Former White House Staffers Talk Obama Legacy | WBEZ
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Morning Shift

David Axelrod, Austan Goolsbee Discuss Legacy Of President Obama

President Barack Obama hands over the keys to the White House next week to President-elect Donald Trump, who has vowed to repeal many of Obama’s big policy accomplishments, such as the Affordable Care Act. 

In a wide-ranging interview with Morning Shift host Tony Sarabia, former Obama staffers David Axelrod and Austan Goolsbee talk about Obama’s eight years in the White House and what legacy he might leave behind. 

Axelrod, who once served as Obama’s chief political adviser, now runs the Institute of Politics at the University of Chicago, the school where Obama turned to when he needed valued economic advice. Goolsbee is currently a professor at the university’s Booth School of Business. He served as chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers early in Obama’s first term.

Here are some highlights from their discussion. 

Then-Sen. Barack Obama holds a basketball as he talks to his chief strategist David Axelrod. The duo were backstage before an economic summit in Lake Worth, Fla., Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2008, as Obama campaigned as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Jae C. Hong/AP)

On first introductions

David Axelrod: The woman who actually introduced me to him -- or asked me to see him -- was Bettylu Saltzman, who’s a doyenne of liberal politics in Chicago. But she called me (and) said, “I think he could be the first black president of the United States.” 

And I didn’t walk away from our lunch humming “Hail To the Chief,” but I did see in him real talent. 

On citizenship 

Axelrod: No other president has had his very citizenship questioned as publically as he has -- including by the next president. No other president has had someone stand up in the halls of Congress while he was speaking and accused him of lying. 

President Barack Obama and Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Austan Goolsbee, participate in an online chat session during the Winning the Future Forum on Small Business at Cleveland State University in Cleveland, Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2011. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Economic free fall 

Austan Goolsbee: We had that meeting in December (2008), and I mean it was really, really bad. 

Axelrod: I think frightening. 

Goolsbee: Yeah, frightening. We were sweating and talking to each other. My colleagues are calling to tell me, “The president should stop saying that his goal is to prevent the next Great Depression because it’s inevitable. We’re going to have it. He should be saying he’s got a plan to get out of the depression.” 

On ‘the arc’

Axelrod: The president always likes to quote Dr. (Martin Luther) King as saying, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” But there’s a caveat to that, which is it only bends if we put our hands on the arc and work for that.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Audio available later today.

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