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Sour Economy Thwarts Enthusiasm For Obama


The president is trying to recapture the enthusiasm that swept him into office. And during his first 100 days back in 2009, I was traveling across the U.S., asking Americans how the tough economy was affecting their lives. This summer, we've been checking back with the people I met during that trip.

Let's remember March 24th of 2009. President Obama described the failing economy this way.

President BARACK OBAMA: It took many years and many failures to lead us here, and it will take many months and many different solutions to lead us out. There are no quick fixes, and there are no silver bullets.

GREENE: The morning after the president said that, I drove to Boo's Crossroads Cafe in Terra Haute, Indiana, where a group of women in their 70s and 80s were holding their weekly breakfast club meeting. One of them was Carolyn Toops.

You came to sit next to sit to me. You must want to tell me something.

Ms. CAROLYN TOOPS: Yeah. I wanted to just make a brief statement. I don't want to engage in a dialogue. Okay.

GREENE: I won't say anything.

Ms. TOOPS: All right, then. Are you going to ask me who I am?

GREENE: Well, you told me I can't be in a dialogue with you. I'm just kidding.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GREENE: Yes. Introduce yourself, if you can.

Ms. TOOPS: I'm Carolyn Toops, it's T-O-O-P-S. I have been a resident of Terre Haute for a good many years now. I'm originally from Louisiana. No, I did not watch the speech last night. However, I would just like to say that I think it's unfair to expect the new president to handle this, and he has been in office less than three months. I wish him well. Thank you.

GREENE: Well, when I called up Carolyn Toops the other day, she hadn't changed her tune much.

You said back in 2009 that it was unfair to expect President Obama to get the economy going after just a few months. Now that it's been two years, do you think it's fair to criticize him now?

Ms. TOOPS: No. That's part of what goes on with the job, I think.

GREENE: And how do you think he's been doing when he goes on TV and talks about the economy?

Ms. TOOPS: I think the honeymoon is over. It didn't last too terribly long. And with the present situation, I think none of us could anticipate what is happening now.

GREENE: Are you worried about him politically if the economy stays in rough shape?

Ms. TOOPS: I think it's going to be difficult for him to be elected for another term.

GREENE: How do you feel about him? You know, are you going to vote for him?

Ms. TOOPS: Probably I would vote for Obama for a second term. But, of course, it depends on who is in the opposition.

GREENE: Another one of the breakfast club regulars I spoke on that 2009 visit is Dorothy Jerse. Unlike Toops, she had watched President Obama's speech the night before and she was pretty worried that the sour economy would hurt him.

Ms. DOROTHY JERSE: It's going to depend how bad this gets. You know, if more and more and more and more people lose their jobs, people are going to get impatient, because you always blame the president.

GREENE: Jerse was with Toops when I called back the other day.

So, are people getting impatient?

Ms. JERSE: Yes, people are impatient but I think we put more blame on Congress than on the president for the current problems of both unemployment and national debt.

GREENE: And why do you blame Congress more than the president?

Ms. JERSE: Because I think they are not agreeing on anything. And you have to figure things out when you're in that position. And I won't go through each of the things they've done - we'll be here all day - but I really think Congress has not come through like we'd hoped they would.

GREENE: So, you're still behind President Obama 100 percent?

Ms. JERSE: Yeah, I'm behind him as he's a wonderful human being. I think he's doing all he's can, but what can he do just by himself without the rest of the government with him?

GREENE: Are the ladies still talking politics on Wednesday mornings?

Ms. JERSE: Occasionally.

GREENE: What were you talking last time politics came up?

Ms. JERSE: Oh, probably unemployment 'cause we all have children and grandchildren and it's tough and we see it around us all the time.

GREENE: That's when Carolyn Toops asked to get back on the phone.

Ms. TOOPS: Hello.

GREENE: Hi, Ms. Toops.

Ms. TOOPS: Back again.

GREENE: Back again.

Ms. TOOPS: OK. Now, you did not ask me about my previous life.

GREENE: Do you want me to?

Ms. TOOPS: Yeah.

GREENE: Tell me about it.

Ms. TOOPS: OK. I am from Louisiana originally, so I still...

GREENE: Eventually, Toops got around to telling me about her two grandchildren. She was especially concerned about one who's had trouble finding work.

Ms. TOOPS: She is still looking for something. You know, she's had summer internships and things like that but, I mean, there are jobs which might not be ideal but who knows when you get your ideal job?

GREENE: Well, Ms. Toops, it has been an absolutely pleasure catching up with you again and I look forward to seeing you in person sometime soon.

Ms. TOOPS: Well, good.

GREENE: That was Carolyn Toops and also Dorothy Jerse, old friends who have been meeting for breakfast for 25 years at Boo's Crossroads Cafe in Terre Haute, Indiana.

(Soundbite of music) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.