In 2010, Demographic Trends Favor Democrats Ruy Teixeira correctly predicted a Democratic majority in 2008. As 2010 elections draw near, he returns to act as a clairvoyant, with Matt Continetti, associate editor of The Weekly Standard. Matt Bai of The New York Times Magazine fills in for Political Junkie Ken Rudin.
NPR logo

In 2010, Demographic Trends Favor Democrats

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
In 2010, Demographic Trends Favor Democrats

In 2010, Demographic Trends Favor Democrats

In 2010, Demographic Trends Favor Democrats

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Ruy Teixeira correctly predicted a Democratic majority in 2008. As 2010 elections draw near, he returns to act as a clairvoyant, with Matt Continetti, associate editor of The Weekly Standard. Matt Bai of The New York Times Magazine fills in for Political Junkie Ken Rudin.


This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

Sarah Palin concedes she used to hustle over the border for Canadian health care, and Congressman Eric Massa confesses to tickling, tousling and trouble in the locker room on Capitol Hill.

Representative ERIC MASSA (Democrat, New York): I for the life of me can't figure out why they took all the shower curtains off the shower stalls.

CONAN: It's Wednesday and time for a squeaky clean edition of the Political Junkie.

Former President RONALD REAGAN: There you go again.

Former Vice President WALTER MONDALE: When I hear your new ideas, I'm reminded of that ad. Wheres the beef?

Former Senator BARRY GOLDWATER (Republican, Arizona): Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.

Former Senator LLOYD BENTSEN (Democrat, Texas): Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.

President RICHARD NIXON: You don't have Nixon to kick around anymore.

Former Governor SARAH PALIN (Republican, Alaska): Lipstick.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: But Im the decider.

(Soundbite of scream)

CONAN: Harry Reid files paperwork to run for re-election. Bill Delahunt calls it quits, and David Paterson is still the governor of New York, so far, today. And in Florida, Charlie Crist goes on the offensive, accusing his opponent of spending 130 bucks on a haircut, or was it a back wax?

Governor CHARLIE CRIST (Republican, Florida): I get my hair cut for 11 bucks from a guy named Carl(ph) the barber in St. Petersburg, Florida, where I grew up. To me, that's real fiscal conservatism.

CONAN: Later this hour, who is Jihad Jane? But first, the political junkie. Ken Rudin is in the Caribbean, sipping daiquiris and toning his trivia. Guest junkie Matt Bai joins us here in Studio 3A. He covers politics for the New York Times magazine. Thanks very much for pinch-hitting.

Mr. MATT BAI (New York Times Magazine): Of course. Thanks for the daiquiris.

CONAN: And we have to start with Eric Massa. This has been one of the most extraordinary political immolations in history.

Mr. BAI: It really is. He said he's now under investigation, and he says he didn't grope any aides, he just tickled one until he could no longer breathe, which as you know is very common and appropriate workplace behavior. You do it all the time around here.

There's a larger point here, I think, which is that when you have these waive years, like a 1974 or a 1994, say 2006, 2008, if you look at them together, you do get people winning in districts who may not necessarily clear the threshold of, for lack of a better word, the normalcy of someone who should attain and retain a seat in Congress. And I think you tend to get these stories of strange corruption and weirdness and just plain craziness, because you do have a lot of people who were sort of swept along in the tide who may not have gotten there in some other year. And I think Congressman Massa probably fits that description.

CONAN: Well, Congressman Massa was, briefly this week, the darling of the right because of this attack that he levied on the president's chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel.

Rep. MASSA: Rahm Emanuel is son of the devil's spawn. He is an individual who would sell his mother to get a vote. He would strap his children to the front end of a steam locomotive. If he doesn't like that, he can come after me personally.

CONAN: All of that may be true, but nevertheless, Rahm Emanuel was upset because Congressman Massa wasn't going to vote for health care because he thought it was he was for the single-payer program.

Mr. BAI: Yeah, I have to get on my demonic flow chart because there's the spawn, and then there's the spawn's siblings and parents.

CONAN: Second cousin to devil spawn.

Mr. BAI: You know what? People say a lot of things in politics, and Congressman Massa has a pretty, you know, outrageous sense of things. Obviously, we've seen in the last few days. I think the comments about frankly, about Rahm Emanuel strapping his children to the car or whatever, it's just it's sort of just beyond even humor or, you know, the normal, crazy political discourse. And obviously, it discredits what he has to say.

I mean, I don't know what went on in this conversation about health care and what didn't, but I don't think it is the root of Congressman Massa's problems.

CONAN: In any case, he has retired from Congress, which again will change the calculation on health care, along with a retirement in Georgia of a Republican last week. And all of this comes as the Democrats continue to struggle with this idea of pushing it through with no Republican votes whatsoever.

Mr. BAI: Right, well, I think that the strategy has been, since losing the race in Massachusetts for Democrats, is to prove, both for the president and the Congress, that they've done everything they can to round up Republican votes, that they've gone all out, that they've even incorporated a series of Republican ideas - which arguably they might have incorporated some time ago -some of those ideas seem to make sense as part of their bill and that they're really given no choice.

And look, you know, we keep talk about the Republicans keep talking about the ramming it through, you know, with no, with no due process. They have an 18-seat majority in the Senate. They have a large majority in the House. This is as John McCain used to like to say, elections have consequences.

This is what the people these are who the people put in power. We're not polls can say whatever they want, we're not going to have another election until November, and you know, I think Democrats have very little choice left at this point but to try to get this bill through and go out and defend it, rather than defending themselves over a vote in which they couldn't even enact the legislation at issue.

CONAN: And it was the timing has been terribly poor on their behalf. They clearly had an opportunity to do it last summer, even last fall, but after the turn of the year, it became very, very difficult.

Mr. BAI: Yes, and I think you can trace this back. There's going to be all kinds of theories and post-mortems about this, and I think it was a difficult calculation. You can say, well, the White House completely messed this up, but I think there was a difficult calibration about how much to leave to Congress, how long to wait, how long to try and get bipartisan support.

I think the critical issue was last summer, the summer of 2009, when the Senate Finance Committee, which was really in I think we talked about it the epicenter of this effort got derailed in its negotiations with trying to get Republicans and kept asking for more time and more time, and in the vacuum of a Senate bill, a lot of opposition, a lot of demonization went out, a lot of information, like the death panels and all that, was spread around.

CONAN: And the tea parties erupted.

Mr. BAI: The tea parties erupted. There was no way for the president to go out and counteract that or sell a plan because he had nothing to sell. He wasn't willing to put a plan on the table. He was still waiting for the finance committee to do its work.

I think you could certainly argue that there was a critical moment there where they waited too long on that committee, instead of realizing they were going to have to switch tracks and go a different way.

CONAN: Now that he's come out with a proposal, the president is campaigning -out there campaigning. He'll be in St. Louis today, another campaign-style event to push health care through.

Mr. BAI: Well, and this is just, in my view, and I think in a lot of people's views at this point, long overdue. Because whether this is the right bill or the wrong bill, you have to go out and sell it to the American people.

They spent an awful lot of time selling it in Congress, but the truth is, if you've got a plan that doesn't have a plurality of support in the polls a plan with 35, 38 percent, whatever it is lately - you're not going to get a lot of members of Congress in difficult races to come out and support that bill.

In the modern era of presidential power, you have to build public support for your agenda and take that to the Hill. They failed to do that, and it's never too late, and I think that's the right thing for him to be doing.

CONAN: Interesting poll out today from the Associated Press, showing the president with 53 percent, the support of 53 percent of the people, more support on foreign issues, Iraq and Afghanistan, than on domestic issues; Congress with dismal ratings of 22 percent support, and slightly more support for Democrats than Republicans, but both terrible.

Mr. BAI: Well, and I think there's a fascinating thing going on here. Now, I would hypothesize, but I have no data to support it, but not only is this president, who's certainly a different kind of party leader, not only are his approval ratings not hitched inexorably to his Democratic majorities in Congress, I would argue that there's actually the opposite going on - which is that people like this president, they're rooting for this president, at least the people who voted for him, but they need somebody to blame. And they're actually his support, his likeability with a lot of the public is translating into more resentment for Congress. Because, I think a lot of independent who lean independents who lean left or Democratic voters are basically saying, somebody's making a mess of this, somebody's not getting things done, and I don't think its the president because I still kind of believe in him.

So I actually think that he and his party's paths here and public approval, are actually diverging for a reason.

CONAN: And yet that same poll shows a plurality of independents saying they would vote Republican now.

Mr. BAI: Yeah, and that's just a huge problem in a congressional election. I mean, we're far out, a lot can happen, and you know, generic ballots, which is, you know, who would you vote for, a generic Democrat or a generic Republican -that will become much more important as we get closer to the election.

But clearly, you look at that number among independents, if you're a Democrat today, and you know you're facing losses, and the question is how many, and will you retain control?

CONAN: A comment that has not yet gotten a lot of attention, that by the chief justice of the Supreme Court. Mr. Roberts was in the University of Alabama Law School, where he criticized, well, not what the president had to say about the McCain-Feingold decision, but where he had to say it, at the State of the Union Address.

Chief Justice JOHN ROBERTS (United States Supreme Court): The image of having the members of one branch of government standing up, literally surrounding the Supreme Court, cheering and hollering while the court, according to the requirements of protocol, has to sit there expressionless, I think is very troubling. And it does cause you to think whether or not it makes sense for us to be there. To the extent the State of the Union has degenerated into a political pep rally, I'm not sure why we're there.

CONAN: And that's the first we've heard from the chief justice, since he sat there very uncomfortably as the president chided him for a decision - a five-to-four decision he disagreed with.

Mr. BAI: Yes, this, the State of the Union has degenerated into politics, unlike the Supreme Court, which we know has no politics involved whatsoever.

CONAN: None whatsoever.

Mr. BAI: You know, I would you know, I'm not going to presume to tell the chief justice, you know, what the political situation is in the country, but this is, we had the invention of television sometime in the late 1950s in the political arena, and since then, just about every televised event has become highly politicized. We know this. Nothing's changed about the State of the Union in recent years. It's up to them to decide whether the Supreme Court should sit there or not, obviously, but I don't think you can make an argument that this president's State of the Union is any more degraded or politicized than, you know, what we've seen throughout my lifetime.

CONAN: Interesting, the Supreme Court entering the era of radio, they do issue audio recordings of the arguments, often. They didn't, recently, in the case of as they heard arguments over gun rights in Chicago. Interesting, too.

Mr. BAI: You know, they wrestle with the technology issue as much as any institution of government and have been obviously much slower to adapt. And I don't know how they make the decisions of what they're going to make public and what they aren't, but I think it is one of the interesting things about his comments about the State of the Union is it exposes sort of the bubble that the Supreme Court lives in and how, increasingly, I think, that erodes, in some sense, the trust of the American people in that institution because it is so much less transparent and sort of less adapted to the moment than so many other institutions - maybe any institution - of government that we have.

CONAN: And we're going to be talking a lot more about this political moment in just a minute or two, but I did want to ask you about some book news. Scott Brown is going to write one. Of course, Karl Rove has just published one.

Mr. BAI: Yeah, well, if you're Scott Brown, why wouldn't you? People want to read it right now. It does seem rather odd. He just won one election. It's a Senate election, right - he's got a long way to go.

CONAN: It was a pretty big upset.

Mr. BAI: It was a pretty big upset, but you know, we get fixated on these things. A few months from now, I don't know how huge it's going to seem.

Yeah, the Karl Rove book I've not read. I have read the excerpts at this point. It falls into a very accepted and time-honored genre of presidential advisors, going back in the period just after a presidency, to recast it for historians and journalists so that, you know, people like me who come along in 20 years and are trying to figure out what went on in the Iraq war period. You know, we'll have the other side of the story there on the record to point to.

CONAN: Comes out before the president's account comes out.

Mr. BAI: Yes, it does, in fact, and I wouldn't expect the president's account to be, you know, terribly enlightening on that point - but who knows?

CONAN: Matt Bai covers politics for the New York Times magazine. He's the author of "The Argument: Inside the Battle to Remake Democratic Politics." He's with us here in Studio 3A as our guest political junkie this week. Ken Rudin will be back next week. In just a moment, we're going to be talking about this political moment. We're going to be setting the ground have we seen the ground set for a Republican rebound in 2010? What trends do you see? Which party do you favor? 800-989-8255. Email us, Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

Our weekly visit with the political junkie continues. Matt Bai is here, filling in for Ken Rudin, political writer for the New York Times magazine, author of "The Argument: Inside the Battle to Remake Democratic Politics."

For the rest of the segment, we look forward to 2010 - November. In 2002, Ruy Teixeira, a senior fellow at the Sentry Foundation and the Center for American Progress joined us on this program to talk about his book about the emerging Democratic majority, an idea that seemed, well, to some, fanciful at the time.

Well, 2006 and 2008 showed that he was righter than wronger. Now, many people wonder how long that majority can hold. In an interview with the New York Times, Republican Mitch Daniels, governor of Indiana, said Republicans need to take advantage of disillusionment with Democrats and Washington, and that Republicans can't rest on their laurels. We're back in the game, he said, but it wasn't anything we did. We're on second base faster than we thought, but we didn't hit a double.

Well, we've invited Ruy Teixeira, along with Matt Continetti, associate editor of the Weekly Standard, to do some more forecasting as 2010 November approaches. Both of them join us in a moment. As you look ahead to 2010, which trends do you think favor which party? 800-989-8255. Email And Ruy Teixeira and Matt Continetti are here with us in Studio 3A. Of course, Matt Bai is here, too. Ruy, have things shifted substantially in the last two years?

Mr. RUY TEIXEIRA (Senior Fellow, Sentry Foundation, Center for American Progress): Well, clearly, things have shifted in terms of opinions about you know, you look at things like the generic ballot. You look at things like Obama's approval rating. Obviously, things have changed a lot since Obama got elected.

Another thing that's changed is that when Obama got elected, unemployment was 6.8 percent. Now it's 9.7 percent. It peaked at 10.2 percent. It's an iron law of politics that when unemployment goes up, as a kind of sharp upper trend line that we've seen, the incumbent party and the president suffer, and that's about 85 percent or 90 percent of what happened.

You can pretty much explain the political trajectory since Obama got elected almost exclusively on the base of that variable.

Were mistakes made? Yes, mistakes were made. Is there enthusiasm on the other side of the aisle, among Republicans? Absolutely there is, but it's very difficult to sustain the enthusiasm and the support and the glow that you had when you got elected in the teeth of this kind of unemployment. So I think that - I just really want to emphasis that factor. It's been critical.

CONAN: But do you see these things as malleable? Could there be a shift up, as well as down, if the economy gets better, things will look better for the president and the Democrats, or...?

Mr. TEIXEIRA: Oh, not only could there be, there will be. Again, that's sort of an iron law. If the economy improves, if unemployment starts ticking down pretty steadily now, it may not tick down fast enough and far enough by the time we have the election in 2010 to have a big effect - but by the time Obama runs for re-election in 2012, I assure you there will be big effects from this.

So the question of the moment, then, is given the state of the economy, given the state of political play, what sort of losses are the Democrats likely to sustain in 2010?

CONAN: And it is, Matt Continetti, traditional for the president's party to lose seats in the first midterm election. This one may lose more than just a few.

Mr. MATTHEW CONTINETTI (Associate Editor, Weekly Standard): Right, and it's also traditional for the president's approval rating to be lower in November of the midterm year than it was in January. I differ slightly with Ruy.

I think, obviously, the economy is a factor in any political situation, but when I look back at midterm results over the past decades, I see that presidential job approval is actually more important than the unemployment rate. And right now, then, President Obama would, you know, superficially say that he's doing pretty well.

There's about a 10-point spread between the Rasmussen, which trends Republican, poll has his approval at 43 percent, to the latest AP poll, I think today, has his approval at 53 percent. Anything about 50 percent, and there's going to be a lot of you know, the losses won't be as great.

The problem is not so much President Obama's overall job approval, but his job approval among the voters who turn out to vote in November. And I think this coalition of voters is going to be what you saw in 2009 in Virginia and New Jersey and again in Massachusetts in January of this year.

They are going to be whiter, they are going to be older, and they are going to be conservative-leaning independents. And among this group, Obama's approval rating is in the trash bin, and so I don't think that helps Democrats at all.

CONAN: Matt Bai, your book, "The Argument," was about documented a lot of the energy that was around last time on the Democrat side, as Ruy said, if there's energy out there now, it seems to be on the Republican side or at least on the Tea Party side.

Mr. BAI: Yeah, it does, although and that certainly benefits Republicans. I think both versions we've just heard are, in my mind, a little wishful.

I agree, Ruy, that you know, I certainly would agree that unemployment is a huge factor in what's going on. I don't know, and you know, to the extent there's an iron law, I suppose that would be one. I don't know that it's 85 or 90 percent. I would make an argument that you have seen, over the last 20 years in American politics and more pronounced in the last several years, just a simple frustration with the culture of government, with incumbency, a general tendency of voters to revolt against whichever party is holding power as their frustrations peak, and at ever-shortening intervals.

So, you know, they threw out Republicans in they threw out Democrats in '94, threw out Republicans in '06, seem poised perhaps to throw out Democrats now. So I don't think this is all about just, gee, we inherited this bad economic climate. I think there is a not-ideological-but-just-a-general-reform-minded fury out there with the inability of government to cope with issues.

Having said that, I think Matt's a little you know, Matt strikes me as wishful, too, because in order to win, you know, I mean, I have no idea what's going to happen in November, but you've got to have something to say. You've got to have some new class of candidates. You've got to have some alternative. You've got to have some agenda. I just see none of that.

Republicans are running a whole bunch of candidates who have run before. They're running completely on opposition. They're running with no alternative to speak of. They've got some time to work on that, but I think their own history, both in triumph and defeat, would tell you that they're putting themselves, at this point, at the worst possible position to take advantage of a very ripe situation.

CONAN: Let's get some callers in on the conversation. Let's start with Bob(ph), Bob calling us from St. Paul.

BOB (Caller): Hey, thanks a lot. I think the Democrats are doing it to themselves.

CONAN: And how in particular?

BOB: In terms of Obama being kind of milk-toasty. He seems to take a position that's progressive and then backs away - whether it's in regard to health care or the Bush policies on terrorism, not focusing with a laser beam on the economic issues that are stagnating and, you know, hurting the country so badly.

I think that the Republicans are going to end up, just their strategy of just saying no is may pay off for them.

CONAN: Ruy Teixeira, let me ask you about that. We thought there was some thought of a transformational presidency with the election of Barack Obama and those big Democratic majorities in the House and the Senate. If it's been transformational, we haven't seen that yet.

Mr. TEIXEIRA: Well, as I was implying earlier, it's a little bit hard to be transformational in this particular economic moment. However, I think if we look a little bit down the road, I think the potential for transformation is still there.

I think they will pass health care reform, and we can get into discussing that. I think it will happen. I think it's the biggest piece of social legislation since Medicare, since 1965. That's huge.

I think they're going to I think they're going to regulate the financial system. I think they'll get a bill through. I think it'll be wildly popular. The single group that people are most angry at, in this country - isn't the government, certainly isn't the Obama administration, it's the banks and Wall Street. That's a great issue for the Democrats and for the Obama administration in general.

They have stabilized the economy - we didn't fall off the cliff - and the economy will eventually come back. I mean, these are important, big things. I mean, is this the great society? Maybe not. Is this the first 100 days of Franklin Delano Roosevelt? Maybe not. Those are more extreme situations where they had larger majorities.

But I do think that the Obama administration has already done, or is on the verge of doing, a number of things that really mark a substantial break from past politics that we've seen in the last three decades.

CONAN: Well, to bring it back to Bob's question, Mitch Daniels, we quoted at the beginning, saying we're on second base, but it's not because we hit a double. Are the Democrats doing it to themselves, Matt Continetti?

Mr. CONTINETTI: I think there's some of that, and I think the agenda is part of it, too. I think some of the transformation that Obama has hoped for and pushed is not necessarily that which the public supports or wants.

I agree with Ruy, though. Health care is key, and over the past year, what we saw was Obama come into office with huge approval ratings, and then those ratings slowly degraded over time, as he lost all of the Republican support and then as he started to lose independent support.

If you go to, you'll see that there's about a 10-point gap among independents, disapproving of Obama rather than approving of his job performance. And a lot of that, I believe, is tied not only to the economy but also to the agenda.

What we've seen lately, just in the past couple weeks, is Obama solidifying the support, even gaining in some polls, and we see an upward trend in support for the health care legislation, as well. And the reason I think that is is because Obama has taken a much more aggressive stance, against the insurers in particular, and also trying to show that the Republicans really are just opposing him for political reasons.

Whether you agree with that or not...

CONAN: He's also a pretty good campaigner.

Mr. CONTINETTI: Yeah. That's debatable. I mean, he has given 38 speeches on this bill, and it's still unpopular. However, he has been able to stave off the damage. He's been able to hold the Democrats, and I think that will be key in November.

I will say this, though: When I look back over recent midterm elections, I find that the issue that we vote on in November is not necessarily the issue that we debate in that previous winter, and so I actually don't think health care is going to matter much, either way, in November.

I think it will be some issue that we're either not talking about that's already out there, or it's going to be an issue that we have no idea will emerge over the next six months.

CONAN: Yeah. It's hard to read that crystal ball, Matt Bai, because a lot of things could change over the next six months.

Mr. BAI: Yes. I mean, we continually do it. But Matt's right. There's no - you cant make prognostications about this. I mean, if I'm a Democrat today, I'd probably tell myself, well, at least I seem to be hitting my nadir in March and not in July or August. And I think you could make an argument that these things are cyclical, and you want to be down - if you're going to be down and out, you'd rather be down and out in the spring than as you close in on the election season.

CONAN: And let's go to Karen, Karen calling from Virginia Beach.

KAREN (Caller): Hi. I'm an independent voter, and have been for a very long time. And a lot of what I'm seeing is that people are feeling like they don't have any good options. Every single election, I have to choose between the guy who's going to legislate my bedroom and the guy who's going to take all money and give it to somebody else who I don't approve of. And I hate it. I never feel like I'm voting for somebody. I'm always voting against somebody.

CONAN: And the lesser of two evils, it sounds like.

KAREN: That's right. And then they get into office, and I'm just as angry at them for the opposite reason. I don't have any good choices. And the Republicans have dug in their heels and said we are not going to change our social agenda. And the Democrats have dug in their heels and said, we are not going to change our policy of pass and spend basically. And it's very frustrating.

CONAN: And so, as you look ahead - which district are you in? Do you - are you going to have a contested election there for Congress?

KAREN: Virginia always seems to have a contested election. I voted pure Republican ticket last election, and it was an anti-Democratic agenda. And now, the things that I'm seeing these guys doing on the social side, I'm disgusted. And, you know, I'm going to (technical difficulties).

CONAN: Okay. Karen, I think you're hitting a bad cell, but thanks very much for the call.

KAREN: Thank you.

CONAN: We appreciate it. Our guests are Matt Bai, who's our pinch-hitting Political Junkie, Ken Rudin on vacation this week. Also with us, Ruy Teixeira. His most recent book, "Red, Blue & Purple America: The Future of Election Demographics." If I can't read my own handwriting, I'd be dangerous here. Also with us is Matt Continetti, associate editor of The Weekly Standard. And you're listening to the Political Junkie segment on TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

Let's go next to Tracy(ph), Tracy calling from Raleigh.

TRACY (Caller): Hi. I was - I've been listening since the beginning of this particular show and talking about the trends, but one thing that came up was that, you know, whether or not the job approval rating is going to be down enough by November, which leads me to - why does - why is everything in such a rush? Why does there have to be such a change, this - so quickly? Is this an American personality trend that we want what we want when we want it and we don't want to wait? I mean, we're not buying a TV here.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

TRACY: These are big things to take consideration. And really, what is large, too short of a time to properly consider and map out some of these big things like the health care bills, et cetera?

CONAN: Matt Continetti, is our attention span dwindling?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CONTINETTI: Absolutely. We have a short attention span in America today. But I think there's also a political explanation for what you point out, and that is, before the administration even came to office, they made a calculation that the financial crisis and recession made the opportunity right for grand social reform of the sort not seen since the Great Society. As Rahm Emanuel famously said, a crisis is a terrible thing to waste.

And so they went for this big bang theory of governance that included the stimulus, that included health care, that included cap and trade, that included the education reforms and the banking regulatory reforms. And today, that we see that the only thing of that agenda that has been enacted into law - other than the education reforms, which will go into place, it's a bipartisan issue -is the stimulus. And so I think that strategy backfired in a lot of ways.

CONAN: Well, really, you anticipate that a lot of those things are going to get through. But, nevertheless, this short attention span, as we were talking earlier with Matt, the Democratic dawdle last summer has really cost them.

Mr. BAI: Right. I think it has cost them. I'm not sure the public's attention span is that much different than it used to be. Certainly, the level of scrutiny is maybe a little more than it used to be. I mean, I completely agree with Matt. I think the dragging out, the sausage-making process in the full view of the American people for the length of time it was, particularly in the summer doldrums with the - with Grassley and Baucus playing footsy for months was probably a bad idea. But I think it probably would have been a bad idea back in 1962 and 1940. I mean, people don't like this stuff. They've never like this stuff.

CONAN: Well, they didn't have cable news back in 1962. Let's see if we can get one last caller in, and go to Robin, Robin with us from Mistiuna(ph) in New York.

ROBIN (Caller): Yes. I was going to say, I used to volunteer for the Democratic Party. But now I'm going to be doing everything in my power to undermine them because they're going to tell me that if I do not buy health insurance, they will come after me. But they do not have enough boots on the ground to make sure those premiums are going to be affordable. It is not 1962. We're not talking about a 4 percent tax. We talking about being considered a criminal, and there's no comparison.

CONAN: In other words, you're talking about if the Democratic proposal passes and you don't buy health insurance, the IRS will note that and penalize you.

ROBIN: Oh, they will, too.

CONAN: The IRS's efficiency, everybody more or less accepts that. Matt Bai, Robin's point, a lot of Democrats are upset - not just on her point, but also a lot of Democrats on the left upset that this is not the health care proposal they thought they signed on for.

Mr. BAI: Well, nobody was going to get the health care proposal they exactly wanted, because there's an awful lot of compromise. I find this issue fascinating, because if you'll remember this particular call - because if you remember, this was - in the early part of the primaries, right, Barack Obama opposed the individual mandate. And the reason he did so was just...

CONAN: Originally, a Republican idea.

Mr. BAI: And the - yes. And the reason he did this was this sort of skittishness over government, over how people would respond to government forcing them to do something. And, of course, the argument that ultimately won out and that he accepted - and it makes economics sense, apparently - is that if you can't get everybody into the system, including healthy people who would not buy insurance, you're not able then to go back and control costs. But, you know, again...

ROBIN: Well I think it's meant as a punitive measure, because I am not who voted for him, and he has no right to make me a criminal. It is not a tax...

Mr. BAI: Well...

ROBIN: ...I love the Medicare tax.

CONAN: It's not it's not quite a crime. It's a fine.

Mr. BAI: It's not criminal. And, in fact, he does have the right, 'cause he's the president and he's passing the bill through Congress. So, actually, you got to live with the laws whether you voted for him or not. That's kind of the misfortune of being part of the democracy. But I would say that this is something - you know, obviously, Barack Obama had years to anticipate this argument and this particular feeling because he came out with that position back in Iowa, and they have not apparently solved it.

CONAN: We'll be back checking back with all you gentlemen to see how brilliant your prognostications were in November. Thanks very much for joining us. Ruy Teixeira, a "Red, Blue & Purple America: The Future of Election Demographics. Matt Continetti of The Weekly Standard and our pinch-hitting Political Junkie Matt Bai of The New York Times Magazine, thanks to you all.

Coming up, we're going to be talking with Dina Temple-Raston about the blonde-haired, green-eyed female American alleged terrorist, Jane Jihad. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.