Acting as if he's been living in alternate media reality for the past year NBC's Matt Lauer, interviewing Howard Fineman, on Thursday's "Today" show made the very odd assertion, that the "establishment," of "Washington insiders," and the "New York-based media," didn't help put Barack Obama "in the Oval Office." Lauer, made the head-scratching point, after reading a portion of Fineman's most recent column to the Newsweek editor:
MATT LAUER: Let, let me read something. You wrote a column for Newsweek.com this week, and you said, that although President Obama still enjoys that high approval rating, he's starting to lose, what you call, the establishment, Washington insiders, the New York-based media and corporate America. When it comes down to it, those people didn't put him in the Oval Office. Doesn't he in some ways benefit by not catering to those people?
HOWARD FINEMAN: Well, not only did they not put him in the Oval Office, they're largely responsible for the mess we're in now. So, I think that's one reason why he remains very, very popular with the American public. But as I said, everybody's looking to take his measure, and he's got to not only be a popular president, but a powerful one and make his will fact in Washington. He really hasn't done that in the details yet.
The following is the full transcript of the segment as it was aired on the March 12, "Today" show:
MATT LAUER: Alright, Meredith, thank you very much. Want to turn to politics right now. He called it imperfect, the spending bill, $410 billion spending bill that the President signed yesterday, because it's filled with earmarks, but he signed it anyway. Let's bring in NBC News analyst Howard Fineman, who's also Newsweek's senior Washington correspondent. Howard, good morning to you.
[On screen headline: "Change Comes To Washington, Obama Vs. The 'Establishment'?"]
HOWARD FINEMAN: Good morning, Matt.
LAUER: Let me go back to what then candidate Obama said during the presidential debate, Oxford, Mississippi, last December he said, "We need earmark reforming. When I'm president, I will go line by line to make sure that we are not spending money unwisely." Fast forward to yesterday, he signs this bill. Is it just reality?
FINEMAN: Well he was faced with the situation that he said he couldn't change, but of course that's what his campaign is about. The important thing politically in Washington, Matt, is everybody's trying to take their measure of Barack Obama, all the power players in Washington, and frankly, they think they can roll him based on the evidence of this thing.
LAUER: Well, well John McCain and some other critics stood up and said this was a missed opportunity. This is when you could have held Congress' feet to the fire and demanded earmark reform. Does, does this erode Barack Obama's credibility on the subject of the economy and change?
FINEMAN: Well, so far, he's holding up with the American people, but inside the Beltway, which counts right now, because that's where the decisions are being made, it looks like, actually, the Congress, not the President, is in charge. When Rahm Emanuel came over from Congress to become chief of staff we thought he'd use his skill to empower the President to tell the Congress what to do. Instead, it seems to be the other way around, whether it was the original stimulus bill or now this.
LAUER: Let, let me read something. You wrote a column for Newsweek.com this week, and you said, that although President Obama still enjoys that high approval rating, he's starting to lose, what you call, the establishment, Washington insiders, the New York-based media and corporate America. When it comes down to it, those people didn't put him in the Oval Office. Doesn't he in some ways benefit by not catering to those people?
FINEMAN: Well, not only did they not put him in the Oval Office, they're largely responsible for the mess we're in now. So, I think that's one reason why he remains very, very popular with the American public. But as I said, everybody's looking to take his measure, and he's got to not only be a popular president, but a powerful one and make his will fact in Washington. He really hasn't done that in the details yet.
LAUER: You also write that, that in some ways, the establishment, as you put it, they're looking for a, a blunt-speaking coach type of person, and we all know that that's not exactly Barack Obama. They can't be asking for him to change his stripes at this point of the game, can they?
FINEMAN: Well, I think they may not be asking, but that's probably what's required. He's a great explainer, hasn't always explained everything. He's a detail guy, hasn't always focused on it. He's an interesting combination of energy and patience and a little bit of passivity here. He's allowed the Congress to dictate terms on the stimulus package, allowed them to dictate terms on this new funding bill, and he's probably gonna let them dictate the terms on health care. He seems satisfied to be a bottom-line guy, not the out-front guy.
LAUER: If you're saying that we, that, they, it may require more of a blunt-spoken coach, an in-your-face guy, there is one of those guys in the administration in Joe Biden. Should he turn some of this over to Joe Biden, the Vice President?
FINEMAN: Well, it's interesting you ask. I think basically they've decided to say that anything Joe Biden says, he and he alone is responsible for. He is like the gabby uncle that you don't want to pay that much attention to. So no, he's not the guy. He's not the guy. It has to be Obama himself.
LAUER: And another guy who is not what you'd call an in your face guy is the Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. How much is that hurting Barack Obama right now?
FINEMAN: I think it's hurt him a lot Matt with the insiders, with the technocrats, with people who actually read the legislation and follow what's happening at Treasury. Geithner has virtually no aides. He came in with not a lot of credibility. He should be a front man. He should be a guy out there as that blunt spoken coach, if it's not gonna be the president. It hasn't been. Neither has it been Larry Summers, who used to be Treasury Secretary under Bill Clinton who is a blunt spoken guy, but he's behind the scenes inside the White House.
LAUER: When, when, when the media asks and when we ask anybody in the administration, does Tim Geithner still have the confidence of the President they are quick to say, "Yes." At this stage of the game do you think they're saying one thing and, and perhaps the other is a reality?
FINEMAN: Well the reality is that Larry Summers really runs things behind the scenes. And it's Larry Summers who should be out front talking if they're gonna have a unified message. But right now Geithner is busy trying to hire aides, trying to figure out the banking situation and explain it to the American people. Nobody has done enough explaining and for an explaining type guy it hasn't worked so far.
LAUER: Howard Fineman, always good to have you hear Howard. Thanks very much.
FINEMAN: Thank you Matt.
LAUER: And by the way Howard's book The Thirteen American Arguments now available in paperback.