In Politics: Economy, Jobs And 'Occupy The Hood'

GOP presidential hopefuls focused on the U.S. economy in their debate Tuesday. The same day, President Obama's $447 billion jobs plan failed to advance in the Senate as Democrats did not produce the 60 votes needed to allow debate on the bill. And as the Occupy Wall Street movement continues, a group called Occupy the Hood is emerging in Detroit to get more blacks and Latinos to join the Occupy protests. Michel Martin talks with Washington Post Political Reporter Perry Bacon Jr. and WDET News Director Jerome Vaughn.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host: I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I thank my colleague Tony Cox for sitting in for me earlier this week. Coming up, with all the smart phones, laptops, and tablet computers in the U.S., it's easy to forget that many people around the world live without the technology that many of us - certainly not all of us, but many of us - take for granted. But India - in India, the government has made a bold move to help close the digital divide in that country.

We'll tell you how in a moment. But first, we want to bring you an update on this week's hottest political news. The Republican White House hopefuls met in New Hampshire last night, and former Godfather's Pizza CEO Herman Cain - who you may have heard on this program - turned out to be a major player. And front runner, Mitt Romney - the former governor of Massachusetts - went into the event with good news, the endorsement of New Jersey's current governor Chris Christie.

You may remember that his fans had been urging him to run. Instead, he endorsed Mitt Romney. Meanwhile in Washington, progress on President Obama's proposal intended to boost employment is stalled after that bill ran into a solid wall of Republican opposition and a pair of Democratic hold outs. And while the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations continue in New York and elsewhere, there is a new off shoot of that movement brewing. It's called, Occupy the Hood. It's trying to bring more people of color into the occupied protests and it's aiming to set up shop in Detroit.

To hear more about all of this, we're joined by Washington Post political reporter, Perry Bacon Junior. Also joining us, Jerome Vaughn. He is the news director of NPR member station WDET in Detroit. Thank you both so much for joining us. Hello.

PERRY BACON, JR.: Good to be with you.

JEROME VAUGHN: Thanks for having us.

MARTIN: Oh, good, you're both there. Last night, Republican presidential contenders participated in yet another debate. This was in New Hampshire. It was hosted by Bloomberg News and the Washington Post. Perry, I know a lot of people don't like this terminology - was there a winner, a clear winner or a loser - but there do seem to be some people who really stand out in these debates. You know, seem to be a big gap. And so, was there a clear winner or a loser? Perry?

JR.: I don't think this one, like the past ones, where Rick Perry, sort of, struggled to answer questions, there's a clear winner and loser as much. We definitely saw Herman Cain get more attention because he went up in the polls and there was more scrutiny on his sort of 999 tax plan. And I think what you'll see in the next few weeks is more articles suggesting here are some of the problems with that approach.

I think Herman Cain comes out with a little more scrutiny on what he's doing, and I think that's pretty much the biggest impact from the debate last night.

MARTIN: Well, you know, let's play a short clip on the exchange between Mr. Cain and Mr. Romney. I think this is interesting because these are two people who made their bones as business people. You remember that Mr. Romney is the former chair of Bayne and Company the consulting firm and economics clearly is, you know, the core issue in this campaign. So let me just play a short clip of an exchange between Herman Cain and Mitt Romney.

(SOUNDBITE OF TELEVISED DEBATE)

HERMAN CAIN: The 999 plan that I have proposed is simple, transparent, efficient, fair, and neutral. My question is to Governor Romney. Can you name all 59 points in your 160 page plan and does it satisfy that criteria of being simple, transparent, efficient, fair, and neutral?

MITT ROMNEY: Herman, I've had the experience of my life of taking on some tough problems. and I must admit that simple answers are always very helpful, but often times inadequate.

MARTIN: How - Jerome what about that? I mean, is the idea of simple - well of course, and as Perry pointed out, the whole question of whether it's fair, and, you know, in fact, neutral is one that's going to be debated and is being debated. but Jerome, how is this playing, let's say, outside of, you know, the circles of people who watch this stuff everyday?

VAUGHN: I think people really want to see what these plans are about. I think, you know, they've heard many of these debates. They're starting to pick their favorites. A few favorites are starting to, you know, rise to the top, but I know they want to start getting past the rhetoric. They want to hear some ideas they can latch onto and say this is really going to make a difference if this candidate gets into the White House, as opposed to just sort of repeating the speech over and over again.

I think people are wanting to see a little more.

MARTIN: Well, where about where you live? I mean, are any of these candidates rising to the top? Obviously, you know, Mitt Romney's father was governor - former governor of Michigan – that was a long time ago, so he has, kind of, roots there. Is anybody rising from where you live?

VAUGHN: Mitt Romney still really at the top here in Michigan, because of those roots. He grew up in Detroit. His dad was governor for awhile. He headed American Motors for awhile, so he's really got a hometown feel in a lot of ways. He did lose a little bit of that support the last run, because of his lack of interest in TARP and helping out the auto industry, but he's still top of the pops. I think a lot of people are interested in seeing what Herman Cain has to do, as an African-American candidate, that provides some interest, especially in Southeast Michigan.

And so, I think those are the two front runners right now in Michigan.

MARTIN: Perry, what about this, and just as we mentioned, that this is had to be a boost for Romney at least an emotional one to get the endorsement of a governor that some people thought highly enough of that they were urging him to run himself. So, any sign that this endorsement - it's new news, obviously - that Chris Christie's endorsement, Romney, has made a difference.

JR.: Not yet. I mean, the two things about endorsements are one: you remember all the black members of Congress and black state representatives who endorsed Hillary Clinton in 2008? Endorsements often mean very little to voters who don't really pay attention to them that carefully and don't really know who a lot of people are. We did a poll last week, showing most Republicans didn't know much about Chris Christie, for instance.

So, and that's (unintelligible) if Christie's endorsement inspires other Republicans to endorse Romney, as well, and a ground flow of endorsements can add up to a lot, particularly if people in Iowa and South Carolina - the big early states - if they decided to get behind Romney, in part, because of what Chris Christie said. That's the implication - that's the big question. We haven't seen the evidence of that yet.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're talking about this week's political headlines with Washington Post political reporter, Perry Bacon Junior, and Jerome Vaughn, the news director at member station WDET in Detroit. Well, let's talk about the incumbent now - President Obama - he suffered a setback - at least it looks like a setback in his quest to pass a job creation bill. The bill did not get the 60 votes it needed to move ahead in the Senate.

Now, Jerome, where you are, the unemployment rate in Michigan is 11.2 percent and in Detroit the rate is significantly higher. Now, what are you hearing about, you know, this? I mean, the Republicans are saying this is a political stunt. You know perfectly well you're not going to get the votes for this bill. You're just trying to set up a challenge. But - and the president's saying, you know, to the public citizens, you need to go out and man the phones and let people know that you support this and you want this.

Is there any sign that either of those arguments is resonating where you are?

VAUGHN: I think what's really resonating is resignation. I think people are out of work or under employed. I think they're upset. I think they're frustrated and they don't really know what to do about it. I think, especially here in Detroit, a heavily Democratic city, you know, people are supporting President Obama as far as, you know, trying to get him reelected and trying to have him do what he thinks needs to be done to move the country forward. At the same time, I don't feel like they feel like this jobs bill was going to solve at all if it passed and I don't think they felt like it was going to be a slam dunk or that it was going to pass very easily, so I think there's a good deal of frustration and resignation in the area because of that.

JR.: I don't think people are really, overall, buying the Republicans' argument that we don't need to spend the money. I think people here - they see the need, they see the need for new infrastructure and they see the need to create jobs and so I think that's another part of the frustration. I think they wish there wasn't so much opposition so something could get done.

MARTIN: Well, you know, resignation, Perry, is not, I think, what the president was hoping for, was it? I mean, he's hoping that people would, in fact, get energized and excited. So what else is he planning to do? He's saying that the fight is not over. What other - you know, does he have any other quivers in his arsenal there?

JR.: Well, there's two things - I mean two things will happen. One is they're going to sort of break up parts of the bill, particularly the extension of unemployment benefits and the tax cut - the tax reduction on your Social Security tax. They're going to try to pass those as separate bills and hope the Republicans agree to them, so that's the tactic for sort of getting the provisions passed.

The second thing he'll do is sort of make this part of his - increasingly, we're moving toward - away from the governing period and toward the campaign period, so I think he's going to go to a lot of towns around the country and now make the point the Republicans are stopping progress. Whether that works or not is a different question, but I think he's going to start prosecuting that case more aggressively.

MARTIN: And you know, and finally, you know, after a slow build, these Occupy Wall Street protests have really gotten the attention of at least the media. Okay? And now, there's an effort to try to broaden the movement from what people are seeing so far to this Occupy the Hood idea to try to get more African Americans and Latinos involved in the protest.

I'll just play a short clip from a man named Malik Rhasaan. He's one of the organizers of this effort, talking about his experience going through the Occupy Wall Street protest. Here it is.

MALIK RHASAAN: The reason why I'm here is maybe two weeks ago when I first came down, I just came to watch and I noticed that my people, the brown people, Latinos, were the least represented here. So like with anything, if the white community has a cold, we have the flu. So what I did was I went on the Internet, I made a twitter just as a sounding board and it worked. But we're actually organizing in Detroit. We're actually helping them organize in New Orleans. So it wasn't my intention. It was just really to wake people up on the Internet.

MARTIN: So Jerome, what about it? Are you seeing an interest in this kind of organizing in Detroit?

VAUGHN: Yes. Detroit's always had a rich history of protesting and organizing for social justice, so we're starting to see a little bit of movement there. There was a protest on Monday on an overpass of the freeway at rush hour, so thousands of people got to see the message, even though there were only about 50, 60 people on the overpass. There was an organizational meeting where hundreds of people showed up, and they're planning to have a rally on Friday afternoon here in Detroit. We'll see how that goes, but the expectation is it's going to be pretty large.

MARTIN: And I guess then the question will be whether this translates into some larger political influence on the order of the Tea Party, so that's obviously something I'm hoping both of you will help us keep an eye on.

Jerome Vaughn is the news director of NPR member station WDET in Detroit, where he was kind enough to join us. Perry Bacon, Jr. is a political reporter for the Washington Post. He joined us from their studios at the Post newsroom. Thank you both so much for joining us.

JR.: Thanks. My pleasure.

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