Week In Politics: Bernanke's Speech, Glenn Beck

Melissa Block 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.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Today's markets aside, it has been a week of bad economic news. And that means more trouble for the Obama administration as we head toward November's midterm elections.

Joining me to talk politics, as we do most Fridays, are E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post, and David Brooks of the New York Times. Welcome back to you both; good to see you.

Mr. E.J. DIONNE (The Washington Post): Thank you.

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

BLOCK: David, let's start with you. We just heard that Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke's message was he expects the economy to continue to expand at a relatively slow pace slow expansion. To those who would say, look, we need more urgent action from the Fed, from the administration, you would say no.

Mr. BROOKS: Well, no. I would say from the Fed we need more action. I think what we've learned over the last year is monetary policy is the way you pump up the economy when you need to. Fiscal policy doesn't work so well. We've tried that with a big stimulus package. This was supposed to be the summer of recovery. The administration predicted we'd be producing 500,000 jobs a month. It's just not happening.

And the lesson is that you it's very hard to pump up the economy short term with borrowing and spending and tax cuts. That's for the long term. The countries that have very small stimulus, like Germany, are growing really well. The countries with big stimulus like us, not growing well. Monetary policy is really the only way you can do that, and that's where Bernanke comes in.

BLOCK: And E.J., if you look at the accumulation of bad numbers that the administration is dealing with and the country is dealing with on housing, unemployment, manufacturing - all of it put together - where is the silver lining here for Democrats?

Mr. DIONNE: If there's a silver lining there, I haven't found it yet. I mean, this is just not good news, which is why I think it's unfortunate that Bernanke did what he did. And just by the way, on David's point, Germany is growing for other reasons; I don't think it's their fiscal policy.

But what's unfortunate is in the beginning of this downturn, Bernanke was willing to take every risk on the side of pumping money into the economy because he thought it might collapse otherwise.

Now, he's showing some ambivalence. And if you think as I do - and a lot of people do - that the risk of continued unemployment is higher than the risk of long-term inflation, you wish he had been more aggressive today. It's not like unemployment is at 7 percent, which would still be high. It's at 10 percent. And so I think President Obama, but also the economy overall would've been better off if Bernanke had jumped today and done more.

BLOCK: Let's turn to politics - in particular, this week's primaries on Tuesday. And on the Republican side, a couple of results that are worth talking about. In the Florida's governor's race, in the Republican primary, you had State Attorney General Bill McCollum, who had the backing of the party. He lost to a rich outsider, Rick Scott.

And then in Alaska, the final conclusion isn't set yet; they're waiting for absentee ballots. But Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski, part of the Republican Party establishment here in Washington, may have lost to an inexperienced politician, Joe Miller, who had Tea Party backing - and that of Sarah Palin.

David Brooks, what are the lessons you take for the Republican Party here?

Mr. BROOKS: Well, Bill McCollum in Florida is plenty conservative guy, but he's got some establishment links, and that's apparently bad. And the same with Lisa Murkowski. She's pro choice on abortion - that sort of hurt her. But more to the point, she's an appropriator. She's a sort of non-ideological dealmaker who brings pork back to Alaska.

BLOCK: Which Alaska tends to love.

Mr. BROOKS: Usually like that. But not this year, at least not among these primary voters. And so she may have lost to a guy who was endorsed by Sarah Palin, and who was much more ideological, and came out really hard about health care. So it was a more ideological, philosophical rejection of the normal appropriator, pork barrel politics.

BLOCK: But does that spell bad news for Republicans come November? Are they picking people in the primaries who don't stand a chance?

Mr. BROOKS: The real test there is Nevada, where Sharron Angle is now tied with Harry Reid, the majority leader who looked like a dead duck and now is at least tied. So that's the test case. I doubt Alaska will go Democratic.

BLOCK: E.J. Dionne, the lesson for you, from what we saw on Tuesday?

Mr. DIONNE: Well, I think the Republicans are going through an insurrection and the Democrats aren't. If you actually there's been a lot of talk trying to merge one common theme out of these primaries, and there isn't a common theme. The Republicans are a very conservative party. Conservatives are on the march. By the way, if Alaska doesn't want all that money, they can send it our way to other states.

And so I think on balance, this is a problem for Republicans. It's the same problem where we're going to talk about with Glenn Beck. I think that if Democrats have a shot of pulling this thing out, containing their losses, it will be because the Republicans nominate candidates who are too right wing - like Sharron Angle, like Rand Paul, and like these candidates on Tuesday.

BLOCK: You mentioned Glenn Beck. He is holding a rally here tomorrow - here in Washington - at the Lincoln Memorial, on the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech. Unclear how many Tea Party activists will come, but it's expected to be big. David, do you think the Tea Party is having a real effect on the Republican Party? Is it steering the boat?

Mr. BROOKS: Yeah, I'm thinking of going to the rally. I'm thinking of going with my New York Times polo shirt, and prove my speed in the 40-yard dash - get the hell out of there.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BLOCK: I want pictures of that.

Mr. BROOKS: You know, I think they are having an effect. They are pulling the party back from a more - even compassionate conservative to a more libertarian, to a more old right, more almost pre-Reagan. The government really has no business, even like in Social Security. Will they have a short-term effect politically, in destroying Republican fortunes this year? I think the evidence is no, that the independent voters may not like the Tea Party, but they're still leaning Republican just because they're so upset about the spending and what the Democrats are doing.

BLOCK: E.J. Dionne, thoughts on Glenn Beck's rally and what it means?

Mr. DIONNE: Well, I think the most striking thing is that Democrats really want to talk about it a lot, and Republicans don't want to talk about it at all. Republicans know, again, that one of their barriers is that people like Beck and some of these other right-wingers, if they create an extremist image for the party, the party's got a potential problem.

Republicans want Beck to turn out their vote. They don't want him to start turning out the other side's vote. They're much better off if he's preaching to the converted on Fox News, than to having that wide publicity for statements like Barack Obama is a racist with a deep-seated hatred for white people, or that Obama's programs are reparations. The notion that he's having this rally on the anniversary of the civil rights rally is really - to be very charitable, remarkable.

BLOCK: Okay, David, good luck with the race tomorrow. We're looking forward to hearing your results.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DIONNE: I'll root for you, David.

BLOCK: Thanks to you both for coming in. David Brooks of the New York Times, and E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post and Brookings Institution.

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