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Keep Your Friends Close And Your Frenemies Closer


This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Alison Stewart in Washington. Neal Conan is away. Not a foe, not quite a friend. At one career past or some organization we might belong to, many of us have encountered a hybrid colleague known as the frenemy. Alliances with them can be awkward, forced and often rooted in some bitter rivalry. President-elect Barack Obama is searching for a common ground with former rival Republican Senator John McCain. They met yesterday for a discussion about working together in some way as well as for a photo opt. The Democratic president-elect has said he would like Republicans to serve in his administration.

Today, we're talking about frenemies, the unofficial port-mento of friend and enemy, when foes turn into friends and vice versa. Also a little bit later in the show, we'll look at billionaire Mark Cuban. He's just been hit by the SCC with insider trading charges. But first, have you experienced the frenemy in the office, in social circles, in your neighborhood and how do you deal with them?

Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. Our email address is [email protected]. You can also join the conversation on our website, go to and click on Talk of the Nation. Let's go now to Julian Salazar. He's a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School. He joins us from their studios in Princeton, New Jersey. Thanks for being here with us.

Professor JULIAN SALAZAR (Professor of History and Public Affairs, Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School): Thanks for having me.

STEWART: Let's talk about how common is it for a presidential-elect to turn around and makes friends with rivals?

Prof. SALAZAR: Well, I wouldn't say it's common but there have been moments in the 20th Century for example, where we've seen this. One example is Franklin Roosevelt after he wins in 1940, wins reelection. One - his opponent Wendell Wilkie, a Republican goes around the world supporting his foreign policies and championing America's intervention in the world. So that's one example in 1940, where we saw this kind of unusual alliance take place right after an election.

STEWART: Why do these alliances happen? Is it a matter of mutual need?

Prof. SALAZAR: Yeah. Usually, I mean, people don't do this to be altruistic. I think in general, you know, either you have a case where the opponent really supports a policy and thinks it's the right thing for the country, but often it's a marriage of convenience. So, one example was Dwight Eisenhower, a Republican president, elected in 1952, he teams up with Lyndon Johnson who was the Senate Minority Leader for the Democrats. And they find that they can work together and advance each other's mutual interest at the same time.

STEWART: That's so funny because there's this quote, I was on the website of the Eisenhower Museum and it's about Lyndon Johnson. It says, Eisenhower considered Lyndon Johnson to be phony, unreliable, an opportunistic. He was repelled by the Texans undue familiarity, peculiarly, his habit of back-slapping. Eisenhower as president however, often counted on Johnson's support in the Senate. In turn, Johnson harbored great respect for Eisenhower and sought his advice through his own presidency. Is that all true?

Prof. SALAZAR: That's exactly true, at least in the first few years when Democrats didn't control Congress. What happened was, you know, Eisenhower had a problem. There are a lot of Republicans who were kind of isolationists and they didn't support strong executive power on national security. They were trying to pass all kinds of legislation that would limit the ability of the president to enter into treaties overseas. And so, who did he turn to? Not the Republicans in the Senate but to Lyndon Johnson who was willing to round up votes and make the Republicans on Capitol Hill look like the obstructionists and Eisenhower got the legislation he wanted, so it was true. As time progressed, they fought more often and they weren't quite the best allies by the end of the 1950s.

STEWART: And President Johnson in turn had a similar relationship with another senator.

Prof. SALAZAR: Oh absolutely. I mean, Johnson really relied on bipartisanship in two different cases. The first was in 1964, he wants to pass civil rights, to end public segregation and who were the biggest opponents? Southern Democrats. So who does he turn to, to end a filibuster in the Senate? Everett Dirksen, an Illinois senator, a Republican who was willing to support civil rights and it's because of Dirksen that the filibuster in the summer of '64 ends and we get civil rights legislation. He then relies on Dirksen for a different issue, Vietnam. Republicans were some of the strongest supporters of the administration as they escalated the war in Vietnam. While many Democrats were critical of the whole effort.

STEWART: Who was Harry Truman's frenemy?

Prof. SALAZAR: Oh, Arthur Vandenberg. You know, Arthur Vandenberg was a Michigan senator, who in 1940 was pretty much an isolationist. He didn't think America should get involved in overseas conflicts, at least in - unless it was absolutely necessary. But by 1945, he was an interventionist. He believed World War II is the right call and he was willing to right, work with Democrats, and he works with Harry Truman in 1947 and (unintelligible) to create the National Security state that we have now, the CIA, the Martial plan, the two worked very closely and it was a kind of famous friendship. I think one example of bipartisanship that we often remember.

STEWART: Something though that's interesting about this particular case, reading up on Arthur Vandenberg, some of the work that he did unraveled after he died. So my question is, does it come down to the will of the people involved once they step out of the equation? Does it just unravel? Does it get undone?

Prof. SALAZAR: It can very easily. I mean, Vandenberg is a great example because we often remember the Cold War and we remember the Vandenberg-Truman alliances. They got all of the stuff done but the reality though, it was a very partisan era and many other Republicans, you know, didn't think much of what Vandenberg was doing and as soon as he diminishes as a force by 1950, he's very ill, other Republican step in. The Richard Nixons of the GOP, and they start to really attack what the Democrats had done. So these kind of moments of bipartisanship are incredibly fragile and it does depend on the will of the party to keep on doing whatever this alliance did. And it also depends on the alliance to create things that can be sustained over time. But they are very, very fragile.

STEWART: All right, so we've just looked at the glass half full. Let's look at it half empty. Has it been detrimental to a president to bring his enemies into his cabinet? To bring his enemies on board with his agenda?

Prof. SALAZAR: Oh, absolutely. I mean, we've seen the less of this by the way since the 1970s because Washington's become - just much more polarized than partisan. So there's fewer examples where we see these alliances but one was in 1990 and President George H.W. Bush, he formed an alliance with Dan Rostencowski, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. A powerful Democrat and they passed a deficit reduction bill which raised taxes and cut spending to lower the deficit. And many Conservatives including Newt Gingrich was absolutely furious that President Bush had done this. They saw it as a betrayal of his famous campaign pledge in 1988. Read my lips, no new taxes and an abandoned (unintelligible) Ronald Reagan had argued that taxes should consistently go down. And afterwards, many people say that it was part of what caused him the 1992 election. Many Conservatives didn't come out to support him.

STEWART: Professor Salazar, I'm going to ask you to hang on and take a listen to one of our listeners, her name is Audrey calling in from Minnesota. And Audrey, you were an elected official?

AUDREY (Caller): I was for seven years in Minneapolis. And I was on the Minneapolis School Board.

STEWART: And did you find yourself in this position where you needed to put your arm around someone that maybe you just didn't care for a whole heck of a lot?

AUDREY: On several occasions. We'd had people that would come to meetings and would be very angry, yelling and screaming at us and telling us what horrible people we were and this is on television. And as an elected official working with the other people who are on the board with me, I found that it made great sense to go afterwards and sit down and try and talk with folks and reason with them and find out what really was the source of their anger and their frustration. And although it didn't always work out beautifully, it certainly did help when we were in some pretty difficult times to get people to at least be able to stop with the name calling and the angry things to sit down and try to at least come up with some solution to the problems that we were facing.

STEWART: Audrey, thanks for calling. I do want to bring in Liz Ryan into this conversation. She's a work place expert and the host of the online community site, So Liz, did Audrey do the right thing by sitting down and trying to have a conversation with these folks who were calling her names?

Ms. RYAN: Oh, most definitely, Alison. For one thing, you know, you're not going to learn what's on their mind and how you can bridge that gap between your views and their views unless you really understand where they're coming from. And if you can rise above, you know, the fact that somebody has just insulted you, to actually ask them some questions, you can cover a lot of ground. But the other thing is, these are public proceedings and you want to show people that someone insulting you or dissing you, you know, even publicly, isn't grounds for you to completely shut them out, which isn't very course statement like behavior.

STEWART: Professor Salazar, it's interesting this - we talked about being able to have an insulting role off your back, and I'm thinking about Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, who - and John McCain, all of whom said lots of things about one another. We were talking about mutual need at the top. What is the need of President-elect Obama to have McCain and Clinton closer? And what's their need of him?

Prof. SALAZAR: Well, he needs - I'd say John McCain, he probably won't have a filibuster-proof Senate, so he'd like as much Republican support as he can get to make sure that legislation he's pushing through is not stifled. And even if he had a filibuster-proof Senate, I think he'd like a legislation that has some bipartisan support. You know, that's a way to pass things that are going to last over time rather than, as we said earlier, be dismantled very quickly. So, as a president who wants to kind of do a bold agenda and really create a new era in American politics, I think that's very attractive to him. For Hillary Clinton, he wants to obviously diminish any lingering tensions in the Democratic coalition. He comes into office in the worst of times. The economy is in bad shape, we have instability overseas, we have a financial shortfall.

So he needs all Democrats on board, and there's a lot of Republican who are going to be out to get him. And so I think part of the idea is by bringing her on board. There's an attractive kind of tent building, coalition building quality of making that kind of appointment beyond her obvious skills and expertise. For them, they want influence. You know, for John McCain, I think it's both the matter of influence for the GOP, but also for himself. You know, his image has really been harmed, I think, in many ways by the campaign. He came out more partisan, more negative, and so the idea of being the maverick again, being the guy who shepherds legislation through can be very attractive to him, thinking of his legacy.

STEWART: Julian Salazar is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School. He joined us from the studios in Princeton, New Jersey. Thanks so much for being with us, professor.

Prof. SALAZAR: Thank you.

STEWART: Liz Ryan, I'm going to ask you to stay with us because we're still going to talk about frenemies in the office, next door to you, down the street. How do you handle them? Keep them close of stay away? 1-800-989-8255. The email address is [email protected]. I'm Alison Stewart. It's Talk of the Nation from NPR News.

(Soundbite of Talk of the Nation theme)

STEWART: This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Alison Stewart in Washington D.C. So far, we've talked a lot about dealing with political rivals. Not all of us can be president, though. Instead, we get to deal with office politics and frenemies closer to home, in our social circles and in our neighborhoods. Please tell us your stories. Have you experienced the frenemy? How did you deal with them? Are you one yourself?

Our number here in Washington is 1-800-989-8255. Our email address is [email protected]. You can always join the conversation over the website. Go to and just click on Talk of the Nation. I'd like to bring back into the conversation now, Liz Ryan. She's a work place expert and host of the online community site, She joins us from member station KGNU in Boulder, Colorado. Hi, Liz.

Ms. RYAN: Hi, Alison.

STEWART: So let's define some terms quickly. When we're talking about frenemies for most people, what are we talking about? What is the relationship?

Ms. RYAN: OK. A frenemy relationship is one where you have a person that you would all other things being equal, consider a friend. But you don't consider them a friend because you've had at least one experience with this person, which was surprising in a negative way, right? It could be as subtle as a person surprised you by being rude unexpectedly or sort of being mean to you or doing something that wasn't very friendly or could be as overt as being stabbed in the back at work. But a frenemy is a person that you would consider a friend, based on your day to day interaction except for the fact that they have a habit - at least one incident of surprising you with something really negative in the friendship department.

STEWART: And somehow, I'm guessing with the frenemy, you have to deal with this person on some level?

Ms. RYAN: Right. Well, that's the thing. You know, you have President-elect Obama putting together a cabinet, and I think it's fantastic and praiseworthy that he's pulling in, looking at - pulling in as many, you know, different views as he can, which can involve having people from all different political stripes. But the fact is that he's the boss. When you're at work and you're working on frenemies and most of us will at some point or another, you're not necessarily the boss. If you were, you'd have a lot more influence on the situation. Often in the office or in the work place, we're forced to work with people that we just don't feel that good about and we may not trust.

STEWART: It's interesting you should mention the boss because we have Marie from one of the great cities in America, Austin Texas, whose boss was the frenemy. Hi, Marie.

MARIE (Caller): How are you doing?

STEWART: Good. This sound is slightly dangerous, have the boss as a frenemy. What happened?

MARIE: Well, I just graduated from college and I went to work for - this was (unintelligible). I went to work for a Latino governor. I (unintelligible) the governor, but it's been a while back. This happened in my early 20s and I'm in early 40s now. And I was black. She was black. I was really looking forward to the friendship that I thought that she - I was looking for to her actually being my mentor and she was - we would go out to lunch, but I don't think she liked me really at all. We were the only two blacks in the office. She was really my enemy. I think when I look back on that, she was really my enemy and I - like I said, we were all young in that office. I just graduated and she was older and she would do things like make me the messenger like, you know, to deliver messages to different people. I asked her once why would you pick me - you know, I am trying to move up. I just graduated. There are other people who are still in college. And she didn't know what to say.

She didn't have a reason for why she would choose me. You know, I want people to see me - I just graduated - to move up. And I stayed there about a year or so and I went to - I ended up going to law school. I'm a solo practitioner. I think the bottom line was that I don't want a boss. I don't want to play with those officemates. I like being my own boss.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: All right. Marie, thank you so much for sharing your story. Liz, question. Should you confront a frenemy the way that Marie did? Went to her boss and asked her 'why are you making me do these things, which reflect badly on me?'

Ms. RYAN: Well, that's a great question, Alison. I mean, when it's your boss who's the frenemy or who's sending out that hostile vibe, the question is what are the stakes? If you can afford and Marie had choices and hats off to her. She had plan B to go back to law school. If you have choices like that, absolutely you can, you know, put the issue on the table and say to your boss or say to a co-worker, I'd really like to straighten out some things between us because your behavior has confused me at times. The challenge is, that some of us don't always have those choices in the work place, particularly when the boss is the problem individual. Because if you bring the issue out, you may be forcing it to ahead and you may be the loser in that situation. ..TEXT: STEWART: So you need to be prepared for the worst case scenario if you're going to go for the confrontation route.

Ms. RYAN: Well, the other issue with the outright discussion is that there are frenemies, there are manipulative people, unfortunately, in some work places who relish the soap opera and the drama. You know, this is something else about President-elect Obama is that he opted for no drama campaign. And there are plenty of work forces -workplaces that are full of drama and soap opera, theatrics all the time. And there are people that would love nothing better than to get embroiled in the conversation with you about the nature of your relationship and why were you mean to me at that - last Thursday and why did you talk behind my back? And sometimes the best option is to stay completely clear of that.

STEWART: As long as you're talking about drama, let's talk about it literally. We're going to talk to Lee in Oakland, who works in the theater. Hi, Lee.

LEE (Caller): Hey. How are you doing?

STEWART: I'm doing just.

LEE: I work in the theater as an actor and a director, which is a very political sphere. And often during an audition process, it can be a lot like a political campaign with lots of bickering and trash talking going on. And then, you know, as the results come in and you look at the - the cast that is up in the board, which is a lot like election night, waiting for the result to come in. One of your frenemies might have a better role than you or a worse role than you. And then that dynamic will step into the production of the play itself. And sometimes, that dynamic of the frenemy will help the play and sometimes, it will hurt the play.

STEWART: All right. Lee, thank you so much for calling us. Question for you, Liz. Is there a time when you shouldn't reach out to the frenemy in the workplace that should just be the conflict that you remain unspoken?

Ms. RYAN: Absolutely. You know, as I mentioned, there are people who create that frenemy relationship in order to have control over you, right? So a lot of the frenemy dynamic is a person who wants to keep you guessing. They want you to wonder. Am I on Susie's good side or bad side today? And when you spot that kid of behavior, it's a very good idea to negate it, to step away from it and say you now what? I'm not going to let her push those buttons with me - him or her. I'm going to stay clear of that. We're going to deal on a sort of a business-like level and I'm going to let all the rest of the stuff wash over me because very often, that's the motivation behind the frenemy behavior - is to have a little control over someone.

STEWART: Rich in Chicago. He has a method for dealing with frenemies. Hi, Rich.

RICH (Caller): Yeah. Hi, there. You know, I'm going to make frenemy out of Neal by saying Alison, you can host the show anytime.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RICH: I think you're doing a fantastic job.

STEWART: Thank you.

RICH: And something back at Liz, she was talking about bosses. My frenemy was a boss. I'm no longer with the company, but I used to deal him with kindness. I mean, when they're your boss, you really have nowhere to go, but where they tell you to go. And a lot of times, when they're giving you a directive and they're expecting you to go one way and all of a sudden, you go their way, they've got nowhere to go with it - nowhere to go with it and it works - for me, it works in personal relationships and business relationships. Just fill them with kindness and they almost sit there, left stuttering, like they don't know like quite what to do.

STEWART: Good advice from Rich in Chicago. Thanks, Rich.

RICH: Thanks a lot.

STEWART: We're also going to stay in the Windy City and talk to Bill for a moment. Bill has a question. Hi, Bill.

BILL (Caller): Hi. Great topic today. What I was going to say is what do you do when you find yourself in a situation of being between frenemies, the person who gets drag into the drama in the work place? We have all worked places where you wind up, expected to take a side and you never know a win-win situation, especially if you throw in the complication of what if the boss is one the people. Are you expected to side with the boss? Are you expected to side with the co-worker? Everybody's feeling gets hurt. It's a great topic and I'm just wondering what strategy you have for those of us, who chose not to engage?

STEWART: Liz, what can you offer Bill?

Ms. RYAN: Oh, Bill. This is such a great topic. You know, in general, when people or groups are at war in the workplace, you have to get your Swiss citizenship right away.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. RYAN: You have to be Swiss. And I don't mean that in a wimpy way. No slur on the Swiss, of course. I mean, in a very steadfast way, in a very forthright way, you say I hear the conflict. I see it. It's not my conflict. You don't pass judgment on the relative merits. Of one side's case or the other side's case, you say I hear it. I'm sorry that you guys don't see eye to eye. I just - I don't have time or mental energy to buy into that.

When it's your boss, obviously, it's a little more complicated because there are plenty of bosses that give points for loyalty and take away points for disloyalty. But I think you can be a trusted adviser to your boss. And if you really want to put a stake in the ground around your own voice at work, you can say to your boss, you know, in general, general I agree with you about a lot of the stuff, Chuck. But I got to tell you, I think you're missing the boat. Gary has some really good feedback. And you know, because of the conflict between you, I think at times, you may miss that. You could surprise yourself by being a little forthright about something like that and actually gaining credibility.

STEWART: Well, Ron from Columbia, South Carolina poses another - he wants to add another wrinkle to it. What if the frenemy is in the family? Hi, Ron.

RON (Caller): How you doing?

STEWART: I'm doing OK. So who is the frenemy that you've been dealing with?

RON: Well frenemy is my cousin and I - he's my best friend, one of my best friends. We care very much about each other. But he has ways of throwing on you a little buzz to other people bring out your negative spots, bad spots which we all carry. And what I've found is by trying to reduce my negative exposure to him without - and I hope Liz could give me some advice. I tried not to avoid him because we do have a pretty good relationship but we're one on one are in a group. But what I've tried to do is - is just reduce the exposure of my negative sides, you know if I have something bad going on in my life I just don't talk about it or discuss it. As a matter of fact, I try to cloak it.


RON: The last point I want to make is I don't always takes frenemies of being malicious. Sometimes, I think people are making conversation or one upping themselves and not realizing that they're - they're actually putting you down. And I love you guys again.

STEWART: All right, Ron. Thanks so much. I also want to talk to Matthew because Matthew had a similar situation at somebody in the family who's kind of a problem. Hi, Matthew. You're calling from Ann Arbor?

MATTHEW (Caller): Yes, hi. How are you?

STEWART: I'm doing well. Why do you need some help from Liz with?

MATTHEW: Well, it's my sister-in-law and I honestly like her and we actually get along. But whenever she's angry with my brother she tends to project that anger towards me or she's often rude. And my question is how exactly do I deal with that? Because I'm served at a point where it could be a point of contention in my family. And I just recently listened to the show realize that she's actually my frenemy, but she's also my sister-in-law. How - what's the best way to approach that?

STEWART: All right, Matthew. Thanks for calling. Liz, what do you when it's a family member. We're all coming home for Thanksgiving soon and with a family frenemy.

Ms. RYAN: That's the right time. This is timely. Well for Ron and Matthew, I would say first of all you are not alone. I don't think there is more frenemy, isn't anywhere outside the family than maybe high school. High school is the epicenter of frenemy behavior and that's a whole another topic. But frenemies in families is very, very common because family relationships are complicated. You know, we spend a lot of time oftentimes with our family members, we're expected to be really ourselves with them but as - as Ron pointed out if you let down your guard sometimes and you say something that you're not necessarily proud of, things aren't going perfectly in your life that can be used against you, right? And you can get it thrown right back in your face or you can hear it repeated by someone that you really would rather didn't get that news.

So I think the key with frenemies in the family is when they overstep their bounds, and just as Matthew said, I don't think it's necessarily malicious. It could just be unguarded speech. It could be naivety, is that you set that boundary right then and there. So I think it's much easier to deal with that in the clinch, in the moment, than to have a serious sit down and say you know at times you disappoint me and your behavior is confusing if you're happen to become aware of something that's happened. A bunch of people that you went to high school with are aware of your, you know unfortunate narrow situation. Thanks to your sister-in-law before you, you know, were willing to talk about it you say to her, you know what that was not cool. I don't appreciate that. I didn't tell you that so you could spread it around to people and what'll happen is if you do that again, I won't be able to confide in you at all.

STEWART: Shut it down. We're talking to Liz Ryan about the issues of frenemies in the work place and in your life. You're listening to Talk of the Nation from NPR News. This is Talk of the Nation from NPR News. I'm Alison Stewart. We're speaking with Liz Ryan, a workplace expert about frenemies. And Liz, we got an e-mail from Josh in Phoenix. He's pointing out the upside of frenemies. He wrote to us, over the course of my career I found that frenemies had been overall beneficial for my career. They've pushed me, they prodded me and they've undercut me but all of this has required - it is my game and in the end has contributed to my success. So frenemy not necessarily a bad word, huh?

Ms. RYAN: Well, Josh is the gentleman's name?

STEWART: Yes, Josh from Phoenix.

Ms. RYAN: Yeah, I would say to Josh that that's a really great observation and as a workplace commentator myself, I'll tell you one of the things that I regret, that I mourn the passing off is the development over a career's time frame of the ability to deal with difficult people. And the reason that I think this is becoming less common is because, not withstanding the tough economy right now, it's much easier and much more common today for people to leave their jobs.

STEWART: Just quit.

Ms. RYAN: Than it was 20 years ago. So you have a lot more job movement and one of the reasons that people change jobs is difficult people, difficult bosses. I'm from the, you now sort of tail ended baby boom early X and I didn't feel that I had that option as a 20 something and 30 something year old. I stuck it out and I dealt with some horrible people. And just as Josh said, I learned huge people skills in the process that I use today all the time. And I think that you know Josh made some really good point, there's a point where your mental health and your physical health is at risk because of awful situations on the job and sleep deprivation and all that. And that's the time when it probably makes sense to move on. But short of that, if you can navigate this tricky inter-personal situations at work, it strengthens you, it helps you and it makes you a better employee, a better manager, a better entrepreneur, if you choose to go that route.

STEWART: It seems like Jim from Michigan, our next caller went that route. Hi Jim?

JIM (Caller): Hi.

STEWART: What happened?

JIM: Well it was interesting, I was listening to the show and I was thinking back to the middle 90's when I was a manager for General Motors in Flint, Michigan. And Flint is the almost the - the hot, better birthplace of UAW.


JIM: And at that time you know of the - if you wanted to be considered a good manager, you were very hard core about the goals of management. If you wanted to be considered a good union representative you were, you know, you hated management so we both had our goals - individual goals. But at the time, just like now we were fighting to keep the plant open. And so I had a gentleman I dealt with on the shop committee, which is what we called the union representatives. And because of the super ordinate goal of keeping the plan open even though we didn't see eye to eye in the workplace we had to find common ground and give and take a little bit even though we have might consider each other enemies. I think enemies might be a little strong word but it was interesting. The negotiation went on and I added, I told the screener that the other interesting thing was when we got alone and we're out of the public eye.


JIM: Because none of the Union guys would want to be seen with you publicly. But we had a lot of things in common outside the workplace - church, family, activities.

STEWART: Yeah its true Jim sometimes your frenemy really you can put more stress on the friend part. Thanks for being with us. Liz Ryan is a workplace expert and host of the online committee site Liz, thank you so much for joining us.

Ms. RYAN: Thank you, Alison. Coming up next the billionaire and the SEC. We'll get an inside look at super maverick, Mark Cuban and chargers of insider trading. Do stay with us. I'm Alison Stewart, it is Talk of the Nation from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.