"My Brilliant Friend" by Elena Ferrante is the first of the mysterious Italian author's Neapolitan novels. The series tells the story of a life-long friendship between two working class girls in Naples. Critics have called Ferrante “one of the greatest novelists of our time.” Yet nobody knows her true identity. Join Diane and her guests for a discussion of “My Brilliant Friend.”
The U.S. economy added 227,000 jobs in February, while the nation’s unemployment rate remained stable at 8.3%. Consumer borrowing in January went up to nearly pre-recession levels. A look at what the increase in auto and school loans says about the economy. The House passed the bipartisan Jobs Act. Longtime Ohio congressman and former presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich loses his seat. And the question continues – is there a ‘war on women’? John Dickerson of Slate, Sheryl Gay Stolberg of The New York Times and syndicated columnist Steve Roberts join Diane for a discussion of the week’s top domestic stories.
- Sheryl Gay Stolberg Washington correspondent, The New York Times.
- John Dickerson chief political correspondent for Slate.com and CBS political analyst and contributor. Author of "On Her Trail: My Mother, Nancy Dickerson, TV News' First Woman Star."
- Steve Roberts syndicated columnist and journalism professor at George Washington University.
Friday News Roundup Video
In response to a listener tweet, Diane reacted to the ongoing controversy over Rush Limbaugh’s insults directed toward Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke. “I think what he did with Sandra Fluke is disgusting. I think he gave a weak apology. I think he ought to be repudiated by every single candidate out there, and I think his apology was pure cowardice,” she said:
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The Labor Department reported the February unemployment rate held steady at 8.3 percent. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney scored six victories on Super Tuesday. And the House passed a bipartisan jobs bill. Joining me for the domestic hour of our Friday News Roundup: John Dickerson of slate.com, Sheryl Gay Stolberg of The New York Times, and syndicated columnist Steve Roberts. I hope you'll join us as well.
MS. DIANE REHMCall us on 800-433-8850. Send your email to email@example.com. Join us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Good morning to everybody.
MR. JOHN DICKERSONGood morning, Diane.
MS. SHERYL GAY STOLBERGGood morning.
PROF. STEVE ROBERTSGood morning, Diane.
REHMJohn Dickerson, I'll start with you. Two hundred twenty-seven thousand jobs added to employers' payrolls, is this a sign the economy is on the upswing?
DICKERSONIt is, and it's also, of course, the consecutive months that are important that this is the latest in good news. And there are lots of little bits of good news. If you want to look at the Dow, it's been up over 13,000, and that's a good piece of news. Credit card spending is up -- or not credit card spending, but consumer borrowing is up. It means that people are buying cars. There are lots of signs throughout the economy. The question now is whether -- what kind of a recovery is this? The downturn was of a new order and more severe than everybody guessed. So is this job growth? Where is it happening?
DICKERSONIs it large enough to make the recovery? Some people were talking about, you know, 10, 12, 14 years before the jobs that were lost in the Great Recession would be recovered. Well, has that shrunk? Is it now at five years? Still a long time, still outside of the second Obama administration, so now it'll just be a question of trying to figure out how robust this recovery is. But it does look like things are back on the upswing.
STOLBERGWell, I think that's right, although Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the Fed, still says that the labor market is far from normal. I think most economists would agree that it will take years to recover the jobs that were lost. And, of course, Diane, these economic figures have political implications, right? We are in an election year and a year when the economy is number one on voters' minds. And President Obama needs to get out there, and will get out there, and make the case that he is helping to nurture along this fragile economy, that things are turning around.
STOLBERGRepublicans have been on a steady drumbeat of -- where are the jobs, Mr. President? And I do think these numbers will make it a little bit more difficult for Republicans to make the case that Barack Obama has destroyed the economy and that the country is moving in the wrong direction. At the very least, the unemployment rate is now at a three-year low of 8.3 percent. That's been steady for a little while. And so it's hard to say that we're going in the wrong direction. The question is, are we going in the right direction or how much in the right direction?
ROBERTSWell, one problem with the unemployment rate is, as confidence rebounds, as my friends just said, more workers come back into the workforce. And so the unemployment rate stayed steady this month, even though more than 200,000 jobs were added. And that's a problem for the president because the drumbeat from the Republican side has been, well, he promised to bring unemployment under 8 percent, and he hasn't been able to do that yet. But I do think that the trajectory is headed in the right direction.
ROBERTSThe numbers by November -- everybody knows the unemployment is not going to be hugely different from it is today. But the core of the Obama campaign is, in one sentence, things are getting better. And if voters believe that, if they go into the voting booth and think we're on the right course, it's going to be very hard for Obama to lose. But if voters continue to accept the Republican line that he has failed to improve things fast enough, he'll have a problem. But, by and large, these numbers are good for the president.
REHMWhat about the price of gas? Newt Gingrich keeps talking about the price of gas, how he would bring it down to $2.50 a gallon. Sheryl.
STOLBERGHe has. And, you know, President Obama really took him to task for that this week. He called it a phony election-year promise. And I think, honestly, that a lot of voters are suspicious of a candidate who says, I'll -- if I get elected, I'll make gas prices go down, or I'll -- we can have gas at $2.50 a gallon. Gingrich, of course, wants to expand drilling. This taps into the Republican argument that we need more oil drilling. We need to expand the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge for drilling.
STOLBERGThis is obviously something that President Obama has opposed. So what we're seeing is sort of a -- it's a fight not only over gas prices, which is something that voters can hold on to and identify with -- it's an easy thing to see the numbers at the pump -- but it's also a fight over energy policy.
DICKERSONAnd, also, the president is engaging his own little act of phoniness here, which is that -- so, first, gas prices are about $3.70. That's about...
REHMMore than that in places. Yeah.
DICKERSONOh, OK. Well, in certain places there's a -- there's an oddity to these prices, which is that in the Midwest, they're actually lower than that, based on where the oil is coming from and refined. But -- so the prices are up about 50 cents over the last year. The president is saying, well, if we just got rid of these oil and gas tax breaks, about $4 billion in breaks, then, you know, that would affect gas prices. But, actually, the Congressional Research Service looked into this and said, actually, prices might go up if that were to be done.
DICKERSONAnd so, while Newt Gingrich is sort of doing a super strength pander, saying, I can get it down to $2.50, the president, while mocking Gingrich, is engaging in a similar kind of pander. The fact is gas prices operate outside of the two remedies these two are talking about, at least in the short term. But, of course, they're using the moment to make their political arguments for the long term.
ROBERTSWell, the political arguments come down to two very basic arguments. The president, speaking in North Carolina this week at the Daimler Truck plant, made, again, his strongest argument, which is the answer to high gas prices is lower demand. The Republican argument is the answer to high gas prices is increase supply. Now, there are variations to that, but that's the core of the argument. Everybody knows that, no matter what public policy is, they -- largely, gas prices are largely impervious to at least short-term public policy.
ROBERTSAnd no matter how much the president argues about this, this is -- we just talked about the good news in the economy for the president. This is the dark side of the economy for the president. Anybody who passes a pump every day, you know you have to fill up your tank. Cost me 72 bucks this week to fill up my tank. If you -- just driving down the street -- and you see those numbers clicking upward -- it has a depressing effect. And it's a tangible number. It's a tangible idea. This is not some abstraction. Even, like, the unemployment number, to some extent, is an abstraction.
ROBERTSGas prices affect everybody immediately. So I think that this is one of the single most troubling ideas for the president, is the possibility of gas prices keep going up. It's going to depress confidence.
REHMBut, at the same time, in reality, what can any president do about it immediately?
DICKERSONNot much. Not much.
DICKERSONAnd -- but...
DICKERSONAnd that is -- sort of lets any president of any party off the hook. The only problem is they all go out there and pretend like they can do something about it.
STOLBERGWell, George Bush tried. When I covered the George Bush White House, he went to Saudi Arabia and sort of made a plea that they should release more oil. And, you know, you just -- the American president cannot control OPEC.
ROBERTSAnd, look -- and we saw this week in the -- you talk about the foreign issue with the president. I was talking about Iran, but that had a domestic implication in terms of oil prices 'cause the president's -- have a very fine line there. While he took the strong stand in the support of Israel, he's also trying to tamp down talk about war with Iran because he -- already, war talk has had its effect on spiking oil prices. And one of the things he really wants to avoid -- it's not just a foreign policy issue.
ROBERTSHe's got important domestic political considerations to try to keep the war talk down as a way of keeping oil prices down.
REHMAnd, John Dickerson, you mentioned borrowing -- auto, student loans -- biggest increase for those categories since 2001. Is that good news or not?
DICKERSONAt this point, the economists think it's good news. It means that our consumers are feeling more confident about the economy. Of course, you don't want to go overboard. You don't want this to be people running up their credit cards for frivolous items...
DICKERSON...or a recovery, you know, that's based on that because then it can collapse quickly. But, so far, they think this is good news, spending on student loans and autos. And the only thing then to watch is -- what would be even better news is if wages would improve. And there are some -- labor costs in the last quarter of last year were up, and there's some suggestion maybe wages are moving a little bit better. But those are one of the things that have been sticky. If you have too much consumer borrowing and no increase in wages, then you get into a credit problem.
STOLBERGYou know, the credit card borrowing actually dropped $2.9 billion, and I think that is a very interesting sign. It's a sign that American consumers are -- have become more responsible and more cautious, that they are thinking about what they are borrowing money for, important things like cars or like sending a child to college. But those frivolous purchases on credit cards, we're not seeing so much of, and I think that's a good thing.
ROBERTSBut this cuts two ways because if they are too cautious, which we've seen now over the last year or two, consumer spending is the single biggest force driving economic recovery. And if people are not borrowing or spending, it's going to have a drag on the economy if they're too cautious. So it's finding the sweet spot, enough borrowing for solid, reasonable expenditures, not frivolous ones. And it's tough to find that spot.
REHMAs we think about spending, though, I mean, people have to use their credit cards to do that because they need to borrow. Now, the question becomes, will they borrow too much again?
ROBERTSRight. Exactly right. And the other factor here, as John mentioned, was wages because, for all of the recovery, wages have not recovered in the way you might expect.
REHMThey haven't gone up.
ROBERTSThey haven't gone up. And, particularly, you know, it's a particular conundrum in light of productivity gains because one of the things that's happened during the recession is many companies have been forced to be far more economical, which is one of the things that's held down the growth of employment because people have learned to become far more efficient in some of their business behaviors. You usually think, well, OK, that holds down the growth of employment. But for the people who are working, it should increase wages, and that quite hasn't really happened.
REHMSteve Roberts, syndicated columnist, professor of journalism at George Washington University. When we come back, we'll talk about the passage of the JOBS Act by the House. We'll also talk about former Sen. Bob Kerrey's run for election.
REHMAnd welcome back. Here in the studio: Sheryl Gay Stolberg of The New York Times, John Dickerson of slate.com -- he's also political analyst and contributor for CBS -- and syndicated columnist Steve Roberts, professor of journalism at George Washington University. Sheryl, Thursday, the House passed the JOBS Act, a bipartisan bill. What does it do?
STOLBERGWell, it's a little bit of sleight of hand to call it the JOBS Act. It stands for Jumpstart Our Business Startups. And what it does is it's supposed to make it easier for small businesses to get going, to launch initial public offerings, to solicit new investors, and the ultimate goal would be to hire more workers. It would create a new class of companies that would enjoy special rules under the Securities and Exchange Commission, a relaxed status, where they would be allowed to go public sooner.
STOLBERGIt would end the ban on small companies' ability to advertise, to solicit capital, et cetera. I think -- the interesting thing about this is it passed overwhelmingly. What passes this Congress or this House, 390-23?
ROBERTSAlmost -- you know, even a resolution declaring Christmas a national holiday...
STOLBERGHappy election year.
ROBERTS...doesn't get that many votes.
ROBERTSBut the explanation for this is the fact that the popularity for Congress is so low. I mean, the favorable rating for Congress is, like, 11 percent in this country. And even though these are great rivals and the partisanship is very bitter, they have -- everybody who's in Congress today has one common vested interest, which is they all have to run for re-election, and they all want to be able to go to their constituents and say, we did something. And even if this is a very marginal bill in terms of potential job creating, at least, it's a notch on their belt.
REHMBut the House Speaker John Boehner could not get enough support for the highway bill, John Dickerson.
DICKERSONWell, that's exactly right. And to Steve's point about election year, because the alternatives for getting things passed in election year had been so hard -- so this is the $260 billion, five-year transportation bill, and this is a bill where in an election year, it's an opportunity for the party in power to take care of its members and deliver local projects through earmarks, increase funding to projects that help people in their districts. The problem is this Republican Congress has a lot of people who don't like a price tag that big, who don't like earmarks.
DICKERSONThat's a big contentious issue in the House, but also in the presidential race. Rick Santorum is constantly having to battle from having once said that he liked earmarks. In fact, he still continues to defend them. So you can't have earmarks, except that some of the members who want to be re-elected wouldn't mind a few earmarks, would like to talk about the things that they've brought home.
DICKERSONThere's also mass transit funding that's getting cut, and there are members who want that. So John Boehner couldn't get this through. Now, they're going to -- they're trying to figure out if they can do a shorter version of it, and so deny the opportunity to pass that kind of a bill, which would be helpful in a political context, that kind of forces them to jump on to any kind of bill that would allow them to say they've done something that affects people and their lives.
STOLBERGIt looks -- yeah, it looks like we'll see a slimmer Senate version, $109 billion bill that cuts out some things that some Republicans wanted, notably expanded offshore oil drilling and opening up the Alaskan Wildlife Refuge, which we mentioned earlier, where, in the -- actually, in the original House transportation bill, Boehner eventually decided that, you know, that wasn't going to fly.
STOLBERGHe was going to have to peel that off of the bill. And I suspect we will see -- I would ask my colleagues if they agree -- a slimmed down transportation...
DICKERSONOh, yeah. Oh, yeah.
STOLBERG...bill because I don't think you can run for re-election without passing basic funding to support roads and bridges, et cetera.
REHMWhat about the Keystone pipeline?
ROBERTSWell, the president continues to, you know, insist that there's got to be a more complete environmental plan, particularly through Nebraska with its very sensitive environmental area in the Sand Hills. And, you know, Congress -- this is more of a political issue than anything at this point. I think the Republicans are going to continue to argue here. Here is a tangible example of a president who will not expand our own ability to supply energy from domestic...
REHMBut the critics here are also saying it would supply thousands of jobs.
REHMI wonder how many. There are ranges from 2,000 to 20,000, John Dickerson.
DICKERSONThat's right. And the pressure here is interesting on the president because they're -- in the Senate, they brought up this -- Republicans tried to bring up a bill to basically remove State Department approval for the U.S.-Canadian pipeline that would take oil down to the Gulf of Mexico. And you have 47 Republicans -- and they got 11 Democrats -- so it was close to the 60 they needed to get this passed.
DICKERSONAnd so the president got on the phone. There was a -- the White House said he was lobbying against it and then turned out that he was. And so, basically, the Republicans now have an issue -- and you hear about it all the time on the campaign -- which is that the president's basically paying off his high-dollar donors who are sort of excessively concerned about environmental issues, doesn't care about jobs, only cares about these sort of secondary issues -- and this is the way the Republicans frame it. And so now, there will be another opportunity to...
ROBERTSBut the Democrats are trying to frame it in a different way, which is that the president is the foe of the oil companies and the proponent of the consumers. And so each is trying to frame this in a different way, but this -- politically, I'm not sure it works for the president, but how he's trying to use is to say, see, I'm the one who stands up for the consumer and not for the oil company.
REHMBut, you know, it's my understanding -- correct me if I'm wrong -- that all of the oil from the Keystone pipeline would be exported. Sheryl.
STOLBERGI believe that's the case. I'm no expert in oil exports, but I would agree with what Steve said. This is a tough one for the president. You know, the public -- you may be focusing on those kinds of nuances, of whether oil is exported or not or the route of the pipeline, et cetera. But what the public is focusing on, as we talked about before, are gas prices, the price at the pump for the...
REHMAnd jobs, absolutely.
STOLBERGAnd so -- and for the president, this is a tough one because he doesn't want to be seen as doing something that will not promote job creation, which is the Republican argument, that this Keystone pipeline will promote job creation. On the other hand, he campaigned as an environmentalist. And he's running for re-election, and he's already got kind of a disaffected base on the environment. So if he caves or is seen to cave or to -- will allow this Keystone pipeline to go forward, he's going to have a whole lot of angry Democrats and environmentalists on his hands.
REHMAll right. Let's turn to former Sen. Bob Kerrey, Steve. He says he received assurances from Majority Leader Harry Reid before his new Senate run. What's the story here?
ROBERTSWell, as best we can tell, he went to Sen. Reid and said, if I run and if I win, could I somehow get some of my seniority back? You know, one of the inducements to have him run is that he wouldn't return as a freshman, but he'd return -- 'cause he was in for several terms beforehand. Now, the tradition in the Senate actually is that you don't recover the seniority. This happened to, for instance, to Sen. Lautenberg from New Jersey, who had a break in service.
ROBERTSAnd he's been complaining now for 10 years that he should get a deal like this. So it -- not only is it an odd thing for Reid to promise if, in fact, that's what he's promised, but it really provides a campaign issue against Kerrey, who had a lot of problems already, by the way. He spent 10 years in Manhattan, the den of iniquity, and come back to Nebraska, and you try to run for the Senate. I think he's already got a huge hill to climb, and it just adds to the Republican argument, see, he's an insider.
ROBERTSHe's cutting some backroom deal. And, remember, this is in light of what was called the Cornhusker Kickback. You go back to the health care bill, Sen. Ben Nelson, the man who's retiring, whose seat is being opened, received promises to vote, that there be special treatment for Nebraska in exchange for his vote. So there's a lingering problem in Nebraska about any taint of a deal. I think this is a significant blow to a candidacy for Kerrey that was already in trouble.
STOLBERGYeah, I think, you know, Bob Kerrey has been gone from Washington since 1998. And that's a long time to be gone and a lot has happened here since then. So that's one issue. The other issue is just from a practical matter. The Senate is a very hierarchal place, and Harry Reid can't really promise these kinds of things without causing an uproar among other senators. When Jon Tester, the senator from Montana, ran in 2008, he extracted a promise from Harry Reid.
STOLBERGReid said that he would put him on the appropriations committee. Well, lo and behold, Tester won. And he arrived in the Senate, and he wanted his seat. And, guess what, a bunch of other Democrats who wanted to be on the powerful appropriations committee were really mad because they were in ahead of him in line with seniority. Tester finally got on the appropriations committee, but it took him two years.
DICKERSONBut the balancing act here is that Democrats are extraordinarily exposed in this next election. Twenty-three Democrats are up, 10 Republicans. They're twice as exposed. The Democratic races that are an issue -- Ben Nelson's seat was one of the most vulnerable. If they don't have good, strong candidates running, they're going to lose control of the Senate, and they only need three to lose control if they own the White House or four if they don't. So Harry Reid can say, yes, I know you like your seniority, but your seniority will mean a lot less if we don't still own -- have control of the Senate.
REHMAll right. And, speaking of candidacy, where are we in the delegate count, John Dickerson? Romney's...
DICKERSONOh, Diane. You've given me the rest of the hour, have you?
REHMOK. Romney's team is claiming he has the math on his side going for him.
DICKERSONHe does. All right. So there are two dramas to watch for here. One is the rest of the primary race here. Mitt Romney has about -- depending on how you count it -- 430-odd delegates. Rick Santorum is about 200 -- more than 200 behind him, Gingrich much farther behind than Ron Paul, way in the distance. Romney's argument is this, for the remainder of the primaries.
DICKERSONIt is because many of the future primary states award delegates proportionally, even if he loses some of these states in Alabama, in Mississippi, he will continue to gain delegates, as he did in Tennessee on Super Tuesday. He lost the state but gained a lot of delegates. Given that, Rick Santorum won't be able to catch up or surpass him in the number of delegates. But what about the winner-take-all states, you might ask. There are some in the rest of the process which are winner-take-all. Well, some of those states are like Utah, New Jersey, Delaware.
DICKERSONThose are states where Mitt Romney has a real stronghold. For Rick Santorum to overtake Mitt Romney would require him to perform gloriously, in a way that we've never seen him perform. People talk about how weak Mitt Romney is, but one of the reasons he's weak is because he's doing poorly against even weaker candidates. Rick Santorum has shown no ability to get outside of the 31 percent or so who self-identify as strong conservatives. So for him to overtake Romney would be to win in territories that are Romney country.
DICKERSONAnd so that's why the thinking is the math continues, just to button this up quickly. But Rick -- Mitt Romney may not get the 1,144 delegates necessary to get the nomination by the time he gets to Tampa. If that's the case, the idea in the Santorum camp is, we will, through some delegates who are unbound -- and there are various tiers of unboundedness -- we will get them to come over to our side. We'll get the 1,144, and Mitt Romney will be out of luck.
REHMBut all of that has to assume that Newt Gingrich gets out. Sheryl.
STOLBERGAnd Newt Gingrich is not getting out so easily. You know, Rick Santorum is trying to push, push, push and saying, hey, if you really want a conservative alternative to Mitt Romney, I'm your guy. I'm your guy.
REHMAnd Newt is trying to push back.
STOLBERGAnd Newt's got -- and he is -- and he's got money behind him.
STOLBERGAnd ego, and no real incentive. If you were Newt Gingrich, why would you quit? He's having fun. He's got the money to run his campaign. What else is he going to do? He and his wife -- we had a picture of them in our paper the other night. They stayed up dancing until 2:00 in the morning. He must be having the time of his life. Why would he get out?
ROBERTSNo one would -- I agree. No one would pay attention to him. The day he drops out, he stops being invited on the Sunday shows. He stops being in any debate. No one pays any attention to him, and Newt Gingrich can't stand that, given his ego. But the Santorum theory is a total fantasy. The notion that somehow Romney delegates are going to break for Santorum is -- the chances are zippo.
ROBERTSIn fact, exactly the opposite is likely to happen because there's a gathering feeling in the Republican Party. They have to get this over with. Very important poll in The Wall Street Journal, 40 percent of Americans have a less favorable view of the Republican Party as the result of the primaries. The leaders want this over with, Diane.
REHMSteve Roberts. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." What about Citizens United? Has that ruling been good for the GOP primary race or made it more protracted and negative?
ROBERTSI think it made it more protracted and negative. First of all, you have to see this in the context of the point John was making of the growth of proportional representation states. So you have two factors that are prolonging the fight. One is the fact that everybody can get delegates even when they don't win. But if you look at the history of presidential primaries, the people who drop out are the people who just don't have any money left anymore.
ROBERTSThat's what tends to happen because you can't raise money, more than $25,000, from an individual. What's happened with Gingrich in particular -- but, to some extent, with the others -- he didn't get millions of dollars from one person. So I think Gingrich, under the old rules, would have been gone by now. But the only reason he's in is because of the super PACs.
DICKERSONAnd, now, if you look at this from the perspective of a movement conservative -- one of the 31 percent, or a hardcore Tea Party supporter who is enthralled with Rick Santorum and/or Newt Gingrich -- you would think this is actually a wonderful thing because, in their view, the establishment of the party, out of touch with the real feelings of the core in the party, anointed Mitt Romney. He's got all the endorsements. He's got lots of donations from fancy people.
DICKERSONAnd were there not some new mechanism to allow second-tier candidates to stay alive and represent their interests, this would have been over long ago. There would have been somebody anointed to the post who didn't have the enthusiasm of the party. There would have been no chance to at least air these grievances. So that's the way they see it.
DICKERSONBut the key, coming back to Steve's point a minute ago, is that not only do 40 percent of people have a less favorable view of the Republican Party because of the primaries, but also Mitt Romney, who appears to be heading to be the party standard bearer, his unfavorable -- the view people have of him that is unfavorable is now much higher than the view that is favorable. That's because of the primaries.
REHMBut are we seeing a growing concern among the electorate and calls for constitutional amendment?
STOLBERGYou're absolutely reading my mind, Diane. I think another fall-out of the Citizens United case and the case that came after it -- we should remember that Citizens United freed corporate spending. Following that, a U.S. Court of Appeals, citing the Citizens United case, found that wealthy individuals could give unlimited funds to these super PACs. And what we are seeing is a growing sense of unease. Americans have already been uneasy about our democracy, about the way elections play out in the democracy, about what people regard as the corrosive influence of money in politics.
STOLBERGAnd it's growing as a result of this campaign, and we are seeing a number of local efforts to end what they are calling corporate personhood. The New York City Council passed a resolution calling on -- for an end to it. It would have to be done through a constitutional amendment. We've seen efforts in L.A., in Boulder, Colo., the New Mexico House of Representatives. Most recently in -- just this week in Vermont, more than two dozen cities voted overwhelmingly in support of amending the Constitution to "eliminate corporate personhood."
STOLBERGMaine -- in Portland, Maine, officials are talking about it. And so, all across the country, we're seeing kind of this bubbling up of unease against this idea that corporations and individuals can give unlimited money to outside interests to influence the election.
ROBERTSAnd, all due respect, I wouldn't call Boulder, Colo. and the New York City Council all across the country. I think...
STOLBERGNo, but in caucus.
ROBERTSBut these are the leading edges of liberal sentiment. You mentioned another word that we should pick up on, too, Diane, which is negativity. The other impact of the super PACs is that we now have these rules. Every one of our listeners is familiar. When you run an ad through your own campaign, you have to get up and say, I'm Rick Santorum, and I support this ad. That has had the effect of mollifying some of the most negative charges 'cause people -- which was the intent of that rule. People don't want their fingerprints associated with the most negative attacks.
ROBERTSThe super PACs are not under that restriction, and, therefore, they've been far more negative. Nine out of 10 super PAC ads have been negative, and that's an important part of this picture.
REHMSteve Roberts, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, John Dickerson -- they're here to answer your questions when we come back.
REHMOK. It's time to open the phones, 800-433-8850. First to Hollywood, Fla., good morning, Stephen. You're on the air.
STEPHENGood morning, Diane. It's so great to talk to you.
REHMThank you. Go right ahead, sir.
STEPHENI just wanted to know, as far as the oil, which is the topic you were talking about sort of at the beginning, I heard on the radio that under Obama, he has signed more oil leases than any other president in the past 15 years. There's been more oil drillings and still the prices are high. And I've also heard on another poll that says that more people blame him more than the oil companies for the high price of gas. I just wanted to know what does your panel think about that.
ROBERTSWell, it is true. I'm not sure whether -- in comparison to other presidents, but it is true he has signed a number of oil leases. In fact, some environmental groups are a little annoyed with him for having expanded some of this. But the truth is, as we said earlier, no president has -- can have much effect, but every president gets blamed. Look, they get credit for the good economic news, blamed for the bad economic news, and, in many cases, their policies don't have much effect either way.
REHMAll right. Let's go now to Crystal Lake, Ill. Good morning, Mike.
MIKEGood morning. Thanks for taking my call.
MIKEI just wanted to make a comment. You -- again, you were talking about the oil and Newt's gas price promise about $2.50 a gallon, which I think, personally, is outrageous. But I'm fascinated by the fact that, when it's mentioned -- and I hear it almost daily on NPR -- nobody brings up the president's promise of sub-8-percent unemployment rate. And I was just wondering if you had an answer for that.
STOLBERGWe did bring it up earlier on this show, actually.
STOLBERGI believe Steve brought it up. And the president did make -- he did say that if his stimulus bill passed, that unemployment would hold under 8 percent. That was due to advice given to him by his incoming economic team when he was in his transition from being Sen. Obama to President Obama. Obviously, that wasn't the case.
STOLBERGAnd for much of his early presidency, he had to talk to voters about -- he had to make the argument that things would have been worse without the stimulus package and that, even though unemployment shot up to above 9 percent, that, had we not had his stimulus, things would have been even worse. Now, unemployment is at 8.3 percent, and some economists actually project that it could hit around 8 percent by November. That would be very, very good news for President Obama.
DICKERSONAnd the Republicans find themselves in the opposite case, which is to argue that, with things continuing to get better, if they continue to get better, that under a Republican administration and under Republican policies and under their policies, things would get better even faster. So it's a question of setting expectations for people. And so they find themselves in a place not dissimilar from President Obama.
REHMAll right. To Bruce in Laurel, Md., good morning to you.
BRUCEHi. Thanks for taking my call.
BRUCEYou mentioned -- at the beginning, you said about a war on women. I assume a lot of what comes from is Rush Limbaugh's statement about Sarah Fluke and the reaction to it that, you know, there seems to be a Sister Souljah moment for -- but Sister Souljah said she wanted kill white people. I think it's hardly equivalent. I think what the media is doing is confusing sexism with political correctness and chivalry 'cause they attacked a woman. When, for instance, Katie Couric once -- one of her shows, she said, about a jilted woman, that her boyfriend should be castrated.
BRUCEAnd her results -- she became the anchor of the CBS News. I mean, if a man said he wanted birth control pills to pay for having sex with a Georgetown woman and he -- Limbaugh called him a womanizing jerk who wanted to pimp off the government, I think a lot of the same people that were criticizing would be applauding him.
STOLBERGWell, I'll try to sort a little bit of that out, but I think the caller is sort of asking why is there an assertion or why are some people asserting that there is a war on women. And I think, frankly, that assertion goes beyond this recent flap involving Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Fluke, the Georgetown University student. We've seen around the country efforts to defund Planned Parenthood.
STOLBERGThere was a whole flap recently over the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, which decided to strip funding for Planned Parenthood because Planned Parenthood was providing abortion services at some clinics. We saw the whole dispute over whether religious institutions should be required to pay through their insurance plans for contraceptives. All of these things have amounted to what Democrats are casting as a war on women. Republicans are framing it as a war on religion.
STOLBERGBut I do think we're seeing a backlash from women who are feeling put upon. You know, millions of American women use contraception. Married women use contraception. Millions of American women have visited Planned Parenthood clinics in their adult lifetimes. And to suddenly have this focus on women's health in an election when most Americans are concerned about jobs in the economy is somewhat surprising and, I think, unsettling to women.
DICKERSONAnd then what you have is -- everything that Sheryl says is right. So that's the policy landscape. And then you have both sides trying to grab pieces of it for political reasons. I mean, the president called the woman that Rush Limbaugh insulted. You know, on the one hand, you could see that as a nice gesture. On the other hand, you can see the president rushing into the moment. He certainly doesn't call everybody who's been given a rough treatment on the radio. He grabs it, comes to her aid as her champion. And that's because women play a very important role in the electorate.
REHMBut let's make sure you differentiate between someone who's been called names who happens to be a public figure or a candidate and this young woman who simply came forward.
ROBERTSAnd that's part of the reason why it became such a big story because he wasn't insulting a woman senator. He was insulting this law student. But the political context here is very important to remember. This was not -- this was deliberate on the part of the president to intervene and call Sandra Fluke. He then followed up at his press conference by talking about his own daughters. He was thinking about his daughters. This is very much part of the Obama campaign theme of Vote for the Obamas. One of their online ads has a picture of his two daughters with Michelle Obama.
ROBERTSIt fits very much with their idea 'cause look at the numbers. In the last election, Obama won the male vote by only one point. He won the female vote by 13 points. Among unmarried women without children, women like this law student, Obama won 69-31. Now, you do not have to be a political genius to know that if there's a voting group that you win 69-31, you do everything possible to appeal to that group and get them to the polls. So a Democrat cannot win the presidency, hasn't for generations, without a significant majority of the female vote.
ROBERTSAnd that's why they're framing this as a war on women. They have a good case on the issues, but, politically, they see as a big winner.
REHMHow serious is all this for Rush Limbaugh? Sheryl, you've had Politico reporting more than 40 sponsors have left, including J.C. Penney, Capital One, Netflix, and yet Limbaugh is saying it's like losing one in a package of French fries.
STOLBERGYou know, I think it's hard to know without knowing the specific finances of Rush Limbaugh's company and his operation. He says he has more than 18,000 sponsors. I suspect that many of those sponsors are small sponsors. He has lost some very big name sponsors, companies like Geico and Netflix, AOL, Thompson Creek Windows, ProFlowers, Citrix Software...
STOLBERGKmart, right, Sears. It is not good news for him when trusted American brand name companies, like Kmart, Allstate, Sears, are pulling out from his show. How this will hurt him financially, you know, I think is, frankly, anybody's guess. And he's obviously still on the air, and he's still got a lot of listeners. And it probably...
STOLBERG...you know, it -- there's a wellspring of support among his backers who feel he is being put upon or put under siege.
ROBERTSOne of the -- this eliminates two very interesting things. One is one figure I saw was that 85 percent of consumer decisions in America are made by women. And the sponsors want to sell to everybody. They don't just want to sell to conservatives who listen to Rush Limbaugh. And so they increasingly felt tainted by associating with Limbaugh because a lot of their -- people who buy their products are going to feel offended by this. The other thing is the power of social media here.
ROBERTSYou've seen the -- we saw it when the Susan G. Komen incident just a few weeks ago. One of the reasons why this advertising boycott has taken off is because protesters and organizations are using social media. One advertiser said, look, a couple years ago, we had a flap with Howard Stern. He said, this doesn't begin to compare with the cascade of feelings and opposition we felt. And lot of it was generated by social media. It's a very interesting moment in the ability of organizations to generate that kind of opposition.
REHMBut, you know, look at Texas, for example, where the Medicaid financed health for women's program, which serves 130,000 people -- women with grants to many clinics, including those run by Planned Parenthood -- Gov. Perry has said that Republican lawmakers have said they would forego the $35 million in federal money that finances these programs.
STOLBERGYou know, that's absolutely right. So you -- now we're seeing, you know, poor women -- 130,000 women as you said -- losing access to their clinics. Many of these clinics will shut down because Texas has cut off financing for Planned Parenthood. We're also seeing in the presidential campaign, Diane, all four leading contenders saying that they oppose Title X. Title X is the main federal family planning program. It was created in 1970 under a Republican president, Richard Nixon.
STOLBERGIt had the support of the elder George Bush, who was a congressman at the time. It does not pay for abortions, but Planned Parenthood gets about a quarter of Title X's $300 million budget. And, you know, we're seeing the ripple effects of this funding cut-off and this -- I guess, you could call it an attack, frankly, on Planned Parenthood rippling through women's health.
REHMBut then the question becomes, should a presidential candidate, like Mitt Romney, speak up more strongly when he hears this kind of attack on a young Georgetown law student?
DICKERSONShould Mitt Romney speak up against Rush Limbaugh? Well, you've got two problems. I guess, you know, Rush Limbaugh hasn't given -- isn't a particular supporter of Mitt Romney.
DICKERSONIn fact, he's an opponent.
DICKERSONAnd so, therefore, why does -- what's the obligation on Mitt Romney? You could -- from a political context, you could say...
REHMIf he wants women to vote for him.
DICKERSONYou could say, from a political context, he's got two reasons to do it. One, he wants to grab -- he wants to appeal to women in the general election. The problem for him is he's still stuck in a primary election, and he doesn't want to antagonize Rush Limbaugh who speaks to that particular part of the party with which Mitt Romney has the biggest trouble. And so he doesn't want to do that while he's in the fight he's in now.
DICKERSONThe other benefit to him, in addition to being with women, is that he could show that he's got some of that strength he's always talking about. He could take -- he could step forward and seize the moment and be bold. And people are saying that's one of his key problems, is that he lacks a kind of inner boldness.
ROBERTSGeorge Will, a conservative columnist on TV Sunday, said something very interesting. He said Republican candidates are afraid of Rush Limbaugh. Mitt Romney said, well, I wouldn't have used those words. The most anodyne and bland rebuke of Rush Limbaugh. And George went on to say, they want to bomb Iran, and they're afraid to Rush Limbaugh? I mean, he was calling into account the real courage. And this is part of their problem that's happened to the Republican Party in a more general way.
ROBERTSThe conservative base of the party, Limbaugh is only part of that, have taken over the primary process where someone like Romney, who's instincts are far more moderate, his record in Massachusetts is far more moderate, but he keeps being pushed into these uncomfortable and awkward positions because of his need to appease people like Limbaugh and appeal to voters who support Limbaugh. But this is not mainstream America. Romney's favorable rating among independent in one poll is 22 percent.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Sheryl.
STOLBERGYou asked, should Mitt Romney have spoken out more strongly? I think, frankly, many voters, male and female, would say yes for the reasons that we talked about. Not only for the policy reason of simply standing up and saying this kind of language is unconscionable and hateful and wrong, but also because it would have been good for him politically. Because, precisely as John says, even though he would have ticked off Rush Limbaugh, the main rap on Mitt Romney is that he's wishy-washy, that he doesn't have a political spine. Here was a chance for him to show that.
REHMAll right. To Dayton, Ohio, good morning, Jean.
JEANGood morning. Thank you very much for taking my call.
JEANI explained to the person who answered that this call is from curiosity and probably skepticism but not cynicism. I'm very curious what Gov. Romney has been doing for five years during our difficult times. I keep hearing that he asserts that he is a job creator and so forth. But I'm thinking, was that all in the good times? And I really don't know. And I will hang up and take my answer off the air.
REHMAll right. Thanks for calling.
STOLBERGMostly, he's been running for president for the past five years.
ROBERTSRight. You know, the -- his message, the story he tells Americans is I'm a job creator. But it's a story that has a lot of limits because it appeals on kind of a pragmatic abstract basis but not an emotional basis. He's -- one of the -- in addition to what Sheryl was saying, the other great flaws -- not just that he's wishy-washy -- is that he's awkward and distant. I don't think people resent his wealth, per se.
ROBERTSI think they resent the distance the wealth creates, the barriers and the isolation it creates from the problems of ordinary Americans. In Ohio, when voters were asked on Super Tuesday, which candidate understands voters like you, only 22 percent -- and arguably the most important state in America -- only 22 percent of Republican voters said Mitt Romney understands it. I think that's the single biggest problem he has as a candidate.
REHMAll right. And there's a tweet from Lawrence who says, "Diane, please explain your comment two weeks ago that you listen to Rush Limbaugh. Why do you, and why do you now repudiate him? If not, why not?" I listen to Rush Limbaugh because as a person behind the microphone every single day, I want to hear how Rush reflects on what's happening in this world. I've heard him take a single fact and turn it a quarter of a degree and create a brand new fact. I think what he did with Sandra Fluke is disgusting.
REHMI think he gave a weak apology. I think he ought to be repudiated by every single candidate out there, and I think his apology was pure cowardice. That's my reaction. Thanks to all of you for being here. Thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Denise Couture, Monique Nazareth, Nikki Jecks, Susan Nabors and Lisa Dunn, and the engineer is Tobey Schreiner. A.C. Valdez answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information. Our email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, and we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington. This is NPR.
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