Week In Politics: State Of The Union, Iran, Israel
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Politics now. This week around 30 million Americans watched President Obama's State of the Union address. That's the lowest TV audience in many years, but it still beats the seventh game of the World Series. And for our Friday commentators, E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and the Brookings Institution and David Brooks of The New York Times. It is still must-see TV and we're glad to see you guys here.
DAVID BROOKS, BYLINE: Good to be with you.
E.J. DIONNE, BYLINE: Glad to be here.
SIEGEL: Tuesday's State of the Union came with this confident and upbeat statement at where the country stands.
(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: America, for all that we have endured, for all the grit and hard work required to come back, for all the tasks that lie ahead, know this - the shadow of crisis has passed and the state of the union is strong.
SIEGEL: But as for more of what the president calls middle-class economics, Republicans, like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, sounded unimpressed.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
SENATOR MITCHMCCONNELL: Much of what he did tonight, you know - new taxes, new spending - is sort of the same old thing that we've heard over the last six years.
SIEGEL: So David, if Tuesday night sounded the keynote for the year to come and more, how melodious or discordant can we expect the next year to be?
BROOKS: Both. You can have two melodies that are discordant, and that's about what we're going to have. You know, I think what struck me about the speech, looking back, is we had this big problem dropped on our lap - basically wage stagnation, widening inequality. And I think it took the parties a long time to figure what to do about it. And for a long time, the Democrats, all they had was raising the minimum wage, which was not a solution commensurate with the size of the problem. But slowly, Democratic intellectuals have come up with a set of policies and you can call it middle-class economics, or others are calling it inclusive capitalism, but an agenda has come into being. And Republicans also have an agenda. And so I think the debate was not about legislation, this speech was about setting up the argument we're about to have on how to solve this big problem. And it's basically the Democrats are more on the demand side - let's give middle-class people some money so they can spend it and get the economy going. Republicans are a little more on the supply side - let's create the conditions for innovation. And so that's the debate. So I thought it was a great speech, actually, and an exciting prospect.
DIONNE: I feel much the same way. I just had a small point. I think actually Democrats are talking about supply side in a completely different way, which is they are focusing on workers and how you can prepare workers to help the economy grow. I think one of the things that was clear is the president has decided to deal with the Republican Party. He has not the Republican Party he wished he had. He knew that Mitch McConnell was going to say what Mitch McConnell said no matter what he put in his speech. And so what he's doing is laying out a very bold agenda, which is actually easier to lay out, I think, with the Democrats not controlling the Senate because you look back to the old days, an awful lot of moderate Democrats would've said, oh, gee whiz, do we really want increase capital gains taxes? I think he could be bolder, and he was. And it was a very concrete agenda - the community college proposal, stronger child care and sick leave laws, middle-class tax cuts paid for by a tax increase on the rich. I think it really lays down a marker that the Republicans are going to have to respond to. They're talking a lot about wage stagnation. They've got to put up something now.
SIEGEL: Since this was a kind of curtain opener for 2016 - if the curtain wasn't already wide open - we heard lots about the Republicans, where there's no shortage of old faces and new faces. On the Democratic side, all the discussion seems to be is, is Hillary Clinton going to be a stronger candidate this time than she was the last time she ran? Not much talk about Vice President Joe Biden, David. Does he have a role, a future in the Democratic Party?
BROOKS: Well, there's not much to talk about Joe Biden for those who are not talking to Joe Biden. He's talking about himself. (Laughter). I think that his view is that he's very proud of what he calls the Obama-Biden record. And he believes that if nobody is representing that record and running as a continuation of that record, then he's going to run. And he's eager to do so. And so, you know, I think there's a good possibility that he'll throw his hat in the ring. I tend to think...
SIEGEL: If the State of the Union is actually to the left of Hillary Clinton, perhaps, Joe Biden might see himself as the...
BROOKS: I think it's a - the real question - the party's moved to the left. There's the think tank called the Center for American Progress, used to be on the sort of leftward edge of the party. Now it's right in the middle of the party. And Hillary Clinton is going to move that way. Whether she can do so successfully is the question. And if she can't, then there's going to be so much running room for a lot of other people.
DIONNE: You know, everybody forgets that Bill Clinton could do a pretty good populist speech back in the day, too. In fact, one of the Clinton genius was he could be a new Democrat and a populist at the same time. So I think Hillary can do that. In terms of Joe Biden - of course he's still ambitious to be president. Mo Udall, the great, funny Democratic figure back from the '70s once said the only cure for the bug of wanting to be president is embalming fluid.
DIONNE: So I think it shouldn't surprise us that both he and Mitt Romney want to run again. And as David said, he does see himself as running - if he did run - on the legacy of the Obama administration, which is looking a lot better today than it might have a couple of years ago. I still think Hillary Clinton is the overwhelming favorite. And by the way, there was a poll this week that showed her way ahead of any of the Republicans, including Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney.
SIEGEL: One other item that we reported on here yesterday. The Congress has invited Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, to speak for the third time to a joint meeting of the two chambers. He will come to Washington a couple of weeks before he's up for election - or his party is, in the elections there. He will not meet with the president, with whom he differs sharply on Iran policy. What's going on, David?
BROOKS: Polarization is extended to foreign affairs. And you know, I guess I don't blame Boehner for inviting him. I'd certainly blame Bibi for accepting. It's just stupid. It's not good for two countries - it's bad for them to be feuding in public. It's really bad when you do it on the soil of one of the two countries.
SIEGEL: I mean, the impression is that he's coming here to speak past the president to the American people.
BROOKS: Right, on the subject of the Iranian negotiations. And his position, by the way, is totally legitimate. I'm not sure I agree or not, but it's just not diplomatic. And diplomats should be diplomatic.
DIONNE: I thought it was really astonishing. I mean, he's not here just to speak past the president. Bibi's coming to speak against the president's policy. There's no easy analogy because Israel has a particular place in the hearts of a lot of Americans, but I was thinking gosh, if the Democrats had invited Jacques Chirac to address Congress about the Iraq war - in other words, this is somebody who opposes President Obama's policy. I don't think there's any precedent for this. The White House is clearly furious. I suspect there are a lot of Republicans who care about foreign policy who are quietly unhappy about it, too. It's a very in-your-face move. And you wonder, will it help or hurt Netanyahu in the Israeli elections?
BROOKS: You know, I'm not sure this is the first time politics maybe in this way has been introduced. You know, Nancy Pelosi went to Syria against the Bush administration wishes. David Cameron a week or so ago was calling senators to lobby on the Obama side of the Iranian negotiations.
DIONNE: But speaking to the Congress of the United States in the same place the president spoke from is still pretty strong.
BROOKS: Yeah, but Bibi's a better speaker, so.
SIEGEL: Well, thanks guys. In this week, when inflation and deflation actually became literal terms, thanks to the New England Patriots.
DIONNE: I'm a Patriots apologist, watch it.
BROOKS: Cheaters, cheaters, cheaters.
SIEGEL: We didn't get a chance to talk about that. David Brooks and E.J. Dionne, thanks again.
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