After a bill was passed by the House and the Senate to reopen the government in 2013, U.S. Park Service workers carry a barricade that had been used to close the Martin Luther King Memorial.

After a bill was passed by the House and the Senate to reopen the government in 2013, U.S. Park Service workers carry a barricade that had been used to close the Martin Luther King Memorial.

Our government was set up with three discrete branches – executive, legislative and judicial. America’s founders wanted no one branch or person to become too powerful. They also sought to create a government that would help our nation flourish. But many have begun to wonder if our system is broken. In President Obama’s first term, Republican leaders vowed to block him at every turn. Most recently Congress succeeded in doing that by refusing to even consider the president’s Supreme Court nominee. The president, in turn, has been criticized for not doing more to forge compromise with members of Congress. Diane leads a discussion on how our government is supposed work.

Guests

  • Norman Ornstein Resident scholar, American Enterprise Institute; co-author of "It's Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism"
  • E.J. Dionne Jr. Senior fellow, Brookings Institution; columnist, The Washington Post; author, "Why the Right Went Wrong: Conservatism--From Goldwater to the Tea Party and Beyond"
  • Kathleen Parker Twice-weekly columnist, The Washington Post, and winner of 2010 Pulitzer Prize for commentary

Transcript

  • 10:06:53

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. A day before voters go to the polls to decide who will lead our nation for the next four years, many Americans are deeply questioning whether our democracy is on the brink of devolution. During the final presidential debate, Donald Trump refused to say whether he'll even accept the election results if he loses. Our nation in deeply divided. In this hour, we explore the foundations of our democracy and how we can move toward a government that functions the way it should.

  • 10:07:32

    MS. DIANE REHMHere in the studio, E.J. Dionne of The Brookings Institution and Kathleen Parker of The Washington Post. From an NPR studio in New York, Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute. We've already had many postings on our website. If you'd like to join the conversation, give us a call, 800-433-8850. Send us an email to drshow@wamu.org. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. And welcome to all of you.

  • 10:08:11

    MR. E.J. DIONNE JR.So good to be here, Diane.

  • 10:08:12

    MR. NORMAN ORNSTEINGreat to be with you.

  • 10:08:12

    MS. KATHLEEN PARKERSo good to be here. Nice to see you.

  • 10:08:14

    REHMThank you. And Norm Ornstein, before we get into today's topic, talk about James Comey's statement yesterday that there had been nothing found in these newest emails regarding Hillary Clinton and anything out of the ordinary.

  • 10:08:36

    ORNSTEINWell, let me be blunt, Diane. I thought that when Mr. Comey, 11 days ago, I guess it was, came out with his letter to leaders in Congress that it was reckless and irresponsible and was going to unleash all kinds of bad things. This doesn't change anything for me. You know, we could've easily seen this emerging without having that first letter done. But what the first letter did was to change the tenure and tone and shape of the campaign over the past week plus.

  • 10:09:11

    ORNSTEINIt's had, I think, a significant impact on a lot of down ballot races of the House and Senate and other levels. It changed the focus away from Donald Trump to Hillary Clinton's perfidy, as it were, but it also unleashed all kinds of ugly things in the FBI, all of these leaks that have come out of the New York office, the -- Bret Baier's deep embarrassment that also resonated out there with a series of allegations that proved to be false. There's a lot of work to be done. This is damage to the FBI and it's damage to the political system.

  • 10:09:51

    ORNSTEINAnd I don't think Mr. Comey did this for partisan political reasons, but he stumbled into something really bad and the reverberations are going to be there for a long time to come.

  • 10:10:02

    REHMAnd E.J. Dionne, speaking of how government is supposed to work, how does this action on Comey's part fit in?

  • 10:10:13

    DIONNE JR.Well, I think it's terrible because you -- I agree with pretty much everything Norm just said. And if I can say, the second letter, which I suppose we should be glad he put out before the election, shows why the first letter was such a mistake because the first letter was so vague that it allowed people to assume there's something really nefarious here about Hillary Clinton. The Trump campaign has ads on the air right now referring to this investigation, even though Comey said yesterday there is nothing here.

  • 10:10:46

    DIONNE JR.And this was a knowable thing. At the very least, if Comey, because of pressure, he felt, from Capitol Hill, which is troubling, or from some of these New York -- I refer to them because I think that's correct, as right wing agents who really don't like Hillary Clinton -- pressure that they would leak it, if he felt all this pressure, I think he should've resisted it. But if he couldn't resist, he should've been much more specific about what was here.

  • 10:11:14

    DIONNE JR.And what you've got now are government agencies steadily discrediting themselves before the American people and, you know, Congressman Cummings and Congressman Conyers have suggested the Inspector General at the FBI look into this and I think Congress has to look into this. I think Al Franken proposed that yesterday because there's something really wrong inside the FBI. They shouldn't interfere with elections.

  • 10:11:38

    REHMKathleen, how does this look as far as the way government should be working?

  • 10:11:45

    PARKERWell, for sure, we don't need the FBI influencing an election and it's not done. But the fact that Comey has released these two letters back to back, there's no question he's affected this election. He has actually caused damage to Hillary Clinton's campaign. And ironically, of course, Trump, who, all along, has said, oh, this is -- the system's rigged, he's now backed off and said, well, maybe it's not so rigged after all. Hillary Clinton has a claim for a rigged system if she loses this election.

  • 10:12:18

    PARKERAnd if Congress wants to initiate some oversight investigations, they should start with the FBI.

  • 10:12:23

    DIONNE JR.I think that's the most wonderful irony that Kathleen just pointed to is that after all of this rigging, you know, both the FBI and efforts to keep African Americans and other minorities from voting around the country, those are the two big beefs that Clinton has. And after all this talk of election rigging, here you have it on -- the other side has a claim.

  • 10:12:42

    PARKERYou know, if Clinton, of course -- it's like every other guilty verdict you get in the judicial system, you see the guilty verdict on the front page. You see the, oh, actually not so guilty after all on the -- buried somewhere within. The impression is already made and I think it's very difficult to undo that damage.

  • 10:13:00

    DIONNE JR.A Reagan administration official who was acquitted on corruption charges said, yes, but where do I go to get my reputation back?

  • 10:13:06

    PARKERExactly.

  • 10:13:06

    REHMIndeed. I remember that. And now, to you, Norm. Give us a brief primer on how the founding fathers imagined that our government was actually going to operate.

  • 10:13:25

    ORNSTEINSo, Diane, we know that the framers had seen the British system, the parliamentary system, in operation and very deliberately decided they didn't want it. Now, one reason was that in Britain you had a small homogenous country and in the United States, as it was formed, we had what they called an extended republic. We had this vast territory with disparate peoples living dramatically different lives from rural areas so remote that people might not see other humans for months at a time, to really densely packed urban areas, much more than we see now.

  • 10:14:02

    ORNSTEINAnd they thought, how can we not only keep power from being overwhelming and corrupting, but how can we somehow reach decisions that everybody across this vast extended republic would at least see as legitimate? And so they created a Congress and not a parliament. Congress comes from the Latin word meaning to come together. Parliament from the French word, parlay. In a parliamentary system, there's a government.

  • 10:14:29

    ORNSTEINThe parliament basically is an instrument of the government. People come and speak. We all see the question period. But we were going to have a body where people would come and meet face to face. They would debate and deliberate over an extended period of time and you could begin to see other people's points of view. I thought that was crazy, but I see where you're coming from. And almost organically, you get decisions that people would accept.

  • 10:14:53

    ORNSTEINIt was built on a set of structures and laws, but also on a set of norms that you were going to go through this debate in deliberative process, that you would have opportunities for people to interact and to have an impact. And it's worked very, very well. What we're seeing, I think, in the last several years, Diane, is not so much a breakdown in the institutions, per se, or the system the framers set up. You can make a case, of course, that in the fast paced global economy and world that maybe you need to move faster in some areas.

  • 10:15:26

    ORNSTEINBut the institutions can work. It's the norms that have broken down and that's something we're going to have to spend some time discussing. When you take a filibuster rule that worked just fine for decades and then begin to misuse it for political purposes, it's within the rules, but it violates the norms. Much that we've seen in this campaign, I think, is a violation of the norms. And we've got to find ways to get that back because culturally, we're starting to come apart.

  • 10:15:54

    ORNSTEINAnd it's a real challenge and a danger to our very fabric of society.

  • 10:15:58

    REHMKathleen.

  • 10:15:59

    PARKERWell, I think what Norm said, particularly having to do with the idea that decisions would be more or less accepted after people had met and reached a decisions. It was -- we don't accept decisions anymore. We assume that if we don't -- well, I say we in the broadest sense. But if people don't get their way, then there is no accepting of the decision. And now it seems even to the extent of the vote itself, in electing a president, where not -- you know, Trump says he may not accept the outcome.

  • 10:16:30

    PARKERHis people say, we may not accept the outcome. We're ready to go to war. And don't know to what extent they mean that literally, but there's some, you know, there's some concern that they're serious about going into the streets and rioting or whatever. But in terms of just the Congress and how it operates, so much has happened on -- I will speak mostly to the Republican side. They have -- the people who have been elected in the last few years, starting with the Tea Party and through to the Freedom Forum, it is now their mission not to govern and certainly not to accept decisions, but rather to obstruct whatever the other side seeks to accomplish.

  • 10:17:10

    PARKERSo there's no sense of meeting in the middle, no sense of coming together. And even if we -- if, upon a vote, there is a decision, there's no will to accept it and we saw that with when the Republicans kicked out House Speaker John Boehner and now they're threatening to get rid of Paul Ryan. So there's -- the norms, as Norm says, are completely -- have been cast aside.

  • 10:17:38

    REHMKathleen Parker, twice weekly columnist for The Washington Post and winner of the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for commentary. When we come back, we'll continue our discussion of how government is supposed to work in contrast to how it's been working. Stay with us.

  • 10:20:01

    REHMAnd welcome back on this day before a rather historic election in our country. We're talking about how government has worked, how it was meant to work and now how it is working. And with me, E.J. Dionne of the Brookings Institution, Kathleen Parker, a twice-weekly columnist for the Washington Post, and on - from NPR in New York City, Norman Ornstein, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. E.J., I want to come back to you. Has this system, this so-called democratic system, worked through our history? Is this something brand new, the kind of friction we are seeing now?

  • 10:21:01

    DIONNE JR.See, I think you can make a case that for most of our history, it worked reasonably well, and we have had moments of crisis. And, you know, in a democratic republic, there will always be divisions, there will always be different views about what government should do. There'll be different religious views, views on values. We will be divided, and we will have arguments, and arguments are good. I like arguments.

  • 10:21:24

    DIONNE JR.But when you -- you reach a crisis when people on opposite sides of various disputes start feeling that they have nothing in common with their opponents, have fundamentally different views about what the country is, what the country should be. Over the weekend, it tells you what kind of mood I am in, I started reading a classic book in American history called "The Confederate Nation," and I have been thinking a lot over the last several years that this period really does resemble the 1850s, leading up to the Civil War, where you have people who have just such radically opposed views.

  • 10:22:06

    DIONNE JR.The South seceded because it felt that Northerners, correctly in one sense, that the North was moving to a position where it wanted slavery to go away. Now Lincoln was actually quite moderate. You know, by our standards, he came into that election with a much too moderate view of slavery, but he was willing to let it sit where it was, but he didn't want to extend it.

  • 10:22:30

    DIONNE JR.The South at that point felt its survival depended either on letting slavery exist everywhere or getting out of the Union. Now I don't think we are close to a civil war, but I do believe we are facing these kinds of divisions, which is why I think it's going to continue to be hard to govern ourselves after this election is over.

  • 10:22:50

    REHMKathleen?

  • 10:22:50

    PARKERI think E.J. makes some good points, obviously, but I think what we're really talking about when we say that people are seeing the world in different ways and, you know, slavery certainly has no defense, but it's a rural-versus-urban world view. And I'll explain it this way. I have this conversation with a lot of people. I do have the advantage here of having actually lived among the indigenous peoples of the South, but when it comes to...

  • 10:23:21

    DIONNE JR.You are from where the Civil War started.

  • 10:23:24

    PARKERYes, I am originally, well the family is originally, I'm kind of bicultural.

  • 10:23:29

    REHMFrom -- you are from?

  • 10:23:30

    PARKERWell I -- my mother was from South Carolina. I'm the product of a Yankee pilot and a Southern belle.

  • 10:23:35

    REHMOkay, got you.

  • 10:23:37

    PARKERSo I have both views. But here's the thing. I explain this usually in terms of the Second Amendment. So if you live in the city, you very much want no one to have a gun except the police because you live in close proximity. When I moved to New York, I was so aware of the need for many more regulations than I would ordinarily find acceptable because when you have such densely populated areas, you've got to have a lot, a lot of rules to keep it all and keep it all rolling along.

  • 10:24:07

    PARKERIf you live in the rural South, and you live out in the country, you want a gun, and you want a gun to defend your home because you don't have any other defense. You can't, you know, scream loud enough for the neighbor. It's just a different way of living. You're much more -- rural areas are much more open so that you have this mental attitude of personal freedom and individual liberty and those things that the more rural dwellers feel are being encroached upon by government via these more densely populated areas along the Acela corridor in the East and the West Coast, which is really, you know, to people in the flyover states more a different nation than part of our country.

  • 10:24:54

    REHMNorm, do you see two different nations developing here, one rural, one urban?

  • 10:25:00

    ORNSTEINThat's certainly a part of it, and as we look at some of the voting patterns, and actually in some of these states, including North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, even some out West, we're seeing pockets of liberalism in urban areas surrounded by very, very different attitudes and values in the rural areas, and we're seeing a lot of these show up in a place like North Carolina, where you have among the deepest divisions across party lines.

  • 10:25:31

    ORNSTEINI think the bigger set of issues here, Diane, is that, one, we have tribal politics. This is something Tom Mann and I have written about a lot. It's not just partisan anymore, it's tribal, and that means you see the other side not as a worthy adversary but as an enemy, somebody trying to undermine your way of life.

  • 10:25:50

    ORNSTEINNow put that together with the fact that what Donald Trump has basically done with the Republican Party, and it's not Trump, it's a self-inflicted wound more broadly, is to blow up the whole idea from Reince Priebus' inaptly named autopsy of four years ago on how the party, maybe it's more appropriately named right now, how the party can reach out to a broader audience as it begins to lose the chances of making a majority, meaning it has to reach out to the newly diversifying population in the society that is moving us by 2044 to being a party where whites are -- a country where whites are a minority.

  • 10:26:29

    REHMAll right now...

  • 10:26:29

    ORNSTEINAnd what's happened is...

  • 10:26:32

    REHMBut Norm, here's what I want to know from your perspective. Is the basic system still intact, or has it been broken so badly during this election that it could go on in a fractured way for years?

  • 10:26:56

    ORNSTEINI'm -- I have to say, Diane, I'm very worried. I'm worried in part because what's happening is we're having a party that's becoming an all-white party and a party that's becoming a party of coalitions that's fundamentally of the minority side. You put tribal politics on top of racial politics, and it's combustible, and our institutions are going to have a hard time dealing with that.

  • 10:27:20

    REHMAll right, and...

  • 10:27:22

    ORNSTEINAnd if you add to that the tribal media that drive us further apart, I think our institutions are under siege right now.

  • 10:27:30

    REHMAll right, and Kathleen, you're far less pessimistic.

  • 10:27:31

    PARKERWell, I just am naturally a glass-half-full kind of person. But, you know, the most disturbing things to me about this particular election, and Norm mentioned this, is that -- is the Republican Party is becoming the party of white people. And he also hinted at the reasons, you know, the white -- white people, who have always been dominant in this country, see themselves as being marginalized as their numbers diminish.

  • 10:27:59

    PARKERIt's not an unnatural reaction to feel, oh my gosh, you know, what's happening to our country if you happen to be a white person. But it's not -- that's not who we want to be, I don't believe, that's not who -- what this country needs to be. We are a diverse nation, and I have -- you know, I think the Republicans should have, you know, ethnic and racial envy because -- no, I'm misstating that. What I mean is the Democratic Party does represent the nation in terms of all the demographics.

  • 10:28:34

    PARKERYou know, women don't feel welcome in the Republican Party, African-Americans don't feel welcome, Latinos surely don't feel welcome thanks primarily to this person, this individual, Donald Trump, who has tapped into the fear, the demographic fear of the former -- almost soon-to-be-former majority whites.

  • 10:28:52

    REHMSo E.J., what Norm and Kathleen seem to be saying is that the system is not broken, it is a person, a single person, who seems to be pushing so hard almost to break the system.

  • 10:29:18

    DIONNE JR.I don't think -- that's not what -- what I hear Norm saying, and I broadly agree with it, is on the whole, the problem isn't the particular structure of our institutions.

  • 10:29:29

    REHMOkay.

  • 10:29:29

    DIONNE JR.The problem is a political and, if you will, sociological problem with the way we're organizing ourselves. I'm glad Norm put race on the table. Race has been divisive throughout the history of our republic. That's why I went back to the Confederate nation period. And if you look at voting, the Republican Party is becoming the party of older, white Americans, and they are losing -- they have lost, over a long period of time, the leaven, if you will, of dissenting points of view.

  • 10:30:01

    DIONNE JR.Now are there structural things happening in the system that are aggravating that? Sure, I think gerrymandering is taking a problem that already exists because Democrats, as Kathleen pointed out, tend to be concentrated in cities and big metro areas, so they'd be at a disadvantage, to some degree, in congressional races anyway, but reapportionment has made their problem even worse. There'll be states, many states tomorrow, that will cast a majority of their votes for Democratic congressional candidates and still product a majority Republican congressional delegations. And so that's a structural problem.

  • 10:30:41

    DIONNE JR.The existence of the filibuster in the Senate, as Norm said, once upon a time it was used sparingly, again to get back to race, mostly about civil rights. It was the South's tool of choice. Now it's being used routinely. The filibuster was never there to be used routinely. You've had some structural change on that. Democrats said we're not going to let lower court judges be filibustered. We're going to face a real crisis, especially if Clinton wins, with this nomination of Merrick Garland sitting there.

  • 10:31:15

    DIONNE JR.And it is unprecedented that you would have a Supreme Court justice sit there, not even get a hearing, forget a vote, not even a hearing. What is going to happen after this? You have Republicans talking about, well, we don't need a full complement of nine on the court. This is pushing the structure in really radical ways.

  • 10:31:36

    REHMAh, interesting.

  • 10:31:37

    DIONNE JR.And sure you've had Democrats opposing conservative nominees. You've never seen something like this.

  • 10:31:42

    REHMKathleen?

  • 10:31:43

    PARKERYeah, I think you hit a very important point there, and again, this is typical of what the Republican Party has become. It's become purely obstructionist. Now there are reasons for their wanting to obstruct. There's a very -- just a complete difference of opinion about what the Supreme Court role is, and there again you've got, you know, structural shifts. The Republicans see the Supreme Court as taking over the legislative function by making rulings that create laws that people never have a chance to vote on. That's legitimate.

  • 10:32:23

    PARKERAnd then you have -- but the Republicans, frankly, should go ahead and put poor -- this fellow, Merrick Garland, through as quickly as they possibly can because that's the best offer they're going to get if Hillary Clinton wins.

  • 10:32:36

    REHMNorm, do you want to jump in on that?

  • 10:32:39

    ORNSTEINYou know, I guess what I would say, Diane, is that what's dismayed me the most about this presidential campaign is a group of Republican leaders who instead of taking a little bit of a short-term hit to restore a party, and what we need in our political system is two political parties that compete for majorities and focus on problem-solving, and almost uniformly, with a few exceptions, John Kasich, Jeff Flake, Ben Sass, among them, have rallied for tribal reasons behind somebody who is opening even more of the ugly racial and other divisions in the society, attacking the media, using anti-Semitism in his final pitch, bringing in Ted Nugent and still saying we've got to elect this guy.

  • 10:33:36

    ORNSTEINAnd this is a problem of leadership and basically craven leadership in my judgment, and we can -- we're going to end up talking about some of the structural things we can do to change things, but if you don't have human beings who are willing to transcend some of these differences to try and restore things, then my pessimism gets renewed.

  • 10:33:59

    REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Norm mentioned the media, Kathleen, and the question becomes to what extent has the media contributed to government dysfunction.

  • 10:34:18

    PARKERA lot. I give them -- I give the media, I shouldn't say credit because it's not a -- no feather in anyone's cap, but -- and I, you know, the media are not a monolithic group. I just read that oh, the media has another chip in its armor because of something the National Inquirer did. Well, the National Inquirer is, to me, nothing to do with the media, it's something to do -- I don't know, what you do to waste time in the grocery store line.

  • 10:34:47

    PARKERBut anyway, I think broadcast media is one beast, and print is another. The broadcast media is obviously video, I mean, it's a visual medium, and so the camera is going to go to whatever, you know, gets people interested. What gets people is showmanship, color...

  • 10:35:06

    REHMNegative, yeah.

  • 10:35:07

    PARKERYou know, follow the blood.

  • 10:35:09

    REHMYeah, right.

  • 10:35:09

    PARKERAnd Donald Trump for that reason got most of the media attention for the longest period of time. He always bragged, oh, I didn't have to spend any money on advertising. Well of course you didn't. All you have to do is say something outrageous, and then you've got 48 hours of constant coverage, and then when it starts to die down, he says something else outrageous, and it gets people back, and there was a lot of coziness going on initially in broadcast.

  • 10:35:31

    PARKERAnd we recognize that, you know, people were perfectly willing to bring old buddy Trump, you know, Donald in. There's a little -- there's a lot of schmoozing going on in New York and Palm Beach, and those people are -- they are responsible for this, and I think there should be some consequence for that.

  • 10:35:49

    DIONNE JR.Amen to that. I think it is so striking that a candidate who claims to be running against the elites was coddled in some of the most elite places in the country, and I do think Kathleen's very right, and it's not just because I have an interest in it, because I do do cable television myself, so I'm not an innocent here, but I think there is quite a radical difference between what's going on in print, which includes all the stuff online, and what went on in television news, that -- and the people I think who have the biggest beef against television news are other Republicans, the non-Trump Republicans, because when you looked at the amount of attention Donald Trump got for months and months compared to any other Republican candidate, it was appalling. He could sneeze, and it would become controversial because he was box office.

  • 10:36:41

    DIONNE JR.Print is complicated. I mean, I'm proud -- both Kathleen and I are proud to work for the Washington Post. I think we've done a good -- basically a very good job on this campaign. But print is fragmented, again counting all of the websites. And, you know, there -- we've -- I'm not anti-change in that when you look at the great old days, there were monopolies and oligopolies that did produce a common conversation, which was useful. Now you've got a lot more voices in there, but people can turn to the voices they want to hear.

  • 10:37:12

    REHMAnd tomorrow we'll be talking about misinformation from the media and particularly on the Internet, how that has affected this election. By the way, listen live tomorrow night and Wednesday morning as NPR and this station break down national and local election results.

  • 10:40:01

    REHMAnd welcome back. Norm Ornstein, I know you wanted to weigh in on that media issue. We've got lots of callers, but I do want to hear what you have to say.

  • 10:40:15

    ORNSTEINI'll make two quick points, Diane. One is, I think what cable news has done is basically you see nine people on a panel and they are all either people from one extreme or the other screaming at each other. Or cynical spinners, and it leaves the public with the idea that there is no middle anymore. But the more important point is, the tribal media and the ability people have to cocoon in and get the same information over and over again, re-enforced by social media, much of it often wrong.

  • 10:40:43

    ORNSTEINAnd if you look at these New York FBI agents, who are convinced that Peter Schweitzer's widely discredited book was enough to bring indictments against Hillary Clinton for the Clinton Foundation. You basically have a group of people who I think got caught in one of these media information loops. And how we get away from that, where people have different sets of facts, some of them plainly wrong, how do you actually have a debate and deliberate on climate change?

  • 10:41:13

    ORNSTEINIf half the public and half the people in the political process believe that it's a hoax perpetrated by corrupt scientists, you can't even begin to discuss options for resolving problems.

  • 10:41:27

    REHMAll right.

  • 10:41:27

    DIONNE JR.Just to pick up on that real quick. I talked about this in my book, "Why the Right Went Wrong," that as recently as 2008, you had plenty of Republicans saying, and people like John McCain, Bob Corker, saying look, climate is a problem that we have to deal with. Now we Republicans want a more market oriented way of doing it. They were talking about carbon taxes, but it was possible inside the Republican Party to say, climate change is humanly caused.

  • 10:41:54

    DIONNE JR.We got to deal with it. Let's deal with it efficiently. Now, it's almost impossible to say that. That's a really radical change in just eight years.

  • 10:42:03

    REHMAll right, I'm going to open the phones now. First to Victor in Syracuse, New York. You're on the air.

  • 10:42:11

    VICTORDiane, thank you for having me. I just wanted to say, one of the biggest problems. First of all, President Obama will go down as the greatest President that nobody wanted to work with. Okay? And what's happening with our Congress is our Congress is not reflective of the changing, evolving population. So, what needs to be done is that we need to have a campaign finance and trust fund set up so more people can run for Congress from many different parties.

  • 10:42:34

    VICTORThis way here, individuals don't feel that they have to go behind one person to be the bullhorn for their cause. Then they feel that they can get involved, have a ventured interest in the process by participating in the process. I'll take my call of the line. Thank you.

  • 10:42:51

    REHMAll right, thanks for calling. Kathleen.

  • 10:42:54

    PARKERWell, I would love, personally, to see publicly financed elections. And Presidential elections to be quite short, like maybe three months, max. And we'll get to the, you know, we'll cover the important points. Nobody gets to win based on how much money they have. And, you know, what we're watching right now is oh well, they're spending, Clinton's spending this much money in Philadelphia and Trump is spending this much money in Michigan in these last couple of days. What does that mean?

  • 10:43:23

    PARKERYou know, you're spending money to attract attention based on what. It makes no sense, and it certainly doesn't get us where we need to go.

  • 10:43:30

    REHMAnd Norm, here's a -- sorry, E.J., here's a tweet that you talked about. The show is completely missing the most important issue today. Congress no longer represents the people because of gerrymandering.

  • 10:43:49

    DIONNE JR.Well, I don't think we should exaggerate the role of gerrymandering and I don't think that we should ignore it. In other words, gerrymandering is a big deal and it makes change very difficult. It narrows the number of districts that are competitive. But also the fact that we are -- we, we self-gerrymander. There are plenty of districts, people tend to live with people who agree with them. And so, there are plenty of districts where there -- the main fear is to lose a primary, particularly on the Republican side right now.

  • 10:44:18

    DIONNE JR.So, if you govern with Democrats, you will be punished in a low turnout primary. I just want to second something that earlier caller said real quick. Bernie Sanders showed you can raise a whole lot of money in small amounts. If we had a system that -- it's a way of combining public financing with participation where you created a fund to match small contributions so that you create participation by small contributors. Those contributions would be multiplied in their value. I think we could open the system up to a considerable degree.

  • 10:44:55

    REHMKathleen.

  • 10:44:55

    PARKERJust one quick note on the gerrymandering. One reason -- the Republicans have been very successful in gerrymandering to their benefit in terms of winning elections. But they've created the problem of the -- of not being able to get rid of people that they don't want anymore. Such as the Freedom Forum or the Tea Party candidate. The only way to get rid of them is to have somebody who's even further right, which means we're not gonna -- it's not gonna get better real soon.

  • 10:45:23

    DIONNE JR.And it creates a conflict of interest between the Congressional Party and the National Party, that you can have a lot of power in Congress and keep losing the Presidency. A political scientist, Tom Shaler, wrote about this, called the House the Republican stronghold. And he noted the stronghold can become a stranglehold.

  • 10:45:40

    PARKERExactly.

  • 10:45:40

    DIONNE JR.And I think that's what's happened to the Republicans.

  • 10:45:43

    REHMHere is an email from Sharon. Norm, for you, what are we going to do about people who refuse to accept fact-based information if it does not fit their opinions? Could this be our greatest challenge to democracy and we are going to do our 10:00 a.m. hour tomorrow on this topic. Go ahead, Norm.

  • 10:46:14

    ORNSTEINI think that's a very, very strong point. When you live in a place that no longer has a public square, the whole notion of the framers was that you would argue hammer and tong over issues that mattered, but you would do it from a common set of facts. And, you know, I get, I guess almost every week, Diane, somebody who I know well, who's a thoughtful person, sending me an email they've received and saying I can't believe this is true. And what you realize is that it's not true. But it sounds so reasonable.

  • 10:46:52

    REHMExactly.

  • 10:46:52

    ORNSTEINAnd people send it among their friends and their relatives and so it bolsters it.

  • 10:46:55

    REHMYep.

  • 10:46:57

    ORNSTEINAnd you have carefully crafted things that suggest absolute falsehoods. But we know, psychologically, when people begin to believe something, once they believe it, shaking that belief, even with incontrovertible evidence to the contrary, becomes extremely difficult. The synapses of the brain work in a different way. So we're going to have to try to find a way to recreate a public square and we're going to need a lot of elites. And I think public media is going to be the vehicle that we'll need here.

  • 10:47:28

    ORNSTEINWe're going to need to find a way that we can get facts out there and then begin to do a different kind of debate. I'm thinking one thing is a shadow Congress made up of former members, across the political spectrum, who aren't in the middle...

  • 10:47:41

    PARKERTo tell the truth.

  • 10:47:41

    ORNSTEIN...of the tribal environment.

  • 10:47:43

    REHMInteresting.

  • 10:47:43

    ORNSTEINWho could actually do real debates.

  • 10:47:45

    REHMAll right.

  • 10:47:46

    DIONNE JR.Love that.

  • 10:47:47

    PARKERGreat idea.

  • 10:47:47

    REHMLet's go, let's go to Paul in Ottawa, Canada. Hi there, you're on the air.

  • 10:47:54

    PAULIt's such a privilege to be on. Thank you.

  • 10:47:56

    REHMThank you.

  • 10:47:56

    PAULWe hear so much about partisan gridlock and where it comes from, including this excellent discussion today. And yet, it seems as though America sits poised to vote for more partisan gridlock. And so my question is very simple. How can that possibly be?

  • 10:48:15

    REHMHow can it possibly be?

  • 10:48:17

    DIONNE JR.Because no voter sets out to go in and say, I think I'll vote for gridlock. In some cases, they split their tickets. But look, they -- the gerrymandering of the House and the packing of people in urban areas of Democrats makes it very hard to bring about change in the House. The Senate is, in a way, gerrymandered by where the states are drawn. I mean, think about the fact that South Dakota, North Dakota and Wyoming have more representation than New York and California.

  • 10:48:45

    DIONNE JR.It's a very peculiar system we have built. The Senate has changed because the ratio, population ratios between the big and small states are much bigger than they were when the Constitution was written. But I do think, when I look forward to what happens on Wednesday, let's assume, which, despite Trump having a narrow path that he might pull off. Let's assume that Clinton wins, which I think still is the higher probability event. I'm hoping for two things.

  • 10:49:15

    DIONNE JR.One is on the militant side, and one is on the openness side. On the militant side, I think right away, we have to say the government, by investigation, has to stop. Clinton can take some steps to help bring this about. I think severing all ties to the Clinton Foundation and I'd change its name temporarily to the Eisenhower-Kennedy Foundation. But we can go there some other time. But I think people have to say to the Republican side, you can't come out and say, we're going to start organizing to impeach her before the election is even over.

  • 10:49:47

    REHMExactly.

  • 10:49:47

    DIONNE JR.So, that has to stop, but on the other side...

  • 10:49:50

    PARKERHow do you stop it?

  • 10:49:52

    DIONNE JR....I would, I would really like -- well, I think people have to name it and organize against it. But I think Clinton, I would love her, and unfortunately, the Secret Service won't like this, to spend time in the parts of the country that voted for Donald Trump, that will vote for Donald Trump tomorrow. And say look, you have real problems. Your problems, actually, from de-industrialization, are very similar to the problems African-Americans in inner cities have. Let us unite as a country to try to solve these problems. I'm your President, too.

  • 10:50:20

    DIONNE JR.And I hope we do -- can figure out how to do both of those things.

  • 10:50:23

    REHMExactly.

  • 10:50:23

    PARKERWell, the problem with that, E.J., is that these people have had our -- you know, there's been a Democratic president for the last eight years, and nothing has been done to improve their lot. And if Hillary Clinton's promise...

  • 10:50:34

    DIONNE JR.Ironically, Obamacare has, but that's another story.

  • 10:50:36

    PARKERWell, but if Hillary -- well, wait until the premiums are skyrocketing in the next few months. He -- look, we know that they orchestrated this. They planned it so that the rates would go up as Obama was leaving office. And we know what's going to eventually happen. We're going to have a two tier healthcare system. We're going to have -- you know, a single payer and then an elite, sort of, concierge service for people who can afford it. But that's beside my point.

  • 10:51:00

    PARKERIf you want to get back to gridlock, why would anybody vote for gridlock? Well, of course they do vote for gridlock. This is -- on the Republican side, this is gridlock by design, okay? This isn't accidental. They want to stop every, everything that the Democrats propose, because they fundamentally disagree with what the Democratic Party represents, which is an expansive government mechanism for running -- for people, for quote, unquote, helping people's lives.

  • 10:51:29

    PARKERNow, I'm speaking like a conservative here, but I want -- I think it's important to express what these people are feeling. It's not as though this is all an accident. You know, they do vote for gridlock when they vote for these super conservative Republicans. They are voting for them to go in and stop the Democrats.

  • 10:51:47

    REHMYou know, one thing that Paul's call reminds me of is that people outside this country are looking at a very messy democracy at work. And ridiculing us in the process, E.J.

  • 10:52:06

    DIONNE JR.Well, first of all, I think, in our own defense, we should note that the -- I think Trump represents, more than anything, the appearance of the European far right in the United States. And that there are right wing figures just like Donald Trump in other countries around the world.

  • 10:52:21

    REHMTrue.

  • 10:52:21

    DIONNE JR.Marine Le Pen is probably, from the National Front in France, is almost certainly going to get into the runoff in their Presidential race. So, we're not alone in this. On the other hand, we have always presented our self as the exceptional democracy. And this is very disturbing. And I think there are strong anti-democratic trends in the world. People asking, will our democracies efficient enough? How do they get into these problems? That happened back in the 1930s too, when people talked about -- you know, there were people who were respected who praised dictatorships.

  • 10:52:55

    DIONNE JR.We've got to fight that. We have to defend the idea of democracy and the best way to defend the idea of democracy is to prove it can work again.

  • 10:53:01

    REHME.J. Dionne of the Brookings Institution. And you're listening to The Diane Rehm Show. Norm, you wanted to jump in.

  • 10:53:13

    ORNSTEINYeah. I want to just offer, before we leave, a couple of suggestions, one of them kind of out of the box. What we have in the House of Representatives is a growing number of very homogeneous districts, and they, in turn, become very homogeneous echo chambers. If you have a mix of people, then members of Congress at least feel some fiduciary responsibility to listen to them and to take their needs and desires into account. I would like to see us talk about a potential Constitutional amendment that gives us a variation of the German system.

  • 10:53:43

    ORNSTEINTake 435 members of the House of Representative and make 100 of them at large seats. So that you have people elected by larger, heterogeneous groups. The Senate has a lot of its own dysfunction and tribalism, but they still find ways to work together to solve problems and they managed to pass an immigration bill, for example, that the House wouldn't even consider. A second, which I think is really an urgent need, is we've got to move, not just away from voter suppression laws and practices, but to enlarge the electorate.

  • 10:54:14

    DIONNE JR.Amen.

  • 10:54:15

    ORNSTEINE.J. and I have spent a lot of time in Australia. We are fans of the Australian system of mandatory attendance at the polls. If we got our turnout up as Australia has, to over 90 percent, you don't have politics driven by the base, which means you try to scare people and inflame their worst fears. You have to focus on the voters in the middle when both bases are going to be there, and it changes the way you talk about politics. And if not that, voting on the weekend, making registration much easier.

  • 10:54:44

    ORNSTEINChanging a lot of ways. If we can get more people voting, then the most extreme forces are going to have less impact.

  • 10:54:50

    REHMOne thing I want to do here is to quote from an op-ed that Norm has written for possible publication. He said, no matter who gets elected, they're going to have to put country ahead of party. Is that likely to happen, Kathleen?

  • 10:55:14

    PARKERWell, I don't think so. Not this time around. The -- what Republicans should have done is rejected Donald Trump from the very start. Said this is not a person that we are going to take seriously. Instead, they lined up and eventually caved, and you know, what people have to do, what they should have done, what was required of them to put country first, was to be willing to lose their own re-elections. And they were not willing to do that, so I don't see how we can expect this crew to put their country ahead of personal interest.

  • 10:55:52

    PARKERBut I also think it's more complicated than that. And until we have -- I like Norm's idea about the 100 at large seats. I think you said 100? But I'm not so sure about mandatory attendance at the polls. If I could just say one little quick thing about that. You know, it's so ironic that for so many -- for centuries, we've been fighting for the right to vote, and different groups have tried to get a voice. Women, African Americans, and now we're going to force people to vote. I don't know what the penalty for that would be if you don't vote. Do you not -- do you have to go to bed without supper?

  • 10:56:27

    ORNSTEINYou don't have to vote for -- if you don't show up and you don't have to vote for anybody, you can vote for none of the above, you're subject to a fine of about 15 dollars.

  • 10:56:34

    REHME.J., do you want to comment?

  • 10:56:34

    ORNSTEINAnd that's been enough to change things.

  • 10:56:36

    DIONNE JR.Yeah, so I'm -- I am also a -- a colleague and I wrote a long paper on this. I think it works. And think of all the money you'd save in campaigns on turnout operations. Everyone would vote, but I'm for it for another reason, which is it would reverse the pressure. There are states making it harder for people to register to vote.

  • 10:56:54

    REHMYes. True.

  • 10:56:55

    DIONNE JR.If you had a system like this, you would tell states, your job is to make it very easy for everyone to do their civic duty. But on Norm's point, real quick, we are actually in a pretty good shape as a country when you compare us to so many other countries in the world.

  • 10:57:13

    PARKERThank you.

  • 10:57:13

    DIONNE JR.If we could actually get together to solve some problems...

  • 10:57:15

    PARKERYes.

  • 10:57:15

    DIONNE JR....we would be in really good shape.

  • 10:57:17

    REHME.J. Dionne.

  • 10:57:19

    PARKERIt takes leadership.

  • 10:57:19

    REHMKathleen Parker and Norman Ornstein. Please, whatever you do, whoever you're voting for, get out there tomorrow and vote. Thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.

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