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Navasky on Obama, pt. 4

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to The Real News Network. We’re talking to Victor Navasky. He’s the publisher emeritus of The Nation Magazine. He used to be the editor and publisher for many years. Now teaches at the Columbia School of Journalism and edits The Columbia Journalism Review. And he also wrote the book Mission Accomplished, which is all about how George Bush won the war in Iraq—and, as you can see, this is a comic picture. So we’re talking about where’s the center, where’s Obama; we talked about foreign policy. We’ve heard a few stories recently about Barack Obama reaching out to various sections of the right. Stories are that in terms of his foreign-policy and intelligence-policy appointments, he vetted them to some extent through McCain. He wanted McCain’s buying-in on them, and there’s a story The New York Times reported, or maybe Washington Post, that Lindsey Graham was acting sort of as a middleman, and McCain wasn’t sure of some of the appointments, and Obama’s team went back and asked some more questions and satisfied McCain. Graham says later that McCain’s very happy. He said, “Boy, I would have appointed the same people.” President Obama has dinner, I think, a week ago at George Will’s house, and he meets some of the senior right-wing columnists—Krauthammer and Brooks and George Will and William Kristol.

VICTOR NAVASKY, PUBLISHER EMERITUS, THE NATION: Who was fired the next day from The New York Times.

JAY: Oh, was Kristol fired the next day?

NAVASKY: Well, his contract ran out and it wasn’t renewed. So yeah. He got a free meal out of it.

JAY: That’s good. I’m sure he needed the meal. He’s not someone [inaudible] for dinner. And Brooks reports on Meet the Press that Obama gave them the impression that two or three years from now, when the stimulus package has worked, hopefully, someone’s going to have to pay the bill. Where did all this money come from? And Brooks reports that Obama’s willing to look at entitlement programs as a way to deal with trying to defend the currency, ’cause at some point people are very concerned about what inflation might come from all of this stimulus. So there’s been various things about Obama reaching out to the right, and the more you hear about it, the more you start to wonder what’s that doing to the policy vision.

NAVASKY: Well, again, let me give you the optimistic interpretation. I have no knowledge or belief that it’s necessarily going to happen this way, but it seems to me FDR, in dealing with the problems of the New Deal, was able to win the country over to—and he didn’t get elected on this platform; he got elected on balancing the budget, but was able to win the country over to the importance of this whole panoply of programs which didn’t exist when he got in, which come under the title of “the New Deal.” There are economists who will argue it didn’t really help the economy, ultimately, until World War II, but it was moving in that direction and took a step back and went forward. So the answer to this question you ask involves a dialectical situation. It really is not—you know, when he says, “Well, if we have to face it, we’ll look at entitlements,” I don’t take that as a plan or anything; I take it as a conversation he’s having. What of course you hope is that the economy will continue, we’ll prime the pump, and the economy will continue to grow, and you’ll grow into a situation where employment increases, and that instead of investing in a military budget, you’ll invest it in the domestic infrastructure. But all of that has to start working to some degree. And then the Republicans who have opposed that in this vision don’t get reelected and the country moves in one place. The other one is the one that you’re suggesting, and sure. But the question is: How do you jump-start the whole process? And is he doing the right thing? Well, to me, it needs more cash than they’re talking about right now to jump-start it. And it can’t be just a jump-start; it’s got to be a continual investment that goes on, and it doesn’t happen once and then you go back home. And that’s something that folks like Joe Stiglitz and others are going to be writing about and have begun talking about, and I think it’s a process of education. I think his intelligence and openness and chutzpah, as it were, in the face of the conventional wisdom at every stage in the campaign are signs that where the country, to the extent that the president has any power, there’s a big argument that there are only so many [inaudible]

JAY: But is it possible that this desire to compromise, to have a united—.

NAVASKY: I don’t see it as compromise. No. I see it as a strategy to get it through. So yeah.

JAY: Well, get what through? Like, it’s hard to remember a president that came into office with so much positive political capital. The popular support is really practically off the meter. Instead of coming out, to some extent, slugging, and, you know, with a vision, you know, like, for even on the auto package, a vision for working families that, you know, in the campaign he talked about, you know, the lower 90, 95 percent don’t have to pay more taxes, but that top 5 or 6 percent should. We’re losing that now. Now we’re talking about either tax cuts again for the rich. It’s all getting mushy again. Why not come out [inaudible]

NAVASKY: Okay. Well, first of all, you and I are probably (we don’t know each other well enough) in agreement on the policy question. So the question is a tactical question and a strategy question. And in the campaign, the economy hadn’t tanked yet, and the people weren’t looking into the abyss yet. It was—.

JAY: Well, near the end they certainly were. In fact, maybe [inaudible]

NAVASKY: Well, right towards the end. But when they were talking about the difference in tax plans that he had and Hillary had, and then he had and McCain had; you know, he wanted to tax the rich and McCain didn’t, and that was the fundamental difference. And I didn’t take that much vision there. I took a sentimental and instinctive sort of identification with the masses, and this was a good thing. And now he’s got to get a—these economic people call it “stimulus”—passed. And today it looks like it’s going to be passed. Three weeks ago, no one knew that it looked that way. There was a lot of criticism against it from both the right and the left: the left it isn’t enough, the right it’s too much, and from both there’s no governance they can use this money they’re getting to acquire other companies, to pay themselves big compensation packages, to do all kinds of other things. And now they’re putting some of those things in place. So I don’t fault him for attempting to get the Congress behind this basic package; I fault him for the size of the package. I would like it to be larger. And then there are a whole set of other things that we have to look at. Now, we haven’t discussed at all the role of the left in an Obama administration. And having said all the things I do, which are kind of more optimistic and more hopeful and more giving him the benefit of more doubts than others in The Nation office would and perhaps you would, I think the role of the left is to put pressure on this administration.

JAY: Okay. So in the next segment of our interview let’s talk about how the left is going to do that and just what will be your litmus test to judge if he’s responding or not. So please join us for the next segment of our interview with Victor Navasky.


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Victor Saul Navasky (born July 5, 1932) is a professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He was editor of The Nation from 1978 until 1995, and its publisher and editorial director 1995 to 2005. In November 2005 he became the publisher emeritus. Before coming to The Nation he was an editor at The New York Times Magazine and wrote a monthly column about the publishing business ("In Cold Print") for the Times Book Review.