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Roundtable: The Week in Politics


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

It's been another active week in the presidential campaign. The Democrats made speeches on economic policy. The Republican outlined his foreign policy. We relived one of the less spine-chilling moments in Bosnia, and heard about some more Chicago-Jeremiah ads that raised eyebrows, ones that evidently are not diminishing support for one parishioner.

To talk politics with us now, columnist David Brooks of the New York Times.

Hello, David.

Mr. DAVID BROOKS (Columnist, New York Times): Hello. How are you?

SIEGEL: And sitting in for the vacationing E.J. Dionne, his colleague from the Washington Post, columnist Ruth Marcus.

Hello, Ruth.

Ms. RUTH MARCUS (Columnist, Washington Post): Hi.

SIEGEL: First, here's something that Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, a supporter of frontrunner Barack Obama, said this week on Vermont Public Radio.

Senator PATRICK LEAHY (Democrat, Vermont): Senator Obama has, I believe, a distinct lead. There is no way that Senator Clinton is going to win enough delegates to get the nomination. She ought to withdraw and she ought to be backing Senator Obama. Now, obviously, that's the decision that only she can make.

SIEGEL: David Brooks, does that open the spigot, do you think, for Democrats to start calling for Hillary Clinton to step aside?

Mr. BROOKS: I think so. I think he said that, Chris Dodd said that, thousands of Democrats are saying it privately. I mean, by my guess, she's got a 5 percent chance of winning at best. And for that 5 percent chance, is she really going to put the Democratic Party through three more months of this, calling for each other's tax returns to be released, calling each other Judas and Joe McCarthy.

Independents are beginning to turn off. I mean, the Democrats have really taken their most golden opportunity in the century, and they're doing their best to blow it. And just think there's going to be a rising call that Leahy's talking like that.

SIEGEL: Do you agree with that, Ruth?

Ms. MARCUS: There may be a rising call. Two things, I don't think it's going to work, and I'm going to have to disagree with David on this one. I don't think that this is the appropriate time for a senator to demand that Senator Clinton back out of the race if she doesn't choose to do that. There are a number of scheduled primaries yet to come. There's new news that occurs every week that could affect voters' views. Yes, the math is distinctly against her, but there are superdelegates. And while this campaign is feeling increasingly on the Democratic side like two very cranky kids stuck in the back of the car at the end of a very long and hot car ride...

SIEGEL: Are we there yet?

Ms. MARCUS: We do.

SIEGEL: Are we in Denver yet?

Ms. MARCUS: We are not there yet. And you're just going to - I think, the mother in me wants to tell them both to settle down and start to behave or I'm going to have to pull over, but we do have some ride left to go.

SIEGEL: But, David, do you think that there are consequences in this, negative consequences for the Democrats if it keeps up?

Mr. BROOKS: Yeah. I mean, the atmosphere of the party. First of all, if you look at John McCain's approval rating, he's clear sailing. His approval rating is soaring. And then you look at the way independents are looking at the party, they look like a party that filled with people who can't, you know, they can't manage a bordello in a gold rush. It just makes the Democratic Party look awful.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BROOKS: And these people want to…

Ms. MARCUS: Bordello is not good for the Democrats to talk about these days, David.

Mr. BROOKS: Well, I mean…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BROOKS: Sorry about that. But you just look at the reality of the thing. The Jeremiah Wright thing, as you mentioned, Robert…

SIEGEL: Mm-hmm.

Mr. BROOKS: …did not move voters. It did not hurt Barack Obama. There's no sense that the votes are moving one way or the other. He has a prohibitive lead among the pledged delegates. Aside from a few Clinton die-hards, among the superdelegates, there's no inclination to overrule the actual voters, and therefore, there's really no chance. So, what do we do in for the next three months?

SIEGEL: Do you think the result is now written just to - one point, the next big primary at the end of April is Pennsylvania. Governor Rendell is a big Hillary Clinton supporter. Barack Obama got an endorsement there today, Ruth Marcus, from Senator Bob Casey.

Ms. MARCUS: Well, David and I have talked about endorsements before. And I don't…

Mr. BROOKS: Yeah.

Ms. MARCUS: …think either one of us is particularly moved by the importance of endorsements. If Senator Kennedy's endorsement didn't help Barack Obama win a bunch of Hispanic voters and other voters in California - and we all thought it was going to have more impact - I'm not sure Senator Casey is going to have a huge impact. But it doesn't hurt. It certainly speaks to a segment of that electorate in Pennsylvania that Senator Obama's been weakest with, Catholic voters, blue-collar voters. So to the extent that people are still torn, this is a mark in Senator Obama's favor, not a huge one.

SIEGEL: Well, now onto the Republicans, and John McCain who began the week with the speech to the World Affairs Council in Los Angeles, in which he talked not just about Iraq, but more generally about war.

Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona; Presidential Candidate): I hold my position because I hate war. And I know very well and very personally how grievous its wages are. But I know, too, that we must sometimes pay those wages to avoid paying even higher ones later on.

SIEGEL: David Brooks, you wrote this week about John McCain and speeches he has given, and positions he has taken on war and peace. Well, could you talk about that?

Mr. BROOKS: Well, I think the importance of the speech - I thought it was tremendously impressive and important speech. But the importance was how different he sees the world from George Bush.

First, in the speech, he moved away from the idea that the war on terror is the sole occupying purpose of American foreign policy. He talked about power rivalries with China and Russia. He talked about a whole range of problems.

The second thing he did is he made clear that the United States does not run the world. We're not a unipolar power who can boss the world around. He harkened it back to an ancient tradition which goes back to Teddy Roosevelt, but especially goes through Harry Truman - the idea that the world needs a strong America to be peaceful, but the United States has to be a citizen in an international system. You have to take care of that system.

So in the speech, one of things he did, he talked about creating a league of democracies to give democracies another form where they can work together. He talked about heading a replacement for the Kyoto Accord, a new nuclear nonproliferation, a whole range of multilateral institutions that, you know, will move the country forward and really recreate the fabric of the international system.

And so, I thought it was a very strong move away from, really, the Bush, especially the Bush of the first three years, and really will change the debate in foreign policy.

SIEGEL: Ruth Marcus, what do you think?

Ms. MARCUS: I thought it was a very good speech. I'm not sure that voters who were so fixated on Iraq and what they think about Iraq are going to be as attuned to the nuances of the speech.

But I do think that the aim of Senator McCain's speech was actually reinforced in terms of good news for him by some of the polling numbers that came out this week. A Pew poll showed that more than half of independent voters saw him as leading up the country in a different direction than President Bush.

President Bush has a 28 percent approval rating. That view among independent voters is good news for Senator McCain. Likewise, Senator McCain was leading Senator Obama by six points among independent voters, whereas just last month, he was trailing Senator Obama by seven points among those voters.

So, to the extent that Senator McCain on foreign policy, to some extent on economic matters, can distance himself from the president without annoying the base that whose support he still needs, that's a good news week for him.

SIEGEL: Right now, David Brooks, do you think this election is going to be more about war and peace than it will be about the economy?

Mr. BROOKS: No, it will be an economic domestic policy election, and that's good news for the Democrats.

SIEGEL: Ruth, do you agree?

Ms. MARCUS: Absolutely agreed.

SIEGEL: Yeah. Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post, and David Brooks of the New York Times, thanks to both of you.

Ms. MARCUS: Thanks for having me.

Mr. BROOKS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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