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Week In News: Obama, Romney Eye General Election


It's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Laura Sullivan.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Businesses created another 121,000 jobs last month in the unemployment rate ticked down. Our economy has now created more than four million private sector jobs over the past two years.

MITT ROMNEY: A record number of Americans are now living in poverty. And the most vulnerable are the ones that have been hurt the most. Thirty percent of single moms are now living in poverty.

SULLIVAN: President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney from this week on the economy. James Fallows of The Atlantic joins us, as he does most Saturdays, for a look behind the headlines, although it's been a while since we've heard from him. Hello, Jim.

JAMES FALLOWS: Hello, Laura. I'm back from Australia.

SULLIVAN: And you were down there for a month.

FALLOWS: I was indeed, but I'm glad to talk to you again.

SULLIVAN: Welcome home. Well, this week, Mitt Romney claimed primary wins in Maryland, Wisconsin and right here in D.C., extending his significant lead in delegates. And also in D.C., we saw back-to-back appearances of Romney and Obama at the AP luncheon with what amounted to really general election speeches. What did you make of those speeches?

FALLOWS: I thought those were valuable speeches. And assuming, as we probably can, that it will be Governor Romney against President Obama this fall, I thought those speeches were illustrative and worth reading in two ways. One is the clips you just played showed that what the election will probably turn on, which is the ancestral question of are you better off than you were four years ago, as Ronald Reagan famously asked in 1980, that mainly turns in the economy, and the two candidates made their pitches about whether things are getting better or worse.

But the more interesting parts of the speeches, I thought, were their foreshadowings of what would come after that. Well, President Obama was making a more fleshed-out version than he sometimes does of how he would try to use governmental power harnessed with private initiative to restore the economy in another four years, and Governor Romney was making his contrary case. So I think these are worth reading as barometers to the next few months but also the next four years.

SULLIVAN: Well, also earlier this week, President Obama spoke about the Supreme Court's argument against his health care plan. He said that the laws overturning would be unprecedented. And he even invoked some of the language that we often hear from conservatives regarding unelected judges making changes to the law. Now he's since clarified these remarks a bit, but they really took many people by surprise.

FALLOWS: I think Barack Obama, as a former constitutional law teacher, recognized even as the words were coming out of his mouth that unelected judges was not a good thing for him to be saying. After all, the federal judiciary is, by definition, unelected. And for a long time, we've accepted that it has final jurisdiction over what the Congress and the president do. But the other part of his argument, saying that if the Supreme Court rules against the health care bill or the individual mandate provision that that would have sweeping implications, I think there is more substance behind what he was saying there.

Without going into all the details, he alluded to the Lochner case of 1905, back when the Supreme Court said that Congress and the states had no business whatsoever interfering in private commerce. And to go back to that would be quite a change in judicial, president and actual economic activity.

SULLIVAN: Well, I want to ask you, Jim, since you've been out of the country for a month, what is the view like from the outside of the American political situation?

FALLOWS: Australia, where I've been, has its own histrionic parliamentary politics that they often feel somewhat embarrassed about themselves. But I think there is not just in the Democratic world, in a lot of the world, there is some consternation about the nature of this year's presidential cycle in the United States of so much money, so much press attention, so much bad feeling, so much histrionics about things that probably will not be the (unintelligible) of whichever person is the president next year for his actual governing and don't seem that connected to the affairs of the larger world.

And the only thing I can say in defense of American politics as seen from the outside is the - some of the governing spectacle we've seen in China over the last month or so is less transparent, more unpredictable and even further divorced from their fundamental problems, but they are a Communist Party, a dictatorship, so we should aspire to a higher standard.

SULLIVAN: James Fallows is national correspondent with The Atlantic. You can read his blog at And his new book "China Airborne" will be released next month. Jim, it's so great to have you back.

FALLOWS: Thank you, Laura. It's very nice to talk to you again. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.