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For Obama, Good News From New Jobs Report


I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Coming up, the Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to three remarkable women. We'll tell you who they are and why they won in just a few minutes.

But first, we are going to dig into some of this week's big political stories. The latest employment figures bring something that has been in short supply - good news. The economy added more than 100,000 new jobs last month. That comes a day after President Obama stumped for his jobs program during a lengthy press conference.

Meanwhile, some Americans are taking their economic concerns to the streets as the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations spread from New York to cities around the country. Also this week, both former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie announced that they will sit out the Republican presidential race.

And today marks the 10-year anniversary of Operation Enduring Freedom, the war in Afghanistan. We'll take a moment to reflect on what this could mean going forward.

Joining us to make sense of all this is Mindy Finn. She is a Republican strategist. She served as an advisor on new media for Mitt Romney's 2008 presidential campaign. Also back with us, Cynthia Tucker. She's a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and current professor of journalism at the University of Georgia. Welcome back to you both. Thank you for joining us.

CYNTHIA TUCKER: Good to be here, Michel.

MINDY FINN: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: The Department of Labor announced this morning that 103,000 new jobs were created in September. The unemployment rate stayed constant at 9.1 percent. At a press conference yesterday, President Obama stressed that the American people are waiting for something good about jobs or something to happen. But he also acknowledged that there's a lot of skepticism out there about whether government is playing any positive role at all. I'll just play a short clip. Here it is.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: You know, I can go out there and make speeches, but until they actually see action, some of that cynicism is going to be there.

MARTIN: You know, Cynthia the president also urged Americans to kind of get on the phone and pressure Congress to pass his program or at least to do something. Do you think he's going to get that response?

TUCKER: Well, yesterday he was asked that question during a news conference and the reporter suggested that - when the president asked people to phone in or email their members of Congress over the debt ceiling debate, all the switchboards at the Congress were jammed and there hasn't been the same response now.

If that's the case, I would suggest that there hasn't been as much urgency in communicating the message. If the debt ceiling hadn't been raised, there would have been an immediate economic calamity. And I don't think the White House has tried to communicate in quite the same way about the urgency. The president has certainly added to his stump speech telling people, you know, call Congress and tell them pass this bill now.

But let's face it, that is a campaign speech. Does the president want the job bill to pass? Yes, he does. But he's also certain that the Republican House is very unlikely to pass the jobs bill. That's just the way politics works. And I think the American public is beginning to understand that, too. Some cynicism has set in about congressional action. So, I don't think Americans are out there holding their breath expecting this jobs bill to pass.

MARTIN: Mindy, I'm interested in, particularly given your background in social media and in new media, about what you're seeing about the intensity level around these issues. I mean, the conventional wisdom at the moment is that the intensity is on the right on the side, you know, the Tea Party as exemplified by the Tea Party. But now we're starting to see people on the left getting organized and mobilize as exemplified by kind of the Occupy Wall Street movement. So, what are you seeing? How do you assess this, the intensity of prospective, and like what needs to happen and the intensity behind each philosophical perspective and what needs to happen?

FINN: Sure. One thing is certain is that Americans are angry and increasingly angrier. This could be the fourth election cycle in a row that could be a change election. In 2006, which was a major change election driven by anger, and 2008, 2010 and this could happen again in 2012. So, I think both everyone on the right and left has in common is that they're frustrated with government and their cynicism about government is growing.

We're seeing that happen that play out in fundraising numbers. This last quarter was one of the lowest for fundraising in comparative times in previous cycles. It's not just because the economy's bad, it's because people are wondering what they're investing in. So...

MARTIN: This is for Republicans as well as Democrats.

FINN: Republicans as well as Democrats. So, I think what's fascinating right now between - the Tea Party is on one side and you have this Occupy Wall Street movement on the other is the two have in common this real just cynicism and dissatisfaction with government. I think the reason that you're - on either side, you're not going to see a lot of people putting energy behind trying to get a bill passed because they're not seeing the how-does-one-plus-two-equal-three argument that gets them to actually more jobs.

MARTIN: Well, what about speaking of the arithmetic. The Obama said that he was comfortable with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's proposal to pay for the jobs plan by putting a 5 percent surtax on those who earn over $1 million a year. It's actually like over a million six. And that's an increase from the kind of the threshold - previously the Democrats were saying those who earn over $250,000 a year. And now, they're raising that threshold of the target.

How do Republicans argue against that? I mean, the argument against this $250,000 threshold was that could be your small business owner who earns that money one year and then very little the next. It could be, you know, a guy with, you know, three employees whatever. But how do Republicans argue against a surtax on people who earn $1 million a year?

FINN: It does become more challenging. I think what President Obama and the Democrats are hoping is that this election can be turned into kind of pitting the millionaires against the 99 percent or more in the country who are not millionaires and that's a winning argument for Democrats...

MARTIN: So, why do you say pitting them against as opposed to - I mean, their argument is they're not pinning them against, they're asking them to share the sacrifices, as it were.

FINN: Sure. I think the Republican argument and what they're hoping is that if they stick fast to this idea that raising taxes is the absolute wrong way to stimulate the economy, which is something they've held fast to for a very long time, then they're sticking with their principles and that's the way to shore up their base and get people behind them.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

We're talking about this week's political news with Republican strategist Mindy Finn. That's who you just heard, and University of Georgia journalism professor Cynthia Tucker, the Pulitzer Prize winner who's with us often.

Cynthia, what about - Mindy talked about the anger out there and Occupy Wall Street, this Occupy this Wall Street movement I think is kind of a physical manifestation, you know, of that. This is a clip. I'll just play it of one Philadelphia protestor. Her Mary Kalyna and she's with a group called, Global Women's Strike.

MARY KALYNA: Everything is being cut, the support (unintelligible) from the schools to health care to welfare, Social Security. And, you know, corporations are making bigger profits. They've had these huge bailouts.

MARTIN: You know, Cynthia, a lot of people who've been covering these demonstrations have been, I think it's fair to say somewhat dismissive saying: Oh, they don't even really know why they're out there. But the fact is they are out there and they're out there and they're out there all over the country now, many cities around the country. What effect do you think - do you think that this movement does have some steam behind it? And could it have an impact long term or at least in the elections, which are next year?

TUCKER: Well, Michel, I'm so glad you mentioned how dismissive the mainstream news media had been toward this movement. That is slowly beginning to change. As the protests grow, as union leaders and Democrats have become more interested in throwing their backing behind this protest movement the mainstream news media had decided to take it a bit more seriously. Can it have an effect next year? Absolutely, it can.

It will at least do this one thing and this one thing I'm utterly delighted about and that is focus average voters' attention once again on Wall Street. I have been deeply frustrated over the fact that, as the financial crisis has receded from the headlines, its effect hasn't receded. Wall Street brought the global economy to the brink of the apocalypse and has paid very little for that.

In fact, Republicans have been pushing back against the very modest reforms that were enacted to see to it that this never happens again and very few Wall Street bankers have paid any price in terms of major fines or, heaven forbid, going to jail. That simply hasn't happened. So, if nothing else happens, the Wall Street protests have, once again, focused the average Americans on the fact that it was corporate greed who brought us into this disastrous place to begin with, and that's a good thing.

MARTIN: Mindy, I'm sure you want to answer that. But I did want to ask you, though - we only have a couple of minutes and I just have to ask you about Sarah Palin and Chris Christie. So, how do you interpret their decisions? Obviously, they're two different people with two different, you know, sort of calculus' about what is going to - about what their own personal lives can tolerate, what they personally want to do. But what impact do you think that those two decisions have on the race?

FINN: Well, if you can believe the polls, which I think in this type of case, you know, it's our best indicator. Neither one was a sure thing at all for the nomination. So, I am actually not at all convinced that, in terms of the results of the race, the final results, it has much of an impact.

MARTIN: Were you surprised? You weren't surprised, really?

FINN: I wasn't surprised in either case. I think in terms of the dynamic of the race, and really talk about intensity, the intensity and energy behind the field, it could have an impact because Sarah Palin and Chris Christie are very different people and appeal to some different constituencies. What they have in common is that they incite - they're seen as very passionate figures and thus they incite a lot of passion and intensity behind their candidacies. And that's why people were excited.

Particularly, I think Sarah Palin's star, as we know, was starting to wane, but Chris Christie's is really starting to rise because people are looking for that passionate candidate who isn't poll tested and just, you know, resorting to soundbites.

MARTIN: Well, some people say that they think he actually enhanced his stature by not joining the race, that he is now a potential and viable possible vice presidential candidate.

But before we go, we only have a couple of minutes left, but today marks the 10-year anniversary of Operation Enduring Freedom, as we said. That's the longest military engagement that the United States has ever been involved in. And you talked about, Cynthia, how, you know, what's been in the headlines. Do people even think about Afghanistan anymore unless you've got relatives who are involved, as many of us do? Some of us do.

TUCKER: No. The average American has forgotten about soldiers still fighting both in Iraq and Afghanistan. I think the most interesting numbers I've seen lately come from a Pew poll, which said the majority of veterans who have been in Iraq and Afghanistan also say that those wars have not been worthwhile. That's very telling.

MARTIN: It is very telling. To be continued. That was Cynthia Tucker. She's a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. She's now a professor of journalism at the University of Georgia. Mindy Finn was also with us. She's a Republican strategist and former advisor on new media for Mitt Romney's 2008 presidential campaign. And they both joined us here in our Washington, D.C. studio. Ladies, thank you both so much for joining us.

TUCKER: Absolutely.

FINN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.