well as facilitate more than $1 trillion in lending to consumers and businesses; Obama established a $275 billion housing initiative that would, among other goals, help millions of struggling homeowners modify their mortgage loans and stabilize home prices; and he created a White House task force to review the restructuring plans of domestic automakers that received federal bailout assistance. â€śAll of those are going to be one piece in this bigger puzzle of how to get the economy moving again,â€ť the president told BE.
Itâ€™s Monday, Feb. 9. Equipped with two digital recorders, I arrive 40 minutes early for my scheduled 1:00 p.m. interview. After securing credentials, I walk down the hallway of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, adjacent to the White House, to the media relations office. As I wait for the interviewâ€”which started about 20 minutes lateâ€”I watch the presidentâ€™s latest offensive play in the battle for public support for the stimulus package. Assuming the role of communicatorâ€“in-chief, he takes his message to the residents of Elkhart, Indiana, a town with an unemployment rate that jumped from 4.7% to a staggering 15.3% in a year. For a little more than an hour, he addressed a packed gymnasium at Concord High School, outlining his economic agenda, answering unscreened questions, and comforting some of the displaced. Itâ€™s an approach he would repeat over the next week in such economically battered cities as Fort Myers, Florida, and East Peoria, Illinoisâ€”headquarters of equipment manufacturer Caterpillar Inc., which announced layoffs of more than 20,000 workers in late January.
As the presidentâ€™s motorcade leaves Concord High and heads to Air Force One, I receive his call on a speakerphone in one of the office cubicles. â€śGood afternoon, Mr. President, this is Derek Dingle from Black Enterprise magazine.â€ť
â€śGood to talk to you again, Derek.â€ť
â€śItâ€™s great to talk to you as well.â€ť
Mindful of the tight 15 minutes allotted, I asked him several direct questions that ranged from his characterization of his first month in the Oval Office to his administrationâ€™s commitment to minority business. He answered each question in Obamaesque styleâ€”crisp, clear, and thoughtful. The tenor of his answers conveyed a man focused on the enormous challenges that are a part of his presidential inheritance and an iron will to correct course. And while he believes an activist government can be a powerful tool for helping solve the problems of citizens in need, he maintains that Americans must fully participate in their own economic salvation. â€śPeople have to continue to innovate, look for new customers, try to find creative ways to turn crisis into opportunity, retool for the future. But I want them to know that help is on the way.â€ť
The following are edited excerpts of this BE exclusive:
On meeting his challenges as president: Obviously, we have some enormous challenges but Iâ€™m very confident about the team that Iâ€™ve put in place. I think the economic recovery and reinvestment package is one critical component of an overall recovery package. Weâ€™re also going to have to strengthen the