Clinton Clings to Lead in Pa. Polls
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
I'm Robert Siegel, and we start with politics. Specifically the Democrats battling for the low ground. Hillary Clinton on dodging sniper fire in Bosnia.
Senator Hillary Clinton (Democrat, New York; Presidential Candidate): I just said some things that weren't in keeping with what I knew to be the case and what I'd written about in my book.
SIEGEL: And Barack Obama on bitterness, guns, and God in small town America.
Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois; Presidential Candidate): It's not the first time that I've made a statement that was mangled up. It's not going to be the last.
SIEGEL: Some highlights of the Pennsylvania primary debate. Howard Dean, the Democratic National Committee Chair, may have had that debate in mind when he told CNN's Wolf Blitzer that it's going to be time for the superdelegates to make up their super minds pretty soon.
Mr. HOWARD DEAN (Chair, Democratic National Committee): There's about 320 some-odd left to vote. I need them to say who they're for, starting now. They really do need to do that. We cannot give up two or three months of active campaigning and healing time. We've got to know who our nominees - and there's no reason not to know after the last primary on June 3rd.
SIEGEL: Well, here to talk about the state of the Democratic campaign and what it means for the Republicans are E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post. Author of "Souled Out," S-O-U-L-E-D, "Souled Out: Reclaiming Faith and Politics after the Religious Right," welcome back.
Mr. E.J. DIONNE JR. (Author, "Souled Out: Reclaiming Faith and Politics after the Religious Right): Thank you.
SIEGEL: And David Brooks of the New York Times.
Mr. DAVID BROOKS (Columnist, The New York Times): Good to be here.
SIEGEL: Good to see you.
Mr. DIONNE: …very short.
SIEGEL: Very short introductions. First, E.J. Dionne. You wrote this week that the Democratic presidential candidates are doing, and I quote, "A splendid job of helping John McCain get to the White House."
Mr. DIONNE: Well, first of all, I promised I won't say things that aren't in keeping with what I know to be the case. What a mouthful that was from Hillary Clinton. Howard Dean is super worried and he's super right. I mean, this has been a very destructive period with the Democrats. I think both candidates have been bringing themselves down, and Hillary Clinton has been attacking Obama that's done some damage, he made the bitter mistake.
But Clinton is hurting herself with the attacks, too. So this is a very gloomy time for Democrats. I think the best thing that may have happened to Obama is that the ABC debate gave him an opportunity to attack the media and go on the offensive. And, I think, that if Obama pulls off either an upset or a very close showing with - this will be the first time in many years that a Democrat, not a Republican, does it, in part, by running against the media.
SIEGEL: But then comes the fall campaign, David Brooks, you write in your column today, Republicans have long assumed that they would lose because of the economy and the sad state of their party, now Democrats are deeply worried their nominee will lose in November.
Mr. BROOKS: Yeah, everyone's depressed. And that - I guess that's the reality.
SIEGEL: Except John McCain.
Mr. BROOKS: Except for John McCain.
You know, if you run a generic Democrat against a generic Republican the generic Democrat wins by 13 points. But if you run Barack Obama against John McCain, it's pretty much tied.
And more troublingly for the Democrats right now, Obama is behind in really key states like Ohio, Missouri, Pennsylvania and Florida. And of the core of his problem right now is that he's not doing well among high school educated whites. They really got to do well among those people to win those key Midwestern states. He's doing poorly.
SIEGEL: But I mean - question of the week for both of you. The country still has a very controversial war policy, with mixed results in Iraq; the economy appears to be heading down for a while before it looks up. Is the fall campaign really going to be about snipers in Tusla, Jeremiah Wright, and who said what - with Bill Ayers, on what day in Chicago? You really think these things count, E.J.?
Mr. DIONNE: No, they don't count in the sense that you're saying. Obviously, the Republicans are going to try to use these to go after Obama.
I think there are two things that could happen. One, is if an image of Obama is created now that sticks the way that happened to Al Gore in 2000, that could be damaging. But in the end, I agree with the thrust of your question - which is, if Obama manages to make it through this, triumphs over this; or for goodness sake, if Clinton somehow pulls off this nomination in a way the party accepts -there's going to be a strength there for them to return to the fundamental issues, so that we could look back on everything we're saying - both David and I, today - and say, well that was an episode, it really didn't matter that much. I think that's a real possibility.
SIEGEL: David, what do you think?
Mr. BROOKS: Well, I do still think the remains of Democratic year - it's hard to see a Republican winning. But I do think those issues matter. The reason Democrats have not won national elections is not because people don't agree with their policies. People generally agree with Democratic policies on health care and education, things like that. It's because they weren't convinced the Democratic candidate lives the kind of life they lead - in the case of Michael Dukakis, Al Gore, and John Kerry.
Now, issues like Jeremiah Wright's, what he said in San Francisco, go right to the core of that issue for Barack Obama. Does he live the kind of life I lead? or is he a liberal, you know, academic social elite who bowls 37?
And so, he should have been grateful to be given a chance to talk about those issues. He didn't do it very well, but he's going to have to do it. He's going to have to persuade people - if I went to your barber shop, if we confronted the same problems, I'd react the way you would react.
Mr. DIONNE: You know, and it's a great tragedy, in a way, for Obama, because no one has thought harder about religion than Barack Obama. I'm starting to think that with all these attacks on him, first - he's a Muslim, then he's a defected Christian - he now identifies with Job…
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. DIONNE: …because no one's had more problem with God. But Obama's given more serious thought to religion, has spoken in a more open way about religious people. And then, he utters these words in San Francisco and it really undercut one of his great strengths.
SIEGEL: The words - I mean, tell me what do you think the words in San Francisco were that have such resonance? What did he say about small town voters in Pennsylvania that is such a problem for him, David?
Mr. BROOKS: Well, first, people don't like being psychoanalyzed and judged by someone with a Harvard law degree. People have - really react. Secondly, it was just wrong.
Mr. BROOKS: People's faith and their people attitude toward their guns has nothing to do with economics. They're not economically-driven. It's not even consistent with the facts. Evangelicals are more affluent than your average American. That's not why they're evangelicals, because they're struggling. The people who vote most on social issues are secular northeastern liberals.
SIEGEL: I want to hear by that from the author of "Souled Out: Reclaiming Faith in Politics after the Religious Right."
Mr. DIONNE: Right. Well, I think the two problem words are bitter and cling -particularly cling.
Mr. DIONNE: Because in one sense, what Obama said is absolutely incontestable -that a lot of voters who are less affluent, who don't think the Democrats are going to deliver on economics, end up voting on social or religious issues. And Richard Scammon and Ben Wattenberg wrote that back in 1970, so that's not news. But he said it - first, he said it to an affluent crowd. Don't talk about less affluent people to an affluent crowd. And he sounded like he was analyzing them and not empathizing with them.
A politician is much better off saying: marry me because I love you, than saying, marry me or if you don't, I'll write you off as bitter.
SIEGEL: Last question for both of you, has John McCain been making good use of his time, and if so, what has he done with his time? David?
Mr. BROOKS: He's been right making reasonably good use of his time by solidifying the Republican Party, by distancing himself from President Bush. The key thing he did this week was to make an economic speech, which you have to give him maybe a B or B minus on. It had some good ideas, some weird ideas, but overall, no economic narrative, no economic theme that people can grasp on to. He's got to come up with a broader story about the American economy, and he hasn't quite done that yet.
SIEGEL: E.J., what do you make of McCain's campaign?
Mr. DIONNE: Except, this speech was really where the words flip-flop are going to start getting associated with McCain, because he had been against supply-side economics and the Bush tax cuts, now he's for them. He had been a deficit hawk, there was nothing about the deficit in here. And even conservatives say, who liked some of these ideas, say just what David said - that there's no theme here.
When the Wall Street Journal criticizes you - editorial page, even after you've endorsed all their tax cuts, he still got an economic problem.
SIEGEL: It occurred to me the election's about six months off. Six months ago, Hillary Clinton was up 20 points over Barack Obama in the polls and President Giuliani was in our future still.
Mr. DIONNE: The moral of the story is don't believe anything we're saying.
Mr. BROOKS: I was already suffering from Obama mania, I was so - it's so long ago, I was in the Obama tank six months ago, now, I'm feeling much more lukewarm about the guy.
SIEGEL: Well, E.J. Dionne and David Brooks, thanks a lot, once again.
Mr. DIONNE: thank you.
Mr. BROOKS: thank you.
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