On Friday, in advance of the G-20 meeting in Pittsburgh this week, President Obama granted an interview at the White House to editors of The Blade and its sister paper, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The following are excerpts from that interview:
Q: About a quarter of a mile from where the G-20 meeting will take place there is a historic marker in downtown Pittsburgh, and it says on that site in 1918 a conference was held and the modern state of Czechoslovakia was created by the negotiations that took place there. So I guess I wonder if a historic marker will someday mark the site where the G-20 takes place and what will have happened?
OBAMA: “Well, first of all, I think this is a recognition that Pittsburgh is a world-class city, that it represents the transition of the U.S. economy from an industrial state to a mix of strong industry — steel — but also now biotech and clean energy. It has transformed itself after some very tough times into a city that's competing in the world economy.
“Having that conversation take place in Pittsburgh I think is very appropriate because it shows the direction that our economy is moving. It means that Pittsburgh is now having to pay attention to what happens in Beijing and Bangalore and Eastern Europe in ways that in the past it didn't have to pay attention to.
“So it really gives, I think, us an opportunity to highlight how there's no reason that the 21st century can't be another American century, as long as we're willing to make some smart decisions.
“The main topic that we'll be discussing is financial regulatory reform, how do we make sure that banks are not making money by taking wild risks, expecting taxpayer bailouts if their risks don't pay off, but instead are acting prudentially; that they've got strong capital requirements; that we are regulating the derivatives market; that we make sure that if these big financial institutions make bad decisions, that there's a way of resolving their problems without potentially bringing down the entire financial system or forcing taxpayers to foot the bill; making sure that the compensation structures for these big institutions are not geared toward short-term profits but are geared toward long-term sustainability.
“I think ultimately [that] will be good not just for workers in America, but people all around the world. What we want to create is a race to the top where, because of a strong regulatory framework, the free market can still operate effectively and there's still innovation and dynamism and creativity — all of the things that have made America great — but that it's happening with some rules of the road so that things don't spin out of control.”
Q: Mr. President, when Toledoans read your comments, and there are tens of thousands of them that are unemployed, they're going to ask, “How do we fit into this economy?” What do you say to those people?
OBAMA:“Well, look, we are not out of the woods in terms of this extraordinary recession that we've gone through. When I came into office, we were losing 700,000 jobs per month. Credit was frozen so that small businesses and large businesses alike couldn't borrow. You couldn't get an auto loan even if you had good credit. People were losing their homes at an extraordinary pace.
“What we've been able to do is to slow the deceleration of the economy, and now we're starting to see an upswing. Even in manufacturing, we saw for the first time an improvement on that front. That will have a good effect for everybody.
“The actions that we took in London in the last G-20 really were geared toward making sure that not only were we stimulating our economy with the Recovery Act that we put forward, which has put over $6 billion into the Ohio economy — everything from making sure that states and local governments don't have to lay off teachers and police officers, making sure the small businesses are able to get access to credit at a time the credit was frozen, rebuilding roads, bridges, school buildings — that put people back to work immediately, but our actions in London ensured that other countries were doing the same thing at the same time. And that means that export-geared industries in Ohio or in Pennsylvania, that they were able to start seeing their markets improve.
“I think Ohio is going to be an important test case of our ability to continue to transition toward that kind of economy. But, look, if you think about what's happening in Ohio and the manufacturing base that employed so many people, the decline in that sector of the economy took decades. It didn't start last year, it's been going on for two decades, and reversing that and rebuilding it is going to take two decades, as well.
“You look at a city like Toledo, we're now seeing Toledo start cornering a market on solar panels and high-tech glass and all sorts of things [and] … that market we know is going to grow. We've just got to make sure that we've got policies in place that are opening up other markets so we can sell it to other countries, that here in this country, which will remain the largest market in the world, that we've got a clean-energy agenda that ensures that that stuff is selling.
“We've got to make sure that we're cultivating those small businesses and entrepreneurs who are going to be driving employment growth … so that 20 years from now we can look back and we can say, this was the pivot point, this is where we started to turn the corner.”
Q: After years of being back and forth between Chicago and D.C. and on the [campaign] trail, how does it feel to be with your family most nights?
OBAMA:“The single best thing about being President is I got this nice home office that's only one minute away from my family, and it means I get to eat dinner with them every night.”
Q: Do you help your daughters with their homework?
OBAMA:“Michelle has assigned me math and science. She decided she's taking over the English and the social studies. So I'm having to brush up … I was always a little stronger on algebra …”
Q: What was it like playing basketball with Tyler Hansbrough and his University of North Carolina teammates during the 2008 campaign.
OBAMA:“Tyler, what about Tyler?”
Q: What was it like to take them on?
OBAMA: “Those guys are so tough and so big. They were just coming off the season when I played with them, and so they were in complete game shape and I was the only guy who wasn't one of their players on the court. After about 10 minutes I was just exhausted. The thing about Tyler is he didn't even break a sweat. He played about four games and he wasn't tired at all.”
Q: Who do you play here?
OBAMA:“You know, my guy Reggie Love, he plays in a league with a bunch of former Division I [collegiate players]. They're usually about 26, 27, and so I go out there with 'em, and these are all guys that could be my children, but I can still hang with them. Any game where I come off uninjured is a success.”
Q: President Bush biked a lot. Do you exercise daily?
OBAMA: “I do, we got a little gym up there in the residence — treadmill, elliptical, and some weights. The biking thing or the running thing, the problem is that it really puts a strain on the Secret Service because they basically have to shut down a whole section and so I always feel guilty about asking them to do all that.
“When we were at Martha's Vineyard we went biking and they had to shut down a road and the ride, as it was, was only basically we went back and forth for about two miles.”