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Week In Politics: Ebola, Midterms


Now politics with our regular commentators, columnists David Brooks of The New York Times, who's in New Orleans this week, and E J Dionne of the Washington Post and the Brookings Institution, who's in the studio here in Washington. Hello to both of you.

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


SIEGEL: And, David, let's stick with the Ebola story just for a moment here. There have been a handful of cases and a truckload of fear about this virus in the U.S. You wrote this week that it all reveals something about the mentality of the countries these days. How to describe that?

BROOKS: Yeah, I think the overreaction is not only a product of the fear, it's a function of isolation. We just have a lot of people. We have a much more segmented society and we have a lot of people who really have no connection to the expert class, no connection to the leadership class and they feel extremely distant and alienated from a lot of the power centers of society. And so they don't believe what they're told. And they don't - they have no confidence that the people in the expert class know what they're doing. And so they've pulled in and you see it in some of the school reactions when somebody at the school goes to Zambia, which is completely unrelated to Liberia and Sierra Leone - very far away. None the less, you had hundreds of parents pulling their kids in. And Ebola is sort of the perfect metaphor for globalization. And for people who are very skeptical of globalization, you've got this very dangerous thing from a place far away suddenly coming into their intimate lives. So it's sort of a perfect storm for people to - who are alienated already to think something bad is going on. They don't trust their authorities.

SIEGEL: E J, for today's program Reince Priebus, the Republican National Committee Chair, told me that the reaction to the Ebola outbreak reflects a lack of confidence in President Obama, especially his management style. Is the virus going to cost the Democrats seats in Congress?

DIONNE: Well, you know, Republicans have created this don't be happy worry narrative about all kinds of things, including ISIS and the Islamic State and Ebola, and they hope that will carry them to victory. And there's also been a lot of posturing. I'm willing to propose a complete ban on flights from countries that don't even have flights - direct flights - to the United States. It'll - I think it's gotten in the way, certainly, of a set of Democratic arguments that have been advanced most effectively out there not by President Obama but by - whom a lot of Democrats in tough states don't want to campaign for them - but by Elizabeth Warren and both Clintons, around economic issues - equal pay, minimum wage, student loan reduction. One of the things that strikes me as we go to the end here is while the Republicans probably have an edge at this point, what's really striking is the seats that might have gone into contention and haven't. So you got Senator Franken's and Minnesota Senator Merkley, they seem safe. Gary Peters, the Democrat in Michigan. So it's a tighter race than you would've expected, given President Obama's approval rating.

SIEGEL: David, that wasn't the most confident statement from E J about the Democrat's prospects.

DIONNE: No, I'm not going to make stuff up (laughter).

SIEGEL: But it was rather positive though. What you see looking ahead to the election?

BROOKS: Why is E J not going to make stuff up? Why should this week be any different? I'm just kidding, just kidding.

SIEGEL: Ah, now, low blow, low blow.

DIONNE: No, that's your job, David.

BROOKS: I've got the Louisiana style down here. You know, I don't see a big Hawaiian style tidal wave on the Republican side. But they're sort of, like, a Delaware seashore wave so a medium-sized wave. You know, I think you see it...

DIONNE: Doesn't sound very confident to me either.

BROOKS: No but, I mean, I think it's more likely than not Republicans will take the Senate. They're doing well in states like Arkansas. They're making it close in states like New Hampshire so there are clearly some states that are outliers, like Kansas and Georgia. But you tend to see movement, slight movement, toward the Republicans pretty much nationwide I think because of the feeling of sourness.

SIEGEL: The Democrats, E J, count on women voters. They have spoken about a war on women that the Republicans are waging. Have they overdone it? In Colorado, Senator Udall is being derided by his opponent, Senator Uterus. I mean, you're talking too much about reproductive rights.

DIONNE: Right. Well, I think the whole argument about the women's vote was never just about reproductive rights. Equal pay is a big part of it. And so are the economic issues because women voters historically have shown a real concern for, you know, pocketbook issues, education issues and safety net issues. What's really striking is that if the Democrats do hold on, women candidates are going to play a big role. When you see Michelle Nunn putting up a real fight in Georgia that the Republicans didn't expect, Kay Hagan looks like, at the moment, she's going to hold North Carolina. And then you've got Mary Landrieu being, you know, a central figure and Jeanne Shaheen. Women are going to play a central part in whether the Democrats win or lose this election.

SIEGEL: As the Republicans, David, look at some of those same states and say that if they win back North Carolina and hold Georgia, the road to the White House in 2016 is a little bit more navigable for them.

BROOKS: I guess so. You know, too - first on the women. I do think women's vote in general - the Democratic charge of war on women - just hasn't played out. I think there are some states where there are female candidates, like Georgia, like North Carolina, where the Democrats have done well, where you do see a big gender gap. A ton of states you see no gender gap or, by historical comparisons, really nothing. So in Colorado, the Republicans are looking pretty good because women are breaking Republican if anything or at least by historic standards. And so I do think the war on women charge has really not done anything this year in contrast to past years. As for the future, it's important to remember that 2016 is going to be a very different electorate. And it's also going to be a much worse year for Republicans it should be pointed out. This year, there are bunch of Democrats running in red states. In 2016, there are going to be a bunch of Republican senators running in blue seats. And that's going to affect - say Republicans do take the Senate, you're going to have a bunch of people like Mark Kirk in Illinois who are not going to want to be too conservative and it'll make it very hard for a Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

SIEGEL: E J, what you think about that?

DIONNE: Well, first of all, yes, if they do win it could be a two-year stand because of the seats that are up. But I think - how you read this for 2016, a lot hangs on whether the Republicans take purple states. If they won the majority with Iowa and Colorado, that would be a sign that they can break through. If they win the majority only by pulling over Romney states that voted Republican the last time, that doesn't say much. And, of course, if they lose they lose. Real quickly, Kansas, Wisconsin and North Carolina - governor's races in Kansas and Wisconsin, how the Senate race turns out with the Republican Speaker in North Carolina, that's the tea party policies on the ballot and I'm going to be watching those very closely.

SIEGEL: E J Dionne of the Washington Post. David Brooks of The New York Times. Thanks to both of you.

DIONNE: Thank you.

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

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