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.
The Democratic National Convention gets under way in Charlotte, N.C. Diane and her guests talk about what to expect as the president and his supporters make the case for four more years.
- Ron Elving senior Washington editor for NPR.
- Shawna Thomas White House producer for NBC News.
- Stuart Rothenberg editor and publisher of the Rothenberg Political Report and a twice-a-week columnist for Roll Call.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The Democratic National Convention gets under way today in Charlotte, N.C. It comes just days after Gov. Mitt Romney was nominated by Republicans in Tampa. Joining me in the studio to talk about what to expect as President Obama and his supporters make the case for four more years, Stuart Rothenberg of the Rothenberg Political Report and Shawna Thomas of NBC News. Joining us from NPR studio at the convention in Charlotte, Ron Elving of NPR.
MS. DIANE REHMI'm sure you'll want to join in the conversation. Call us on 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning everybody.
MR. STUART ROTHENBERGGood morning, Diane.
MR. RON ELVINGGood morning, Diane.
MS. SHAWNA THOMASGood morning.
REHMRon Elving, let me start with you. Tell us about the mood there, how different you see it from the spirit of 2008.
ELVINGThe first thing one has to observe is the weather. We are getting the tail end of Hurricane Isaac much as we got the shank of Hurricane Isaac down in Tampa. So we didn't get a direct hit, but we got quite a bit of storm there a week ago. And yesterday, when they were trying to put a little party into the Labor Day party, the -- well, the rain came, and the rain came hot and heavy for quite a while in the afternoon and kind of washed out the party a little bit.
ELVINGSpeaking of, of course, the CarolinaFest, which was a music venue and there were interesting people there: James Taylor, of course, famous North Carolinian musician, and Jeff Bridges of the movies with his band, The Abiders. And they got rather wet, but the party went on. The party was pretty much undiminished and on into the evening. So, you know, there was a sort of a light spirit really, a rather celebration kind of an atmosphere.
REHMStu Rothenberg, what do Democrats have to do this week?
ROTHENBERGDiane, I think there are probably three things. One, they have to get home the point that the president really saved the country and the economy four years ago, that President Bush and the Republicans left the economy, you know, a disaster, much worse situation than we -- than anybody knew at the time, and he has taken the first steps, really, to turning this around. I think that they'll also keep the focus or put the focus back on Mitt Romney, on who Mitt Romney is and who he isn't in terms of the average American and his background and Cayman Islands and Swiss bank accounts and the like.
ROTHENBERGBut I think the third thing they have to do is to stress that President Obama is the person to lead over the next four years, talk about some vision, some public policy but really stress that the next four years will be better with Barack Obama than it would be with Mitt Romney.
REHMNow, what about Mitt Romney's taxes, Shawna? Are they going to keep pressing?
THOMASI think they're going to keep pressing from the point of view that they want to show Mitt Romney as being an elitist. There's a -- the group that they really need to sell are these white working-class people that are sort of exemplified by his trip to Iowa this past week. And they need to show them that Mitt Romney is not like you, that he has more money than you. He does not understand your problems. And if part of that is showing that even just that his taxes are very complicated because he has so much money and offshore bank accounts, then they will do that.
THOMASI don't know if we're going to hear that necessarily from the president of the United States. But there's a lot of speakers, and there's a lot of messages that are going to happen.
REHMRon Elving, the Republicans said over and over again that we are worse off than we were four years ago. How do Democrats face that charge?
ELVINGThere was a bit of confusion over the weekend as to what the best way for Democrats to answer that. One would have thought they might have gotten some language out to everyone. But, for example, you heard Martin O'Malley giving one kind of an answer to that. He's the governor of Maryland, and he's going to be speaking tonight in primetime. So he's a first-class speaker for the Democratic Party right now.
ELVINGAnd he gave a kind of slightly ambivalent answer to whether or not people should consider themselves better off. Joe Biden, the vice president, on the other hand, said, yes, we are better off than we were left by the folks who left the last time the Republicans were in the White House and trying to give a very unequivocal answer to that question.
ELVINGNow, of course, it depends a little bit on which number you look at, and it is also a personal kind of calculation. Are you personally better off than you were four years ago? That's the way the Republicans are framing it, and that's probably better for them. And the Democrats are saying, let's go back and look at, as Stuart was saying a moment ago, the state of collapse that the banking industry and the economy as a whole were poised upon the brink of exactly four years ago.
REHMBut, Stu, how much can Democrats keep going back to the era of George W. Bush and what Obama inherited?
ROTHENBERGDiane, I think that's a really good question, and I think Democrats are nervous with, are you better off now than you were four years ago as a general question for the election, if that's what the election is about. There are certainly constituencies that can say, yes. As I was listening to "Morning Joe" this morning, and they pointed out, you know, if you work for the automobile industry in Ohio or Michigan, your answer is, yes, I am better off than I was four years ago than I would have been if there had been no bailout.
ROTHENBERGAnd various other groups could -- can also give a yes answer. The problem is that there are -- there may be -- there probably are too many swing voters in this election who might answer, no, I'm not better off. And so that's why they're hesitant to make that argument. I think as we go to November, actually, it's kind of harder to say this election is about George W. Bush. I don't -- I'm not taking exception to the argument that this president was dealt a very difficult hand.
ROTHENBERGI think he was, was more difficult than he knew. He thought the cards would be stronger. They were terrible. The problem is -- and when you get to the middle and late October -- George W. Bush isn't on the ballot. Barack Obama is. And so if you're a swing voter and you haven't decided that after four years, you're going to support him, yeah, I think it gets harder and harder for Democrats.
REHMStuart Rothenberg, editor and publisher of the Rothenberg Political Report, Shawna Thomas, White House producer for NBC News, and, from Charlotte, N.C., Ron Elving, Washington editor for NPR. I hope you'll join us. I want to hear your thoughts about this Democratic National Convention. What needs to be done? What voices appeal to you? What it needs to say that you want to hear. And we've just heard that Reuters is reporting that the manufacturing sector shrinks for the third straight month. How is that affecting people's outlook, Ron Elving?
ELVINGThere are a number of statistics coming out this week climaxing on Friday, of course, with the monthly jobless numbers, so there are monthly job creation numbers. And there'll be a new unemployment number where, at 8.3, if it ticks up, that is going to, in some measure, put an enormous damper, really, on the entire Obama reelection campaign.
ELVINGEven if they have a great convention, even if the president gives a great speech on Thursday night, if Friday, the economic news is negative, that's going to be enormously undercutting. This suggestion from these numbers this morning, from the manufacturing sector, would not bode well.
THOMASAnd I think it also undercuts the message that the president was trying to present in his road to Charlotte, toward going into Charlotte. He was in Toledo, Ohio, talking to UAW workers yesterday, talking about how he helped the auto manufacturing industry come back. You had Joe Biden talking to workers in Detroit, Mich. yesterday, Labor Day, a big push. And then you have manufacturing numbers coming in and saying, hey, it's shrinking for the third straight year.
THOMASI'm sure if I had my Blackberry on, I'd have five emails from the Romney campaign right now pointing that out. That does not help their message going into Charlotte.
ROTHENBERGYeah, I'd simply -- I agree with everything both my colleagues have just said. I would simply add this. We're focusing -- tonight, we'll be focusing on the speeches. Speeches are nice. Speeches are particularly nice when you don't know anything about the person, and now you're learning who they are and what their values are. The problem is elections tend to be about the data, the circumstances. How I -- how am I doing it? Cox, the mayor in New York always used to ask people, how am I doing?
ROTHENBERGThat's a very important question for politicians. And so, to the extent that these numbers -- we're talking about numbers coming out Friday, then the first Friday in October and then the first Friday in November. Remember there is a Friday before Election Day in November. The next three sets of numbers are going to go a long way to making people optimistic, pessimistic, hopeful, fearful, and those are important emotions in -- ultimately in a vote choice on Nov. 6. Is it the sixth, is Election Day?
REHMBut, Stuart, just to follow up on that, how much do these numbers actually get traced directly back to Barack Obama?
ROTHENBERGWell, Diane, I can't -- I'm not smart enough to know what he is -- for what he is responsible and for what he is not. But I've been doing politics a long time, and I know that the person who's the captain of the ship gets blamed if the trip is uncomfortable. And if it's smooth, he gets credited. And so I think this election is about the mood of the public, to what extent that they upbeat, optimistic, hopeful think we've turned the corner. Or are they pessimistic, worried and fearful that tomorrow's going to be worse?
ROTHENBERGAnd if they think tomorrow is -- if things are getting bad, and, tomorrow, it's going to be worse, whether or not it was George Bush's fault, they're going to look at President Obama. And they're going to say, why is it getting worse? Now, the -- let's -- just let me add this. We don't know what the numbers are going to be. The numbers might be good. They might be surprisingly good. They might be mediocre. We might have job growth of 135,000 in which case they are not strong, but they're not terribly weak.
ROTHENBERGAnd the president might be able to muddle through this. And we've seen a lot of this stuff where the projections are terrible. We've got growth that's slowing. And then we had a good jobs month -- good job numbers a month ago. Yet the unemployment went up a tenth of a point, but we had over 150,000 new jobs. So sometimes, you can get a mixed message on this.
THOMASAnd then you in-depth -- every time we get a new jobs report, we have the other jobs reports re-matched basically. So sometimes, it'll say, we only created 60,000 jobs last year or last month, but, really, we created 100,000.
REHMShawna Thomas, White House producer for NBC News. Short break here. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd here's our first email from Kaye in Washington, D.C., who says, "I think the issue is not really about whether we're better off from four years ago. Rather, the question is, which party can protect the American people from further crisis, further job loss, further erosion of the position of the working and middle class?" Ron Elving.
ELVINGThat would be the argument, I would think, that we would hear this week, that we want to look forward. We don't want to think so much about the exact moment we are experiencing, particularly with respect to the economy, but rather ask the broader question of, to whom would you want to look for defense if you were, let's say, a woman who is in need of health care, or if you were a worker wondering about what our attitude was going to be towards China in the next five to 10 years, or if you were an investor?
ELVINGOr put yourself in whatever pair of shoes fits. That's really what the convention is going to try to ask, and, of course, some of that gets into the sort of negative characterization of the Romney-Ryan ticket that Stuart was referring to earlier. We're going to hear a lot of that. The Democrats are going to fire back at the fire they took last week.
REHMNow, the interesting point is that the Republican convention did not seem to put forward any particular ideas, to address Kaye's question. So how are the Democrats likely to counter that, Shawna?
THOMASWell, I think we saw with the president's speeches this week that he said he's going to offer what he believes to be a path -- a better path forward, to grow the economy, create new jobs. But I would say in the speeches I saw this past week, he didn't really present any new ideas either.
THOMASWhat we may see them do is a lot of these ideas that he's been talking about, the American Jobs Act they introduced last year, changes in student loan payments for further along than the end of the year, changes in mortgage refinancing, that they're going to take these ideas that they've had and that have been stalled in Congress and sort of re-present them. But I think what they're trying to hide a little bit is that there may be new ideas. But nobody from these campaigns are willing to tell us what those new ideas are.
ROTHENBERGI would say, Diane, that there's a difference between a speech to a national party convention and a State of the Union. And convention speeches traditionally are not used to introduce new topics. They're -- what you get is red meat to rally the base, to energize the audience. You get general themes because themes are easier to offer to unite people. Once you get to specifics...
REHMBut don't they have to do more than that?
ROTHENBERGI -- maybe they should. But the Republicans didn't for a reason. They wanted to keep the focus either on two things, on Mitt Romney -- that they were introducing to viewers the Mitt Romney that they say is the real Mitt Romney, and then they wanted to keep the focus on the president. And I think the president want to keep -- the Democrats want to keep the focus back on Mitt Romney. And to the extent that they talk about the future, I think, will be much more thematic rather than particular issues of public policy. That's just my guess. Now, maybe I'll be wrong, but that's...
REHMDo you agree with that, Ron?
ELVINGSome voters are going to be turned off, I think, by the lack of programmatic specifics and by the lack of a kind of substance that they get from that sort of critique. But the dominant thinking in political psychology, that is campaign psychology, seems to be that people's most important message reception is subliminal. They want to get an impression of Mitt Romney as a highly competent business person who, in his view, has created jobs. Other people would say he has done the opposite.
ELVINGBut he sees himself as a job creator, as somebody who makes business happen, makes jobs happen. And if we see him as that and what we're looking for is just jobs, then how it gets done or what the details are or whether we call it, you know, Austrian economics or whether we call it Keynesian, that means absolutely nothing to a person who's looking for a job. They just want to get the subliminal message this person is going to make things better for me.
THOMASAnd the Obama campaign and the DNC's counter to Mitt Romney being a job creator is they're going to trod out former employees of companies that Bain dismantled who lost their jobs to speak, I believe, on Thursday night, and it's going to be their direct counter to that kind of conversation about former Gov. Mitt Romney.
REHMAnd speaking of countering, here's an email from Diane in Brick, N. J., who says, "How can Democrats correct the false statements regarding Medicare welfare to work requirements, you built it, et cetera, if these untruths are not pointed out? Low to no information voters just might swing the election to Gov. Romney." Stuart Rothenberg.
ROTHENBERGI think Democrats will repeat again and again that those are mischaracterizations, misinterpretations, half-truth sound bites taken out of context...
REHMBut don't they have to do more than they've already done?
ROTHENBERGWell, all you can do is answer the attacks, try to discredit the attacks, argue that the attacks are unfair and untruthful. And I'm not sure what else you can do. You can do it at the convention. I assume people will. Speakers will. And I assume -- we'll see that in ads from now until Election Day. We'll see that on talk shows. But I'm not sure what else they can do, Diane.
REHMAll right. Let's open the phones and hear what our listeners are looking for, first, to St. Louis, Mo. Good morning, Mark.
MARKGood morning and thank you for taking my call.
MARKYou know, listen, you folks have got some really good input on what the Democrats need to do. And, Diane, one of the things you brought up very early in your show today was that -- was identifying how much of Mitt Romney's net worth is offshore, and what is a candidate for the president of the United States is doing hiding or offsetting his wealth offshore so he doesn't have to pay the country he's going to represent in taxes, his fair share? I think that's a huge thing to identify.
MARKThe other thing is I'm tired of hearing Obamacare. The Affordable Health Care Act was put in place. It was driven by the working people, the labor unions and the working people in this country. I sat in the meeting in St. Louis the year that Obama was elected in January with the labor unions and the professional doctors and nurses associations. We had a massive meeting in St. Louis. I was there for that meeting representing the firefighters.
MARKAnd there's nothing more important than bringing health care under control for the working-class people, and they need to crush this Obamacare term and show the value and the net worth to the working people, what the health -- through the health care act, you know, can do for them and maybe show these are our plans to improve on that health care act.
REHMAll right. Sir, thanks for calling. Ron Elving, first on taxes and offshore investments.
ELVINGThis is a question that does not get enough attention in my opinion. I have been troubled by the nature of the debate over Mitt Romney's taxes, and this is an issue, I think, will come up this week, that it largely focuses on whether or not he's been within the letter of law or whether or not there is something here that doesn't pass some sort of legal muster. I think the larger question is the manipulation, if you will, of assets for the purpose of avoiding taxes.
ELVINGAnd avoiding taxes is legal, but doing it, you know, in such a way that you make the minimum contribution to the support of a government that you now want to lead, I think the caller framed the question rather well. And I don't think that it's been given that much attention in those terms.
ROTHENBERGWell, I think it's a good issue for Democrats. It keeps the focus on Mitt Romney and who he is and his values and his instincts and his priorities and seeks to undercut him as a credible alternative to the president. So I think that's a good issue. My question is, can you keep doing that issue over the next two months? You know, there is a kind of a life cycle on these issues. Some issues you can ride indefinitely like jobs and the economy.
ROTHENBERGOther ones, OK, people have heard about this. Not everybody has heard about it yet. But at some point between now and November, does this issue kind of, OK, we know that now. Let's move on to something else. And the Republicans are going to say, look, OK, maybe you have doubts about Mitt Romney, the person. But, you know, Mitt Romney can get this country going and jobs going. And I still think that's a big problem for the White House.
THOMASAnd I think there's weird counter to this -- these offshore bank accounts and his ability to evade some taxes but in a legal way and that's he's always presented himself as a businessman. He's presented himself as a businessman who makes a lot of money. And a good businessman understands the tax code, understands what you're up against. They've said we needed a simpler tax code. They've said we need to do something about the amount of loopholes and the tax code. But is it -- I kind of wonder, is it all that odd that someone who is a good businessman has found those loopholes for himself?
ROTHENBERGI just wanted to add one thing on the caller's -- Mark from St. Louis' comment on the Affordable Health Care Act.
ROTHENBERGI think it will be interesting to see how much Democrats do talk about health care, the bill, the president's accomplishments. I think they have been surprisingly hesitant, reticent to embrace it because, you know, the polling shows the country is split. And what political strategists like to do is they like to look for issues where they have a significant advantage, and I think this -- they really haven't taken credit for the health care bill as much as they might have, and we'll see what happens over the next few days.
REHMYou know what, to Shawna's point, Ron Elving, doesn't Mitt Romney himself represent that 1 percent? And despite the fact that he's been seen or at least characterized as a good business person, aren't there questions about his elevation to the 1 percent at Bain and how this plays out?
ELVINGThere will be a great deal of investigative journalism about Bain. There's already been quite a bit. Rolling Stone has a new article about Bain. They've done a number of others about Mitt Romney's specific work at Bain. I expect to see quite a bit written. I don't expect much of that to be read by swing voters. There will be some who will, but it will not be what they spend most of their fall doing.
ELVINGAnd, you know, Americans have always had a kind of love-hate relationship with people who are enormously wealthy or successful, to use the word that was most popular in Tampa. That is a long-standing thing in our popular culture. You see it in the movies. You see it in novels. You see a fascination with people who have figured out how to make themselves very wealthy. We admire them. We may resent them at other times.
ELVINGBut depending on how they behave, and depending on how they suggest to us that we might come up and join them with just a little bit more effort, well, we just feel one way about them or another. We have had people we are enormously fond of who are billionaires, and we've had other people we couldn't stand who are worth a lot less.
REHMAll right. A caller in Dallas, Texas, Tom, has a point to make. Good morning.
TOMGood morning. How are you?
REHMI'm fine. Thank you, sir. Go right ahead.
TOMYeah. My question is that the Obama administration was claiming that the auto bailout generated or saved 155,000 jobs. But they ignore the fact that taking that $100 billion to spend to save GM removed it from the rest of the economy. And the jobs that would have been supported by the $100 billion and spend it in the rest of the economy are lost or never created.
TOMAnd if you want to take credit for one, you have to take responsibility for the other.
REHMOK. Stu Rothenberg.
ROTHENBERGSo this is -- we actually talked about this a week ago. I made a point a week ago about arguments and counterarguments for swing voters, for the kind of people that are going to decide this election. If you're a Democrat, you focus on the first part of Tom from Dallas' phone call: the bailout, the jobs that were saved, the automobile industry back -- is back. If you're a Republican, you focus on the second part.
ROTHENBERGIs the government really picking winners and losers? Should they be that involved in individual businesses, individual companies? And since they put that money there, they couldn't use it elsewhere. And I think if you're a swing voter, you're confused. You don't know who to believe.
REHMIt's a philosophical difference in approach.
ROTHENBERGBut there's -- but also, remember, there's some data involved here. The Democrats said it saved X number of jobs.
ROTHENBERGAnd now Tom is saying, well, that might -- money might have created Y number of jobs had it been used differently.
ROTHENBERGAnd how do we know? So, really, then, it gets down to certain different kinds of considerations, the people and the environment.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go now to Indianapolis. Good morning, Scott.
SCOTTGood morning, Diane. Thanks for taking my call.
SCOTTMy question for the panel is -- and I'll take my answer off the air -- there's been a lot of talk about how much and to what extent President Obama talks about and harkens back to the George W. Bush years and kind of comparing Mitt Romney to that. And where there's not sort of a lot of discussion about -- and it seems that people kind of forget about -- is for the majority of that time, there was also a majority Republican Congress.
SCOTTAnd what I'm wondering is at what point it makes sense to say, hey, you know, it's not just about me and Mitt. It's about who's going to stand in the way of a Republican House or a Republican Congress. It's not so much about what President Romney would do if he were elected. It's about what he won't prevent that Republican Congress from doing.
ELVINGWe have seen a good deal of public rejection of undivided government. When we have seen one party in control of Congress and the presidency, that often leads to big swings in the other direction. So we saw that at the end of the first six years of George W. Bush's presidency when the wrath of the voters was taken out on the Republican majorities in the House and Senate. They both were lost. The Democrats came in.
ELVINGBut then when the Democrats had sway for two years under Obama and majorities in the House and Senate, the voters were quite angry in the other direction, so one could begin to see a pattern of preference on the part of the voters for divided government. We prefer it when, say, for example, Bill Clinton is president, and we have a Republican Congress for those years. We had that for six years in the '90s, and the economy, at least, did quite well.
ELVINGAnd the government was managed, and the debt came down, and the long-term debt came down -- it's the projection, at least -- and we actually reached a balanced budget. So there can be an argument made at least, again, on a level that is not necessarily terribly specific or terribly determined, in exact terms, in the mind of the voter...
ELVING...that maybe we're better off with that kind of situation.
REHMYeah, but this one was different, Shawna, with Republicans standing up the first day Obama is elected and saying, we want this man to be a one-term president. We will do everything we can to make sure that's what happens.
THOMASAnd I think there are two things. I think we saw with Paul Ryan's speech at the Republican National Convention when he talked about the downgrade of the country's credit rating, the part he omitted was -- a big part of that was that Congress didn't do anything for a long time. But from a political standpoint, this hatred of Congress, this divided Congress and the caller's point about maybe Mitt Romney having a Republican Congress, maybe he will.
THOMASBut there will be such a close margin in the Senate that getting some type of super majority in the Senate is probably not going to happen on a lot of the things. What that allows both candidates to do is to put out their wish lists, and some of those wish lists will never come to pass in this Congress, but it allows them to be able to run on what I'd love to do if I had the Congress to do it.
ROTHENBERGOne of the problems in making that argument is you have to concede that the other party is going to win both chambers of Congress. And while the Republicans are likely to continue to hold the House, the Senate is up for grabs now. And you have Republicans controlling the House, the Democrats controlling the Senate. If the White House is going to say, well, Barack Obama's got to be a check on the Republican control of Congress, then he can -- in a sense, he's conceding control of the Senate, and he doesn't want to do that. So the situation is a little bit murky to make that clear-cut argument.
REHMStu Rothenberg, Shawna Thomas, Ron Elving -- they're here to respond to your thoughts, your comments, questions. We look forward to talking with you.
REHMAnd here's an email with a correction. Joy says, "One of your guests said Romney evaded taxes. In fact, he avoided taxes. Evading is illegal. No one should vote for him if he evaded taxes. Please make this correction as you are misleading the people." Shawna.
THOMASI apologize for the use of words. Yes, he avoided some taxes in a perfectly legal way, and that's part of using our tax code the way it's currently written.
REHMAll right. To Charlotte, N.C. Good morning, Tom.
TOMGood morning, Diane. How are you this morning?
REHMI'm good. Thanks.
TOMMy comment is -- and I'll preface it by the fact that I'm a Republican, but I have not voted Republican for a long, long time. My comment is, how does the panel feel about the fact that in spite of the economy's troubles and the hard times that everyone is facing, the two parties are throwing great big conventions with funny hats and private limos and thousand-dollar-a-plate dinners? It's like they're just throwing it in the face of everyone else. The argument of energizing the base, I think, is specious. The base is going to vote how they're going to vote. What...
ELVINGThere is much to be said for the caller's sense of inappropriateness. The conventions -- one does not want to rain on the parade that's already happened, but the sense of people getting together to be really happy and congratulatory and slapping each other in the back in both parties when there are people hurting in the country is uncomfortable. The raising of money is one of the main pieces of business that goes on at these conventions, and that's really where the thousand-dollar dinners and that sort of thing goes on.
REHMAnd here is the latest on that. Mitt Romney raised $100 million in August. The boost came after he announced Ryan as a running mate, and Politico is reporting that August is the third straight month that the three main committees boosting the GOP nominee for president, Romney Victory and the Republican National Committee, have combined to pass that $100 million mark, so lots of money being raised down there. Let's go to Ian, who's here in Washington, D.C. Good morning to you.
IANHi. Good morning, Diane. Thanks for having me on.
IANI have just a quick comment and then a quick question. My comment is that I am and always have been a liberal and a Democrat, and I'm now an entrepreneur and a business owner. And a number of my friends are encouraging me to think about the Republican economic policies for the sake of my business, but I just cannot get on board with the social platform of the Republican Party.
IANAnd so I just -- I do wish that, as I explore that, there was a way to decouple some of those things because, in my mind, you just can't square the directions that they want to take the country in from a social perspective with the economic...
REHMAll right. You've raised some good questions. The platform of the Democratic convention is going to include lots of social issues. Shawna.
THOMASWell -- and I think that there are certain parts of Mr. Romney's campaign that wishes they could decouple the social issues from the economic issues because they think they can win on the economic issues the way the country currently is. But the Democratic platform got formally released last night sort of all over the Internet. We knew there would be issues about gay marriage and a support of gay marriage within the platform that they were worried about before the president went ahead and had that interview and said he is for gay marriage.
THOMASAnd they want to be seen or continue to be seen as the party that brings everybody in, and we are going to see them bring lots of women and Latinos onto the stage tonight. You are going to have two of the biggest speakers be the mayor of San Antonio, who is an up-and-comer and, of course, the first lady of the United States, and they want to be seen as the party who has women, Hispanics, homosexuals, everybody...
REHMAnd what about the question of choice, Stu?
ROTHENBERGWell, I think it's interesting at the Republican Convention that very few speakers talked about cultural issues, social issues or choice. Rick Santorum was one exception that comes to mind, but he was the exception that proves the general rule. I think the Democrats are -- do want to spend a lot of time. I know I live in the Washington, D.C. area, and I see plenty of ads about choice being run by the Obama campaign for a couple of reasons, it seems to me. First of all, they're aiming at a key swing constituency, which would be suburban voters who tend to be more moderate on cultural issues.
ROTHENBERGThey need to get strong showing from women. I think we throw these terms around all a bit too easily. Actually, they need single women, younger women, professional women, and the other thing is, frankly, they don't want to be talking about jobs and the economy and the latest unemployment numbers. So they're just more comfortable talking about abortion, choice, women's equality, women's rights.
REHMAll right. To Jonesborough, Tenn. Hi there, Jay.
JAYHi, Diane. A question and a couple of comments, I guess, really quick. What do you feel the media's role ought to be in getting away from a -- comments where they're more based on perspective than what's true and what's not true? Earlier today, one of the panelists mentioned that, you know, talking about Paul Ryan and the Medicare issue that he misconstrued or mischaracterized, which puts the Democrats in a position where they have to respond to something that's just not true. Why doesn't the media point this out more readily? There seems to be a reluctance in addressing that.
ELVINGThat's a great question, and it is one that is bedeviling a lot of people in the media as many news organizations have moved in the direction of providing more perspective or, if you will, news more from one side of the divide. We have lost, as an overall dimension, the media's role as a kind of umpire or a referee or somebody who stands by and says, no, wait a minute. Two plus two still equals four. Let's try to stick to a few facts here. Let's try to all agree on a few basics. That has been somewhat sacrificed.
ELVINGOn the other hand, it's easy to get nostalgic about some supposed golden age. There have always been lots of media organizations that played the game on one side of the fence over the other.
REHMBut wait a minute, Ron. Why is it, do you believe, that the media has stepped back from calling in on truth and untruth?
ELVINGThere is a certain amount of uncomfortable -- well, a discomfort that the media experiences with the word lie, liar, lying, any of those forms. But I would argue that last week, particularly after Paul Ryan's speech, there were many, many news organizations that said, OK, let's take a look at three, four, five of the things that he said here, the plant closing in Janesville that he's had to kind of skin back on, the characterization of the money taken out of welfare, which was also in his own budget.
ELVINGA number of other things that were pointed out immediately, both in live broadcast and in the next day's newspapers and all over television, you know, on the day after Paul Ryan's speech, there was a great deal of fact-checking there. And I think that that was a kind of moment, a watershed moment perhaps for many journalists of saying, all right, this is just going too far. We're going to have to reassume this role that we've gotten a little (unintelligible).
REHMOK. And, Shawna, do you think that it comes awfully late in the game?
THOMASI think that Stu said it best that politics lives in a murky water. And, usually, I think the problem that the media has is that in a lot of things that these candidates say, there is some type of nugget of truth. There is an element of truth. And so, as Mr. Elving said, you don't want to call anyone a liar because there is something to that. And with Paul Ryan's speech last week and I think also the welfare-to-work messages that came out of the Romney campaign for the last couple of weeks, it was one of those things where journalists said, this is just, for the most part, incorrect.
THOMASAnd I will say I was really proud of my news organization. I was really proud of a lot of news organizations that sort of checked Paul Ryan's speech and said, there are other things you need to know about this. And I thought it was done on a wide basis last week.
ROTHENBERGI agree. I guess I disagree with some of the premise of the question. I think there's more of this ad checking, more critique of what people said. And I watched Chuck Todd interview Paul Ryan a few days ago -- I know that it was just a few days ago 'cause I emailed him and told him I liked the interview -- where he showed clips of what Ryan said and then said, well, this is the truth. And so I think there has been more of this. But there is another -- there's something else going on that we at least ought to note, Diane.
ROTHENBERGAnd that is that -- and this does not hold with your show or with Glenn Kessler of The Washington Post, but the media are becoming more ideological and more partisan these days. So you look at Fox, and they're -- they are not looking critically at what the Republican is saying. And you look at -- my apologies -- MSNBC, and they will not look critically at what the Democrats say over the next three days.
REHMOK. Well, we're wondering what was going to happen in Charlotte, N.C. if the weather becomes an issue because many of these speeches are supposed to take place outdoors. The New York Times is reporting that Obama's speech will be outdoors unless safety is an issue. The guiding principle seems to be, if the Carolina Panthers can play in the rain, President Obama can speak in the rain. Who is going to introduce President Obama on Thursday night? Do we know yet, Ron Elving?
ELVINGI'm not sure that we know everything about the people who are going to speak. I know Martin O'Malley is going to speak in that final hour when the president speaks. We are also going to hear from, among other people, Sandra Fluke, who is the Georgetown law student who was abused by Rush Limbaugh and -- on his radio show and called names...
REHMAnd still being abused by Rush Limbaugh, I might add.
ELVINGAnd called names by a number of people because she had gone to Congress and testified in favor of women's access to contraception coverage under the Affordable Care Act. We're going to hear from a number of different people that we -- of course, the big speech on behalf of President Obama, besides the one being given tonight by his wife, Michelle, is the one on Wednesday night when his name will be placed in formal nomination by Bill Clinton. That's the speech everyone is waiting for, if you will.
ELVINGThat's kind of the question mark speech of the week, just how full-throated will his endorsement be. I suspect it will be quite full-throated. But there's a certain tension, of course, between the Clinton and Obama camps, always has been, back five, six years, even before the 2008 primary. So we can expect there to be a lot of speculation about that.
THOMASBut I think the one thing we all have to remember about Wednesday, it is NFL Kickoff, the Giants versus the Cowboys, on one of the major networks, which I will -- which will remain unnamed.
THOMASThat will be -- that will go up directly against, you know, former President Clinton, depending on how long the game lasts, do they go into overtime, all of those things. But it is interesting to note that there will probably be a fair amount of people in primetime watching NFL and not necessarily watching the Democratic National Convention.
REHMAll right. To Orlando, Fla. Hi, Dewey.
DEWEYThank you, Diane, for taking my call.
DEWEYMy question is, it seems since the Reagan years, we always -- when presidential elections come, we always get asked, are we better off than we were four years ago? And I'm hearing that now. And I know you can always pull numbers out of stats to prove each side the arguments. The plain truth is that when he did take office in January of 2009, we were losing somewhere around 700,000 jobs a month, you know, in some of our major businesses, like GM, and banks were going bankrupt. And he did put a stop to that.
DEWEYIt is true that they have a hard time arguing that, you know, it has recovered -- that recovery happened as we expected, maybe, may be not. And it's true the administration has a hard time arguing that it could have been worse. But isn't it equally true the Republicans have a hard time arguing that it could have been better? And I'll take my response off the line. Thank you.
REHMAll right. Thanks for calling. Any comment, Stu?
ROTHENBERGI'm just -- I mean, my immediate reaction is they can simply assert it would have been better if he had done different policies, and they don't need to provide any evidence. The problem for the president is there are data, there are numbers, there are -- there's facts that people can point to to say that we're better or worse off. The Republicans can simply say it should have been better.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." On that point, here's an email from Marc in Arlington, Va. He says, "When the president was sworn in, the Dow Jones industrial average was 8,228. It closed at 13,090 on Friday. Wall Street, the source of so much wailing over this administration, is clearly and undeniably better off, yet I wonder how they're going to vote."
ELVINGWhat an irony. What an irony. What an irony that the Democrats are pointing to Wall Street in this sense that -- and pointing to the Dow, and the Republicans are pointing to the unemployment rate, which is usually a Democratic number.
ROTHENBERGThere are arguments to make to the Democrats with the straight up-and-down question, are we're better off than we were four years ago. But as we saw this weekend, they were hesitant to make it. For whatever reason, they're hesitant to make it. Yes, they do have cases, things they could cite to make the argument. We'll see between now and Nov. 6 whether they decide to make the case.
REHMAnd finally to Greenville, Mich. Good morning, Glen.
GLENGood morning, Diane. Thanks for taking my call.
GLENI'm calling in regards to Mitt Romney and his Bain Capital, and I'd like to ask the panel if Cambridge Industries is a subcompany of Bain Capital, who came into our area in the fall of 1995 and purchased GenCorp Automotive along with two other companies of GenCorp Auto, one in Indiana -- and I don't remember exactly where the other one was -- but three in total, and they were all unionized shops.
REHMAll right. Let's see if Ron Elving knows about this.
ELVINGI'm sorry. I can't give you the details of that particular transaction.
REHMOK. Can anyone else? OK.
REHMSorry, no answer on that one. And, finally, it seems to me that, as one of our callers in Louisville, Ky. says, politicians make lots of promises, and the problem is that politicians can't keep all those promises. And then they get called out as liars, as disappointers, as politicians who are just playing the game. Doesn't the president have to be careful about how much he promises?
ELVINGOh, I think any politician should be careful. I think the president might even acknowledge some shortcomings, things that he wished he had done differently, things that didn't meet his expectations. You know, we like it, I think, sometimes when our leaders are actually humble and modest. And humility and modesty is something -- it's a rare quality in politics these days.
REHMShawna, last word.
THOMASI think that this president learned that you have to be careful about promises, and I think Guantanamo Bay and the situation with that and Congress is a good example. And every time Mr. Romney says, I'm going to end or repeal health care or I'm going to stop health care on the first day, I can't help but always think to myself, that involves Congress.
REHMShawna Thomas, White House producer for NBC News, Stuart Rothenberg, editor and publisher of the Rothenberg Political Report. Ron Elving joined us from the NPR studios in Charlotte, N.C. And don't forget, we have nine weeks to go before Election Day. Thanks to all of you. Thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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