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Week In Politics: Mitt Romney In Europe


We turn now, as we do every week, to our political commentators for their take on the news, columnist E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and the Brookings Institution and David Brooks of the New York Times. Good to see you both.

E.J. DIONNE: Good to see you.

DAVID BROOKS: Good to see you.

CORNISH: So we will turn to the campaign trail and the Olympics for a little bit in a minute. But first, I want to continue a conversation that you guys started last week about the mass shooting in Colorado. Both of you continued to write about it and there was a lot of debate over the course of this week about the idea of tougher gun legislation.

And I want listen with you to President Obama on this. He spoke Wednesday to the National Urban League.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I also believe that a lot of gun owners would agree that AK-47s belong in the hands of soldiers, not in the hands of criminals, that they belong on the battlefield of war, not on the streets of our cities. I believe the majority of gun owners would agree that we should do everything possible to prevent criminals and fugitives from purchasing weapons. We should check someone's criminal record before they can check out a gun seller. And a mentally unbalanced individual should not be able to get his hands on a gun so easily.

CORNISH: So this comment obviously interesting in light of the news today that the suspected shooter was under the care of a psychiatrist. But David, can you talk a little bit about what we're hearing from the president here in terms of his message. Is this murky? I mean, is he kind of having it both ways in this?

BROOKS: Yes. You know, he said some intentions, but he's not actually being very aggressive on gun control. I happen to support and agree with everything he said. I just, this week, was trying to plant the flag of social science. We've done - there have been a million studies on whether gun control has a big effect and the short answer is the effect is very hard to discern. A big review of the literature for the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, another review of the literature for the Center for Disease Control, Justice Stephen Breyer of the Supreme Court did sort of an amateur review of the literature and they all came to the same conclusion.

It's very hard to tell the effect of gun control rules, that it's very hard to see measureable declines in violence and in gun violence. So I'm for them, but I don't think we should get our hopes up that they radically reduce violent crime and we shouldn't get our hopes up that they radically would prevent an event like we saw in Aurora.

CORNISH: And E.J., you wrote this week that it's not enough for advocates of the sensible course on guns to think they're job is over if they write one impassioned column or make one strong statement after a mass killing and then move on to the latest campaign flap. But this has felt like something that is just batted back and forth between columnists and isn't going anywhere politically.

DIONNE: Well, I think it's partly not going anywhere politically because progressives, including, to some degree, President Obama, although at least he took a step forward in that New Orleans speech, have run away from it and haven't made the case. And to David's point, I don't think any of these - a lot of these studies aren't saying that gun control doesn't work.

They are arguing that some of the evidence is mixed. But I don't know what study could refute this - that another study looked at gun violence in 23 of industrial countries. And 80 percent of the gun deaths are in one country, the United States of America. And you can't persuade me that our lax gun laws don't have something to do with that.

Moreover, there are some very simple things that we know through common sense would make a difference if a shooter did not have a magazine with 100 rounds in it. He'd have to reload. If assault weapons were illegal, you would at least take an event like this and make it less lethal and we ought to at least try to do that.

CORNISH: I also want to talk about the campaign trail this week. Mitt Romney visiting Europe, specifically London this week, and then going on to Poland and Israel, about showing himself as a statesman. And instead, the focus has been on his comments about the London Olympics and these are being described as gaffes. Romney also mentioned that he met with the head of MI6, which is another comment the British press seized on as a gaffe because you should never talk about meeting with MI6.

What's going on here? I mean, is this trip doing what it's supposed to?

BROOKS: Not exactly. You know, don't be a pundit, Mitt Romney. He told the truth that they were having some problems with security, but you're there to flatter people and so be nice to people. Go to Israel, flatter people. Go to Poland, flatter people. Don't say things that are true and troublesome. That's not your job right now. I'm sort of mystified that he's there all together.

When I look at the Obama campaign, I basically see a campaign that is methodically unfolding a narrative that makes perfect sense. He cut jobs at Bain. He's going to cut Medicare if he gets to be president. That is an unfolding, coherent narrative. When I look at the Romney campaign, I see a bunch of people holding their powder and promising that somehow in the future they're going to start waging an effective campaign.

I certainly don't see an effective campaign now. I don't know why he's there in the first place.

CORNISH: Well, you know, one of my Twitter commenter's said, "Calm down, everyone. Mitt isn't running for president of Europe." And, I mean, I don't know anybody on the Republican side who's looking for applause over there, right, E.J.?

DIONNE: Well, if Obama had been running for president of Europe, he would have gotten 90 percent of the vote the last time. But I think when your trip's hashtags on Twitter include RomneyShambles and MittHitsTheFan, we know how this trip has gone. And I find it astonishing that he made these mistakes, but I actually agree with David. I think foreign policy is an Obama strongpoint and a Romney weak point.

Jonathan Rauch has very good piece in the New Republic arguing that Obama is basically pursuing the foreign policy of the first President Bush. It's careful. It's prudent. It's realistic and that's a popular foreign policy. And I don't think Romney is going to win a foreign policy argument with President Obama.

CORNISH: Well, lucky for him, he has the economy to talk about, right? And we just heard Jim Zarroli's piece that the economic troubles in Europe are going to be something that are affecting the U.S. And there is not an answer there from the administration.

BROOKS: Right, that's the big story obviously. Today's economic news is bad. It's very hard to think of a president who was reelected in an economy that was decelerating. And if you look to the future, are we more likely to see upside or downside? Well, when you look to Europe you're much more likely to see downside and there's not much the president can do about that. So the economic news, terrible for the president today.

DIONNE: Although, you know, the economic news in these numbers is sort of old news. We're going to see what's going to happen in the next couple of jobs report. And if - the question is, are these guarantees in Europe, which seemed to bolster the stock market, are the Europeans finally getting their act together? That would do more than almost anything to help Obama win reelection.

CORNISH: All right, 30 seconds, lightning round: the Olympics. What are you watching?

BROOKS: I'm waiting for handball, very excited about that.


CORNISH: Are you serious?



BROOKS: I'm looking for American dominance. I'm not going to be shy about that. I'm all for the brotherhood of man and all that kind of stuff. I want us to beat the Chinese in the (unintelligible).



DIONNE: I'm with David on that. I want to salute his column today. He says we ought to keep competing goods in balance, and I am very committed to that. Roberto Clemente, Bill Russell, and Cal Ripken could be fierce competitors and really warm and generous people, and those things aren't in contradiction.

CORNISH: Thanks as always to you both, columnists E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and the Brookings Institution and David Brooks of The New York Times. Thanks guys.

DIONNE: Thank you.

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