Many say the current presidential race is the most uncivilized in modern American history. Civility in public discourse, why it seems to have hit a new low and long-term implications for the democratic process.
Guest Host: Steve Roberts
Rick Perry and Mitt Romney attack each other’s conservative credentials in the third Republican debate. The Fed moves to lower interest rates by purchasing long-term bonds. A possible government shutdown looms as the House of Representatives passes a funding bill that Senate Democrats vow to reject. Home sales go up but remain weak. Gays can now serve openly in the military as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” officially ends. The controversial execution of Troy Davis in Georgia despite worldwide appeals for clemency puts capital punishment back in the spotlight. And Twitter starts selling political ads. A panel of journalists joins guest host Steve Roberts for analysis of the week’s top national news stories.
- Michael Hirsh chief correspondent, National Journal magazine; author of "Capital Offense: How Washington's Wise Men Turned America's Future Over to Wall Street."
- Ron Elving Washington editor for NPR.
- Karen Tumulty national political reporter, The Washington Post.
MR. STEVE ROBERTSThanks so much for joining us. I'm Steve Roberts, sitting in today for Diane. She's at a public radio conference and will be back on Monday. Washington moves closer to a shutdown once again. GOP presidential candidates joined in an assault on the federal government in their third debate and on each other in many ways. And Don't Ask, Don't Tell officially ends.
MR. STEVE ROBERTSJoining me in the studio to talk about the week's top domestic news stories: Karen Tumulty of The Washington Post, Ron Elving of NPR and Michael Hirsh of the National Journal. Welcome to you all.
MR. RON ELVINGGood to be with you.
MS. KAREN TUMULTYThank you.
MR. MICHAEL HIRSHGood morning.
ROBERTSAnd give us a call. 1-800-433-8850 is our number, as always, and firstname.lastname@example.org is our email address. Join this conversation. Let's start with the Republican debate last night, the third in a series in Orlando, Fla. Ron Elving, what did we learn about how the two leading candidates, Mitt Romney and Rick Perry, are trying to frame the choice and assail each other?
ELVINGMitt Romney, I think, should appeal for there to be more debates, and I think Rick Perry should appeal for there to be more straw polls. And the way that the debate framed itself last night was that Mitt Romney managed to be the hunter -- as we always say, you know, you want to be hunter, not the hunted -- and yet not seem to be too desperate or to be attacking. He seemed to be almost asking, in a sense of curiosity, who is the real Rick Perry?
ELVINGRick Perry was very much in the same mode, trying to be aggressor and trying to find out who is the real Mitt Romney. And I think we've all observed that Mitt Romney has a lot of vulnerabilities with the conservative base of the Republican Party, which was, once again, very present at this debate.
ELVINGYet Mitt Romney seemed to Perry, what was coming at him from the other candidate, a little bit better. And Rick Perry seemed oddly ill at ease on the attack, particularly in that -- one of the debate when he tried to contrast all the different ways that Mitt Romney had stood on some key issues, you know, everything from Roe v. Wade to health care. And in his formulation of it, he fell apart. He was not even able to articulate the contradictions.
ROBERTSI mean, you read the transcript. It's almost incoherent. But, Karen, in Ron's description, Romney never intended to be the hunter in this debate. He intended to float above the whole fray and be -- and focus on Obama, not on Rick Perry. How successful has Romney been in being a hunter, in taking Perry down and raising questions about his -- not only qualifications to be president, but his electability?
TUMULTYWell, I think that any of us who covered Mitt Romney four years ago can't help but be impressed by how much better of a candidate he is. He's crisper. He's sharper. He's quicker on his feet. He did hang back. He did sort of float above it all. But circumstances and circumstances in the form of the late entry of Rick Perry have forced him to shift his strategy.
TUMULTYAnd, you know, I think he's had to. And I think, at this point, he's done it well, in part, because he is really laying out the fact that this is a contrast for the Republicans. This race is a choice for the Republicans, and it is a choice between the new sort of insurgent Tea Party forces and the -- what (word?) represented by Rick Perry and the sort of older establishment forces as represented by Mitt Romney.
TUMULTYAnd I think that, as Republicans look forward, they're going to have to decide whether they're going to go with their -- you know, with their guts at this point, their hearts and their anger, or whether they're going to go with, you know, who they think has the best shot at beating Barack Obama.
ROBERTSMichael, this is a strong argument that Romney is making, that he is more electable. Now, you get one of the key advisers to Perry saying electability is the fool's gold of politics. What's your best sense of whether Romney is actually making inroads with this argument that Obama's vulnerable, but we need a strong candidate to beat him -- not anybody can beat him?
HIRSHI think he's making tremendous inroads. Let's remind ourselves that this is a party that just, you know, a little less than four years ago picked John McCain, if anything a candidate that, you know, many Republicans liked even less than many of them liked Mitt Romney. And picking up on what Karen was saying, I do think what you're seeing in these debates is the benefits of having run before.
HIRSHI think Romney learned from his mistakes, while we're seeing Perry make a lot of rookie errors, quite frankly.
ROBERTSThe truth is that nobody knows what it's like to run for president until they've done it. We've all covered a lot of campaigns, and rookie mistakes are absolutely inevitable because, even if you've been governor for Texas for 10 years, the scrutiny level, Karen, is so much higher.
TUMULTYThe other thing that's important to remember -- and Ron Brownstein makes this argument in a column this week in National Journal -- is that Rick Perry has governed a state that is essentially a one-party state. He has not in his time in office ever really had to frame an argument that would appeal to -- and bring in crossover voters. And that's very different from the experience that Mitt Romney had.
ROBERTSInteresting point. Ron, let's talk about the president. This week, talk in the Rose Garden and, yesterday, appearing on the doorstep of Speaker John Boehner at the bridge in Cincinnati. And even the White House is saying this is a new face for the president, more combative, more sharp edge. Do you agree with that? And what is this new face? What's the new strategy?
ELVINGYes. I think it is yet anther pivot for the president, and that's a term that the White House likes to use as well. He's pivoting back to jobs. We've heard that several times, but he's doing it with a somewhat different tone. And he is speaking to Congress in a somewhat different tone.
ELVINGI think the president, while he's mindful of his own slipping approval numbers -- and they are at the lowest point they've been -- he is also mindful that Congress is even less popular and that specifically the Republican leadership in Congress is not popular. Therefore, he thinks his best move is to run against them.
ELVINGHe is framing his new jobs plan as essentially a challenge to Congress to do something. And he is also promising a veto -- if they send him a package that has, this is deficit reduction, which is attached to the jobs plan, it pays for the jobs plan, then it goes to cut the deficit over out years -- he is promising to veto a plan if it has no tax increases whatsoever on the wealthy, but makes Medicare cuts. And he's trying to frame the debate in exactly that way.
ROBERTSAnd in addition, as you point out, if you look at the poll numbers, Obama's, as you say -- dismal numbers, down around 43 in most polls -- but the numbers for Republican leaders, around 22 in most polls. And yesterday, it was striking that not only did he go very deliberately to this place, but he called out John Boehner, the speaker, and Mitch McConnell, the Senate leader, by name. This is unusual.
ELVINGIt's such an interesting symbolic opportunity for him because this particular bridge, that they were talking about replacing, handles a tremendous amount of commerce every day, and it just happens to connect Ohio, where John Boehner comes from...
ROBERTSYeah, it just happens.
ELVING...near his district, and goes over to Kentucky, which happens to be where Mitch McConnell is from.
ROBERTSMichael, what is behind this pivot of the president? Even the White House admits it's much more of a political strategy than a legislative strategy. The argument of pass this bill now is really as much a political rallying cry as it is a legislative rallying cry.
HIRSHI would go even stronger than that, Steve. I think this was the opening of -- the real opening of Obama's 2012 election campaign. At one and the same time, he's addressing all the lingering questions about this leadership ability, about a certain naiveté he is supposed to have demonstrated in trying to make a deal with the congressional Republicans.
HIRSHWell, no, you know, he comes out with the $447 billion jobs bill that calls for taxes on the rich, which was clearly not viable in Congress, immediately goes out, you know, and makes this visit to the bridge, calls out Boehner and McConnell, who both supported these infrastructure investments.
HIRSHAt the same, he's going back to his base, which was weakening in its support of him, and saying, I'm still, you know -- I'm still the Barack Obama you thought you knew back in 2008. And, you know, essentially deciding at long last, after months and months of criticism, often from his own base, to go over the heads of the Republican Congress that's clearly shown that it is not going to cut any deals with him.
ROBERTSKaren, you watched this closely. Give us a sense of sort of the inside thinking. Obama, for so long, seemed to be following a game plan that being the adult in the room, the advocate of bipartisan solutions, was the best profile for him. But it seemed -- they seemed to have changed their definition of how they want the public to perceive him.
ROBERTSAnd one of the numbers that it would appear that the White House is very concerned about is the decline of Americans who see him as a strong leader. What's behind this new shift in your view?
TUMULTYWell, I was struck yesterday. The line that struck me the most was where the Republicans keep accusing Obama of class warfare. He almost seemed to embrace that. He said, I am a warrior for the middle class.
TUMULTYI think he does feel like he has to look more like he is a leader and not a bystander, not a broker, in part, because I think the public has begun to realize that, you know, we've had three presidents in a row now who have run as essentially, you know, third-way conciliatory figures. And that is -- just doesn't work in Washington anymore. It's -- the system does not lend itself anymore to conciliation or bipartisanship.
ROBERTSAnd the other thing that struck me, Ron, is there's been a flurry of emails to the Obama base, pass the jobs the bill now, been accompanied by a very concerted effort to reconnect and reenergize that network of supporters. And my sense, as been watching this, that we're really talking about 2012, as Michael says, that a big part of the fight over the jobs bill is to get this network up and running that he can then use a year from now.
ELVINGYes, it's no coincidence that David Plouffe, who was enormously important to the election of this president in 2008, organized that kind of grassroots and netroots action that was so critical to Obama's success, not only in fundraising but in organizing enthusiasm, getting energy flowing.
ELVINGThis is something that's really been lacking in the two-and-a-half years of Obama's actual presidency is that sense of march, that sense that we're going somewhere. We have a purpose. This is about some future that is going to include you. And that was very exciting to voters, particularly younger voters and people who had not voted before 2008.
ROBERTSAnd it's very noticeable that virtually everywhere he's gone, he spoke on college campuses. You know, and the cliché that, well, who are these liberals going to vote for anyway? Well, that's probably true. They're not going to vote for Rick Perry. But as Obama demonstrated, before intensity matters, the people being involved, emailing their friends, raising money, all of this is essential to the Obama campaign.
ELVINGThis is a lesson, too, from the Tea Party success starting in the spring of 2009. We have no idea exactly how large the Tea Party is, but we have all been enormously impressed with the impact that they've had through this mobilization of energy and enthusiasm.
ROBERTSAnd using some of the same techniques Barack Obama used in 2008.
ROBERTSRon Elving from NPR, Karen Tumulty from The Washington Post, Michael Hirsh from the National Journal. I'm Steve Roberts, sitting in for Diane. We'll be back with the Friday News Roundup, so stay with us.
ROBERTSWelcome back. I'm Steve Roberts, sitting in today for Diane while she's away at a public radio conference. She'll be back on Monday. It's the Friday News Roundup on the domestic side. We have Karen Tumulty of The Washington Post, Ron Elving of NPR, Michael Hirsh of National Journal.
ROBERTSMichael, on the Hill this week, a rather noticeable vote or a failure to pass, initially, a pretty non-controversial measure to fund the government through the middle of November, and included about $3.65 billion to -- for FEMA to fund disaster relief. And yet even that -- what's generally a pretty non-controversial bill -- failed, at least the first go-round, in the House of Representatives.
ROBERTSIt then passed, but the Senate has said this version is dead on arrival in the Senate. What does this tell us about what's happening on the Hill these days?
HIRSHWell, one thing it tells us is, you know, what we were just talking about. The politics of 2012 is completely, you know, disconnected from the real world. Now, we're back to the real world of governing, which looks grim indeed, not just in Washington, but around the world right now in the way markets are reacting.
HIRSHYou had John Boehner barely able to keep control of his caucus, only did so by throwing them some red meat in terms of cuts to certain programs -- $1.5 billion in an Energy Department fuel efficiency savings program, and another $100 million that this measure cuts from solar energy type programs...
HIRSH...which is, you know, a concession to the controversy over this company that went bankrupt that the Obama administration backed. But this is just a temporary peace. You know, what we've really learned is how false, I think, the peace was that was achieved in August with this -- with the big budget deal, with the super committee that was going to find further cuts to the debt.
HIRSHWe seem to be in a constant state of brinksmanship now, and no doubt will be again. This measure is being rejected by Senate Democrats. We're going to see, you know, a lot of tense negotiations in the ensuing days. And even if they do get a measure, you know, we're back at square one on Nov. 18.
ROBERTSKaren, we were talking earlier about polls, which have limited use, but, in this case, they are important. The reputation of Congress, favorable rating, is at 12. And in the wake of the debacle in August, Bill McInturff, very respected Republican pollster, wrote a widely quoted memo, saying that confidence in government has just totally collapsed around the country.
ROBERTSHasn't Congress learned anything from this, given the description that Michael described?
TUMULTYYou know, apparently not. And I'm sure that most people in the country hear this, and they think, again? Didn't we just do this? And the other thing I was struck by, I had a conversation a few weeks ago with Lee Hamilton, a longtime well-respected leader in the House.
ROBERTSVery long time.
TUMULTYAnd he was saying what strikes him, too, is that all the processes, all the orderly ways that Congress used to be able to do things had just completely broken down. You know, it used to be that you funded the government by passing 13 appropriations bills a year, and not all of them got done on time. But most of them did, and he was saying, you know...
ROBERTSThis year, none of them had passed.
TUMULTYAnd Congress has completely lost its ability to do more than one thing at a time. And, you know, I don't know...
ROBERTSThey really don't even do one thing well, like keep the government healthy.
TUMULTYRight, exactly. So, you know, these processes look like they're sort of wonky, you know, inside baseball types of things. But I do think that if you don't have those and you don't have the kind of trust that used to make the processes work, nothing else can work.
ROBERTSAnd then you talk, Ron. I mean, this is a tiny bill compared to what's looming on the horizon. You have this super committee -- six Democrats, six Republicans -- mandated by the compromise in August to come up with $1.5 trillion in cuts. What does this week tell us about the possibility that that's going to go anywhere?
ELVINGThis legislation is small. As you say, it's just measured perhaps in billions, but it also does continue to function for the government past Sept. 30 at the end of the fiscal year. So it's necessary, and the dollar figures, in a sense, don't matter. The real fight here is over whether or not the government is going to continue business as usual.
ELVINGThat's what -- to inject a word from the Tea Party here -- that's what is at the heart of the rebellion inside Speaker Boehner's caucus in the House. These Republicans don't want business as usual. They would listen to Lee Hamilton, they would listen to Bill McInturff, and then they would say, exactly, that's what we don't want. We don't want the functions.
ELVINGWe don't want the old consensus because the old consensus and the old processes of Congress produced a federal government, we think, is wildly too large and wildly too expensive.
ELVINGAnd so we are willing to play brinksmanship, to close the government down for periods of time, to, in fact, not even raise the debt ceiling and default on some American obligations -- or at least that was the risk they seem to be willing to take -- rather than let business as usual continue. So that's why they're voting against ordinary, routine bills that we never would have heard about in the past.
ROBERTSBut there is real-world consequences for their actions. In this week, Michael, we saw a tremendous drop in the stock market, 3-...
ROBERTS...almost 400 points in one day, echoing crises -- now, there are many reasons for the stock market decline. But one seems to be the market reacting to this renewal of the kind of brinksmanship Ron is talking about in Washington.
HIRSHWell, that's the real danger here, Steve. You know, Bill Clinton, who's posting this -- his Clinton Global Initiative this week and giving a series of interviews, said something interesting. He said, in the mid-'90s, the government shutdowns, he thought, actually helped to forge more consensus, but, he said, it happened at a time when the economy was strong.
HIRSHNow, you have a moment when not just the U.S. economy, but possibly even the world economy, if you look at what's happening in Europe, is sort of teetering on the edge of double-dip recession. And at the same time, you have this other utterly uncompromising divide in Washington.
HIRSHOne of the initial hearings of the super committee, Doug Elmendorf of the Congressional Budget Office, said to the various participants, look, you guys have to come to some fundamental understanding of what the role of government and the markets are going to be, you know, what their mutual roles are. There's no common understanding any longer on economic questions in this town.
HIRSHThat's one of the big problems here. It's why you're seeing this, you know, really unbridgeable divide.
ROBERTSAnd one example of that, Karen, is the attitude toward the Federal Reserve, which, traditionally, had been seen as a rather independent and nonpartisan body, now subject to enormous scrutiny and enormous political attacks from both sides.
ROBERTSAnd this week, they tried to use one of the few weapons they had left, announcing a new program to buy long-term debt, about $400 billion to try to reduce long-term interest rates, one of the few mechanisms, leverage left to the government to try to stimulate economic activity. And yet in the face of that, the stock market crumbles 400 points.
TUMULTYWell, in part, because interest rates are already so low. And if this was designed to stimulate, say, a lot of people refinancing their houses, I think people look at the real world, and they say, you know, people who could finance their houses are, at this point, so nervous that they're not going to go out and spend that money. They're going to save that money. And the banks are not really lending to people who are not just exemplary credit risks.
TUMULTYSo there is, first of all, a real question as to whether this move by the Fed is going to have any impact. But people, I think, focused, especially the markets, focused more on what the Fed had to say, its gloomy, scary language about where the economy is headed.
ROBERTSSignificant downside risks was their phrase.
ELVINGThere's an irony here because they were trying to justify the action that they were taking, which is an unusual action. They hadn't done anything like it in 50 years. And, you know, this is not a monolith. The Fed is not one man. It's not Ben Bernanke. It's a board of governors. And there is a lot of disagreement, within that board, as to where they should be going.
ELVINGSo while they went along, the Open Market Committee went along with the idea of this $400 billion purchase and more stimulus, if you will, they also needed to be pushed. And to be pushed, they had to describe this very dire set of circumstances that we're in. And people focused on the description of the circumstances and not on the remedy.
ROBERTSWell, this is -- isn't this emblematic of the problem that Obama himself has? On one hand, he's trying to be a cheerleader for the economy, saying things will get better. Unless you increase confidence, people will continue to not spend, as Karen said, not invest, not hire workers. But if you're too optimistic, then you appear to be out of touch and a Pollyanna. And this is a very fine line he's walking, right, Karen?
TUMULTYAnd he is looking at a situation where consumer confidence is so low. It's -- you know, it's practically at historic lows. And that could be one of the things that really is going to drive whether or not Barack Obama gets a second term.
ROBERTSAnd, Michael, I want to turn to another issue that happened this week 'cause I know you follow military matters: the end of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. It was long presaged. This has been in the works for a long time, but also a significant moment.
HIRSHVery much so.
ROBERTSDescribe the significance.
HIRSHWell, this policy has been in place since the end of 1993. It was Bill Clinton's way of getting himself out of a terrible pickle that he found himself in the beginning of his presidency when he made a big deal about gays open -- who's openly serving into the military, and then came to this compromise. It has been, you know, a giant thorn in the side of the Democratic -- the more liberal side of the Democratic base in the, you know, in the nearly 20 years since then.
HIRSHSo you finally had Obama come to an agreement, which required, actually, an understanding with the military in a declaration, an official declaration that -- to end this policy, which basically allowed gays to serve but with -- by saying that they weren't, you know -- but only by hiding the fact that they were homosexual, that allowed them to served openly, and they had to declare officially that this would not in any way impede the functioning of the U.S. military.
HIRSHAnd so -- readiness. And so that finally did come about. And I think, you know, for most people, it was a very thankful end to a very, very painful compromise.
ROBERTSAbout 13,000 openly gays or service people were forced out. Any chance that some of them will re-enlist, particularly in the tight job market?
HIRSHCertainly, we're seeing a number of them, particularly some of those who were sort of champions of the end of this policy, who spoke out publicly against it, have already talked about re-enlist.
TUMULTYBut there is an extraordinary moment in last night's debate where one of the questions came from a soldier in Iraq, and it was amazing because the audience -- this is a conservative, you know, Republican audience -- booed the soldier, which I just -- was something I would never have thought that I would have seen.
ROBERTSYou know, one related question, Ron, which might come up in the campaign, particularly if Rick Perry is a nominee, is this question of gay marriage. And Barack Obama has talked about his evolving view. And the end of Don't Ask, Don't Tell is symbolic of a much larger change in America. The polls, national majority of Americans in favor of gay marriage, and so this is going to be there as a political issue in the next year.
ELVINGNo question about it. And the president who has wanted to be against gay marriage, but in every other sense in favor of the agenda, he has wanted to be maybe one step or half a step behind the evolution of the body politic. Now, he knows he's never going to please the people who were booing last night. As Karen said, it was quite a moment, an American service person currently serving being booed by an audience at a presidential debate.
ELVINGBut this is a fundamental question for a lot of people, and the president would rather be just a tick away from the cutting edge of this issue and just a little bit behind it, but keep sending signals and maybe a wink and nudge to the base that Michael mentioned that he's still with them.
ROBERTSI'm Steve Roberts, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." One more issue before we get to our callers and our questionnaires and that, Karen, is the issue of the Troy Davis execution in Georgia. The Supreme Court refused to stay the execution after many years of appeals, and this became a fairly controversial issue with reenergizing the opponents of the death penalty, saying this was not an open-and-shut case.
ROBERTSSignificance of this, not only the Davis case, but, again, will we see echoes of it down the campaign trail over the next year?
TUMULTYYou know, I don't how much we're going to hear about it on the campaign trail and especially during a Republican primary. But it certainly has -- because there were a number of questions being raised about this, specifically how much of the verdict was based on questionable eyewitness testimony, people who recanted their testimonies.
TUMULTYSubsequently, it does sort of, I think, go to a lot of people's misgivings about the death penalty. And I think it will continue to resonate, I think, in society at large, although probably not so much in the presidential campaign.
ROBERTSBut, of course, Rick Perry, as governor of Texas, has almost taken pride in the number of executions in Texas far ahead of any other state.
TUMULTYAnd, in fact, there was one in Texas just a few hours before the one in Georgia last night. The only change in policy that prompted was that the person being sentenced to his death can no longer get to order their last meal as they want it. So I think, again, I think Rick Perry says he's quite comfortable with every single execution he's allowed.
ROBERTSLet me get to some emails because there's one issue that several of our listeners have brought up -- Michael, if you can deal with this -- "Why does the media insist on ignoring on Ron Paul? During last night's debate, Romney and Perry each got twice the face time that Ron Paul received. All I hear you discussing is Mitt Romney and Rick Perry, sometimes Michele Bachmann.
ROBERTS"Ron Paul has won straw poll after straw poll, yet receives very little media coverage." And one of -- our other email says, "Is anyone else running besides Rick Perry and Mitt Romney, please?"
HIRSHWell, Ron Paul was in the center of the group. Last night, I didn't calculate precisely how much minute -- time -- face time he got. But as he himself said, I think, in response to the final question about the vice presidents, you know, he sees himself in the third tier, number three in a number of these polls, wants to get to be the top two. Maybe he will, or maybe he won't. But I don't think it's quite a fair criticism to say that he has been ignored.
HIRSHI think there's been widespread acknowledgement, including by the Fox host last night and others, that Perry and Romney are the two most viable candidates. Certainly, the polls show that, so I don't think most people on whatever side of the political spectrum begrudge them getting, perhaps, a little bit more attention than the others.
ROBERTSBut isn't there an interesting dilemma for the media, Karen, here because if we focus as we did on the top two, the effect among other things is to dry up the money for everybody else? I mean, Michele Bachmann -- this is what happened to Tim Pawlenty. And the single biggest reason he pulled out was he had no money left, and Bachmann is facing a similar problem.
TUMULTYAnd I think, in fact, a lot of people thought, and I certainly thought, one of the strongest performances last night was actually Rick Santorum, who almost stepped into the role that Michele Bachmann had played in some of the earlier debates. So -- but it is hard when you are structuring one of these debates to sort of -- what you want to do is clarify in viewer's minds the differences between the candidates and specifically the more viable candidates. It's -- you know, I don't know where you draw the line of fairness here.
ROBERTSAnd one of the interesting things about Ron Paul, Ron Elving, is that he clearly is able to continue to raise money, even without having poll numbers, so he will continue to be a force because he proved it in the last election. You talked about some of the electronic connections that Obama and the Tea Party had.
ROBERTSRon Paul is right on the cutting edge on a lot of this and has proved that he has very strong network willing to give him money, which means he's going to be there. And particularly since he's from Texas and poses a counterpoint to Perry, is the media not giving him enough attention?
ELVINGRon Paul has, I think, gotten too little attention and too much attention from different parts of the media. I do think that there is an argument to be made that anyone who presents a different point of view -- and he certainly has a different point of view, particularly on foreign policy issues -- should get more attention just for the contrast.
ELVINGHe has a very strong following. It's not necessarily as big as it thinks it is, but the polls are probably a truer indication on the support he has.
ROBERTSRon Elving from NPR, Karen Tumulty of The Washington Post, Michael Hirsh from the National Journal. I'm Steve Roberts, sitting in for Diane. We'll be back with your phone calls. You stay with us.
ROBERTSWelcome back. I'm Steve Roberts, sitting in for Diane today. And it's the first hour of -- on Friday of our News Roundup, the domestic portion, with Ron Elving of NPR, Karen Tumulty of The Washington Post, Michael Hirsh of National Journal. And here's an email -- we've gotten several along these lines.
ROBERTSThis one is from Lisa. "Congress is failing because so many new members want government to fail, so we have less of it. Hatred of government leads to failure to govern." What do you think, Karen?
TUMULTYWell, that actually has sort of a good point, I think. I mean, the argument of a lot of these people -- and, you know, Rick Perry, his -- one -- his signature line is I'm going to make Washington as irrelevant to your lives as possible. Part of this is an antipathy to government itself.
ROBERTSAnd here's another email from Bryce, who writes to us from Baltimore. "Stop talking in neutral journalese as if both the Democrats and Republicans are equally adamant. The Dems gave in to the Reps on the debt ceiling. The Reps have given in on nothing. You do the public a disservice, trying for some kind of ideal objectivity. Tell it how it is."
TUMULTYI don't believe we did that.
ELVINGWe do try to tell both sides of the story. And oftentimes, even if you're trying to show which side of the story you think has more validity, just hearing the other side of the story sets people off, as my experience.
ROBERTSWell, there is an argument in Democratic ranks, the liberal ranks, of false equivalency. The journalists tend to say both sides are, you know, adamant against compromise.
TUMULTYBut none of us did that today, so I don't quite understand what the complaint is here.
ROBERTSBut we do hear that complaint. Let's go to some phone calls. And let's start with Michael in St. Louis. Welcome. You're on "The Diane Rehm Show."
MICHAELOh, hi. Thank you. I find -- I think you all -- not you all, individually, but you in the press really have to look at yourself on this. Look at this show for instance. This is a national news show. It's a good show. I listen to it almost all the time. Yet, you spent the first 28 minutes talking nothing more other than horse race, you know, who's up, who's down, who's going to win, all those other kind of stuff, which, frankly, is just opinion.
MICHAELAnd you're all very smart people, but it is -- it doesn't really mean anymore -- anything. And it's not really education. Talk about the -- you mentioned the stock market, but you mentioned it in terms of horse race again. There's a new book out from Suskind talking about the Obama administration, how it works -- not even mentioned. Talk about the international financial...
ROBERTSThat book has been discussed a lot on this show, by the way.
MICHAELWell, not today, you know, in the News Roundup. It's all about, you know, which Republican is going to win. Talk about what they say. Talk about the policies they do. You know, it's not -- this isn't just a critical of you. It's -- the press has gotten so unbelievably lazy. They don't analyze anything. The only place you can get hard news now for an informed electorate is C-SPAN or some of the, you know, real conservative or liberal blogs or think tanks.
MICHAELAnd that's the reason, you know, there's so much divisiveness, is because politicians can just play to this. And you get sound bites and all this other kind of stuff, and everything gets decided on superficial methods. And (unintelligible) complain.
ROBERTSOkay. Thanks for you call. All right. Thanks for you call. Ron Elving.
ELVINGThis is a complaint that we have heard. We have heard it pretty often. We cannot cover everything that has happened in a given week. Particularly, we try to not cover the things that the show has devoted a good deal of time to already during the weekend. Certainly, the Suskind book has been well-aired this week. There are other books we can talk about that have come out during the week, Joe McGinniss' book about Sarah Palin and so on.
ELVINGBut I think what we try to do on Friday is we try to put all these in a certain sort of overall context. And, yes, there is a horse race aspect to it because we are moving into an election season, and there is a contest for votes -- it's not among horses, but it is among people -- and people do make their choices among those people. They don't vote for necessarily a program or a platform. They vote for candidates, and so we talk about candidates.
ROBERTSWell, fair enough. But, Karen, an answer to this question, what did we learn from the Republican debate about the core issue differences between Obama and the Republicans? Answer -- let's take seriously the caller.
TUMULTYWell, first of all, the caller says -- I would really encourage people who feel the way the caller is to subscribe to newspapers, to subscribe to magazines that do these serious, thoughtful things because do you know what gets the Web hits? Do you know what is encouraged and is -- makes a profit in our culture? And it is not these long, thoughtful pieces.
ROBERTSBut they are there if you want to...
TUMULTYAnd -- exactly. And those are exactly the places that are not thriving in the current economic environment. So I really would encourage people who want thoughtful, deep analysis to encourage the publications, encourage the media outlets by actually spending money on the ones that do that.
TUMULTYNow that I've gotten off my economic soapbox, I do think that we -- again, as I was saying earlier, I mean, we got a sense of, you know, where Rick Perry, for instance, stuck with his position on immigration, and specifically, the legislation in Texas that would provide aid and education to the children of illegal immigrants. This is a difficult spot for a Republican to be in.
TUMULTYAnd I think it was interesting to watch him not try back away from that and defend it. And, you know, so we did get a much greater sense of who the candidates are and where they stand.
ROBERTSRalph from Battle Creek, Mich., you're on the air. Thanks for joining us.
RALPHYes. I'm calling as my main griper problem is about the campaign is the sort of lack of seriousness, particularly on Obama's side, about the economic problems that are facing the country. I listened to the super committee hearings with Elmendorf, and he said that the Congressional Budget Office is projecting 9 percent unemployment rate through 2012. And I was shocked that this number came out, and there was -- I don't think there was much of a coverage of it.
RALPHBut, really, what the politicians ought to be saying is the economy is in very deep, long-term trouble. It's going to take years to rebuild, and we get -- and I get this frivolous campaigning, this pep-talky thing from Obama. It doesn't -- it's a lack of seriousness. We're not focusing on the real big problems. And they're going to be hard to solve. And, you know, whoever is president, it's going to be real hard to solve.
ROBERTSThank you, Ralph. We appreciate it. Michael Hirsh.
HIRSHWell, I mean, this is what we were talking about, the disconnect between the politics and reality, inability in particular of the two parties to come to any basic agreement on how to recharge the economy. I mean, that's really the problem here. You've got Obama out there with the $447 billion jobs plan. The better part of that that economists say could work is the stimulus part.
HIRSHThat's the part that's most likely to be cut out by the Republicans because they simply don't believe in the stimulus, as they said repeatedly in these debates. There is other fundamental disagreement. I mean, one of the things that could be done that's not being done right now, for example, is to do a large scale refinancing for a lot of mortgage holders, particularly those underwater, because you got interest rates that are far below what they were when they took these.
HIRSHThat's not happening because there's no agreement on how to handle Fannie -- Freddie -- Fannie Mac and Freddie Mae -- (sic) or the reverse, rather.
ROBERTSBut the -- we heard from this caller is reflected in the polls we were talking about earlier, this tremendous sense out in the country that Washington is simply not responding to the problems of real ordinary Americans.
TUMULTYIt was interesting this week, too, because Bill Clinton was making that exact point as well, that, you know, a lot of economists would say right now that retrenchment and austerity are the, as Michael was saying, the exact opposite of what you should be doing in this situation. And Bill Clinton pointed out, too, that when Ronald Reagan faced a similar situation coming out of the recession, he did do some very unpopular things to kind of clean up the mess that was left over from the savings and loan crisis.
TUMULTYAnd nobody is addressing the fact that just about any economist will tell you that until we clean up the mortgage mess and the huge overhang of debt leftover from that and the fact that so many people are living in houses that are worth less than they have borrowed against them, that all the rest of this stuff is really not going to work.
ROBERTSWell, Ron, you were talking about the word pivot earlier and that the president has pivoted back and forth a bewildering number of times from the deficit to jobs to the deficit to jobs. And even Bill Clinton, as Karen was mentioning, was kind of mildly critical of the president this week saying, yeah, I'd pay higher taxes, but the real issue, as what Karen was talking about, cleaning up the mortgage mess and getting the economy some traction before you start ratcheting back on spending.
ELVINGIn retrospect, it's quite possible that many people in the White House wished that they had spent more of 2009 focusing strictly on the economy. Remember Clinton himself famously saying, I'm going to focus on it like a laser. But then, of course, they didn't. They went on to health care back in the Clinton years, and that didn't work out so well for them. In this administration, they went on to health care after passing the initial stimulus.
ELVINGThey didn't go on to more economic programs to try to address some of these underlying problems, particularly the housing market, particularly housing values, which has ended up being, you know, the real ball and chain for this economy. So I'm sure, in retrospect, they wish they had done more of that and perhaps put off doing health care. But the thinking in 2009 was this is the moment. We've got almost 60 percent in the Senate.
ELVINGWe've got 60 percent almost in the House. Let's do health care now when we can. And they pulled out all the stops to get that done. And when they woke up from that long, long ordeal, they found that the economy had not continued to recover. In fact, the recovery had become more sluggish, and now we're in a stall.
ROBERTSLet me talk to -- let's talk to Louise in Great Falls, Va. Welcome. You're on "The Diane Rehm Show," Louise.
LOUISEYes. Thanks very much. I'm calling to say that the Troy Davis case goes even beyond the death penalty. And it's something of red herring that Mr. Davis was black. The legal system -- the entire legal system is a scandal for all ordinary Americans. It's an open field day for cops and prosecutors, and the judiciary, for the most part, are political hacks up to and including the U.S. Supreme Court. Thanks.
ROBERTSThank you. What do you think, Michael?
HIRSHWell, I think the political hack comment is overboard, especially including most of our Supreme Court justices. But, you know, I do think that the Troy Davis execution and case brings into relief an ongoing question about whether the system is sort of rigged in favor of, you know, the testimony and the accounts given by those on the police side.
HIRSHYou did have enough serious doubts among the witnesses who recanted and others about whether Troy Davis was, in fact, the man who killed this police officer, certainly enough to have extended his appeal. So, you know, the caller raises an important question.
ROBERTSAnd, Karen, the other development here over a number of years has been the refinement of forensic science to introduce DNA evidence in a lot of cases, which has led to the exoneration of a number of prisoners on death row. So the whole death penalty debate is also colored by that development, the scientific development, which has, in fact, led to the freedom of a number of death row inmates.
TUMULTYAnd I was struck by a statistic I saw this morning in The New York Times where they said that in 1994 there were something like -- it was over 300 people condemned to death, and that that number has dropped by two-thirds. And I think that with this sort of evidence, I think juries have become significantly less likely to invoke the death penalty.
ROBERTSAnd this is also a regional question 'cause most of the states that continue aggressive execution tend to be in the south.
TUMULTYExactly. And, again, I mean, there's vast differences in political opinion on this and sort of what the political support is.
ROBERTSI'm Steve Roberts, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Time for a couple of more callers, and let's turn to Lydia in Woodstock, Ill. Welcome, you're on "The Diane Rehm Show."
LYDIAWell, good morning. Thank you, Steve. I want to go into this attempt -- because I haven't heard the public media speaking about this. I don't believe you guys have even mentioned it. President Obama in the morning Rose Garden speech, Monday speech, called for all citizens to contact their members of Congress, especially those who have signed this pledge -- for the latest 236 members have now signed Grover Norquist's pledge.
LYDIAAnd, Steve, you are very knowledgeable about what happened during Gingrich time in the House. They were using the House as a way to block process. The template for this political trench warfare was designed during that time. I have contacted my member of Congress Joe Walsh, who's been referred to as a firebrand. I called immediately on Monday. I haven't gotten any response.
LYDIAI want a copy of that pledge with his signature. I also want his reasoning as to why he signed it, and I'm still going to follow up with that. Thanks.
ROBERTSOkay. Lydia, thanks for your call. Ron.
ELVINGJoe Walsh, I believe, was a signatory to that pledge, and I don't believe that he has generally been reticent about his reasons for signing it. Joe Walsh is a highly enthusiastic member of this (unintelligible).
ROBERTSBut this larger point he's making about how is this pledge sort of introducing an element of rigidity into the debate in Washington. That's difficult to deal with.
ELVINGIt's hard to imagine anything more rigid than saying I will not use, under any circumstances, one of the two tools that the government has to reduce the deficit or to pay for programs that the people may in fact want. If you just flat out remove that as a prospect you have handicapped yourself to the point where your further function is really limited. All you can do from then on is be oppose to any kind of a balance package for the deficit and to look for places to cut back the government.
ROBERTSGot time for one more caller. And, Allen, you got to be brief, but we're happy to have you on the air.
ALLENOh, thank you. I'm calling from Tampa. I listen pretty much every day.
ALLENI would like -- I guess my question is why is -- it seems that there's almost an apparent suppression of media coverage of this Wall Street protest regarding the people who, you know, caused our country to go in such an economic crisis?
ROBERTSOkay. Allen, thanks for your call. Yes.
ELVINGWe have spent some time on The Wall Street crisis of 2007, 2008, 2009. We have spent a great deal of time trying to figure out why more people have not been prosecuted. As I understand it, the protest that's been going sporadically this week and some people getting arrested, some people showing up there in Wall Street, is to protest the fact that more people have not been punished for the crash and that people continue to do business as usual and become enriched by the way they do business on Wall Street.
HIRSHI will say that a number of us have written extensively about this since 2007, 2008, the lack of prosecutions. We will continue to do so. So we may not, you know, have spent a lot time in the process itself, but we are certainly spending time on the issue.
ROBERTSI'm also looking at a BBC report just out this morning, Karen. And one of the dimensions here is the use of online tools to organize. And this is something we talked about in terms of Ron Paul's money raising, in terms of Obama. This is new dimension in American politics, the ability of these voices to be heard using online media to organize.
TUMULTYExactly. I mean we've seen it not just in this country, but around the world, because there are so many places in the world where people will never be able to afford a computer, but everybody owns a cell phone. And so there are ways of people connecting with each other that just didn't exist before.
ROBERTSAnd we saw this in the Arab Spring, of course, throughout the Arab world. That's going to have to be it for the domestic part of our Friday News Roundup. That was Karen Tumulty of The Washington Post. Also with me today, Ron Elving of NPR and Michael Hirsh of the National Journal. Thank you to our listeners for spending an hour with us. Diane will be back on Monday. I'm Steve Roberts, sitting in for her. Thanks a lot.
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