News Roundup: Health Care, Russia, Powell, Kristol

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From the health care divide to the diplomatic gap between the U.S. and Russia, James Fallows of the Atlantic magazine joins Guy Raz to discuss the week's news. They also look back at two men from opposite sides of the ideological spectrum: Jody Powell, who was Jimmy Carter's right-hand man, and Irving Kristol, the original neoconservative.

GUY RAZ, host:

From health care reform to possibly reforming America's relationship with Russia, we're joined by The Atlantic's national correspondent James Fallows to help us break down the news this week.

Jim, good to have you back.

Mr. JAMES FALLOWS (National Correspondent, The Atlantic): Thank you very much, Guy.

RAZ: First to Senator Ron Wyden, who we just heard from. His ideas are some of the 543 amendments being offered up to the bill proposed this week by Senator Max Baucus. Where are we with health care now?

Mr. FALLOWS: Well, I think what's interesting, as the debate settles down from a lot of the acrimony of August, there are two things which really strike me about the state of the health care debate. One is that this is an extremely complicated issue. When Medicare was passed 40 years ago, or 45 years ago, it was a relatively simple problem to solve. Lots of old people were poor with no coverage. Now, you have the coverage issue. You have the cost containment issue. You have the insurance bureaucracy issues.

RAZ: You have a quality issue.

Mr. FALLOWS: You have quality issues.

RAZ: Yeah.

Mr. FALLOWS: You have - you know, we can go on for the next 10 minutes going all the issues. And so, I think it's - that's why - that's one of the reasons this is so difficult. And the process also is an interesting contrast, I think, to the Clinton health care plan of 15 years ago, where that was, as has been often debated, is sort of presented more or less to the Congress after being hashed out in the executive branch. And we're seeing in real time from Senator Wyden, from Senator Baucus, from lots of other people, their ideas about what's going to come through to Congress. So it's being played out in a very different way, and we'll see what that leads to.

RAZ: Jim, away from health care, a pretty consequential foreign policy decision taken by the Obama administration this week. The U.S. has scrapped plans to install a missile defense system in Eastern Europe, a program that irritated the Russians, but one that the Poles and the Czechs wanted. What does it mean for U.S. relations with those countries?

Mr. FALLOWS: I think that what is striking here is that through its existence, since the early '80s when Ronald Reagan first proposed for a Strategic Defense Initiative or Star Wars, this had various iterations. It's almost always been a symbolic matter for relations between the United States and then the Soviet Union, and then Russia, then European allies, because even the people who believed this would work perfectly thought it would be many, many years, perhaps decades, before it could defend against missiles. And so, it was symbolic to the Soviet Union being threatening to them. Now, the symbolism is there's a positive one with the Russians of removing what have been quite a significant irritant

There is a medium one with some of the Eastern Europeans. Opinion in the Czech Republic seems to be divided, whereas the Poles are more enthusiastic. And probably, the sleeper here is Israel, where if there's a nearer term protection against missile, it might come from Iran. This also can be a player in the Israeli-Iranian-U.S. balance.

RAZ: Jim, Jody Powell died this past week. He was the press secretary for President Carter, someone you knew quite well.

Mr. FALLOWS: He was my line superior when I was working as Jimmy Carter's speech writer, and he was in charge of the speech writing operation and many other things because he was so close to Jimmy Carter. He and I had a somewhat strained relationship because of my own criticisms of Carter later on and because Carter's speeches were often troubled. But he's somebody I came to have a better relationship with later.

I think almost everybody - he was significant as the public face of the administration because he was a kind of rock star press secretary. He and Hamilton Jordan were on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine memorably. But he won respect for being so loyal and so intelligent and so funny.

RAZ: Finally, Jim, one of the most influential postwar conservative intellectuals, Irving Kristol, died yesterday. He is credited with launching the neoconservative movement. What's his legacy?

Mr. FALLOWS: I think his legacy is an organizational and political one as opposed to a purely intellectual one. And I think somebody will once some time do a great group biography of Irving Kristol, Daniel Bell, who was The Public Interest magazine with him, Nathan Glazer and Daniel Patrick Monahan, and the different path they took. And what's distinctive about Irving Kristol is that he funneled his ideas into the political strengthening of the Republican Party and the anti-liberal movement, and that has had lasting affect.

RAZ: James Fallows is the national correspondent for The Atlantic.

Jim, thanks for walking us through the news.

Mr. FALLOWS: My pleasure. Thank you.

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