A molecular-biologist-turned-Buddhist-monk says altruism is the answer to many of the world's most pressing challenges. Can concern for others help solve wealth inequality, climate change and world hunger?
President Barack Obama spoke out forcefully against gun violence for the first time following the Colorado movie theater shooting. Presumptive Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney outlined his plans for a more aggressive foreign policy just before he began a weeklong trip to Britain, Israel and Poland. The Senate narrowly passed an extension of Bush-era tax cuts for the middle class, which House Republicans have said they will not accept. Ari Shapiro of NPR, Karen Tumulty of The Washington Post and syndicated columnist Steve Roberts join Diane for analysis of the week’s top national news stories.
- Karen Tumulty national political reporter for The Washington Post.
- Steve Roberts syndicated columnist and journalism professor at George Washington University.
- Ari Shapiro White House correspondent for NPR.
Friday News Roundup Video
The panel discussed the legacy and career of astronaut Sally Ride, who died Monday at age 61. Ride’s family disclosed that she was gay in an obituary. “I don’t often put on the designated homosexual hat, but as a kid who grew up without a lot of gay role models on the national stage, I think it’s incredible that teenagers wondering what it means to be gay could now know that it could mean you’re the first American woman in space,” Ari Shapiro, White House correspondent for NPR, said. Steve Roberts, syndicated columnist and professor at George Washington University, said it’s important to respect Ride’s decision to come out in her own private way. Karen Tumulty, national political reporter for The Washington Post, said she met Ride and was struck by how she wanted to make her extraordinary accomplishments seem ordinary.
Ride appeared on The Diane Rehm Show in 2010 to talk about science education. Listen to that conversation here.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney travels abroad in hopes of highlighting his foreign policy credentials while President Obama concludes a three-day campaign tour. Both candidates weighed in on gun control but made no push for new laws. And the U.S. economy grew 1.5 percent last quarter as consumer spending slowed.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me to talk about this week's top domestic stories on the Friday News Roundup: Ari Shapiro of NPR, Karen Tumulty of The Washington Post, and Steve Roberts of George Washington University. I invite you to join our conversation. Call us on 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning everybody.
MR. ARI SHAPIROThanks for having me.
MS. KAREN TUMULTYGood morning, Diane.
PROF. STEVE ROBERTSGood morning, Diane.
REHMAri Shapiro, what do these latest economic numbers tell us?
SHAPIROWell, it ain't good. One point five percent annual growth for the second quarter, which is down from the first quarter of the year when we saw 2 percent growth, it's bad news as far as the economy goes, probably because of a combination of things: slow housing starts, instability in Europe, the looming what they refer to as the fiscal cliff at the end of the year here in the States. It is bad news, but it's not necessarily worse news than what's expected.
SHAPIROIn fact, analysts expected a 1.4 percent growth rate. What we saw this morning was 1.5. So, to the extent that it's bad news, it may be bad news that's already baked into the pie. That isn't terribly surprising to a lot of people.
TUMULTYYeah. I think, you know, as President Obama is looking toward reelection, I think the economic fundamentals are pretty well set here. And, you know, one of the numbers that pollsters watch more than any other is the index of consumer confidence, and that, too, is -- it's down at 73.2 which is the survey that the University of Michigan uses. Just by a way of a little bit of comparison, when Presidents George W. Bush, Clinton and President Reagan were reelected, it was over 90.
TUMULTYAnd even when President Carter and President George Herbert Walker Bush failed to be reelected, it was around 80. So that really gives you a sense of how pessimistic and how uncertain people really are going into this election.
REHMAnd that uncertainty is clearly the issue, isn't it, Steve?
ROBERTSOh, absolutely. You need about two to 2.5 percent growth rate just to keep even with unemployment. So this means we know now that on the day voters vote, November, the first number in the unemployment rate is going to be eight.
REHMSo will the Fed take some additional action?
ROBERTSWell, they have been hinting at it. The problem is the Fed doesn't have that many weapons left to use. Interest rates are at rock bottom. What's left is buying bonds in the market, what's called quantitative easing. But that's certainly not going to affect things before the election, and I think this raises the possibility -- we've already seen, Diane -- that the thrust of the Obama campaign is not going to be running on his record.
ROBERTSHe can't run on happy days are here again or you're better off than four years ago. I think this means an even stronger push to disqualify Romney as an alternative because he can't really run on his economic record.
SHAPIROWell, I wouldn't say that President Obama is not running on his record altogether. We do see on the stump him going through this long list of his domestic accomplishments, not all of which are popular. I mean, one of the biggest accomplishments is health care which we've seen poll numbers are not really bullish on.
SHAPIROThat said, he is clearly trying to discount Romney, and he's also trying to compare the approach he took to the economy to what he describes as the Romney-George W. Bush approach. He says, we tried Romney's way, and it didn't work, to which Romney responds, the president is blaming me for this bad economy?
TUMULTYYeah. It's -- he's also making one of the most difficult arguments to make in politics, by the way, one that a lot of economists agree with. But -- and that is that it would've been a lot worse even if he hadn't done the things that he did. But it seems like every time he approaches that, he gives the Republicans more ammunition as he did this week when he set out on this stump. We tried our plan, and it worked. And, you know, the Republicans just had a field day with that one.
REHMWhat about the Senate tax cut vote this week? To what extent did anybody expect anything else, Ari?
SHAPIROWell, this was exactly what, as you suggest, people expected because it was a way for the Democrats and the Republicans to both draw their battle lines in the tax cut fight. The Bush tax cuts are set to expire at the end of the year, and the debate now is whether you continue the tax cuts for everyone or only for the first $200,000 an individual makes...
SHAPIRO…two-fifty a couple of makes.
SHAPIROAnd so the vote in the Senate this week was the Democrats staging a vote on this lower threshold cut-off. The Republicans want to vote on the tax extension for everyone, but tax provisions have to start in the House. This was in the Senate. There is no chance of it happening. Even if it didn't have to start on the House, a Republican-controlled House is, in all likelihood, never going to pass the Democratically-supported program that the Senate voted on this week. It was a lot of symbolism and set the stage for what's going to come.
REHMWhat are people talking about as a way of compromise, Steve?
ROBERTSWell, they're not talking at all before the election. I mean, I don't think anything in the way of compromise is going to happen before the election because, as Ari points out, both sides think they have the political advantage on this issue. But they think that because they're appealing to different constituencies. The Democrats are appealing to lower-income people. One of the most reliable benchmarks of voting behavior is income.
ROBERTSLower-income people tend to vote Democratic. The Republicans are counting on appealing to the wealthier part of the economy, including small business people who do report their income from businesses as personal income. And so, now, both sides can't be right, Diane. They both can't think that this is a winning issue. But when you're talking about compromise, there are Republicans quietly who are talking about putting revenues on the table, but that's happened before.
ROBERTSRemember, there was a group of Republicans a year ago who broached the idea, and they got shot down by Grover Norquist and then absolutely adamant no tax view in the Republican Party. But that clearly, if there's going to be a compromise, it's going to have to involve Republicans giving on income, on taxes, and Democrats giving on entitlement.
REHMWhat is the fall off the cliff date?
TUMULTYThe fall off the cliff date is December. And what happens then is, you know, a whole bunch of things, including automatic cuts, would come into play in defense and just slashing domestic programs. But I think the idea that a lame duck Congress and potentially a lame duck president could actually get together and enact what is going to be required is just -- it certainly doesn't seem to fit with anything I've seen in how Washington works these days.
SHAPIROAnd, Diane, one of the things that's so striking to me about this presidential campaign is that, financially, the U.S. really is staring down one of the biggest crises of recent history. And what President Obama and Mitt Romney are talking about is Obama's you built that quote, what year Mitt Romney left Bain Capital. It's all of this really kind of piddly small ball stuff when, in fact, the issues the United States faces right now could not be bigger.
REHMBut what more could President Obama do right now?
SHAPIROWell, he could engage more proactively, more constructively with how are you going to address these fiscal cliff issues. You know, Mitt Romney could put forth a plan to deal with these crises that the United States faces. President Obama pretty much says, look, the Congress set itself up for what's known as the sequester, these deep, deep cuts across the board to defense and domestic programs. He says Congress is going to have to deal with it.
ROBERTSBut no one wants to do that because any compromise involves bad news. Any compromise involves really politically risky attempts on part of the Republicans to raise taxes, on the part of the Democrats to cut entitlements. In the -- on the eve of an election, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney and nobody else wants to go out there and tell the truth to the American people, which is that any compromise is going to involve enormous sacrifice and politically unpopular measures.
TUMULTYI don't know. Call me an optimist, but I do think that, as we go into the fall, when we get past the conventions, when we get into the debates, I do think that they are going to have to be a little bit more forthcoming on precisely how they would handle this because people are going to demand it of them. And I think people will sort of put up with vagueness in the summer. They will not in the fall.
REHMSteve, the Senate also passed in committee this weekend anti-leak bill. Tell us what that was all about.
ROBERTSWell, you know, there's been an on-going controversy in Washington over this issue, fueled by several stories that released in recent months, that detailed some quite secret operations, including, say, the attempt to sabotage Iranian nuclear facilities through cyber attacks and other issues like that.
REHMBut specifically in regard to Osama bin Laden's killing.
ROBERTSThat was also one of the issues...
ROBERTS...that people were concerned about. So -- and this has been a totally Republican criticism. There have been Democrats, including Dianne Feinstein -- she's Democrat on Intelligence. But we're talking...
REHMShe walked back from that bill.
ROBERTSBut she also said that there's a culture of leaks that she doesn't like. And so you had the Senate trying to pass a few rules. By the way, I think they're -- they would be very ineffectual or maybe even illegal if they were adopted. But this would require the government to keep records about conversations with reporters to announce to the Congress when they are releasing classified information.
ROBERTSEvery administration, this is a totally nonpartisan point. Every administration in the history of the world has complained about leaks. And every one of them uses leaks to their own strategic advantage while complaining publicly about them.
SHAPIROAnd this week, it came to the forefront of the campaign again where Mitt Romney has delivered a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention and specifically repeatedly accused President Obama of intentionally leaking national security secrets to gain political advantage, something the White House strongly denies. And then, of course, yesterday in London, Mitt Romney accidentally revealed that he had the secret meeting with the head of MI6, Britain's spy agency, which didn't help him in that respect, but this issue of leaks really did come to the fore this week.
TUMULTYYou know, it's interesting, though. There's a little bit of irony here because, from the left, this administration has been accused of being one of the most secretive administrations in modern history and being, you know, too hard on whistleblowers. The other thing, by the way, that happened, however, is over at the Justice Department. Atty. Gen. Holder did appoint two U.S. attorneys to look into this.
REHMKaren Tumulty, Ari Shapiro, Steve Robert. When we come back, we're going to talk about Mitt Romney's trip overseas and the start of the Olympics.
REHMAnd welcome back to the domestic hour of our Friday News Roundup this week with: Steve Roberts -- he's syndicated columnist and professor of journalism at George Washington University -- Karen Tumulty of The Washington Post, Ari Shapiro. He's White House correspondent for NPR.
REHMKaren, Mitt Romney is traveling overseas in what some say is certainly an attempt to burnish his foreign policy reputation. He's going to -- he's in England. He's going to Israel. He's going to Poland, and, by the way, Poland has now closed down its embassy in Syria because of what's going on there. He's made a couple of gaffs and probably not too many friends in England, where the Olympics begin today.
TUMULTYYes. And as my colleague Phil Rucker pointed out on the front page of The Washington Post today, this was supposed to be the easy part of the trip. And the first thing that Mitt Romney did was, you know, ruffled some feathers by saying in an interview on NBC that he had concerns, that he found it -- he had found that some of the security there was disconcerting. And that drew rebukes both from Prime Minister Cameron and the London mayor.
TUMULTYAnd Prime Minister Cameron said, well, you know, yeah, it was easy to hold the Olympics out in the middle of nowhere in Salt Lake City. This was an opportunity for Mitt Romney to sort of tell a very important part of his own story, which is what he did in the Salt Lake City Olympics, and, instead, he found himself up to his ears in controversy.
SHAPIROAnd I can tell you from the perspective of the Romney press corps, this trip was designed to be relatively news-free. His schedule included six photo ops, no unscripted press conferences, no formal speeches. It was supposed to be really positive publicity for him. As Karen mentioned, targeting something that is an unimpeachable part of Romney's record, the 2002 Winter Olympics that he turned around, and yet you had the scene of 60,000 people in Hyde Park at the end of the Olympic relay jeering at the mention of Mitt Romney's name. It was just remarkable.
ROBERTSThe only good news is they were jeering in London and not in Tampa or Cleveland, but the fact is that it also illustrates a larger point. As you run for president, you go through the primaries, and you now enter the final lap. The scrutiny gets hotter and hotter and hotter, the spotlight brighter and brighter. And we've learned that Mitt Romney, with all of his experience -- he's run for president before, he's been a governor -- cannot always be surefooted in the spontaneous situation.
ROBERTSThere's a long litany of comments, you know, whether, you know, wife driving two Cadillacs. We're all very familiar with them. It's a reminder that it's not easy to run for president and that even the slightest mistake can get magnified immediately in the current media environment.
REHMOf course, his wealth is also going to be magnified here with his wife's horse in the dressage competition.
TUMULTYYes. He will be long gone from London by the time that happens.
ROBERTSNo photo ops with the horse.
TUMULTYAnd he also, in the interview with NBC, was saying, well, you know, I don't really pay attention to that. That's Ann's thing. But I went back yesterday and was comparing this to what I had written four years ago when I was on Obama's trip and where he stood in the exact same spot. And, you know, people were chanting Obama and yes, we can in a British accent. I mean, that European trip had been considered a great success.
REHMSo now Mitt Romney moves on to Israel, a not so easy part of the trip.
SHAPIROExactly. And the trip to Israel is meant to bolster his standing not only with American-Jewish voters, but also with the evangelical Christians for whom Israel is very important and who've been kind of critical of President Obama for, as they see it, not having been more supportive of the Israeli government, Bibi Netanyahu.
SHAPIROAnd, in fact, Prime Minister Netanyahu and Mitt Romney have a relationship that goes back to the 1970s, when they both worked in consulting together in Boston. So while Romney doesn't intend to criticize President Obama specifically while abroad, he certainly hopes that a contrast will be drawn.
ROBERTSAnd the power of American Jews is not just their voting numbers, although they are important in Florida and Pennsylvania, the swing states. They have long understood that contributing to political campaigns through money is a very important way to magnify their influence, and Jewish political money is a very important part of the American political scene.
ROBERTSYou saw Sheldon Adelson, the casino operator in Nevada who's going to be in Israel with Romney, very strong supporter of Israel, has given millions and millions of dollars. So this is also a dimension of it. And the latest polls show that Obama's support among Jews -- he had about 75 percent in the last election -- down about 10 points.
REHMNow, should Mr. Obama have gone to Israel? That's the question people are asking. He has not been to Israel in his whole term.
SHAPIRORight. So he went as a candidate on that trip that Karen mentioned.
SHAPIROHe has not been -- and what is seen as more of a slight by the American Jews who are really offended by this is that he did make an extensive trip through the Muslim world, giving a major speech in Cairo and so forth. From the Obama White House, his perspective, it was the relationship with the Muslim world that was really in trouble and needed significant attention and repair. They've suggested that he might go on a second term.
SHAPIROAnd when criticized for not going in the first term, they say, well, look at our policies, look at the defense cooperation, look at the things that we've done. But, clearly, they are aware that this could hurt them that he did make the trip to Israel.
ROBERTSAnd he is signing a bill at the White House today that -- a bill that would strengthen military cooperation with Israel. And you think that the signing on the day that Romney gets to Israel is an accident. Of course, it's not. This is -- he understands he's got a problem on this regard and is trying to repair it a little bit.
TUMULTYWell, and the last time Netanyahu visited the White House, it was extraordinarily tense. It was -- the tension in that relationship was on display, I think, for everyone to see. And President Obama has done a number of things that have upset Israel, including his suggestion that negotiations over the future shape of the Palestinian State has -- should begin where the -- basically the 1967 war ended.
REHMWell, talk about tension. The dates for the presidential debates have now been set. You know, how much do voters wait to make up their minds until they see those debates, Steve?
ROBERTSWell, I think it varies, and I think that different debates have been -- some have been very important. You go back to the Ronald Reagan race against Jimmy Carter. He was behind until the last debate in most of the polls. People were just not convinced that he had the intellect or the competence to be president. And that last debate where he did very well really became a touchstone of his campaign, and he -- it was a very important asset. But there have also been drawbacks.
ROBERTSYou know, when George Bush, the elder, running for reelection looked at his watch and looked like he wanted to be somewhere else is a drawback. So it goes back to my point earlier. This is one of the highest visibility moments. More people are tuned in than any other event. And so you can help yourself with a good performance as Reagan did. You can hurt yourself with a poor performance as George Bush did.
SHAPIROIn the October Obama-McCain debate in 2008, more than 63 million people tuned in. That's a huge, huge audience. Anecdotally, I can tell you just from talking to voters in places like Pennsylvania and Ohio, a lot of them say, I haven't started paying attention yet. I'm going to watch the debates.
REHMInteresting. And, of course, one of the issues that people have been talking about and will talk about is gun control after the Aurora, Colo. shooting. We have an email from Annie in Indianapolis. "Isn't the tragedy there in Aurora an example of why the Affordable Care Act is needed? Multiple young adult victims have no health insurance. Hospitals are contemplating how to pay for the victims." Steve.
ROBERTSWell, it does reinforce the point that a big problem with the system is that young people who generally think of themselves as healthy don't buy into the system. The whole theory behind affordable care and the mandate is to force those people to buy insurance so that you spread the risk. And so it's not just sick people who are in the pool. And the argument has always been that one of the reasons, not just a question of equity, but that young people are one car wreck, one accident away from vulnerability. It doesn't have to be a gunshot. There'd be many ways...
ROBERTS...as this demonstrates that you can think you're healthy, and then the next day, suddenly you are in need of insurance. And a lot of these younger people are without it (unintelligible).
REHMDo I understand correctly that some of these hospitals, if not all, are waiving fees for the individuals?
TUMULTYI think three out of the five are. But these are -- I mean, the hospital bills, for a lot of these people, are going to be just the beginning.
TUMULTYOne of the victims is still in critical condition with a head wound. His wife gave birth on Tuesday. That family is trying to collect $500,000 to deal with the kind of issues that they are...
REHMThey're going online to try to ask...
ROBERTSYeah. Well, the law is that hospitals are required to treat anybody who comes in through the emergency room, and the phrase is to stabilize them. It's the long-term care...
ROBERTS...the rehab that can be very costly that would not be covered.
REHMOf course. And still no word on gun control from either President Obama or Mitt Romney. Ari.
SHAPIROYou know, Diane, you said that gun control is likely to be part of the debates, and I'm sure it'll come up. But this is one issue where Mitt Romney and Barack Obama really share the same view. At least their public position, both of them, is we should enforce existing laws, and neither of them believes that new laws are needed.
SHAPIROPresident Obama went a little bit further in his speech to the Urban League in New Orleans, saying it's important that we keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill and so on and so forth, but he did not talk about new laws. In fact, when Jay Carney, his spokesman, was asked about this specifically, he said, no, it's about operating to enforce the existing legal framework.
TUMULTYIn fact, President Obama, as president, has expanded gun rights. I mean, he signed a bill that would allow people to carry concealed weapons in national parks. These days, you are more likely to see a Democrat posing with a gun in their campaign ads than you are to hear a Democrat calling for stricter gun control.
REHMAnd in the meantime, gun buying skyrocketed in Colorado.
ROBERTSAnd that's a pattern that we've seen after other shootings in other places. Look, people forget Mitt Romney signed an assault weapons ban when he was governor of Massachusetts, and the fact that he's now abandoned that position is an indication of the growing power of the gun lobby. The fact is not only do Obama and Romney share views on gun control, they share an assessment of the political situation, which is the people who care about guns are a far more focused, financed, organized lobby than the people who are in favor of gun laws. And it's an uneven political battle.
SHAPIROThese last few years have been such a win for the gun lobby because they simultaneously say there's a president in office who is coming to take your guns, and they've got a lot of donations. And gun sales have gone through the roof. And the president who is in office, in fact, is not taking any steps to take away guns. And so they both got the policy they want and the rhetoric they want in order to increase their power without having their -- you know, a strong movement to limit them.
TUMULTYAnd the Obama administration is also on the defensive about guns because they're in the middle of the controversy over the Fast and Furious -- the controversy where, you know, the ATF let a lot of guns go into Mexico and, as a result, a Border Patrol agent was killed.
REHMKaren Tumulty of The Washington Post. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." I want to ask you about these latest voter ID laws coming up in Pennsylvania and Virginia. How significant are those? How might they affect turnout, Karen?
TUMULTYWell, one thing that's really interesting is that civil rights cases are usually fought in federal courts. But in this case, they are being fought in state courts, in places like Pennsylvania, and Pennsylvania's case started just this week.
ROBERTSAlthough the Texas fight is in federal court, but...
TUMULTYRight, right. But it's interesting because one thing that people are trying to figure out is exactly how many people would be affected by these requirements. And yesterday in Pennsylvania, one expert testified that, you know, there is something like 12 percent of registered voters in Pennsylvania that don't have the precise kind of photo ID that was originally called for in their law.
TUMULTYNow, the state has said they're going to issue special voter-only photo IDs. But it -- for one thing, people just don't know, at this point, how many people would be affected.
SHAPIROIt is no coincidence that Republican-led legislatures, for the most part, have been the ones passing these laws, and groups that tend Democratic have challenged the laws because the people who will, in any assessment, be potentially shut out, no matter how many we're talking about, are racial minorities, the elderly and the poor, groups that tend to vote Democratic, with the possible exception of the elderly. And so this is fighting over the election before the election takes place. Who's going to be able to vote?
ROBERTSAnd every analysis of this has shown that you're right, that the political impact will fall disproportionately on people who voted Democratic. People, for instance, under $30,000 a year voted -- two-thirds of them voted Democratic in the last election. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that there's an advantage if you suppress that vote. The other dimension that came through in the Pennsylvania case was very interesting.
ROBERTSThe whole rationale for this has been voter fraud, that this is necessary. These laws are necessary to prevent fraud, but that's never been true. And in the Pennsylvania case, the state of Pennsylvania had to admit before the judge that there are no recorded cases of fraud in Pennsylvania, and they stipulated that it's -- there would be no cases of fraud if, in fact, the law was overturned.
REHMSo how did they come up...
ROBERTSSo the core rationale for the law is -- they've actually given it up in the Pennsylvania case, very interesting development.
REHMBut how did they come up with that 12 percent, Karen?
TUMULTYIt's -- basically, it's a -- it was an expert, an academic who did a big survey in June, I think it was, and again before they changed these regulations and just basically asked people, you know, do you have some kind of state-issued, government-issued photo ID?
ROBERTSThe best study I've seen says that it could reduce turnout by about one or 2 percent in practical terms, but if you're talking about close elections in Florida...
ROBERTS...where there's a tough law, or in Pennsylvania where there's a tough law, one or 2 percent could make a big difference.
TUMULTYBy the way, enforcing these things is expensive, and at a time when states don't have a lot of money in their budgets, there's a real fiscal question that's being raised here as well.
SHAPIROKaren, according to your publication, The Washington Post, when the state of Pennsylvania compared its roll of 8.2 million voters with the Transportation Department's list of those with photo IDs, it found that more than 758,000 voters did not have ID.
TUMULTYAlthough the state is saying that a lot of those people may be not actual -- they may be students who have moved away or -- whatever the state officially estimates, it would only be 1 percent of the voters.
REHMHere's an email from Sheryl in Charlotte, N.C., who wants to know, "Why is the media largely ignoring the fact that Sandy Weill stated, during a CNBC interview, he made mistakes in pushing to get Glass-Steagall repealed? He now believes commercial and investment banks need to be separated again." Steve.
ROBERTSWell, I don't think the media is ignoring it. It got a lot of attention, particularly in the financial press and in financial columns, and it is a significant moment. Now, he doesn't -- he didn't say that he made a mistake by advocating the repeal of Glass-Steagall.
REHMLet me read to you what he said. He said, "What we should probably do is go and split up investment banking from banking, have banks do something that's not going to risk the taxpayer dollars, that's not going to be too big to fail."
ROBERTSWhat I'm saying is that his defense is his position was right at the time, and it was not a mistake then. But the way it's played out, creating these banks that are too big to fail and require enormous taxpayer underwriting, he's now -- and probably there are a number of other people who agree with him.
REHMSyndicated columnist Steve Roberts. Short break. When we come back, your calls.
REHMWe're back, and it's time for your calls. First to Fort Worth, Texas. Good morning, Karen. Karen, are you there?
MIKEI'm Mike from Fort Worth, Texas, if you're talking to me.
REHMSorry. Go right ahead.
MIKEAll right. A little while ago, Karen mentioned -- I believe it was Karen mentioned that Obama said that we tried it their way, and it didn't work or something like that. Well, those words were taken completely out of context. So she's essentially running a Republican ad here, so I wanted to correct the record. I believe that Obama was referring to Clinton's actions with regard to the economy versus George Bush's actions and in particular tax policy and other economic policies that led to one of the biggest surpluses in history and then one of the biggest deficits on history.
REHMAll right. Karen.
TUMULTYWell, I think, actually, Mike, you're taking me out of context because what I said was that Obama is trying to make the argument that -- and it's a difficult argument to make. But as I said, it's one that economists agree with that things would have been worse except for the policies they did put into place. And again, I also said the Republicans are making hay out of that one line.
REHMAll right. To Nashville, Tenn. Good morning, Carl.
CARLGood morning, Diane. Thanks for taking my call.
CARLMy maternal grandfather was a veteran of World War II. My paternal grandfather was a veteran of the Korean War and Vietnam. And my father was a veteran -- is, you know, a veteran of Vietnam. And it disturbs me to no end to see someone like Mitt Romney talk to the veterans of foreign wars, a guy who got deferment after deferment, basically a draft dodger of foreign wars, and he's standing there talking tough, basically being the puppet for the neocons from the Bush era.
CARLAnd my father went to Southeast Asia and got shot at. I cannot imagine not -- living my life without either my grandfather or my father because they are the shoulders that I stood upon to become the man that I want to be and the man that I want my sons and the women I want my daughter to be. And this guy is sitting here talking to these people. And he dodged the Vietnam War...
REHMAll right, sir. Carl, thank you for the service of your family and yourself. Ari.
SHAPIROYou know, this is the first election in many years where neither candidate has served in the military, and yet veterans, particularly young veterans, are a really important voting group that both are playing for. Typically, veterans and members of the military tend to vote Republican. This year, the Democrats believe that with Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, especially the younger ones, that they may have a chance to make serious interest.
ROBERTSAnd this is one of the reasons why Michelle Obama has made such a point to appealing to military families. And in key states like Virginia and North Carolina, you have a lot of military, recently-retired military. It's a very important way that she's trying to appeal. You also will hear -- have heard and will hear a lot more about Barack Obama's grandfather who fought with Patton in World War II. He himself has not served, but he does have that military tradition in his family, and he's using that as well.
REHMAnd a tweet from Mark Knoller of CBS, "At a ceremony in the Oval Office, President Obama used five pens to sign the bill expanding U.S. security assistance to Israel." To Cleveland, Ohio. Good morning, Karen.
KARENGood morning, and good morning to the panel, too. I heard something said that's probably one of those things that need more clarification, and I think one of your panelists said this as well. We talk about the $250,000 breakpoint, if you will, for people who are paying higher tax.
KARENAnd that needs to be clarified because that's $250,000 of taxable income.
KARENThat's after your IRA deductions, after your standard exemptions -- personal exemptions and standard deductions.
KARENAnd so people are actually making a lot more than that. And the -- so, you know, the idea that $250,000 is somehow a terrible burden is really skewed, plus the fact that the majority of small business people don't get to that...
SHAPIROAnd another underappreciated factor of this proposal is that, no matter how much money you make, the first $250,000 of your income will be under this tax break that the Democrats are proposing. So the Democrats are now proposing no tax break for the wealthy. They're saying for the wealthy and everybody else, you'll only get a tax break for that first $250,000.
ROBERTSAnd a number of Democrats have been uneasy with the $250,000 limit. Chuck Schumer and others have said it should be a million as a more easily arguable breakpoint to satisfy, to some extent, the kind of concerns the caller has.
REHMAll right. To Chicago, Ill. Good morning, Joe.
JOEGood morning. Good morning, everybody.
JOEI'm kind of piggybacking on what the first caller was saying, and I don't think it was really well-addressed. There's this idea out there or this practice of, you know, there's spin in the media, and we understand that. But then there's flat-out lying. And I think the -- President Obama's statement about -- excuse me -- President Obama's statement about small businesses and, you know, you didn't do that or you didn't build that, rather, is taken so far out of context to the extent that I've seen in certain organizations, they just completely remove the sentence that provides the context for his statement.
JOEAnd it wouldn't be so bad if this didn't have such a profound impact on the ways in which voters understand the debate, understand the discourse, understand truth and fiction in the electorate.
REHMYou know, it's an interesting point. The issue becomes how much do voters take those negative ads and make decisions on the basis thereof. Karen?
TUMULTYYou know, what's extraordinary is how little the polls would suggest voter attitudes have changed in this year when they have been absolutely bombarded with negative advertising and on both sides. And yet the race was a close race months ago, and it remains a very close race.
REHMIt remains a close race. But there have been some shifts, Ari.
SHAPIROThere have. You know, I heard something very disheartening this week from the behavioral scientist Dan Ariely on the subject of taking quotes of context, whether it's Mitt Romney saying I like to fire people or I don't care about the very poor, both taken out of context, or Barack Obama saying the private sector is doing fine or you didn't build that, both taken out of context.
SHAPIROThis behavioral scientist told me voters want the politicians of their political party to lie in order to get elected, and he told me it's more true of Democrats than Republicans. But he said that in both parties, you see a complete comfort with politicians of their own party lying if it gets them into office.
ROBERTSYou know, when you ask about negative ads, there have been a lot of academic studies on this. And the real power of negative ads is not to change people's minds. It's to discourage voters. And studies show that a barrage of negative ads can cause some people who were weak supporters of a candidate to get discouraged and stay home. And if you get one of your opponent's potential supporters to stay home, you don't have to get them to change their mind and vote for you. If you get them to stay home, you've accomplished something. And that often is the point of negative ads. It's voter suppression.
REHMYou know, it's interesting that NPR's neck is on the block again, Ari, with some in Congress saying, let's cut funding for NPR and CPB overall. Karen.
TUMULTYAgain, these things are, I think -- they're miniscule in the budget, and yet they are the kinds of things that they are understandable to people and that politicians can run with. And yet the big issues -- what are we going to do about Medicare in the long run, what are we going to do about Social Security in the longer run -- are the things that they're not addressing. And those are the things that really, really would change.
ROBERTSPeople have a totally distorted view of the federal budget. A lot of people think a third of the budget is foreign aid. They have no idea that the huge bulk of the budget are these automatic payments under Medicare and Social Security, profound misinformation on this.
SHAPIROLess than 1 percent is foreign aid, actually.
REHMLess than 1 percent. All right. To Jupiter, Fla. Good morning, Aubrey.
AUBREYGood morning. I just wanted to comment that the media -- or I haven't seen anybody make a connection that Mitt Romney and many people like him have money offshore. And evidence of that is the IRS came out last year and told a lot people that they just come back and tell us you got money there. We're not going to do anything to you in overseas accounts in Switzerland, the Cayman Islands, whatever.
AUBREYThe connection between the -- letting this tax cut go for the wealthy who keep, you know, Republican Party keeps telling me that this money is going to trickle down and create jobs. And we're not going to create new jobs if we don't -- if we left this tax cut come -- go away. And -- but then the evidence is showing that if Romney and people like him have millions of dollars in offshore accounts and nobody's come out and did any kind of journalistic, you know, overview or, you know, put that out, which is -- I think it's a big problem.
AUBREYIt seems like the media -- I don't know, it's because of lack of reporters, spends a lot of time responding to the Republican and sometimes the Democratic Party. I mean, they're sure to set the tone of the day and everybody just starts commenting on what they say. And most of the time it's all misinformation.
TUMULTYI think it's mostly because of lack of information, which is...
REHMLack of information.
TUMULTY...one of the reasons that the pressure is going to continue on Mitt Romney to release his tax returns. I believe that this week, in fact, a call for him to do that came from the Manchester Union Leader, hardly a liberal newspaper.
ROBERTSAnd you will hear more from the Democrats, particularly if there's more information released in other tax returns, about this issue of offshore bank accounts. It's part of a larger attempt to say to American voters, Mitt Romney does not understand you, the ordinary American. He's taken advantage of all these tax loopholes. They're not illegal, but they separate him. They make him different.
ROBERTSThey isolate and insulate him from the problems of ordinary Americans. It's really at the core of the Obama campaign to say to voters, this guy just doesn't understand what your lives are like.
REHMBut the Romney advisers are saying that he takes less of a hit if he does not release his tax return.
SHAPIROExactly. So they're weighing the cost of being accused of being overly secretive against the cost that Steve just outlined of if he releases these, what kinds of attack ads are going to come out. And Mitt Romney has said as much in interviews. When he's asked, why won't you release the tax returns, he says, because I'm not going to give the Obama attack machine thousands more pages of ammunition to use against me.
REHMBut the question is, is he ultimately going to be forced to release those taxes?
ROBERTSI think so because I think the pressure will come not just from Democrats but from a lot of Republicans because...
REHMWho are already doing that, yeah.
ROBERTS...who are already saying, look, the downfall, the downside of looking like you're hiding something, pretty devastating.
REHMAnd is he hiding something? That's the question everybody is asking. With all of this money offshore, why won't he release? What could be an answer?
SHAPIROYou know, there was an Obama attack ad that said, what's he trying to hide? Could there been a year when he paid no taxes? And a reporter from Politico called Andrea Saul, the press secretary, and said, Andrea, was there any year when Mitt Romney paid no taxes? She said, no, there was no such year. So cross that off the list. Unless we go one by one, crossing every potential secret off the list with calls to Andrea Saul, we're just not going to know unless he releases them.
REHMAri Shapiro of NPR, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go to Concord, N.H. Good morning, Susan.
SUSANGood morning, Diane. I have a brief comment about Mitt Romney and his reception at the Olympics. And I wanted to just say that I think it's a little unfair for you and your commenters to have characterized the reception as -- or Mitt Romney's statements as mistake. I will -- I have a relative who is working within the British company G4S who's providing securities, and they're one of the main contractors, if not sole contractor, for the Olympics. And as of Monday, they were over 3,500 employees, security personnel, short.
SUSANNow, I don't know what that status is today or not, whether they still have a problem. But for Mitt Romney to have visited and have assessed the site and have -- and then to comment that they may be a little slight on security and to have people react very negatively is more, in my mind, the typical of people not receiving bad news well, and that I just thought it was unfair for you to have called it a mistake on his part.
ROBERTSWell, we didn't call it a mistake in terms of the facts. I mean, the facts are there. There have been problems. We called it a mistake politically given the reaction of the British press. Karen has this wonderful headline that says "Mitt the Twit" from The Sun. And...
ROBERTS...so there are -- and the denunciations by David Cameron, by the mayor of the London, you got to be saying that's a political mistake when you get that kind of bad press.
REHMAri Shapiro, Sally Ride died this week. She had suffered from pancreatic cancer. In the billboard, I mistakenly said she was the first woman in space. In fact, she was the first American woman in space.
SHAPIROYeah. And, interestingly, after she died, in the obituary, she came out as -- this essay written by her sister Bear says most people did not know that Sally had a wonderfully loving relationship with Tam O'Shaughnessy, a woman, for 27 years. They lived very openly together but had -- they were very private people generally. And this essay, which I found very moving, ends with, "I hope it makes it easier for kids growing up gay that they know that another one of their heroes was like them."
SHAPIROAnd also, you know, I don't often put on the designated homosexual hat, but as a kid who grew up without a lot of gay role models of national stature, I think it's incredible that teenagers wondering what it means to be gay can now know that it could mean you're the first American woman in space.
ROBERTSAnd, you know, there has been a lot of comment about whether she should have come out earlier. And there were a lot of people who said, well, she could have provided a better role model if she had come out earlier.
ROBERTSBut there are others who said -- and this is -- I tend to -- and I agree that gays who have come out have been very useful. My dear friend Barney Frank who got married a few weeks ago did it in large part to say to fellow members of Congress, I want you to have to deal with a gay married man while I'm still a member. But at the same time, everybody gets a right to do this their own way. And she decided to be a private person, and I think that has to be respected, too.
TUMULTYYou know, I actually had the privilege of meeting Sally Ride a few years back at a conference. And I was struck by how she wanted to make everything that was so extraordinary about her seem so ordinary. When she was named at the space program and it was announced she would go into space, one of the things she was asked was, are you going to cry? And she said, you're not asking this of men. And one of the things I found inspirational about her was that she dedicated the rest of her life to making girls think about careers in science, careers in technology.
REHMExactly. And I must say, I was sad not to be here when Sally Ride was on this program. In fact, you, Steve Roberts, interviewed her, and we did rebroadcast that interview just the other night. It's online for those of you who'd like to hear it. Thank you all, Ari Shapiro, Steve Roberts, Karen Tumulty. Have a great weekend.
SHAPIROYou too, Diane. Thanks.
TUMULTYThank you, Diane.
ROBERTSThank you, Diane.
REHMAnd thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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