Week In Politics Reviewed This week, Barack Obama and John McCain had their final debate at Hofstra University in New York. David Brooks of The New York Times says McCain should press the idea of a divided government as both the Senate and the House look likely to have strong Democratic government. E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post says it's difficult for McCain to dig himself out of the hole he's in.
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Week In Politics Reviewed

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Week In Politics Reviewed

Week In Politics Reviewed

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From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Melissa Block. Coconut cream pie and the now ubiquitous Joe the Plumber were mentioned on the presidential campaign trail today. Barack Obama held a rally in Roanoke, Virginia, where he told the story of a recent visit to a diner in Georgetown, Ohio. The owner is a die-hard Republican. Obama said after he got his piece of coconut cream pie, he asked the owner, how's business?

(Soundbite of Barack Obama speech)

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democratic Presidential Nominee): He said, not so good. Said my customers can't afford to eat out right now. I said, well, I'm just curious, who's been running the economy for the last eight years?

(Soundbite of crowd cheering)

Senator OBAMA: He said, I guess the Republicans have. I said, if you just keep hitting your head against the wall over and over again, and it starts to hurt. At some point, do you stop hitting it against the wall?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Senator OBAMA: He said, I guess that would make sense. I said, you might want to try the Democrats for a change.

(Soundbite of crowd cheering)

Senator OBAMA: We can't do any worst.

BLOCK: John McCain urged his supporters on at a rally in Miami, and he again referred to Joe, the plumber from Ohio who had asked Obama if he'd make him pay more in taxes.

(Soundbite of John McCain speech)

Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican Presidential Nominee): Senator Obama says that he wanted to spread your wealth around.

(Soundbite of crowd booing)

Senator MCCAIN: And you know what? He could have had a simple answer to Joe's question. All he had to do to say to Joe the plumber and millions of small-business people around this country, I won't raise your taxes, but he couldn't do that, because he's going to raise your taxes.

(Soundbite of crowd booing)

Senator MCCAIN: My friends, my friends, when politicians talk about taking your money and spreading it around, you better hold on to your wallet.

(Soundbite of crowd cheering)

BLOCK: Well, hold on to your seats, because our political commentators E.J. Dionne and David Brooks are here to talk about the week in politics. Hey, guys. Welcome back.

DAVID BROOKS: Good to be with you.

E.J. DIONNE: Thank you.

BLOCK: And E.J., we have not heard the last of Joe Wurzelbacher, the plumber from Toledo.

DIONNE: No, I think we have, and although I think he may disappear fairly soon, because he doesn't be - seem, he doesn't seem to be doing McCain all that much good. I mean, it's clear there are four things John McCain needs to do to win this election.

Unfortunately for him, nobody knows what they are, and so therefore, his campaign has been lurching around from thing to thing. First, they tried Sarah Palin. That worked for about a week. Now she is not helping him at all. She's hurting him.

Then he suspended his campaign, said let's not do the debate. That didn't work, that kind of blew up in his face. Now, Joe the plumber comes along, he's going to save him, and it turns out he's not even a licensed plumber. I think that the McCain campaign faces this huge wall, which is the economic mess that Obama referred to.

It may not be the most inspiring slogan, vote Democratic, we can't do any worse. But that's what a lot of people believe, and I think that Obama himself has finally found a voice with this economic mess, and it's hard to see how McCain climbs out of the hole he's in.

BLOCK: Well, David Brooks, let's talk about that hole. John McCain there in Miami telling his supporters, 18 days to go, we're six points down, national media has written us off, and then he said, we've got them right where we want them. If you look at the electoral map, how does he get to 270 to win the presidency?

BROOKS: Beats me and he could be 12 points down then, they'd really have them where they want them. You know, what I think the argument he should use, which he hasn't used so far in - mysteriously is that you want to divide the Government. The Democrats are going to pick up seats in the House and the Senate, they're going to go overboard, you need me.

But fundamentally, I don't - I don't think he can shift strategy again. He shifted it so much. The erratic charge will really begin to stick. I think the decision the McCain campaign was made about a year ago. They had some advisers, guys named Mike Murphy and John Weaver, who wanted them to run a non-traditional Republican campaign.

Those advisers were ousted, and now he's running a traditional tax-cut Republican campaign, wrong year to do that.

BLOCK: Strategically, David, some Republicans are saying, look, take your resources out of - (unintelligible) Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, focus on a couple of states that you could conceivably still get focus on, say Virginia, North Carolina. Would that be a strategy that they should follow?

BROOKS: You know, I don't think ads really work at a presidential level. Well, I saw a report the other day that in Northern Virginia, Obama's running 1,400 ads and McCain had run 8, that's a pretty big advantage, but these guys are really well known. I don't think ads are really driving much here.

BLOCK: E.J., let's talk about the message, in Virginia today, the Democratic Senator, Jim Webb, was introducing Barack Obama, and he said, you know, you can trust him. I trust him. This is in Southwestern Virginia, part of the state that Obama's campaigning hard to get, addressing lingering doubts about this guy and at the same time, we're now hearing about robo-calls from the Republican party and the McCain campaign to voters talking about Obama quote, "working closely with the domestic terrorist Bill Ayers." Are there still doubters who Obama could turn around or who McCain could turn around?

DIONNE: Well, there are still doubters, because there are undecided voters…

BLOCK: Sure.

DIONNE: And that, you know, it's two weeks out, a week is an eternity in politics. So, you cannot - should not declare a campaign over. But I think again, the economy has taken a lot of voters who might had doubts about Obama. Some voters who might have had qualms - white voters about voting for an African American.

I was talking to Congressman Tim Ryan of Ohio, represents Youngstown area, and he said, look, a lot of voters who may have racial feelings, white voters, are now way beyond that, because of the economy and McCain is in a catch 22.

He needs to raise doubts about Obama. However, every time he attacks, it's now increasing his negative rating in the voters. So he's in this - he's in this bind, and he's having trouble getting out of it.

BLOCK: David Brooks, you have a sort of personality profile in the New York Times today, talking about Barack Obama and you mentioned that's easy to sketch out a scenario in which he could be a great president. But there's also a flip side to that you point out.

BROOKS: Well, he's so calm. And he's so thoughtful, and the great president scenario is that he really doesn't - he's not - he doesn't have demons that are going to destroy him. He gathers very smart people which he's already done, and they really have long-term discussions and really govern the country the way we want it to be governed.

I think the down side is that he is so passionless, and has shown so little evidence in his past of really taking a courageous tough decision, when the decision is really tough to take, that he be - could become passive. And then he would just be ignored by the Congressional Democrats, and he would float off in an island on his own. That really is the determining factor in the election now.

His calmness, his reassuring presence has no doubt been a winner. His approval rating - he's got 21 percent more people who approve than disapprove of him, and that's the driving force behind this election.

BLOCK: And we're going to have to leave it there. Thanks to you both for coming in. Have a great weekend.

DIONNE: Right. Thank you.

BROOKS: Thank you.

BLOCK: E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and Brookings Institution and David Brooks of The New York Times.

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