Q. The first six weeks have given people a glimpse of your spending priorities. Are you a socialist as some people have suggested?
A. You know, let’s take a look at the budget – the answer would be no.
It came up a bit later in the interview, too:
Q. Is there one word name for your philosophy? If you’re not a socialist, are you a liberal? Are you progressive? One word?
A. No, I’m not going to engage in that.
And then Obama, clearly irked (again, rightfully so I think) followed up in a phone call a bit later:
At 2:30 p.m., President Obama called The New York Times, saying he wanted to clarify a point from the interview. Here is a transcript of that brief call:
President Obama: Just one thing I was thinking about as I was getting on the copter. It was hard for me to believe that you were entirely serious about that socialist question. I did think it might be useful to point out that it wasn’t under me that we started buying a bunch of shares of banks. It wasn’t on my watch. And it wasn’t on my watch that we passed a massive new entitlement – the prescription drug plan without a source of funding. And so I think it’s important just to note when you start hearing folks through these words around that we’ve actually been operating in a way that has been entirely consistent with free-market principles and that some of the same folks who are throwing the word socialist around can’t say the same.
Q. So who’s watch are we talking about here?
A. Well, I just think it’s clear by the time we got here, there already had been an enormous infusion of taxpayer money into the financial system. And the thing I constantly try to emphasize to people if that coming in, the market was doing fine, nobody would be happier than me to stay out of it. I have more than enough to do without having to worry the financial system. The fact that we’ve had to take these extraordinary measures and intervene is not an indication of my ideological preference, but an indication of the degree to which lax regulation and extravagant risk taking has precipitated a crisis.