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Week In Politics: Oregon Shooting, And The Competition For Speaker


We'll hear in a moment from our Friday political commentators, columnists David Brooks of The New York Times and E J Dionne of The Washington Post. First, though, we'll hear what the president said he vented his frustration over the country's unique problem of mass murder despite routine federal inaction.


BARACK OBAMA: And, of course, what's also routine is that somebody somewhere will comment and say Obama politicized this issue. Well, this is something we should politicize.

SIEGEL: David Brooks, is this something we should politicize?

DAVID BROOKS, BYLINE: I guess so. Aristotle said man is a political creature, so we should politicize it. I'm of the - I support every gun control legislation you can imagine. I don't think it'll be particularly effective. There are 250 million guns in this country. Somebody who's a gun nut like this guy was is going to find some guns. And invariably, it seems that they've - have bought their guns legally somehow. Nonetheless, I think, as the governor said, it might prevent some gun violence to have federal legislation. The studies don't really show that. But I think it's probably worth doing as a small ameliorative step. The second thing - the profiles of these guys is always the same. It's always an alienated loner with self-worth issues and a product of a very loose social fabric. And we just got to keep an eye out for people in our communities who share this pattern and look out for what they might do.

SIEGEL: E J, there are polls showing majorities - small majorities of the public favor stricter gun laws. But there's no progress on that front. Is it just NRA lobbying against it, or is it just impossible to craft an effective gun law that you can square with the Second Amendment and the way it's now interpreted?

E J DIONNE, BYLINE: I think the president was absolutely right when he said this is something that we should politicize because it's politics that has rendered us powerless in the face of slaughter. I'm very glad to hear what David said, and I think that there is something terribly wrong when the Republican Party and the conservative movement are so closely aligned institutionally with the gun lobby and those who say we cannot have any laws in our country. And I think the president's statement calls that out. And the idea that nothing - we can't do anything, that none of these laws work, is simply not true. There was a very interesting study in the National Journal in August that showed that states impose the most restrictions on gun users also have the lowest rates of gun-related crimes. Those with the fewer regulations typically have a higher gun death rate, so we can...

SIEGEL: Though I believe Oregon is one of those most restrictive states.

DIONNE: Well, you know, no law will ever solve every problem. But it seems the only area - you know, there will be drunk drivers even if we have strong drunk driving laws. People are going to run red lights if we have - even if we have traffic laws. But it seems that the only laws that are supposed to be perfect are gun laws. No law is perfect, but they can be better.

SIEGEL: David.

BROOKS: No, the correlation - that correlation between the kinds of states is a very weak way to do the study. There have been hundreds of studies on this, and they've been collated by reviews of hundreds of studies by the CDC and others. And we just have not found evidence that gun - gun laws do prevent some forms of suicide by making guns less readily available. They have very small effects on homicides.

DIONNE: Although, there was a very recent study in Connecticut, and again, it didn't prevent Newtown, but Connecticut passed a very strong gun law which achieved, I think it was a 40 percent reduction over 20 years in gun killing. So the point is, David, and I don't think you disagree with this - that none of these laws is going to be perfect, but that some of the laws could reduce the number of horrible incidents and that's enough in politics.

SIEGEL: Well, David, you seem to be saying even despite your doubts about the efficacy of such laws, we should still have them.

BROOKS: Yeah, I don't see the harm, basically. So it might it might be minimally effective, but I really do want to emphasize the other side that - the social side, the mental health side. It's always the same. It's the same kind of guy. And if you have somebody in your community who has - like, this kid had a mother who was a loner, self-worth issues combined with a weird form of narcissism, then we've just got to watch out for those guys and embrace those guys and do something about it.

DIONNE: I'm not going to disagree with that in the least. I just point out that there are a lot of countries that have loners and narcissists that simply don't have the same rate of incidents of this sort as we do. And we have to look at ourselves, and guns are part of it.

SIEGEL: I'm going to leave guns now and go on to something else that happened in Washington this week, which was House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, the presumed favorite to succeed John Boehner as speaker of the House went on Sean Hannity's show on Fox News, and when asked what the Republican House had achieved, said this.


KEVIN MCCARTHY: Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping - why? - because she's untrustable. But no one would have known any of that had happened...

SIEGEL: ...Without the Benghazi investigation. Critics pounced on this as perfectly fitting Michael Kinsley's famous definition of a gaffe when a politician tells some obvious truth that he's not supposed to say. I mean, one question here is, is Kevin McCarthy ready for primetime as speaker of the House, David?

BROOKS: For telling the truth, maybe we should reward him - make him president.


SIEGEL: Well, he was - Republican congressmen demanded an apology for that, and he delivered one.

BROOKS: Yes. No, we - you're not supposed to admit that congressional investigations are political, but obviously they are. I still think he's a shoo-in to win. These races tend to be extremely personal, and Kevin McCarthy is nothing if not charming and very social, and I suspect he has a lot of friends.

DIONNE: We're going to have a lot of fun with him in terms of the English language. He - in that famous statement, he invented the word untrustable. He recently referred to visit to Hungaria, and so he's got that side of him. I agree with David that he's very good at one-on-one politics. But I think that there are a lot of Republicans - particularly conservatives, but not just conservatives - who wonder, does he have the - sort of the intellectual sort of chops for a job like this? And maybe you don't need that for speaker. Maybe being a political animal is enough. But I know a lot of Republicans who like him and have doubts about him. And in any event, I don't think he is going to be able to solve the problems that forced John Boehner to resign. And I don't think a lot of Republicans believe that either.

BROOKS: Yeah, he's not particularly ideological. I think what's going to happen is the rank-and-file will want to change the rules of the House to weaken the power of the leadership and strengthen the power of the rank-and-file so they can get more bills on the floor, etc., etc. That's where the fight's going to be.

SIEGEL: Of course, some people think that he, being the least experienced speaker in decades, he's not as attached to the institution and the rules of the institution as past speakers might be. Do you suspect that at all?

DIONNE: Well, I suspect that to the extent that the right-wing or the very conservative members of the House welcome him at all, it's because of that. And they - you know, they want to weaken the leadership. But the problem is you've got a right wing that is not strong enough to elect a leader and an establishment that can't keep the right-wing in line.

SIEGEL: E J Dionne, David Brooks, thanks to both of you.

BROOKS: Thank you.

DIONNE: Good to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.