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updated 2/12/2010 1:35:05 PM ET 2010-02-12T18:35:05

MR. DAVID GREGORY: This Sunday: The economy pulls out of a deep dive, but
can the recession really be over when so many Americans are out of work?
Can the economy grow on its own without the government propping it up?
We'll ask our exclusive guest, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.

Then, Afghanistan. A week of deadly violence in the region and a grim
milestone for U.S. troops: October is the deadliest month yet since the
war started. The president faces the human toll up close, greeting the
bodies of the fallen at Dover Air Force Base. What will he do now to win
the war? With us: NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea
Mitchell, just back from Pakistan; Jim Miklaszewski, NBC News Pentagon
correspondent just back from Afghanistan; and Jon Krakauer, author of The
New York Times best-seller "Where Men Win Glory" about the death of Pat
Tillman in Afghanistan.

Plus, an exclusive interview with the architect of the Obama campaign. An
inside look at how he reached the White House and whether nearly one year
after an historic election he has fulfilled his promises. With us, author
of "The Audacity to Win," campaign manager David Plouffe.

MR. GREGORY: But first, the Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.

Welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.

SEC'Y TIMOTHY GEITHNER: Good to be here.

MR. GREGORY: So good economic news, the economy grew a little bit in the
third quarter; has a lot of people thinking things are getting better.
And yet the market on Friday dropped pretty sharply. Does Wall Street
think the recession is over?

SEC'Y GEITHNER: I think it is a good number. It was--the growth was broad
based. It was investment, exports, consumption, housing for the first
time. And it shows that, you know, just five months after the president
came into office, we got growths restarted. But it's just the beginning
and we've got a ways to go. Unemployment's high and still rising. This is
a very tough economy still for huge numbers of American's businesses, so
we've got a ways to go, David.

MR. GREGORY: Do you think the recession is over?

SEC'Y GEITHNER: That's the judgment the economists will make, and they
won't know until years from now. But the real test of recovery will be
when we have unemployment coming down, people back to work, businesses
confident to invest again.

MR. GREGORY: What do people have to be braced for, despite this news?

SEC'Y GEITHNER: Well, again, I think it's, it's, it's good news and it
shows that when you act with force you can stabilize a crisis like this
and, you know, start to repair the damage and bring things back. But this
is going to be a different recovery than the past, because Americans are
going to have to save more. A lot of damage was caused by this crisis.
It's going to take some time for us to grow out of this. It could be a
little choppy, it could be uneven, and it's going to take a while. But I
think, again, this is encouraging signs.

MR. GREGORY: Difficult days still ahead?

SEC'Y GEITHNER: Well, again, I think for large numbers of Americans and
businesses, small businesses in particular, it's a tough economy.

MR. GREGORY: So more difficulty before it gets better.

SEC'Y GEITHNER: Well, it's getting better. It's going to be better
gradually, and we're going to make sure we keep at it until we have an
economy that's growing again led by the private sector, of course,
ultimately.

MR. GREGORY: Right.

SEC'Y GEITHNER: You know, what the government did was to step in and make
sure we're providing the tax cuts and investments necessary to arrest the
crisis, get credit markets starting to open up again. And we did that,
that plan worked. But we've got a ways to go before...

MR. GREGORY: But that's a big question, whether or not--yes, you have growth
for the first time in four quarters. But is any of this growth
sustainable without government intervention?

SEC'Y GEITHNER: It will be, it will be. But what the government has to do
in a crisis is to provide a bridge until the economy can repair itself
and businesses are confident enough to start to invest again. And again,
you're starting to see it again. Businesses now, I think they'll say--you
talk to people across the country, they'll say that they feel that things
are more stable now and for the first time they see orders starting to
pick up. And what'll happen is they'll start to invest again, they'll
start to bring people back onto their payroll and this will get more
momentum.

MR. GREGORY: But that happened hasn't yet--hasn't happened yet. We'll get
into that a little bit more in just a minute.

The question about consumer spending that really drove the market down on
Friday, it's off, biggest level that it's been off in nine months. Again,
people are not consuming.

SEC'Y GEITHNER: There's nothing new in those numbers on Friday. They were
in the GDP report. No incremental news in those numbers. So again, the
overall picture for the economy is that consumers are a little more
confident now, confident enough to start to spend again, investments
starting to spend again. You know, there was another number on Friday
that showed business confidence, in the Chicago survey, showing a little
more optimism about the future, too. And--but, you know, again, this is a
tough economy still, it's going to take some time. But we're committed to
making sure we're reinforcing this progress we've seen.

MR. GREGORY: A hundred and fifteen banks have failed so far this year. Is the
banking system safe?

SEC'Y GEITHNER: The banking system is dramatically more stable than it
was three months ago, six months ago, nine months ago, a year ago. Just
remember, again, a year ago today, last year, you had for the first time
in almost 75 years Americans start to wonder whether they should be
taking their money out of banks. You had markets around the world come to
a stop. Economic activity just stopped, came to a standstill, like
flipping a switch. And right now you've had a dramatic improvement in
confidence, you've had private capital come back into the system. And for
large businesses, they can now borrow again and they can raise capital
again, and that's very important. But small businesses, much more
dependent on banks, they still face a really tough environment on the
financing side, and we need to keep working to try to open up credit to
them.

MR. GREGORY: Do we need another cash for clunkers program to stimulate the
economy?

SEC'Y GEITHNER: I don't think at the moment--well, let me start this way,
David. About half of the money in the Recovery Act, tax cuts and
investments, are still ahead of us. So there's a lot of force still
moving its way through the system now, and you're going to see that
continue to provide support for the economy going forward.

MR. GREGORY: Could you have had more impact if more of that money were paid
out? You still have about $500 billion of the stimulus that has not been
paid out yet. How long will it take to get paid out?

SEC'Y GEITHER: Actually, I--again, it was designed to pay out over two
years, because we knew it was going to take a long time to repair the
damage we started with earlier this year. So it was designed to pay out
over this period of time. And I think it's actually delivering better
results sooner than we would expect. I think we're seeing better outcomes
in the financial sector, in the economy than many of us would've thought
when we sat there with the president in Chicago at the end of last year.

MR. GREGORY: Right. Well, but that's not exactly true, because the
president's team said you'd keep unemployment to 8 percent if you didn't
have the stimulus, so.

SEC'Y GEITHNER: No. No, you're right, the unemployment is worse than
almost everybody expected. But growth is back a little more quickly, a
little stronger than people thought, and growth is a necessary condition.
With growth jobs will come, but growth has to come first. But just look
at the financial sector. You know, you've had banks repaying money with
interest. Taxpayers are getting substantial earnings on this big
investment in the financial system, and that's delivering good, good
returns for the American taxpayer.

MR. GREGORY: Let's talk about claims of success about jobs. The White House
says 640,000 jobs have been created or saved by the $800 billion
stimulus. There are Republicans who say the number is bogus, that it's
just PR. John Boehner, leader of the Republicans in the House, as you
well know, circulated a quote from an economist at Carnegie, Carnegie
Mellon University, and I'll put it up on the screen and you can look at
it: "One can search economic textbooks forever without finding a concept
called `jobs saved.' It doesn't exist for good reason: how can anyone
know that his or her job has been saved?" You've got a lot of experience
in the economy. Is this PR or fact?

SEC'Y GEITHNER: This is fact. Again, at--when the president took office,
this economy was falling at the rate of 6.5 percent at an annual rate per
year, fastest rate in decades. We were losing three-quarters of a million
jobs a month. Now, the pace of job loss has slowed dramatically, the
economy's now growing again. It's growing not just because the effects of
the Recovery Act. Many people opposed the Recovery Act, said it wasn't
going to work. It's working, it's delivering what it should result--what
it should, it should produce. Value of Americans' savings are up almost
35 percent since the beginning of the year. Interest rates down. These
are substantially powerful returns on the Recovery Act, and they are
delivering what they were designed to deliver.

MR. GREGORY: OK. What is a saved job? How do you measure that?

SEC'Y GEITHNER: A, a saved--well...

MR. GREGORY: It's not something economists recognize as an actual fact.

SEC'Y GEITHNER: Think of it this way. When a, when a school does not have
to fire a teacher, when a city doesn't have to fire a fireman, when it
can keep teachers in the classroom, cops on the streets, firemen in the
firehouse, that's a job saved.

MR. GREGORY: All right, but...

SEC'Y GEITHNER: When businesses cut fewer jobs, that's a job saved. When
businesses add jobs, that's a job created. I think, David, what everybody
would say, and nobody would contest this, is without the actions the
Congress and the president took, you would've seen millions more jobs lost
over the life of this crisis and you would see growth cause much, much
more damage to American businesses, many more businesses failing.

MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

SEC'Y GEITHNER: Much more--much deeper cuts in basic services at the
state and local level. So the, the basic plan the president put in place
is delivering what it was expected to do. Now, it's just the beginning.
It's just an early stage recovery.

MR. GREGORY: Right. But my, but my point is that this should not be
overstated, the impact of the stimulus should not be overstated. Here's
the facts about how many jobs have been lost since the stimulus: 2.7
million. And you've got 14 states who have double-digit unemployment. You
can look at the top five, with Michigan at the top with 15.3 percent
unemployment. So you say it could've been a lot of worse.

SEC'Y GEITHNER: David...

MR. GREGORY: A, it's still very bad, and B, the stimulus has had only a
minimal effect.

SEC'Y GEITHNER: Actually--no, no, I wouldn't say that. I said actually,
even those numbers understate it, because there's lots of people who are
underemployed, working less they would like. So again, this is a very
tough economy. It's only been three initial months of positive growth.
It's going to take some time for unemployment to come down and for jobs
to get created again. And that's why it's important to--for people to
recognize that we have a responsibility to keep working at this so we're
reinforcing the recovery.

MR. GREGORY: How high will unemployment go, do you think?

SEC'Y GEITHNER: Don't know for sure, but it's likely still rising and it,
it probably going to rise further before it starts to come down again.

MR. GREGORY: Double digits?

SEC'Y GEITHNER: Most economists think we'll probably get there, and--but
again, the economists think--and, you know, there's a lot of uncertainty
in this. Economists don't know that, don't know that much about the
future, David. But they say that they think we'll start to see net jobs
created at the beginning of the year, sometime around the beginning of
the year, in the first quarter sometime.

MR. GREGORY: What should the administration be going specifically to reduce
unemployment at this point?

SEC'Y GEITHNER: The most important thing is to get growth growing again
at a strong pace.

MR. GREGORY: Right. But what can the government...

SEC'Y GEITHNER: That's the most...

MR. GREGORY: ...what should the government be doing?

SEC'Y GEITHNER: The government's doing exactly what it should be doing.
It's, it's making sure that there are tax cuts to business and families,
investments in improving infrastructure, creating incentives for
businesses to spend again, relief for state and local governments and
getting this financial system back on its feet.

MR. GREGORY: But do you need more stimulus?

SEC'Y GEITHNER: I don't think we need to make that judgment yet, David.
Again, there's--about half of the money committed by the Congress is
still working its way through the system by design. It was designed to
work over two years. So we're not in a position yet where we need to make
a choice about whether it's going to take more than that...

MR. GREGORY: Right.

SEC'Y GEITHNER: ...to bring growth back. And again, that's only a bridge.
You're not going to get real recovery until it's led by the private
sector, by businesses.

MR. GREGORY: So I want to be clear, additional stimulus you don't think is
needed right now.

SEC'Y GEITHNER: Not, not yet. Now, Congress is looking at extending
unemployment insurance, some other targeted programs that would expire
without additional action. You've heard Congress today--you heard--saw
Congress this week start to talk about extending the first-time homebuyer
tax credit, some other measures. We think those will be helpful things
for the economy as a whole, and they'll also provide some added support.

MR. GREGORY: Let me talk about the deficit and the debt. These are alarming
numbers, you said they are. Let's look at the deficit since Inauguration
Day: $1.2 trillion, now $1.4 trillion; it's up 17 percent. The overall
debt, Inauguration Day: $10.6 trillion, now $11.9 trillion. What's it
going to be a year from now?

SEC'Y GEITHNER: Well, it's going to have to come down. Now it's too high,
and I think everybody understands this. You know, we've got these two
central imperatives: restore growth, create jobs. But make sure people
understand we're going to have to bring those fiscal deficits down as
growth recovers. First growth, though. Without growth, you can't fix
those long-term fiscal problems. But you're not going to have a recovery
that's going to be strong enough unless people are confident we're going
to have the will to go back to live within our means.

MR. GREGORY: How do you bring it down, though? Do taxes have to go up?

SEC'Y GEITHNER: Well, we're going to have to do--we're going to have to
make some hard choices. The--but we're not really at the point yet,
David, we're going to know what's going to be the best path forward. The
president's very committed to bring down these deficits, and he's very
committed to doing so in a way that's not going to add to the burden on
people, people making less than $250,000 a year.

MR. GREGORY: But wait a minute, though, what are hard--I mean, I think a lot
of people, it's fair to say, what are hard choices? I mean, what hard
choices have been made so far? Are you going to raise taxes?

SEC'Y GEITHNER: We're going to have to bring our resources and our
expenditures more into balance.

MR. GREGORY: So it's possible.

SEC'Y GEITHNER: Well, again, the president's committed to make sure we
get this economy back on track. We're bringing down this deficit over
time. And to do so...

MR. GREGORY: Mr. Secretary, you talked about hard choices, so why can't you
give a straight answer to whether taxes have to come up...

SEC'Y GEITHNER: Because...

MR. GREGORY: ...when you have a deficit this big?

SEC'Y GEITHNER: Because, David, right now we're focused on getting growth
back on track, OK, and we're not at the point yet we have to decide
exactly what it's going to take. And I just want to say this very
clearly. He was committed in the campaign to make--he said in the
campaign and he is committed to make sure we do this in a way that is not
going to add to the burden on people making less than $250,000 a year.
Now, it's going to be hard to do that, but he's committed to doing that
and we can do that.

MR. GREGORY: You can do it, but it's still a chance that you'd have to raise
taxes and go back on that if you've got a debt this big.

SEC'Y GEITHNER: We're going to have to do it in a way that's going to
help to meet that test, meet that commitment, the commitment he made, to
do it in a way that's fair to Americans and make sure we do it in a way
that's going to allow--provide for growth and recovery going forward. But
we can do this. You know, this is not beyond our capacity as a country to
do.

MR. GREGORY: But...

SEC'Y GEITHNER: But first things first.

MR. GREGORY: Right.

SEC'Y GEITHNER: And unless we have a recovery, our long-term debts are
going to be worse. Now, you didn't raise health care yet, but what's
happening on health care now is very encouraging. Because if you look at
what independent analysts say now, if you look at these bills moving
their way through the Congress, they will make a substantial difference
in reducing the rate of growth in healthcare costs over the long term and
they will help bring down those long-term deficits.

MR. GREGORY: But there is going to be a heavy burden on the middle-class
through, through health care by taxes going up, by premiums going up. It
will affect the middle-class.

SEC'Y GEITHNER: No, I, I, I don't think that's the way to look at
it. The--our tax--our healthcare system today imposes enormous burdens
not just on businesses, but on families. There are very high hidden costs
to our current system. And the best way to add to our long-term deficits,
and the best way to add to those burdens is not reform health care today.

MR. GREGORY: But it doesn't answer the question about premiums going up with
an individual mandate and taxes going up on so-called Cadillac plans and
other parts of this bill as they're moving their way through the process
that would increase taxes.

SEC'Y GEITHNER: Again, I don't think that's the right way to think
about it. I think you have to look at the entire system today and the
cost that presents. And if you look at those...

MR. GREGORY: Well, why isn't that the right way to look at it if that's the
reality of what the legislation would do?

SEC'Y GEITHNER: No.

MR. GREGORY: How else should it be looked at?

SEC'Y GEITHNER: Well...

MR. GREGORY: Yes, there are, there are ballooning costs with the existing
system, but the remedy still includes tax cuts--tax hikes, does it not?

SEC'Y GEITHNER: No. What the, what the bills moving through Congress do,
and these are very important, they expand coverage, they will make care
more affordable, and they will reduce the rate of growth in healthcare
costs. And in that sense they're going to provide a more fair system, so
families are not going to live with the fear that if they lose their job
they're going to lose health care, they're going to be denied healthcare
coverage and they're going to be able to afford a basic package of care
that's going to make sure they can provide for their families.

MR. GREGORY: Just a couple of minutes left, I want to talk about the ways of
Wall Street. And first I want to ask you about executive compensation. By
capping the pay that executives get at those largest firms that got
bailout money, how does that further the goal of paying the taxpayer
back?

SEC'Y GEITHNER: Seven firms, very important that when we give, give these
firms exceptional assistance to save them, allowed them to survive, that
we're protecting the taxpayers' investments and that the resources that
we gave them are not going to pay excessive compensation to their
executives. That's a basic thing of fair--it's fair and just and it's
necessary. And Ken Feinberg has done a very good job balancing that
imperative, or the basic imperative we all have is to get our money back
as quickly as possible.

MR. GREGORY: But what if the people who are capable of stabilizing these
companies and becoming profitable again leave, undermining the effort for
these firms to pay the government back?

SEC'Y GEITHNER: We'll...

MR. GREGORY: If that happens, would these curbs be a mistake?

SEC'Y GEITHNER: We were very, we were very concerned about that from the
beginning, and he had to balance some very difficult kind of choices. I
think he's found a very good balance among them.

MR. GREGORY: But you have no way of knowing that.

SEC'Y GEITHNER: Well, you can't be sure.

MR. GREGORY: Right.

SEC'Y GEITHNER: But, but look how..

MR. GREGORY: And...

SEC'Y GEITHNER: Think about it this way, David. Look at how the market
has reacted to the news about the reforms he put in place. And I don't
see any concern in how the market...

MR. GREGORY: You don't see an exodus at these seven firms?

SEC'Y GEITHNER: No, I think...

MR. GREGORY: You don't think people will leave?

SEC'Y GEITHNER: I, I worry about this a lot, but I think he's got the
balance right.

MR. GREGORY: Do you think a company like AIG, would you like to see it
prosper, make a lot of money again and be successful?

SEC'Y GEITHNER: What I would like to see AIG do, and this is what AIG is
doing, is to bring down the risk that brought that company to the edge of
collapse and to restructure its business so the taxpayer can get out.

MR. GREGORY: Would you like it to be successful?

SEC'Y GEITHNER: I'd like it to be successful enough the taxpayer can get
out.

MR. GREGORY: And then after that you don't care what happens?

SEC'Y GEITHNER: No.

MR. GREGORY: The issue of whether AIG should pay bonuses, because they're
going to pay another $200 million in bonuses next March, should they pay
that?

SEC'Y GEITHNER: He's got a bunch of choices ahead for a number of firms
about 2010, but I--those choices are his to make. And as I said, I
think...

MR. GREGORY: Right. Well, you spoke out against AIG when they made their last
round of bonuses. So should they pay these?

SEC'Y GEITHNER: But, you know, he'll, he'll work through those things,
but I leave that to him. And he's, he's showing exceptionally good
judgment. He's a remarkably effective guy and he's done a very good job
in a very difficult set of choices.

MR. GREGORY: You talk about avoiding risks. My question is how can you
justify a company like Goldman Sachs making so much money, as it's now
doing, by taking some of the trading risks that it's taking right now
after it was saved by taxpayers and while it enjoys a guarantee from the
government because it's too big to fail?

SEC'Y GEITHNER: Yeah, we're not going to let the system go back to the
way it was. And this was a very good few weeks for financial reform...

MR. GREGORY: Is it not back the way it was?

SEC'Y GEITHNER: No, it's not. And it's not going to go back to the way it
was. Barney Frank and Chris Dodd are moving comprehensive financial
reform through both houses of Congress now. Chairman Dodd is drafting a
comprehensive bill; Chairman Frank, working with the House Financial
Services Committee, has passed through the committee very important
reforms to give consumers better protection and to prevent kind of risk
building up in the system that brought the system to the edge of
collapse, that left taxpayer exposed. And I think we're making a lot of
progress. I'm very encouraged by how much progress they've made.

MR. GREGORY: But Goldman Sachs is taking huge risks now in some of the trades
it makes.

SEC'Y GEITHNER: The critical...

MR. GREGORY: True or not true?

SEC'Y GEITHNER: Well, let me just say what we're trying to achieve
through reform, David, and this is why it's so important.

MR. GREGORY: But why can't--but that's a straight-ahead question, whether
they are doing things now that are risky after having been saved by the
government and by having a guarantee that the government'll save them
again.

SEC'Y GEITHNER: Right now what's happening the financial system is for
the first time in almost 18 months the credit markets are opening up,
companies are, are able to raise capital again. And the big risk we face
now is not that banks are taking too much risk, the big risk we face
right now is banks are going to take too little risk after having gotten
it wrong in run-up to the crisis. And that's why you see across small
businesses, other parts of the country today, the kind of financial
headwinds, the classic credit crunch risk that could slow recovery. The
big risk we face now is that banks are going to overcorrect and not take
enough risk. We need them to take a chance again on the American economy.
That's going to be important to recovery.

MR. GREGORY: Final question. Away from the policy, let's make it a little bit
more personal to the family out there that's struggling to save, wants to
send their kids to college but doesn't frankly know what to do with what
money they may have left. What should they be doing with their money?
What is your advice?

SEC'Y GEITHNER: You, you're seeing them do the rational thing now, David.
You're seeing Americans start to save again after a long period where
people were not putting enough aside against the risk of a recession or
job loss. You're seeing people start to save again, and that's a healthy,
necessary adjustment. It's going to make sure that--it'll help make sure
that growth is more stable and more sustainable in the future.

MR. GREGORY: Secretary Geithner, thank you.

SEC'Y GEITHNER: Nice to see you.

MR. GREGORY: Up next, the man who led President Obama to the White House.
Campaign manager David Plouffe, here for his very first interview about
his new book, "The Audacity to Win." Then, Afghanistan. Our roundtable
weighs in on where we stand and where we're headed, only here on MEET THE
PRESS.

(Announcements)

MR. GREGORY: Former Obama campaign manager David Plouffe takes a look back at
the 2008 campaign a year later after this brief commercial break.

MR. DAVID MR. GREGORY: And we're back, joined by the architect of the Obama
'08 campaign; campaign manager David Plouffe here for the first interview
for his new book, "The Audacity to Win."

Welcome to MEET THE PRESS. Good to have you here.

MR. DAVID PLOUFFE: Good to be with you, David.

MR. GREGORY: Obviously, the focus of the book here is the man at the top of
the ticket. But what's made some news already is your conversation in the
book, your descriptions of what was going on for that choice for number
two, specifically Hillary Clinton. And you write about that in the book,
I'll put it up on the screen: "Barack continued to be intrigued by
Hillary." You quote him as saying, "`I still think Hillary has a lot of
what I am looking for in a VP,' he said to us. `Smarts, discipline,
steadfastness. I think Bill may be too big a complication. If I picked
her, my concern is that there would be more than two of us in the
relationship.' ... He narrowed his list down to three names: Senator Joe
Biden of Delaware, Bayh of Indiana, Kaine of Virginia. Hillary did not
make the last cut. At the end of the day, Obama decided that there were
just too many complications outweighing the potential strengths." Not the
least of which, could Team Obama and Team Clinton really get along after
such a tough fight?

MR. PLOUFFE: Well, I think one of the reasons I wanted to focus on that
in the book is there was, I think, a mythology during the campaign that
President Obama did not take Hillary Clinton very seriously as VP. And
the truth is he did. And I think the fact that he chose her as secretary
of state reflects on how strongly he believes in her leadership qualities
and her skill. So I think--it's an interesting insight, though, into the
president. I think the way he handled the VP selection very thorough,
very methodical, focused on who--first of all, who would be his best
partner in government. The campaign was secondary.

MR. GREGORY: Right.

MR. PLOUFFE: Chose Joe Biden, who was a huge asset to us in the campaign,
I think today is his most important counselor in the presidency. And I
think compared to our opponent in the campaign, people liked his approach
to the selection.

MR. GREGORY: Well, let's talk about Hillary Clinton a little bit. Of course,
secretary of state now, and we've seen that relationship unfold. How do
they work together? Were any of those complications that the, the then
Senator Obama thought about? Have they played out?

MR. PLOUFFE: No. I think it was an inspired choice and I think, you know,
when you're competing against someone you have a unique insight into
them. And I think he already had, before the campaign, I think great
appreciation for her skill and her intellect. And I think in the campaign
we saw how tough she was, how disciplined she was.

MR. GREGORY: But you were against her being on the ticket.

MR. PLOUFFE: Well, I--first of all, this was his choice. We were very
careful. This is the most personal choice he made in the campaign. So
this was not a conference call or a meeting where we all got to vote. He
made his decision. I will say this; when Secretary of State Clinton
travels around the world, I'm less interested, quite frankly, in the
media here than the footprint she creates around the world. And I think
what she's doing in terms of improving our image is remarkable, and it
was a terrific choice.

MR. GREGORY: Do--is it striking to you that her approval rating appears to be
higher right now than the president's? Do you think some of her
supporters read something into that?

MR. PLOUFFE: No, not at all. She's doing a great job, as is the
president, and they're a terrific team.

MR. GREGORY: You talk about Biden--obviously, now the vice president--and
this is what you write in the book: "On the cloudy side, Biden ... was
... known to test even the Senate's standard for windiness, taking an
hour to say something that required 10 minutes. He also was prone to
making gaffes. ... It was clear that if we picked him, we would suffer a
few self-inflicted wounds." And as we've seen, the relationship between
this selection, even in the campaign and the, the candidate there, there
were gaffes during the campaign, and we've seen them now in the
administration as well.

MR. PLOUFFE: Sure. Everyone makes gaffes. I think he's--I will tell you
in the campaign, each and every day Vice President Biden went out,
battleground state, battleground market after battleground market,
delivering a compelling economic message, a compelling foreign policy
message. He ended up being an inspired choice in the campaign. But I
think today he's a trusted counselor, someone who has got great, I think,
blue-collar and middle-class sensibilities. Obviously, he's someone who's
a great asset as they're debating issues like Afghanistan. So we couldn't
have been happier with the choice. And listen, I think you, you have to
understand in a, in a pick like that there's going to be moments,
obviously, where your vice presidential candidate creates some news. But
every day--and I would compare it to Palin, who kind of became a
phenomenon, you know. A lot of the cable stations covered her speeches
live day to day. But what Joe Biden was doing in market after market,
rallying our volunteers, delivering a great, compelling message, winning
the vice presidential debate, it ended up being a terrific choice for us.

MR. GREGORY: You talk about Palin. Let's put up what you wrote about her. "It
was early morning, Denver time ... when my cell phone erupted with
calls." This is when she was selected. "Palin--it took me a moment to
place the name. Palin was a bolt of lightning," you wrote, "a true
surprise. She was such a long shot, I didn't even have her research file
on my computer. ... I started Googling her, refreshing my memory while I
waited for our research to be sent. ... I thought it was downright
bizarre, ill-considered, deeply puzzling. ... [McCain] had been shouting
from the rooftops that Obama lacked the experience to be president. ...
With the Palin pick, he had completely undermined his core argument
against us. ... `I just don't understand how this ends up working out for
McCain. In the long term, I mean ... when voters step back and analyze
how he made this decision, I think he's going to be in big trouble. You
just can't swing--wing something like that--it's too important.'" That
was then Senator Obama speaking. What about Palin now? Is she a force to
be reckoned with in 2012?

MR. PLOUFFE: Well, I think we should thank John McCain for picking her,
in terms of how it helped us win in 2008, but I think we should doubly
thank him now. What's going on in the special election in New York 23 I
think is a remarkable phenomenon and could affect our politics for years
to come.

MR. GREGORY: She endorsed the, the independent, more conservative candidate.

MR. PLOUFFE: Yes.

MR. GREGORY: And now we've got the Republican candidate who's stepped aside.

MR. PLOUFFE: So a centrist Republican has been ridden out of that race.
And I think what you're going to see in the coming months, if not years,
is Sarah Palin--you know, by the way, she kind of playing the role as
pied piper in the Republican Party, which is something I'm quite
comfortable with. So Sarah Palin, the other Republican candidates who are
likely to run, the Limbaughs and Becks of the world are basically hanging
a "moderates need not apply" sign outside the Republican National
Committee headquarters. And for a party that has historic lows right now,
because centrists and moderates are leaving them in droves, have
catastrophic problems with younger voters, Hispanic voters and
African-Americans, it's a various curious strategy to kind of repair this
damage. So I think they're becoming more a very motivated corps, but a
small corps of about 23 percent of the country.

MR. GREGORY: When you take on the right like that and some people would say,
you know, you're doing this and the--even the White House, creating straw
men on the right and, and elevating these figures as real spokesmen for
the party. Let's talk about the White House's decision to try to isolate
Fox News, declare a kind of war on Fox News. During the campaign you all
did business with Fox News, didn't have any problem with that. Why has
that changed?

MR. PLOUFFE: Well, we did business. Obviously, it turned into a 24-hour
propaganda channel for the McCain campaign really in the last 60 days. So
listen, let's--Fox News, on their--in the prime time, average viewers
about two and a half million. A hundred and forty million people voted in
the election, so it was less than 2 percent of the electorate. So I think
sometimes we overstate, particularly in Washington, the impact of this
cable news culture. But the fact of that, they're out there reporting
that health care is going to cost a $1.5 trillion, you know, the
president's at war with the CIA, the president must not be serious about
terrorism. They're just out there--and it's not just in the evening, it's
their morning show. The "Today" show certainly doesn't make these kind of
statements. And I think the danger is if what Fox is propagating out
there becomes embraced by media, then there is a bigger megaphone.

MR. GREGORY: So why not engage them? Why not engage--I mean, isn't--I thought
that this was a candidate who campaigned about staying above the fray.

MR. PLOUFFE: Well, we've--listen, we went on Fox a lot during the
campaign.

MR. GREGORY: Right. But so why...

MR. PLOUFFE: So the administration...

MR. GREGORY: So do you disagree with what they're doing now?

MR. PLOUFFE: No. I think you've seen the administration have presence on
Fox, I'm sure you will again. But the point is I think you have to put a
spotlight on some of the irresponsibility coming out of that network.
Even though the audience itself is fairly modest, if it, if it creeps
outside of that it becomes an issue.

MR. GREGORY: Let's talk about the president, the president you know so well,
and how he makes decisions. He's got a huge decision to make about
Afghanistan. What will the decision and what does this process of
reviewing Afghanistan say about him as a leader?

MR. PLOUFFE: Well, I'm obviously not involved in the discussions, but I
can speak to--I think last fall in the campaign people chose steady
leadership, which is what he offered the American people, and I think
that's what they're seeing today. This is an extraordinarily weighty
decision. I have a great deal of confidence he's going to ask all the
probing questions, really think through how this will unfold over a
period of years in a way that's going to serve the mission of defeating
al-Qaeda and protecting America and also protecting our military members.
So I think that the notion, some have criticized the speed of this, I
think it's completely unfounded. I think that this is one of the most
weightiest decisions he'll make in his presidency and I think he's...

MR. GREGORY: He's been accused of dithering on this.

MR. PLOUFFE: Well, I notice our former opponent accused him of that. And
again, I would refer you back to last fall where I think people chose
steady leadership over a more reckless approach. And I think what's going
on right now in Afghanistan proves that the country got it right last
fall.

MR. GREGORY: Let's talk about one year later, almost, since the election. The
great promise of this campaign was change you can believe in, yes you
can, transformational change and a great deal of belief in Barack Obama
as a leader, someone who could bridge the partisan divide. Yet let's look
at some of our polling here a year later, NBC News/Wall Street Journal,
on the question of uniting the country. Back in January, high marks for
that, 60 percent thought he could do that; now just 38 percent. On the
question of whether he's doing a good job changing business as usual in
Washington, in April at 47 percent; now at 39 percent. And the Newsweek
cover recently, "Yes He Can, But He Sure Hasn't Yet: A Liberal's Survival
Guide." This is what Anna Quindlen wrote in her essay: "A year in [to
Obama's presidency], and we know that we deceived ourselves. He is
methodical, thoughtful, cerebral, a believer in consensus and process. In
an incremental system, Barack Obama is an incremental man. It is one
reason he is taking his time ending the two wars in which he remain
mired--we remain mired. The president is a person of nuance. But on both
ends of the political number line, nuance is seen as wishy-washy. There's
no nuance in partisan attacks, sound bites, slogans, which is why Barack
Obama didn't run with the lines `Some change you might like if you're
wiling to settle' or `Yes, we can, but it will take a while.'" Has he
failed to live up to the promise in the first year?

MR. PLOUFFE: Absolutely not. We're obviously living in very difficult
times, with enormous historical challenges. But here's three areas where
I think he made commitments to the American people. First, try and
rebuild and strengthen our relationships with the rest of the world so we
can solve common problems. I think we've made huge strides in that.
Secondly, to try and change the way Washington works. Obviously, the
national Republican Party has made a political decision not based on
principle, but based on politics, to oppose him. But if you look
at--listen, there's deep cynicism out there in America that their voices
aren't heard, that they don't matter, it's the lobbyists that carry the
day. President Obama's closed the revolving door. No one who leaves the
administration can go back and lobby. For the first time ever, everyone
who goes to the White House is going to be released. Transparency and
openness, rebuilding trust. And third was that he was going to wake up
every day fighting for the middle class, and that's what he's done: the
Recovery Act, creating or saving a million jobs, a tax cut to 95 percent
of working families, keeping 100,000--hundreds of thousands of people in
their home, expanding health care for children. Remarkable focus.

MR. GREGORY: But there are--but you look at that polling. How much danger is
the president and his party as we approach 2010 in a pretty bad
anti-incumbent mood right now?

MR. PLOUFFE: Well, I would say right now, as you're trying to strengthen
the economy, create jobs, finally pass healthcare reform, do what we need
to do on energy to be a strong country in the decades to come, you've got
to just leave the polls aside. We have to do what's right here, OK? These
are not small issues. It is not written in stone that the United States
of America will be as strong as we've been for the decades and centuries
to come. You only have to be a casual student of history to understand
that strong countries, used to be strong empires, have to renew
themselves at moments of challenge. We're spending twice as much on
health care as our competitors. We led in the Industrial Revolution, we
led in the information revolution. We've got to lead in the green
revolution, and China and India and other countries are out there
aggressively in that space. So this is--what he's asking people to do
isn't necessarily things that the short-term benefit will be clear in the
next election or the one after that or the one after that. Washington has
failed the country in too many respects because they've refused to do
these tough things that we all know we have to do. If we don't make the
right progress on health care and energy, our economy is going to
struggle for decades to come.

MR. GREGORY: All laudable goals. But you're also in the politics business,
and can he take that message without suffering losses next year?

MR. PLOUFFE: Well, listen, everyone in Washington wants to predict what's
going to happen next fall. This thing's got about 20 lifetimes. I think
the long-term political picture is this. You've got a Republican Party
with historically low favorable ratings, moderates and centrists leaving
the party, young voters, Hispanic voters, African-American voters,
catastrophic problems and offering no solutions to these problems. I
think for our part, if we can say we did the tough things to help rebuild
this economy, tough things--you know, auto companies, banks, not
politically popular, things he had to do, not that he wanted to do. The
president on health care and energy, finally delivering on those. I think
the politics of this long-term for our party are wonderful. I think
they're secondary to doing what's best for the country.

MR. GREGORY: Let me end on, on this. I want to read you what you wrote in
the--oh, actually the opening of, of your book, and we have some video
that goes along with this from the upcoming documentary "By the People:
The Election of Barack Obama." It'll be on HBO on November 3rd at 9 PM.
This is what you write: "Axelrod and I left the Obama campaign
headquarters election bunker"--this is election night in Chicago--"at
10:30 p.m. Central. Here we are walking down the hallway of this
high-rise that had housed our campaign for almost two years on our way to
greet the president-elect. And as we departed the elevator and stepped
into the lobby, the security guards, who are actually assembled there,
they break into raucous applause and raucous cheers and tearful
thank-yous." Here it is. "Their joy hit me with a jolt of reality," you
wrote, "that blaring televisions and hours of encouraging results somehow
failed to convey. The elation of these security guards, all
African-American, struck me powerfully." You sense the history at that
moment.

MR. PLOUFFE: Yeah, and we didn't focus on history much. But it really did
grab me, the human emotion. And what a lot of us saw after the election,
we'd watch YouTubes of some of the celebrations around the country and
the world, and there was just--it wasn't just people were glad we won, or
relief, there was an outpouring of real emotion. And I think--you know,
it's one of the obligations I felt towards the end of the election was we
had gotten all these young people involved in politics for the first
time, in many cases, African-Americans, youth really involved in
politics. And one of the reasons I thought it was important for us to win
is to keep them involved not just in politics, but in our civic life. So
it was a very, very powerful moment and really struck me.

MR. GREGORY: All right, we'll leave it there. David Plouffe, thank you very
much.

We'll continue our discussion and ask David some questions that our
viewers have submitted via e-mail and Twitter. It's in our MEET THE PRESS
Take Two Web extra. Plus, read an excerpt from the book "The Audacity to
Win" from Time magazine on our Web site at mtp.msnbc.com.

Up next, a week of violence, a grim record for troop deaths. How do we
now move forward in Afghanistan? Our roundtable weighs in, from NBC News
Andrea Mitchell and Jim Miklaszewski, along with best-selling author Jon
Krakauer after this brief station break.

MR. DAVID MR. GREGORY: We are back and joined now by author Jon Krakauer, and
Andrea Mitchell and Jim Miklaszewski of NBC News.

Welcome to all of you. Been a very difficult week in Afghanistan, been a
very difficult month and in fact it is a grim milestone for Afghanistan.
October, 55 deaths compared to August, 51 deaths. These have been the
worst since the war started back in 2001. John Kerry, who is the chairman
of Foreign Relations Committee, of course, and has done a lot with the
administration on Afghanistan, recently gave a speech in which he said,
"Look, we haven't been fighting this war for eight years, we've been
doing it one year at a time and just keep repeating it, so we don't
really have a great strategy."

Jim Miklaszewski, where are we on what the president will decide and when
he will decide about what to do to win the war?

MR. JIM MIKLASZEWSKI: Well, everybody I've talked to said that the
president is keeping his own counsel on this, that they really don't have
a clue what his decision will be. But all the signs are there. Just this
past week he met again with his Joint Chiefs of Staff, and his message to
them was, "Give me more options." So even the military recognizes that
President Obama is not ready or willing at this point, given the
situation on the ground in Afghanistan, to give Stan McChrystal, General
Stan McChrystal, the up to 40,000 additional forces he says he wants.

MR. GREGORY: Could it be more than that? Are there, are there choices, are
there menu options of how many troops, and does it go above 40,000?

MR. MIKLASZEWSKI: Well, it does. It goes up to 85,000. But even Stan
McChrystal recognized that that was untenable, given the stress on the
force. He settled on what he thought was a middle ground, about
40,000-plus, that would be deployed into Afghanistan over the next year.
Now, if the president decide--and, and the military's fully prepared to
accept fewer troops. But they say if that happens, what's going to have
to happen is that President Obama will probably have to either change the
mission in Afghanistan...

MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

MR. MIKLASZEWSKI: ...or accept a much higher risk to the troops.

MR. GREGORY: Andrea Mitchell, you're both just back from the region. Andrea,
you were just in Pakistan with the secretary of state. The big diplomatic
development, the big political development is that there's going to be a
runoff November 7, but only Hamid Karzai's going to be in it. Abdullah
Abdullah has pulled out. What is the significance of that in the context
of this administration imperative to have a credible partner before they
make a decision to surge up forces?

MS. ANDREA MITCHELL: Well, what they were working frantically this
weekend, minute by minute, actually, in calls from Richard Holbrooke to
Karl Eikenberry, the ambassador there, was to persuade Abdullah Abdullah
not to leave with a complete denunciation of the process. And as
Secretary Clinton said during a stop in Jerusalem, that it still is a
legitimate election. And what they're hoping and praying is that his
initial comments were sort of middle range comments, that he continues to
not blast this process and try to say that it's not legitimate. As long
as he says that the election and Karzai are the leader, that they may not
even have to have the election and put all of those people at risk to go
to polls. Because at this stage Abdullah Abdullah was not going to win,
he knew that. And what they've been telling him, interestingly, is do
what Al Gore. They've actually used that example. You know, step back the
way Al Gore did from a constitutional crisis. Show your leadership and
then, you know, you can live for another day.

MR. GREGORY: Jon Krakauer, I want to talk in a few minutes about your
important new book, "Where Men Win Glory," about Pat Tillman. But first I
want to ask you a more basic question about the enemy. You spent five
months, at least, in Afghanistan on this book. This is what Marcus
Luttrell, who is the author of "Lone Survivor," a former naval--Navy SEAL
whose unit was decimated in Afghanistan. He writes this: "In the end,
your enemy must ultimately fear you, understand your supremacy. That's
what we were taught, out there in the absolute front of U.S. military
might." Is that how our enemy feels about the United States?

MR. JON KRAKAUER: I think--I don't know universally. They, they do
recognize the strength of the United States. They've altered their
tactics correspondingly. They've shifted now in much more IEDs, roadside
bombs. So yeah, they, they appreciate our strengths and our weaknesses,
and they know how to go to the weaknesses and they're very good at that.

MR. GREGORY: And yet, Jim, as you well know, I mean, this is an enemy that
has been fighting for decades. They take the long view here and they have
no confidence that the United States is in this for the long haul, just
as they thought the Soviets wouldn't be in it for the long haul.

MR. MIKLASZEWSKI: And the Afghan people have no confidence that the
American people, or the American military, the American people are in
this for the long haul, and that is a huge problem for the U.S. military
there. Because if you--a major part of a counterinsurgency is you have to
win the confidence of the people on the ground. You have to provide them
enough security. And at this point they don't believe the Americans can
do anything for them so they're turning to the Taliban, who are setting
up shadow governments, they're collecting taxes, their own, their own
judicial system is in place in these outlying areas. And without--quite
frankly, without the support of the Afghan people, this counterinsurgency
of General McChrystal's could be lost before it even begins.

MR. GREGORY: What is the--this is a leadership point, Andrea. Does the
president have an unshakable commitment to this war? How do we gauge
that?

MS. MITCHELL: It's not clear, and that question is being raised. People
are asking, "What is the mission?" He said, "I won't make the resource
decision until I know what the mission is." What exactly is the mission?
They will not go for a complete withdrawal. And in fact, one of the
issues that was raised repeatedly by the leaders--the generals and the
intelligence leaders in Pakistan is--to Hillary Clinton this past week,
"Are you withdrawing, and what does that mean for us? And are you pulling
back from border posts on the Afghan side that are going to let more of
the bad guys come over the border and create a bigger problem for
Pakistan and its government?" So that is a big related issue. But he has
not explained the mission. And he knows, they know he has to give a major
speech. And frankly, I think that it's pretty clear now that this
decision is not coming before he goes to Asia. It will be another week or
two, because they need five days to roll this out. They have to meet
with, you know, the hosts of Sunday shows and do Sunday talk shows, he's
got to give a major speech, they have to have editorial board meetings.
There's a process. They have to advise the allies, who are not going to
be happy in some instances. They have to talk to the Hill. And that, of
course, is going to be the source of all leaks. So they don't have time
right now before he takes this Asia trip.

MR. GREGORY: And, Jon, the fear that you hear among critics of the president,
or even if they're not critics, they're just skeptical of the policy, is
that he'll ultimately choose a half measure, which they believe would be
deadly in the circumstance.

MR. KRAKAUER: I don't, I don't agree with that. I mean, there's a,
there's a huge range of options between pulling out and bringing in
40,000 or 85,000 troops. I mean, 40,000 isn't going to be enough to make
much of a difference. Most--I think most people would agree to that.
There's a whole, there's a whole range, and, and so I think you have to
be careful of that black or white, either/or, all or nothing thing.

MR. GREGORY: Let's talk about some ground truth. Jim, you were in Afghanistan
earlier this month, and here was an exchange that you had with Brian
Williams on, on "Nightly News," talking about where we are eight years
later. We'll show that.

(Videotape, October 7, 2009)

MR. BRIAN WILLIAMS: All of this brings us back to our Pentagon
correspondent Jim Miklaszewski, who is in Kabul tonight.

And, Jim, I know it's hard to assess after eight long years, but let's
start with one way of measurement, the, the amount of ground the Taliban
covers today as opposed to back then.

MR. MIKLASZEWSKI: You know, Brian, this is one of the most startling
issues about all this. The Taliban may actually exert some control over
more territory in Afghanistan than they did before the war. Reliable
estimates show that Taliban has a permanent presence in 80 percent of the
country. That means they're able to set up shadow governments and invoke
their own brutal brand of justice. And in fact, the most compelling
number is they're able to conduct terror attacks at will over 80 percent
of the country.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: Eight years later, that's shocking.

MR. MIKLASZEWSKI: And, and here's--you know, I think we have to clear up
what Stan McChrystal sees as the mission there. It's not destroy the
Taliban; the most urgent mission now is to stop the momentum of the
Taliban, which continues to grow as violence grows, and turn the war
around. And he says he needs 40,000 troops to do that.

MR. GREGORY: What about the president, Andrea, going to Dover this week? We
have the images of the president greeting fallen soldiers who returned to
Dover Air Force Base, one of the families giving permission for these
photographs to be taken. He's there overnight. In the middle of this
debate, does it send a message?

MS. MITCHELL: Absolutely. It sends a mission--message of care and
compassion after much criticism of the refusal of prior administrations
to even let the media take pictures with the approval now of the
families. But a president of the United States going in the middle of the
night and connecting to these families, they felt that it was a very
important moment. And I think that it transforms part of that debate.

MR. GREGORY: Jon Krakauer, I want to get to a key element of your book,
"Where Men Win Glory," about Pat Tillman and how it relates to this
current conversation about Afghanistan. Because it does involve General
Stanley McChrystal, who was obviously critical on the stage now and was
critical in the Tillman story of well. As a reminder, if you look at
pictures of Pat Tillman, the NFL star with the Arizona Cardinals, decides
to enlist in the Army, serves in the Rangers after 9/11. This was
certainly a big story when he enlisted. And at the time, General
McChrystal was actually head of Special Operations command. So Pat
Tillman was killed in a friendly fire incident and ultimately won the
Silver Star, and that's what you focus on in the book and in a subsequent
piece that you wrote for The Daily Beast. And here's what you wrote: "An
October 5 Newsweek article [said, about General McChrystal] that `he has
great political skills; he couldn't have risen to his current position
without them. But he definitely does not see himself as the sort of
military man who would compromise his principles to do the politically
convenient thing.' In the week after Tillman was killed, however, this is
precisely what McChrystal appears to have done when he administered a
fraudulent medical"--excuse me--"a fraudulent medal
recommendation"--we're talking about the Silver Star--"and submitted it
to the secretary of the Army, thereby concealing the cause of Tillman's
death." Briefly explain what happened.

MR. KRAKAUER: The--after Tillman died, the most important thing to know
is that within--instantly, within 24 hours certainly, everybody on the
ground, everyone intimately involved knew it was friendly fire. There's
never any doubt it was friendly fire. McChrystal was told within 24 hours
it was friendly fire. Also, immediately they started this paperwork to
give Tillman a Silver Star. And the Silver Star ended up being at the
center of the cover-up. So McChrystal--Tillman faced this devastating
fire from his own guys, and he tried to protect a young private by
exposing himself to this, this fire. That's why he was killed and the
private wasn't. Without friendly fire there's no valor, there's no Silver
Star. There was no enemy fire, yet McChrystal authored, he closely
supervised over a number of days this fraudulent medal recommendation
that talked about devastating enemy fire.

MR. GREGORY: And that's the important piece of it. And, and he actually
testified earlier this year before the Senate, and this is what he said
about it.

(Videotape, June 2, 2009)

LT. GEN. STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL: Now, what happens, in retrospect, is--and I
would do this differently if I had the chance again--in retrospect they
look contradictory, because we sent a Silver Star that was not
well-written. And although I went through the process, I will tell you
now I didn't review the citation well enough to capture--or I didn't
catch that if you read it you could imply that it was not friendly fire.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: Even those who were critical of him and the Army say they don't
think he willfully deceived anyone.

MR. KRAKAUER: That's correct. He, he just said now he didn't read this
hugely important document about the most famous soldier in the military.
He didn't read it carefully enough to notice that it talked about enemy
fire instead of friendly fire? That's preposterous. That, that's not
believable.

MR. GREGORY: All right, part of this debate. Thank you all very much.

We'll continue our discussion with Jon Krakauer in our MEET THE PRESS
Take Two Web Extra. Plus, read an excerpt from his book, "Where Men Win
Glory." It's all on our Web site at mtp.msnbc.com. And we'll be right
back.

MR. DAVID MR. GREGORY: That's all for today. We'll be back next week. If it's
Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

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