GUY RAZ, HOST:
It's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: If a woman's employer is a charity or a hospital that has a religious objection to providing contraceptive services as part of their health plan, the insurance company, not the hospital, not the charity, will be required to reach out and offer the woman contraceptive care free of charge.
RAZ: President Obama on yesterday's compromise with religious institutions on providing reproductive services mandated by the health care law. James Fallows of The Atlantic joins us now, as he does most Saturdays, for a look behind the headlines. Jim, hello.
JAMES FALLOWS: Hello, Guy.
RAZ: Let's start with this episode. Was this a blunder for the White House?
FALLOWS: I think that's one of the fascinating questions about it, which leads to some larger, fascinating questions about the Obama administration. Tactically, it appears to have been a blunder, in that the administration, perhaps the president himself, did not foresee how much resistance the initial ruling to mandate contraceptive coverage by a number of Catholic-affiliated institutions would cause even among some of his normal allies.
But strategically, it may be that the president may have put himself in good political shape. Number one, he has resolved the issue early in the election year rather than letting it fester through the election year. Number two, he's positioned himself in the way that he is most comfortable being seen, as the man who weighs great conflicting issues and tries to find a reasonable compromise among people of good will.
And number three, he has left a number of the Republicans in the position of being not just against abortion, which, of course, is a first-order moral issue, but being against contraception, too, which is something where if they're seen as being anti-birth control, they're at odds with much of the American public.
RAZ: Hmm. I want to ask you about some of these bigger issues. You have a monster cover story in the latest issue of The Atlantic. It's called "Obama, Explained." It was, like, 12,000 words, right?
FALLOWS: We think of it as a lean, mean, quick-reading 12,000 words.
RAZ: I got you. OK. Well, you analyze the two competing views of the president. He's either a savvy chess player 10 steps ahead of the game or a naive, somewhat bumbling politician. What did you learn about the president that surprised you?
FALLOWS: About him himself, I guess the two things that surprised me, as I canvassed all sorts of people who had worked with him directly and were veterans of national politics going back many decades now, is, number one, how his personal distance or what you might even call coldness is a factor that many, many people who work in politics note and say is something that he needs to work around.
The other thing that surprised me, too, is a sense that those around him are not the team of excellent rivals and superstars that one would have assumed he would have had around him. And that's something I haven't expected to hear but I heard many times.
RAZ: What was your take away from the piece?
FALLOWS: If there is a main lesson I tried to convey in this article, it is that every president fails, and every president starts out his first term not knowing many of the things that are most important about doing the job. And I ended up saying that in many ways, we see evidence of President Obama learning the job in - after some difficulties in the first year.
RAZ: Jim, this past week, a deal was reached with five of the biggest banks in the country to pay back some of the people who were wrongly foreclosed on, $26 billion deal. Is this the end? Is this justice served, in a sense, for predatory lending?
FALLOWS: It's certainly not the end of the housing crisis because it won't really bring many of these homeowners out of their underwater situation. And it certainly is not justice done in any cosmic sense, because in most cases, the fine for unjustly or in a rushed way foreclosing on people is $2,000, which obviously is not close to restitution.
I think all we can see this is as a modest step towards trying to bring some clarity to the housing situation, and at least something on the right side rather than the wrong side of the balance for institutional accountability.
RAZ: That's James Fallows. He's national correspondent for The Atlantic. You can find his blog at jamesfallows.theatlantic.com. And his latest story, of course, is in the latest issue of The Atlantic. Jim, thanks so much.
FALLOWS: My pleasure. Thank you, Guy. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.