MICHELE NORRIS, host:
For more now on the week in politics, from the economy to the war in Afghanistan, we turn to our regular political commentators, E. J. Dionne of the Washington Post and the Brookings Institution, and David Brooks of the New York Times. Good to see both of you.
Mr. DAVID BROOKS (Columnist, New York Times): Good to see you.
Mr. E. J. DIONNE (Columnist, Washington Post): Good to see you.
NORRIS: Well, the economy is looking up a bit, but the jobs numbers, while better than expected, are not where the administration certainly would like them to be. Are the job gains strong enough for the administration to claim that the recession is over?
Mr. DIONNE: Not exactly, but I think if the title of this jobs report - a headline could use the title of a '60s novel, �Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me.�
NORRIS: Oh, I thought that was a country or western song.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. DIONNE: It's - Richard Farina wrote the novel. And, you know, these numbers have been so bad for so long, this is the best jobs report in two years. The fact that we might just be on the verge, perhaps, we hope, of creating jobs, this is a huge step forward. Now a lot of people out there are still hurting. We don't know the political impact of this, but I think one of the ways people judge the economy is a general sense of whether things are improving. If you kept this trend going, Obama would be in better shape six months from now than he is now.
NORRIS: But right now, you hear the administration sometimes bat the word recovery around giving these numbers. Is that a bit of an overstatement?
Mr. BROOKS: I'm not sure. It is. We had actual growth in the third quarter. It's not their decision. But I do think they changed their policy focus. There was a period of crisis where they were doing crisis management. I think now -and I know they're beginning to think long term. How do we make sure the recovery is a decent recovery that filters down to middle class Americans? How do we make sure there's innovation? How do we begin to fund basic research? So, basically, from a very short-term focus, for which they've been doing really for 10 months, they're beginning to think much to longer term, even beginning to think post-health care tax reform. So, really strengthening the foundations of the economy and this trend will help them think in a more longer term anyway.
NORRIS: And E. J.?
Mr. DIONNE: They're also facing pressure from Democrats in Congress who want to take some steps quickly to say we're doing more than we did to bring the unemployment rate down. And I think there's going to be a kind of interaction between this long-term agenda that they want to pursue, and Democrats in Congress saying, yes, yes, we're for that. But let's take some steps now, so people know we are feeling their pain and doing something about it.
NORRIS: Gentleman, can we turn to Afghanistan? After the president's speech, this week, came the salesmanship. And he's trying to reach out to the American people to lawmakers from both parties on Capitol Hill, and to the people of Afghanistan, and also the government in neighboring Pakistan. How's the administration doing so far on those fronts?
Mr. BROOKS: I actually thought the second way was better than the first, which is to say, I thought the testimonies by Secretaries Gates and Clinton was better than the speech Obama gave. In part because they really began to fill in the details. He talked relatively little about how it was all going to work. And Gates and Clinton actually began to fill in the details. And part of it was being much more aggressive with Pakistan while giving them incentives. But also describing what the soldiers and Marines are actually going to be doing. And there was a lot of protecting specific villages, there was a lot of social work.
So there is - the president may deny it, but there is some nation-building here, and what they - Clinton and Gates are doing, they're building on success. The last four or five months, we've had this first surge - going to Helmand province and places - of Marines. And they've had some gains. And so they're figuring out what works there. And so this second surge is really building on that surge. And so I thought what they did on Capitol Hill really will have mollified a lot of the concerns which are still there, but in s less severe way than they were even Tuesday night.
NORRIS: Okay, so you're talking lawmakers. E. J., what about the American people and also the government of Afghanistan?
Mr. DIONNE: Well, the relationship with the government in Afghanistan is going to be complicated. I think they have sent signals that they're going to push that government, but they're also going to try to go around it in every way they can. They're going to try to pick out the ministries that are doing well and give them money rather than give it directly to the central government. They're going to try to find local people whom they could work with and after all that's been a very decentralized country for a long time. It's - we're not about to create a centralized country there.
In terms of the American people, I think what the president mostly succeeded in doing is he did buy himself 18 months. There are still a lot of opposition to this in the Democratic Party. But I think there are a lot of Democrats, including some who are skeptical of the policy, who are willing to trust him for 18 months and say, he faced a series of bad choices. If you wanted to get somewhere good, you wouldn't start from where we are now. And we will see what happens. But 18 months, that date that he put out there, really is going to be a testing point when people are going to say is this getting better or not.
NORRIS: Well, John McCain on that point asked a very pointed question about the 18-month timetable. He said: Will the draw down be dictated by the calendar or by conditions on the ground? Did either of you hear a satisfactory answer to that question?
Mr. BROOKS: Yeah, I think�
Mr. DIONNE: Both and neither.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. BROOKS: We may have heard the different answer, which is maybe what they intended. I heard conditions, and the president did say that and the military said that. The generals were very concerned about that date because they think it's too short, there's nothing can be done. But they've been mollified. They think it's a very soft target. They may begin a withdrawal. They may be withdrawing one soldier at that time for over a couple of years.
Mr. DIONNE: Right. The word begin is the key here, which is no one is saying well 100,000 in, 100,000 out. I mean, we're going to have solders there under this plan for quite a while.
NORRIS: Thanks to both of you. Have a good weekend.
Mr. BROOKS: You too, thank you.
Mr. DIONNE: You too.
NORRIS: That's E. J. Dionne of the Washington Post and the Brookings Institution, and David Brooks of the New York Times.
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