PBS talk show host Tavis Smiley welcomed former New York Times columnist and theatre critic Frank Rich to his show on July 7 to absolutely rip on Mitt Romney as a leveraged-buyout specialist who "threw American workers out of work" and "the most transparent phony...that you can imagine." So why is the unemployment rate at 9.2 percent? Rich said the Wall Street types (the "Robert Rubin retinue") inside Team Obama ruined the chance to have "a WPA-style jobs program."
Smiley has constantly agitated President Obama from the left, so Rich's first piece (a cover story) for New York magazine insisting Obama's too friendly with Wall Street was right up his alley:
TAVIS SMILEY: Well, I am glad, as many others are, your fans, glad to have you back and looking forward to digging into what you have to say in the coming months and years inside New York magazine. Let me start with the obvious. Why this particular piece about Obama as your debut?
FRANK RICH: I guess as I was looking at various subjects, what really grabbed me and pushed me in this direction was the fact that Mitt Romney, a guy who is associated with corporate America, whose career was mainly in leveraged buyouts that often threw American workers out of work, that he is getting way with presenting himself as sort of a working-class hero, appearing in front of deserted factories and as a sort of nouvelle FDR.I thought how could Romney, of all people, get away with this pose, and I realized a lot of it has to do with the vacuum that Barack Obama has left in terms of his economic record as president.
SMILEY: Is there a parallel? I'll come back to Obama and Romney in a moment. Is there a parallel, though, to how George Bush got away with demonizing John Kerry when Kerry served and Bush didn't?
RICH: That's the exact parallel, only in this particular case - in that case, Kerry, his record was exemplary. He had done nothing to deserve it. There's just enough that's wanting in the Obama record so far that he gave Romney a slight opening for his exaggerations and caricatures.
This is PBS, where liberals can come and agree with each other in blissful peace that conservatives are horrible people. Obama, Rich said, is a fundamentally decent guy who just needs to wake up and avoid the "Republican turf" of deficit reduction:
SMILEY: I've said many times on this program and elsewhere between McCain and Obama, respectfully, the word 'poverty' never came up one time. We could talk about the middle class; poverty never came up. It's a word he still doesn't want to utter to this day, the poor or poverty in this country.
But I'm just trying to figure out how a campaign, whether you like or loathe them, agree or disagree, a campaign that was so good on being focused, that was so good on staying on message, that was so good at messaging during the campaign could so badly miss the issue of jobs in this White House?
RICH: I couldn't agree with you more, and of course we don't know the answer, but there are several theories. One is that he was to some extent too much in the grip of people that he appointed, the sort of Robert Rubin retinue led by Timothy Geithner and Larry Summers. That was not that focused on jobs as the main thing. So even in the stimulus, explicit plans to try to have a WPA jobs program, to put people directly to work, was, we now know, essentially shot down by the Geithner forces in the internal administration debate.
This is an administration that took almost a year after Obama entered the White House to have any kind of even sort of pro-forma jobs council, which is just amazing, given the circumstances that you so accurately describe when he came in. Then there was the health care focus and then what I don't understand – and this is really the hardest question to answer – is how Obama, after health care, sort of waltzed past jobs as a focus and segued into the Republican turf of deficit reduction, almost as if he was intimidated by the Tea Party, even though every poll by every major pollster from Inauguration Day to the present shows that jobs and unemployment is a much higher priority for most Americans than the deficit.
SMILEY: I'm just trying to get a sense of why you remain hopeful after all the words you used in this article.
RICH: Well, I may be just a fool to hold on to any hope. (Laughter) Tavis, I can't make - I don't have any great argument except a fundamental conviction, I guess, that this is a decent guy, much of whose record in history, including, by the way, as a community organizer, suggests that his overall passions are not the ones we're seeing presented and seeing so compromised in the past couple of years. I also feel he is somebody wh when his back is against the wall tends to wake up and smell the coffee.
A third thing is in the press conference that he gave last week, where he was immediately, of course, insulted by the Republicans for being so out there and so angry when in fact all he did was fight a little and show some spine, and yet that even got him called a four-letter word on another network, that Obama, he's still there.
Romney is the most transparent phony, and I think many Republicans would agree, that you can imagine. He's rolling up his shirtsleeves, he's letting a few pieces of hair fall out of place, a little bit less hair gel, and we're supposed to believe he's Tom Joad in 'The Grapes of Wrath.' That's how he's presenting himself. Four years ago or three years ago he presented himself as a religious conservative. That didn't work. So that's really a paper tiger if Obama is going to be the real tiger.
SMILEY: Frank Rich is back, and unapologetically. I am happy about that, as I'm sure many of you are.