In Party Politics, Who Exactly Is "The Base"?

Some hot-button issues, like gay marriage, are considered key to the political base of both parties. Former Republican congressman Vin Weber and Democratic pollster Anna Greenberg discuss who we mean when we talk about "the base," and what might motivate them in the 2012 elections.

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NEAL CONAN, host: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan at the Aspen Ideas Festival in the Grand Ballroom of the Hotel Jerome. Wedding bells and champagne in the Empire State. Blago packs for prison. And the art of compromise hits the debt ceiling. It's Wednesday and time for a...

President BARACK OBAMA: Let's get it done.

CONAN: edition of the Political Junkie.

President RONALD REAGAN: There you go again.

Vice President WALTER MONDALE: When I hear your new ideas, I'm reminded of that ad: Where's the beef?

Senator BARRY GOLDWATER: Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.

Senator LLOYD BENTSON: Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.

President RICHARD NIXON: You don't have Nixon to kick around anymore.

SARAH PALIN: Lipstick.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: But I'm the decider.

(SOUNDBITE OF SCREAM)

CONAN: Every Wednesday, Political Junkie Ken Rudin joins us to recap the week in politics. Governor Andrew Cuomo delivers on gay marriage after four Republicans break rank in Albany. Michele Bachmann announces her intentions in Waterloo, Iowa. The House won't support the president on Libya but won't cut off funds either. The debt ceiling talks hit the red line of taxes. Good news on Gabby Giffords.

In a few minutes, we'll talk with our regular insiders. Former congressman Vin Weber joins us here at the Aspen Ideas Festival, along with Democratic consultant Anna Greenberg in Washington, D.C., to talk about just who is the political base of the political parties as we go into 2012.

Later in the program, we'll talk with a former gang member in Chicago who's now interrupting violence. But first, Political Junkie Ken Rudin joins us from Studio 3A. And as usual, we begin with a trivia question. Hey, Ken.

KEN RUDIN: Hi, Neal, thank you for leaving me behind in Washington. That was very nice of you.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

RUDIN: Before we go to the trivia question, I have an announcement to make. President Obama at his news conference this morning, he talked about the - he was talking about the economy. He's talked about the previous 43 presidents. Now, as we know, Grover Cleveland was number 22 and number 24. So there were actually only previous 42 presidents. Barack Obama does not win a T-shirt this week. So I just wanted to point that out to America.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: Ken, your picture is up on a big screen here at the Aspen Ideas Festival, and people are throwing darts at it.

RUDIN: Not that picture, okay. Okay, well, anyway, the trivia question is: The conviction of Rod Blagojevich on Monday, 17 counts, which will likely end up in a jail term - I read that he could face 300 years in prison. I understand his lawyers are trying to get that sentence cut in half, which will be good.

But anyway, if Blagojevich goes to prison, that'll mean four recent governors of Illinois have gone to prison: Blagojevich, George Ryan, Dan Walker, Otto Kerner. Over the past 40 years, which state is in second place in governors or former governors sent to prison?

CONAN: If you think you know the answer to this week's trivia question - what state is in second place in governors or former governors sent to prison over the past 40 years - give us a call, 800-989-8255. Since we're on the road today, we're not going to take any emails, though we will take guesses from people in the audience. If you'd like to jump up to the microphone, help yourself. Again, 800-989-8255.

In the meantime, Ken, Andrew Cuomo for president in 2016?

RUDIN: Well, we did spend all of 1984 and 1988 waiting for Mario Cuomo to make up his mind. I don't know if we have Andrew Cuomo. But he did show a tremendous amount of profile in courage, and some might say that the president is lacking.

But on the same-sex marriage, Andrew Cuomo decided to put all of his political capital behind this. And what was so fascinating about this, to me at least, is that it was a Republican majority, a majority in the state Senate, that not only brought the bill up for a vote but passed it. And that's the first time in all - of the six states that have passed same-sex marriage, it's the first time a Republican legislature has passed it.

CONAN: Those who support marriage as one man and one woman point out that every time it has come up for a vote, straight up or down, it has never passed.

RUDIN: That is true, and 29 states have constitutional amendments against it. Another 12 states have laws opposing it. So to talk about momentum, yes, it does show that a recent Gallup Poll shows that a majority - a bare majority but a majority - of the American public for the first time supports same-sex marriage, but again as you say, every time it's on the ballot, it gets defeated. So to say whether this is momentum or not, it's obviously too soon to say.

CONAN: Speaking of momentum, Michele Bachmann took to her birth state to announce that she will officially run for president of the United States.

Representative MICHELE BACHMANN (Republican, Minnesota): Everything I need to know I learned in Iowa.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

BACHMANN: This is where my Iowa roots were firmly planted, and it's these Iowa roots and my faith in God that guide me today. I'm a descendant of generations of Iowans, and I know what it means to be from Iowa. I know what we value here.

CONAN: And Ken, which state holds the first caucus in the nation?

RUDIN: Colorado. Oh, no, no, no, it's Iowa. What a coincidence. No, it is Iowa, and what's fascinating about that is that, you know, we keep looking for the person with the momentum, with the big mo as we head towards the Iowa caucuses in February. But right now, Michele Bachmann seems to have it.

The June 13th debate in New Hampshire, she seemed to be the most engaging on stage. I mean, a lot of people are focusing on her gaffes, and she does have a bunch of those as well. But you know, as far as all the other candidates or at least the non-Mitt Romney candidates, Michele Bachmann seems to be hogging the attention.

CONAN: And it's interesting, as you look at the presidential poll, the preference poll there in the state of Iowa, well, it's - it's Mitt and Michele.

RUDIN: Right, right now - it's the first poll of the Iowa caucuses. It was Mitt Romney 23, Michele Bachmann 22. Herman Cain, I should say, third place with 10 percent. We should also point out that in the first Iowa poll in 2007, John Edwards led that for the Democrats. So obviously we have a long way to go. But it does show that Michele Bachmann is starting to make people sit up and take notice.

CONAN: And it's also important for the campaign of Tim Pawlenty, again from the neighboring state, he's not showing up so well.

RUDIN: Right. He has spent more money and more time than any other candidate in Iowa. He was hoping to be, again, as I say, the anti-Romney candidate. But in that poll - again, we're talking about polls so early in advance - but in that poll he finished sixth place behind Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul and Herman Cain, with six percent.

So again, this is still June, 2011, but it's not great news for Tim Pawlenty, who also may be having trouble raising money.

CONAN: And let's see if we can go now to the phones. We have some people on the line who think they know the answer to this week's trivia question, and again, that's following the conviction of Rod Blagojevich, four - if he goes to prison, that will mean four Illinois governors over the past 40 years. What state comes in number two with governors or former governors sent to prison?

RUDIN: High honor, very high honor.

CONAN: Very high honor. Let's see if we can go first - this is John(ph), and John's with us from, of all places, Waterloo, Iowa.

JOHN (Caller): Yes, and my guess would be Louisiana.

RUDIN: Well, that would be a good guess because of all the - the endemic corruption that goes on there, but only one governor in the past 50 years has gone to prison. That's Edwin Edwards, convicted of corruption, who still is in prison. But that's only one governor from Louisiana.

JOHN: Okay, thank you.

CONAN: We'll have to get - close that corruption gap. Let's see if we can go next to - this is Tracy(ph), Tracy with us from Oklahoma City.

TRACY (Caller): Hi. Before I answer, could I put a plug in for having Ken Rudin on there one whole hour every Wednesday? It just seems too short.

RUDIN: Yes, you can. Could you put the plug in now?

TRACY: Okay, okay, it's just always too short. I go into withdrawal. The rest of the political junkies around the country do too. My guess is going to be South Carolina.

RUDIN: Well, there was a lot of corruption in the state legislature, and there were a lot of folks who were defeated or recalled because of that, but no governor I can think of had gone to prison from South Carolina.

CONAN: One went on to the Appalachian Trail, though.

TRACY: Oh, darn it, and I got last week's, Mo Udall. Oh, well, I'll try again, thank you.

RUDIN: But the beginning of your statement was absolutely correct and accurate.

CONAN: Let's see if we go - there's somebody here at the mic in Aspen.

Unidentified Audience Member: My guess also was going to be Louisiana, but I'm obviously incorrect.

CONAN: Oh, well, thank you for that anyway, appreciate that. Let's go next to - this is Bob and Bob with us from Rochester - is this Rochester, Minnesota?

BOB (Caller): This is Bob Sixta(ph) from Rochester, Minnesota, and I also will put a plug in for Ken Rudin.

CONAN: All right. And let's put a stop to that right now, all right?

BOB: Okay. My guess is Arkansas.

RUDIN: Well, actually, no governor I could think of has gone to prison. Of course Jim Guy Tucker was convicted during the Whitewater thing, but because of health reasons, he served home detention, never went to prison, and I can't think of another governor who went.

CONAN: Ankle bracelets don't count. Another guess here on the mic in Aspen.

HARRY FISH (Audience Member): I'm Harry Fish(ph) from California.

RUDIN: Harry, what do you think about Ken Rudin on the show?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FISH: I'm going to decline to state. No, I love your show. I'm going to guess Connecticut.

CONAN: Connecticut, the Nutmeg State.

RUDIN: Not a bad guess. One governor, recent governor, did go to prison. That was John Rowland, the Republican, who was convicted on corruption charges. But again, only one governor of Connecticut has gone to prison. I'm looking for some state that has more than one governor who went to prison.

CONAN: And let's go to Alan(ph), Alan on the line from Chesapeake in Virginia.

ALAN (Caller): The answer is West Virginia.

RUDIN: And that is the correct answer.

CONAN: Ding, ding, ding. Congratulations.

RUDIN: I was going to say, two governors in the past 30 years ago: Arch Moore, the Republican, whose daughter is Shelley Moore Capito, congresswoman from West Virginia; and Wally Barron, a Democrat. So you have two governors from West Virginia who finished second place to Illinois.

ALAN: Yes.

CONAN: Well, stay on the line if you will, Alan, and we'll take down your particulars and promise to mail you a Political Junkie no-prize T-shirt in exchange for your promise to take a digital picture of yourself wearing said T-shirt and send it to us so we can post it on our wall of shame.

ALAN: Will do.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: Thanks very much, and congratulations.

ALAN: Thank you.

CONAN: In the meantime, we talked around it, Rod Blagojevich, this is a big win for the U.S. attorney, Patrick Fitzgerald in Chicago.

RUDIN: It is, especially after what happened last year. Of course, you know, he was up on - indicted on all these charges, and everything was deadlocked, and everybody complained that the government's case was too confusing, the jurors didn't know where to go.

But it was a much more streamlined case this time, and they got him, as I say, 17 out of 20 charges convicted.

CONAN: And Congressman Inslee wants to be Governor Inslee.

RUDIN: This is Jay Inslee. He's been around for a while, and there's an open governorship in Washington State. Christine Gregoire is not going to run for a third term. Now, that makes two new seats in Washington that are open, Jay Inslee's open seat and a new seat because of redistricting. And as we've said before, Dennis Kucinich of Ohio is looking for a district to run in. He's probably going to lose his seat in Ohio, and he's said to be looking in Washington State to run for Congress.

CONAN: And finally the vote on Libya. The House, a symbolic slap at the president but a slap nevertheless.

RUDIN: It is, but it was a mixed message. I mean, at the same time they would not vote to authorize the actions of the U.S. government in Libya, but at the same time, given the opportunity to vote against the funding of it, to cut off the funding, they voted against that as well. So kind of a mixed message.

CONAN: And we're going to talk about the debt ceiling crisis at it approaches later in the program. So stay with us, Political Junkie Ken Rudin there with us in Studio 3A in Washington. When we come back from a short break, we'll be talking about who is the political base.

Who's the political base in your party? Do they represent your views? 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. Anna Greenberg, a Democratic consultant, will be with us; and former Republican Congressman Vin Weber will join us here in Aspen. 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. I'm Neal Conan in Aspen, Colorado. We're at the Aspen Ideas Festival, and we'd like to thank all those who joined us today here at the Grand Ballroom of the Hotel Jerome.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

CONAN: Ken Rudin didn't make the trip out west, but it takes more than a five-hour flight to stop the Political Junkie. He's with us back in Studio 3A in Washington. If you'd like more Ken Rudin - we're not going to go on about that hour thing anymore - but if you'd like more Ken Rudin, go to our website, npr.org/junkie. There you can download his podcast, read his blog and solve that ScuttleButton puzzle.

But now we're going to focus on the political base. In the run-up to the 2012 campaign, candidates are often accused of playing to their base to score points. Who are we talking about? What motivates them in both political parties? Who's the base in your party? Do they represent your views?

We want to hear from Republicans and Democrats, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation at our website. Go to npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION. And we'll be taking questions and comments from people here in the audience in Aspen as well.

Joining us with Ken there in Studio 3A is Anna Greenberg, senior vice president at Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, a Political Junkie regular. Nice to have you with us as always, Anna.

ANNA GREENBERG: Thanks for having me.

CONAN: And here in Aspen, another TALK OF THE NATION regular, former congressman Vin Weber, now a Republic-- lobbyist and co-chair of Tim Pawlenty's presidential campaign. Has that been announced yet?

VIN WEBER: It hasn't actually been announced, but it's been referred to.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: It's been referred to. You're not going to deny it.

WEBER: I'm not going to deny it. An editorial comment, by the way, I'm a trustee of the Aspen Institute. Welcome to Aspen, and I hope you're here next year.

CONAN: Well, we hope we are too. Anna Greenberg, Andrew Cuomo clearly motivated part of the Democratic Party's very important political base when he got gay marriage through in Albany.

GREENBERG: That's right. He came into office, we think, with a lot of support from the LGBT community, and there was, I think, some disgruntlement early on in the administration around whether or not the issues that he had talked about in the campaign were acted upon.

But I think, you know, post-"don't ask, don't tell" and then with what's happened with Cuomo in New York, I think there is kind of renewed kind of energy for, you know, not just Cuomo but for the Democratic Party around LGBT issues.

And in fact today, in the president's press conference, he didn't come out and say that he supported marriage equality, but he came pretty darn close.

CONAN: After sort of fudging on it, though, in a speech in New York right after the bill passed.

GREENBERG: Yes, but he says he's evolving and thinks it's going to happen and supports it happening. He just hasn't come out explicitly and said it.

CONAN: And Vin Weber, gay marriage anathema to the Republican base.

WEBER: It is pretty much to the base of the Republican Party, but there was something significant in the development of the law in New York that at least you ought to pay a little attention to.

There was a very vigorous effort to lobby Republican legislators by the business community, largely out of New York City, many of whom are Republicans and including the former chairman of the Republican National Committee, Ken Mehlman, who is a close friend of mine and a gay American.

It doesn't mean that the grassroots of the party has changed its position, but I thought it was significant to see those business leaders coming forward, going to Albany, lobbying Republican legislators and getting enough votes to put it over the top.

CONAN: Because as Ken mentioned earlier, the state Senate is majority Republican. That bill could not pass without - it turned out it got four Republican votes. And that'll be interesting...

WEBER: But the base is still against it. Don't misunderstand.

CONAN: And New York is not Oklahoma.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GREENBERG: It's true that the Republican base is against it, but I think over time it's an issue that is less and less salient and intense for the Republican base and Republicans in general, unlike, for example, an issue like abortion, which I don't think in any way has lessened as an issue that motivates, you know, activists and Republican voters.

Even if you look at a group like Evangelicals, if you look at younger Evangelicals, a majority actually support some form of relationship recognition, maybe not marriage but at least domestic partnership. So I think over time this is an issue that's less and less motivating for Republican base voters.

WEBER: I think that's probably right. You know, we may find out, Neal, in my home state of Minnesota, you referred earlier with Ken to gay marriage amendments, marriage amendments on ballots. Minnesota will have a referendum on a marriage amendment on the ballot next year, put on there not by petition but by the state legislature. And it could well be the first state to actually defeat a marriage amendment defining marriage as between a man and a women. It could be a turning point in that referendum process.

CONAN: Ken?

RUDIN: But at the same time, remember what happened in Iowa in 2010. Yes, the courts did put same-sex marriage on the books, but then there was a successful recall election against three supreme court officials, three supreme court justices, because they voted in favor of same-sex marriage. So we can talk about views evolving and maybe more and more acceptance, but you know that the issue in Iowa in 2012 caucuses could very well be social issues like same-sex marriage, and the fact that Jon Huntsman, while he doesn't support same-sex marriages, supports civil unions, that is one of the most common criticisms you hear about his candidacy from other Republicans.

CONAN: And Michele Bachmann says she wants a constitutional amendment to define marriage as one man and one woman.

WEBER: Right. A federal amendment, right...TEXT: CONAN: Vin, is the Tea Party the base of the Republican Party?

WEBER: No, it's a big part of the base. I mean, the base of the Republican Party has traditionally, I would say, been small-business people who are primarily economically motivated and anti-tax folks, and that part of the base has grown substantially into what we now call the Tea Party. People are motivated by fiscal issues growing out of the spending of the last couple years, really motivated by the TARP bill, which was a Bush administration initiative, and then by the stimulus package in the Obama administration.

I like to point out to people in about a six-month period of time, between fall of 2008 and March of 2009, the Congress spent almost $2 trillion or a trillion and a half dollars, and that's kind of scared people and gave rise to the Tea Party.

But there still is also a substantial social conservative base, which has been growing in the party basically since the 1970s, when Evangelical conservatives in the south, particularly, as well as some conservative Catholics and others in the north, switched their allegiance from the Democratic to the Republican Party.

CONAN: And Anna, we talked about the LGBT community as part of the Democratic base. You think of the rest, a big part of the rest of it as labor.

GREENBERG: Labor for sure, but I think that the Democratic base is more diverse than the Republican base and in some ways as many challenges as the Republican base faces around Tea Party versus more moderate folks and what that means for their ability to either get elected nationally or deal with an agenda in Congress, I think Democrats have some of the same issues. So in addition to LGBT and labor, you have African-Americans, Latino voters, younger people, though they look a little shaky relative to where they were in 2006 and 2008, but also very well-educated voters, people with post-graduate education, very Democratic, especially women, so very well-educated women and also single women.

So Democratic base is actually really, really diverse. I want to make one point on the Tea Party, just to follow up on Vin's point. There's no doubt that a lot of sentiment that the Tea Party reflects or represents reflects a lot of what the Republican base is about, but it isn't just an organic, bottom-up, small-business reaction to big spending.

It's actually initially organized around cap-and-trade vote and funded by the Koch brothers, and it's not as organic as I think the press makes it out to be or they would represent themselves to be.

And so I'm not suggesting it doesn't represent sentiment and ideology that's in the Republican base, but it's not an organic, grassroots movement to the degree that I think it's been portrayed.

CONAN: All right, we can talk about that at greater length at another time. Anyway, let's get a caller on the line, and we'll go to Bob, and Bob's with us from New Market in Virginia.

BOB (Caller): Yes, thanks for having me. I would just like to make the comment that I feel that the bases aren't being represented in either party during the initial nomination process because they pander to the extremes of both sides.

I myself am a Republican, and lots of my Democratic friends are very frustrated with the lack of moderate discussion in the election.

CONAN: Vin Weber, are moderates part of the base?

WEBER: They're part of the party.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

WEBER: I mean, it depends on how you define the base in either party. I'm sorry to say - I don't want to be tough on the caller, but the base is those people that go to the caucuses in Iowa, in Minnesota, my state, and Utah and places that have caucuses; and people that vote in primaries in New Hampshire and places that they have primaries.

And for better or worse, the people that show up to vote in those, particularly caucuses but also to an extent in primaries, tend to be the more ideologically motivated people on both sides.

There is a big center in American politics. There's no question about that. The center is probably larger than the two parties. But they don't show up in the nominating process very much.

RUDIN: Can I just add something to that? And the person asked a good question. In 1999 and 2000, George W. Bush talked about compassionate conservatism. Those words are not heard in the battle for the 2012 nomination at all. And you think of what happened to his father when you talk about how important the base is, when George H.W. Bush promised, you know, read my lips, no new taxes, and then he reneged on it, the base turned on him in 1992. So obviously that base is - the candidates have to be very concerned about that conservative base.

WEBER: But it's also important to note historically, the most conservative candidates on the Republican side have not usually won the nomination, including the ones we were just talking about. There's always been a more conservative - going back to Reagan, who was challenged by Congressman Phil Crane from Illinois, H.W. Bush challenged by Pat Robertson, Bob Dole challenged by Phil Gramm, there is always a tendency to pull the party to the right, but usually the party does not choose the most right-wing candidate.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Bob. Anna, you were trying to get in there?

GREENBERG: Well, I mean, from the Democratic side, it's an interesting point because he said that there were Democratic people who were disgruntled and talked about moderates. I actually think it's an opposite problem on the Democratic side, which is that the base, which is more liberal, does not feel that they have - except, I think actually in particular on LGBT issues, actually feels somewhat left out of this and that Obama has been actually sort of, you know, particularly in the way he talks about the business community and bringing them into the conversation, has actually not pandered to the base. And there has been, I think, 2010 reflected some real demoralization within the Democratic base, which, I think, continues to this day. I think that Republican governors have gone a long way towards galvanizing Democrats in states that I thought, would be very hard for Obama to win again.

So Wisconsin is a state that I was quite worried about. I think that Scott Walker has done a lot for us in that state. I think Florida was a state that I was very worried about. I think Rick Scott has done a lot for us there. I think Ohio, I think Kasich. So I think that some of the problems of demoralization among Democrats who felt they were not being spoken to by this administration is actually being turned around, but not so much by the administration, but more by these Republican governors.

CONAN: We have an email to that point from Marian(ph) in Newport News who writes: Sometimes, they represent my views. I think of Barack Obama as a centrist while I'm a lefty, fan of Mother Jones and the Nation, but I have nowhere else to go in what is functionally a two-party system. And, Anna Greenberg, let me ask as a follow-up, does that give an incumbent president an advantage? He doesn't necessarily - as long as he doesn't have a challenge in the primaries, he doesn't have to play to the base. He can move to the center from the get-go.

GREENBERG: Absolutely. Incumbents have lots of advantages, and that's one of them. Others are the ability to fly around the country to lots of battleground states, and do things that are presidential before you actually have to run for office. I mean, I think there are lots and lots of built-in advantages for incumbents, but I do think that there is a real issue, you know, if you take certain groups like young voters, people under 30, the kind of Obama, you know, first-time voters, 66 percent of them voted for Obama in 2008.

In the congressional elections in 2010, 57 percent of people under the age of 30 voted Democratic. In the Virginia governor's race in 2009, a majority of young people voted Republican. So, while it is true that there's no place for people on the left to go if they are disgruntled that Obama has been too centrist, on the other hand, demoralization in the base matters when races are really close. So, I still think there is real work to do with the Democratic base, even if, at the end of the day, there's no one else for them to vote for.

CONAN: Vin?

WEBER: I just want to add quickly because that - Anna's point was the point I was going to make. But you hear this often on the Democratic Party. The left has nowhere else to go. The Republican Party, the far right, has nowhere else to go. Elections, close elections are decided by very small marginal changes in turnout. We're not talking about the whole progressive left deserting the president or the whole Christian right deserting the Republican candidate. We're talking about a slightly smaller turnout of one or two or three percent, or a percent or two decide they're going to write somebody in or something like that.

That's how close elections are changed, and that's why, in this discussion of the base, you can't sort of default to this position that, quote, "they have nowhere else to go."

RUDIN: Right. And...

CONAN: We're talking...

RUDIN: And also just quickly, think of the 97,000 people in Florida who voted for Ralph Nader in 2000, instead of Al Gore, and a lot of people say that that's what cost them, just those 97,000 people in Florida.

CONAN: Political junkie Ken Rudin; also with us, Anna Greenberg, a Democratic political campaign consultant; Vin Weber, who works as a lobbyist in Washington, D.C., co-chair of Tim Pawlenty's presidential campaign. That'll be announced soon. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. And let's go to - this is Joe, and Joe with us from Portland.

JOE (Caller): That's right.

CONAN: You're on the air. Go ahead, please.

JOE: Hi. Yeah, I would say that I would be broadly representative of the Democratic base, in that I think that government can do things. I think that the New Deal worked in many ways, and I think that rescuing the economy by both the Bush and the Obama administration, although unpopular, worked in many ways, and that that's a consensus among the Democratic base. At the same time as there are particular issues that maybe are sacred cows in the Democratic base that I don't agree with, and that may be more regional.

I come - I live in Portland, and there's maybe a consensus that's somewhat anti-Israel here. I'm a very firm supporter of Israel. So there are things like that that I can't get behind, but very broadly speaking, I can't imagine being anywhere except for the Democratic Party.

CONAN: Interesting that a government that does things, and that really brings us to the big political debate - and thanks very much for the call, Bob - that brings us to the big political debate that's going on right now in Washington, and that is over the debt ceiling, an obscure issue but it's taken on the ideological character of both parties. Anna, is it now a redline for Democrats, they're not going to agree to anything that doesn't include some sacrifice for the wealthiest and most prosperous among us?

GREENBERG: Well, I'm not in those talks and those negotiations, so I don't know what the redlines are for the people who are having those discussions. But I would argue that compromising on that issue basically leaves Democrats without really a narrative about what this is all about. Because if you look at the overall budget debate, both federally and the state level, and then the debt limit debate, there's actually a really important choice about how you balance the budget. It's all cuts, or it's, you know, doing something on the revenue side.

And if we, as Democrats, decide that, you know, we're going to take revenue off the table, I think that it basically cedes - it basically accepts the Republican terms of the debate that the only way you can balance the budget is through cuts. I think if you look, going back to what this caller just talked about, you look at something like the New Deal and other periods of time where, you know, we've actually raised taxes to get through, you know, tough times. You know, it has to be on the table as a policy issue.

It has to be on the table as part of the narrative about what this is all about. So, again, I'm not there. I have no idea what the redlines are, but I think it would be a huge mistake to take it off the table.

CONAN: So, Ken Rudin,for an hour and Anna Greenberg and the talks on the debt ceiling. Vin Weber, taxes, though, do seem to be, everybody - it seems they painted themselves in a corner. They can't - can they get out of this?

WEBER: It's very difficult on the Republican side, 235 members of the House of Representatives, almost all of them Republican, have signed a pledge not to vote to increase any taxes anywhere. I thought, at the beginning of this Congress, there was an opening to find a compromise that would include increased revenues as part of the deal based on the conceptual framework of the Simpson-Bowles commission, the president's deficit reduction commission, which put out a tax reform that did indeed raise taxes by plugging loopholes.

But it reformed taxes by bringing down marginal rates on corporations and individuals, and then broadening the base by plugging loopholes and ended up with, I think, a net $400 billion tax increase.

GREENBERG: And I would add, by the way... sorry.

WEBER: Unfortunately, you know, in fact - unfortunately, the discussion of the Democratic side went immediately to raising the top rate, which is the most difficult place to get Republicans to go, so I'm not optimistic about that.

CONAN: Anna, quickly.

GREENBERG: Well, I'm agnostic about where that revenue comes from to a certain degree, but I would just argue that this is not unpopular. Whether it's in national polls, looking at, you know, raising taxes on the wealthiest or at least some form of revenue over cuts, majority support. You look at a state like Minnesota where they're on the verge of a government shutdown over this issue, the governor's position, which is on raising taxes on the wealthiest Minnesotans, is much more popular than the all-cuts Republican budget. So this is an area where we shouldn't be ceding ground. We actually have some standing here.

CONAN: Anna Greenberg, there in Washington; Vin Weber, here with us at the Aspen Ideas Festival, thanks to you both, very much.

GREENBERG: Thank you.

WEBER: Great.

CONAN: And Ken Rudin will be back in Studio 3-A next week for another edition of The Political Junkie.

RUDIN: For the whole hour.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

RUDIN: Full hour.

CONAN: Full hour, full hour for The Political Junkie. Stay with us. Coming up next, a program in Chicago that turns former gang members into violence interrupters. Stay with us for that. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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