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The Change Election
John McCain in Defiance, Ohio, Oct. 30, 2008. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster) Barack Obama in Des Moines, Iowa, Oct. 31, 2008. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

John McCain in Defiance, Ohio, Oct. 30, 2008. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster) Barack Obama in Des Moines, Iowa, Oct. 31, 2008. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

What a campaign year. David Broder, dean of political reporters, calls it the best he’s ever seen. Better than Nixon-Kennedy in 1960.

And the election tomorrow? Maybe transformative, the pundits say. As big as 1860, 1932, 1968. The page-one newspaper language out there: “epochal,” “historic,” “once-in-a-lifetime.”

And at the heart of both candidates’ core promises: change. How big? How much? In what direction?

The country faces enormous challenges. Eighty-six percent of Americans think the country’s headed in the wrong direction. This hour, on the last day before the vote, we sit down with two big thinkers — one liberal, one conservative — to look at the candidates’ promises of change, and what they could mean for resetting the national direction.

You can join the conversation. Broad stroke, big theme, what’s the change you’d like to see? If you’re in the 86 percent who say we’re on the wrong course, how would you turn the wheel?

Guests:

Joining us from Princeton, New Jersey, is Robert George, conservative philosopher and professor of jurisprudence at Princeton University. He is director of Princeton’s James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions. He is a member of President Bush’s Bioethics Council, and he formerly sat on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. He is author of “Embryo: A Defense of Human Life” and “The Clash of Orthodoxies: Law, Religion and Morality in Crisis.”

And joining us from New York City is Alan Brinkley, professor and provost at Columbia University and a preeminent historian of American liberalism. He has won the National Book Award and authored two widely used college textbooks on American history. He’s also author of “Liberalism and Its Discontents” and “The End of Reform: New Deal Liberalism in Recession and War.”

More Links:

Each candidate makes his case for change in side-by-side opinion pieces in today’s Wall Street Journal. See “What We’re Fighting For” by John McCain and “The Change We Need” by Barack Obama.

David von Drehle’s new piece in Time, “How They Would Lead,” explores how promises of change might translate into policy and governance.

For a sense of how McCain’s temperament and leadership style might guide his potential presidency, check out David Kirkpatrick’s profile in The New York Times.

And for a sense of the complications of an Obama victory, The Wall Street Journal’s Jonathan Weisman gives an inside account of Democratic factions already jockeying to control the agenda.

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  • http://www.ponderworks.net Evans Travis

    Robert George is entirely wrong to think that an audience for On Point is going to be “OK” with anyone degrading or speaking invective about a Republican candidate any more than we’d be “OK” with such trash talk going in the other direction.

    His apparently “divisive” view of the polarized radio audience points out one of the major issues that has been worrying me during this current administration. The so-called “uniter” has managed to preside over a polarization of the electorate so great that we have, perhaps, a bigger “unity hole” to dig ourselves out of than the economic hole he has presided over.

    Mr. George, I have as much respect for your views as I do for any Americans. Please give us all a break and don’t assume that your audience is against you before you know the truth.

    The invective against Palin is despicable and unacceptable.

    E. Travis, PMP
    Melrose, MA

  • Stephenie O’Connell

    While I appreciate Mr. George’s perspective, I’m entertained by his presumptions first of all of the NPR listeners (we must be liberal!) and secondly, of the voters’ perspective of McCain.

    I am a conservative independent voter, and I have clearly sensed this shift in the McCain campaign, since the arrival of Palin, to this angry, reactive, disjointed circus. I once planned to vote for McCain – for a few reasons, but the minute Palin began opening her mouth, and the Mccain campaign couldn’t make up its mind during the financial bailout, I decided that Obama would make better decisions on the whole.

  • Jonathan

    Tom,

    In the past, I enjoyed your pointed questioning that you seem to be letting up on of late. Please Bring it Back.

    To instance what caught my attention, I mean when the gentleman supporting McCain sights criticisms of McCain from other elements not related to the Obama campaign, you let him confound that with the direct question on the table of ‘which McCain’ and the question of ‘the ugliness’ coming directly from McCain.

    Thanks

    A Bostonian originally from Bloomington IL

  • Bobbie Knable

    One of your guests has characterized Reagan’s political philosophy as smaller government and reduced spending. Yet his policies of cutting taxes primarily for the wealthy resulted in the second largest deficit in the country’s history–exceeded only by that of the current administration. It seems that the priority for these Republican presidents is to reduce the extent to which the wealthy share the cost of government, not fiscal responsibility.

  • Mary Jane Leach

    Mr. George is dealing with false equivalency. He seems to give equal weight to invective issuing from the McCain campaign with misguided invective from people not affiliated with the Obama campaign. Both sides have produced some sorry words from their respective supporters, but it’s the fact that the McCain campaign has personally uttered some, and Palin encouraged them, is what is so troubling.

  • Alex

    I’d like to know how the _tone_ of the campaigns might affect the governance of our next president’s? What should I think of a candidate that has been divisively claiming that I’m not a “real American”?

    I hope that no matter what party they come from, the next president and vice-president will respect my views and values. Is this really the way we want our leaders talking about half our country? The tones of the two candidates couldn’t be more different.

    Thanks. I’m a big fan.

    Alex
    Providence, Rhode Island.

  • Kristin Emery

    To respond to the question of what change I would like to see:

    The bloated arrogance of the Bush Administration has alienated the United States from the rest of the global community. It has left a large part of our citizenry with finances in shambles and unable to afford health care for children. We need a president who wants to focus on fixing the domestic problems of this country. We also need an attitude change in foreign policy. I would like to see our next president greet the global community with respect and an open mind rather than a hawk who will continue to puff up his chest in the face of globalization.

  • Greg

    No one is addressing the issue that spending is plain out of control. I’m voting for Obama but I recognize that Ron Paul had a real change platform. Please shed some light on the issue of how much waste there is in our government. Total tax rates are an average of 40%!

  • Clinton

    Hi Tom,

    Can you please ask your guest from Princeton the glaringly obvious question: what defines the exploitation he means?

    There has been a lot of exploitation of lower income voters in the last two elections; does that not count? They certainly did not have the monetary means to question the edict from the various secretaries of states that revoked their rights to vote (whether it be through voter roll purges, not supplying enough voting machines, or provisionary ballots)?

    Thanks,
    -Clinton

  • Peter Nelson

    Robert George is entirely wrong to think that an audience for OnPoint is going to be “OK” with anyone degrading or speaking invective about a Republican candidate any more than we’d be “OK” with such trash talk going in the other direction.
    . . .
    The invective against Palin is despicable and unacceptable.

    Do you have any evidence for this?

    I know many people, NPR listeners all, including myself, who think the treatment of Palin and McCain on SNL and the Colbert Report and Daily Show is hilarious.

    Politics is theater. Humans are social animals and we make political decisions not mainly on the basis of facts and data, which few people have command of, but on emotion, affiliation, identity, themes and iconography. The basic psychosocial and neurophysiological basis of homo politicus is little different than what we see in religion and sports, which as we know, are highly divisive. When Red Sox fans shout Yankees S**k!” from the bleachers it’s the same thing as when Palin supporters at a rally shout that Obama is a “socialist” – neither shout may be literally true but it’s part of the theater.

    People complain that my comments about how people make decisions are “cynical” but I’m basing it on plenty of serious research published in peer-reviewed literature. It’s no more cynical than saying that the atmosphere is 21% oxygen – it’s just an objective fact.

    If you are concerned about US politics being too divisive you should develop objective metrics for divisiveness, and then propose remedies that can be tested against those metrics.

    Mr. George is dealing with false equivalency. He seems to give equal weight to invective issuing from the McCain campaign with misguided invective from people not affiliated with the Obama campaign. Both sides have produced some sorry words from their respective supporters, but it’s the fact that the McCain campaign has personally uttered some, and with Palin encouraged them, is what is so troubling.

    I’m not sure it matters who utters them. In the last election the “Swift Boat” people managed to undo Kerry even though those claims were not uttered by Bush, himself.

    The bottom line is how the voters respond. Who says what, and whether it’s avowed or disavowed by the candidates, and in what language, is just part of the game. McCain took a gamble that Palin would fire up his base enough to compensate for the people she would turn off. 24 hours before the election it looks like McCain will lose that bet (but we’ll see).

    Clearly Palin DID energize the base, which is farther right than most of the country. Meanwhile the liberals are energized by Obama. So if the two most energized groups in the US are at opposite end of the spectrum this might create more of an illusion of being divided than is actually the case.

  • Ernie Collins

    This whole side show is so completely off the wall! I couldn’t wish for more than people stop this obscene dialogue. When do we concede that Neo-Con economic policies work very well? The Neo-Con thieves are running down the street with all the bounty, too giddy with glee to care about presidential elections. And we keep suffering this test of our gag reflex whereby we are told the poor must tighten their belts!” Ohhhooo give me that old’time religion!”.

    For 35 years now we have been told one thing with reliability, “YOU GET LESS”. Than we got an election where George Bush wins and the rich are handed off a fortune in tax cuts and we are told “Guess what? Now you really get less and you are going to have to go over and fight a war without armor for us as well.” Than on the way out of office, they find a way to rape our treasure again and tell the POOR that their expectations are OFF! (grimy little hands still reaching for the money – Or a plate of food – which ever comes first.

    Give me a break. How can this quality of BS endure in modern times and why don’t we prosecute these traitors anyway. Surely the meaning of this election is that we will no longer tolerate Right Wing spin for personal economic gain, at the expense of the U. S. of A.

    This show is Spinning Total Fiction while the real crooks are running down the street.

  • Peter Nelson

    But this is what people have chosen. They have access to the same information you and I do, so do you think it’s about facts and information?

    This morning I heard an interview with a McCain supporter who was afraid that Obama would run up the deficit. The fact that the last Democrat in the White House actually balanced the budget and the deficit has ballooned under Bush was not withstanding.

    So I suggest that it has more to do with affiliation and whatever emotional satisfaction voters get from identifying with the “traitors” you refer to. Reagan made people feel good.

    The mistake educated NPR listeners keep making is to think that voters are impacted more by the objective facts of their circumstances than their emotional response to it. But historical data, both in the US and elsewhere, suggest that people are more willing to follow a leader who makes them feel good than who objectively improves their circumstances. Only when the objective facts reach some point of extremis does that change.

    Obama is winning now because he makes people feel good. And I suspect McCain/Palin are losing because they make all but their most loyal supporters feel slimy or scared. If Obama actually does manage to improve people’s circumstances, that’s gravy.

  • Sara from Davenport, Iowa

    Clearly your guest from Princeton is out of touch with the hardships currently plagueing the middle class when he posits that our democracy is not in jeopardy because we haven’t reached the requisite level of exploitation yet. As someone who falls within the middle class based on my income level, I have found it harder and harder to make ends meet as each year passes and my income falls short of my increasing expenses, while I watch the execs buy larger and more elegant houses and send their children to the best private universities in the nation. When I hear McCain campaign on the assumption that the American people are vehemently opposed to a “distribution of wealth” it rings hollow for me and so many other Americans who have no personal experience with the concept of personal wealth. McCain fails to see that the middle class hungers for the return of a more equitable distribution of wealth, which is what Obama’s tax policies do. What Reaganomics and Bushonomics didn’t factor into their economic policies is that there is an invisible line that is reached when the majority of Americans feel exploited enough and are willing to get up off the couch and go down and vote on Election Day. We have reached that tipping point, and this is why Obama will win this election.

  • Ann-marie

    Tax-cuts to business (small or large) does NOT stimulate the economy. The extra savings goes straight to CEO pay and profits. THAT is one of the reasons the gap between worker and employer salaries has continued to widen.

    This republican taling point is complete non-sense. It’s the same non-sense as “leaving the free-market to run themselves”. It has FAILED over and over again.

    Giving a tax-cut to a company and HOPING that they are MORAL enough to use the extra savings to help workers is simply a naive theory WITHOUT factual support.

    I wish Tom and other news people would challenge this Republican talking point.

  • Bill

    Professor George stated that the Bush administration abandoned the Reagan principles of limited government and fiscal responsiblity that bona fide conservatives like him, apparently, hold dear. As one commentator pointed out, the Reagan administration record on fiscal policy was not much different than Bush record. But my question is where has Professor George, and the other so-called principled, real conservatives, been these last eight years while the phony conservative Bush(Cheney) was twisting conservative ideology with catastrophic economic and political consequences?

  • AV

    People complain that my comments about how people make decisions are “cynical” but I’m basing it on plenty of serious research published in peer-reviewed literature. It’s no more cynical than saying that the atmosphere is 21% oxygen – it’s just an objective fact.

    True, true. But how do *you* make *your* decision *after* knowing how the mob operates? Do you go along with the mob since the decision of the mob will prevail anyway, or do you make a decision that you *know* is the right one and different than what the mob made? That’s where your cynicism enters the picture and that’s what I refer to. It’s the equivalent of crabs in a bucket pulling down on another crab trying to get out of the bucket.

    Then again Peter, you have 20+ years of experience on me, so who knows, maybe I’ll come around to your viewpoint by that age. But I’ll cross that bridge if and when I come to it, not before. :)

  • AV

    An example would be: Should Kucinich and Feingold have voted for the Iraq war authorization in the Congress instead of against, knowing very well beforehand that their “No” vote would not have affected the outcome and the bill was going to be approved anyway?

  • http://tombstone001.blogspot.com MOHAMMED N. RAZAVI, DALEVILLE, AL 36322

    HOPE

    Hope is the expectation of a desirable result in face of odds and the evidence to the contrary.

    The voters for Obama and McCain must “believe” that their candidate will make a difference that will be to their own personal benefit, regardless of the current economic situation and the reality of the country being broke already.

    No one from the followers of either side wants to believe that they must now make personal sacrifices, not only in financial sense, but also in limits in their so called personal expectations and choices.

    For instance the social costs of divorce, teen pregnancy, health care, child raising, crime, justice, gay rights, disappearing morality all have costs that can be translated in to dollars.

    Free trade may get us more stuff, but it is also the cause of lower wages, lack of health care provided to workers, lack of full time permanent employment and more.

    The excess spending on the military where billions nay trillions of dollars are wasted and stolen and misspent, (yes I know this personally).

    The United States today is becoming more and more like a third world country. Is there a Plan?

  • Peter Nelson

    Tax-cuts to business (small or large) does NOT stimulate the economy. The extra savings goes straight to CEO pay and profits.

    Do you have any evidence for this?

    As an investor managing a pretty large retirement portfolio I spend a great deal of time studying balance sheets. I don’t see the evidence of what you’re tallking about. How many balance sheets have you even looked at?

    True, true. But how do *you* make *your* decision *after* knowing how the mob operates? Do you go along with the mob since the decision of the mob will prevail anyway, or do you make a decision that you *know* is the right one and different than what the mob made?

    But you still haven’t shown that it is cynicism. I would suggest that your repeated use of the term “mob”, above, suggests you are more cynical and less dispassionate than me.

    I’m a policy wonk – I like to study economic data and candidates’ voting records and the history of other countries’ policy initiatives with regard to industrial policy, trade, health care, etc. So when I vote I base *my* vote on that research.

    But I know that I’m very unusual in that respect. Just because most people aren’t “rational utility maximizers” (to use the phrase from classical economics) doesn’t mean rational utility maximizers don’t exist. I could probably give a 10 minute standing-up dissertation on Japanese economic policy for the last 20 years; I can compare the differences between the German and British healh care models; I know what’s in the Constitution and the federal budget. But the average voter is not like that, and isn’t interested in being that way, and for all my rationality I’m rational enough to recognize that. Also N.B. that I’m not suggesting that it’s “better” to be a policy wonk; to the contrary – wonks and nerds are probably evolutionary flaws that under better circumstances would be culled from the gene pool.

    So if I were running a politcal campaign I would design it to appeal to the way most people really are and not to policy wonks like me.

  • AV

    Peter, replace “mob” with “mainstream” or “majority” if that makes you happy. If I were cynical, I wouldn’t be voting for who I’m voting for. Also refer to my example of ‘crabs in a bucket’ to explain your cynicism. I don’t have to show it to you that your comments are cynical – there’s no objective criteria for that, but that’s how they appear to me, and that’s good enough for me. :)

  • Peter Nelson

    example would be: Should Kucinich and Feingold have voted for the Iraq war authorization in the Congress instead of against, knowing very well beforehand that their “No” vote would not have affected the outcome and the bill was going to be approved anyway?

    “Should” is a value judgement, so it depends on their value system. If you don’t specify the value framework it’s like asking what’s “11+11″ without saying if you’re in binary, octal, decimal or hex.

    They could

    1. Find out what their constituents want and vote accordingly, on the basis that it’s their job to represent their constituents

    2. Vote their conscience

    3. Vote with their caucus, to support their party

    4. Vote in whatever way would look good on a political resume for a future election

    5. Vote to satisfy a wealthy donor on the theory that it takes money to win an election and they want to keep their job (don’t we all?)

    A case could be made for any one of these.

    I’m a vocal sort of constituent – I like to write letters to my congresscritters and to newspapers. I’ve been published in the New York Times, Boston Globe, Wall Street Journal, Business Week, and Newsweek, among others. So naturally I think my elected officials should vote the way their most vocal constituents tell them to. So far they have not taken this sage advice. 8-)

  • Peter Nelson

    Also refer to my example of ‘crabs in a bucket’ to explain your cynicism.

    “Crabs” in a bucket doesn’t “explain” anything. Humans are not crabs – we are marvelously complex social organisms.

    I recently heard a lecture by E O Wilson where he remarked that humans are the most socially sophisticated species on earth. The only other species that can create social structures as large and complex as we do are bee and ant colonies but they’re all related – essentially every member of the colony is a sibling, which gives them a huge advantage! Humans do it on the strength of a brain that is highly evolved to navigate incredibly large and complex social networks, said Wilson.

    So from my point of view the amazing, intricate, hyper-sensitive and emotional aspects of our personalities, including all our emotions and affliliatory behavior, are not a degradation, but one of the most amazing achievements of nature. By contrast, trying to reduce us to computerlike rational utility maximizers is the more cynical point of view.

    So the ability of a candidate to move millions of voters with a gesture or a subtle turn of phrase is as amazing as watching that comet explode over our heads last year – a true marvel of nature and nothing to be cynical about.

  • Michael

    I used to defend NPR as balanced and unbiased, but this year’s coverage of the presidential election has been more biased than anything I have ever seen in my lifetime. There’s nothing wrong with political humor, but it’s been 98% slanted to one candidate. I am a moderate. I want objective news not ideology. I am not finding that on NPR anymore. One WBUR show had 3 guests on to talk about the election. ALL 3 were Obama supporters. I gave it a second, third, and fourth chance. Reluctantly, I have to accept the facts and give up on public radio. (No, I never watch Fox News. It’s truth I want.)

  • Christopher

    I concur with the first posting.

    Professor George can expect a respectful audience here. I will say I do not understand the professor expecting to get away with making the argument that Sara Palin’s problems were somehow caused by the media.

    I will not accept that. Sara Palin was ludicrously unqualified to be a vice presidential candidate. The hoax carried about by two clowns from Canada — which in my opinion is not being discussed enough — illustrated for all to see that Palin simply is not smart enough for the highest office in the land.

    I’m not attacking anyone. Heck, I’m not smart enough for the highest office in the land.

    Obama sure is, and he proved it by nominating Biden.

  • Christopher

    Just one more thing.

    If McCain had started criticizing Bush last June and nominated Senator Snowe or Collins, he’d have demolished Obama, and all these conservatives who are crying now would be preparing for a big barbacue, or whatever it is they do when they celebrate.

  • martha

    I tuned in late, during a late dinner, and was shocked at the comments made by the man representing the Republican side (it took a long time to discover that it was a man named Robert George, a tenured prof at Princeton, of jurisprudence no less). In trying to pedal away from the ugliness emanating from the McCain campaign and its close surrogates, he mentioned comments including calls to rape Sarah Pain, on Daily Kos and MoveOn websites.
    First, website comments may or may not be moderated and can come in by the hundreds. You should check out some of the rightwing sites for nastiness. Second, this has nothing whatever to do with widely targeted, professionally produced smears. Third, I read Daily Kos regularly, and no one has called for the rape of Palin. It is clear that Kos has become a name to conjure with, like JEREMIAH WRIGHT, WILLIAM AYERS and other boogeymen, along with (of course ) Move On, a left over scare term from 06 but, which—guess what?—does not have comments, so no calls for rape.
    So the guy made this up and you did not call him on his inflammatory sleight of hand. Please get your guests to stick to the point, not offer vicious distractions. I have come to expect this dishonesty from the right burt would appreciate hosts calling speakers (of any stripe) on it. As to Swiftboat comparisons: that was (Wll)funded by T Boone Pickens, closely associated with the Bush campaign, not comparable to random website comments.
    Democrats have done nothing to compare to the mud-slinging behavior of the Republicans in my lifetime of watching campaigns.

  • AV

    Oh, Peter, Peter. I had to laugh out loud at you last two comments. You are one condescending and bloviating dude, if I’ve ever ‘met’ one on the internet. :)
    ~~~~~~~~~~
    Anyway, expiate your white guilt by voting for McKinney later today instead of Obama, or for the Arab-American dude. ;)

  • martha

    for the professor of jurisprudence, talking deceitfully about his comments, I would recommend the following Youtube video, of a Mccain/Palin rally in Pottsville, Pennsylvania:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vL20TdHjX2s&feature=iv&annotation_id=event_313679

  • Peter Nelson

    I used to defend NPR as balanced and unbiased, but this year’s coverage of the presidential election has been more biased than anything I have ever seen in my lifetime.

    “Reality has a well known liberal bias” – Stephen Colbert

    Oh, Peter, Peter. I had to laugh out loud at you last two comments. You are one condescending and bloviating dude, if I’ve ever ‘met’ one on the internet

    Feel free to point out where anything I said is wrong. Everything I’ve said about how humans make choices is well-documented in the scientific literature.

    Or is it the larger philosophical points that make you uncomfortable? Do you disagree that the sheer complexity and subtley of human behavior and motivation is one of the most amazing and wonderous things in nature? Or that the power of a mere gesture or phrase to impact millions of people doesn’t say something incredible about homo sapiens?

    I hope Obama wins today, but do you disagree that if McCain pulls an upset it would be absolutely fascinating and provide fodder for discussion and analysis for many years to come?

  • jeff

    I just watched the youtube video posted by Martha.
    What can you say, we have sick uneducated people living in this country. We also have brilliant smart educated and open minded people as well.

    The scary thing is how vicious these people are.
    How un-American they are. No wait I’m wrong, African Americans could only vote after 1964. Our country was built on ignorance and religion.

    We forced the native people off their lands and had presidents who though “the only good Indian was a dead one”(Andrew Jackson).

    So this does not surprise me at all. They are sad silly people who live by ignorance and fear.

    I bet they also believe that snakes talk and that when they get to heaven they will be riding a winged horse and that Jesus will be sitting on the right side of God(that strange being from space) wearing a white gown with gold piping like a majorette. Funny thing is Jesus was born in Nazareth which makes him a foreigner as well and he also redistributed the wealth which makes him a socialist as well. He was also a Semite.

  • Majawill

    Mud has come from both side in equal amounts and is equally tasteless. That’s politics. Dirty tricks all around. Why should politics be any different than regular life?

    I love seeing references to Swiftboats. But you know what you never see, it’s the Kerry denial. Still waiting.

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