A molecular-biologist-turned-Buddhist-monk says altruism is the answer to many of the world's most pressing challenges. Can concern for others help solve wealth inequality, climate change and world hunger?
President Obama’s second inaugural address outlined a liberal vision for his last term in office. He linked the struggle for civil rights and women’s rights to the debate over same-sex marriage. He also promised to address immigration and climate change. But much of the president’s proposed agenda will require action from an often hostile Congress. And while a new proposal from Congressional Republicans may extend the nation’s borrowing authority for three months, more fiscal battles lie ahead. The president’s speech also suggests the Nobel Peace Prize winner will pursue a modest foreign policy agenda over the next four years. Diane and her guests discuess President Obama’s second term.
- Mark Landler current White House correspondent and former diplomatic correspondent for The New York Times.
- Mara Liasson national political correspondent for National Public Radio and a contributor at Fox News Channel
- Michael Dimock director, Pew Research Center for the People and the Press
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Now that President Obama has been sworn in for a second term, he faces battles over the debt ceiling, gun violence and immigration. Joining me here in the studio to talk about the president's agenda for the next four years: Mark Landler of The New York Times, Mara Liasson of NPR and Michael Dimock of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. I invite you to be part of the program. Do call us, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Good morning, everybody.
MS. MARA LIASSONGood morning.
MR. MARK LANDLERGood morning.
MR. MICHAEL DIMOCKGood morning, Diane.
REHMMara Liasson, what did you hear, ambition or hope?
LIASSONOh, I heard a lot of ambition yesterday in the speech. I heard a president who has a new theory of the case. The first time he came in talking about transforming the Washington political culture and healing divisions, and he also came in at a time of great economic crisis. That's behind him. So he has more room now to attend to his agenda. I think the new theory of the case is instead of spending a lot of time trying to bridge divides and fix the culture, he's going to try to play some power politics and get his agenda through.
LIASSONThat doesn't mean he's going to compromise. But the difference between the president we heard yesterday and the president we heard four years ago is now he's learned that in a negotiation, you compromise at the end, not at the beginning. And I think that's why you heard him lay out a very ambitious -- some people have called it liberal -- agenda. But I don't think we heard anything that was surprising.
LIASSONWe knew he was going to push immigration and gun control -- although he made a very glancing reference to that -- and some kind of energy agenda on climate change and in terms of the big fiscal battle, which I think is the most important project of his second term. He laid down some pretty hard lines in the sand about entitlements, but that doesn't mean that in the end, as he said, we're going to hold out for everything.
REHMMark, no surprises?
LANDLERI think I was surprised a bit by the language on climate change which felt a bit more extensive and a bit more declarative than what he had said immediately after the election. I mean, he obviously pursued cap and trade legislation in the first term, and it died there in 2010. It was not a huge issue on the campaign trail. And in his first news conference after winning re-election, he was asked about climate change as it happens. He was asked by me about climate change. And his answer was very equivocal.
LANDLERHe said, I'm going to gather together a group of scientists and thinkers in this area, and we're going to hold meetings. And the environmental community was a little deflated by that and, I think, hoped that that was not where it was going to end. And I think in the speech, it was clear that isn't where it's going to end. Although one thing that may also be true is having tried with a comprehensive legislative package and failed in the last term, there's a lot he can do administratively on climate change. He doesn't have to try to revive cap and trade.
LANDLERHe can, through the EPA, an executive action, do a lot of things on emissions from power plants, from coal plants, energy efficiency standards for household appliances. There's a lot of things that can seem a bit mundane and incremental but, in the aggregate, make a big difference. So I think we'll be seeing a lot of that from him on climate change. And by the way, that might also be a theme in some of the other parts of his domestic agenda where the Congress has simply proven so difficult to do deals with. He may really be testing the limits of his executive powers and actions.
REHMMichael Dimock, he called on the American people to not just vote, but to take action. How much support does he have from the American people?
DIMOCKYou know, he's in a stronger position as he's been in quite a while. Our latest poll has his approval at 52 percent, only 40 percent disapproving at the job he's doing. Both the most recent Gallup and ABC-Washington Post polls also have him in the best position that he's been and since very early in his first term, really the first year other than a brief spike after the killing of Osama bin Laden. So his support levels are high.
DIMOCKHis personal favorability is very high. More people today see him as a strong leader than said this a year ago. More people see him as someone who stands for what he believes. And 82 percent say that about him today. That's also up from where it had been in recent years. So his standing is fairly strong. Part of that is exemplified or exacerbated by how poorly the Republican Party is seen right now. The party's image, generally, has collapsed.
DIMOCKOnly 33 percent of American's have a favorable opinion of the Republican Party. It was as high as 42 percent right after the Republican Convention where there was a little bit of rallying behind the party. That's really fallen apart. Even many Republicans are discouraged by their own party right now. So in some ways, it's that differential in which Obama's standing really is strong.
LANDLERI guess the one thing I'd add to that is much of what we'll see over the next few months won't just depend on whether President Obama delivers on the boldness of the inaugural address but on how Republicans choose to use the moment. I mean, one of the major legislative ambitions that everyone agrees is going to happen is immigration. And here's a case where the Republicans actually seemed pre-disposed to work with him in some fashion. There's elements of what he'll propose that they will resist, no doubt.
LANDLERWell, because they've campaigned, you know, vigorously on certain things that the president, clearly, would push further than they would...
REHMBut it was also clear the electorate was far more with Obama on immigration.
LANDLERIndeed. And also, the changes in the electorate suggested that if the Republicans don't get with the program to some extent, they're just going to face the prospect of finding it harder and harder to put together the electoral map in the coming presidential elections.
LANDLERSo, you know, when you look at some of the new generation of Republican leaders that get talked about a lot, or some old faces that seem fresh again like Jeb Bush, these are people that are viewed as being able to appeal to that broader more colorful electorate on immigration. So there's one are where I think the president might find a Congress that is in a different place than it was the last time he made a big push in the Senate.
LIASSONAnd even if they're not, I don't think he sees a downside. Pushing for immigration, whether he wins or not, is a great political victory. I do think that if you look at sequencing, even though I agree with Mark that the rhetorical attention he played to climate change was new 'cause that was -- we haven't heard that before. We've heard them rule out a carbon tax and kind of play it down. That was new.
LIASSONBut when you look at what's going to happen between now and April, we're -- you're looking at guns, for which the president is going to take what he can get even though he's put forward a sweeping agenda. Anything is a victory for him even if he only gets background checks, immigration, which I think does have the highest probability of success of anything on his agenda, mostly because the Republicans seem to be coming off of their opposition to an eventual path to citizenship for undocumented workers. And that could be very symbolic.
LIASSONIf there's a big bipartisan bill on immigration where everybody's political interests are aligned, Republicans have to get right with Hispanics and the president has to deliver on a long-delayed promise, that could set the tone for some other things. And the third issue between now and April is this big fiscal battle with all these cliffs coming together.
LIASSONNow that the Republicans have said they want to delay the debt ceiling till April, that means it gives them time to negotiate on the areas the president said he was willing to negotiate on, which is sequester and government shutdown. He has always said he wouldn't negotiate on debt ceiling, but he would talk about the grand bargain or whatever it has come down to on these two other things. So that's where all of the energy is going to be, and we'll see how much of the liberal rhetoric in the speech really translates into how hard and exactly what he pushes on these other issues.
REHMSo what do you make of the postponement, this three-month postponement on the debt ceiling issue, Mark?
LANDLERWell, I think it may be the Republicans deciding that they want to save their ammunition and fight another day. I'm not sure I necessarily see it as taking the debt ceiling off the table. I somehow think that they're going to find their way back to that. But I think, clearly, they felt like maybe this was not -- this was a moment to sort of make a tactical decision.
LANDLERI mean, I think -- to pick up on one thing Mara said, I thought it was interesting in the speech that the president -- he named Medicare and other entitlement programs in a very explicit way. And, you know, the message of that was, I'm not really willing to give that much on this. And so, you know, further to that theme of how much will he try to deliver on the liberal rhetoric, if he's not willing to go any distance on entitlement reform, I still believe that this grand bargain is going to be an elusive one.
LANDLERThe Republicans gave on taxes, now -- granted they did so in a more attenuated way than the president wanted, but they did nonetheless. And I think they did so in the expectation that down the road the president would be willing to put these programs on the table. The speech suggested he's going to drive a very, very hard bargain. It'll be interesting to see how that plays out.
DIMOCKOh, I was just going to say that, you know, that the last time they had a debate over the debt ceiling, it really was a disaster for the Republicans. They came out on the losing end from the public's perspective. They were seen as intransigent. They were seen as the party of ideological extremism and as a party that was willing to literally drive the country off a cliff to make a point.
DIMOCKAnd the public didn't respond very well to that. So I think the decision to delay that debt ceiling discussion and wrap it in with the broader discussion of the fiscal cliff and the continuing resolution was probably a recognition of how much damage they took last time that they tried to fight over that symbolic affair.
LIASSONCan I just -- to pick up on something Mark said, I think that's -- the question about entitlements is the biggest question for me that comes out of the speech.
LIASSONIn other words, he said in his last press conference, my offer is still on the table, which is chain CPI, going Medicare from 65 to 67, maybe dealing with Social Security on a separate track where you raise the income cap for the payroll tax, something like that. There are ways to fix this. That's -- that would be pretty big if he's still sticking to that.
LIASSONIs he saying, in the speech, he's backing away from those positions? Or is he saying, I'm still willing to do that. But if you think you can go farther to premium support or the Paul Ryan plan, I'm going to fight you tooth and nail. That's what we have to wait and see.
LANDLERAnd I guess this is why we have a State of the Union Address to fill some of the blanks here.
LIASSONYeah, yeah, yeah.
REHMMark Landler, he is White House correspondent, former diplomatic correspondent for The New York Times. Short break. Stay with us.
REHMAnd as we talk about the president's inaugural address, the second and last inaugural address this president will make, one phrase really stuck out for me. He said, we reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future. A clear indication to me, at least, he wasn't backing down from his concerns over Medicare and how to care for the elderly. Michael.
DIMOCKYes. Well, I mean, that fits with where the public is right now. I mean, the public's concern about the deficit has been rising over the past three years or so. When the economy was crumbling in 2008, the deficit wasn't the primary focus. It's growing and growing as a focus.
DIMOCKBut at the same time that it's growing, you're seeing people more and more focused as well on making sure that Medicare, Social Security and education are taken care of, the things that take care of both of those generations. How all of that happens simultaneously is a big part of the battle that's coming over the next few months.
LIASSONExcept that he doesn't get to invest in infrastructure and education and science and whatever else he wants to do unless he solves the entitlement problems. Unless he gets the grand bargain, he doesn't get to do what he wants. So in a way, solving the fiscal problems is the key to his liberal agenda because he's got to free up revenues and not in terms of just dividing up the pie in a different way. He's got to get the economy growing again...
LIASSON...and fixing the long-term fiscal problems of the country is a key to economic growth.
REHMAnd we have an email from Bruce. "Do you suppose anyone on this panel today will ask the question how is this president going to pay for all this pie in the sky?" Mark Landler.
LANDLERWell, it's a completely valid question. And, I mean, some of the things -- keep in mind, he's not presenting as you have to make cuts to compensate, to pay for. For example, if you look at the way he presented climate change, he presented that as a competitiveness issue, that we shouldn't see the future to countries like China and Germany that are pursuing alternative energy.
LANDLERSo not everything in the agenda involves a massive, new commitment of public resources, but it's a valid point to ask how you square a sentence that talks about caring for the generation that built America and investing in the generation to come. You simply can't do that at the same level we have been doing it. And that's the problem he has to solve.
REHMAnd, Mara, early in this discussion, you used the word liberal this morning. Here's an email from Frank in Chesterfield, Mo. He says, "I heard Sen. Tom Coburn this morning say the president's inauguration speech did not reach out to Republicans."
LIASSONWell, I mean, that's what they think. And he definitely didn't include the traditional, you know, reaching out kind of language that these speeches usually have and -- that certainly his first speech did. But I think the president, as I said, has a different theory of the case. I mean, he tried reaching out. He thought he could meet them in the middle. And it didn't work out so well. Now, he saying here's what I want. I'm willing to fight for it, and we're going to negotiate.
LIASSONAnd in the end, just like he did on the fiscal cliff when he moved from 250,000 to 400, you know, I mean, the point is he's willing to compromise in the end but not at the beginning. And I think the White House feels they did too much negotiating with themselves and compromising at the beginning in the first term.
LIASSONAnd I think that he does -- the big question is he's said in what --his press conference after the election, he's aware of second-term overreach. He's read all the books. He's trying to avoid it. But the question is will he feel that his hand is stronger than it actually is, and will he think that he can divide and conquer the Republicans instead of meeting them halfway. That's just a question we don't know the answer to yet.
REHMAnd here's an email on that from Phil in Indianapolis. He says, "On 'Morning Edition' today, one man stated he and other conservatives were tired of being mischaracterized as willing to eat their grandmothers in their willingness to cut the deficit. If this is not true, what are Republicans and conservatives publicly willing to cut to achieve their aims?" Mark.
LANDLERWell, President Obama's argument is that they haven't really been willing to cut much of anything substantially. I mean, they talk in principle about cutting and entitlement reform. But when you actually get down to brass tax, they're also as worried about cutting popular programs as anyone else. And furthermore, they're unwilling to cut on the defense side in any significant way where the president is foreseeing very large cuts.
LANDLERAnd so he's argument, which I think has some validity, is look, I'll meet you. But you're also not willing. There's no real track record of massive social cuts under the George W. Bush presidency. So, you know, show me the money. Show me where you're going to make the cuts.
DIMOCKAnd I think part of the framing of the state of -- I'm sorry -- of the inaugural address was to make the case for why just cutting all of the domestic programs isn't the solution to the problem. I mean, when he talks about investing in America's competitiveness building for the future, that is involved with the infrastructure, with education, with the kinds of domestic programs that he foresees the Republicans wanting to go after and take a part. He wants to make the case that if we're going to reduce spending, it has to be more across the board than just targeting those domestic programs.
REHMIt's very interesting. I've heard lots of people asking what's the difference in tone, not just for this president, but any president between a second inaugural and a State of the Union? Is he likely to be more specific? Is he likely to be mushier?
LIASSONNo. I think he is likely to be more specific. I mean, the State of the Union is a programmatic address. First of all, it's likely to be three times as long as this one. And what presidents try to do in an inaugural address is they take their goals and their vision, and they try to ground them in the enduring principles of the American Constitution and American values.
LIASSONAnd that's what he was trying to do with his agenda here. I thought it was actually more substantive than a lot of inaugural addresses, which often are just turning the page, new chapter, time of renewal, blah, blah, blah. He was pretty specific about what he wants to get done.
REHMBut some people said he went too far.
LIASSONWell, that's their opinion.
LIASSONAnd this is -- he's laying the groundwork. He -- I think he thinks sequentially, and this is laying the groundwork rhetorically for the programmatic details of these issues that are going to come in the State of the Union address on Feb. 12.
LANDLERJust one thing, since we haven't raised it yet, which was also remarkable about the speech was on the social side, the way he situated gay rights and same-sex marriage in all the enduring traditions of the country linking it to civil rights, explicitly linking it to women's rights, the great phrase about the struggles from Seneca Falls to Selma to Stonewall was a remarkable moment. And particularly to have that in that in an inaugural address, I think, may have been the other thing that may be remembered about this address. And again, it raises a question.
LANDLERPresident Obama obviously came out in favor of same-sex marriage. But his position is that it's an issue that's still left -- best left to the states and should be handled on the state level. So it'll also be interesting to watch how he deals with same-sex marriage. It's going to be a legal issue now going forward. He said he's not going to mount any Defense of the Marriage Act. But, you know, he's now on record in a very, very stirring way on this issue and it'll also be something we'll have to watch as his second term plays out.
DIMOCKYeah. And he knows that he's on the front edge of the direction of public opinion on this issue and I think some others. I think part of why he's willing to talk about immigration, talk about gay marriage, talk about the issue of guns as well, is that those are issues where the tenor of public opinion is shifting a little in his direction.
DIMOCKAnd they -- as Mara said earlier, even if he doesn't achieve major victories, they are liable to become wedges within the Republican Party that create fissures of them between the Republicans who want to look forward and get beyond those debates that are potentially losing issues for them down the road versus those who really still feel firmly on this.
REHMHe got a huge amount of applause in talking about equal pay for women.
LIASSONYes. And these are things that I think are rhetorical. They were exactly what the people who'd gathered on the mall to hear him wanted to hear. Don't forget this was a more liberal, more of a Democratic-base crowd than it had been the first time. Only, you know, five to 700,000 instead of 1.8 million people. And it's not like there's a big legislative agenda behind this rhetoric.
LIASSONHe's not planning legislation on gay marriage, and equal pay is finished. It's Lilly Ledbetter, you know? So I think that was primarily rhetorical. And in some ways, as Michael pointed out, he's a follower, not a leader here. Public opinion got ahead of him, and then he caught up with it.
REHMLet's talk about foreign policy and what the president laid out for the next four years. Mark.
LANDLERWell, the foreign policy part of this speech was not particularly ambitious. I mean, in some ways, the most important line in it was the line where he said, we the people still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war. So, to some extent, he was, you know, underscoring the fact that his record so far on the foreign policy front has been principally about ending one war and beginning to wind down another one, which he's now doing in an even more rapid way than he thought about early in his first term.
LANDLERThere are several things on the agenda that he will likely pursue. He didn't really itemize them in this speech. You wouldn't have necessarily expected him to. He'll try to pursue some direct negotiation with Iran. He will continue and try to fill in this strategic pivot to Asia. That was one of the larger ideas of his first term in geopolitics.
LANDLERI don't know whether he'll do much of anything on the Middle East. The Washington Post today hoped in its -- on its editorial page that he would reset his relationship with the prime minister of Israel, Bibi Netanyahu, that's been famously problematic. I tend to be a skeptic on that. The conditions aren't right for that at the moment.
LANDLERBut I think that it's not a foreign policy with a grand idea. It's more a foreign policy that, as a colleague of mine put it in the paper the other day, David Sanger, that's informed a bit by focusing inward and allowing the strength that you presumably rebuild inward to inform what you do around the world. It's almost an Eisenhower vision of foreign policy, and I think that's what we saw on the speech.
REHMWhat does the American public expect or want in terms of U.S. involvement in foreign affairs, Michael?
DIMOCKThey're not thinking about it that much right now. I mean, the poll we put out -- we asked people, what should the president focus on? Eighty-three percent said domestic policy. Only 6 percent said foreign policy. It's the most lopsided balance we've seen.
DIMOCKThis is a public that is very intensely focused not only on the economic recovery, but these broader issues of entitlements, how to balance the deficit. Foreign policy has become an area of frustration for the public. It feels increasingly hard to pin down. I think even the events of the last week in North Africa remind people of the sort of Whack-a-Mole feeling to our fight against terrorism.
DIMOCKThe war in Afghanistan, to the public, has not become something -- I think disillusionment is a strong word, but just a real disengagement from it. The public has already, in effect, pulled out of that war even before the last soldiers are coming out. They're ready for it to be over. They don't see continued American involvement really achieving much.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Going to open the phones now first to Grand Rapids, Mich. Good morning, Ray. Ray, are you there?
RAYI'm there and waiting. Love you, Diane. I'm 90, and I've watched Roosevelt take on the Republicans to get Social Security. That is a great stimulus package for this country, and we know it, and the way in which it's gone has always had a cap on it. Republicans at that time put a $7,500 cap, as my memory serves me, and they said, OK, we'll give you Social Security, but we're not paying for it. And they still are not paying for it.
REHMAll right. Thanks...
RAYIf we just had a cap -- no cap at all, we could drop that Social Security...
REHMAll right. Go ahead, Mark Landler.
LANDLERWell, I mean, the questioner points out that Social Security is one of those issues that's just unbelievably emotive, and the whole question of a cap is -- or chained Social Security is where the president has been willing to go so far. I mean, I think by referencing Roosevelt, it does point out one thing about this speech, which is that President Obama does not have a grand agenda ahead of him. There's been a lot of talk in the last week about his bid for greatness.
LANDLERTo the extent that he had a very ambitious domestic agenda, it's already behind him with health care. And I think that the ways that he's going to strive for something big in the second term will not be along the lines of some large, comprehensive, new legislation. It may be a grand bargain over the deficit or immigration reform, but the kinds of great enterprises that the caller referenced are clearly behind this president.
LIASSONYeah. I -- oh, I would just add...
LIASSON...that health care was the last great liberal project. It was the last entitlement we're going to get, and now we're talking about adjusting and retrenching the entitlements we've got so that they can continue and not bankrupt us.
REHMAll right. To Alice in Amherst, N.H. Good morning. You're on the air.
ALICEGood morning, Diane and guests. I listen to you all the time, Diane, and...
ALICE...this morning I just wanted to make a statement if I could. I want to know why the government is deciding to change or take away from Medicare and Social Security when there are so many other priorities. And also, Diane, Gov. Daniel Moynihan, many years ago, got on TV and pointed his finger at us, to the TV, and said, I want you Americans to know that the government has been taking money out of your Social Security and putting IOUs in and never paying it back. I'm going to get off the phone now and see if someone can answer this question. Thank you.
REHMAll right. Thank you. Michael.
DIMOCKWell, you know, I -- this is something we hear a lot in our polls. There's a lot of concern about these programs and their financial stability. It's a rising concern in the American public right now how to make them live. It's one that has not only a political but somewhat of a generational dynamic to it. You see older generations very committed to the programs not only because they're benefiting them, but because they see them as more effective and useful.
DIMOCKAnd they want to make sure they're preserved for future generations. You also have a younger generation that already doesn't expect them to be around. You have somewhere approaching half of people under 30 who say they don't think they're going to get anything out of these programs. They're very willing to experiment.
DIMOCKThey're very open to some of the ideas that Republicans have put on the table or any ideas to try to extend or fundamentally change these programs. One thing that we see a fair amount of support for, though, is shifting to a way in which more -- people pay in more, especially into Social Security, that the cap that individuals pay in right now could be raised.
DIMOCKAnd that's a popular idea among many Americans. And what I think it does is it shifts the way we think of Social Security to your previous caller. Is this an individual savings account or something that's more collective?
REHMMichael Dimock, he's director of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. Short break. More of your calls when we come back.
REHMAnd, of course, we are talking about the president's second inaugural address. Here's an email perhaps to clarify something you said earlier, Mark. It's from Christina in Frederick, Md., "Does your panel think Obama will be able to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act?"
LANDLERWell, the Defense of Marriage Act is under challenged in the courts now, and what President Obama has said is he's instructed the Justice Department not to mount a defense of that. So he is, in effect, saying my administration no longer supports this. Now, the court's ruling will be what the court's ruling is, but he is now on the record as saying I'm not fighting for this.
REHMMichael, where's the American public on this?
DIMOCKWell, I think for many people, it's a debate they're just getting tired of having, you know, for a generation, really, two generations of younger people. There's almost a mystification about why we're still debating these issues of gay marriage. They feel like this is a part of our inclusive society, and they don't really see it as controversial for the most part.
DIMOCKAnd you're seeing a change not only with a new generation coming in but generations shifting their attitudes about homosexuality and gay marriage over time. So even the oldest generation has become much more accepting than they were 10 years ago or 20 years ago of these things. I think it's -- of all of the shifts in American public values and opinions over the last decade or two, this one has been one of the clearest and starkest and always in one direction.
REHMTo St. Louis, Mo. Good morning, Eric.
ERICGood morning, Diane. I wanted to return to that quote that you were calling attention to what the president made yesterday regarding this false choice between the caring for the older generation and giving a -- insuring a future for the younger generation, this motion of you have to do one thing at the expense of another particularly in setting one generation against another.
ERICI think he was also putting the opposition on notice but they're on to that tactic and that they rejected the false choices just bedevil and the attempt become to solutions. They just try to make one group feel that they're going to lose if the other group wins that's...
DIMOCKYeah. You know, and it's interesting we've seen this in our polling, and as I mentioned before, there are different policy preferences among younger and older Americans. But we've never really seen an intergenerational tension over these issues. You've never really seen younger and older folks feeling like their interests really are at loggerheads.
DIMOCKNow, maybe that will arise, but our suspicion is that it won't because, at the end of the day, we are all in families. We all -- most of us have older parents or grandparents. We have children or grandchildren in schools. We do not see ourselves engaged in an intergenerational conflict. And so it's very hard for people to really want to think about those tradeoffs or ever want to make those kinds of tradeoffs.
LIASSONYeah. I think that this is going to be the big debate. It's going to take a lot of education for the public, and it's something that neither side has done much of. I mean on the one hand, I think that the president feels he's on very strong ground, as Michael explained, you know, where public opinion is this. On the other hand, Republicans say, hey, we didn't get crushed among seniors in this election.
LIASSONWe were out there, and Paul Ryan's budget was plain as day, and we didn't get crushed. I think this is the moment to do this to make adjustments that are not as radical and transformational as they will have to be if we don't do it now. So, you know, I think prospects could be good if both sides want to do this.
REHMWhat about issues of defense spending, Mark Landler?
LANDLERWell, the sequester, which is this great Washington phrase for what's going to happen here, will also be a very big consuming issue. And there, I think, the president is also staking out a pretty tough position. He's nominated Chuck Hagel as his defense secretary. Chuck Hagel's a guy who's on the record as saying he thinks the Defense Department has a "bloated budget."
LANDLERHe was an aggressive choice for the job. He put him in despite the fact that there was a great deal of support even when his name was merely being rumored for the job. So I think the president is ready to fight this issue as well. In one small point I'll make about it though is like everything, major cuts in this area carry all kinds of collateral costs.
LANDLERAnd even in our very prosperous and happy part of the country in Washington, D.C., there's already a lot of talk among the military contracting business of the effect that large cuts or even smaller than sequester level cuts would have on jobs in this region. So it won't be an easy debate. There'll be a lot of opposition from Republicans, but I think it's one the president is eager to have.
LIASSONCan I have...
LIASSONI just want to ask Mark a question about that. What do you make of Republicans saying, we give -- OK, bring on those defense cuts in the sequester. You know, it was designed to make it so uncomfortable for them because they would want to avoid those defense cuts at all costs. But now you hear Republicans saying, fine, we'll call your bluff. You know, we'll take the defense cuts. Do you think they're serious? The White House thinks the defense contractors will put so much pressure on them that they'll back off of that in the end.
LANDLERThat's kind of what I think as well. I think it's unlikely that the Republicans really mean it particularly if they're talking about cuts on the level in the sequester because these are going to hit a lot of traditional sources of support for Republicans very hard, not to mention the broader economic impact. So I think at the end of the day, they're calling his bluff knowing that even he doesn't want to go that way.
LANDLERLeon Panetta has been on the record. His current defense secretary is saying that would be a disaster for the military. So, look, the president doesn't want to do it either at that level. So there's a little bit of a game of chicken here. And at some point they'll sit down as they typically do or sometimes do and have a serious debate about it and start to talk about the things that make sense.
DIMOCKWell, you know, broadly, there's a larger share of the American public that's willing to see defense spending cuts than almost any area of domestic spending when you do them line by line because we see how the domestic spending benefits us. And the defense spending sort of feels very amorphous and there's a lot of opposition to the extent to which were involved overseas.
DIMOCKThe one thing I would say, though, from a political perspective, is I think if there are Republicans who try to hold defense spending off the table, that this is an area that can't be touched. That's not going to get them very far. I think that the public wants to see everything on the table. And if the Republicans start taking things off the table, they're going to be seeing again as the intransigent actors here as the ones who aren't willing to engage.
REHMAll right. To Lexington, Mass. Hi, David.
DAVIDHello, Diane. Love your show.
DAVIDI fear that President Obama is going to shoot himself on the foot over immigration reform. Like me, half of all other Democrats oppose immigration reform, two-thirds of independents and most Republicans. And even -- and Hispanic-Americans support a national mandatory verify, 69 percent of them do according to a Pulse Opinion Research poll from October.
DAVIDThe thinking that immigrant -- that Hispanic-Americans votes turn on immigration, it's like it's the same sort of thinking that got Americans of Japanese extraction interned during World War II. It's color based. Hispanic-Americans are Democrats. And, you know, I've been voting for 40 years, and Republicans have never been scarier than they were this time around.
REHMAll right. Thanks for your call.
LANDLERI think, the point that Hispanics are not single-issue voters is absolutely right. Immigration matters more to Latinos than it does to non-Latinos, but it's far from their top ranked issue especially in this economy. These are folks, many of whom are trying to get a leg up in an economy, and they're much more worried about those broad issues, also about education.
DIMOCKThere are a lot of issues that put Latinos right now closer to the Democratic camp and the Republican camp. So I don't think that dealing with immigration is going to automatically put the Republicans and Democrats on even footing with this constituency.
REHMAnd to Pittsboro, N.C. Good morning, Nino.
NINOGood morning, Diane. And I love your show.
NINOBut I think that we are missing the forest from the trees. What the president was talking about is that we can succeed as a nation if only some of us prosper. That's why he started every single paragraph with we the people, that it is not success if we cut benefits for elderly to improve education or to cut education to preserve Medicare, that it is not success if corporations are raking profits for shareholders and management and we have high unemployment, that we succeed as a nation only if that success benefits all Americans.
REHMWell, you've spoken very eloquently. Go ahead, Mark.
LANDLERI think he made -- this is a very important point to make about the speech. And, you know, he used the phrase, at one point, of collective action. And there are some Republicans, over the course of the day, as their initially gracious reactions began the turn more predictably partisan, they kind of fastened on that phrase, collective action, to imply darker suspicions about the president heading off in the direction of collectivism. But there is no question that that was sort of thematically the spine of the speech.
LANDLERAnd much as in the first speech, it was about post-partisanship and crossing a divide. This one was much more about we're all in this together and everyone must benefit, you know, from everything that we do. An argument that in a funny way, attempts to do a version of crossing the partisan divide by not saying the Republican -- we have to come across a partisan divide, but we must think of ourselves in a common good.
REHMHe also, over and over, said everybody has to be involved and stay involved.
LIASSONYeah. You know, those were two points. The thing about the collective action, which, of course, is like a real button to push for conservatives, sounds kind of like socialism to them. But he started this in 2004, that we're not red, blue states. We're not blue states. We're the United States. So he's always tried to sketch out the philosophic underpinning for the Democratic Party. And that's what he had tried to do.
LIASSONIn terms of people being involved, that came at the end of the speech, and I think that what he was talking about were -- I think that was a special message to the people who supported him and who helped him win a surprising win, a decisive win. And he wants them to help him pass his agenda this time, he said, not just at the ballot box. You know, he said, you have to lift your voices, you know, not just at the ballot box.
LIASSONAnd I think that the White House hopes, this time around, they'll play more of an outside game. Instead of dealing with the Republicans on the backrooms, they'll be involving the public to help them pass their agenda. And he's counting on all of those ground troops that he mobilized in the election to not just go home.
LANDLERWell, for one thing, the Obama campaign apparatus has been sort of changed, but it will perpetuate itself with a new name -- Organizing for America. You know, this is a campaign that more than any in history put together this army of ground troops, this incredibly sophisticated information system to learn how to reach voters at an incredibly micro level. And they're going to maintain this organization under Jim Messina, who is the campaign manager for Obama for America.
LANDLERAnd it's going to be the coordinator of this outside game. They've already begun to road test this a little bit. They did it during the fiscal cliff where they continued in December to bring pressure to bear on members of Congress through their supporters out in the country. And I think we'll see a lot more of this. And this will be one of the vehicles, maybe the big vehicle to play this outside game that Mara is referring to.
DIMOCKAnd I think, on some of these issues, we've seen an engagement, sort of disparity. Like, guns is the classic example. We did our survey last week and found that those on the gun rights side are twice as likely to have reached out and contacted their member on the issue of guns than those who support gun control. They are three to four times it's likely to have contributed money to organizations on that issue than those on the side of gun control. So I think part of that language is referencing those disparities.
DIMOCKThey've come up with gay marriage. They've come up on a number of issues. He feels like he wants his side of some of those arguments to get more engaged. I think it's also a reference to partisanship. He was talking about public restoration with political leaders who don't compromise. And I think, in some ways, he was saying, they're your political leaders. If you don't like what they're doing, you've got to let them know that.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." On gun control, however, 200 million for the NRA and its agenda, 3 million for those in favor of, for example, identification before purchase, background checks, that sort of thing. That's a pretty uneven balance, and whether it translates into other items on his agenda, the money against versus the money for is also something we'd wonder about. All right. Let's take a call from Livingston County, Mich. Good morning, Barbara.
BARBARAGood morning. Great show.
BARBARAI just wanted to make this observation that here in Michigan, the Republican conservative in a lame - in lame duck sessions have passed massive amounts of legislation, including right to work. And I really feel, in a sense, that Obama's speech was a retort also to this kind of action that may be happening on a state level and certainly must be happening in other states besides Michigan. So I was glad to see him take a very powerful stance.
REHMDo you agree with that, Mark?
LANDLERWell, I do, and I think he's also done it in another venues. I mean, he went to Michigan in December and visited a truck factory and actually used that occasion to come out against this right-to-work legislation in Michigan. So I think we'll continue to see him not only do it himself, but again, to go back to this notion of using his ground troops weigh in on this state battles, you know, as they tried to do in Ohio, as they tried to do in Wisconsin on issues, I think you'll see him engage that way. So, yes, broad strokes in the speech but also in more targeted efforts at the state level.
LIASSONOh, I was just going to say something really quick about Organizing for Action. It's a powerful tool. And Democrats in elections are going to use lists, et cetera, and the grassroots network. However, it remains to be seen if it can be mobilized for legislative purposes. They did try to do that for health care with not such great effect. It works great in elections. We know that. We just don't know if it works in legislative battles.
REHMFinal email from Rose. She says, "I had tears in my eyes as Mr. Blanco was reading his wonderful poem. It captured the essence and universality of daily human life in this country and on the planet. To me, it was the highlight of inauguration. There were so many, but that was a gorgeous poem." He was actually the second choice, was he not? After it was found that a previous selection...
LIASSONNo. You're thinking of the minister.
LIASSONThe poet was the first choice. He -- it was the minister who changed after he had made some past remarks about gays.
LIASSONIt was the other...
REHMOK. Forgive me.
LIASSONYeah, it wasn't the poet.
REHMHe was the first choice. Glad we clarified that. Thank you all so much. Mark Landler of the New York Times, Mara Liasson of NPR, Michael Dimock of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. And thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
Most Recent Shows
Kate Mulgrew, who stars as "Red" in the Netflix TV series "Orange Is The New Black", opens up in a new memoir about her complicated family and the baby she gave away for adoption as a young woman.
On the 100th anniversary of the publication of Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken," a discussion about why the poem and poet are well-loved but misunderstood.
"My Brilliant Friend" by Elena Ferrante is the first of the mysterious Italian author's Neapolitan novels. The series tells the story of a life-long friendship between two working class girls in Naples. Critics have called Ferrante “one of the greatest novelists of our time.” Yet nobody knows her true identity. Join Diane and her guests for a discussion of “My Brilliant Friend.”