Week In Politics: Rep. Rangel, Shirley Sherrod

Robert Siegel speaks with 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.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Joining us not to talk about politics are columnists E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and David Brooks of The New York Times. Good to see both of you.

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

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

SIEGEL: And let's start with a visit to Washington this week that underscored contrasting approaches to the economy. President Obama hosted British Prime David Cameron, a conservative, or a Tory. Cameron's government is tackling the big British debt. President Obama's administration says we have to stimulate a demand for the short-term. We'll get to the debt later. E.J., what did you make of the visit?

Mr. DIONNE: Well, first of all, Cameron is a real model for Republicans to follow because when you hear him talk, he sounds so terribly moderate. He talks about the big society, this effort to find other ways of helping the needy. He does not sound like an arch conservative at all. And yet he is putting through this very, very, very tough budget.

I think he's, first of all, in a different situation. There's more danger that Britain will become Greece than our becoming Greece. And secondly you're going to see, whether this works or not, if indeed we fall back into recession and Britain falls badly into recession, this will blow up in his face. If we don't, it may work.

SIEGEL: David?

Mr. BROOKS: Yeah. I mean, the cutting - he's doing a very serious cut. But the difference between the U.K. and the U.S. is the population of the U.K. accepts that they need to do it. And they accept that they themselves have to pay a little sacrifices. So Cameron is saying it's got to be 80 percent spending and 20 percent tax increases. And when he unveiled this tough budget, his public opinion poll went up five percent. So the country is behind him.

And then, so, but he's doing that and then I agree with E.J. The reason he's a model for Republicans, he's not only doing the short-term fiscal problem, but he's got a long-term agenda to really strengthen society and I'm afraid that's something Republicans don't have as much to deal with the problems like inequality and wage stagnation. He's got an agenda. We don't so much on (unintelligible).

SIEGEL: So you think the Republicans could learn from him?

Mr. BROOKS: Yeah, but, you know, I'm always struck, when Tories come over here, they meet more with the Obama people than with Republicans. It's kind of depressing.

SIEGEL: Okay, on to another development in Washington this week. The House Ethics Committee will hold a hearing on the matter of Congressman Charles Rangel of New York.

E.J., Mr. Rangel and his ethics problem.

Mr. DIONNE: You know, I have to confess, I've always had a certain affection for Charlie Rangel. Some of it is that he is the last of a type of an urban politician, likeable, a little roguish and you had to like the way he talks. There was something about that rough, wonderful way of speaking. But he messed up. And the Ethics Committee wasn't out to get him. I think there's a lot of affection for him in the House.

I think it's probably unfortunate that he didn't just accept this and instead is having this trial. And there's a kind of pathos here because the investigation, this process, if it happens, it's supposed to happen on September 13th, on September 14th he's got his primary. The man running against him is the son of the legendary Adam Clayton Powell, who 40 years ago, Charlie Rangel beat in a primary because Powell had ethics problems.

SIEGEL: David?

Mr. BROOKS: Well, he got arrogant. I mean, I agree. He's a very sympathetic figure. My grandfather had the exact same voice. So I like that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BROOKS: But he got arrogant. And it was not only the things he's being charged for, the hiding the money and things like that. There are a whole series of real estate deals that were shady that my newspaper has unveiled. So he really is a picture of a good person being corrupted by politics. I also have a pet theory that people, like on the Ways and Means Committee which he chairs, they deal all day in trillions of dollars. And then when they come home they have to deal with, like, $5, $20. And to them, no big deal, couple hundred thousand dollar here and there. They are corrupted by fiscal imbalances.

SIEGEL: You think he could become an iconic figure in the November election?

Mr. BROOKS: I think it's one more, you know, Congress hit its all-time historic low in public reputation this week. And it's just another notch in that belt.

SIEGEL: For a week that featured the signing of the financial regulation bill, a vote on unemployment insurance and the Cameron visit, E.J., Shirley Sherrod commanded a lot of media attention this past week.

Mr. DIONNE: You know, this is the most astonishing week where the Obama administration, because of the way it dealt with this phony or distorted video, took a great week and turned it into a bad week. They did have all these triumphs. And I think the way they handled it was shameful because they were so ready to throw her over in order to protect the president and they didn't protect him at all.

I also I hope they learn from that and I hope the media learns something from this because they're under a lot of pressure to cover these phony stories dug up or created by some people on the right with what Bill Buckley might call a latitudinarian�view of the truth. And I hope the media learns to resist some of these stories more and check them more.

SIEGEL: This one wasn't that well, you could check a little bit and discover something was wrong with it.

Mr. DIONNE: Exactly.

Mr. BROOKS: Yeah. It's not well, it was a sign of disloyalty down. It's important to be loyal to people below you. But it's also important, like, to talk to somebody before you fire them.

SIEGEL: Yeah. Yeah.

Mr. DIONNE: Amen.

SIEGEL: Today we lost Daniel Schorr, associated with this network for, well, for more than 30 years, actually. You guys knew Dan as well.

Mr. BROOKS: Yeah. What struck me is this is how institutions keep their ethics. Dan worked for Edward R. Murrow and people like that. And I think David Broder or Bill Safire was a great friend of Dan's. They had a self-effacement about them and the story was never about them, it was always about the story. And that self-effacement I think comes from the strength of the institution. That's one thing I learned from him.

Mr. DIONNE: And this is an extraordinary man. I mean his experiences went all the way back to the Jewish telegraphic agency in the '30s. When he talked he could draw on all this incredible knowledge and experience. And yet he never ever, ever lost his curiosity about what was happening now. He always had new questions to ask. And that may be the first qualification for a good journalist and commentator.

SIEGEL: We remember Dan Schorr who died today at the age of 93.

E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and the Brookings Institution. And David Brooks of The New York Times. Thanks a lot.

Mr. DIONNE: Thank you.

Mr. BROOKS: Thank you.

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