Vanity Fair's Maureen Orth Cheers Obama's Cabinet on 'Today'

NBC's Matt Lauer invited on Vanity Fair's Maureen Orth, on Monday's "Today" show, to promote her magazine's cover story on Barack Obama and the special correspondent celebrated the new President's incoming Cabinet as she cheered: "They have big plans to green the economy. The Secretary of Energy and the Secretary of Interior say, 'This is our moon shot.'" The easily impressed Orth then went on to say government is back in vogue as she crowed: "If you noticed the last eight years...the conservative philosophy is that governs best which governs least. And now people feel it's more of a time for government to intervene and so they can start trying things."

The following exchange was aired during the 8am half hour of this morning's "Today" show:

MATT LAUER: You got to talk to several members of this group. Before we talk about them as individuals, as a group, what struck you?

MAUREEN ORTH: Well that they're not intimidated by the tasks ahead and they're very idealistic. They feel that they've been elected, the President was elected for change. And they have big plans to green the economy. The Secretary of Energy and the Secretary of the Interior say, "This is our moon shot." Larry Summers, who is the president of the council, President's council of economic advisors says, "This is a once in a generation chance for economic policy-makers."

LAUER: Yeah that's interesting. That's interesting because so many people look at the recession right now, that is deepening, and they say, they wring their hands and they say, "This is just an insurmountable challenge." And here's Larry Summers saying, "Wait a second, no. Let's look at this as the glass half-full. Let's look at as a chance to really make a mark."

ORTH: Right, I think there are so many things, if you noticed the last eight years, the, the conservative philosophy is that governs best which governs least. And now people feel it's more of a time for government to intervene and so they can start trying things. And of course there's a lot of infrastructure that needs to be updated. There's Internet that needs to be spread. I mean there are so many things and educational reform. There are many, many things that need to be done.

The following is the full interview as it was aired on the February 2, "Today" show:

MATT LAUER: Welcome back to Washington on a special edition of "Today" on this Monday morning. So, who are the people that President Obama is relying on to help him make some big decisions? The President's inner circle is featured in the March issue of Vanity Fair magazine with photos by Annie Leibovitz and an article by special correspondent, Maureen Orth. Maureen, good morning. Nice to see you.

MAUREEN ORTH, VANITY FAIR: Good morning, welcome.

LAUER: Yeah thank you. It's good to be here. You got to talk to several members of this group. Before we talk about them as individuals, as a group, what struck you?

ORTH: Well that they're not intimidated by the tasks ahead and they're very idealistic. They feel that they've been elected, the President was elected for change. And they have big plans to green the economy. The Secretary of Energy and the Secretary of the Interior say, "This is our moon shot." Larry Summers, who is the president of the council, President's council of economic advisors says, "This is a once in a generation chance for economic policy-makers."

LAUER: Yeah that's interesting. That's interesting because so many people look at the recession right now, that is deepening, and they say, they wring their hands and they say, "This is just an insurmountable challenge." And here's Larry Summers saying, "Wait a second, no. Let's look at this as the glass half-full. Let's look at as a chance to really make a mark."

ORTH: Right I think there are so many things, if you noticed the last eight years, the, the conservative philosophy is that governs best which governs least. And now people feel it's more of a time for government to intervene and so they can start trying things. And of course there's a lot of infrastructure that needs to be updated. There's Internet that needs to be spread. I mean there are so many things and educational reform. There are many, many things that need to be done.

LAUER: The President says repeatedly, and he said in our interview yesterday, "Patience, patience, patience. None of this will happen overnight." And yet if you talk to some of these people, and I know you have, they're chomping at the bit.

ORTH: Oh they're full of plans. And I think they've spent a long time studying what the issues are and for example, the Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan wants to go out on a listening tour. He wants to make things that work in other places, bring, bring them to a national level. The Secretary of Housing says we can't sustain the way we've let metropolitan areas grow. We, and we've got to put the development back into urban development. It's so interesting in HUD. They're just all over the place. They want to restore our stature. There's a new leadership. America's ready to lead in a new fashion, according to the UN Ambassador Susan Rice. It goes on and on.

LAUER: Let's talk about life inside the White House. Desiree Rogers is the new social-

ORTH: Yeah.

LAUER: -secretary. So she's gonna be the, she's gonna be the person kind of creating the social atmosphere at the White House. How, what do you get a sense, in terms of what her plans are for the First Couple?

ORTH: She's, she's very interesting. You know she has a Harvard MBA. She talks about "branding" the presidency. And she wants to visualize, with events, what some of the ideals of the presidency are. For example the ideal of service. If they have a famous artist who's gonna be at the White House at night, they want that person to do community service during the day. Their very first official act was that Leddy [sic] Ledbetter, Leddy Ledbetter, the, the, the bill that the President signed last week for Equal Pay for Women.

LAUER: Right, exactly. Makes it easier-

ORTH: Yeah.

LAUER: -to track down discrimination in the workplace.

ORTH: Right, exactly.

LAUER: You know, it's funny, they're entertaining, they like to entertain.

ORTH: Right.

LAUER: The President told me he really believes in this idea of opening the White House up, to more people.

ORTH: Right.

LAUER: Making it a family home. And yet he joked with me. He said, so he invited these people over for the Super Bowl last night -- Democrats and Republicans. Said he had no idea they all had so many children. But, but, but they really are going to try and make this a much more inclusive and I mean almost for the general public, White House.

ORTH: And also lead by example. He talked to you about having dinner with his children at night. They're trying to set a tone that, that it's important to be with your children. To pay attention to them. And that's why Michelle calls herself mom-in-chief. That gives her a way to do whatever she wants. To emphasize being a mother or being a very active First Lady.

LAUER: As someone who's held a high profile here in Washington and has raised a son here in Washington, I'm curious. Is there life outside the bubble? Is, is there possibility of life outside the bubble for the Obamas? Can they, on a Wednesday night, jump in a car, obviously with Secret Service, but take the girls out to dinner at a restaurant?

ORTH: Yes.

LAUER: Or does everything have to happen in the White House?

ORTH: No, it doesn't have to happen in the White House. You can take your kids out. Kids, the kids are really more or less off, they're not supposed to be on, on, in the, in the photographer's lens all the time. It has in the past been honored here. But I'll tell you, I think the great thing is Sasha is going on a basketball team.

LAUER: Yeah.

ORTH: That's a great way for kids to learn teamwork and learn, they have to pull their own weight. And just be one of the guys or the gals.

LAUER: Alright, Maureen Orth, and we want to tell people that the March issue of Vanity Fair hits newsstands in New York and Los Angeles on Wednesday. It goes nationwide on the 10th. Thanks Maureen.

ORTH: Thank you.

LAUER: Good to see you.

Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens is the Deputy Research Director at the Media Research Center.