AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
And let's stay in politics for a few more minutes with our regular Friday commentators, E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post. Hey, there, E.J.
E.J. DIONNE: Good to be with you.
CORNISH: And David Brooks of The New York Times. Hi, there, David.
DAVID BROOKS: Hello. How are you?
CORNISH: So as we just heard, Jeb Bush - among the speakers in Fort Lauderdale. And, you know, the only other GOP presidential candidate who spoke was the only black candidate, Ben Carson, retired neurosurgeon. The others claimed scheduling conflicts. What happened to all the outreach efforts we've been hearing about, David?
BROOKS: Actually, kind of shocking. Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, Scott Walker - you got to show up. And the fact that they decided not to show up, especially given what's happened over the past year, is kind of amazing to me, to be honest. I happened to - one of the things that's been interesting, just in political horse race term, is how high African-American turnout would be this year without Barack Obama on the ballot. My own reading from - given the passions of the past year - is that no matter who the Democrats nominate, African-American turnout will be very high, not necessarily tied to the candidate, but just tied to the mood and the unshackling of voices that we've heard over the last year.
CORNISH: E.J., at the same time, I remember Rand Paul got a lot of play and some criticism for his performance in 2014 when he went to the conference. Is it worth it to Republicans?
DIONNE: I think it's absolutely worth it. I broadly agree with everything David just said today. I think it is shocking that more Republicans didn't go, and there are issues. Like, their sentencing reform is one of them where there's real opening to African-Americans. There are actually a lot of conservatives around the country. There's a group called Right on Crime that have tried to cut back on these long sentences that have disproportionately burdened African-Americans.
And I also think the issue they do have to grapple with - and Hillary Clinton singled this out in taking a shot at Jeb Bush, whom I nonetheless credit for showing up there - is voting rights, where you have this lawsuit working its way down in North Carolina. And I think Republicans, A, need to show up, as David suggested, and, B, I think they ought to be starting to pull back from these efforts to restrict access to the ballot box, which also, I think, upsets many, many African-Americans.
CORNISH: I want to turn to another issue that's been very much in the news the last few weeks. That's Planned Parenthood. The group is in crisis mode after a video sting operation by a group opposed to abortion has put Planned Parenthood in the spotlight for the practice of fetal tissue in medical research. Now here's the head of Planned Parenthood, Cecile Richards, responding to this outcry on ABC's "This Week."
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THIS WEEK")
CECILE RICHARDS: Planned Parenthood has broken no laws. We have the highest standards. The care and health care and safety of our patients is our most important priority.
CORNISH: Now, elsewhere in the program, we're going to hear more details about the fetal tissue research industry. But, E.J., is this response good enough?
DIONNE: Well, the response that that they haven't broken laws is very important. But the fact is, if you look at that video, I think whether you are for or against abortion, it was deeply disturbing to have what looks like a casual discussion of fetal parts over lunch is just going to bother a lot of people, and understandably so.
The irony is that if Planned Parenthood were put out of business - and a pro-life congressman made this point some years back - you might well have more abortions because Planned Parenthood dedicates a lot of its work - much more of its work to contraceptive and to preventing unintended pregnancies. So this is - we - I wish we could come to a time where we had a less inflamed and more sober discussion of abortion because it's an issue, I think, at least, where it shouldn't be hard to understand why there's such passion on both sides.
CORNISH: E.J., David, I want to give you a chance to answer this. I don't know if you've seen the videos, but what does this moment say to you about this discussion?
BROOKS: Oh, I've seen the videos, and I guess, to me, they are a sign of a sort of a gradual moral degradation that occurred. Whether you're pro-life or pro-choice, to talk in this way, suggests to me just a hardening of the heart that happens when you, I guess, deal with this on a daily basis and are not - don't remain morally sensitive to the issues involved. One of the oddities now is we may have a government shutdown over this as Republicans seek to defund federal funding for Planned Parenthood, and Democrats fight to preserve it. This unexpected showdown may actually lead to a real budget crisis because of these videos.
CORNISH: Just to flesh that out for people, September 30 is the deadline for the next round of conversation. And as you said, there are calls to defund going on that would coincide with that. David, one more thing, does this feel at all like the mid-'90s when there was that activism around so-called partial birth abortion?
BROOKS: Well, you know, I think if we had a conversation, which E.J. is calling for, we would get to a midpoint where a lot of European countries are - some sort of compromise on abortion. I think Roe v. Wade plans has made that impossible. I don't think we're going to go back to the big, big abortion fights we had in those years simply 'cause both parties would rather talk about economics and other - less social issues, which have shriven - shriveled those issues.
CORNISH: E.J., last 30 seconds to you.
DIONNE: I don't think we're going back to the '90s. I think there is fairly stable opinion on abortion. There isn't radical shift one way or the other. And I, too, would like to find a middle ground. And what I would focus on is what can we do to help women who want to have their children, to help poor women who have a disproportionate number of abortions, rather than make abortion illegal because it's very clear that even people who are very uncomfortable with abortion don't want it banned. And so I think discouraging it by helping people would be a better path.
CORNISH: That's E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and Brookings Institution. Thank you.
DIONNE: Thank you.
CORNISH: And David Brooks at The New York Times. Thank you.
BROOKS: Thank you.
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