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Week In News: Previewing The First Debate


It's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden.

MITT ROMNEY: Eight percent unemployment for over, how many, 43 months right here in Las Vegas and in Nevada. You've seen housing prices bumping along the bottom, record numbers of foreclosures. These are tough times. We have a president who says he can't fix Washington. I can. I will lead. I'll get the job done.

LYDEN: Mitt Romney yesterday on the campaign trail in Sin City. James Fallows of The Atlantic joins us, as he does most Saturdays. Nice to talk to you, Jim.

JAMES FALLOWS: Hello, Jacki.

LYDEN: About a week and a half until the first presidential debate and it's already been a long, hard-fought battle. What are you hoping to hear?

FALLOWS: I am hoping, more than expecting, to see something a little different from the normal debate matchup. Most of the time, these debates seem to matter most with the viewing public not as intellectual contests or policy point scoring, but rather simply as comparisons of human beings. In this case, since so few people seem to be undecided anymore, since the differences in the parties seem so stark, what I actually am hoping is that the candidates might fill in some of the missing details about what they would actually do if they become president.

If President Obama succeeds, if Governor Romney becomes president, what they would do exactly about Iran, where exactly they would cut the budget, how exactly they would address some of the questions of long-term job stagnation. So at least the questioners can ask them about those issues. Whether or not they'll answer, we'll see.

LYDEN: Right. And, of course, that will be moderated by Jim Lehrer. Yesterday, Jim, you wrote on your blog about Ann Romney, giving us a glimpse into how difficult this process has been. And it happened during an Iowa radio interview. Let's hear that.


ANN ROMNEY: Stop it. This is hard. You want to try it? Get in the ring. This is hard.

LYDEN: You called this moment the truest glimpse we've seen of any of the national-level candidates or their spouses this year.

FALLOWS: What I meant was that anybody who has been in or around politics, as I was long ago when working for then candidate Jimmy Carter, recognizes something the general public may overlook, which is just how terribly hard it is to be a politician, especially a national-level politician. You're always tired. You're always asking people for money. You always have to be on, and you have to live with a certainty that even if you succeed, very large numbers of people just hate you and think you're unworthy.

And so what came through in Mrs. Romney's little exhalation there, I think, is something anybody involved in politics can recognize instantly. Unfortunately, there's a kind of unwritten law of politics that she broke at that same time, which is that you're not allowed to show the strain. The role of a politician, especially a presidential candidate or those around him, is to ask for the honor and the dignity and the glory of leading and representing our nation.

They need to present it as a privilege rather than a burden. So showing the strain that all national-level candidates and their entourages feel is something you usually try to avoid.

LYDEN: And the (unintelligible) of the week, I guess you could say it, came out yesterday afternoon. Mitt Romney released his 2011 tax return. Any revelations worth noting?

FALLOWS: Apparently, not so far. Governor Romney was true to his promise to release this year's return, also true to his promise to minimize deductions so that he paid his specified rate - effective rate of 14 percent. I think the main revelation to those of us whose income comes mainly from taxable wages is how different the income tax laws are for those - lots of capital income versus those of us who get our income on W-2s.

LYDEN: James Fallows is national correspondent with The Atlantic. And you can read his blog at jamesfallows.theatlantic.com. Jim, thanks so much.

FALLOWS: Thank you, Jacki. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.