Clintons on the Front Page as Republicans Visit Iowa

Bloomberg View columnists Margaret Carlson and Ramesh Ponnuru met online to chat about Hillary Clinton, mandatory minimums and Republicans in Iowa. Below is a lightly edited transcript.

Margaret: I'm putting this week's front page above-the-fold New York Times story: "Unease at Clinton Foundation Over Finances and Ambitions" under the "It Must Be August" category. How could anyone consider it news that the foundation is running through money like drunken sailors -- raise a half a billion, spend a billion -- conflicting agendas and colliding egos with even more collisions teed up after the arrival of Chelsea and Mrs. Clinton. My favorite tidbit from the story, since I remember Ira Magaziner from my days covering the White House -- in particular Hillarycare -- was when Ira, as director of one part of the foundation, got a back spasm and instead of going into an empty room and riding it out, possibly on the floor, he climbed up on the conference table for relief. He's in need of some Hillarycare.

Ramesh: I have a hard time working up any interest in Chelsea Clinton's increased role at the foundation. But I suppose it is our fate as a nation to be sucked into the Clinton vortex once again for the next few years. My sense is that Hillary Clinton has learned three things from her defeat in 2008: Don't take the nomination for granted; don't create room to your left on a major issue; and don't hire strategists unless they know which states award their delegates winner-take-all. I take her voting-rights speech to have been in furtherance of the first two parts of that strategy.

Margaret: I'm just escaping the Bush vortex and when I look at Republicans, wouldn't mind being sucked in again by Jeb Bush. Just as there are no good candidates to run for mayor of New York, are we doomed to Bushes, Clintons and Cuomos in our national life? On voting rights, Hillary has a point as does a new Lee Daniels' movie I recently saw, "The Butler." I wish Justice Roberts would go see it as well. The thought that we don't need to monitor the states on voting rights 50 years after the passage and bloodshed of the Voting Rights Act is a travesty, and I don't use the word lightly. I challenge you, Ramesh, to come up with a 100 acts of voting fraud. They are going after a phantom problem.

Ramesh: As you may remember, Margaret, I didn't agree with Chief Justice Roberts's opinion on the Voting Rights Act. I didn't think it was the court's place to say that the formula the law relies on to determine which states need monitoring is outdated. But it was outdated, and if the federal government is going to monitor some states especially closely it ought to have some real justification for the ones it picks. On the voter-ID question, the thing that strikes me is that if a lot of people lack IDs they are effectively shut out of full participation in our society, given the number of things that require IDs. So maybe the right thing to do is combine a voter-ID requirement --is it so unreasonable? -- with efforts to get more people IDs. And speaking of civil rights, what did you make of Attorney General Eric Holder's announcement on sentencing reform?

Margaret: I favor easier ID laws. Pennsylvania has tried to make it easier but if you don't need an ID to drive, as my brother doesn't, it is a lot of trouble to get one and it doesn't really come up as much as you might think (those who don't drive, don't usually fly either). On Holder's speech, I'm struck by the lack of resistance. Where are the law and order zealots who got us mandatory minimums and the much harsher penalties for crack than for cocaine? Maybe there is a level of unfairness. African-American men continue to be overrepresented in prisons, and many are there for no good reason. Or I wonder if it's the cost that is keeping the opposition quiet: It's unsustainable to be spending almost $80 billion annually on prisons and much of that for folks who pose no safety threat and deserve treatment. A third alternative is that maybe the law and order types are watching "Orange is the New Black," about a middle class white woman in prison for a harmless drug offense.

Ramesh: Ending mandatory-minimum sentences for offenders who committed only drug crimes has been a conservative cause for a while -- John DiIulio made the case in National Review back in 1999, for example, even while registering his opposition to National Review's advocacy of drug legalization. I think that the main reason you're seeing movement on this issue is that we're now so far removed from the rising crime rates of the 1960s through the 1980s. Mandatory minimums seemed like a good idea then because the alternative was widely varying sentences depending on the whim of judges, many of whom seemed too soft to the public. I don't think there's anything wrong with mandatory minimums in principle; the problem is that we set them too punitively for drug offenses. In general, then, I like the administration's new approach -- although, not for the first time, there's a question about whether it ought to be sidestepping Congress.

Margaret: A questions about sidestepping Congress? The only way to endure the Congress we have is to find ways to sidestep them. Prosecutors have so much discretion to exercise in charging documents. They won't solve the problem so Congress will have to be involved, there's a pity. Just because the National Review sees the problem doesn't mean Republicans in Congress will. To end this on a partisan note, I loved watching Senator Ted Cruz and former Senator Rick Santorum trek to Iowa last weekend. Santorum was in a suit instead of a sweater vest (well, it is summer) but still traveled in his pickup. Cruz is such a man-in-a-hurry; I see sweat on him even when there is none. Santorum, poor guy, is the only true conservative and doesn't have a chance. Time's passed him by. And he didn't even get a TV show for his trouble. Did you notice Newt Gingrich will now be co-hosting the revival of CNN's Crossfire?

Ramesh: I think Gingrich has the potential to be an excellent host of Crossfire; I think you're right about Santorum; my old friend Ted Cruz is just in a hurry to save the republic; and maybe we've circled back to potential presidential candidates because, no, there's not a lot of real news for political journalists in August. Maybe one of us should do a column on the Clinton Foundation?

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.