'This Week' Extra: The Roundtable's Post-Show Thoughts

VIDEO: Cokie Roberts, Melody Barnes, Paul Gigot, Kevin Madden,and Katrina vanden Heuvel

Following the "This Week" roundtable today, we asked our roundtable participants to expand on their discussion. Here are their views.

Melody Barnes: Principles for the Future – Fairness & Opportunity

It strikes me that two of the big issues we discussed today – the Buffett rule and the economic challenges facing women – are fundamentally about the same thing: our country's view of fairness and opportunity.

In two days, we'll mark the point in 2012 that a woman must work to earn what a man made in 2011. It's stunning that in the 21st century, women are still fighting the battle for equal pay and generally making just 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man. And "glass ceiling, locked door and sticky floor" issues persist, as well. Many of the structural and cultural challenges to women's advancement remain, and even among those who do make it to the top, when they get there, they may still find themselves barred from the club.

Those aren't just "women's issues." Lower wages and fewer opportunities depress family incomes at a time when every penny is critical. The portion of households with middle class incomes has steadily declined for more than three decades. More and more Americans are sliding down the ladder while the top 1 percent continue to climb. Since 1979, the average after-tax income of the top 1 percent has risen nearly four-fold.

As a country, we're becoming more stratified with a gaping hole where the middle class use to reside. A recent Brookings Institution study found that among kids born to low-income parents – those in the bottom 20% of income earners – just 6% ever make it to the top 20% of income earners. In fact, almost half of those kids stay at the same income levels as their parents – the bottom 20%.

As I said earlier today on the roundtable, fairness, fiscal common sense, and an unrelenting focus on opportunity should guide our next steps. While tightening our collective economic belt, we have to ask those who can, to pay a little more in taxes; coupled with strategic spending cuts, it's the only way we'll bring our deficit under control. And while living within our means, we must make smart investments that drive economic growth.

For example, investments in education will prepare young people for the jobs of the future that require training after high school. 2.3 million young women are benefitting from the current investment in Pell Grants right now. They – and their families – will have a better shot at the middle class. So will the 16,000 women small businessowners who have received new loans – a smart investment in entrepreneurship.

There's a big difference between being free to fail and being set up to fail. We can't let phony charges of "class warfare" deter us from policy choices that secure the middle class and give low-income kids a serious shot of at least getting out of the bottom 20% of income earners. Let's work together for the American Dream. It will survive – or not – depending on what we do.

Melody Barnes is a former domestic policy advisor to President Obama.

Kevin Madden: Choice Or Referendum Election Both Favor Mitt Romney

Today's roundtable discussion provided an important view into a national discussion about the economy that is sure to find itself front and center during the general election of 2012.

Katrina vanden Heuvel accurately observed during our panel exchange that we can view this election and the debate through the lens of either a "choice or a referendum." I believe either predicament still puts Republicans and Governor Romney in a favorable position.

Every presidential contest is a choice between competing visions for the country. The choice in 2012 will be between the acceptance of the status quo that President Barack Obama has maintained for the last three-and-a-half years – one defined by anemic economic growth, sluggish job creation, rising costs, and enormous deficits driven by an explosion of government spending – or a new way forward championed by Governor Romney promising economic growth fueled by placing greater faith in the American people, entrepreneurism, and economic freedom.

So, yes, there will be a choice of a new direction for the country at a time where record numbers of Americans have registered their belief that the country is currently "headed in the wrong direction."

Even more troubling for President Obama is the prospect of the 2012 contest being framed as a referendum on his leadership, particularly on the issue of the economy. The performance of President Obama matters to the American people who elected him because of his pledge to fix the economy and change the way Washington works. But the economy is not living up to its true potential, and a nation's capital with President Obama in charge has descended into an even more chaotic chorus of blame-mongering.

So, whether it's a choice or a referendum, a president presiding over a faltering economy has limited options and is instead left to merely wave shiny objects like a Buffett Rule tax gimmick, all in an effort to distract voters from the more substantive debate related to his own performance and the performance of the economy.

Kevin Madden is an advisor to the Mitt Romney campaign, and served as national press secretary for Romney's 2008 campaign.

Cokie Roberts: Don't Punish North Korean People For Their Leaders' Mistakes

We didn't get around to talking about North Korea today, but that forsaken land continues to challenge American foreign policy-makers. The regime's nose-thumbing of the international community by firing off a rocket last Friday blew up its chances of receiving aid, just as the rocket itself blew up.

Once it was launched the Obama administration cancelled the planned shipment of food for North Korea's starving masses. I think that's a mistake. Why should the people suffer because their leaders are megalomaniacs? Oh, I know the arguments – that the food would be diverted to the military. Well, the folks in the military are starving as well. The minimum height requirement has been lowered to 4'9" because so many Koreans are stunted by malnourishment. My ten-year-old grandsons are taller than that and I don't think an army of Lilliputians poses much of a threat. (Neither apparently do the ricocheting rockets.)

If the aim is punishing Kim Jong Un, who stood plumply on the platform with his well-fed generals this weekend, maybe the U.S. should find a way to cut off video games instead of food for the many children who, according to one relief agency, have not had protein since January. If the U.S. sent food it would signal to the Koreans and to the world that we live by our values – that we believe human life is important and that we will work to end suffering even when it is brought on by a twisted leader.

That would say something to the would-be terrorists out there who believe that America is the Great Satan. It might even convince the Korean soldiers that they don't want to fight the hand that feeds them.

Katrina vanden Heuvel: No Time For Made-For-Media Disputes

Never a shortage of topics to discuss these days. As we were heading out of the green room this morning, Romney strategist Kevin Madden remarked that the 2004 campaign was like "a Model T" compared to the one unfolding in 2012.

Example Number 1: the debate/flap over Hilary Rosen's comments about Ann Romney. The 24/7 speed with which campaigns now run on does make 2004 seem of another media era. I don't think our politics or American people are better served or better informed as a result of this mad cycle, which thrives on speed, not reflection. And as I said on the roundtable, while stay-at-home mothers of course play an important role, the real issues we should be talking about are equal pay, combating rising family health care costs, affordable access to contraception, paid sick day leave – all of which the GOP oppose.

I just think the discussion is a distraction at a time when our politics are failing to deal with deep-seated, serious problems. What does it have to do with the increase in child poverty in the U.S.? With the fact that our minimum wage is so far behind what it was in 1968? With home foreclosures, massive student debt, and an inequality level that rivals Egypt? Do we really have time to waste on these made-for-media disputes, when our manufacturing base has disappeared and our electoral system is awash in unaccountable money from the 1 percent?

Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner was the "bigfoot" guest at top of "This Week" and most of us on the roundtable agreed he looked like he'd rather be getting root canal than out and about on the Sunday talk circuit. But he did come to life when George S. asked about Mitt Romney's charge that women had been devastated by job loss under President Obama's economic management.

Melody Barnes was very strong in debunking this claim. In fact, as a raft of independent fact-checking outfits and private economists have confirmed, this is a fake number. If I'd had a chance to weigh in, I would have pointed out that the first jobs that were lost during the recession under President George W. Bush, before President Obama even took office, were jobs filled by men – mainly construction and manufacturing jobs. The second phase of job losses were women, including teachers, health care workers, and public sector employees. In fact, the state budget cuts made by Republican governors across the country have been one of the most devastating factors for women's joblessness.

We never got to a discussion of the Veepstakes, but it seems to me the important thing to remember is how much this primary has driven Mitt Romney to the extreme right. In fact, as Washington Post columnist Harold Meyerson pointed out last week, Romney is the most extreme GOP nominee since Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater got the nod in 1964. Goldwater, by the way, relished acknowledging his extremism. Romney's VP choice may well need to reflect this move rightwards. He's had to appease the ultra conservatives who make up so much of the party now, and no matter how much Romney may want an Etch a Sketch redefinition, and a Veep who could help him win over independents, he may have to choose someone who energizes the voters that were so attracted to Rick Santorum's politics.

Katrina vanden Heuvel is the editor and publisher of The Nation.

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