Stephen Reader covers politics for It's a Free Country, WNYC's interactive politics site. He joined the station in 2010 and has also worked for Studio 360, WNYC's Peabody Award-winning show about art, culture, and creativity.
Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on The Brian Lehrer Show, It's A Free Country political peporter Anna Sale and WNYC senior reporter Bob Hennelly, talked about politics news this week and what was discussed over the weekend.
In 2009, Barack Obama's then-Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel famously said, "You never want a serious crisis to go to waste." He was referring to the health care overhaul that Obama's incoming administration hoped to pass in the wake of the 2008 financial collapse.
Almost three years later the overhaul is law, but it's not clear that the crisis wasn't wasted. Job and economic growth has remained anemic, debt has ballooned, Wall Street is occupied, and the euro zone is in crisis. Bob Hennelly said that we were standing at another precipice more dangerous than the one from which we plummeted in 2008. The collapse may have ushered in the opportunity for change, but Hennelly said a more prescient administration would have had better priorities.
It's clear they didn't get the sense of the real depth of the real estate meltdown...About a third of households are underwater in their mortgage—that is to say they owe 20 percent more than the underlying value of the home. Meanwhile, we don't see any of the reforms that needed to kick in. President Obama did not strike a kind of fiery Roosevelt rhetoric to chasten the banks; he stressed continuity more over change.
Shifting to local politics, Hennelly said that as the economy continues to teeter, Chris Christie's decision to stay out of the presidential race looks smarter.
Shooting for the White House would jeopardize Christie's reputation as governor, which is already brief and contentious. In order to run, Christie would have had to put New Jersey on the back burner with the entire state legislature up for election this fall and most of his policies still untested in the long term. Rick Perry's been governor of Texas for long enough and left it in good enough shape that he can leave it for the campaign trail—the same cannot be said for Christie and New Jersey.
He could have found himself a few months out on the campaign trail and then, heaven forbid, if we have another major decline like we did in 2008, he'd be on the road campaigning for president while New Jersey, which is still kind of a fragile basket case, is in further decline.
Those who are still campaigning faced a new challenge over the weekend: President Obama's announcement that all U.S. troops would be withdrawn from Iraq by year's end.
The wars are unpopular and fatigue is pervasive. How can Republican candidates frame the withdrawal in a way that looks bad for Obama and appeals to voters? Anna Sale marveled at how huge an announcement this was, yet how muted the response from Republican hopefuls has been.
They just sort of rolled it into the way they've been talking about Obama: That he's been campaigning rather than governing, suggesting that this was political as opposed to on the advice of military leaders.
Michele Bachmann has taken a budgetary tack: She's proposing that Iraq reimburse the United States "for the amount of money we've spent to liberate these people." Candidates like Rick Perry and Mitt Romney have gone the more political route, questioning Obama's motive for the withdrawal. But Anna Sale said it didn't go much beyond that.
They held short on saying what they would do, they just criticized Obama's decision to pull out by the end of the year.
The feasibility of Bachmann's proposal is almost beside the point politically. Much like Herman Cain's 9/9/9 plan to completely overhaul the U.S. tax code—and do it two more times during his presidency—Bachmann's call for reimbursement is unlikely to fly and easy to pick apart.
But Anna Sale said that at this point in the campaign, it's more important for candidates to have any idea to sell to the country, however pie-in-the-sky. That's what gets people excited; the rest is details.
There's not a real sense of 'This is what I want someone to tell me'; it's just 'Tell me something—tell me a vision of how this is going to change.'