TOPICS > Politics

Brooks and Marcus on Campaign Negativity, Government ‘Gifts’ and Gaza Conflict

November 16, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
Judy Woodruff talks to the New York Times' David Brooks and the Washington Post's Ruth Marcus about the lack of substantive rhetoric in the 2012 presidential election, comments by Mitt Romney that voters chose President Obama for "gifts," chances of fiscal cliff compromise and the violent conflict between Israel and Hamas.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And to the analysis of Brooks and Marcus. That’s New York Times columnist David Brooks, and Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus, filling in for Mark Shields.

Welcome to you both on this Friday.


RUTH MARCUS: Thank you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, David, what do you make of this negativity that Andy Kohut is saying shows up in these post-election polls?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, he said first 68 percent of the respondents thought that the campaign was more negative than in the past, which tells me that 32 percent are wrong.


DAVID BROOKS: It was more negative than in the past.

RUTH MARCUS: Good math.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I know, like Mark Shields.

Yes, I think it was the worst campaign I ever covered. And I think Romney was all over the place. Obama ran a very negative campaign. The level of tolerated dishonesty was higher than any I ever covered.

They used to start campaigns by giving big speeches on policy, and people like Ruth and I would chew over them. Those speeches, I guess they decided they didn’t need to give them, because the policies weren’t there.

The only ray of hope, I would say, in the campaign was conducted, is the campaigns, especially the Obama campaign, is much better at door-knocking, face-to-face, door front interviews. And I do think, because of that and because of all the information that’s given to canvassers these days, they do have a lot of actual conversations.

And so you could argue that it was terrible at the surface, but at the level of one-to-one person on the door stoop, there might have been some good news there.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you read this negativity?


RUTH MARCUS: That’s really pulling out happiness from the pile.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Yes, I wasn’t going to just linger on that point.

RUTH MARCUS: So, the negativity is totally justified. David mentioned 68 percent. The other number in there was 51 percent who thought there was less discussion of issues. I don’t know where the other percentage is, because it was a remarkably substance-less campaign.

I will give you one example, the fiscal cliff. The minute the election ended, we swiveled and said, OK, so, what about that fiscal cliff? Where were the questions about the fiscal cliff during the campaign?

I will find my own bright rays of hope, though, because I think the voters are right in their assessment of this campaign. If anything, they might be too charitable.

The first is that I think every campaign, subsequent campaign picks up where the last one left off and makes up in some ways for the failings of it. And so I think we will see from voters and from us, the underperforming press, a demand for substance from candidates, those speeches that we all revel in.

And, also, I think that the one place where I do disagree with the voters is that I see a little bit more hope for compromise in the aftermath of the election than they do.

You can see it — and we will get to that in some of our later discussion — in some of the rhetoric of Republicans after the campaign, because what they took away and what I think both sides took away from the campaign was hearing the voters on a desire for compromise and bipartisanship and performance.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And wouldn’t that be something, for the politicians to be more positive than the voters?

RUTH MARCUS: Wouldn’t that be something?

JUDY WOODRUFF: And I want to ask you about the fiscal cliff in just a minute, but on the campaign, before I let that go, David, Gov. Romney had a conference call this week with his big donors in which, among other things, he said the reason President Obama won this election was because of gifts, big government contributions, money spent…


JUDY WOODRUFF: … on programs, on different Democratic constituents.


JUDY WOODRUFF: What do you make of that?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, this was a gift. It was a gift to the Republican Party, because it gave them all something to push against.

And so a number of people like Governor Bobby Jindal and others leapt to criticize what Romney had said, and said, no, first of all, we respect voters. We respect the decisions they make, secondly, that these programs are not gifts.

And I think this is important, because one of the core arguments for the Republican Party this campaign was, you got big government and all the people who are dependent on it, and we should go for smaller government and people not be dependent on it.

And the idea was that people who are dependent on government are getting either — some illegitimate thing. But pushing back on Romney, the undertone of what Jindal and others have said is that, no, government programs that help people succeed, help them rise, those are not illegitimate. Those are legitimate things.

And so I think it represents — or potentially represents — a way for the Republican Party to slightly alter their attitude about government from a crude position that all government programs are bad to a more nuanced position that some programs actually do help people and we appreciate those programs. And so I do think it is the beginning of a shifting in the party, at least potentially.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you explain what Romney said?


RUTH MARCUS: Well, you could go back to that 47 percent video.

He does seem to have this view that is really fundamentally, as David said, as Gov. Jindal said, disrespectful towards voters. It believes that voters vote only because you dangle shiny baubles of government programs or other handouts or benefits or policies that they favor in front of them, and they immediately vote in favor of that.

And I think voters, sometimes to the frustration of Democrats, have voted against their economic interests, have voted against some of their own interests. Voters are much more complex than Governor Romney was giving them no credit for.

I also think it really confuses pandering and catering to voters with how with substantive policy-making. Governor Romney looked, for example, at what the president did on giving the children of illegal immigrants a way of staying in the country and just saw it as a gimme, you know, gift, bribe to the Hispanic community.

I look at it — I think David probably looks at it too — and I think it is good policy, humane policy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, it’s something that certainly has given folks something to chew on for the next few days.

But on the — but, just quickly, David, on the fiscal cliff, which Ruth raised a minute ago, there was some positive noise coming out of the congressional leadership today after the meeting in the White House. Does it look like they could actually agree?

DAVID BROOKS: I remain a pessimist on this one. You know, I do think the Republicans are in a tough spot. The public is against them on raising taxes on the rich.

The way the fiscal cliff is structured, they’re at a severe disadvantage. So, they’re in a spot and they’re showing some flexibility. They just lost an election.

Nonetheless, I think the president is driving a hard bargain. His attitude and I think a lot of Democrats’ attitude is, they pushed us around. We have got the advantage. Let’s push them back.

And I think that will yield some short-term benefits. I think President Obama is going to end up asking the Republicans to capitulate. He’s going to give them no easy path to yes. He’s going to ask them really to humiliate themselves by agreeing to tax rate increases that they have said no to again and again.

Nonetheless, he will probably win that, just because of the way the landscape really does favor him.

What it will hurt is a long-term effort to really solve our fundamental problems. Raising taxes on the rich closes the deficit by a little, but not very much. We need a big solution. And if we go to a war over this, I’m afraid that will make the bigger deal, which we need, very hard to get down the road.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is that what you see happening?

RUTH MARCUS: Well, I share some of David’s concerns. And I do think that we just need to prepare ourselves. On the way to the fiscal cliff, we’re going to be on a fiscal roller coaster.


RUTH MARCUS: And it’s going to look absolutely terrible and dire before it gets solved, if it gets solved.

But there is — it’s going to — there are going to be numerous moments where it looks like as if they can’t bridge the gap. It is clear that the president, despite his words of conciliation and I’m open to compromise, if you have an idea, bring it forward, I will take a look at it, the administration is fundamentally convinced that it can’t come up with the revenue that it believes it needs without raising tax rates.

I — the reason I’m somewhat optimistic is I am hearing so — I have been on the phone all day with senators of both parties and House members of both parties.

And I’m hearing so much more flexibility from the Republican side than I am used to hearing, not — on two ways, first, that we can have revenue, and not revenue from the magic elixir of growth, but real, scoreable revenue, you know, from — hopefully, from their point of view, from broadening the base, which is, by the way, a great idea, but also that raising tax rates is not the Republican red line that I was worried that it might be.

And so I do see — I do see a path to a solution.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So you’re hearing…

DAVID BROOKS: You could argue, if they know they are going to capitulate at the end, they might as well capitulate in the beginning.


DAVID BROOKS: And so there is some possibility. I still think they are asking a lot.

And I still think, when we get to the ugly phase — and there will be ugly phases — there are two ways of doing business in Washington, the boring deal-making phase where everybody lowers the temperature, or the circus phase, when it becomes an economic culture war.

And I’m afraid, when we get into the turmoil, the circus will come to town, all the talk radio people, all the TV people will be on a furor, and then things will spin in a very bad direction.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, just quickly, I want to ask both of you about the Benghazi — the latest on Benghazi. Former CIA Director David Petraeus went to the Hill today, talked in private to two congressional committees.

There is an outcry from several Republicans for an investigation, David. But there is pushback from others. But the other thing I do really want to get to is what is going on in Israel with the Palestinians. So…


Well, first, on Israel, I want to know what the Israeli strategy long-term is. I want to know what they think they are doing, how — they’re in this moment in the middle of the Arab spring. How does the attack they are doing tie into a long-term vision of some future for the Middle East?

I see the reason for the attack. You don’t want to get bombed, but you would like to see some political vision going more than a month or two ahead. And that is absent. You have got Hamas there.

To me, you want to show the non-Hamas Palestinians some opening, so they have an incentive to break with Hamas. Israel is certainly not doing that. I understand the defense. I don’t understand the political strategy.

RUTH MARCUS: The thing I find most interesting about what is happening — obviously, what happening in Israel, what is happening in Gaza is terrible for the people involved, the innocent civilians who are being killed on both sides.

But the most interesting thing that I think it will raise for us and help answer for us is, what is going to be the stance of the new Egyptian government? It’s — last time — the Egyptian government has traditionally played a calming, brokering, somewhat peacemaking role. What is President Morsi willing to do? What does he feel that he has the flexibility to do? What can he do?

And, here, the U.S. government can play a helpful role, because there are things that Egypt — as with Israel, there are things that Egypt wants from us, not only U.S. aid, but help in getting this IMF loan.

And I think, however this is resolved, because it’s not going to resolve the long-term problem, perhaps it can help clarify, hopefully in a good way, the Egyptian role. It could open up and just shatter that long-term linchpin of stability in the Mideast between Egypt and Israel.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But do you see a role for the U.S. in the short-term?

RUTH MARCUS: Yes, in making — in explaining quietly to Egypt that essential nature of keeping the peace treaty with Israel and calming down the situation, and probably the same quietly for Israel, which has, of course, bigger news that it has from the U.S., which is to say Iran.


And I would say I think Syria still remains the most fragile thing. The explosion of Syria, that would really spill into everything else.

And so our role — I don’t know what our role is in Syria, but I have a feeling our attention will be focused where Margaret — Margaret is.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Yes. Her reporting was excellent earlier tonight.

The two of you are excellent. Ruth Marcus, David Brooks, thank you both.