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Shields and Brooks on Role of Values Voters, New Watchdog Agency

September 17, 2010 at 9:36 PM EDT
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Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks analyze the week's top news including what role "values voters" are playing in this year's midterm elections and what effect Elizabeth Warren's new consumer protection agency will have on banks and consumers.
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JIM LEHRER: And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, New York Times columnist David Brooks.

David, how do you see the division, as it’s called, between conservatives, social issues here, economic issues there, as was laid out in that piece?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I don’t think it’s going to be a big problem. If you looked at the Glenn Beck rally that Mark and I were at, that was primarily — used to be primarily a big-government issue. But Glenn Beck was very religious. Christine O’Donnell, in many ways, comes to this movement more through faith than through economics. And she was perfectly acceptable to the Tea Party voters and conservative voters in Delaware.

And I do think the merger of economics and values has risen to the fore. One thing you hear a lot from people is, they live on a block where their neighbors, they had mortgages that were underwater, and they walked away from those mortgages. And people say, that’s a values problem. That’s people not upholding their — their — the promises they have kept.

And a lot of our economic problems grow out of values problems. So, in the debate, I think a lot of these things have merged. I really don’t think it will be a big problem.

JIM LEHRER: You don’t think it will be a big problem, Mark?

MARK SHIELDS: I think it’s a problem — and I think you will see it in these values voters — that they feel they have gotten the short end of the stick, I mean, because of…

JIM LEHRER: It has all been about the economy.

MARK SHIELDS: All about economics. And, to a great extent, the Tea Party movement is about economics and size of government. It is not — Christine O’Donnell being the exception, it is not a socially cultural-based movement. In fact, there is a libertarian instinct, impulse in it to some degree.

So, I think there’s a sense that look, we have been a major part of this coalition. And who is even speaking to us?

JIM LEHRER: You’re talking about the values…

MARK SHIELDS: The values folks. Who is even speaking to us? I mean, just as recently as six years ago, they were central to George Bush’s reelection over John Kerry, when they put 35 same-sex marriage ballot questions on to get up and gin up the vote of values voters, who were opposed to same-sex marriage.

JIM LEHRER: What do you — how do you read the primary results, particularly in Delaware, and how the Tea Party influenced that, and what this result means?

DAVID BROOKS: Right. Well, in the short term, obviously, it makes it much harder for Democrats — or for Republicans to win the Senate. There’s no question.

If you looked at the experts today, and a number of them were saying maybe the Republicans have like a 15 percent chance of winning that race, when…

JIM LEHRER: In Delaware?

DAVID BROOKS: In Delaware.

JIM LEHRER: Yes.

DAVID BROOKS: But, of course, Castle, it would be good odds they would win. But, overall, if you talk to Republicans, they will say, we lost a few. In ’94, Oliver North ran in Virginia and lost a Republican seat they should have won for the Senate. But that doesn’t mean it was a bad year, ’94, for Republicans.

So, Republicans would say: You know, we have all this enthusiasm. We have got high turnout in primary after primary. We are riding a wave that it is not because of us, but it’s just because people want to get rid of the Democrats. And we’re getting an unearned victory, but we will take an excess, like what happened in Delaware, in exchange for all the support we’re getting in Kentucky, in Alaska, in Ohio.

And, so, their view is, I think in general, that this was unfortunate for the party, but, if it is a tradeoff, the Tea Party movement for the Republican Party is still a huge net plus.

JIM LEHRER: Is it a net plus for Democrats? It has been suggested by some pundits, as you know: Oh, this is terrific. We can now take Delaware. Oh, we can now take this state and that state, because they took — because the Republicans nominated a Tea Party person.

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I don’t think there is any question that Democrats had privately conceded that Mike Castle, the twice governor, nine times congressman, and enormously popular incumbent member of Congress who was defeated on Tuesday night, would have won that seat for the Republicans. So…

JIM LEHRER: Fairly easy, according to the polls.

MARK SHIELDS: Fairly easily. And he was just…

JIM LEHRER: If that means anything anymore.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes. Well, I think it does mean a lot.

JIM LEHRER: Yes.

MARK SHIELDS: I was at his — Castle headquarters on Tuesday night. And the sense of support was across. I mean, at least a third of the people there were Democrats, I mean, who supported him, I mean, that, so — but I think I would say there is a parallel to the Tea Party, Jim.

And I agree with David. It’s brought increased numbers and it’s brought greater energy. I mean, for the first time since 1930, first time in 80 years, there has been a greater participation in a midterm election in Republican primaries than there has been in Democrat. So, that’s irrefutable.

But the parallel is this. The group — when a new group comes into the party, an insurgent group, as the Tea Party folks are, it’s comparable to what happened to the Democrats with the anti-war movement in the 1970s. They come in. They bring great energy. They bring great passion. There’s no self-doubt.

But they bring some other things as well. They basically view any sense of cooperation with the other side as moral defect, and to compromise is treason. And that is a striking bookend. And where it is felt, once they win a primary, they knock off a couple of incumbents, as they have done — they have beaten three Republican incumbents who were considered next to unbeatable in the general election, I mean, Bob Bennett, and Lisa Murkowski, and now Mike — and Mike Castle.

And they won. Five other times, they beat the party nominee in Connecticut, in Colorado, and across the board, Arizona, Nevada, and so forth. But — and Kentucky — the key is, once that happens, it sends a paralysis of terror through the regular party and through the party leadership.

And they’re just — they’re terrified that they are going to be Tea Partied. A perfect example of this, Orrin Hatch. Orrin Hatch, since Bob Bennett went down — Orrin Hatch was the…

JIM LEHRER: The other senator from Utah.

MARK SHIELDS: Utah.

JIM LEHRER: Yes.

MARK SHIELDS: He was Mr. Bipartisan. I mean, he and Ted Kennedy are were great friends. He spoke at his wake.

JIM LEHRER: Right.

MARK SHIELDS: Since then, he has become as strident and narrow a Republican as there is, because he’s terrified that a member of the House is going to challenge him.

Where it is felt is in the presidential nominating process, because every nominee — it happened with the Democrats and the anti-war people, the cause people, the women’s people, environmental people. They — the first thing they want to do, they would love to have their endorsement, but they don’t want to make them angry.

So, they basically give away a lot of positions. And that is going to be the case in 2012 and the Republican presidential nomination. And it’s going to be — you’re going to see some pandering that you have not seen since the Democrats in the ’70s.

JIM LEHRER: Do you see the history and the present the same way?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I do think — I do agree with the parallel with the new left. I do think it could be a problem in 2012, though it could be a guy like Mitch Daniels will just transcend all categories.

But I don’t see it as a problem this year.

JIM LEHRER: That’s the governor of Indiana.

DAVID BROOKS: I agree. But, so, this year, you know, you look — I look around. Is there any evidence that the Tea Party is scaring off moderates? Are they scaring off Republicans who don’t like the Tea Party?

And I called up Peter Hart, the pollster. I called up Charlie Cook, both of them great experts. Both of them said no. And if you look at the overall evidence, as the Tea Party has surged this year, the Republican Party has surged. A majority of Americans want the Republicans to take control of Congress.

A majority of Americans say the Republicans are closer to their values than the Democrats are now. Republicans are doing well in poll after poll in state after state, even in Connecticut now, a race that is becoming close.

So, there has been a rise. And there’s just no sign that independents or moderates are getting scared away. And the reason for that is, this election isn’t about the Republicans. It’s not about the Tea Party. Half the country doesn’t have a view of the Tea Party. They haven’t thought about them.

This election is about the economy and the hatred of Washington and spending. And that’s number one. Everything else is way back here. And so they don’t like the Republicans. They don’t like the Tea Party maybe, but that’s not the real issue.

JIM LEHRER: And what about the — what about the ’72 parallel, that they ended up nominating George McGovern because of the new people? You think it’s not…

DAVID BROOKS: No, I agree with Mark on that. I think, in 2012 or maybe even beyond — I mean, one of the paradoxes of this current moment is that Americans want a change of government, of who is in government, but there’s no evidence they want a change of policy.

If you look at the policy landscape, it’s pretty much as it has been.

MARK SHIELDS: This is the third successive election in a row where the ins are being thrown out. I mean, it happened in 2006. The Democrats were the outs then, so they benefited.

Now they’re the ins. But I — the one point I digress with David is — in fact, Andy Kohut was quoted as saying, this is the first time in history that a discredited political party is going to win a national landslide. I mean, the Republicans are less popular than are the Democrats and…

JIM LEHRER: As a party.

MARK SHIELDS: … less confidence. But — I mean, but they are the outs. That is their one virtue, is they are not in.

JIM LEHRER: Yes.

DAVID BROOKS: They are at lowest amount of support in history, and they’re probably going to win — probably going to win a…

JIM LEHRER: How do you read the Elizabeth Warren appointment today?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. I — well, a couple of things. First, I think a lot of liberals are disappointed. They wanted her to get the full confirmable appointment.

To me, I don’t have an informed view on how she will do or how she won’t do. To me, it is a symptom of a lot of things that are wrong in government, in that there is so much gridlock in Congress, that presidents have to go around the normal confirmation process, go around the jobs that require confirmation, and concentrate power in the White House.

And every successive White House for the last five has concentrated more power in the White House, because they don’t want to go through confirmation. And this has been exacerbated in this White House as well.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes. I am an admirer of her and her work. I don’t, you know, know how — who can run this, if they can, and whether in fact she’s somewhat inhibited because, as one of the discussions with Judy…

JIM LEHRER: Yes. Judy.

MARK SHIELDS: … hiring people is going to be difficult if you know that she’s not going to be there and she’s not going to have that authority.

But, I mean, there’s no question she’s a popular choice among the people who care passionately about this issue and think that the administration, the White House has not been tough enough on Wall Street.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with David’s overview about what this says about the way you get things done in government right now?

MARK SHIELDS: It just reinforces polarization.What will be interesting is to watch conservative editorial pages that have that have — that defended the expansion of executive power under George Bush and Ronald Reagan now backpedal, because this is what Barack Obama is going to have to do in that next two years, is by executive power and by regulation.

DAVID BROOKS: But who are the loneliest people in Washington for the last eight years? Cabinet secretaries. They wait around for a 25-year-old White House staffer to call them up and tell them what to do, because the power is all in the White House.

JIM LEHRER: Yes. And that’s going to stay that way. And you think the Elizabeth Warren, way of doing things is a symptom of that.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, again, appoint someone to White House staff, don’t require confirmation.

JIM LEHRER: We have talked about this before, but just a couple of minutes, though, before we go, is the president’s tax-cuts-for-the-wealthy argument, holding middle-class tax cuts in hostage, is that working?

MARK SHIELDS: I think it is.

MARK SHIELDS: I think Democrats are united on it. They’re in — the congressional leadership, as well as the White House — they’re in sync, and they’re in sync with the American people.

The one misstep they made was when John Boehner said on “Face the Nation” that he would vote for middle-class tax cuts if he did — instead of reaching out and saying, welcome, now we can embrace and work this out, they immediately went into their campaign mode and attacked him, thus isolating him even further and making him, you know, recant.

DAVID BROOKS: I’m not sure how united Democrats are. I think there are 31 House members and five senators who are — who want to cut all the — or keep all the tax cuts. So there is some erosion there.

I guess my view is that the fight helps Democrats get liberals out, but it hurts in some of the more conservative districts, where the Blue Dog, the more moderate Democrats are trying to — they don’t want to be in favor of any tax hike of any sort.

MARK SHIELDS: They have already signed the letter.

JIM LEHRER: But what about — what about the president’s point that this is — against the Republicans, that this holding middle-class tax cuts in hostage, do you think that’s working?

DAVID BROOKS: Right. Yes. You know, this has been the — this is the classic American argument for many elections in a row. I’m not persuaded it is a huge win. I think Republicans generally are more liked on taxes in general.

MARK SHIELDS: I would say this is the year, because Republicans are even for more tax cuts, that we finally address what Herb Stein, who was the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Nixon and President Ford — he said, let’s make this the year we either get rid of the federal deficit or get rid of the idea that we’re going to get rid of the federal deficit.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID BROOKS: Then let’s repeal the middle-class tax cuts, which is what I want to do.

MARK SHIELDS: Well, but — yes, but the $4 trillion in new extended deficit, Mr. McConnell is advocating.

JIM LEHRER: All right. We have to go. Thank you both.

MARK SHIELDS: Thank you.