Shields and Brooks
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JIM LEHRER: Finally tonight, the analysis of Shields and Brooks; syndicated columnist Mark Shields, and David Brooks of the “Weekly Standard.”
Mark, first, what did you make of what the bishops did in Dallas tonight?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, like Tom Roberts, I’m a little bit unsure just exactly of what the status is of these priests who are not going to be liaised after charges. I mean I don’t know what their duties are going to be, if there is going to be a limbo status. But, Jim, I mean it was rather remarkable, as a Catholic, to see the bishops, many of whom have had an attitude not simply of aloofness but of arrogance, that they were the Church.
They are not the Church. They never have been the Church, but they had an attitude that the laity was somehow beneath them. And to hear them – to see them listen to emotionally riveting testimony and to be forced to address what they had enabled, or at least some of them had enabled by their own arrogance and indifference I think was important, but this is just a first step.
And there has to be, obviously, greater transparency in the church’s dealings and greater accountability. I’m not talking about theology; I’m talking about the management of the church, the management of personnel. And the one strike option was obviously devastated by the testimony of the abuse victims who, any one of whom, could have been that one strike whose life could have been permanently damaged.
JIM LEHRER: David, do you feel the bishops have faced the issue finally? That’s the thing, they wouldn’t even look at it seriously. Do you think now they’re doing so?
DAVID BROOKS: If they want to show a penitential posture, I think they did do that; they did face the issue, and they did suffer. I think people wanted to see them suffer, feel the humiliation, and I think they did do that. It did strike me, though, especially on the second day after the speeches and after the witness testimony, that when it came time to utter a complicated thought, they reverted to the language of psychotherapy.
I was very struck that Archbishop Flynn talked about bringing in psychotherapists and psychiatrists in. I mean surely the Bible has some wisdom on the issues the psychotherapists also have wisdom on, and then also it came time to utter a complicated thought into policy. This really devolved into a policy debate. And it ended, from what I can tell, and I’m as confused as Mark and the other people in the program, with a fudge, with a policy fudge. I think that will leave the door open for the continued crisis.
JIM LEHRER: As Mark said, there is a lot more to come.
MARK SHIELDS: Jim, just one other thing.
JIM LEHRER: Yes.
MARK SHIELDS: What the church loses is not simply the money it pays out or, you know –
JIM LEHRER: To the victims.
MARK SHIELDS: To the victims and so forth. What it loses — what it risks losing by not completely acting on this is its credibility. As David Cohen, the former president of Common Cause, the 40-year lobbyist, one of the most respected lobbyists said to me, for 40 years, the most effective and clairvoyant voice and advocate for the poor has been the Catholic Church. And that is threatened to be compromised without forceful and comprehensive and continuing action.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Speaking of Washington, David, the Senate killed the permanent repeal of the estate tax. How do you read the politics of that?
DAVID BROOKS: The politic were great. They remind me of a joke about Aspen, Colorado, real estate. There are so many billionaires the millionaires can’t afford to live there. There were two sides, there were the billionaires, the Warren Buffett side, who were for keeping the estate tax and then there were the millionaires, the independent small business people, who wanted to get rid of it forever.
And so they had this fight, and the billionaires beat the millionaires, which seems appropriate. But what struck me was first of all, if the Democrats couldn’t beat this, they might as well go home, because they need money in Washington to pay for any sort of program. The money is being squeezed by the growth of the entitlements and by the Bush tax cut. And they’ve got to try to minimize these tax cuts to pay for domestic programs. So the Democrats really needed this one.
JIM LEHRER: They need it because of the revenue.
DAVID BROOKS: They need revenues in Washington if they want prescription drug benefits or any programs that they support. For the Republicans, it was interesting, I thought it was incredibly self destructive personally, first of all, because the biggest liberal group in America are people who inherent huge amounts of money and they’re going to create all these foundations if they get all this estate tax, and they’ll create all these trustafarian groups to support left wing radical sociologists, so I’m happy to see the government get the money and not the trustafarians.
But then there is a more important issue, which Alexander Hamilton said, we do not want a large leisure class in this country; we want to give people an incentive to work. The Republicans used to believe in that when they were supply siders – incentives to work was really important. They sort of drifted away from that.
JIM LEHRER: Mark?
MARK SHIELDS: I think David makes a very good case, Jim. I would add to it this: The climate has changed. It is always difficult, especially in an election year, to vote against a tax cut. It takes some nerve, it takes some guts to do it. I mean it is an easy vote.
The president is up there, commander in chief, we’re fighting terror. Here’s what I’m going to ask you to do; I’m going to ask you to vote for another tax cut. The president’s chief political adviser, his genius, is on record as saying that this is war. War. What is war for? War is to get the estate tax, the inheritance tax repealed.
JIM LEHRER: They call it the death tax.
MARK SHIELDS: They call it the death tax, Jim. The reality is this. It’s entirely different. When that passed in 2001, the Bush tax cut, the means they used to pick up Democratic Senate support was to say it expired in ten years. Otherwise, Jim, it cost $4 trillion in the next decade, $4 trillion in the time where David is talking about, when the baby boomers all retire, when all the costs on Medicare and Social Security come due, when we run out of money in Social Security.
It is not going to be there. And what happened on this, Jim, is very clear. In the preceding year, instead of surpluses as long as the eye can see, we now have deficits; we have debt. And it is growing and I think it took some guts to stand up.
JIM LEHRER: For the Democrats to kill this?
MARK SHIELDS: There were 3283 estates in the country that qualified for over $5 million. There’s six in the state of Wyoming. There’s zero in Alaska. I mean it is just amazing. You know them by name. I’ll tell you what. They are all going to be hit for fundraising letters by Republican candidates.
JIM LEHRER: And also Senator Gramm, who’s going to be out of the Senate, said this is going to come back, because, in other words, the Republicans haven’t given up on it. Another issue of the week, David is the new air pollution rules for utilities at the EPA announced, environmentalists and many Democrats are upset about this. Should they be?
DAVID BROOKS: I don’t think so. There is a fog of bad reporting around this. From what I can tell, the problem is this. There are all these old power plants. You have got an old power plant, your standards of re-emissions are grandfathered in.
So you don’t have to meet the high emissions but it means because you’re only meeting – you only have to meet the low emissions when you face a tremendous disincentive to improve your machinery because as soon as you improve your machinery, you’ve got to get kicked up to the new standards. So there’s this problem where people are just sitting on the old plants, they’re not upgrading to make them more efficient or less polluting.
They’re just sitting on the old plants and government gives them incentive to not upgrade the material. As far as I can tell, that’s all the EPA tried to do, was to solve that problem.
JIM LEHRER: Is that all they were doing.
MARK SHIELDS: Well, Jim, you see in the political blueprint of the 2004 reelection campaign, the states that are affected, the states that benefit the industries in David’s side are Ohio, are Pennsylvania and West Virginia — ironically coincidentally, the same three states that benefited on the steel decision. The states that are hurt most by it are the New England states,–
JIM LEHRER: You’re not suggesting politics–.
MARK SHIELDS: Jim, it was interesting. The president — when the EPA came out last week on global warming, discovered global warming — he blamed it on the bureaucracy. I wonder if he will blame this decision on the bureaucracy that pleases so many of his supporters.
JIM LEHRER: Do you see this as a political decision?
DAVID BROOKS: Of course. Politics is fine. I’m happy with politics.
JIM LEHRER: We talk about it here every week.
MARK SHIELDS: Please, Jim.
JIM LEHRER: We don’t want to do away with politics.
DAVID BROOKS: The problem is every time the Bush administration does something on the environment, Tom Daschle sends out vapors, the environmental groups send out vapors, which (a) are bad for the ozone but (b) you can’t tell really what they’re doing because the reporting is so over the top on every single thing they do.
JIM LEHRER: Quickly. We just have a minute left. This flap between Ashcroft and the White House over the announcement of the alleged dirty bomb plot. What is that all about, Mark?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, Jim, I think most of all the Attorney General announced it in Moscow, so you said, my gosh, you went live from Moscow, this must be pretty important that this fellow Jose Padilla was picked up on May 8 and then turned into military custody this past week.
And it sounded like it had just been broken up as he was about to pull the pin on the grenade and blow up a major American edifice and Paul Wolfowitz, the next day, the Deputy Secretary of Defense who is hardly accused of being a panty waste or limp-wristed guy said wait a minute -
JIM LEHRER: I’m just talking about it.
MARK SHIELDS: We’re talking about this. And what does– it hurts the administration at a time when it wants to be speaking with one voice and isn’t on too many subjects.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree?
DAVID BROOKS: Yeah. I mean Ashcroft became a law enforcement agency. He hogged credit for something, and he exaggerated the dastardliness of the people they just caught; that’s what law enforcement agents do. He did it. The White House was quite vicious about humiliating him in public the next day. It was grandstanding.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Thank you both very much.