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Former Treasury Secretary Evaluates Obama’s Fiscal Policy

August 28, 2008 at 6:40 PM EDT
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Amid questions about Sen. Barack Obama's readiness for the presidency, former U.S. Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin of the Clinton administration sheds insight on Obama's capabilities and the likelihood that Americans will coalesce around his domestic and international economic agenda. Judy Woodruff and Rubin discuss.

Now some thoughts about Obama and the economy, and to an interview with Robert Rubin, treasury secretary in the Clinton administration. Judy Woodruff spoke to him on the floor of the convention hall last night.

JUDY WOODRUFF: … facing the next president, around the world, the economy are not the same as those that faced President Clinton. What has changed? What will the next — whoever he is, what has changed?

ROBERT RUBIN, Former U.S. Treasury Secretary: I actually think, in many respects, they’re not so dissimilar. We had a middle-class squeeze in the ’80s. We’ve had stagnant median real wages during this decade.

President Clinton inherited serious deficits. We’ve had deficits during this decade when we should have had surpluses.

We have an energy problem. We have health care to address. I actually think, in many respects, the issues are similar. Obviously, the circumstances, in some regards, are different.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The Republicans say that Barack Obama, whatever the problems, is not equipped to handle the presidency, that he’s not experienced enough. You’ve been advising him on economic issues. What do you say to that?

Obama's readiness for presidency

ROBERT RUBIN: I think they're absolutely wrong. I know him pretty well, Judy. He's thoughtful. He understands the complexities of the issues. He's a weigher and a balancer. He's very much as a decision-maker like President Clinton was and is.

I think he's terrifically well-equipped. And I think that he's got sound, sensible views on dealing with fiscal issues, energy, health care, and international economic policy. I think he'd be terrific in the economic issues.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You've been watching this country's economy for a long time. What do you think he faces in this campaign against John McCain? You've been watching not just the economy; you've been watching politics.

ROBERT RUBIN: And your question is what?

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is, what do you think he faces? What kind of a campaign?

ROBERT RUBIN: Oh, the campaign? I'll tell you what I think the key is. I think we are really at a critical time in the history of this country, with respect to our economy and also national security.

And I think the key is for Barack Obama to lay out his policies so people understand them. And I think, when they do, I think they're going to coalesce around him.

I think he's offered a sound, pragmatic, sensible way forward on fiscal policy, on energy, health care, a whole host of issues that are absolutely critical if we're going to have a successful future.

And I think, as the American people see this and understand it, I think they'll coalesce around him. And I think that's the challenge that lies before President -- Sen. Obama.

People's sense of Barack Obama

JUDY WOODRUFF: You talk to Democrats all the time from not only New York, but elsewhere. What are they saying about the first few days of this convention?

ROBERT RUBIN: I think there's a pretty good sense. I think that a lot of people felt -- and it was my view, as well -- but I think a lot of people that the convention had to do three things. Introduce or re-introduce, perhaps in some respects, Michelle and Barack Obama to the American people.

It had to give them a sense of where Barack Obama stands on the issues that are critical to our economy and national security.

And it had to bring the party back together again. And it looks to me like, in all three respects, they're doing a pretty good job. And I think Hillary's done a terrific job in helping move that forward.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you think that he has the people around him? I mean, as somebody who has served a president, do you think he has the people around him to see him through this next period?

ROBERT RUBIN: I think one of the things that makes me feel as good as I do -- and I feel terrific about Barack Obama -- if you look at the people he's appointed in his campaign, he's run a heck of a campaign. And he's appointed very good people.

When it came to having a coordinator for economic policy, he took a quality, a terrific person, even though there was some political disagreements about who he chose. And I think that suggests he's going to choose very good people when he gets into office, if he gets into -- if he gets elected.

Comparison to Bill Clinton

JUDY WOODRUFF: Last question. Bill Clinton, former President Clinton, speaking at this convention. Differences between the two men, similarities?

ROBERT RUBIN: You know, when we met with Barack Obama about three or four weeks ago, as I walked out, I said to Larry Summers, my successor as secretary, and we were both in the same meeting, I said, "In many respects, Sen. Obama reminds me of President Clinton."

He's smart. He thoughtful. He wants all the consideration on the table. He understands the complexities. He weighs, he balances, and I think he's sound, and he's practical. So I think, in many respects, they're very similar.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Former Treasury secretary Bob Rubin, thank you very much for talking with us.

ROBERT RUBIN: Delighted to be with you, Judy.