The Week In Politics:
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And it's on the topic of Iran that we begin our weekly conversation with our regular political analysts E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and David Brooks of The New York Times. Welcome back to you both.
Mr. E.J. DIONNE (Journalist, The Washington Post): Thank you.
Mr. DAVID BROOKS (Journalist, The New York Times): Good to be here.
BLOCK: And let's start with you, David. Iran was a focus of the Obama administration's foreign policy this week, with the announcement that the United States is going to shelve plan for a missile-defense system based in Europe, instead turning to its sea-based system focused on Iran. Now Russia is happy about that, some foreign policy conservatives are not. David, what about you?
Mr. BROOKS: Well, first of all, it's dismaying to me that we're going back to focusing on the nuclear program as if this regime is somehow a sensible regime we can negotiate with and sort of discourage from a nuclear program. The problem is the regime, not the program, and I think the idea that we're going to be able to negotiate even with sanctions, even if we do get Russia, this regime to give up its nuclear program or anything else is kind of fantastical.
And so at the moment when the riots are at their peak we sort of shifted to the regime. Now we're back to status quo where we treat them as a normal regime we can do business with.
BLOCK: And given the rhetoric we heard from President Ahmadinejad today, E.J., the idea of talks with major parties coming up with Iran, does that strike you also as a mistake?
Mr. DIONNE: Well, I don't think we are treating Iran as a normal regime and clearly with what Ahmadinejad said today, which is only repeating some of the things he said in the past, you can't treat it as a normal regime. But in terms of the missile shield, if you ask the question would Barack Obama have followed this Bush policy with the missile shield in the first place, the answer is no. And he was stuck with this policy. He said some things - I think he's going to have to explain some words he said earlier in support of it. But he wouldn't have done this missile shield, and I think what he's doing now is taking back something he would never have done in the first place. He's facing some pushback, particularly from more conservative or right-wing elements in Poland, but there are others in Poland and Czechoslovakia who may actually welcome this decision.
BLOCK: The Czech Republic, yeah.
Mr. DIONNE: In the Czech Republic, thank you.
(Soundbite of laughter)
BLOCK: Times have changed. Let's move over to the domestic side. David Brooks, you write today in your column about a special debate that's going on right now, hotly debated, the question of whether hostility toward President Obama is driven by racism. We heard former President Jimmy Carter this week say he thinks it clearly is. You say unh-hnh.
Mr. BROOKS: No, I think we've had in this country a history, we've had a history of racist movements obviously, but we've had another history that goes back more deeply, and I think is more germane to this, and it's a history of angry populist revolt. There was Father Coughlin in the 1930s. There was Williams Jennings Bryan at a much higher level. There has been a whole series of angry populists, prairie populists, agrarian populists. And basically it's a group of people who consider themselves the plain people and who are in revolt against what they consider to be the cosmopolitans, the Washington, the New York, the Los Angeles, against the Federal Reserve Board.
And when I look at some of the people that were following Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, to me they are more the latter. So if Barack Obama was white or anything else, they would be upset by the concentration of what they would see as educated class. They would be upset by the concentration and the fusion of Wall Street power and Washington power and the energy sector and the health care center all coming under government control. And to me that's where this sort of movement is really coming from.
BLOCK: E.J. Dionne, your take on what David just said?
Mr. DIONNE: Most of the president's opponents are against him for reasons of politics or ideology or the state of the economy, not race. And David's right, we've had big populist movements, angry populist movements. But there is simply no denying, and I don't know why everybody is so - doesn't want to say it outright, that race is motivating some of the opposition, maybe even a significant part of the opposition. Rush Limbaugh goes on the air and I'm quoting Limbaugh here, “In Obama's America the white kids now get beat up with the black kids cheering, yeah right on, right on, right on.” That's about race.
A leader of the teabag movement posts saying Obama's the racist-in-chief and he calls him an Indonesian Muslim turned welfare thug. That's about race. These signs portraying the president as a witch doctor, that's about race. Race should not dominate our discussion. It's not the only thing out there, but I think we need to face up to the fact that there is racial feeling and in some cases racist feeling here.
BLOCK: David, I think E.J. saying you have blinders on a little bit.
Mr. BROOKS: Well, no I wouldn't deny there's always been a - in most populist movements, there's always been a racial element: Father Coughlin, there was a thick anti-Semitic movement. But I think it's mostly protest against big government and the size of the government. Now that's not to say this is not conspiratorial, but I think the basic situation here, we have people following Rush and Glenn Beck who may be are 10 percent of the country. We have another 10 percent on the other side who are almost as conspiratorial on the other side and I think the thing to…
Mr. DIONNE: They're not racist though.
Mr. BROOKS: Well, they are conspiratorial. And the thing for sensible people to do, which Barack Obama has done very carefully this whole period, is to get out of both those camps and to try to avoid the debate and stick with the middle who will be offended by the conspiratorial and frankly zealous tone on both sides.
BLOCK: There was also news today that the man who has been called the founder of neoconservatism, Irving Kristol, has died. He was 89. David Brooks, what do you see as Irving Kristol's legacy?
Mr. BROOKS: Well, he took, actually he took conservatism which was sometimes an ugly movement and gave it a level of intellectual seriousness with the founding of the public interest, really a scrutiny on public policy using the most sophisticated tools of social science. He also married public policy with character and moral philosophy and an investigation of the founding. So he really was a serious public intellectual which gave a movement, which hadn't had that much intellectual seriousness, a great deal.
BLOCK: E.J. Dionne, how do you remember Irving Kristol?
Mr. DIONNE: I actually agree with almost all of that. I mean he was jaunty conservative. He laughed more than he - he didn't snarl much. He smiled and laughed. And what's important about him is he started out as a liberal -actually, he started out as a Trotskyist. And originally when he started the public interest, the idea was to help liberalism and correct it, not to kill it, but as time went on he became more and more conservative.
My favorite, one of my favorite Irving Kristol quotes is when the neoconservative label was created. It was created by a great American socialist Michael Harrington. A lot of the people called neoconservatives ran away from it. Irving Kristol said the sensible course, therefore, is to take your label, claim it as your own and run with it. And that's what he did.
BLOCK: Okay, thanks to you both. Have a good weekend.
Mr. DIONNE: Thank you.
Mr. BROOKS: Thank you.
BLOCK: E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and Brookings Institution and David Brooks of The New York Times.
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