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Shields and Brooks

June 28, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT
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JIM LEHRER: Now to Shields and Brooks; syndicated columnist Mark Shields, and David Brooks of The Weekly Standard. And when that prescription drug issue goes to the Senate in July, David, what is going to happen to it?

DAVID BROOKS: To that particular plan? Nothing. It doesn’t exist in the Senate. They will have another plan, which will be the Democratic plan, which will be a $800 billion plan over 10 years. The thing that really strikes me about this whole debate aside from the traditional differences between the two parties is the spending boom. The Republican plan that passed in the House is more expensive than the plan Al Gore suggested in the campaign in 2000. The Democratic plan, which is laughingly billed at $800 billion a year, because history shows it will be more, is many times more than that.

So revenues are dropping, and yet all over Washington and especially on this issue, spending is ballooning on farm bill, on defense, suddenly we have a boom here, at least a boom mentality without the boom.

JIM LEHRER: But on prescription drugs, Mark, is the politics such that both parties have to do something about it now, the only argument is over what they’re going to do?

MARK SHIELDS: I think you can make that case, Jim. I mean we went through a 2000 campaign. Both presidential candidates solemnly and emphatically and repeatedly pledged that we would have prescription drugs.

Not to be too cruel, it is a good fake effort on the part of the House Republicans. Why do I say a good fake effort? The one power that the majority in any legislative body has is the power to schedule, to determine when legislation comes to the floor, when it has the best chance. And the Republicans in the House control the House. They control the schedule.

The last time we voted on prescription drugs was June 28, 2000; election year. Going into the summer recess, going to adjourn in October — not a chance in the world of its passing and being worked out. When did we vote on it this year June 27, 2002: Recess, appropriations bills and a campaign.

So what you really have is they had to come up with something. They had to pass some sort of a fig leaf. It wasn’t a serious effort. It wasn’t a real effort. It was transparently so. They didn’t allow a vote on the Democrats on their plan, which David points out is bigger, no question about it.

JIM LEHRER: So nothing is going to happen.

MARK SHIELDS: Nothing is going to happen this year on this issue. It was a political inoculation attempt on the part of Republicans. We’ll see if it works.

JIM LEHRER: That’s what I was going to say? Do you think it will work? I mean, is this issue important enough to become an issue in the 2002 campaign? Was it important that the Republicans do this if Mark is right?

DAVID BROOKS: I really don’t think there is a more important issue on the public’s mind if you follow candidates around, this is the issue that comes up every third question. This is an important issue.

JIM LEHRER: Okay. The growing storms over corporate irresponsibility. The three of us sat here and watched Paul’s piece, his third on this, this week. Are there politics here already, or is it — how do you read it, Mark?

MARK SHIELDS: Big politics, Jim. I think it’s biggest issue; it’s probably the greatest vulnerability that George Bush has. I talked to the folks at the “Wall Street Journal”-NBC poll, they found out over the years that the biggest negative George Bush has is that he represents wealthy interest, too close to wealthy interests, all the way through his public career for presidential candidate into the White House and it was too close to special interests.

This is an issue that he doesn’t need. He is also disabled by the fact that his own Vice President is under investigation as well by the SEC, his stewardship at Halliburton and funny accounting firm practices involving Arthur Andersen, which represents Tyco, which represented WorldCom, which did Global Crossings, the whole thing.

JIM LEHRER: There have been no criminal allegations involving the Vice President or Halliburton.

MARK SHIELDS: No. No. That’s right. But in other words–

JIM LEHRER: I want to make sure what…

MARK SHIELDS: What had been his credential.

JIM LEHRER: I got you.

MARK SHIELDS: Dick Cheney can’t be seen as the strong enforcer of business, you know, regulation of business at this point. In other words, he is a little bit– he is a little bit disabled as a forceful advocate. I raise that, Jim, because I think George Bush will — obviously is going to make a strong speech.

The question is what is going to be his action. For six months, ever since Enron they’ve basically dragged their feet, been against a tough accounting reform bill; they’ve been against tougher corporate governance rules. We’ll see if the President endorses them.

JIM LEHRER: How do you read it, David?

DAVID BROOKS: Totally differently. This is an amazing situation we are in. We have these eye scalding scandals; we’ve got recession; we’ve got a flat stock market, we’ve got a President who is the most corporate President in our history, or at least in our lifetimes; we’ve got widespread disillusion about inequality of income.

And yet if you look at this amazing confluence of events, it has not led to a decline in Bush’s popularity ratings; it has not led to a decline in the Republican Party’s popularity ratings. You have got a perfect storm of events, no storm.

JIM LEHRER: Why not?

DAVID BROOKS: Because the country has changed. Even the Democratic Party knows the country has changed. If there were liberals still left in this country, they would be out with their pitchforks in front of the mansions on behalf of the little people, against the corporate interests.

The Democratic Party is not doing that. We saw Tom Daschle, the News Summary today, he was saying well corporations want to clean up Wall Street. It was not the people against the powerful. Dick Gephardt was on the front page of the “New York Times” today looking like he was going to bust an aneurysm he was so mad; he was not mad about these corporate scandals.

He was mad about a middle class subsidy — prescription drugs benefits. They’ve looked at the country; the country has changed. It is a suburban, office park country; it’s not in the mood for class warfare so they’re not doing it.

MARK SHIELDS: Could not disagree more. Jim, the reality is something different. And it is this: People know that these people have not been playing by the rules; that they have broken the rules, abused, they’ve taken advantage. They want them brought to the bar. 17,000 people – we saw on the News Summary — just got laid off today at WorldCom.

JIM LEHRER: WorldCom, right.

MARK SHIELDS: I mean, these are people whose lives — who go to work every day, who work hard. I was up on the Hill this week for the hearings, and it’s a great issue, I’ll tell you the Republicans are terrified of it, and that is these expatriate companies that move offshore, change their address, keep their company, their possessions, their property, their personnel at home in New Jersey and Connecticut just so they can duck taxes and Richard Neal in the House, a Democrat, and Chuck Grassley in the Senate, a Republican, are saying, this is immoral, it’s unpatriotic and outrageous at a time when the country is at war and there is going to be a vote on it.

JIM LEHRER: But you’re saying there hasn’t been a fault line fall yet on party– in other words, not a Republican–.

DAVID BROOKS: It hasn’t come to Washington as much. People are outraged. You know, you read the paper, you’re outraged. You’re mad at these people. The President is outraged. They look at this and say what is the problem here?

The problem is these crooked arrangements on Wall Street that Paul talked about; the problem is people who don’t live up to standards who shouldn’t be able to face their kids at night the way they divert funds here and there, send their companies into bankruptcy. The problem is one set of capitalists screwing another set of capitalists. They look at that and they say we have to clean it up.

But they don’t think it’s the Republicans’ fault; they don’t think it’s Bill Clinton’s fault because he lowered the standards. They think it’s a Wall Street problem, and there has to be some reforms but they don’t see it as a big political fault line.

JIM LEHRER: Another issue: The appeals court decision in California on the Pledge of Allegiance, there has been a lot of loud noise and uproar over this, is it justified?

DAVID BROOKS: No. It’s a lot of noise to me. Every stupid decision creates a counter reaction of equal stupidity. I thought the court was stupid taking the separation of church and state taking it to opposition and then here in Washington everybody slapped their hand before their chest and rushed to the flag to pledge and the microphone to denounce. I was thinking if you stuck a flag on a microphone stand, you would have been a rampage and people would have run, been run over and killed. To me it was a bit of theater, it was stupidity on both sides.

JIM LEHRER: Theater.

MARK SHIELDS: Republicans were hoping, hoping that the Democrats would go for the bait, that liberals would hold an open house inviting gutless atheists who blame America first to say this was a great decision. Obviously it didn’t happen. So it is a political non-story. Eighty Senators showed up yesterday for the opening of the Senate, the biggest number in history, read the prayer.

JIM LEHRER: Same thing in the House.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right.

JIM LEHRER: Okay. The Supreme Court decision on vouchers; we talked about it last night and then Margaret talked about it with the constitutional lawyers earlier this evening. Are there politics here? How important this is?

MARK SHIELDS: Big politics, Jim. I think it’s a big issue. To George Bush’s credit, he went past what had been the conservative sort of one-size-fits-all silver bullet cure for education ills, which was school vouchers and the abolition of the Department of Education.

Bush advocated, championed and stayed with the enlargement of the federal rolls standard and spending in public education and kind of moved away from vouchers and always made the case that it was a constitutional problem against it. This removes that constitutional objection so it kind of puts him squarely back in the middle.

But the two parties are totally conflicted. Their constituencies are at odds. The Democrats– I worked with three African American secretaries, single moms, all of whom were Protestants, all of whom had their children in Washington, DC in the Catholic schools. They scrimped, they saved work overtime to keep their kids in the Catholic schools.

JIM LEHRER: They want vouchers.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s the Democratic constituency, yet Democrats are loyal to the Teachers Union and separation of church and state. They don’t want it. Conservatives, on the other hand, like it ideologically and philosophically. Conservative voters don’t. In the suburbs they don’t want it because it means central city kids.

JIM LEHRER: Is that right, do you agree?

DAVID BROOKS: That’s exactly right. You go into a suburb, I don’t care if it’s Republican or Democratic, I paid $50,000 to get into the school district extra on my house cost. You’re telling me the inner city kids are going to come here? They’re against it.

The Teachers Unions and hence the Democrat Party are against it. You’ve got the Republican rank and file and the Democratic establishment; that’s a pretty strong coalition. But I do think you will see in inner city failing schools, like Milwaukee, like Cleveland, like Florida now, you’ll see that all around the country.

The schools that have just destroyed education in those places, that those kids will have more opportunities because there is now a green light. The most important thing is that the parents and the kids in those schools, in Cleveland, Florida and Milwaukee, will not be wrenched out of the only successful schools they’ve known and shoved back into failing schools. At least those kids will have some chance.

JIM LEHRER: They’ll have the choice. The court said it just gives these individual school districts a chance to decide if they want to do it or not.

DAVID BROOKS: You talk to African American parents of school age children in major cities, they’re pro voucher.

JIM LEHRER: Okay. We have to leave it there. Thank you both very much.