The National Endowment for the Humanities turns 50 next year. William “Bro” Adams, the new chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, wants to make sure that the study of history, philosophy, and literature remains accessible to everyone. A conversation about his new "Common Good" initiative.
President Barack Obama takes to the road today to win public support for the policy proposals he presented during last night’s State of the Union address. He said it was time for the parties to come together in support of the middle class. In particular, he called for a higher minimum wage and expanded access to preschool programs and job training. He also emphasized the need for gun control and efforts to address climate change. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio delivered the Republican response, saying private enterprise, not government, should be boosting the middle class. Please join us for analysis of last night’s State of the Union address.
- Norman Ornstein resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and co-author of "It's Even Worse Than It Looks."
- Ruth Marcus columnist and editorial writer at The Washington Post.
- Byron York chief political correspondent for the Washington Examiner.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. In his State of the Union address, President Obama called for specific steps to boost economic prospects of the middle class. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio who delivered the Republican response said it's the private sector, not government, that's best able to provide opportunities for Americans.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me to talk about response to the president's address: Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute, Ruth Marcus of The Washington Post and Byron York of the Washington Examiner. Do join us with your reactions, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning, everybody.
MR. NORMAN ORNSTEINGood morning, Diane.
MS. RUTH MARCUSGood morning.
MR. BYRON YORKGood morning.
REHMRuth Marcus, I'll start with you. Last night's address was a huge opportunity for the president. Did he made the most of it?
MARCUSIt was the second huge opportunity for the president, right, because the first -- when you get re-elected, you get a twofer. First, you get your inaugural, and then you get your State of the Union. And the White House and the president very much saw this. They kept telling us as bookends sort of to plays in sequence with each other. The question is how much in this environment any president can make of this opportunity.
MARCUSI thought the president was most powerful at the end when he rallied the Congress to a reasonable end on gun control. I'm not talking substantively which is, let's have a vote. Gabrielle Giffords deserves a vote. The children of Newtown deserve a vote, and that was very powerful. I was particularly -- when he said Fig Newtons and lip gloss, I just about fell apart.
MARCUSAnd I think it's an -- we live in an obviously dysfunctional time. I don't need to repeat that here. And so the capacity of the president to use the State of the Union to either move the county or to move the Congress is limited, but I think you could see a little crack in that one particular regard.
REHMByron York, he seemed to emphasize all the way through the middle class. What steps do you believe that he outlined last night are realistic?
YORKWell, I think it was a speech designed to go forward within the limits that he's working under, which is not a lot of money, not a lot of discretionary money in the Congress that's fighting over fiscal boundaries. So everything he talked about was in the context of, we could afford this or it wouldn't cost us too much. Let's have these innovation institutes. We have one that worked really well. Maybe we can have some more. It won't cost all that much money. Let's raise the middle class.
YORKObviously, that's not a government expenditure, it's a private -- excuse me -- the minimum wage. Let's wage -- raise the minimum wage, not a government expenditure at all. He had been stung, I think, from criticism of his inaugural address that it focused a lot on the environment, on gay rights, on social issues...
REHMAnd it's called liberal.
YORK...a big liberal statement, and that he had kind of forgotten about unemployment which is not only 7.9 percent but we actually had a really fascinating study from records come out this week that showed 23 percent of Americans have lost a job at some point in the last four years. I mean, it's still a huge, huge issue. So he was trying to address this, but he had to do it within all these very constricting limits that exist now.
REHMNorm Ornstein, what did you make of it?
ORNSTEINYou know, as Ruth was talking, it -- a couple of things occurred to me. This phrase, they deserve a vote, you're going to be hearing a lot, and it's not just about guns. The president has two challenges here. One is overcoming Republican filibusters in the Senate. The second is getting votes on anything in the House where John Boehner is stuck because almost anything that he brings up that passes the Senate that the president would support is going to pass the House with more Democrats than Republicans.
ORNSTEINAnd there are only so many times you can do that. And there will be a strong inclination just not to bring things up. You've already have had the number of House Republicans telling me they just want to ignore the president. So he's going to go out in the country and as he's framing this agenda, basically try and push for votes. Filibuster something, he'll bring up individuals who are broadly sympathetic and say, they deserve a vote. So that's one part of it, I think, that's very important.
ORNSTEINThe second part which flowed from the beginning of the speech and the talk about the sequester is I think you're going to see a president who frames himself as the reasonable guy in the middle who's reaching out a hand, who wants to compromise, I'll give a little, you give a little and basically marginalize those who say, never give up, never surrender. And maybe that works. And maybe it works to go out in the country and frame it that way, but we don't know. And I think we're going to a get an early test of this with the sequester.
YORKDon't you think that they deserve a vote is itself kind of a lowered expectation? It's not a demand that Congress pass this bill and I will sign it. The only thing that came close to that was immigration which is the thing that has the biggest chance of actually passing and the biggest thing that has the biggest chance of passing. Everything else, they deserve a vote is kind of like, well, just don't shut the door completely.
ORNSTEINI think you're asking for something that's reasonable in this case. Just give them a vote. And the fact is most of the things that he's talking about, if you bring him to a vote, will pass in the House, but they're going to pass with 70 Republicans and 150 Democrats. And that's not a palatable course of action for John Boehner very often. The question is, can you push him to do that?
ORNSTEINAt the same time, the filibuster, you know, it's easy to get away with it if you're filibustering and nobody puts pressure on for the actual vote. He may be able to ratchet up the pressure here, and those things pass. They get majorities.
REHMLet's talk about some specifics, raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to $9. How realistic, Ruth Marcus?
MARCUSWell, I think it actually goes exactly back to what Norm was just saying. The -- I find it very hard to imagine given all the other things that could pass that are at the top of the president's agenda to see -- to imagine John Boehner bringing to the floor an increase in the minimum wage.
REHMBut the reality is that was $7.25 is the minimum wage, folks earning this remain in poverty. Why is it so unrealistic?
MARCUSSmall business, the Chamber of Commerce claims that raising the minimum wage would actually increase unemployment.
REHMHaven't we heard that one before?
MARCUSWe've heard it a lot, and I think that the notion, for example, of indexing the minimum wage is a very sensible notion. The -- I think the president had a very powerful point when he talked about a family of four being below the poverty level the minimum wage. But my response to you wasn't as substantive is-this-a-good-idea response, but it wasn't is-this-going-to-happen response. And I'm pretty dubious about that.
YORKActually that was the one -- the one of two times where you mentioned Gov. Romney. You said, this was the idea that Mitt Romney and I actually agreed on. Mitt Romney, that guy he ran against just a few months ago, had actually come into agreement on planning to tie the minimum wage the cost -- some of cost of living index.
ORNSTEINYou know, there's an irony here which is it's probably not a very efficient way to help out people at that level. The more efficient way is to increase the earned income tax credit where the benefits flow directly to the poor. One of the problems with raising the minimum wage is that a lot of those benefits go to others, and you defuse it. But you're not going to get any kind of rallying cry behind increasing the earned income tax credit.
ORNSTEINIt may be a fall back however. You can imagine leaving the minimum wage, indexing it for the future but then doing something more with the earned income tax credit which is actually originated as a Republican idea even though many now denounce it.
REHMWhat about early childhood education, Byron?
YORKWell, that's something, I mean, everybody is going to -- I think there's going to be a lot of agreement on that. Eric Cantor, the number two Republican in the House, talked about it, I think, in a speech that he made at the American Enterprise Institute which was kind of trying to refocus Republican agenda to improve people's lives, get them off just tax cuts, tax cuts, tax cuts. So, you know, I think that's one of the areas where you could actually see them do something on.
MARCUSWell, yes. I'm sorry, Norm.
ORNSTEINNo, go ahead.
MARCUSBut, yes. But the question that I had -- I was at White House briefings yesterday. They were deliberately vague on how this was going to be done, how it was going to be implemented and, most specifically, how much it was going to cost. So nobody in theory -- it could possibly be against pre-K. Everybody understands we want it for our children. We want it for everybody's children.
MARCUSOne of the reasons for their vagueness is they're going to roll it out, and they want a little bit of another big hit of publicity for it. But these things cost money if you do the president alluded to working with the states. Well, where are the states going to get the money to do this? They're not exactly swimming in surpluses. And so that's a big, big, open question. It was probably the boldest of his initiatives, but I remain to be convinced that he'll be signing it into law anytime soon.
ORNSTEINWell, the most glaring question from the speech was none of these proposals will increase the deficit by a dime. And now you're talking about something that I just -- I'll be stunned if they're able to come up with some kind of a plan that can move us towards universal preschool for American children that doesn't cost a dime. If they can do that, my hat is off to them.
REHMNorm Ornstein, he's resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. Ruth Marcus, columnist at The Washington Post, and Byron York, chief political correspondent for the Washington Examiner. As soon as we can, I want to open the phones. I want to hear how listeners reacted to the speech last night, to the reaction from Marco Rubio. I'd like to hear your thoughts because that's what this program is all about. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. It's almost your turn to react to the president's State of the Union address. Here in the studio with me to react to your reactions: Byron York of the Washington Examiner, Ruth Marcus of The Washington Post, Norm Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute. And by the way, he's co-author of the book titled "It's Even Worse Than It Looks." Let's go first to Meadview, Ariz. Good morning, Kayla. You're on the air.
KAYLAHello. Good morning. Yes, I'm in Meadview, Ariz. right now, to the west of the Grand Canyon. And we are in a very secluded area of the nation. My question is, historically speaking, is the State of the Union an archaic practice or a tradition? I don't think we need it anymore. And last night, it just seemed like a second round of campaign promises. In regard to the pre-school thing, that just -- I'm insulted. My daughter's elementary school or her -- my daughter's school, because we're so rural, is a Pre-K through 12th.
KAYLASo we were lucky enough to have a pre-school education for her provided by the county. However, our school county is dealing with a $1.8 million deficit, just our county. Her high school department at the school next year is going to be closed. All of those teachers are going to be fired, plus two elementary school teachers. And he wants to talk about working with the states in regards to increasing pre-school. I'd love to increase high school efficiency first. And this whole State of the Union thing, I think, is just a deplorable joke.
REHMI appreciate your comments, Kayla. Norm.
ORNSTEINWell, if you go back to Woodrow Wilson, who really initiated the modern practice of a president coming to Congress to give a speech, before that, you go back to George Washington basically just giving written message, this has had an aura of campaign about it. It's a stage for the president to set an agenda. Certainly, there's a political element to it. We see it since radio and television, and you see on television the many instances where half the audience stands up and applauds, while the other half sits in stony silence.
REHMHow much of that did happen last night?
YORKThere was a fair amount of it, although there were displays of bipartisanship...
YORK…because you had John McCain and Lindsey Graham flanking Chuck Schumer, you know, kind of a pitch for their immigration plan. But...
REHMBut what you're saying is it's always been -- sort of been extension of the presidential campaign.
ORNSTEINBut that's natural in a democracy, Diane...
ORNSTEIN...that you're going to have an inextricable link between politics and policy. And I can't say that that part of it bothers me very much. It's a show, but it's also a way for a president to reach the American people, and I'm not as troubled as our caller is.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Grand Rapids, Mich. Good morning, Jeff.
JEFFGood morning, Diane. Thanks for taking my call.
JEFFMy comment is about raising the minimum wage. I know there's a lot of talks that it could affect jobs. And I kind of see Americans as spenders. And if we're making $2 more an hour, that $2 is going to get right back in the economy, maybe a short-term impact. But I think long-term, it's going to even out and increase jobs.
YORKWell, look, it probably wouldn't have any catastrophic effect one way or the other. But if you put the $2, that's $2 more that the employer wasn't using, perhaps, to give somebody else a job. So, I mean, the argument is -- on this -- and it's been going for a very long time -- is that small businesses especially will be hit by it. They're going to hire fewer people, and it's -- I don't think there's any way one could argue that would help the employment situation. Maybe it will not increase the unemployment rate, but it certainly won't decrease it.
REHMAll right. To Boston, Mass. Hi there, Tom.
TOMHi, Diane. Man, I love your show. Thank you so much.
TOMMy comment is more of a general nature. I've watched this man for the past four-plus years take one attack after another. His detractors, his critics, you know, they seemed to be missing the fact that this is the single most lucid visionary, compassionate, honest, ethical, brilliant president that we've had since, probably, JFK and FDR.
REHMI guess, you really, really like him. And I think that there are an awful lot of people who may expect a great deal from the State of the Union address, as we heard from our prior caller in Arizona. But is there too much emphasis put on it in terms of people's reaction? Ruth.
MARCUSWell, I think there's -- I love the State of the Union address, I have to say, because I was -- I'm always moved before it happens at seeing the totality -- except for that one, lone cabinet secretary who they leave out in the cold, just in case -- of seeing the totality of the U.S. government arrayed in the Capitol chamber and the Supreme Court and the Joints Chiefs of Staff and the whole thing.
MARCUSAnd I think, to the extent that it is a moment, it serves two purposes for the president to really think through what is on his plate, what is on his agenda, and for both the Congress and the country to hear from him in a sustained way about what's important to him. I think one -- I probably would not go so far as the caller in lauding the president. I do think that in terms of the -- his critics, I always find that those who believe that he can't speak without a teleprompter is simply delusional.
MARCUSAnd I think -- and if you look at -- for example, Marco Rubio had a hard job last night, right, because you have to craft the response before you hear from the president. But I was surprised at how much he assumed he was hearing from the president what was not in his speech, this sort of huge defense of big government.
REHMWell, that is the subject of our next caller, and that's Robert in Canton, Ohio. Good morning. You're on the air.
ROBERTGood morning. I am calling just to say that I was disappointed in Rubio's response because it sounded as if he was responding to a different speech. I was hoping that there would be a cogent response to the president. I did not think that was provided.
YORKWell, I think -- I mean, personally, I thought that he did as well or better than any responses that we've seen 'cause it is a tough job, as Ruth said. But on the other hand, he did not break any sort of new ground. He gave a...
REHMDid you expect him to?
YORKNot in a policy way. The new ground was himself. Basically, he said, look...
YORK...I believe in smaller government and less regulation and low taxes. But, by the way, I came from nothing, and my parents were immigrants and I can really tell this story. I think the new part of the whole thing was Marco Rubio himself.
REHMBut, you know, it was Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell who described Marco Rubio as arguably the best communicator we have had in decades. Did he live up to that, Norm?
ORNSTEINYou know, he was -- he's an attractive guy.
REHMYeah. We had him on the program.
ORNSTEINHe was so nervous. It was really quite stunning at how nervous he was. And, of course, you know, it's kind of stupid, but what's getting all the attention was the clumsy reach for the water bottle. I was actually thinking, maybe, he should've had a bottle of Dusaki's, and he could say stay thirsty, my fellow Americans. But, you know, he didn't embarrass himself. And the problem with most of these speeches is you -- it's a terrible position to be in.
ORNSTEINYou're following a president who has all the majesty and being in the chamber surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of people, and you're there alone. But I -- go back to what Byron said. You know, Byron's talked earlier about Eric Cantor's speech at AEI, which was an attempt to lay out a different kind of agenda, a conservative agenda, but one that was aimed at the middle class and finding that common ground.
ORNSTEINRubio said, I'm for the middle class. I come from the working class. But there was none of that kind of agenda. The contrast with Cantor, who had some proposals that we might like, some that might not, but was a real attempt to define conservatism in a different way. And Rubio was mostly attacking Obama and attacking a straw man, given the speech, which was not some crazy, left-wing speech.
YORKLet me add one more thing about Rubio. After the speech -- it was his biggest national audience to date, I think.
YORKAnd so, in that sense, it was very important to him. After the speech, I talked to a number of officials and activists in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, which I, of course, picked at random, and they loved it. I mean, they really, really loved the speech, and they liked Marco Rubio.
YORKAnd they felt that he is a real possibility for a presidential nominee and a real new face on this, so he -- in that sense, looking at those key places, Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, he didn't need to roll out a new policy. He didn't need to roll out a big Republican alternative. He needed to roll out Marco Rubio.
MARCUSWell, in that sense, he probably did a good job. I would like to give him props for making the most of his water moment, which is he had what does not come necessarily naturally to many politicians, which is a capacity to make fun of himself. Afterwards, they tweeted out a picture of the water bottle, and he was busy drinking deliberately on air in his rounds of the morning shows this morning. So I'm for any politician with a self-deprecating sense of humor.
REHMOK. How much did the president talk about climate change, Norm?
ORNSTEINMore, I think, than a lot of people expected, and he made it -- you know, though, of course, in a laundry list, there are a lot of centerpieces. But it was a strong rhetorical focus. The question is a more significant question: Can you move beyond a strong rhetorical focus -- and, of course, he also mentioned this in his inaugural address, which was uncommon -- to a set of policies that will either get anywhere or will satisfy his environmental left?
ORNSTEINAnd, you know, one of the things to keep in mind here is a second-term president always has enormous headaches from the base. The base thinks that now you've been re-elected, you can do anything you want. And he's going to disappoint them and disappoint them repeatedly...
ORNSTEIN...probably on the Keystone pipeline, on fracking. And so the question is if you can give the strong argument for doing something about climate change, whether that will balance off against the policies that will disappoint the most hardened climate changers.
REHMDo you think he's going to approve -- he and Secretary of State John Kerry are going to approve the Keystone pipeline?
ORNSTEINI think it's an 80 to 90 percent chance, yes.
REHMDo you agree with that, Ruth?
MARCUSI'm with the weather forecaster...
REHMAnd you, too, Byron?
YORKYes, I do. I do think the climate change part of the speech was maybe the most aggressive part of the speech because he wants Congress to act. He knows Congress didn't act on it, at least in cap and trade sense in his first term. And he said, but if Congress won't act soon to protect future generations, I will. So he explicitly threatened executive action as far as climate is concerned, and he didn't do that in some other areas.
REHMWhat kind of executive action could he take?
YORKWell, it would be the EPA limiting all sorts of emissions, carbon content and essentially setting up a whole new regulatory structure for CO2 emissions.
REHMByron York of the Washington Examiner, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." What about immigration reform, Ruth?
MARCUSWell, it was interesting. I think immigration reform and climate change are the two huge legacy issues that he sees. Any president in the second term is thinking about the legacy question. And he took different approaches on climate change. As Byron said, he recognizes that the chances of getting something major through Congress are slim to none.
MARCUSOn immigration, his point is Congress needs to act. If Congress doesn't come up with something, I will be pushing it and submitting something. And I think that is clearly the area in which there is the most commonality of interest among Republicans and Democrats for the obvious reasons of the last election result.
REHMNorm, the president said 34,000 U.S. troops are going to be withdrawn by Afghanistan, cutting the U.S. presence there by half. What was the reaction?
ORNSTEINWhen he said -- what I found so interesting is when he said, our men and women are coming home, everybody pretty much stood up and applauded. And one might have imagined that that might be one where Lindsey Graham and John McCain, among others, would have had second thoughts. They're critical of the more rapid withdrawal of troops. I also noticed that the Joint Chiefs stood up at that point, and they don't always stand up in these speeches, just like the Supreme Court.
ORNSTEINBut I think it's a reflection of, one, to some degree, the war fatigue, the belief that we're just not getting anywhere. What I found more striking, though, Diane, was that he said, you know, he basically made a commitment to bring them all back when we know there's still a significant debate going on over what kind of a residual presence we will keep.
ORNSTEINAnd that's a debate that Chuck Hagel -- if and when he gets to the Defense Department and the -- if he's still there, but I think he will -- will have to take up as well. And the generals want to keep, I think, more troops there to do the two things he talked about, the president talked about, the training and the rest of -- then the president might want.
REHMAnd speaking of Chuck Hagel, his nomination was moved out of committee, and now there'll be a vote in the entire Senate?
ORNSTEINWell, we don't know when because you still have a number of holds, and you still got...
REHMHow can they -- isn't that kind of a no-filibuster filibuster a hold?
ORNSTEINWell, sure. A hold is basically a pledge by an individual senator that he will deny unanimous consent to move forward. And if you have a whole series of them, you can delay things for a period of time.
ORNSTEINWell, I think what you've got here is an attempt to try and delay this through the next recess and keep it going for a couple of weeks, at least. I don't think Harry Reid will let that happen. And actually what is interesting is that the set of filibuster reforms that Reid and McConnell worked out were designed as much as anything to give the leaders a little bit more clout to overcome the individual hold.
ORNSTEINSo I think Reid will push for a vote, and now it's going to be a question of whether other Republicans join with John McCain in saying, we may vote against, but we're not going to filibuster. A filibuster of this nomination, if it really did take place, I think, would create real turmoil in the Senate, might bring filibuster reform right back to center stage.
YORKI don't think that's going to happen. I don't think Republicans are going to do that. They know that this would be unprecedented and come back at them at some point in the future. So it -- but the key issue, of course, is no Democrats have peeled off. If a Democrat -- if only one Democrat had peeled off, Republicans would have been encouraged and emboldened, but that hadn't happened.
MARCUSHe's going to be confirmed. It's a question of timing, not outcome, because -- and very appropriately, folks like Sen. McCain, Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine have made clear that they don't think that there would be a filibuster. And so if somebody were to go down that road, there just aren't the votes to sustain it.
REHMRuth Marcus of The Washington Post. Short break here. More of your calls, your email, when we come back.
REHMAnd welcome back. Before we go back to the phones, let's talk a little about what the president had to say, Ruth, on tax and entitlement reform.
MARCUSWell, this is part of the balanced approach drinking game. So when he was talking at the beginning about the sequester and about debt reduction moving forward, he said we needed to do two things. We needed to raise more revenue which Republicans have insisted since the fiscal cliff deal is off the table, and he wants to do that through the mechanism of tax reform that, in theory, would lower rates, close loopholes and also raise revenue by closing loopholes, so not revenue-neutral tax reform.
MARCUSOn that question, the big question I have is how. And among the deluge of responses I got last night was a very intriguing one from the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee who did not respond to the president's call for tax reform and this -- Senator Max Baucus and has talked about not having revenue neutral -- having tax reform but not raising revenue through tax reform.
MARCUSSo the question is this was the president's most full-throated call for tax reform, how exactly does he intend to make that happen, and does he really believe that we can raise enough revenue through tax reform as, as he suggested, only by hitting the richest, wealthiest Americans?
YORKWell, he didn't believe that one. Republicans were talking about it in the roundup to the fiscal cliff negotiations. What he's doing is going back to what Republicans were offering immediately after the election on -- in the fiscal cliff fight which was, oh, no, no, we can't raise tax rates on the highest earners. But look, we could eliminate loopholes, broaden the base. We can get just as much money.
YORKAnd the president said, no way, no how, we've got to raise tax rates. Now, Republicans eventually surrendered on that. They did raise tax rates on the highest earners. And now Obama is going back saying, well, wait a minute. You thought this was a good idea a while back. We should do this, too. And they're, again, saying no way, no how.
ORNSTEINI would say the goal here is to get another 1.2 to $1.4 trillion in debt reduction over the next 10 years to stabilize the debt as a share of GDP and maybe four to 500 billion of that coming from revenues. Now, a part of it, he wants to do the Buffett Rule which is to have a 30 percent minimum tax on the rich. The rest you probably can do without huge heavy lifting simply by putting a cap on deductions, and there are a variety of ways of doing that. You can call that tax reform. It's not radical tax reform.
ORNSTEINThe other part that he's throwing out as a bone is corporate rate reduction. Frankly, the real question there is a business community that desperately wants rate reduction but they don't want to lose any of the loopholes. They don't want it to be revenue neutral. They want to have a revenue loss. Whether you can keep the business community by reducing the rates and cutting out all of their deductions, that's another big question.
REHMAll right. To Syracuse, N.Y. Good morning, Jim.
JIMGood morning. I just -- I needed to pick up the phone and call because this love fest and support for the president is really something that I think you need to think about. You need to have some balance in your discussion. This is -- the guy who got on the news and who's in love with the president, who couldn't say enough about him is really responding to the president's ability to speak well.
JIMThat's what he does. He -- you all have to know that there is another half of America who sees through it. The point is, he's a good speaker, but he's all talk. There is no result to show that his policies are working, and the policy debate is clear and historic.
REHMByron, you may agree with Jim.
YORKWell, you know, the problem for Republicans is there really isn't another half of America, at least in the last election. It was closer to 47 percent which didn't do the trick for Mitt Romney. So, listen, I agree. I think the -- I think this -- Obama has put the country on the wrong course in a whole variety of ways. But last night, I mean, we're analyzing what he came up with last night.
ORNSTEINYou know, and one of the things that I find striking here is we have a speech that had a lot of center-left elements to them, but it was basically a centrist speech. Free trade, Medicare reform that included some means testing which he explicitly talked about which Republicans have been for for a long time. Moving away from the fee for service approach in Medicare was another part of it.
ORNSTEINA lot of these proposals were not kind of crazy ones. It should not only have the part of the country that the caller was talking about, some of whom think that he's an empty suit. But you have a significant portion of them who think that he's a rabid socialist verging towards communism who doesn't believe in the America that the rest of us believe in.
ORNSTEINAnd that's a problem, I think, in terms of the idea of binding the wounds and bringing the country together, one that's reinforced where a lot of host Republicans, when they go back home, that's all they hear that makes the task governing a little more difficult.
REHMJim, is that your position that you feel that you can believe in absolutely nothing the president has to say?
JIMI don't agree with his policies. That's all. And my last comment I would make is, well, actually I should go a little beyond that. I don't agree with his policies, and I can see what he's doing. He is -- he's demonizing the other side. He's judging motives. And I think Rubio, who's, you know, he's not the designee. He was on there. He did an OK job with the response, and he called Obama on it, I think.
JIMHe said, look, don't judge our motives. Just because we don't agree with your policies doesn't mean we want to push grandma off the cliff. And I think that a lot of people are susceptible to the kind of arguments Obama makes when they're going to get something for it. And when the bad guys, i.e. the people who pay the bills, can be demonized so easily, it's a very, very difficult political situation.
REHMAll right. Thanks for calling.
MARCUSI understand the caller's frustration. I thought, actually, there was -- the president has done some of the demonizing in the past. I thought there was little to none of that last night, and I was actually particularly struck in his opening when he talked about the State of the Union. He talked about how he and Congress had worked together to clear away the rubble left by the economic crisis. I do want to make one quick point disagreeing with my friend, Byron, who I think was slightly unfair to the White House's position on taxes.
MARCUSTheir position wasn't that you couldn't raise money through tax reform. It was that you couldn't raise enough money through tax reform. Think there's a very legitimate question about whether they squandered their opportunity to get all of that done together, but they wanted to do -- they have always wanted to do both. They've always wanted both to raise the rates on the higher income earners and then to do -- to raise additional revenue through tax reform.
REHMAll right. To Dallas, Texas. Good morning, Karen.
KARENGood morning. How are you?
KARENHi. I am a parent of four children. I'm in the DSW area. In response to the education portion of the speech, which I didn't have a chance to listen to but I have been catching up on headlines, I just wanted to say that in our district, if we go privately, it cost $4,000 for our children to go to preschool on average. If they go through the school system, they have to pay $6,000. And as a middle-class parent -- imagine four children, multiply those numbers -- it's a college education before they even get started.
KARENSo as a parent, knowing how important even a preschool education is for the beginning of their educational career -- and I do think of it that way -- I believe even just starting to look at it and starting to talk about how our schools, as a nation, getting a good start that way 'cause they need this start in order to even get started with kindergarten, it's just so much more education that we had as kids. It only leads to higher education, better jobs later, and it will only improve our nation as a whole.
REHMAnd that was the president's point precisely, Byron.
YORKWell, it's a crazy situation where going the private route cost you $4,000 and going to public route cost you $6,000. That's nuts. And here again, it is something that I think Rubio addressed and Eric Cantor addressed. And there are -- the two sides have these different positions on education.
REHMWhat did you feel any softening between those two sides last night?
YORKNo. I don't think so.
YORKI think the president was looking for areas where he actually could do stuff, I mean, to change the subject on guns. He picked the things that we've had these discussions since Newtown. And some possibilities have emerged like universal background checks, it have a chance. And some have emerged like the assault weapons ban, it didn't have a chance. And he picked the things that had a chance and said, well, let's just do those. So, no, I didn't see any real change in position.
ORNSTEINYou know, Michael Gerson, who's been a critic of Obama, wrote this morning that -- how encouraged he was by the immigration issue that he did not try to polarize or demonize on that one. On the education issue, we have a dilemma here. We know that this is an investment in the future. We know it's a good thing to do. It cost a lot of money. How are you going to do this? You can't, as an earlier caller suggested, foist it off on the states when they're struggling to pay for it themselves.
ORNSTEINAre we going to have a vast new pile of money that will go into federal money that will go into education and preschool education? Probably not. Now, can you find some common ground here? Republicans like Eric Cantor want to have a tax credit to enable people to send their kids to private schools, more support on that front. Maybe you could find a way of doing this, but any way of doing it, whether it's through additional tax credits or through spending, is going to cost money. And that's where the president is saying this isn't going to cost a dime has to be answered.
REHMHe also talked about the huge debt that young people coming out of college have.
MARCUSRight. A college affordability is actually something that we're hearing a lot. I have a child who's going to college next year, so I can tell you we think a lot about college affordability. And it is actually one of those areas of common agreement between the two parties that this is a problem. The president talked about...
MARCUS...about score cards. You know, I'm all for transparency. I'm all for that. I guess I have a little bit of a question about the degree to which the federal government can really have an impact here. Though I thought it was pretty powerful last night when Sen. Rubio talked about how he graduated from college with $100,000 of debt that he had just managed to pay off.
REHMAll right. To Stillwater, Okla. Good morning, Victor.
VICTORHello, Diane Rehm. This is amazing to be a speaker on your show. I've listened to you for so long, and I really appreciate what you are doing for our country, ma'am.
REHMIt's good to have you with us. Thank you.
VICTORMy question -- and I can take the answer off the air to give other people time to leave their questions -- is simply this. I noticed Mr. Rubio last night in his response to Mr. Obama's speech. In a statement he said that the government caused the banking meltdown. And I assume he was -- assume, you know, this sort of saying like, oh, the Obama government, right? And I said to myself, wait a minute, what about the bankers? Didn't they have something to do with it?
MARCUSI took that piece of Sen. Rubio's speech differently. I thought he was referring to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in promoting a lot of borrowing that should not have happened. And there's a serious debate about the degree to which their role -- how much role they played in the crisis versus others in the crisis. And I have to say, I thought that his explanation of the crisis was a little bit tilted towards just blaming that one piece of the government.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Do you want to comment, Byron?
YORKI agree entirely with that.
REHMOK. And to a caller here in Washington, D.C. Andrew, you're on the air.
ANDREWGood morning. Thank you for having me on the show.
ANDREWI was wondering, last night I noted that President Obama focused on equality in his gay messages, giving people an equal chance just as he did in his inaugural address, but he didn't focus so much on the LGBT community. And I was wondering if you thought that that might be something to focus on in a later State of the Union Address or maybe he isn't quite ready to tackle that if that's why he didn't really go into that so much.
REHMHe didn't mention it specifically, but he did say, no matter who they like.
MARCUSRight. He talked about the -- exactly right, Diane. He talked about the freedom to love. I have my eye on the Supreme Court and particularly on the question of whether the administration which is involved in one of the two cases before the Supreme Court, the one challenging the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act. But there's another case from California, that if the president wanted to and the administration chose to, they could intervene on.
MARCUSAnd that would address the question of whether the president still believes that the issue of whether to allow marriage should be up to the states or whether -- allow same-sex marriage, or whether the Constitution demands a bit of marriage equality for gay and lesbian Americans as it does for African-Americans as the Supreme Court decided in 1967 in the Loving case. I think it'll be really interesting to see if he -- if the administration decides to get involved in the California case.
YORKHe also mentioned in terms of the military, he said, we will ensure equal treatment for all service members and equal benefits for their families, gay and straight, which is moving beyond don't ask, don't tell to a much larger area.
ORNSTEINYou know, what I find so interesting here is the president came late to the support for gay marriage. He has now so thoroughly integrated this into his life and his speeches. Andrew Sullivan has made this point, I think, very powerfully that now it just is a natural element of it. And if he didn't emphasize policies here so much, although he did mention them, the fact that he talked about gay and straight together is a great difference from any previous president, and it's a real change in culture and a change in him.
REHMDo we know how many Supreme Court justices were actually absent last night?
ORNSTEINI saw six there, which doesn't mean the camera didn't panned them all, but all four Democratic-appointed justices were there. Chief Justice Roberts who had a seemingly warm exchange with the president as he came in...
YORKHe's got to be his favorite justice, I would think.
MARCUSWell, they got it right this time on oath.
ORNSTEIN...well, for now, I'm not sure -- yeah. I'm not sure how long that will last. And Justice Kennedy who towered above the others.
REHMYou know what I find fascinating about all of this including our callers' comments is that everybody is looking for something to hear. They want to hear something in particular. If they don't hear it, the speech wasn't good enough. If they do hear it and don't like it, the speech was terrible. I find it fascinating and a continuation of the two-year long political campaign for the presidency that we've just gotten passed. Thank you all for being here. Norm Ornstein, Ruth Marcus, Byron York. And thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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