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Week In Politics: Ferguson And Foreign Policy


The issues raised by the events in Ferguson are also the starting point for our Friday political commentators. Joining me are columnist David Brooks of the New York Times and sitting in for E.J, Dionne this week Jonathan Capehart who's on the editorial board of the Washington Post. Welcome to both of you.

DAVID BROOKS: Good to be here.

JONATHAN CAPEHART: Good to be here.

SIEGEL: David let's start with you. This Ferguson story is about race relations, it's about allegations of lethal police brutality, it's about police tactics. The President, the Attorney General, the governor of Missouri have all weighed in. What do you take away from all this so far?

BROOKS: Well, I'm part of the bipartisan chorus that the police over reacted. I guess I start from a communitarian perspective. You know, conservatives do believe in law and order but the police force is supposed to emerge out of the community and be part of the community. And what happened in Ferguson was that it used to be a largely white community and now it's a - there was a demographic shift and it became a largely African-American community and the police force didn't reflect the shift - the city that they were actually policing. So, that was the core of the problem. That you had this cultural distinction between the police force and the community and that's bound to be touchy in the first place. So, the first problem was not having a police force that reflected the community. And then the idea of adopting tactics, you know, the police should be really close to people, especially in times of turmoil, not erecting basically military barriers. And so it was not only a violation of basic community policing it was a basic, how you do law and order.

SIEGEL: Jonathan Capehart, what did you make of all this?

CAPEHART: Well, I would say in addition to the police not reflecting the community, the police didn't reflect America in its ideals. What we saw in our living rooms or on our tablets or on computers, was we saw freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, freedom to hold public officials accountable under attack. And I think for a lot of people to see what was happening in Ferguson - Ferguson, Missouri was something that was deeply disturbing and that the silence from elected officials at that moment, Wednesday night, from the governor on down was also something that I think people found disturbing.

SIEGEL: Well, you know, David talked about how the police must reflect the community and given demographic shifts, in practice, that means there have to be recruitment campaigns, affirmative action and these are not always - they're not noncontroversial things.

CAPEHART: Right, they're not noncontroversial but we see the result of not doing something proactively to have police forces reflect the community that they serve. What's happening in Ferguson is a result of that.

SIEGEL: David...

BROOKS: Also just the issue of petty power. We've all been on the wrong side of somebody in uniform who uses petty power in an obnoxious way. And this was that on massive scale. And there's a reason...

SIEGEL: And we're not even talking of killing a Michael Brown now, you're talking about the...

BROOKS: Well, I don't know. I don't know.

SIEGEL: ... you're talking about what happened to the...

BROOKS: I suspect there was probably a little of that and a little much when the killing too. But there is just, when you have some petty authority over people there's a tendency in somehow the human breast to be a oppressive. And I think that may be a theme in this story from start to finish.

SIEGEL: OK, let's move onto another big political story this week. Hillary Clinton gave an interview to Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic and by the end of it she'd left some daylight between herself and President Obama on intervention in Syria. A little on Gaza, on the nuclear talks with Iran and on articulating a principle of foreign policy. Jonathan do you hear the - all that is preparation for 2016 and Hillary Clinton saying if I'm President it won't be the third Obama administration?

CAPEHART: Well, look whether the former senator, former Secretary of State runs is a question she'll have to answer by the end of this year but it's not out of the ordinary for her to make known in her book and in interviews that she and the president differed on policy. That's to be expect. I think the controversy that's blown up of late is part of what happens when your hawking a book and you want people to read the book and if you're reading the book you won't be surprised that there are differences between the two. Remember the 2008 campaign, their worldviews were very different in how they would go about things. So anyone who's surprised by what she's saying now really shouldn't be.

SIEGEL: David, Jonathan's seeing this as a largely literary problem. You see it as a little bit more political than that.

BROOKS: Yeah, no, I'm in favor of seeing everything as a literary problem. We're all prisoners of our prose style. But what I do think is more of an intellectual problem. As Jonathan said, these were - these two people when they were in the Senate had very different views. Hillary Clinton emerges really from a Truman, Kennedy - John F. Kennedy school of Democratic foreign-policy. That as long as America exists and history's ongoing there are going to be ideological enemies. And military force is often useful in that. President Obama's much more cautious. It's not only Hillary, it's the people around Hillary, who had dinner parties for the past months have been quite dismissive of the Obama foreign policy. And so this is a broader intellectual fight and it was exacerbated by the Syria dispute. I think Hillary's decision or at least advocating for the idea of arming Syrian moderates has been fully vindicated by events. And she has a right to feel that if her council had been taken, we'd be in a much better place in Syria and Iraq.

SIEGEL: You agree with that Jonathan?

CAPEHART: I have no argument with Mr. Brooks on that.

SIEGEL: But, you know, we've spent so much time here over the years - over the past couple of years talking about divisions within the Republican Party. Are there still these deep divisions within the Democratic Party. Between people who are old-fashioned Democratic leadership Council, don't think all Democrats are doves kind of Democrat and people who are not just of different policies, like President Obama, but younger than that?

CAPEHART: Well, I mean as we saw in the last campaign, remember it was Senator - then Senator Clinton who voted to authorize the Iraq war and that was a big...

SIEGEL: As David Axelrod reminded her of.

CAPEHART: Yes, on Twitter. That was a big wedge within the Democratic Party and it's something that gave then Senator Obama an edge over Clinton. It'll be interesting to see in 2016, if indeed she runs, how she - how she'll finesse what happened with the Iraq war vote. But also that interventionist style, how are you going to lead a country that doesn't want to get involved anywhere, get them to support some - support a candidate who really believes in an interventionist

SIEGEL: You can imagine her running, David, as someone who said we must be more prepared to intervene in the world?

BROOKS: That's what she believes. That's what she always believed. I do believe it will cause her problems in the primary process, though help her in the general.

SIEGEL: David Brooks and Jonathan Capehart, thanks to both of you.

BROOKS: Thank you.

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