Week In Politics: Financial Bill, McChrystal's Ouster

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, about the week in politics.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Well, it's been a very newsworthy week in politics, as we've just heard from John Ydstie, and there was the financial services bill and earlier in the week, of course, the president fired General Stanley McChrystal. Here to talk about those developments are our regular political observers, columnists E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post, who joins us today from Philadelphia, and in our studio in Washington, David Brooks of the New York Times, good to see you both.

Mr. DAVID BROOKS (Columnist, New York Times): Good to see you.

Mr. E.J. DIONNE (Columnist, The Washington Post): Good to be with you.

SIEGEL: And, first, financial services: David Brooks, another very big piece of legislation. A sign that Washington is fixing what's wrong, doing too much, unable to take the big steps really required? What do you say?

Mr. BROOKS: Well, it's big. It's mondo big. It's like they threw in the kitchen sink. To me it has some good stuff and some bad stuff. I guess philosophically, though, I'm a little suspicious. I start with the premise that regulators are never going to be smart enough to anticipate crises, never really smart enough to really keep up with something as complicated as the financial markets. Therefore you should have a few simple rules: limit leverage, maybe control the size of banks, simple straightforward rules.

They went the other way. They created a lot of powerful regulators to write a lot of complex and intricate rules. Maybe they can do it. I'm a little dubious.

SIEGEL: Your saying you would've liked perhaps fewer but bigger regulations is what you're saying.

Mr. BROOKS: Exactly. Yeah.

SIEGEL: E.J.?

Mr. DIONNE: I think that in this complicated financial market, once you decide to write rules, they're going to be complicated. This is an FDR-level achievement. And what's really remarkable is that the bill got stronger as it went along because of public pressure. It came not from negotiations with the Republicans, but the Republicans went along because of that pressure. And I think that's going to be a lesson for the rest of the year. Negotiating with Republican senators right now is like trying to hit a football with a baseball bat, you can do it, but it's pretty pointless.

I think that when you look back on this, assuming this gets through both houses, Obama and the Democrats really have gotten two very big forward-looking measures through the Congress. This one and the health care reform. And you can say, I think, that they pulled the economy back from the brink with the stimulus and other measures. Now, will that be enough to keep Democrats in control of Congress this year? Well, that depends on how long the recovery is between now and November.

Voters for perfectly rational reasons tend to focus on the present and health care reform and financial reform are about the future. Nonetheless, whatever happens, this is a very big accomplishment. And I think the only way to do it was with this big complicated bill.

SIEGEL: In any event, David, you can't make the argument against the Democratic Congress that's a do-nothing Congress, quite a lot coming out...

Mr. BROOKS: No, no, it's a Congress of accomplishment. The question is whether the American public likes the Congress. One of the interesting poll results I saw recently was, do you think the Democratic Party is too liberal? And the last year or two, that has risen from 39 percent of the American people to 59 percent of the American people. And that's essentially the source, the electoral source of the Democrats' problems right now.

SIEGEL: Let's move on to the confrontation this week between President Obama and the general whom he had chosen to run the war in Afghanistan, Stanley McChrystal. E.J., what do you make of it?

Mr. DIONNE: Well, I think there was absolutely no choice. I mean, now I understand perfectly well that soldiers need to get their get steam off. They can say disrespectful things. They can't do it when a reporter is in the room.

And the president did a very clever thing. It was politically brilliant in naming General Petraeus. He can then say there was no real break in the policy.

But there's also a risk for President Obama if he actually wants to begin anything approaching a major withdrawal come next July. Since General Petraeus seems opposed to that - and he has a lot of credibility, especially with the Republicans, but not just with Republicans - but Obama's signal that he doesn't really want that big withdrawal necessarily.

I think there are still problems here. There are divisions in his administration on the overall policy that were never settled when he set on this course. There will either be other shoes that have to drop or he's just going to have to get this fractious team to pull together.

SIEGEL: David Brooks, what do you make of it? A confrontation between the President and his commanding general that's not about the strategy of the war. It's not about the success of executing the strategy.

Mr. BROOKS: Right. It's not about Stanley McChrystal's quality. Excellent, general. Well, great relations with the State Department. Great relations with the White House. Gene Kelly went to Paris and found Leslie Caron. This guy, Stan McChrystal, found a reporter from Rolling Stone and got carried away in Paris. He's not the first American to do that. But I thought the president handled it masterfully. Once it was out there in the press, it was a challenge to his authority. He had to deal with it.

And I thought he dealt with it very well, naming Petraeus was a master stroke. I took it as a backhanded compliment to Dick Cheney in acknowledgment the surge worked. But it keeps the strategy intact.

And, now, the strategy has two problems. One, the Afghans don't seem to want to stabilize their country as badly as we want to stabilize their country. And, two, they're hedging their bets because of the divisions E.J. talked about, which is, are we pulling out in July '11, and if we are, why should they stick with us?

SIEGEL: By stepping in to do this, does General Petraeus add does he increase his influence, that is, he has done something. He certainly helped President Obama enormously here.

Mr. BROOKS: Yeah. And it's nominally a demotion, of course. He had the whole Cent-Pak(ph) over there. But it's an act of tremendous service. This is a big career risk for him. And he didn't need this. He's doing it for the country. It's really another remarkable chapter in his career.

SIEGEL: What does it say about the coverage of these things, E.J., in five seconds?

Mr. DIONNE: Well, you know, David has written about, gosh, why do we report all this inside stuff? A reporter working on a profile of General McChrystal who had not reported what was said in that room, would've been guilty of malpractice, and this was in control of the general. Petraeus, he's taking an enormous risk. He could've walked away. He took this on. I respect him for that too.

SIEGEL: E.J. Dionne, David Brooks, thanks to both of you.

Mr. DIONNE: Thank you.

Mr. BROOKS: Thank you.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.