Week In Politics: Job Numbers, Midterms, ISIS
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
We turn now to our Friday political commentators, E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and David Brooks of The New York Times. Welcome back to the program.
E.J. DIONNE: Good to be here.
DAVID BROOKS: Good to be with you.
MARTIN: So we just heard in Scott Horsley's report that while the president is touting these low unemployment numbers, there are significant numbers of Americans out there who don't think he's been handling the economy very well. E.J., how do you square that?
DIONNE: Great jobs numbers, wages haven't moved yet. I mean, it's very interesting, there's been a real debate among Democrats and even to some degree within the White House over how much to tout what the president has done on the economy. And the truth is the economy was dying when he took office, and it's now walking around pretty well. These numbers are really great numbers - 5.9 percent unemployment, lowest since July of 2008, 248,000 jobs. But there are a lot of people still hurting out there. And so the debate was if you tout the success, do you then look out of touch with all the people who aren't rising up the way they would like to and should? And I think these speeches by the president suggest that it - look, if they don't blow their own horn about what they actually did achieve, which is substantial, no one else will. But every speech he gives has this second part to it which is, here's what we need to do to increase job growth. It's easier for Republicans. They believe that growth trickles down. So they can just say we're growing, It'll get to you eventually. Democrats aren't in a position to make that argument.
MARTIN: Is that what they're saying, David?
BROOKS: Republican's don't actually think that. That's what Democrats think Republicans say. Listen, I guess a few things. First, Obama's stuck at about 40 percent approval on the economy. He's been stuck there for about a year. We can have an argument about the stimulus package, and I would certainly grant that it did ameliorate the hurt of the recession. Not a lot has happened in Washington in the last four or five years for the economy or ill. So I don't think really the economy really has much - or Washington has much to do with the job cycle right now. The things that Obama is touting in these speeches are things like fracking which really has had a tremendous effect, both on the production of energy and both on attracting manufacturing jobs. But fracking is not something the Obama administration has particularly endorsed. I think politically, the rule is if the real upsurge doesn't happen four or five months before an election, it doesn't really get noticed on election day. And so I think it's unlikely to have a big positive effect on Democratic candidates.
DIONNE: The irony is this job growth has been going on all year, but they just haven't gotten the income growth out of it. So it had happened, and I think last-minute numbers can be helpful. There's a whole argument, which won't have anything to do with the election, which is if Congress hadn't cut so much and put deficit reduction as such a priority after the 2010 election, we'd probably be in much better shape now.
MARTIN: The president came out yesterday, gave a big speech at Northwestern University, kind of laying out some big political issues ahead of the midterms. How much does that matter now? I mean, do congressional Democrats in really tight races, do they want to link themselves to the president right now, E.J?
DIONNE: Depends where you are. Clearly, in some of the very competitive red state Senate races, they are distancing themselves from the president. But they do need the president to motivate Democrats to turn out. The Democratic base is going to be very important to Democrats, just like the Republican base will be to them. But the other thing is the president has a capacity sometimes to frame the national argument so that even - whether they want his help directly or not, they would like him to influence the argument. And so I think that is why they are welcoming his speeches even as some of them will say, but I don't agree with the president on everything.
BROOKS: Yeah, I sort of sympathize with the speeches. For one, the country is too pessimistic right now. The economy really is growing. It's probably going to grow faster over the next year. So there's a good cause to be pretty optimistic about where things are headed, but the country is in such a sour mood because of lack of leadership in Washington that people are too pessimistic. I don't see him helping too many people in red states, especially - I focus on the Senate races, 'cause I think the House is a foregone conclusion. And in places like Alaska and Louisiana, the president's approval rating is down in the 30s. And they're just not listening to him, and there's no way he can help candidates in those places.
MARTIN: Let's close looking abroad to foreign policy. Of course all this is happening while the U.S. is engaged in a growing military campaign against the group Islamic State or ISIS. The administration's lead on the issue is retired four-star General John Allen. He's on a big trip right now trying to build up the U.S. coalition. The State Department and the Pentagon have unveiled new webpages on their sites that highlight the number of coalition members, clearly something that they want to advertise. E.J., how does the war against ISIS fit into the midterms if at all. Does anyone benefit in some way?
DIONNE: Well, first of all, this approach is brought to you by George H.W. Bush, the first President Bush, and I think everybody who goes back to the Gulf War notices that building very broad international support was key to our success there. And I think that's exactly what the president is doing. What you're seeing in some of the Senate races - I was up in New Hampshire this week - is a lot of Republicans think as soon as the country gets worried about terrorism they turn back to the Republicans. Scott Brown has an ad - I think it's - it's a kind of cheesy ad but I think might be effective, saying well, President Obama and Senator Jeanne Shaheen, the Democrat he's trying to beat, are confused about the terrorist threat. There are ads on terrorism going up on the air in Georgia and in Colorado. And so I think right now Republicans figure this topic is something we're comfortable with. And if people are scared, they're more likely to turn to us. We're going to find out if that's true. I think the president took a little bit out of that argument by how tough he's been on ISIS.
BROOKS: Yeah. I would just say first, George W. Bush had more allies in his war in Iraq than President Obama does so far. So...
MARTIN: The counts not over.
BROOKS: The counts not over.
DIONNE: George H.W. Bush had more allies than both of them.
BROOKS: True, very true. The good thing Obama's doing is he's doing an effective job of getting some of the Sunni states - the Saudis, the Egyptians and so on - to, you know, attack really a Sunni force, and that's a good thing. Whether it'll have an effect on the election - I do - I think you notice it in how women are breaking out right now. The last New York Times poll had women breaking 43 percent for the Democrats, 42 percent for Republicans, very even. And I think a lot of that is the security issues hitting what they used to call security moms.
MARTIN: E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post and David Brooks of the New York Times. Thanks to both of you.
DIONNE: Thank you.
BROOKS: Thank you.
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