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John Walcott, McClatchy’s Washington bureau chief, discusses Obama’s historic win with Paul Jay Pt.1

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to Real News live coverage from McClatchy Newspaper offices in Washington, DC. Joining me now is John Walcott, bureau chief of the Washington Bureau of McClatchy Newspapers. Thank you, John.


JAY: So give us your sense of where we are politically now. Obviously, we have a new president-elect. The big fight now is going to be in the Senate and Congress. And it looks like maybe the Senate, they’re not going to reach their 60 seats. So what are we looking at now? Sum up sort of where you’re at in the evening and what you think we’re going to be looking at in terms of the political fight.

WALCOTT: Well, I think the political fight will start tomorrow, when I think the president-elect has got to move very, very quickly to set an agenda before the rest of the Democratic Party tries to set it for him, and I think you’ll see him do that. I think you’ll see before this week is out some very clear indications of who he wants around him, what kind of folks they’re going to be, and what kind of policies he’s going to pursue. I think he’s probably learned from the mistakes of a couple of his Democratic predecessors, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, both of whom got off to very slow starts and suffered a great deal because of that. I think he’s been doing more preparation behind the scenes than you realize.

JAY: So give us some choices, like [“da-shul”] Emanuel, some of these A or Bs that will tell us about where he’s headed.

WALCOTT: Well, the [“da-shul”] Emanuel choice I don’t think tells you a great deal about where he’s headed. I think if he picks the chairman of the New York Federal Reserve as his Treasury secretary, that tells you that you’re going to be looking at a centrist economic policy, not the one that some of his most liberal supporters would have preferred.

JAY: And who would they like to see?

WALCOTT: Oh, someone, you know, more in the mold of a classical Keynesian economist, someone who—.

JAY: What are some of the names in mind?

WALCOTT: Well, I don’t think there are any, truthfully enough. I think the names you hear are all pretty much in the center. I mean, one of them is Paul Volcker coming back and doing a star turn of some kind. I think that’s a pretty clear indication that he’s going to try to assemble a centrist coalition of some kind, probably reach across the aisles. And I think, finally, Paul, he’s got some opportunity to do that because of the drubbing Republicans have taken here.

JAY: Doesn’t he have to do something bold for two reasons? Number one, because of the enthusiasm of the people who voted for him—he promised them fundamental change—if his appointments immediately speak to centrism, where is the change? And then the second is the economic crisis itself is demanding some kind of bold moves. And can he even wait until he’s inaugurated to tell us what those bold moves are going to be?

WALCOTT: Well, I guess I’d argue with you that centrism after the last eight years probably would be significant change, and that may in fact be the change he has in mind. If you look at his history as a legislator, it is not full of bold moves, it is not full of big initiatives.

JAY: But doesn’t the economic situation actually demand something new? I mean, this funneling of money to Wall Street clearly hasn’t worked. Everyone has said so.

WALCOTT: No, but the ground is already laid for an economic stimulus package of some kind. It looks like he’ll probably have the muscle in Congress to get that through. And I think that’s probably the first thing you’ll see from an Obama administration is a fairly large, $150 billion or something economic stimulus package that he’s already talked about—infrastructure, probably some technology stuff. There are a lot of infrastructure projects in this country that are stalled for lack of money. They can be spun up pretty quickly if the money’s there. I think that’s probably the first priority.

JAY: And is he going to be able to fulfill his promises on taxes? ‘Cause that was certainly one of the major points of his campaign, tax cut to working class families, tax increase for wealthy families. And if that isn’t early on in his agenda, he certainly will have broken one of his major promises.

WALCOTT: Well, I don’t think there’s much likelihood of his breaking that promise. I think there’s significant support. All he’s talking about, after all, is progressive taxation, which has been part of this country since 1913. So it’s really not socialism, and it’s really not such a bold departure.

JAY: But is that going to be enough to deal with the consequences of the economic crisis? If it gets as severe as a lot of economists are suggesting—double-digit unemployment, you know, Depression-style economics—that’s not going to be enough.

WALCOTT: Well, but we don’t know that yet, that we’re looking at another Great Depression. In fact, the credit markets this week seem to be thawing some if you look at interest rates and so on, the spreads that economists look at between—.

JAY: But even if that starts to correct a bit, it doesn’t mean that the unemployment rate and the slowdown [inaudible] Depression is going to change.

WALCOTT: I think one interesting test for him is going to be the auto industry, centered in Michigan, traditionally represented by the United Auto Workers Union, and traditionally a strong Democratic constituency, in real trouble, looking at the latest auto sale numbers from October. That’s going to be an interesting test, whether he is willing to bail out the auto industry.

JAY: If he doesn’t, we’re looking at certainly a different Michigan, but we’re looking at a whole different industrial sector here. If Chrysler and GM go down, which is what’s being talked about, we’re talking about a couple of million of dollars or more once the spin-off [inaudible]

WALCOTT: Yeah, if they went down, and I’m not sure that’s what we’re looking at. But we’re certainly probably looking at smaller General Motors, smaller Ford, even smaller Toyota—their sales were down a great deal in October as well.

JAY: Any surprises for you tonight, especially this—it looks like they’re not going to get their 60 seats in the Senate?

WALCOTT: That was always a reach. It really was. You know, I think the margin of defeat for Senator Dole in North Carolina was a little bit surprising to me, but I think that had more to do with the way she ran her campaign, particularly at the end, than it did with any of the national factors. You know, I think, although there were no great surprises, I think it’s important to say that this is a night that millions and millions of Americans never thought they would live to see, the night when an African-American man was elected president, when they looked at the new first family of the United States and saw four African-Americans standing on that stage. I think it’s very hard to underestimate—.

JAY: How did it make you feel personally? I know you’re a news guy, you’re not supposed to have feelings, but how did it make you feel?

WALCOTT: Oh, I don’t know who wrote that. But I think that a lot of Americans have lost faith in this country’s ability to change, and I think that maybe what happened this evening may have restored some of that faith, that this is a country that actually can change. In my lifetime, which is long enough but not all that long, we come from African-Americans having to use separate water fountains, not being admitted to state universities, not being allowed to vote, to an African-American standing there, poised to take the office as president of the United States, in historical terms—30, 40 years—not a very long time for change that great. And I think he represents in some ways an even greater change. The racial thing obviously gets most attention, but there’s also a generational change here: he’s the first American born after, or really grew up, at least, after the traumas of the 1960s. There’s also a kind of technological change he represents. When you really look at it, his campaign used a lot of online technology—the same kind of technology that we’re using here—far more than any campaign has before. And, finally, having gone to school for a bit in Indonesia, having been biracial himself, it really mirrors the demographic changes in this country.

JAY: Can I hang onto you for eight more minutes for another segment?

WALCOTT: Eight more minutes? No.

JAY: Seven?

WALCOTT: Come on.

JAY: We have to just take a break, and we’ll come right back.

WALCOTT: Yeah, but for how long? ‘Cause I’ve got—.

JAY: Whatever. Five.


JAY: Okay. We’re going to talk about whither the Republican Party for four or five minutes. Please join us right away. We’re going to come right back with John Walcott, bureau chief of the Washington bureau of McClatchy Newspapers.


Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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John Walcott is the Washington Bureau Chief of McClatchy Newspapers. He has served as the Foreign Editor and National Editor of U.S. News & World Report, as the National Security correspondent at The Wall Street Journal and as a correspondent at Newsweek. He is co-author of the book Best Laid Plans: The Inside Story of America's War Against Terrorism