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Q and A - Panel Interviews Nov 11

Q+A November, 2012



In response to MIKE MOORE interview

SHANE Let’s meet our panel. Our political scientist this week is Dr Jennifer Curtin from Auckland University, who’s here on a Fulbright Scholarship at Georgetown University and returns to the programme. Dr Peter Watson is the CEO of his own consultancy, the Dwight Group, but notably has served both Bush presidents and been a key link between New Zealand and America over many years. And Richard Adams is political correspondent for the Guardian here in DC. Welcome to you all. Peter Watson, you saw this coming for a while. Tell us why do you think Obama won and why were you so confident?

PETER WATSON – Trade Consultant
Really, the maths of the Electoral College is very much in the favour of the Democratic Party presently. They do start with a very healthy Electoral College advantage with California being in their camp – 50 Electoral College votes right there. Then you count New York, and pretty quickly you’ve got a solid base from the Democratic side to work from. Therefore, conversely, if you are Republican contender, the critical path to 270 Electoral College votes in fact is far more difficult, and it’s the challenging critical path for Republicans. Mr Obama did a pretty decent job in consolidating his base, as you know. While he only got over 50% of the popular vote, if you combine that fact with his advantage going in with the Electoral College and of course his incumbency, that pretty much put him—

SHANE So come down to the math, and, Jennifer, there's been a lot of talk about the math, but about the demographics. Is that what got him across the line – those minority groups? Women, young voters?

JENNIFER CURTIN – Political Scientist
Yes, I think so, but I think also it’s about the say in way in which the Obama campaign mobilised those voters. So not only was he seeking to re-engage with the ones who had voted with him before, but they were on the ground 18 months ago in the nine states that mattered, in the counties and cities that mattered, registering new voters from those same demographics so that they got them on the roll, out to the polling stations. They politicised amongst those voters, particularly amongst African American voters. The quite suppressive voter-ID laws that a lot of states had brought in, so they really got people quite angry and hot under the collar around that. And so I think that’s partly why you see the same turnout, if not a higher turnout amongst that cohort of voters.

SHANE So from demographics to economics, Richard. Explain to us why did he win when we had record unemployment, the economy was doing everything against him. How did he get through?

RICHARD ADAMS – Guardian Correspondent
Well, he was helped by the fact that the Romney campaign did a terrible job. The fact that Obama could win in Florida and Nevada, which are two states in which the housing markets are flat on their back, unemployment is terribly high, they’re in a very bad position, and the same in Colorado, and yet he won all three is quite extraordinary.

SHANE Why do you think that was?

RICHARD Well, there's two main reasons. Well, the Romney campaign did a bad job. That’s one thing. The other two things – the Obama campaign realised that they had a lot more money early in the campaign. So before Mitt Romney was nominated, he ran out of money. He wasted a lot of money blitzing people like Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich in the primaries, and then he had no money left after that. The Obama campaign realised this, and they advertised heavily before the Republican Convention. For technical reasons, Romney couldn’t use any money that he’d been given for the election campaign until after he’d been nominated, so there was a weak spot there. The Democrats saw it and they went for it. Also, similarly to 2008, Obama out-organised the Republicans in the same way that he out-organised Hillary Clinton. They realised by a quirk of the rules that early voting was going to be far more important. They put huge emphasis on early voting, and as a result, they massively defeated the Republicans in terms of the turnout in early voting, and those two things I think basically swung the election for him.

SHANE What about voters? Peter Watson, we’ve talked about the math, we’ve talked about the demography, if you like, and the economics. What was the attitude out there of voters? Was there more trust out there for Obama, do you think?

PETER In certain parts of the demographic, yes. I mean, it’s a highly fractured 50% left beneath his popular vote. If you actually want to look at the fact that, yes, President Obama did of course get 50%, but think about the fact that in fact 50% of the country didn’t vote for him, and it’s highly fractured. Even within the 50 he got, some of those in fact were prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt or were in critical states.

SHANE So quite a divided country and we will talk about that a little bit later in the programme.

Q+A November, 2012



In response to EVAN BAYH interview

SHANE Jennifer, both our previous guests have mentioned the fiscal cliff and economic woes that lie ahead of the President. Will that be his main focus, do you think, in the next four years?

JENNIFER CURTIN – Political Scientist
Well, it’s certainly going to be his main focus in the next four months, because we have this expiry date of the 1st of January, and if they don’t sort a bunch of economic things out with the Republicans between now and then, then all sorts of spending cuts and tax increases come into play that could be very problematic for the rest of the Obama presidency. But in addition to that, in the longer term over the four years, there's still some welfare reform and tax reform that’s needed. The Simpson-Bowles Report is still sitting there worth looking at.

SHANE Richard, let’s take a step back. Are you confident he’s going to be able to broker a deal to get this through?

RICHARD ADAMS – Guardian Correspondent
Well, Congress and the White House have a history of playing chicken on this, and that’s how they’ve dealt with it the last couple of times, and it’s probably what will happen this time. Obama does have a card up his sleeve, which is he can have negotiations with the current Congress, and of course come the end of the year, that Congress disappears and a new one comes in, so he gets two bites at it, even though that’s after the fiscal cliff itself comes into effect. I imagine there’ll be a last-minute deal. So, you know, who knows what it’ll look like at the end of it, but I imagine that, as with the last two occasions, disaster will be averted. And generally the economy, I think, is picking up, and there are economic forecasts that there’ll be another 12 million jobs created in the next four years.

SHANE Peter Watson, very briefly, just picking up a point that Chris Liddell made. He said there's a serious risk of a recession. Is he right?

PETER WATSON – Trade Consultant
Well, there may be, but the fact of the matter is what we need is some bipartisan consensus and some cooperation. Unfortunately, the campaigns and general elections tend to polarise positions, and there is a significant possibility of some negative fallout from that. But that mandate, therefore, is – and I think on the Republican side, they really have to understand that there's a message being communicated here – they have to start cooperating and participating in a more collegial way.

SHANE And, Peter, what does that mean for New Zealand?

PETER Well, I mean, to the extent, of course, any and all of this does, needless to say, affect the international financial and economic environment. New Zealand, of course, is potentially affected, like everybody else, just as they were a few years ago when we had the crash. It’s imperative that we actually get some cooperative bipartisan movement here.

SHANE Jennifer, apart from the economy, what will Obama’s focus be, do you think – his legacy issue?

JENNIFER Oh, I think he’ll be looking to embed Obamacare. He needs to work with Republican governors on making sure that happens at the state level. He’s really— Carbon tax is impossible in this country, but he’ll be looking towards renewable energy sources and immigration reform, as was mentioned before.

SHANE What about immigration, Richard?

RICHARD Immigration reform I think could be the signature. Once the fiscal cliff is dealt with, if it is, I think immigration reform is the big opportunity here. Obama has a chance to really punish the Republican Party. The combination of that and the question of statehood for Puerto Rico, which is related, although not that close. If Obama moves aggressively on those, he’ll find the Republicans really have to make a decision about whether they sign up to the sort of modern America with a large Latino and Hispanic population.

SHANE Peter, just very briefly before we have to wrap, but what about foreign policy? This is a president in his second term. Can we expect anything bold in that area?

PETER Well, I’m not sure when you say “bold”. Much of it’s not going to be driven necessarily by US policy per se. It’s external actions that I think the US are going to have to think about or be obviously responsive to. Iran, for the time being, has been off the boil. It’s not going to stay off the boil, I can assure you. And secondly, we’ve seen some extremely bellicose statements from Chinese recently, particularly against the Japanese, relative to the disputed islands. This is going to be a very challenging four years in terms of foreign policy for the President.

RICHARD It’s significant that Obama’s first foreign trip – well, the first one that he’s announced – is to Burma. That’s very important. In relation to China, that’s quite significant.

SHANE Very briefly, Richard, can the Republicans come back in four years’ time?

RICHARD Well, anything’s possible. If they find a better candidate and the Democrats don’t, then definitely. And also there's a pendulum effect after eight years of a Democratic administration.

Q+A November, 2012



In response to MIKE MOORE and MIKE GREEN interview

SHANE Jennifer, let’s begin with you. How would you describe our current relationship with the US?

JENNIFER CURTIN – Political Scientist
Well, I’d say it’s very solid, and it’s really come a long way over the last 10 years, and Obama has really enhanced it in the work that he’s done. I mean, the visit by the Secretary of Defense Panetta earlier this year was really important and the defence concessions that were given to New Zealand, particularly around military-to-military interactions and access for New Zealanders to US bases on a case-by-case basis was even seen by the United States forces here – some in the forces – as too much of a concession. So the fact that they’ve engaged in this kind of way with additional diplomatic ties going on really signifies something very strong, I think.

SHANE Do you agree with that, Richard? When you hear Leon Panetta say that the US will do anything, basically, to get closer to NZ, what does that say to you?

RICHARD ADAMS – Guardian Correspondent
Well, you know, America’s a big country and New Zealand’s a small country. The best thing that could happen for New Zealand would be if the Hobbit movie was really good. That would help. But otherwise—

SHANE Does that mean we don’t count? We’re irrelevant?

RICHARD No, it’s not that we don’t count.

SHANE Or is it putting into perspective?

RICHARD It’s not that we don’t count. With issues like Iran and China, you know, America will be looking for support, especially in relation to China, where it can get it in the region, and New Zealand certainly will be important in that regard.

SHANE Do you agree with that, Peter Watson?

PETER WATSON – Trade Consultant
That is absolutely correct. New Zealand has consolidated its strong relationship with the United States over the last four years and more, and that’s— there's a relationship status now that is really quite significant, and New Zealand’s role here in Washington has really consolidated and the United States will continue to look, therefore, to New Zealand for their views on this.

SHANE But just how significant is it, or are they just keeping us in their back pocket come a rainy day?

PETER The fact of the matter is that you have to see this in the continuity of the historical relationship. Interestingly enough, the United States had a consul in New Zealand before the British did, interestingly enough. That continuity of relationship is only interrupted by some rather modest restrictions on New Zealand, for the time that they existed. And, you know, that relationship has been restored to its fully robust and historical role. So there's nothing new about this, and there's nothing sort of manipulative about it. It’s just restoring the former significance of the relationship.

SHANE Richard, should we be concerned about being so close to America?

RICHARD That’s a very interesting question. I mean, there may come a point where, if relations between China and the US fray – which could happen in the next four years or subsequently – there may come a point at which New Zealand might have to make some difficult decisions about who it sides with, depending on the subject matter. So that could be an issue, but I couldn’t predict precisely what they could be.

SHANE Because then of course, Jennifer, we’ve got the Middle East, and that’s bubbling away, isn’t it?

JENNIFER Yes, I think even though— Mike was right when he talked about even though they’ve called it a pivot, basically they want to reduce their expenditure on warfare, and they want to do that strategically and pragmatically, and one way of doing it is to focus on the Middle East, but also to shore up their bilateral relationships that have been traditional to them in them in the past. And I would also say that really the US has something to be thankful for in terms of its relationship with New Zealand, because – because of our strategic involvement that was small but important in Afghanistan – the US have recognised that that was an important part of the way in which they dealt with Afghanistan.

SHANE Peter Watson, what about the change of the guard, if you like? There's some key personnel that will be moving. We’re going to be seeing some different faces. How important is that?

PETER Critical. The fact of the matter is, as Chris Liddell said, they were thinking about massive transition and personnel change in the event that there had been a change of party, but the reality is, in fact, even under the continuity of a second term, we will see significant rotation of positions of very significant importance to New Zealand.

SHANE Like Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is on her way out shortly. Who are you tipping to replace her?

PETER Ooh, I would not want to make that call. I suspect Susan— Ambassador Rice in the UN would be interested in assuming that responsibility.

SHANE And of course the other is John Kerry.

PETER Very, very highly skilled and qualified, clearly. So you’ve got good people there, but I’m also thinking of the second-tier people who are directly responsible for New Zealand policy. For example, Dr Kurt Campbell, current Assistant Secretary of State of East Asia-Pacific – a very strong support of the bilateral relationship. He’s been there four years. This is a normal rotation cycle. Similarly, you could think about the United States trade representative, possibly rotational. Some of the—

SHANE And on that point of trade – trade deal. Can we expect a trade deal, do you think, Richard?

RICHARD Well, I think as the US economy improves, I think the political winds will be much more favourable for a trade deal. It would have been much more difficult in the last four years. It’s very difficult for US politicians to go forward with trade deals when the economy is not performing very well.

SHANE So they need to get their books in order first?

RICHARD Well, when the economy’s doing better, then the public are more receptive to trade deals.

SHANE And so how do you think the next four years is going to go for Barack Obama, Jennifer?

JENNIFER I think he’s going to be busy creating legacies as well as doing— This is his chance to do good policy and to really play hardball, as well as consensus politics. But he has to be a better communicator in terms of selling the policies that he’s interested in. He was a bit quiet in his first term. But he’s got the experience now and he’s comfortable in the job, and so I think I think looking forward this could be a very good term for him.

SHANE You’re nodding at that, Peter, but very quickly – the trade deal. Do you think we’re going to get it?

PETER Yes, we will, within this term. The only issue against us, frankly, is the number of people who are hoping to get on board, and we have to ensure that we get the core in the group and then move on later.

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