Regional Views of the Shutdown
[Sorry, the video for this story has expired, but you can still read the transcript below. ]
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: That reaction comes from our panel of regional commentators: Cynthia Tucker of the “Atlanta Constitution,” Patrick McGuigan of the “Daily Oklahoman,” Clarence Page of the “Chicago Tribune,” Lee Cullum of the “Dallas Morning News,” Mike Barnicle of the “Boston Globe,” and William Wong of the “Oakland Tribune.” Mike Barnicle, how does this standoff look in Boston?
MIKE BARNICLE, Boston Globe: (Boston Globe) Well, I think probably not that much different than it does in the rest of the country. I think a lot of people see what they just saw on TV here and think of both sides as being a pack of pathetic, self-promoting, self-absorbed fools who cannot see beyond the next election, who are so totally concentrated on their own political careers they have no clue as to how ordinary people live, and people are sick of it; they’re just sick of it. And I don’t think there’s any mystery as to why Colin Powell enjoyed such great popularity. If he were ever running against either side here, all he would have to do in order to campaign and win would be to come out of his house once a week, wave, and say, can you believe these guys, and the election would be over.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Patrick McGuigan, what does it look like in Oklahoma City, pathetic, self-absorbed fools?
PATRICK McGUIGAN, Daily Oklahoman: (Oklahoma City) No, not at all. I will say I think people here look at things a little differently maybe than they do in Massachusetts. We talked about that a little bit the last time we were all together. To me, the important thing is that a balanced budget will bring around $2160 a year in lower mortgage payments for people making payments on a $100,000 mortgage, $875 over the life of a five-year car loan of $15,000, $1360 over the life of a ten-year college loan of $11,000. That’s what a balanced budget means to the American people. Now, admittedly, I think the President’s been winning the PR war, but that really shouldn’t be any surprise. This is a remarkably capable politician, and right now, he’s not in his governing mode. He’s in his campaign mode. He’s doing it very effectively, but the Republicans have to stick to their guns. This is a skirmish. This is the beginning of a battle over the future direction of our government. And the Republicans have got to stick with it. Vindication will only come when we actually take these first steps towards actually balancing the budget.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Cynthia Tucker, how does it look in Atlanta, like a skirmish?
CYNTHIA TUCKER, Atlanta Constitution: (Atlanta) This is a skirmish that is preparation for the 1996 presidential campaign, and I think most Georgians understand that. There is tremendous support in Georgia, which is a conservative state, for a balanced budget. Of course, Newt Gingrich hails from this area. He’s a congressman from Metro Atlanta, so there is a lot of support here for a balanced budget. But most of the readers that I have heard from are disgusted by this partisan food fight. They know this is not about really balancing the budget. It is about a group of politicians posturing. Newt Gingrich and the Republicans have sent to the President a bunch of temporary spending bills with measures that they knew he would object to, so they could have this kind of standoff to try to present themselves as protectors of the public interest of the fiscal–of the purse strings. And if Bill Clinton hadn’t had this fight, he would have needed to create it, because he desperately needed at this point to look firm, to look like a person of principle, to look like a man who could take a stand and stick to it. And I think most of the voters understand that, and they are turned off by the process.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Clarence Page, what are you hearing in Los Angeles tonight?
CLARENCE PAGE, Chicago Tribune: (Los Angeles) Well, in Los Angeles and also back in Chicago, it’s remarkable how little people are talking about this. And I’ve been trying to figure out why, and I think a clue is in Clinton’s remarks earlier today when he said that almost half the government is, is out of work or have been told to go home. That leaves out the fact that more than half the government is not at home and is working. In fact, unless you were looking for a passport today or applying for Social Security benefits, you might not have known that the government had shut down as the headlines say. In fact, we are seeing a battle of two political sides. A proxy for that battle is two philosophies, two philosophies in regard to how the budget ought to be balanced. Patrick McGuigan is quite correct. If we get a balanced budget, those of us who have mortgages are going to save some money in a few years, maybe, but that’s not something that gets people out on the pavement today. If you tell people the Social Security benefits are threatened or their Medicare is threatened, then they will write or they will call, whether it is technically true or not, and that is a big reason why Clinton’s winning the PR battle right now. But I think for most people they really have a hard time getting their arms around this struggle, except to say it’s a big schoolyard fight in preparation for a presidential election year.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Lee Cullum, what do you think? Is this a big deal in Dallas, or this is a skirmish that really has little to do with people’s daily lives?
LEE CULLUM, Dallas Morning News: (Dallas) Oh, Elizabeth, I think it is viewed as a skirmish here. There are those who certainly blame both sides. There are those who understand the Republican strategy of forcing through the balanced budget. I think that most people want to see a reasonable compromise, and they think that compromise is possible and not a dirty word. Take Medicare, for example. I honestly don’t understand this argument over the increase by $11 or $7 from the rate as it is today. Am I mistaken in remembering that both the President and the Congress have proposed increases far in excess of that between now and 2002? So surely something can be worked out there. Now, I have heard it said, and I agree that maybe the full $270 billion do not have to be cut from the growth of Medicare over the next seven years, maybe it could be less. Maybe the hospitals and the doctors could be given a little forbearance, but these are necessary compromises. They need to be talked about, and the President and Congress need to begin that necessary conversation.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Bill Wong, do you think there’s a kind of theme emerging here? Some people are saying that this is a very important historic moment, that there’s a real battle of ideas going on here, and some people are saying this is a kind of food fight, and it’s political gamesmanship. How does it look to you in Oakland?
WILLIAM WONG, Oakland Tribune: (San Francisco) Oh, I think it’s a little bit of both. I think that we out here in Northern California are happy that we’re far away from Potomac fever, and it does really look like a Washington politics as usual, and I’ve heard all the metaphors about high noon and train wreck and what have you, a game of chicken, but I think that that implies a much too mature level at which these leaders of our country are playing. I think those of us who watch local governments more and/or state or regional governments sometimes like to use the metaphor of a sandbox, and it’s as though some children are playing and having a temper tantrum, and it is–it is really unseemly of our leaders to allow themselves to get into a situation that would shut down the government. At the same time, I don’t want to make light of what’s at stake. At stake is truly the sort of future direction of our government, and I think the Republicans are for whatever reason, are using what I would call the castor oil approach of forcing the President to, to try to accept things that he finds unacceptable and, therefore, he has to veto the bills, and certainly he does need this political moment because he needs to show the American people that he is standing firm on an issue, and I think that we would all agree that we would hope that both sides would act like adults and come to some kind of a compromise. We would like to see a continuing resolution that is clean and to have real negotiations on the future of government and balancing the budget.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Lee Cullum, who do you think will gain politically from this?
MS. CULLUM: That’s difficult to say. I was in Houston yesterday, Elizabeth, and I was talking to Republicans who feared that the President would be the big gainer in all of this, and the polls perhaps are indicating that, the poll figures that Jim cited earlier in the show. I’m not convinced that that will endure. I really, I think it’ll be a short-term gain for the President. And I really think the public is going to be the most interested in what finally happens to them in their lives, what finally passes. Then they’ll assess the rewards and punishments.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mike Barnicle, do you think there’s anybody–that anybody will gain politically from this? From what you said before, I gather that you think nobody can gain anything from it?
MR. BARNICLE: Well, I don’t know who gains from it. I know I think who loses from it, and that’s me, people like me, you know, American citizens who vote, who basically hire these people to go to Washington to do a not-that-difficult task, certainly not as difficult as many of the tasks that ordinary people do in the course of their lives, schoolteachers, fire fighters, so they go down to do this task, which is basically just keep the lights on, and they cannot do that. So what we suffer is another incremental loss in our faith in government, and more and more veer toward this idea that we are truly a leaderless political society, that there are no leaders of enough stature on either side to stand up, plant a flag, and say, follow me, this is the correct path, and people would be prone to follow. That is not there today, so we continue to lose.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Cynthia, what do you think about that?
MS. TUCKER: Well, I think Mike is absolutely right. I think we all lose. I think the process loses. I think that President Clinton may pick up temporarily in the polls. But I think in the long run, voters are turned off by the process. But I think this kind partisanship, small-minded partisanship, is corrosive in smaller ways as well. Clarence mentioned the fact that while we’re all describing this as a government shutdown, in fact, the government has not shut down. About 40 percent of employees deemed non-essential have been told to go home and will continue to stay home, I assume, until Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich can come to some sort of reasonable compromise. But when we discuss government employees as essential and non-essential, the average voter sits out there and says, well, wait a minute, if these people are so non- essential, why are we paying them in the first place? You convince people that these folks are not vital to the operation of the nation in the first place. So it’s not just that political leaders lose stature; government workers lose stature; and people, it has a corrosive effect on people’s faith in their government.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Patrick McGuigan, what do you think? Is anybody gaining from this? I know you think this is an important battle that needs to be fought.
MR. McGUIGAN: Well, again, I think in the short-term that the President may be gaining “politically” and the Republicans may be losing a bit. In the long run, the question, though, is: What did those people go to Washington to do? It seems to me the President went to Washington, despite all of rhetoric in 1992 and his recent rhetoric, to protect the status quo. The Republicans went there in larger numbers last year to make a change, to bring about these things they’ve talked about on the campaign trail and on the campuses and in the small town meetings for all these years. And if they meant what they said, they have to stick to their guns. You know, one of the little vignettes that’s already come out in one of the wire stories is that the White House is now having to make due with only two chefs. That was a serious story. It was illustrative of the kinds of things happening in the government as a result of this budget crisis. But in my own mind, I think of the two chefs, if you will, as the President and the First Lady, and those two chefs are spoiling the brew for all the rest of us. I think this is politics on their part. If the President wanted to deal with the Republicans on this issue, he would have been dealing with them substantively over the last several weeks. Instead, his budget director, Mr. Panetta, has been using language–his chief of staff, Mr. Panetta, has been using language like “terrorism” to describe substantive political policy views from the Republicans. I’m upset about this, but I’m a lot more upset at this administration than I am at the Republicans who are trying to do what they were sent there to do.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Clarence Page, just very briefly, who do you think gains from this?
MR. PAGE: Bill Clinton gains in the short-term as being someone who is, who is standing someone firm for a change. Waffling was his biggest negative as far as his image was concerned in the past. But voters also hate gridlock. They want to see this resolved soon, and if it’s not resolved soon, he starts to look bad.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay. We go to go. Thanks very much, all of you.