President Obama granted a 24-minute interview to NPR Morning Edition anchor Steve Inskeep, the man who compared him to Abraham Lincoln in a softball 2012 interview with David Axelrod. On Tuesday's morning show, they spread the interview into three segments distributed throughout the show. The questions were mostly brief, neutral process questions about budget negotiations, but Inskeep did ask a tough question, from the Left, about rising income inequality on Obama's watch. (The full transcript is here.)
What really stood out was the part where Inskeep helpfully suggested to Obama that conservatives are scared that Obamacare will be implemented because it will become popular – which it certainly isn’t now – and then agreed it’s a deficit-shrinker:
INSKEEP: Let me mention, Mr. President, that one reason this is such an emotional moment is that people on both sides of the debate over the Affordable Care Act seem to believe that once the individual mandate takes effect and people begin receiving subsidies, the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, stays forever. It cannot be removed, because there will be political support for it. Do you believe that?
OBAMA: Well, I do, but that's a pretty strange argument. Keep in mind, if you're a Republican - and we've heard some Republicans make this argument. Some of those who are leading the charge on this make this argument. Essentially, what they're saying is once this is fully implemented and millions of people who currently don't have health care have health care at reasonable prices, and protections are in place for consumers across the board, that it will be sufficiently successful and popular that people won't want to repeal it. Well, that's a strange argument. So the notion is we got to stop it before people like it too much. That's not an argument that I think most people buy.
INSKEEP: Well, apparently the argument is sometimes people come to like things that the government can't afford anymore.
OBAMA: Well, this is the argument that was made with respect to Social Security. This is the argument that was made to Medicare. It turns out, actually, people liked it, and we could afford it. And unlike the prescription drug plan that was passed by Republicans - which now is very popular with seniors, although at the time that it was passed, was actually less popular than the Affordable Care Act, according to the polls - we paid for the Affordable Care Act. It doesn't add to the deficit. In fact, repealing it would increase the deficit. And so...
INSKEEP: If the assumptions in current law held. Yeah.
Does this snippet sound like an independent interview? Or does it sound like someone playing reporter in the White House publicity shop? It’s an awfully tough call. But this is for National Public Radio, with an audience stuffed full of Obama voters. Get tough on this president, and you're actually threatening to upset your donors -- and not just the Democrats on Capitol Hill who insure NPR subsidies. The whole game is rigged for Obama in public broadcasting. But then there's the argument between friends about the failures of current capitalism:
INSKEEP: You've talked a lot during your time in office about the widening gap between the rich and everybody else. This is a decades-long trend. But a good part of that trend has now taken part -- taken place on your watch. There was a study I was reading: 2009 to 2012, overwhelming majority of the increase in income in this country went to the wealthiest one percent. Why is that happening on your watch?
OBAMA: Well, it's one of my biggest concerns. And part of it has to do with the fact that these long-term trends have accelerated. Globalization, combined with technology, have stripped away a lot of the basic security that middle-income people had because a lot of those middle-income jobs have left. Either they were moved overseas, they were replaced with technology - whether you're talking about a bank teller; a travel agent; a high-level administrator in a lot of companies; if you go to many manufacturers, it's all robotized. So some of the - that's part of the trend. But...
INSKEEP: Are your efforts not helping with this?
OBAMA: Well, there's no doubt...
INSKEEP: The law was passed under a Democratic Congress.
OBAMA: Well, no - there are no doubts that what we've done has helped. So for example, the changes we made in the tax law that increased taxes on the wealthiest Americans while locking in tax cuts for middle-class Americans, that helped. That made the tax system more progressive.
INSKEEP: The economist Tyler Cowen was on our program the other day. He'd written a book about income inequality. And he argued, based on his analysis, that it's really inevitable, it's going to get worse, and the thing for public officials to do is to adapt to it rather than try to change it.
OBAMA: Well, I don't accept that. America is always been at its best when everybody who's willing to work hard has a chance to succeed. There is no doubt that these trends are powerful and they're global. I mean, we're seeing the same trends in Scandinavian countries that historically were - prided themselves on great equality. We've seen it magnified in less developed countries and emerging markets. So these are global trends that we're going to have to fight against.
Inskeep aired one snippet on Monday night's All Things Considered, in which Obama refused to negotiate: "I shouldn't have to offer anything. They're not doing me a favor by paying for things that they have already approved for the government to do. That's part of their basic function of government. That's not doing me a favor."
Reviewing the interview on the public-radio show “Here and Now,” Inskeep described negative reactions and positive (no doubt NPR listener) reactions:
INSKEEP: There's been a really remarkable reaction, a polarization of reactions that I've seen to that remark as it spread through the Internet and others ways over the last 24 hours. People who oppose the president's position have heard him say I shouldn't have to offer anything and have basically responded on Twitter and other places: What a jerk.
And people who support the president have been saying things more like right on, way to go, you're being strong. What the president is arguing, though, is - at least what he says, is that he wants to defend the integrity of the office, that it is simply unfair to try to have a negotiation where he would give away some major part of his agenda in exchange really for just running the government for 45 days.
The Republicans are not offering very much, let's be frank about that, and so the president is arguing he should not have to offer very much.
Conservatives can witness this and think: It's too bad there's not a shutdown of NPR and PBS. Especially during a shutdown.