Townhall Exclusive: Bob Woodward on the Price of Politics

John Hanlon

9/23/2012 8:51:00 PM - John Hanlon

President Barack Obama said that he would accept a one-term presidency.

According to Bob Woodward’s new book,The Price of Politics, the 44th President of the United States was willing to concede to a four-year presidency if the nation got its financial house back in order under his watch. Woodward writes that Obama -- when speaking to Senator Kent Conrad about the ongoing budget crisis -- noted, “I’d be willing to be a one-term president over this,” agreeing with Conrad’s assessment that our country was on an “unsustainable [financial] course.”

Now, nearly-four years after Obama took office, the debt crisis has only worsened and the United States is faced with a daunting debt of over sixteen trillion dollars.

So what changed?

At the National Book Festival earlier today, I spoke to Woodward about what made Obama -- who spoke out against our nation’s ruinous spending policies both before and after becoming president -- carelessly accept trillions of dollars of more debt under his watch. “The answer is politics,” Woodward said. “That’s why the book is called the price of politics.”

Woodward added that Obama’s one-term promise -- which he compared to Speaker John Boehner saying that he was serious about resolving our spending issues -- was simply a rhetorical claim, one that Obama failed to live up to.

Woodward said that both parties attempted to make major progress on the debt but failed to. “They all tried but they were gonna have to do painful things that people in their party didn’t want to do,” he said. He noted that Obama just wasn’t able to “take it over the finish line.”

But the author recognized that this isn’t a new issue, nor is it one that any politician should be surprised by. This is a major issue that nearly everyone recognizes but few are willing to resolve. “It’s the thing that we know is out there,” he said. “The financial house is not in order and [the] government’s gonna have to get authority to borrow trillions of dollars more just to stay afloat.”

He added that “we have [a] political campaign going on in which people are not really addressing that question. They’re skirting it.” He noted that much of the campaign this year has focused on mistakes and gaffes, rather than the issue of entitlement spending that threatens the future of this country.

He said that he wasn’t sure if our spending crisis would be addressed after the election but said that it will only grow worse over time.

He compared the problem to a captain facing problems at sea. “There’s a big hole in the ship. It only keeps growing and growing. There’s no effort to repair it “

I asked Woodward if our political leaders would truly recognize the seriousness of the issue one day and make the tough choices our nation needs. He said that nothing happens in one day. “Things in government happen when there’s a crisis,” he said, “[and] we’re gonna run into a crisis because there just isn’t gonna be enough money…”

Politics, Woodward argues, have hampered our nation’s ability to reach a deal to solve this crisis. He added that “political calculations” drove us to where we are now and fixing those issues is going to be “painful.” “Reforming the tax system which both President Obama and Speaker Boehner [and] Republicans and Democrats agree has to be done is really hard.” But, he added, “Reagan did it with Democrats in 1986. It’s possible.”

At a lecture after the interview, Woodward noted that both the Democrats and the Republicans share responsibility for their inability to get our deficit under control. However, when an audience member asked who was more responsible, Woodward noted that “the leader of this country is the president.”

“Presidents have to lead and presidents have to know how,” he said before walking off the stage.