Week In Politics: Economy, Gaza Blockade Robert Siegel speaks with our regular political commentators, E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and Brookings Institution and David Brooks of The New York Times, about the latest economic figures, the Gaza blockade and midterm elections.
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Week In Politics: Economy, Gaza Blockade

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Week In Politics: Economy, Gaza Blockade

Week In Politics: Economy, Gaza Blockade

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Our weekly political observers are here. E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and David Brooks of the New York Times. Good to see you both.

Mr. E.J. DIONNE (Columnist, The Washington Post): Good to see you.

Mr. DAVID BROOKS (Columnist, The New York Times): Good to be here.

SIEGEL: And let's start with those jobs numbers. E.J., do they describe to you, as President Obama said, a recovery still in its early stages, some ups and downs, but an economy stronger every day?

Mr. DIONNE: I think you got to put the emphasis on early, early stages. I think the president's chair of the - his Council of Economic Advisers, Christina Romer - Christina Romer had it right when she said that these are not robust and that you need more stimulus. You really need some targeted stimulus or what we're now calling jobs bills.

But in the Congress, Democrats can't even find the money to save the jobs of 100 to 300,000 teachers. I know it's hard to make the case that deficits are good in the short term, even if they're problematic in the long term, but that's exactly what the administration should be arguing.

SIEGEL: David, do you agree with that?

Mr. BROOKS: Well, we've got a deficit we're running of 10 percent of GDP, 12 percent of GDP. The Greeks, the French, the Spanish, the British, are all doing about the same. And you can't create jobs because people don't believe it's real growth and so they won't hire. And so if you have this much anxiety, you can pump a lot of money in and you won't get real growth.

SIEGEL: Now, another big international story of the week involved the aid flotilla that set out to challenge Israel's blockade of Gaza. The Israeli interception had fatal consequences and also political consequences for Israel. David, thoughts about what happened?

Mr. BROOKS: Well, I think it was - what they did was morally completely justified and politically kind of stupid. Gaza is run by a group, Hamas, which is dedicated to the destruction of the state of Israel. Even so, the Israelis allow 10,000 tons or so of humanitarian aid into Gaza every week. The Turks could've put - or the activists could've put their aid right through that process, but they wanted to create a political controversy. And so they deserved to be stopped.

On the other hand, the Israelis walked right into it. And the Israelis I spoke to this week really have lost faith in their political leadership. How could we have been so stupid politically, given the realities of the world? You have to take that into account. And so morally justified, politically kind of dumb.


Mr. DIONNE: I really agree with David. Israel has a right to defend itself against Hamas. The flotilla was in part a provocation, but the Israelis made a huge mistake in falling for the provocation and they hurt themselves.

SIEGEL: Okay. Now, we had some primaries here this past week and we have more primaries coming up next Tuesday. E.J., in Alabama, Congressman Artur Davis wanted to be the first African-American governor of the state. There were polls showing he was going to do it and then he lost by almost 30 points. And in one of the more remarkable concession speeches or statements, said a candidate that fails across the board like that, meaning himself, obviously needs to find something else productive to do with his life.

Mr. DIONNE: I think this is the most surprising result we've had in the primaries so far this year. No one thought - no one I know thought Artur Davis was going to get knocked out in the primary. They thought he was going to have a tough election. He's smart, he's charming, he's independent-minded. The problem is he ran to the center or even to the right to win general election votes before he had even secured his party's nomination.

He's always been independent of the African-American political organizations. He didn't seek their support, and so they didn't back him. And what was really striking is how badly he did in African-American counties across Alabama. He even lost his own polling place by a small number of votes. It's a really surprising result.

SIEGEL: David Brooks, thoughts on this round of the primary season?

Mr. BROOKS: Well, I've just got one rule so far, which is the candidate further to the edge is probably going to do well. That happened with Davis. It happened with Scott Brown. It happened in Pennsylvania. It's probably going to happen next Tuesday. It could happen next Tuesday in Nevada, where in the Republican primary you've got an interesting race. Harry Reid, the majority leader, is in kind of a trouble.

The Republicans had an establishment candidate, but along comes a woman named Sharon Angle, who's the Tea Party candidate, who's surging, along with Danny Tarkanian, another candidate. And if the pattern holds that the furthest conservative wins Republican primaries, Angle might end up beating the establishment candidate.

SIEGEL: On the other hand, the Republican Party would have a candidate who would want to privatize Social Security. The Reid camp seems to think she's the desirable opponent.

Mr. BROOKS: Yeah, though they're getting a little nervous about that. There's no evidence that on the edges, those people lose this year.

Mr. DIONNE: Although the polls suggest that Harry Reid is coming back from the dead. There was one poll this week that actually showed him ahead. I think you're seeing the right-wing candidate winning in Nevada. You're also seeing the Republicans, I think, potentially throw away a shot at Barbara Boxer in California. Tom Campbell, a moderate candidate, was running ahead of Boxer by seven points in an LA Times poll. But Carly Fiorina seems now to be winning that primary going away, but she loses to Boxer in the same poll by seven points.

I think the Republicans could face a real problem with some of these very conservative candidates. And Fiorina herself had to move right so she could push back a third candidate who was going at her from her right.

Mr. BROOKS: Yeah, it's an issue - are the Republicans over-reading their ideological mandate without the intervening process of actually winning an election first? And they may be going too far right. But so far there's no evidence to suggest that so far.

SIEGEL: Also, in Arkansas, Blanche Lincoln, did we mention, faces a runoff. She did not win 50 percent - very, very close race with Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter.

Mr. DIONNE: She is talking in a way that suggests she knows she's in trouble. I think the consensus - course, the Washington consensus is often wrong - is that Halter may win this. I think one of the interesting things is whether the outsider ends up with a better chance of winning the general election than the incumbent.

SIEGEL: E.J. Dionne and David Brooks, thanks to both of you once again.

Mr. BROOKS: Thank you.

Mr. DIONNE: Thank you.

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