A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week's top international news stories.
Vice President Joe Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan debate in Kentucky. The presidential race tightens in swing states. And the Supreme Court hears arguments on affirmative action. Ron Elving of NPR, Sheryl Gay Stolberg of The New York Times and Naftali Bendavid of The Wall Street Journal join Diane for analysis of the week’s top national news stories.
- Sheryl Gay Stolberg Washington correspondent for The New York Times.
- Ron Elving Washington editor for NPR.
- Naftali Bendavid national correspondent for The Wall Street Journal.
Friday News Roundup Video
“Clearly, there was an attempt to learn the lessons of the last debate,” Naftali Bendavid, national correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, said. Our panel weighed in on last night’s vice presidential debate.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Vice President Joe Biden and Congressman Paul Ryan clashed over a range of issues in last night's debate. Weekly unemployment claims were the lowest in four years, and a South Carolina judge barred the state's voter ID law from taking effect until next year.
MS. DIANE REHMHere with me for the domestic hour of the Friday News Roundup: Ron Elving of NPR, Sheryl Gay Stolberg of The New York Times and Naftali Bendavid of The Wall Street Journal. Do join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning, everybody. Thanks for being here.
MS. SHERYL GAY STOLBERGGood morning.
MR. NAFTALI BENDAVIDGood morning.
MR. RON ELVINGGood morning, Diane.
REHMGood to see you all. Naftali Bendavid, let me start with you. Give us your take on last night's debate.
BENDAVIDWell, one of the things that jumped out of me was that it seemed very clear that both of them, but particularly Vice President Joe Biden, was trying very much to learn the lessons of the last debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney. Not only did he tried to be forceful and aggressive and tried to take charge of the debate in a way that many people felt President Obama hadn't, but it also was really striking to me when Paul Ryan was talking, Biden was very aware that the camera was on him.
BENDAVIDAnd he really played that up. Some might say he overdid it because he laughed sort of dismissively a lot. But clearly there was an attempt to learn the lessons of the last debate. And I actually thought Vice President Biden did pretty well. I mean, he was really playing out this idea that he's been there a long time. He sort of tried to depict Paul Ryan as a young whippersnapper, and I thought he was somewhat effective in doing that.
STOLBERGWell, I think we should begin with the premise that vice presidential debates really don't matter all that much. Nobody votes for...
REHMMaybe, but this one could be different.
STOLBERGCould, right. Nobody votes for the vice president. I agree with Naftali that Vice President Biden did what he had to do. But honestly, I came away thinking that Paul Ryan looked pretty good. He was calm. He was measured. He kind of came off as a mini Mitt Romney to me. He seemed very well prepared, especially on foreign policy, which is an area that he hasn't had a lot of experience in.
STOLBERGAnd I did think that some of the vice president's gestures, his laughing and his frequent interrupting of Paul Ryan, were -- could have been a little bit off-putting to undecided voters.
ELVINGSon of Mitt, I think, has been the observation about Paul Ryan. He does look a little bit like one of the Romney sons, and he does behave in many ways like Mitt Romney, especially the Mitt Romney we saw on the first debate. So Paul Ryan looked like an excellent choice to be the number two on this ticket in the debate last night. But I also agree with Naftali that Joe Biden came out with a big assignment.
ELVINGHe wasn't just debating against Paul Ryan last night. He was also debating against this hovering image of the performance by the president in the first debate on Oct. 3, which has become infamous in a very short period of history. So he had to compensate for the listless performance. Many, many different adjectives have been used to describe the performance of the president in that first debate and take the fight to the other side and actively, aggressively defend the Obama administration.
REHMAnd of course, you had Martha Raddatz as the moderator whose forte is foreign policy and various engagements that the U.S. has been involved with. So she began with what happened in Libya. Naftali, how did both Ryan and Biden play that?
BENDAVIDWell, you know, it's interesting. I mean, Paul Ryan went right for the jugular. Clearly, he'd been prepared and this was part of what he was ready to talk about. And he portrayed the administration as having been, perhaps, misleading in not saying right away that it was a terrorist attack, you know, at worst, bumbling and perhaps misleading. But Biden did not give any ground. He came right back. And again, you could see that he'd been prepared to be very much on the offensive.
BENDAVIDAnd he portrayed the Romney-Ryan team as not knowing a whole lot about foreign policy, as not really being able to say what they'd be able to do differently. And the thing that he did sort of effectively that I'm not sure President Obama did was that when there was a direct question that could have been pointed and embarrassing, Biden immediately broadened it out to make it a broader point about who has more experience and who's done a better job overall in this case on foreign policy.
STOLBERGAnd he also said we were very honest with the American people. We were giving the American people the intelligence as we got it. We are investigating this -- what happened here. If there are intelligence lapses, we will make certain they never happen again. So, you know, I don't think you could argue with that.
REHMWhat do you think, Ron Elving? There did take place hearings yesterday that brought out more information about this. So did those hearings support what Congressman Ryan had to say or what the vice president said?
ELVINGWell, Darrell Issa, who is the Republican chairman of the committee, made sure that they had witnesses who were going to question the government's version of facts and who are going to suggest that the government was repeatedly warned, that Benghazi was vulnerable and so on. There are facts here to be found. We don't know exactly what Ambassador Stevens preferred in terms of his security and how many people he took with him. Tripoli is the capital. That's where he has his maximum security.
ELVINGBenghazi is another story. Chris Stevens had a lot of his own personal contacts in Benghazi. He liked to move around there in his own way. There's a lot we still don't know about this. But it is clearly a symbolic point for the Republicans to seize upon and say, here's an instance where we showed weakness. We weren't prepared to defend our ambassador, and that is a metaphor, and that's what they're trying to do.
REHMAll right. Let's move onto money and the stimulus package. They talked about that last night. Sheryl, they also talked about Medicare entitlements.
STOLBERGRight. Well, they had a very spirited debate over the stimulus package and what -- and Martha Raddatz asked the very point to the question of president -- Vice President Biden. She said, you promised that unemployment would be below 6 percent. And Paul Ryan accused Vice President Biden of mismanaging the stimulus money, of waste and fraud. Vice President Biden was clearly prepared for that, came back and said, no, that wasn't true. And there was clearly a clash, a very deep clash on Medicare, and this is an issue that Democrats feel they have the upper hand on.
BENDAVIDYeah, there was a big moment -- I mean, relatively big -- in the stimulus discussion where, you know, Paul Ryan was criticizing the stimulus program and Vice President Biden said, but you requested two stimulus grants for your district. And it put Paul Ryan in something of a spot, and he said, look, you know, I made a couple of requests. That's what we do as congressmen. But I think it put him a little bit on the defensive about how he was attacking a program that he had then sought to take advantage of.
REHMHow did you feel about Congressman Ryan saying to the vice president, Mr. Vice President, I know you're under a lot of duress to make up for lost ground, but I think people would be better served if we don't keep interrupting each other? How'd you feel about that, Ron?
ELVINGIt was a fair shot, and certainly it was something that played well for the supporters of Paul Ryan. They wanted him to take that shot. They also wanted him to get in the prepared line about, well, sometimes things come out not quite the way you want them to come out. I think the vice president understands that. That was a reference to the 47 percent, now infamous remark that was made by Mitt Romney some months ago and captured secretly on videotape.
ELVINGObviously, we all know Joe Biden has had a reputation back 30, 40 years in Washington for occasionally saying things that don't come out quite right. And that was a fair shot too. Those were prepared lines. I think they probably play best in the stands on one side of the field, but we'll see.
REHMAll right. And what about on abortion, Sheryl? Did Mr. Ryan, as he requested to be called, modify any of his previous positions?
STOLBERGWell, I believe he's previously said he would support abortion in no instance. And he said the policy of the Romney administration would be abortions only in the case of when the life of the woman was in danger or in cases of rape and incest. That is presidential candidate Mitt Romney's stance, and that's a little bit softer stance than the stance Paul Ryan has previously taken.
BENDAVIDYeah. He's been in that position before because his position does differ from that of Mitt Romney. And he's basically said, look, Mitt Romney is the guy at the head of the ticket. But I thought that discussion was framed very interestingly because the moderator, Martha Raddatz, framed it in terms of both candidates' personal beliefs as Catholics -- they're both Catholics -- and she made sort of a point of asking about that.
BENDAVIDShe also asked very directly of Congressman Ryan, you know, do you, you know, do people who believe that abortion should be legal have anything to fear from a Romney-Ryan administration? And Ryan made some point about how he felt that this should be decided in the political arena as opposed to the judicial arena, which seemed to be saying, I don't support Roe v. Wade. But it was a very interesting moment that I thought juxtaposed the personal and the political in an unusual way.
REHMWell, one commentator described the style of the two as heart versus head.
ELVINGAll right. You can always do that. And I think that there was an attempt being made by Paul Ryan through most of the debate to show his braininess when they were talking about Afghanistan. He was rattling off the names of Afghani towns and so forth and different tribes and so on and showing a great deal of knowledge. And he has been there. Joe Biden did a fair amount of that as well, you know, reasserting his credentials as a foreign policy vice president and Senate foreign relations chairman.
ELVINGAnd so there was a certain amount of that back and forth. I thought, though, there was a fair amount of emotionality in many of the things that Paul Ryan said, certainly at the end when he was talking about his Catholicism and abortion, and a fair amount of emotionality as we've seen before in Joe Biden. So this debate had a lot going for it. There was an enormous amount of substance, maybe too much for a lot of people. And there was also a good deal of passion.
STOLBERGThere was also another interesting moment where Paul Ryan talked about how entitlement programs had helped him and his family, Social Security benefits that he got after his father died when he was a young man and helping his mother in her 50s to go back to college, which then gave Joe Biden an opening to tell a very poignant and sad story about the death of his wife and one of his children in a car accident some 30 or 40 years ago.
REHMAnd what about taxes? Very quickly, Naftali.
BENDAVIDWell, you know, of course, there was the debate that, in some ways, I think Democrats wish had happened the first time around where Joe Biden tried to say, you know, the math doesn't add up for your tax plan. And, of course, Paul Ryan said, of course, it does.
REHMAnd that was it.
BENDAVIDAnd that was pretty much it. But it was much more hard-hitting and definitive than anything you saw in the first debate. And that's why it was interesting.
REHMNaftali Bendavid of The Wall Street Journal, Sheryl Gay Stolberg of The New York Times, Ron Elving of NPR. When we come back, we'll talk about new signs on the economy.
REHMAnd welcome back to the domestic hour of our Friday News Roundup. We've been talking thus far about the vice presidential debate last night. Naftali, you were looking at the generational difference between the two men.
BENDAVIDThat's one thing that really jumped out of at the debate. And I thought, you know, there's close to 30 years difference, and both men tried to play that up, I think, in some ways, Vice President Biden more. You know, if Paul Ryan would mention something about Ronald Reagan or Premier Netanyahu of Israel, you know, Biden would be very quick to say, well, of course, I knew Reagan and, of course, I've spoken to Netanyahu for 30 years.
BENDAVIDAnd he really tried to play that up as though Paul Ryan was kind of this young, inexperienced whippersnapper. And Paul Ryan played up the fact that he was a young guy with a lot of new ideas and maybe Joe Biden's time had passed. And I thought that was very striking both visually and substantively in terms of a contrast we saw.
REHMHere's an email...
REHM...from Harold in Alabama, who says, "The vice presidential debate was engaging. I'm an independent who felt Biden won. What more concerns me, though, is which man should be a heartbeat away from the presidency. I don't see either candidate as currently being presidential material. However, I see Ryan as having the potential to grow into that job, whereas Biden seems like an old politico who's mugging the camera and volatility are not indicative of a mature leader." What do you think of that, Ron Elving?
ELVINGWell, Joe Biden certainly has the ears to be a mature leader. This was the widest gap in age between two vice presidential nominees in more than a century since 1904. The closest we've been to this was Lloyd Bentsen in 1988 in his contrast with Dan Quayle. But this was even a greater age gap, and here's the irony: The irony is that older people in this country tend to vote more conservatively, more for Republicans, and younger people were hugely with Obama and Biden in 2008. We'll see to what degree that same exaggerated effect happens in this election
STOLBERGAnd also, Joe Biden's role in this campaign has always been to reach out to the middle class, to reach out to the working-class white voters that President Obama has had trouble connecting with. It's interesting. I think that the writer was reacting to some of what we spoke about before: his -- Mr. Biden's laughter, his gestures, his sort of over-the-top...
REHMIt seemed condescending that time. Yeah.
STOLBERGIt did seem a bit condescending.
REHMMarilyn in Colorado emails, "Despite the consensus that the debate was informative, do you have any better idea of those all-power Romney-Ryan tax deductions that will offset a 20 percent tax cut and magically grow the economy." Still secret aren't they, Naftali?
BENDAVIDWell, I don't think it's so much that they're secret as that, you know, what Paul Ryan said and what the ticket has said before is that we're not gonna be specific about them because we wanna work with Democrats and with Congress to figure out what they're going to be. Now, that opens him to a lot of criticism and to a lot of dismissiveness from the Democratic side, who says, look, you're promising all these great things, but you won't tell us what the deductions are because the math doesn't add up.
BENDAVIDAnd that's a point that Joe Biden tried to make forcefully and repeatedly last time. And again, Ryan just came back by saying, well, that's because we wanna work them out in a bipartisan way in a future Congress.
REHMIs that a fair comeback, Ron?
ELVINGIt's a good comeback in the sense that it gets you around answering the question. They're certainly not going to say, we don't have those specifics. But that seems to be the case. They are planning to turn to that if they get elected and if they're going into a negotiation with the Democrats in Congress.
ELVINGBut, you know, if they control both the chambers of Congress, House and Senate, which is a good prospect if Mitt Romney wins the presidency, it's an excellent prospect. And in that circumstance, they really ought to tell us now what they're going to put forward when they don't need to negotiate with the Democrats.
STOLBERGI think it's also important to note that both Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney have tried to portray Gov. Mitt Romney as working across the aisle with a Democratic state legislature in Massachusetts, 87 percent Democrats. While it is true they worked across the aisle to fashion a health care plan, Gov. Romney issued hundreds of vetoes while he was governor. He had a lot of trouble while working across the aisle with the legislature. And that's a fact that Paul Ryan neglected to mention last night
REHMOK. Let's talk about the economy. There has been lots of talk about the unemployment numbers, and I wonder is there any truth to Republican's charge that this week's unemployment numbers left out California? Ron.
ELVINGThe argument began essentially a week ago when we got the latest jobless report and when that dropped not so much in terms of the new jobs created, which was right on the consensus number, 114,000 new jobs, but when the rate dropped from eight, one down to 7.8 -- pretty dramatic drop in terms of the recent years, at least -- and that looked anomalous.
ELVINGAnd some of the numbers on which that was based looked anomalous to a lot of economists, which led some people more partisan figures, Jack Welch among other people, to ask whether or not the books have been cooked or suggest very strongly that the books have been cooked. That doesn't seem to bear any kind of substantive scrutiny, that is to say the accusation does not bear scrutiny.
ELVINGBut there is the question of why in this month there was suddenly this larger report of jobs, and then when we saw the jobless claims number this week and the question raised as to whether or not there is one big outlier state that is, in some sense or another, making a difference here, then, of course, the one state that could put the biggest thumb on the scale would be California. So that question came up.
ELVINGNow, we have a new number this morning in consumer confidence that we'll talk about in a moment, which is not a government-generated statistic. It comes from the University of Michigan, and so it's going to be a little hard to suggest that the Chicago gang, as Jack Welch called them, got to the guys at the University of Michigan.
REHMWhat do you think, Naftali?
BENDAVIDWell, I mean, I do think it was unfortunate that the conversation took a turn of accusing these longtime civil servants and professional economists of skewing the books. Actually, you know, during the Nixon administration, there was a whole debate about the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is something that when people don't like the numbers, they tend to attack the people who come up with them.
BENDAVIDBut it does have to be said, you know, that these numbers are not perfect, and sometimes they go up and down from month to month. And there's what people call noise in the numbers where there can be outliers. And so I think it's possible that this is an aberration, but I don't think it's likely that it was some kind of an ideologically driven attempt to help President Obama.
REHMAnd this consumer index belief certainly going up this week. Sheryl.
STOLBERGYes. I think after President Obama's lackluster performance in Denver, he can thank his lucky stars that he's got these unemployment numbers going down and consumer confidence going up because it deprives Mitt Romney of the argument that he has been making throughout the campaign that unemployment has been above 8 percent for 43 straight months. Mitt Romney can't make that argument right now. We'll have one more unemployment report right before the election and we'll see what that shows.
REHMThe other element here in the economy, foreclosures are down. Ron.
ELVINGThat's right, although foreclosures were up slightly in some of the states that had not had the horrific numbers that some of the hardest hits states like Florida, California and Nevada had had. But overall, foreclosures are down. There seems to be something happening in the economy. That's reflected in all of these numbers, some of which have nothing to do with the government. ADP, the people who produce more payrolls than anybody else in the United States, found that payrolls were expanding surprisingly in the last month that they measured. And that is not a government statistic in any sense.
ELVINGSo there does seem to be a pattern of a sudden uptick a little bit out of the usual trajectory of what we would have expected in this month. And it's hard to explain that at this point, so obviously people are going to have their theories.
BENDAVIDBut some of the numbers are striking. For example, foreclosures, you know, were at the lowest level in like five years, and the jobless claims are the lowest rates since, you know, 2008. So these are pretty much outside what we've been seeing. And I think politically, obviously, that has an impact. You know, it does allow President Obama in the heels of a not-so-great debate to say, you know, we've come too far, as he likes to say, to turn back now and to make the argument that what he's done maybe is working.
BENDAVIDBut I think a real question is whether it's soon enough for him politically or whether it's coming too late and whether people's minds about the way the economy is going, you know, have already been made up.
REHMYou know, Charles Krauthammer had a piece in this morning's Washington Post in which he talks about the fact that people have said Obama is a great debater, that he's terrific on his feet. Krauthammer says not so, that it is his personality that came through in last week's debate, this sort of measured, slow presentation that perhaps we should not expect any huge change in his performance next week. What do you think?
ELVINGThe expectation that's building that somehow we're going to see a very different, somehow Joe Bidenized version of Barack Obama next week, I think, would be advantageous to Mitt Romney because it was partly the trifecta of incumbency, good poll numbers in September and this expectation that Obama would win the debate. Eighty percent of the people were telling pollsters they expected Obama to win that debate, including a lot of Republicans, obviously, when you get up into 80 percent range.
ELVINGSo this expectation that somehow he was the word master, that he would always have the right thing to say got into people's heads. The truth is, you go back over his debates, particularly in 2007, 2008, when he was running for the Democratic nomination, he was not the strongest debater on that stage. On any occasion that I can remember, usually Hillary or even Joe Biden did a better job than he did.
REHMSo how much impact and difference do these debates have?
STOLBERGI think these debates are very important. A lot of Americans are tuning in, some 70 million. And I think if President Obama wants to stay in the Oval Office for another four years, he better come out next time looking a little bit more engaged and making a clear and convincing case for why voters should return him to office.
STOLBERGI don't think he can afford another performance like he gave in Denver.
REHMOf course his personality is one thing. Debate performance is another.
BENDAVIDYeah. And I'm sure that he'll come out in the second debate at least trying to be more lively and more forceful and more aggressive than he was in the first debate. I do think it's true that he's never been a great debater. What he's great is the soaring speech. That's a very different thing than engaging in the sort of hand-to-hand verbal combat of a debate, something in which he's never excelled.
BENDAVIDBut I actually think there's a little bit of a danger for him, and that's overcompensating. You know, I remember very clearly the Al Gore debates where, in the first debate, he was very aggressive, and he famously sighed with exasperation when George Bush would say something. So in the second debate, it was -- people don't remember this as much, but he was almost comical. He agreed with everything George Bush said.
BENDAVIDAnd so it was sort of a ridiculously courteous performance. And then the last time, it was much more of a balance, and Al Gore ended up saying that he was like Goldilocks, that his first debate was too hot, and the second was too cold and the third was just right. But that didn't matter. It was too late. He had kind of blown the first debate, and he never really recovered. And I think that while President Obama has to deliver a more forceful debate the second time around, he's got to watch that he doesn't somehow overcompensate and overdo it.
ELVINGHe needs a line or two. He needs maybe three or four, five, six things that he's prepared to say that are zingers in the manner of the most classic comeback in the debates we've ever seen. And this has become a cliche, but I saw the 1984 debates between Walter Mondale and Ronald Reagan. And I just recently watched them again, and it's remarkable how disoriented the president -- that is, Ronald Reagan -- seemed in the first debate in 1984.
ELVINGHe came back in the second debate, and although there were some rough moments -- particularly his closing remarks, which wandered off down Highway 1 into who knows where -- the president came back with one line everybody remembers about age...
ELVING...because that was the gentle way. You asked, Mr. President, are you getting a little dotty? He said, I'm not gonna exploit my opponent's youth and inexperience. And that was the end of the debate.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." What happened with South Carolina's voter ID law this week? Naftali.
BENDAVIDWell, a judge -- it was sort of a mixed verdict. A judge upheld -- a court, I should say, upheld the law itself, the voter ID law, saying that it wasn't discriminatory, but that it would cause too much chaos to try to implement it this time around. But this is part of a huge legal battle that's being waged across the country, not only over voter ID laws, but also over things like early voting and over attempts by some Republican states to purge the voter rolls.
BENDAVIDSo there are these battles that are taking place not only over how people vote, but over sort of who gets to vote, with Democrats saying these are intimidation and attempts to stop minorities and the poor from voting, and Republicans saying, look, we're just trying to stop voter fraud, which has been rampant in some places.
ELVINGThere's a basic philosophical difference here that comes out again and again in all of these different kinds of things. And Naftali's right. We've got a huge range of voting issue fights. And that philosophical difference is one side says if one person votes fraudulently, that is an outrage and that's what we need to go after. If one person should vote multiple times, if one person who's not a citizen should vote, that's what we should be concerned about.
ELVINGThe other side says, you know, if one person who is a legitimate American citizen has a right, a constitutional right to vote is denied that right, that's the outrage and that's what we should be exercising ourselves to prevent. Now, clearly, in any objective sense, both of those are bad things. We should be trying to guarantee that no one votes fraudulently. We should be trying to guarantee that no one's denied the right to vote. But the parties have lined up in defense -- one of the one, the other of the other -- and that's going to go forward in the courts for years to come.
STOLBERGAnd there's an argument to be made that this is really making a mountain out of a molehill, that the amount of voter fraud, true voter fraud, is very, very small. And yet we've seen, I think, some 33 states across the country passing laws requiring identification for voting. Now some of these states, like South Carolina, have to receive approval from the Justice Department under the Voting Rights Act because they have had a history of excluding minorities from the polls.
STOLBERGBut it's a debate that may well influence the outcome of the election. And it's -- I think it's hard to see voters feel intimidated in this day and age, and some voters are saying they do feel intimidated by these laws.
REHMIndeed, indeed. And we had a Supreme Court case on affirmative action, Naftali.
BENDAVIDYeah. I mean, people who watch the court on a regular basis really seem to feel that the court might do something, you know, dramatic here on affirmative action. The course involved -- the case, I'm sorry, involved the University of Texas, where a woman who did not get in, the young woman who didn't get in, you know, was complaining because the University of Texas does consider race as part of the mix in admission for 25 percent of its students.
BENDAVIDThe other 75 percent, they just take the top 8 percent. I think it is now of a -- people who finished in the top 8 percent of their classes across the state. And so, for the time being, the Supreme Court has said that race can be considered, but it has to be part of the mix. You can't have a quota. It can't just be the only factor. But the question is, will they continue to uphold that, or will they now do something that conservatives have wanted to do for a long time and say that race cannot be considered at all?
STOLBERGWe could see a tie. You know, Justice Elena Kagan recused herself from this case...
STOLBERG...presumably because when she was in the Justice Department, she worked on it. So we could see a 4-4 split. And interestingly, Justice or retired Justice Sandra Day O'Connor -- who wrote the previous opinion, arguing that race could be considered if it was part of a holistic review of admissions -- was in the audience, watching the oral arguments the other day.
ELVINGWatching Anthony Kennedy.
STOLBERGWatching whether to see her ruling was gonna be overturned, which she had predicted that ruling would last 25 years. I think it's been about nine years.
REHMSheryl Gay Stolberg of The New York Times, Naftali Bendavid of The Wall Street Journal, Ron Elving of NPR. We're going to take a short break here. When we come back, it's time to open the phones. I look forward to speaking with you.
REHMAnd welcome back to the domestic hour of our Friday News Roundup. Time for us to open the phones, and first to Houston, Texas. Lamond, (sp?) you're on the air.
LAMONDYes. Hi. Good morning, Diane. Thank you for taking my call.
REHMGood morning, sir.
LAMONDActually your show is an excellent show.
LAMONDAnd listen, Diane, I'm fourth generation immigrant to the United States, and you have to love this country for its philosophical and analytical ingenuity. Listen, the reason I said that is last week, President Obama came to the presidential debate against Mitt Romney and wanted to be as civil as he could be that -- so that people wouldn't accuse him of being mad, of being aggressive. And once he did that, everybody jumped afterwards and says he was -- he did a lackluster performance.
LAMONDLast night, Vice President Biden came and wanted to show some aggression and wanted to show that he knows the stuff that he's talking about. And all of a sudden, everybody, again, comes afterward and then accused him of being uncivilized and impolite. And so, again, it's just too -- a little confusing to me, and I was wondering what your panel has to say on those.
REHMYou can't have it both ways.
STOLBERGWell, I was gonna say maybe it's like Naftali said earlier, like Goldilocks...
STOLBERG...one was too hot and the other one was too cold and they need to get it just right.
REHMDo you think they will?
BENDAVIDWell, I think there's -- I mean, I think the caller's right. This is a really, really hard thing to do. We all sit around and judge these guys and probably very few people could pull it off. But, I mean, I think it is a balance. That's the reality. You have to come off as not being overly aggressive and not come off as being too passive either. And, you know, people -- politicians do their best. I thought Joe Biden actually did a relatively good job with the exception of perhaps his laughter, I think, perhaps was overdone.
BENDAVIDBut, you know, it's striking that balance is difficult, and the caller is not, I think, entirely wrong in what he says. But I think it's something that a politician needs to be able to do.
REHMYou know, there was a lot of talk in the last debate about Jim Lehrer as the debate moderator. Seem to me, I mean, Paul Farhi of The Washington Post talked in his column the other day about women as moderators. I thought that Martha Raddatz did a terrific job.
STOLBERGI was gonna say I thought Martha Raddatz won the debate. She did do a terrific job. She kept them focused. She asked very pointed questions.
STOLBERGShe didn't let them go off track. She stopped them when they were interrupting one another. And she kept the debate moving and back and forth between foreign and domestic policy as she said she would. I thought she was excellent.
ELVINGShe set a new standard, really.
REHMSay it again.
ELVINGShe set a new standard for this kind of debate moderation.
REHMI agree. She was terrific.
ELVINGIt's a different model. It's a little more engaged.
ELVINGIt's easier where they're all sitting down and -- on a stand-up affair. But she set a new standard for how this can be an informative experience.
STOLBERGAnd it was clear that they respected her too.
REHMI agree with that. Let's go to David in Lewisburg, Pa. Good morning, David.
DAVIDGood morning. I just wanted to say that I thought that Joe Biden exposed some of Paul Ryan's hypocrisy. One example is when they were talking about Afghanistan, Paul Ryan incorrectly tried to suggest that Obama risked our -- the lives of our soldiers by reducing the level of the army in Afghanistan, and Joe Biden correctly pointed out that we replaced our troops with Afghani troops.
DAVIDThe second example is something is something Naftali brought up which I thought Naftali missed the main point. Paul Ryan made a joke about Joe Biden, and the audience laughed when Paul Ryan said that Mitt Romney misspoke when he spoke about the 47 percent, and Joe Biden knows about misspeaking. And I thought Joe Biden's response was great, which was things may not come out of his mouth properly but he says what he means, and Mitt Romney said what he meant. And Mitt Romney's comment about the 47 percent wasn't a miss -- something that was misspoken.
BENDAVIDYeah. I don't -- I'm not sure that I've already said, that but I agree with what the caller is saying. I thought that, first of all, that was a very clever comment by Paul Ryan, but he also think it was pretty good comeback by Joe Biden. There's a famous line that's often attributed to Michael Kinsley that a gaffe is when you accidentally speak the truth.
BENDAVIDAnd I think there is a sense that, you know, what Biden was trying to say is, yeah, I accidentally say things that are on mind that, you know, maybe I shouldn't have said. But this is a case of Mitt Romney saying what's really on his mind, and it gives us a window into what he believes. So I thought that actually was a pretty good exchange between the two.
REHMHere's an email from John, who says, "The problem with the debate is that each candidate presents arguments as fact, and the American public accepts them and is not willing to at least pick up the morning paper to get some idea who was and was not being factual. For example, USA Today has a concise fact check this morning. The debate should be fact checked in real time, and a fact's clarifications should be scrolled on screen for all viewers to see." Of course, with radio, you've got another issue.
ELVINGWell, we aren't going to interrupt the actual debate, but in the half hour immediately after the debate, we did a fact checking program on NPR as part of our broadcast of the debate with several experts who had followed all of these issues and knew what was coming in the debate and were prepared to talk about the things the debaters had said. We did it again this morning on "Morning Edition."
ELVINGBut let me just say, there is a huge challenge here for the news media and for all people who care about American civil society and civic life, and that is to try to get the contestants and the two major parties to live in the same world of reality, not to have separate realities in which they have separate sets of facts and where -- this is really where it boils down to -- careful fact selection is used to be tendentious, to show a certain point in a good light, to shove aside another point by careful fact selection. We have to bring all the facts to bear.
REHMAnd it's tough. It's tough to do it and get people to let go of perhaps their own pre-conceived notions and accept what it is their candidate has to say with it.
STOLBERGYeah. I will say that at The New York Times, we do fact check in real time. We spend a lot of time. My colleagues spent a lot of time yesterday preparing fact checking items for things that we thought might come up in the debate so that we could post them as the debate was going on. And there are organizations, notably politifact.org...
REHMDoing the same thing.
REHMAnd what about the...
STOLBERGSo it's an important part of our job.
REHMWhat about The Wall Street Journal?
BENDAVIDYeah, we don't do it in a kind of a formal way where there is, you know, like The Washington Post has a particular fact check column, we don't have that. But absolutely, I think we and other news organizations try to do it. I do have to say that not everything can be reduced to a fact that is right or wrong. Some of these things are complex.
BENDAVIDAnd I also think that to some degree, it's the responsibility of the candidates. You know, one of the things Democrats were unhappy about regarding President Obama in the first debate is that he didn't come out and challenged some of the things that Mitt Romney said. And so we do our best, but I think it's also up to the parties themselves to play some of that role.
REHMHere's an email from Laura. She identifies herself as a 48-year-old Republican woman who's been undecided up to now. She said last night's debate pushed her to make a decision. Key points: tax plans, foreign policy and abortion. "I simply do not believe the numbers from Mr. Ryan. They're clearly fiction, and he was unable to offer concrete answers on what was his personal strong suit." Ron Elving.
ELVINGInteresting too because Paul Ryan has a lot of personal strong suits. He's a brainy guy, we said that earlier. He is an enormously a personable and sometimes even self-effacing person when you meet him in person. He knows his district very well. He has not been on the statewide or the national stage very much, but he is going to be. And one of the things that was said about him last night was that he was clearly, let's say, double tracking.
ELVINGHe was supporting Mitt Romney and the current ticket, and Nov. 6 is what's on his mind, but we also know that he can count up to 2016. And he is thinking ahead for the impression that he left with Republican primary voters in 2016.
REHMLet's go to Indianapolis. Good morning, John.
JOHNGood morning, Diane. Thanks for taking my call.
JOHNLast night, Ryan related a rather poignant story of Romney helping those in his church. And we are all aware that Mormons are very generous to their church and that their church does a great job of taking care of their own. So much so that I think that some of the young men who go on missionaries have a free ride to university. However, I see this generosity as being a very good thing, but at the same time, it's kind of like a socialism that occurs within the Mormon Church.
JOHNI mean, they do provide extensively for their members when they're in need. I have been a participant in that. Utah, in The New York Times report recently, had one of the highest rates of individuals receiving some kind of government assistance. And I'm just curious as to what percentage Romney's contributions go to non-Mormon charities. I think it's wonderful to support one's own group, but my point is, does he really support other groups? And aren't the Mormons, in many ways, a socialist group of people within themselves?
STOLBERGWell, I wouldn't call the Mormons a socialist group of people, but the Mormons do have a very well-known social welfare system. They call it the relief society in which they band together when someone in the church is in need and do as Mitt -- as Paul Ryan described last night. Mormons -- faithful Mormons do tithe 10 percent of their income to the church. They are expected to do that. We know that Mitt Romney does that and probably more. I don't how many -- how much of Mitt Romney's charitable contributions go to non-Mormon organizations. I think it's a good question.
REHMBut how can we know if, in fact, Mitt Romney does tithe 10 percent of his income? We have no idea of what his income actually is because he hasn't released his tax returns.
STOLBERGWell, within the Mormon Church, in order to be a member in good standing -- and Mitt Romney is clearly a member in good standing -- in order to have a temple recommend that allows you to go inside the Mormon Temple, this is something that you have to do. Honestly, this is just -- the tithing is not something I doubt with Mitt Romney.
ELVINGI would hazard a guess that the Mormon Church is at least as capable of finding out what Mitt Romney actually has and could contribute to the Mormon Church as the IRS, perhaps more or so. And also, the standing, as Sheryl referred to, that he has in the Mormon Church suggests that the church is quite satisfied that he is tithing. And I think he is doing a good deal more, by the way, than the tithing.
ELVINGIf he, in fact, is getting 30 percent of his income out there in some kind of a deductible contribution, I would guess at least half of that is going to Mormon causes.
BENDAVIDBut, I mean, I think in the fairness, the conservative Republican argument is that organizations like churches are exactly who should be handling a lot of these social needs rather than the government doing it. So I don't it's necessarily inconsistent or socialist for, you know, for the Mormon Church to be taking care of people even if that is predominantly its own people while also being against a broader social network, you know, that's government implemented. I think that's actually sort of consistent.
STOLBERGI think that's exactly right. I think Mitt Romney's experience with his church informs his view that it is the private sector that should be taking up the social safety net.
REHMSheryl Gay Stolberg, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's talk for a moment about this horrible meningitis outbreak. Right now, as many as 14,000 people may have been exposed. That number up from 13,000 because now they're talking about knee and elbow injections, as well as those in the back. Fourteen deaths so far. A first lawsuit this morning, Ron Elving, could be a lot out there.
ELVINGOne has to assume that this will be many, many years of litigation and an awful litigation with many horrendous stories to be told and an enormous amount of legal liability, probably far beyond anybody who's involves ability to actually make recompense. And this is -- and at this point, this is spreading tragedy.
ELVINGAnd it's probably remarkable at this juncture that as few deaths have happened as we know about thus far, and we have to obviously hope that nothing like that thousands figure actually are going to be and not just exposed but stricken in this particular case. And it's going to raise issues for people in the health care industry about...
ELVING...how all these regulation comes down and whether or need we need to be moving in the direction of greater or lesser.
STOLBERGRight. The question is, how did this happen? Already, you had Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut say, we needed an investigation. Did this Massachusetts' compounding pharmacy, where these injections were produced, mislead regulators? And I think that we're gonna see a lot of investigating into just how did this occur.
BENDAVIDWell, apparently, these compounding pharmacies, as they're called, fall into a regulatory gray area where they're supposed to be sort of pharmacies which are regulated by the states, but sometimes they become de facto drug manufacturers which are regulated by the FDA. And because there's a vague kind of gray zone in there, they have escaped a lot of scrutiny. And I think that's the main that's gonna get a lot of attention in the weeks to come.
REHMAnd this crossed state lines. And then how do the states who are supposed to regulate these compounding pharmacies, how do they regulate them when they're coming from Massachusetts to Tennessee, for example?
ELVINGThis is an old question, and it is the underpinning on the whole issue of interstate commerce and the commerce clause and what the federal government has responsible for. It's going to be part of the larger debate on just those subjects for some time ago.
REHMAll right. Last quick question from Jerry in The Villages in Florida. Good morning.
JERRYGood morning everyone. I'm so enjoying the show, and I hope everybody has a great day.
JERRYYou're welcome. My question -- and it's a simple question. I feel kind of silly asking it, but how much power does a moderator have in these debates? I don't care which party it is.
REHMOK. All right. Let's see. Naftali.
BENDAVIDIt's kind of up to them. I mean, they have as much power as they're willing to take, I think. And you saw very different approach from Jim Lehrer to Martha Raddatz. I'm not among the people who think Jim Lehrer did is horrible job. I think he let the two guys...
REHMNor am I.
BENDAVID...go at each other in a way that was perfectly fine and lead to a vigorous debate. And if one person wasn't aggressive enough, that's perhaps that person's fault. But obviously, we have different styles from the different moderators, and really, there is no guidance or rule or law that binds them. It's just a question of what they feel comfortable doing.
REHMBut it's also what the debate commission decides the format is going to be, Ron.
ELVINGAbsolutely. And I think we saw another example last night of how the debate changes and improves when you sit people down. Is these suppose to be some sort of a contest of swinging swords, or is this is supposed to be sitting down? When people talk about, let's sit down and reason together, they never say let's stand up and reason.
REHMSheryl, last word.
STOLBERGRight. And we'll see a very different style next week when it's a town hall debate, a different format, and that may lend itself a little bit more to President Obama actually.
REHMSheryl Gay Stolberg of The New York Times, Naftali Bendavid of The Wall Street Journal, Ron Elving of NPR. Have a great weekend everybody.
ELVINGThank you, Diane.
STOLBERGThank you, Diane.
REHMAnd thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Denise Couture, Susan Nabors, Rebecca Kaufman, Lisa Dunn and Megan Merritt. 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 email@example.com, and we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program is a production of WAMU 88.5 from American University in Washington, D.C. This is NPR.
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