President-elect Barack Obama appeared on Meet the Press (12-7-08) on Tom Brokaw's last show. Read the complete transcript and see the video here.
MR. BROKAW: Very nice to have you with us. As we saw in the opening, the world has gotten considerably worse since your election. There is no evidence that it's cause and effect, you should be happy to know. But, nonetheless, we now are officially in a recession. It's around the world, and most analysts think it's going to get worse before it gets better. Sixty-seven years ago this day, one of your predecessors, Franklin Roosevelt, faced Pearl Harbor.
PRES.-ELECT OBAMA: Right.
MR. BROKAW: What are the differences between his challenges and the ones that you face?
PRES.-ELECT OBAMA: Well, first of all, I think it's important for us to remember that as tough as times are right now, they're nothing compared to what my grandparents went through, what the "greatest generation" went through. You know, at this point you already had 25, 30 percent unemployment across the country, and we didn't have many of the social safety nets that emerged out of the New Deal. So there's no doubt that Franklin Roosevelt had to re-create an entire economic structure that had entirely collapsed, and we've got some strengths that he didn't, he didn't have.
But, look, if you look at the unemployment numbers that came out yesterday, if you think about almost two million jobs lost so far, if you think about the fragility of the financial system and the fact that it is now a global financial system, so that what happens in Thailand or Russia can have an impact here, and obviously, what happens on Wall Street has an impact worldwide, when you think about the structural problems that we already had in the economy before the financial crisis, this is a big problem and it's going to get worse. And, and one of the things that I'm constantly mindful of are all the people I met during the campaign who were already struggling before things got worse. You know, mothers and fathers who were working hard every day but didn't have health care, couldn't figure out how to send their kids to college. Now they're looking at pink slips, jobs being shipped overseas that devastate entire towns. And that's why my number one priority coming in is making sure that we've got an economic recovery plan that is equal to the task.
MR. BROKAW: Here's what you had to say a short time ago to the national conference of governors. It was kind of a reality check for them to put it in some kind of a context. Let's share that with our audience now, if we can.
PRES.-ELECT OBAMA: We're going to have to make hard choices. Like the ones that you're making right now in your state capitals, we're going to have to make in Washington. And we are not, as a nation, going to be able to just keep on printing money; so, at some point, we're also going to have to make some long-term decisions in terms of fiscal responsibility and not all of those choices are going to be popular.
MR. BROKAW: On this program about a year ago, you said that being a president is 90 percent circumstances and about 10 percent agenda. The circumstances now are, as you say, very unpopular in terms of the decisions that have to be made. Which are the most unpopular ones that the country's going to have to deal with?
PRES.-ELECT OBAMA: Well, fortunately, as tough as times are right now--and things are going to get worse before they get better--there is a convergence between circumstances and agenda. The key for us is making sure that we jump-start that economy in a way that doesn't just deal with the short term, doesn't just create jobs immediately, but also puts us on a glide path for long-term, sustainable economic growth. And that's why I spoke in my radio address on Saturday about the importance of investing in the largest infrastructure program--in roads and bridges and, and other traditional infrastructure--since the building of the federal highway system in the 1950s; rebuilding our schools and making sure that they're energy efficient; making sure that we're investing in electronic medical records and other technologies that can drive down health care costs. All those things are not only immediate--part of an immediate stimulus package to the economy, but they're also down payments on the kind of long-term, sustainable growth that we need.