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Unpacking State of the Union Night Addresses
NEAL CONAN, HOST:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. The president speaks, Marco Rubio gulps, and Lindsey Graham slaps a hold on Hagel. It's Wednesday and time for a...
SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: No confirmation without information...
CONAN: Edition of the political junkie.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDINGS)
PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN: There you go again.
VICE PRESIDENT WALTER MONDALE: When I hear your new ideas, I'm reminded of that ad: Where's the beef?
SENATOR BARRY GOLDWATER: Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.
SENATOR LLOYD BENTSEN: Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.
PRESIDENT RICHARD NIXON: You don't have Nixon to kick around anymore.
SARAH PALIN: Lipstick.
GOVERNOR RICK PERRY: Oops.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: But I'm the decider.
(SOUNDBITE OF SCREAM)
CONAN: Every Wednesday, political junkie Ken Rudin joins us to review the week in politics. This week, the president presides over the annual ritual of the State of the Union, Marco Rubio gives the GOP response, and Rand Paul gives the GOP response. A former Democratic congressman and a former Republican Party chair enter separate pleas of guilty.
In a bit, we'll focus on President Obama's efforts to reverse the political drift with former president speechwriters Peter Robinson and Paul Glastris. Later in the program, it's World Radio Day. Is there a radio moment that changed your life? You can email us now, firstname.lastname@example.org. But first political junkie Ken Rudin joins us as usual here in Studio 3A, and as usual we begin with one of those radio moments: It's a trivia question.
KEN RUDIN, BYLINE: This is a radio moment that I will never forget, as hard as I try. OK, well, the reason we're going to have a Pennsylvania-related trivia question, because WPSU in State College, Pennsylvania, is the latest station to pick us, TALK OF THE NATION, up and the political junkie...
CONAN: And they have to take - well, it all comes - it's a package.
RUDIN: That's right, I worked with in the past Emily Reddy and the folks there. It's a great station, great people, so we're very excited about that. So here's the Pennsylvania-related trivia question. Recent polls show that Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett is in big trouble in his bid for re-election next year, which is pretty remarkable considering the fact that the last governor of Pennsylvania to be defeated for re-election was William Bigler in...
CONAN: The William Bigler?
RUDIN: Well yes, there's a Bigler Street in Philadelphia, but anyway, in 1854. OK, so here's the trivia question.
RUDIN: I'm looking for the state which has gone the longest since last defeating a governor seeking re-election.
CONAN: Wait a minute, aren't there states where people are only allowed one term?
RUDIN: Well, that's - I'm not going to - so we're not going to include states like Virginia, where a governor has never been defeated because they're limited to one term. I'm not going to include North Carolina, which has never defeated a governor; and Indiana, which used to have a history of one-term governors only, hasn't elected, hasn't had a governor defeated since 1843. So...
RUDIN: Is the show over yet? So anyway, I'm looking for a state, not Pennsylvania, not Virginia, not North Carolina, not Indiana, a state in the 20th century that has gone the longest without a governor being defeated for re-election. You don't have to name the governor. You have to still be awake after this question and name the state.
CONAN: Name the state. So if you think you know the answer to this week's trivia question...
RUDIN: What was the question again?
CONAN: Well, that's the state that has gone the longest in the 20th century without defeating a governor for re-election. Is that...
RUDIN: That's fair.
CONAN: That's fair. It's not Pennsylvania, not Virginia, not North Carolina, not Indiana. We'll give you those hints. Only 46 others to go, 800-989-8255. Email us, email@example.com. The winner, of course, gets a free political junkie T-shirt and the fabulous political junkie no-prize button.
RUDIN: You said that much faster than I could.
CONAN: Because we're almost out of time here. In the meantime, we have to go to the State of the Union message last night, and really we're going to be talking much more about this later in the program, but a follow-on to the inaugural address.
RUDIN: It was. It was - you know, if we talked about presidents in the past and talked about the limitations of government, and even Bill Clinton, who tried to triangulate, talking about the era of big government is over, Barack Obama did not say that. He talked about that there was an important role for the purpose for the role of government, and he talked about everything from climate control to gun policy to immigration, things like that.
And it was really - really he said look, if Congress doesn't go along with me, I'll do it on executive action.
CONAN: And here's an example of that, where he talked about the need for some action on climate change.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I urge this Congress to get together, pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change like the one John McCain and Joe Lieberman worked on together a few years ago. But if Congress won't act soon to protect future generations, I will.
CONAN: And that's a vow to use the regulatory powers of the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate coal-fired plants and carbon emissions.
RUDIN: That's exactly right, but I think the biggest emotional part of the entire address was of course his appeal for those people who deserve a vote, the Gabby Giffords, the people in Newtown. There were so many victims or family victims - family members of victims of gun violence throughout the congressional House chamber last night that it was very, very effective, I thought, and very emotional.
CONAN: But very few moments in the speech where both sides of the chamber stood up and applauded together. Perhaps immigration was the only moment there. But there is of course the Republican response, and the up-and-comer in the Republican Party, the senator from Florida, Marco Rubio, and, well, everybody would - including him would rather we remembered lines like this.
SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: Presidents in both parties, from John F. Kennedy to Ronald Reagan, have known that our free-enterprise economy is the source of our middle-class prosperity. But President Obama, he believes it's the cause of our problems.
CONAN: Instead what people are remembering is Senator Rubio reaching off-camera for a bottle of water.
(SOUNDBITE OF SWALLOWING)
CONAN: The gulp.
RUDIN: Yeah, no, it was very surprising, I thought. I mean, people will always remember these things, remember when Bill Clinton of course gave his famous in conclusion speech, nominating Michael Dukakis in '88, and...
(SOUNDBITE OF SWALLOWING)
CONAN: Ken's is filled with gin, of course.
RUDIN: Sorry, sorry, but I'm - but he was able to mock himself, make fun of himself this morning on "Good Morning America." He was with George Stephanopoulos, and Stephanopoulos was asking him a question. And of course he reached over for some water. Last night he tweeted, Marco Rubio tweeted the actual bottle of water that he reached for.
It was a memorable moment, but it really - we should really focus on what the Republican Party was trying to do, and that is get somebody young, get a new face, get a Hispanic, which is not bad...
CONAN: Because he also made the speech in Spanish, separately, without a gulp, I think.
RUDIN: He did, but again of course he didn't talk about those kind of issues. It was the same kind of boilerplate Republican response: the government is getting too big, there's too much, this will lead to higher taxes. But it was, you know, a newer face, and we'll see what it does. I mean...
CONAN: And a model of unity since there was only one other Republican response, Rand Paul, the senator from Kentucky speaking on behalf of the Tea Party.
SENATOR RAND PAUL: Tonight, you know, he talked about - a lot about gun control. I don't think the American people are going to put up with that.
CONAN: And, well, he went on, both parties he blamed, of course, for greater spending and the typical Tea Party line. But it shows those divisions again in the Republican Party.
Which President Obama is very anxious and very happy, thank you very much, to take advantage of, yes.
In the meantime, we have some people on the line who think they understand this week's trivia question...
CONAN: And have suggested answers. That is the state that in the 20th century, last - has not defeated - the longest-running state where a governor has not been defeated for re-election except for the four - 800-989-8255. Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Mark(ph) is on the line from Birmingham.
CONAN: Hi, go ahead, Mark.
MARK: Is the answer Alabama?
RUDIN: No, actually as you well remember, Don Siegelman was defeated in 2002. So that's pretty recent.
CONAN: Mark, thanks very much. Let's see if we can go next to - this is Robert(ph), Robert with us from Lawrence, Kansas.
ROBERT: New York.
CONAN: The great state of New York.
RUDIN: Well, you go a little further - back further than Alabama, but New York, Mario Cuomo was defeated in 1994 by George Pataki. So that's again pretty recently.
CONAN: Thanks, Robert. Let's go next to - this is Jeff(ph) and Jeff with us from Albany, Kentucky.
JEFF: Yes, is it Texas?
RUDIN: No because Texas, we had Ann Richards being defeated by some guy named George W. Bush in 1994.
CONAN: Even though he had a silver - no, that was his father with a silver spoon.
RUDIN: So that's pretty recently. Let's go to - this is Joel(ph), Joel with us from San Carlos, California.
CONAN: Go ahead, please.
JOEL: For no particular reason I'm going to guess Delaware.
CONAN: Delaware, small wonder.
RUDIN: Well, I can't believe you haven't remembered that Sherman Tribbitt, the Democrat, was defeated by Pete du Pont in 1976.
JOEL: Sherman Tribbitt.
RUDIN: Yeah, come one.
CONAN: Yeah, Sherman the frog Tribbitt, Tribbitt. All right, thanks, Joel. Let's go to - this is Mark(ph) and Mark with us from Hampton, Iowa.
MARK: Is it Iowa?
RUDIN: Wow, no actually Chet Culver, the Democrat, was just defeated two years ago, three years ago by Terry Branstad. He was defeated in 2010.
CONAN: Thanks very much, Mark. Let's go to John(ph) and John with us from Waterloo, Iowa.
JOHN: Would it be Louisiana?
RUDIN: Louisiana, no, how's bayou, as I would say. But David Treen, the Republican, was beaten by Edwin Edwards in 1983.
JOHN: Wow, OK.
CONAN: Let's go to - this is - excuse me, I've got the things messed up. There's - Bobby's(ph) on the line with us from St. Augustine.
BOBBY: Is it Nevada?
RUDIN: Nevada, actually, we had - that's also very recent. Jim Gibbons, the Republican, was defeated in 2010 in the primary. So that's just two, three years ago.
CONAN: OK, let's see if we can go next to Emily(ph), Emily with us from Charleston, South Carolina.
EMILY: Hi there. Excuse me, is it Wisconsin?
CONAN: The Badger State?
RUDIN: No, Wisconsin actually go back a little further, but it's 1986, Tony Earl was beaten by I think Tommy Thompson in 1986.
EMILY: Well, good try.
CONAN: All right, very good try. All right, 800-989-8255. Email email@example.com. And well, there was some measures that did get through Congress and then back to the bad old days, yesterday, in the Senate Armed Services Committee and a bitter battle over the nomination of Chuck Hagel to be the next secretary of defense.
RUDIN: That was extremely bitter. It was a two-hour debate in the House Armed Services Committee. And now of course there have been Cabinet nominees defeated in the past, we remember John Tower in 1989, first President Bush's nominee for secretary of defense. But Hagel got a rough go of it.
He didn't help himself when a couple weeks before that he kind of tested - his testimony was kind of like disheveled and less confident. But Chuck Hagel was approved by the Armed Services Committee 14 to 11, and it looks like there will be a full vote in the Senate tomorrow, perhaps tomorrow morning, and...
CONAN: And it's going to need 60 votes.
RUDIN: And he may get the 60 votes. He already has 55, and two Republicans, Mike Johanns and Thad Cochran have already come on board, that's 57. He needs only 57 to break the - three more to break the potential filibuster.
CONAN: Email from Derek Mullins(ph), who guesses the trivia question answer is Tennessee.
RUDIN: That is the correct answer.
CONAN: Ding, ding, ding.
RUDIN: Which is amazing because - that's a tough one, but it was 1952. As you well remember, Gordon Browning was defeated in the Democratic primary by Frank Clement.
CONAN: Well, congratulations, Derek, and we will send you a political junkie T-shirt and of course the fabulous no-prize button in exchange for your promise of a digital image of yourself wearing said same that we can post of our Wall of Shame. And we'll hold on to your particulars. Ken?
RUDIN: Do we have time for last week's mistake I made?
CONAN: We always have time for a Rudin mistake.
RUDIN: Well, anyway, we were talking about the most recent incidences with two senators from the state ran against each other. Anyway, Jake from Battle Creek, Michigan, said Brian Schatz and Mazie Hirono of Hawaii. I said he was wrong, but he was correct. They ran against each other for the House. Jake, call in, you'll get a T-shirt and a button.
CONAN: Or send us an email, firstname.lastname@example.org, and boy, that phone number better have a Battle Creek area code. We'll be right back in just a moment with Paul Glastris and Peter Robinson to discuss the State of the Union and the president's efforts to shift the political middle. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. It's Wednesday, which means it's Political Junkie day. Ken Rudin's here, as always. Ken, what have you been up to this week? Get around to making up a ScuttleButton puzzle?
RUDIN: Well yes, but I just finished that question, the trivia question this week, (unintelligible).
RUDIN: But there was a winner last week. The buttons were John Lindsay for mayor, Jacob Javits for U.S. senator from New York, Gene McCarthy for president, Tom Gill, who ran for governor of Hawaii, and John Paul Hammerschmidt, there's a congressman from Arkansas. So when you add them all together, you get John, Jacob, Gene-Gill Hammerschmidt.
CONAN: Oh boy. And of course his name is my name, too.
RUDIN: Exactly. Well, anyway, Carol Walker Martini(ph) of Chickamauga, Georgia, is the winner. And I understand that she is having surgery today, so...
CONAN: Really? Well, this will cheer her up, that political T-shirt she can wear in recovery and the button she can stab herself with. Thank you, congratulations. There's of course a new political junkie column up, and you can see this week's puzzle and read the column at npr.org/junkie.
Last night on Capitol Hill, President Obama offered his State of the Union Address highlighting policy and issues but more broadly providing a perspective on the role of government in our society.
OBAMA: The American people don't expect government to solve every problem. They don't expect those of us in this chamber to agree on every issue. But they do expect us to put the nation's interests before party.
OBAMA: They do expect us to forge reasonable compromise where we can, for they know that America moves forward only when we do so together and that the responsibility of improving this union remains the task of us all.
CONAN: As is our tradition, we've invited former presidential speechwriters Paul Glastris and Peter Robinson to joins us. Paul Glastris wrote for Bill Clinton, he's now editor-in-chief of The Washington Monthly, with us here in Studio 3A. Welcome back.
PAUL GLASTRIS: Thanks.
CONAN: And Peter Robinson wrote for Ronald Reagan and joins us from the campus at Stanford University, where he's a research fellow at the Hoover Institution. Welcome back to you, too.
PETER ROBINSON: Neal, a pleasure. By the way, Paul, Neal just called this a tradition. I'm starting to be afraid we're going to become an exhibit in The Smithsonian.
CONAN: I have to ask: Paul Glastris, given - I've heard these two speeches described as the inaugural address as a preface and this as the main body, the substance of the speech. Taken together, this is a serious argument for liberalism.
GLASTRIS: It is. It's a serious argument for a kind of mainstream liberalism. It's not a serious argument for socialism, right, these are very broadly shared policies: raising the minimum wage and background checks. You know, these are things that we were writing speeches for President Clinton making exactly the same case.
So in terms of policy, this is, in a sense, nothing new. In the sense of being a full-throated argument for the role of government, again I think President Clinton did the same thing. But in the context of a country that's been debating, you know, rolling back the Great Society and the New Deal and going back to some much earlier vision of government, it is different.
CONAN: And Peter Robinson, I wanted to ask you: Some say this is an effort to shift that political center back towards the left. A shift to the right, which began of course under your guy, Ronald Reagan.
ROBINSON: Yeah, that strikes me as exactly right. My question going into it last night was whether he intended to concentrate on substance, put forward an agenda on which he could actually reach compromises with Republicans. Would we be hearing about what he intended to accomplish in the next 18 months, or so, before all of Washington begins paying attention to the midterm election?
And the answer to that was no. He's paying attention to the midterm election right now. It's all politics. I don't mean that, necessarily, in a - to denigrate his aims. What he wants to do is shift the country, just as you said, shift the entire political center of gravity to the left.
My own view is that Paul's just right: Much of this sounded like Bill Clinton. But the large difference is that Bill Clinton was putting forward relatively modest programs that fit the liberal agenda, when he was restraining the overall growth of government. You could say he had no choice for - with Republicans controlling the House and so forth.
Barack Obama, again relatively modest programs, 15 new manufacturing hubs is not going to change the world, but he's putting forward relatively new modest programs after a dramatic expansion of government, from about 21 percent of GDP to about - to just under 25 percent, where we are now.
So this sounds the same as Bill Clinton, but the aim is much more ambitious, I would argue.
CONAN: Ken, as you listened to the speech, this tectonic drift that a lot of people have talked about, the ideas have, over the past, what, few decades come from the right. Many say that the Democratic Party has been largely reactive. President Obama's clearly trying to change that.
RUDIN: No, I think that's absolutely clear. And I don't even think it's about what the actual - whether it's ideology at all. I just found - I mean, I know that both Peter and Paul, their jobs are to puts words in the president's mouth and have them - we pay attention to their words.
But there was something about the attitude that I thought was fascinating last night. He seemed - he, the president, seemed far more assertive, certainly maybe more combative. And you always talk about his first term, when he was kind of like - kind of, you know, feeling his oats and not sure whether - how to be aggressive.
And it just seemed like he said look, I've been doing that enough, I've been compromising for four years, now it's my game, it's on my terms and not so much take it or leave it, but he seemed much more confident than I saw him in the first inauguration.
CONAN: Paul Glastris, for example on the immigration, he said get me a comprehensive bill in the next few months, and I will sign it. He's trying to get control of that timeline when you know Republicans would much rather send this up in bits and pieces and not get around to some of it.
GLASTRIS: That's right, and I think if you look at each component of the speech, he said almost nothing about Republicans. He didn't charge Republicans with anything, he didn't say any nasty things, negative things. He barely mentioned the Republicans. He simply talked about his agenda.
But each of those agenda items, right, and this is where the combativeness and the assertiveness comes, each of these agenda items, he knows he has the public polling behind him, these are broadly popular, and he knows that each of them are difficult for Republicans to get behind.
It's hard for Republicans to get behind background checks. It's hard to get behind immigration reform. It's hard for them to get behind the minimum wage. And so he's just laying them out there (unintelligible) which is not saying let's come to an agreement on this, he's saying this is what I want to do, and you all can decide what you to do.
CONAN: And Peter Robinson, using a rhetorical device, for example of immigration, a bill like the one that Joe Lieberman and John McCain were working on a few years ago; on minimum wage, you know, Mitt Romney and I agreed on this; putting these - his ideas in Republicans' mouths.
ROBINSON: Right, right. I - sure, and then Marco Rubio comes on the television a few moments later and says, in effect, Mr. President, we're a little ahead of you here. We - I and some other members of the Senate, both Republicans and Democrats, actually are further along on this issue than you are.
If you begin looking at it in detail, he talks about manufacturing hubs, about the reason manufacturing is coming back to this country is because we're producing enormous quantities of natural gas, driving down - there's a feeling to me in which he's behind the actuality, the reality of the country.
It's an odd moment. Now - and here Paul and I may just, we may disagree. So I know we want to talk about the speech, but to me the oddness was that he's putting forward a liberal agenda in a large and in some ways an honest way. He is simply saying here it is, I believe in big government, I believe in government answers to economic problems, and here's where we're going to go.
I agree completely with Ken's point that the kind of implicit body language was to the Republicans not only do I need you, you're just not that important right now. But I don't read the reality of the underlying political situation that way. Republicans did keep the House, they have 30 out of 50 governors. I think he's getting ahead of himself.
At the same time, though, Margaret Thatcher used to say first you win the argument, then you win the elections. I believe he's a little ahead of himself politically. He's won an election; so did Republicans. The political change hasn't taken place. But I give him full marks for making the argument, making his case.
Republicans, at least Republicans in Washington, there are some governors who are doing so, Republicans in Washington have yet to do so nearly as effectively, make the case for their argument.
GLASTRIS: Well, I agree, kind of, with what Peter is saying. I would say this: I thought Barack Obama last night talked to the broad middle of the country and more or less ignored the right-wing base of the Republican Party.
CONAN: Well, Ted Nugent was there.
GLASTRIS: Ted Nugent, but he didn't say anything about Ted, though probably got his autograph later, I would have. I think Marco Rubio ignored the broad middle of the country and talked to the Republican base. That's kind of where the two parties are right now. And this shift to the middle that you all are talking about, I think that is what's going on.
CONAN: And then you had Rand Paul come out to talk to the base of the Republican base.
GLASTRIS: Right, right, right. And so Marco Rubio doesn't even represent quite the far edge of the base.
RUDIN: You know, I wonder if maybe perhaps the president was going as aggressive as he was early because, as you said, Paul, earlier, he doesn't have that much time. When you think of Ronald Reagan's 49 state landslide in 1984 and two years later the Republicans lost the Senate, you think of Bill Clinton with the great victory in '92, he had a Republican Congress for the rest of his presidency. And even when Obama was elected in 2008, all those good feelings disappeared in 2010.
So we don't know exactly what will happen in these midterm elections in 2014, which, as you point out, is - are right around the corner. And so maybe he needs to get as much done as soon as possible because things could change in a heartbeat.
GLASTRIS: And I think what Peter is saying is that that he doesn't have enough Republican votes to get done what it is he put out there. Am I right, Peter?
ROBINSON: Well, he's not trying - I thought he might say last night he's given - he's won his election. He gave a very aggressive inaugural address. I thought last night might be the moment when there were some overtures to cutting a deal - the grand bargain. You, Republicans, raise some taxes. I will cut entitlements, and we will deal with the biggest problem the country faces, which is that we're spending 25 percent of GDP and only bringing in 21 percent, and the difference is being made up by China and Ben Bernanke. Didn't even get mentioned.
GLASTRIS: There were no serious - as you both said, and as I agree completely, it was almost as though the Republicans were not even in the chamber. So this was - he's made the decision that to get done what he wants to do, which is to reposition the politics of the entire nation, it could hardly be more breathtaking in its ambition. He intends to run a political second term from the very get-go.
CONAN: And interesting, he seemed to have decided, as you said, the debt and deficit are not the problem. Jobs are the problem. And if the economy begins to recover as some suspect it will, partly on the back of those energy discoveries that you were talking about, Peter Robinson, is he - might he win his gamble?
ROBINSON: Oh, he might. Oh, I believe it's - absolutely he might. I'm not - this is not - you're not hearing a Reagan guy say this is doomed. The liberals are wrong again as usual. The country is in play. This is the American experiment. We - the voters get to decide decade by decade by decade. He may very well.
CONAN: We're talking with former presidential speechwriters Peter Robinson - you just heard him from Stanford University. He's now at the Hoover Institution but used to write speeches for Ronald Reagan. Paul Glastris is here with us in Studio 3A. He's editor in chief of The Washington Monthly but used to write speeches for Bill Clinton. Also with us, of course, is Political Junkie Ken Rudin, who used to...
RUDIN: I used to write the trivia questions...
CONAN: For TALK OF THE NATION...
RUDIN: Lasts forever.
CONAN: Which you're listening to from NPR News. And I wanted to ask you, Peter, another thought. Back in those days of Ronald Reagan and those - in his first inaugural, government's not the answer, government is the problem. How conscious was it amongst his speechwriters, amongst his inner circle, this shift, this tectonic shift in beginning to move the center?
ROBINSON: We didn't think of it - we speechwriters - I can only tell you the way I experienced life as a speechwriter in the Reagan White House. There was a sense in which the country - it was Ronald Reagan's moment. Ronald Reagan did not say I'm going to move the politics of the country. In 1980, a man who'd been a conservative for two decades - temperamentally conservative longer than that but he'd become a Republican and the leading conservative spokesman in the early 1960s, found his political moment.
The country in a sense moved to Reagan and all - the way we felt about it was the way the president felt about it, which is if you see what we see here in Washington, the budget problems, what the Soviets are doing, all I, Ronald Reagan, need to do is explain myself to the American people. And once they see what I see, they'll come to the same conclusions that I reach. Now, what he did have in common with Barack Obama is that Ronald Reagan was never even really all that interested in the inside game.
He'd call members of Congress and ask for their vote if he was given a call sheet by the chief of staff. But what really animated him, always, all eight years, was talking to the country. He believed and demonstrated that if you could persuade people in Wisconsin, then the two members of the Senate from Wisconsin would come your way without too much trouble. He was always trying to address the American people and understood that if you move the country outside the Beltway, inside the Beltway takes care of itself. Barack Obama very much the same instinct, I believe.
CONAN: He's headed to North Carolina today and Illinois by the end of the week, Paul Glastris.
GLASTRIS: I think Peter is exactly right. I think what you saw here last night was - what is new here is the president, President Obama, spent the first four years after getting elected trying desperately to play an inside game, partly because he had to. They were just enormous problems that needed immediate attention and big complex legislation moving. And so constant discussion with policy wonks and congressmen and so forth, and lobbyists and trade groups and so forth.
He has shifted now and said, you know, I can't get anything done playing an inside game. Republicans are not going to go for what - my agenda. If my agenda is going to pass, it's going to be because I can create out there in the country, in key constituencies, among teachers, among young people, among people in the swing states, enough pressure that we can maybe get something done. And that's what we saw.
CONAN: And that's why we keep hearing ever since the election, much less the inauguration, this can only happen if you make it happen.
GLASTRIS: That's right. That's not rhetoric. That is the strategy.
CONAN: That is the strategy. Ken, this is quite different, and boy, we think of the laundry list of the State of the Union messages - this was something different. There's certainly a laundry list, but anyway...
RUDIN: It was. And I think the target was - I mean the target ostensibly may have been the Republicans and those mean Republicans who won't go along with what I'm proposing. But of course we have to realize that there are many Democrats in red states, in rural states, especially on the issue of guns, that are not welcoming his call for, let's have this - I mean there was no mention, I don't think, of the assault weapons ban specifically.
CONAN: No. He was a little more low key.
CONAN: Let's get done what we can get done.
RUDIN: Right. Exactly, right. But I mean - and so I think that the target audience is not only the Republicans who may vote no and everything, but there are a lot of Democrats who are still squeamish. And perhaps maybe he softened it for that reason.
CONAN: Well, we'll see you guys next time at the Smithsonian Institution.
CONAN: Thank you very much for being with us. Peter Robinson with us from Stanford, out in California. As always, thanks very much for your time.
ROBINSON: Oh, a pleasure. Thanks.
CONAN: And Paul Glastris is here with us in Studio 3A.
CONAN: And Ken Rudin will be back next week as usual with another edition of the Political Junkie. The Political Junkie segment is produced by Laura Lee. Ken, as always, thanks very much.
RUDIN: Thank you, Neal. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.