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Shields and Brooks

May 2, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: Finally tonight, the analysis of Shields and Brooks: Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and David Brooks of the Weekly Standard.

First, Mark, today’s federal court decision here in Washington about the federal campaign finance law. Is it… has it destroyed the law? Is it dead?

MARK SHIELDS: No, it hasn’t destroyed the law, Jim. It was 1,700-page decision. It was lengthy and complex. I’m sure David has read it and digested it. I have not. But I did take a shortcut and talked to both Russ Feingold, senator of Wisconsin and sponsor of it and Marty Meehan, Democratic congressman from Massachusetts who sponsored it in the House. They tried to put the best face on it, even though the law was basically put down by a two to one special court this afternoon, pointing out that dead… the limit and ban of soft money, the use of unlimited campaign funds from individuals, corporations or labor unions in any television ads, it banned federal office holders raising soft money. So they were encouraged by that, they said.

But they pointed out too, what supporters and opponent have said from the beginning. Let’s go to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court ought to decide on this by October of 2004. And with any… 2003 — so there will be a law on the books for the next campaign.

JIM LEHRER: Because it was a three-judge special court, it can go directly now to the Supreme Court without any other court in between. Do you have a reading on this, sir?

DAVID BROOKS: Yeah, basically the same. I haven’t read the 1700 pages either, just the dirty parts. I just skipped to the dirty parts. Basically what’s interesting to me is we’ve got this flood plain of money going into the campaigns. The law tries to set up some canals, irrigation ditches, some dams. And what this ruling seems to do is move a few, and some of them significant, some of them less significant.

To me, the interesting thing is that within the three-judge panel, you have one judge who was against the whole law. She thought the whole law was unconstitutional. Then you had another who seemed more supportive and then another Republican judge who was in the middle. And what struck me was they created a compromise, keeping some, striking down others. And if we get a similar sort of deadlock in the Supreme Court, we may see a similar sort of compromise with them getting rid of some parts. The part that seems most vulnerable struck down by the law was the part that banned ads that mention candidates in the last 60 days of the election, which struck me and many people as the most constitutionally suspect.

JIM LEHRER: On the grounds that it was an infringement of free speech.


JIM LEHRER: All right. What did you think of the president’s victory speech last night?

DAVID BROOKS: It was actually an interesting aesthetic debate over whether him flying into the boat was gimmicky and demeaning, which is what mature people thought or gimmicky and cool, which is what I thought. And so there is sort of an aesthetic judgment there. To me, the important things were the fact that he recognized these sailors who have been away from their families for ten months, some of them missing… 150 missing the birth of their children. To me when this whole war proceeds into history, this cultural moment will be defined by those sailors and soldiers and the young people who are looking at this war will have their world view shaped by what they see of those people. And it will be totally different the way the Vietnam era saw the world. That will be an interesting thing.

The other substantive thing Bush said, he called this action in Iraq a battle. He said it was part of a longer war and you really got a sense of his mentality. Afghanistan was part of it. The al-Qaida fight was part of it. But we now got a lot more parts to go. And he said significantly the tide is turning. The tide… but you get the sense that he doesn’t feel that something is over. He is in the middle of something Iran, Iraq, Syria. It is all not militarily but it’s part of a life-long process for him.

JIM LEHRER: How do you feel about it?

MARK SHIELDS: Jim, I thought it was just in view of presidential presentation, it was spectacular. I mean, it was visually arresting. The president did the right thing. He struck the right note by not taking a victory lap himself, but offering a victory salute to the sailors, who, as David pointed, to the point of exhaustion. I mean these are people that have been out there ten months; 150 children have been born while they were at sea off this crew alone.

JIM LEHRER: No carrier has been out as long as this one.

MARK SHIELDS: No carrier has been out this long. And it was a symbolism that was heavy. The Abraham Lincoln; that did not go unnoticed. The fact that it was the only carrier that had been in both Afghanistan and Iraq — but, you know, will it be a success? I thought of other great presidential moments. I thought of Jack Kennedy at Berlin in 1963. Ronald Reagan at Berlin in 1987 and Normandy….

JIM LEHRER: Mr. Gorbachev, bring down this wall.

MARK SHIELDS: One thing missing. I talked to professor Robert Schmuhl today, who’s the author of “Stagecraft” and “Statecraft,” and sort of an expert on this, and he pointed out two things to me. One, 9:00 Thursday night is the most viewed television hour of the entire week, so it was very shrewd scheduling on the part of the White House; they had their maximum audience then. But the other thing was there was not a memorable line that came from the speech. There wasn’t “Ich bin ein Berliner”. There was not a “tear down that wall.” And I think we’ll see this footage over and over again, probably with a voiceover of this is the president who is comfortable with his troops.

JIM LEHRER: Rather than hearing his words —

DAVID BROOKS: One of the nice things he did was talk about the action as the activation of America’s true nation, not a Republican thing, not a Democratic thing. He talked about FDR’s four freedoms, he talked about the Truman Doctrine; the Reagan Cold War policies. This — he cast this as part of a long-term American project advancing the tide of democracy and on the Lincoln made researches to the Gettysburg Address as part of the founding of that.

JIM LEHRER: Some of the punditry suggested that the president and his handlers used these sailors and that aircraft carrier and all of the circumstances, props for his presidential reelection campaign — cheap shot?

DAVID BROOKS: Not entirely. I went home last night in a terrible mood because I thought a lot of the pundits had ignored the sailors, had treated them as they were bunting in a big campaign event. Whereas the president paid tribute to the sailors. I wrote this up on a spasm of anger on the magazine’s Web site and I got a lot of thoughtful commentaries — well a minority of thoughtful commentaries — some of which said the president started the politicization of this with the gimmick of flying in and treating it as a campaign prop. That’s not an illegitimate shot.

It was — some people who support the war believe he cheapened it in by flying in, by not delivering it from the Oval Office, by landing in military uniform, but I do think he at least paid tribute to those people unlike the pundits.

MARK SHIELDS: The most recurring criticism I heard of the president was the uniform, that you recall during the 2000 campaign, questions he was missing from the meetings in Alabama when he went to work on a political campaign there, didn’t show up for reserve meetings. There was a question just exactly what his commitment was to the Texas Air National Guard, especially in the very important Battle of Amarillo. And so that was raised by some critic. I have flown in on to the Abraham Lincoln, I’ve spent a night on the Abraham Lincoln.

JIM LEHRER: I didn’t remember watching you doing it live.

MARK SHIELDS: I didn’t have the cameras. One shrewd thing the president did do when he got off in his flight suit was he had the helmet off, you know, the helmet. Because when you leave the helmet on, Condi Rice left the helmet on for the picture and nobody…. I don’t care who it is —

JIM LEHRER: Looks good in a helmet?

MARK SHIELDS: Chuck Yeager doesn’t look good. John Glenn didn’t look good. I mean, it just dwarfs the person, so he was smart enough to do that. But sure, it is a legitimate question, but I don’t think there is any question overall that last night was a smashing success politically for the president.

JIM LEHRER: And the polls, there is a new poll today, Washington Post/ABC Poll that shows the president enormously popular with the public, enormous confidence the public has in his ability to handle foreign affairs but not so much with domestic affairs. Why don’t the two carry over?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, there are a number of things. The president said he wanted to be uniter not a divider when he ran. That hasn’t worked out. It’s his fault whether he has been a divisive figure as Democrats were charged or whether in fact the Democrats have been polarized. The president never got the boost out of this war that his father got for his leadership, in large part because his father did not have that same level of antipathy and opposition from the Democrats. And the reality is, Jim, if you’re Karl Rove going into 2004, you want it to be about George W. Bush commander in chief on the deck of the Abraham Lincoln. You don’t want to be about 6 percent unemployment today.

JIM LEHRER: Sure. But the Democrats, who are now the nine who want to take President Bush’s job, are going to have a debate this weekend in South Carolina, are going to be talking about domestic things, are they not?

DAVID BROOKS: Right. And they’ll have an advantage. They start way behind; 69 percent of the registered Democrats can’t name one of the people running for the nomination. So they’re just beginning.

JIM LEHRER: Now that is really being behind —

DAVID BROOKS: 9 percent is the John Kerry, they can name John Kerry tied with Al Gore, the number of people who still think Al Gore is running. So they’re just starting. The advantage they have is that there have been two George Bushs. There has been the foreign policy Bush who has been a progressive, bold, very moralistic person — somewhat taking Democratic rhetoric of human rights and liberation of peoples, using it for his own purposes and to me, reducing the Democrats to seeming somewhat churlish and conservative; but on the domestic side, the moral progressive, bold vision just hasn’t carried over. The Republican domestic policy, the White House domestic policy is the same basic Republican orthodox policy that you had five years ago or ten years ago. There hasn’t been sort of a new post-9/11 George Bush on domestic policy. To me, that’s why he is still vulnerable

JIM LEHRER: Do you think he is now going to do that?

DAVID BROOKS: I don’t see any evidence of it. You look at the tax plan on Capitol Hill. They have lost control of the tax plan on Capitol Hill.

MARK SHIELDS: They have lost control on Capitol Hill. I think the Democrats are born of frustration. Two things are going on. One is: Who wins the McCain primary. In other words, what one of the candidates breaks out of the pack to win independent votes especially in an important state like New Hampshire. Howard Dean, the Vermont governor showed signs of that and he and John Kerry now have got into a spat. Believe me — I have never seen such strife and such bickering so early in a presidential campaign.

JIM LEHRER: We have to leave it there. We’ll see what happens. We’ll talk about it next week. Thank you both very much.