JOURNAL EDITORIAL REPORT

What would a second Obama term look like?

Panel debates president's agenda

 

This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," September 8, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

PAUL GIGOT, HOST: This week on the "Journal Editorial Report," President Obama and the Democrats made their case for four more years. So how convincing were they? We'll look at the best and the worst of the DNC.

Plus, what would a second Obama term look like? We've got some ideas.

And with the conventions behinds us, the real fun begins. A look at where the candidates stand as we head into the fall campaign.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(CHEERING)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I'm asking you to rally around a set of goals for your country -- goals in manufacturing, energy, education, national security and the deficit -- real achievable plans that will lead to new jobs, more opportunity, and rebuild this economy on a stronger foundation. That's what we can do in the next four years. And that's why I'm running for a second term as president of the United States.

(CHEERING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GIGOT: Welcome to the "Journal Editorial Report." I'm Paul Gigot.

That was President Barack Obama on Thursday night, making his case in Charlotte, North Carolina, for a second term in the White House. But with another disappointing jobs report released just hours after his speech, and unemployment above 8 percent for the 43rd month in a row, did the president get the job done?

Joining the panel this week, Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editor, Dan Henninger; Political Diary editor, Jason Riley; assistant editorial page editor, James Freeman; and Washington columnist, Kim Strassel.

Jason, let's start with you. How effective was the president's case for reelection?

JASON RILEY, POLITICAL DIARY EDITOR: I don't think it was very effective. I thought it was a pretty calorie-free performance last night. We got the typical liberal nostrums -- hope, change, shared responsibility. But I think it was more significant for what he didn't talk about, Paul -- Obama-care, not a lot on jobs, not a lot on the stimulus. These are that defined his presidency. He's not using them to make the case for his reelection.

GIGOT: So he didn't defend, James, some of the core programs in an at least in a vociferous, elaborate way for his first term. What is the case for reelection? What did -- distill it for us. What did he say? Why elect me again?

JAMES FREEMAN, ASSISTANT EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR: Well, things were terrible, but could have been worse. But, I think, for me --

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: OK. And for the next four years, it could have been worse, is that -- is that really the message?

FREEMAN: It was a lot about the future. You have to ignore the first term, basically, of the Obama administration. There's a constant look to the future, saying things are going to be better, but I thought it was interesting, it seemed to be a series of very narrowly targeted messages to particular interest groups. And I think, for a worker who doesn't make either solar panels or cars, you're wondering what's in it for me. It was very specifically targeted to the specific industry where you like the favor.

GIGOT: Kim, were there any real policy differences from the first term that he offered here in the speech? I kept listening for them. Was there anything different?

KIM STRASSEL, WASHINGTON COLUMNIST: Not a one. We were waiting. We were waiting. And there wasn't anything. Look, I think what's important here, the Obama campaign did what they think they need to do.

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: What was that?

STRASSEL: Which were two things. One was making the argument that the problems we have were a result of the Republican policies. And that is if you elect Mitt Romney, you go back to that. And, two, to make the argument, go out there and try to gin up enthusiasm among these very specific sub groups of voters -- women, Hispanics and youth vote. That's the strategy to go ahead. Now I think could you argue that maybe this -- especially the lack of specifics in a second term, maybe was lacking, didn't help him with Independents and some of those voters. But that's what they set out to do and they think they did it.

(CROSSTALK)

DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR: You know, Paul, for all that, the Friday morning unemployment report was a real reality check for that convention, a real splash of cold water. He's the president of the United States. The next day, he wakes up and 368,000 more people have given up looking for work, in addition to all the other hundreds of thousands that have given up. That's a complete contradiction to the whole mood of this convention -- we've turned the corner, give me two more years, we're on the right track. Those numbers are not on the right track. and that's the reality of the American people have in their heads as they go into this.

GIGOT: OK. I agree with you on that. Labor force participation rate, the low s since 1981, 65.3 percent.

But if that's the reality you're dealing with, Jason, then what -- and your case is, if we only do more of the same, then things -- we'll turn the corner. We make progress. We'll turn the corner. Is that persuasive?

RILEY: Perhaps. The question -- to get back to what Kim said, those arguments were made at the convention. Obama didn't make them in his speech, but they were made by others. And the question is, is that good enough, or do people need to hear it from the president.

But I think, particularly in the case about, you know, I was -- I inherited this mess. And Clinton, of course, makes the point strongest. I inherited a mess and I haven't had enough time to clean it up. And that's the case that Romney is making for firing me. Clinton said that's holding Obama to an impossibly high standard.

GIGOT: Not even Bill Clinton could have fixed this --

RILEY: Not even --

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: -- this economy.

I want to listen to -- Kim, I want to listen to Elizabeth Warren who made a kind of -- offered a kind of message often heard during the convention.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(CHEERING)

ELIZABETH WARREN, U.S. SENATE CANDIDATE FOR MASSACHUSETTS: People feel like the system is rigged against them. And here is the painful part. They're right. The system is rigged. Look around. Oil companies guzzle down billions in profits. Billionaires pay lower tax rates than their secretaries.

(SHOUTING)

WARREN: And Wall Street CEOs, the same ones who wrecked our economy and destroyed millions of jobs, still strut around Congress, no shame, demanding favors, and acting like we should thank them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GIGOT: So, Kim, raw economic populism. Who is that message aimed at, what voter groups?

STRASSEL: It's aimed at Independents, in particular. And this was a very prominent theme at this convention. And it goes to one of Mr. Romney's greatest challenges, is that Democrats, day in and day out, are attempting to go rewrite history and talk about -- argue that it's the system and business in particular that got us into the economic mess we're in. Romney hasn't necessarily dressed that so far. It's one of the things he's going to have to do in the coming months.

GIGOT: How can you run against a system you've been in charge of for four years?

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

FREEMAN: Right. I also -- I think the most important line in Obama's speech -- not as shrill in tone as Elizabeth Warren, but along the lines of this kind of war on business -- he said -- he promised the kind of bold persistent experimentation that Franklin Roosevelt pursued in the 1930s. I have no idea how this line could get into a speech. It's not something to appeal to Independents, but it's a message that, to the extent business is focused on it, it's going to be very scary, creating uncertainty, and we're going to get more of these jobs report.

GIGOT: How should Romney respond to the argument that Bill Clinton made that nobody could clean up this mess in four years.

HENNINGER: He should respond to that by saying that we came out of the recession in early 2009, we should have had a higher growth rate than 4 percent. We've had not much better than 2 percent, 1.5 in the last quarter. And we've had 8 percent unemployment for 43 months. You cannot separate a president, who has been president for four years, from that economic record. It's impossible.

GIGOT: So he has to link it to Obama's policies.

HENNINGER: Yes.

GIGOT: Sorry.

We've got more to talk about, fellows.

Still ahead, he's made his case for four more years but do we really know what a second term would look like? The Obama agenda, part two, next.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: I never said this journey would be easy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: They want your vote but they don't want you to know their plan. And that's because all they have to offer is the same prescriptions they've had for the last 30 years. Have a surplus, try a tax cut. Deficit too high, try another.

(LAUGHTER)

Feel a cold coming on, take two tax cuts, roll back some regulations, and call us in the morning.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GIGOT: That was the president's take Thursday night on the GOP agenda and what a Romney-Ryan administration might look like.

So, what might a second Obama term bring, Dan? What did we learn about the second term agenda?

HENNINGER: Nothing. Nothing whatsoever.

GIGOT: Really?

(LAUGHTER)

GIGOT: Did he -- did he say more of the same, only a little less?

HENNINGER: More of the same. OK, let's look. In the economic realm, more of the same would be another --

GIGOT: More stimulus.

HENNINGER: -- $800 billion stimulus. because the Keynesian stimulus is the only economic idea they have under these circumstances.

GIGOT: Hire more teachers.

HENNINGER: Hire more teachers, spend more money. That would be very difficult to get through Congress. But I think on the other side and what he will not talk about is the second term will be an unprecedented exercise of executive authority in power. He's going to use the agencies to get -- finish his agenda. He's going to use the Environmental Protection Agency on the environment, the Independent Review Board on medical care, and the Consumer Protection Agency to regulate financial industry. I think this president's done with Congress.

GIGOT: Jason?

RILEY: And he's going -- to your point about the stimulus, the stimulus that he wants, he's going to need new revenue to pay for that.

You will see a massive push for a new tax hike, a massive push.

(CROSSTALK)

RILEY: He wants a new normal for government spending in the country.

He wants, obviously, the complete enactment of Obama-care and that will require more government spending going forward at a higher level.

GIGOT: His argument, James, is that -- he's been saying this in interviews, that if you go -- if you reelect me, the Republicans will be chastened and they'll no choice but to do a grand budget bargain on my terms, which means big tax increase, which means fiddling around the edges of entitlements and means major defense cuts. Is that what we're likely to see if he does win? Republicans are going --

(CROSSTALK)

FREEMAN: Well, I think the bad news for voters, for American taxpayers, if he wins again, is that the pressure for a tax increase will become more intense because interest rates are likely to rise. The government is going to be even more -- be under great pressure to come in with more revenue to pay these bills. And so, I think what you're going to see is intense pressure for a tax increase, but it's sort of like the movie "The Producers." If he ever actually got his Buffet Rule, people would find out how little of government it would pay for.

(CROSSTALK)

FREEMAN: And I think that's going to be a problem for him in the second term if he actually succeeds.

GIGOT: What about the partisanship question, Kim. Remember, the president said he would be able to deal with Republicans in the second -- in the first term, he thought that could calm the nastiness in politics. That certainly hasn't happened. Do we have any reason to believe that his reelection would lead to less fierce, nasty, ugly partisanship?

STRASSEL: No. I mean, here is the thing that nobody wants to confront. If Barack Obama's reelected, the chances are that Washington is going to be configured very much the way it is right now are very high. The Republicans are likely to keep the House. They might gain a seat or two in the Senate. They might even win the Senate. But whatever happens, they're going to call this a split decision by the voters and they're going to say, we have as much backing out there in the country to continue what we've been pushing as you. So this is a rescue for more Gridlock and some more brinkmanship when it comes to things like the fiscal cliff, tax hikes and sequester issues.

GIGOT: What about education and immigration reform? The president -- those are things where the Republicans and Democrats do see some common ground. President, I was startled, didn't really stress immigration reform at all in his speech, talk a little about education. Any hope for movement on that ground, Jason?

RILEY: I'm -- on immigration, yes, but of the type of immigration reform that I don't think Republicans want to see, which is more executive order decision, doing what he can from the White House, doing end runs around Congress.

GIGOT: He's poisoned for the well politically for a grand deal by doing that. Republicans resent, saying you don't --

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: -- Congress.

RILEY: The biggest chance for some compromise might come from education, where he has pushed for charter schools, for instance. I think you can see him continue to do that. So I think that might be one area where you might see some progress.

GIGOT: James?

FREEMAN: I think if you were listening to Joe Biden, and if he was telling the truth, expect no compromise. He said Barack Obama does not back down. So I think we could expect more of the same, judging by what the vice president is telling.

GIGOT: So he's going to push for an even larger tax increase, I assume, and more revenue. What does "Don't back down" mean?

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: Is that -- is that what --

RILEY: Well here's what it means. An advisor to the Obama campaign told a Journal reporter earlier this week, we tried bipartisanship in 2011, we won't make that mistake again.

GIGOT: All right, fine.

(LAUGHTER)

OK, when we come back -- good for journalism.

(LAUGHTER)

Maybe not for the country, but good for journalism.

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: With the conventions behind us, the real race begins. A look at where the two candidates stand heading into the fall stretch, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GIGOT: With the conventions behind us, attention now turns to the race ahead. The latest Real Clear Politics poll average has the two presidential candidates in a dead heat. So will Democrats see a big bump coming out of Charlotte or is Mitt Romney in striking distance of President Obama as the final stretch begins?

So, Kim, polls tied right now after the Republican convention. What about after the Democratic convention? Obama going to get a bump in the lead?

STRASSEL: He's going to get a little bump. I think he will. This convention actually went off well and he's going to reach some of those people out there that hadn't been tuned in until now. He's get some of them.

I think the bigger story is what you mentioned in the open, what you've seen over the last month this a steady erosion of his lead over Mitt Romney, pretty much ever since Mitt Romney chose Paul Ryan and they had their own convention. We start this two-month election season in a dead heat and those parameters are probably going to stay pretty close to each other for the foreseeable future.

GIGOT: James that really puts the premium on the debates, does it not?

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: It's a cliche to say so. But when a challenger who is less well-known than the president is running, he's got to make that case, to look presidential in the debates, particularly on foreign policy issues, got to look in command.

FREEMAN: Yes.

GIGOT: And one thing Obama will do, he will project confidence and he'll play off his experience.

FREEMAN: Yes. Obama seems to have the edge among a lot of voters on foreign policy. But I think it's actually on the economics where the task for Romney is most clear. He basically has to explain how his plan will grow the economy and jobs. And he has to puncture this Obama myth that his policies are somehow ones of the Bush administration.

GIGOT: And that means tax reform in particular. Obama really did, as we heard in that clip earlier, really did go after Romney on taxes.

HENNINGER: Yes.

GIGOT: And said this is the elixir they always try and it's going to only help the rich. Romney has to explain why that reform actually helps the middle class.

HENNINGER: He does. And thank heavens Obama did that. Because Romney does have to step up to the plate.

I have to tell you, guys, I think the table has been set for a Romney victory. I'll tell you why. Barack Obama's approve/disapprove has been 48, 48 for the entire year.

GIGOT: Or lower.

HENNINGER: Or lower. He has basically flat-lined. And there was nothing in that convention that suggests it was going to rise. He's got to somehow get over 50 percent. I saw nothing in the convention to suggest he's going to do that. It's now up to Mitt Romney to make the case for those 2 percent of voters.

GIGOT: But what about -- but what other vulnerabilities did the Democrats open us on Romney that he has to address?

RILEY: I think -- James briefly touched on it -- foreign policy. I think that was --

GIGOT: Really?

RILEY: -- something that the Democratic convention successfully exploited. The tributes to the troops were quite moving, quite effective. I think Obama does want to talk about foreign policy. I ended the war in Iraq, I'm bringing home the troops from Afghanistan, I killed bin Laden. He says throw me into that briar patch --

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: But how does Romney do that, other than sounding presidential and saying -- trying -- sounding competent on the issue? And he doesn't -- he doesn't want a long debate on Afghanistan.

RILEY: No, he doesn't. Because the fact of the matter is, the war is somewhat unpopular, even on the right. So, it's -- it's a challenge for Romney, foreign policy. And of course, being a governor, and his life story has not brought about a lot of foreign policy experience, and he's made some gaffes on that.

GIGOT: Kim, if you -- if you talk to the Obama strategists, they will -- their advantage, they say, always comes down to the Electoral College. Romney simply has to win too many states that Obama carried in 2008. He has to basically do an inside straight to carry all these states. Right now, the only Romney -- the only Obama states from 2008 that Romney is ahead in is Indiana, which he probably put away, and North Carolina.

STRASSEL: Right.

GIGOT: But Florida, Ohio, Virginia, the rest, you've got a slight Obama lead. What does it say about Dan's point that it's a setup for a Romney victory?

STRASSEL: I think that -- they are -- one of the other things that you saw over the last month though, again, is a steady erosion of the Obama lead in some of the swing states. So they're now poised to actually do well if they continue to make the case that everyone's been talking about in some of those states. But they have to do exactly what James said. They've got to go out and explain tax reform. They also can't drop these other things that they have brought up and come out forcefully on, things like Medicare and entitlement reform. They were really beat up on that in the Democratic convention this week. They're going to have to come out and continue to fight them on a draw on that and then make the case on the economy.

GIGOT: One thing Romney has to do, he doesn't do very well, but Bill Clinton really did for Barack Obama, is explain some of these issues, and just matter-of-fact, factual points, that take some of the fear out of it if you can explain in ways that people understand.

HENNINGER: That's what I'm suggesting. It's not complicated. Mitt Romney is a salesman. The message to Mitt now is, Mitt, go out and sell your presidency.

FREEMAN: Well, I think the other good thing to come out of this convention is the Democrats obviously don't have any new material on Bain.

They brought up a few old examples of companies that were basically on their way to failing before Bain Capital bought them. Not any new material here. I think if you think of the American people as ready to fire Obama, this was not a good week for Obama in terms of making Romney an unacceptable alternative.

GIGOT: Briefly, Jason, you've been -- OK, well, sorry, we've got to go.

(LAUGHTER)

We have to take one more break. When we come back, our "Hits and Misses" of the week.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GIGOT: Time now for "Hits and Misses" of the week.

Kim, first to you.

STRASSEL: This is a miss for the Michigan Supreme Court which, this week, over the objections of Governor Rick Snyder, put a union-promoted initiative on the November ballot that ostensibly enshrines the right to collective bargaining in the constitution. The real problem with this initiative is it's very broad and it potentially restricts the ability of the state to do any of the reforms it needs to rein in public-sector costs. This is the latest backlash out of the reforms from Wisconsin. And people better start paying attention.

GIGOT: OK, thanks, Kim.

Jason?

RILEY: This is a miss for New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who two months before a presidential election, has decided to launch an investigation of Bain Capital. How is that for prosecutorial obstruction?

(LAUGHTER)

GIGOT: Discretion.

(LAUGHTER)

RILEY: You know, so the highest in the New York State is going to smear the president's Republican rival in the middle of a presidential election.

GIGOT: He's masking it in all private equity tax practices. OK.

(CROSSTALK)

RILEY: The timing is curious.

GIGOT: All right.

Dan?

HENNINGER: Paul, at the end of the two conventions I'm going to give a hit by drawing attention to the 92-year-old Kentucky farmer and world war ii veteran, Earl Jones, who gunned down a burglar in his home this past week, said he has no regrets and has become a national hero for bravery and protecting himself. Now, as Clint Eastwood might say, you've got to be asking yourself, would a rugged individualist, like Earl Jones, be more likely to be invited to the Republican National Convention or the Democratic National Convention. I think that question answers itself.

GIGOT: You know, the other thing, Jason, is, why did that investigation leak at this time?

(LAUGHTER)

You're not supposed leak that you're investigating somebody before they're charged.

All right.

And remember, if you have your own "Hit or Miss," please send it to us at jer@FOXnews.com. And be sure to follow us on Twitter @JERonFNC.

That's it for this week's edition of the "Journal Editorial Report." Thanks to my panel and to all of you for watching. I'm Paul Gigot. Hope to see you right here next week.

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