President Obama Pauses To Focus On Tucson

President Obama heads to Tucson Wednesday to speak at a memorial for victims of Saturday's mass shooting. NPR's political editor Ken Rudin and former presidential speech writers David Frum and Paul Glastris talk about what a president is expected to say in a time of national tragedy.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington.

Every Wednesday, we open this program with quips about the week in politics as we introduce Political Junkie Ken Rudin. This isn't a day for quips.

President Obama goes to Tucson today to address a memorial service for the six killed there on Saturday. In a few minutes, we'll talk with two former presidential speechwriters about the challenges of such a moment, what we expect of a president in these circumstances, what we want to hear.

And, of course, we will review this past week: an historic new mayor in San Francisco, a former House majority leader sentenced to prison and continued battles within the Republican Party over the CPAC conference and the next head of the Republican National Committee.

Later in the program, we'll look ahead to the conference on "America's Next Chapter," with Tavis Smiley and Cornel West. But first, Political Junkie Ken Rudin joins us, as usual, here in Studio 3A.

We will have a trivia question, but Ken, we have to start with the attack on a member of Congress on Saturday and with the response to that.

KEN RUDIN: Well, yes. And I like - I think all the listeners should know that we've talked about this a lot, and what kind of a tone we should have for this week's show. And everybody in Washington - forget Washington, the rest of the country - is just, just mournful and just still in shock over the tragic events of Saturday morning. I mean, it's just so incomprehensible.

And unfortunately, it becomes political. People decide that it becomes political. And we saw, in the early moments on Saturday, that almost everywhere in the Twitter world and on Facebook and things like that, it was Sarah Palin's fault. It was the Tea Party's fault, and...

CONAN: Oh, no, no, no. They had - then they had Democratic strategists with targeting charts, and it was somebody else's fault.

RUDIN: But I'm saying, but the point - I was going to get to that, too. But the point is, everybody was blaming everybody. Everybody was pointing fingers at everybody.

And yes, you know, the shooter, of course, was someone with mental problems who does not seem to be politically - it's not that he went to a Tea Party rally or a DNC rally or anything like that. It's not that he sits and watches Fox or MSNBC.

But everybody did whatever they could to make this play politically, to make it play out according to their own political views. Okay, we agree with that. A lot of people overreached, and shouldn't have.

But having said that, it was interesting(ph) to me to watch Sarah Palin's reaction. And again, we talk about Sarah Palin, not - go ahead, I'm sorry.

CONAN: I was just going to say, we have a cut of tape of this. You're talking about her video presentation today?

RUDIN: Well, even before we got to today's video presentation, I mean, basically, remember, she was one who - she, you know, went over the 20 crosshairs of the targeted districts of Democrats in conservative areas who voted for President Obama's health care bill. So Gabrielle Giffords was among those so-called targeted.

You know, we keep using these words bull's-eyes and targeted, and we've been using that kind of rhetoric for years.

CONAN: The metaphor is quite common.

RUDIN: Yes. And as Gabrielle Giffords said, at the time, said this could have consequences. Is it fair to draw a connection between the shooting on Saturday? And that, I say no.

But I was very interested in the Palin reaction, and so was everybody else, because let's face it. On her Facebook page, she took - she said, look. This had nothing with - it had nothing to do with violence. It was just - and one of her aides the other day said it was surveyors' marks. It wasn't really crosshairs. Yet they took it down from their website. And so I wanted to see what Sarah Palin's reaction was.

So she sent an email the other day to Glenn Beck, which was almost like a "Wizard of Oz" kind of thing, you know, not coming public, and everybody was demanding that she had something to say. And then she came up with this video today.

CONAN: Sarah Palin released a video, saying that rhetoric cannot be blamed for the incident.

(Soundbite of video)

Ms. SARAH PALIN (Former Republican Governor, Alaska): Journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence that they purport to condemn. That is reprehensible.

CONAN: And Ken, we do need to point out there were charts on the Democratic side that also used crosshairs. Daily Kos pulled down one of their charts. Their editor had been talking about that Giffords was dead to me after she...

RUDIN: No, absolutely.

CONAN: The rhetoric comes on both sides.

RUDIN: And remember, President Obama said something, I think it was about health care. He said if they bring a knife to this fight, we'll bring a gun. Everybody uses those words.

But first of all, an aside here, first. Sarah Palin talks about blood libel. Either she doesn't know that that's a historic anti-Semitic slur - I don't know what else you'd call it - about how Jews would eat the blood of Christian children because of their religious rituals and things like that. She either had no idea what blood libel meant, or she did know. And both sides of that coin disturbs me.

But again, she was very remorseful. I think her tone was right in the video. It's about a seven-and-a-half-minute video. You can see it on YouTube.

But the fact is that the rhetoric is ugly. You know, she said, you know, she dismissed the fact that it was - oh, it's been uglier than ever. It is uglier than ever, and it'll be a very interesting contrast to listen to Sarah Palin today in the video and President Obama tonight in Tucson.

CONAN: Well, more about that later in the program. We'll talk about tone and what's expected of a president at a moment of national mourning. But, well, let's get back to regular events. We do have a trivia question.

RUDIN: Okay, again, the listeners should know that we even talked about whether we should do that or not because - but okay, so we're staying away from Tucson and the tragedy. This is a completely non-Tucson-related trivia question.

But in other news, Edwin Lee has just been appointed mayor of San Francisco. He's the city's first Asian-American mayor. So here's a two-part trivia question here: Who was the first Asian-American elected mayor of a major U.S. city, and who was the first Asian-American appointed to the Cabinet? You must have both to win.

CONAN: So again, if you think you know the answer to this week's trivia question, the first Asian-American elected mayor of major U.S. city and also the first Asian-American appointed to the presidential Cabinet, you must have both to win, give us a call: 800-989-8255. Email: talk@npr.org. And, of course, the winner gets a fabulous, no-prize T-shirt.

And Ken, some political news out of the past: a money laundering conviction for the former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay down in Texas.

RUDIN: Right. He was sentenced to three years in prison, and it remains to be seen whether he will go to prison. The appeals process will be very long. No such person in congressional history, a leader in that position, or former leader, has ever gone to prison.

The facts are: In 2002, Tom DeLay raised some with his PAC, got some corporate money, about $190,000, gave it to the RNC. The RNC then sent it to Texas state legislative candidates, who were elected in 2002. Republicans won an historic victory in Texas in 2002. One controlled the legislature, that allowed the legislature, in a very controversial move in 2003, to redraw the district lines, redistricting in the middle of the decade, which rarely, if ever, happens.

And, of course, Tom DeLay got a bunch of Republican seats out of that. But it is against the law in Texas to use corporate funds in campaigns, and that's what convicted him, and that's what could send him to prison.

CONAN: So this was a state trial, not a federal trial.

RUDIN: It was a state trial, exactly. Texas state law bars corporate funding of finances.

CONAN: We mentioned an historic mayor in San Francisco, how is so?

RUDIN: How is he?

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: How so? They pay me big bucks to talk on the radio.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: Well, he is the first Asian-American member, mayor of San Francisco. His name is Edwin Lee. He's 58 years old. He is a city administrator. He was appointed because Gavin Newsom, the mayor of San Francisco, was elected lieutenant governor. And so Edwin Lee will fill out the last - the final year.

I don't know why, again, I think of tragedies at a time like this. But, of course, the last mayor of San Francisco who was appointed, if you go back, was Dianne Feinstein, who was appointed after George' Moscone's assassination in 1978.

CONAN: And we have some people on the line who think they know the answer to this week's trivia question, the first Asian-American to be elected mayor of a major American city. Also, you need both: the first Asian-American appointed to the president's Cabinet. 800-989-8255. Email: talk@npr.org.

Eric calling us from Norwich, Connecticut, where I'm sure he's buried under a foot or more of snow.

ERIC (Caller): Yeah, we're plowing right now. Gary Locke from Olympia, Washington.

RUDIN: Well, Gary Locke was elected - let's see. He was mayor of Olympia, and he was governor of Washington, but he was not the first Asian-American mayor of a major city.

ERIC: Okay, thanks.

CONAN: And good luck with the snowplow, Eric.

RUDIN: Good luck.

CONAN: Let's see if we can go next - and this is to Christina(ph), Christina with us from Berkeley.

CHRISTINA (Caller): Hi. Yeah, Jean Quan is the mayor of Oakland.

RUDIN: That's true. She is the first - she was elected in 2010. But again, she is not the first Asian-American elected, major city.

CHRISTINA: Oh, okay. Thanks.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Christina. And let's see if we can go next to - this is Birmingham, Alabama, and Jeremy.

JEREMY (Caller): Hi. My guess is Norman Mineta, who was mayor of San Jose and also commerce secretary and transportation secretary.

RUDIN: Well, that's the correct answer.

CONAN: Ding, ding, ding.

RUDIN: I tried to make it tricky, looking for two separate answers, but of course, Norm Mineta was both the first Asian-American mayor, major city, and the first member of the Cabinet.

CONAN: All right, Jeremy. We'll put you on hold and wish you our congratulations. You have to promise to take a digital picture of yourself in your brand-new, no-prize T-shirt so we can post it on our wall of shame.

JEREMY (Caller): Absolutely. Thank you so much.

CONAN: Thanks very much. And Ken, we'll get Jeremy's particulars and arrange to send him the T-shirt. In the meantime, there is still some consternation within the Republican Party. We're expecting later in the week, finally, news of who's been elected to chair the RNC. And, of course, Michael Steele, the incumbent, trying to hang on to that job.

RUDIN: Well, and he's still trying, and he does have a shot, I guess. But the odds-makers - I love odds-makers. I love when they predict things, because we've always been wrong on everything. But they say that Reince Priebus, who's the chairman of the Wisconsin - the chairman of the Wisconsin Republican Party, is the favorite.

They won the Senate seat. They won the governorship. They won two House seats, picked up two, new, more House seats. But Michael Steele is desperately trying to retain the seat. One-hundred-sixty-eight members of the RNC will vote on Friday. You need 80, just a majority, to win it.

I think Michael Steele was elected on the sixth or seventh ballot in 2009. So this could go several ballots, but most people say that Michael Steele has a strong, a very uphill battle to get a second term.

CONAN: And in the meantime, just a few years ago, the CPAC conference emerged as the big conservative gathering in mid-winter. And now, well, that's come under controversy.

RUDIN: Well, it has, and again, you know, this should be the time when conservatives are celebrating. They got a tremendous victory in the House, the 2010 election, the state legislatures.

But there was a gay Republican group called GOPround - the P is part of the Proud - that will have basically a - they're a participating organization and a vendor at CPAC's rally next month in the Washington area, and a lot of conservative groups, like the Heritage Foundation, like the Family Research Council, social conservative groups saying if you're going to have a pro-gay group, we're boycotting it.

So there is, you know, a little battle between the libertarian and social conservative wings of the GOP.

CONAN: And makes it interesting which putative presidential candidate may speak and which will not.

RUDIN: Well, they're coming. I mean, Haley Barbour, Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry - now Rick Perry suddenly appears on a possible presidential list...

CONAN: The governor of Texas.

RUDIN: Right. Those guys will be there. Mitt Romney will be there, as well.

CONAN: All right. NPR political editor Ken Rudin, with us in Studio 3A, as he is every week. Stay with us. We'll be talking when we come back about the big political news of the week. President Obama heads to Tucson today. When we come back, we'll talk with former presidential speechwriters about what we expect of a president in these moments.

And, well, we want to hear from you about what you want to hear. 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org.

Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington.

Political Junkie Ken Rudin is here, as he is every Wednesday. You can read his column and download his podcast, solve his ScuttleButton puzzle, all that at npr.org/junkie.

Tonight, President Obama assumes the role of consoler-in-chief. He'll speak in Tucson at a memorial to honor the victims of Saturday's mass shooting. The White House says only that the president will focus on the memories of those lost.

In moments like these, many Americans look to the president to reassure and unify the country - no easy job in this sharply divided political climate. It'll be the second time he's been called upon to speak after tragedy, the first after Army Major Nidal Hasan allegedly shot and killed 13 people in Fort Hood, Texas, in November 2009. And here's what the president had to say on that occasion.

President BARACK OBAMA: For history is filled with heroes. You may remember the stories of a grandfather who marched across Europe, an uncle who fought in Vietnam, a sister who served in the Gulf. But as we honor the many generations who have served, all of us, every single American, must acknowledge that this generation has more than proved itself to be equal of those who have come before. We need not look to the past for greatness because it is before our very eyes.

CONAN: What do you want to hear tonight from the president? 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also leave a comment on our website. That's at npr.org, click on TALK OF THE NATION.

David Frum, now the editor of the Frum Forum and, as we mentioned, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, he joins us here in Studio 3A. David, nice to have you with us.

Mr. DAVID FRUM (Editor, Frum Forum): Thank you.

CONAN: And also with us in Studio 3A is Paul Glastris, now editor-in-chief of the Washington Monthly, former speechwriter for President Clinton. And Paul, nice to have you back on TALK OF THE NATION.

Mr. PAUL GLASTRIS (Editor-in-chief, Washington Monthly): Nice to be here.

CONAN: And how do presidents see a moment like this? I mean, as soon as something happens like this, somebody's got to be starting to think about what is the president going to say.

Mr. GLASTRIS: Well, the first thing they think about is the Gettysburg Address, and it was sort of the (unintelligible) text of memorials like this, and it was 272 words long. So the first thing they're thinking about is, you know, how can I write something that is brief, memorable, appropriate, has aspects of Biblical recognition and also speaks to, if not too directly, both the politics and the emotions of the moment.

CONAN: And David Frum, that may be the model. I don't think anyone has come close to its brevity.

Mr. FRUM: No, well, also, Lincoln really did say some astoundingly shocking things. And it's good for him there were no focus groups or polls. I mean, the second inaugural address where he tells the nation that's about to win the war that, by the way, all the casualties we took, we deserved them, it was our fault, the gods' just punishment on the country.

I mean, I don't think that would focus-group real well. The dangerous temptation that exists in these speeches, and I think President Clinton succumbed to a little bit in 1995, is the temptation to steal a base.

CONAN: You're talking about Oklahoma City.

Mr. FRUM: Oklahoma City. The temptation to steal a base, to make a political point in the context of a mourning speech. President Clinton, he spoke in very general terms, he spoke about angry voices, and of course, that's - I mean, Timothy McVeigh was in the grip of a radical ideology. But his political opponents were not wrong to her that that was a remark directed at them, as well.

I expect President Obama to resist the temptation to do that because, as we can - there isn't - whereas Timothy McVeigh genuinely was in the grip of an extreme ideology, this killer in Tucson seems to be in the grip of psychotic delusion, as best as we can tell.

CONAN: Or if he was, we certainly don't know it.

Mr. FRUM: Yeah, but he also - I mean, psychotics can have politics, too, but that's not the thing that drives them to kill. They are killing because of organic diseases of the brain, basically.

CONAN: And Paul Glastris, at Fort Hood, again a different situation, nevertheless, the president spoke, well, at great length about those we had lost. He used the biographies of those who'd been killed.

Mr. GLASTRIS: Yes, and all indications are he'll do the same this time and appropriately so. This, remember, is a eulogy. This is a memorial service. And I agree with David, there is no percentage or wisdom in trying to inject some politics into this.

It's sort of all around the speech and he's probably going to have to somehow hint at it, that this is a you know, evoke the term civility just so that he's touched the base, rather than, you know, as David aptly said, stealing it. But this is a eulogy, and he should be talking about those who have fallen.

CONAN: And Ken - excuse me, David, go ahead.

Mr. FRUM: If the president, not on the mourning speech, but if afterwards he wants to say something that is relevant to what caused this crime - there's a lot to say about the paranoid tone of our politics, and I've said it, and I would agree with probably a lot of what the president would want to say.

But if you want to make a substantive point about this crime, that substantive point is about the terrible state of American mental health services. That we could be as - everybody could be as polite and as un-paranoid as possible, but the fact is if people with these terrible mental ailments, which we're getting better and better at doing something about, go untreated, this person was known, and that, if you want to make a substantial point, that's the point to make.

CONAN: And Ken Rudin, I wanted to ask, the president, after what he admitted was his shellacking in November, he had something of a comeback in December, but nevertheless, just by appearing at this moment, making an address that is non-political, doesn't the president, sad to say, you know, he's not stealing a base, but he reminds people who he is.

RUDIN: Well, he should. And you kind of think that Bill Clinton almost re-righted his presidency in that Oklahoma City speech because we were talking about whether he was relevant or not, as a matter of fact, he talked about whether he was relevant or not. And somehow he - the course was reset after Oklahoma City.

But I'm wondering, you know, regarding both David and Paul, I mean, we keep talking about what happened after 9/11, that somehow our country would come back together and the civility would return. But we know that...

CONAN: In unity of purpose.

RUDIN: In unity of purpose. But we do know that, you know, they're going to be fighting over the health care bill. It was supposed to have been today, but it was canceled because of the horrific events in Tucson. But don't we think that rhetoric, that anger, that demonizing the opponents is going to start again once we start talking about health care all over again?

Mr. FRUM: Well, look, there are a lot of ways to do vigorous politics without crossing the line. And I think the example of this is the game Americans love to watch is football. And that's a pretty rough game.

But the whole country united to condemn that coach who tripped the player who was running off the field because that's something you don't do, even in a game where smashing people in the face is considered perfectly an okay thing to do.

In the same way, there are a lot of negative things to say about the president's health bill, a lot of reasons to call for radical changes in that bill without suggesting that he's deliberately trying to kill disabled children.

CONAN: Here's some emails of what listeners want the president to hear or hear from the president tonight, this from Rick(ph): President Obama, since he's already committed to attend, should not speak at the Tucson memorial. His presence and silence would be eloquent, and he could not be criticized as an attempt to make political capital.

This from Dennis(ph) in San Antonio: Regarding the president's visit to Arizona today, I'd like to hear some mention of the need to bolster the availability of community mental health clinics and in-patient facilities. This country has a shocking lack of resources for those in need of psychiatric services. David Frum's point just a moment ago.

And let's see if we can go next to - this is Rich(ph), Rich with us from Rochester, New York.

RICH (Caller): I would like for him to talk about all that, but I think what he can also talk about is the heroics of the community there, with all the things that are going on how that community has come together. When they had to, they just came together. The fact that the intern looks like he's from Mexican heritage and the people - none of that was important.

With all this, the rift that's going on, when it comes down to it, the heroics of the American people, when the rubber meets the road, a lot of this stuff is just pushed to the side and, you know, just people were coming out of the store.

There was a guy who - I think about the gentleman who came out of the store who was carrying a gun, and when he was interviewed on TV, I forgot the young man's name, he realized the importance of him - it wasn't important that he was carrying a gun. He didn't want to get into that. He wanted to talk about the situation.

And just how these people did come together with the divergent thinking and the divergent views, I think that would be very powerful for him to talk about that piece.

CONAN: And Paul Glastris, in addition to those who were killed and injured, would you expect the president to acknowledge the young man who raced to the congresswoman's aid and maybe helped save her life and also the two people who tackled the shooter?

Mr. GLASTRIS: Absolutely. You know, we think of the fourth plane at 9/11, that was crashed in Pennsylvania as a result of the passengers themselves taking...

CONAN: Let's roll.

Mr. GLASTRIS: Yeah, let's roll. So this is a wonderful chance to celebrate the role, the direct role that citizens can play in moments of crisis.

CONAN: All right, thanks very much for the call, Rich. Let's see if we can go next to - go to, this is Kathleen(ph), Kathleen with us from Dayton.

KATHLEEN (Caller): Yeah, I mean, I think it's pretty obvious that President Obama has to focus on the people who were killed and also the people who were injured. And then for the rest of us, you know, we - and Obama at a later point to focus on the proximity of the killer, the clips in the gun, you know, gun laws.

I mean, so - but I want to ask David Frum is, why are there different standards for hate speech (technical difficulties) for Muslims, for imams, and yet we can have Sarah Palin backing these guys, you know, throwing out hate speech, and somehow it doesn't matter? So that double standard really gets under my skin.

Mr. FRUM: Well, I'm not sure I understand the question. That...

KATELYN: Well, my question is I'm hearing a lot of Republicans and Sarah Palin saying that the crime, the criminal is a person - is what to focus on, and that we shouldn't examine all these other issues as well as the hate speech and the inflammatory rhetoric used by those on the right.

Mr. FRUM: Okay, I get you. Got it. Well, let me say this. After the 9/11 attacks, there was an enormous debate about how much culpability inhered in those people - not so much American Muslims who have a tradition of civic participation, but speech imported from other parts of the world where these imams are giving these horrific remarks and saying terrible things and calling for death. And I think - as I was - I remember being very involved on those debates. It took some weeks for all of that connection to come together. In retrospect, it happened in the twinkling of an eye.

But in the beginning, in the immediate aftermath, there are people in the White House who actually had said some pretty awful things, and they got invited to these things. It took a political system that was unfamiliar with it some time to sort it out.

I think one of the reasons why the debate has been so intense this week is not because Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck feel completely self-confident that nobody has any right to criticize them, but precisely because they do not feel so completely self-confident.

CONAN: And tweets on opposite sides. This from - well, I'm not sure who it's from, but: Respect the legal process. Don't jump to conclusions about the alleged shooter's motives, mental state or influences. So that's a suggestion from one tweeter.

And this from madcow7: If President Obama doesn't specifically denounce rhetoric like Second Amendment remedies on political discourse, I'll be disappointed - that a reference to something that former Nevada...

RUDIN: Sharron Angle.

CONAN: ...senatorial candidate Sharron Angle had to say.

Is this such a moment, Paul Glastris, do you think?

Mr. GLASTRIS: I don't think so. I think that it's taken us a few days to - as David said, the process needs to bear - to work its way out. Look, you have Sarah Palin having put a piece of graphic out there with a gun site over this congresswoman's district...

CONAN: And many others.

Mr. GLASTRIS: ...and then the congresswoman herself on national TV saying this is dangerous, and then the congresswoman getting shot. It's not - to be - it is to be expected that we would begin to question whether there's a causal relationship there. But as we now - from the best we can tell right now, if there's a causal relationship, we'll probably never know it, because this fellow was probably mental ill, and you just can't. So I don't think the president, in this case, has a responsibility to make that connection.

CONAN: Ken?

RUDIN: Well, I was going to say, if memory serves, what Bill Clinton did in 1995, he gave that very eloquent speech about mourning the deaths at the Murrah Building, but then in a separate address...

CONAN: That's right.

RUDIN: ...he talked about right - well, he - even said rightwing journalists. He just said hate speech on talk radio, or something. So those were two separate events. Is that correct?

Mr. GLASTRIS: That's exactly right. He gave it at a Michigan commencement address. And so the president can...

Mr. FRUM: You know, he did say something in the speech, too. He talked about angry voices in our culture...

RUDIN: Right. Right.

Mr. FRUM: ...in the actual funeral oration or the eulogy, and that was the thing I thought was stealing the base.

Mr. GLASTRIS: Well, I don't know that I agree, simply because you really did have an ideological killer here with connections to a movement, and - whereas in the case of this killer, we don't have those connections.

CONAN: Paul Glastris wrote speeches for President Bill Clinton, now editor-in-chief at The Washington Monthly. Also with us is David Frum, former speech writer for President George W. Bush, editor of the FrumForum. Of course, Political Junkie Ken Rudin is with us.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

And let's go next to Diane, Diane with us from Anchorage.

DIANE (Caller): Hi, gentlemen. So the point that I want to make is the president is going to - I'm hoping the president presents a narrative for the American people today. I think that will be most healing. For him to allude to the rhetoric, the violent rhetoric would be responsible, but I don't think this is the forum for a lot of talk about that. I'm looking for his surrogate to present that at the first minute afterwards, to hit that hard, because this is our moment. Most of us, ever since Sarah Palin went up on stage at the Republican convention in 2008, noticed that she was the beginning of the violent rhetoric, and the time to end that is now.

CONAN: Ken?

RUDIN: Well, I made a face when you said that, because only - I mean, as far as - I mean, she didn't talk about violence at the 2008 convention. And I do remember at the 2004 convention, pictures of George Bush walking around with the swastika and the Hitler mustache. So the rhetoric is getting worse and worse. I don't know if Sarah Palin is the - responsible for it. She made a - she may - again, the target list is what upsets everybody. But lock and reload, to me, those are not surveyor's marks.

Mr. FRUM: Well, let me - well, I think it's something we should be upset about. It's not people saying mean things about their political opponents. That is an eternal American practice.

RUDIN: Well, we demonize them now.

Mr. FRUM: Even - it's more the building of the case. I mean, when you suggest, for example, that when you say that George Bush, when you say -call him names, you don't risk, I think, undermining the society. What risks undermining the society is when you suggest a small band of political operatives, mostly Jewish, are responsible for getting the United States into an unpopular war. It's the construction of the logical case that is the thing on which paranoia and conspiracy thrives. In the same way, that - it's not the gun site that, I think, hurts our democracy. It is the construction of a narrative which President Obama is deliberately wrecking the American economy.

I mean, if that were true, if you believe that, then we have much more of a serious problem on it. We have malevolence in high office, not simply people with the wrong ideas failing to do the right thing.

I think what you said, Ken, was exactly - it's - on each turn of the wheel, it seems to get worse. The out party is always worse than the in party, and then there's a turn of the wheel, and the next cycle is even worse than the last. And that's driven by technology. I think it's also driven by some failures in our government. The government - we have not had successful governance in a long time.

CONAN: Paul Glastris, quickly: The president has another major speech, of course, the State of the Union in less than two weeks. Do you go for the big moment here? Do you go for the poetry?

Mr. GLASTRIS: At the State of the Union?

CONAN: No, tonight.

Mr. GLASTRIS: I think you do go for poetry here. The States of the Union are very hard to make poetic. There's a lot of material to get through. People don't go to States of the Union for uplift. They go to hear the plan of the government for the next year. You struggle to make - to give them lift. So I think now is the moment to, you know, carve something in marble.

CONAN: Paul Glastris, editor-in-chief of The Washington Monthly, thank you very much. Also our thanks to David Frum, now editor of the FrumForum. Of course, Ken Rudin, Political Junkie, will be here with us next Wednesday.

Earlier, we mentioned Gary Locke previously served as mayor of Olympia, Washington. He was, of course, a two-term governor of the state of Washington, now President Obama's secretary of commerce. However, he did not serve as mayor. We apologize for the error, and there's your correction.

Coming up next, Tavis Smiley and Cornel West will talk to us about "America's Next Chapter." Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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