Shields and Brooks
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JIM LEHRER: And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks, syndicated columnist Mark Shields and “New York Times” columnist David Brooks. Mark, how does the state of the union speech look to you almost 24 hours later?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, Jim, I think it is the opening salvo in the campaign of 2004. It struck me — watching the speech and thinking about it that this was a very divided country politically in 2000. We went through a bitter election and post election period, and then after Sept. 11, 2001, there was a unifying rally in this country, of unity unprecedented since World War II.
In the speech last night, the politics of year signaled a return to 2000 rather than 2001. The president didn’t sound those sort of unifying national themes and values that we all share in common. It became a pretty straight forward political document.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree?
DAVID BROOKS: In a sense. I have gotten more disappointed with it as the 24 hours have passed. I came from Iowa where something exciting happen, something unexplained, something new happened. Then I come back to Washington and they are still debating over whether the U.S. acted unilaterally in Iraq, over the Patriot Act, over the weapons of mass destruction. That’s so six months ago. I really felt like it’s a like debate in a bar that starts at 10 PM and then at 1 AM people get the brilliant idea that if I just repeat the argument the 14th time, this time I’ll really persuade them.
So if you take the Bush speech and the Democratic response, I just thought it was about issues we heard over and over and over again and for the first time I thought that George Bush was inside the beltway co-coon arguing about issues that have been on cable TV for the past six months and not out in the country overleaping his opposition and getting out in front of events, so I just think it’s a fresh start.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with Mark that it adds to the division in the country?
DAVID BROOKS: We are a deeply divided country 45-45. I do think nonetheless the Republicans are far more united than the Democrats. If you ask average Democratic voters, not primary voters, average Democratic voters, how they feel about the war, the Patriot Act, preemption doctrine, issue after issue average Democratic voters are split right down the middle. So I think there’s a slight advantage for the president going into the race — at least I thought that until last night when he didn’t have a domestic agenda. That gave me a little bit of the willies.
JIM LEHRER: Willies?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, Jim, the president spent more time, more emergency and words on the subject of steroids in baseball, a subject he had more control over as a Texas Rangers owner than he did on the environment. I don’t think he mentioned the environment, come to think of it. I guess where I dissent from David is that even the Washington Post, which has been his staunchest supporter said he provided no accounting for his mistaken or exaggerated allegations about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and came up with a tortured thing about weapons of mass destruction producing potential activities that we have uncovered. You know -
JIM LEHRER: So you think David is wrong and this issue is still alive?
MARK SHIELDS: I think the issue is very much alive. I think there’s no question that the sense among Democrats almost universally that there was exaggeration at best and misleading at worse.
JIM LEHRER: Why do you want it to go away?
DAVID BROOKS: I’m perfectly happy to have the arguments but my point is we’re not ultimately going to fight this election on the last four years. It will be partly about that but there’s got to be some discussion the next four years, what are we going to do with Iraq. We have been through hard times; 500 people have died.
What are we getting to get out of democracy? How are we going to get the democracy? How is that going to help us in the world over the next four years, over the next ten years? There was much more debating over happened, familiar debates we have been over again and again and again like WMD — not the future.
JIM LEHRER: Quick on New Hampshire. We know about the Iowa voters, contrast the Iowa voters with the New Hampshire voters, Mark. Is it possible to compare them?
MARK SHIELDS: Sure, Iowa democrats are more liberal than New Hampshire Democrats. Taxes mentions in many ways the third rail of politics. The first rail, all three in New Hampshire.
It’s a quirky state. It’s a state that gave Pat Buchanan his only victory in 1996. It’s a state that probably is enormously influential. It changed George Bush’s presidential campaign and maybe his presidency in 2000. He came in as a compassionate conservative. John McCain beat him by 40,000 votes in New Hampshire, trounced him. And after that, he went to South Carolina, got in bed with people from Bob Jones to Pat Robertson to Pat Reed and has never looked back.
JIM LEHRER: How do you see the difference between New Hampshire voters and Iowa voters?
DAVID BROOKS: Just to add one thing to what Mark said, there are a lot more self-declared independents who are voting.
JIM LEHRER: And they can vote in New Hampshire which they could not vote in Iowa. They had to be declared registered Democrats in Iowa.
DAVID BROOKS: Up until now, Howard Dean has done better among independents than among registered Democrats. After the other night’s collection will — explosion will they continue to stick with him there’s an up tick of undecideds in New Hampshire, and we’re in this weird position over the next few days where I think the candidates are stepping over each other’s lines. I think there will be no negative ads. One day will be eaten up by the debate. Debates are a total waste and it will be a weird mish mash.
JIM LEHRER: Leaving it there, thank you both.