Political Wrap: Paul Gigot and Elizabeth Drew

JIM LEHRER: Now, Paul, how do you read Kohut's reading of the politics of this anxiety question?

PAUL GIGOT: He's got a snapshot of the current state of the battle. His polls are relatively recent, and there's no question that the Democrats have succeeded in raising an awful lot of anxiety about some of the changes going through Congress. The question is: What will happen at the end when there's a deal and both sides agree? And I think something he misses that I think is also part of this whole anxiety, indeed, it's one of the impetuses for what the Republicans have been trying to do, is the anxiety about government not having its own house in order. If you look at what the–the way Republicans in the 60's and 70's used to argue about the budget, it was always a fiscal issue. It was we have to balance the budget because this is going to lead to some kind of an economic problem. You look at their arguments now, particularly John Kasich and Newt Gingrich, they're making a moral point. They're saying we'd better get our house in order now, otherwise, there's going to be chaos down the road, and we're going to hurt our children and our grandchildren. That's a very powerful argument to make, and it's been driving an awful lot of what the Republicans have been trying to do.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree, Elizabeth, that it's the debate that has caused the anxiety, and once a real deal is made, that will recede?

ELIZABETH DREW, Author/Journalist: No. I think it's sort of circular, what has gone on. The so-called disaffected right probably gave Clinton his margin of victory in 1992, because he said he would do something about the stagnating incomes. He didn't, and in 1994, for that among other reasons, he got his comeuppance. This is the group that both parties are fighting over, as they fight the budget, it's the Perot voters, it's the great swing vote in America. But I think the budget fight is, is about that, and each one is saying, this is the way to improve your life, the Gingrich way, less government. When Newt Gingrich says he's trying to destroy the welfare state, he should be taken at his word, he really believes that, and that fits into the politics. The Democrats are saying no, there are things in government that we must protect, it must be kept there, and will help people get security. And Paul mentioned when they get a deal the argument made, be over–there are Democrats now in the White House and on Capitol Hill who think it's the better politics to not get a deal because they are winning this argument. Keep it going to November. I think there are problems with that, but it's being seriously talked about.

JIM LEHRER: You're nodding.

PAUL GIGOT: Well, she's right about some of those Democrats. James Carville, for example, who says, let's take it right to November.

JIM LEHRER: He's one of President Clinton's advisers, '92. Probably will be again or is again.

PAUL GIGOT: A very hard thing for an incumbent President to do, though, is to carry an argument that's essentially based on disagreement for a year, because if you're an incumbent, you want to be able to suggest to the voters that you fulfilled some of your promises, including lowering the tax burden, which is one of the things that could come out of this deal. So I think that's a high risk strategy.

JIM LEHRER: Moving beyond the immediate budget problem, if there is this kind of anxiety, the kind of general anxiety there was reflected in the pieces and in the Kohut discussion that we just heard, does that help Clinton, or does that–President Clinton–or does that help the Republicans, or is it a wash?

ELIZABETH DREW: It helps whichever one gets the message through the clearest, because each is saying, I have a way to help you. And I agree with Paul, this is a long time for a President to be making the case, and just for a second, yes, I agree with him also it's very dangerous to not get the deal, because I think the public would say, fie on both of you, we elected you to get something done and to bring about change, so it'll be a hard thing to do.

JIM LEHRER: If they're still arguing about all of this, then nobody wins.

PAUL GIGOT: Well, yeah–

JIM LEHRER: Politically.

PAUL GIGOT: I agree with that. I would say there's one caution to the Republicans. You cannot, I don't think, when you have this economic concern, just make your case on the size of government. You also have to make your case that you're lowering the cost to government and the size of government to get somewhere.

JIM LEHRER: For a reason?

PAUL GIGOT: For a reason.

JIM LEHRER: Right.

PAUL GIGOT: In particular, I think this has a lot to do with the question of tax burdens, and Andy Kohut talked about the social conservatives and some of their anxieties. They're not all libertarians, economists who think that the flat tax is the greatest thing in the world. But if they–the case can be made to them that the flat tax helps–will increase their incomes and will get some money back into their pockets, that's a very powerful argument to make them part of the coalition.

JIM LEHRER: Yeah. On to another issue, Elizabeth, what's your reading of what Congress will do on the, on the issue of sending troops to Bosnia?

ELIZABETH DREW: Normally, I mean, I think that normally Congress does not block a President on a question of this sort and of this importance. A lot of people have suggested this time it's different because there is no popularity for sending troops to Bosnia because Clinton, himself, does not project a great military leader and so on. I still think in the end they won't want to have taken the responsibility, they don't like responsibility in this area in general, so they don't want the responsibility for having blocked it, as well as for having sent. So right now, they're saying, oh, the President hasn't made his case. Well, that's (a), a truism and (b), a holding action. Let's see if he makes his case. I think they will pass something with a lot of "whereases" and "to wits" in it, or not vote at all.

JIM LEHRER: What do you think?

PAUL GIGOT: I tend to agree with Elizabeth about the outcome. I think that the President said something very clever here as a political matter. He said, I've already made the solemn commitment, I'm going to do it; if you disagree, you'll have, you'll be sending a message. If you overrule me, Congress, you'll be sending a message to all of our allies, to everybody in the world, that an American President's word can't be trusted, which Americans' word can't be trusted, and you have to pay for the consequences. The Congress is not going to want to, to do something like that. Now, there's one complication here on the Republican side, I think, and that is that the Presidential race is on. And if you looked at the press releases this week, Phil Gramm and Steve Forbes and Lamar Alexander and Pat Buchanan were all out of the block saying this is a horrible idea, and oppose it categorically. Bob Dole, in particular, but also Dick Lugar were also much more cautious. There's going to be a lot of pressure on Bob Dole as the Majority Leader to come to some kind of opposition to this, despite the fact that his instincts as somebody who's played in this town are going to be to help the President, since he wants to be President.

JIM LEHRER: Yeah. Coming from the political side, I mean, the outside Congress side in his party, right?

ELIZABETH DREW: Right. But there are ways you can express opposition to it without stopping it. There have been a couple of votes on the Hill already overruling the President on his Bosnia–

JIM LEHRER: The House, just flat.

ELIZABETH DREW: Very strong. A couple in the House and Dole led the fight to the arms embargo, but now the President has a peace treaty in his hand, as Paul says, and he says, are you going to be responsible for having this peace collapse, and that's a real tough one to answer.

JIM LEHRER: Speaking of Senators from Kansas, Paul, Nancy Kassebaum announced that she will not run for reelection, she's one of many who have now said no thank you, I don't want to do this anymore, this being the United States Senate. What's going on, anything special in her case?

PAUL GIGOT: I don't think so. I mean, she's had yeoman service, 18 years, I think, three terms. That's a long time. She said–and I take her at her word–she wanted to spend more time with her grandchildren. She'd been in the majority, a member back when the Republicans held the Senate from 1980/86. So unlike a lot of House members, she's been there before, done that. This new experience isn't something that she wants necessarily to go on and on. I think what you're looking at is a generational shift within the Republican Party, in particular. More Democrats are retiring because I think their prospects of taking majority are dimmer in the near-term, but in her case, I think it had much more to do with individual choice.

JIM LEHRER: What do you think about Nancy Kassebaum?

ELIZABETH DREW: I think that there is no reason to expect people, and they shouldn't have lifetime service, and- -but I also think it is–I know, I see it, that it's getting harder and harder to serve in both chambers, the harassments and the demands, and the fund-raising and the increased partisanship. But I think she takes with her when she leaves a certain amount of class that'll be very much missed. There's nothing self- important or pompous about Nancy Kassebaum. She's very straight. She works hard. She does her job. She kept her sense of humor. So I think she's yet another factor in the dropping of the class quotient of the Senate.

JIM LEHRER: And then the word "moderate," she's considered a moderate politically, but she was just a moderate person too, was she not?

ELIZABETH DREW: Right.

JIM LEHRER: Which means something in this current climate.

PAUL GIGOT: She was. If you look at her voting record, she's actually pretty conservative economically, in particular. She was arguing that welfare ought to be sent back to the states before the election of 1994.

JIM LEHRER: Yeah.

PAUL GIGOT: So you're right. She's a temperate soul. She would go along with Democrats and be able to deal.

JIM LEHRER: And she made a big name in being one of the first Republicans to go against Reagan on the sanctions against South Africa and actually pushed that and is largely credited for getting that through. She and Dick Lugar, another Republican moderate, end quote. Arlen Specter, speaking of Republicans, Elizabeth, suspended his campaign for the Republican nomination. What does that mean?

ELIZABETH DREW: I don't think it means a great deal. Some people are interpreting it as saying oh, a moderate or a pro-choice candidate, which he was, is–can't get through, but he was a flawed messenger of the pro- choice message in that a lot of people can't forget or forgive him for the way he dealt with Anita Hill in the famous Clarence Thomas nomination hearings. I think it prompts two thoughts in my mind. One is, if Colin Powell did run either as an independent or as a Republican, we would know more about whether the so-called center is as large and predominant as a lot of people think it is. And the other is you mentioned Lugar. Both Specter and Lugar were serious people and Lugar is out there making serious speeches. And every four years we say we want the issues, we don't want the horse race, but what are the stories–you know, what did Gramm do to Dole today, what did Dole do to Gramm today, the front-runners, whereas, somebody who may be the pick of the litter actually is making serious speeches and he's not covered. Who would know?

PAUL GIGOT: I agree with that point. It's really a critique about the media I think as much as anything. We love to cover the horse race. I'm as guilty as anybody else. So we don't cover the issues. I think regarding Arlen Specter, he advertised himself as a fiscal conservative and a social libertarian. I don't think the Republican primary voters were buying that first part. I mean, he has a relatively liberal voting record for a Republican who wants the nomination on economics. And he hailed back there Barry Goldwater, but he's not–

JIM LEHRER: He wasn't part of the revolution in other words.

PAUL GIGOT: I think that's–but Colin Powell, on the other hand, his popularity shows that I think a pro- choice candidate might be able to win the nomination.

JIM LEHRER: So don't read too much into this.

PAUL GIGOT: I wouldn't.

JIM LEHRER: All right. Thank you both very much.