For our November Readers' Review: “Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant” by Anne Tyler. As we prepare for holiday gatherings, join Diane and her guests to discuss this master work from the author who has made an art of exploring family love and dysfunction.
Bill Clinton and others take the stage, and the spotlight’s on the middle class as President Barack Obama prepares to accept the party’s nomination for a second term. Diane and her guests discuss the latest from the DNC in Charlotte, N.C.
- Ron Elving Washington editor for NPR.
- Elizabeth Williamson reporter for The Wall Street Journal.
- Susan Page Washington bureau chief for USA Today.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm.
PRESIDENT BILL CLINTONI want to nominate a man who's cool on the outside but who burns for America on the inside.
REHMWords from Bill Clinton who spoke last night at the Democratic National Convention. The former president told Americans the country is better off today than it was four years ago because of President Obama's policies. And he asked voters to let Mr. Obama finish the job. Joining me to discuss the speech and all the latest from the DNC: Elizabeth Williamson, a reporter of The Wall Street Journal. She is here with me.
REHMAnd from a studio at the Charlotte Observer in North Carolina, Ron Elving, Washington editor for NPR, and Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for USA Today. I do invite you to be a part of the conversation. Give us your reactions, your thoughts and questions, 800-433-8850. Send your email to email@example.com. Join us on Facebook or Twitter. Well, good morning to all of you.
MS. ELIZABETH WILLIAMSONGood morning.
MS. SUSAN PAGEGood morning, Diane.
MR. RON ELVINGGood morning, Diane.
REHMAnd, Ron Elving, I'll start with you. Did President Clinton make an effective case for reelection of President Obama last night?
ELVINGIf he didn't, I don't know who's going to. That was about as full-throated, robust and effective, to use your word, a defensive President Obama as I can imagine. I don't know very many people who were seeing it as inadequate last night. Of course, not everyone saw it. Of course, not everyone saw it the same way. Everyone has different ears for these things. But, frankly, there are things Barack Obama can do as a speaker. We all know that. But he has not been particularly good at his own defense. This was hiring the right attorney at the right time in the right courtroom.
REHMSusan, how did you read it?
PAGEYou know, I thought the fact that we know these two men are not close, at times have not gotten along, certainly still some wounds from 2008, made it a more effective speech because they're not, you know, they're not pals. They've been rivals. And yet President Clinton, who gets a lot of credit for the good economy that the country had during his tenure in the White House, argued that even he could not have done more to improve the U.S. economy in the last four years, really making the argument that President Obama's done what he could and deserves four more years to continue the job.
REHMYou know, here is exactly what the president said.
CLINTONPresident Obama started with a much weaker economy than I did. Listen to me now. No president, no president, not me, not any of my predecessors, no one could have fully repaired all the damage that he found in just four years.
REHMAnd what did you think of that, Elizabeth?
WILLIAMSONThat was, Diane, really an interesting sort of sly kind of speech in total. It was folksy. It came across as sort of extending open arms toward the party speaking about all the Republicans that Clinton has worked with over his career and in his private sector career with his foundation. He talked about partnership over partisanship but at the same time, very slyly, was a highly partisan speech.
WILLIAMSONHe delivered a very factual rebuttal of Republican arguments made in Tampa against the president's health care plan, against his plans for Medicare. He was very, as he always is, detailed, and he went off the cuff. So he used his sort of advancing age now to be folksy and to be sort of an elder statesman. It was interesting.
REHMHow did he go off the cuff?
WILLIAMSONWell, I mean, he had a 3,100 word count for the transcript of the speech and went up beyond 5,000 words. He spoke for 49 minutes. He talked about, you know, made a lot of off-the-cuff comments: Listen to me now, I've been there, I know this. He's sort of cementing himself as really the godfather of the party, someone who is bringing Obama into his embrace in saying, despite what you all know about tension between us, we're moving together forward. And together was really the key message here.
REHMSusan, when you heard those off-the-cuff comments, did it seem to you that the audience welcomed them as part of exactly who Bill Clinton is?
PAGEOh, yes, absolutely. I mean, this was an audience that was with Bill Clinton. I mean, I think there might've been people in the TV audience who thought, when will he finish? I don't think that was the sentiment in the hall. You know, this is -- there -- this is a crowd that has forgiven the failings of Bill Clinton, the behavior that lead to his impeachment and the scandal over the pardons when he left office. That was not on the minds of these people.
PAGEOn the minds of these people, Bill Clinton's success as a president when it came to the economy and also his ability to reach some voters that are hard for President Obama to reach. More moderate Democrats, white working-class Democrats, these are the voters that Bill Clinton will be deployed, not just last night but in the campaign places in Florida and Ohio and elsewhere...
PAGE...to try to help President Obama win a second term.
REHMRon Elving, tell me how President Clinton point by point by point made the case for President Obama against what had been charged at the Republican National Convention.
ELVINGWell, first of all, he began with jobs -- and this is the crux -- and he started right out by saying let's look at the last 50 years back to the election of JFK in 1961. The Democrats have been in power for 24 years of those years and the Republicans for 28, four years longer. And let's look at the creation of 66 million jobs over that period of time in the United States. Which party, the party that's been in power longer or the party that's been in power less long, has created most of those jobs?
ELVINGHe said it's been the Democrats, and then he started walking through another long set of statistics, but in that Bill Clinton way where he is a little bit Southern preacher, a little bit soul singer, a little bit, hey, are you with me now? And, you know, you're having a good time now, but wait till I tell you this next thing. The audience kind of stops and gasps like, oh, what'll that be, Daddy? And he's got them right there.
ELVINGNow, I agree, on television, it's another story. It's a little tougher. You can't quite have that same emotional connection. But I have never heard such a torrent of statistics, facts, fairly dry stuff -- Medicare, Medicaid, explaining things about those programs, especially the $716 billion that Obamacare takes out of Medicare.
ELVINGAnd it takes it out of the vendors and out of the hospitals and out of payments to those people but not out of benefits to seniors. He explained that in a way, I think, even Barack Obama would have to sit back and say, yeah, OK, that's OK that we did that, yeah, that's all right.
WILLIAMSONYeah. That $716 million section was really...
WILLIAMSONBillion, sorry, was really interesting because he -- when he was speaking about Medicare, he was obviously taking on Paul Ryan. And he said, you know, it takes some brass to attack a guy for doing what you did, which really is -- he's speaking about the Ryan plan to take exactly that $716 billion out of Medicare. So he's drawing that comparison but on the jobs front, there could hardly be an individual more tailor-made to address the jobs question that the Republicans repeatedly raised vis-a-vis Obama's candidacy.
WILLIAMSONI mean, he talked about those 66 million jobs created over the 52 years, and he talked about how 24 million of them were created by Republicans but 42 million created by Democrats. And this coming from a president who had the highest job growth in 30 years during his presidency, it could hardly be more effective.
PAGEDiane, I would just say there was something else that Bill Clinton did that the campaign, the Obama campaign was very eager to hear him do and glad he did. And that was combat the ads that the Romney campaign has been airing, blasting Obama on the issue of work -- the work requirement in the 1996 welfare law that President Clinton signed.
PAGEThis has been a very effective ad on the part of the Romney people, one of those kind of wedge ads that suggested that he's eliminated the work -- got the worker requirement in the welfare law. Well, no one is in a stronger position to rebut that than Bill Clinton, who signed that law to some criticism from fellow Democrats saying that the characterization in those ads is wrong. And I think that is -- was something he did last night that was going to be -- is going to very helpful going forward.
REHMWhat is the fact there, Susan?
PAGEWell, the fact is that the Obama administration is offering states waivers from the work requirement in the welfare law if they substitute a work requirement they think is more effective. So it's not -- independent fact checkers agree that it does not get the work requirement. It just gives the states different ways to meet it. But the ad that the Romney campaign is airing is quite sharp in saying that Obama has made it possible for people not to work but just to sit back and get their welfare checks.
WILLIAMSONYeah. The president -- President Clinton made that point really cogently and by using one fact. He talked about how those governors which received those waivers had to say that they would and had to prove that they would boost job growth by 20 percent, welfare to work by 20 percent of previous. That was a really important fact, and then he added to that that he takes this very personally because that was his signature achievement of his presidency.
REHMYou know, Elizabeth, NPR's "Morning Edition" had a professor from Carleton College on the program this morning questioning him as to whether President Clinton could have overshadowed President Obama by virtue of the strength of his delivery. What's your reaction to that?
WILLIAMSONThat was interesting because I think that, you know, the point has been repeatedly made that while President Obama speaks, Clinton talks. And he engaged not only audiences but TV -- those of us in the comfort of our own living rooms, in real conversation about why this man needs four more years.
REHMElizabeth Williamson, she is a reporter at The Wall Street Journal. Short break here. Your calls when we come back.
REHMAnd just picking up on that last point, Ron Elving, here's a question from -- that was posted online from John, who says, "Did Clinton's effectiveness last night expose a general weakness in the Obama campaign? Should they be explaining more as Clinton did, or is that something they really could not do even if they tried? After last night, does Clinton become a more active and visible surrogate for the campaign?" Ron Elving.
ELVINGThere are three wonderful parts to that question. To start with the last one, yes, I do think that Bill Clinton is now engaged in a way that he had not been up to now. It will be difficult for him to disengage without there being a bit of damage from that if he doesn't continue to make this case as strongly as he did last night. To the question of does this make the Obama campaign look weak for not having made its own defense case up to now, hard to argue that, isn't it?
ELVINGI mean, the selling of the Medicare -- rather the Obamacare plan, the Affordable Care Act, left a great deal to be desired. I can't imagine anyone arguing that point. So many things were left unclear. So many things were left undefended, particularly this matter of the money that was saved in Medicare and then being spent over on the Obamacare side. That could so easily be construed the way the Republicans have done.
ELVINGThey should have been ready for that. They should have had a counterargument from that right from the beginning. I don't think anyone disputes that, including the Obama campaign. Is it possible for them to do it as effectively as Bill Clinton did last night? That's why people have lawyers. You cannot defend yourself as well as someone who's that good at it can defend you.
REHMHuh, interesting. Elizabeth.
WILLIAMSONYeah. I think that moving from health care, more importantly what the administration has failed to do sufficiently is explain the stimulus. I mean, the stimulus is something that the Republicans have used to tar them, even though they supported it. They have used to tar the president. And I had the opportunity yesterday to speak with a number of regular voters who were staunch Obama supporters.
WILLIAMSONAnd they, to a person, were saying that one thing the administration has failed to do is explain what the stimulus actually did for the economy and for states and what it did to grow jobs. Clinton made that point last night and spoke about that. And I think that's something that has been long overdue from the campaign.
PAGEYou know, Diane, I don't think that Bill Clinton overshadows Barack Obama. I think the person he's overshadowed is Joe Biden because many of the arguments he was making, including the attacks on the other side, were things we expect the vice presidential nominee or the sitting vice president to make. It was Joe Biden who lost his night in the spotlight at the convention. Michelle Obama owned Tuesday night. Bill Clinton had last night. Barack Obama has tonight.
PAGEJoe Biden's speech tonight isn't even in primetime, isn't even in the time that the broadcast networks will be carrying this on air. And he's the person, I think, who maybe has the biggest problem with Clinton's emergence here. In the end, Bill Clinton cannot win this election for Barack Obama. Barack Obama has to step up to the plate tonight in his speech and in the debates -- the three debates we'll see on October and over the next two months if he's going to win reelection.
WILLIAMSONYeah, I think the -- whether the president was overshadowed or not will be determined by his speech this evening. And to the point that Susan makes on Joe Biden, Joe Biden was the person in charge of the stimulus and in publicizing what was done with that money and how much good was done with the money. And one could argue that he fell short.
REHMThere is another portion of the Clinton speech that, I think, really got through to people.
CLINTONWe simply cannot afford to give the reins of government to someone who will double down on trickle-down. Think about them. President Obama's plan cuts the debt, honors our values, brightens the future of our children, our families and our nation. It's a heck of a lot better.
REHMWhat about that, Ron Elving, doubling down on trickle-down?
ELVINGBill always seems to have those kinds of phrases, doesn't he? I guess we all get that. Mitt Romney is a highly successful businessman, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, has many, many homes. He has a program that would be -- well, especially if he adopts Paul Ryan's budget, he has a program that would be highly advantageous to people in his own tax bracket. He doesn't want to show us his tax returns. You know the whole indictment.
ELVINGThis has been, in the first two days, largely a convention about what the Republicans would at least call class warfare. Democrats might call it comparison between your financial situation and ours, but there is a great deal in the differences between the parties that has resonance with people who are resentful of what other people have. Let's put it that way. And in this particular construction, going back 30 years to trickle-down economics, that was a term that had been used all the way back to the Great Depression in Hoover days.
ELVINGBut that was the term used against Reaganomics. It wasn't very effective against Reaganomics. People liked Reaganomics. The economy seemed to do well in the 1980s. Then that all seemed to sort of get along in the tooth over the next 30 years. Clinton had a lot of success with a very different kind of economic program that happened to coincide with the rise of the personal computer and the Internet and a lot of other things that drove the economy like crazy.
ELVINGSo now we've had a decade in which things have not been so good. We don't have that kind of driver. We don't have some kind of policy magic. And we also had a lot of setbacks in the last decade from 9/11 on through the wars and everything else.
REHMIndeed. All right. We also heard from Elizabeth Warren. Susan Page, she's running for U.S. senator in Massachusetts. She's also behind the consumer financial protection agency. How did she do and how is she doing in her battle for that seat in Massachusetts?
PAGEWell, she is in a really close race in Massachusetts, I mean, surprisingly because Massachusetts is such a Democratic-leaning state. And yet Scott Brown, the incumbent senator, you know, raising a lot of money, keeping it very close in the polls. She -- I have to believe this was a huge benefit to her in her own race because it was such a high-profile speech.
PAGEAnd she gave that kind of full-throated liberal agenda that doesn't work everywhere in the country, wouldn't work maybe in a place like Virginia or North Carolina, but in Massachusetts, yes. You know, she's been a champion for liberals, and that certainly came through last night.
REHMElizabeth, you don't agree.
WILLIAMSONYeah. I'm going to issue a qualified disagreement here because I think that Elizabeth Warren, being the so-called -- she called herself warm-up band for President Clinton, really highlighted two streams of thought within the party that are, to some degree, at war with each other. She speaks to the system is rigged. We got screwed by Wall Street, et cetera. Bill Clinton stands for, let's harness Wall Street. Let's work on the financial sector and put them in line to achieve prosperity for all of us.
WILLIAMSONThese schools of thought are somewhat in conflict with each other, and I felt that this was, you know, the red meat that she was throwing to the base didn't necessarily chime with what President Clinton was talking about in terms of working together in cooperation and the ability to get something through Congress that benefits everyone.
REHMAnd the other...
PAGEYou know, Elizabeth, I...
REHMGo ahead, Susan. Sure.
PAGEDiane, if I -- Elizabeth, I totally agree with you. These are two different strains of Democratic thought. But Elizabeth Warren didn't run for president. She doesn't need to carry moderate voters -- independent voters in places like North Carolina. She was speaking not just to the national audience. She was speaking to an audience in Massachusetts, where, I think, the Democrats who dominate state probably agree with her.
WILLIAMSONTrue. But she's in a dead heat for a reason. And I think that's because a large number of voters in Massachusetts who say, you know what, I didn't get screwed. I'm wealthy. I've done it in my way. I've maintained my own Democratic liberal principles.
REHMInteresting. And the other big speech last night somewhat surprisingly, Ron Elving, came from Sandra Fluke.
ELVINGAre we going to hear a little bit of that? I'm sorry. I was waiting to hear Sandra.
REHMNo. I'm sorry. I want to hear you.
ELVINGAnd it was -- you know what? Thank you very much. I wish I could do as well as she did last night. She is not yet a professional speaker, although she is a Georgetown law school graduate. And she was holding forth on the issue of access to health care for women with contraception issues, with abortion issues, access to the health care that they need through their employer health care plans.
ELVINGThis became a huge issue earlier this year when some employers, people who had associations with religious institutions such as Catholic hospitals, not the Catholic Church per se, but a hospital associated with the Catholic Church, objected to providing some of those services through their insurance plans. They called that their right under the First Amendment, religious freedom to say, we don't want to support that kind of health care or that kind of procedure.
ELVINGSo if you call it an abortion or you call it contraception or you call it something like that, which a religious institution might object to, it becomes a religious freedom issue. If you call it health care and equal access to health care, then it becomes a very different kind of issue. And Sandra Fluke, of course, is the woman who, once she brought this issue up in a congressional hearing, was attacked personally in highly scabrous terms by Rush Limbaugh and a number of other commentators and therefore became kind of heroine of the cause.
REHMSo, Susan, it would seem that Democrats are really happy to bring up all the social issues, whereas Republicans pretty much stayed away.
PAGEYou know, it's interesting. I haven't -- Ron and I have gone through a lot of these conventions. I haven't heard Democrats so forthrightly advocating abortion rights in a couple conventions, and it's because they know who the swing voters are in this election. It's women. It's women of a certain age, say maybe 30 to 55. They're -- the pool of persuadable voters is pretty small. It is disproportionately women in a situation, you know, white women, black women and women of color solidly for President Obama.
PAGEBut this is the group that you hear both parties going after, and it tells you something, that the Republicans steered way away from the social issues that they've emphasized in the past, and that you saw the Democrats put Sandra Fluke in prime time to talk about them.
WILLIAMSONYes, moved her up at the last minute. And while there's a 10 percent gap, according to most polls, between Romney and Obama, at the same time there's this new Washington Post poll out that talks about how he has a 50 percent favorability rating among women -- Obama, this is -- and 46 percent unfavorability. So he's not as secure as one would think with women voters. And then she has, of course, the added benefit that she's very young and very powerful speaker for being so young.
WILLIAMSONAnd, you know, again, he's got to get the youth to the poll. Seventy-eight percent of them, in October of 2008, said that they would vote. Only 58 percent say so now. So that's very important to get those people motivated and voting again.
REHMSusan Page, what happened to the Democratic platform? Two big changes: one on the word God, the other on the capital of Israel.
PAGEWhat a mess, you know? I think politicians must think the only thing platforms can do is give you trouble. In this case, I think there were two miscalculations on their part that created issues that they did not need to have. The platform has said -- for some years said that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. That's not U.S. policy. U.S. policy is that the capital of -- the status of Jerusalem needs to be the subject of negotiations.
PAGEThey took that out of the platform. When there were protests, the White House told them to put it back in, which they did, to the objections of any number of people, any number of the delegates who are on the hall. Also, the words God-given were taken out of the platform. That caused a big furor, too, so they put that back in. You know, these are unforced errors on the Democrats' part. Nobody cares about what the platform says, really, unless it becomes an object of dispute, and that's what happened yesterday.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Elizabeth, I know you covered Ann Romney's speech at the Republican National Convention. How do you compare her speech with the one given by Michelle Obama?
WILLIAMSONA number of us were talking about this in the newsroom yesterday. It felt like Ann Romney was appealing to an entirely different segment of America. It felt like some sort of '50s kind of housewife appeal. It was charming. It was effective. But at the same time, it was not nearly the sort of modern approach taken by Michelle Obama in her very powerful speech.
WILLIAMSONI mean, she talked about people, as did Ann Romney, about trying to make ends meet, trying to -- single parents, people trying to put kids through school, get them through college. But coming from Michelle Obama, who comes from that background, it is just so much more powerful.
REHMRon Elving, how did you react?
ELVINGThought that they were both awfully good for the missions they had been assigned. In the end, Michelle Obama, though, was carrying the heavier burden, I think, because she was the main speaker of the night. She was, in essence, a kind of other keynoter besides Julian Castro. And she was given not only this huge task of keeping women tight with Obama, the women who voted for him last time, but also of giving a kind of passion to what is often and often -- well, often and awfully cool demeanor in this president.
ELVINGEven Bill Clinton last night said, the man was cool on the outside, but, oh, he does burn for America on the inside. Yeah. Well, you know, you don't have to remind people about that with Michelle Obama. And so I think she had the larger task. I think she had the more passionate presentation. And you know what else? She's just got to be awfully good.
REHMYes, I must say. And, of course, Barack Obama himself said she'll be better than I will. Susan.
PAGEYou know, I thought they had different missions, as Ron was saying. Ann Romney's mission -- you know, we know from polling that Americans think that Mitt Romney would be better than Barack Obama in handling the economy, but they're not sure they like him. So he was -- she was trying to make the case my husband is, in fact, a likeable human being that you can trust.
PAGEMichelle Obama had to address those people who voted for her husband four years ago, but have been disappointed by his delivery on the economy. And that is, as Ron said, I think, a harder case to make to voters who look at their job situation or whether their kids can afford to go to college or if they can get a job when they get out of college than the mission that Ann Romney had.
REHMRon Elving, you mentioned San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro. What did you think of his speech? Did it meet expectations?
ELVINGIt had to exceed expectations, I should think, because virtually no one at the convention had ever heard him speak before, except the people from San Antonio. I think a lot of people in Texas had heard the story of he and his brother Joaquin and their mother Rosie, who's really quite a legendary figure in San Antonio politics. She was not an officeholder herself, but she promoted many causes.
ELVINGShe was part of the cause, if you will, Raza Latina, in the '60s and '70s, getting people registered to vote. And this was a big part of the history of San Antonio changing politically, and these are her inheritor sons. The speech itself was magnetic. It was powerful. I would say it was the equivalent, at least, of Marco Rubio's speech in the Republican Convention, introducing Mitt Romney on the final night. So it was as though the Democrats were saying, we'll see your Marco Rubio and we'll raise you Julian and his brother Joaquin.
WILLIAMSONYeah. Being on the floor in Tampa and seeing, you know, one Hispanic leader after another being put forward, there was a forced sense there. There was a sense of look who we have on our team, whereas this seemed effortless. He got up. He told his story. It was authentic, it was genuine, it was passionate, and it really made the case more than six speakers who come from similar backgrounds.
REHMElizabeth Williamson, she's a reporter at The Wall Street Journal. Short break. Your calls when we come back.
REHMAnd welcome back. Time to go straight to the phones to San Antonio, Texas. Good morning, Joyce.
JOYCEGood morning, Diane. I was listening to President Clinton last night, and I was so impressed with his speech. And I just want to say that President Obama had big ideas when he was running for president. He wanted to give jobs. There are places in this country where bridges are falling down, streets have huge potholes. If they would have said, OK, let's go ahead and compromise, we could put people to work doing that, that would have been hundreds and thousands of jobs.
JOYCEAlso, they operate with a spirit of hatred. I have never, in my life, heard a president called a liar when he was onstage speaking or people saying his birth certificate is wrong. And people like the congressman who said, we want him to fail, if you want a president to fail, what are you saying about the rest of the country? If you want a president to succeed, even though he's a different party, that is good.
REHMAll right. Thanks for your call. Elizabeth, on that word compromise which, so clearly, President Clinton was opening the door to last night.
WILLIAMSONAbsolutely. And, at the same time, really tarring those in the Republican Party who believe compromise is a dirty word. Not so long ago, I interviewed Ted Cruz, who is now the (word?) senator from Texas, who just refused to say the word compromise. It was a dirty word. You know, the question, point blank, would you compromise in order to achieve points on his own agenda? No, I would not compromise. I won't compromise. So this is -- I think that, you know, there's a sort of double-edged thing going on here.
WILLIAMSONClinton raises a lot of nostalgia for the time when people could work. He worked with Newt Gingrich on a balanced budget. This is a man who can achieve something by working across the aisle and putting a lot of that personal animus to the side. People are nostalgic for that. Whether that will develop -- will result in support for the president or whether people will say, how come Obama can't do that too remains to be seen.
REHMSusan, how do you respond to that? It would seem that some people believe that President Obama came in attempting to compromise but was told that there was no way, no how, it was going to happen.
PAGEYes, and I think that's right. And you actually heard President Clinton respond -- talking about this some last night. And he had some rather favorable things to say about some previous Republican presidents, including the Bushes. And he said that he hasn't been able to kind of work up the hate against him that some Republicans have against President Obama.
PAGEBut, of course, this is -- if the primary problem that President Obama has is his failure to deliver more on the economy, I think the second thing that has been most disappointing to his voters is his failure to be able to figure out some new way to make Washington work a little better than it's been working. And so he needs to make this case that, give me four more years, and it won't just be a replay of these -- of this very sharp partisan divide that we've seen the last four years, that there is some way we can manage to work together.
REHMAll right. To...
REHMSure, go ahead.
ELVINGJust -- this is a very important question, especially looking to what might be a second term for Barack Obama or even, for that matter, a first term for Mitt Romney. The reason there's so much less compromise in Washington now than when Bill Clinton was president -- go back to '96, he passed a lot of legislation in his reelection year because the Republicans who were controlling the House and Senate also wanted to be reelected that November, and they were focused on the general election.
ELVINGThe Republicans today are no longer focused on general elections. They are focused on primaries. They're worried about being the next Richard Lugar. They don't want to have somebody rise up in the state, like Richard Lugar's state of Indiana, and say, hey, that was a nice six terms you gave Richard Lugar and you've been one of the absolute saints and pillars of the United States Senate, but you're not conservative enough. We found somebody else who never voted for TARP and is more conservative than you.
ELVINGAnd we're going to replace you with him. That's what put the fear in Republicans in 2009, and that's one of the main reasons that they resisted everything that Barack Obama wanted to do with such a passion.
REHMNow, do you believe that that would continue into a second term of Barack Obama if he's reelected, Ron?
ELVINGIt's hard to imagine that it would not. The Tea Party is not going to go out of business. The Tea Party, of course, is not an actual entity or an institution. It's a feeling. It's a movement. It's a lot of people's sensation that they are now in charge of the Republican Party in many states, and they can press these more conservative candidates, like Ted Cruz in Texas. And nothing against any of those candidates, but they are clearly running against the concept of compromise.
ELVINGAnd, therefore, when they win and come to Washington and go into an institution like the Senate or even one person can throw a monkey wrench in the works at any time, well, you get a good group of 20 or 25 of those people with that attitude, and the Congress will come to a total stop, if it hasn't already.
REHMBut it can't, can it, Elizabeth?
WILLIAMSONI think it already has. And, you know, there was a time in there right after 2010 where there was this sense of, OK, so there are a number of these Tea Party folks in the Congress. Let's see what they do. Let's see if they start to come around as politicians often do. They come off the trail. They no longer have to use the rhetoric they use to try and get elected, and maybe they start to discover the ways of compromise and getting something done. So far, it hasn't happened. I mean, these primaries -- Ron's absolutely right. These guys are running for primaries where polarization is the way to get elected.
REHMAll right. To St. Louis, Mo. Good morning, Linda. Linda...
LINDAYes, I'm here.
REHMGo right ahead.
LINDATwo quick things I wanted to say. One of your speakers earlier said he thought that people resented people who were better off than them, and I think maybe we could characterize that a little bit differently, that mostly people are worried about how they can stay in or work their selves into the middle class. Secondly, there was the question about whether Bill Clinton is going to overshadow President Obama in his speech tonight.
LINDAAnd what I would say is that Bill Clinton, his speech last night was like a long, cool drink of water for people who are -- had been really, really thirsty for the last few years. And so it was just -- he has a wonderful, simple, concise way of helping people understand very complex issues.
REHMThank you, Linda. And, Susan, that question about people not resenting the upper-middle class so much as wanting to be themselves again part of the middle class. What do you think?
PAGEWell, I think that's definitely true, but there is, I think, resentment on the idea that the most affluent taxpayers are paying less in taxes, that tax -- that the Bush tax cuts will be extended for them as well as for more middle-class voters or that the wealthy people use Cayman bank accounts and put their money in Swiss bank accounts and do things that most Americans wouldn't think about doing, wouldn't occur to them to do, wouldn't be advantageous for them to do, that the rich are playing by a different set of rules. That, I think, is the source of some resentment by voters.
REHMAll right. And let's go to Noah in Goshen, Ind. Good morning. You're on the air.
NOAHGood morning, Diane.
NOAHNice show to have in the morning.
NOAHMy basic comment is I'm a 22-year-old voter and on kind of an interesting position because I'm not -- I don't have any health issues, so I don't even need health insurance because I never need it. But thanks to President Obama, I don't have to worry about until I'm 26 going off my parents' health insurance, so I can keep getting my education.
NOAHAnd I don't have to worry about, or at least I have less worries about something sudden coming up and then being settled with seven figures of debt because of health care. So that's basically my comment. I'm not a single-issue voter, but that's my -- that -- but that's my position.
REHMAll right. And, Susan Page, how much did the focus on the Affordable Care Act come up yesterday and last night?
PAGEYou know, we -- after months and months or a year of not hearing Democrats voluntarily bringing up the Affordable Care Act, we did hear a defense of some of the provisions that are -- been really important for families. Letting young people stay in their parents' health insurance until 26 or debarring the pre-existing conditions, exclusion for kids and soon to add that also for adults. So these are the positive thing. You know, Ron talked about how the administration has not done a very good job of selling the stimulus bill.
PAGEYou could say the same about the health care bill, that they've allowed it to be demonized by its opponents without responding very effectively. We saw some of the defense here in Charlotte.
WILLIAMSONYeah. The stimulus, I couldn't agree more. That was something that we talked about earlier that the president really needed to defend because that is at the bedrock of his economic plan. Health care is something a bit separate. He's hobbled by the fact that many of the most positive provisions in the health care reform act don't kick in until 2014. And that's been unfortunate for him on the campaign trail.
WILLIAMSONHowever, as Susan said, the 3 million 19- to 25-year-olds who are now in their parents' plan, thanks to this act, are -- is really a popular selling point, not only at the convention but out there among voters.
REHMRon Elving, is it going to be brought up more and more in the remaining days of the campaign?
ELVINGIn some context, I believe it will be. In some audiences, it will be. I think when they're talking to the kind of people who are benefiting, for example, by being able to keep their children on their own health insurance plan until their kids are in their mid-20s as opposed to at the end of college stay, that's going to be popular with those kinds of audiences. So in specific applications, I believe it will be. Here is a sign of what they're planning to do.
ELVINGHow high up in the speech tonight when President Obama is making his own case in the 10 o'clock hour Eastern Time, when does he start talking about the Affordable Care Act? How does he talk about it? What kind of terms does he use? And if it's really prominent, if it's really his centerpiece -- I'm not saying it will be -- but if it were, that would suggest that they've decided to go on the offense.
REHMYou know, other changes coming up, Rahm Emanuel announced this week, Elizabeth, he's going to leave his position as co-chair of the Obama campaign to help raise money for super PACs. What does the move tell us?
WILLIAMSONWell, Rahm Emanuel is a formidable fundraiser. His campaign for mayor of Chicago was one of the best finance there had ever been. So he -- this is a move and a recognition on the part of the Obama campaign that they have some difficulty in approaching wealthy donors, big ticket donors.
WILLIAMSONIt's that same thing we talked about earlier, that sense of resentment versus aspiration, working with Wall Street versus wanting to punish them. There is a real discomfort within the party about talking to these people. At the same time, some of the rhetoric, and again, I don't want to keep going after Elizabeth Warren on this, but some of the rhetoric that she employs while it makes people -- I mean, she is the lone voice for people who say, why weren't these Wall Street people punished?
WILLIAMSONWhy weren't they held accountable for the housing crisis? At the same time, they need those people's money and their support, the Democrats among them. And even the Democrats among them have been leaving in droves.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go to Dallas, Texas. Good morning, Marshall.
MARSHALLGood morning, Diane. How are you? I enjoy your show.
REHMFine. I'm so glad.
MARSHALLYou do a phenomenal job trying to create some balance. But I have a quick point -- two quick points. One, I'm more concerned about the general media and often times trying to present a balanced view point, specifically talking about the Democrats and Obama not being willing to compromise. Obama's first two years as president frankly was nothing but doing everything he could to compromise to the point where his own democratic base really was asking, what are you doing?
MARSHALLHe often would take the Republican ideas and present it back. And then they would basically throw it back at him, you know. So the Democrats have come -- have shown a lot of willingness to compromise and the Republicans haven't. The other point I want to make, too, about resentment of wealth. The middle class does not resent people that are rich. What they do resent is people getting there and unfairly and not having an equal playing field to get there.
MARSHALLAnd those -- and I think that's real critical. And so I think I need to stop saying that the middle class or the Democrats really resent the rich 'cause that's not the case.
ELVINGCertainly the issue that's been joined here is whether or not people who have great means and have gotten to them by the exploitation, shall we say, of assets that were pre-existing, including things like roads and bridges and an educational system and things that are government-related should be a little bit more patriotic about sharing a larger portion of that great wealth with the larger body politic, with the federal government and maybe not moving it around in quite so many ways that are amounting to tax avoidance.
ELVINGNow, I'm saying avoidance not evasion.
ELVINGI'm not alleging any crimes...
ELVING...except to say that the way that the tax code is written, largely by tax lawyers, is it's written to allow people to get away from paying taxes by pursuing these avoidance strategies.
ELVINGSome people pursue them very aggressively.
REHMAnd Marshall's point about compromise on the part of Democrats early on, Elizabeth?
WILLIAMSONI think that he's absolutely right. I think that you can lay the -- or the inability to achieve compromise on something like the health care act for a long time, on some of the economic measures, the job creation measures, squarely on the step of the Republicans. At the same time, the president -- people are saying that it's incumbent upon him to find another way to deal with these guys. President Clinton did. He was able to triangulate.
WILLIAMSONHe was able to find the center. He was able to find their -- as Ron pointed out -- their common interest in getting reelected. So Obama needs to do that in the next four years if he gets them.
REHMAnd, Susan, finally the jobs report will come out tomorrow morning. How much will the president know about that report when he speaks tonight?
PAGEWell, he won't know what the numbers going to be and predictions of what that jobs number's going to be. The last couple of months have not been very prescient. And it really has the ability to either -- if that number is good, it might re-enforce the idea that things are getting better, that he's the guy you should stick with. If it's bad, you know, we got more three more jobs reports before Election Day. The last one is five days before the election.
PAGEThese are economic reports, so I think it will have some influence in shaping, you know, the gut judgment that voters will make on whether President Obama has done well enough to deserve a second term.
REHMSusan Page, she is Washington bureau chief for USA Today, Ron Elving, Washington editor for NPR. They both joined us from a studio at the Charlotte Observer in Charlotte, N.C. Here in our studios in Washington, D.C., Elizabeth Williamson, a reporter for The Wall Street Journal. Thank you all so much.
PAGEThank you, Diane.
WILLIAMSONThank you, Diane.
ELVINGThank you, Diane.
REHMThanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Denise Couture, Susan Nabors, Megan Merritt, Lisa Dunn and Rebecca Kaufman. The engineer is Tobey Schreiner. Natalie Yuravlivker answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information. Our email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, and we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington. This is NPR.
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