Political Wrap with Mark Shields and David Brooks
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JIM LEHRER: Finally tonight, analysis by Shields and Brooks; syndicated columnist Mark Shields and the Weekly Standard’s David Brooks.
Mark, the Senate passed McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill. Is it a time for celebration?
MARK SHIELDS: I think it is a time for celebration. Any time reform is proposed in Washington, the reformers are immediately put down by those who defend the status quo with two charges: One, you’re a goodie two shoes, unrealistic, you’re an eagle scout. Two, that’s only an inside the beltway issue. Nobody in the country cares about it. Well, good old John McCain changed both of those perceptions in his campaign. Whatever you say about John McCain, he is not an eagle scout not a goodie two shoes. His campaign showed that people really did–.
JIM LEHRER: Campaign for president.
MARK SHIELDS: For president. And the fact that President Bush, Governor Bush then said this is a unilateral disarmament for the Republican Party and has now announced he is going to sign that legislation, is an amazing, amazing achievement. And I think Enron deserves credit along with McCain and Feingold and Marty Meehan and Chris Shays in the House. But also Bill Clinton’s sleepovers at the White House deserve credit. The Buddhist Temple deserves credit.
JIM LEHRER: How about the Marc Rich pardon.
MARK SHIELDS: The Marc Rich pardon deserves credit. There was a point at which those who defended the status quo and fought for the status quo were defending soft money and soft money had become, in many respects, the most noxious and pernicious aspect of American politics. That’s the six-figure contributions by individuals, labor unions and corporations.
JIM LEHRER: Now that we have it, David, you heard what Mark said — some Republicans said if it passed, it would be unilateral disarmament by Republicans. Well, it has passed. What does it look like to you? What have we got?
DAVID BROOKS: I certainly don’t think it is unilateral disarmament for the Republicans. The basic fact is that Republicans are really good at raising money in moderately small doses from moderately rich people, direct mail, $1,000 donations, and there are a lot of those people. Democrats are pretty good at raising money from millionaires in Hollywood in seven million and twelve million dollar donations and two million dollar donations. So the bulk of the donors are Republicans. I think Republicans are going to benefit tremendously.
To me, the problem is that it makes things worse. I agree the situation is terrible and that we need to change the status quo. Initially I was quite supportive of this legislation. The more I’ve seen the people of this town sitting in the Starbucks planning how we’re going to cope with the situation, the more I see the loopholes they worked out, the more I see the possibility that this law will make candidates spend a lot more time on fund-raising, be even more beholden to special interests and make the system even less transparent than it is now.
JIM LEHRER: Give me an example of what you’re talking about.
DAVID BROOKS: I’m running against Mark Shields.
MARK SHIELDS: He wouldn’t do that.
DAVID BROOKS: I wouldn’t do that.
JIM LEHRER: But in the unlikely event that you did.
DAVID BROOKS: I can only spend my hard money the last 60 days of the campaign.
JIM LEHRER: That’s money that is given to you up to $2,000.
DAVID BROOKS: I can spend it but the soft money or the special interest cannot be spent in the last 60 days. So I save all my money, my hard money for that 60 days. And to raise that money, I’ve got to go to a lot of people and find those $2,000 donations. So I’m going to spend that in the last 60 days. What do I do in the year before that when I’m running against Mark? I going to go to Ken Lay or somebody like him–.
JIM LEHRER: You’re not going to Ken Lay.
DAVID BROOKS: He’s a symbol, a metaphor. I’m going to say, you know, I really love natural gas, but this guy, Mark Shields, he likes coal; isn’t that a shame. So Ken Lay goes and forms the foundation, Citizens Concerned for Good Things, and he gives a million dollars, two million dollars to it. Citizens Concerned for Good Things creates another shadow foundation called Citizens Concerned for Really Good Things. They for a year run ads against Mark Shields saying terrible guy, Mark Shields, really nasty ads.
Nobody knows where the money is coming from. Mark doesn’t know. And then I come in, in my last 60 days with my hard money, which I have been saving, and I say Mark Shields, it’s a question of trust. So here we’ve got a system where I’m beholden to Ken Lay. The voters don’t know where the money comes from. There are shadow groups set up and it’s even less transparent than the current terrible system.
JIM LEHRER: I feel really sorry for you, Mark. But if you have– do you have a story that can match David’s that will show how good this bill is?
MARK SHIELDS: Sure I have a story. First of all, I don’t think David would do that, and even if he did, he wouldn’t talk to the people like Ken Lay. But that aside, this is hypothetical, Jim. Right now let me just tell you where it is, where the situation is. We’ve quintupled the amount of soft money in the past four elections. We’ve gone to a half billion dollars; half a billion dollars was given last time in soft money. 800 individuals, entities, companies, unions, or individuals, gave two-thirds of that. These are the people who are the real big hitters. They’re gone now. David says they’re going to be eager to get back in. I don’t think they are.
JIM LEHRER: You don’t think they will give–.
MARK SHIELDS: For a couple of reasons. One is a lot of this, Jim, is coerced giving. Make no mistake about it. These are people who are hit upon by committee chairs with legislation that affects their existence or their well-being or perhaps the advantage of their competitors. This is not all voluntary.
A lot of companies, Monsanto Chemical, among others, has said we’re out of the soft money business even before the legislation. Now add to that the fact that yes, are we going to have to raise more money in smaller chunks. We are. We’re going to have to get more people involved. Rather than going to one person who is going to write a check for a million dollars, the way it was, and don’t tell me that person didn’t have a hold, didn’t have an influence on the recipient and say I gave you that million dollars. And plus I think the other factor is that given the reform climate and the reform impulse and I think the sense right now of this, because the key, Jim, is any time in Washington when you’ve got the votes, you legislate.
That’s what McCain-Feingold did. They passed it with a majority. The had a majority in the Congress, they had a majority in the country. When you don’t have a majority, you’re in a minority position, you litigate. Liberals did that for years. Let’s go find a friendly judge. That’s what conservatives are doing now. I’ll say if anybody tries to do what David suggested, that not only the press but his or her opponent will be all over him like a cheap suit. And they’ll be saying where is that money coming from. Plus the fact the last 60 days is when people really pay attention to an election. That’s why it’s barred for the last 60 days.
JIM LEHRER: David.
DAVID BROOKS: Well, listen there was a campaign ad against John McCain in New York, there was an ad the NAACP ran against Bush for a long time. And that NAACP we didn’t know where the money was coming from for a long time.
MARK SHIELDS: That was a hit-and-run in the primary.
DAVID BROOKS: Well, it could happen in any campaign. Let me just say one other nightmare scenario. Mark mentioned the $500 million that were spent. In the last 60 days under this bill, only people who work in the media or own the media will be able to comment on the candidates with face over the air. So what is going to happen, I fear, is that you take those people with the $500 million, they’re going to say, I’m going to buy a newspaper in a swing district and they’re going to turn that paper into a partisan document one way or the other and it is going to mess up the media. That’s just an example of the sort of, you know, the unintended consequences.
MARK SHIELDS: Jim, you still have to reveal in that last 60 days, I mean you have to reveal– all we’re asking, is if you go out and say Mark Shields is an ethical eunuch and a moral leper, you have to tell me who is paying for that. You can’t pretend in the last 60 days that it’s the committee for global equanimity.
JIM LEHRER: New subject. David, what do you make of the flap over the Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge refusing to testify in front of Congress, et cetera?
DAVID BROOKS: I’m a fanatic on the subject of executive privilege. Nobody thinks executive privilege should be stronger than me except for Napoleon and Julius Caesar, but even I cannot defend what the president and the administration are doing here. They say Tom Ridge is an aide to the president. Aides don’t have to testify before Congress. And that’s right — if you’re deputy domestic policy adviser – those people really are anonymous aids; the ethos is that they’re anonymously supporting the president.
Tom Ridge is in a public role just like a cabinet secretary. He should be forced to go up there and talk to Congress. Not only should he do it because it is good for him to hear what the Congress thinks, it is good for the policies, it’s good for the budget. Sooner or later, the bloom is going to be off the rose and the White House is going to need the Congress to keep appropriating money for our domestic security. If Ridge doesn’t have a good relation with the Congress people, they’re not going to get the money.
JIM LEHRER: So what is going on, Mark?
MARK SHIELDS: Jim, I’m not sure what is going on. I’ll be very honest with you. I think David is absolutely right in this sense. This is an administration is very selective about being cooperative, collegial, civil, bipartisan, and then all of a sudden say we’re not going to tell you who we met with, we’re not going to tell you the names of the people who came in for the energy task force, we’re not going to tell you who in the administration talked to Enron. And the excuse or the reason that’s advanced is, we are trying to protect the power of the presidency. Now I can never recall, I was not conscious or involved in politics and the press during World War II. Two I can’t recall a time when the President has been– when the presidency has been stronger than it is now.
This is not some shriveling, you know, sort of atrophy little institution. This is a pretty robust 80 percent favorable entity right now that is striding in 12 league boots across the political landscape. I don’t understand what they’re up to. And most of all I don’t understand Tom Ridge. He was elected to the Congress in 1982, had great relations, was a very popular member. I mean he has to know that right now he is just making nothing but enemies up on Capitol Hill.
JIM LEHRER: Do you think they’re going to work it out.
DAVID BROOKS: I assume so. The administration offered to have some private meetings between Ridge and Congress as if it’s the publicity they’re afraid of – like they’re afraid that he’s going to make a fool out of himself. But I have to feel that somehow they will have to make some sort of a deal.
JIM LEHRER: What do you think of the Pentagon’s rules for the military tribunals that came out yesterday?
DAVID BROOKS: I think they were very wise. Paul Wolfowitz sat here at this table and laid out the rights the defendants are going to have and they struck me as very sensible. This whole thing started, remember, because when we started capturing prisoners much faster than we thought we would. So the White House was under this pressure to set up broad parameters. And they always said from the first day, we’ll take our time and we will get specific rules. But some people didn’t hear that and they went ballistic, they went semi hysterical that we had Gestapo tactics. But they have laid out, seems to be quite responsible rules which I understand are very well received by Democrats and Republicans.
JIM LEHRER: Quick.
MARK SHIELDS: I think Don Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense, saved the administration from a lot of potential embarrassment from what appeared to be the way they were headed–.
JIM LEHRER: Abroad.
MARK SHIELDS: Specific to this case.
JIM LEHRER: We have to leave it there. Thank you both very much.