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Political Wrap with Mark Shields and David Brooks

March 8, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: Finally tonight, analysis by Shields and Brooks; syndicated columnist Mark Shields, and The Weekly Standard’s David Brooks.

David, the stimulus package. The Senate passed it today, the House passed it yesterday, just as Alan Greenspan, and today the unemployment figures and rest of the world are saying the economy is recovering. Explain that, please.

DAVID BROOKS: Well, it takes courage. It takes courage to pass a recession relief bill in the middle of a recovery because some people will ridicule you and take cheap shots — not me personally of course.

But the thing is the thing has been dragging on, I think the bill was first proposed in the 9th century and it’s been dragging on for five months actually back and forth — back and forth.

And there was momentum. There was momentum especially among moderate Republicans in the Northeast who wanted to be able to go back to their district and say we did this, we did something to still it the economy whether it’s needed or whether at this point, whether it will help, because extending unemployment benefits, which is the key part of this, could actually prolong unemployment because people have less incentive to look for jobs if they know they’re going to get an extra 13 weeks of benefits.

JIM LEHRER: But why did they finally do it now? By the way, we had some good news and some bad news. We don’t have audio with Mark Shields right now who is in New York.

MARK SHIELDS: I cannot hear you.

JIM LEHRER: Can you read my lips? Okay. I don’t know if that’s the good news or the bad news. But anyhow, Mark I’m going to give you — however much time David gets, I’m going to give it to you when we finally get back to you. I know you can’t hear me.

MARK SHIELDS: I can hear you now.

JIM LEHRER: What David said was that it was a wonderful thing that the Congress finally passed the economic stimulus plan.

The question was: Why did they do it now after the recession is supposedly in a great state of recovery. What’s your analysis of that?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think, Jim, Alan Greenspan of course had been kind enough to announce that the so-called Clinton recession was shorter and shallower than ever expected, it was over, and the fact it was over robbed the argument of the big tax cuts that have been proposed.

But they’re faced with a reality, and that it’s the 6-month anniversary on Monday of September 11, and 1.6 million Americans face the loss of their unemployment insurance. And the extension of that became the imperative for passing this.

JIM LEHRER: Well, now David just said that’s not necessarily — I mean passing the unemployment extension is not necessarily helpful because that may encourage folks not to go find new jobs.

What is your reaction to that? He said that while you couldn’t hear.

MARK SHIELDS: He did. I haven’t heard that kind of compelling logic since Ed Meese, who was Attorney General, and suggested homeless people enjoyed it.

People want to work, and these are people who have worked, have been working and their lost their jobs and I think David will think better about this over the weekend.

DAVID BROOKS: There are numerous studies to the effect, one of them was the Clinton Secretary of Labor who found out in the last weeks of benefits, people are three times more likely to get jobs than they were earlier in the benefits.

Now, I think unemployment does respond to incentives. Now if there are no jobs, then it’s perfectly legitimate to extend the benefits. If unemployment is coming down, as it is now, then you do want to give people an incentive to get off the roll.

JIM LEHRER: What are the politics of this, David? Does anybody win from having done this the last two days?

DAVID BROOKS: I’d say all incumbents win. The Democrats win a little more, if you look at all the bills five months ago that started out on this whole train ride, this final bill looks a little more like the Democratic bill than it does like any of the Republican bills.

JIM LEHRER: Because it stresses unemployment rather than tax cuts.

DAVID BROOKS: …and the tax acceleration…

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with that Mark?

MARK SHIELDS: I do. I think Tom Daschle wins; he was the one — the obstructionist who stopped the big repeal of the alternative minimum tax on corporations that would have been billions of dollars for companies like General Electric and Ford and Enron.

JIM LEHRER: Okay. Speaking of politics, Mark, the president’s steel tariff decision, what are the politics of that, how do you explain that?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I explain it, Jim, I want to say a good word about George W. Bush.

Every once in a while a candidate runs on an issue, says he’s going to do something, once elected he does it and he gets banged from left and right. George W. Bush now as the president has been criticized by the same day by George Will and Paul Krugman, a conservative columnist, a liberal columnist, so he must be doing something right.

But he did say in the campaign of 2000 and probably helped him carry the state of West Virginia and win White House, that he would not stand idly by while cheap steel imports dumped on this country robbed American steel workers’ families of their livelihood, and he acted on it.

So for that I think he’s honored a pledge and he deserves our respect.

JIM LEHRER: Does he deserve your respect, David?

DAVID BROOKS: If Mark says something nice, I’d better say something nasty.

That’s the most intellectual indefensible thing he’s done as president. I’ve tried to be open minded on this. I don’t want to be a free trade dog, but the more you look at it, the more you realize is that what he’s done is raise the price of steel on all sorts of people up and down the income ladder.

He’s going to cost the economy many more jobs than he’s saved. In New Orleans alone, in the Port of New Orleans, where they import a lot of steel, 4,000 jobs may go. He’s going to hurt our relations with Russia, with Central Europe, with England, countries that need the steel.

Worst all he’s going to make the French feel good because they can point out that we’re prime time hypocrites on this, preaching free trade except for when it’s our industries, and he won’t help the steel industry, by the way, make the transition to where it needs to be, which is maybe smaller but certainly more productive, many mills, and other sorts of transitions.

JIM LEHRER: Just slows it down you mean?

DAVID BROOKS: This costs jobs, raises prices and shelters the needed reforms that have to be made.

JIM LEHRER: Well, Mark, other than that it’s perfect.

MARK SHIELDS: Jim, I disagree heartily with David. I think steel industry has made enormous progress in doing exactly what Dave has prescribed.

We’re not talking about free trade here. We’re talking about 31 American steel companies going under after the 1988 Asian financial crisis, which just led to steel being shipped into this country at a rate that nobody could compete at.

And I think the president invoked national security, and I think it was legitimate.

JIM LEHRER: But what about the free trade argument, if you do it for steel, then you have to do it for that product, this product, that product and down that road, we’re right back to where we were years ago, protecting our own industries?

MARK SHIELDS: We’ve got the International Trade Commission on record as endorsing the United States position here.

This is not a question of free trade. At some point you’ve got to say, hey look, we demand an equal and level playing field and I think that’s what the president has done.

JIM LEHRER: Okay. Another issue: the California primary, David. What happened to Rich Riordan — he was the former Los Angeles mayor — he was supposed to be the Republican nominee for governor and suddenly it’s Mr. Simon instead.

What happened?

DAVID BROOKS: It wasn’t clear he wanted to be governor, he sort of had to be dragged into the race, there wasn’t a clear explanation of why he should be governor, and it wasn’t clear he actually liked Republicans very much, which hurt him in the Republican primary.

The conventional view about this whole race is the right wing Republicans, those whackos out in California, you know, with arms growing out of their foreheads picked this guy Simon who has no shot of winning.

But you have to remember that this is a state where the Republican Party just picked Matt Fong and Tom Campbell, two very moderate Republicans and they got shellacked. So I think they were not too stupid to pick somebody who actually knows why he’s running and has ideas about why he’s running.

He’s running against Gray Davis, who is the Democrat, and a powerful governor and a fantastic fundraiser, but something of an intellectual black hole. He’s not a liberal, he’s not a conservative, he’s just a fundraiser and technician.

It seems to make sense if you’re going to run against a guy like that, to have somebody with an idea, some creativity. Maybe the people of the state are in a mood to experiment. It’s a long shot for any Republican running in California.

I don’t think the voters were stupid to pick Simon over Riordan.

JIM LEHRER: And, Mark, Gray Davis actually went after Riordan, because he wanted to run against Simon, right — a most unusual thing — explain that, what was that all about?

MARK SHIELDS: All right. Okay, Jim.

To win in 1998, the Democratic nomination for governor, Gray Davis ran against two deep-pocketed millionaires who spend vast sums of money against him. He spent a total of $8 million to win the Democratic nomination in 1998.

Running for renomination unchallenged in 2002, he’s spent $9 million, did Gray Davis, attacking basically Dick Riordan, who was by all accounts and most measurements the strongest opponent against him in November, two-term mayor of Los Angeles, demonstrated appeal to Democratic voters.

Gray Davis won both primaries on Tuesday. He won his own primary, was unchallenged and he basically got the candidate he wants in November in Bill Simon who is a rookie first-time candidate, who is upbeat and positive and very affable, but he’s an unreconstructed conservative in a state that has not described as such.

So I think that the most dangerous thing in politics always is to get what you wish for.

Jimmy Carter in 1980, his folks didn’t want to run against Howard Baker or even George Bush the first. They just hoping that the Republicans would nominate Ronald Reagan, they did, and of course Carter and his people regretted it that November.

I do not think that this is California 1966 when Ronald Reagan won. Then the electorate was 92 percent white, today it’s 70 percent white. Then it was negligibly Latino, today it’s 17 percent Latino, and the rest of it is Asian and African American.

And Republicans just — David’s right — are at a real disadvantage in the state and the question is what’s this campaign going to be about?

Is it going to be about Bill Simon, if that’s the case the Republicans will lose. If it’s about Gray Davis, then it’s the one hope that Bill Simon has of making it a race.

JIM LEHRER: Do you see it that way too, David?

DAVID BROOKS: I basically do.

For 60 years the Republicans have reelected first-term governors, even if they’ve done a good job or a mediocre job, for some reason they seem to get reelected. I do think there’s a chance here for Simon.

It’s an uphill struggle, but this is a state that’s a little more conservative than it’s been elected. This is a state that voted against bilingual education, that voted against racial preferences, and the referendum they’ve been moderately conservative, so I think there is a case for it.

And the problem is that Simon has to say let’s take a chance, let’s experiment. Gray Davis is not a guy who experiments, he’s a guy who’s just a technician.

JIM LEHRER: And Riordan —


JIM LEHRER: Go ahead.

MARK SHIELDS: Since 1990, Republicans in California have won one race for president, governor, and United States Senator and that was in 1994 when Pete Wilson was reelected against Kathleen Brown.

It’s a party that really is fighting an uphill fight in spite of any tilt in referendum vote.

JIM LEHRER: Okay. Thank you both very much.