Democrats' divide and conquer campaign

This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," April 19, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

PAUL GIGOT, HOST: This week on the "Journal Editorial Report," the midterm elections loom and President Obama and fellow Democrats are firing up racial and gender issues. Will it help turn out the base?

Plus, with another tax filing deadline behind us, we'll tell you about some sweetheart deals being cut for Hollywood studios and Broadway big shots.

And as the faithful around the world celebrate Holy Week, a look at the troubling rise in violence against Christians in the Middle East.

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

With Democrats facing an increasingly uphill battle in the midterm elections, all signs are pointing to a divide-and-conquer strategy to get supporters to the polls. Speaking at a Houston fundraiser last week, President Obama lamented the habits of single women, minorities and young voters that make up his party's base, telling donors, quote, "We have this congenital disease which is, in midterm elections, we don't vote at the same rates." So the president and members of his administration and Democrats in Congress are stoking racial and gender issues in an attempt to boost turnout this November. But will it work?

Let's ask "Wall Street Journal" columnist and deputy editor, Dan Henninger; Political Diary editor, Jason Riley; and columnist, Mary Anastasia O'Grady.

So, Jason, let's take this point the president made first about low turnout in the midterms. Is that historically true, that Democrats don't turn out in the same numbers?

JASON RILEY, POLITICAL DIARY EDITOR: What's historically true is that the president's party tends to struggle in midterm elections. Democrats --

GIGOT: But it wasn't in 2006. They rolled, then.

RILEY: That was an exception to the rule, though. And it's also true that in 2010, Democrats got rolled, and so the president does have reason to be worried.

The midterm electorate tends to be older, whiter than in presidential years. And particularly, of course, with President Obama's base, their worry is that because he's not on the ballot in -- in November, that people who come out, the minorities in particular, won't come out.

GIGOT: So you're saying that his concern is, in fact, legitimate.


RILEY: Oh, sure.

GIGOT: No question about it.

RILEY: Oh, sure.


Now, let's get to the White House strategy. What is that strategy, Mary? What are they doing here, and they're talking about gender pay, equity, for example, with women last week than this week. We had -- excuse me -- I think we also had the race issue being played.


GIGOT: In fact, I want to play a clip here of some comments by prominent Democrats. Let's listen.


ERIC HOLDER, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: What attorney general has ever had to deal with that kind of treatment?


HOLDER: What president has ever had to deal with that kind of treatment?

REP. NANCY PELOSI, D-CALIF., HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: I think race has something to do with the fact they're not bringing up an immigration bill. I've heard them say to the Irish, this would be easy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- certain policies for the right wing --


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN HOST, "STATE OF THE UNION": Do you think your Republican colleagues are racist?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not all of them. No. Of course not. But to a significant extent, the Republican base does have elements that are animated by racism.


GIGOT: Nice to know he doesn't think all Republicans are racist.

Mary, but what is this political strategy behind this? You don't get those kinds of comments one day after another by accident from politicians.

O'GRADY: Right. Well, as Jason mentioned, the main driver here is to get out the base that voted for President Obama in 2012. And those -- and so what he's dredging for are aggrieved voters who feel the system has been unfair to them. And a lot of that is targeted at women and minorities, because those are the people who statistically earn less -- and maybe not women so much, but minorities for sure earn less in our society.

RILEY: I think it's even blunter than that, Mary. I think the strategy is to lie to people in hopes of getting them out to the polls. Lie to blacks about voter suppression. Lie to women about the gender pay gap.

I mean, what Eric Holder said -- what's even more disturbing than what Eric Holder said there is where he said it. He traveled up to Harlem to kiss Al Sharpton's ring. The president also appeared at the same conference. So the president -- here's a guy who moved away from Jeremiah Wright to embrace Al Sharpton, one of the most racially divisive figures in this country. That is down and dirty right there. And I think it's absolutely despicable that the president of the United States would be countenancing, and the attorney general, would be countenancing folks like Al Sharpton.

GIGOT: Dan, is it going to work?

DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR: No, as a matter of fact, I don't think it's going to work. Though, we do have six months for them to keep throwing against the wall and see if they can find an issue that really inflames people. I don't think Republicans are going to bite.

But let me just say one more thing. Yes, it is a degree of utterly cynical politics. But, Paul, I think there is belief involved here, as well, on the liberal side. They do think many Republicans are racist. And the president and Eric Holder have deployed the bureaucracies of the Department of Justice, the Labor Department, the Education Department, to attack institutions out there for what they believe is racial disparity, based on statistical analysis. So there's something more than politics going on here. And the unfortunate thing is it will drive a wedge into the American public after all the gains we have made.

O'GRADY: One of the things that's interesting is that actually Mitt Romney did very well with white women. And it's very unlikely that the Democrats are going to do well with women, except in -- among racial minorities. That's not the history of women voting. And I don't think they're buying into the war on women, even though they're going to be driving that very hard in the next few months.

GIGOT: But, Jason, don't Republicans have a certain amount of responsibility for this strategy being able to be played? Because they haven't done enough to appeal to minority voters?

RILEY: Yes. I think -- I think that the Republican Party still believes it can win without these voters. I don't think racial animus is necessarily driving this. I think it's pragmatic politics. You go into communities where you think you can get the votes you need to win, and right now Republicans have felt, you know, they don't need these voters to win, so they have neglected these groups. I don't think that's necessarily going to be the case going forward. And we've seen that with Hispanic voters, this sense in the party that we need to do more outreach. So I think that we'll move in that direction. But the left wants to claim that what's driving this is racial animus. I wouldn't make that assumption.

O'GRADY: I don't think that's fair. I think the Republicans have tapped into really one of the major drivers of the inequality in income among races and that is the public school system. As long as minorities are being left behind in the public school system, you're always going to have this problem. And Republicans have been pushing very hard for vouchers, for charter schools, and so forth. I think that one of the problems is they just haven't gotten their message across.

GIGOT: All right.

O'GRADY: And Obama has been a very good spokesman for the other side.

GIGOT: As you all suggest, this issue will not go away. We'll be dealing with it probably right through November.

All right. Still ahead, while millions of Americans are rushing to meet this week's tax filing deadline, some big names are lobbying for some big tax breaks. A look at who is getting the sweetheart deals -- it's not you -- when we come back.


GIGOT: Well, millions of Americans scrambled this week to make the April 15 tax filing deadline. And most did it without the sweetheart deals reserved for the country's most well-connected. In California, billionaire businessman, Elan Musk, is lobbying the state assembly for a 10-year property tax break for his space exploration company. And a bill currently on the assembly floor would expand the $100 million tax credit already given to film and television productions in the Golden State. Not to be outdone, New York Senator Chuck Schumer last week pushed a plan to get Broadway investors the same subsidies given to their Hollywood counterparts.

We're back with Dan Henninger and Mary O'Grady. Wall Street Journal assistant editorial page editor, James Freeman, also joins us.

So, James, I thought we were in an era of tax fairness --



GIGOT: -- where the rich were supposed to pay more.

FREEMAN: It's funny, Democrats, they get the idea that low tax rates encourage business activity only when they're talking about Hollywood, green energy. Elon Musk, he's into green energy, but I guess his space exploration company will get a break as well. You wish they would understand the benefits for everyone, not just their friends who write them big checks.

GIGOT: Explain, Mary, the space subsidy, tax subsidy. Since when do space companies, you know, run by billionaires, need a break?

O'GRADY: Well, I mean, one problem is a lot of companies are leaving California. So -- I think Elon Musk believes he can put a gun to the head of California and say, give me a break or -- you know, or else.

GIGOT: Is a space exploration company really a big employer? I mean, I'm all for space exploration and give him credit for trying --

O'GRADY: Well -- yeah.

GIGOT: -- but come on.

O'GRADY: One of the problems in California is they have a property tax for companies like this. And those companies are not subject to the cap.

GIGOT: And that's not just on land. That's on things -- anything that isn't sold --

O'GRADY: Right.

GIGOT: -- like your sofa, your office furniture, things like --


-- and things like that.

O'GRADY: Exactly. And so since it's not capped, that's where the state is going to have revenues. And they're getting them. But it's also painful for businesses. I mean, the problem with giving him and just a couple of small space companies that write off is you have all kinds of other companies that are paying this tax that keeps going up, and so they're becoming less competitive, as well.

HENNINGER: Well, the irony is that they do not have one for Hollywood in California.


And Hollywood is complaining that we're going to go and leave California if we don't get a tax break.

GIGOT: Because other states do have them?

HENNINGER: Well, New York State has the biggest. $400 in a year. And Chuck Schumer is now suggesting they do the same for Broadway.

GIGOT: You're a TV star. How come you don't have --




-- Chuck Schumer isn't my friend. What can I do?



HENNINGER: But I was just going to say, Mary, if I may --

O'GRADY: Sorry.

HENNINGER: -- that the tax commission that was created in New York State actually did propose tht they get rid of the $400 million tax break and dedicate that money to reducing personal and corporate taxes for everyone. I mean, that's the simple way to think about these taxes. But the politicians won't do that.

GIGOT: If you raise the rates, obviously, you have put -- increase the tax burden on everybody. And then people say, you know what, I think I'm going to leave the state, or leave the country. So then you have to -- they come to the politicians and say, you know what, I need a break. But not everybody can hire a lobbyist.

FREEMAN: No, they can't. There's also an issue here, beyond fairness. It's just basic efficiency and economic growth, where New York, for example, paying $20 million to get -- to move "The Tonight Show" from L.A. to New York, it gets a lot of headlines. But the Tax Foundation has looked at these entertainment give-aways and found that you're really redistributing wealth. You're not seeing economic growth generally take off in places where they have put in big tax credits. So it's not only favoritism. It's bad economics. You want simple rules that apply to everyone.

GIGOT: So it's great for Jimmy Fallon.

FREEMAN: Exactly.

GIGOT: It's just not great for everyone else.

O'GRADY: But it's not about whether it's economically sound. The -- what is the politician in business to do? Be re-elected, collect donations for his campaigns. This makes him very powerful. He has high tax rates and then he can say, I give something special to you. Chuck Schumer is now going to give something special to people who ride bicycles in New York.

GIGOT: He gets it coming and going, right? He gets the extra revenue from higher tax rates on everybody, and then he can turn around and say, hey, you know, Mary, I'm taxing you, but Brother Freeman, I'm going to pay you off big time certify, and you're going to reward me with campaign contributions.

FREEMAN: Yeah. It's a great scam.


HENNINGER: In fairness, no not just blue states. Georgia has a $200 million tax credit. 40 states have this. New Mexico just signed a bill. It's just become this kind of addictive competition among the states to do this sort of thing.

GIGOT: And Republicans do some of the same thing.


FREEMAN: In fact, it's a lot of the red states that are now pulling productions out of California. Louisiana last year had more film productions than anyone. North Carolina also has a credit now. So it's definitely bipartisan. It's around the country. And again, this is not how you build an economy. You want low tax rates on everybody.

GIGOT: But if Republicans were smart, they would take this as an opportunity to run against crony capitalism, run against state and business collusion. I think it would be a winner politically, if they stuck with it and stuck with their principles in Congress.

All right. Still ahead, this Easter weekend, a look at the startling rise in religious persecution against Christians in the Middle East.


GIGOT: As Christians across the globe prepare to celebrate Easter this weekend, new concerns over their growing persecution in the Muslim world. A recent report by the watchdog group Open Doors documented the 10 most oppressive countries for Christians. And nine were majority Muslim states noted for Islamic extremism. Late last year, Pope Francis addressed the issue with religious leaders from three of those countries, Syria, Iran and Iraq, promising that, quote, "We will not resign ourselves to imagining a Middle East without Christians."

We're back with Dan Henninger and Mary O'Grady. And Wall Street Journal foreign affairs columnist, Bret Stephens, also joins us.

So, Bret, how serous is this problem of Christian persecution?

BRET STEPHENS, FOREIGN AFFAIRS COLUMNIST: People with short historical memories don't remember that 80, 90 years ago, about a quarter of the Middle East was Christian. Lebanon was a majority Christian country. Iraq had well over a million Christians up until really just about 15 years ago. There's been a sort of systematic denuding of the region of its Christian population, each to see massive drops in a traditional Coptic church that is more than, or nearly 2,000 --

GIGOT: Years old.

STEPHENS: -- years old. It's a huge problem. You talk to people, Cops, who are arrivals here in the United States, and they just talk about the desire they want, they have to just get out to anywhere, Australia, Canada, United States, any place that will take them. And the Cops, compared to the Iraqi Christians or Syrian Christians, are in a relatively better position.

GIGOT: But, is this, Dan, is this state-driven or not by states themselves, but by radical elements within the countries?

HENNINGER: It's mostly the latter, Paul. Just consider the implication of what Bret said. These Christians have been living in these lands since the time of Jesus. Some of them speak Aramaic, the language of the Bible. They have coexisted with Muslims in those countries for nearly 2,000 years. Then, about 30 years ago, with the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, they came under attack. So it's very recent, and it's very specifically a result of them being targeted by radical Islam.

GIGOT: But radical -- you're saying not by the state -- the governments, per se, as much as by the sort of fundamentalist sects or by offshoots?

HENNINGER: Yes, but to the extent these fundamentalist sects are gaining authority and power, as they did with Mohamed Morsi in Egypt, then it becomes an instrument of the state.

O'GRADY: Yeah, and in places, they're just not protected by the state. And there's no incentive for the state to do it, because the Islamic fundamentalists are so violent. 150,000 Christians have been killed in Syria in the last three years. And just recently, we had this Jesuit priest, Dutch Jesuit priest, who had served for 50 years in Syria, brutally murdered, taken out and beaten and shot. And people on the ground there say that it may well have been retribution for him helping Christians get out of the country.

STEPHENS: I mean, look, it's a complicated picture. Sadat, the late Egyptian president, also persecuted the Coptic Christian Church.


STEPHENS: So the state has -- the states in the Middle East have been making essentially foul bargains with Islamic extremists to persecute Christians as well.

GIGOT: But there is an argument that in fact things have gotten worse since some of these dictators were toppled. For example, Saddam Hussein -- you mentioned it yourself -- last 10, 15 years, the Iraqi Christians have been purged in much greater numbers than they were under Saddam. Not that he was -- not a brutal man.


GIGOT: But -- and then in Syria, it's the civil war that has -- that has led to some of the deprivations that Mary talked about.

STEPHENS: Right. And in Lebanon, Hezbollah has had a lot to do with it. Also, let's not forget, the Palestinian Authority. Up until about 15, 20 years ago, Bethlehem was a majority Christian town. That's no longer the case, again, because of the rise of Islamic fundamentalism. But also, its collusion with supposedly secular authorities. People -- this has been a major problem, of course, for the Christian population --

GIGOT: Right.

STEPHENS: -- that has been persecuted and exiled. But the truth is that the -- the countries that will end up suffering the most are the Middle Eastern states themselves. They no longer have that vibrant commercial class, that ethnic and sectarian diversity that made the Middle East very different essentially than what it is today.

GIGOT: Dan, what's Pope Francis trying to do about this? Is he changing -- is he taking a tougher line than the church has in the past on this? Because you don't hear much about this issue.


GIGOT: Certainly, in the press, it gets very little attention.

HENNINGER: Well, I think the last two popes had an equally tough line. The question is, what do they do? Now, Francis is going to the Middle East later this year. And that will -- is when we will find out whether he explicitly raises these issues with these governments there. But so far, the Vatican has had a very difficult time matching their rhetoric to their actions.

GIGOT: Briefly, why doesn't it get attention in the media?

HENNINGER: I think it doesn't because it's not politically correct. To tell you the truth, Paul, there is a kind of narrative that the Muslims are always under attack, and so it simply gets dropped.

GIGOT: OK, thanks, Dan.

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


GIGOT: Time now for "Hits and Misses" of the week -- Bret?

STEPHENS: This is a giant miss to what passes for the so-called international community. Chemical attacks continue in Syria. Just in the last few days, we had a chemical attack on a village, apparently using chlorine, incapacitated -- about 150 people killed, a number including two children. The world has given a big collective shrug. The late Daniel Patrick Moynihan had a phrase, "Defining deviancy down." And that's what we are seeing today in Syria.

GIGOT: Jason?

RILEY: This is a miss for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and the NYPD for scrapping an anti-terrorist surveillance program, not because it's unlawful, Paul, or no longer necessary, but because it's politically incorrect, which was the same rationale for ending Stop and Frisk. I think this is pretend policing. We're going to pretend that most terror plots don't originate in Muslim communities. We're going to pretend that blacks and Hispanics aren't responsible for most crime. It's crazy and it leaves us less safe.

GIGOT: All right.


FREEMAN: Paul, Edward Snowden, the traitor, has put lives in danger in terms of American soldiers overseas by releasing American secrets. But this week, I think he revealed his true motives when he participated in a Potemkin press conference with Vladimir Putin, the leader of Russia, and allowed Putin to suggest that he doesn't spy on Russian citizens and really that the Russians are in a freer place than the United States. Outrageous.

GIGOT: Do you think the Guardian newspaper is going to get to the bottom of the truth in Russia?

FREEMAN: I'm betting not.


GIGOT: I'm betting, too. All right.

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

That's it for this week's show. Thanks to my panel and especially to all of you for watching. I'm Paul Gigot. Hope to see you right here next week.

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