Week In Politics: Jobs; Economy

For a look at this week in politics, Robert Siegel talks to political commentators E.J. Dionne, a Washington Post columnist and fellow at the Brookings Institution, and David Brooks, a columnist for the New York Times.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host: And we'll hear about jobs and the economy now from our political observers, David Brooks of The New York Times and E. J. Dionne of The Washington Post and the Brookings Institution. Good to see you both.

E.J. DIONNE: Good to be with you.

DAVID BROOKS: Nice to see you.

SIEGEL: E.J., the White House now projects the growth this year to be under two percent, nine percent unemployment next year. Have we reached a point where this is an acknowledgement of failure or defeat in trying to deal with the recession?

DIONNE: I don't know about defeat yet, but if anyone doubted that we wasted the last eight months with our deficit obsession and if anyone doubted that the president needs to go very big next week in his jobs program, these numbers should solve it. Zero job growth, now that is not a headline President Obama wanted 14 months before the election. But more important, one American in six is either unemployed or underemployed. That's not a headline they wanted to see. I was really struck in today's jobs report, they noted that government employment continues to go down.

Local government employment alone has lost 550,000 jobs since September of 2008. That's a lot of people who can't buy goods and services. So, the stimulus actually made that better. You didn't lose as many. The stimulus is now running out and we just didn't do enough of it and we've got to do more.

SIEGEL: But David, John Ydstie left us with a question. Will the Congress be able to pass anything that President Obama proposes? The long answer?

BROOKS: I don't have a long answer. I have a short answer, which is no. You know, they have two fundamentally different views of what's causing the problem. The Republicans just think the stimulus didn't work and I doubt they're going to be very enthusiastic about anything more. One thing we've seen, though, from this month after month of this bad jobs numbers is this is not a quarter to quarter thing. This is a long term problem.

We've got an economy with too much consumption, too little production, too much debt, too much financial manipulation, too much reliance on housing stock and so we should have - if the president's going to go big, he should go long term and have a plan that addresses some of the long term issues and not worry quarter to quarter.

SIEGEL: But talking about different narratives of unemployment, you wrote today in your column about Rick Perry, that his aim is to make government inconsequential in people's lives - that's his word, inconsequential - to pare back the state, to revive personal responsibility and initiative. Is that in effect saying, private sector unemployment is the problem, public sector unemployment's part of the solution, as far as he's concerned?

BROOKS: Yeah, as far as he's concerned. His narrative, which may take him to the White House, by the way, is that over the last several decades and maybe going back to 1900, government has grown. It's taken resources out of the wealth-creating parts of the economy into the non-wealth creating parts of the economy. I think there's some truth to that. But if you're gonna rebuild human capital, if you're gonna create a production-oriented economy, if you're going to repair the social fabric, you need to do more than get government out of the way.

So I think his narrative is very partial, but it is a strong narrative, which may help him politically.

DIONNE: I think it's a very weak narrative. The notion that spending on education doesn't grow the economy and isn't productive, helping people go to college, helping people retire so they can buy goods and services, helping people have health care, these are productive investments. And guess what? I think most Americans think they are consequential, not inconsequential. There is a radical individualism that Rick Perry is selling that I think is very different from traditional American individualism, which accepts that we want our personal freedoms, but we accept that there are things we do in common better or well or we have to do them in common.

And so I think if Rick Perry wins the nomination, we are in for one of the great philosophical debates since 1964 when Barry Goldwater ran.

BROOKS: I would just say that if this long stagnation widens the range of the political possible, people are going to be upset with tinkering, you could go left with big spending or go right, as Rick Perry is...

DIONNE: I do agree, by the way, if unemployment is really bad, even Rick Perry can get elected president of the United States.

SIEGEL: David, what about the much narrower debate that would precede the grand one that E.J.'s talking about within the Republican primary field? What does Mitt Romney say about this? What's his answer to Rick Perry's narrative?

BROOKS: Well, right now, it's a very bad answer, which is that he's been in government too long and you should go with the guy who's in the private sector. I think the smart, the very daring attack, as a colleague of E.J.'s, Bill Galston, wrote is to defend Social Security, defend the New Deal. Rick Perry is really criticizing the entire New Deal. If Mitt Romney said, hey, I'm for scaling back government, but I'm not for scaling back Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, that would be popular.

It would really take some guts because it would go straight into the teeth of the Tea Party method. But I think it would probably work politically because those programs are reasonably popular.

DIONNE: And especially in a Republican electorate which is older than average. And in a lot of the interviews with Tea Party folks who are over 65, it turns out they rather like Social Security and Medicare and you wonder why.

ROBERT SIEGEL HOST: So here's the real question. If you had to give a televised address on jobs, would you rather go head-to-head with the GOP presidential debate or be the lead in to the Packers-Saints game on Thursday night?

DAVID BROOKS THE NEW YORK TIMES: Ron Paul or Aaron Rodgers? I'd want to be tied to Aaron Rodgers, I think. So the viewership is going to be a lot bigger.

HOST: What do you make of this thing, this argument when to have the speech on jobs?

E.J. DIONNE THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, you know, if anyone thought it was really going to be easy to find bipartisanship, if they can't even agree on when the president goes to Congress. I thought it was appalling, on so many levels. It was really appalling that the first president of the United States is turned down on such a request. And, you know, everybody is saying, well, there were reasons and this and that. That was outrageous. That's never happened before, that Speaker Boehner did that.

It does seem that there may have been a - some kind of lack of consultation by the White House. And if they did spring this on Boehner in some way, that was probably a mistake. But now they backed off and it's hurt them for backing off.

HOST: On the other hand, if the president saves the best part of his speech for last, he can catch a huge tune-in audience that's coming in for...

POST: Precisely right.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

HOST: E.J. Dionne and David Brooks, thanks to both of you.

TIMES: Thank you.

POST: Thank you.

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