Fallows On The News: Health Care, China, Palin

The Senate spends the day tackling health care, President Obama returns from China, and former Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin goes "rogue." Guy Raz reviews this week's news with James Fallows, national correspondent for The Atlantic magazine.

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RAZ, host:

We're back with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.

This was a week of campaigns with senators campaigning for and against health care legislation, the president wrapping up his swing through Asia, and former Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin hocking her book and raising speculation about her plans for 2012.

Joining me to talk about these stories and more is our ever vigilant news analyst James Fallows, national correspondent for The Atlantic.

Jim, as always, good to have you.

Mr. JAMES FALLOWS (National Correspondent, The Atlantic): Nice to speak with you, Guy.

RAZ: Let's start with the news that is unfolding as we speak: the Senate debate about whether to put the democratic health care bill to a vote. And I gather Jim, you've been experiencing a bit of d�j� vu these past few days.

Mr. FALLOWS: It is the case. You know, as you and I speak, it now appears that 60 vote will be there to bring the bill to the floor, at least for further debate. And as I've heard the debate this year and think back on the debate on the Clinton health care plan 15 years ago, which I covered, and the Medicare debate 45 years ago, which I've read about and I actually studied as a high school debater at the time, what is almost astonishing is the sort of frozen in amber nature of the debating points on each side over that period.

Opponents of the bill, whether it's Medicare or the current bill, talk about socialized medicine, denial of choice, expansion of big government-run programs and proponents of some expansion in care talk about the need to rationalize the system by bringing more people into it and sort of the moral justice of covering all Americans.

Really, the one thing that's different this time as sort of an evolution, certainly compared to Medicare, is the emphasis on cost control, and I think that's particularly interesting in the Senate bill that Senator Reid has put forward, so that's really over 45 years the one thing that has emerged as a new item in the debate.

RAZ: So, consistent.

Mr. FALLOWS: Consistent and this could make you feel either good or bad about American politics. I think slightly bad because it suggests that there actually is no persuasion going on when you have over the last 45 years these arguments and static form. And really, all that changes that sort of the power constellation but the force of ideas or rational power to move people from one side to another seems to be limited.

RAZ: Jim, moving on to the president's trip to China. We reported, as did many other news organizations, that it was a somewhat lackluster visit, that the president didn't really generate the kind of enthusiasm he has in other places, in Europe and in Africa, for example. Was it a disappointing visit for Mr. Obama?

Mr. FALLOWS: It was not by reckoning and by most of what I've been able to tell from sources and the press in Asia itself. And I think that a reason why I sort of dissent from most U.S. coverage of this event is number one, it seemed to me the U.S. coverage was affected by what I view as a misperception, which is that China is now so strong and the U.S. is now so weak and so much in need of Chinese money that anything the president did not say or did not complained about in Beijing had to be explained by his need for extra dough. And I think that misreads both relative positions of the two countries and also the negotiating strategy that the Obama team was bringing to this measure.

I think the other thing which has been striking an Asian commentary on the visit is that his goal number one, just to sort of show up and reestablish relationships with this part of the world that is important to the U.S. in diverse ways. And number two, to begin the process of very, very long-term complex negotiations on currency values, on the environment. And I think measured by those reasonable expectations, it was a reasonable success.

RAZ: Jim, you're a Californian, and I have to ask you about the University of California's tuition hikes. More than a 30 percent hike that'll kick in next year. The regents, the Board of Governors, the system said they had no choice, but the students obviously are furious.

Mr. FALLOWS: And understandably. And this is on top of a recent effective eight percent pay cut for almost everybody who works in the UC system. And I think that when social historians write their accounts of America in this era, I think this change in the UC system may be something they pay some attention to.

You and I, Guy, both as sons of California, recognize the role that the higher - the public higher education has had in the fortunes of that state...

RAZ: Right.

Mr. FALLOWS: ...from the UC chain at the top down to the community colleges with the state colleges in between, it offered the highest level of instruction and the research and all these Nobel Prize winning projects that went on, plus access for people to really change their social position. And as California's public finances have collapsed, so too has the pressure growing on the educational system, and I think it's a very important social marker, which I hope can be changed.

RAZ: Finally, Jim, to Sarah Palin 2.0 or maybe 3.0. She is back. She's going rogue. Is this book tour her opening salvo for another run at national office?

Mr. FALLOWS: Well, it could be. But I think there is an explanation which makes even more sense. You know, one possibility is that Sarah Palin is running to be the next president in 2012 or 2016. But you could also say that maybe she's running to be the next Oprah or the next Oprah plus Rush Limbaugh plus Glenn Beck.

In a way, that makes more sense because if you're running to be president in the long run, you have to be very careful about the enemies you make, the way you explain your platform and all the rest. And her book is more the book of a future celebrity and talk show star than it is somebody's who's trying to build those coalitions for the future. But we've learned not to be too certain about what Sarah Palin's going to do.

RAZ: Indeed. That's The Atlantic's James Fallows. He's our news analyst here on the weekends.

Jim, always a pleasure.

Mr. FALLOWS: Thank you very much, Guy.

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