TOPICS > Politics

Weekly Analysis of Shields and Brooks

June 21, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT


TERENCE SMITH: That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and David Brooks of The Weekly Standard. Gentlemen, welcome.

I’m going to start with a little truth in advertising here by quoting you right back to yourselves.

David Brooks, six weeks ago you said on this broadcast that Don Rumsfeld and the White House had no better than a 50-50 chance of killing the Crusader artillery weapons system. And yet this week it died, at least as originally conceived. Do you want to revise and extend your remarks?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, 50-50 — that was an act of courage on my part. Profiles in Courage – I think only time will tell whether I was right about that. It did seem to be in trouble because it had a strong constituency in Oklahoma, some powerful members of Congress who wanted to defend it.

TERENCE SMITH: You mean, the administration in seeing it was in trouble was trying to kill it.

DAVID BROOKS: It did seem – a couple of things happened: One, it is tough to go up against the president in times of war. It is also– you got sort of a feeding frenzy.

And then have you this intellectual shift where it seemed like were you a knuckle dragger if you were for a Howitzer, when you should be for some smart system. So, the Senate felt like, well, the modern thing to do would be faction forward to be for a system.

Then there was sort of a tipping pointed where everybody starting fighting over the spoils, when the money was taken out of the Crusader system, where does it go, and so the body was sort of kept on life support so people could fight over the organs. And then, by then it was finished.

TERENCE SMITH: And it was finished. Mark, quoting you to you, you said the administration had overreached and would have “a real problem getting its way on this one.”

MARK SHIELDS: Well, Terry, you dare to ask that of a man who predicted that President John McCain elected in 2000 would not seek a second term. If you are going to get into corrections and amplifications where we’ve made mistakes, we are going to need a longer segment on your show.

TERENCE SMITH: We’ll be here all night. What do you think happened?

MARK SHIELDS: I think what happened was that when the president of the United States, David is right, as commander in chief is at 75 percent, and the grumbling and the mumbling in the ranks is strong — if George W. Bush ever comes down to 52 percent or 53 percent, there will be rather than a simmering revolt, there will be an open revolt because they weren’t consulted.

The members of the delegation, Oklahoma, 27 states had a piece of this. But they were not enough, the delegations, to stop it and Don Rumsfeld made it a test of his own leadership and strength.

But I’ll tell you, the relations with Republicans on the Hill and the Hill on general are not good.

TERENCE SMITH: So you stand corrected but with an explanation.

MARK SHIELDS: I stand corrected and humbled.


DAVID BROOKS: I didn’t see the humility though.

TERENCE SMITH: It’s in there somewhere, very hard to see.

TERENCE SMITH: Another subject: This week the Federal Election Commission spent two days writing the rules for the campaign finance law known as McCain-Feingold and defining how it would be interpreted.

The authors immediately cried foul and said all kinds of loopholes were being written into the law. Were they?

DAVID BROOKS: If you wanted to get around the law, what the FEC did was give you the road signs, the detour signs to get around the law. So in that extent they did. What the FEC decided to do was to allow soft money in certain instances.

TERENCE SMITH: Soft money being…

DAVID BROOKS: The unregulated cash that doesn’t go to candidates and is not regulated — you don’t have to report it; you don’t adhere to limits — the $2,000 contribution limits. So that will still be in the system in a number of ways.

You will be able to use it to advertise on the Internet. You will be able to use it to get out the vote. State parties will be able to use it and federal candidates will be able to appear at state events that raise soft money.

So, in other words, members of Congress will still be involved in raising soft money.

If you think that’s terrible as John McCain does, then you’re fuming. If you look at some of the practical things, I think it is a tougher call.

The FEC decided not to try to regulate the Internet. Well, I don’t blame them. It’s tough to regulate the Internet. As for the state parties, do we really want to tell Hillary Clinton that she can’t appear in a New York Democratic state event because there might be soft money raised there? Well, that does really trample the First Amendment.

TERENCE SMITH: Mark, what is your view?

MARK SHIELDS: My view, Terry, is that in 38 years in Washington, I have never seen an act of arrogance, offensive arrogance as much that to rival the Federal Election Commission this week.

The ink is barely dry on George Bush’s mystery pen with which he signed this law, which doesn’t become effective number the 6th of November, and they have gutted it.

What it was about, what this law was about, everybody knew it who voted for it, who opposed it, was it was going to sever the relationship between federal officials and these six-figure gifts.

And what Republican commissioner– there are three Republican commissioners and one Democrat. The three Republican commissioners, they’re all sworn enemies of McCain-Feingold.

And basically it’s analogous — I guess, appointing somebody as Drug Enforcement Agency head who champions the legalization of crack cocaine and heroin. I mean they don’t believe in the law that they’ve sworn to uphold.

And so what you’ve got, one of the commissioners said, we’ve carved out — we’ve got a carve-out in this law. So David is right. I mean they can go to a state event. They just can’t be there when the solicitation is made.

So what do they do, step in the men’s room? Go into a telephone booth? Well, but gee, the Senator was just here, the chairman was just here, the vice president was just here.

It is an outrage and indefensible and there are two groups that ought to be heard from, one is Dick Gephardt, the House Democratic leader to appointed this Democrat Sundstrom to the job who offered the Amendment and every conservative strict constructionist who says you got to believe in the letter of the law. Baloney.

They’ve been mute on this. These guys just took the law and drove a truck through it and it was not the intention of the framers; it was not the intention of those who voted for it.

TERENCE SMITH: So is it gutted, David?

DAVID BROOKS: I don’t quite agree with that. I think they drove a micro — a mini, whatever these new cars are — not a truck.

The prohibition on attacking candidates with soft money is still there. In fact, some people think it is so pure it will face a Supreme Court challenge. But a lot of the fundamental elements of the law are still there.

I think where they pulled back is on the enforcement. They really face practical enforcement problems that one of the things a candidate could not do was solicit soft money. Does that mean you physically have to ask for soft money? Well, that’s clearly a solicitation.

But do I wink and nod? They said we are not going to enforce that because we’re not going to get into court trying to enforce or prosecute somebody for winking and nodding. That’s a practical issue.

TERENCE SMITH: Mark, also this week, the president was expected to make a major speech on a new Middle East peace initiative by the United States. But in fact he did not make the speech. The speech is now delayed at least until next week at the earliest.

I wonder why, what you know about it, why you think it was delayed, whether it was the terrible events of the week in the Middle East, or whether there are some divisions within the administration about the very policy.

MARK SHIELDS: I think, Terry, that there are divisions with the administration but there is no question that the assault, the destruction, the gruesome acts in Israel this week postponed the president’s making a statement.

And let’s be very clear about one thing. Those of us who favor a Palestinian state — in whose ranks I find myself and don’t hesitate to identify myself that way — have to acknowledge that Hamas and Hezbollah, these are groups that don’t want a Palestinian state. That’s not their agenda. Their agenda is the destruction of Israel. I think that has to be understood.

These are the groups that are sponsoring these most recent attacks — and to derail it, to do anything – but to inflict pain and great suffering.

But at the same time, any speech — president’s politics in speech begins usually this process. This is what I want to say, now let’s find the best time and place to say this. This was just the opposite. It became the president has to say something. Now what is he going to say? That’s when the battleground began.

And it appears the president was going to come out in favor of a provisional Palestinian state, but, you know, it still wasn’t absolutely clear and it was being debated as late as Thursday evening.

TERENCE SMITH: David, of course, one argument that is made is that the United States has to step forward with something that will break this cycle of violence, that rather than being delayed by the cycle of violence, you have to try to step in and do something.

DAVID BROOKS: You have to know what you believe in.

For three months it’s really been hard to tell what the administration believes in but there really was a sense in the White House that Bush made up his mind, that the Palestinian future state has to be a normal place with a constitution, one army, not half a dozen, real institutions of government.

And the president was trying to go down that road. Now as for the timing, I lobbied for Friday afternoon because serving our own interests but they disrespected us. I think it was the violence.

There is an effort now — really a plan is in place with some whining from the State Department to get European support for it so they can present it as an international plan, not as a U.S. plan, and then just waiting for the violence to die down, so early next week.

TERENCE SMITH: We’ll still here. All right.

TERENCE SMITH: And finally, Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura announced this week that he would throw in the towel, in wrestling terms, after only one term. What do you think of that? What do you think of Jesse’s time on the stage?

MARK SHIELDS: Jesse was a good times governor. He was a phenomenon. Let’s be very frank about it.

When he was elected in 1998, I think Minnesota had the highest voter turnout in the country, particularly among younger voters. He struck a spark there, and he evoked support and enthusiasm.

And he came in and he was not a bad governor but he became almost a whining — I mean for a Navy Seal, he was constantly complaining. Terry, you don’t want someone who’s constantly griping whether it’s a brother-in-law or your carpool. He was always complaining about the other politicians, about the press or whatever. He just got a little tiresome. I don’t think he is going to be missed when he leaves.


DAVID BROOKS: Mediocre at the end. He wasn’t terrible but he wasn’t great. It was all about him.

It was a series of celebrity moments, Larry King interviews but didn’t add up to anything, no grand vision where he was heading, no idea that he would create a third party, a real movement in American politics. His core base was people who are essentially apathetic about politics and who registered on election day and voted for him.

TERENCE SMITH: Doesn’t seem to bode very well for third party efforts.

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I mean, really in a strange way, it hurts third party efforts because not simply the record but when he was this celebrity and this exciting office holder, he could go in for a third party or independent candidate and just generate publicity and attention by going into the state and identifying with him or her.

TERENCE SMITH: Gentlemen, that’s it for us.

Thank you both very much.