Political Wrap with Mark Shields and David Brooks
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MARGARET WARNER: Now, for political analysis of this State of the Union week, we turn to Shields and Brooks, syndicated columnist Mark Shields and The Weekly Standard‘s David Brooks.
MARGARET WARNER: David, George Bush went before Congress as the war-president Tuesday night and then out on the road with the same message.
MARGARET WARNER: Is it the right message, do you think, for him to maintain the support he needs for this extended war on terrorism, something he obviously has in mind?
DAVID BROOKS: It’s a brave message because the pollsters tell him to talk about domestic policy. People want to know about their pocketbooks but he said, “I’m a man with a mission.” And his mission is to fight this war.
And it’s not only a war on terrorism anymore because he shifted American foreign policy in the way that it hasn’t been shifted since 1981.
Before he was talking about terrorism and terror organizations. In the crucial paragraphs of that speech, he was talking about weapons of mass destruction and nation states, those rogue regimes, those evil axis or whatever they call it, nexus, axis.
And what that means is we’re going to have an expansive foreign policy that believes in changing regimes that we don’t like, that we think are a menace to civilized values and a foreign policy that champions American values — even regimes that aren’t so terrible, that’s you, Saudi Arabia, if you are not Democratic, we’ll be on your case.
And I think the important thing that happened this week was that we’ve had this foreign policy consensus. That I think is about to break because in this Bush doctrine, there are a lot of Democrats, first it will be liberals, in The New York Times editorial page, that will be showing distance — eventually Democrats in Congress.
MARGARET WARNER: It is controversial, isn’t it, Mark?
MARK SHIELDS: It is controversial. I agree with David it is a major departure from the George Bush arena in the year 2000 who was far more restricted, far more limited anti-interventionist.
MARGARET WARNER: He used to say we should have humility in the way we deal with other countries.
MARK SHIELDS: That’s right, and whatever this speech had, it had precious little humility and it was a different and bold speech.
At the same time, there are a couple of things about it that truly bothered me. I think if David is right, then I’ll look forward to Tom Delay, Dick Armey and the other Republican leaders in the Congress saying, okay, we’ve got to up that foreign aid budget because, my goodness, we just don’t do this with Special Forces.
And to some degree, Margaret, there was the worst of what Democrats were accused of in this speech, that was you want it, you got it.
There was no cost, no price. I mean you still have got to have tax cuts, we are still going to have prescription drugs, going to spend more on defense. Everything is going to be fine, and this was Churchill without the blood, sweat and the tears. And I think in that sense it is a lot that remains to be filled in, not rhetorically because evil axis is the rhetorical marriage of the Cold War, the evil empire and the axis of World War II, Japan, Germany and Italy, a speechwriter’s contrivance.
I think that probably got ahead of the president just a bit because there is very little axis between North Korea, Iraq and Iran, the last two having fought a bloody war. So I think he is striking out in a bold, new departure, but if the devil is in the details, the demons are really in these details.
MARGARET WARNER: David, did, by having this more than robust, I mean almost aggressive posture towards Iran, Iraq and North Korea, is he painting himself into a corner committing the U.S. to use military force if they don’t – as he said — get their houses in order on weapons of mass destruction?
DAVID BROOKS: I think it becomes exceptionally hard to walk away at the end of his term if he hasn’t done something about Iraq. The other two will fall off. But Iraq is the issue it becomes very hard to back away from.
He has launched himself on an idealistic crusade; it’s a crusade that goes back to the Declaration of Independence, that we believe people have inalienable rights, not just white people in North America or people in North America but people around the world in the Arab world. And that is an ambitious, controversial crusade.
He is boosting the defense budget to do it; he’s doubling the size of the Peace Corps. You’re right; he does have to increase foreign aid for all this nation building we may be doing.
I think it is a noble gesture and certainly a departure from where the Republican Party was six years ago.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you agree with Mark though, that he is sort of saying we can have it all?
DAVID BROOKS: Well, no, I think he is warning people it will be a long, frustrating sometimes painful effort. What struck me though was the tone.
The tone was almost calculated to drive the State Department bonkers. You know, you imagine them there spitting up their courvoisier.
That tone really struck me. I would have sugar coated it a little because you know you really are rubbing the sensibilities of Europe raw, of people around the world raw. Mention NATO, mention the UN, mention the peace process in the Middle East, let it go down a little easier.
But George Bush is sort of a man transformed. He is saying, hey, I’m president. I can say what I think. I don’t have to pretend I think Yasser Arafat is an honorable guy. I can say what I think. He has really been transformed in the past month.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, Mark, you said he didn’t ask for sacrifice but he did talk about something you’ve talked about a lot, which is calling on the American people to do something, and his message here was all of Americans can get involved by fighting terror by getting more civically involved and even pledge some money to beef up Peace Corps and Senior Corps and Americorps.
I mean does that satisfy the Shields standard?
MARK SHIELDS: I think that there is a universality of sacrifice when a nation is at war that has to be demanded of the highest, the lowest, of the best and the brightest, and everybody. That’s when we all enlist.
I commend the president for encouraging people, the Peace Corps and all the rest of it.
But, Margaret, there are a couple of things. David talked about the president being bold. And he was bold but you could see the doubts the day after the speech.
They walked back from it and said no, there was no change in policy articulated Tuesday night when he listed Iraq, Iran and North Korea and talked about the new aggressiveness. Then secondly two days later on Thursday, it was well, no, no, it was nuance. The president knew exactly what he was saying.
Margaret, the president has to confront an ugly reality here. Our drug policy is anti-Colombia because they’re the suppliers. If we are talking about the suppliers of the weapons of mass destruction, we are talking about Russia, our new best friend and we’re talking about China, our biggest market mate. That’s where it has to be delivered. It isn’t just the users, it isn’t just the consumers, these antisocial at worst regimes. Where are they getting it from? It’s not just coming out of the hole.
The last thing is Teddy Roosevelt, there was a sort of not talk softly, there was a talk loudly to this, and it shows one proof to me when a man is at 85 percent that he is almost immune to criticism.
David and I sat and listened to the speech the other night and I think we both took notice and neither of us mentioned it when the president said this new “creative America” is “let’s roll.” Nobody has any idea what “let’s roll” means.
It is a total non-sequitur a country he’s asked to sacrifice and so you know there are certainly advantages for any politician to be at 85-88 percent approval.
MARGARET WARNER: Let’s switch to something he didn’t specifically talk about in his speech but did today, which was he didn’t mention specifically Enron in his speech but as we just had a big discussion about, he suggested putting in protections in 401(k) accounts.
Tom Daschle, the Senate Majority Leader immediately came out, David, and said this will do little to restore confidence. What are the politics here of this?
DAVID BROOKS: The politics is that each party is returning to their genetic roots. These are classical expressions of what each party stands for. The Republican, the Bush plan gives investors maximum flexibility.
It says you must be allowed to sell your company stock if you have been in the plan for three years. The Democratic policy says we are going to limit your choices in the name of protecting you from your own stupidity. The Democratic plans from Senator Barbara Boxer, the one in the Senate says you can only have ten or 20 percent of your 401(k) in company stock. If you work for Microsoft or GM and you want to have more, tough, you can’t do it.
So it is a classic fight between the Republicans maximum choice, the Democrats limited choice. I happen to, you know, surprise, think the Boxer plan is antistatism at its worst. If I want to invest in my company, it’s my right to do it. Barbara Boxer isn’t my financial consultant.
MARGARET WARNER: Is that where the Democrats are going to be?
MARK SHIELDS: I think I’d frame it a little bit differently from the way David does –
MARGARET WARNER: What a surprise.
MARK SHIELDS: I think, Margaret, what you have is the — What the President is trying to do, if you analogize this to a debate over tax cuts, all right, on the debate of tax cuts, the Democrats say cut taxes by 5 percent. The Republicans say no, by 50. The Democrats are never going to win the debate.\The Republicans and George Bush are never going to win the debate because this is a debate about regulating business, something that is antithetical to the Republican genealogy and the Republican gene pool. They just don’t like to do it.
There is a yearning, a desire and almost a burning in the electorate to have this.
Right now, Procter and Gamble, 95 percent of their 401(k) plans are all in Procter and Gamble stock. Sherwin-Williams 92 percent. Abbott Labs. 90 percent.
Anybody will tell you that these people are not stupid. I mean the fact is we’re talking about people getting advice, independent advice which has been fought, consistently fought. We’re talking about the President came in with a plan today that says after three years you can do it. What about executives like the Enron folks who took out loans and then paid them off with stock options and cashed in that way?
So there is going to be a fight over egalitarianism, over everybody being treated exactly the same and I think in that fight and especially as Dick Gephardt has advocated, the portability and lifetime pensions that you carry a pension with you, I think the Democrats win that debate and I think with Enron fresh in mind.
DAVID BROOKS: I’ll make you a bet. I think this Boxer-Corzine plan won’t even get the majority of the Democrats.
MARK SHIELDS: I’m not talking about Boxer-Corzine. I’m talking about whether there will be more regulation than the president advocated today and that more than business wants.
DAVID BROOKS: But new Democrats have been saying the majority of Americans are in 401(k)s; the majority of Americans are investors, to think they’re going to start regulating these — the majority of Americans who are all involved in the stock market saying, no, you can’t put more than 10 percent in your company, you don’t have free choice about that, I just don’t believe the Democrats will do that.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you think that the Bush administration will be coming up with other policy prescriptions to respond to the Enron? The Enron situation?
DAVID BROOKS: I haven’t heard about them. It would be really foolish not to because their ethos has to be what guarantees fair competition?
It is clear there is not fair competition in the markets right now because the information is distorted. Only the big guys have the information. Little guys don’t have it.
If they ever want to get Social Security privatization passed, they have to restore the credibility of the financial markets so they have got to be at least alive to the possibility.
MARK SHIELDS: I think they have to face, Margaret, that we’re talking about a major American industry that’s in trouble. We are talking about states like Massachusetts and New York, California and states like New Jersey where people, thousands of people are involved in these businesses.
This is a threat to their livelihood. This is more than just punishing Enron and the greedy wretches who ran it.
MARGARET WARNER: On that note we have to end it. Thank you both.