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Obama's Gates Comments, Health Care Examined
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Obama's Gates Comments, Health Care Examined


Obama's Gates Comments, Health Care Examined

Obama's Gates Comments, Health Care Examined
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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

President Obama on Friday said he should have more carefully chosen his comments about the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and the Brookings Institution and David Brooks of The New York Times both praise Obama's comments. They also discuss the debate over health care.


And this has been the surprise big story of the week. We turn to our regular political commentators, columnists E.J. Dionne, of The Washington Post and the Brookings Institution, and David Brooks of The New York Times. Welcome both of you.

Mr. E.J. DIONNE (Columnist, The Washington Post): Thank you very much.

Mr. DAVID BROOKS (Columnist, The New York Times): Thank you.

BRAND: Well, let's start with you E.J. Were you surprised to hear again today on this topic from the president?

Mr. DIONNE: No, not at all. I'm really happy he said what he said. In the notes, I'd written out before for today before the president spoke, I said that I thought the president wished he had not escalated this by using that word -stupidly - and that the whole discussion needed to be deescalated. So, I think he did the right thing. I should say by the way that I've known Skip Gates for 35 years and have always liked him and admired what he's accomplished. I think the problem here is that this episode involves two different kinds of power. One is obviously connected to race, and we know how stereotypes come into play, especially in tense situations, but the other is connected to class - the Harvard professor versus the Cambridge policeman. And these - that social one-two punch makes it explosive. And I think the president today said we should have a rational conversation about this and not the kind of confrontation we'd had. And so I'm really glad. I think it's good for him and the country that he backed away a little bit from what he had said earlier.

BRAND: And David, what do you think - that word stupidly - it's been focused on, well a lot, and I'm wondering if it will come back to haunt him with conservative white voters, or if he did indeed put this to rest today.

Mr. DAVID BROOK (Columnist, The New York Times): I think with a lot of people he'll have put it to rest - well, except of those who have a vested interest in it. Listen, you can disagree with the guy all you want, but he does have good character. He does - he is able to resolve disputes. And I thought the way he handled it today was pretty much - gets him a gold star. He said the officer overreacted, that seems true. He said Gates overreacted, that seems true. He said he overreacted, that also seems true. So, he pretty much spread blame everywhere, including himself. And I thought he did himself a world of good today by - and really did - for 80 percent of the country will have put this to rest.

BRAND: And interesting, I think is that this comes after a week after we were talking about the white firefighter case in the nominee - in the hearings of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, and I'm wondering if you see anything significant there.

Mr. DIONNE: Well, you know, I think what was striking is that the white firefighter case did not set off an explosion as some expected it to. It's not hurt Sotomayor. It seems she's picking up a lot of Republican support. I think Obama's very election suggested that the vast majority of Americans want to try to depolarize our discussion of race, have a more open and complicated discussion of race. And I think that the president has always done well at this, and it was very unusual for him in that news conference to make what, I think, we can agree was a mistake on a subject that he has mastered and spoken about so effectively.

Mr. BROOK: And I'd also add that I think the class divide is also may be healed a little, you know, this brings to my 1968, the Chicago riots where you had mostly affluent white kids against working class cops. And that really was the rise of Nixon law and order, really sparked the sort of class war with conservative white voters rebelling against the Democratic Party. I think some of that has been damped down. You heard some of the echoes of that in the class elements that E.J. described. But again, it's not as conflictual as it used to be, and I think as part of the culture war winding down, maybe the class war has a little as well.

BRAND: Hmm. All right, let's move on to health care. The president's comments on Gates was made in the last five minutes of the news conference devoted largely to health care earlier this week. And you both were among columnists at the White House today for a briefing on the topic. How big a deal is it that there will not be legislation by August, that the president is now saying the deadline is by the end of the year?

Mr. DIONNE: I don't think it's a huge deal. I mean it's a sort of hey, wait health care is really hard. This is really surprising. You know, and that I think that the White House has tried to put a positive spin on it in, and I think they have a point, that the two houses may be able to use August to bring their bills closer together. And as long as the big interest groups don't use that month to trash the whole effort, I think it need not be an enormous setback. Having said that, it's not exactly the timetable the White House wanted, but it's making the best of the situation. I think it's going to pass. I think it's moving ahead and will eventually pass.

BRAND: And David, do you think that this actually gives room for the critics to just pull it apart so that nothing gets accomplished?

Mr. BROOKS: It's possible. Yeah. I think the Democrats are closer than I thought, I would say. A lot of my conservative friends are doing victory dances. This means it's over - no. In Washington, Democrats in the Senate, in the various committees, are closer than you might have thought. The big issue now is over the next month - popular opinion. I'd say conservatives are actually winning this argument. Right now more disapprove of the - Obama's health care ideas than approve by a very slim majority. Sixty six percent of independents, a key swing group, think that the plan is too much big government involved. So, there is a great deal of skepticism. Can we really include more people and cut cost? Can we cut cost while really asking for no sacrifice?

BRAND: David Brooks of The New York Times and E.J. Dionne - I'm sorry we've run out of time - columnist at The Washington Post and the Brookings Institution. Thank you.

Mr. DIONNE: Thank you.

Mr. BROOK: Thank you.

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