A conversation with Australian author Richard Flanagan about his latest book “The Narrow Road to the Deep North.” The Man Booker Prize-winning novel is based on his father’s experience as a slave laborer in a Japanese POW camp during World War II.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney accused President Barack Obama of dismantling federal welfare reform and creating a “culture of dependency.” The U.S. economy continued to send mixed signals. And victims of the Wisconsin Sikh temple shooting were remembered at vigils across the United States. Ron Elving of NPR, Nia-Malika Henderson of The Washington Post and John King of CNN join Diane for analysis of the week’s top national news stories.
- Ron Elving Washington editor for NPR.
- Nia-Malika Henderson national politics reporter for The Washington Post.
- John King anchor of CNN's John King, USA, and chief national correspondent.
Friday News Roundup Video
The panel discussed why President Barack Obama and presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney have not discussed gun control following a shooting that left seven people dead at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin Sunday. Nia-Malika Henderson, national politics reporter for The Washington Post, said the U.S. doesn’t have an appetite to curb gun use. She said a recent Quinnipiac University poll found 60 percent of Americans think stricter gun laws would have no effect on mass shootings. Ron Elving, Washington editor for NPR, talked about New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s call for the presidential candidates to debate gun ownership. CNN anchor John King said every state has a different position on gun control. “What’s frustrating in the political system is, like immigration, like taxes, we can’t even have a conversation,” King said.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney accused President Obama of dismantling welfare reform and creating a culture of dependency. The U.S. economy continued to send mixed signals with home prices rising in the second quarter but unemployment remaining high. And victims of the Wisconsin Sikh temple shooting were remembered at vigils across the country.
MS. DIANE REHMHere with me for the domestic hour of the Friday News Roundup: Ron Elving of NPR, Nia-Malika Henderson of The Washington Post, and John King of CNN. I invite you to join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning, everybody.
MR. RON ELVINGGood morning.
MR. JOHN KINGGood morning, Diane
MS. NIA-MALIKA HENDERSONGood morning.
REHMGood to see you all, and let's welcome our new affiliate in Pittsburg, WESA 90.5. We are delighted to have you. So, Ron Elving, mixed signals on the economy, the trade gap is shrinking, but productivity is going up, home prices strong, U.S. employers -- still, unemployment very strong.
ELVINGThat's right. And, in fact, all these indicators are really kind of slight changes. We haven't seen any big moves in recent weeks. The last thing we saw, of course, was the creation of jobs number in July. The creation of jobs number was reasonably good compared to the few months before, and that got a lot of headlines. But it wasn't enough to bring down the unemployment rate, which actually ticked up slightly which was mostly a statistical rounding change. But it went from 8.2 to 8.3, and that, of course, gave Mitt Romney a chance to say the economy was getting worse.
ELVINGA lot of these numbers you just mentioned are very important numbers. Housing prices, the housing economy, the housing industry, all the different things that it affects has really been the underpinning of the recession and the underpinning of the weak recovery. So if that could really change, that would make a huge difference.
ELVINGAnd as we get towards the end of this month and we see another set of statistics and then, of course, in September, this is going to matter. But you're going to find people out there who say, too late. People have already decided, this is a weak economy.
ELVINGIt's like 1992 when the economy got better all year long, and it didn't help George H.W. Bush at all.
REHMYou know, I don't believe that. I really believe people are paying attention. Many are undecided, Nia, and just not sure where they're going.
HENDERSONThat's right. I mean, I think the conventional wisdom, at least from the Romney team, is that people haven't quite started paying attention yet. They seem to be waiting to roll out much of their, you know, themes and campaign until the convention. But you've seen obviously from the Obama side and the Democrats a sense that people are paying attention right now. And let's face it, people walk around with their cellphones all day. And they're checking Twitter, and they're checking what CNN says or The Washington Post or The New York Times. And so...
HENDERSONOr NPR. That's right. That's right. So people are tuned in, but there does seem to be a sense that a lot of people have made up their minds. If you look at the most recent polls, you've got, like, three or 5 percent of people who still are on the sidelines and haven't quite decided who they want to back. But there does seem to be a sense that the economy, maybe it'll get a little better over these next couple of months.
HENDERSONBut I also think, in terms of the numbers, we always sort of fetish-ize this unemployment number. I think a lot of people -- you know, think about the gas prices or how many bags of groceries they can get at Walmart for $100. And so those are the types of things, I think, people are going to be looking at going into the fall.
REHMJohn King, there is one new piece of news this morning which is the Justice Department has decided not to go after Goldman-Sachs on the housing debacle. How come?
KINGWell, the Justice Department looks at the evidence in these cases, and they have to make a decision. Do you have threshold proof of some criminal action? Do they fine the action they don't like? Do they fine action they find reprehensible? Do they think people are either asleep at the switch or being greedy or maybe, you know, in the gray area? But the Justice Department, to bring a criminal case, has to reach a threshold to go into a court and say, here's threshold criminal evidence.
KINGNow, people out there when they hear this, they're so mad at the big institutions. People don't trust big institutions, whether it's government, maybe especially the banks right now. People get mad about that, and that feeds in. You know, we talk about the statistics all the time. As Nia makes a good point, different people will process this different way depending on where you live. Maybe you live in Nevada and your house is worth one-third of what it what it was worth five years ago.
KINGThat as your energy spice -- energy price spike in the summer time, you get mad. So maybe it's not unemployment to you. Maybe it is to somebody else. We have a new poll out today, though, at CNN that shows everybody is more pessimistic about the future of the economy. So even as the statistics to Ron's point about 1992, the data seems to be at least a little better. There are some signs of hope, but people are tired. The last four years have just been hard for everybody across the economic spectrum.
KINGAnd their legs are tired. It's like treading water. And they don't think, you process the -- you might not be thinking about the presidential race every day, but you process the economy every day...
KING...when you pay for gas, when you pay your bills.
ELVINGThat's right. And, you know, there's one statistic that doesn't get quite the same obsessive attention for most people as, say, the unemployment rate or the gas prices, but it's the consumer sentiment index. And this has actually been one of the very best, if not the very best, indicator of political sentiment going into a presidential election. And there are several that are done. Bloomberg does one.
ELVINGBut the University of Michigan has been doing one for a very long time. And it shows that, right now, we are at a 72.3 index of consumer confidence. That's an index as percentage of 100 which was the sort of normal sense of golden age back in the early 1960s. Fifty years ago is the sense of normal, the sense of people being perfectly confident. On average, over the last 50 years, we've been at something like 85. We are now down at 72.3.
ELVINGNo president has been reelected with a number this low, and, typically, when presidents have been getting reelected, the number has been above the average. It's been in the 90s. So for President Obama to be in the running and doing even as well as he is doing in the polls with his numbers maybe 20 points under where it ought to be on the consumer sentiment index...
REHMYeah, what does it say to you?
ELVINGWell, it says a lot that we can discuss as we go forward. But we do know this, that consumers are not happy. And whatever other numbers we look at, it's the consumers that are the electorate. Everything else is slightly oblique to the result.
REHMRon Elving of NPR, Nia-Malika Henderson of The Washington Post, John King of CNN. Do join us, 800-433-8850. What about these congressional primary races that we saw this week? Claire McCaskill in Missouri looks still quite vulnerable Democrat who now goes up against Republican Todd Akin.
HENDERSONThat's right. And she has been the most endangered Democrat in the country for quite some time. She had those problems with her private plane. She was BFFs with Obama in 2008, in 2006, and a lot of those votes for the stimulus package and for health care are going to hurt her. I think they're looking up now in terms of her chances. Democrats actually poured a lot of money into this race to, in some ways, ensure that Todd Akin be her challenger because they feel like they can paint him as an extremist. He said some off-color things about student loans.
HENDERSONI think he described it as the third stage cancer on the way to socialism, student loans. He wants to privatize Medicare. And so they feel like they can really paint him as extreme. And some -- and that'll turn off independents. So they actually, I think, are pleased with this challenger. But, again, I think it's going to be really tough for her to pull this out.
HENDERSONAnd, obviously, there's, like, a six point -- the Democrats have a six-point lead in the Senate in terms of a majority, six more Democratic senators than Republicans. But the field of Democrats who are running is just much wider than the field of Republicans. It's 23-to-10, so Republicans are very bullish on their chances to take over the Senate.
REHMWhat about Republican Ted Cruz in Texas, John?
KINGIn both Ted Cruz and Todd Akin, you get the return of Tea Party, if you will. You get proof that primaries are about ideology. The more conservative candidate wins. Mr. Cruz was running against Gov. Perry's handpicked candidate, the long-time lieutenant governor, a force in Texas politics, David Dewhurst, the institutional candidate that two, three, four years ago you would think, no way to beat this guy. Well, guess what, you know, the Republican Party is still going through this turmoil.
KINGAgain, it's almost you have to tip your hat to Mitt Romney to think -- not a very ideological guy, not a Tea Party guy somehow won the Republican nomination in -- after 2010 when we all thought, where's the Tea Party? The Tea Party sort of fell asleep in the beginning of the year, I think, throughout the primaries. But both in Missouri and in Texas, you see the primaries are about ideology. Now, Mr. Cruz is heavily favored in the state of Texas. I think the Missouri race will be much more fascinating.
KINGIn a test case, to the same point that Ron made about President Obama, does it matter who your opponent is? If you're the incumbent in a tough economy, in a tough state, does it matter who your opponent is? McCaskill has a better chance today, but one of the dynamics she will face is don't look for the Obama campaign to help her by spending a lot of money in Missouri.
KINGBarack Obama lost Missouri the last time in a big Democratic year. They're not going to pour resources into Missouri this time.
ELVINGYes. I think one thing that is safe to say is that no state that John McCain won in 2008 is going to vote for Barack Obama in 2012. So Obama has to start withholding his own states. Some of those are probably already gone like Indiana, maybe North Carolina although that still looks close. Missouri, which was the closest win for McCain, is not close in 2012, and that's going away.
ELVINGIf you look at some of these Democratic incumbents and also open seats around the country, Wisconsin is coming up next Tuesday. Tommy Thompson, absolute legend in Wisconsin politics, four times elected governor, a couple times in huge landslides. Milwaukee voted for him, the most Democratic parts of Milwaukee voted for him, everything but Madison.
ELVINGHe was a legend, absolutely unstoppable. You would think that when he finally said, yes, I'll run for the senate, now that Herb Kohl is retiring, it would just be his seat. It would just be his seat. But there are three really aggressive Republican candidates running against him. One of them might beat him. The polls show it's quite close.
ELVINGIf there were only one, and if that only one had the Ted Cruz energy, if you will, the Tea Party energy in Wisconsin, that person would almost surely beat Tommy Thompson for that nomination and run against Tammy Baldwin, the Democratic nominee, in November.
HENDERSONYeah, and you've seen this. There is a sense that people are just sick of sort of Washington establishment figures, people who have been in office for some time. You saw that in Indiana with Lugar and Mourdock. And so I think those low approval ratings that Congress has and the establishment has, we're seeing that in race after race across the country.
REHMNia-Malika Henderson, she's national politics reporter for The Washington Post. We'll take a short break here. When we come back, we'll talk about the terrible shooting out in Wisconsin. Stay with us.
REHMAnd for the domestic hour of our Friday News Roundup, here with me: John King of CNN, Ron Elving of NPR, Nia-Malika Henderson of The Washington Post. Here's our first email. "The Justice Department's decision to not prosecute is beyond belief. Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein should be tried for lying to Congress. Sen. Carl Levin said Goldman lied in their testimony, yet the Justice Department tries Roger Clemens not once but twice about using steroids in baseball." What do you think, John?
KINGI think that captures what...
REHMIt really does.
KING...people -- the outrage that people think the big institutions are in bed with the politicians, that they give all this money, and therefore, somehow they don't get prosecuted while Roger Clemens, whether you think that's a good case or a bad case, why does he get tried twice than this -- Goldman Sachs?
KINGHowever, we were discussing during the break a little bit, you know, as we said, when they look at these cases, if they don't see glaring, flashing red lights, the Justice Department has to make a tough call because they're going to go into court against a high-powered institution that will hire the best attorneys in the world, most of them probably former Justice Department prosecutors. And the Justice Department has to make a call, can we win this case, or will we be embarrassed in losing this case?
KINGThey made this call, but it's probably going to outrage a lot of people like that email.
REHMYeah. Here's an email from someone who says, "There were emails discovered from Goldman Sachs that showed audacious and egregious decisions being made to bet on subprime loans. It reinforces the double standard and impunity of the banks, and John King's failure to acknowledge this simple evidence this morning is exactly why people have stopped watching television." What do you think, Ron Elving?
ELVINGI think that there's a reality here that people have to bite down on that's extraordinarily distasteful, and that is that when you look at the law, you're not just talking about what is the law. You're talking about what you can make stick in a courtroom.
ELVINGAnd what the Department of Justice has learned again and again is when you try to take people to court and you try to prove complex cases in front of a jury, you're going to be putting government Justice Department attorneys up against the very finest, the most experienced, often times former Justice Department attorneys, people who have had extraordinary careers who are going to be the defense lawyers for the banks or for whichever miscreant you're going after in court.
ELVINGAnd you are going have to have not only an extraordinary case, not just the people who were egregious, not just the people send email saying, hey, let's do some really bad stuff, but that they specifically broke the letter of certain laws, did it repeatedly, did it in a certain particular way and make sure that they jury has no other decision it can make other than guilty. That turns out to be extremely difficult under our laws and in our courts.
REHMEspecially when you have top New York lawyers going up against you.
ELVINGAs you might very well have and if you take these people on.
KINGAnd you have laws that are not crystal clear. You have laws that are not crystal clear. Being egregious, being reckless is not necessarily being illegal. I appreciate the caller's skepticism about our business and about everything else. There's no question that when you look through these emails and you listen to the testimony that your head starts to burn and steam comes out of years. But that's different than proving it in a court of law.
KINGAnd it's part of the debate we're in our politics right now as to whether to -- a lot of people think the Dodd-Frank bill is a good bill, the new regulations. Some people say it doesn't go far enough, and there are people, including the Republican nominee for president, who say, we need to repeal it.
ELVINGRepeal the whole thing.
KINGAnd so this is part of our campaign debate not only in the presidential race but for congressional races as well.
REHMAll right. Nia, let's talk about what happened in Wisconsin this week with a shooter walking in, opening fire and then killing himself. Both President Obama and Mitt Romney offered their condolences, but they offered no mention of the need for gun control. How come?
HENDERSONThat's right, and this was 17 days after we saw a similar thing happen in Aurora, Colo. You had Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York City, come out and say, sure, these condolences are nice for Mitt Romney and from President Obama. But what about turning their attention and showing some leadership on the issue of gun control? It doesn't look like that's going to happen.
HENDERSONAnd I was looking at poll, there's a Quinnipiac poll out that came out a couple of days ago that said that most people actually don't think a change in gun control laws would prevent a shooting like this. It was something like 60 percent who said that gun control laws would have no effect on a shooting like this, but there is -- there does seem to be an appetite, at least according to that poll for there to be some sort of ban on selling these high-powered cartridges and guns.
HENDERSONOf course, we remember there was the assault weapons ban that was signed in the law in 1994 by Clinton. It sunset -- the sunset provision, it went out of law in 2004, and it has found no traction on Capitol Hill. And I think if you're President Obama, you know that there is a sentiment out there among conservatives, true or not, that he has been attempting to curb people's gun rights. There is no evidence that he has really necessarily done that, and he hasn't really done anything in terms of gun control.
HENDERSONBut there just doesn't seem to be an appetite. And I think if -- I mean, after two mass shootings, if that wasn't enough to cause President Obama and Mitt Romney to act, I don't think there could be anything to make that happen.
ELVINGThere is great reason to admire Michael Bloomberg for some of the positions he's taken recently, this one, I think, and also defending the right of people to build a mosque in New York City and so forth. He's been quite courageous on a number of these things. In fairness, he doesn't have to run outside the city of New York. He doesn't have to run statewide even in New York, let alone get out into rural Pennsylvania, let alone get into the rest of the country.
REHMAnd he's not running again.
ELVINGAnd he's not running for mayor again. So whatever his political ambitions may be, he is building his particular bridge to the future in a very different direction. The rest of the country, the Second Amendment is settled business, and it is settled business for presidential politics and congressional politics.
REHMOn assault rifles says, well, Ron.
ELVINGWell, on assault weapons, you get into a terrible debate about what is and what isn't an assault weapon.
ELVINGAnd the NRA is an extraordinarily effective -- some people would say it goes to the point of redefining what successful lobbying is, not just in Washington but in all 50 state capitals where they hold incredible sway and can pass virtually any legislation. They want witness things such as Stand Your Ground laws.
KINGAnd for Democrats, the ghost of 1994, when Republicans took control of the House the first time at the Gingrich era and 2000 when some people think this was a factor in Al Gore's defeat in his home state of Tennessee perhaps, in West Virginia perhaps, the struggles in other parts of the country. Is that true? You know, things become legend in politics, but there's a ghost in Democratic politics that you touch gun control at your peril.
KINGI think what's frustrating though, Diane, is Ron mentioned -- Mayor Bloomberg has been consistent on this. Some thought it was a little crass the day of the Colorado shooting when he was on the radio. I think that was already scheduled, and he stated his opinion. The issue -- I think what frustrates people in the country is the country is very complicated, 50 complicated pieces of the puzzle, and some people don't want any gun control. Some people want a lot. What's frustrating in the political system is, like immigration, like taxes, can't even have a conversation.
KINGCould we get everybody down at the table? Maybe Mayor Bloomberg would walk out of a couple weeks of meetings and say, you know what, I don't think that a law would've made any difference in these cases. I still would like to ban assault weapons. But you can't even have that conversation. Everything is so polarized. That's what's frustrating.
REHMAnd certainly the entire political process is polarized. We're hearing lots of political ads. The Romney campaign publicly defended the health care plan. He enacted while governor of Massachusetts and then Republicans said, my God, he sounds like President Obama, Nia.
HENDERSONThat's right. One of his aides, and there's a -- there was a sort of back story here. There's a Priorities USA ad that features a testimony of a man in Kansas City, Mo. who was laid off by a Bain-controlled steel mill. His wife ended up dying of cancer. They did not have health care. And in the ad, he basically makes a link between Bain and the death of his wife and the fact that they didn't have health insurance. There's been some fact checking on the ad, and there are all sorts of details.
HENDERSONBut in talking about this ad, Mitt Romney's aide, Andrea Saul, went on television and said, well, if these people had lived in Massachusetts, they would have had health care, and people, I mean, went nuts.
HENDERSONConservatives Laura Ingraham, Ann Coulter, Erick Erickson basically said, this is the day that Mitt Romney has lost the presidential election. And I can't tell in looking at that, I don't know if she was sort of caught off guard and just freestyling or if there was a concerted effort to talk about health care that day because you did hear Mitt Romney out on the stump also saying that, you know, he knows something about health care reform as well. So I don't know what's going on.
HENDERSONI mean, there was a period there where, obviously, they were trying to court women voters. You had President Obama out there talking about the Affordable Care Act, and maybe that was, in some ways, Mitt Romney acknowledging that, you know, he needed to, in some ways, embrace health care. A lot of women actually like a lot of the provisions from the Affordable Care Act. But it was an odd, odd thing to have her come out there, and everyone's calling for her to be fired at this point.
ELVINGLet's go back to an earlier part of the conversation when John was saying that the Tea Party had seemed kind of quiescent earlier this year and weren't able to get behind one presidential candidate, and therefore Mitt Romney, with his money and with all of his assets, had been able to win the nomination on the Republican side. We've seen this in state after state where they had statewide primaries.
ELVINGIf the Tea Party is behind one candidate, Ted Cruz, that candidate can win. If they're divided among several candidates, such as in Wisconsin, a more conventional candidate may win. In the presidential race, it was quite clear there was no united, single Tea Party conservative alternative to Mitt Romney, and he eventually won. Now the Tea Party is reasserting itself this summer. I don't mean just the Tea Party.
ELVINGIt's kind of an anomalous, amorphous thing. It doesn't really have one unified organization or a leader, but it's a sense within the party. It's a conservative movement sentiment within the party. And they have always been restive about Mitt Romney, especially because of this health care plan in Massachusetts. And for anyone in his camp to mention it as a good thing just sets them off immediately. So this is a little foretaste of what we're going to see in Tampa.
KINGWell, states' rights used to be a great conservative mantra, but not if you're the guy who passed a mandate for health care in Massachusetts. You don't have that state right, the conservatives would say. But part of it -- Ron is dead right. Part of it is the long-term questions, suspicions about Mitt Romney in the conservative base.
KINGAnd part of it is a more broad feeling that -- to the point about economic numbers and consumer sentiment that the Republicans think, we should be winning. Why are we tied? And so there's some frustration with the tactical and strategic decisions of the Romney campaign. And they're trying to pressure him on a running mate. Don't mistake that.
HENDERSONYeah. And they're -- yeah. I think that's right, and I think there is a sense that maybe Mitt Romney needs to talk about other issues other than the economy. You saw him talking over these recent days about welfare, sort of related to the economy, but it's a throwback to '96, and it's a very buzzy issue among conservatives.
REHMHow was he making the claim that President Obama had done in welfare reform?
HENDERSONRight. Well, there was a July memo out of the HHS department that essentially is granting waivers to different states and some flexibility in terms of how they approach welfare. And if you look closely at the memo, there is in a sense that they're going to gut it. There is in a sense that they're going to take out the work provision. In fact, they're demanding that if you are to get a waiver, that you would actually have to prove that, you know, you're -- 20 percent more people are going to work.
HENDERSONSo this was an ad that a lot of fact checkers, including our own Glenn Kessler at The Washington Post -- I think he gave it four Pinocchios, which is, you know, the highest number of Pinocchios you can get. But, again, this -- if you look at that ad, you can tell who he's targeting. It's white, working-class people who -- for whom this would probably really cause them some consternation, this idea that people are getting checks without working.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." John King, the vice presidential pick could be coming soon?
KINGCould be coming while we're sitting right here.
HENDERSONThat's right. Yeah.
KINGIt could come this hour. I have my Mitt's VP app on my phone...
KING...waiting for it to go up. It could be coming -- the campaign says it could come anytime now. The smart money is that Gov. Romney especially is someone who has run the Olympics. His wife is just on her way back. She may have been back late last night from the Olympics. She will be someone he can sell at the end. The smart money, even though they say it could come at anytime, is it will come next week, that they'll have the closing ceremonies go under way.
KINGHe has a bus tour scheduled next week, sort of the traditional lead-up into the convention. I know Nia is a bit of a contrarian. She thinks it might wait a whole week after that.
HENDERSONIt's -- yeah. It's my take.
KINGBut I -- if you talk to the smart people in the campaign -- and they admit, most of them, that they don't know. This is very tightly held, but they do have a roll-out plan. They do have a logistics plan. They just don't have the who yet and the where yet.
REHMHe's ending his tour in Ohio. Does that give you any indication?
KINGWell, Sen. Portman is clearly -- Sen. Rob Portman, the freshman senator from Ohio, he served in the House. He was in the Bush -- first Bush administration as the domestic policy aide, then he was in the second Bush administration as U.S. trade rep and then as the budget director. He's one of the people on the short list, without a doubt. And if you look at the polling, Ohio right now, the public polls have shown the president up by five or so.
KINGBoth campaigns will tell you their internals show the president up by one or two. Rob Portman happens to be his old -- he's not very well known statewide, even though he was just elected to the Senate.
KINGBut he is very well known in his congressional district, Hamilton County. Look at a map. It was blue last time. President Obama carried Hamilton County. Republicans can't win if that happens. So if you're Romney and you're looking at the map, there is an argument from Portman, but the Tea Party won't like that.
REHMWhat about Paul Ryan?
ELVINGPaul Ryan is the flavor of the week, maybe the month, among conservatives. A lot of the various conservative media, particularly the ones that are owned by Rupert Murdoch, have consolidated, it seems, behind Paul Ryan. And in fairness, Bill Kristol of The Weekly Standard has been pushing Paul Ryan first for president over the winter, and -- last year, and now he's pushing him for vice president.
ELVINGAnd he is somebody who stands for something in the minds of the conservative movement, the very sentiment we were talking about a moment ago. He really personifies that. And his plan for the budget, which cuts taxes, particularly at the high end, particularly for high-income people, and says, that's the way you go to prosperity and says, the way you pay for that in the federal budget is you get -- well, you dial back on some of these commitments that we've made to everybody else, such as Medicare, such as some of the plans that take care of the poor.
ELVINGSome of that's going to have to be constrained, in his terminology. And as The Wall Street Journal wrote the day after the plan was first released, this would end Medicare as we know it.
REHMAs we know it.
ELVINGNow, it doesn't affect the people who are currently retired. It doesn't affect the people who are currently on Medicare or Social Security.
REHMIt's going forward.
ELVINGBut if you're younger than 55...
ELVING...you probably want to read the fine print on this plan.
REHMWhat happened to Bobby Jindal?
HENDERSONWell, you know, I don't know how realistic or how high up he was on that list. He was probably number four on that list. Evangelicals certainly like Bobby Jindal. He would obviously bring some diversity to the ticket as well, and that's what, I think, you see.
HENDERSONWhen you see, you know, the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal and Bill Kristol talk about Paul Ryan, talk about Marco Rubio, talk about Bobby Jindal, I think there is a wish that this be something of a diverse ticket, whether it's age in terms of diversity, somebody like Paul Ryan who's only 40, or ethnic background in terms of Rubio or Bobby Jindal.
HENDERSONThere is a wish that this ticket reflect where the party is going. And the party, I think, they look at Romney, and they see that he is, in some ways, the old party, the old Republican Party. They want some diversity. They want some fresh blood, and that's why you see Paul Ryan up there so high in terms of consideration.
REHMTim Pawlenty, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie.
KINGChris Christie would be an audacious choice, combative, sometimes combustible governor of New Jersey, a Massachusetts guy, a New Jersey guy. Christie's a little softer on the social issues. That would be a little dangerous for Gov. Romney. Most people think unlikely, but we could get surprised here. Sen. Rubio, people say, fairly or unfairly, new on the national stage. Does the Sarah Palin experience convince you you want to back away from Marco Rubio because we don't know everything about him yet? That might not be fair to the senator, but politics sometime isn't fair.
KINGGov. Pawlenty is an interesting test case. He was very harsh on Gov. Romney early in the primaries. But once he got out, he's incredibly loyal. He endorsed right away when it was not clear Romney was going to win. He took a bit of a risk there. He's not known as a guy who takes risks, but he did endorse right away. And he has gone anywhere and raised money anytime and done anything. I was with him in Ohio last week. He was doing an event in an Irish pub. And he wants the job? Who knows?
REHMJohn King of CNN. Short break. Your calls when we come back.
REHMAnd welcome back. Time to open the phones, first, to Cleveland, Ohio. Good morning, Greg. You're on the air.
GREGHi. Good morning, Diane.
GREGHi. I'm wondering -- this drumbeat I keep hearing about Romney releasing his own personal taxes, I'm just wondering about it when Eric Holder was caught up in this Fast and Furious thing. And I know in July, Mother Jones had an article about how secretive this administration is with government records in the Treasury Department and, you know, all of this -- the reserve primary fund that won't release records and, you know, who got money for that.
GREGAnd I'm wondering, why such a drumbeat for Romney's personal taxes when he's released a few years? And then, you know, it seems like a discrepancy to me.
HENDERSONWell, you're making the exact argument that Romney has tried to make around this. Initially, I mean, this -- the whole question about his taxes has been going on since the primary. You saw Newt Gingrich make an issue of it and seem to win South Carolina based on questions around Mitt Romney's tax returns. But at some point, you did see Mitt Romney come out and say, hey, well, what about Fast and Furious and some of the moves that the White House is making to seal some of those documents and correspondents?
HENDERSONBut this isn't going away. I mean, you've got a real coordinated, you know, offense by Democrats who, I mean, almost every day are bringing this up. You had Harry...
REHMIs he going to do it?
HENDERSONI don't imagine that he would. I mean, that's been his pattern since 1994. He has refused to release the taxes. He obviously released them to John McCain...
REHMWhat is the reason behind not releasing his taxes?
KINGWell, you don't know what you don't know.
KINGBut you have to assume these are not stupid people. Gov. Romney, whether you agree with his policies or not, is a very bright man. The campaign staffs around him have been at this a long time. So you have to come to the conclusion that they have decided that doing so would cause more damage than not doing so. Now, will he hold that position? Let's see. He has released 2010. He has released a summary for 2011, and says when it's done -- he filed an extension -- he will release all of 2011.
KINGWhen he does that, we'll see if he feels enough pressure to say, OK, here's one or two more years. But he's not going to signal that now because if he gives one or two, Diane, they're going to ask for 10 or 12.
REHMIs anybody not going to vote for him because he doesn't release his taxes, Ron?
ELVINGNot for that single reason, but that could be the catalyst for a decision-making chemistry in some minds. They could decide that, well, you know, I really don't want to find out later something about this guy that disturbs me. Or they may just decide -- people have imaginations -- that there's something in these tax returns that is so bad, so egregious.
ELVINGAnd, of course, this gets us off into the Harry Reid territory where he went out on the floor of the Senate and said that somebody had told him -- he identified only as a Bain investor -- that he didn't think that Romney had paid any taxes. Maybe that's "any" taxes in the sense of very, very, very low, small amount. I got that car for nothing, that sort of expression.
HENDERSONI use that expression all the time.
ELVINGYeah. I wouldn't want to use it with the IRS. But the idea being that he can't release the taxes because it would be politically damaging to look as though he never made any contribution to the cost of this federal government of our nation.
HENDERSONAnd it's just part of the narrative the Democrats are trying to build against Mitt Romney, and that is he's a rich guy who doesn't have to play by the same rules as everybody else. And you've seen that in the CNN poll. CNN had a poll. And I think it came out yesterday. John says that people are starting to believe that. I think it was something like 62 percent...
HENDERSONTo believe that Mitt Romney is somebody who is a rich guy who only cares about the rich. He's not concerned about the middle class. And the tax argument, the tax returns argument is just part of that argument the Democrats are making.
KINGAnd so the question is in this period that is absolutely essential to Gov. Romney, he owns the second half of August. That's how it works. He gets to do his VP. He gets his convention, so he has the stage. The president will be part of the debate, but this is how it works. Then the president gets his convention, and he has the stage. And as part of this plan, does Gov. Romney think the pressure has reached the point that he has to do more? That's a calculation they will have to reach.
KINGBut, Diane, one of the reasons -- what -- A, this is Gov. Romney's DNA. He believes his private life is his private life and his financial disclosure form is out there, and he doesn't have to do anything beyond what the law says. That is how he has always been, very reserved about his wealth. Number two, though, they want to make this a referendum on President Obama. And the more about Gov. Romney that is out there, the more there is to pick at. They want to make this about the president's economic record.
KINGIt's another reason some people argue against Paul Ryan because you would make the Republican -- it would be a referendum on the Republican budget as much as it would be on President Obama.
REHMAll right. To Jacksonville, Fla. Hi there, Vic.
VICHello. How are you doing?
VICFirst-time caller. I listen to you all the time.
REHMGlad to have you.
VICYeah. I'm 55 years old, and I'm an independent voter. And I've voted in every presidential election since I was 18 years old. And I voted Republican every year, but I'm not going to vote Republican this year. And this is why: I sit down, and I look at, you know, you mentioned the past presidents that had a bad economic downturn when they were in office and how they weren't reelected and -- well, they were the presidents that were running the show when the economic downturn occurred.
VICGeorge H. W. Bush had that one -- had his recession and Jimmy Carter had his. So they were looking at the causes of the recession. There were other factors involved with George H. W. Bush, too, and that's the Ross Perot factor. Had Ross Perot not ran, George H. W. Bush would have most likely won. And with Jimmy Carter, there were other issues, and the other issue stem from the Iranian hostage crisis, which gave him a perception of being a very ineffective military leader and not in control of the armed forces and not an effective military leader.
REHMSo I gather, Vic, you're planning to vote for President Obama for reelection.
VICAbsolutely. And when I see every time any type of bill that comes up to stimulate the economy, I look at the House as being obstructionist.
REHMAll right. Ron Elving.
ELVINGVic raises a lot of interesting historic points.
REHMHe sure does.
ELVINGAnd looking back at those two elections, the only two incumbent presidents who were denied terms that they wanted to have, trying to get reelected since World War II, that was Jimmy Carter in 1980 and George H. W. Bush in 1992. Let me add two more logs to the fire that Vic has built here, and that would be Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. Now, in 1980, Jimmy Carter was not really that bad off in the polls despite all the terrible news of that year that Vic has just categorized.
REHMExcept that we were standing in two-hour gasoline lines if you recall.
ELVINGOh, there were so many things that were wrong.
HENDERSONHe fired his cabinet.
ELVINGOh, that was just a mess. And yet on Labor Day, he was running roughly even with Reagan. It was the debate in October that turned that election. And Ronald Regan, as we learned again and again over the next decade, was masterful communicator for that moment in time. In 1992, I think you could make the same case for Bill Clinton. Yes, Ross Perot hurt Bush. Yes, Pat Buchanan hurt Bush. But in the end, it was Bill Clinton who put him down.
ELVINGIt was Bill Clinton and his amazing ability to connect with people in the fall of 1992 that won the presidency for him. Now, that's what Mitt Romney has to measure up to. He doesn't have to be as good as Ronald Reagan or as good as Bill Clinton, but that's the challenge. If you got an iffy president, a guy who's kind of teetering, can you knock him off?
REHMAll right. To Sadiq (sp?) in Louisville, Ky. Good morning, sir.
SADIQGood morning, ma'am. I just wanted to make a comment about the tragedy in Wisconsin. Of course, it was a terrible, terrible tragedy, but some of the media and some of my Sikh brothers and sisters who are talking about it are making a very, very significant serious mistake. They say the gunman thought he was shooting at Muslims as if it's OK to shoot a Muslim.
SADIQYou know, of course, there's a similarity between a Sikh and Muslim headgear, and a lot of people mistake one for the other. But you have to be very clear when you see this. When you're talking about a tragedy, you should say -- and especially the media should do that -- that it's not OK. I mean, Sikh -- Muslims are as good a citizen as anybody else, and this guy just thought he was killing, you know, shooting at Muslims. But it does not mean that there's something wrong with being a Muslim.
REHMSadiq, I'm so glad you called. Thank you for your comment. And let's go to Orlean, Va. Good morning, Mark.
MARKYeah. I'm calling about a story that appeared at The Post two days ago. It's just another example of outrageous behaviors by the bank. It appears that those people who are fortunate enough to refinance your payment through mortgage are just delighted when they get a 3.5 or 4 percent mortgage. But the point of the fact, they should be at least 0.5 percent lower than what they're being awarded by the bank. The banks employ the fact, as The Post story made clear, are making record profits beyond what -- that which they made before the crash.
ELVINGThis is true. And I think it's important to note with all these discussions we've had about the banks in the past hour, the bank laws are written by Congress, but Congress assisted by an extraordinarily effective banking lobby. And many of these people who lobby for the banks are former members of Congress. They know very well exactly how this is done. They're former staffers for the Congress. And they write the laws so that they will be, as John pointed out earlier, subject to interpretation.
ELVINGSo it becomes very difficult. And one thing we also want to add with regard to Goldman Sachs, they're not out of the woods yet because there's still the possibility that there would be some kind of prosecution in the state of New York. And it might be that it just could be that that's the best to place bring prosecution because of the way the state laws are written and because of the way that would work out over the next year or two, even if we're going to change the administration in Washington.
REHMYou know, it's so interesting. We've gotten so many emails on that subject. Here is one that personifies the others. "The idea that we can't take a bank fraud case to court because their lawyers are too high powered is the most outrageous argument for lack of prosecution I've ever heard. If we take Ron Elving's advice, we might as well hand over the keys of the republic to the bankers right now."
ELVINGIf I have those keys right now.
KINGThat's not -- I just want to defend Ron. It's not his advice. We report on the government, and we report what they tell us. And that's what they say. It'll be hard to do this. We don't make these decisions. But again, forgive my language, but this is more proof that over the last several years, the little guy, the middle-class American, even upper middle-class Americans think they're getting screwed by the big institutions.
KINGAnd that feeds into this, and sometimes they're absolutely right. Sometimes they may be wrong, but that is the sense when you feel -- when you go across the country, that the banks are writing the rules. And the bank -- the fox is guarding the hen house.
REHMAll right. To Fayetteville, W.Va. Good morning, Kirk.
KIRKGood morning, Diane. I have a question for John King...
KIRK...relevant to the up and coming debate. As a journalist, I think it's really important that you ask and ask again the serious, hard questions in these interviews and in these debates and make them answer. And nobody's really been doing that. And I use the word journalist loosely anymore. It's really gotten away from getting these people to actually provide their opinion, their answers.
REHMYou know what my own experience has been is that you can ask once, twice, three times. You keep getting the same rehearsed answers over and over again.
KINGSome candidates are better than others, some moderators are better than others. I have moderated three debates during the Republican primaries, and I'm happy with parts of them and not happy with other parts of them. You learn from everything you do in life. You try to put questions -- to the caller's point, I tried when I was in Arizona to get them to be -- go beyond their talking points on immigration. I tried it early on at New Hampshire to get them go beyond their attacking points -- talking points on the economy.
KINGYou have some success. You have others. I think that you're right. You can ask a question, you can ask a follow-up question, and sometimes you go back a third time. At some point, you look like a jerk or that -- I trust the common sense of the voter. If you ask three question...
KING...and they keep saying the same thing, I trust the common sense of the voter to say, OK...
KING...all right, the guy keeps trying here. But I do think, to the point we've talked about, this has been a very petty campaign. There are huge issues facing the country. I do think the debates, as they were in 1980, this is a close race. It could be very decisive, and let's all hope that they actually talk about taxes and Medicare and the future and the globe and the euro crisis and...
HENDERSONAnd immigration and education. Yeah.
KING...and everything else as opposed to Bain and Solyndra.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." You want to add?
HENDERSONNo. I was, you know, agreeing with John, this idea that this, I mean, especially in some ways, this week has been especially petty. I mean, you've had Democrats put out ads that seem to link Mitt Romney to the death of a woman, and you've had -- obviously, Romney came out with a welfare ad, and there are big things that we're grappling with in this country. It's something that President Obama says in one of his ads.
HENDERSONYou know, politics seem small, but this is a big choice. But in some ways, the debate that President Obama is having with Mitt Romney has really devolved into a mud wrestling competition.
REHMHere is an email from Jackie in West Bloomfield, Ind., who says, "I keep hearing how nasty the Obama ads are. I think the Obama campaign saw the way Romney destroyed his opponents in the primaries and decided to do what they believe Romney would do, only do it first. I'll never forget how furious Newt Gingrich was after he won North Carolina and Romney attacked him with what Gingrich said were ads that were totally untrue in an outright attempt to destroy him."
ELVINGYou know, the points get sharper as you narrow them. And it is extremely difficult to punch through in our age, in our over-mediated age in which we all have all kinds of devices that we're paying attention to. We're in the midst of the Olympics. We're in the midst of a record drought. We're in the midst of a hot summer. There are a lot of things destructing people from paying attention to the politics and this particular campaign.
ELVINGSo the campaigns are trying desperately because they're spending hundreds of millions of dollars already in August. They're trying to get their messages through all of this other distraction. And so they have descended. They have devolved to the oldest kind of tactics that there are, trying to punch through with these very narrow little points that are oftentimes blows below the belt.
KINGAnd I am by no means defending Gov. Romney, who came out in the primaries with very negative ads against his opponent. But to the degree that President Obama is doing it only because Gov. Romney does it, I would ask Secretary of State Clinton on truth serum whether she felt that way about 2008. You know, President Obama is a good politician.
KINGHis team are tough. They are hard knuckle. They have proven that when they need to win, they are more than happy. For all the talk of hope and change back in 2008, when they needed to, they were pretty enough cutthroat negative.
HENDERSONThat's right. And I think one of the lessons they're looking at is 2004, what Bush was able to do very early on with John Kerry defying him in August. Those swift vote ads, which were, you know, sort of outside groups. But they were able to essentially say that John Kerry is unfit for the White House because of, you know, his record on the war. They cast him as a rich, out-of-touch guy, the wind surfing ads, all the flip-flops that they wore at the convention. And so that's what you see this campaign, the Obama campaign doing now, trying to disqualify Mitt Romney for the White House.
REHMAnd now, just to add to the discussion at the end, here's an email from James in Raleigh, N.C. He says, "I'm an undecided independent in North Carolina who's always voted moderate Republican. I'm paying close attention to the news. I am torn about voting for the true Republican in the race, Obama, by what he does, and not Romney, the true Democrat, by what he does." What do you think of that?
HENDERSONWow. That's very confusing in some ways. But, you know, you look at President Obama's record, especially when it comes to foreign policy, and it looks very much like George Bush's record. And so I think, you know, he makes a good point. Certainly, his...
REHMPeople are confused.
KINGYet most still open.
KINGThe Bust tax cuts are still in place.
REHMJohn King of CNN, Nia-Malika Henderson, The Washington Post, and Ron Elving of NPR. Have a great weekend, everybody.
ELVINGYou, too, Diane.
KINGTake care, everybody.
REHMThank you and thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Denise Couture, Susan Nabors, Megan Merritt, Lisa Dunn and Rebecca Kaufman. The engineer is Tobey Schreiner. Natalie Yuravlivker answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information.
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