Week In Politics: Super Tuesday, Israel And Iran

Robert Siegel talks to our regular political commentators — " E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and Brookings Institution, and David Brooks of the New York Times — about Super Tuesday, Israel and Iran.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

More now on politics with our two weekly observers, columnists E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and the Brookings Institution, and David Brooks of the New York Times. Good to see you both.

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

DAVID BROOKS: Good to be back.

SIEGEL: We've come through a week with a big primary night and we're looking ahead to a week with a still bigger primary night and also a big meeting at the White House, the Israeli Prime Minister is coming to Washington to talk about Iran. We'll hear about those subjects, but first, I want to talk about the Republicans with both of you. David Brooks, for those of us who thought that that talk about contraception was just a weird one-off detour for the Republicans, here we are.

And now, Rush Limbaugh has made some very rude remarks about a young woman who wanted to testify in favor of mandated coverage. The president called her up, Limbaugh doubled down today. Why don't the people who you've written about as the wingers this week, why can't they let contraception alone?

BROOKS: I guess they believe in it, but it's, you know, another reason to mourn the loss, politically, of Mitch Daniels 'cause he said let's have a truce...

SIEGEL: Governor of Indiana.

BROOKS: ...governor of Indiana. When he was thinking of running, he said let's have a truce on all this stuff and let's talk about the economy, which is a smart thing to do. It's a disaster for Mitt Romney because he has won, obviously, some races in the past couple weeks, but he's been knocked off his narrative. His narrative and the reason he would be elected is that it's all about the economy. I'm the economy guy.

And every time we talk about social issues, that drags him away from what he wants to be talking about and it marginalizes himself. And by the way, it's even marginalized Rick Santorum. If you look at his vote totals in Michigan and places like that, he has built a wall around himself so he is the social conservative candidate. So these issues rising to the fore politically do no one any good.

SIEGEL: They must do the Democrats some good, though, E.J., don't you think?

DIONNE: Right, no, I think Democrats feel that especially after Obama made his attempt at accommodation with the Catholic Church, even though the bishops haven't accepted it, the issue becomes much more about contraception than religious liberty for a lot of voters and they - so the Democrats feel good about it. I still think they'll have to come through on their promises to the religious groups.

But, you know, Rush Limbaugh, this attack, he says stuff like this all the time and yet, this was so disgusting that even conservatives who normally curry his favor had to condemn him. You know, it's extreme, it's crude, misogynist. I think conservatives are going to have to ask themselves - they really promoted Limbaugh for years - they're going to have to ask themselves how long they want to be complicit with stuff like this.

SIEGEL: Are they complicit with him?

BROOKS: Yeah, I actually think there's a gap. Rush Limbaugh's an entertainer. But as a Republican political consultant once told me, when it comes to delivering votes, the guy couldn't deliver a pizza. People listen to him, but that doesn't mean he has any affects on votes. So, for example, he spent five years campaigning against John McCain. John McCain still won the Republican primaries in places like Florida and South Carolina. People listen. And he's an entertainer. He has a conservative...

DIONNE: Except a lot of conservatives go on his show all the time and that's the real question.

BROOKS: That's true. That's fair. But he's not - people don't take him as a political voice, more as a philosophical or movement voice.

SIEGEL: Let's turn to President Obama. He addressed the United Auto Workers this week and he drew a contrast between himself and Mitt Romney on the bailout of GM and Chrysler. And he also said this about values.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I keep on hearing these same folks talk about values all the time. You want to talk about values? Hard work, that's a value. Looking out for one another, that's a value. The idea that we're all in it together and I'm my brother's keeper and sister's keeper, that's a value.

SIEGEL: E.J., is the re-election campaign underway right now?

DIONNE: It's more than underway. I think Obama was on fire in that speech. I haven't seen Obama like that, I think, since the last campaign. And I just came back today from Ohio. I was in Parma, a working class, middle class suburb of Cleveland where there is a Chevy plant, which is now starting to add people again. And I think the auto rescue has become a much bigger positive for Obama than anyone would have anticipated a couple years ago from the polling.

And I think what he's doing here is he is - you know, the Republicans are acting as if the only values issues are related to things having to do with sex, like contraception. And I think what was powerful about this is he's trying to - Obama, he's trying to say there are other values issues and we ought to talk those, too.

SIEGEL: David what did you think of that?

BROOKS: Well, first, if you go back to the history of the Obama administration, according to the Obama campaign, there was the auto bailout, which was the big thing they did. And there were some other things, which apparently don't show up on the history, which is like a stimulus package, health care package, that never gets talked about.

But E.J. is right that the Republicans have not waged a good values campaign on economics. They have their own story to tell - their own story to tell that we're all in it together. And the story is that effort should lead to reward. And one of the things that happens with government when they bail people out is that they don't demand effort. And that basic moral fabric, which undermines are economic system, gets eroded.

But Republicans haven't spoken that we have yet and I think its incumbent upon them to answer this value charge.

SIEGEL: I'd like to turn to Iran right now. Next week, Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, comes to Washington. He'll meet with President Obama. The Israelis say they see an existential threat in Iran's nuclear program. And obviously, the degree to which they trust Washington to have their back in this is the key question on the prime minister's agenda.

David, how does the administration look on that?

BROOKS: Suddenly quite hawkish. The president gave an interview to Jeffrey Goldberg of "The Atlantic." He gave the interview yesterday where he said, very much, I've got your back. And what was really striking in the interview where Obama said unequivocally, completely unequivocally that it is unacceptable for Iran to have nuclear weapons and something will be done to prevent that. And really gave himself no wiggle room.

So, this will be very comforting to the Israelis. I was really struck. I think he turned the dial a little, making a more hard-line case - a case to really reassure the Israelis, in part probably so that the Israelis don't do anything rash. But he really - he went pretty far out there and I thought it was quite striking in tone.

SIEGEL: Yeah, the Israeli argument seems to be, look, if you want us not to strike at Iran - since we won't be able to do it soon with the weapons that we have - then we have to know that you'll be there to do it. E.J.

DIONNE: I agree with David that that interview with Jeff Goldberg is very important. And I think Obama is a paradox. Obama desperately wants both Israel and Iran to believe that the United States will attack, in the hope that Israel won't attack and in the hope that we won't have to. You know, the old Teddy Roosevelt line: Speak softly but carry a big stick - Obama wants to be very strong and loud so he won't have to use the stick.

He is hoping that if the Iranians believe that we are really, really serious about this, it might then become possible to negotiate something. But he is committed to action if nothing else works.

BROOKS: It's interesting because I don't think anybody really believes the sanctions, the short-term sanctions is going to work. So I am not sure where we're headed in this. The final thing, I'd say, I wish all voters would read the interviews. Whether you agree with Obama or not, he's a very intelligent, sophisticated interview. He understands where the questions are going; he redirects in the right way.

So one of the things he said, for example: This isn't about an Iran-Israel dispute, this is about American values; this is about the peace of the Middle East. And he reframes things in a very sophisticated way. Before we get to an ideological question - what you will believe in - we should have a president that can speak like that. I think Mitt Romney probably can. I'm not sure about some of the other candidates.

DIONNE: I think that David is absolutely right, that is if we are talking about what we are going to do about Iran, it should absolutely not being an ideological discussion. And I would like to see Mitt Romney gave an interview like that, to see what it would look like.

SIEGEL: E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post, David Brooks of the New York Times, thanks to both of you.

DIONNE: Thank you.

BROOKS: Thank you.

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