MS. IFILL: A week full of dilemmas, Democrats trying to regain their footing, Republicans trying not to lose theirs. Job seekers still struggling and an emotional free speech debate at the Supreme Court, tonight on “Washington Week.”
PRES. BARACK OBAMA: We’ve got a lot at stake right now. On November 2nd, I’m going to need you just as fired up as you were in 2008. (Cheers, applause.)
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH) [House Minority Leader]: Ladies and gentlemen, your government has not been listening. Your government is out of control. Do you have to take it?
AUDIENCE: shouts "No!"
REP. BOEHNER: Hell, no you don’t. (Cheers, applause.)
MS. IFILL: Party leaders sound confident but they’re worried. Is this what Republicans want?
SEN. JIM DEMINT (R-SC): I would rather have 40 Republicans who believe in the principles of freedom than 60 who believe in nothing at all.
CHRISTINE O’DONNELL [Delaware Republican Senate Candidate] campaign ad: I’m not a witch. I’m nothing you heard.
MS. IFILL: And with the economy still in a long-term stall –
PRES. OBAMA: It took us a long time to get out of where we are right now. And the damage left by this recession is so deep that it’s going to take a long time to get out.
MS. IFILL: Is this the best message Democrats can hope for?
VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: The reports of the death of the Democratic Party are exaggerated.
MS. IFILL: At the Supreme Court, a test of the limits of free speech as the justices begin their new term. Covering the week, Peter Baker of the New York Times; Michael Duffy of Time magazine; David Wessel of the Wall Street Journal; and Joan Biskupic of USA Today.
ANNOUNCER: Award winning reporting and analysis, covering history as it happens, live from our nation’s capital, this is “Washington Week with Gwen Ifill.”
ANNOUNCER: Once again, live from Washington, moderator Gwen Ifill.
MS. IFILL: Good evening. We’ve reached that point in the campaign year where we’re reading like a dozen polls a day and we still don’t know what’s going to happen in November. For any number of reasons, from indications of witchcraft in Delaware, name calling in California or ignorance about the minimum wage in Connecticut, neither party is breathing easy. Both sides have resorted to rousing their base sometimes using pretty similar language.
PRES. OBAMA: Here’s the bottom line: we’re going to need to work even harder in this election. We’re going to need to fight their millions of dollars with millions of voices. Everybody here who’s ready to finish what we started in 2008.
REP. BOEHNER: The bottom line is this: to help our economy create jobs, we have to stop all of the coming taxites and we have to cut spending. And to get all of this done, we need to change the Congress itself now. (Applause.)
MS. IFILL: Bottom lines aside, both parties are facing a familiar dilemma in the next several weeks: how to get the people who like you to vote and how to get the rest of them to stay home? What is the Democratic Party’s approach, Peter?
MR. BAKER: Well, what you see right now, of course, is President Obama spending a lot more time on the campaign trail and Vice President Biden. The president this Sunday will be in Philadelphia for the second of four large rallies he’s holding around the country. And his message really is aimed at his base, the Democratic base in particular. You can’t sit on the sidelines is a phrase he said. It’s inexcusable to sit on the sidelines. You may be disappointed with me, in effect he’s saying. You may not like everything I’ve done or not done, as the case may be.
MS. IFILL: Don’t make me look bad I think was one thing he said.
MR. BAKER: And the alternative is worse is what he’s saying. He’s getting out there talking about the “Pledge to America,” the Republican platform, and saying, okay. You may be unhappy with me but look at this. And it’s a strategy that they think is going to help close the gap in these final few weeks. There’s some indications that maybe there’s some closing, some dispute but it’s their only tactic at this point. They’re not really going as much for the independents as they are for their own base.
MS. IFILL: And Michael, what about the Republicans?
MR. DUFFY: Well, I think if you could sort of distill their strategy at this point, it would be three things: spend money – and they have lots to spend – keep talking about Barack Obama and say that Democrats are rubberstamped for him; and third, if you could really boil it down it’s don’t mess this up. You know, this is a party that at the moment is worried well. If you were in a different line of work, you’d say their threat matrix is low. They don’t have a lot of big problems. They don’t want to peak too early. They don’t want to say things that get them in trouble. There was a lot of chatter this week among Republicans that Newt Gingrich probably didn’t really need to come out and say they’re going to win 50 plus seats because, though while many think it’s true, they really don’t want to do anything to jazz up that Democratic base, which tends to get jazzed up later than the Republicans.
The second thing is they can make a big mistake with the money. There’s so much money sloshing around in the Republican world at this point, especially with those untraceable, untrackable outside groups. There’s a real danger when I talk to people today that someone is going to make a terribly inappropriate mistake in the terms of an ad that they cut. We saw a little bit this week when a national Republican senatorial committee in preparing for an ad in West Virginia had a casting call for actors for this ad. And they said, could you wear some John Deere hats and some flannel plaid shirts, something hicky. (Laughter.) And this caused a little bit of a problem for –
MS. IFILL: Yes.
MR. DUFFY: – the guy running in West Virginia for that Senate seat. He has yet to get back on message. The third thing really isn’t so much a problem of what’s happening now but later. How are they going to integrate the tea party into this party, the 15 or 20 million voters who will probably go to the polls at tea party members this year are really upset with deficits and spending and entitlements, things that the Republican Party, despite their rhetoric, has no record of doing anything about for the last 20 years, really since early Reagan. And reconciling I think the Republicans’ rhetoric on these issues with what the sort of the energized part of the party is going to come to vote for in the next couple of weeks is really a challenge.
MS. BISKUPIC: You know, you mentioned the money and the tea party. Is a lot of that big money going to tea party candidates or is it mostly going to establishment Republican candidates?
MR. DUFFY: Well, it’s hard to tell because, of course, as I said, it’s untraceable and untrackable. The amount is what’s amazing. Someone involved in one of these groups predicted to me today that he thought there would be more than $200 million, maybe $300 million in outside money from these Republican groups. Probably he thinks twice as much is being funneled to the Democratic counterparts. So it’s a large amount. And I asked him, does anyone know where any of it or all of it is going? He goes, none of us.
MS. IFILL: I was in Kentucky this weekend. Rand Paul, the Republican/tea party candidate there, the estimates are that he’s getting 70 percent of his money from outside of the state and that the Democrat Jack Conway, the attorney general, is only getting 30 percent of his money from outside the state. But not necessarily from the shadow groups; from individual contributors who are roused by this tea party sentiment. What do the Democrats have to counter that?
MR. BAKER: We’ve seen that, by the way, of course in Delaware and Alaska and other places as well.
MS. IFILL: Yes.
MR. BAKER: What we see right now is President Obama and the Democrats trying to make an issue of what Michael has talked about. In other words, they’re getting out there and saying this election is about people trying to hijack your democracy. That was the phrase David Plouffe used this week, the president’s former campaign manager. And the president himself I think on his campaign was talking about these untraceable, immeasurable mounds of money coming in to take over. It’s a reasonable strategy to try to pursue even as they try to pursue some of the money themselves. But in the end, I think it’s hard to rouse an electorate when it comes to issues of campaign finance. It’s nothing that’s moved people a lot before.
MR. WESSEL: Are some of the Democrats running away from Obama rather than seeking his support?
MR. BAKER: You see, I mean, in certain places in the country obviously less useful to have President Obama come visit. You haven’t seen him go a lot to the Deep South. You’re not going to see him probably visit Texas very soon. In Georgia, he went down there. I went with him a few weeks back. And the candidate for governor, Roy Barnes, had something else to do that day. The LA Times had an article today. They quoted a couple of their congressmen out in California saying, you know, we don’t really need him to come here. Dennis Cardoza said, the president isn’t welcome to campaign with me right now. He’s welcome to come to my district and help me do my job which is to provide relief for my constituents.
MS. IFILL: But how significant is about the places he is going? He and Michelle Obama are campaigning together in Ohio, I guess. They have been in – he has been in Wisconsin. He was in Illinois, his old Senate seat, last night. He actually has been going places where there has been some moderate – (inaudible).
MR. BAKER: Yes. He has – still of course has great capacity to rouse people who still support him, even if they’re – even if they’re disappointed in him, there’s a lot of people out there, Democrats, who still support him and want him to do well. And if he can make the case to them that it’s important to his presidency that they come out for people that they don’t know necessarily or don’t care about – their House member, their Senate member – then he hopes to do better. You’ll see him again in Pennsylvania, Nevada; Ohio is coming up again; Miami on Monday. So he’s making the rounds. And there are lots of places in the country where he is welcome and useful.
MR. DUFFY: And Joe Biden is doing some of the same travel. Is he going to different places than the president and why?
MR. BAKER: There are places that Biden can go or does go that the president doesn’t go, Nebraska being one, for instance, because he flies a little low under the radar. He’s less of a target for Republican candidates and ads and so forth right now. People aren’t putting ads on the air saying, you know, (Joe Democrat ?) supports Joe Biden. That’s not the attack line. So he does have the capacity to do that. And he’s a good campaigner. He’s got a lot of connection to a crowd in a way that sometimes Obama doesn’t.
MS. BISKUPIC: Can I ask you about the regionalism? It seems like this round we’re hearing more about how Democrats are more in trouble in the South, the Northeast is still okay. Has a different dynamic emerged this time because of regional issues having to do with the president?
MS. IFILL: And I want to piggyback on that with you, Michael, because I’m curious what the demographics are that the polls are showing us about who are the voters that these guys are going after?
MR. BAKER: Right. Right. That’s the question. I mean, I think we’ve seen increasingly over the last couple of decades this sort of polarization of the country by geography. In the old days, you had more of a mix in places like New England, places in the South and increasingly where people live with people who think more and more like them. So I think that there are places where Obama doesn’t sell well and never sold well, probably will never sell well. But the purple states, the places like Virginia, where he did well despite a Republican past – it’s a tough battle for like Tom Perriello, the House member there in Virginia, for instance.
MR. DUFFY: We polled this week in New York, Connecticut, Missouri and Nevada, and as you moved westward, it got progressively harder for the president. Independent voters in particular who basically supported Barack Obama in 2008, by five or six points have essentially flipped. Now they in close Senate races support typically, in the close ones, Republicans. And when you ask independent voters how they feel about the president, it goes from about three to two against to close to two to one in some states. And the redder your go, the harder it gets.
MS. IFILL: Let me ask you one interesting question. It seems that for both parties, there are extremes which are giving them the most heartburn, the Right, the tea party members are giving mainstream Republican heartburn; the Left is giving the president and his White House heartburn. How do they plan to accommodate them,if they can between now and the election and ever afterward?
MR. DUFFY: A Republican said to me today about the tea party, the dog has finally caught the car and he’s rattling the bumper and we don’t know what to do about it. (Laughter.) It’s not small. There are going to be four or five members – maybe two or three at least – members of the tea party in the U.S. Senate. They have the capacity to make things really different for a Republican should they take that Senate and even if they don’t. In the House, think of it. If the Republicans gain control of the House, they’ll probably have 60, 80 new House members, almost all of them will have run hard 100 percent tea party campaigns against any kind of spending. This will be a very big challenge for the Republicans to try to manage those members.
MR. BAKER: And what people in the White House, the Democratic Party, won’t say out loud is that that may actually be a benefit in some ways to the Democrats coming 2012 that the president would have a Republican House against which he would have an (instrument to ?) foil much as President Clinton did and others in the past. And that they would like to see the Republicans try to govern in the obstructionist type of environment that they themselves have profited from and see how things work out.
MS. IFILL: Gee, I wonder why they won’t say that out loud. (Laughter.) I can’t imagine. Well, looming over all of this like an 800-pound gorilla, of course, is a stubbornly sluggish economy. Today’s job numbers, the last we’ll see before the election, underscore the problem. The unemployment rate is stuck at 9.6 percent. Private sector jobs grew slightly but overall 95,000 jobs disappeared in September. Is there any way to spin any of that as a positive, David?
MR. WESSEL: Well, the stock market thought so. It rose above 11,000 today apparently concluding that we’re not going to have a double dip because the private sector did add a few jobs and because things are so bad, the Fed has to do something. So it’s a kind of perverse logic. It’s really hard to find good news in these numbers. Let me just give you two things that are just amazing. So there are now 9.5 million people, more than ever before on record who are working part time but wish they had fulltime jobs. And there are over four million people who have been out of work for a full year. That’s more people been out of work for a full year than all the people who live in Louisiana. And I think that the Democrats and the White House itself are frustrated that for all they did, things don’t seem to be better. We have a story in tomorrow’s paper that just sort of illustrates how frustrating it is. There’s a woman who’s a teacher in Toledo. Her name is Amanda Van Ness. She’s 25-years-old. She got laid off. The president had her by his side when he signed the bill giving money to state and local governments to put teachers back on the payroll. She got offered a job in August teaching second grade as a one year thing. Last week, she got laid off because they cut their budget again. And so the president has this problem of saying, it could have been worse, which isn’t a great slogan, and John Boehner, as we saw, all he has to say is it didn’t work and he doesn’t have to give any answer to it. I think the interesting question is what happens after the election? If the Republicans get one of the Houses, are there going to be some pressures on them to agree with the president on something to make the economy better?
MR. BAKER: You mentioned the Fed. What can the Fed do at this point? Their interest rates are perfectly zero for the most part and have been for a long time. What are their options?
MR. WESSEL: Well, what’s going to happen is after the election, actually the day after the election, the Fed will conclude a meeting and all signs are that they’re all going to say, we’re going to buy more long-term bonds. It’s kind of the last resort thing to try and push long-term interest rates, the ones that businesses pay, the ones that we pay on our mortgages down a little further. It’s kind of a Hail Mary. They don’t know it will work. But with fiscal policy gridlocked, they feel to do less than that would be irresponsible. Their job is to keep unemployment down and to keep inflation stable and they’re failing on both counts.
MS. BISKUPIC: But employers really haven’t responded to what the Fed has done already, right? Is it irrational or is it rationale for employers not to be hiring as much as the government thought they would be at this point?
MR. WESSEL: Well, obviously, it’s hard to believe businesses are not hiring people if they thought they could make money by hiring.
MS. IFILL: It seems kind of upside down. Yes.
MR. WESSEL: So I think it’s rational. The question is could you change that? So one school is they’re not hiring because there’s no demand for their products. And if the government could get demand going again, they’d hire. Another school, the one the Republicans are harping on that we freaked out the business community where so much uncertainty, so much beating them over the head with a baseball bat that they’re just kind of on strike. And the only way to change their attitudes is to change the government. And there’s a tension there and we really don’t know which it is.
MR. DUFFY: The president pocket vetoed a measure this week that would have it easier to throw people out of their homes if they were being foreclosed. And I think a major bank – I think it was the Bank of America – today basically froze or stopped at the moment some foreclosure procedures. Is there some change coming as a result of this stasis from the private sector on banks that are somehow going to make life easier for some people?
MR. WESSEL: Well, I mean, basically, when you thought the bank had run out of things to screw up, it turns out they can’t even do the paperwork on foreclosures.
MS. IFILL: For foreclosures. Yes.
MR. WESSEL: And what’s going to happen is that this will slow foreclosures. You’re absolutely right. Bank of America declared a moratorium. Some of the other ones did. Chris Dodd called for a hearing in November. The president vetoed that bill. It’s probably going to slow down the foreclosure process. That kind of sounds attractive. Who wants people to be thrown out of their houses? The fear is it will just prolong this housing mess longer and make the recovery even slower.
MS. IFILL: Let me ask you about the politics of this because politically you can’t really find a lot of voters who think that a government action is the solution. The TARP, which may have worked, is still incredibly unpopular; the stimulus, which may have done something to stop things from getting worse, still incredibly unpopular. Yet, the only way that economists seem to think that to jolt the economy is some sort of government action. Is there a middle ground there?
MR. WESSEL: I don’t think so. I think that it’s very hard for politicians to tell the people, we kind of have to do watchful waiting here and it’s going to be a slow recovery. So my sense is that after the election, in the lame duck, there may well be some surprising change from the rhetoric. And we may discover that the president will let the Republicans extend the tax cuts on the upper-income people. And maybe the Republicans will go along with the president on these business friendly tax cuts or maybe a payroll tax holiday. I don’t think it’s the most likely thing but I think people who listen to the rhetoric of a campaign and think that the Congress is going to sit by – unemployment could very well be 10 percent by the beginning of the year. It’s hard to image the politicians will sit on their hands in that circumstance.
MS. IFILL: Okay. Thanks, David. Thanks for clearing that up, as always, kind of. A remarkable set of arguments at the Supreme Court this week, in essence, a test of how far we are willing to go to define and protect free speech, especially when even the justices appear to agree that the words themselves are abhorrent in this case. Tell us about this case, Joan. It’s amazing.
MS. BISKUPIC: It is. It is because it’s a group that many people watching will have heard of, it’s fundamentalist Pastor Fred Phelps out of Kansas in his Westboro church, they picket at military funerals across the country saying, thank goodness for dead soldiers. Their message is mostly an anti-gay message and they say that they’re protesting the military and all government policies because of what they say is a nation that’s favorable toward homosexuals, especially in the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. So you start with that.
So they go out and they went to this burial service of a young man who had been killed in Iraq, a Marine, and protested across from the church and the father sued for damages and for the intentional infliction of emotional distress and won with a jury, ended up with a $5 million verdict. But the federal appeals court threw it out saying, no. What they were doing is legitimate free speech. The father appeals, comes up to the Supreme Court and he had a fairly sympathetic audience in the justices saying, you know, this was a family’s grieving moment that Fred Phelps and his followers were trying to take advantage of. But at the same time that they said that, Gwen, in terms of commenting on the abhorrent speech, they said they also were grappling with the fact that there you have many free speech precedents that protect the most hateful, horrific speech. That’s sort of the point of it.
MS. IFILL: For instance, I think back to the “Falwell v. Hustler magazine.” That must have come up because that was a case where there is nobody exactly defending Hustler magazine except the Constitution.
MS. BISKUPIC: That’s right. What you’re referring to is a 1988 case where the Supreme Court actually ruled for Hustler magazine and said this parody that it did of the late fundamentalist preacher, Jerry Falwell, had to be protected no matter how outrageous it was. In that case, it did involve somebody who was a public figure but that precedent is sitting there essentially suggesting to the justices in lower courts that you can’t have a subjective standard about outrageousness dictating when somebody can say he’s been harmed.
MR. BAKER: Is this an all or nothing kind of thing, either free speech or protecting the sensitivities of grieving families? Are we allowed to regulate time, manner, place? Aren’t there ways we can do things that protect both sides in some way?
MS. BISKUPIC: That’s a good question, Peter. And it’s essentially what came up in the hearing is that Justice Ginsburg and Justice Kagan talked about these protesters had to stay away from the church where this was going on. And those are rules that are in place. But it wasn’t a violation of those kinds of rules that are at issue. It’s more the personal injury that Albert Snyder, the father of this fallen Marine, was alleging. And he was saying, you know, the state governments and local ordinances can prevent this and maybe there can be some sort of criminal action or statute that would come into play. But what he wants is a personal remedy for the grief he went through.
MR. DUFFY: I know we don’t like to admit it, but 1988 was actually a long time ago. (Laughter.)
MS. IFILL: I don’t know what you’re talking about.
MS. BISKUPIC: Not for the Supreme Court, pal.
MR. DUFFY: (Inaudible) – with this table.
MS. IFILL: It was yesterday.
MR. DUFFY: However, there’s a really different court than in 1988. So what, Joan, do you know about this group of nine folks that tells you that their feelings about the First Amendment might have modulated a little bit since Hustler?
MS. BISKUPIC: Well, their feelings on the First Amendment, as you know, for political speech in campaign finance was pretty strong, five to four in Citizens United. But I think they’re stuck with their precedent. And I think that as much as there was sympathy for this grieving father, the daughter of Fred Phelps, who actually argued the case – the lawyer was this Margie Phelps who’s one of Fred Phelps’ 13 children – who was incredibly effective because obviously she knows the law inside and out because she’s been defending her father and his Westboro church followers. She said, hey, this was on a matter of public debate. We have a right to do this. It’s one thing if we’re getting in people’s face, stalking, harassing, but this was speech.
MR. DUFFY: So nine to nothing? (Laughter.)
MR. BAKER: What about Justice Kagan? This is her first week on the job or half a week maybe on the job. What have you learned about her in that opening round?
MS. BISKUPIC: Yes. Your reference to half a week is that she’s recused from several cases because of her old job as solicitor general. Very forceful, right in there, didn’t hesitate at all, some good questions that drew out other scenarios on free speech issues. So I think she’s going to be as much a player as most of these justices. It’s what we call a hot bench, a lot of activity among them.
MR. BAKER: Hot bench.
MS. BISKUPIC: Yes. This is an exciting year.
MR. WESSEL: Is it really different this year than it was last year?
MS. BISKUPIC: No. It was pretty talkative before. But it’s different from where it was 20 years ago.
MS. IFILL: Because you have all those people from Brooklyn on there. (Laughter.)
MS. BISKUPIC: Well, they’re all from the boroughes. Four of the five boroughes are represented.
MS. IFILL: I can say it because I was born in Queens. I’m allowed. Okay everybody. We’re joking about the Supreme Court only at “Washington Week.” Thank you everyone. Keep track of daily developments and politics and almost everything else with me on the air and online at the PBS NewsHour. Watch our webcast extra and follow what our panelists are writing about at the “Washington Week” website at pbs.org. And we’ll see you around the table again next week on Washington Week. Good night.