Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Week In Politics: Jobs Report, President George H.W. Bush Biography


Now politics with our Friday regulars, E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and the Brookings Institution and David Brooks of The New York Times. Good to see you both.

DAVID BROOKS: Good to be here.

E.J. DIONNE: Good to be with you.

SIEGEL: President Obama, as we've heard, did not buy the argument that the Keystone XL pipeline would create necessary jobs. But he did get a strong jobs report for October this morning. First, the pipeline. E.J., what do you make of the president's decision and the timing of it?

DIONNE: Well, I think Scott Horsley was right. The improvement in the economy made this decision a whole lot easier. But for the president, this has always been, in many ways, a symbolic question. And he said it outright himself when he said this is neither a silver bullet nor an - for the economy nor on the other side an enormous problem for global warming. But I think the symbolism became more and more important to him because he wants the United States to take a lead around the world in fighting climate change. And I think it was important for him ahead of those Paris talks and as part of the legacy he sees for himself to tilt on the side of fighting climate change.

SIEGEL: David, you've said for some time that you didn't expect this pipeline ever to happen because the price of oil's too low.

BROOKS: Yeah, it's sort of a mythical decision now because, you know, there's no - that's probably not going to be built with the prices this way. And there's no indication prices will go back up to where it becomes affordable, so it's sort of myth. But if we go back to the days of 2008 when it was a reality, we actually had scientific studies on this from the State Department and others. And they found it would be much more environmentally friendly, much better for global warming to build a pipeline because, as Horsley's report said, it's a lot more cleaner to ship the oil through a pipeline than have trucks and trains and ships bring it to China. And that oil was coming out of the sands anyway. And so if you ever hear of Republicans being anti-science, which God knows they can be, sometimes Democrats can be anti-science, too.

SIEGEL: Well, onto that - yes, E.J.?

DIONNE: I was just going to say I think the issue here was if you encourage the production of dirtier oil, that is a problem. But I think the president was broadly right that this was not a gigantic factor either way. And yes, the market has - may have rendered a lot of this moot.

SIEGEL: The report today on October shows unemployment, the rate down to 5 percent, 271,000 jobs created. To mix transportation metaphors here, have we - has the economy turned a corner, David, and do we see a light at the end of the tunnel - inside, like, a 90-degree tunnel...

BROOKS: We've turned a spotlight into the future.


BROOKS: No, it's a great report. And a sign - you know, this economy - this recovery has been slow, but it's been really long.


BROOKS: And so, you know, it's phenomenally good news. If it keeps up, obviously, it's good for Hillary Clinton if she's the Democratic nominee. It'll improve the mood of the electorate. But the big thing to me is the labor force participation rate, which did not tick up. And so the crucial question for the health of the country is, as the unemployment drops, maybe below 5 percent now, are people lured back on the labor force? Or are they - have they permanently dropped out? And that would be a catastrophe, as Angus Deaton and others - a Nobel Prize laureate - found in a study recently released. The middle-aged - the life expectancy for middle-aged white males is declining, and that's 'cause of drinking, suicide, stress. All these people left out of the labor force whose lives are, you know, pretty miserable. And so if somehow sucking them back in the labor force through kind of productive, active and busy lives is the crucial societal test.

SIEGEL: And of course, the unemployment rate doesn't reflect that. E.J.?

DIONNE: Right. I mean, I'm glad David brought that up because I thought that was such a striking report and it really shows a deep social problem created by economic change for all these folks. And we'd better start worrying about that. This is a great jobs report. Neil Irwin, of The New York Times, made a good point - there may come to be a divergence between the industrial sector, which has to contend with a strong dollar, and the rest of the economy, which is doing just fine. And if that's true then the problems David talked about would get worse. But, yeah, the Democrats would love to have jobs reports like this from now till November of 2016, and then they'll probably be in pretty good shape.

SIEGEL: Let's move onto this week's peek inside the Bush clan. Jon Meacham's new biography of George H.W. Bush, which he talks about at some length in another part of today's program, includes the elder Bush criticizing two key figures in his son's administration - Donald Rumsfeld, whom he describes as an arrogant fellow, and Dick Cheney, who he says had his own empire and marched to his own drummer. Meacham told me today that the elder Bush made these comments in interviews that began in 2008, not as the war in Iraq was actually getting underway. And I asked him if the former president had ever told the younger sitting president any of this at the time.


JON MEACHAM: George W. Bush told me no, he had never heard any of this from his father. Dick Cheney told me he'd never heard any of this from Bush 41. President Bush had a - President Bush 41 had a code, and the code was that you don't complicate the life of the president even if that president is your son. I believe that President George W. Bush and H.W. Bush were actually closer - particularly in George W. Bush's second term - were closer in terms of the substance of issues than the popular memory would allow.

SIEGEL: And as to why the elder Bush would make those statements in the book and reiterate them when Meacham came back to him to check on the quotes, Jon Meacham says he thinks Bush wanted to speak to history.


MEACHAM: I believe that he saw a duty as a former president to make a point that force and diplomacy are not competitive forces but complementary ones. And he was very uncomfortable with his own son's harsh rhetoric. He did not like the phrase the axis of evil, and the swaggering culture of the White House under Bush 43 bothered him.

SIEGEL: By the way, Meacham, who, as I said, we hear elsewhere in today's program, does not conclude that the elder Bush disapproved of his son's going to war in Iraq.

David, what do you make of this?

BROOKS: First, if I could go all "Oprah" on us - parents, don't complicate the lives of your adult children. That's a good lesson (laughter) we can all learn. Second, there are two George W. Bush administrations. The first one is when the president was enamored by Cheney and Rumsfeld. That went away, I'd say, by about 2006, 2005. And so what the elder Bush is saying is the same conclusion the younger Bush had come to, independently, by the second half of his administration.

SIEGEL: And E.J., is any of this germane to politics today?

DIONNE: Well, you know, I think rule number two for the elder President Bush is, you don't really want to complicate the life of your son who is running for president, and I think for Jeb Bush to have this discussion come out right now is not ideal. He's trying to come back in the presidential race, and here we are mired in a debate about how George W.'s administration went. I suppose it helps him a little bit if we think a lot about George H.W. Bush 'cause I think he's quite beloved now by a lot of the country, including a lot of Democrats. But I think the last thing he wants is to have to answer questions about Cheney, Rumsfeld and the Iraq War.

SIEGEL: David?

BROOKS: It's amazing that, you know, that he didn't tell us some of these opinions. The Bush family reticence is miles deep (laughter) and miles wide, and it's hurting Jeb Bush right now.

SIEGEL: Are you going to mention 300 years of...


BROOKS: I've...

SIEGEL: ...Of inbred?

BROOKS: I've already done my wasp (unintelligible) on this program.

DIONNE: Let's hear from Prescott Bush next.


SIEGEL: David Brooks of The New York Times, E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post, thanks again.

BROOKS: Thank you.

DIONNE: Good to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.