tv Washington Week PBS December 23, 2016 7:30pm-8:01pm PST
susan: barack obama won the white house on the promise of hope and change. as the first black president prepares to leave office, we look back on what he delivered. i'm susan davis. the obama legacy, tonight on "washington week." >> by so many measures our country is stronger and more prosperous than it was when we started and you can't argue that we aren't better off. susan: barack obama inherited an economy in crisis. eight years later the stock market is strong, the economy is stable and health care has become a reality for millions of previously uninsured americans. but critics, including the president-elect say the recovery has been too slow and too many people have been left behind. >> some of you in this audience
were making more money 20 years ago than you're making today and in many cases you have to twobs -- two jocks. susan: as commander in chief, obama gave the order to take out osama bin ladenen and drawn down the troops in iraq and a.f.c. but obama's legacy has been tarn i should by setbacks and failures. the quan tan mo bay prison remains open. the rise of isis and the hugh mane man ontario criticize in syria has plagued the white house and the suspected use of militants is out argumented. with us, dan balz of the "washington post." michael fletcher of the undefeated, jackie calmes of the "new york times" and michael
duffy of "time" magazine. >> this is "washington week." funding is provided by -- >> additional funding is institute. the xq newman's own foundation, do night all profits from newman's own food products to charity and nourishing the common good. the ford foundation. he et i said and excellence in journalism foundation. the ewen foundation. the corporation for public broadcasting and by
contributions to your pbs stations from viewers like you. thank you. once again from washington, susan davis of npr. susan: good evening. barack obama entered the white house with high expectations and an inspirational yes we can vision of a post racial america, but as gwen ifill wrote in her book "the breakthrough," post racial means different things to different people. gwen wrote in politics this usually signals that a painful and challenging power shift is under way and went on to say what happens with the breakthrough, the first ones through the door often get bruised. dan, obama's victory was herded as a victory for a post racial america. was that optimism misplaced? dan: certainly, although i don't think president obama ever believed that he was going to be able to usualer in a post racial time. that was something that others ascribed to him. if you think about the way he
ran his campaign in 2008, he basically stayed away from racial issues. he was drawn in with the reverend wright controversy and the eloquent speech he gave in response to, that mostly as a way to get out of a political predicament. as president he never called for a national conversation on race as president clinton had done and yet he was constantly drawn into discussion of race because of events, because of outside events, particularly police shootings of unarmed plaque citizens. time and again we had to talk about racial issues, both from the p.m. of the president of all the people but also uniquely as somebody who had grown up with those same experiences. he often spoke personally about it when trayvon martin was killed, he said at one point, that could have been my son, that could have been me 35 years ago. he also, even in speak together country as a whole, always tried
to speak to the white community as a person of color in basically saying you have to understand, america, white america, the experiences and perspective that people of color have and why they are responding to these moments the way they have. susan: michael, you've written so much about this over the years as well. and as dan referenced, there were so many moments in his presidency of racial tenses. trayvon martin, the shootings, even the rise of birtherism. s there a fill so have cal issue to barack obama? michael f.: i think so. he grew up as a black man but grew up with his white grandparents fortunately mothes part. held often reference that when talking about race and straddling the fence in a sense. explaining to the white community the outrage that black
citizens would feel behind racial profiling but also to blacks, when you use the term white privilege, for example, not all white folks feel privileged. he'd talk about his personal experience to get pale people on board. and when he could he ignored the question of race. interesting. i was talking earlier in week to jim clyburn. one of the members of congress and we were talking about obama's legacy and he was recalling the controversy around the joe wilson comment. at the present time the health care bill was just percolating in congress and the president was like, don't pursue this, jim. we don't need to talk about this we need to do stuff. drop that. clyburn refused to drop that it. to me that spoke volumes to how obama didn't want to go there. a big racial insult to a lot of
people. susan: one of the big issues that obama wanted to talk about was inequality in the justice system. he was the first president to go to a federal prison and the commutation of prisoners for nonviolent offenders. do you think that that part of his legacy will last? >> i know he's hoping it will. particularly in the second half, he and eric holder really set out in the second term to do something significant about the way african-americans were sentenced. it's tough at the federal level because most sentencing take place at the local level. there are guidelines and they worked hard to change those. they worked harmed just in this last week to change clemency and commutations. they had other priorities in the first term but they moved really aaggressively in the it could -- second term on it. when he talked about it, you could tell it mattered a great
deal to him. president obama was aided strangely by technology. the shootings of african-american suspects and just witnesses to crimes has always gone on. it's well known in the black community but white america doesn't really know about it. the cameras and videos that captured those incidents in these last eight years changed the conversation. and if technology put that on the front page, the black lives matter movement kept it there. and i think they really made that issue something the rest of the country couldn't ignore and he was drawn into that as well. surf and the conversation did change in some ways on that as well because i think the congress and washington as a whole looks at that conversation a little bit differently at the end of obama's term. there are some republican eyes in congress on that issue as well. michael d.: particularly with respect to sentencing. and justice. susan: the president also inherited one of the worst
economic crises in america's history. the auto industry and bail outs ow helped prevent a bigger glole meltdown but critics still question whether it was the right thing to do. there's been a steady if slow economic recover but -- recovery but a majority of americans still believe the country has been on the wrong track. jackie, why the disconnect? jackie: you start from the fact that the great recession -- i mean, think about this there were .3 million jobs lost between election day of 2008 and inauguration in january 2009. nd the trend, those job losses exacerbated trends that had been hurting the middle class back to the 1970's. you know, the idea of lower productivity and more automation. globalization with trade and wage stagnation and inequality.
a lot of what the great recession, a lot of the good jobs didn't come back and they were replaced with more of the service jobs that are the trend of where most of the new jobs come from with little if any benefits and lower pay. so all of that has come into play and even as there's been steady job increases since 2010. there's very little credit and president obama has been hobbled, i've seen this throughout his entire term, that as things got better, he could only take credit so far and he always had to couple every bit of good news with but things aren't good enough yet and democrats had to do the same thing so they didn't seem to be tone department of. susan: could he have done more? jackie: he could and he would be the first to commit admit it. the second reason for why
there's this big disconnect. you have to call it the big lie, which is that the still laws failed. it did not fail. it should have been bigger or sustained over a longer period of time. that's the consensus of economists across the country. the university of chicago does surveys of economists and recently i was told that there's more consensus on this question that the stimulus was successful than any other question. so then, the very people who have said, including in this 2016 presidential capable and congressional races still staying the stimulus is a failure were forces in the other party that were obstructing when he tried to do infrastructure, when he tried to do additional spending in areas that he thought would be stilllative like education and human resources. so now it's interesting that president-elect trump will come in and there's all this talk
about infrastructure and stimulus and the stock market goes crazy over it. susan: so republican spending is ok when it's republicans spending. when we talk about the climate that president obama lived in. for six years it was a divided government. he faced republicans in congress. how did he navigate that and how did it affect what he was able to do? michael f.: he came in as a guy who saw himself as being able to bring people together and embrace good ideas. and i tone down the paper partisanshipted -- and i think he started out that way. his first stimulus package, barely got it through. it was a partisan bill. i think there was a bigless san francisco that. he continued to negotiate with the health care bill. eventually democrats has to --
had to push it through in a partisan way. and then immigration comes along and the president can't get consensus on that. he ends up going to the power -- of the pen and usinging executive orders. you saw the president move from one end to want this bipartisan moment to use the power of the presidency to get things through. i think that's probably one of his biggest frustrations. susan: you brought up the affordable care act. considering all the fallout with everything that's come since that passage, do democrats broadly and obama in particular still think it was worth it? >> certainly. especially president obama. he'll mark that as one of his greatest achievement, i think where he failed was in his ability to sell it to a broader part of the country. he and his advisors always believed that as it became
implemented, embedded in the fabric of the health care system that people would accept and it embrace it and come to say this was a very good idea. that never happened and that's why we have a situation now as he goes out of office, republicans are champing at the bit to be able to repeal and replace it. i think the presidency is also easier said than done that the republicans will find out complicated and difficult it is going to be. but i think he has no question that this was the right thing to do. he went against his advice to scale back at the moment it looked too tough to get through. that to him is a proud piece of his legacy. susan: let's shift now to national securement and foreign policy. the perspective gave the order that took out osama bin laden and he made good on his campaign promise to withdraw nearly all
u.s. troops there iraq in 2011. that -- though that withdrawal created a vacuum that many ilieve led to the rise of the lambic state. how did that work out for him? >> no president goes into office with a doctrine that survives through the end of eight years. but if you have to sum up in retrospect, i'd say that it's a foreign policy that favors multilateral action over unilateral action. favors a limited interpretation of u.s. power overseas. some said too limited, that was definitely kenal to reduce the size of the u.s. military foot print and approached complicated global problems through negotiation. in the case of certainly aaron, certainly the paris climate
acords. those were multilateral complicated gork that is took years and more than one administration. i think if obama were here he'd say i reduced our presence in afghanistan to 15,000 troops. i reduced our presence in iraq to 5,000 troops. it was 30 times that 10 years ago. i've increased our presence in receivera in the last year to between 500 and 1,000 troops. we don't really know how many. they haven't really said because of the rise of isis. i bet if we were polling most persons -- americans would say all of these decisions were good. but it also gave rise to criticism. from the left, you could have done more on maw -- human ontarioism. on the rirblingte, you could have played better. susan: did the president mis calculate how serious the threat
of isis was? >> president obama always said isis is not an exissstenl threat to the united states, talking about the continental united states. but the americans regard it as a threat for three reasons. the first is it grew out of iraq, a war they didn't particularly love and thought it was coming to an end and at the end of that movie comes this threat that no one participated. secondly, the threat was more barbaric than even al qaeda. and out comes isis and it's worse. and the third reason is that by the end of 2015 wlrks it's in recruiting stations in tennessee or military bases in texas or schools in california, you had lone actors claiming an allegiance to you sis. while a president can stand up and say this isn't a threat to our national security, americans felt personally terrified.
susan: jackie, i think one of the moments in sierra was the red line. -- zairea was the red like -- line. that the use of chemical weapons was a redline crossed. did his decision making there, did it impact what's happened there and how much has that tarnished the u.s. as sort of a moral authority in these engagements? jackie: it's interesting that. august 2013 period really was a dividing line in his administration. up to then, a lot of his effort and the focus was on domestic and fiscal policy and economic policy. at that point when he drew that red line and then failed to cross it when there was evidence that syria had cruise idea chemical -- used chemical weapons. ever since then there's been much more of a national security focus presidency. one thin sung rn -- thing is
don't draw red lines. second, it did din him. he's the president so the buck stops there. he had decided he was going to go to congress. some contribution said you -- critics said you need to get congress's buy-in. they wouldn't. republicans or democrats. so he give stepped the vote in congress and quickly russia brokeered a deal where give the u.s. and rush heir got almost all the chemical weapons, as far as we know. got the chemical weapons out of syria, destroyed some of the facilities that make them without firing a shot. there was a good end but still, the perception was there and it has carried forward to the present in the mess that is syria. susan: again, as jackie brings up, it raises the question of russia. was russia always this threat and we just didn't see it as clearly? how did the president respond to
russia then, considering how many it's on the forefront today. >> we have to remember they started with the infamous reset but as vladimir putin regamed the power of the presidency there, the relationship went down from there and the president has got an considerable amount of criticism for being too passive, as he has in other areas in his dealings with putin and the russians. i think his argument always is i have done something that is practical and realistic as opposed to trying to do something symbolic that wouldn't do any good but there's no question that the views of putin and the views of how the president has handled him were harmful to his image as president and again, something that played into the 2016 campaign. we now have a president-elect who seems to want to go in a totally different direction. it's worrisome to a lot of
people who think he's too friendly but it's all a reaction to what has and hasn't happened to president obama. susan: i don't think we can talk about obama without talking about the cultural shifts that much happened in this country during his administration. the supreme court. ruled on favor of marriage equality. they've tried to advance the cause of transgender americans. how has the country responded to these cultural shifts? michael f.: kind of a mixed reaction. on many front, this country is more tolerant than ever. transgender rights. north carolina and the government faced a law enforcement because of the bathroom law. quhommed have thought that eight years ago, 10 years ago. i would not have. susan: barack obama wouldn't have. michael f.: he was evolving at that time. gay rights, the same thing where
you have remarkably tolerant view among the american people. we talked about race relations. even there i think this country has made progress. i was at my son-in-law's basketball town watching his basketball team playing play. hagerstown, maryland. grandmothers with brown grandchildren. this is the new america in many waysful obviously they got along fine but fast forward to the election, you see what happened. so clearly there are tensions. i think a lot of the vote wasn't as much about economics as it was about a cultural displacement. i don't think people are necessarily against transjemmeder or gay people but i think they feel they're lost in the conversation. there's some feeling about people want to be included in the k about the new america. susan: and finally, on january 20th, donald trump officially
becomes part of the exclusive presidents club. michael, you've written about this rhythm that past presidents have with sitting presidents. do you expect that to continue under president club? michael d.: i think he'll change the name of the club to the trump club. michael f.: big letters. michael d.: big letters. it's just inevitable. if it can include every president from harry truman to richard nixon so barack obama so jimmy carter, surely there's room for donald trump. we've talked about the extent to which president obama has tried to both publicly and privately tried to support the incoming president. in public with meetings and in private with more phone calls than i think they've both let on. president-elect trump told us in an interview we did a few weeks ago, i felt a chemistry with president obama.
that was not a chemistry he felt before he was elected but something about stepping into the job of the man who's had it and wearing the mantle and bearing the burdens does change you. while i don't think president obama has become a big fan of donald trump's in the last month, it's to he is credit that he's tried to offer help, guidance, and assistance. the teams are working together. there have been some more meetings between the west wing staff coming in to the extent that they've eached that and the one that was there, cabinet mention. there -- this is fairly traditional but more involved than i would have guessed six weeks ago. jackie: a lot of democrats are disappointed that president obama is so respectful. what's going to be interesting and given the book you wrote, the presidents club is four years old but still a good christmas present. susan: and that's a good way to
leave it. thanks, everybody. our conversation continues online on the "washington week" extra where we'll talk about one of the most iconic images from president obama's time in the white house and what michelle obama may do next. find that at pbs.org/"washington week" and take the quiz about the first family. best wishes to you and yours for a happy and healthy holiday season. i'm susan davis. ood night. >> funding for "washington week" is provided by -- xq institute.
>> additional funding is rivelingded by boeing. newman's own foundation, donating all profits from newman's own food products to charity and nourishing the common good. the ethics and excellence in journalism foundation. the ford foundation. ku and patricia ewen from the ewen foundation, committed to bridging cultural differences in our communities. the corporation for public broadcasting and by contributions from your to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. thank you. >>
vu: hello, and welcome to a "kqed newsroom" special edition on the arts. i'm thuy vu. across the bay area, artists are tackling topics that are thought-provoking, moving, and surprising. on this show, we bring together highlights from our arts coverage. one group of singers explores the threshold between life and death. and we'll look at an artist's large-scale works painted on a canvas of snow. plus, visual artist jim campbell plays with thousands of blinking lights to create tapestries that dazzle the eye. but first, we start with the company odc dance and a piece that tackles science and the environment. the impact of climate change, from rising sea levels to rising temperatures, is often expressed through charts and data. it's an appeal made more to the intellect and less so to the heart, but one bay area choreographer wants artists to help audiences