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Week In Politics: Presidential Debate, Jobs Report


And we turn now to our regular Friday political commentators, E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post and David Brooks of the New York Times. Good to see you both again.

E.J. DIONNE: Good to see you.

DAVID BROOKS: Good to see you.

BLOCK: It's not just those Mitt Romney voters that we just heard in Ari Shapiro's piece who are claiming the job numbers are bogus. We also heard today from Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric, and he tweeted this: "Unbelievable jobs number. These Chicago guys," meaning the Obama campaign presumably, "will do anything. Can't debate so change numbers."

And a lot of conservatives weighing in on that as well. The labor secretary, Hilda Solis, said she was insulted. She called that ludicrous. David Brooks, have we reached a new level of conspiracy theories here?

BROOKS: Don't tweet. Too much tweeting going on. You know, people who don't know much about Washington may think that everyone around here is hyper-politicized, but if you actually go into the bowels of the federal government, there are a lot people who don't care that much about politics.

They're numbers geeks. They do their jobs. They go home. They're not that political. And I guarantee you the people in the BLS are totally committed to the numbers. If somebody tried to introduce politics in their work, there would be mass resignations and there would be a lot of calls to reporters at various institutions saying this is happening. So I guarantee you, I feel very strongly it's not happening.

BLOCK: The numbers are not tweaked. E.J. Dionne, what do you make of this new conspiracy theory?

DIONNE: My colleague Ezra Kline wrote this morning, we've hit that moment in the election when people begin to lose their minds. And this is...

BLOCK: I thought we reached that point a long time ago.

DIONNE: Maybe, but this is really quite outrageous because, obviously, I agree with David. And one step further, James Q. Wilson, the great conservative political scientist, once argued that one of the single most useful things our government does is collect these numbers. The people at the Bureau of Labor statistics and also at the Census Bureau are sticklers.

They are incredibly careful. They take great pride in these numbers. And these numbers are useful to industry as well as to governments. So it's a shameful thing they're doing. Jon Stewart said Barack Obama is the luckiest dude on the planet, something like that. And if he ever needed a good jobs report, it was this week after the debate.

And this number is the magic number that he really needed. He had to get it below 8 percent before the election. And this is also a good report because, as our reporter's already pointed out, you are adding people to the labor force and you still had a drop in the unemployment. So this is very helpful to him.

BLOCK: Well, let's talk about that debate. President Obama did rack up more minutes spoken, but Mitt Romney was overwhelmingly judged to have performed far better. David Brooks, did you hear the president, in any way, articulate a compelling view of his first term, put forth a record that he could point to with pride?

BROOKS: I thought he was okay on his first term. What was absent was the second term. The disastrous part of the debate was the closing argument when he was asked to make a really a closing case for why he should be reelected. And that was pretty much the worst two minutes of presidential debates I've ever heard. Really had no argument there. And so, you know, he was fatigued.

And I think in general it's been about three years since he's given a good political speech. It's tough to be president. You get tired. But I think really the absence there is an element of passion, which he had for - in 2008, a passion for the post-partisan politics he was promising. I don't think he has much of an agenda for a second term or much passion for that vacuum.

BLOCK: E.J., it's interesting because a lot of Democrats are saying, look, the president lives in a bubble in the White House. He's surrounded by sycophants who are just unwilling to be brutally honest with him, to say, look, here's exactly what you need to do in the next debate. Stop looking down at your paper, pick up the pace. Is there anybody who will give him that message?

DIONNE: I think if he doesn't get it in the White House, he got it from Democrats outside the White House, on the media, all over the place this week. I agree with David both on the closer, which was really surprisingly bad, and the lack of passion, which I think was very important. And I think that he and his aides are very aware that he's got to do better.

I think that there are parts, aspects of this debate that may yet help him. There was - Romney was very hot. He was obviously very effective but when you looked at some of those dial groups, the aggression didn't always go well with swing voters, particularly women.

And I think that the warning to Obama is useful. People who may have been most hurt by that were Democrats running down-ballot for the Senate and the House. He had a chance to begin putting the election away, which actually could have started building a margin that would help them. It's a little tougher for them now.

BLOCK: President Obama was slammed for not bringing up Mitt Romney's now-famous comments about the 47 percent that were surreptitiously recorded at a fundraiser, the people he considers dependent on government services, who see themselves as victims. Mitt Romney was asked about this yesterday on Fox News. What would you have said he was asked, if the president did bring that up. Let's take a listen.

MITT ROMNEY: Clearly in a campaign with hundreds, if not thousands, of speeches and question-and-answer sessions, now and then you're going to say something that doesn't come out right. In this case, I said something that's just completely wrong, and I absolutely believe, however, that my life has shown that I care about 100 percent.

GLORIA HILLARD, BYLINE: David Brooks, can Mitt Romney use that argument if this does in fact come up in one of the other debates?

BROOKS: Yes. I wish he'd said it the day of, the day that the video came out. If he'd said that, I think it would have reflected extremely well on him. And I think he's right that his life does show he's been incredibly compassionate and caring about all sorts of people.

But somehow the political process mitigates against apology, against admitting error, and he caught up in the moment, spent 17 days now trying to defend that statement or twist it. He should have said this day one. But it's to his credit that he said it now.


DIONNE: I think it's too late to help him and that it would have made a difference if he had said it on day one. And I think his difficulty is that this is a very deep view in a certain part, not the whole Republican Party by any means, but a certain part of the Republican Party.

And you've since had video come out where Paul Ryan, he has a different number, but he's talked about the makers and the takers and that 30 percent of the people basically want to be dependent. So we're not talking here just about an aberration. We're talking about a view that a lot of conservatives, again, of a certain kind, not all conservatives but a lot of them, hold.

HILLARD: A couple new ads came out right after the debates. The Obama campaign released an ad using footage of Mitt Romney from the debate, where he's denying that he has a $5 trillion tax cut plan. And the ad ends with an image of Romney on that debate stage.



BLOCK: And that here shows a shot of the Oval Office. Taxes also the focus of a new ad from Mitt Romney.



UNIDENTIFIED MAN 2: According to an independent, nonpartisan study, Barack Obama and the liberals will raise taxes on the middle class by $4,000.

BLOCK: And it ends with an image of President Obama hugging Nancy Pelosi. Do you figure this is basically the crux of the message war for the next four-and-a-half-or-so weeks, David Brooks?

BROOKS: It's study twisting. Mitt Romney does not have a $5 trillion tax increase for anybody, and Barack Obama is not going to raise taxes on the middle class. These are both cases where they're twisting studies. They both have budgetary proposals which don't add up, and if you take the vagueness in their proposals and twist it in the worst possible way, you can imagine that these numbers are real. They're not real.

And so, we're probably going to enter a situation where nobody wants to raise taxes, and nobody's going to cut a significant budget deal?

HILLARD: And E.J., last word.

DIONNE: I think David is a little too balanced there because I don't think the facts are balanced there. This study does not say Obama will raise taxes. It's a projection. Romney did call for a $5 trillion tax cut that he needs to pay for by getting rid of deductions, and he doesn't want to tell us what deductions he's going to get rid of.

BLOCK: OK, thanks to you both, E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post, David Brooks of The New York Times. Have a great weekend.

DIONNE: Thank you.

BROOKS: You, too. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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