Lee Cowan, Obama Take a Spin Down Memory Lane; ‘Last Seven Years’ Wasn’t ‘Dismal or Dysfunctional’

Just under two weeks after ABC’s Terry Moran took a fawning trip down memory lane longing for the days when he covered the 2008 Obama campaign, former NBC News correspondent and current CBS News Sunday Morning correspondent Lee Cowan followed suit as Sunday’s program featured an interview with President Obama (i.e. the man Cowan once admitted made it hard to remain objective). 

Host Charles Osgood set the scene by reminding viewers: “Eight years ago, candidate Barack Obama was campaigning for president and our Lee Cowan was covering it. Now, President Barack Obama has just under a year to go before leaving office and he was in reflective mood when Lee spoke with him in Detroit last Wednesday.”

The conversation began with some small talk between the two at the Detroit Auto Show before Cowan lamented that the president “has been struggling to communicate his successes heading into his also year in office and U.S. auto industry is one example” since “[b]oth G.M. and Chrysler had record sales last year.” 

Cowan continued spinning that while “[c]ritics thought the new president was over reaching, even cocky,” the President’s “resurgence” of the industry has been the White House’s argument that this “was the result of the government bail out during the first year of his administration.”

The reporter who gushed that “my knees quaked” when he found out he’d be getting the Obama campaign beat for the 2008 campaign, briefly mentioned some foreign policy problems, but ruled that Obama “did figure it out”

By some measures, Mr. Obama did figure it out. He's overseen shrinking unemployment, a growing job market, a reduction in the number of Americans without health insurance and diplomatic breakthroughs on both climate policy and relations with Cuba...but what stands out even to his supporters has been his inability to be the unifying force that he has promised. 

Moments later, Cowan asked: “Do you wish in hindsight that maybe campaigning on that notion of changing the tone in Washington, do you wish you hadn't campaigned as hard on that promise?”

Providing his take on the President’s final State of the Union from January 12, Cowan fawned over how Obama tried to “remind America that despite the exasperating negativity, the last seven years have not been as dismal or dysfunctional or as racially divided as his critics maintain.”

As the feature interview began winding down, the nostalgia level remained palpable:

Iowa, the crowds started small. But by the end of 2008, his rallies have grown to sometimes tens of thousands. A celebrity status that his rivals often used against him. His staff were mostly 20-somethings, many of whom remain by his side today. A ride that for them, too, is about to come to an end. 

Following a brief question about him running for a third term if he could, Cowan fretted about the possibility that a Republican could be elected in 2016 and work to undo President Obama’s policies: “How much time do you wonder or spend thinking about what you have done might be undone if a Republican ends up in the White House?”

“But for now, the senator who campaigned on being fired up and ready to go is now ready to see if history will be kind or not,” Cowan concluded.

The relevant portions of the transcript from January 24's CBS News Sunday Morning can be found below.

CBS News Sunday Morning
January 24, 2016
9:56 p.m. Eastern

CHARLES OSGOOD: Eight years ago, candidate Barack Obama was campaigning for president and our Lee Cowan was covering it. Now, President Barack Obama has just under a year to go before leaving office and he was in reflective mood when Lee spoke with him in Detroit last Wednesday.

(....)

LEE COWAN: Mr. Obama has been struggling to communicate his successes heading into his also year in office and U.S. auto industry is one example. Both G.M. and Chrysler had record sales last year, a resurgence Mr. Obama says was the result of the government bail out during the first year of his administration. 

(....)

COWAN: It wasn't a popular idea. Critics thought the new president was over reaching, even cocky. But in hindsight he says, that's just what the economic crisis demanded. 

(....)

COWAN: By some measures, Mr. Obama did figure it out. He's overseen shrinking unemployment, a growing job market, a reduction in the number of Americans without health insurance and diplomatic breakthroughs on both climate policy and relations with Cuba, but his foes say those gains have been overshadowed by the rise of ISIS, the trouble in Syria and terrorism at home, but what stands out even to his supporters has been his inability to be the unifying force that he has promised. 

OBAMA: The one thing that gnaws on me, is the degree of continued polarization. It's gotten worse over the last several years and I think that in those early months, my expectation was that we could pull the parties together a little more effectively. 

COWAN:  Do you wish in hindsight that maybe campaigning on that notion of changing the tone in Washington, do you wish you hadn't campaigned as hard on that promise? 

(....)

COWAN: His final State of the Union seemed an attempt to remind America that despite the exasperating negativity, the last seven years have not been as dismal or dysfunctional or as racially divided as his critics maintain. 

(....)

COWAN: In Iowa, the crowds started small. But by the end of 2008, his rallies have grown to sometimes tens of thousands. A celebrity status that his rivals often used against him. His staff were mostly 20-somethings, many of whom remain by his side today. A ride that for them, too, is about to come to an end. 

OBAMA: Now, they're in their early 30s and they’re starting to have families and got babies and, you know, Uncle Barack is holding them and playing with them on the floor of the White House, so I tell them when we're on marine one and we're flying and the Washington monument is over there, the Capitol's in the background look up from your smartphone for a second and think about this. 

COWAN:  Does that still get to you? 

OBAMA: Absolutely. It — it doesn't — it doesn’t get old. 

COWAN: If you could run for a third term, would you?

(....)

COWAN: How much time do you wonder or spend thinking about what you have done might be undone if a Republican ends up in the White House? 

(....)

COWAN: But for now, the senator who campaigned on being fired up and ready to go is now ready to see if history will be kind or not. 

Curtis Houck
Curtis Houck
Curtis Houck is the Managing Editor of NewsBusters for the Media Research Center