A molecular-biologist-turned-Buddhist-monk says altruism is the answer to many of the world's most pressing challenges. Can concern for others help solve wealth inequality, climate change and world hunger?
A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top national news stories. President Obama traveled to battleground states this week to promote his new $450 billion jobs plan; eight GOP presidential candidates faced off in the Tea Party-CNN debate on Monday; and Republican Bob Turner scored an upset victory in New York in a special election to replace Congressman Anthony Weiner.
- Lisa Lerer politics reporter, Bloomberg News.
- Jerry Seib Washington bureau chief, The Wall Street Journal.
- John Dickerson chief political correspondent for Slate.com and CBS political analyst and contributor. Author of "On Her Trail: My Mother, Nancy Dickerson, TV News' First Woman Star."
Friday News Roundup Video
The panelists discuss the controversy surrounding the GOP presidential candidates’ debate over administering the HPV vaccine to young girls:
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. President Obama hits the road to campaign for his jobs bill. The GOP claims a big victory in New York, and a newly released interview with Jacqueline Kennedy gives us a revised view of Camelot. Joining us for the domestic hour of the Friday News Roundup, Jerry Seib of The Wall Street Journal, Lisa Lerer of Bloomberg News, John Dickerson of Slate.com and CBS.
MS. DIANE REHMDo join us. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Call us on 1-800-433-8850. Join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning, all.
MR. JERRY SEIBGood morning.
MS. LISA LERERGood morning.
MR. JOHN DICKERSONGood morning.
REHMJerry Seib, jobless claims hit new highs, and then we heard this extraordinary poverty report.
SEIBRight. It was a week of really not good numbers if you're into crunching economic numbers. As you say, the jobless claims number that came out this week showed that they rose 11,000 to 428,000 last week, the second straight week in which jobless claims have gone up. That's usually an indicator of more unemployment numbers that are not going to be good to come.
SEIBIt may be the that the more stunning numbers of the week came from the Census Bureau, which had done a look at family and personal income in the -- in this country over the last 10 years. And just some of those numbers I'll tick off for you. Median household income was down 2.3 percent from 2009 last year. And it's as low as it was in -- since 1999. For men who worked full-time year-round in 20 -- 2010, median earnings were $47,715.
SEIBBut for men, that's as low as it's been since 1978. The official poverty rate, as you mentioned, went up to 15.1 percent from 14.3 percent in 2009. It's the third consecutive annual increase in the poverty rate. So it's a picture of both not enough Americans working and those Americans who are working not making as much money as they were over the last decade.
DICKERSONA lot of people, in looking at these numbers, were talking about the lost decade. One of the things that struck me, in addition to the numbers that Jerry cited, was that the report revealed that from 2001 to 2007, which was a recovery, it's the first recovery on record where the level of poverty was deeper at the end of the recovery than it was at the beginning.
DICKERSONAnd that was in terms of poverty, but also in terms of people seeing the gains they made in the 2000s just gone.
LERERAnd, politically, of course, there's huge implications for these numbers, particularly the poverty numbers. The hardest hit areas were in the suburbs, which tend to be -- can be a little bit more swingy in terms of which party they go for, and, of course, the Midwest and a lot of those states are, you know, huge swing states with tons of electoral college votes, like Ohio or Michigan or Wisconsin.
LERERSo this obviously has huge implications for Obama in the elections.
REHMSo, certainly, for the middle class, bad news, at the same time you've got the president taking his plan on the road. What kind of reception, Lisa?
LERERWell, Bloomberg News just did a poll that showed that 51 percent of people said that the plan would not lower the unemployment rate. So, already, before -- and we sent our poll out in the field last week. So that was before he had sort of started pushing it. But it -- you know, it was -- he was still in the middle of making his pitch. And, already, more than half the people said that they didn't think it would work.
LERERSo he's not going into this sales job with a lot of -- with people feeling very -- having high expectations.
REHMAnd lots of criticism from John Boehner, calling for total reform of the tax code right now.
DICKERSONWell, this is -- this gets complicated. We've been in this place before where we have a short-term argument conversation and a long-term one. The president's argument on it, with respect to his jobs bill, the $447 billion plan for jobs, is that -- deal with that by itself. Offset the money to pay for that with some tax increases, which Republicans don't like.
DICKERSONWe should also mention with respect to that that some Democrats have been balking at the president's bill, which is a big problem for him politically. But what Boehner is talking about in terms of fundamental tax reform, which takes a lot of time -- and if anybody remembers the 1986 tax reform debate, this is one of the things they're talking about doing in terms of the super committee in the House and Senate, in terms of finding, perhaps, as much as $4 trillion in savings -- or in deficit reduction, that this would be part of a grand plan.
DICKERSONWell, doing that kind of a grand plan before the end of the year, as we've already seen things get...
DICKERSON...yeah -- as we've already seen things get seized up ever more by politics, that you would take on something that complex with that many lobbyists involved, fundamental tax reform that is, not to mention the conversation the president has hinted at in his jobs speech last week about touching entitlements. Those are the two big things, tax reform and entitlement reform, that you'd have to do to get to this big $4 trillion number.
DICKERSONAnd to do that by the end of the year in this historical moment in Washington seems a total impossibility.
REHMSo why did Boehner lay out this mandate right now?
SEIBWell, the only -- the odd thing about tax reform is that everybody in town in both parties wants to do it. The -- there's a liberal argument about the corporate tax rate, for example, that says, well, if we're in this tax system which GE doesn't pay any income taxes -- excuse me -- and we need more revenue and the only place to get it is through corporate taxes, then this system isn't working.
SEIBAnd conservatives look at it and say, we have the highest corporate tax rate of any developed country. It's making us uncompetitive. We should fix it. Oddly, there's a consensus to do what John Boehner is talking about. As John indicated, though, there's no time to do that right now.
SEIBThe argument for a tax reform argument is more on the White House side right now, is the only way you're going to get some additional revenue to reduce the deficit right now is to change the tax code 'cause you can't raise anybody's rates 14 months before an election. So you close loopholes. You shift some things around. You change rates, but don't raise anybody's bill.
SEIBBut you close some loopholes, and you've raised more money. It's a deficit cutting argument, but that's not the one Speaker Boehner is making.
REHMSo what's the expectation for this super committee?
SEIBWell, you know, that's interesting. I was -- a few weeks ago, I wrote a column. I was just pretty optimistic about the super committee because it's basically -- everybody in Washington was really shocked at the popular reaction to the show that went on here this summer about the discussion about the debt ceiling and the deficit reduction package. People went back home. They were told it was awful.
SEIBThey don't trust anything in Washington anymore. You guys can't get anything done. I thought that would lay the groundwork for the super committee to come back and succeed because everybody wants to succeed. But the vibes now really are not very encouraging, you know?
REHMI spoke to one member of the super committee the other night who said he had been optimistic, but that optimism has just gone.
SEIBRight. I mean, in the last few days, the White House has essentially said, we're not going to try to deal with Medicare and Social Security.
REHMSo what are they going to do?
SEIBAnd John Boehner has said we can't raise taxes. So you do the minimalist possible, you know. You find some more spending cuts. You maybe close a few loopholes. You get barely to the $1.2 trillion they're supposed to come up with to avoid much more massive cuts. And then everybody goes off to the election.
DICKERSONAnd that $1.2 trillion leaves out the $447 billion in the president's plan...
DICKERSON...so that's the big problem, is that they have to come to an agreement if anything's going to happen on the president's plan. There is talk, even among some Democrats, about taking bits and pieces of the president's plan. The White House was of two minds. There are two messages this week. David Axelrod saying, nope, it's all one big bundle.
DICKERSONJay Carney, the spokesman of the White House, saying there are some chance that it could be put into bits and pieces. But we're talking about timing. There's also the question of when the Senate -- the president is on the road saying, pass this bill now, pass it now. The Senate's got all this other business in front of it before getting to this bill. Harry Reid hasn't said when he's going to bring it up.
DICKERSONI don't believe -- and there's the talk that he won't bring it up until after the end of this month. So there's this -- the tension here always involved was, could the president create a sense of urgency? It's a hard thing to do, period. It's a hard thing to do at this stage of his presidency where people aren't listening in the polls. In addition to the Bloomberg one this week, the president's disapproval numbers went up.
DICKERSONThere is the -- very much this view among some strategists I've talked to, particularly Republicans, but even Democrats. The more the president talks, the less people like him, and...
REHMLisa, how do you see it?
LERERWell, of course, there's also this additional political pressure of the Republican primary, the presidential primary, and you have the Republican candidates. I believe Newt Gingrich called the super committee stupid, and I think Pawlenty, of course, is no longer a committee, called it very stupid. So that certainly doesn't make it any easier for Republicans in Congress when you have this type of political climate.
LERERAnd it makes sense for the candidates. They want to run against Washington, but it doesn't make them -- it doesn't make it easier for Republicans here to break that gridlock.
REHMSo, back to the super committee, is your prediction like John Dickerson's, Jerry Seib, that they're barely going to get to that minimum?
SEIBYeah, I think that is what I think. And I think even getting into the minimum is going to be harder than I thought a few weeks ago.
REHMIs going to be tough.
SEIBYeah, although I will say that the way the committee is set up, you know, it's -- these are people who are close to the congressional leadership in both parties. And the leadership, therefore, has a stake in success, doesn't want to see failure. And the rules are set up so that it just takes seven out of 14 -- out of -- sorry, seven out of 12 members to pass something out of the committee.
SEIBAnd a simple majority in the Senate and the House gets it through easier than other things that happen in this town. So maybe the rules have been written for success.
REHMJerry Seib of The Wall Street Journal. Do join us. Send us your email and your tweets. What about that GOP Party, Tea Party debate? Lisa Lerer, how did Rick Perry do fending off all these attacks by other candidates?
LERERWell, he started off, and he seemed pretty prepared. You know, he was ready for the Social Security attacks from Mitt Romney, talking about it being a -- you know, his comments that it had been a -- it was a Ponzi scheme. As the debate went on, he seemed a little less ready for primetime.
LERERHe took some -- well, what's interesting to me was that he took some pretty -- I thought he took some pretty intense hits from Michele Bachmann, which showed that she is still in this. She's, you know, still going to try to play, and she could possibly impact his chances in Iowa. He wasn't really ready for comments about his HPV vaccine. He, of course, had, you know, mandated that by executive order, and that came under attack.
REHMAwful lot of health executives, officials, physicians, really criticized Michele Bachmann for that hit on Perry. It was more about the timing and what he had done than about the HPV itself.
DICKERSONWell, it was on two fronts. One, it was on the smaller government front, which is that, even though mandating vaccine is something governments do, they didn't want him to do it on that particular one. Also, they disagreed with -- she raised -- Bachmann raised the idea that it had -- there was a political campaign finance influence, that he was influenced by donations.
REHMJohn Dickerson of Slate.com. Short break. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back to the domestic hour of our Friday News Roundup. Just before the break, John Dickerson, you were talking about Gov. Perry and how he had fared during the debate.
DICKERSONHe took so -- he took abuse on the question of the HPV vaccine. He also was attacked on immigration, the policy in Texas of allowing illegal immigrants to have lower state -- lower tuition costs for in-state schooling. What interests me -- and then he -- the Social Security problem was that he kind of ducked. On the one hand, he said, I'm a truth teller, saying the system needs to be fixed.
DICKERSONBut he ran away from the position he advocates in his book, which is that Social Security should be, perhaps, returned to the -- or given over to the state. What's interesting is, will Romney beat back the Perry, Perry being the frontrunner in some of the polls? Is Perry's problem to the right? Because those voters who may be upset about the HPV vaccine or his position on immigration, where are they going to go?
DICKERSONThey don't particularly like Mitt Romney. Michele Bachmann, they may like, but many of them don't think she's really going to be president. So where do those voters go? Or is Perry's vulnerability on this sort of an accretion of problems, which is that he's just not ready for a general election? He's got the Social Security problem. He seemed to be caught off guard on the HPV attacks during the debate. He just can't make it in the general election.
LERERI think Romney is using Perry's candidacy to make his own electability argument that, you know, listen, Republicans, you all want to meet -- beat Barack Obama. That's the major goal here. I'm the one who can do that. I'm going to be more palatable to independent voters on issues like Social Security, in particular. And so that's sort of his main argument now, and he's trying to cast -- define Perry before Perry can define himself.
REHMJerry Seib, you wrote a column the other day sort of bringing up the name of Ronald Reagan in connection with Perry.
SEIBWell -- and it's precisely because of this electability argument. That was, in 1980, very much the argument within the Republican Party about Ronald Reagan. Conservatives love him, but is he electable? Is he too extreme to win in a general election? There's an alternative. It's -- it was George H. W. Bush, the more moderate, more establishment candidate. Well, that's kind of the Mitt Romney character now.
SEIBAnd the question is whether Rick Perry is now in the same place Ronald Reagan was in 1980, whereas he looks -- conservatives love him, but they're not quite sure that he can be elected. And that's, I think, the best -- you know, as Lisa suggests, that's the best Romney argument, which is, I can actually win this thing. And we can all agree that President Obama is vulnerable. Let's not blow it.
REHMDid Michele Bachmann help or hurt herself with this HPV question?
SEIBWell, I think that Rick Perry has taken so much of the oxygen out of the room for Michele Bachmann -- and I don't know what she can do. I -- you know, I think she probably helped herself with some people, marginalized herself with others and ended up in basically the same position she was in, which was not a very good one. I don't think she helped herself.
LERERShe helped Romney, I think. She helped Romney...
REHMShe talked about this...
DICKERSONYeah, she helped herself in the future Romney administration.
REHMShe talked about this woman that she had heard from a mother, who said her child had suffered mental retardation following an HPV injection. Some physicians have put out a $100,000 reward for somebody who finds that mother. Lisa.
LERERThat's sort of a pattern that we see with her. Not only is she able to gravitate to these issues that just spark criticism immediately, she also has sort of a tendency to -- what aides have told me -- repeat the last thing that someone has told her. She doesn't necessarily -- so she heard that from a mother. She spit it back out.
LERERBut, I think, what's interesting is, you know, we looked back at her career all the way back from when she was, you know, a Minnesota school activist. And she was always able to glom on these issues or find these issues or was attracted to these issues that just exploded into sort of a lightning rod, criticism, particularly social issues.
LERERSo that's always been her career. And I think running for president is different than being on cable news, and that's what she's learning.
SEIBYeah, and I think that, you know, she said a couple of things in that exchange that just wouldn't bear -- stand up under scrutiny. I mean, if you're going to be against mandatory vaccinations on this front, what about mumps and measles, you know? There's a whole -- and, by the way, she said no on health care. There should be no -- the government shouldn't be able to mandate that anybody buy anything.
SEIBWell, is that -- what about auto insurance, you know? It doesn't really hold together. I'll also note one other thing, that where she is actually more with Rick Perry -- but I think, also, they both may be having a problem with other parts of the Republican Party, which is on national security. They're essentially sounding neo-isolationist.
SEIBYou know, Rick Perry is practically saying we shouldn't have been in Iraq in the first place, and that -- that's good with the Michele Bachmann-Ron Paul part of the party. But the neo-con part of the party hears that, and they think that's really not the national security message we want to hear either.
REHMJohn Dickerson, I want to ask you about a new issue that's emerged this week regarding the Obama administration, and whether there was special treatment to the solar firm Solyndra.
DICKERSONWell, this was a firm that was given a loan guarantee under Energy Department program. And it's been investigated. Now, it's gone under, and it's been -- there have been raids of its offices. There -- it's -- and the question was, did it get special treatment from -- in the -- as a part of the stimulus bill?
DICKERSONAnd there are emails, as a part of a congressional investigation, that show, in fact, that it -- that administration officials were pushing and putting off -- pushing -- putting pressure internally to sign off on the loan two years ago, so that Vice President Biden could announce the approval of the loan at a grand groundbreaking ceremony at the factory and say, this is -- here we've got our stimulus bill.
DICKERSONIt's -- money is being directed towards good enterprises like Solyndra. And so now the investigation is, was it being pushed? Now, the question is, was it just being pushed for -- because they were trying to get...
REHMEnvironmental reasons? Yeah.
DICKERSONEnvironmental reasons or also trying to get the stimulus money...
DICKERSON...you know, trying to get it out and working because the economy is so bad. There are -- there's internal safeguards. Inspector general's offices had looked at this loan guarantee program and said, there aren't enough internal safeguards. The loan guarantee program, by the way, existed before the Obama administration. It was started in 2005.
DICKERSONThe question -- and -- is, was it rushed just because of the general rush to get stimulus money out the door? Or was there something more nefarious at work? The -- that second point has not been proved, but there are definitely emails that there was an internal push to get this loan guarantee through.
LERERI mean, I think this looks bad for the administration on three different fronts. First of all, it looks like sort of classic old Washington kind of things, you know, working government functions for political gain, which is, of course, what voters are really unhappy with. It deals with subsidies, and there's a lot of unhappiness with subsidies, two different industries, everything from farm subsidies to, you know, renewable energy subsidies like this.
LERERAnd it also -- you know, the company, of course, went bankrupt. So that reinforces this view that -- or it can for some voters. It will reinforce this view that the Obama administration doesn't understand business, and that's the way we trailed them.
REHMSo how far is this question going to go? Could there be an investigation?
SEIBOh, there will be an investigation. I think that it's...
REHMBy the Department of Justice?
SEIBRight. And they have enlisted the FBI, which is why you saw FBI agents at the company's headquarters. But you're also going to, now, see a lot of investigation on the Hill. I mean, this is, politically, very juicy for Republican committees, and they're not going to let it go either.
SEIBYou know, ironically, from a business point of view, some people look at this and they say that getting that loan guarantee may have actually been the worst thing that ever happened for Solyndra because they overbuilt when they got the loan guarantee. And private investors, who had been kind of high on the company, kind of moved away because when the government gives you a loan, they're first in line to be repaid if something goes wrong.
SEIBAnd private investors said, you know, that's not of much interest to us.
REHMSo what could this mean for this loan guarantee program?
SEIBWell, you know, as John indicated, it's been -- what's been lost in here is this loan guarantee program went back to the Bush administration. It wasn't created by the Obama administration. It was in existence, and the issue was whether it was just flooded with too much stimulus money. I think the upshot is that people in the government will be much more reluctant, much slower and much more miserly in giving out loan guarantees.
SEIBI don't think it goes away, but it's going to be under siege and will operate differently.
DICKERSONAnd it's just a poster child for the attacks on the president, which is that it's attached to the stimulus, which is on -- people don't think helped them, which Republicans have attacked for being ineffective. But, also, there's a larger philosophical argument to Jerry's point, which is this is what happens when government meddles. Government gets in there and tries. And the president is trying to even do it with his $447 billion program.
DICKERSONHe's trying to kind of tinker and fix and hit a narrow, little target. And what ends up happening, Republicans will argue, is you end up messing up the actual business environment in which these companies are trying to operate.
REHMAnd White House officials said Tuesday, no one in the administration tried to influence the OMB decision on the loan. They stressed the emails show only that the administration had a "quite active interest," and that's in quotes, in the timing of OMB's decisions. All right. Lisa Lerer, you raised the congressional elections.
REHMWas Republican Bob Turner's victory in that safe Democratic seat formerly held by the disgraced Anthony Weiner in New York really a referendum on President Obama?
LERERIt may not have been a referendum, but it was certainly a warning sign for Democrats. And we've seen a number of those. Republicans raised more money this past quarter. Democrats failed to flip the Wisconsin state Senate. So there's been a number of warning signs. And, of course, then there's been some flight within the base.
LERERThere's, you know, one of the things that people have talked about a lot since that race was whether Jewish voters are turning away from the Obama administration. We've also seen that with environmentalists, people who care about the environment, and in some states that should be really -- his numbers have dropped in places like California and New York, states that really should be extremely strong for President Obama.
LERERSo there is a question about whether he's losing the base, and I think a lot of Democrats certainly -- and they've said publicly -- are feeling extremely nervous about this coming election.
SEIBAnd there was a second election the same day...
SEIB...in Nevada, which is worth noting because that was a seat opened when Dean Heller, a congressman, Republican congressman, was appointed to the Senate. It's a marginally Republican district, but not overwhelmingly Republican district. The Republican won that special election by 22 points, which, you know, it's not surprising a Republican wins. But that's an excessively large margin.
SEIBSo I think -- and that had none of the aberrational aspects of the Weiner seat. You know, it's in -- it's a different state, totally different climate. And it tells you the big backdrop problem here for the Democrats isn't, you know, Jewish voters or Anthony Weiner. It's the economy.
REHMAnd, John Dickerson, Elizabeth Warren has now joined the field of Democratic candidates in Massachusetts. She's hoping to unseat Scott Brown.
DICKERSONUnseat Scott Brown, which gives us a sense of the volatility of politics, which is that -- remember, the Scott Brown race was the first bellwether race of how badly things were going for the administration. The president went up and campaigned against Brown, kind of attacked him quite hard. It didn't work, and it was seen as a referendum for health care.
DICKERSONThen we had -- a few months ago, we had this, in the 26th district of New York, a victory by the Democrats, which was seen as a referendum on the Medicare plan put forward by Paul Ryan, the head of the Budget Committee. Now, we're seeing a total reverse in these elections this week. But Elizabeth Warren, yes, she's running.
DICKERSONShe went -- a Harvard professor, was a consumer advocate, was supposed to be -- have a position in the administration, didn't get it. She was in Boston campaigning, proving that she, at least, knew that that right thing to do is go out and touch human beings, which was seen as the problem for Scott Brown's Democratic challenger, to not seem to be engaging enough.
DICKERSONThe problem is she's from Oklahoma, originally, not a Bostonian. So we'll see how that works out for her.
LERERAnd Scott Brown, of course, is the most popular politician in the state right now, and I think something, like, close to 70 percent of voters in Massachusetts don't know who Elizabeth Warren is. So this will be a marquee Senate race.
REHMLisa Lerer, she's with Bloomberg News. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Here's a question from Eric in Covington, Ky. He says, "You started your show today referencing the terrible economic numbers, but the markets don't seem to agree after a week of gains. What gives?" Jerry.
SEIBWell, what you saw this week in the markets -- the uptick there was entirely related to what's going on in Europe, not what's happening here. The economy here is dreary. Everybody knows that.
SEIBThe big drop over the previous weeks had to do with the fear that there was both the potential for a default by the government of Greece, potentially followed by other European governments and the potential collapse of a big European bank or two because of all this -- the bad debt that governments in Europe have accumulated.
SEIBWhat happened this week was the big economic powers in Europe, Germany and France seemed to get together and seemed to say, we will do what it takes to make sure there isn't a Greek government default and that big banks don't fail. It may not be true. I still think there's a good chance of a Greek default. But the market looked at that and said, maybe Europe won't go down in flames.
REHMAnd here's a posting on Facebook from Jennifer. "Was Bob Turner's victory in New York really a referendum on Obama? Or was it perhaps a referendum on Congress? Also, what does the panel think about James Carville's suggestion that Obama change his White House staff?" John Dickerson.
DICKERSONWell, let's see. There's the three things there. It's no question that Congress is unpopular. There's a new CBS poll out this morning that has its approval rating at 12 percent. I don't think they could get any worse if members came to your house and punched you in the nose...
DICKERSON...which might be legislation they're offering next session. The -- I mean, that is dismal. But the president's ratings are bad. They were all -- there were some complexities here, too, in terms of -- former New York Mayor Ed Koch had said, let's make this a referendum on Obama, send him a message. There's -- and there were also issues related to -- specifically, the (unintelligible)...
REHMHe crosses lines fairly often, doesn't he?
DICKERSONHe keeps himself in the news. And so there's a lot of disappointment. This is -- one-third of the district is Jewish. One-third of those are orthodox Jews, which tend to be more conservative, so there are some particularities to the environment.
DICKERSONBut the larger context is that even though people don't like Congress -- and this is a huge question for the administration in 14 months for the election -- is that even though they don't like Congress, the president tends to get more of the blame, and it may be more of the blame where they -- when elections happen and take place.
DICKERSONFinally, just on the Carville thing, he said the president should throw -- you know, start firing people, start panicking. I think that the -- that's exciting advice, I think, that when Jimmy Carter fired a bunch or tried to fire a bunch of his cabinet members, it sort of sent his presidency or continued the tailspin his presidency was in. Presidents can't be seen to panic because we don't allow them to panic.
DICKERSONSo the question for the president, the way in which he's constrained is, could he do anything that is so bold as to get to people to start noticing him again and listening to what he's saying? Does the presidency allow for that kind of boldness? Or will people think, good gracious, he's really panicking?
LERERI mean, our Bloomberg poll had about only 9 percent of people felt confident that the economy would not slide back into recession. So I think if the economy -- people don't feel that their personal economic situation is improving, he can fire everybody. It's not going to make much of a difference.
SEIBWell -- and this is no drama Obama. You know, his style in the campaign was not to panic in terms of shuffling people around at a time like this. I don't think he's likely to do that now. He does need probably some additional help working with Congress. I don't think the ability of the White House to affect change in Congress has been all that great this year.
REHMJerry, give me a quick rundown on what Operation Twist is.
SEIBOperation Twist, okay. Well, first of all, the name comes from something that happened in 1961 in the Kennedy administration as an economic policy attempt. And the "Twist" was a popular dance then, so somehow this got named the Operation Twist.
SEIBIn short, it's something the Fed might do, which it would be to take a lot of short-term Treasury bills it holds now, which are designed to keep interest rates down, right now, and turn those into long-term Treasury bills to keep down long-term interest rates. So the Fed might just shift hundreds of billions of dollars from buying short-term to buying long-term.
SEIBThe idea is to keep long-term rates down -- maybe that keeps the mortgage rates down. Maybe that gets people buying houses and businesses investing in the long run.
REHMGood rundown. Jerry Seib of The Wall Street Journal. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back. It's time now to go to the phones, 800-433-8850. First to Asheboro, N.C. Good morning, Patricia.
PATRICIAGood morning. I'd just like to make a statement, Diane.
PATRICIAIt's quite obvious to a lot of us that the Republicans are going to make things just as hard as they can on everybody, so they're going to be assured of being voted back in the White House. A lot of us have not forgotten the Republican rule. And it's sad they would be willing to tear this country down the way they are to be assured of a reelection. Thank you for listening.
REHMAll right. Thanks for calling. John Dickerson.
DICKERSONThe president is going to try to remind any other humans who are not familiar with Republican rule what that was like over the next 14 months. And that's one of the things that the president's advisors are pushing and trying to remind people and get people to think about because they would prefer this election not to be a referendum on the president but, in fact, a comparison, which would include lots of bad memories about -- that people still hold about George Bush and his administration.
SEIBI think one of the more unfortunate things that Republicans have said in the last year-and-a-half was when Sen. Mitch McConnell, right after the 2010 election, said his top goal for the next two years was to see that Barack Obama was a one-term president. That opens the door for an assertion that all Republicans are interested in is bad news now, so they have good news next November. And it's going to be hard for them to push back against that.
LERERAnd, of course, the White House is going to argue, as John as said, listen, you may not be thrilled with us, but do you really want this guy or one of these Republicans? They've already begun doing that. They're going to try to paint the Republican presidential candidates as extremist as possible.
REHMAll right. To Cleveland, Ohio. Patty, good morning. You're on the air.
PATTYGood morning. I would like a comment from the panel regarding the super committee. It seems as if they were given such a huge task to complete. I'm wondering why, with all of us so disenfranchised with our government, wasn't one or two goals set, very similar, that would be somewhat obtainable, very similar that you would do for children.
PATTYAnd, additionally, to make a comment or a question regarding loopholes in the tax code, it would seem to me that the corporations that have so many loopholes would have federal resources to be able to absorb cuts.
REHMJohn, I'm sure you laughed at the reference to children.
DICKERSONAbsolutely, yes. It was a clever metaphor. And, remember, the president, when he was trying to work out on the debt limit deal, was telling Congress that they were -- he compared them to his own children and said, you know, my daughters get their homework done. You should be doing the same. So I think he would agree with the caller in terms of setting simple goals for children.
DICKERSONI think that, one, the size of the amount of money they're trying to get here, $1.2 to $1.5 trillion, which was the number everybody agreed on as a part of this deal, makes it hard to set simple rules. You've got -- there's a lot to chew on in there. One of the things they did try to do is -- the structure of the super committee is that if they can't come up with an agreement, then the cuts kick in automatically.
DICKERSONSo that was -- to continue the childhood metaphor, I mean, that was the, or else. That was the punishment that was locked in in the original agreement. And the super committee is trying to get its work done to forestall that because it would be a potentially gruesome outcome to have those cuts across the board. And -- but that's what they tried to do to break through the fact that everybody in Washington is behaving like toddlers.
REHMAll right. To George in Jacksonville, Fla. Good morning.
GEORGEYeah, thank you. Back to the Solyndra thing, I mean, can you imagine if this was George Bush and a contributor who had given over $53,000 to his campaign, if the company had visited the White House 20 times in two years, four times in the week before the election -- before the loan, and if they touted -- you know, they touted it as one of their key emphasis, and $535 million goes down the drain right away?
GEORGEAnd the investigation is now under the control of Eric Holder and the Treasury Department? The cries for an independent council from The New York Times and Washington Post and probably NPR, for sure, would be astounding. I mean, this is -- and, you know, people kind of shrug it off as politics as usual.
REHMI don't think anybody in this room has shrugged it off, if you've been listening, George.
SEIBNo. I mean, this is a big deal. I don't think it's being shrugged off at all. I mean, you know, we -- we had pictures in our newspaper of the FBI carting crates of documents out of the Solyndra headquarters. I mean, this is a big deal. You got -- already had congressional hearings. You're going to have more. I agree with you, Diane. I don't think anybody is shrugging it off or pretending it's not a significant development.
REHMAll right. To Denise in San Francisco. Good morning. You're on the air.
DENISEGood morning, Diane. I've just been listening to the whole program, and I would just like to make two points, actually. Darrell Issa promised the Republican Party that he was going to do nothing but investigate, investigate, investigate. I think they're going to find, at the end of this investigation, to this new situation, nothing more than an administration that was objectively looking at something that might be beneficial for the economy.
DENISEAnd we can't ignore that the Republicans, as early as 2009, the upper echelon Republican thinking, knew that the only way to defeat Obama in 2012 is if the economy was bad. And I think journalists and every smart American should be asking the question, how much of the American economy has the Republicans decided to forfeit so they can win in 2012?
DENISE'Cause this was an unofficial crisis that was generated by the Republicans, and the equalization of fault, like saying that everyone is acting like children in D.C.? No. The Republicans, the flat-Earth-ish, (sic) I-don't-believe-in-global-warming-or-evolution Republicans.
REHMAll right. Jerry Seib.
SEIBWell, this goes back to the conversation, I think, we were having a couple minutes ago, which is that the danger for Republicans here is that they will be seen as trying to tank the economy, not just observing the economy's in bad shape, but trying to make it worst. And that's a politically advantageous position for them to be in. It's one of the reasons I thought this super committee might actually succeed is 'cause Republicans went home in August.
SEIBThey heard a lot of people complaining to them about the fact that things weren't getting done to deal with the deficit in the economy in Washington. I don't think they necessarily benefit from gridlock in Washington round two, and so maybe they have as much incentive to get something done constructively in the next few months as the Democrats do.
LEREROne thing that is interesting, though, is it's not just Republicans who were unhappy with the president's jobs package. It's Democrats as well. And, you know, several Democrats have said that, you know, we don't -- they don't want to do a big package. They're certainly not moving it as quickly as the president would like. They don't like some of the tax cuts, things like that, in the package.
LERERAnd I think, for the White House, that has to be a really scary dynamic. Democrats, they're simply don't -- at least some, particularly those in swing states up for re-election, simply don't appear to fear the White House.
REHMHere's an email from Mark in Little Rock. He says, "Can someone on your panel tell us what more exactly the president can do to work with Congress? He's compromised so much already that he's alienated a good portion of his base, and the Republicans have shown no interest in supporting anything the president has suggested, even things that they've supported in the past." John Dickerson.
DICKERSONThis is perhaps the biggest overarching question of this whole election, which is Mitt Romney in the Republican debate used a line attacking Gov. Perry of Texas and his economic record in Texas and said -- asked by the moderator, but didn't things turn out pretty well in Texas? And Romney said, well, you know, if you're dealt four aces, it's pretty easy to have a good hand.
DICKERSONThe reverse argument is being used by the White House, which is -- I was, you know -- he -- the president was dealt by two and a seven, you know, a very bad opening hand in poker. And he's doing the best he can. But in terms of jobs in Congress, he puts out a plan. He gives the best speech at a bully pulpit that he can. He's deserted by members of his own party. The Republicans won't work with him.
DICKERSONShort of waving a magic wand, there is nothing that he can do in the current system, and so that people need to look at what he's doing, not based against a perfect ideal, but based against the hand he was dealt and continues to be dealt. And he's got to convince them to see the world that way. Mitt Romney won't help him, even though Mitt Romney used a version of the argument himself.
DICKERSONHe's got to try and convince the world to see things that way so that they can evaluate him against that measurement and not a higher standard.
SEIBJust two thoughts, one is I don't -- I'm not sure the president did himself any favors by proposing to pay for the whole jobs program with revenue increases, knowing that that opened the doors for Republicans saying, it's exactly what we can't support. It shows you it's all politics, on the one hand.
SEIBOn the other hand, we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that, I think, at the end of the day when the rhetoric dies down, there's a big part of what the president proposed that probably will get done, which is an extension of the payroll tax holiday and an expansion of the payroll tax holiday, which is actually a very big deal.
SEIBAnd, actually, it contains a lot of money, in which I do think Republicans are going to find it hard to oppose. It basically says to workers and employers, you'll pay less in payroll taxes for the next year. Put money in pockets. Maybe make it a little easier to create jobs. It's a tax cut. I think that's the one piece that will probably survive.
REHMA lot of our listeners have been asking how they can send their thoughts to the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction. Their website is linked to ours at drshow.org. So if you'd like to do that and make your own thoughts known, go to drshow.org. Let's go now to the U.S. Virgin Islands. Good morning, Freddie. Wish you were here.
FREDDIEHello. Good morning to all the listeners.
FREDDIEOkay. Yes, I was just listening to the program, and I would just like to make a few comments. I think that the president is doing a very, very good job and that he took the country from a very difficult situation and brought it in a -- to a state where it is more stable. I mean, there is a lot more work that needs to be done, and it's not going to take just the Democratic Party to bring the country to a position where it is stable and everything is moving fine.
FREDDIEI believe it's going to take the Republicans and the Democratic to come together and put their differences aside and really fight for the common goal for everyone in America.
REHMAnd that's precisely what many have been saying. John Dickerson, is it going to happen?
DICKERSONNo, I don't think so. You know, there is -- when you listen to the president talking about his -- been making the case, starting the campaign, calling on people to send in tweets and messages to -- and letters and carrier pigeons to Congress.
DICKERSONYou know, what's happening here is that he's campaigning for his jobs bill in a way that -- and Jerry mentioned the fact that he's going to pay for it with -- or has suggested to pay for it with things that immediately set off Republicans -- that one Democratic strategist said, you know, it's just silly for you, speaking to me, to even think about this jobs bill as anything other than a political exercise.
DICKERSONAnd if that's the way people are thinking it, 14 months out, that this is all pre-positioning for the election, that the president is doing these rallies -- yes, maybe he's trying to sell something, but to really gin up his supporters and connect with them in these key battleground states -- he's not going to places that aren't battleground states -- that this is all a part of the election that has already began.
DICKERSONIf that's true and everybody sees things that way, it's hard to see folks coming together.
REHMJohn Dickerson of Slate.com. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." I wonder, Lisa Lerer, what your reaction was to the release of the Jacqueline Kennedy interviews.
LERERWell, I thought they were fascinating. And one of the things I thought was really, really interesting about them was that -- how she presents herself as this very traditional wife. You know, she said she never -- she got her opinions from her husband. They never fought. And that's a really different picture than the Jackie Kennedy that we knew sort of later when she was a book editor, and she seemed very independent.
LERERSo I thought that was really interesting.
REHMShe also said she did not think women should run for political office, that they should be at home to create equanimity and peace in the home for their husbands. I was surprised at that.
SEIBPretty surprising, although, you know, she was a product of the '50s. And while she was saying that, she was home thinking some pretty sophisticated political thoughts at the same time, so -- and sharing those thoughts with her husband, the president, which I thought was particularly interesting. What jumped out of me was the -- and this is just a confirmation of what you already knew.
SEIBBut the disdain with which the Kennedy team held, the Kennedy vice president, Lyndon Johnson and his successor as president, there just was no love lost there. And she was quite blunt in saying that the President Kennedy worried about what the President Johnson would do to the country if it came to that.
REHMJerry, I understand there is another group of tapes scheduled to come out 50 years from now?
SEIBWell, my understanding is that there's another set of tapes in which she talks with William Manchester and other historians, specifically about the day the president was shot, and that those did not come out and will not come out until later. And that's pretty dramatic stuff, too, I'm sure.
DICKERSONWell, what interests me here in and, you know, and that Lyndon Johnson -- I mean, Johnson, both when he was vice president and then when he was president, fought against that image the Kennedys had. It obsessed him that they didn't like him and never thought he was good enough. But it's the extent to which, 34 years old, this widow, is managing the after story.
DICKERSONI mean, we also should talk about her meetings with Teddy White, the Time magazine writer and historian, where she coined the phrase Camelot. In his copy for Life magazine, writing about this period, they -- when it was released by the archives, her editing notes are in the margins. I mean, she was participating in shaping the story there, shaping in the Schlesinger interviews, shaping in the Manchester interviews.
DICKERSONAnd now we have her daughter deciding to release, 47 years later...
DICKERSON...the -- you know, I don't know. It's a brave thing to do with respect to history because there are a lot of ways in which her mother doesn't come across that well here. And I -- and so you could imagine, if you wanted to protect in a glass case this image, you would keep all of this out of the public view.
DICKERSONBut it's a great thing in terms of history of that extraordinary time, not just because a president was killed, but because these -- just if we look at the views of a woman, this was a period in Washington where Washington was changing, when the entire country was changing...
DICKERSONThis was -- turned Washington into a glamour show, and she was at the center of it. And so she wasn't just the wife of a president who died. She was herself, this extraordinary figure. And so it's a great gift to history.
LERERAnd you do wonder if she -- clearly, she knew she was writing history. So did that influence her opinions and her portraying herself as this very traditional figure? Michael Beschloss, who did the foreword, found a correlation between the people she ran down in the interviews and those who had difficulties in the administration. So she clearly -- there's no question she was influential.
REHMShe had not very nice things to say about the Rev. Martin Luther King.
SEIBNo. Although, you know, there -- that's also just a furthering what people are already suspected, which was that there was a lot of tension, particularly between the Kennedy brothers, John and Bobby, and Martin Luther King, and that spilled over, even while they actually work together on some important civil rights questions.
REHMJerry Seib of The Wall Street Journal, Lisa Lerer of Bloomberg News, John Dickerson of slate.com, this hour has been videotaped. We'll have some portions of it up on the Web in about an hour. Thanks for listening. Have a great weekend, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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