Week In Presidential Politics Reviewed

Republican John McCain says the polls are tightening in his favor. David Brooks of The New York Times says the tightening isn't significant. E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post says the polls are not tightening in the states that matter.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Well, now, our regular political observers E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post and the Brooklyn's institution, and David Brooks of the New York Times. Welcome to both of you.

Mr. DAVID BROOKS (Columnist, New York Times): Good to be with you.

Mr. E.F. DIONNE (Columnist, Washington Post): Thank you.

SIEGEL: Let's start with the things we just heard Ina Jaffe's report. There's two very different appraisals of where we stand. A great tightening, the Republicans say, but the Democrats say, it's time to start advertising in Arizona. That it's within the realm of possibility the Democrats could win it. On a general scale, what do you make of these counter claims? Claims and counter claims, David?

Mr. BROOKS: There's been a tightening. I wouldn't say it's a great tightening. It's a timid tightening.

SIEGEL: Timid tightening.

Mr. BROOKS: If you just take it nationally, it's a tightening from let's say a seven point Obama lead to a five point Obama lead, or maybe five and a half. The essential question is nobody knows what the electorate is like. It's clearly not like the electorate of four years ago, but how many new voters are coming on for Obama, that's the question.

SIEGEL: You too E.J. same thing?

Mr. DIONNE: Yeah. It's a Halloween. I going to play a right wing Republican for Halloween, of course, it's tightening.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DIONNE: No. I think if I were in the McCain campaign, I'll be saying exactly what they're saying. The average is that, it's not tight, even the states that matter and the notion that this state are coming in the play that should be Republican is really striking. I was thinking back to 92. I was on the President Bush' campaign plane at end of the term, the first president Bush. And we ended the night, I believe it was Billings or Helena Montana, and I went up to Jim Baker and I said, Mr. Baker, I have one question. If you're going to win this election, what the hell are we doing here? And I think the problem is that so much of the fight is in Republican territory where McCain shouldn't be having to fight.

SIEGEL: A big event of the week was the Obama TV show, which drew so many viewers we can only imagine what the spin offs are going to be next season. David, what you'd make of it?

Mr. BROOKS: I think they came in and said it was the highest NBC rated show of the week.

SIEGEL: Yes. You're right.

Mr. BROOK: Or at the night or something like that. I sort of liked it. I'm a fan of Tolstoy, so I like anything that opens with fields of wheat, lots of wheat.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DIONNE: I love the wheat too.

Mr. BROOK: And so, that was good. And the.

SIEGEL: Are there any cities in this country, by the way, we were looking at this?

Mr. BROOKS: No, no.

SIEGEL: No one lives in the city in any vision of the country that's put on television.

Mr. BROOKS: This is the morning in America visualization. I guess as a depiction of real life suffering, I thought it was, quite effective. I guess my problem and I hit the brakes when he starts describing his solutions and he came on, especially after the first few minutes and described solutions which were all gimmicks. Tax cuts to get small businesses to hire more. I don't think anybody thinks those are effective. He complained about the tax loopholes for outsourcing, those aren't real. So, as a piece of visual imagery, I thought it was effective. The problem is, so many of his policies, at least the ones he mentioned in the show are political gimmicks.

Mr. DIONNE: You know, I was also thought of Ronald Reagan in watching this, was sort of morning in America in reverse. But it was a very optimistic picture of America within a frame work of a critique of what's wrong. You know, Reagan's famous lines, you know, he stood for family, work, neighborhood, peace and freedom, and this was really about work and family. And I think it was a direct response to McCain's implicit argument when he attacked spread the wealth around. That, you know, Obama wants to give it to people who don't work. Everybody in that film that Obama narrated was somebody who worked very hard and lived by family values. And I think it went straight out to the voters who still might have a chance of being persuaded.

SIEGEL: What do you make of the McCain charge of the week, which is that Barack Obama is a redistributionist, wants to be redistributor in chief, which is to say, tax wealthier people in order to spread the wealth around people who have less money. Isn't that an accurate description of a Democratic presidential candidate?

Mr. DIONNE: You know, what is wrong with being a redistributionist? In my view, I mean, you know, what's striking about this is, does that mean that John McCain wants to get rid of progressive taxation or our tax system as it stands now is redistributed. Sarah Palin who spread oil wealth around up in Alaska and she's very popular for doing that. But I think what McCain has done is he's really sharpened the contrast and made this a kind of referendum on trickled on economics and supply side economics. Obama people say he's not clear about everything. He's been very clear in his critique of trickle down. And I think this would be a referendum on that.

SIEGEL: It's true that we're all redistributionists. I mean, Republicans are for means testing welfare programs, so we can direct money to people who need it the most. So that part is bogus. The real part is that Obama is pretty or at least, moderately or conceivably liberal on economic policy. And if you look at his actual proposals, they don't actually add up to anything close to a balanced budget. The health care plan while having some virtues, is very weak on cost control. He's going to cut taxes for 95 percent of the people. So it's illegitimate to say he's proposing something pretty liberal, economically. The problem from McCain's point of view is he's for the massive tax cuts. And it's hard to be a fiscal hawk if you're for those tax cuts. It sort of undermines his own position.

SIEGEL: I want to ask both of you now - we'll start with you, David - between now and Tuesday evening, what are the - I mean, you had - you've been immersed in this thing. Now, it's about two years that this campaign has been going.

BROOKS: Three.

SIEGEL: Three years. What are you most interested in looking at? Or you've just had it up to here and you want to get on to Wednesday already? The things you're especially looking for right now.

BROOKS: I've had it so far up to here. I can't even begin to describe the nausea I feel. It's sort of existential nausea. But the one answer to the question in my mind is has the electorate changed? Is this a really a transforming election where the country significantly moves to the left? Do the Democrats actually have a 10 or 15-point party advantage? If that turns out to be the case, then Obama really has acquired his - if he wins - has a significant mandate.

SIEGEL: In effect, does the - do the people who turn out to vote on Tuesday, do they validate that, that picture that we've gotten from the polls over the past two months? Which would suggest that.

BROOKS: And the polls are all over the place because none of the polls know it. As I said, what the electorate looks like - some thinks that Democrats have a three or four-point advantage, some 15. ..TEXT: SIEGEL: E.J., what are you looking to learn here?

DIONNE: First of all, I'm filled with hope and optimism. I don't feel any nausea at all. I'm looking for many of those things and I think one of the things is how big is an Obama victory? If it happens, does he really begin to cut into Republican territory? Do the young people change the nature of the electorate, and African-Americans? How big that turnout will be? I have a couple friends on the ballot. There's Rank Bayas, my old dean, Judy Faith, out in Virginia and Al Franklin. And that's a really interesting race to a lot of people. And it is going to be important as to what - not only the size of the Democratic majority in Congress. I think we both agree Democrats are going to gain significant ground but also, who's going to come in because it could be a very, very Democratic caucus. They could win a lot of seats in quite conservative areas. And what's that going to do to the Democratic Party in Washington?

SIEGEL: You mean, if they get the new seats in the Senate, let's say in Alaska, Colorado, New Mexico, well it still wouldn't be as conservative a Democratic caucus in the Senate as it was back in the 1980s.

DIONNE: No. Very important point.

SIEGEL: Southern conservative Democrats.

DIONNE: The Democrats are a center left coalition. In the old days, they were right center left because some of those Southern Democrats were as conservative as any Republican.

BROOKS: But I think it is fair to say that it's now looks unlikely they'll get 60 seats in the Senate. So the Republican Party will, at some sense, still matter. They'll probably at least have 41, unless people like Mitch McConnell in Kentucky start losing.

SIEGEL: So some of the most important people in the United States Senate next year will be Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.

BROOKS: Susan Collins of Maine is expected to win. There's a moderate who would be very torn on the Obama health care plan, for example.

SIEGEL: Olympia Snowe of Maine would be a critical player and Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut I guess would be a very critical player in the next Senate.

DIONNE: It's going to be fascinating to see what happens with Joe Lieberman. I assume there'll be a lot of pressure to take him out of the Democratic caucus. You wonder if he might just quit himself and say, you know, OK, I know what I did in this campaign. I supported the other party. But then, whatever happens, how does he vote? Because in principle, historically, he has been on the liberal side, on a lot of domestic issues. Does he continue on that path or does he become more Republican?

SIEGEL: Well, we're getting ahead of ourselves, though, because we still have an election on Tuesday. I'm sorry I raised the question of what will happen. Thanks a lot for all of your remarks at this presidential election campaign. Guys, good to see you again.

BROOKS: Thank you.

DIONNE: Good to see you. Thank you.

SIEGEL: David Brooks of the New York Times and E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post.

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