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Week In Politics: HealthCare.gov And Troop Levels In Afghanistan


We turn now to our regular political commentators: E.J. Dionne, of The Washington Post and the Brookings Institution; and David Brooks, of The New York Time. Happy Black Friday to you both.

DAVID BROOKS: Same to you.

E.J. DIONNE: And happy to you.

SHAPIRO: Let's start where we left off with Julie. As we heard, tomorrow is the day the healthcare.gov website is supposed to be fixed. E.J., how well does it need to work for the administration to claim victory?

DIONNE: Well, the administration set a very careful standard for itself. It didn't say everybody can come at any time. They said the vast majority of users will be satisfied by it. And so I think if they meet that standard, they're going to be very happy. I think the big test, as Julie suggested, will come on December 31, and then again in March.

The can this thing work? I think the experiences in states like California and Kentucky show, yes, it can work, to use an old phrase, but they've had these website problems. That's why they delayed the business exchanges, small business exchanges. Better a delay than another collapse. The test will be do they sign up a lot of people and a decent mix of people that includes a lot of young people?

We'll know that by the end of the year and then March.

SHAPIRO: Well, E.J., you say better a delay than another collapse. But David, another delay is not a great thing either and as we just heard, they have delayed the small business enrollment for a year.

BROOKS: Yeah, I can't imagine a private company doing an ad campaign: the vast majority of our cars will work, the vast majority of our meals will be edible. It's not a very high standard you're setting for yourself. I sort of think there are two layers of problems here that - first, there's the implementation problems, the narrow problems of which I would say the website is one.

These are the minor league problems and even the delay of the small business, that's something they can probably figure out over a couple of years. There are much bigger problems that I think will have a much bigger impact on public opinion. If you're included newly on Medicaid, but you can't find any doctors to take care of you, that would be a big problem.

The employer mandate kicks in just after the next election. If people in big companies start seeing themselves dropped during election season, that could have a big impact. If the young and the healthy don't sign up, that'll produce a rate shock, big impact. And so, to me, the crucial factor to look at is when does the healthcare chaos hit the election season and what'll it do to the midterms?

Those big things are probably going to have the biggest effect.

DIONNE: Ari, I just have to say that private companies have had plenty of problems with websites, too. It's no excuse for their messing this one up, but they have not been models in all cases either.

SHAPIRO: Something tells me this won't be the last time we talk about the website on this program.

DIONNE: I agree.

SHAPIRO: But let's look overseas for a moment to Afghanistan where President Obama has long promised U.S. troops will be out by 2014 and the administration is now at odds with Afghan President Hamid Karzai who has declined to sign a long term security agreement after initially agreeing to sign the agreement. E.J., how does the Obama administration work with a partner like Karzai?

DIONNE: I think they work around him as best they can. I think what they have going for them now that they might not have had going for them at other times is the loya jirga, the representation - the representative body of - 2,500, you know, tribal leaders has approved this treaty. They're angry at Karzai. They want us to make this deal. And so I think the isolation of Karzai gives the administration some room to move forward and maybe create some pressure on Karzai to back off.

SHAPIRO: I don't know. David, do you think it's possible for them to work around Karzai?

BROOKS: It's fun, at least, to watch them express their exasperation with the guy. They want to wash the guy out of their hair and they sort of leak things. They sort of just - are just so annoyed with him. But we can't go out. We can't leave, I think they've decided, and for proper reasons. It's not about Afghanistan. It's about Pakistan. We have not been hitting the Afghan Taliban particularly hard, but we have been hitting the Pakistani Taliban particularly hard. And that's just going to be necessary to keep Pakistan stable and to keep the terror threat down.

SHAPIRO: This week, at the Vatican, E.J., I know you were especially delighted to hear the pope's comments. Just in time for Thanksgiving, he talked about lifting up the poor, which has been a consistent theme for the pope, but also very explicitly denounced trickledown economics. Do you think this has the potential to change the dialogue on these issues?

DIONNE: I would like to think so and I think that it should be said - a couple of things. One is our earlier popes, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, were pretty tough on the unregulated free market also, but no one has been quite as tough or quite as insistent as Pope Francis on it. And what he said about supply-side economics was really extraordinary.

He said it has never been confirmed by the facts. It expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power. He talked about a new tyranny of money. This should, I think, give a lot of conservative Catholics something to think about.

Now, they will say, and it's true, that the pope reaffirmed the church's opposition to abortion, but even in that part of the document, he linked this to his opposition to oppression based on economic grounds and economic unfairness. So I do think the pope is creating a whole new face of the church. He also condemned sourpusses, people who are too pessimistic. You've got to love a pope who condemns sourpusses.

SHAPIRO: David, I can't help but think if this pope were running for U.S. president, he would not get big donations from corporate America.

BROOKS: He would not, not in those sandals.


BROOKS: You know, I guess I would have wished two things. First, I wish he embraced some of the moral good that capitalism has achieved. We've seen the greatest reduction in human poverty in world history, mostly in Asia because of the spread of capitalism there. Second, I would like him to have said Taylor's critique of capitalism, which is in part a very good one, that it doesn't only greed and that sort of thing. Capitalism really enhances the sin of pride, putting yourself and your ambition at the center of your life and not putting God at the center of your life, but that can happen if you're a capitalist, but it can also happen if you're in a faculty or if you're working in an NGO.

So to me capitalism does have - is a sort of a spiritual menace even for those of us who support it. I'd like to see him express it in probably I guess I'd say more religious terms and less economic terms.

SHAPIRO: That's David Brooks - yeah, last word?

DIONNE: I think he did a little bit of that and discomfited liberals and conservatives in certain ways when he condemned the individualism of our postmodern and globalized era. And I think people both left and right are going to have to come to terms with that.

BROOKS: E.J. and I embrace on that one.

SHAPIRO: We will have to leave it there. E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post, David Brooks of The New York Times, thanks to both of you for joining us.

DIONNE: Good to be with you.

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

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