Week In Politics: De Blasio Sworn In, Benghazi Comes Back And Brooks On Pot

Jan 3, 2014
Originally published on January 7, 2014 12:21 pm
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We turn now to our regular Friday political commentators, E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and the Brookings Institution. Hey there, E.J.

E.J. DIONNE: Good to be with you. Happy new year.

CORNISH: David Brooks of the New York Times. Happy new year, David.

DAVID BROOKS: Same to you.

CORNISH: So it felt like lawmakers spent much of the last year dissecting the 2012 Benghazi attack in Libya, resulted in the death of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three others. And I bring it up because they started 2014 the same way. Reporter David Kirkpatrick of the New York Times wrote the story that challenged many conservative assumptions about how and why the attack happened.

David, does this story change the narrative here, change the debate about this?

BROOKS: I think so. You know. Tolstoy was right. History is messy. We sort of had two partisan narratives, administration narrative, which was the video started it and it was spontaneous; the Republican narrative, it was al-Qaida and was carefully planned. It was sort of in the middle. The video had a role. It was somewhat spontaneous. It was somewhat planned.

We had people who were sort of on our side in one month. They turned against us. So I think we can say it was probably not an al-Qaida operation, but it was not simply the video and simply spontaneous. It was sort of just a messy muddle, sort of refuting, I'd say, a little both of the partisan spin.

CORNISH: And E.J., do Democrats embrace this reporting and kind of re-litigate this issue or is this a story they want to go away?

DIONNE: No, I think the New York Times story ought to help it go away. What was astonishing to me is how difficult it was for Republicans to accept that maybe the facts did not support all these crazy conspiracy theories that they were spinning. They were completely denying that the video, for example, had anything to do with what happened there.

I hope this makes the story go away. The only thing we should've been concerned about all the time, for all along, was how to make sure this didn't happen again. And I hope that's where the focus goes.

CORNISH: Looking at domestic politics, we've talked a lot on this program about the soul of the Republican Party and the direction of the GOP, but this week at the swearing in of the New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, it gave us some imagery that it seemed like a moment to check in with Democrats. Here's a cut of the mayor.

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO: Today, we commit to a new progressive direction in New York and that same progressive impulse has written our city's history. It's in our DNA.

CORNISH: E.J., this self-described progressive mayor flanked on stage by Bill and Hillary Clinton, right, standard bearers for Democratic centrism. What did you see on that stage about the direction where the party's going?

DIONNE: Well, first of all, I think it's important that Bill de Blasio managed Hillary Clinton's Senate campaign. He also worked in Bill Clinton's administration and I always thought the Clintons were much more populist, both in '92 and in Hillary's campaign, than people sort of lead on when they say they're all about centrism. But I think the resurgence of a Democratic left will be one of the big stories of 2014.

Its strength goes out of a widespread concern over a rising inequality and an exhaustion, really, with the rightward push on the center for the last three years. I don't think it's so much a reaction against President Obama as it is a reaction to how difficult the right has made it for the president to move forward. And so I think it's going to be a very important development that will change - start putting pressure on the center from a different direction.

CORNISH: And, David, unlike Republicans where there's so many names kind of being bandied about for 2016, for Democrats it's fewer names and I wonder if you see, again, sort of a direction where the party's going.

BROOKS: Yeah, I think there will be a progressive challenge to Hillary. That part of the party's strong in the intellectual wing and in the coasts, the university towns. I think it's strong, but localized in the way the Occupy movement was. A progressive can win in New York, but let's face it, my hometown is not exactly like America.

CORNISH: But you do hear lots of people talking about, you know, Elizabeth Warren for example. I know she's based in Massachusetts, but a lot of folks look to her as a standard bearer for something in the party.

BROOKS: Right. I think within the Democratic base, I think there's a very strong support. That's where the intellectual support is. That's where the activists are. Inequality is a real problem. And for people who believe in government, there has to be some pretty big ambitious programs. I think the problem for these progressives is that a lot of people don't believe in government, even Democrats, even moderates. So I think it's probably a little more localized than maybe E.J. does.

DIONNE: I think that for a lot of white working class voters who have strayed from the Democrats, the party focusing on economic inequality is actually helpful. It's not just an issue in Berkeley or Cambridge.

CORNISH: And I'm sure we're going to hear more about this in the next couple of months. I want to turn to one last thing in the news this week which is the world's first legal recreational pot sales got underway in Colorado. And David, in your column titled "Weed: Been There, Done That," today you write about the highs and lows of your own adventures smoking pot. See what I did there? But you seem to come down against legalization. What gives?

BROOKS: Yeah. You remember the comedy team, Cheech, Chong and Brooks?

CORNISH: Heard of them.

BROOKS: (Unintelligible) at the Grateful Dead concerts. You know, my view is that I don't get so hyped up about marijuana use, but I do think government should sort of lean against it. And I'm sort of against what's happened in Colorado, in part because the legalization, one of the things it does, it's probably going to lead to much lower prices. It's going to eliminate the legal worries that some people have and so it'll lead to more marijuana use.

I don't think - getting stoned is sort of fun, but I don't think it's necessarily the best way to spend your life. And it's mostly dangerous because I think it will probably increase teenage use. The teenage use really does have IQ effects, serious brain effects and so I'm more worried about. I wouldn't go around arresting people who use weed, but I wouldn't sort of make it an open-door policy.

CORNISH: Although David, I think that's one of the arguments by the legalization folks, right, that marijuana arrests were...

DIONNE: Yeah, that's exactly the point I wanted to make. First of all, I read David's engrossing column today and said maybe if he hadn't used marijuana, he'd be a liberal today.

BROOKS: I was a liberal when I used it, E.J.

DIONNE: Yes, well there you go, see what happened. I don't think he's wrong about wanting to discourage its use, but the point you were getting to, Audie, is exactly right. Having marijuana illegal means people go to jail. That's more than discouraging its use. And the racial disparity about who goes to jail is so large and so stunning that I think we have to stop doing what we're doing.

I hope we have states that experiment with legalization and others that try decriminalization, which may have a bit of a discouraging element there but will not result in these wildly disparate punishments.

CORNISH: E.J., you get the last word, E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and Brookings Institution, thank you so much.

DIONNE: Good to be with you.

CORNISH: And David Brooks of The New York Times, thanks so much.

BROOKS: Thank you, groovy. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.