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Marcus and Gerson on Jobless Numbers, Prop 8, Divisive Kagan Vote

August 6, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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Washington Post columnists Ruth Marcus and Michael Gerson -- sitting in for David Brooks and Mark Shields -- discuss the mostly partisan Elena Kagan's confirmation vote, the U.S. job outlook and the same-sex marriage ruling in California.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And to the analysis of Marcus and Gerson. That’s Washington Post columnists Ruth Marcus, and Michael Gerson. Mark Shields and David Brooks are both away.

Thank you both for being here.

RUTH MARCUS: Thank you.

MICHAEL GERSON: Great to be here.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Let’s talk first about these unemployment numbers today, 130,000 jobs, Michael, lost this month. The rate stayed the same. And then we just saw that very disturbing report from Paul Solman a minute ago about the long-term unemployed.

But what is the political impact of this?

MICHAEL GERSON: Well, the reality here is that it makes — this report makes the Democrats’ worst problem even worse.

You know, right now, they’re trying to change the narrative on the employee. And they haven’t been able to do that. This report says that job growth has been stagnant for about seven months. That’s not likely to improve in the reports, the three reports between now and November, although it could some.

And I think it’s a serious problem for the Democrats right now.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Ruth, in fact, it’s — what do we get, just two more jobs reports before the midterm elections.

RUTH MARCUS: I think it doesn’t necessarily make the Democrats worst problem even worse, because it’s already pretty bad, and because even a fantastic jobs report this month or next month wasn’t really going to change the dynamic of the way people feel about the economy.

It was a little bit — people’s views are already pretty set about where they think the economy is. And this is making a little bit of lemonade out of lemons. But I will say the one, this bright — this report is not good for Democrats, but the one argument that I can see they have on their side is: We were the guys who were pressing and pressing and pressing to extend unemployment benefits, when the Republicans were insisting that that wasn’t a good idea, at least unless they were paid for.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Can they make an issue out of that?

MICHAEL GERSON: Well, I think that the problem for Democrats is even deeper here. It shows sort of an ideological dead end.

When they are faced with a stagnant jobs picture, the response of Vice President Biden earlier this week was to say, we should have done more stimulus. The response from Nancy Pelosi is, let’s spend more on public employees.

It’s always spending. But this is precisely the concern of independents in America, who are turning against the Republican Party — against the Democratic Party, is this concern about debt, deficits and spending. And so I think the Democrats trying to solve this problem with more spending is actually feeding their political challenge in November.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, it’s kind of a double bind?

RUTH MARCUS: It — well, it may be feeding their political challenge, but, as an economic matter, I think the vice president is right. More spending in the stimulus, more direct spending, would have been more effective.

And I know it’s not a convincing argument to voters, but it is true that, absent the stimulus, absent TARP funds, things would have been way, way worse.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Let’s turn to something very different, and that is the ruling by the California federal judge, Michael, overturning gay marriage, in effect, in the state of California, Proposition 8. What is the fallout? Where does this go from here from this one ruling?

MICHAEL GERSON: Well, this is a sweeping decision, but it’s a very early one. It’s not — you know, not near the Supreme Court yet.

But I would say that there is a challenge. The gay rights movement has been one of the most successful social movements in America for the last 20 years. They have changed attitudes towards inclusion and tolerance.

But I think that, if the Supreme Court were eventually to adopt the reasoning that’s in this decision, which essentially declares every traditional argument for traditional marriage to be useless and illiberal, I think that there would be a serious problem, because the decision of the Supreme Court wouldn’t just be for California. It would be for Louisiana and Mississippi and South Carolina.

I think it could cause a significant Roe v. Wade-like backlash in America if the Supreme Court were to adopt that approach.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And what would happen in that case?

RUTH MARCUS: Well, I actually don’t — first of all, I am not at all confident that that is where the Supreme Court would come out.

And one thing about this decision, I am very happy with the result, but a lot of the gay rights groups were very concerned that the unlikely duo of Boies and Olson, who brought this, were acting too early, too quickly. Things are going well, but there has been a very concerted effort to keep cases out of federal court, so you might not — because the Supreme Court may well not be ready to count to five.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What do you mean too quickly, too early?

RUTH MARCUS: In other words, just as the population is radically changing its views on gay rights and same-sex marriage, so too are courts.

And you can see the — the change in the Supreme Court, from making sodomy — upholding the legality of sodomy laws to reversing itself. But, sometimes — you saw this in the civil rights movement and with Thurgood Marshall — you have to bide your time and wait for the court to be ready to do it.

So, I am more ready — more worried, actually, that the court won’t rule in favor of same-sex marriage than I am worried about the consequences if they do, and, in part, Michael, because I think that a ruling requiring — making it a constitutional right to have same-sex marriage would not be the same as Roe v. Wade.

There is a legitimate and heartfelt disagreement about whether abortion is the taking of human life. I don’t think people — people are upset about gay marriage, but I don’t think it’s quite that visceral.

MICHAEL GERSON: Well, I would say I don’t think, for example, that conservatives in general want this argument. They’re not spoiling for it. I think that that is true.

But I think, if there were a unitary, national imposed standard, it would raise not just the issue itself, but, for a lot of conservatives, concerns about the imperial judiciary, the role of democracy, all sorts of issues that I think would create a significant backlash in a case like this, maybe not with the intensity of Roe, but some of the same issues would be at stake.


JUDY WOODRUFF: And that’s presuming the court, the Supreme Court…

JUDY WOODRUFF: And we’re not there yet.


RUTH MARCUS: But, you know, Republicans are not itching for this fight. I was at a breakfast this week with Senator McConnell. And he kept being invited by us to make some news and decry this ruling. And he is very clear he didn’t want to talk about it. He wanted to talk about the party’s economic message.

And the Tea Partiers, the most active part of the party, are not — this is not a social conservative culture war movement.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, while we’re on the Supreme Court, Elena Kagan was confirmed just yesterday by the Senate. The vote was 63 to 37.

Michael, it’s — she was confirmed, but it was the third lowest…


JUDY WOODRUFF: … number of confirmation votes for any justice to the court. What does that say about the Senate?

MICHAEL GERSON: Well, it’s kind of an interesting moment. I think the last four nominees that we have had, you know, two by a Republican, two by a Democrat, have not been Bork-like controversies. They haven’t been blood feuds.

And I think that is largely because they haven’t changed the composition of the court, just the personality of the court. It might be different if we really had a change going on. But I do think that this is — presents some warning signs for the president.

First of all, this is the most favorable Senate he’s likely to have in a while, OK? He got 63 votes. There were some surprises, people like Bond and Voinovich, who voted against Kagan. And I think, next time around, it could be a much more serious battle.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But — but we’re talking about somebody who is not going to materially change the direction of the court, or — I mean — I mean, replacing Justice Stevens?

RUTH MARCUS: I think, if she materially changes the direction of court, it might be actually more towards the center. We will find out.

But I’m very disturbed by the increasingly just party-line nature of these votes. If you look back through history — and one of the differences between the last four nominees and Judge Bork is that they were no Borks. They were really pretty close to the center, mainstream of judicial legal thought within their ideological home.

And the notion that now we’re creating a situation where Justice Ginsburg was confirmed something like 96 to 3.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Overwhelmingly.

RUTH MARCUS: Judge — Justice Roberts was confirmed 78 to something.

Now it’s just everybody lines up with their side. And the next thing I’m afraid we’re going to see is the actual serious filibustering of a nominee. It’s not a good situation.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right. While we’re on matters judicial, I want to binge up something that we’re hearing more talk about.

And that is among Republicans, Michael — and you wrote about this, this week — potentially amending the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which, among other things, says that you are a citizen if are you born in this country — a conversation among Republicans. And you specifically wrote — targeted Lindsey Graham, the senator from South Carolina.

MICHAEL GERSON: I did. And, in fact, Harry Reid quoted what I wrote about…


MICHAEL GERSON: … which, for a conservative, is a mixed honor, to be honest with you.


MICHAEL GERSON: But when he — you know, when he quotes me, I agree with him 100 percent.

And the reality here is that Lindsey Graham has engaged in an extraordinary shift here. This is one of the main voices for kind of sanity and generosity in the Republican Party on the immigration issue endorsing really the Holy Grail of immigration restrictionism, which is changing the 14th Amendment.

It is a huge change. It’s like Hillary Clinton coming out for Sarah Palin. It is a big deal. And I think that it’s bad policy, because the 14th — the authors of the 14th Amendment wanted to take the definition of citizenship out of politics. They wanted to make it something firm, rooted in birth.

I think that that is a wise policy. But it’s also really bad politics for Republicans, not in this election, but for decades to come. Alienating this group of voters I think is the most damaging thing that the Tea Party and populist forces are doing to the Republican Party right now.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What is the calculus behind this, Ruth?

RUTH MARCUS: Well, I mean, I think that there is a personal calculus, which is short-term. Lindsey Graham, he has gone out on a lot of limbs in South Carolina, and they may be waving a little precariously for him. I think, in the short-term, it…

JUDY WOODRUFF: I mean, he’s a conservative Republican senator, but facing some conservative…

RUTH MARCUS: He’s a conservative Republican.

RUTH MARCUS: But he’s a maverick conservative Republican senator.

And it’s a — everybody’s nervous, OK, in the Republican Party. And so, short-term, it may help with the base. But, once again, Senator McConnell was at breakfast. He was talking about hearings, but he was saying, “I don’t really — well, I don’t have any views about changing the 14th Amendment,” because it’s crazy.

The only thing I disagree with that Michael said is that it’s not about alienating Hispanic voters. It’s about further alienating Hispanic voters. And the Republican Party, as a long-term strategy, is just crazy on this.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is that a concern?

MICHAEL GERSON: No, I think it’s a real concern. I mean, I — you look at the symbols. And, you know, politics has — symbols are powerful in politics.

But Proposition 187, you look at the immigration debate, you look at Arizona law, and now you look at reconsidering the fundamental law of the country to essentially turn infants in hospitals into criminals, it really is — I would agree. It’s not only, I think, bad policy, but it’s political suicidal in the long-term.

You can’t be a national party, given the American demographic trends, and be perceived as an anti-immigration party.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You heard it here.

Michael Gerson, Ruth Marcus, thank you both.

RUTH MARCUS: Total agreement.