Week In News: Midterms

With just three days left until the midterm elections, host Guy Raz speaks with James Fallows of The Atlantic about how past midterms have (at least temporarily) shaken up Washington and about some of the week's other top stories.

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(Soundbite of music)

GUY RAZ, host:

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

Mr. JON STEWART, (Host, "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart"): Hello, and are you ready to restore sanity?

(Soundbite of cheering)

RAZ: That's comedian Jon Stewart earlier today on the National Mall here in Washington, where thousands showed up for the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear. In a moment, we'll hear from NPR's Andrea Seabrook, who was there.

But first, to James Fallows, national correspondent for The Atlantic, who joins me on this program most Saturdays. Jim, hi.

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

RAZ: Jim, a lot of people turned out to restore sanity, so to speak; some to keep fear alive. Either way, the election on Tuesday is a big one, and it looks likely that Republicans will retake control over the House of Representatives.

Mr. FALLOWS: It certainly does. And while all the omen suggest that this is going to be another of the big midterm elections like the ones you've just discussed in the previous segment, I think some things - there a couple of significant things - these often had been the occasions for introducing a new cast of characters in the American political landscape.

In the 1974 election, when the Democrats made huge gains after Watergate in both the Senate and the House, that's when Jerry Brown first became governor of California...

RAZ: Right.

Mr. FALLOWS: ...the job he's running now for, again, 36 years later.

And Gary Hart first became a senator, then Pat Leahy, and a number of others. 1994, of course, propelled Newt Gingrich into the speakership. So we can expect to look at this new cast of people with interest.

Also, I think the marker that the Republicans - you know, most notably with Senator McConnell - have laid down, they're going to try their best to stop President Obama's initiatives and his whole momentum these next two years. I think that may give the Democrats the chance to make a different kind of argument about governance than the one President Obama has made in his first two years.

His plea on running for election was, of course, bringing America together. That was for the most of his first year, the argument he made for his health insurance plan, financial reforms. But he may be put in a different position if the Republicans are more frontally in a position to say no - you know, this far and no further.

RAZ: Jim, as you know, on this program, we've been canvassing economists across the country - asking them, you know, basic questions on how to resolve the joblessness crisis.

Tomorrow on the program, we'll have the 2010 Nobel Economics Laureate, Peter Diamond. The consensus is, there has to be some type of additional stimulus. Virtually, all of them are saying this. Yet, there doesn't seem to be any political will to do this. How do you explain the disconnect between what the economists are saying, and what is happening on Capitol Hill?

Mr. FALLOWS: It is remarkable, as you say. And the only hypothesis I have is there may be a confusion in the public - and perhaps a willful confusion of politics - between the two similar-sounding but very different concepts of deficits in the long run, and deficit spending in the short term.

You can argue that deficits in the long run, in the sense of a society's obligations matched with the resources it can draw on - that's certainly - is something that we need to discuss. And all developed countries do.

Deficit spending in the short term - there's essentially no disagreement whatsoever in the economic world that when there is a failure of demand, as there has been for the last two years, that's when governments need to open the spigots - as they have been doing in China and much of the rest of the world.

So that's - I look on with wonder and disappointment with the way these things have run together.

RAZ: Finally, Jim, let's talk about that foiled bombing plot that came to light this week. We'll get the latest on that investigation in a moment but first, what do you make of the fact that it was foiled at all?

Mr. FALLOWS: Well, certainly, that is good news, you know, this one and the alleged Metro plot in Washington, D.C., over the past week, too.

RAZ: Right.

Mr. FALLOWS: And this is a sign - it seems in both of these cases - that some old-fashioned investigative techniques of tips and entrapments and all the rest, served - you know, thank goodness - to foil these two attempts before they got anywhere else.

And I think the longer-term issue is the way to have a sustainable approach to the threat of terrorism - which honestly, is never going to be eliminated altogether. And as long as the response - that is, things like military occupation and military invasions, that's something you can't, by definition, sustain forever. You can't occupy every country where these people might operate. So I think the next step of the debate may be, how can we in the long run sustain a damage-minimization strategy for these kinds of attempts?

RAZ: That's James Fallows. He's national correspondent for The Atlantic. You can read his blog at jamesfallows.theatlantic.com.

Jim, thank you so much.

Mr. FALLOWS: Thank you, Guy.

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