Congress expert Norman Ornstein on what the debate over the debt limit says about dysfunction in Congress, and his ideas for how to fix it.
Recent polls show that the economy remains the number one issue on the minds of most voting-age Americans. But lately social issues have been grabbing a lot of the headlines. Last week New York became the sixth state to approve same-sex marriage. Dozens of states have placed new restrictions on abortion rights this year. And Kansas just moved to cut off funding for Planned Parenthood. Politicians, of course, have taken notice. As the first round of presidential primaries draws closer, candidates are keen to take the nation’s pulse and respond accordingly. Social issues versus the economy in American politics.
- Carroll Doherty Associate director, editorial, Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.
- Michele Swers Associate professor of government, Georgetown University.
- Reid Wilson Editor-in-chief of National Journal Hotline.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The U.S. has recovered modestly from the 2008 financial crisis, but unemployment remains high. Jobs and the economy are major issues for American voters. We'll talk about the relative importance of social issues at a time of economic uncertainty. Joining me in the studio, Carroll Doherty of the Pew Research Center, Michele Swers of Georgetown University and Reid Wilson of National Journal.
MS. DIANE REHMI'd like to hear your thinking on this subject. Join us on 800-433-8850. Send us your email to email@example.com. Feel free to join us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Good morning to all of you.
PROF. MICHELE SWERSGood morning.
MR. CARROLL DOHERTYGood morning.
MR. REID WILSONGood morning.
REHMMichele, how much are voters caring these days about social issues when they are faced with such tough economic issues?
SWERSWell, Diane, I think that economic issues are going to be at the forefront of this campaign. You can see just in the discussions with the Republican Party presidential nominees, they're all talking, first and foremost, about the economy in 2008 when Mitt Romney ran. He talked more about social issues then than he is now. So I think that the economy is definitely number one, but social issues always mobilize base voters and campaign donors.
SWERSSo those things are still going to be very important. And you can see that, just today, President Obama is meeting with members of the gay community to celebrate gay pride and then the passage of gay marriage in New York. And those things are very important on the left, as well as the right, and anti-abortion views on the right.
REHMAnd, Carroll, tell us what Americans are thinking now about the economy.
DOHERTYWell, our most recent poll shows that the attitudes haven't improved. People see things get more -- people see things getting worse rather than better over the next year. Economy -- 90 percent say the economy is only fair or poor. We've seen that for three years or more now. It's just there's really no sense of any greater optimism at all.
REHMAnd, Reid, you wrote recently about what you call a permanent pessimism.
WILSONYeah, it's -- Carroll mentioned it's been years since a majority of Americans saw the economy as excellent or even good. Because of this sort of long-term -- to borrow the old line -- malaise, there is a -- there -- voters are looking for somebody to blame. They're looking for somebody to vote against rather than somebody to vote for. That doesn't necessarily mean that social issues are off the table.
WILSONI mean, the economy is going to be front and center in the general election. But in a primary election, as we talked about earlier, it's going to play a huge issue. We're already seeing a lot of Republican presidential candidates talking about abortion, talking about gay marriage, talking about these issues that fire up the base.
WILSONAnd, you know, just recently at a National Right to Life convention, five of the Republican presidential candidates showed up in Jacksonville, Fla., either at the event itself or by phone or by Skype. And once they showed up, you know, they have this sort of consistent message that they are going to hold the line and push the pro-life movement as far as possible. It fires up the base. It gets people excited.
WILSONAnd it's in -- at a moment when a frontrunner like Mitt Romney is not talking about social issues, it's a great way to differentiate one candidate from another in a race where there's largely ideological parody.
REHMSo, Carroll, in the primaries, we're likely to see these social issues more to the fore than in the general election?
DOHERTYI think on the -- in the early primary states, particularly Iowa, I think, is a very conservative electorate. The caucus-goers tend to be more conservative. An Iowa poll the other day showed that 58 percent of likely caucus-goers say that support for civil unions, not gay marriage, would be a deal killer for a candidate, the biggest percentage of all.
DOHERTYAnd so that shows you the kind of the strength of the conservative view out there, that these aren't front and center, but the early -- particularly in Iowa, you see a very conservative electorate among the GOP caucus-goers.
SWERSI definitely agree with that for the GOP. But even on the Democratic side, President Obama is having difficulty because he says his views are evolving on gay marriage. And, now, people are comparing him to Andrew Cuomo and what happened in New York. Even though, thus far, he has, you know, overturned the ban on gays in the military, he said that the federal government won't defend the Defense of Marriage Act.
SWERSSo he's done a lot of things that you would see as pro-gay rights, but he's not getting as much credit because he won't take that step that says that he supports gay marriage.
REHMSo Andrew Cuomo came in at the last minute?
SWERSThat's right. Andrew Cuomo seems to be the big hero right now, you know, to the gay movement. And as gay marriage is a litmus test in the Republican Party, it seems to be now becoming a litmus test in the Democratic Party as well, support for gay marriage.
REHMTo you, Reid.
WILSONThat's a pretty incredible statement after decades in which Democrats avoided gay marriage. They didn't want to talk about it. It was not popular. All of a sudden, we're seeing polls that say a majority of Americans favor civil unions. In one or two polls, a majority of Americans favor gay marriage as well. This is a (word?) change.
WILSONAnd, now, once Andrew Cuomo signed gay marriage legislation into law, people started talking about Andrew Cuomo as the frontrunner for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.
WILSONWhat an incredible change from just a few years ago.
SWERSAnother thing that could push gay marriage to the forefront is if the Supreme Court takes up the Defense of Marriage Act in this next session and they issue a decision right before the election. That could also increase the prominence of that issue.
DOHERTYOver the last 10 years, our poll has gone from 60 percent to 31 percent opposing gay marriage to about even in the last...
REHMTo about even.
DOHERTYRight. And our most recent poll in March, it's about even, right about the...
REHMTo what can we attribute this shift in the polls, Reid?
WILSONIt's, I think, changing attitudes. There are the -- same-sex relationships are more prevalent on -- in, you know, on television shows. It's not sort of the taboo that it once was. People are, you know, coming out of the closet. There are openly gay legislators. There are openly gay members of Congress. There are -- there's even one Republican presidential candidate who's openly gay, though he's sort of running for the same -- running for a cause to promote same sex marriage among conservatives.
WILSONRight now, the really interesting thing that, I think, we're seeing in the Republican Party is there is starting to be an argument being made within sort of conservative circles in favor of gay marriage, from a conservative standpoint. One of the most prominent sort of behind-the-scenes people in this recent New York legislator fight was a guy named Ken Mehlman.
WILSONKen Mehlman, you may remember, was the chairman of the Republican National Committee right after he ran George W. Bush's re-election campaign. He is -- he sat down with, I think, it was 14 Republican state senators in New York and made the conservative argument for gay marriage. It's much more of a Libertarian argument than anything else.
WILSONAnd he was making sort of a family values argument as well, saying that this is, you know, a marriage that should be celebrated, and it's something that Republicans don't want to get behind. So it's not only Democrats who are embracing it. Slowly, there are parts of the Republican primary, Republican base rather, that is accepting this.
DOHERTYParts, but the white evangelical Protestant core is unmoving on this issue.
REHMWhich is certainly out in Iowa.
DOHERTYAbsolutely. Forty percent or so in our 2007 poll prior to the caucuses were white evangelical Protestants.
WILSONAnd that's one of the really interesting things, is that the -- Iowa has the largest number of evangelicals outside of the South. New Hampshire plays less of a role -- evangelicals play less of a role in the New Hampshire primary. But they do play a prominent role in the South Carolina primary, which is the third in the series.
WILSONSo in two of the first three primary states, you really have to -- if you're a Republican presidential candidate, you've really got to tow that line and be sort of in uniform lockstep with Republican views on social issues.
SWERSAnd I think that creates problems, say, for Jon Huntsman, who has in the past supported civil unions. And that's why you see Michelle Bachman doing so well in Iowa, even though maybe from her profile as a House member, you haven't had a House member, you know, in the contention for the presidential nomination since Garfield in 1880s. So this creates prominence for her.
SWERSBecause she's such a strong social conservative, she's taking those voters that would have gone to Mike Huckabee last time.
REHMMichelle Swers, she is associate professor of government at Georgetown University. Do join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Join us on Facebook or Twitter. Now, we've talked about gay marriage. What about abortion? What do the polls tell us about abortion?
DOHERTYWell, we saw a rise in opposition to legal abortion in 2009. It's gone back to where it was. The long-term trend hasn't really moved a great deal. A narrow majority of Americans favor keeping abortion legal in most or all cases. So we haven't seen much of a shift there, certainly nothing like views on gay marriage.
SWERSThere's been a lot of movement on policy, though. And, I think, where Republicans do well is when they're able to focus attention on the baby, so partial birth abortion and that whole fight was something that really helped the Republican position. But when they try for things like defunding Planned Parenthood, and that brings to mind, in voters' minds, the idea of preventing, you know, unwanted pregnancies, contraception, women's health.
SWERSWell, that's where Democrats tend to do better. And so you saw in this last budget fight where they tried to defund Planned Parenthood that that was one of the last things left. And Democrats made great hay out of it, and Republicans had to drop it from their platform.
WILSONOn a national level, social issues are sort of at loggerheads right now. There is not going to be a lot of movement in Congress on gay marriage or on abortion. The fight is now going back to the states. And Michelle's point about Planned Parenthood is exactly on point. The -- that the states -- several state legislators have moved to defund Planned Parenthood, including states like Indiana and Kansas, some other states as well.
WILSONThere are serious court fights going on, and the administration is trying to fight back against those Republican state legislators.
REHMReid Wilson of National Journal Hotline. Short break. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd three guests are here in the studio with me as we explore social issues that will be on the agenda, certainly, for primary voters as the primaries draw nearer and nearer. You have many, many Republican candidates out there, one of whom you mentioned, Reid Wilson, is gay. Now, I don't know who that is.
WILSONIt's a California businessman named Fred Karger. He's a very wealthy guy who's essentially running around Iowa, talking about issues that he cares about. He doesn't register in the polls. He's not included in debates, but he is...
REHMBut he is openly gay.
WILSONHe is. He is.
REHMYeah, okay. Here in the studio, Reid Wilson of National Journal Hotline, Michele Swers of Georgetown University and Carroll Doherty of the Pew Research Center for People & the Press. Michele, what's behind the recent restrictions on abortion rights by various states around the country?
SWERSWell, you have a lot of states with new Republican majority state legislatures, new Republican governors, and they want to be active on the issue of abortion and restricting abortion rights. And so, in addition to all of these bills that are passing about defunding Planned Parenthood, there's a lot of bills going through state legislatures about fetal pain and that the fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks, rather than 24.
SWERSAnd this is all about the definition of viability and when you can put more restrictions on access to abortion. And a lot of this is passing through, also, because the pro-choice forces are a little bit nervous about trying to bring these things to court because they fear that the current majority, say, if it got all the way up to the Supreme Court, is not that friendly to them right now.
SWERSBecause, of course, the Supreme Court, after Samuel Alito joined, they reversed the partial-birth abortion decision, the first one, which was decided 5-4, with O'Connor writing the majority opinion. And they reversed it, 5-4, and said that the federal statute on partial-birth abortion could stand and did not need to have exceptions for the health of the mother.
DOHERTYWell, I think that's more favorable ground for the Republicans to pursue. I mean, the straight abortion question that we ask -- as I said, you get narrow majorities in favor of legal abortion. But that begins to go down when you talk about late-term, partial-birth abortions. The public becomes uneasy over that.
REHMBut if you're talking about cutting off abortions at 20 weeks, where does that take us?
WILSONWell, that's sort of the next battlefield. The pro-choice, pro-life log jam that is really -- I mean, I think these arguments are sort of fought on the -- by a small percentage of Americans. If you ask -- and I'm sure if Carroll asks, in his next poll, how many Americans really see abortion as one of their most important issues, it's a very small segment.
WILSONYou're not going to -- you're really not going to win any votes if you're a candidate by talking about abortions because you've either got your 10 percent, who are really pro-choice, or your 10 percent, who are really pro-life, are going to be on your side anyway.
REHMBut to what extent is Michele Bachmann's statement that she is the most pro-life candidate out there? How does that resonate, Michele?
SWERSI think it resonates very well with the evangelical Christian voters in the Iowa caucuses that will be voting. So you have Michele Bachmann. You have Rick Santorum, who pushed through the Partial-Birth Abortion Act, by the way, in Congress. And they're competing for that segment of Iowa primary voters who go to these caucuses.
SWERSAnd that's how they hope that they can win, by proving themselves to be the most anti-abortion, the most pro-homeschooling, the most, you know, anti-gay marriage in the bunch of Republican candidates out there.
REHMSo help me to understand this. Are you saying -- all three of you -- that after Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, the social issues are going to go under the radar?
WILSONWell, they will a little bit. They'll go under the radar because Republicans -- the eventual Republican nominee will want to talk about President Obama's record, will want to talk about the economy and the fact that it's not -- that it's getting better at a much slower pace than everybody hoped. But I think what we're going to see from the Democrats is some effort to spotlight some of those social issue positions that the Republicans hold, that -- they'll call them extreme.
WILSONThey'll call them outside the mainstream. And I think we're going to see a lot of that pitch to very sort of small slices of the electorate -- say, you know, suburban women, who might be pro-choice, are going to get a lot of messages about these Republicans who want to take away your right to an abortion or something like that. There are sort of targets that you can -- that the Democrats will be able to go after.
WILSONOn the other hand, though, you know, the economy is going to be the number one issue in all -- in every poll, from Carroll's -- from the great Pew polls that we get to every other poll around the country. Jobs in the economy are number one at the top of voters' minds. It's not going to be a very sort of overt social issue campaign. It's going to be a very under-the-radar sort of targeted -- well, targeted conversation.
SWERSI would agree that it'll be targeted. And when you have a good economy, it's more likely that the candidates are going to try and peel off independents or voters from the other side with these positions on social issues. But even in a bad economy, you have that base that is mobilized by these kinds of issues. Or you wouldn't see President Obama really pushing these things, you know, at the same time that he's dealing with the economy.
SWERSSo he's -- they're pushing these things to mobilize those base voters and also to mobilize those big donors. So, you know, a lot of these groups have a lot of money, a lot of forces on the ground that they utilize to mobilize voters, to mobilize money.
REHMWhat about religion, Carroll? To what extent is religion important to the average voter?
DOHERTYWell, I mean, the -- our polls consistently show that Americans want their president to be religious, but not too overt, not too much in your face with their expressions of religious faith. They want them to hit the balance, to strike the right balance between religious -- on religious expression.
REHMAnd you got two professed Mormon candidates, Jon Huntsman and governor of Massachusetts -- former governor of Massachusetts. To what extent are these top candidates saying, you know, they want to play down their Mormonism?
WILSONYeah, you're not hearing a lot of conversations about Mormonism from Mitt Romney or Jon Huntsman. Remember, back in the 2008 campaign, in 2007 Mitt Romney gave a -- you know, a very uncomfortable speech about the Mormon faith. He talks about how it is, you know, equivalent to Christianity. It is a part of Christianity. The interesting thing -- it's not clear to me how much that's going to -- how much his Mormonism is going to play a role in some of these early primaries.
WILSONI'll tell you, though, everybody in South Carolina, you know, every voter you ever go talk to knows that Mitt Romney is a Mormon. They didn't necessarily know that, I don't know, Haley Barbour was a Presbyterian or that Rick Santorum is Catholic. But they do know that Mitt Romney is Mormon. So, clearly, it is something that he's going to have to deal with. It's a very significant part of his biography.
WILSONI don't think enough people know about Jon Huntsman to have formed that same opinion yet. But if it does, it's going to be interesting to see how he plays it off because Huntsman's relationship with the church is not as close as Romney's.
DOHERTYOverall, 25 percent of the public say they'd be less likely to vote for a Mormon candidate, all things being equal. But that figure rises to 34 percent among white evangelicals.
REHMWhat do they say? Why?
DOHERTYWell, when we do -- we did a little further investigation in 2007. Many white evangelicals do not consider Mormons Christian. I mean, it becomes an issue of doctrine. That's where the rub is for a lot of white evangelicals.
REHMAnd, of course, Michele Bachmann talks about her devout Christianity, her long marriage, her adoption of, what, 23 foster children. So, for her, that's a plus. For Huntsman and Romney, it can be a kind of minus.
SWERSWell, I think that, in general, religiosity, as in, you know, demonstrating religious faith and frequently attending church, is very important in politics, but particularly in the Republican primary field because of all of those Christian evangelical voters. I remember in 2000, when they had a Republican debate and they asked about the most important historical figure to you, and George W. Bush said, Jesus.
SWERSAnd every Republican candidate after George W. Bush said Jesus because you would not want to be out-Jesus'd (sic) in a Republican primary, right? So religiosity is particularly important to conservative Republican voters. Democrats are a little more uncomfortable. Their primary field doesn't necessarily want to see that, but the general electorate does.
SWERSAnd so Democratic candidates are constantly straddling, trying to show that they are religious, that they -- you know, that they have good character and good family values without being as overt in their discussion of, you know, the Bible and some of those things.
REHMHere's our first email saying, "The economy is a social issue, actually, the social issue. Conservative Christians will always be concerned about what secular women are doing with their bodies. But those people represent a vocal minority."
WILSONI think that's exactly right. They -- those -- again, those who feel most passionately about issues, like abortion issues, like gay marriage, are, in fact, minorities. And they are, you know, they are sort of the ones who we all know how they're voting. There's no pro-life voter who feels incredibly strongly about that who's thinking to themselves, hey, I'm going to go get a Barack Obama yard sign.
WILSONYou know, it's -- they're going to vote for the Republican candidate. So this is -- as Michele keeps saying, this is exactly the right way to appeal to a base voter who's going to turn out at the Iowa caucuses, who's going to vote in the New Hampshire primary, who's going to vote in the South Carolina primary. It's a good way to raise some money.
WILSONThere is a large community in Iowa, by the way, of homeschooling advocates who have played a huge role in recent primaries. Their support alone essentially helped Mike Huckabee win in 2008. If they swing over to Michele Bachmann, which it looks like they're going to, every voter in Eastern Iowa, which is where the homeschool community is the strongest, knows that Michele Bachmann has had, you know, 23 foster children. So...
REHMWhat about Rick Perry and his religiosity, Michele?
SWERSWell, if Rick Perry gets in, he will certainly be competing with Michelle Bachmann for those votes. And he has such a high profile as the governor of Texas that he has more of a chance of taking them from her than, say, Rick Santorum who, you know, was last a senator from Pennsylvania, you know, over seven years ago. So I -- he has that community.
SWERSHe was an early, early supporter of the Tea Party, as was Michele Bachmann, and they'll be competing for that Tea Party support.
REHMNow, here's an email from Houston, Texas, from Katie saying, "The media should do a better job of unpacking Republican candidates' social issues, rhetoric and show how their personal lives don't necessarily align with it." Would you agree with that, Reid?
WILSONWell, I think there are some cases in which there is a very clear split between what a candidate says and how they've lived their lives. Newt Gingrich comes to mind as the most obvious. He is -- he's had three wives. And yet he talks about gay marriage as a threat to marriage. I think a lot of people see hypocrisy on that, though I don't see -- I mean, Newt Gingrich isn't a frontrunner.
WILSONHe's probably not going to be the Republican nominee, and he may not even make it to the Iowa caucuses. So spending a lot of time on that, I'm not entirely certain is worth...
REHMAre there others who fall into that category?
WILSONI think you can probably make the case that there are -- that just about everybody has some form of hypocrisy, whether it's on social issue, whether it's, you know, Jon Huntsman on gay marriage. He has a clear past on it. He hasn't brought it up lately when asked about his stance on civil unions. He said on Fox News, recently, that he believes what he believes, and he's not going to change it.
REHMWhat does he believe?
WILSONThat he is not adamantly opposed to civil unions or gay marriage. So he is not sort of following that traditional line that, I think, the rest of the Republican field is.
REHMReid Wilson, he's editor-in-chief of National Journal Hotline. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's open the phones. First to Cincinnati, Ohio. Good morning, Sean. You're on the air.
SEANGood morning. You can hear me?
SEANYes. I'm calling 'cause -- or, I guess, my comment is -- I want to talk about the -- there seems larger hypocrisy between the two party -- or between -- in the Republican Party, between the sides of supporting war and larger laws and a larger government for social issues, yet a smaller government for economic issues. It just seems to be a large disconnect when it comes to those issues.
REHMThat's interesting. What do you think, Carroll?
DOHERTYWell, there are very few pure libertarians in this country. I mean, that's what he's getting to, the caller. And we've identified some, but they're mostly independents and not Republicans. They kind of lean Republican rather than pure Republican. And, I think, what we've seen increasingly -- our recent political typology report showed that staunch conservatives -- really, the conservative wing have become more conservative on both economic and social issues. It's a complete package now of conservatism.
WILSONOne interesting factor lately in the Republican primary is this focus on the 10th Amendment. Rick Perry, we brought up just a few minutes ago, has spent a lot of time talking about state's rights as opposed to the rights of the federal government. It has been very interesting recently to see some candidates actually sticking to that when it comes to social issues.
WILSONMichele Bachmann was asked about the New York state legislature's decision to approve same-sex marriage, to legalize same-sex marriage. And she said, well, that's up to the states. It's been -- it's an interesting fight that sort of brings this up. Do you take a federal -- do you sort of create new federal laws to prevent same-sex marriage or to prevent abortion? Or do you leave those to the states?
WILSONThere are some candidates, at least, who are saying, let's leave it to the states.
SWERSWhat's also interesting about that is Barack Obama has tried to use that argument as well to explain his own lack of support for gay marriage by saying that he thought it was a state issue. And he's gotten pushback on that from Democrats who say that, well, civil rights at one time was a state issue, and, you know, you can't just hide behind states' rights.
REHMHere's a caller in Lebanon, Ohio. Good morning, Steve.
STEVEYes. Good morning, Diane. Thanks for taking my call.
STEVEOhio just recently passed a fetal heartbeat bill that basically restricts abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected at six or seven weeks. And it makes no exception for cases of rape and incest. I don't know all the specifics, but those two leaped out at me. Ohio being a swing state, how would your panelists think that that would play into the primaries and even into the general election?
SWERSWell, Ohio is one of the states that has a new, very active, very conservative Republican governor in John Kasich. He's most well known for, of course, trying to get rid of collective bargaining rights for workers in the same manner as Scott Walker in Wisconsin. So you have a very conservative, aggressive governor and a conservative agenda.
SWERSAnd that would be an example of pushing that, not only on the economic issues but also on the social issues. If you'll get South Dakota, they've had a lot of legislation for banning abortion outright. So that's the trend.
REHMMichele Swers, associate professor of government at Georgetown University. A short break and then more of your calls, your email. Stay with us.
REHMAnd here's an email from Mark in Fort Lauderdale. He says, "It's the economy, the economy, the economy. I could truly care less about abortion rights, Planned Parenthood, all the other social issues. I care about whether I'm going to be able to have a job, jumpstart my career, build a stable life. I care about whether my sister's children, church members, community members are going to get a college degree they cannot use in a market with millions of people unemployed.
REHM"You know what I'm going to vote on next year? The economy," says Mark in Fort Lauderdale. But the state legislature in Ohio is not feeling that way right now, Michele.
SWERSRight. Well, the last caller that was talking about Ohio, in Ohio, they are passing various pieces of legislation to restrict abortion with an eye to taking to the courts and trying to basically challenge and overturn Roe v. Wade that way. So it is a priority for social conservatives. And they do it through legislation. And, you know, they just -- they need to frame it in a way that makes it acceptable to public opinion by focusing on the child.
SWERSBut a voter, like your caller who has bigger fish to fry, would let them, you know, go ahead. The people that care about something and will get mobilized about something, they generally get more action. We see the same thing on gun control. Majorities in the United States support gun control. But the National Right to Life or -- I'm sorry, the NRA, right.
SWERSThe National Rifle Association has recently been able to pass bills through Congress, you know, allowing concealed carry and different things like that. An assault weapons ban is, you know, a long, distant memory.
DOHERTYIn the general election, I think Mark's not going to be alone in voting on the economy. I think millions of Americans are going to be voting on economy. And I think it'll be an ironic point, as Reid noted earlier, is if Democrats use these issues then to portray the Republicans as extreme on social issues, and that is to a certain extent.
REHMLet's go to Pine Grove, Ky. Good morning, Rob. You're on the air.
ROBGood morning. A few quick comments, please. First and foremost, I think it's a huge misnomer to think that only Republican conservatives have a religious background, first and foremost. Secondly, I find it very disturbing -- pardon the pun -- hypocritical when pundits, like Michele Bachmann, take their evangelical background and handpick and thump upon certain moral issues, such as abortion, and then staunchly support things like the death penalty. I find those a complete contradiction.
DOHERTYThere is an interesting sort of schism within the Democratic Party, too. Now, he brings up a good point. Social issues and the debate over social issues are not the sole domain of Republicans. There is, for example, a significant portion of the African-American community, especially the religious African-American community that feels very strongly against gay marriage.
DOHERTYThe Proposition 8 initiative on the California ballot in 2008 that banned same-sex marriage, a lot of people think passed because of an increased African-American turnout that came out to vote for President Obama and then ended up voting in favor of banning same-sex marriage. So it's not just Republicans who get to argue over social issues.
SWERSWhat's very interesting about that also, though, is if you look at the African-American community, you do have this religious conservative element. Yet they vote for very liberal African-American legislators who take the most liberal positions on these issues. In addition, the caller is correct about Democrats.
SWERSAlso, if you looked at health reform, when they were talking about health reform and abortion coverage within insurance, it was a coalition of Republicans with conservative Democrats, like Bart Stupak, who were able to force, perhaps, one of the more pro-choice people in Congress, Nancy Pelosi, to include heavy restrictions on abortion in the health insurance reform act when you had a Democratic Congress and a Democratic president.
DOHERTYDemocrats are divided a little bit on it. You know, there is a long fissure between African-Americans in the Democratic Party on issues like gay marriage. But it's never been a kind of deal breaker issue for African-Americans. It hasn't. Ken Mehlman at one point was thinking of using that issue to try to recruit African-Americans to the Republican Party. It never went anywhere.
SWERSIt didn't work.
WILSONRepublicans from all over the country...
WILSON...sort of Republican leaders say that they want to appeal to African-American and Hispanic voters based on social issues, based on their affiliation with the church, based on their feelings on abortion or same-sex marriage, and it just -- it does not work yet.
REHMLet's go to Columbia, Mo. Good morning, Liz.
LIZGood morning, thank you. About Michele Bachmann and just wondering a little bit about her credibility. She claims to have fostered 23 kids, and that's probably technically true. But from what I understand, there are a number of them that maybe only were there days or a week. And she certainly never had, like, 23 at any one time, you know? It's not like she had an orphanage or something that she was running. Could your people comment on that, please?
WILSONIt's interesting. I was down in New Orleans for the Republican Leadership Conference just a few weeks ago now, and Michele Bachmann gave a very well-received speech. She was sort of the rock star of the day. And then she met with the press, and there were some questions. A question about her foster children came up. She has refused to answer those questions on privacy grounds.
WILSONShe thinks that -- she says that the children deserve their own privacy. But it's interesting. That's one of the questions that when you rely on some key part of your biography to be such a huge part of your public persona, it's going to be probed. People are going to ask questions. And I think that -- this is sort of the Michele Bachmann profile season when, you know, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post write their big profiles hasn't really ended yet.
WILSONIt's just starting, as a matter of fact. And I think we're going to learn a lot more about that in the coming weeks.
DOHERTYIt's interesting that she has mentioned that several times over the past several weeks, including at the debate when she sort of used it to trump the other candidates showing her own family commitment and values.
SWERSBut she also says she's a tax attorney. And she's playing that off a lot lately because she's trying to counter visions of her as not a serious heavyweight thinker. And, you know, there has been lots of stories about various gaffs that she has made or, you know, things that don't turn out to be historically accurate. So she's pushing against that as well.
REHMBut, nevertheless, she's certainly giving Mitt Romney a run for his money.
WILSONMichele Bachmann is actually the perfect spoil for Mitt Romney. Right now, the last thing Mitt Romney wants is for the attention to be focused on him. If the attention is focused on Mitt Romney, we're going to start talking about commonwealth care, his -- what Tim Pawlenty called Obamacare, and for...
REHMBut then refused to say it during the debate.
WILSONExactly, exactly. But we're going to be focusing on these things that drive a wedge between Mitt Romney and the Republican primary voters that he needs. Now that the media is focused on Michele Bachmann, the sort of -- the focus will shift to Rick Perry if and when Perry jumps in the race. The longer Mitt Romney goes without being challenged by some serious contender, the better it is for him.
WILSONThe moment there is a single candidate facing off with Mitt Romney is going to be a very bad moment for Mitt Romney.
REHMHere's an email from Liza in Cincinnati, Ohio. She says, "How are both parties going to capture the voters who voted for Obama four years ago and are looking for a new, fresh candidate who's well-rounded and not a party extremist? There seems to be a larger gap then before with people going further left and further right." Carroll.
DOHERTYParticularly the independents, I mean, that's who we're going to be watching in the general election. That's, you know, the independents have flipped now for how many consecutive elections where they voted for the Democrats in '06 or for Obama in '08, and then turned around and voted for the Republicans by a varied sizable margin in 2010 midterms. It's really the independents in the general election who we're going to be watching most closely.
WILSONOne of the things that we're seeing in campaigns around the country is an increased polarization in American politics. Republicans do not agree with Democrats, and if you do, if you work with them, you'll be bounced out of office. Democrats are not allowed to agree with Republicans for the same reason. There was a big collective bargaining bill passed in New Jersey with the help of the Democratic speaker.
WILSONAnd the Democratic speaker is now under assault from a group of progressives who think that he should not have compromised with Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey. The big problem here, though, is the way we run our primary elections, the fact that Michele Bachmann and Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty have to appeal to this very narrow slice of the American electorate that makes up the Republican primary electorate.
WILSONThe simple fact is that's who you've got to appeal to in order to make it to the general election. And then it becomes a lot harder to tack back to the middle after you've gone so far right in the Republican side or so far left in the Democratic side.
REHMSo how would one correct that if one were looking at the way people vote? Would you open the primaries, Michele?
SWERSCertainly, there's been a lot of talk about, well, how do I change things? And open primaries has been one thing that's proposed, also, generally just changing the way that the presidential primary system works. In general, rotating primaries, regional primaries, trying to reduce the influence of, say, in Iowa which is uniformly white, which has that -- on the Republican side, has this heavy evangelical Christian vote to try and make it more representative.
SWERSThere's talk of a national primary. The problem with something like a national primary, though, is it gives a lot of advantage to the person with the most money who can afford to compete in all the states at the same time and by advertising.
WILSONAnd the big problem with all this is, you know, there are entrenched interests in this. The primary elections in Iowa and New Hampshire are worth tens of millions of dollars to these states, in terms of economic activity and, frankly, the amount of attention they get. So it's -- you know, it's going to be very difficult to change a primary.
WILSONAnd, by the way, a true, open primary like the ones they had in California, Washington State and Alaska have actually been struck down by the courts. They say that the parties have a right to associate with the candidates that they choose, and, therefore, they are allowed to sort of choose which voters are allowed to vote in their primaries.
REHMHas there been any polling on that, Carroll?
DOHERTYNot so much. I mean, we see a great dissatisfaction with the political system as it stands.
REHMWith the process generally.
DOHERTYYeah, right. The process and elected officials generally. I think any change would be welcomed by the public at this point.
REHMAll right. To Rochester, N.Y., good morning, Tom.
TOMThanks for taking my call.
TOMAs a medical provider, I'm kind of frustrated about the discussion about the defunding Planned Parenthood. With the limited resources that we have and everyone agreeing that we should be focusing on providing individuals, especially poor individuals, with a medical home, which means a primary care provider, the Title IX money should be used for community health centers that can provide that global service.
TOMPlanned Parenthood can do some things, but they can't do everything. The community health centers can do mammograms and pap smears. But they can also suture you up when you get cut, treat your pneumonia, treat your diabetes, treat your hypertension, treat your kids, your husbands and wives. And so I think that's the real issue. And I wish we'd have a conversation about that.
TOMAnd that's why I think we're not going to get very far with health care because everybody has got these sacred cows, and no one is willing to address the facts behind it.
SWERSI think one of the things that the caller is getting at, that doesn't get as much attention, is we pass this large health care reform, and one of the things we're probably going to see is a shortage of primary care providers. Because when you have all of these people who will now be, hopefully, insured and not have to show up in emergency rooms, Medicaid already has a problem with getting enough primary care providers to take Medicaid.
SWERSAnd so that is why you see a lot of women only going to Planned Parenthood, and that's the only doctor they see is the OB-GYN there for their annual visit because they can't get access to doctors in their area who are willing to take Medicaid. And it's going to be a larger problem because we have more specialists in the United States, more people going into specialties, than going into primary care.
REHMBut haven't there been some incentives toward getting more young people to go into primary care rather than specialty care?
SWERSI think there have been incentives, but it's clearly still going to be a very big problem. And as you have an aging population who needs more health care, the problem is only going to be exacerbated.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go now to Sarasota, Fla. Good morning, Alec.
ALECGood morning. How are you doing?
ALECYeah, well, my question -- my comment and my question is it is true. The economy is the issue, number one, but my question is to your friends right there. How are the Republicans, they're going to gain the Latino voters when the Republicans, them being with the same subject, the anti-immigration issue -- and you talk about immigration with any Republican, they don't even want to talk about it.
ALECThey're scared to death. So my question is, how are the Republicans going to gain the Latino voters in 2012? Because it seems like they don't even want to talk about (unintelligible). Thank you.
WILSONIt's a very difficult tightrope that Republicans have to walk right now. On one hand, they've got a base who wants, you know, the most extreme measures possible, who wants deportation, who wants sort of a closed border. On the other hand, they've got Hispanic voters who are -- they are at risk of losing if they alienate.
WILSONIt's been interesting to watch, say, the difference between Jon Huntsman who has a long record as a moderate on immigration issues, and then somebody like Rick Perry who appeals to the base more and then goes, as he did last week, in front of a Hispanic group and make a joke about a guy's name, compare it to -- compare him to Jose Cuervo, the tequila maker.
WILSONSo there are these really extremely awkward moments that Republicans have got to be concerned about. Because if they continue to alienate Hispanic voters, Hispanic voters will be lost to them for generations, just like African-American voters have been.
SWERSIt's an issue for both parties, though, because in a bad economy, people are not as open to immigration reform as they are when the economy is better. The deal that George W. Bush had on the table, which was basically increase border security in return for citizenship, that's off the table. And they can't even get the DREAM Act, which was much more popular piece of legislation, pass through Congress.
SWERSAnd people who were co-sponsors of it, like Sen. Hatch, you know, they've abandoned it. They don't want anything to do with it anymore. And this would be your most sympathetic populations, which would be young people who didn't, you know, have a say in the choice of coming here and who are going to go to college and be, you know, in the military and contribute to society.
SWERSAnd if we don't -- they don't want to pass that, it's not likely you're going to get any kind of reform passed.
DOHERTYThat basic proposition of -- for former President Bush's of increased border security along with some sort of path to citizenship remains broadly popular with the public. It's not something that's gone away. The public still supports that basic concept. Bush ran aground a bit because it was posed by his own party, to a certain extent. And -- but the public remains interested in that idea.
WILSONAnd that goes back to the sort of doctrinaire, the sort of ideologically rigid requirements that both parties have nowadays if you don't agree with the base. Regardless of what, you know, a majority of Americans feel, if you don't agree with the base, you're not going to win re-nomination, much less re-election. So that's why we see people like Orrin Hatch walking away from the DREAM Act.
WILSONJohn McCain has essentially walked away from campaign finance reform, an issue that he championed for years and years. Any hope of campaign finance reform is dead, now that it's lost its biggest Republican backer in John McCain.
REHMWell, it's going to be an interesting series of primaries. Thank you all so much, Reid Wilson of National Journal Hotline, Michele Swers of Georgetown University, Carroll Doherty of the Pew Research Center for People and the Press. And one note about yesterday's program, a number of you wrote in wondering whether John Hanger, the former director of the Pennsylvania Environmental Protection Agency, had hung up the phone.
REHMThe answer is, no. We lost all phone service. Not only was John Hanger gone, but every caller on the line was gone with a problem we had with our phone service. Thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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