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Diplomacy in Action

Election Day Landscape - Forces at Play and Possible Outcomes

FPC Briefing
Jerry Hagstrom
Senior Editor with the National Journal
Foreign Press
Washington, DC
November 2, 2010


Date: 11/02/2010 Location: Washington D.C. Description: Jerry Hagstrom, senior editor with the National Journal, briefs on ''Election Day Landscape - Forces at Play and Possible Outcomes at the Washington Foreign Press Center on November 2, 2010. - State Dept Image
3:00 P.M. EDT

MODERATOR: Okay. Welcome to the Foreign Press Center and welcome to our Election Day programming. Today starts – we have Jerry Hagstrom, who will be our first speaker, and I’ll introduce him in a minute. But he will be the first of three speakers today to give you an overview and a little bit of a flavor of what’s happening out across the country today as America goes to vote.

I also want to remind you that we have briefings tomorrow and on Thursday, continuing our election coverage. Tomorrow, we have the parliamentarians from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, parliamentarians who came to observe our elections here. They will be here to brief on their observations of the American electoral process tomorrow. That’s at 2:00. And then on Thursday, we have Professor David Lublin of American University and Michael Allen of the White – of Politicol coming to brief on kind of what all the results of the elections mean.

But let’s go ahead and get started. I ask you when you do ask a question to please identify yourself, and we will pass a microphone to you and then you can proceed to ask your question.

It’s my pleasure to introduce Jerry Hagstrom. He’s a – we use him a lot, so he’s well-known at this podium. We use him because he’s one of the best. He’s a well-known and prize-winning journalist on the American political scene. He is a contributing editor for the National Journal, which is the premier journal covering American politics.

So I won’t go much more because the floor and the questions should belong to you two. Please.

MR. HAGSTROM: Well, thank you. It’s wonderful to be here today. It’s nice to see a few familiar faces in the audience and also to see that there’s a new generation of reporters in Washington, too. So I’m most happy to be here. I enjoy so much explaining American politics to people from other countries, and I also enjoy the questions that I get.

So I’m – since I’m briefing at 3 o’clock today rather than tonight or tomorrow, I’m not going to waste my time and your time by giving you a lot of rundown over these races. You can turn on any television station and see this repeated hour after hour after hour. I was noticing this this morning when I was watching television that I could go from CNN to MSNBC. Maybe the nuances were a little bit different, but we all know the parameters of these races at this point, and of course, you’ll be able to see them this evening.

I’m instead going to try to put what’s happened in the last two years in a bit of context and to talk about the future. And of course, the basic question that we’re facing is how could Barack Obama have been elected with such a big victory two years ago, and the Democrats expand their numbers in the House and the Senate, and two years later we are likely to see a – something of a Republican revolution here.

And first of all, to put that in context, I think you need to realize that some losses for the Democrats were almost inevitable in this election. If my numbers are right, the Democrats picked up 52 seats in the last two elections in the House. That is a huge number for them to be winning. And it’s important to know that there are Democrats representing districts that are usually Republican, that have been Republican most of the recent decades. And so it’s very hard for a politician to hold on to a seat in which the population is generally of the opposition party.

I would also note that in 2008, the Republicans were very weak; that is, the Republicans were disappointed in the presidency of George W. Bush, most of all because of the level of government spending that there was, and then finally – and then because of the financial crisis. So they were disappointed with Bush. They also weren’t very excited about McCain. They had a number of reasons for not being sure about him. Some people thought he was a liberal Republican, partly because he had taken these positions on campaign finance and immigration which indicated that he believed in some form of finance – campaign finance reform and also that he saw a path for residency and citizenship for people who had entered the country illegally. And then he picked Sarah Palin as his vice presidential candidate. And even though she is a popular figure today, there certainly are a lot of Republicans who don’t think that she was qualified to become vice president, and so he lost even more with that selection.

Also, President Obama won this election and partly – at least part of his victory is due to the fact that there was such an incredible financial crisis in the country. And if you remember that meeting that President Bush put on in which he invited everybody who was a key leader to come to the White House, including both McCain and Obama, after that meeting when McCain came out, and also the pictures that were taken during the meeting did not indicate that he would be much of a leader on economic issues, and he himself had said that wasn’t his forte. You know he had been in the military; he was much stronger on defense issues.

So you start off with the fact that in 2008, the Republicans were in a weak position, and that’s one reason why Obama and the congressional Democrats did so well. However, the problem is that when you live by the recession and the financial crisis – I’m not going to say you die by it – but you also have to live with it after you are elected. And that has been what President Obama has had to live with for these last two years. And at the same time, as we all know, he has pursued many other agenda items and has always said that things like healthcare reform, the climate change bill, et cetera – all these things were going to help the economy in the long run. But the public has come to perceive them as diversions from the issue of how would you improve the economy and how would you create more jobs.

Now about the economy, I would like to make the point that I think that the loss of feeling – feeling of the loss of wealth in the country is far more important than the unemployment rate. There are more than 9 percent of the people that are unemployed. But I think if you have spoken with any Americans recently, you are more – you are likely to find that they just feel like they don’t have as much money and as much wealth as they did some years ago. People who still have their jobs are worried that they might lose their jobs. People who have houses that were rising in value for years and years are worried that those houses aren’t worth as much as they were. Americans for some years have been feeling that their houses were like piggybanks. Even if they didn’t have a lot of money, they would always think, “Well, you know, I could always sell my house and I would make such a big profit.”

Well, people don’t feel that way anymore. And a lot of people are paying mortgages in which they are worried that they are paying more in the mortgage than the house is worth, and that makes people very nervous.

To top that off, elderly people are particularly feeling the pinch of the recession because the interest rates have gotten so low. The most favorite investment for elderly people in the United States – I would say after their Social Security – is certificates of deposit in the bank. I mean, that’s the easiest thing, the safest thing for them to have. They’re guaranteed by the government, but the interest rates are so low on those things now that these people just don’t have as much money to live on. All of these things make these people very upset about the economy. And I would make the case that this is so much more important than the unemployment rate in influencing the vast number of people who are likely to vote against the President’s party.

Just a word on the stock market: The stocks are rising today, but market analysts are uncertain about whether this rally will last, and it’s still not up to 14,000 points, which is what it was before the recession. Now, I have tried to make the point to my friends who have money in the stock market that perhaps they never should have thought that they were as rich as they felt when the market was at 14,000. But I have found nobody wants to think about that. They like to think “Once upon a time, my stocks were worth this much money.” Well, I’m not sure they were really worth that much money. They were worth that much only if you sold them right then. Everything is worth what people are willing to pay for it. And I think there was a bubble in the stock market just as there was a bubble in housing. But it still influences how people feel.

Now, given in this context, we have to take into consideration the agenda that Obama pursued in the last two years. And of course, the first thing that he pursued was the economic stimulus package. I’m of the view that American people really do not understand that package. They seem to reject what would’ve happened if you didn’t pass that package, if you didn’t provide money to keep teachers employed, to do all kinds of other things to help state and local governments, you would have had a much higher level of unemployment. But it’s also true that the Obama Administration, and particularly the Congress, took a lot of actions in that package that were – that helped them fund the kinds of things that they wanted to do. They, for example, made it easier to get food stamps. They increased the food stamp benefit level, and that was done because the recession was high. But it still increased it above the level that it had been. And of course now, we have about 42 million people on food stamps, which is huge; it’s gone way, way up just in a couple of years.

And so as I said, I still think the economic stimulus package is not understood, and as these – as the sort of economic stimulus package comes to an end, it will be interesting to see what Congress will do. When – we saw this summer what they did when they ran out of money for teachers, they actually took some budget authority for the food stamp increase and used it to provide money to pay – to provide money for the teachers this fall. Well, I’m wondering, if we have a new Congress, what are they going to do next year? We don’t know that. If you were to lay off all these people you would increase the unemployment rate.

This brings me to the issue of healthcare reform and why has the reaction against it been negative. For those of you who come from countries that have universal care, I’m going to make a point to you that you probably will disagree with, but I’m going to throw it out here anyway. For all the complaining that Americans have about their healthcare, those people who have healthcare really like what they’ve got. And there are good reasons for this. If you have ever been assisting any kind of elderly person in this country, I think you would know that Medicare really works very well.

We – in my mind, we have a very generous system of healthcare for the elderly. It is true that they have to buy what we call a Medigap policy if they want everything covered, all the extra expenses. But the policy is, in general, generous, and also, people get very speedy care. You’ll never hear about Americans who can’t go and see a doctor because they have to wait for two months or something – I mean, not under normal circumstances at least. I mean, you might have a problem getting in to see a specific doctor, but it is not the kinds of stories that we hear about other countries.

But what I think really caused the problems with healthcare reform is that if you put together all the people who have Medicare, Medicaid, veteran’s benefits, and traditional healthcare through an employer, I believe it’s about 80 percent of the population that is already covered. And so it’s about 20 percent that the healthcare reform will help directly. Now, there are all these other provisions that will help everyone. For example, the provision that says that insurance companies cannot take you off coverage if you have a major illness, or that they cannot deny you coverage because of something; the provision that will allow people under – until the age of 26 to stay on their parent’s insurance. All of these things help – would help everybody.

But most people – now, I won’t say most people came to believe this – but the insurance companies and some of the medical groups put out the word that this is going to – that this reform is somehow going to restrict the kind of coverage you’re getting through what you already have. And this really played to people’s fears. Now, we won’t know whether this is really true, if it – over the years, people also got worried that their taxes were going to rise because of this. And so the healthcare reform became unpopular with a lot of people.

Now, what I find today to be the difficult side of healthcare reform is nobody seems to remember how much pressure there was to do healthcare reform. If you were here – if you covered the 2008 elections, I mean, this was a constant topic of conversation. There were so many problems that were going to be solved. And when I hear people say, “Oh, they should’ve just kept – put that healthcare off for a couple of years,” we’d still be hearing people complain about it all the time rather than having a plan put in place. So it’s a very difficult issue. But I’ll say one thing: We’ve heard a lot about repeal. But apparently, from the television programs I was watching last night, when Republicans have gone out there and said they want to repeal the plan, that is not popular and they are changing, instead, now their new line is, “repeal and replace,” because people don’t want to get rid of some of the provisions in the new bill that they do like.

I think that the Administration’s and the Democratic Congress’s worst case of policy mismanagement was the whole issue of climate change and cap and trade. The Democrats went into this with a great deal of enthusiasm; it was what the environmentalists wanted, but they didn’t seem to have a strategy for getting this through the Congress. And so they pushed it through the House of Representatives, this cap and trade bill, and then they came to the Senate and by that time the opposition had risen. It didn’t seem that the – that the Democrats understood the opposition to it or had a plan to complete it. And so this has really become an albatross around the necks of all these Congressional Democrats. People just are afraid that this would change their quality of life; that it would restrict driving; that it would raise the cost of doing business. Certainly, farmers were a key group in the opposition to cap and trade because they thought it would raise the cost of production. And in agriculture and in other fields, people are really afraid of competition from developing countries, particularly China. And the fact that the – that under the international agreements that are being reached, the developing countries would not have to reach – reduce their emissions as much as the developed countries. This makes everyone very nervous.

Finally, the financial services reform bill. It’s very interesting to see that this has not become exciting to anyone. And I would tell you – I mean, Wall Street is so upset about it, about all these regulations. But if you go out and talk to people around the country, you find that they really wanted someone to go to jail over the recession. They think that the Administration just didn’t pursue these people strongly enough. They kind of – they used Bernie Madoff as an example. I mean, his case was so outrageous that he was sent to prison, but they think a lot of other people deserved it too.

And so you don’t get a sense that the people – that people out there think that the bill is strong enough, and so the Democrats have not gotten the bounce from that that you would think that they would get. And they also – people have a hard time understanding that you needed to save the banks to save the financial system and to save people’s savings. They seem to have the idea that the banks – that they could have just gone under while the Administration has taken a position, “Well, we had to bail them out or we would have destroyed the financial system and people’s savings.” But somehow, there wasn’t enough drama to the financial services bill in the end to make people feel very good about it. So I’m hoping that some of these things will help you understand why the Democrats got into such trouble.

A little bit – a little word here about timing. When did the trouble start? I would contend that the date that you can look at for the real period of trouble is August of 2009. And the way I see it, until that time, President Obama had dominated the news ever since he took office in early 2009. And somehow, in August, he stopped doing a lot of events and the members of Congress went home and the Tea Partiers began to go to these town hall meetings, and that’s when they became riotous and you saw the TV cameras go out and follow them around and there were people shouting at the members of Congress, which is not usually the way it is when members of Congress hold these public events.

Now, I think that the signs that all this was going to happen had occurred several months earlier, but we didn’t see them until August, and I do – and if I look, again, at what has happened in the last few weeks in the news, the Democrats are in good shape when President Obama is dominating the news. I look at what was going on. As long as the Congress was here, I felt like the Republicans really had a soapbox. They could put people out there. And then when the Republicans went home and President Obama started campaigning, you turn on the news and it’s President Obama. So unless people are really voting against him, and certainly some are – but he dominates the news, he gets back Democratic enthusiasm, but he really is their star. He is what they’ve got. And he needs to be out there all the time. Now, I’d have to say that for – that I would think for a president, that’s a grueling kind of schedule to think about for the next two years. But whenever he’s out of the news, he – I think that the Democrats kind of flounder.

Now – so what’s going to happen in the next couple of years? Well, if we are working on the assumption that the Republicans are going to take over the House and the Democrats are going to keep the Senate by a slim majority, I think it will be an awful lot of gridlock. The biggest problem that I think we face in the country and the one that will be so difficult to solve under this scenario is the federal deficit, because you’ve got these two groups at such loggerheads.

The – all the experts and the economists and the budget politicians and all of that, they say the thing you have to do is cut spending and raise taxes some. But you have groups on one side that don’t want to cut spending and you have groups that don’t want to raise taxes. And if you can’t come to some conclusion there, I don’t see what you do about the problem. And it isn’t really a crisis now, the – because the crisis would come if we have inflation, but the economy is so weak that we don’t have inflation in this country. So that’s what everybody is worried about.

But at the same time, I think we’re going to have some surprises. I don’t think we really know what the Tea Partiers are going to be like. And I’m going to just tell you a little bit about an experience that I had a couple of weeks ago. I went to Arkansas to cover the election campaign of Senator Blanche Lincoln, who is the Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee. She’s probably going to lose, but I went to cover that. And in the process of it, I interviewed the head of the Tea Party movement in the town of Hot Springs, Arkansas.

And this – the chairman of the Democratic Party there told me that this woman had gone out and recruited candidates for 16 local positions in which the Democrats had not been challenged seriously in a general election since the reconstruction period after the Civil War. So we’re talking more than a hundred years. And she’s gotten these candidates out there. So I went to interview her and talk to her about why – I mean, what’s your motivation, what’s your strategy here and all of this. Well, she’s going after the local – she went – she decided to focus on local issues or local candidates because she wants to build a team and eventually have them run for higher office, state, and federal office.

But then we got into a conversation – well, how does she think that you could deal with the deficit problem? Because of course, she thinks too much government spending is the problem. And I said, “Well, would you be willing to cut Social Security, Medicare, or veteran’s benefits?” “Oh, no,” she said, “All those people deserve what they’re getting.” And so I said, “Well, how would you cut the government?” She says, “Well, I would cut the Energy Department, the Transportation Department, and the Labor Department.” When I said to her, “But those are only a part of discretionary spending which makes up about 18 percent of the federal budget,” she just wouldn’t deal with the information. And then she said, “Well, if we get the right people in power, we won’t have to worry so much about all these details.” Okay. So that was part of the conversation.

But then the biggest surprise came when I was concluding my conversation with her and I said, “And what would you do about it at the local level? Do you think you can cut a lot?” And she said yes. She said, “I think we’re putting too many people who are convicted of either alcohol or drug-related crimes in jail. We should rehabilitate them.”

Well, I was really surprised at this because the conservatives are usually the ones who want to lock up all these people. They say the crime – we’ve got too much crime; let’s get these people off the streets. And I said to her, “Well, what about your conservative friends who are going to say lock them up and throw away the key?” She says, “Oh, that’s just a small minority.” Or, “They haven’t learned that rehabilitation can be successful.” And I thought, well, I’ll be very interested to see what happens if her people get into office and if they try to pursue this policy. What will the people who voted for them think about this?

Now this brings me also to the subject I have not discussed here at all, which is foreign policy. I mean, it just isn’t an element in this election. But there are some signs that the Tea Partiers do not like the idea of spending money on nation-building in Afghanistan, that they – or Iraq – that they are purists in terms of what the military budget should be spent on. And so when they get to Congress, they may oppose some of this defense spending, even though I would say both Republican and Democratic high officials say that there’s no way to win the war in Afghanistan without helping with schools and the economy and all of that, that it isn’t – can’t be just a military victory. And the same is true about the long-term in Iraq. And so I say we may have lots of surprises here.

This is always – the most interesting thing about American politics is the odd alliances that occur, the things that you don’t expect. But I’ll also say, for people who lead the Congress, this will be very difficult to manage.

After the election, the smaller Democratic caucus in the House will be more liberal. You won’t have as many people from the conservative districts. And so they will be – there’ll be fewer voices in the Democratic Party saying, well, we shouldn’t be quite so liberal, we should go along more with tax cutting or reductions in government spending. And on the Republican side, trying to manage the traditionalists within the party and the Tea Partiers, I think, will be very difficult. And the same thing, I think, will be true in the Senate. There are some people who say that Senate Minority Leader’s – Mitch McConnell’s worst nightmare would be actually to win the Senate and he’d have to try to control these people and also to deliver policy. So I don’t – those are some ideas about what might happen.

Just lastly, in terms of 2012, at this point rather than talking about the strengths of each party, I will just mention I think both parties have their weaknesses. On the Republican side, it’s that they’re likely to have a very bruising battle for the presidential nomination. And on the Democratic side, I think there’s no question that President Obama will be the nominee. But the thing that I – that the Democrats face that’s, I think, is the hardest in this time is that they have such a hard time keeping together these disparate forces that make up the Democratic majority. If you look at feminist-minded women, young people, gays, Hispanics, blacks – I’m trying to think of who else I had on my – I had a list here – environmentalists, and also labor – and labor union members. When any of those groups are not happy, they tend to be – they tend to express it. The Democratic Party today does not have a group of people to lead them and to say we can’t get everything we want right now. And I think that’s different from the 1940s, 1950s, when the labor unions were a dominant force in the party and the labor vote would come behind them. Now you have a much more disparate group of people. And it’s hard to deliver them, again and again.

So as for – that’s my perspective on what’s going on. As for today, the only reporting I can give you is that the anecdotal reports from around the country are that voting is heavy. That could help either the Republicans or the Democrats because the Republican enthusiasm for voting is higher, but at the same time, the Democrats have been saying we’ll do better if we get our people out.

So at this point I will just say we have a new public website at the National Journal, and I urge you to go to www.nationaljournal.com. And you can’t get in the whole way because we still have a lot of stuff behind the pay wall, but breaking stories are now on the website and I hope you’ll take a look at that. And I also brought a – two copies of our most recent redone magazine, and I will leave those behind as well. So thank you.

MODERATOR: Okay. Start in the middle here.

QUESTION: I’m Lorraine Millot from the French newspaper Liberation. Two questions. Do you mean if the Democrats lose just 52 or no more than 52 seats, it’s not such a defeat for them? And my second question: Can you be more explicit, develop what could happen in the Congress with – around budget and what kind of conflicts some people say could lead to a shutdown of the government and we’ll have to increase the debt ceiling? Can you develop that?

MR. HAGSTROM: Okay. Okay, first of all, when you talk about the Republicans – or the Democrats losing 52 seats, it wouldn’t be such a big defeat, that is true. And I know Democrats in this town who are saying it will be the best thing if the Democrats lose control of at least the House because then Obama can run after – can run against the Congress. Maybe so, but I don’t think it’s ever good to lose in politics. As one of my political consultant friends says, “Yeah, that’s what they said in 1968 when Nixon won,” and – because there were so many problems with Johnson and the Vietnam War. But look how long the Republicans were in after that. So it’s never really good to lose.

One point I’ll make: As I understand it, even if the Republicans were to win between 60 and 70 seats, they still wouldn’t have as many Republican seats as the Democrats now have Democratic seats. So the Republican majority in any case is not going to be huge. It’s that the Democratic majority has been so huge now.

On your questions about the budget, well, we have several things coming up. First of all, there’s this budget commission that is going to report to the President on December 1st. It is possible that you could have action in the lame duck on the budget issues, particularly on the – this issue of the tax breaks or cuts that expire at the end of the year, because the Republican leadership might see that it will be harder for them to solve the problem in January. So they might want to try to solve it now. And so that is one scenario.

Now in this issue of National Journal, John Boehner says that he does not want to shut down the government. So he says they just want to run it better; they don’t want to shut it down. And of course, if you go back to the Clinton years, it was when the Republicans pushed a government shutdown that their downfall began. So that.

Now on this issue of the debt ceiling, that is a crucial issue that will be a test for the next Congress, because at some point, it will be necessary to increase the debt ceiling. And then we’ll have a question: How – if the Republicans have control of the House or the Senate, how will they manage that? Will they get the Tea Partiers to vote for it?

QUESTION: Thank you. Raghubir Goyal from India Globe & Asia Today. My question is – excellent view that you have given.

MR. HAGSTROM: Thank you.

QUESTION: Three questions into one. One, whatever the outcome tonight, will it affect in any way President Obama’s upcoming visit to India this week? And second –

MR. HAGSTROM: His trip to Asia, you mean?

QUESTION: Yes.

MR. HAGSTROM: Yes.

QUESTION: First stop is India.

MR. HAGSTROM: Oh, okay. Yes, yes.

QUESTION: As far as immigration issues and also the defense spending was concerned, these two items were from the Republicans. They always are on the high agenda of defense spending, but cutting the social programs in this country. How they will affect these two, especially the immigration? Because President Obama has been speaking about the immigration issue, because – and I’ll say, as far as immigration issue is concerned, you think it will help or it will hurt, as far as Americans are concerned, by giving some kind of immigration status to those illegal, like 20, 25 million people in this country? Thank you.

MR. HAGSTROM: First, I don’t think the election outcome is going to affect President Obama’s trip. I don’t know if you have gotten the notice, but he has announced a press conference tomorrow afternoon. And does he leave Saturday on this trip?

PARTICIPANT: Friday.

MR. HAGSTROM: Friday, okay. Because I know I got an email the Agriculture Secretary is leaving, I think, on Saturday. So – okay. So I think what – that there is a clear plan at the White House, they’re going to hold a press conference tomorrow. They are going to get all that dealt with, and then he will leave on his trip as scheduled.

I can’t see this election being a positive for immigration reform. I just think the people who are winning office are more – they’re more against immigration than the people who are there. It is just a really tough issue. I write about agriculture, so I cover this. I write about farmers who want to do immigration reform because their workers are immigrants, and yet they live in rural communities where the people – there are people – other white people who live in the community are opposed to immigration. So, this is just a really tough issue for the United States, particularly in a recession.

On defense spending, what was your question? Will it affect the defense budget?

QUESTION: The defense budget – the Republicans are always for more defense.

MR. HAGSTROM: Yes. Well, I think that will remain strong. But this is where I bring up my point about the Tea Partiers. I mean defense is another one of those things like Medicare, Social Security, and veterans benefits that conservatives don’t want to cut. But it will be very interesting to see how the Tea Partiers deal with the fact that the military is engaged in nation building, which they do not consider a traditional, appropriate role for the military. We’ll have to see.

MODERATOR: Right here, in the orange sweater.

QUESTION: Hello, I am Antonieta Cadiz with La Opinion.

MR. HAGSTROM: In what country?

QUESTION: Chile.

MR. HAGSTROM: Oh, okay, yes.

QUESTION: Could you say that this election cycle is the nastiest one, in terms of political rhetoric? And how do you see Democrats and Republicans working together after this rhetoric?

MR. HAGSTROM: Well, I have seen Democrats and Republicans work together after saying terrible things about each other. Politicians really have a kind of thick skin in which, you know, the things that are said about you during a campaign really don’t matter.

I would – some time, if you’re up on Capitol Hill in the midst of heated debate, watch carefully when you hear some guy get – some House Member get up and give some very negative speech, and then watch as he is leaving the room and he goes by the guy who’s – you know he wasn’t attacking him personally, because you can’t do that on the House floor, but he’ll walk by the guy who has the opposite views, and he walks over to him and pats him on the back. I mean, they’re masters at this.

In terms of negative rhetoric, the volume is so great this year because there are so many races at play. I don’t believe that I have ever – I don’t believe anything is worse than the commercial in the 1964 campaign in which this little girl was picking apart a daisy and an atomic bomb goes off. And it was a commercial done for the Lyndon Johnson campaign, and it was basically saying, Barry Goldwater will blow up the world.

So, it’s very hard to say that one year is more negative than the next. But this year the volume is so great it’s – we usually don’t have this many races in play. And the fact that we have – okay. We have more House Members advertising than you used to have, because cable television has made it possible for House Members to be able to afford ads. It used to be that only senators, governors, and presidents could afford them, because it was such an expensive buy. But now you can just buy a section of a city. Also, they put these things out on YouTube and on the computers. We didn’t use to have this. So there’s a higher level of this than it used to be.

MODERATOR: We will go there, and then here.

QUESTION: Thank you. My name is Ben Bangoura with Storyline Africa. From watching TV, namely conservative network, we have impression that this election is a referendum on Mr. Obama. Do you agree with that, and why?

Second, I would like to know what’s the news here if we have to refer ourselves to history, which dictate that the midterm election always is a loss to the party that is occupying the White House.

Third, I would like to know what would Obama Administration or the Democrats do to capitalize on the GOP takeover of the House of the Representatives, and how would that benefit to them in terms of recapturing the electorate two years from now.

MR. HAGSTROM: Okay. Now, how many questions was that?

MODERATOR: I was going to say let’s try to limit it to one question.

MR. HAGSTROM: Okay. Yes, election – this is a referendum on Barack Obama and his policies. Why is it so? Well, I think every midterm election is a referendum on the President in power, and it’s also a referendum on the Congress. But the President so dominates the agenda, that I think that’s why it’s a referendum.

Now, why are there midterm losses? Well, Americans are usually not really satisfied with the government. I mean, it’s hard to keep people satisfied. And the biggest example of this is Lyndon Johnson, who understood when he won in 1964, that he had to get what he wanted done fast. And he got – basically got his Great Society program passed in six months. And he said, “I’ve got to do it now, because they’re going to turn against me. They’re going to start voting against me. I have to capitalize on this.” And to a great degree, that’s what Obama did.

Despite everything that’s going on, I think that history will judge this as an extremely successful period in American government. Unless the health care program is repealed, you are talking about a President and a Congress that have passed three of the biggest bills that have ever been passed in American history: the economic stimulus package, which is the biggest appropriations bill, the health care reform, and the financial services reform. These are huge pieces of legislation. And so, even if the people don’t appreciate it at the moment, I think the historians will look back on this as a very productive period.

Also, it’s important to remember, you know, in the 1930s there were people who opposed social security. There are always people who oppose everything, even though these things are accepted, usually, in the long run.

Capitalizing on the takeover by the Republicans, this will give Barack Obama a chance to work on one thing, if he can. He has said he wants to cut the deficit. Maybe he can work with Republicans to do that more easily than he could have worked with Democrats, just as Bill Clinton managed to do welfare reform when he was President. They could find common ground on this. The question is, will the Republicans want to do this, or are they going to be focused on trying to get Obama out of office in 2012?

There were Republicans – when Bill Clinton did welfare reform, the Republicans didn’t want him to sign it, because it took away one of their key issues, which it was, that – oh, that people on welfare were exploiting the system, and that the welfare system needed to be changed. We’re talking about programs – some of these programs we don’t have in place anymore. But now you have – on a lot of welfare recipients who have a limit of how many years they can be on the system, and that was put in place when Bill Clinton was president. And there was a sense that we were – there were people who are on welfare generation after generation and that this needed to be stopped, partly for financial reasons because it was costing the government a lot of money, but also that it was a terrible way for people to live; they needed to be sort of inspired to go out there and find work. And Clinton agreed with that. And so they did it and it helped Clinton enormously. Well, if Barack Obama can find a way to cut the deficit working with Republicans, that could probably propel him towards reelection.

MODERATOR: Way in the back.

QUESTION: Hello, my name is Sarah Jacob. I’m with New Delhi Television. So I know President Obama is having this press conference tomorrow morning, but he *still said he will extend* the international trip two days after the elections. And from reading the papers, everybody seems to say that this is a trend for American presidents and they flee the country when there’s bad news happening back home. Can you talk about this and give us some sense of history, and is this really a trend or --

MR. HAGSTROM: No, I – first, I do not think that American presidents flee the country when they plan a trip after an election. I think that this time – that this is good timing. One of the problems that presidents have with these international trips is tending to what’s going on at home in Washington. There are certain times that are a lot easier and it’s hard for them to leave when the Congress is in town. And of course – the Congress is not coming back until November 15th, so therefore, Obama has this week. And these – as you know, these trips require an enormous amount of planning.

And by the way, I will just throw this out – I don’t know if any of you have ever gone on a presidential trip, but if you haven’t, I urge you; it’s the best vacation you can find. (Laughter.) I did one of them. I went to – I went with Clinton to Vietnam after the election in 2000. And the great thing about these international trips with the President is every step of the thing is planned in advance. Nobody wants any surprises, and everybody, in a way, gets a break.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?

MODERATOR: No, let’s go – first, then –

MR. HAGSTROM: We’ll try to get back to you.

MODERATOR: We’ll get back to you.

MR. HAGSTROM: Okay – the lady in green.

QUESTION: Hi. Betty Lin of the World Journal. I have a hard time reading Senator McCain. I don’t know whether you can help me with that. And also, if we’re looking for bipartisanship in the future in the Senate, do we look for Senator Graham, Senator Lieberman, and maybe Senator Murkowski, if she’s lucky, and also other than Senator Collins, Snowe, and Brown?

Thank you.

MR. HAGSTROM: You brought up a lot of names. Well, in terms of Senator McCain, he came back from his presidential run to find that he had a primary challenge in Arizona. And so he – and also that the conditions in Arizona had changed politically, and so he pretty much had to move to the right in order to survive there politically. In terms of bipartisanship, I think that all the names that you mentioned are possibilities, but I think Senator Lindsey Graham is kind of key to that because he is from the South, and it’s more surprising that he acts in a bipartisan manner than it is for the others, a lot of whom are in the Northeast and therefore they have a lot more Democratic and liberal voters.

QUESTION: Fengfeng Wang from China Xinhua News Agency. The Republican Party seems to be very united in saying no before this election. And after this election, maybe they’ll take the House. So when they have a say in things, how do you say – how do you see their prospects of being united or whether they will have a fair amount in in-fighting because of the infusion of Tea Party supporters and things like that?

Thank you.

MR. HAGSTROM: I think their prospects are troubled. I think they’re going to have – that will be the key test that they face. Do they – what happens when the people from their districts want something? That’s the hard part. Do you say no to your own constituents? A lot of people vote for the – they vote for the opposite party thinking, “Well, they won’t really change what they do here.” But on this issue of earmarks, this is the – this is a key issue, because there are always places that want the renovation of a building, a – they want agricultural research on a crop that is important to that district, and they want it done at the local university, not often some other place. And that – that’s going to be really hard for the Republicans to handle. And it may be that the Tea Partiers feel that the constituents will love them more if they say no. Well, we’ll have a test to that.

In the last – the last time the Republicans were in power, they obviously did not take that position; they came into power and spent more money than the Democrats ever had. So we’ll have to see.

MODERATOR: Did you want to ask --

MR. HAGSTROM: Yeah.

MODERATOR: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Sorry, my follow-up was: Is there a way to balance out domestic issues with a foreign trip where you look more presidential or maybe having a foreign policy success that can balance out a setback back home?

MR. HAGSTROM: Well, the – I think the important part of this – of the President going overseas, if we’re talking politically here as opposed to the policy points of making this trip and going to visit, is that the President will dominate the news. His picture will be on the front page of newspapers and he will be on the television news as he’s meeting with foreign leaders. And so in a way, he will take the story away from the Congress and away from the elections.

But at the same time, presidents make trips overseas after these elections even if they haven’t had big losses. So I just don’t want you to think that President Obama set up this trip anticipating the losses. I think the trip had been in the works for a long time, and he’s even had to cancel a couple of foreign trips, so I think they really want to make this one.

MODERATOR: Let’s go back over here.

QUESTION: My name is Martin Rajec and I’m from Slovak Radio. This question is not maybe really collected to the politic, but I’m interested in your opinion. What’s happened to the American TV journalism? How is it possible that I see better interviews on a Jon Stewart than on a Situation Room? And why do you think that it was so successful, this rally, which I think has a much better point than more of – most of the politic discussions in the – on weekend, I think it was, in D.C.?

MR. HAGSTROM: The biggest thing that’s happened to American TV journalism is that it’s become so vast. There are so many programs. No – we used to have people complaining because we had only three networks and there wasn’t enough time devoted to politics. Nobody can make that complaint today. I mean, they’re all over the place. And I think so much of the quality of interviews – it depends on the individual interviewer.

I’d have to say in both print and television today, there is so much time pressure, there is so much pressure to produce volumes of work. I’m sure some of you feel it also, that you have more, but you don’t necessarily have better.

MODERATOR: Let’s – we need to cut it there. I think we have several – we have two other speakers coming and the next one’s coming in about 15 minutes, so we need a little bit of a break.

MR. HAGSTROM: Yeah. All right.

MODERATOR: So I really appreciate it.

MR. HAGSTROM: And I’m going to do some individual interviews.

MODERATOR: Exactly.

MR. HAGSTROM: We’ll do them in the back there?

QUESTION: Yeah, okay.

MODERATOR: Thank you.

MR. HAGSTROM: Great.