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Brooks and Page

January 2, 2004 at 12:00 AM EST
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RAY SUAREZ: Finally tonight, the analysis of Brooks and Page — that’s New York Times columnist David Brooks and Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page. Mark Shields is on vacation.

Well, Clarence, significantly a prosecutor, not a special prosecutor. That’s ’90s. But a prosecutor, nonetheless, has been appointed to look into the leak of a CIA’s agent’s identity. Good deal?

CLARENCE PAGE: Efforts by the White House to minimize this controversy hit a snag this week because Attorney General Ashcroft did come forth and recuse him in the investigation.

Until now, he has been closely overseeing the investigation, even having investigators report to him frequently. Now he is recusing himself completely from it and assigning Patrick Fitzgerald, the U.S. attorney from Illinois, who recently won an indictment against former Governor Ryan, George Ryan, a Republican in Illinois. And Fitzgerald is backed by Senator Fitzgerald, also a Republican, not related, but an independent minded newspaper, my — prosecutor.

My newspaper editorialized that he is independent-minded politically and also as a prosecutor — the kind of guy of not quitting until he has gotten to the bottom of what is going on. So this is a big deal in that regard. Doesn’t mean he will get an indictment but it ratchets up the seriousness of the situation.

RAY SUAREZ: David, what do you think?

DAVID BROOKS: It’s funny. All these guys are like carbon copies of each other. Always Eliot Ness coming out of Chicago. What is it about Chicago? The thing happening in Washington, nobody really knows what is happening. Somewhere there is an investigation, somewhere presumably they’ve found something or not found something that caused Ashcroft to make the move to recuse himself.

Nobody knows what is going on and there is all this criminology — was it Karl Rove — was it nothing — do they want a respectable face to say there was nothing? To me the most interesting thing was a story in The Washington Post today that said in order for what the leaker did to have been illegal, they would have had to leak that she was not only a CIA agent which is not illegal but that she was a covert CIA agent. That’s the only time it becomes a crime.

It seems unlikely to me that the White House official, A, would know who is covert. They might know who is CIA but they wouldn’t know who is covert. And that they would have leaked the fact that she was covert because that was not in the Robert Novak column, which was the start of that — the fact that she was covert. So we could have a leaker, someone who did something reprehensible, really, but not a crime.

RAY SUAREZ: Does the White House get itself some more protection by moving the investigation out of the Justice Department to a more, yes, I mean obviously Mr. Fitzgerald still works for the Justice Department but to a more independent, arm’s length relationship with the investigation?

DAVID BROOKS: The $46,000 question is who is getting fingered here? If it’s George Bush making the, then we have a big scandal. If it is most other people, it is not a scandal. If it is not a crime but a leak, that’s not too much.

CLARENCE PAGE: One name we have heard mentioned is Karl Rove. Ambassador Wolf’s personal feeling is that Karl Rove had something to do with a campaign to get a leak approaching reportedly five or six reporters who did not go with it. Bob Novak did. He referred to her as an operative which Novak now says somebody who works for an organization. But the CIA…

DAVID BROOKS: Speculative that there was a number of calls. I’m dubious about that.

RAY SUAREZ: In recent days, just towards the end of the year, we’ve had the mad cow scare. I guess for want of a better term, there are herds quarantined, cattle being inspected, a judge stopping the implementation of new readings of the Clean Air Act from the Bush administration — the banning of ephedra. Sort of under the broad umbrella of deregulation, David, this is politics? Is it just a coincidence? What are we looking at here?

DAVID BROOKS: I actually don’t think George Bush ran on a deregulation platform. During his campaign he ran on a neutral platform on regulation. The problem he has had and it touches basically all three of these is that it is an administration influenced amazingly by corporations.

To me, a lot of what they’ve done has been intelligent. On the Clean Air Act or on the mercury regulations, what they did was they introduced a set of procedures which would allow companies to cap how much mercury could be released and then trade pollution rights, which in theory creates a situation where a company has incentives to come up with new ways to curb pollution.

The problem, and this is typical — they instituted this program in such a way that it is generous to corporations. They do something which is probably a good idea but they do it in a way that makes it look like they’re bowing down to special interests.

This happened with the mad cow and they were probably slow to regulate the possibility of this disease. It’s happened on so many possible regulatory arenas. They have taken some good ideas for regulatory reform and they’ve corrupted them by making it look too favorable to corporations.

CLARENCE PAGE: Indeed, while George Bush did not run on a deregulation platform, we have seen a consistent pattern of sympathy toward deregulation, toward more freedom for corporations, and this goes over into other debates, like prescription drugs and various other issues.

In that sense, there is a political implication to it. I mean who is to say, who are we to sit here and say whether one regulation or another is really good and workable or not. But when you see a consistent pattern like that, it shows how one strong issue for Democrats is still environmental protection versus Bush.

Now, whether it becomes an issue remains to be seen, but it was not a good week for the administration’s deregulation efforts.

RAY SUAREZ: Is there really some political threat in that, though Clarence, to try to remind voters that here in November on a Friday, 5:30, they did this and the previous October they did this other thing involving another industry. Isn’t a lot of that very diffuse?

CLARENCE PAGE: If the Democratic Party were alive, they would read the bill of particulars and go right down the list. Arsenic in drinking water, Alaska wildlife preserve, ephedra, polluters now, whether or not you should loosen regulations that requires scrubbers to be installed. There’s a consistent pattern. Prescription drugs: Where are the cost controls in that program? That is going to be an issue.

DAVID BROOKS: Here is something I would differ. First of all, on arsenic, the administration’s regulations were the same as the Clinton administration’s. On ephedra, the law that slowed down the implementation of the regulation was passed in 1994 with Clinton and a Democratic Congress.

On the beef, the main member of Congress who was pushing off some of the regulations which would have tightened the marketplace was Charlie Stenholm, a Democrat from Texas, who has a lot of cattle people in his district. I would say it’s not Republican or Democrat, it’s whose ox is gored.

If you represent cattle people, it doesn’t matter what party you’re a member of, you’ve been fighting off these regulations; if you are from Connecticut or New York City, well, then it’s no cost to you, so you are more likely to support it.

CLARENCE PAGE: Well, historically deregulation began under Jimmy Carter, not Ronald Reagan. And yet, what’s the easier sell right now, Democrats are protecting the environment or Republicans, I think we can see where the political weight lies.

RAY SUAREZ: American emergency rescue crews were met with a very warm welcome in Bam, the city in southern Iran so heavily damaged by the earthquake. People inevitably started speculating about at least an open channel for dialogue, but the Iranians were cool on the proposal of an American high level team heading out there. Were we just getting carried out there?

DAVID BROOKS: People always get along in these sorts of emergencies, whether the governments get along is clearly they’re not. The Bush administration was not carried away. To me, these sorts of earthquakes and these sorts of catastrophes have a possibility to create real change when people look at their system and say why did 25,000 or 40,000 people have to die?

In San Francisco, there was a earthquake or in California, of 6.5 on the Richter scale. In Bam there was an earthquake of 6.5 on the Richter scale. In California, I think two people died, less than ten. In Iran, 25,000 or 30,000 people died. Why do we have such a contrast? When people in Iran start asking that question, then they start getting unhappy with their government. I think that’s the only time that catastrophes lead to some kind of political implication.

CLARENCE PAGE: Indeed. There are things happening in Iran, a generation has come of age since the Iran hostage crisis. Changes happening slowly inside — they take baby steps toward opening steps of communication — this earthquake — this awful tragedy, mind-boggling, opens up another avenue for relations.

It is a baby step right now. President Bush has been cautious in his language. We see Iran now, at least for now, blocking efforts to send over Sen. Elizabeth Dole. They don’t want to send a national that things are moving that rapidly either, but it is a positive step.

RAY SUAREZ: One you think, the Iranian response does not preclude the trip, just puts it off in your view?

CLARENCE PAGE: For now. There are possibilities that they don’t want her to go is not clear except maybe the political implications of having this particular senator might be too great for them to stomach right now.

They’ve got their own people inside of Iran to take care of as far as that regime over there is concerned as well as their restless youth like you say who are upset about the way things are going.

RAY SUAREZ: Have a very productive 2004, both of you. Good to see you.

CLARENCE PAGE: Thank you, Ray.

DAVID BROOKS: Thank you.