A Brookings/Harvard Forum
Press Coverage and the War on Terrorism
The Impact of September 11 on Public Opinion:
Increased Patriotism, Unity, Support for Bush; More Interest in News
Wednesday, March 27, 2002
The Brookings Institution
MR. STEPHEN HESS: Good morning. Welcome to the 14th session of the Brookings/Harvard Forum on the role of information and the media in the war on terrorism. I’m Stephen Hess of the Brookings Institution, the co-host with Marvin Kalb the Executive Director of the Washington office of Harvard’s Shorenstein Center.
Today we have what I think is a rather special program because it’s a subject that we’re returning to. We started this series in October and in November we asked Andrew Kohut, the Director of the Pew Research Center on the Press & the People to tell us what public opinion was up to, what Americans were thinking about and feeling in the wake of 9/11. Four months later we’ve now asked him to return and tell us some more about where we’re at, and we’ve asked him to be joined by three people, Marvin and I, I think are going to add interpretation, their wisdom, their experience to where we’ve been, where we are, perhaps where we’re going. They are William Kristol on my left, the Editor and the Publisher of the Weekly Standard; Margaret Carlson, a columnist for TIME Magazine and a commentator on CNN; David S. Broder, columnist for The Washington Post and Professor at the University of Maryland.
Andy Kohut will make a presentation from the podium and then Marvin Kalb will start a conversation among us.
So we thank and welcome C-Span and its listeners and its viewers, and want them also to know that the transcript of this program will be posted on the Brookings web site www.brookings.edu.
Andy, do you want to start us off?
As I looked over the polls that we’ve taken and other polling organizations have taken since September 11th I’ve have a hard time trying to understand what will stay in the changes that we’ve seen since 9/11 and what will fade into history.
As a pollster who’s career began in the sour days of post-Watergate and post-Vietnam, I was truly amazed by the expressions of national unity and patriotism that we saw in the polls right after September 11th. The simple fact that the percentage of people saying that they were satisfied with national conditions, and after September 11th going from 40 percent to 60 percent was an extraordinary thing to me.
But my vote for endurance isn’t in the area of public unity and expressions of patriotism. I think the new relevance of nationhood, of Washington, of the federal government, public officials in Washington is what stands the greatest chance of remaining.
The national government if not the nation state itself floundered in the eyes of the American public in post Cold War America. I think their importance was diminished by the absence of an overseas threat to the country, a surging stock market that was fueled by the global internet, and by a policy emphasis on devolution to the states.
Polls in the 1990s consistently found an optimism gap, people saying their own situation and even the conditions in their community or state were much better than were the case for the country.
In campaign 2000 one of the findings of our surveys that really struck me and rattled me was 30 percent of American voters saying that who was elected President didn’t really matter so much. That was considerably higher than the percentage we had found even in the early 1990s.
I think the September 11th attack stopped those sentiments in their tracks. In our nationwide survey in January we found double the number of people saying they were interested in hearing what the President had to say in the State of the Union Address.
In February Gallup found the highest level of optimism about national progress since 1959.
I think national unity and patriotism may fade, but I think the new relevance of Washington will not. Americans need national government in a way they have not for some time and I think that matters to public opinion very much.
I should say however, the post-9/11 polls haven’t found longstanding criticisms of government fading. Our surveys in September found people continuing to feel that the government was too wasteful, had too much control over people’s lives, and nearly half of the public expressed doubts about the trustworthiness of government officials. Yet that poll and every other one has shown an increase in trust in government.
But it’s not the fact that the American public likes government more after 9/11, I think it’s the fact that the American public needs government more after 9/11. I think that will stand to prevent a return to the hypercriticism of government and the really very high levels of distrust in government that we saw especially in the early ’90s, but throughout the decade. It might even boost turnout in 2004 and other forms of civic engagement.
I think the public’s need for protection is apparent in big bold letters in every poll I’ve seen. Support for increased defense spending stands at 60 percent?triple what it was four years ago, and funding for homeland defense is just as high if not higher.
I think the biggest change in attitude occurred among women. My favorite headline from one of our polls was "Mothers for Missile Defense" showing a 30 percentage point increase in the number of mothers who felt that missile defense was a good idea post-9/11.
Americans have also changed their world views. Rather than retreating to a position of increased defensiveness and isolation, the initial response has become more committed to U.S. involvement tin the world and to take a multilateral approach to things. By nearly two-to-one the public said in our October survey, which was a repeat of a survey that we had done with the Council on Foreign Relations about America’s place in the world, that the best way to prevent terrorism was to be active in world affairs rather than not get involved in difficult problems around the globe.
Americans also attach a lot more significance and importance to views and desires of our allies, so much so that more than half of the people who supported the use of force, supported the use of force against Iraq, said we shouldn’t do it if we can’t get our allies to go along with us.
I should add that the public continues to strongly support the use of force to combat terrorism. We’ve seen no fall-off in the initial reactions of support from September and October, or October and November. Our January survey was labeled "American’s Favorite Force in Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, and…"
Domestically there’s no indication that the attack and the rising support for a stronger military has displaced public focus on domestic priorities. It’s guns and butter, a familiar American refrain.
When we ask people how to pay for increased defense spending that they very much favor, just 22 percent opted for reducing government’s role in other areas. Most, 42 percent, favored either postponing or reducing the tax cut or allowing the government to add to the budget deficit, 24 percent.
Politically there are signs the country is returning to a more typical environment. Satisfaction with national conditions while still high in historical terms is slipping a bit, so are the ratings for Congress and even the ratings for President Bush. Bush’s ratings are in the mid-70s now, not in the mid-80s. We find only about 50 percent saying they’re satisfied with national conditions. Still extraordinarily high given the fact that people are worried about jobs and other things, but not as high as the 60 percent that the polls were showing in early September.
I think tough congressional fights over taxes and spending would bring even a more partisan response with regard to President Bush.
The President’s stratospheric approval ratings have not resulted in a dramatic change in congressional voting tensions. The latest polls by Pew and by Ipsos Reed show voting attention is about even between the Republicans and the Democrats. And it’s clear”I mean it’s hard to say from this far out what the outlook is for November, but I think it’s clear that the traditional correlation between the President’s approval ratings and the percentage of votes for his party will be much lower than in typical years because this is not a typical year.
I think forecasting by historical measures has been on hard times pre-9/11 and post-9/11 it’s even going to be more difficult.
Clearly the evenness of the horse race, polls notwithstanding, the image of the Republican party has improved a lot. A poll we conducted last week finds the GOP holding a 38 to 27 percent margin as the party best able to handle the most important problems facing the nation. This is the largest Republican margin on that measure since the heady days of the spring of 1995.
But I think the GOP lead on this measure and perhaps on others could be not as significant down the road as they appear because it’s primarily based on confidence in the Republican party on the terrorism issue rather than on domestic issues. Among those who cited terrorism, the GOP advantage rose to 49 from 19, but for those who cited other problems, the economy or other domestic issues, it was pretty much dead even, 33 to 31.
Further, the domestic issues that are looming large favor the Democrats if they could find a way into them or they had some torch bearers to talk about them.
As many people say the nation is losing ground on health care?54 percent?as said that in February of 2001. And the only major change in public assessment of national problems is a 15 percentage point increase in the number who say we’re losing ground on the issue of good jobs. This comes at a time when every poll, including ours, is showing the public feeling that the national economic climate is changing and it raises the question of whether we’re headed for a jobless recovery which is certainly different politically in terms of political consequence than one where people feel good about the job situation.
Finally the importance of nationhood is having a bearing on public views on the importance of news from Washington. For the past decade majorities have consistently said they’re bored by what goes on in Washington, just 39 percent said that in our November poll. That same poll found two-thirds saying they were generally more interested in the news, a finding that’s been replicated in survey after survey. A Washington Post poll found 46 percent in February saying that events of September 11th had made them more interested in politics and political news. Yet this sentiment only results in marginally higher levels of news interest on non-terrorism subjects.
For the first nine months of 2001, 27 percent of Americans paid close attention to the stories that we tracked in our monthly news interest. It only rose to 30 percent post 9/11. By comparison, 70 percent said they were following news about terrorism in the United States.
Similarly with attention to foreign news that is not about the war or not about terrorism, we only see a marginal increase ?23 percent post-9/11 compared to 16 percent pre-9/11.
And Steve and Marvin, I think I’ll leave it there.
I’ve got a quick follow-up question concerning the media that I’d like to ask you and then a broader question involving everybody.
The quick follow-up is that if I’m not mistaken, shortly after 9/11 you did a poll indicating that the American people’s attitude toward media and media performance had gone up and become more favorable in light of 9/11. I was wondering if that attitude still persists.
MR. KOHUT: I think we would probably see a good deal of the more favorable attitude that we measured apparent. There is more contention in the news, there’s more partisanship in the news, and that may bring those favorable responses to the media down, but I think the positive legacy of the news media post-9/11 remains.
MR. KALB: The broader question which I would like to address to all of you, and starting with you David, because you have been not only to Rome but to a lot of places in the U.S. involved in focus groups and that sort of thing.
Do you feel looking at all of these numbers that the American people are prepared to pay the price required of a serious struggle against global terrorism
MR. DAVID BRODER: You have to answer that question theoretically because one of the striking things about the war on terrorism is that the American people, all of us, have not been asked to pay a price. There’s no draft, there’s no increase in taxes. For most of the Americans outside, and I think this is something that Andy picked up, outside of the coastal belt and I would think particularly the East Coast belt, they’ve sort of compartmentalized their concern and consciousness about the war on terrorism and the threat to homeland security.
Most people that we talk to in our interviewing at the Post are back to much more normal kind of lives there. And the general comment that I would make about Andy’s survey is that I believe he is right about the sense of nationhood and the role of government when it relates specifically to protecting the country. But contrary to what I had hoped, and in some degree expected after September 11th, I think the operative part of his survey is the part that says we are moving back fairly rapidly toward a normal political environment where domestic concerns, parochial concerns, are uppermost in people’s minds.
One of the things that has struck me in traveling now to about four or five states since January 1, people who are actively engaged in thinking about policies and civic life are very focused on what’s happening in their state, because the states, so many of them are in fiscal crisis. That’s the first thing that they talk to you about. When we did a focus group in California, Rich Morin repeatedly had to say we know you’re concerned about California, but we want to talk about national issues. They really wanted to talk about what was happening in California.
For people who are not so engaged in civic affairs, I think that maybe ironically the effect of 9/11 was to focus them even more on family matters, neighborhood matters, local matters and Washington as far as I can judge, except for the place where we’re fighting the war on terrorism has largely disappeared from their view.
We had a hell of a time finding anybody who understood that there had been a major education bill passed and signed into law. Just missed totally in terms of connecting to the public.
MR. KALB: Margaret Carlson?
MS. MARGARET CARLSON: I find when you leave Washington and you go to some place other than New York, I now have the impression that terrorism is a regional matter. It’s almost now as if we talk about it here in Washington and people in New York are still involved every day, but as David says, people outside have gone back to their normal concerns which is their families and their neighborhoods and their schools.
Now overriding that in the back of their minds is a sense of fragility and fear as a result of it, but they aren’t obsessed or narrowly focused the way we are. So I don’t think it’s going to quite have the effect that it does on us from day to day.
Anecdotally I have found that people were much more excited about making a sacrifice than they’ve ever been asked to do. In my lifetime I’ve never seen that kind of civic outpouring that was frittered away by the President and public officials by asking for no sacrifice. The one sour note that was struck afterwards when we were all told to go on vacation or go to a Broadway play as a way of helping out. It seemed wrong to people who were grieving and mourning to be told that the best thing you can do is spend money when our parents were asked to save rubber and ration sugar and roll bandages.
Then I think I can say as the only mother on the panel, I can say it without any contradiction, women have turned into, at least the ones I know, have turned into hawks as a result of this. Because you do turn to government for one main thing which is to be protected, and the fear that everyone felt I think prompted these initial feelings of government is good, government can protect me. And women I think feel more vulnerable in general and became much more hawkish in my unscientific survey than the men.
I found one big exception. I interviewed Laura Bush in December and she said, surprisingly, like all women I was hoping the President wouldn’t bomb. I said to myself, sister, I don’t know anybody who’s there with you. All the women I know were anxious for some retaliation and government I think can do a lot more, it could have done a lot more during that period including actually raise taxes and ask people to pay more. The idea of being at war and having your taxes cut, you can’t keep the two things in your mind at once, and if only the Democrats were able to make that point instead of having been boxed off in a corner where Republicans say if you postpone the tax cut you’re raising taxes and Democrats don’t want to have ads saying we raised taxes. You know, people would have gone along with that. I don’t know what the numbers are exactly, but most people were not clamoring for a tax cut and would accept some burden as a result of fighting the war on terrorism.
MR. KALB: Bill Kristol, there appear to be two publics. One still absorbed with terrorism and what it can do to the United States and yet not asked to pay a price, and the other public which is absorbed with a return to normalcy, with the second public seeming to be beating out the first. What is your judgment?
MR. WILLIAM KRISTOL: I tend to disagree. Obviously there’s always going to be some kind of return to normalcy, but I would “Not only do we have according to Andy Mothers for Missile Defense, but according to Margaret we have Mothers for Bombing which is really? I tend to disagree. Obviously there’s always going to be some kind of return to normalcy, but I would “Not only do we have according to Andy Mothers for Missile Defense, but according to Margaret we have Mothers for Bombing which is really?
MS. CARLSON: Nuke Saddam Hussein.
MR. KRISTOL: The mommy party can become the bombing party. A wonderful moment. I think that’s the true nature of mothers, I might say. (Laughter)
MS. CARLSON: I’ll tell your mother.
MR. KRISTOL: I hope she’s not watching on C-Span.
I don’t quite buy the return to normal argument. Let me argue a little bit against I think both the thrust of what David and Margaret was saying.
I would argue that the fact that the education bill was missed precisely suggest that people are not focused on domestic policy as usual in Washington.
What is the bill that has spurred the most grass roots activism that was before Congress recently? The immigration bill. Which there was a bipartisan consensus to put through on the suspension calendar in the House. It passed I think, an early version passed, like six to one or something in the House. There was a genuine”I myself am with the President and for the bill so I don’t say this particularly cheerfully, but there’s a genuine upsurge of populist activism which is driven by terrorism, not by a sudden change of”People didn’t change their minds about Mexican immigration, they were worried that a loosening of immigration in general and an amnesty in general would sweep in some potential terrorists. That suggests to me that the issue of domestic terrorism has a lot of resonance out there and I think the war remains the dominant issue.
This is anecdotal, but I think people are very interested in the war. They sense that 9/11 was the beginning of a new moment for America in the world, maybe a new moment at home. I think that’s harder to say, but certainly a new moment in the world. That it’s not going away and they’re very curious what’s going to happen, what should happen, what are the implications of what’s happened so far. I think, it really is anecdotal, but before September 11th, the magazine I edit, The Weekly Standard, if you put a foreign policy, if you had a foreign policy cover your newsstand sales were 10, 20, 30 percent lower than if you had a domestic policy cover generally speaking. That has not been true since September 11th. I don’t know if it’s true of the bigger news magazines, but people want to know about what the implications of President Bush’s war on terror are and they’re interested I think in debate on it.
Ultimately I think it does come down to reality, not opinion in this sense. I mean the question is the war, in reality, leaving aside people’s lives, going to fade or it’s going to get bigger.
I mean if we’re in a moment, and this is my personal view, this is a little bit like the early Cold War in ’46, ’47, where we’re going to be in a bigger war over the next few years than we have been over the previous six months; where the significance of the President’s commitment and the significance of 9/11 is going to loom larger, not smaller. If that happens people can sort of instinctively try to return to normalcy if you will as much as they want, but the world’s going to change. Just like the world changed from 1946-’47 to 1950 or ’52 or ’55. Our politics have to reflect that change and I think we could have all kinds of changes, it could lead to all kinds of changes in political parties, ideological differences and all of that.
So I’m a bit of a believer, it’s complicated obviously and it doesn’t mean if you look at the ’46 model, it doesn’t mean you can’t have congressional elections that are still dominated by domestic issues. Truman could be doing a good job in the Cold War and the Democrats can lose a ton of seats. You can have a ’48 election in which Taft-Hartley is probably a bigger issue than the Berlin Airlift or the Cold War. But nonetheless, history looks back and says gee, those were the early years of the Cold War more than those were the years of Taft-Hartley or Truman vetoing a Republican tax cut or whatever the dominant domestic issues were in 1948. David remembers that, I don’t.
MR. BRODER: I remember that. (Laughter
MR. KRISTOL: So in conclusion, a lot depends on what happens, but I think the odds are over the next six to 12 months, just as an empirical matter, there will be more war, not less; more U.S. troops will be committed in more places, not in fewer places; there probably will be a big military confrontation with Iraq. If all that happens, then I think the war is the dominant fact, the political fact of our moment. Bush is a war presidency. It doesn’t mean as Andy says that it translates into people voting for a Republican for the House and the Senate. It certainly doesn’t mean it translates into voting for a Republican for Governor which is entirely disconnected, presumably, from the President’s management of the war. But it does have all kinds of”I think the history of war is unanticipated consequences stirred by domestic politics as well as abroad. So I think it’s a much more fluid moment.
And I come back to the first sentence, Andy, I don’t think you read in the study you did in early March, so I’m going to read it to see if you still agree with it, really. "The events of September 11th have affected public opinion more dramatically than any event since World War II."
Now I take it what you mean in a sort of literal sense by that is that is that no other single event jolted various poll numbers as dramatically as September 11th.
MR. KOHUT: Exactly
MR. KRISTOL: It doesn’t prove, obviously, that it couldn’t be a one-time jolt and that we then go back 6 or 12 or 18 months later to a kind of the level we were at.
But I guess I’m struck six months later that Bush’s numbers are still high; that terrorism remains a very big issue. I think that sense will turn out to be true not just as a short term matter, but that it really will lead to longer changes in politics and public opinion.
MR. HESS: To get back to the sort of overriding theme of these forums, what you’re saying is, and I think probably everyone would agree, war is good for the news business. And that as long as the question of terrorism and war is the overriding one in these figures, so far not only is war good for the news business, it’s good for cable news, and it’s good for hard news.
Do you see it that way? And how can we project it into the future on that? In other words, as I turn on cable news I was starting to get an awful lot of stuff about a dog mauling in California or a matricide in Houston. But if the big story is war, then there are some real implications for the news business, aren’t there?
MS. CARLSON: I do think that, Andy said the media’s in slightly better regard. I do think we’ll manage to erode that good feeling fairly quickly because we tend to obsess on stories like kids at a soccer game. We all go where the ball is. For one week it was dog mauling, and it was Andrea Yeats before that.
But the information I have is that on CNN on our little show when we talk about terrorism we do a lot better, or the war, the progress of the war, we’re going to get Osama, than if we talk about some other subject when you measure these things by the quarter hour.
So at least for now those people who watch cable are quite interested in the story and like The Weekly Standard, TIME has done well with the war on the cover.
I don’t think we’ve had any soft covers. I’m trying to think if we’ve had a soft cover, but I think it’s mostly been hard and it’s been very good for the news magazines.
MR. HESS: And Andy’s initial survey showed it was particularly good for newspapers. A large jump in serious reading was in the newspapers. How have you found it at the Post?
MR. BRODER: Both the print version and the on-line version are up over where they were on September 10th. I think the feeling is that that’s largely because of the intensity of interest in the war.
I don’t think there’s necessarily a contraction Bill, between what you were saying and what Margaret and I were saying. It’s clear I think that people have accepted instantly that September 11th changed our lives in ways that will have long-lasting effects. The support that is there for President Bush is because the President has defined his role now as being the commander in chief of the war on terrorism. I think the support for him reflects both the event itself and his very strong immediate reaction to it saying this is not an incident, this is a war, the start of a war, and we are going to be on a war-time footing. People have accepted that.
But when you say how does that translate into your daily life, that connection I think as Margaret was saying has not been made yet for most people. So that if you’re talking about either his leverage on issues that are not directly related to the war or the political environment for candidates who are up this year, it’s not, it’s much more back to a kind of a normal standoff kind of impasse situation.
MS. CARLSON: I think that Bush is not going to change the subject. It seems clear to me that he’s always going to get it back on the war on terrorism. But out there in various races, the subject is not going to be that. So it’s going to turn on the kinds of issues David was talking about. They can’t switch the subject entirely over the way Bush will be able to, making him very difficult I think to beat in ’04.
MR. KRISTOL: I think your comment about the commander in chief sort of illustrates the point, the point of departure maybe between the way you and I see this.
I think the fact that commander in chief is now much higher on the President’s job qualifications, changes politics. I think that President Bush and perhaps President Clinton would have had a much more difficult time being elected or getting the parties’ nomination in this environment than in the environment of 1992 or 2000. And while that’s not a reflection of what people see, experience in their daily lives, it does change the way in which national politics plays out post 9/11. I think that?
MR. BRODER: Presidential politics.
MR. KRISTOL: Presidential politics and perhaps even in other ways national politics.
I think the fact that in the middle of the country, absent New York and Washington, the threat is less imminent and this is less in people’s lives doesn’t take away from another fact that the public still sees the country under a threat, and until that threat goes away which is probably not going to happen for a long time, I think that does change things. It’s not going to turn people’s agendas upside down, people are more interested in rising gasoline prices this week than in a lot of national issues that will be debated by the Congress when it gets back, but still I think the presence of a threat and the legacy of close to 3,000 Americans dying makes a big difference.
MR. BRODER: So far it hasn’t changed congressional politics. I guess there’s been no congressional dispute over the war and they’re all with the President and they’re all so far supporting an increased defense budget and so far certainly increased supporting the war in Afghanistan and the smaller engagements in the Philippines, etc., so you haven’t changed politics until you have a debate or a dispute.
I’m not confident that will remain the case, though, for the next two years. I’m not confident it will necessarily remain the case for the next six months.
For example, I take it the President will go at some point to the Congress and try to get authorization for the use of military forced against Iraq. Right now if you had to bet, you would bet that would be supported overwhelmingly in both parties, though not universally in both parties and things could change over the next four or five months which could lead to a much more considerable debate over that. I think unlike 1990, 1991 where it was a six month interlude, the Gulf War, and ultimately in 1992 the Democratic vote against the Gulf War did nothing to hurt Democrats in the Senate or House and it wasn’t an issue in the presidential election though it did have the effect that Gore became Vice President. It was no accident the Democrats nominated a Governor who was ambiguous on the war, and a Senator who had voted decisively actually for the war, and the next Democratic ticket incidently in 2000 there two senators who had voted for the war. So even that had an effect.
But this is an ongoing war very different from the first Gulf War, I think, and the Democratic party I think could switch for example on the war on terror. They’re not ultimately all of them behind the Bush doctrine in its broad expansive sense, nor need they be. They’re entitled to quarrel with it. Incidentally not all Republicans are behind it. It’s kind of an old fashioned Republicanism, Brent Scowcroft would be a good example of this, which is very nervous about the kind of broad commitment that Bush is making to, I think it’s implied by the Bush doctrine, and the President does have to change his mind about some things like nationbuilding, I think, and move in a more Lieberman sort of Democratic caucus direction.
Anyway, just to say these things shows, I think, the potential for a dispute and debate, even at the congressional level that we haven’t seen yet but I’m not confident that we won’t see them and I’m not confident they won’t become real issues probably not this November, but certainly conceivably in Democratic primaries in 2004, and certainly I think in general in national politics over the next couple of years.
MR. KALB: But what I’m listening to”You talk about debate, Bill, and you also talk about the likelihood that we may be at war in a larger military context within the next year or years and a half. David speaks about the nation being on a wartime footing, and yet one doesn’t sense that that is the case. So we have that split once again where in the numbers that Andy is presenting terrorism written with a big T seems to get the numbers, seems to get the rise. And the rest of it does not. The rest of it is either returning to "normalcy" or it is not up there with terrorism. And on?
MR. KRISTOL: What do you mean by that?
MR. KALB: Let me try to explain.
You used the word debate and I keep on wondering when I will be reading stories or seeing on television a reflection of a debate about war. If terrorism is that biting a public issue, and if we’re really to follow the logic of certain words that have been used, like wartime footing, if the logic of that is real, then where is the media, the press in the explanation of this new world to the American people?
MS. CARLSON: I think we’ve done a lot of explaining.
MR. KALB: Is nobody listening?
MS. CARLSON: I think so far there’s been an absence of debate because the Democrats have been cowed. Each time something’s said, Attorney General Ashcroft or Trent Lott or someone will come back and question patriotism and the debate is tamped down. I think we cover it when it’s there, but I haven’t seen it fully flower because we’re on a wartime footing and the commander in chief is not questioned and the Republicans have been successful at calling into question anybody who wants to call them into question. Remember Tom Daschle had that one glitz, Bill. Do you think there’s been a real ability on the part of those who might disagree to disagree?
MR. KRISTOL: I think there’s been a real debate on the OpEd pages and in opinion magazines like ours and a pretty interesting actually and I’d say quite good debate about is it right, is the President right to draw these foreign implications over committing the U.S.” Can you win a war on terrorism? What should the policy be?
MS. CARLSON: But have you heard Tom Daschle or Richard Gephardt say that?
MR. KRISTOL: What should the policy be towards the Arab world? Is Saudi Arabia a part of the problem, part of the solution? A lot of issues that hadn’t been much discussed are certainly being discussed and I think, the people who are discussing them strike me as being listened to and read. You know, Tom Friedman has a joke, he was in an obscure boutique before September 11th writing about foreign policy in the Middle East and now everyone wants to talk to him. I think that’s an indication of that, and I think that’s a pretty good debate.
No, it’s not happened politically yet because the President’s at 80 percent approval and the Democrats believe, I mean there was genuine national unity on the first phase of the war. I’m not sure, if you want the analogy, it’s not favorable to a hawk like myself. This is Vietnam in 1966, early ’66. There is no big national debate. There are a couple of fringe people, so to speak, in the Democratic party who are beginning to question the President; a couple of Republicans beginning to question him, but you have the intellectual debate beginning and I think you could have a big political debate pretty soon. But there’s no standard bearer for it yet. I think especially in the Democratic party you have the potential for a genuinely big debate between Lieberman wing and another wing which doesn’t quite have a standard bearer yet, but I think in Democratic primaries, I would be surprised if it’s not a big issue in – foreign policy is not a big issue in Democratic primaries beginning in January 2004; and in the Republican case suppressed because everyone’s for the President. But the truth is under the surface, and this is also characteristic I would say of the Democratic party which was the incumbent party in early Vietnam or characteristic of let’s say the Republicans under Eisenhower, you have a pretty big subrosa debate going on that’s usually characterized in the press. It’s a debate between two wings of the Administration, Rumsfeld/Wolfowitz versus Powell, whatever. Or it moves outside the Administration. But I think there are pretty big debates waiting to burst out politically. It’s just we’re only six months in and everyone was for the war in Afghanistan and everyone so far is for the first defense budget increase, but let’s see where people are in the second or third $40 billion defense budget increase.
MR. HESS: Despite Andy’s data that he releases today that shows if you get into questions of terrorism or war the Republicans are way out front, you’re still expecting the Democrats would be having this debate when Andy’s data shows the Democrats had best try to keep the agenda on economic issues? Am I reading you correctly, Andy?
MR. KOHUT: The public is more confident in the Republican party on terrorism at home and abroad, but that doesn’t mean that the American public won’t listen to a debate on how to pay for defense spending.
MR. KALB: Or what the strategy is or what it is that you’re going to do seriously as your next step.
MR. KRISTOL: What if there’s another terrorist attack, and there probably will be, god forbid in the next six months. What happens I don’t think the Republicans are quite as invulnerable. Look, you don’t want to think you can prevent all terrorist attacks, but what if there are things that could have been done that weren’t done by Tom Ridge? The Democrats?
MR. KALB: But we don’t know that. We don’t know that.
MR. KRISTOL: Once the attack happens there will be two weeks, three weeks, of rallying?
MR. KALB: But it’s always once something happens. There’s no antici?
MR. KRISTOL: That’s what politics is.
MR. KALB: Yes, but David, do you feel that in the next six months, the next year, that your paper, other serious newspapers will be absorbed in a serious discussion of the pros and cons, for example, of a growing split between Europe, which you wrote about today, and the United States over the issue of Iraq. Whether the American people are prepared to go it alone. Is it worth linking what’s happening between Israel and the Palestinians to the broader issue in the Middle East to going after Iraq? A time table? Where are these issues now?
MR. BRODER: I think Bill’s right, that there is likely to be a growing debate. Certainly the Cold War suggests that will be the case. I think it’s very likely that he’s right about Iraq being the precipitative force in that.
There are several reasons why it hasn’t surfaced so far. First of all, whatever we may wish to believe, debates in policy magazines and OpEd pages do not create in themselves a national debate. It has to be taken up by people who have political credentials and taken into the public in that way.
The second reason I think there’s not been a debate so far is that the extent to which this has become much more than an Afghan campaign has not yet really sunk in on people.
The President is right in saying that many of the battles in this war will not be visible, and I’m sure that there are covert operations taking place now that we will not learn about until much later. The fact that we are now operating everywhere from the Philippines to Colombia has not really yet sunk in on people.
A third reason is that in the past, as I can say as the designated old geezer here, issues have arisen from foreign policy and particularly from military conflict when they have translated directly into specific visible changes in our domestic life. When we were fighting in Vietnam and the draft calls went up month by month, people got really interested in that controversy.
MR. KALB: And when the casualty numbers?
MR. BRODER: When the casualty numbers went up and so on. None of that has happened at this point and the Congress is clearly intending not to force the public to face any hard fiscal choices. The answer to the budget issue this year is going to be give the Democrats enough to keep them quiet on domestic stuff; give Bush what he wants on the defense stuff; and we’ll worry about the damn deficits later on.
MR. KRISTOL: I very much agree, I think David makes an extremely important point. You need political leaders to take up these causes and no one has done it yet. On the other hand the OpEd pages, the little magazines are often really indicators and lay the groundwork for the political leaders. And the Washington Post, you mentioned Europe and America. The Washington Post OpEd page has probably more than its readers want, but in my view to give the Washington Post credit, had actually very vigorous debate on this. I mean David Broder, David Ignatius, Bob Kagen, I can think of myself 10 or a dozen pieces addressing how serious is the split between the U.S. and Europe, should we defer to Europe, will Europe follow us if we lead, what about the Arab world? It’s not that these things aren’t being – and not just on OpEd pages but in news analysis pieces in the front of the papers. I actually think”I guess I don’t quite buy the argument that somehow the media is not encouraging people to engage in issues in a pretty fundamental way. But what has happened, what has not happened yet is what you do need to happen to translate it from a media elite phenomenon to a real political phenomenon which is a political leader, a critical entrepreneur has to stand up and say George Bush is mistaken about X, Y or Z and our party should, either our party or a faction of our party should stand up and oppose X, Y, or Z and that hasn’t really happened yet.
MR. KALB: Andy, you said at the very beginning, you used the phrase which interested me that the American public probably feels just as favorably disposed towards the media now as it did immediately after 9/11 because the media is still focusing on the important issue of terrorism. I’m wondering if in your polling now, not just since 9/11 but over many years now, is that what the American people want of the media? That it focus on the one issue that is so obvious, terrorism and the 9/11 attack? And if you focus on that, good boy, we’ll pat you on the back and move forward?
MR. KOHUT: I don’t think that’s a fair characterization.
MR. KALB: Please, then go ahead.
MR. HESS: Your data also showed the last time that the American people like the press because the press is very supportive of the President, the Administration and the war. There was at the same time a very strong feeling if the media the other way, by golly, the government should have the upper hand. So that there was a uniqueness about the time after 9/11 where the press was on our team.
MR. KOHUT: Twelve years of gauging reaction to how people regard press performance tells me that the American public likes the press much better when it’s reporting about events, especially events that it sees important to them, regardless of whether they’re domestic events or international events. Clearly terrorism is an important event, and the events of September 11th were very important, and that was an extraordinary element in those good ratings. And it likes the press least when it’s doing analysis, punditry, and what it regards, what the public often regards as second-guessing and being contentious.
The absence of contention in the early daysafter the attack I think also led to the public having a favorable attitude toward the press, but the most important thing was the press was providing in a very straight forward way, a story that the public really wanted to know about and was giving them facts.
We had this neat table in one of our reports showing the degree of liking the press was positively correlated with the degree of fear about attack. Need to know and need to know about events as opposed to the opinions of opinionmakers.
MR. KALB: Supposing the press were to say that there is something seriously wrong with the President’s policy now and we ought to look at it. What would be the reaction to that?
MR. KOHUT: I think that the American public doesn’t want a press, a knee-jerk press. We found in that same poll that the public wanted, even though it favored censorship it didn’t want pro-American news, it wants an independent press and it wants a press that’s critical, that plays a watchdog role.
MR. KALB: But in war time?
MR. KOHUT: The questions were about the war. So I don’t think that the public would turn on the press if it was critical of the President.
On the other hand the public wants responsible criticism and fair criticism. The question of fairness is of course another issue that puzzles me.
MR. KRISTOL: I’m struck, we were quite critical of the President or at least of his Administration this week in the Cheney trip and the attempt to pressure Sharon, but we always get e-mails of course from some of our readers who are mostly Bush supporter and don’t like it when we’re critical. But I would say, I think it’s changing. I think the first couple of months you really can’t blame people for this after September 11th, there was a very big desire to rally to the flag, to show unity in the country and to give the President the benefit of the doubt which I think was appropriate. I mean who was going to second-guess reacting to something like this which no president has had to do in 60 years at least. You could be a little critical of this or that speech he gave or this or that military maneuver, but basically everyone”Then what happened in Afghanistan was important too, where there was some criticism including by us. The Administration I think changed the policy a bit but it came off pretty well, at least in the first wave. And that I think again had probably the effect for another month or so of suppressing potential OpEd level criticism, and certainly suppressing political criticism where it just looked as if the moment you might say something critical we’d win some big impressive military victory and you’d look foolish, so people like Daschle I think backed off, not just because Trent Lott criticized him, Lott looked kind of foolish there, but that’s just because they saw this was not the time to do it.
But I think that is now changing, and it should change now. As David says, the war is now, the President had a very ambitious agenda, it deserves to be debated, and I’m struck that when you talk about our policy towards the Middle East, towards Israel and the Arab states, or when you talk about Iraq, when you talk about some of these engagements elsewhere, take an issue like Colombia which could become a very big issue after all in the next few months, I don’t think people think the media shouldn’t be featuring debates about these issues and I think the politicians might be a slightly lagging indicator there.
Politicians are always very conservative and they do tend like all of us, to fight the last war. They’re still learning the lessons of the first three or four months of this war and I suspect that’s not predictive of where we’re going to be three or four months from now.
MR. KOHUT: One thing that might be different as a consequence of 9/11 in this debate is the composition of the coming hawk/dove debate might be different. I mean the agenda gap originally surfaced in the early Reagan years about defense nuclear policy, the evil empire and all of that, and we had this incredible change in public opinion on the part of women. Women now think of the Pentagon as the Defense Department and not the War Department and that makes a difference. And we could see a different composition in the argument about Iraq or whatever the policy argument is down the road.
MR. KALB: On an assumption, a question for David I think, on an assumption, David, that we all believe that large powerful institutions ought to be examined on a regular basis. Media. We’re trying to do that in this series of seminars. Your judgment, how do you think overall that the media has done in the coverage of this period?
MR. BRODER: I think the coverage of and immediately after 9/11 was exceptional and Pulitzers will I think reflect that next month. People did extraordinary things under extremely difficult circumstances in the war itself in Afghanistan.
I think the place where we may be faulted is in the area that we’ve been talking about here which was, for example, an examination of the shift that the President made in his stated objectives and the scale of his objectives with the State of the Union Address. It took us I think several days to catch up to what he had really said and implied in that speech and for all the reasons we’re just been talking about here. There’s been perhaps less than focused dialogue on that.
Could I ask Andy a question about one thing? One of the things that you flagged us on very early was this very significant jump in basic trust in government. and I noticed in the poll that that has begun to erode now.
It was 55/44 positive in October; 46/53 negative in January. Is that significant? How do you interpret those numbers?
MR. KOHUT: I think that it’s a bit or a return to normal and that there will be a lot of these measures a more typical response. But we’re not going to get down to the 20s or 17.
In response to your first comment, I think that the fact that the government is important in this very special way again will make a difference and have a spillover effect on other things. I don’t think we would have ever seen the kind of anti-government, harsh anti-government attitude in the early ’60s and ’50s that we had in the ’80s and ’90s because of this. Which isn’t to say that the public doesn’t have a much better opinion of, trust in government about defense issues rather than domestic issues, but there’s a halo effect. I think there’s a way in which public opinion is colored by this.
MR. KRISTOL: Go back to the Washington Post and the New York Times. David’s right I think entirely about the media coverage after September 11th. I’d be even a little more generous after the State of the Union speech. I remember the Washington Post, it’s a Tuesday night speech. This White House does much less background briefing or preparing the way or pre-leaking of these kinds of speeches and this one was particularly tightly held so I think everyone was pretty surprised by it. So you couldn’t get the kind of normal days of preparation walk-up stories and a story in the Wednesday morning paper that would reflect briefings that had been done in the preceding two days.
Look at Thursday morning’s Post which I remember because I had an OpEd in it saying that this is a very big deal, a new foreign policy for the U.S. I thought gee, I’m writing an OpEd here, I hope I’m ahead of the curve but I wasn’t actually. The front page of the Washington Post had that analysis, the front page of the New York Times had a long analysis already with kind of tick-tock of whether Powell was or wasn’t happy with it.
If you look at the weekend shows I think a pretty big debate already, was axis of evil a mistake? Should Iran be in it? What are the implications of this? It took a little while to really go back and say how do we get from here to there and there’s been some pretty good reporting on that since, I would say.
But I guess I would say, just in answer to your question about the media, I think in its focus, with all the usual glitches and limitations and things that get missed, I think there was some pretty good coverage actually of the war itself, actually also of U.S. policy making and the implications even of U.S. policy making about the war. That doesn’t make it easy, I wouldn’t say to do that, but given, and the Democrats haven’t really forced a public debate, but with those two, within those two constraints I think actually it’s been pretty high level media work.
MR. KALB: Andy?
MR. KOHUT: I just want to make one comment. That is I was watching C-Span last night and they were doing a thing about the press and why there hasn’t been as much”Someone raised the question why hasn’t there been as much coverage of dissenting views about American policy? Is it because reporters and media people are afraid of being Susan Sontag’d, or there’s another show, that Mher got in trouble somehow.
I think in the early part of this experience we shouldn’t forget that the media not only shapes public opinion, but it reflects public opinion. And the strong support, the rally effect that we saw on the part of the country was also apparent in the media. We had people getting on talk shows talking about the, debating about the merits of torture. Really strange.
So let’s not forget that news media is part of public opinion, independent of public opinion.
MR. KALB: Steve, unless you want to ask a question I want to widen this?
MR. HESS: I want to go to the audience in a second. I just want to ask you one question which I held to now because it really is slightly off the subject, but it relates to the poll you released today. A number jumped out at me. You asked how various problems affect the country and are we making progress, is it about the same, are we losing ground. With the exception of some obvious things like terrorism, there’s not much change in most of these things. Quality of public education making progress 27 percent. A year ago it was 23 percent. That sort of thing. Then you get to the question of conflict among racial, religious or ethnic groups. Making progress?a year ago it was 29 percent. Five years ago it was 31 percent. Suddenly making progress, 40 percent. Of all these numbers that jumped out at me as a pretty remarkable, healthy number. What do you have to?
MR. KOHUT: I think it’s good you pointed that out. I think that’s another reflection of national unity. That’s how I read that.
MR. HESS: Is that something that anybody else wants to comment on? Have you been feeling that this is a nation in which there seems to be real progress in racial, religious, and ethnic groups coming together?
MR. KRISTOL: Well, the President did go out of his way to say it wasn’t a religious conflict and obviously he could be very supportive of American Muslims, and I think it hasn’t been a religious conflict here at home. I think that number reflects reality.
In the last six months have we had a lot of bitterly divisive, domestic, religious, ethnic, or racial fights? I would say no. The issues that are divisive have receded a little bit. Even the Pickering fight actually never quite, the race card was played a little bit and then merely withdrawn, I would say, in large part by the Democrats so it never really took off as a big flash point. So I think in some ways people were simply reflecting their experience over the last six months which is there is more unity and less tension among groups.
MR. KALB: Let’s widen the circle and bring you in. Those of you who would like to ask a question let’s have your name, association, and ask your question. There will be a microphone brought to you in the back.
Q: Al Millican, Washington Independent Writers.
I’d be interested if anyone has any insight, anyone senses a need for concern on page three where we see the moral standards losing ground. The on the last page, letter F, we see this is something that’s been reflected in the polls over a number of years here.
But all these other problems seem to have very significant moral dimensions to them. How are we supposed to solve these problems with our moral standards, our ethical standards being continually lowered, or if that’s the perception
MR. KOHUT: I think the public’s concern about morality is ongoing, and it’s unaffected by these things.
MR. KRISTOL: Don’t’ you also think the President’s popularity is not simply because people think of him as an able commander in chief, but because he has framed the war in moral terms and people at this point at least like that? Now there’s a sophisticated critique of that. Admittedly maybe this will ultimately backfire. But my sense is that, David Brooks made this point actually a couple of weeks ago, that people very much are happy, they want to believe this is a moral war and they’re happy that the President has been unembarrassed about using terms like evil. I think?
MR. KOHUT: I think the public likes the idea that the President speaks in moral terms, but I don’t think that’s why his approval ratings are that high. I think his approval ratings are that high because so far things have worked out pretty well for us.
MR. KRISTOL: September 11th was not just an attack on us, it’s our response to the attack. The story of September 11th is the firefighters and the passengers on United Flight 93, and people’s lives.
In that respect I think the President in his simple, and willingness to use moral and for that matter religious terms, has captured the sentiment I think better than – that’s really what I mean. Not that he’s popular because he says the word evil and people think you’re doing a good job, but that he captured a popular sense about September 11th and the reaction of September 11th shows that contrary to many on the right and the left the citizenry of the country were able to rise to an occasion and the country was healthier in a sense than a lot of critics had thought.
Now I think as that settles in and if people feel that continues, that has potentially a big political effect. I’m not sure, incidentally, who it helps. It discredits a certain left wing critique and a certain right wing critique in some respects of America in the ’90s I think.
MR. KALB: Andy, given the findings which were not a surprise about concern about moral character of the country, I was astonished that 80 percent I think in your survey said they did not want the government to attempt to strengthen marriage, that that was not an appropriate objective for the government How do you explain that?
MR. KOHUT: I think that the public has concerns when the government gets involved in moral issues. There was another question that was asked about whether the public favored the government educating people about marriage. And even that, Fox asked that question, and even that question had a slim majority against it. People have real reservations about the government getting involved in people’s lives. Despite the fact that we are a very religious people. I think the public does react well to, has moral concerns. But getting the government and telling people who should, the nature of the marriage contract is not what Americans want to see.
MR. KALB: Or even stressing that it’s really important and valuable to be in a marriage relationship?
MR. KOHUT: Well, you can get into an argument about when should people get out of these arrangements? Should the government be telling people to stay in bad marriages? It’s a tricky question. I was surprised by the size of it, too, by the way. Eight-two percent is a big number.
Q: Matt Gobush, I’m a Democratic staffer with the House International Relations Committee.
My question, I’m interested in the linkage perhaps between the Middle East conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians and the war on terrorism generally. It seems to me that juxtaposed against good news coming from Afghanistan is bad news from the Middle East. And paralleling that is high scores for the President and the Administration on its handling of the war in Afghanistan, but uncertain about the Administration’s handling of the crisis in the Middle East.
My question is twofold. One, in the polling the analysis of the war on terrorism and increased interest by the American people on that issue but less interest on foreign policy issues outside of the war on terrorism, where does the Middle East conflict fall?
And secondly, I’d be interested in all the panelists on is there a potential here for raising criticism of the Administration and its handling of the Middle East crisis for Democrats generally?
MR. KOHUT: We’ve seen some pretty high levels of interest in the Mid East given the terrible state of affairs there and the terrorism there resonates with terrorism here. So the public has a new prism through which it looks at these things.
For a long time I remember, at the time of the Oslo Accord there was no interest in this. The public still continued to worry about, to think that that conflict would go on. But how the conflict has such resonance with terrorism that the public is pretty engaged. At least that’s?
MS. CARLSON: But Andy, it doesn’t show up in your polling?
MR. HESS: In your polling data the Middle East comes out at one percent.
MR. KOHUT: That was volunteered, what’s the most important problem facing the nation. I’m talking about news interest which is a different thing.
MR. KRISTOL: But for political issues, people can be unhappy, unhappy on the state of play in the Middle East, and people can be unhappy with the Administration policies have lots of, they should have been engaged a little earlier, or Cheney’s trip wasn’t handled properly.
At the end of the day you still need, and this is really David’s point earlier I think, what’s really worth stressing, when you need to have what is the alternative policy? I don’t know? Is the Democratic party’s policy to put more pressure on Sharon? I kind of doubt it. I think a majority of Democratic senators signed a letter saying they shouldn’t be putting more pressure on Sharon. So you’re going to end up with a lot of foreign policy expert level criticism which is entirely appropriate and legitimate and maybe even helpful about maybe the way they’ve conducted certain parts of the policy. But I think for it to become a political issue there has to be sort of a moment where some decent chunk of one party or the other says fundamentally the policy is going in the wrong direction.
For all the people who are unhappy with what the state of play in the Middle East, unless it somehow messes up the fundamental war on terrorism, and then there’s criticize that says the Bush Administration did X which has now prevented us from doing Y in the war on terrorism. Unless it can be put that way, I don’t quite see how politically it sort of becomes an issue in a congressional or senate election. What’s the debate going to be between a Democratic senate candidate and a Republican senate candidate about Middle East policy?
MR. BRODER: Andy you aid something that interests me a lot. That there is a link now in the American public’s mind between the global war on terrorism and the fight against terrorism that Israel seems to be involved in on a daily basis. Why is that not reflected in some of the other numbers here?
You said that support for Israel has gone up slightly, I think is the word you used. Why would it be slightly? Why wouldn’t it be dramatically?
MR. KOHUT: Well first of all the question asked do you think we should be backing Israel more or backing Israel less or staying about the same. We get more?
But what I was referring to in interest was news interest, The public can see this as an important issue but not think it is the number one issue facing the country. It would be extraordinary if it did, I think.
MR. BRODER: It was a news?
MR. KOHUT: Focus.
Q: My name is Frank Born, I’m a retired foreign service officer and also a retired Gallup pollster
I’d like to get back to some interesting remarks made about the media and how it plays a role in public opinion, both as a public opinion leader and reflector made by Andy and Mr. Kristol.
What do you make of a phenomenon like Charlie Rose who until recently was sort of considered an esoteric late night broadcaster, too late for most people, now has four hours a day, two hours in the day time and two hours at night, and makes sort of a link between the esoteric media and the mass media. He handled the New Yorker Nick Lehman piece with Hoagland the other night. What do you see as Charlie Rose currently as a player in the public opinion field, international relations?
MR. KOHUT: I have no?
MR. KALB: No comment on that? Bill?
MR. KRISTOL: I don’t know. I come back to the point I made earlier. I think foreign policy, people have a sense as the polling shows that terrorism is the number one issue, I guess, or at least competitive with the economy it’s the number one issue facing the country which is certainly unusual. The economy usually bests everything especially when you’re coming out of a recession. Therefore they’re interested, they want to learn about foreign policy and I think there’s a real receptivity to hearing debates and arguments about it. That does translate a little bit into programming decisions. I wouldn’t over-interpret any particular programming decision. Gerald Rivera, Gretta Van Susteren, I don’t know. Which way does all that cut? (Laughter)
MR. KALB: But there is, sir, if I may try to answer your question, there is an appetite for serious talk on television. That’s clear. There’s a great deal of talk on television but not all of it serious. So I think that Charlie Rose is associated with the more serious talk on television and in this whole Koppel/Letterman issue over the last month or so. The issue really gets framed as to whether you want entertainment or some kind of serious talk. Charlie Rose is in that Koppel category.
MR. HESS: It also has to do with the niche nature of PBS and so forth. Bernie Gwertzman, when he was foreign editor of the New York Times said there were two million people basically who were interested in this sort of stuff. Now those are the same two million who watch PBS, who listen to NPR, and so forth. They should be served too. But I think we should be cautious about expanding beyond that audience in response to?
MS. CARLSON: Charlie Rose has always done it. That’s different is that everyone’s doing it. The shows that you wouldn’t think would be doing this kind of serious coverage are now doing it.
MR. KOHUT: And the CBS special on September 11th got extremely high ratings?
MR. KALB: Yes, it did.
MR. KRISTOL: Again, just think of the way, just get back to Andy’s original point. Think of the way people’s whole reputations and images are transformed by this one eventually. I just think that suggests?we’re not reverting back to a pre-September 11th view of Giuliani I don’t think. I think he remains a huge figure and potentially a very big political figure incidentally. I think the fact that?well I could go on.
I’m just struck again by the sense which I think things may have changed in a pretty big way and they continue to change in a pretty big way because of September 11th.
Q: “Malone with Voice of America. A political question if I may, and I know these are always fraught with the hazards of trying to predict down the road, but we have a bunch of Democrats right now thinking about 2004. I just want your thoughts on what their calculations are. It seems like Bush’s popularity, the war is sort of the 800 pound gorilla in the room. We did have a precedent with his father and some Democrats getting out in ’91 and Bill Clinton winning. But I just wonder as we look towards 2004, he looks very strong right now, and I just wonder what you think the political calculations are among some of the Democrats thinking of challenging.
MR. BRODER: Politicians, and particularly those who rise to that level are incurably and invariably optimistic and egotistic. When they look in the mirror they see a future President of the United States staring back at them. And I don’t think it has anything more to do with calculation of odds than that. They are geared up to run so they are going to run.
MR. KRISTOL: But they’ll have to run as credible commanders-in-chief to pick up on Andy’s point. I think you see that in the rhetoric of a John Kerry or even Tom Daschle, certainly Joe Lieberman. The way in which they’re framing their campaign is certainly different than what it would have been on September 10th. The issues they talk about, the major speeches they choose to give.
On the Republican side, I now believe if Dick Cheney chooses to step down as Vice President as the vice presidential running mate for the President, now the single most likely pick as his successor is probably Condi Rice. And that’s a phenomenon of September 11th.
MS. CARLSON: Wow.
Q: Will Lester with AP. I just wondered what scenario would allow someone to speak in opposition and hold that point for more than one or two seconds before they say never mind, I didn’t quite mean it the way it sounded.
Q: It seems like every time it’s come up, a day or two later you’re seeing some different version coming out. I wondered at what point you think it will be palatable to oppose any of this policy.
MR. KRISTOL: You want to oppose it I suppose if something goes wrong, actually, and things do go wrong in wars. Secondly, Iraq really is a different scale obviously than Afghanistan and it’s going to be hard to deny, certainly if the President asks for authorization from Congress, he’s acknowledging that it’s different from the immediate after-effects of September 11th. He’s acknowledging that the September 14th resolution doesn’t, not technically doesn’t cover Iraq perhaps, but it’s appropriate to go back to Congress. If it’s appropriate to go back to Congress it’s appropriate to debate it in Congress. I don’t think the kind of demagogic Trent Lott, you’re not even allowed to question the President response, I’m not sure it worked even a month or two ago, but I certainly don’t think it could work in September or October or November when the President has asked for a debate on an authorizing resolution. There’s a question of”I personally think if I were an anti-war Democrat or genuinely believed that Bush was going down the wrong path, I think there’s a huge entrepreneurial opportunity for some Democrat to distinguish himself a la Gene McCarthy, a la George McGovern, a la Ronald Reagan if you want to take the opposite point of view, critique the Ford detente policies, by being early and saying look, with all due respect I’m patriotic, etc., etc. but there’s a mistake here or there are dangers here. It is striking that no senior Democrat seems to have yet decided to take that risk.
MS. CARLSON: None of the Senate Democrats who are thinking about running have decided to do that.
MR. HESS: And part of it of course relates to the incredible skill of George W. Bush to co-opt issues at this point. As he said to Tom Daschle at the Gridiron dinner, what are you going to run on? Enron, I’m against it; campaign finance, I’ll sign it; child care, I’ll give it to people who don’t even have children. So he’s pretty skillful there.
MR. KRISTOL: A Democratic primary though, saying you know what, we shouldn’t rubber stamp Bush’s $50 billion defense increase. It’s legitimate to debate these things.
I think among, I’m not a Democrat, but I think about Democratic primary voters there’s a big untapped market right now for some serious, high minded, beginning of a liberal critique on Bush foreign policy.
MR. BRODER: Only if we ever reach the point where there are tradeoffs being debated. If you can say $50 billion for defense while we’re not doing anything about X, then you’ve got a serious appeal to Democrats. But as long as the deal with the budget thing, by just saying we’ll take care of everybody’s important needs and kick the deficit question down the road, I don’t think that works even among Democrats.
MR. KRISTOL: A big majority of Democrats voted against the tax cut. It is a little striking. It’s a pure kind of political, entrepreneurial calculation. You already voted against the tax cut, you think it’s bad economic policy regardless of September 11th, plus we’re not needing $50 billion plus more for defense and homeland security. Why shouldn’t you go to the country and say I was right when I voted against it and I’m even more right now, and force exactly the debate you’re saying? I think that may be an opportunity for a Democrat. You don’t win an immediate fight in the Senate, but in terms of intra-Democratic politics which is not unimportant, in Iowa and New Hampshire, I suspect that’s a message that would resonate with the grass roots, and it’s a perfectly responsible message if that’s what you believe. Why shouldn’t you say it?
MS. CARLSON: Raise taxes and lower defense spending at a time of war. I don’t see it.
MR. HESS: And at the same time Andy tell us people are worried about getting a good job.
MR. KRISTOL: But the tax cut is not popular, as David suggests. Right?
MR. BRODER: That’s right.
MR. KRISTOL: And I think this is a case where people are spooked by the President’s popularity. It’s fine with me if they’re going to be spooked, but I suspect that they were a little more daring, if they could get over that first hurdle, they might end up okay.
MS. CARLSON: I think it’s good, Bill, that you went into the magazine business and out of the political business.
MR. KRISTOL: After the great success of the Bush/Quail reelection campaign I thought it was a good idea.
Q: ?a freelance journalist from Southern California.
One of the most frustrating driving issues of many many people is illegal immigration. It’s just been a topic that”I mean those two words together have not been used in the mainstream media. The Weekly Standard‘s done some great stories I think on the impact of illegal immigration in the United States. But since 9/11 have a feeling that this is a topic that can at least now be discussed and be debated.
Is there a political possibility here? I know that constituencies on both sides are very afraid of this issue. It seems like right now they’re mainly going to attack INS and maybe this is the window to get into a really decent discussion about numbers, how many we want, what’s good for the country, the whole process of integration.
MR. KRISTOL: I’m sort or pro-Bush on immigration personally, but I would agree that if one had a Republican primary this year in a state or congressional district in which a sort of conservative, let’s use shorthand, anti-immigration challenger took on someone who had the President’s view which is reasonably liberal certainly on immigration from Mexico and took on the INS and sort of tried to tie it into the terrorism issue, there would be real resonance to that in conservative grass roots. I don’t know actually if this has emerged as an issue.
We have fewer primaries than we used to and fewer challengers than we used to after various complicated reasons, some of them having to do with the way campaign finances work, so you don’t get that kind of insurgent challenge quite the way you might have 10 or 20 year ago I don’t think. But I tend to agree that among Republican conservative grass roots there is more, let’s call it shorthand anti-immigration sentiment that is being reflected by the Republican party leadership. Whenever that’s the case there is always the potential for an insurgent to pick up on it.
MR. BRODER: In almost every public appearance that I’ve seen Tom Ridge, he makes the argument that by increasing border security against terrorism we also equip ourselves to combat illegal immigration and so he must be aware of the sentiment that you’re talking about.
MS. CARLSON: Certainly 9/11 and the INS mistakes have heightened the issue in everybody’s mind which is our borders are porous and we don’t know who’s here, and we don’t even have the ability to keep out known terrorists and might give them the papers they need.
It’s a moment for Pat Buchanon. I think it could be stirred up. I don’t know how it is going to be stirred up.
MR. KRISTOL: Here’s how it could happen. I’ll make this up, I don’t know what’s happening in the primaries. Tennessee looks like it has a primary with Lamar Alexander on the Republican side and Congressman Bryant who’s a little more of a conservative Republican. I don’t actually know what his views are on immigration, but if Congressman Bryant gets up and says Lamar Alexander’s a Bush Republican”Lamar Alexander’s an establishment Republican, he’s not going to get serious about our borders, border security, he’s a good buddy of Tom Ridge, he’s got that kind of lackadaisical attitude towards all this, and incidentally, what about ethnic profiling on airplanes? Why is that a bad idea? All the hijackers were of one particular group pretty much, and it’s crazy to be stopping 80 year old ladies and not stopping, etc., etc. You can write that speech for Congressman Bryant against Lamar Alexander.
I’m not confident that that doesn’t work pretty well in a Republican primary in Tennessee. I assume someone will try it. There are political entrepreneurs out there.
MR. BRODER: How many hispanic voters are there in Tennessee?
MR. KRISTOL: Not many in the Republican primary.
MR. HESS: But expand that Andy in terms of your data.
MR. KOHUT: I think the issue of immigration plays out with hispanic voters. The battle for hispanic voters between Republicans and Democrats has been one of the key battleground of the last two elections and I think the Republicans learned pretty clearly in 1996 that they were hurt by the immigration policy.
MR. HESS: I think that concludes our interesting, fascinating hour and a half. We thank Andy for giving his interpretations and his data and to Bill, Margaret and David for giving us their insights.
We will have two of our sessions in April. I think we should mention them in advance. On April 17th again we’ll be back here at the same time discussing Congress and its role in the war on terrorism. And then on April 24th we’re going to have a session on the whole question of military tribunals in which we will have Douglas Feith the Under Secretary of Defense, who is the key person on this as our guest and presumably we’ll have some of the legal press corps to put him through the hoops.
Thank you again for coming. We appreciate our enthusiastic audience as always.
Andrew Kohut of the Pew Research Center has analyzed a number of public opinion surveys since the terrorist attacks on America, compared them to previous surveys, and reached some insightful conclusions about the impact of September 11.
According to Kohut, the attacks not only generated a burst of national unity and patriotism, but also increased the public’s trust in government and in the relevance of political leaders. Additionally, Kohut found that the terrorist attacks caused Americans to become more committed to U.S. involvement in the world and to a multilateral approach to international affairs. Support for increased defense spending reached its highest level in thirty years.
Kohut found that Americans are more interested in politics and political news since September 11. But interest in other domestic stories and foreign news other than terrorism stories has not increased much.
Panelists will discuss these and other findings by Kohut at this fourteenth forum in the series "Press Coverage and the War on Terrorism," jointly sponsored by the Brookings Institution and the Shorenstein Center at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.