Weekly Political Analysis of Mark Shields and David Brooks
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TERENCE SMITH: That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and David Brooks of the Weekly Standard. Gentlemen, welcome. Mark, it was quite a week, a news week. And in the midst of all the drama, about Colin Powell’s appearance, about Iraq, about the “Columbia” shuttle disaster, the president submitted his budget, sent it up to the hill. How was it received?
MARK SHIELDS: It’s fascinating, Terry. Here is a man, George W. Bush, the colossus who strode the planet politically on Nov. 6, which seems eons ago. Then the administration took a couple of hits, minor hits. The Louisiana senate race, Mary Landrieu won, and the brouhaha over Trent Lott and the opening act at the Apollo for James Brown. Then what happened is the president ran into trouble on the budget and his proposals with his own Republican Party.
TERENCE SMITH: With his own party.
MARK SHIELDS: I don’t know if there is one single defining reason for it — overreaching. At the same time that he is dominant internationally and here at home, that Republicans are resistant, rebelling that the one size fits all tax cut for everything, tax cuts good times, tax cuts peace, tax cuts war, tax cuts bad times, you know, and it finally seems to be a resistance on the part of enough Republicans on to put the president’s domestic program really at risk.
TERENCE SMITH: And David, in any other week, that would have been big news, the idea of trouble between a powerful president and his own party.
DAVID BROOKS: It wouldn’t have happened any other week though. I basically agree with Mark’s diagnosis. The budget was sent up there like a boat. You sharks just leapt on it. We heard from House Ways and Means Committee, the republicans there were unhappy with some of the tax cut ideas. Then the committee chairmen didn’t like their budgets for their different fiefdoms — were not growing fast enough and the report today the president’s savings plan was given up by the president’s most closest allies. So it is adrift. And as someone who supports a lot of the ideas that are in the budget, that’s fine.
You know, what happened was the president has not followed up, he has not leaned on anybody, has not lobbied anybody and that’s because we are on the verge of a war. If this war goes well, we have tremendous opportunities. If it goes terribly, thousands of people are going to die. The president should not be focusing like a laser beam on the budget. The NIH, National Institutes of Health, fabulous institution — I don’t want my budget worrying if it gets 1 percent, 2 percent, or 4 percent. She has to win a war. Wew3 want to learn the lesson that you cannot focus on the domestic policy. He has to focused on for right now. I think he is behaving correctly.
MARK SHIELDS: I think it is deeper than that. When a major proposal is sent up and immediately the White House and the administration start denying paternity, saying no, it wasn’t our idea, it was Paul O’Neill. Poor Paul O’Neill now back in Pittsburgh, deposed secretary of the treasury. And I think it’s really more serious than that. I think it’s a failure on the part of the administration. The president has been talking about being committed ever since he ran to Medicare reform. We don’t have a plan for Medicare reform on paper or that can be explained to anybody. So I think, Terry, David makes a good point about war and the preoccupation that has to be for the president, but I mean a good domestic leader understands that at time of war, he has got to have imaginative proposals to keep the American people and all his people behind him. That there is a sense that they have a stake in this war, and I think he has failed on that.
TERENCE SMITH: David, he has a new economic team in place. Now isn’t that, in part, the task of the economic team, to sell the president’s economic proposals, at least to his own party?
DAVID BROOKS: It is asking a lot for them to come in and be the intimidators three or four weeks into the job. They clearly are not. Mitch Daniels, the budget director has a rocky relationship with Capitol Hill. These chairmen, Ted Stevens from Alaska, these are not shrinking violets. They’re taking advantage of the fact that the president, who is the gorilla, is not leaning on them.
TERENCE SMITH: One other thing, an issue that has arisen this week and is very current is it getting the attention it deserves? North Korea? The administration, its policy toward that, Mark?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, Terry, it can only be accused of total opposite of our policy toward Iraq where the president has been accused of being the lone ranger by his critics in Iraq and threatening to go it alone. This one, it’s Alfonse and Gaston. You go first. China, it’s your job. China, Russia. How about you South Korea? We find out today that North Korea has been active missile sales with, among others, Egypt, Yemen, Syria, Libya, Pakistan. And this is a try that is an absolute basket case financially, needs hard currency, and they’ve got a way of selling it and making it. That’s by selling nuclear baddies to the worst people on the face of the earth – so I think not talking about North Korea at a time like this, really, I think makes us vulnerable to other rogue activities. I look for the Chinese troublesome over Taiwan.
TERENCE SMITH: David, we just heard the French ambassador to this broadcast, listing North Korea second after al-Qaida and before Iraq as a set of concerns for France.
DAVID BROOKS: Yeah, I think that’s maybe legitimate. The problem is there is no solution. North Korea already has nuclear weapons so it is much harder to take on North Korea. North Korea is not in the troubled region that Iraq is with a whole generation rising up with anti-American attitudes under the throes of democracy. It is just much easier and greater opportunities and easier solutions to take on Iraq first. North Korea presents a problem. The administration knows what they don’t want to do with North Korea, which is to pay it off. They don’t know what they want to do. And I think in their heart of hearts, they would say they want to stall o this until they can take it onw3 and depose the regime because that’s ultimately what is going to happen.
TERENCE SMITH: Is that stallable, Mark?
MARK SHIELDS: I’m really not sure. We’ve seemed to upped the ante this week with in bombers and Donald Rumsfeld was more confrontational toward the North Koreans and the North Koreans seemed to go for the bait. I don’t know. David is absolutely right. There nor easy solutions. And for that reason, you would rather not deal with it, but it is an awesome reality.
TERENCE SMITH: It seems almost as though the North Koreans are taking this opportunity and this preoccupation with Iraq to press the case as a form of pressure.
DAVID BROOKS: Press is a polite way to put it. They’re like four year olds. Pay attention to me. I’m going to stamp my feet and throw out a nuke. The U.S. is paying attention. Colin Powell appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday. It was interesting to me, of the hour and a half I watched, 90 percent of the questions were on North Korea, not Iraq. One of the interesting things Colin Powell said in his bilateral meetings after the Security Council speech he gave with Foreign Minister Ivanov of Russia, they spent most of the time on North Korea, not Iraq. I’m sure that was also true with China. It is something the administration is paying attention to. What do you do about it?
MARK SHIELDS: Now we are urging the International Atomic Energy Agency to submit their violations of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, North Korea’s in the U.N. Security Council. I mean it is all of a sudden we’ve got this bilateral multilateral approach there and, you know, so it is intriguing and unsettling at the same time.
TERENCE SMITH: Let me ask you both about the political impact of Colin Powell’s very dramatic appearance before the U.N. Security Council. Tell me what you think it has been in terms of U.S. Public opinion and whether he has moved the needle for this administration and for its policy.
DAVID BROOKS: I think we’ve crossed another phase in this whole Iraq debate. The cards are on the table. This is all the administration is going to release. Some people are not persuaded, but a lot of people are. Enough Americans are persuaded for the U.S. to go ahead, enough countries are persuaded for the U.S. to go ahead. The U.S. will go ahead with a number of other countries. That is inevitable unless Saddam converts to Methodism or something next week. Some people will replay the same hawk-dove debate we have been having for the last couple of months. We’ve heard the arguments. Some people will go around in circles.
What we will see in the next week or so is people will move on to the next debate. The Ba’ath regime will not survive the winter but how are we going to do it? What should we be prepared for? Do we care about disarmament or democracy? And so you get a whole range of different issues not whether we should do it but how, what is the end game and that’s a whole different debate. And I think when the president came out yesterday with Colin Powell, he signaled we are moving on to this other debate.
TERENCE SMITH: Again he had Colin Powell standing next to him. Mark?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, Terry, you can say George W. Bush is either a genius or very lucky, maybe a little bit of both. I haven’t figured it out yet. But Colin Powell is a gift to the country, and a treasure to this administration. I mean if there has ever been anybody who had cabinet tenure like a professor at an Ivy League school, I mean it is Colin Powell. He is absolutely fire proof.
The Gallup folks asked a question before Colin went to the United Nations. Who do you trust more on making policy toward Iraq — Colin Powell the secretary of state or George W. Bush, the president? By a 63-24 percent margin, I mean overwhelming thumping, Americans said Colin Powell. I mean Colin Powell went there, sitting behind him was George Tenet, the man who had beenw3 disparaged and condemned by so many hawks early on who said oh, God, he is a softy. He was there as the character credibility witness. These are two people who were known to be reluctant about going to war, made them if anything far more persuasive advocates. He did it without bombast, he did it without great bluster. He just did it factually. And as my friend Mary said, he persuaded me and I was as tough as France to convince. I thought it was a remarkable performance.
TERENCE SMITH: Credibility personified. That’s it for thus week. Thank you both.