Week In Review: Bailout Politics

Scott Simon discusses the week's news with Senior News Analyst Daniel Schorr. Right now, the financial emergency facing the nation is "clearly" the overriding issue in the race for the White House, Schorr says. Also discussed: the VP debate.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. This week, the U.S. Congress acted to save this nation's bleeding financial system. It approved the $700 billion rescue package President Bush immediately signed it into law, and Joe Biden and Sarah Palin faced off in a highly anticipated vice presidential debate. NPR's senior news analyst, Dan Schorr, joins us. Hello, Dan.

DANIEL SCHORR: Hi, Scott. Doggone! I bet you I'm glad to be here.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: I know you watched the vice presidential debate, didn't you?

SCHORR: Yes, I did.

SIMON: Let's talk first about Wall Street. House of Representatives on Monday didn't vote to approve the plan, the market dropped, and the Dow dropped by more than 700 points.

SCHORR: Right.

SIMON: Wednesday, the Senate approved it. Friday, with some changes, the House of Representatives approved it. This plan is going to cost tax payers at least $700 billion.

SCHORR: Yes.

SIMON: What changed and why?

SCHORR: What changed? Well, first of all, what changed was the fact that the bill was sweetened to include a lot of things that would bring over some of the members of the House who had voted against it before. But maybe more to the point what changed was that it takes some time for voters to get to think that they have a stake in this bill. And apparently, after the House bill was voted down last Monday, they actually got out there and explained to them why it was important. It was not immediately easy to understand.

SIMON: Polling has suggested that this is still a mighty unpopular plan among the American public, which viewed it as a bailout of the "masters of the universe" and Wall Street traders and not necessarily a plan for Main Street. What's your assessment of the plan as you look at it?

SCHORR: Well, you know, last Monday when the House voted it down, it was because voters apparently thought that it wasn't good for them but only for Wall Street. And it apparently took some time for it to sink in that Main Street had an interest in this thing. And so when they came back finally after the Jewish holiday and took it up again in a much sweetened form, several things were added to it which attracted small groups of members of the House, and so with all of that they got it passed this time.

SIMON: Do you think there's some people who voted against it on Monday knowing or feeling that they had to do that in a political year because they're running for reelection before they might not be around to vote for it?

SCHORR: Well, exactly. They tended to equate a vote against the bill as being in the interest of voters. After several days it began to sink into the voter, this might not be necessarily so, and so some House members were able to change their votes.

SIMON: Of course, we're just getting closer and closer to the presidential election. How do you see this cutting as an issue?

SCHORR: I think it has become the overriding issue, much more important now to voters than Iraq, much more important even than health. My experience in previous elections is that if in a presidential election year economic conditions are good, that tends to favor the people who are in or the people who come after them. If it's the other way around, that tends to be bad for them.

I've seen it very clear that this big financial emergency is affecting people by saying, this happened during the Bush administration. The Democrats have been pretty good at trying to tie the Bush administration to Senator McCain, and this is almost disastrous. The polls indicate that if the election were held today, with all the states that have been moving in the direction of Obama, that there'd be 259 electoral votes for Obama. He needs 270. That's how close it would be if the election were held today. Obviously, the election is not being held today but clearly an overriding issue is the financial emergency.

SIMON: And what about the argument that Republicans make that the Democrats have been in control of the Congress?

SCHORR: They make that argument, and it has to be up against the argument that it's eight years of President Bush. And apparently, polls indicate that the voters are now more likely to blame the Republicans than the Democrats.

SIMON: Thursday night, the debate between Senator Biden and Governor Palin. What do you think?

SCHORR: The first thing that has to be said is there were certain expectations on both of them. Was Mrs. Palin going to make a lot of mistakes as she had made in recent interviews? There was a barrier that was also set for Senator Biden: was he going to talk too much, too long, too condescending, and so on and so forth. So the bottom line on all of this is in neither case did they fulfill the worst expectations of them. That's where you start. And where you go on from there is that you get a pretty good picture of the two of them. But the fact of the matter, they were not so much debating each other as they were debating over the head of each other to their principals.

SIMON: And do you think this vice presidential debate - the vice presidential candidates themselves are going to be any more important in forming the minds and judgments of voters now than they have been in past elections?

SCHORR: I think they only would have if one or the other had done the worst that was expected of him or her. What I think what this does is to keep the thing on the same cue. I think - I would doubt that very many minds were changed by this debate alone.

SIMON: Broadway theaters dimmed their marquee lights for a minute 8 p.m. on Friday in tribute to Paul Newman, who died as we were on the air last Saturday or as news of his death was reported in. You have a connection to Paul Newman, aside from the obvious physical resemblance.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SCHORR: Thank you very much. Yes, we had some correspondence because it turned out that his name was right next to mine on a Nixon's Enemies List. And that made us good friends.

SIMON: Thanks very much, Dan Schorr.

SCHORR: Sure.

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