapons, and assad uses chemical weapons and he doesn't do anything. i mean, the administrator will argue well, we got a chemical munitions out of syria peace with and so forth but it sent the message to the world. >> guest: it did. they never developed a terribly effective response to the syrian crisis, the syrian civil war. the best argument they can make is we didn't have any better options, which might be correct in its really hard to know what would've happened because the rest of the world doesn't have the intelligence that they had, who with the rebels in syria. what were the chances of arming them under success? this is not easy here we have tried it a lot of times and it usually, sometimes it works but usually it doesn't. they might be right, but a lot
of bad things happen in the world. they didn't have a lot of great responses. they put some points on the board. they made some important changes. i think that randy was a tremendous success. i think the opening with cuba was a master stroke. i don't think either of those changes are going to be reversed and it has succeeded in rebuilding america's image in the world, though i think it's to go back down the other way starting pretty soon. >> host: speaking was happening pretty soon and donald trump and his presidency, i think another fasting part of the president, current president's foreign-policy is doing with russia and vladimir putin who is now becoming this problem that moves from one prejudice to the next, george w. bush had to do with vladimir putin. barack obama had to deal with vladimir putin, and to mixed results. the obama administration can say he invaded crimea, took crimea. we slap sanctions on moscow and
it really did affect the economy and affected his stand in the war. but all the sudden donald trump comes along and everything changes. how do you assess president obama is dealing with vladimir putin in the whole situation of ukraine? it has set up this amazing situation that occurs in 2016 with the russians get involved in the american election. >> guest: right. mixed. at the time i think the response was reasonably robust. they realized that you couldn't go to war in ukraine with russia, because this is a country in which russia's interests are much stronger than the american interest. it would be tantamount to invading russia. they sent american troops to defend ukraine's territorial sovereignty. when russia begins dismantling ukraine we don't have a military response but which of the a diplomatic and economic response.
we organize opposition in europe, organize opposition in the united nations. isolate russia, impose punishing sanctions that harmed russia, which harmed its governing elites and that putin cronies were stealing all this money and enriching themselves especially in the fossil fuel sector. but like you say putin has its own response which is if you don't like the american government, try to get a better one. so we does. he basically, we don't know exactly how intertwined he is with donald trump, but clearly he got a much more favorable president. he got a president who will defend his human rights abuses and his attacks on neighboring countries. and whose perspective secretary of state is possibly his favorite american and who has lobbied against the very sanctions that were put into place. i think the end of that story is probably going to be a sad one for obama. it's going to be that putin that the american government he
wanted and it would end up with the upper hand. >> host: let's talk about donald trump, because you do delve into his candidacy, now returning from the obama presidency to the trump administration. donald trump was thinking of the birther movement which we didn't really talk about. but earlier in this program, but that was an integral part of your first chapter on looking at present obama to this racial lens and him being the first african-american president. here you have, you have a situation on inauguration day where you have president obama and cindy president trump on the same stage shaking hands, one administration changing to the other, and to get the man who's going to be taking the reins of the oval office, he questioned the legitimacy of barack obama. accuse him of not being born in this country and so forth.
what do you make of that? >> guest: so i have a fair amount in the book. i wrote most of it before the election but but i put in a far amount after. fortunately i wrote a lot about trial before the election. because he improvised these traits i described in the first chapter into the last chapter of how the republican party was being dominated by white racial backlash and that was becoming the driving public force behind republican politics and grassroots opposition and how trump managed to tap into this backlash end-user to propel his own candidacy. it's quite a historical irony obviously that this proponent of a racist conspiracy theory is going to be, succeed america's first african-american president. it's not an accident. that is how trump won the
republican nomination by cementing his loyalty by attaching himself to what was the most important trend in the conservative grassroots policy, which was this racialized backlash, this belief that the country was changing, was being taken from white america and being given to other people. that was the sentiment that drove the tea party and made it impossible for republicans to cover much because obama represented in the might of some voters something evil. that was what trump was able to exploit. but i make the argument that trump is not the future of this country. when we look back 5 50 years, 10 years from now, i think trump is going to be one of these figures that comes along periodically in american politics and exploits right-wing populism, charles kaufman, george wallace, joe
mccarthy. these figures all attractive and mass folly. they were not able to take a political party or become president, but they were hugely influential in tapping into something important. but in the long run, i think obama is right that the country is moving in a different direction. it is demographically moving in a different direction. and i think like a six digit or 10000 years from now obama is ideas will be the ones that people admire and teach and are part of our civic pantheon. i think trump will be a step backwards. he will be a pause in the story that we eventually moved past. >> host: if you talk to people who say they know trump and knowing well, the oc is much more pragmatic in practice than he was out on the campaign trail. do you think he will be tempted to look at some of these elements of the obama legacy and say for all these things i said on the campaign trail, there's some stuff it maybe i ought to hold onto?
>> guest: clearly, it's happening on healthcare. not just trump but republicans in congress like we discussed before. deathly afraid of creating a 20 minute unemployed people so they're putting it off for two years until the the figured outd then to not going to figure it out so you would know how to deal with the problem. on the environment, he doesn't believe in climate change. is epa administrator is a very close ally of the fossil fuel companies that basically that fossil fuel companies, write letters and he signed his name. he says i'm with those guys,, whatever they say. that's my stance. but i think he's listening to people who care about climate change and think he realizes there will be a real cost to him if he tries to completely destroy obama is climate legacy. what i think will happen is he won't continue the path of progress that obama had which was continued reductions of emissions but he will not do a complete -- i think you'll it
down and kind of muddle through and give some favors to the falls of the industry and kind of stick it in the eye of environmentalists in a way that freezes some of his base but doesn't alienate himself from most of the rest of the countries in the world are pretty committed and await it were not at the beginning of obama is term. committed to doing something cooperatively in climate change. >> host: let me get to one of your final moments in the book, and that is this notion of a disappointed left. i do think it's a very interesting subject. you make this argument that republicans are much better at rallying around even some viewers may be kind of a failed president or a president who has lots of problems like georg geo. bush versus a barack obama who you are to from a progressive standpoint achieved quite a bit and yet you all of these, what happened on november eighth
changes that to a great extent. >> guest: it is a reflection of that speed of light is that? what's going on? >> guest: bernie sanders was tapping into this vein of liberal and left discontent with obama. that was there from the very beginning. trying to trace this presidency, whatever he did, it wasn't enough. you could argue that he was failing or he was falling short, and that was the argument the critics made. i tried to answer this with a historical, not only do i tried to show in the book that in most cases he was doing about all you could expect in fact going far beyond what a lot of other members of his party wanted to do like and health care. even liberals like barney frank were saying let's throw in the towel after scott brown wins the election. obama had the guts to say no, we're going to keep going and get to that whateve whenever els willing to give up. so he was an ambitious president, but still
dissatisfied the left. i try to go back and show look, they said this about accord with reason. they said this about lyndon johnson, about kennedy, truman, roosevelt for every sale time there's a democratic president liberals are spending most of the time about how he's a sellout, he hasn't done enough, he wants to cover much too much, he hasn't laid out this bold vision, he has a rally the working-class. >> host: they always said about obama he was happy with half a loaf instead of a full loaf. >> guest: the criticisms are identical. when young exact same complaint about the last eight democratic presidents i think you have to conclude it's not them, it's you. so that's the argument i make, that sometimes the right. jimmy carter wasn't much of -- he was offended. obama was a liberal, a little more of a moderate republican liberal but a liberal progressive and his success and i think the discontent shows an endemic problem on the left with
being in power. they were just not happy falling in line. >> host: what you think the answer is for 2020? do you think the democratic party should run somewhere like barack obama who is a pragmatic progressive for the most part, a bernie sanders who obviously is much more liberal than barack obama, self-described socialist? or should they go back to the bill clinton model, which is the seven democrat, maybe governor cooper like in north carolina, something like that. what do you think? >> guest: i think the obama model, i hope this book makes the case, obama was a success, a political success. he was a policy success. this is what you should do. you could have a seven democrat who follows the obama line. tim kaine would be an example to i'm not saying tim kaine is the only democrat who can do it but tim kaine is very obama-esque in a lot of ways which his wife
obama almost mated vice president a just before he actually became the vice president. -- >> guest: it depends on the state of economy among other things. i think donald trump is going to be a very bad president, is not going to do the things he said he would do. donald trump needed a lot of obama voters in the midwest in order to get in line. a lot of those voters thought is going to be change agent, and any of the status quo, any of the banks. the actress on as being to hillary clinton's left on economics and a lot of wit and he's not. a lot of these attacks on a big banks and a special interest but, i mean, he is much more closely tied to special interest not only been obama, then clinton or even george w. bush. he's a very inside a republican president based on his
appointment, based on his policies. i think it will be hard for him to square the circle. it's a notable he needed obama voters to win. i think what that tells democrats and the message they should take away is you had a successful president. if you can keep his coalition, which is still a glowing segment of the country, that's your roadmap to winning. >> host: hillary clinton won the popular vote by 2.9 million votes. just to kind of rap, start wrapping things up. how do you think barack obama is presidency is going to be remembered near-term, long-term? does the trouble presidency in some way make obama is presidency look better? what do you think? >> guest: so any major social reform is going to produce a big backlash. abraham lincoln passed the 13th amendment ending slavery, but there was a violent terrorist uprising in the white
south to take away the rights that were given to the freed slaves and reduce many of them to commissions that were very close to slavery. we remember his great achievement that happened under lincoln, we don't remember what happened after that, which robbed african-americans of much of the freedom that they had one. it took decades and decades and decades to restore basic civil rights. it took 100 years years for civil rights to basically fulfill what lincoln was trying to do at the time. >> host.republicans have been ag the limits of the new deals to this day. we still republicans want to privatize our limit social security. it's a measure of the ambitions that obama carried out and republicans are trying to dismantle his legacy. i don't think they will mostly succeed. i think they will mostly fail. i can't predict the future as well as i can make a case for
what the future ought to be. i think the future ought to be liberals recognizing the success of this administration, embracing as the model and defending it going forward the way we do with lincoln, the way we do with roosevelt. i think obama, while not on that skill, is the closest thing we've got in american history to the kind of successful president. and should be defended by americans from the center to the left. >> host: jonathan chait, are faceting conversation i enjoyed the book. i think people are anxious to go with the obama administration as we enter this new one will find a lot to offer in the book. thank you very much for your time. good talking to you. >> guest: good talking to you, too. >> c-span, where history unfolds a daily. in 1979, c-span was created as a public service by america's cable-television companies and is brought to you today bur