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JIM LEHRER: Now, Shields and Brooks: Our Friday night analysis by syndicated columnist Mark Shields and David Brooks of The Weekly Standard. To follow up on the conversation we just heard, David, how would you judge the Bush White House and the way it communicates and operates?
DAVID BROOKS: It’s manipulative, but it’s also sincere. They really are a controlled White House. They’re a controlled people. During the campaign, you would go to the headquarters, everybody had neat desks, just a little bottle of water there. So they are a disciplined group. On April 9th, which is the day the Baghdad statues all fell, I called a friend in the White House and said there are a lot of people very excited. What is the mood there in the White House? He said it is incredibly calm. People are incredibly disciplined. We’ve got just one more day with one more set of problems, and he said, I grew up watching movies about the White House at war. Electricity in the air, you know John F. Kennedy, guns in the Cuban Missile Crisis. I thought it would be tense and exciting. It’s kind of boring. That’s just what this White House is like. They’re disciplined, they’re calm and they project that.
JIM LEHRER: What would you add or subtract?
MARK SHIELDS: I would add this, Jim, following up on Terry’s interview with Elisabeth Bumiller and Mike Deaver. It is incredibly disciplined. The first day that Andrew Card, chief of staff to George W. Bush, went to work in Ronald Reagan’s White House, he walked in, the first senior staff meeting, and the lady at the White House who gives out these little name cards, the tents, she said, “What is your name?” He said, “Andrew Card.” And she said, “Are you Meese or Baker?” He said, ” I’m sorry?” “I said, ‘Are you Meese or Baker?’.” He said, “I don’t understand. ‘You’re either Meese or Baker, you’re one or the other, because obviously there were big factions. So what are you in? Governmental relations. Okay, you’re Baker. Sit down.” He said, we vowed right at the outset that would never be the case in this White House. And I think they’ve kept it. They’ve kept it to the point where there are not factions, and it is, David is absolutely right, it is incredibly disciplined.
And I would add to that, it is a White House in its procedures and its policies: Simple rule, which is, this is not your father’s Oldsmobile. This is not my father’s administration. George Herbert Walker Bush had a far more easygoing press secretary, a press secretary who was well liked and amiable in Marlin Fitzwater, who had been Ronald Reagan’s press secretary as well. Ari Fleischer is not leaving with a lot of great Ari Fleischer stories and anecdotes. But he has been George W. Bush’s press secretary and he’s served him the way he wanted served. I think if you use Mike Deaver’s standard of numbers, he served him well in that sense.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree, he was the perfect press secretary for George W. Bush?
DAVID BROOKS: Absolutely. He resisted the urge to be interesting, which is not always something you do when you’re on a podium. You naturally want to tell people things, you’ve got these reporters out there; you want to be friendly with them, but he did the two things a press secretary has to do: reflect what is on the president’s mind and tell what the president wants told. And he did those things very well.
JIM LEHRER: He also seemed to keep the attention away from himself which is also very difficult to do. When you’re there every day on live television and he seldom, very seldom was it Ari Fleischer that was the star.
DAVID BROOKS: One of the good press secretaries was Mike McCurry, the Clinton press secretary; one of the things he did was he got into verbal battles with Newt Gingrich and Dick Armey and Tom DeLay. He sort of engaged in that war and he did it very well. But that’s something Ari Fleischer would never do, that would never be allowed in this White House.
JIM LEHRER: Speaking of the president and the White House, the tax cut bill is going to the president, passed the House and Senate as the whole world now knows. What happened here, Mark? This thing was supposed to be dead a few weeks ago. I think we even discussed its death on this program.
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think the president, basking in the afterglow, in the warm afterglow and inflated or elevated numbers, I should say, after Iraq, with a desire on the part of Republicans, it’s become the driving, defining issue on the Republican Party today. One thing they can agree on is cutting taxes, at any given moment, for any given cause, usually for the same group but for any given cause. I think that combination — I think he deserves credit for it. The president banged some heads, he brought people in the room. Vice President Cheney deserves some credit for it, Jim, but…
JIM LEHRER: In the final negotiations yesterday the yesterday and the day before, Cheney was very much there.
MARK SHIELDS: But make no mistake about it. I mean, what we said last week we stand with. I mean, it’s a sham, it’s a hoax, it’s a fraud. I mean, Denny Hastert, the Speaker of the House, let it out of the bag in an interview with the National Journal came out today; he said it is going to cost a trillion dollars over the next ten years. It is not going to cost $350 billion.
DAVID BROOKS: Who are you calling we, kimosabe?
JIM LEHRER: A sham, a hoax, a fraud, what words would you -
DAVID BROOKS: I think it’s improved from last week. I thought the Senate bill sort of was a sham. First on the politics, which I think is an astounding victory, they really crushed a lot of strong Republicans. Bill Thomas, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, he had different views. They gave him something, took away something.
JIM LEHRER: What he got was essentially capital gains, right? The reduction of 5 percent from 20 to 15 percent; that’s what he got.
DAVID BROOKS: Right. The big story to me is that this is a one-party government. The Democrats could have won this; there was no big public outcry for this tax cut. They were a lot of people ambivalent on the Republican side. If the Democrats, if they had halfway competent leadership, would have had something; they would have proposed a counter tax cut and they would payroll taxes, or they just would have blocked the whole thing if they were halfway confident.
My impression looking at the last few weeks is there is no strong Democratic counter-government. You sometimes get the impression that the leadership there has said if we go home and have a press conference where we say some really nasty things about George Bush, that’s an honest day’s work. Instead of saying how are we going to govern, how are we going to get our policies halfway enacted, they’re just holding press conferences, they’re not trying to build a majority.
JIM LEHRER: Do you think the Democrats with some of these moderate Republicans, they could have prevailed?
DAVID BROOKS: Absolutely. Moderate Republicans and even some conservative Republicans like Voinovich, and many others, were vulnerable on this, but there was no other alternative. Bush was the only thing, he was a step ahead of them the whole time.
JIM LEHRER: Democrats, Mark?
MARK SHIELDS: The only place; obviously not so in the House. There is absolutely no opportunity: the only responsibility for the minority in the House of Representatives is to make a quorum, because it’s under closed rule. There are no amendments, there are no competing amendments that are offered.
JIM LEHRER: No filibuster system.
MARK SHIELDS: The party controls the rules committee and sets the rules. There would be in the Senate. And I the problem was that early on the president got some of the Democratic senators; he got Zell Miller early on, so you knew that you weren’t going to be able to forge a majority. And I think there probably was at some point a feeling on the part of Democrats that, look he’s in charge. This is his. This is his economy. We are going to deprive him of any excuses if it doesn’t work out.
DAVID BROOKS: That’s a heck of a way to be an opposition party though because then you say you hope things mess up and then we win.
MARK SHIELDS: I think they faced the inevitable. But Jim, come back to sham, hoax, fraud.
JIM LEHRER: I think you said fraud, sham, hoax.
MARK SHIELDS: That was the law firm we used. I do think this. You do have Herb Stein, who was Richard Nixon’s chairman of the economic advisers, one of the wisest and loveliest men who ever lived in Washington said we either have to get rid of the federal deficit or we have to get rid of the idea that we are going to get rid of the federal deficit. I think you saw the Republican Party basically throw in the towel. What had been really a cardinal rule of Republicans, we know how to meet a payroll. We understand what a buck is, none of this deficit financing. They argue, talk about Keynesians – they’re Keynesian supply-siders, they’re going to print money 24 hours a day.
JIM LEHRER: David?
DAVID BROOKS: At the end of the day I’m glad this thing is going to pass. I’ve been ambivalent the whole way along.
JIM LEHRER: You said some pretty bad things about it.
DAVID BROOKS: Along the way and last week the Senate bill I thought was horrible, horrible. Made no sense but they got rid of a lot of the terrible things. My thinking, basically my impulse is where the American people is, just don’t do anything radical. Just be safe. Don’t mess things up. But we face a tradeoff. On the one hand this tax bill is going to hurt the deficit over the long-term, especially over the long-term.
On the other hand, we’ve got a global stagnant economy. Japan is stagnant, Europe is going to stay stagnant because of their monetary union situation; they can’t be stimulative, and, meanwhile, we have a situation with recently high unemployment, kids coming out of college have got no job opportunities, low pay raises. So there is real stagnation that the whole world is suffering from. The only country that can do anything about that it is the government… is the U.S. government.
So to me, it is worth taking a risk to get some stimulus into this world economy. A tax cut, maybe not this tax cut, but a tax cut is the only way to do that, to get the whole economy moving, the whole world.
JIM LEHRER: What about Mark’s point that may all well be the case or it may well not be the case, whatever is the case, it is now George Bush’s economy?
DAVID BROOKS: Absolutely. Listen. If the economy rebounds, he can say I gave you two big tax cuts; you got that $800 check, Mr. and Mrs. America. It would be tough to beat him.
MARK SHIELDS: Jim, just one devastating figure that I came across this week and that is the first 200 years of the United States history we fought nine wars, went through four depressions, we ran up a total indebtedness of $1 trillion. In the 25 months of the Bush administration, the debt run up by this government had to be increased today by a trillion dollars in the Senate of the United States is $1.5 trillion, so in 25 months, more than two centuries. That’s a total 180…
DAVID BROOK: We’ve got a $10 trillion dollar economy.
JIM LEHRER: David just said, if the economy now rebounds, George W. Bush is set to say I did this. If it doesn’t rebound, if there is a problem, do you think he is vulnerable on this?
MARK SHIELDS: I think he is incredibly…Jim, I think George W. Bush right now, his only case for reelection is that he has been the anti-terrorist president. That’s it, I mean, 71,000 jobs a month have been lost every month he has been there. That precedes, that precedes September 11. The six months prior to September 11 this economy was hemorrhaging jobs. This is his third tax cut. I mean this is the one we’re looking at right now.
JIM LEHRER: Finally, Paul Wolfowitz, deputy secretary of defense got raked over the coals yesterday in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about post-war Iraq and the U.S. reconstruction effort, et cetera. Did he deserve criticism?
DAVID BROOKS: There has been a shift among pro-war Republicans mostly. In the first few weeks after the war, people thought we moved in so quickly, we didn’t have enough troops to impose order. Let’s give them a break. Now there is a clear sense among people who supported the war that they’re bungling it and they’d better turn it around. There have been some signs that they’ve begun to turn it around but now blame is being assigned to the administration.
MARK SHIELDS: David is right. What Tom Friedman said last night on his interview with you, I think, I would say you have to go – we would have to go out of our way to get this thing wrong but so far we’re well on our way to doing that, getting it wrong.
JIM LEHRER: The peace.
MARK SHIELDS: The peace, with the lack of order, Jim, the lack of civilization that preceded… I’m not talking about the civil liberties and the lack thereof and the torture under Saddam Hussein. But, I mean, they did have electricity. They had water. They had some order and that’s missing. And the fact, I mean, the very fact that General Shinseki, the army chief of staff, was absolutely destroyed by Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld for saying we are going to need 200,000 troops to bring peace and occupation. We’re up to 170 [thousand] and there still isn’t peace and order.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. We have to leave it there. Thank you both very much.