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Hopes for Obama's Second Term

Bill Moyers gets post-election insight from veteran journalist James Fallows.

BILL MOYERS: During the final weeks of the campaign I found some welcome diversion from all the political rhetoric and ads by reading the latest book from James Fallows, he's one of our most informed and prolific journalists. The title is “China Airborne.” It's about why more than two-thirds of the new airports under construction today are being built in China -- and what this tells us of the Chinese determination to modernize and innovate, and how their ambition is going to impact America’s role in the world and our lives. It's a book I hope official Washington is reading.

For 40 years as a national correspondent for The Atlantic magazine, James Fallows was based in Washington -- covering politics and culture -- while also traveling and living in Asia, including several years in Japan and China.

Once the chief speechwriter for President Jimmy Carter, and editor of U.S. News and World Report, he's received both the National Book Award. You can read his blog at

Jim Fallows, it's good to see you.

JAMES FALLOWS: Thank you so much, Bill. Honor and pleasure to be here.

BILL MOYERS: What surprised you about this election?

JAMES FALLOWS: I guess what surprised me is, as the results sink in in the days after the election, how thorough going was the repudiation of what had seemed the unstoppable Tea Party momentum of the previous two years. And I think the fact also that in the days before the election, essentially, the right wing is saying, "Yes, this is going to go our way again, as it did in 2010." I was in touch with lots of people in the Romney campaign who really thought they were going to win and win big.

It's been fascinating. There's been very little of the narrative from the right saying, "This was stolen, it was all fraud," et cetera, et cetera. And I think they may be sinking on them that they were out of touch with the actual nature of the U.S. now.

BILL MOYERS: You wrote the other day that the reelection of Obama is actually more impressive and maybe more important than his election for years ago. Why?

JAMES FALLOWS: The impressiveness because, number one, we know the goods and bads of Barack Obama now. Four years ago, everybody could project his or her own ideal hopes onto Barack Obama. The Nobel Peace Prize committee did too right after the election. So we know it's the marriage versus first date proposition.

Second, four years ago the economic collapse helped him. Now, he was there to save it. Now the economic collapse hurt him and he was able to say, "Look, it's been bad but it's going to get better. Or it could have been worse." And third, I think in the racial dynamics, the fact that he was able to overcome them is impressive.

A very sophisticated Republican ad was, "It's okay if you don't vote for him again this time." You know, you gave him a chance. We gave these people their opportunity. We see how they're doing. And I think there was a sort of permission to white Americans to not feel racist in voting against him this time. And he was able to overcome that too.

BILL MOYERS: You said it was important for African Americans that Obama in particular was reelected. Why?

JAMES FALLOWS: My colleague and friend Ta-Nehisi Coates at The Atlantic, who's a wonderful African American writer based here in New York argued that of course there was this historic frontier of electing the first non-white president as the country did four years ago. And even though 53 percent of the public voted for Obama, he had 70 percent approval by the time of his inauguration. There was something that people felt good about America for having crossed this frontier.

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