Countdown to Iowa's Caucuses, Part Two Robert Siegel continues a political discussion with E.J. Dionne and David Brooks.
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Countdown to Iowa's Caucuses, Part Two

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Countdown to Iowa's Caucuses, Part Two

Countdown to Iowa's Caucuses, Part Two

Countdown to Iowa's Caucuses, Part Two

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Robert Siegel continues a political discussion with E.J. Dionne and David Brooks.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel along with David Brooks of The New York Times and E.J. Dionne of The Brookings Institution.

And in this half hour, we've heard from Mike Huckabee and discussed the Republican field. The Democrats, E.J., what do you think?

Mr. E.J. DIONNE (Columnist, The Washington Post; Senior Fellow, The Brookings Institution): I think the Obama surge is real. It looks like he's very strong in Iowa. He's - what's really striking is not where he is in Iowa because the Clinton people were always worried about that. But these numbers in New Hampshire showing him coming very close that was supposed to be a firewall for Clinton. I thought it would be a firewall because the Clintons have such a deep personal connection to that from all the campaigning both of them did back in 1992. Now, that is getting very close.

And I think one of the reasons you're seeing the Clinton campaign get so jumpy is that if they lost Iowa and then that led to defeat in New Hampshire, you go into South Carolina. Oprah was just down there, seems to have energized that state for Obama. The African-American vote seems to be rallying toward him. That could present some real problems with her. And yet, she is still very strong in the national survey. She hasn't lost that. And I think there's an outside chance that John Edwards, who did very well in yesterday's debate, could come in from behind, and at least drive one of these other two into third.

SIEGEL: That was The Des Moines Register debate in Des Moines. David, what do you make of it and why the Obama surge? What do you think is behind that?

Mr. DAVID BROOKS (Columnist, The New York Times): Well, as I said, the climate has shifted. First of all, he's a great candidate, but the climate has shifted and so people are less afraid. And the speech he gave a couple weeks ago now at the Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner in Iowa saying, don't vote for your fears, vote on your hopes and aspirations for change, really captured the mode perfectly. Don't be afraid of the Republicans. Don't be afraid of what might happen in the world. Don't think you have to settle for this tough customer you don't necessarily trust - Hillary Clinton. Vote for hope. And that was, that matched the mode.

Now, Clinton is coming back and she's saying, I'm hope with experience. Just as Bush said, I'm a reformer with results after the McCain insurgency, she's responding to the Obama insurgency. But I'm sort of with E.J. I think Obama is in a quite a strong position right now. You win the first two, I really don't see how she recovers. And I think the Clinton people understand that. And they're responding, but they're responding with the characteristic infighting that we know and love about them. But it's a problem for her.

SIEGEL: You think Obama actually can be a strong national candidate if he were to get the nomination? A credible candidate?

Mr. DIONNE: I think he can. I mean, he certainly looks like he can right now. I think that the hope that the Clinton people have is that Obama peaked early enough that they can get people to ask the question again: Is he ready to be president? Is he ready to take on a big campaign? They've been very ham-handed about it and they've thrown out too many attacks. And they've - some of them have backfired on the Clinton campaign.

But what they desperately want to do is to have people say to themselves, Obama is great, he captures the mood, but he is not ready yet. But at this point, I think he has captured this feeling in the Democratic Party that they do want to get, not only beyond Bush, but maybe not want to have any of those old fights in the Clinton years. That's where Obama started and it's where he's ending up, and it seems to be helping him.

SIEGEL: I want to ask the two of you since you represent opposite poles of the American experience. You're a Yankee fan, David and…

Mr. BROOKS: I'm a Mets fan.

SIEGEL: You're a Mets fan. You're a Red Sox fan, E.J. I'm sorry about that, David.

Mr. BROOKS: I'll have to walk out of the studio.

SIEGEL: The Mitchell report, what do you make of that? I mean, a scandalous culture of drug abuse in the national pastime?

Mr. BROOKS: Well, there clearly was the culture of drug abuse, but I'm Mr. Happy about this actually, in part because the names that were on the list were older than I thought they were - people like David Justice and people like that - from a certain era, not so much from now. But second because you look at the names that weren't on the list, there weren't a lot of really great players that were in club houses where a lot of people were doing steroids. I'm thinking of Mike Piazza on the Mets, Derek Jeter on the Yankees, Ken Griffey Junior - they didn't do it. And there were a lot of people who actually didn't do it. And it's - it all came down to sort of individual conscience in a moment when a certain sort of behavior was deemed semi-acceptable.

SIEGEL: E.J.?

Mr. DIONNE: Well, of course, as a Red Sox fan, I'm glad that the Yankees suffered so much from this list and the Red Sox really did not. My son's first reaction was, Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz are not on the list. So there's great cheering in Boston for this. But I think it's really good because - that this came out, that these names were made public, not so much to get all those guys into trouble, but exactly, as David said, that there were plenty of great players out there who apparently weren't using these drugs, who were performing well, and whom people can still look up to without their records being sullied by this.

SIEGEL: Well, E.J. and David, thanks to both of you once again. E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and David Brooks of The New York Times.

Mr. DIONNE: Thank you.

Mr. BROOKS: Thank you.

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