Week In Politics: Occupy Wall Street; Jobs Bill; Republican Presidential Field

Guy Raz speaks with our regular political commentators E.J. Dionne, of the Washington Post and Brookings Institution, and David Brooks, of the New York Times.

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GUY RAZ, HOST:

And we turn now to our regular Friday political commentators, E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post and David Brooks of the New York Times. Welcome to both of you.

DAVID BROOKS: Good to be here.

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

RAZ: We just - as we just heard from Sonari Glinton about the jobs picture, President Obama recently called out House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. He said that Cantor won't even let this jobs bill have a vote. There's a new poll out by ABC News and the Washington Post that shows the president has a 15-point lead over Republicans in Congress in terms of who they trust to create jobs. David, what has changed for the president and for the GOP here?

BROOKS: Well, I think what we just heard in that report, which is that most people in the country see this as a very long, deep problem. After you have financial crises, you usually get six or seven years of really terrible economics, multiple problems, as we just heard, low consumer demand, low business investment, people don't know what their houses are worth, political risks in Europe - one thing after another. And I don't think too many people have faith that a temporary payroll tax cut or a few small things in the jobs bill are gonna make that fundamental a difference.

And so what we should be working on is the fundamental things - the big tax reform, the big fiscal reform, that sort of thing. People understand that this is a really deep fundamental problem that probably can't be solved by something relatively small.

RAZ: E.J., where do you think the president can go from here?

DIONNE: Well, I think the country is in a different place than David does on this. Yes, they think there are long-term problems here, and there are, but I think they look at what's happened over the last six months and say, we need to give the economy a jolt now. And I think that's why the president has finally been on the offensive against the Congress. I think calling out Eric Cantor by name shows he's got real confidence that what's actually in his jobs bill, including the payroll tax cuts, but also the investments in schools and teachers and roads are all very popular things.

Americans like government to do that even when they say they don't like government very much. And so it's - you know, 100,000 jobs today. I was worried David and I could be here five years from now and we wouldn't even get up to 100,000 jobs. That's good news for Obama. But A, it's gotta get bigger. And I think he needs to show he wants to make it bigger and that's why I think he's on the offensive on this.

RAZ: Let's turn to the Occupy Wall Street protests that seem to be gaining some momentum. E.J., you wrote yesterday in your column that these demonstration in New York and elsewhere, and I'm quoting you now, "mark a shift on the progressive side, from defense to offense." Explain what you mean by that.

DIONNE: Well, if we go back to 2009, the main power in American politics was on the right with the Tea Party. Americans are deeply skeptical of concentrated power. It's one of the good things about us. But the Tea Party was able to identify the concentrated power we needed to be afraid of as the power of government. But when you look at what happened, the economy is in this fix because a lot of people on Wall Street and in the financial community invented these very strange and, I think, irresponsible financial instruments that blew up.

They made a lot of money in the meantime, and then the whole economy blew up. So what you have out there finally is a pole, if you will, on the left side, even though this movement isn't easily categorized ideologically, blaming Wall Street not the government, and offering an alternative explanation for how we got into this fix. I think that begins to change the debate.

RAZ: David, economist Joseph Stiglitz visited the protestors this week. President Obama, Vice President Biden have both been asked about it, both commented on it. Do you think it's gaining legitimacy or momentum or is this a short-lived thing?

BROOKS: I suspect it's a short-lived thing. They've got some legitimate issues. The Obama administration should have broken up the banks. They're too big to fail, too big to manage. The student loan issue is quite a legitimate issue. I think you should be able to declare bankruptcy on a student loan. The central flaw is - and it's parallel to what the Obama administration has said. The Obama administration said they'd never raise taxes on people in the 98th lowest percentile.

One of the core themes of the occupying movement is that it's 99 percent who are honest and one percent who are wrong. Well, that's just not true. If you want to know what the real problems with our economy is, too much spending, too much mortgages, unwillingness to raise taxes on people. It's not just 99 versus one percent. The problem in spending is many middle class Americans. The unwillingness to change Medicare and entitlements is many middle class Americans. The unwillingness to accept sacrifice is many middle class Americans.

So you can't just throw everything off on the top one percent. You know, we should be occupying ourselves.

DIONNE: The middle class Americans didn't invent the financial instruments that blew up this economy. Middle class Americans did not make a pile of money on these very strange derivatives. I think that the anti-Wall Street movement is drawing that line because they're right, that the first and primary cause of this will lay on Wall Street and in the financial community, while a lot of middle-class Americans were trying to do the right thing.

...the financial instruments that blew up this economy. Middle-class Americans did not make a pile of money on these very strange derivatives. I think that the anti-Wall Street movement is drawing that line

BROOKS: Average personal debt was 43 percent of GDP 20 years ago. Now it's over 130 percent of GDP. This was a problem that transcended - I agree with the Wall Street indictment - but this was transcendent and the idea that you can solve problems by ignoring the bottom 99 percent, just not possible.

RAZ: Let's move on to the GOP presidential field now. David, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie have both bowed out. They're not running. What do you think of the state of the GOP field now?

BROOKS: Boring.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BROOKS: It's going to be Mitt Romney, it looks like, unless we get some sort of, you know, incredible weird thing happen. Romney is - I don't know what the opposite of rats fleeing the ship. The rats are jumping on the ship.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BROOKS: So he's getting the donors. He's getting the big intellects. He's getting the whole movement behind him. And to me, that's good news. He's got many of the smartest people in the Republican Party - people like Greg Mankiw of Harvard, people like Robert Kagan of Brookings Institution. They're now his advisors. He's got real substantive heft now. He's sort of gathering the establishment. The Tea Party might not like that but the establishment still means a lot. So he's got just tremendous momentum right now.

RAZ: E.J., last word. Is Mitt Romney the one to beat now?

DIONNE: He is. And that creates a problem for him. Mitt Romney's great asset - and I'm waiting, by the way, for David to inspire rats for Romney bumper stickers.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

DIONNE: But his advantage is moderates aren't sure he believes what - all these right wing things he's saying, so they'll vote for him. But conservatives aren't sure he believes the right wing things he's saying. And so, I think you're going to see the entire Republican field, beginning with Rick Perry, to try to go right at that contradiction and challenge Mitt Romney. So it might not be boring after all.

RAZ: E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and Brookings Institution and David Brooks of The New York Times, thanks to both of you.

DIONNE: Thank you.

BROOKS: Thank you.

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