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JOHN KING, USA
Interview With Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley; Obama and Romney in Ohio; Controversial Court Decision in Egypt
Aired June 14, 2012 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening. I'm John King.
Battleground Ohio is the stage, as President Obama and challenger Mitt Romney offer competing economic visions. Their ideas are different, but is either candidate thinking outside the box?
In Egypt, a court decision critics call a bloodless coup -- the country's highest court dissolves the post-Tahrir Square parliament and sides with the old Mubarak guard in a key presidential election ruling.
And more and more young Americans have doubts there's a God. Is that a healthy skepticism or is it dangerous trend for religious institutions?
We begin tonight with the defining issue in the 2012 presidential campaign. That is, of course, the economy, and competing speeches in the state that could well decide the outcome, Ohio. Where the candidates spoke speaks volumes about the battle within the battleground.
Let's take a look. The president spoke up here in Northeast Ohio, up in the Cleveland area. You see the blue from 2008. That region, Cuyahoga County, the Cleveland area, Democrats must dominate it to win close races statewide. Where was Mitt Romney? He was down here. Hamilton County is where Cincinnati is in the southwest corner, pivotal territory for Republicans in close statewide races.
You might notice President Obama actually carried that area or part of it in 2008. Now, the Republican challenger hopes a look at the past three-plus years convinces voters not to give the Democratic incumbent four more. Let's take a look at what we're talking about. If you look at the past three-plus years, Governor Romney would make this case. The unemployment rate, when the president took office, 7.8 percent.
Where is it now? At 8.2 percent. And in that same time frame, look again, the nation has lost, there's the math, more than 600,000 manufacturing jobs.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And my experience in thinking about people who I want to have work for me, whether it's my doctor or the person that is going to be painting the house, I want to make sure they did a good job the first time, and if they didn't, I want someone who can do a better job.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: In Ohio, a state that's absolutely essential to Governor Romney's path to 270 electoral votes, it's not as black and white when it comes to economic matters.
Let's take another close look here. Yes, Governor Romney can make the case that manufacturing jobs, they are down, 23,000 during the past three-plus years. But look at the unemployment rate since President Obama took office, 7.4 percent now. It was 8.6 percent back when he assumed the presidency.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Of course the economy isn't where it needs to be. Of course, we have a lot more work to do. Everybody knows that. The debate in this election is about how we grow faster and how we create more jobs and how we pay down our debt.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin, and our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, join me now.
A big day in the state of Ohio.
Jess, I want to go you first. When you listen to both of these candidates, predictable, not much new -- and I don't say that to be critical -- they're both trying to explain their positions to voters. But I say this to be a bit critical, I guess, not much outside of the box or bold, fairly predictable, yes?
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and it was more pressure frankly on the president because he is the one who went out saying they planned this speech to reframe the choice in this election.
Look, what he gave was a forceful defense of his record. He said that repeatedly that he has made progress. But not only did he not outline new ideas to jump-start or move the economy forward. He didn't outline a new frame to understand the choice.
And, John, you could say that this is the second time in the last week-and-a-half he has gone out to talk about the economy without really offering something new.
KING: I think it is a reflection in part, both Jess and Gloria, of how close the race is. Both candidates are being safe. Others might say they're being timid.
Let's focus on Governor Romney for a second. He is down in that part of the state that's absolutely critical. He knows that four years ago, President Obama actually carried Hamilton County. Republicans are still embarrassed by that one. Most of his speech was about how the other guy has had three-and-a-half years and hasn't done all that much. Has he been as proactive about here is what I would do?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. Well, obviously his preferred choice is to make this a referendum on President Obama, so he wants to say we have given him three-and-a-half years, it's not working, now you have to give me a chance.
I would argue and lots of other lots of Republicans have argued, including Governor Walker of Wisconsin, that just as Barack Obama may need to come up with a vision, an economic vision, so does Mitt Romney. He has got a 59-point plan, which is kind of a muddle. Who knows what's in it, 59 points? People don't. So, they're saying you have got to narrow, simplify, focus your economic message beyond this is what I would do day on one, or this is what I would do in my first 100 days, and give people something to vote for rather than just asking them to vote against President Obama.
KING: And, Jess, you mentioned a critical point. We have an incumbent president. When you have an incumbent president, the threshold question for voters first is, are we open to having him back?
If they answer no to that, then Governor Romney's path is a lot easier, as it was for a guy named Governor Clinton back in the 1992 election. I want you to listen here to a bit of what the president said today as he tried to convince voters, I am trying, but I need more time.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Recovering from the crisis of 2008 has always been the first and most urgent order of business, but it's not enough. Our economy won't be truly healthy until we reverse that much longer and profound erosion of middle-class jobs and middle-class incomes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: It is a very different framing from the bit we played last night, where in February 2009, again just weeks after taking office, he said if I haven't turned this around in three years, it is a one- term proposition. Now he is essentially saying it is an eight-year proposition.
YELLIN: Well, look, it's something that maybe what he could do is come out, you wonder if he shouldn't come out and say, look, maybe, maybe we underestimated -- to quote George W. Bush -- the -- wasn't he the one who said it, the depth of the recession, the depth of the hole we were in, and that we inherited something, a much more protracted recession than we realized and it is going to take longer to dig us out of it.
But what he's really doing here, John, is, as you know, running against George W. Bush again, and saying, look, this was a major disaster we were handed, we did our best, we have made progress, but those guys really put us in a hole. And it is no surprise that he is saying that because Gallup polling shows that as much as Americans, a majority blame the president for the U.S. economy shape, even more still blame George W. Bush.
BORGER: The public doesn't blame Bush. They're not interested in hearing that.
KING: Well, Bush won't be on the ballot. Even if they blame George W. Bush more than Barack Obama, George W. Bush won't be on the ballot in November.
BORGER: And it is a leadership question. They don't want a president who whines about what a terrible situation he is in and woe is me. They want somebody who can lead us out of it.
KING: We could have gone to their Web site six weeks ago, and found exactly what both of them talked about today. The economic conditions in the world and in the country have changed since then. We know job growth is less robust than people predicted it would be, even nonpartisan economists.
We know the European crisis is affecting the United States. Will either one of these guys change their plans to adapt to today or are they just going to stay in their predictability? Is that a word?
BORGER: It is hard -- it's honestly hard to know.
I think they're in their safe corners right now. You have to see where this is at the end of the summer, as you head into the convention speeches. Some Democrats have suggested to me that the convention speech for President Obama as well as for Mitt Romney is the place where you can start defining your campaign heading forward because that's when people start paying attention. But I think today they were playing it safe.
KING: Playing it safe.
Jess, you expect any -- is the convention when we will draw the line?
YELLIN: He won't change his policy prescriptions, he won't change his message unless the polling really tanks and unless he is absolutely forced to. This is the track he's on for awhile.
But I would just make -- that they're committed to for now at least. I would make the point though that the reason that he is blaming Bush is he is making the case that Mitt Romney is Bush 2.0, that if you vote for Mitt Romney, you are getting the policies that George W. Bush was advocating, and that's the kind of case he's trying to make.
Since we are not getting it, I'm sure voters aren't.
KING: The morphing ad is just around the corner. I can see it coming any day now.
KING: Chief White House correspondent Jessica Yellin, our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, thanks.
In a moment, we will dig deeper into what the next four years could bring under either the Obama or Romney economic plan.
And later, a week of wrenching testimony wraps up, but the prosecution still isn't finished with the sex abuse case against the former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky.
KING: Let's get back to that Ohio showdown today, Mitt Romney vs. President Obama in the state same on the same day trying to build up their own economic plans while knocking down the other's.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: You may have heard that President Obama is on the other side of the state, and he is going to be delivering a speech on the economy. He's doing that because he hasn't delivered a recovery for the economy.
OBAMA: I don't believe that giving someone like Mr. Romney another huge tax cut is worth ending the guarantee of basic security we have Always provided the elderly and the sick and those who are actively looking for work.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Let's cut through the rhetoric, and talk about how both plans would truly impact the economy.
Joining me, Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley, who is chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, and Vin Weber, a former member of Congress, economic policy adviser now for Mitt Romney who worked for the Bush and the McCain campaigns as well.
Governor O'Malley, I want to start with you.
The president is out in Ohio today. He's trying to convince the American people, give me more time, give me four more years and I will bring the economy back. It is a pretty steep challenge if you look at the jobs report over the last three months, 69,000 jobs in May, 115,000 in April, 120,000 in March, and just today, Governor, we learned that weekly claims for unemployment have spiked again, which tells you June is probably another tepid month.
What can the president say to convince people give me four more years and I will turn that around?
GOV. MARTIN O'MALLEY (D), MARYLAND: Look, there are two competing economic plans here.
What the president is laying out in Ohio is that plan that actually expands opportunity. And what Mitt Romney would like us to return back to is a plan that concentrates wealth. And, oh, by the way, the side effects of concentrating wealth, especially through our tax code, is that you fuel deficits, you let your infrastructure crumble, and America for the first time ever educates less of our children in lesser ways, rather than actually expanding opportunity and doing the things that grow our economy in every generation. And that's the stark choice.
KING: Come on that point, Vin, and answer the governor's -- what the governor is essentially saying, elect Mitt Romney and you go back to George W. Bush. You give the rich tax cuts, you don't create jobs, and you hurt the little guy.
VIN WEBER, FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: The governor has a policy direction that changes considerably from what we're doing right now.
We start by freezing regulation, and beginning to roll back the regulatory avalanche that's crushing business under this administration, and then we do start moving to tax reform that actually brings rates down and broadens the base, and closes loopholes, which everybody agrees would be a more efficient tax code, including the president's own deficit reduction commission.
So, we're not talking about giving anything away here. We're talking about going to policies that promise to revive a private economy that's doing badly.
KING: Do the circumstances of the moment, gentlemen, change what either of these candidates -- one happens to be the incumbent president -- should do? Remember back heading into the 2008 campaign Governor Bush -- President Bush -- excuse me -- called both candidates off the road because we were in that cliff then.
Right now, there are a lot of people who there's a risk, a risk of another recession because of what's happening in Europe, because of the slowdown here in the states.
Vin Weber, to you first.
Would Governor Romney change anything in his plan today? Would he say we have to maybe tinker with this because we are on the edge of a cliff?
WEBER: I don't think he needs to change anything. There's more urgency to doing the kinds of things he wants to do, some of which are very simple, like approving the Keystone pipeline, which would create 20,000 jobs and help us get a little bit closer to energy independence. Others will take more time. KING: Your candidate is the incumbent, Governor O'Malley. One thing some people say is Republicans want to extend Bush tax cuts, that maybe the president should extend them for another year in exchange that for infrastructure spending you talk about, in exchange for maybe aid to the states to keep the police and the firefighters and the teachers.
Would that be a deal worth cutting before the election, if he could?
O'MALLEY: I think the president is open to anything that actually accelerates this recovery.
Unfortunately, we have Republicans who are opposed to anything that accelerates the recovery. So, right now, we may very well be going through a rough patch, but the direction is forward. We need to restore the balance that was lost during the disastrous decisions of the Bush presidency and we need to keep moving our country forward, expanding jobs and creating opportunity.
KING: So, Vin Weber, if the president I will extend all of the Bush tax cuts for one year because we're in this precarious situation right now, let's take away some of the uncertainty out there, but in return you have got to give me the construction spending, keep you have got to give me some money so I can help governors and mayors keep the police, the firefighters and the teachers on the payroll, is that a deal Governor Romney would support and maybe nudge the Republicans in Congress to go along with or is that a bad idea?
WEBER: I think the governor thinks that spending is a problem right now, not a solution.
Certainly extending the tax cuts, the Bush-Obama tax cuts, because President Obama already signed them into an extension once, would be the right thing to do. But coupling that with a big increase in spending is not necessarily the right thing to do.
KING: Governor O'Malley, both of you gentlemen have been incumbent politicians. And sometimes life in politics isn't fair. When you look at the president's predicament, some would go back and draw the comparison to 1992 to President George H.W. Bush.
The economy was starting to come back, but then it goes back, two steps forward, one step back. When you look at it historically, how steep is the hill for the president? Forget that he is a Democrat, but how steep is the hill for the president? He is the incumbent at a tough time.
O'MALLEY: This is a just tough part in America's history, but I think the president rises to that occasion and we all need to rise to that occasion as well.
Look, he has been responsible for the smallest spending growth rates in federal spending of any president since Eisenhower. That's a fact. What some of the Romney camp would like to create is this alternative universe where you can eat cake, and lose weight, and that's not the way the world works.
KING: When President Obama says you're just getting George W. Bush again, give me one or two specific examples, policy examples, where, no, Governor Romney is different from President Bush in a way that you think helps the economy and would create jobs.
WEBER: The governor has a tax proposal that would apply to only people making less than $200,000 a year to encourage them to invest. We need to get small investors back into the marketplace. We need to get the average person to have renewed confidence in our free enterprise system. That's not something that President Bush ever proposed.
KING: Congressman Weber, Governor O'Malley, appreciate your time today. Thank you.
Coming up, the Pentagon puts the finishing touches on contingency plans for U.S. military intervention in Syria.
And later, find out how many young people are questioning whether God exists.
KING: Welcome back.
KING: There was a potentially dangerous turn today in one of the first countries caught up in Arab spring. Some call it a bloodless coup.
And after listening to four days of harrowing and graphic testimony, the jury in the Jerry Sandusky trial gets a break.
KING: This half-hour: Jerry Sandusky called himself the tickle monster, according to one of his accusers. We're poring over today's testimony in the child rape case with a former sex crime prosecutor, including allegations of what happened in a locker room shower.
Then, dueling economic speeches from President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney -- the "Truth" about why they were both heavy on heated words, but light on substance.
Plus, more young people doubting the existence of God. We will ask what's behind this lack of belief among young people.
Two more alleged victims took the stand today to testify in the child sex abuse case against the former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky. The man prosecutors label victim number six told the courtroom Sandusky molested him in a gym shower back in 1998 when he was 11 years old. He said Sandusky picked him up to rinse shampoo out of his hair and said, "I'm going to squeeze your guts out." The alleged victim said that's the last thing I remember about being in the shower. It is all black.
The boy's mother reported the incident to university police, and it was investigated, but no charges were filed.
Joining me now is Wendy Murphy, a former sex crimes prosecutor and a law professor at New England Law Boston.
Wendy, it's good to see you today. I wish the circumstances were better.
Now, if you notice a pattern, you do notice a pattern from these young people testifying, age between 11 and 13, saying they met Jerry Sandusky and he took them into the shower and molested them there. How important is establishing a pattern for making a successful prosecution?
WENDY MURPHY, FORMER PROSECUTOR: Well, these kinds of cases are unusual when you have this many victims, but you can bet that a jury that might have trouble believing one victim or even two is going to find it pretty difficult to think they're all lying when they hear the same M.O. over and over again, because then it starts to look like, you know, this guy had a plan for these kids, and he exercised the plan over and over again in the same way.
That's how he won their trust. He groomed them. He tried them out in the shower first, because that's a place where, if any of the kids told about a hand on the leg or a hug, he could say, "Hey, we were in the shower. It's innocent," and move on to the next victim he may have an easier time silencing and so forth.
So I do think the jury is likely to use the fact that there was a lot of similarity heavily against Sandusky in this case, because they're going to think that this was his way of -- of accessing this particular group of kids.
KING: Most of these accusers met Sandusky through his charity. It's called the Second Mile, disadvantaged youth. He's trying to help them out. Some of them, including victim No. 6 today, said he continued to have contact with Sandusky, sending him Father's Day cards, Thanksgiving day greetings. How common is that, and does that undermine the prosecution that the victim stayed in touch?
MURPHY: You know, if you didn't understand these cases, you might say "Well, that's weird." And lots of jurors who are not familiar with this kind of behavior do say to themselves, "If that happened to me, I wouldn't stay in touch with the guy," and it can be a problem.
But you know, in fact, it's very typical. Kids, especially when they're groomed before puberty, they don't have the context and maturity to understand sexuality. So they don't really understand. They can't make sense of the behavior in a way that gives them the tools to be able to, you know, understand it right. So they start to like the guy. They can feel great affection, even sincere affection for a guy like this.
And, look, these were kids that for the most part didn't have fathers. They looked up to this guy, and 90 percent of the time he was good to them. He was giving them gifts and taking them places. They loved this man. So there is, of course, sincerity in their affection for him.
It makes sense to me that these kids continued to feel something for the guy, strange as that may seem. Children do accommodate their abusers, because they're desperate for affection.
KING: You had another of the alleged victims today, victim No. 3, said he never told anyone, not anyone, until police came to question him in 2011. Again, how common is that? And does keeping the secret for a long period of time impact the prosecution or the defense strategy?
MURPHY: Boy, you know, such a good question, because I don't think we quite get in this culture how prevalent this behavior is and how underreported it is.
Millions, millions of kids are sexually violated every year. Only a handful ever tell, primarily because it's so easy to keep kids quiet. Either you offer them prizes, or you threaten to kill their parents. I mean, they're so easy to manipulate into silence.
So as long as the jury gets the sense, which I think is -- is happening in this case because they're hearing it from so many kids over and over and over again, as long as they get the sense that that's how these kids react, they're going to think it's normal, and they're right.
We as a culture need to understand that it's normal not to tell, and then we have to really convince kids that it's OK to tell. I hope any child watching your show or paying attention to this case feels empowered to tell now that these kids have come forward, because it really is the fear, the sense that they're the only ones it's happening to that allows this kind of behavior to perpetuate in society.
I love the fact that this case is happening in a sense, and it's very uncomfortable for us to hear this stuff, and it's so disgusting and abhorrent. But we have to get comfortable with our discomfort in order to open the door and let the kids speak out and open our arms to them, and be open-minded to the fact that humans, even seemingly nice guys, are capable of doing very disgusting things to children. It is quite common, sad to say.
KING: Sad to say. A sad point. Let's hope that some good, some openness does come from this, because it is a hard one to cover, and disgusting is a good word for it. That case continues. We'll continue. Wendy, appreciate your insights tonight.
MURPHY: You're welcome.
KING: Moving on to a very major story overseas in Egypt tonight, where some are calling for new protests after more than a year's worth of reforms wiped out today, setting off a confrontation between the country's old guard and the military on the one side, Islamic political parties on the other side.
Our senior international correspondent, Ben Wedeman, right there in Cairo.
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, some in Cairo are calling it a soft military coup d'etat. Today, the constitutional court ruled that the country's first post-revolutionary parliament is to be disbanded due to irregularities during the election.
This comes just a day after the justice ministry granted military police and military intelligence the right to detain and interrogate civilians. The country's military rulers, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, now have sweeping legislative and executive powers and are hoping that one of their own, former head of the air force Ahmed Shafik, will defeat Mohamed Mursi in the runoff presidential elections this weekend.
In the words of one wit, this scenario represents a remake of the Mubarak regime, just without Hosni Mubarak -- John.
KING: Ben Wedeman in Cairo on an important day there. We'll watch that as we go forward.
Now, regardless of your own personal faith, you've likely heard the question, what would Jesus do? But here is the question more and more young people are asking. Is there a God?
A new survey from the Pew Research Center says one third of people under 30 have doubted the existence of a divine power at some point. That means 68 percent haven't.
Now, compare that to the number five years ago, when 83 percent of so-called millennials never doubted, said they had never, ever doubted God's existence.
Joining me now for some insight, Stephen Prothero, religious scholar of Boston University, and a contributor to our CNN belief blog.
Stephen, it's an interesting question. Some people would look at these results and say more and more young people are nonbelievers. You look at them and say what?
STEPHEN PROTHERO, RELIGIOUS SCHOLAR: Well, two-thirds are saying they never even in their entire lives have ever debated, have ever doubted the existence of God. I think most of the church people I know have some mixture of faith and doubt. So I don't really see evidence here of the fact that religion is going away. It seems that religion is perhaps changing a little bit, but you know, only about 3 percent of millennials, people under 30, say that they're saying that they're atheists. So I don't see a lot of evidence here for a kind of secularization problem in America.
KING: One of the ways we learn about these things is through surveys. One of the things I understand that you do is use this Google program, M Grand Viewer (ph). Tell us about the program and how it helps you keep track and what you learn from it about religious views.
PROTHERO: Well, it's one of these nerdy things you can find online. And what it does is it tracks words in books from 1800 until 2008, I think, is the last year that they do it. And you can look for a particular keyword and match it up against another keyword and see how often that word shows up in books.
It's kind of a blunt instrument, but it's a rough gauge to see how certain ideas or how certain people are sort of trending, as we might say, over time.
KING: I don't know if there's a database to make this test or to match this up, but are younger people today, you say sure, it is a healthy skepticism. Of course people at times challenge it at times in their lives. Things happen, you doubt the existence of God.
Do young people today ask that question more often than young people, say, 20, 50, or 100 years ago?
PROTHERO: I think it's possible. But if you track on that Endgram (ph) survey data, if you track the word "faith" versus the word "doubt," you'll see that in the 19th Century, faith was a more prevalent word than doubt. But really, since about 100 years ago, they've been tracking pretty closely.
And I think for most people in America, there's some mixture of faith and doubt in their belief. And so the fact that there's some doubt -- after all, Mother Teresa told us that she -- she doubted. We don't think of her as a non-Catholic or a nonbeliever.
Seems to me that the "how" of our religion is changing, and maybe it's for the better. Maybe it's becoming -- our religion in America is becoming more thoughtful.
KING: That's a point you made in your CNN.com piece. What is shifting here is the "how" of religion. What do you mean by that? Spell it out a little bit more clearly.
PROTHERO: Well, I think we think about religion, sometimes these people outside of it, as sort of a fervent, you know, faith that just captures our imagination and gives us all the answers to the big questions in life.
And I think of religions more as collections of questions, and they prompt us to ask difficult things. So the fact that there's some doubt in the midst of people's faith, again doesn't strike me as a big argument that religion is going away. It seems that religion is changing. It's becoming more sophisticated, and maybe it's just growing up, as the millennials themselves are growing up.
KING: Stephen Prothero, appreciate your insight today. It is a fascinating question. Thank you.
President Obama, Governor Romney go head to head in battleground Ohio. Coming up, the truth about why neither candidate is pitching a bolder plan to fix the economy.
KING: In Ohio today, President Obama spoke one undeniable truth.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This election will take many twists and many turns. Polls will go up, and polls willing down. There will be no shortage of gaffes and controversies that keep both campaigns busy and give the press something to write about.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Now it was designed as a laugh line into what the campaign billed as a major economic speech.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: If you want to give the policies of the last decade another try, then you should vote for Mr. Romney.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Here's Governor Romney, just a few minutes before the president, also in Ohio.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Talk is cheap. Action speaks loudly. Look what's happened across this country. If you think things are going swimmingly, if you think the president is right when he said the private sector is doing fine, well, then he's the guy to vote for.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Now, there's no question, the race offers very different choices. President Obama wants to raise taxes on the wealthy, spend billions on roads and bridges, and give states billions more to help pay for teachers, police, firefighters.
Governor Romney wants to keep the Bush tax cuts and cut some taxes even more. And he says the deficit is too high for Washington to be borrowing to help the states pay for those policemen, and firefighters, and teachers. But "Truth" is, neither candidate is being especially bold. Both hew closely to their respective parties' longtime orthodoxy. Neither used this day to put anything new on the table, either about immediate economic challenges or about the longer term questions, about Medicare, Social Security, maybe big tax reform.
In a word, both are playing it safe. Now, that happens in very close elections, and it happens a lot, too often in today's very polarized politics. The country could use a bigger, bolder debate. But in the big politics of the moment, that's unlikely to happen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: What's holding us back is a stalemate in Washington between two fundamentally different views of which direction America should take. And this election is your chance to break that stalemate.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Now, will that happen? Will voters break the stalemate in a big way? Well, you're the voters. You have 145 days to think about it.
Here tonight to talk truth "The New Yorker's" Washington correspondent, CNN contributor Ryan Lizza; Democratic strategist Penny Lee; in Macon, Georgia, the editor in chief of RedState.com and our CNN contributor, Erick Erickson.
Ryan, to you first. This is the question I have. Will circumstances force them to change their current, rather predictable, whether you like them or not, rather predictable policies?
Back in the 2008 campaign, the crisis came along. It was a Republican, George W. Bush, who had the TARP program, the bailouts. Will something, the slowdown in Europe, something force both of these candidates to do something bold in the short term?
RYAN LIZZA, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORKER": Well, the danger, political strategists always tell the candidates don't be too specific, because as soon as you're too specific, then you can attack that policy.
So, so far, you know, Obama laid out some stuff in the State of the Union, and he laid out some stuff in his budget earlier this year. Those are some specific policies.
Romney has laid out his -- his long, I forget how many points economic plan. I think they -- you know, I think it might be the period we're in in this campaign, maybe the conventions in October when we get a little bit more meat on the bone.
I think the other people the Obama people have is -- we talked about this last night -- they -- they feel like they've laid out their agenda, you know, since going back as far back as 2007. They laid it all out. They told the American people what his presidency and what he's all about.
And there's a debate right now in the campaign between the political strategists and the policy guys about, you know, is there something new? Is there something new we can put out there? Because as you just pointed out, this speech today got panned by a lot of people in the political press, because it didn't have any news in it.
KING: There's this strategic way, Penny, to run a campaign. There are tactical ways. This seems much more tactical. I'm looking at constituencies. I'm looking at, you know, kind of keep -- if Obama wins Ohio, Romney can't be elected president. There are mathematical ways but it's not going to happen.
Do we need, given the times the country faces, a more strategic campaign that thinks -- that talks big picture? Because whoever wins is probably going to have a very closely divided Congress and a closely divided government. Wouldn't it be better if they put bigger, meatier ideas on the table? So if they win, they can say, "I promised this"?
PENNY LEE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, I think the president has laid out those. Again, back to what Ryan was saying, and he has done that State of the Union in other places.
I thought it was very interesting to see the audiences in which they were speaking to. Mitt Romney went back to his base, and he spoke primarily to that. President Obama spoke not only to his base but expanded it to the independents, as well. He had some very, very key lines in there about bridging and working together, about shaping out and divide -- not having this division that we've had, not having this overtly partisan politics. Bringing everybody together.
Very, very much back to the 2008 election when independents were key, and he was speaking directly to those in his message today.
KING: I'm not sure, and I'm not just criticizing the president. I'm just not sure anybody in America believes that. After the last three years and the last 10 years and the last 15 years.
LEE: He still had that hope and he still had that vision and he still wanted to get out and reach out, even though he's been rebuffed.
KING: Erick, sometimes when you have an incumbent president, just criticizing him is enough. When you have an incumbent in office, sometimes you just say guys had a chance, hasn't worked. Let's have somebody new. But given the challenges the country faces, has Governor Romney done enough?
ERICK ERICKSON, EDITOR AT LARGE, REDSTATE.COM: I don't think he's done enough, but I think he's headed in the right direction. I think that when you look even at the Gallup poll, where most Americans blame George Bush for the economic downturn, and then Barack Obama, if you actually go to the underlying pulse that's in that, remember for the last three weeks we've been hearing from those surrogates for the Obama campaign and the editorialists around the country that, well, you know, really the president has nothing to do with the economy and can't really shape it in that way.
Well, it seems like the American people think the president can, and they blame George Bush. If we do head into another economic downturn, whether its head winds from Europe or what, the American people are going to blame Barack Obama. So Mitt Romney can afford, I think, to play it a little more safe in this economic climate than the president can.
KING: All right. Everybody stand by. We'll continue the conversation. But "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" coming up at the top of the hour.
And today in Egypt, Erin, this one is so disappointing. The high court kicks out the parliament, putting the country's historic election; not just the election but all those protests into. Some Egyptians calling it a military coup. You're out front on this story. What do we expect?
ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: And we are. And it's pretty amazing, John. You're talking about the military. They have a candidate they want to win the elections, and now it looks like, according to some independent observers I talked to, that the elections this weekend will be rigged and that we perceived as rigged. It's a pretty tragic thing that's happened.
How do we actually get here, John? You know, Barack Obama called this sort of a moment like Gandhi, a moment like the Berlin Wall falling. And here we are, with the country seeming to fall into the abyss. So we're going to talk about exactly what went so wrong, what America got so wrong about Egypt.
Plus, a more inspirational story. Aimee Copeland, you know the woman who had the horrible bacterial infection and has lost several of her limbs, is getting a little better, John, and could be really on the road to recovery. It's amazing. Her father is going to be on the show tonight.
KING: Great. That's good encouraging news. We like to see some of that. We look forward to that. Uplifting. Erin, thanks. See you in just a few minutes.
BURNETT: All right.
KING: Still ahead here, a back yard in Texas bombarded -- look at these pictures, wow -- baseball-sized hail. We'll check out the damage.
And this is how the Army celebrates its birthday.
KING: Tonight at 9 p.m. Eastern on HBO, "41." It's a documentary about our 41st president, George H.W. Bush. Here's a snippet.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I've seen the unexpected crisis that arrives in a cable and a young aide's hand, and so I know that what it all comes down to, this election is the man at the desk. And who should sit at that desk? My friends, I am that man.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Let's continue the conversation. Erick Erickson is in Macon, Georgia. Ryan Lizza, Penn Lee are here with me.
He was our last one-term president. Bill Clinton served two terms. George W. Bush served two terms. We'll see what happens with President Obama.
I make the case he's the most underrated president of our time. Why? Because the Cold War ended on Ronald Reagan's watch, but George H.W. Bush was president when the Soviet Union collapses. There are nuclear weapons all over eastern Europe. There's great uncertainty what will happen in Poland, Lithuania, Slovenia, Estonia, and on and on and on. Not a shot was fired. No loose nukes, at least that we know of.
And Erick Erickson, I'm going to go to you first on this one. Bill Clinton never would have had, or at least not an easier path to the balanced budget had George H.W. Bush not broken "read my lips, no new taxes." Doesn't he deserve credit for that?
ERICKSON: I think it depends on how history's going to judge him on that one. Republicans won't judge him very well on it.
I will tell you, though, I agree with you: George H.W. Bush is one of the most underrated presidents. You know, we couldn't have transitioned into the 21st century without the things he did leading up to Bill Clinton. And if you asked Bill Clinton even, George H.W. Bush was enormously helpful to him once he got into the White House, even given their rivalry.
KING: He served -- Republicans, they can't swallow that pill. But he was a guy -- he knew it when he cut that deal, that he might be costing himself a second term. But he thought it was the right thing to do for his country. What a foreign thought.
LIZZA: The one-termers -- the one-termers never are looked kindly upon by history.
But you're right. He did two big things right. He did the successful prosecution of the Gulf War in a way that his son's war in Iraq -- makes that look pretty good.
And he cut the balance -- he got the budget on a path to being balanced in the Clinton years.
I remember years ago, the "New Republic" did a cover story called "Our Greatest Modern President." It was after the first -- after he left office. And you know, there's a good case that he was very successful.
KING: But incredibly underappreciated. I don't think not just by Republicans. OK, that was when I came to Washington and I was covering labor issues. And he cut a deal with the late senator, Edward Kennedy, to raise the minimum wage. They fought like cats and dogs. The Bush White House said Kennedy's a socialist. He's crazy liberal. What's he trying to do? It's going to ruin the economy.
Kennedy fought back. Then in the end, they cut a deal. Again, what an odd thing to do.
LEE: What an odd thing to do. Exactly.
And he was a -- he was a good leader. And he was exactly what the times needed. He reached across the aisle, which is something that people are so desperate right now for.
I was just recently at his presidential library in College Station. You're reminded of what all the sacrifices he actually made for this country. Back in World War II, when he was very young and had the tragic accident that he had there on the -- on his own aircraft. So he gave a lot to this country and a lot to be deserved.
KING: A gentleman, a gentleman. Politics could use more gentlemen. George H.W. Bush was a gentleman. I'm sorry, Erick, you know, he's just...
LIZZA: ... shifted under his feet -- that transition period, right...
ERICKSON: You know, we always talk good about the presidents once they're out of office.
KING: That's true. But we should. We should be nice. They're good public servants. Erick Erickson, Ryan Lizza, Penny Lee, thanks.
ERICKSON: Other than Jimmy Carter.
KING: There you go. See, you got that Georgia dig in at the end.
Lisa Sylvester is back now with the latest news you need to know right now.
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, John.
Well, a grim milestone tonight. Two thousand Americans have now died in Operation Enduring Freedom. The latest death, Marine Corporal Taylor Bonn of Minnesota. His local paper says the 21-year-old died in combat yesterday in southern Afghanistan, three months after marrying his high school sweetheart.
Now, keep in mind, some Operation Enduring Freedom deaths have occurred outside Afghanistan. British Prime Minister David Cameron testified today yes, he was friends with press executives but that it never affected government policy.
He appeared before an ongoing inquiry into press ethics which he helped set up after a phone hacking scandal. Cameron fielded questions about Rupert Murdoch's News International and its ties to the government, including his friendship with former Murdoch executive Rebekah Brooks.
And the Texas billionaire who defrauded thousands of investors in one of the largest Ponzi schemes in U.S. history was sentenced to 110 years in prison today. Allen Stanford is convicted of selling $7 billion worth of fake deposits to an offshore bank in Antigua. The financier is appealing the conviction.
And the hailstorms that battered northern Texas last night left damaged roofs, mashed theater marquees and baseball-sized dents in cars, potentially adding up to $400 million in damage. The National Weather Service calls the storms the worst to hit the Dallas area since 2003. Three people were hurt.
John, that is some kind of damage there.
SYLVESTER: Look at that. Look at this windshield. Unbelievable.
KING: I've seen hail before, but nothing like that.
All right, Lisa. Stay with us. Tonight's "Moment You May Have Missed." There we go.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Three, 2, 1.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: That's the sweet sound of cupcake ammo being launched from a cannon on board a -- you saw it, cupcake tank. What better way to celebrate the Army's 237th birthday? You're looking at 5,000 cupcakes, 200 pounds of camouflage frosting and one delicious birthday present, courtesy of Georgetown Cupcake.
Some extras there, in case -- wow. Lisa, you hungry?
SYLVESTER: I am. I love Georgetown Cupcake. I mean, I'm sure you probably have had them a time or two, John.
KING: I'm hungry now. Dinner first, then dessert, folks. We'll see you back here tomorrow night.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.