The Pulitzer Prize-winning creator of "Bloom County" on the revival of his beloved comic strip after a 25-year hiatus and a new book about the origins of Bill The Cat.
The Republican National Convention wrapped up in Tampa, Fla., with speeches by GOP candidates Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. A federal court found evidence of discrimination in new Texas voting maps drawn by the state’s Republican-controlled legislature. Consumer spending and personal income both rose in July. And astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, died in Cincinnati, Ohio. James Fallows of The Atlantic, Laura Meckler of The Wall Street Journal and syndicated journalist Steve Roberts join Diane for analysis of the week’s top national news stories.
- Steve Roberts syndicated columnist and journalism professor at The George Washington University.
- James Fallows national correspondent for The Atlantic magazine.
- Laura Meckler White House correspondent for The Wall Street Journal.
Friday News Roundup Video
The panel discussed what it meant to have actor and director Clint Eastwood deliver a speech at the Republican National Convention. James Fallows, national correspondent for The Atlantic, called it a “surreal monologue.” George Washington University professor Steve Roberts said Eastwood’s speech was borderline vulgar and changed the tone of the convention. The Wall Street Journal’s Laura Meckler said the most remarkable part was that the speech came on during primetime television.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney accepted his party's nomination in Tampa last night. He said what America needs is jobs, more jobs. Residents of Gulf Coast states continue to recover from Hurricane Isaac. A federal court rejected the Texas voter ID law, saying it unfairly burdened poor people. And astronaut Neil Armstrong died this week at age 82.
MS. DIANE REHMHere in the studio for the domestic hour of the Friday News Roundup, James Fallows of The Atlantic magazine, Laura Meckler of The Wall Street Journal and syndicated columnist Steve Roberts. Do join us. So much news this week, I know you'll wanna chime in. Call us on 800-433-8850. Send your email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Welcome to all of you.
MR. STEVE ROBERTSGood morning, Diane.
MR. JAMES FALLOWSThank you.
MS. LAURA MECKLERGood morning.
REHMJim Fallows, did we learn what we needed to learn about and from Mitt Romney?
FALLOWSI think we learned two things that he wanted us to know. One was his personal narrative. The theme obviously of the convention was trying to make Gov. Romney more understandable, more approachable, more likable as a person. His wife did a very admirable job of that, and that's part of the story he was telling.
FALLOWSThe other is, I thought very impressively, is -- in his speech compared with the others, was his laying out the essential argument that we don't dislike President Obama. He even went overboard in saying that we had supposedly all come together after his election four years ago. But the economic programs of the president had not worked, ergo it was time for a different approach. I think from the governor's speech, in contrast to some other parts of the convention, was on message for him.
REHMLaura Meckler, what about policy details?
MECKLERThere was very little. There was a little bit at the end. He talked about five -- his five-plank platform for trying to restart. It wasn't all economic. He talked about school choice. He talked about taxes, a little bit about taxes. He said, unlike President Obama, I won't raise taxes on the middle class, which is a little bit misleading, given their positions on taxes and what to do about the Bush tax cuts. He just sort of flicked at it, really. He talked about energy, wanting to have -- be more energy independent.
MECKLERHe didn't talk about how he was gonna do those things. So he just sort of gave people just a little bit of a taste of it at the end of the speech to say, I'm not just saying things need to be better. I have some ways to make them better. But he didn't really explain any of those policies.
ROBERTSI think there are two interesting things. One is that he clearly focused on what I think is the most powerful argument he has, which is summed up in the famous question, are you better off than you were four years ago? And they're gonna hit that question every day for the next 67 days. And if you look at the statistics, this is a promising line of argument for them. Pew Research Center recently studied the middle class and said incomes are down 5 percent, that wealth is down 25 percent, that there is a clear opening there for them. But they also indicated a worry that they have.
ROBERTSAll of this talk, as Jim mentioned, about appealing to the former Obama voters, that tells me that they know they cannot win the election just with base votes, just with Republican votes, and they have to appeal to a broader electorate. And that was very clear last night. And that's much more problematic, given the fact that in this convention, almost all of the arguments was directed at the base. Almost all of the pitch was directed at very strong conservatives.
ROBERTSWords you never heard in this convention, bipartisan, compromised, negotiation, reaching across the aisle. Never heard any of those phrases. And those swing voters, who he tried to appeal to last night, they wanna hear that language.
MECKLERAnd I think that it also -- just building off that, Mitt Romney's biggest problem is that he has the economy going for him. People are obviously dissatisfied with President Obama and the economy. But people don't really like Mitt Romney. They don't really think that he understands their problems or gets their lives.
MECKLERAnd I think that's a lot about what last night was about, not just introducing himself, which he did, I thought, pretty effectively, talking about not just his family which was very, I thought, touching at times and his business career, which I think he cast in a much more positive light than what we've seen obviously from the Obama campaign, about his time at Bain Capital. But he also talked about how he understands the struggles of everyday Americans.
MECKLERHe had this one line where he said, you know, President Obama promised to stop the rising -- rise of the oceans or something to that effect. I'm gonna promise to think about you and your family.
FALLOWSYes, and I thought that actually was an effective line from Gov. Romney's speech. A couple of other points. It was impressive to me that he came out and said, we were Mormons in Michigan. That's something he's avoided saying in the previous few months, and that was, I thought, a good sign. Also striking to me, the virtual absence of anything in the rest of the world.
FALLOWSYou know, there was very brief foreign policy pitch where he said, we stood with President Obama when he ordered the attack by SEAL Team Six, but we recognize -- we contend that these made us weaker against Iran, et cetera. So if you are hearing this from any other part of the world, I think you'd be astonished about what about the other responsibilities of a president?
ROBERTSOne of the problems Mitt Romney and his whole family has in appealing to the middle class is they're not middle class. The fact is the Obamas are middle class. The Obamas are able to say, we worry about paying off our student loans. My mother was on food stamps. They have a narrative, a story that relates to the problems and the experiences ordinary Americans face every day. The Romneys really don't have that story. But one of the dimensions that came through in Ann Romney's speech and which you're gonna hear a lot more about is there is her illness.
ROBERTSWhen she said, we don't have a storybook marriage, we have a real marriage, she was trying to say, we might be very wealthy and we might have these six houses and these two Cadillacs in the car garage, but we're not insulated, we're not isolated from some of the stresses ordinary people have. And her illness is a -- becomes a metaphor for saying we're just like you.
REHMSyndicated columnist, Steve Roberts. Laura Meckler of The Wall Street Journal. Jim Fallows of The Atlantic Magazine. Do join us, 800-433-8850. Laura Meckler, what about Paul Ryan's speech on Wednesday?
MECKLERWell, his was, by contrast, quite a bit about policy. I mean, he really laid it out there. He played the traditional role of a vice presidential nominee where he just took it to President Obama very strongly and he -- but he didn't shy away from some of the things that have put him on the map, which is, you know, a big overhaul of entitlements. He talked about Medicare. Now, he didn't get into the details of those programs, but he did mention them. And I think part of that is because they do believe that they have something to say, that by taking on tough problems, they get credit for that.
REHMSome of the details he got into clearly misspoke.
FALLOWSYes. And I would contrast his speech with Gov. Romney in this way. Gov. Romney made claims which are disputed, but you can understand the Republican case. For example, the apologizing for America, that, to my mind, misread the reality, but that's the case I've been making. With Congressman Ryan, he was saying things that just weren't correct to what...
ROBERTSSuch as, for example, he was saying that this -- he was criticizing President Obama for running away from the Simpson-Bowles commission without saying, number one, he was on that commission, number two, voted against these recommendations himself, which is a very important part of why it didn't go forward. He talked about the Medicare savings that President Obama was recommending without saying that he's recommending the same ones and more.
FALLOWSHe talked about the closing of a Janesville, Wis., GM plant without saying the decision to close that plant was made well before President Obama was elected or took office. And there was -- there were others of that same category.
ROBERTSYou know, you could see why Mitt Romney picked Paul Ryan. He is a pretty dynamic character, much more dynamic than, say, Rob Portman and Tim Pawlenty, the other finalists who were very pallet in comparison. So you can see the energy, the youth, the plus side of Paul Ryan. Downside is there he was saying, I'm gonna tell the truth to the American people, and we have to face hard truth. And it wasn't just what Jim said, all of which are accurate misstatement.
ROBERTSThe bigger truth was that he didn't tell the truth about how the economy has to be fixed, which is whatever happens in the election, it's gonna be divided government. Whatever happens, Democrats are gonna have power. Whatever happens, any deal to deal with the deficit has got to include new revenues. Simpson-Bowles said that. John Boehner said that in his negotiations with Barack Obama.
ROBERTSAnd yet nowhere in Paul Ryan's speech or anywhere else was there any kind of recognition of the political realities Mitt Romney would face as president and having to deal with Democrats who will demand that revenues be part of any package.
MECKLERThat's true, but on the same time, you don't really hear President Obama out there talking about the realities that he would have to face, you know, in a second term and the compromises that he'll have to make and, you know, if he wants any of his agenda to go forward. So to some extent, I don't think it's unusual to hear political candidates not talking about what compromises are to come. To me -- but...
REHMBut it is rather unusual to hear a vice presidential candidate stand up and say things that truly do not jive.
MECKLERYes. See, that's a different sort, I think, yes. When he actually -- and frankly, this entire election has featured quite a bit of that, people just saying things that are just blatantly not true. And that is disturbing. And some Romney advisers were asked about this and, you know, specifically about an ad that they're running -- aggressively running about President Obama's policy on welfare reform and they're -- which has been sort of...
REHMAnd the ad says?
MECKLERThe ad says that he's essentially eliminating the work requirement, which is not true. He's not eliminating the work requirement. He's giving states the option to get a waiver which would modify it under certain circumstances, which is different. And the Romney advisers' response was, well, we're not gonna be, you know, told what to do by fact checkers.
ROBERTSA point about factual fidelity and one about the convention itself. The other theme which rang through the convention was you didn't build that, you know, this out-of-context quote from one of President Obama's speech where he artlessly -- or non-artfully said -- he was talking about roads and highways and said, you didn't build that, which is true.
ROBERTSAnd so building the convention around that would be as if the Democrats build their convention next week around I like being able to fire people. Everybody knew what Mitt Romney meant when he was talking about that. It was being able to choose insurance plans, so it was an out-of-context thing.
REHMHold off and we'll take a short break here. I know there's lots to talk about including Clint Eastwood. I mean, was that bizarre or what? Short break. We'll be right back.
REHMWelcome back to the domestic hour of our Friday News Roundup. Obviously, an awful lot of news coming out of Tampa, where Republicans held their nominating convention. Mitt Romney accepted the nomination as president last night and Paul Ryan, his nomination as the vice presidential candidate, Wednesday night. In between all this, Clint Eastwood spoke last night. Jim Fallows, help me understand what that was all about.
FALLOWSIf only I could. I think the back story to it must have been that Clint Eastwood was famously featured in a Super Bowl ad about two years ago, which was seen as implicitly endorsing the Obama administration and its auto bailout. That was the, you know, it's halftime in America, and I think this may have been one way of sort of repairing his relationships with the Republican Party.
FALLOWSBut I think the Romney people must have been just pulling their hair out when he was just using up all this airtime in the sort of surreal monologue, which I think was sad.
ROBERTSIt wasn't just using up airtime. It was using a primetime airtime...
ROBERTS...and changing the tone of the whole evening because the whole...
ROBERTSWell, the whole evening was very uplifting, designed to be uplifting with the Olympians and all of the imagery of the promise of America. And here he was being kind of borderline vulgar in some of his comments and demeaning and rambling and old and scattered. And I just think it was -- I know that the -- Mara Liasson on NPR this morning had a wonderful line. She said, looking at the wives, Janna Ryan and Ann Romney, it was like the mother of the bride watching a drunken toast at a wedding, the pain on their faces.
ROBERTSIt's the danger of going off script. The man had no script. There was nothing on the teleprompter. He was supposed to speak for three minutes. He went for 15. And it was a true -- it's gonna go down in annals as one of the most bizarre moments of a national convention.
MECKLERFor those who might have missed it, basically what he did besides sort of just rambling on us, he had this empty chair next to him, which he said was President Obama. And he was "interviewing him" in a very bizarre style, and he kept pretending as if the president had told him to say something vulgar to Mitt Romney or just somebody else. And it was -- I can't tell him to do that, was his phrase. And...
REHMYeah, he went further than that.
MECKLERAnd it was just a very odd moment. And I do think the fact that this happened at 10 p.m. -- this is the, you know, the networks -- the three major networks…
MECKLER...they have given -- they gave this convention -- well, it turned out to be a little over three hours, but three hours of time, and that's not a lot. And so when -- if you -- there were a lot of people, I'm sure, who turned on the convention for the very time at 10 o'clock on Thursday and said, oh, well, yeah, let's hear what Mitt Romney has to say and...
ROBERTSIt's astounding that they could let this happen.
ROBERTSI just don't know how you let this happen. This convention has been planned for six months. It's been scripted in every second, every image, every moment, every bit of music is carefully scripted and...
MECKLERWell, and this was too on that program. He was listed as speaker to be announced.
MECKLERIt was supposed to be a big surprise.
FALLOWSBut they didn't bring up the music as they would at the Oscars if they have been going on too long. And it's also interesting, the vulgarity we've been talking our way around that he was referring is one most often associated with former Vice President Dick Cheney, what he said to Sen. Pat Leahy on the Senate floor, not so much with the current vice president.
FALLOWSOne other point, if I could. It was interesting. The energy at the convention seemed to be around the next generation: Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, even Condoleezza Rice. The fact we're talking about a next generation revealed something about the party's sense of what might happen, you know, this time.
ROBERTSAnd that's one of the reasons why Obama's tour -- he chose this week to travel to colleges in Virginia, Colorado and Iowa. If you look at the demographics, it's absolutely essential that Barack Obama do very well with young voters. He got about two-thirds of the vote of voters under 30 last time. But as Paul Ryan said in one of the more evocative images of the whole week, there are all these young people who graduated from college and can't find jobs who moved home to their parents' basements and are looking up at the faded Obama posters on the wall. That was a very powerful image.
ROBERTSAnd I think that Obama has got to not only get those people who voted for him four years ago. You got to remember there are 30 million young people who were too young to vote four years ago, and they're on college campuses today.
REHMAnd, Laura, you were with the president on that tour.
MECKLERI was, and it was -- he actually got some of the biggest crowds he's had this entire political season. At these college campuses, he had 13,000 people in Colorado, 7,000 people in Virginia. And it was a very, very strong appeal to young people. He -- but it's not the same really for young people. If you talk to them, they are excited, but it's not the same level of excitement that you saw in 2008 in terms of the numbers flocking to see him and the frenzy around the Obama campaign.
REHMAnd why do you think that is?
MECKLERI just think that there -- I think it's the same thing is true for young people as is true for the electorate as a whole. When somebody hasn't been in office and it's all promise, it's all what might be, it's the excitement partially of having the first African-American president and it's the -- what he was also campaigning then was a post-partisan type of politics, which obviously did not work out.
MECKLERAnd I think there was just a lot of excitement around the potential that he had. There are still a lot of excitement among young people on the issues. You know, they agree with him on gay marriage. They agree with him on student loans. They agree with him on getting out of Iraq. There's a lot that they agree with him on, and that's what he was talking about on this college tour. But that's not quite the same kind of magic as you saw in 2008.
REHMYou know, I wondered about the media-related controversies. This week, two attendees at the convention were thrown out. Why, Jim?
FALLOWSYes, because they had -- there was an African-American camerawoman for CNN, at whom these two attendees were throwing peanuts and saying, you know, this is how we feed the animals, or words to that effect. I think the, you know, those people were obviously bigots and it's good they were kicked out. And the officials in the Republican Party expressed horror about this. However, it does exemplify sort of a larger position the problem the party has.
REHMAnd then David Chalian, who was on this program last week, who -- or was Yahoo News Washington bureau chief, he was fired after getting caught on a mic telling a fellow host on an ABC News Web show to feel free to say that they, Mitt Romney and his fellow Republicans, are happy to have a party with black people drowning. Dear heaven.
ROBERTSWell, reporters -- yeah, reporters should be as aware as politicians have to be...
ROBERTS...in modern electronic universe that every word you say can be used against you on Twitter or on a microphone. But to pick up quickly on Jim's point, there is a racial issue here that's under the surface that was in Tampa. I think that as unfortunate as that incident, the camera person from CNN, the much larger and important issue was revisiting the welfare issue and accusing Democrats of undermining, gutting - the word they used in the ads - the welfare requirement. Anybody who covered the 1980...
REHMYou mean the work requirement for welfare.
ROBERTSWork requirement. Anybody who covered the 1980 campaign, as I did, remembers at the core of Ronald Reagan's appeal was the tax on welfare queens. It was a very powerful and effective argument, and there was a very clear racial undertone because, let's be honest about this, welfare queens are not white in this argument. They are minorities. They're the undeserving poor. Welfare queens buying beer and steaks on food stamps, which was the whole Reagan line.
REHMBut, Steve, let us not forget that a majority of those on welfare are white and not black.
ROBERTSTrue. But if you look at how this argument is framed...
ROBERTS...and how it is pitched. And let's also remember that in the latest ABC poll, Romney is ahead by 18 points with whites. And this is a very huge political problem for Barack Obama.
FALLOWSIt's a long-term problem for the Republicans, of course, because the growing demographics, you know, women, Latinos, blacks, gays and lesbians, these are where they are weakest. But a short-term appeal is sort of motivating the space with a tone, I agree, of resent -- a tone of resentment was not there in Gov. Romney's speech. It was there in a lot of the other speeches.
MECKLERThis is, I think, particularly geared at the white working-class vote, where Romney already has a big edge. But he can do -- help himself by expanding that edge. It's not a matter of, in this case, winning a voter group. It's a matter of increasing your margin with them. And evidently, they think it's effective. They've put a huge amount of money behind these ads. There have been three different versions of them the last I checked, and I think they've run something like 6,000 times, this ad.
MECKLERSo it is -- and I talked to somebody in the Romney campaign who basically said this is working for us. And what it does is it gets people's attention and it allows people to stop and say, what's going on? I'm -- this is disturbing to me. And, you know, I personally question whether this kinda argument about welfare still has juice in it as it did in the Reagan time. Maybe they know -- obviously, they have a lot of, I'm sure, research behind these decisions. But, you know, since welfare reform happened in 1996, it was, you know, very popular, and it hasn't really been an issue since then.
ROBERTSBut it's part of a larger argument. It's not just about welfare. It's a larger argument that the Republicans are trying to make, which is that government doesn't serve you, the ordinary middle class. It serves someone else. It --they're gonna -- in fact, the message is, we're gonna take your tax money and use it for other people. And a big part of the argument is to try to say -- to downplay. Jim mentioned do you build the thing? What Barack Obama was trying to say, inartfully, was the government does a lot of things.
ROBERTSIt helps the middle class, and you got to recognize that. But the welfare argument is an attempt to say it helps other people, not you.
REHMAll right. Here's an email from Carol in Houston, Texas. She says, "Mitt Romney boasted last evening he'll create 12 million jobs, but gave no details how he intends to accomplish this. Does he intend to create them here in America or overseas?"
FALLOWSI'm sure that his response, were he sitting here, would be by lowering tax rates, by removing deregulation, by exploiting America's energy resources, et cetera, et cetera. This will unleash the power, the creative power of the economy. So you can -- I think that's not likely to happen in terms of 12 million job increase, but that's not a factual error. That's a promise that is -- that's the basis of their campaign.
REHMOK. I wanna get off the convention after this one question: Are conventions still worth the money and the effort that goes into them? Could we, as Tom Brokaw suggested, do it all in one day?
FALLOWSWell, if you're gonna be logical about it, sure. But in terms of getting people together, I think there is still some hunger for people seeing each other face to face either -- even in these horrible circumstances. And from a branding position for a party, it still is the way that get things kicked off for the last two months of the campaign. And this and the debates are really the main time...
FALLOWS...when a party has a sort of monopoly on public attention.
MECKLERYou know, when you start asking is it worth it, you know, it's sometimes hard to answer that question yes when you look at the actual dollar figures. But I do think that there is a value in it. And I -- for some of the reasons that Jim just said. And it also does give the party a chance to say, this is what we are about.
ROBERTSAnd it's a work program for Tampa and Charlotte. I mean, it depends on who's, you know, who's benefitting. But I think -- too long. Four days is too long. Very grateful one day was wiped out.
MECKLERWell, the Democrats are only doing three days to start with.
ROBERTSI could say two days, but I think that it's important for a party to have a moment where attention is focused at the beginning of a campaign and say, this is who we are. Look at how much we've talked about what was in the speeches and what happened. So there was -- information was transmitted.
REHMWell, exactly. I think you could do that information and that transmission in a much more brief time, so I'm gonna be the one dissenting vote here. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Fed Chair Ben Bernanke has been speaking at Woods Hole, Wyo., and apparently The New York Times' lead here is he pushes hard for new steps to spur growth. What does that mean, Jim?
FALLOWSWell, he is deliberately vague about what exactly he might do, but he makes two interesting points in the transcripts we've just seen here. One is that things are getting better, but still are not good enough, especially in the employment sector. He says it's persistent, about two points higher than it should be. The unemployment rate and the long-term unemployment is very worrisome. He also points out that inflation, a sometimes rumored danger, is still nowhere, you know, in sight, so that doesn't constrain them.
FALLOWSHe also points out, interestingly, that among the drags, there's a housing drag, but also what he points out is he says fiscal policy has become an important headwind for the pace of economic growth -- i.e., cutting government spending is a lot of what's holding back the economy right now, he says. And then he goes on to say the impending fiscal cliff can make this worse.
ROBERTSPart of the problem here is that they have very few bullets left in the gun. I mean, interest rates are virtually zero. They can -- quantitative easing. They can buy paper in the markets, but the tools left for the Fed are very small. And you look to public policy, the Democratic argument will be spend money on two things: Spend money on construction projects -- it would put people to work -- and spend money for local and state governments to rehire people.
ROBERTS'Cause one of the key factors in the sluggish unemployment rate has been firing of a lot of public employees. But this is a solution that is absolutely anathema to Republicans: spending money. In fact, if you listen in Tampa, all the attacks on the stimulus program. So the question is -- everybody agrees the economy is sluggish. Everybody agrees something's got to be done about it. But there's no consensus on what to do.
MECKLERWell, really, the issue in Washington is not gonna be should we spend money on roads or should we spend money on teachers, which is, as you said, what President Obama would like. It's going to be should we stop looming cuts, which is known as sequestration. They're set to take effect in January, and it's a -- it's just $1 trillion worth of cuts over 10 years. So it's a lot of money. And the other question is should we allow taxes to go up?
MECKLERThe Bush tax cuts also expire at the end of this year, and that's what people mean when they say the fiscal cliff. These two things are coming together at the same time. So Republicans would say, don't let taxes go up on anybody, including the wealthiest.
REHMYou know, one of the issues that I personally have been thinking about are these 1,300 cracks in the Capitol Dome and no money to fix them. What is it gonna do? Rain down on members of Congress as they're sitting there or tours about the walkthrough?
MECKLERWell, it's such a metaphor for Washington.
REHMIt surely is.
MECKLERI mean, you know, as Steve mentioned, you know, if we could goose the economy with money for roads and bridges, this is a fairly small amount of money. It's sort of, as Chuck Schumer said, you know, when you -- when your roof needs fixing, you fix the roof, you know?
MECKLERBut even this is being...
REHMBut if you're arguing about it, it's ridiculous.
ROBERTSIt's not just about money. It's about the atmosphere in Congress where any attempt to find a bipartisan cooperation...
ROBERTS...on anything becomes fodder for another fight.
REHMTell me about the ruling on voter ID in Texas, Steve.
ROBERTSVery important ruling. Now let's remember, Texas is a special case because it's on -- falls under the civil rights bill. And that means that any change in voter laws has to be the phrase is pre-cleared either by the Justice Department...
REHMAnd why is Texas a special case?
ROBERTSBecause there's a history, like all other Southern states, of racial discrimination. Now the Texas law is probably the most stringent of all these voter ID laws. It requires someone to have a picture ID. If they don't have one, they can get a free copy. But in order to get a free copy, they either have to get their own birth certificate, which costs $22, and/or travel in some cases several hundred miles to an office.
ROBERTSAtty. Gen. Eric Holder, in a phrase which I think was fair, said this is a poll tax. This is a -- an unfair cost on voting. A federal court, three-judge panel, agreed with Holder, said it was, in effect, a poll tax. But this does not apply to other states. It only applies to states where there's a strict scrutiny on the civil rights law.
REHMAnd some people are saying this could go all the way to the Supreme Court. Short break here. We'll take your calls when we come back.
REHMAnd welcome back. We've had a tweet that directed us to a Rolling Stone article, which talks about the federal bailout that Bain Capital received when it was about to default on its debt. Jim Fallows.
FALLOWSYes. This is a story which I'll stipulate I don't know enough about to really say this is convincing or not, but it's just come out on Rolling Stone by Tim Dickinson. And it argues that early in the history of Bain Capital, which Mitt Romney, of course, you know, was the beginning of his entire -- his personal wealth and is the basis of his business story, that the firm was in risk of -- it needed a bailout, got one from the FDIC, the story says, and under conditions that, the story says, were reflected badly on the company's leaders and the company.
FALLOWSThey were willing to get large executive bonuses, he says. And so there will be examination of the story and its supporting documents. I don't know whether -- I don't know how this holds up, but that's what it says.
ROBERTSYou know, the larger question about Bain is gonna be central to this campaign, and both camps are gonna use the Bain story in different ways. The Republicans are using it as testament to his acumen and success. Last night, a lot of rhetoric about let's not penalize success in America, and in one whole part of American history and culture, the heroic, enterprising, innovative businessman is a great hero.
ROBERTSBut there's another side to business, which is the -- Robert Barron and the capitalist. It's kind of Horatio Alger versus Daddy Warbucks. And these are both images that are very much a part of American history in business.
FALLOWSI agree with that. And just to correct something I said earlier, it was a bailout at Bain & Company as opposed to Bain Capital. Mitt Romney, according to the story, went back to Bain & Company to arrange this bailout. That's what it says.
MECKLERI also agree with part of what Steve said, that this is gonna continue to be an issue throughout the campaign.
MECKLERAnd the Obama campaign spent an enormous amount of time and money over the summer, trying to define Romney's experience at Bain as essentially a corporate reader. And, you know, if this story bears out, that will certainly, you know, help in their overall picture. And I think it also explains why we -- what we heard from Mitt Romney last night. When he talked about Bain, he talked about it in such different terms. He said, well, we are a couple -- we are consultants.
MECKLERWe're helping companies succeed, and we thought, well, why don't we invest in those companies and help them even more? You know, so it was just a very different way of looking at the same thing.
REHMAll right. To Louisville, Ky. Good morning, Michael. You're on the air.
MICHAELYeah, good morning. Thanks so much for your show and all the information provided. I just -- and I'll take this -- your comments off the air. I was just wondering if anybody noticed that in Mr. Romney's tough talk about foreign policy that he failed at all to acknowledge the service of our military personnel and their families nor any mention of the welfare of our veterans.
REHMAfghanistan has not come up at all.
FALLOWSOh, it's true. That was quite astonishing. Well, I think Gov. Romney didn't mention veterans. So many other speakers did at the convention. It'd be hard to say that they were omitted from the Republican presentation.
ROBERTSBut it's very interesting. If you look at the issues that Michelle Obama has chosen to emphasize, the welfare of military families is very high on her list. She's been campaigning a lot in states like Virginia where military families are very important. The caller makes a good point. It was an interesting omission, particularly given the fact that the Democrats are making such a big point of appealing to military families.
REHMAll right. To Indianapolis. Good morning, Anna.
ANNAHi, Diane. I love your show.
ANNAI wanted to call and talk about how I have been a Democrat for 20 years and an NPR liberal, and I'm voting for Mitt Romney this year. And the reason is because of the economy. It is the most important issue to me. My husband and I both lost our jobs over the course of the last four years. We have now found other jobs. I listened to the speech last night. I thought it was wonderful. I have researched Romney's record. I think it is what we need for the country right now.
ANNAAnd I have a real problem listening and reading the media these days because what I'm hearing and seeing is at such odds with what I'm seeing myself. I see a lot of bias, a lot of group think and a lot of defensiveness on -- over Obama's record and a lot of attacking of Romney. And it really is kind of pushing me even more into the Republican column. So I just wanted to make that comment and get your reaction.
REHMAll right. Thanks for your call. Laura.
MECKLERWell, I think that Anna is exactly the kind of voter that Mitt Romney is looking to appeal to and obviously is succeeding with a lot of them.
MECKLERYou know, as for the media, you know, the media today is so many people are part of the "media." You know, I don't know if anybody with a Twitter account these days is considered the media, but practically speaking -- so, you know, I certainly wouldn't wanna try to account for every single person. I can tell you that, you know, speaking for myself, in The Wall Street Journal, we certainly try to be fair to all sides.
ROBERTSAnd I think the media is doing a very good job of documenting the despair and unhappiness that our caller talks about. There are a lot of people hurting out there. There are a lot of people -- there is a study I read just this morning where the crisis is not just in unemployment. It's in the decline of good jobs where people who were getting jobs are getting jobs that are making five, $10 an hour less than they use to. And that's a real issue in America, whether you're a Democrat, a Republican, and the media is telling that story.
REHMBut I think the media is also talking about the story that Obama has disappointed people, exactly as they are questioning what it is that Mitt Romney is promising.
FALLOWSI think that is so right. Each of us has done, you know, articles or broadcasts in that theme. I think the caller's call is, I think, significant in two ways. One is, as we've all said, her economic distress is essentially the argument that the Republican Party is making. And if enough people agree, then they will win. I think, also, there is a sense on all sides of the media ecology that things are becoming polarized, and every part of the political landscape feel besieged by information coming from the other side.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Tampa, Fla. Good morning, Chrissie. (sp?)
CHRISSIEGood morning. How are you?
REHMI'm fine, thanks.
CHRISSIEI would like to say my heart pulse just raised on that last call because I'm looking at a society of Americans that are listening to things that Mitt Romney is saying, and he's changing his ideas and policies. Every time you turn around and look at him, he's saying something that contradicts what he said three months ago. If, in fact, you realize when he was the governor and in Massachusetts, the Obamacare program, he basically voted for that program. And now he's dead against it because his running mate is Obama.
CHRISSIEAlso, I wanna say that if he cares for Americans like he says, and I'd like to tell the caller before this, if he cares for so many of us, why was he shutting down companies at Bain Capital, leaving people out on their buns with no jobs, no back-up. They have nothing.
ROBERTSThe Republican Party we saw in display in Tampa this week is a very different Republican Party than just a few years ago. George Bush talked about being a uniter, not a divider. He talked about being a compassionate conservative. Mitt Romney talks about being a severe conservative. One of the reasons why his policies have changed from his days as Massachusetts governor is the party has changed around him. It's changed very much to the right.
ROBERTSOne of the groups that made no appearance at all in Tampa were moderate Republicans who have become virtually an extinct species. You didn't see Sen. Olympia Snowe or Sen. Susan Collins or any of the shrinking groups. And, in fact, in the primaries in Indiana, one of the few moderate Republicans like Richard Lugar was defeated in the primary from the right. So it's not just about Romney himself personally changing. It's the whole gravitational pull of the Republican Party. It's moved very much to the right. It was on display in Tampa, I think.
MECKLERBut it is true that Gov. Romney has changed his position on some key issues. And frankly, I'm not sure that his, you know, Mitt Romney, circa 2004, would have cut muster with the Republican Party of 2004 than -- on a national basis anyway, someone who was, you know, pro-choice, who was for the, you know, right now being for something like the Obama health care plan. That's not gonna fly with any Republican in America these days.
MECKLERSo, you know, there is some truth in that. And the Obama campaign actually made a strategic decision at the beginning of the summer. Originally, they, sort of through the primaries, were portraying Romney as a flip-flopper, essentially somebody who couldn't be trusted, who had these different views. And they just -- they decided that that was not as effective as saying, no, what he is is a hardcore conservative. What he does is he's adapted all these very conservative positions, and then now that's the way they've gone after him.
REHMJim, it's very interesting that we talked about how effective Mrs. Romney was. In the speech she gave, she talked about how much she loves women. The whole issue of abortion and birth control was never touched.
FALLOWSRight. You know, I think that may have reflected a sane decision. The people are gonna be motivated by that, and the Republican base are already there. And the people are going to be driven away in the independent realm. You know, they didn't need to be reminded of this issue. So if I were running the convention, I would have downplayed that theme too.
MECKLERI think we'll hear a lot more about that in Charlotte.
REHMI think you're right. Let's got to Cincinnati, Ohio. Good morning, Tom.
TOMHi. I just want to say that when I was listening the parts of the convention, it seem like a lot of the people at the top, whether it's Ann Romney or Mitt Romney, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, all had pretty -- their families have pretty humble beginnings, whether it's one generation, their parents or two generations, their grandparents. And I think Ann Romney mentioned coal miners. Her grandparents are coal miners, and Marco Rubio coming from communist Cuba and Mitt Romney coming from a communist -- his grandparents from a communist country, I forget which one. And...
REHMNo. I don't think so.
ROBERTSThey're going in...
ROBERTSYou're thinking Mexico.
TOMOK. All right. Well, that they had humble beginnings within one or two generations.
MECKLERMm-hmm. That's true.
REHMSo your point being?
TOMWell, they just didn't have it handed to them at this point. I mean...
ROBERTSWell, this is -- look, this is a story that the Republicans very much wanna tell. They try to find people who could tell stories that, as we said earlier, that relate to ordinary Americans. Mitt Romney cannot tell that story himself. He was the son of a man who owned an auto -- who headed an auto company. He's got two Harvard degrees.
ROBERTSBut Ann Romney, the grandfather who is Welsh coal miner, Rick Santorum, the grandfather who was an immigrant, Marco Rubio -- this is a very concerted attempt to say that we understand ordinary people. We are not -- we, you know, we don't resent in this country, Diane, people of wealth per se. What we resent and what becomes a political problem is if wealth insulates you from the problems of ordinary people. And that's what Romney is trying get out.
REHMAll right. To Kalamazoo, Mich. Good morning, John.
JOHNHi, Diane. It's wonderful to talk to you.
JOHNI cannot understand Democrats who would say they would vote for Romney based on the economy when Mitch McConnell after the elections said the Republican's number one goal was to make President Obama a one-term president and have done nothing to promote job growth in this country. They have defeated all the jobs bills. How do they justify that? It's like they are traitors to this country just to bring Obama down.
FALLOWSThat's what was so interesting about the theme especially in Gov. Romney's speech with many other parts of the convention that we all were excited when Barack Obama was elected. They were saying, I wondered how John McCain was feeling at just that moment or Sarah Palin. We...
ROBERTSOr George Bush, by the way, because there was a very strong contrast about America deserved a change in Barack Obama from over eight years of a Republican administration, by the way.
FALLOWSSo there was that theme, but in reality, as John points out, the strategy especially in the Senate had been an outright opposition one. So that's -- he's right.
REHMJim Fallows of The Atlantic magazine, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." You know, there is a huge issue out there. Todd Purdum writes about in this month's Vanity Fair, money and how much money is going to be spent over the next how many days, where that money is coming from, how it's going to be used and whether money is going to be a deciding factor.
FALLOWSAnd one of the most interesting things of the interesting phenomenon of a sitting President Barack Obama doing a Reddit session of answering online questions from the masses was his saying that we should have a constitutional convention on this point.
FALLOWSThe constitutional -- but it was saying some kind of some way to have -- to deal with Citizens United phenomenon because otherwise, things are just entirely out of control.
MECKLERIt is an -- there is an enormous amount of money, and it's helping the Republicans this time around. They have much more aggressive, much more successful so-called super PACs than the Democrats have. And the Romney campaign itself is been outracing the Obama campaign, you know, really for the -- all summer long. So the Republicans are gonna enjoy a big financial advantage.
MECKLEROne thing I always think about, though, when we talk about this is that in 2008, Barack Obama enjoyed a huge financial advantage over John McCain. John McCain stayed in the public financing system. Obama was the first candidate to go outside of the public financing system and raise private donations for the general election, a hugest sum of money, what was an unprecedented sum of money, $750 billion -- million dollars.
REHMComing from? Coming from?
MECKLERComing -- a lot of it was from small...
FALLOWSWall Street and tech companies but also small donors.
MECKLERBut also small donors. But the point being that there was a financial mismatch on the ground so...
MECKLER...and that benefitted Obama. That's the last time -- this time, he's on the losing end of the way the financial laws are working.
ROBERTSThat's true. But there's one important difference, which is that under the current laws, a big chunk of this money is unaccountable. You know, it's one thing if you spend the money and you have to report it. But under the law, there is this tax provision that says a social welfare organization, which is a total fiction, can raise unlimited amounts of money.
ROBERTSAnd at least there should be accountability. At least voters should know where this money is coming from and who is trying to buy influence with the candidate. And that is, to my view, is a single biggest problem with the money raise is the unaccountable money.
REHMJim Fallows, Neil Armstrong died this week.
FALLOWSHe did, and I think the time of all the division we've been discussing in politics, this was a phenomenal American story, not simply that he do something unique in human history, the first human being to step on some other surface, but also about before and after that achievement. I think he exemplified ways we'd like to think of ourselves. He was a small town boy from Ohio. He was an Eagle Acout, a pilot at age 15, an engineer, a test pilot. He flew with Chuck Yeager. He flew X-15s.
FALLOWSAfter the moon missions, he tried very hard to stay entirely out of politics, to stay -- be very careful in business associations, go back to Ohio to become a professor. Again, he wouldn't even give autographs after a while because he knew they were being scalped and resold. So I think he was a -- the only criticism I ever heard of him was that maybe he should have shared more about the experience because it was this unique human thing. But I think he was an exemplary person who should be mourned and missed.
ROBERTSAnd it's also an example of government money spent in a certain national purpose. I mean, this is not -- for all of the very valid talk about the entrepreneurial spirit, going to the moon is not something a private company would ever do.
REHMSo does his passing come with the passing of an era in terms of our ambitions other than little curiosity on Mars?
FALLOWSI retain a Newt Gingrich-like hope that will -- that beyond differences of party, we'll be able to get up this kind of excitement and project again.
REHMJim Fallows of The Atlantic magazine, Laura Meckler of The Wall Street Journal, Steve Roberts, syndicated columnist, professor of journalism at the George Washington University. Have a safe and sane holiday weekend everybody.
FALLOWSYou, too, Diane.
REHMThanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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