Syrian rebels seek evacuation from the besieged city of Aleppo. President-elect Trump chooses an Iowa governor with good relations with Beijing as ambassador to China. And Italy’s prime minister resigns after a referendum defeat. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week's top international news stories.
Political strategists preview some of the key issues for 2012, including the U.S. presidential election, a Supreme court ruling on the Affordable Care Act, and the outlook for the U.S.economy.
- Katrina vanden Heuvel editor and publisher of The Nation, writes a weekly column for The Washington Post. author of "The Change I Believe In: Fighting for Progress in the Age of Obama"
- David Keene president, National Rifle Association former chair, American Conservative Union
- Norman Ornstein resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and coauthor of "The Broken Branch: How Congress Is Failing America and How to Get It Back on Track."
MS. DIANE REHMHappy New Year, and thanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. About 150,000 Iowans will gather in various spots around the state tomorrow to choose among Republican hopefuls kicking off the run-up to this year's presidential election. A polarized Congress once again debates extending the payroll tax cut ending in March. The Supreme Court hears arguments on whether the Affordable Care Act is legal.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me here in the studio to talk about these and other issues for the year ahead: Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute, David Keene of the National Rifle Association. He's former chairman of the American Conservative Union. And from the NPR studios in New York, Katrina vanden Heuvel, she's editor and publisher of The Nation. For this first broadcast of ours during 2012, I hope you'll join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Join us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Good morning and Happy New Year.
MR. NORMAN ORNSTEINSame to you.
MR. DAVID KEENESame to you, Diane.
MS. KATRINA VANDEN HEUVELHappy New Year.
REHMThank you. Norm, I'm going to start with you. There's been so much about this horse race in Iowa -- frontrunner's probably Mitt Romney, probably Ron Paul, and maybe a third. Give us, in three sentences, the differences between how each would govern if the final election came down to, say, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama or Ron Paul, Barack Obama.
ORNSTEINOK. We'll start with Mitt Romney where the question that conservatives have been asking, and, I think, the question the rest of us have been asking, is, which Mitt Romney would show up if he became president of the United States? Would it be the Mitt Romney who was governor of Massachusetts, pragmatic, dealing with people in the other party? But that was another party that had 85 percent of its members in the legislature as Democrats, so he had little choice to do so.
ORNSTEINWould he be the Mitt Romney on the campaign trail trying to be a staunch conservative? Would he be the Mitt Romney who I think, now with the theme going out to conservatives, is, hey, he's pliable. You can deal with him, unlike, say, a Ron Paul. With Ron Paul, you get somebody driven very much by his strong libertarian ideology, who's been a maverick in Congress, who has had almost no legislation actually enacted. He's been a lone wolf for the most part, often deviated from his party.
ORNSTEINBut that libertarian philosophy and the genuineness with which he expresses it has gotten him significant support. Could he possibly build coalitions? And would somebody who basically believes in close to unilateral disarmament -- can certainly withdraw from any significant involvement in the rest of the world, who believes in a stripped down government taking us back way before the New Deal -- be able to find any level of support?
REHMAnd what about Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum?
ORNSTEINWell, I've known Rick since he came to the House of Representatives where he was one of the revolutionaries. He was a member of the Gang of Seven. One of them, you'll remember Jim Nussle, put a paper bag over his head when he went out on the House floor to say how ashamed he was to be a member of the House. That group helped propel -- with Newt Gingrich's leadership back then -- them into the majority. He moved to the Senate where he was a strong conservative, but somebody who built some friendships.
ORNSTEINHis focus has really been relentlessly on social issues. And whether he could govern from the right but somehow find coalitions is another real question. We have to keep in mind, Diane, just one thing. We've had this contest between Mitt and not Mitt, and it's been on the other side like speed dialing or speed dating I should say. You go through a series of deep infatuations. And then you find out that one had been a stalker, another had been married three times, a third had served time in prison.
ORNSTEINAnd then you come up on the last one who's been kind of plain, sitting there, and nobody's paid attention. And, now, that's the latest infatuation. Will that last?
REHMWho knows? David Keene, I'm not asking who will win. I'm asking what each of those three would do if elected president.
KEENEWell, that's an interesting question. The problem that we have is just isn't judging who would make a good president. We don't know until we give them the job...
KEENE...and there's a high downside cost for that. I think Norm is right. In a sense about Ron Paul, I don't necessarily, and I think historically, one wouldn't necessarily judge a president's ability on the basis of whether, as a legislator, he passed or didn't pass laws. We've had presidents -- John Kennedy, for example -- who were very ineffective as senators. But Ron Paul is a very ideologically driven fellow.
KEENEIn a sense, I said during the last cycle when he ran that, you know, Republicans and conservatives may have learned to drink blended whiskey, but when they see the real thing, there's a certain attraction to it. His difficulty at breaking out of the 20, 21 percent that he can get is precisely the foreign policy side where there's a great deal of sympathy among Republicans for a more realist foreign policy, for fewer foreign adventures as some call them.
KEENEBut, on the other hand, most Republicans think the world's a dangerous place, whereas Congressman Paul likes to think that if we were just to not have a military, not have a defense thing, everything would be fine. Most Republicans reject that, but yet they're attracted both to his domestic and to about 30 percent of his foreign side. He would find it very difficult, I think, to deal as president just because of the way he comes at things. But I think there are signs of flexibility in there. He was an earmarker.
KEENEHe believes constitutionally -- and there is some argument for this -- that earmarks are legitimate. He has not, contrary to what Norm said, is, in fact -- he said he has constitutional questions about some of the social programs, that wouldn't get rid of him. So, you know, when somebody gets to the presidency or somebody gets close to it, they change the way they deal.
REHMAnd, quickly, Rick Santorum.
KEENERick Santorum is a fellow who gets along with a lot of people. In Iowa, the attractiveness of what he's going about is he's doing it the old fashioned way. He's not trying to do it simply through the media. He's not trying to do it simply by attacking everybody else. He's gone down and worked at it. He was an effective senator. He was part of the leadership. He is a social conservative, and he is not a -- as much a limited government conservative as some others might be.
KEENERomney, I think, is -- I think that Norm hit upon his problem, which is not whether -- it's not that they don't believe what he says now, but they don't know whether he would deliver on it. They think he may be too practical, and there's a desire right now for somebody who will not only say what they want but will deliver them what they want. I want to add one other thing about why...
KEENEIt's interesting because, normally, if a candidate -- and I used to be in this business. If a candidate tells me that I want to go out and argue I'm the most electable, my response is, well, you're not going to be nominated because the last thing people want in a primary historically is to be told that you ought to vote for me because I'm electable.
KEENEIt's interesting that in Iowa this year, the antipathy among Republicans toward Obama is such that, even among the Evangelical meetings, they're saying, you know, we may have to accept much less than we want because we need to defeat this guy, and we need the most effective candidate in the general. That's unique, I think, at this stage in a nomination campaign.
REHMAll right. And to you, Katrina vanden Heuvel.
HEUVELYou know, I step back, and I look at where the Republican Party has headed. And I look at Mitt Romney more as a vehicle, a vessel for an establishment Republican Party desperate to retake its party. And I think you're seeing that with the money flooding into the super PACs in Iowa.
HEUVELYou're seeing a corporatist establishment Republican Party who sees in Romney someone who would -- will do what they seek, which is essentially, you know, to cut taxes for the very richest, for corporations to dismantle in many ways so much of a government that is -- millions of Americans rely on may not understand that when they say don't touch my Medicare card. Government, hands off. But in what he is laying out as a general election theme, this idea of attacking Obama for an entitlement society, we see where he's heading.
HEUVELI think Ron Paul, you know, I think the -- the racism, the homophobia in some many ways is disqualifying, but at the same time -- I think David Keene is right, that you're seeing an appetite for a realist foreign policy, which Mitt Romney is walking away from. I mean, he's trying to do NeoCon 2.0 with what he's talking about, very aggressive bellicose. But Ron Paul and his support in Iowa shows an appetite for a foreign policy that is not interventionist.
HEUVELIt's very much a strain within this Republican Party, isolationist, nationalist. I think he would dismantle treaties. He would dismantle internationalism. We need a new internationalism which doesn't rely on drones and targeted assassinations, but we desperately need a new internationalism. But he is challenging a bipartisan foreign -- I'm sorry, bipartisan elite consensus on foreign policy and raising large issues about the danger of preemptive wars, which is not in the Republican tradition.
HEUVELEisenhower would be rolling around in his grave as he listened to Romney. Santorum, I think -- you know, let's look at these people. I mean, all the talk and the surge, as you said, Diane, at the top, horse race, he is a radical, social conservative who would amend the Constitution to ban same-sex marriage, overturn the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision, and amend the Constitution required balanced budget. He's -- and like Newt Gingrich, he wants to kind of criminalize judges in circuit courts which don't agree with the social conservative manifesto.
REHMAll right. We'll have to take a short break here, Katrina vanden Heuvel. And when we come back, more of our conversation. Stay with us.
REHMAnd joining us today as we provide kind of a road map and an outlook for 2012, Katrina vanden Heuvel, she writes a weekly column for The Washington Post. She is editor and publisher of The Nation. Norman Ornstein is at the American Enterprise Institute. And David Keene is president of the National Rifle Association. Katrina, I'd like to come back to you.
REHMCongress returns to take up, once again, debate over extending the payroll tax cut. In the minds of others, Congress is at the lowest level it's ever been. Does it make sense for this debate to begin once again?
HEUVELWell, I think what we're seeing with President Obama is now a willingness to challenge this Republican -- the Republican obstructionism in Congress. He is moving to what might be called the Harry Truman do-nothing-Congress strategy. I think it's critical that he take that on because it's so real, smoking out the obstructionism, talking, I would argue, about roadblock, not gridlock. But in doing so, I hope he's very clear in the larger sense that the Republican strategy has been to delegitimize Congress and that, in doing that, he's trying to delegitimize the role of government in our society.
HEUVELBut I hope the president also uses the occasion of the second anniversary of the Citizens United decision to point out that there's some simple -- not that simple, but fairly simple reforms. One is money in politics, which one could move on. There is a good piece of legislation in the Senate, good piece in the House, clean money. Move on that.
HEUVELAnd I think you want to also move -- not to be wonky on the kind of procedural obstructionism that we have seen that Norm Ornstein knows so much about -- correct me if I'm wrong, Norm -- but we have seen a wanton abuse of the filibuster, used more, perhaps, in these last few years than in the '50s and '60s or '60s and '70s combined. Anonymous holds on nominations.
HEUVELAnd, finally, you know, I hope the president, as he moves to push through what is fairly modest, the payroll tax extension and unemployment benefits -- I mean, in many ways, President Obama, to go back to our original top of the show talk, is the moderate conservative in this race, and we can talk more about but...
HEUVELYou know, so I -- but I think he needs to take that on because he needs to show that he is fighting for broadly shared prosperity and that the themes in this campaign need to be about income inequality, government role to promote job creation in the absence of real private sector involvement and spending, to stop the downward mobility so many feel in their guts and not allow the debate to be played out on the debt and deficits terrain the Republicans would like.
REHMAnd, Norm, a lot of people are saying that the president would do well to more strongly point the finger at Republican intransigence as Katrina talks about. Is that a working mode? Would it work for President Obama?
ORNSTEINI think to some degree it did work on the payroll tax. He drew a line in the sand, and it worked to his advantage. And I actually wrote a piece in the New Republic, now eight or nine months ago, arguing that it was time for the president to channel his inner Harry Truman. There's a limit to it, and it's part of the dilemma he faces with the payroll tax as well. He's got an economy that continues to be hovering close to collapse again, partly because of the global economy.
ORNSTEINHe wants and needs more stimulus. And he's right about that, I believe. The payroll tax cut is one way to do it. It may not be the best way, but what it does do is inject money right into the economy. So cutting the deal is an important thing, but drawing lines becomes important for him as well. At the same time, he can't do only that. He can't run by saying, don't blame me. It worked for Harry Truman, and it worked because there was an overreach on the part of a Republican Congress in the 80th Congress.
ORNSTEINIt -- they over-read their own mandate. It's working now. It worked on the payroll taxes. Republicans were deeply divided, House versus Senate, John Boehner and a handful of establishment Republicans against his insurgence. We're going to see the same division emerge in February, and they're going to be just as divided. But you also don't want government to fall into dysfunction.
ORNSTEINIf you get another political victory but it keeps the stimulus from the payroll tax from moving forward, what most economists tell us is that could mean an economy that loses a point or a point-and-a-half in growth over the next year. And that would not be good news for any of us, much less for the president.
REHMDavid Keene, what kinds of compromises do you believe each party might be making in 2012?
KEENEWell, if you look at public attitudes right now, there are -- everything is about the economy and about the government. And the big concern -- and this comes out in polls, not just among Republicans but among the population at large -- is the spending, the deficit, where are we going, are we on the right track or the wrong track, combined with the question of jobs. Now, if the president thinks that, by attacking the Republicans because they're against spending he wins, that's a calculation that he has to make.
KEENEYou have two very different views of government. On the payroll tax question itself, two -- one thing that didn't surface until after the vote -- The Post ran a long piece -- The Washington Post ran a long piece on it a week or so ago -- was that nobody noticed that what the Congress has now done is something that they resisted doing for, you know, for 70 years, which was to admit that the Social Security system is not an insurance system.
KEENEIt's a welfare system, and that it's going to go into general revenues 'cause what they've taken is they've taken the Social Security money, which supposedly goes into a trust fund that doesn't exist, but that's fiction, and said that doesn't matter because we'll replace it with general revenue. So they've changed the whole nature of that, or at least the way it's talked about to the American people.
KEENEWhat the Republicans -- and the calculation the Republicans made was a political one. In a time of recession where there aren't jobs, do you extend unemployment? And from a political standpoint, everybody agrees with that. But they said, at a time when the public is concerned about increasing deficit spending, how do you pay for that? And if that tax cut is good, then why do you want to raise other taxes to do it? And isn't there something in this budget that's growing like (word?) that can be cut to pay for this?
REHMAnd one injection...
HEUVELDiane, if I could...
REHM...that Republicans tried to make was the Keystone pipeline. Where does that stand, both in terms of calculation about the public's attitude and these wildly different numbers we see about job creation?
KEENEWell, the -- there are always differences on any project. You have jobs at the beginning, jobs at the end, all that. So -- but aside from that, the Keystone pipeline argument has been going on for some time. This is the need to bring Alberta oil down to refineries in the United States so that we can go to -- Canada is now, I believe, almost our largest foreign supplier of oil, more than Saudi Arabia. The Alberta oil sources are huge, as it turns out are some of the new sources in the United States.
KEENEAnd from the Canadian standpoint, either that pipeline gets built, or the oil goes to China. The Republican position is that if you're going to solve the energy problem or alleviate the problem we have, you're going to have to bring this oil in. It's from a friendly government. It's close. You know, it makes a big difference. And from the union standpoint, it provides a lot of jobs. And, therefore, they have been for it.
KEENEIt wasn't related directly to the payroll thing, but the president, under pressure from both sides -- his environmentalists who are dead set against it for legitimate and illegitimate reasons and unions who are for it for reasons that they consider to be legitimate and other people who are for it because of energy -- after all the study and after it was set up so that he could approve it, decided to kick it down the road until -- when? -- after the election.
REHMAfter the election. What...
KEENEBecause he doesn't want to make that decision. The -- and the Republicans said, let's force a decision for two reasons. One, after the election could be too late because once the investment goes to shipping that to the coast to go to China, it's gone. And also, for political reasons because let's make him force -- let's force the president to choose between these two constituents.
REHMAnd perhaps that...
HEUVELBut, I mean, above -- yeah.
REHM...is the wrong decision to...
REHMPerhaps that's the wrong decision to try to force the president to make that decision. Now, Katrina, what is your reaction?
HEUVELI mean, we are dealing -- and you can hear it in our discussion to a certain extent, Diane -- with fundamentally different views of this country's future. And that's why this election, if it's covered not as a horse race, but as something maybe not typical with the American media, but not who's up, who's down a hair or this, but fundamentally different ideas about government, as David Keene said, and about the future of this country, about how you repair and fix what's happened since the economic crisis.
HEUVELI would just argue -- again, I know this -- we've witnessed the Republican Party move very, very far right. And I think, in certain ways, what's striking with all this chatter about a centrist third party is that, in many ways, Obama is the moderate conservative.
HEUVELAnd he is defending a tradition that sees government as an essential actor in the nation's economy, especially in times of economic recession, especially as one looks out at the globe, as Norm alluded to, and you look at what might happen with the failure of austerity in Europe or with China and a real estate bubble, a government which is about fairness, about guarantor of fair rules of competition, a countervailing force against excessive corporate private power and a check on the inequalities that crony capitalism has produced.
HEUVELAnd it opens opportunity, if it's done right, for those born without great advantages. That's what government can be about, should be about, and what I -- if this race means anything, if an election can mean anything. On the other front, on Keystone, there's no question that the Republicans kind of did this poison pill move for political reasons. There's no reason there should not be an environmental review in 2013, and there are different job numbers, Diane.
HEUVELBut, fundamentally, this country needs to wean itself off of a failed industrial policy that subsidizes dirty fossil fuels and builds a different kind of energy policy, so we're not held hostage also to wars which are often fought for oil, not only for oil, but for oil. And there -- and I think that the need for a new kind of economy, which the president, at his best, in 2009 spoke about it in a Georgetown speech, we need a new kind of economy. We are entering the 21st century where we have bridges failing, falling.
HEUVELWe're still mired with this old fossil fuel while the world around us is moving in new, different ways. It is very tough when people are in an economic pain. But if there's a will and there's a showing both for economic, for safety and other just sane reasons, I think there's a different way for it. And Social Security, by the way, let's have the fight. But Social Security and Medicare, two of the greatest social programs of the 20th century, have built the middle class, supported the middle class.
HEUVELAnd at times of economic pain, it seems to me it's going to be very tough to argue to people that those should be privatized, especially considering what happened 2008 with the wonderful banks and banksters and what they have done to this economy.
REHMKatrina Vanden Heuvel, she is editor and publisher of The Nation. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Norm, as brutal as 2011 was for people looking for work, the numbers indicate 2011 was better than 2010. What's the outlook for 2012?
ORNSTEINIt's a mixed bag, Diane. There are some signs that we're coming back, although we have to keep in mind that what Barack Obama inherited was a different kind of recession, a recession caused by a financial crisis that we know takes years longer to get out of. You end up encrusted with debt, public debt from -- that the government has to deal with, debt for businesses and financial institutions, debt for individuals.
ORNSTEINAnd the dilemma is that if you try to get out of that debt in the short run, it's the equivalent of the medieval practice of bleeding an anemic patient. You need to stimulate, which means adding to the debt in the short run to help you in the long run. And as Katrina said, in Europe, the experiment -- including the British experiment, but certainly what the Germans have been pushing on other countries to go to even greater austerity now -- is proving to be a negative.
ORNSTEINThat has an impact on us. And the fear is that what will matter more for Barack Obama's future may not be the words Romney or Santorum. It may be the words Angela and Merkel. At the same time, we are beginning to see that we may not have the lost decade. If Europe does not drag us down, we're seeing signs that businesses are investing a little bit more. The resilience that's in the American economy is working.
ORNSTEINSome of that stimulus is working. The story that people believe is that it's gotten worse and worse. We actually have added some jobs. We know that the stimulus was not nearly as effective as we wanted it to be, but, in fact, we would be in much, much worse shape. President Obama, I think, failed in his first two years to capture the narrative and define how bad it was and how deep a hole we were in, the nature of the problem and what we were doing to get out of it.
ORNSTEINAdequately enough, one of his challenges is going to be not just the objective reality, but trying to reframe this in a fashion that will work to his advantage by explaining what he did and where we are. That's a tough sell, frankly.
REHMAnd, David, you know, investors really did have a wild ride this year. But the year ended up 5 percent on the stock market.
KEENEYeah. At the end, and the question is most of the betting is that there will be growth next year, but not producing enough jobs to lower unemployment. In fact, a lot of economists are betting that unemployment will go up a little bit. So it's a different kind of a situation that we've had in the past. I do want to go back, if I may, to Katrina.
KEENEShe said in a -- in -- from her perspective, something that's true, and that is that this election, in many ways more than recent elections, does pit two distinctly different views of the future and of the way America should treat its citizens and the role that the government should play. She misstates it, obviously, 'cause she comes from a biased standpoint, as do I. I mean...
REHMShe doesn't misstate it. She states it from her perspective, but that doesn't mean she misstates it.
KEENEThat's what I just said. You know, it is true that the current Republican Party probably wouldn't nominate Dwight Eisenhower, but the current Democratic Party wouldn't nominate John F. Kennedy. Both parties have moved from where they were a few decades ago. They're both, in a sense, a little more homogenous and a little more ideological than they were then, and so is the public in many ways.
KEENEBut I will have to just throw in one thing, and that is on her view of the economy. Crony capitalism is a banner that should be placed at the White House. We have crony capitalism today. We have Solyndra and these things where the government, for political reasons -- and governments always do things for political reasons -- tries to pick winners, tries to invest your money and mine in places not only that they think might help, but which are run by their friends, and then try to cover it.
KEENENow, that's something that other governments have done. It's something that other parties have done. Republicans and Democrats alike will do this when they can get away with it, but that is not part of the vision that conservatives have for this country.
REHMDavid Keene, president of the National Rifle Association, former chairman of the American Conservative Union. When we come back, it's time to open the phones. I look forward to hearing from you.
REHMAnd it's time to open the phones. Let's go first to St. Augustine, Fla. Good morning, Frederick.
FREDERICKMorning. Thanks for having me on. I don't know if it's George Orwell or (unintelligible) maybe somebody else said that something about democracy loses -- when words lose their meaning, democracy is lost, or something to that effect. And I think we may have a situation where corporations are people and cash is speech. We're really in a big problem. And having said that, what really complicates the whole issue is that the media, which covers the horse race, is a huge recipient of all this anonymous fortune that's being spent on advertising.
FREDERICKI suppose it's economic activity on one level, but I think it's a strange twisting and corruption of the political process that…
REHMBy the way, did you actually hear us talk about the horse race this morning?
FREDERICKYes. I remember that came up in one of the comments. And, yes, the horse race -- it's been that for years, of course...
REHMWell -- but I don't think we did that this morning, sir. And I deliberately tried to avoid that and to elicit comments from our guests about what they see each candidate being involved in if elected president. I appreciate your call, but I totally disagree with your comment.
ORNSTEINWell, the -- another thrust to that comment, Diane, was about Citizens United. And I do think we're seeing a radically different campaign in volume than what we've seen before. We've seen it in the primaries. We have the so-called super PACs that are under Citizens United, supposed to be completely independent of the candidates. It's a farce beyond belief. Each one of them is intimately tied to and directly related to the candidates. They are raising unlimited sums of money and spending it.
ORNSTEINNewt Gingrich's demise here is as much to do with the vast amounts of money spent by Romney's super PAC to discredit him. We are going to see, in the fall, more money spent by outside groups, I think, than by presidential candidates. They are actually going to dominate the airwaves because they're going to be able to buy television time at a premium, and candidates are going to have great difficulty doing it. And it's worrisome. And I suspect it may be a campaign issue before we know it.
HEUVELYou know, I think -- I have a column in The Washington Post tomorrow just about three factors that -- if we can move beyond Iowa. And I think our conversation, Diane, has been substantive this morning. But voting restrictions -- but also the media -- but also super PAC spending -- as Norm said, you know, we're witnessing a radically different campaign environment. Already, I believe, in Iowa, we're witnessing super PACs spending more on outside ads.
HEUVELMitt Romney has really bought himself the ability to neuter Newt Gingrich, and these are dangerous vehicles for corruption in American politics today. On the second anniversary of Citizens United, it's interesting that the Montana Supreme Court, last Friday, overturned this idea that corporations are people, that money equals speech. There have been motions around this country, the L.A. City Council. But there's -- there are many groups working on an amendment strategy.
HEUVELBut here's -- you know, the problem is, until we get money out of our politics -- and I would imagine David Keene, the Tea Partiers would agree with this -- we're witnessing a kind of crony democracy inc. where ordinary people's voices are drowned out by big money.
HEUVELFreedom -- and money equals speech, if we don't -- if we go back before Citizens United, we're not in a great place. But Citizens United has unleashed so much money that we're looking at $3 billion in TV advertising this election. Go back to '76, Carter-Ford, the race itself in total was about $67 million.
KEENEKatrina's amendment strategy means people that want to amend the Constitution, to change the First Amendment relative to political speech because the Supreme Court has held consistently that to deny people the ability to pay for a megaphone or a platform, is to deny them the right to speak. So there are people who think that political speech, which was what the First Amendment was adopted to protect, ought to be excluded from full First Amendment protections.
KEENEI happen to disagree with that, but my point is a little bit different. Everybody always attacks money. Actually, the spending, the total spending in Iowa this year is less. It is being done by super PACs rather than candidates. But the candidate who has spent the most money on the media in Iowa is not Mitt Romney. It's Rick Perry. And he is not about to finish in the top four or five people. He spent a little over $3 million. Interesting, in the last cycle, in 2007, Romney spent $22 million. This time, he spent $1 million.
KEENEAnd with the super PAC spending, that's come up to almost $4 million. So -- and I'm not saying money is unimportant because it is to get your message out. But money, by itself, doesn't do it. In Iowa -- we don't want to talk about the horse race. But of the six candidates running, five of them, at one point or another, benefit at the front of that race. The one who is now close to the front has probably spent the least money. So you got to have a message. You've got to talk to people. Your message has to resonate with people.
KEENEAnd you have to have enough money to communicate. But let's not fall into the mistake of thinking that money alone does it, or we would have been celebrating an anniversary of the old Rockefeller administration.
REHMAll right. I want to get to another very important issue that's coming in 2012. The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments for and against the legality of the Affordable Care Act. Norm, talk about the recusal issues that Justice Roberts weighed in on over the weekend.
ORNSTEINWe've had moves by the left and the right, the left to get Clarence Thomas to recuse himself insignificant for two reasons, really. He's had close relationships with people who are directly financially affected by the health care decision. But, more important, his wife has been a lobbyist involved in issues that are related to it. And then we've had conservatives attack Elena Kagan, who had been solicitor general when the Affordable Care Act was going through.
ORNSTEINAnd what they're pointing to is an email that she sent to a colleague when the bill looked like it was going to pass the Senate, saying, I can't believe it. Wow. You can take that in a number of different ways. It's clear she wasn't involved in planning or crafting the bill, but what we know is that decisions to -- for Supreme Court justices to recuse themselves are their own internal decisions. The Supreme Court is...
REHMSo there is no formal procedure. It cannot be demanded or anything...
ORNSTEINNone, whatsoever, and that the Supreme Court is different from other federal courts. Other federal judges are governed by a code of ethics. The Supreme Court can refer to it but sets its own. Part of it is to keep it as independent -- part of it, I think -- you know, it's questionable. There should be a real debate about this. But Justice Roberts weighed in in support of his own institution and the integrity of his own justices.
REHMHow unusual was that?
ORNSTEINThat's unusual. And it's a measure in some ways, Diane, of how politicized the court has become, 5-4 decisions on a whole host of things. And by the way, this court has shown a willingness this year to weigh in on a number of what could be politically explosive issues. One of them, which will come up very possibly before the Affordable Care Act, is the Texas redistricting case.
ORNSTEINWe've had courts -- federal courts say and state courts say the plan put together by the Texas legislature -- this could be the difference between a Democratic and Republican majority in the House -- that those plans did not meet the test of the Voting Rights Act. They came up with their own independent plan for this cycle, and that's being challenged. And the court is taking that up. It could be another 5-4 decision and yet more questions about the politicization of the court.
REHMAll right. And, Katrina, what do you think some of the repercussions could be if the Affordable Care Act is overturned?
HEUVELWell, I just wanted to say it's not the first time we've seen a Supreme Court highly politicized. I think it tracks with what is going on in the country, the polarization in the country, the large issues brought to bear by the conditions of the country. I think of the Roosevelt court and his attempt to do court packing. We were raised at home to say court reform. But we're -- I do think an ethics code of conduct should be applied to the Supreme Court putting aside the recusal issue. I think we'll see just ongoing contesting of Obama's health care plan, Diane.
REHMPiece by piece?
HEUVELPiece by piece around this. I mean, we're seeing in different courts around the country, even with the judges appointed, say, by Bush, judges support not overturning it. And then you have attorneys general very vigorously, particularly Ken Cuccinelli in Virginia, working to overturn it. But I think we could see an ongoing battle through this election year into the next few years piece by piece.
HEUVELAnd I think what, you know, what -- it will be a measure of, I mean, I think, in the impact on lives is what I would look at because this country desperately needs a sane, I would argue, Medicare for all policies, so we will see people injured as this goes on.
REHMAll right. And, David, moving on quickly to another issue, on Saturday, President Obama signed a spending bill despite, as he said -- and that was the military spending bill -- despite everything he said he did not agree with. Was it a bill he should have signed, in your view?
KEENEWell, it was a bill that should not have come forward in the way that it came forward. There was a dispute over a couple of provisions in the bill, which began in the Senate as the McCain-Levin amendment, which would have, and, in fact, did, statutorily clear up a muddled area in the law in which it is now statutorily possible if someone is deemed to have been either involved with al-Qaida or associated groups or provided any kind of support, aided and abetted -- and according to many of these laws, it doesn't have to be something that was done intentionally, that they can be picked up and held for the duration of the war without trial.
KEENENow, since we have a war against terrorism that has no end point, that's an incredible thing. Now, the -- and this isn't the part -- no, it...
REHMBut I want to ask you about something there because some media are reporting that that particular provision was struck from the bill.
KEENENo. It was put into a different section. And what happened, the president's objection was to the requirement that those arrested abroad be required -- be tried in military tribunals because it -- he thought that should be his decision. That was changed so that he can waive that provision. And that was his principal objection. The other one -- what's -- there's a muddled area of the law. What can you do to a citizen within the boundaries of the United States if he or she is deemed by authorities to be a threat or working with a foreign power with the terrorist? That was not changed. That is in there.
KEENEAnd in the Senate, Rand Paul and Mark Kirk spent a great deal of time arguing this. A number of -- in the House, the Tea Party people and a lot of liberal Democrats voted against it. I think 93 Democrats voted against the bill and 43 or 45 Republicans for the same reason because they're very concerned, not about the motives of these people -- as John McCain said on the floor of the Senate when he couldn't answer any of the questions about it, he said, well, it really doesn't matter 'cause what we want to do is defeat terrorists.
KEENEIt does matter. And the argument was, if you're not a terrorist, if you're not sympathetic to terrorists, you got nothing to worry about. That's what they say. If you're not a criminal, if you're not a burglar, don't worry about these constitutional protections, but a lot of people do worry about them.
HEUVELBut the war on terror...
REHMDavid Keene, president of the National Rifle Association. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Go ahead, Katrina.
HEUVELI was going to say, Diane, you know, the war, "war on terror" continues to hold this country in its grip. It is a struggle against terrorism. But in fighting, waging this as a war, we have relinquished many of the principles and values, which we proclaim to the world. It seems to me, stepping back, that Obama in many ways came too soon in the historical cycle to be the reformer on civil liberties so many who rallied for him in 2008 had hoped, had expected. I mean, look at our history in the past.
HEUVELIt has taken this country time to correct deviations from constitutional principles only when security fear is abated. You think after the Civil War, after World Wars I and II, Cold War tensions eased. But the president hasn't -- he's fought, but he hasn't fought in a way that has averted a very real danger, which is, despite the waiver here and there, that this administration may enshrine permanently within the law policies and practices that were widely considered extreme and unlawful during the Bush administration.
HEUVELThis new normal needs to -- we need -- David referred to a kind of transpartisan coalition to continue to oppose these violations of our civil rights, civil liberties that don't bring us more security. So that, I think, is the long-term struggle, and the president weaves in and out. And, you know, all along, he tried to close Guantanamo -- he faced, again, opposition -- may not have expanded enough political capital to continue that fight, so here we are.
REHMAll right, Norm.
ORNSTEINDiane, this is interesting. In a larger sense, our political dysfunction is driven by the fact that we now have parliamentary parties, especially parliamentary minority, in a non-parliamentary system. But there are...
REHMExplain what you mean by that.
ORNSTEINParties that unite together, and the minority opposes everything that the majority wants reflexively. In a parliamentary system…
KEENEAnd vice versa.
ORNSTEINYeah, and vice versa. In a parliamentary system where you have a governing party and a minority party, you can make that work, and the culture supports it. In a system like ours, with the separation of powers, the divisions that we have, if you have divided government, you can end up with true gridlock. But what's interesting is there are occasional issues that don't fit that pattern, and this is one of them.
ORNSTEINAnd David mentioned the fact that 93 Democrats voted against their own party and around -- almost 50 Republicans in the House backed what their party wanted to do. David and Katrina, in this issue, marched not quite in lock step but pretty close to it. David is a great civil libertarian. Occasionally, we find an issue where it doesn't work that way.
REHMAll right. Final question to you, Norm, are -- despite all the divisions we see and hear even this morning, do you think, in the end, these different camps are going to find a way to work together?
ORNSTEINDiane, Tom Mann and I are just finishing a book, which we are calling "It's Even Worse Than It Looks," and I am not optimistic for the next year. Governing in 2013 for a public that expects that we'll have accountability, that's another problem in a parliamentary system we're having. It's not likely we're going to end up with a governing coalition that is going to find its way out of this morass for a while, I'm afraid.
REHMNorm Ornstein, he's resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. Katrina vanden Heuvel, she's editor and publisher of The Nation, and David Keene of the National Rifle Association. The outlook seems somewhat bleak, but I believe in hoping for the best. And I hope we can have you back again in a few months to see where we're going. Thank you all.
ORNSTEINHappy New Year.
REHMHappy New Year and, to all of our listeners, thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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