Week In Politics: Jobs Report, Wis. Recall

Robert Siegel speaks with our regular political commentators, E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and Brookings Institution, and David Brooks of The New York Times. They discuss the new jobs report.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

For more on what those jobs numbers mean for the presidential race, we turn to our regular Friday political commentators - E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post and Brookings Institution, and David Brooks of the New York Times. Welcome back to you both.

E.J. DIONNE: Thank you.

DAVID BROOKS: Thank you.

BLOCK: And as John Ydstie just mentioned, Mitt Romney jumped at the chance to talk about those jobs numbers today. Let's take a listen.

MITT ROMNEY: This is very bad news for the American people, and the president is always quick to find someone to blame. First, it was George Bush; and then it was Congress, ATM machines, Europe. He's always got someone. But the truth is, the job of the president is to get America back to work.

BLOCK: That's Mitt Romney, speaking today on CNBC. And David, we did hear President Obama pointing the finger at Congress. Does Mitt Romney have a point?

BROOKS: Yeah. First, it's terrible for - I think politically, it's probably terrible for President Obama. The six-month-out figure is a crucial figure. History shows that's when people begin to form their opinions - in fact, do form their opinions. It's hard to get people to decide in the final six months, oh, the economy's really great. So it's, politically, very bad.

You know, to me, this is bigger than whether - right now, we're spending a trillion dollars in debt, to try to pump up the economy. We're quite stimulative. We shouldn't be having a debate whether we're going to spend a trillion more dollars in debt, or a trillion-point-two. The big problem here is these fundamental uncertainties; whether it's Europe, slow growth in China - just deep, deep uncertainties.

And I think people will look at the political class, both Republicans and Democrats, and judge them - extreme malpractice that they introduced health care; we had the debt problem last summer; we've got the fiscal cliffs last December. The political class, instead of unease and decreasing uncertainties, is increasing it. And that's just going to make the political mood nastier.

BLOCK: And E.J., earlier this week in a column, you wrote about President Obama's campaign strategy. You were encouraging a give-'em-hell-Harry style - thinking back to Harry Truman's 1948 campaign. Can he give them hell if the numbers are looking the way they are?

DIONNE: Yeah, Harry Truman did have a very low unemployment rate, which made the give-'em-hell strategy easier. I disagree with David that health care had anything to do with this, but let's not go there. I think this is bad news for the country, and it's bad news for President Obama. The only good I could see in these numbers - and I was really looking for it - is that you had rising labor force participation; there was the continued increase in manufacturing employment.

But Romney will ride this report for the rest of the month. And I think that it could push the Fed to act, which could help in the long run. But in retrospect, I think you can make the case that President Obama - and this goes back to give-'em-hell-Harry - President Obama should have been pushing Congress to act on jobs for the last two or three months.

They didn't pass much of his jobs bill, and they were hoping hey, we're getting out of this. Well, it turns out, we weren't getting out of this. And now, he's going to turn and say Congress should do something - which, I believe, they should. But it would've been more effective if he had been making that case for a long time.

BLOCK: There's an interesting piece in Politico today saying that really, the only economic numbers that count are those in the swing states. They're using numbers run through Moody's analytics - which says if you look at the numbers in, say, Colorado, Ohio, Virginia; looks pretty good for President Obama in November. Do you think that's true, David Brooks?

BROOKS: It's doing better in par - some of the energy states, and some of the energy industries are doing well. So maybe fracking will save President Obama. I'm a little dubious. I'm a little dubious that if you have a stagnate economy for another six months, that those swing states will be doing much better.

And finally, it should be said, I'm an extreme pessimist about Europe. I think the Spanish banks are in real trouble; Italy. I suspect that - or I don't suspect, but I think there's a strong possibility that we're going to have some sort of European crisis, at some point in the next six months. And the bad news out of Europe, and how the two candidates respond to it, will swamp everything else.

DIONNE: President Obama's going to have terrible feelings about Europe at the end of his term, whether it's, you know, sooner or later. Every summer, we've had this happen - where it looked like we were climbing out, it looked like better news was there and then, something bad happened in Europe. And it's a pattern we've gone through year after year.

BLOCK: Let's turn our focus to Wisconsin, where the Republican governor, Scott Walker, faces a recall vote on Tuesday; going up against Democrat Tom Barrett, the mayor of Milwaukee. And of course, the issue that's roiled Wisconsin for some time now was Gov. Walker's move to strip public workers of collective-bargaining rights.

But this race has gone far beyond that. Lots of outside money coming in; big names appearing there on both sides including President Clinton today, for Tom Barrett. David Brooks, what else is this race about, besides collective-bargaining rights in Wisconsin?

BROOKS: It's like the test case now; it's the test case for absolutely everything. So everything is getting thrown in there. And now, Scott Walker has two things going for him. First, he's taken a huge deficit, and he's turned it into a surplus. So he can point to that, as a result of what he did. And the second - he's got sort of a good government thing going. A lot of people are not particularly pleased with what he did, but they don't think it's the sort of thing you should be recalled over. So there are a lot of independents who may not be with him substantively, but who don't think this is the sort of thing we should have recall elections about.

BLOCK: E.J., I mentioned that President Clinton was there today for Tom Barrett. One person who has not gone - at least, not yet - is President Obama. What do you think?

DIONNE: Well, after today's jobs report, maybe Tom Barrett's happy he didn't go. The president is running ahead of Barrett, in the polls in Wisconsin. And I think that this is a recallable issue because it involved a party in power trying to change the rules of the game - both in voting laws, and in collective bargaining.

But, you know, Walker's spent a fortune; he's ahead in the polls. Barrett is able to match him in the end, and it's all about turnout. I think you might, conceivably, have higher turnout this Tuesday than in the presidential election. The unions, and their supporters, think they still have the edge in turning out voters. Bill Clinton's really, really good at promoting Democratic energy. And if Barrett upsets the polls, Clinton's friends will give him a lot of credit - and they might have a pretty good case.

BLOCK: And David Brooks, earlier you told me you thought President Obama should go to Wisconsin. Why?

BROOKS: I really think he should. This is a test case for the fiscal issues we're facing nationwide. And if you really care about your side, it may be a political risk; you should do it for the substance. And I really think it's a matter of doing what he thinks is right for the country. I think he's allowing political expediency to control himself here.

BLOCK: David Brooks of the New York Times, E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post, thanks so much.

BROOKS: Thank you.

DIONNE: Thank you.

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