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Week In Politics: New Congress, Keystone XL Pipeline, Paris Attack


And we began our conversation with our Friday political commentators by talking about the implications of those Paris terrorist attacks. Welcome back to E J Dionne of the Washington Post and David Brooks of the New York Times.

E J DIONNE, BYLINE: Good to be with you.

DAVID BROOKS: Good to be with you.

BLOCK: And, David, let's start with your column today. Following on the murderous assault on the satirical weekly, Charlie Hebdo, you have turned the viral slogan on its head in your headline. I am not Charlie Hebdo. What do you mean?

BROOKS: Yeah. Well, I'm not that kind of journalist, actually. You know, this reminds us what we stand for. But I just started with the simple point that if Charlie Hebdo had been published on any American university campus, it would have been shutdown in about 30 second, that some of the offensive would have been seen as hate speech, they would have been ruled out by certain hate crime codes. In certain campuses, they would have been scandals. A lot of the people who have controversial views are invited off-campus. So I was really inviting us to take a more tolerant look at what we think of as offensive and allow more offensive speech in our midst and not be so quick to be offended. And I think that's one of the lessons that we can draw in this country from what happened over there in Paris.

BLOCK: E J, I think David's pointing to some hypocrisy on this side of the ocean. What about you?

DIONNE: I rarely disagree as much with David as I did today, because I thought to conflate speech codes with the murders of 12 people, and I know he wasn't really engaged in that kind of moral equivalence, but it really invites it. It's one thing to say that you want to respect others. And I have a pretty expansive view of what should be permitted on college campuses. I don't like shutting down speakers. But this is mass murder. As his colleague Ross Douthat said, the presence of the gun fundamentally changes things. And, you know, my colleague Gene Robinson said now the tendency must be to err on the side of defiance. This is just impermissible. And I think free societies just have to rise up against this.

BLOCK: David, I'm not sure you disagree with E J's point there.

BROOKS: No. I debated - could anybody possibly think that I was making an equivalency between speech codes and killing when I was writing the column? I talked with my assistant about that, and we decided nobody could possibly make that connection.

BLOCK: Well, you were wrong.

BROOKS: I was wrong. I was wrong. I think it's patently obvious. But, you know, it's just a question of - we have this - you know, there are new phrases being invented - micro-aggressions - things that are just not tolerated on campuses, speakers that are not asked to speak there, professors who are fired because they teach the Catholic teaching on homosexuality. There are other professors fired because they write tweets that are hostile to the NRA. We've become intolerant of offensive people. And if we're going to say I'm Charlie Hebdo then we should be tolerant of offensive people. We should give them as much legal attitude to speak as they want at the same time as, socially, we give some people more respect than other people.

DIONNE: And I just want to say I think we should debate what happened in Paris, which I think is essentially un-debatable. You cannot shoot people because you don't like what they print or the cartoons you draw. Separate that from an argument that we will continue to have about what should happen on college campuses.

BLOCK: Well, apart from the horror of the attacks themselves and the discussion about free speech and the right to provoke that we've been having, the killings do, once again, highlight deep, global concerns about the radicalization of Muslims in the West. David, do you think we have any new insights from what happened this week?

BROOKS: Well, I think we have insights to come. As I say, it reminds you of what you believe in, that we believe in pluralism, that we believe in democracy. We believe in respect for people of all faiths. We're hostile to anti-Semitism and racism. And, of course, most Muslims believe that. But there is jihadism tin the world and we've been fighting a struggle against jihadism for, you know, a couple of decades now. I think what's curious to see is how it shifts debates. One of those debates will be in France. Will the Le Pen Party become more popular? Will there be more hostility?

BLOCK: The far-right.

BROOKS: The far-right. I don't know the answer to that. Will we have a new debate about the NSA? You know, there's going to be - we're going try to investigate whether this could have been prevented and whether some of the techniques the NSA uses to intercept communications could have been effective in that. We've seen some of the overreach of the NSA. But, now, frankly, we're reminded why the NSA does what it does.

BLOCK: E J, what about that? The possible refocusing on counterterrorism shifting in the debate.

DIONNE: Well, we apparently had some information on these folks already in our files. And I do think that the NSA debate will probably be reopened to some degree and that we will be watching what's happening to the far-right in France. What scares me is that it's much easier to engage in this kind of murder than it is to launch a gigantic terrorist attack. And if we are in for more episodes like this, which, sadly, are much easier to organize, I think that is a very scary thing.

BLOCK: I want to talk with you a bit about the new Congress. Today, the House of Representatives did with the Republican leadership had pledged to do as their first order of business - pass a bill approving construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline. The Senate is going to be starting debate next week. The president has said he will veto. David, how do you see this playing out? Where is this headed?

BROOKS: Nowhere. As far as I understand, with oil prices anywhere like they are now, the Keystone Pipeline will not be built. It doesn't matter what Congress votes. The economics just don't favor it. So we're having a vicious debate over a completely symbolic matter. It's not the first time we've been involved in this.

BLOCK: Will not be built - they've sunk billions into this pipeline already. Do you really think that they would say, forget it? We're going to keep it on rail and trail - rail and trains- rail and trucks, sorry.

DIONNE: Some of it does depend on what happens to gas prices. I am struck by the fact that if President Obama vetoes this, as he says he will if it goes through the Senate, he has enough votes in the house to sustain his veto. They cannot override the veto. And, you know, but I think you are seeing a series of fights set up because you not only have the Republicans doing this on an issue which is heavily symbolic, I agree, even though it has some specific connection to global warming, but the Republicans today also unveiled their response to President Obama on immigration, which an immigration advocate, Frank Sherry, called breathtaking, because they not only try to roll back his recent executive actions, they also go after his actions on behalf of dreamers. And I think this is going to be, in the long-run, a terrible mistake for Republicans and I think they're going to lose some of their own people on that, too.

BLOCK: Well, briefly, to end, we saw House Speaker John Boehner easily survive a conservative challenge to his leadership. Will he be facing as unruly a caucus, David, among Republicans as he has before?

BROOKS: No. The unruly brigades are in diminishment. Their morale is down. I'm sort of struck by what will happen in the Senate. We have a record number of people in the Senate who were members of the house - 53 people. And if they take the matters of the house into the Senate, they can create a real holy terror. The second thing we've learned about people in the South is there are 10 members of the Senate who were born in the 1970, which, if you're my age, is kind of horrifying. It's sort of a young group. And so we have a younger group and probably more polarized group. And so the challenge we should look at is Mitch McConnell's challenge running that body.

BLOCK: OK. Thanks to you both. Have a good weekend.

DIONNE: You too.

BROOKS: Thank you.

BLOCK: David Brooks of the New York Times and E J Dionne of the Washington Post and Brookings Institution. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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