'Atlantic' Analyst James Fallows On The News

Now that President Obama has thrown down the gauntlet on health care, host Guy Raz discusses that and the other big stories of the coming week with news analyst James Fallows of The Atlantic.

GUY RAZ, host:

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

In these next few days and weeks, the yearlong debate over health care may actually come to a final vote. The president is asking for his plan to become law or to be rejected.

That's one of the stories our news analyst, the Atlantic's James Fallows, is following. Hi, Jim.

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

RAZ: Jim, before we get to the health-care issue, I want to ask about the two stories we just heard, Iraq and Afghanistan. And looking at the elections in Iraq, I was struck at how the perceived consequences of what happens in these two places has been totally reversed.

Mr. FALLOWS: It really is true. And I think the reaction to these elections is a kind of threshold for the U.S. because there's a lot of commentary, as the elections are going on in Iraq, about the problems there and what the consequences are going to be for legitimacy and all the rest. But the main tone is that this is no longer fundamentally our problem, "our" being the United States.

So there's the kind of transition and passing of the baton whereas in Afghanistan, these same questions of having local legitimacy, national legitimacy and all the rest are still very much the problems of the United States and its allies.

RAZ: Moving on to health care, Jim, if Democrats want it passed, they may have to use a parliamentary procedure called reconciliation, which means they'd only need a majority of votes. But it's not that simple.

Mr. FALLOWS: It isn't. And like almost anything involving the modern legislative process, it has all sorts of recondite complexities. I think the two things the Democrats will have to do, probably starting this next week and over the next month or so: Number one, resolve their own internal debate about what kind of abortion language will be in the final bill, because that's the main division on their side.

The other is having a frontal engagement with the Republicans on the process question of whether passing this bill by reconciliation is some kind of abuse of power or not.

In the simplest terms, this is a way to get something through the Senate with 51 votes rather than 60. And it's been used many times, more often by Republicans than Democrats, over the last 30 years. But the Democrats will have to say this is a bill for which we've already gotten 60 votes once in the Senate. This is an established process. We're going to move ahead with this plan.

RAZ: Finally, Jim, there's a new political memoir that's about to hit the stores this week. It's Karl Rove's book on his time with George W. Bush. The early reviews I've read seem to suggest that this is not a tell-all by any stretch.

Mr. FALLOWS: No, it's not going to be in the mode of people who say, you know, here's all the backstage details. What I love about these White House memoirs is usually, they fall into one of three categories. One is the memoir who says, here's why everything was so great. A second category is what you could think of as the if only they'd listened to me memoir - that is, explaining failures by saying, you know, I had the right view all along.

And finally, there is the fighting memoir, saying we were right, we're still right, and here is the case why. And that certainly is the genre that Karl Rove's book seems to be in.

Interestingly, his surface case about the Bush administration policies, whether it's going into Iraq or Scooter Libby and Joe Wilson or whatever, that may be less significant than his political argument - a kind of defense of Rovian politics, of divisiveness and polarization that seemed to be in eclipse a year ago, after President Obama was elected, but it now is sort of coming back as the main battle plan for the Republicans.

RAZ: And somehow, Karl Rove seems to tap into the zeitgeist more often than not.

Mr. FALLOWS: It's true. In the year of writing this book, he's come back into fashion.

RAZ: That's our news analyst, national correspondent for The Atlantic, James Fallows. Jim, thanks so much.

Mr. FALLOWS: My pleasure, Guy.

RAZ: And Jim, one more thing. In honor of Oscar night, I have a film question for you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FALLOWS: OK.

RAZ: Can you remember what film Oscar-winning actress Emma Thompson made in 1994?

Mr. FALLOWS: There was some film in which she played a nurse. You stumped me on this one.

RAZ: It was a film called "Junior." And her leading man was Arnold Schwarzenegger.

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