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Hopes for Obama's Second Term

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

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BILL MOYERS: You were candid over the three years of the Obama administration about his weaknesses, his failures and his flaws. But a few months ago, you wrote that you saw Obama improving and you thought he would be a better second term president. Why?

JAMES FALLOWS: Part of my argument is that everybody fails in the first term as president because it's too big a job. And so, you sort of reveal what the weakness is and what particular lack a president has. And we've seen some of those with President Obama. I think one way in which he'll certainly be different is that he knows who he is dealing with now. The first two years of the administration, he thought that they were going to be able to make sort of a split the loaf deal with the current Republican Party. And they weren't interested in that.

So I think he will have a firmer approach from the get-go. He now doesn't have to worry about reelection, as we all know. I think he's become more sophisticated as a judge of executive talent around him and just sort of knows what he is doing. You know, he spent four years making hard decisions, after no executive experience, essentially. So I think he has shown only growth that I've seen, rather than a regression. And I hope that continues.

BILL MOYERS: You have lived much of the last three years in China and you've spent a lot of time since I first knew you, in China. How do you think Obama's reelection is being seen there?

JAMES FALLOWS: Interestingly, they were appalled by his election by and large four years ago. Among other reasons, because he was not white. And they thought, "You know, how can you do this? We're used to dealing with these George W. Bush, you know, father and son figures, Nixon, Kissinger and all the rest." So there was some shock.

The Chinese have their preference would always be more of the same, whatever the American policy is. So they didn't like Mitt Romney because of this fairly crude anti-China threats, which he would never have carried out. They like the idea it's going to be a familiar team now with Obama.

And I think, interestingly, to telescope a long argument, the area of greatest continuity in U.S. foreign policy since the time of Nixon has been our dealings with China. Where, on the one hand, we think it's better if they grow than if they don't. On the other hand, we have all sorts of problems with them. I think that is the way Obama has pursued it and will keep pursuing it. So I think they actually are relieved to have a second term.

BILL MOYERS: What do they want from us?

JAMES FALLOWS: They want essentially a chance to develop. I--

BILL MOYERS: You mean develop economically?

JAMES FALLOWS: Develop economically. And just to sort of breathe. When I lived in Japan, I was quite alarmed, and remain so, about sort of the zero-sumness of many of Japan's economic ambitions, which sort of came out of American achievement. In China's case, I think it's different. It's a gigantic poor country where most people are still poor.

The per capita income is still, like, one-fifth what it is in the United States. A lot of really rich people, but still they have more farmers than we have people. And it's a giant challenge. And so I think what they want is it's better for them for the foreseeable future, for our lifetimes, for our children's lifetimes, that China just have a chance to kind of make people richer. And so they would like for the U.S. to basically give them space to do that.

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