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Shields and Brooks

March 5, 2004 at 12:00 AM EST
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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. David, the Blackmun tapes. What strikes you about these most unusual tapes and paper?

DAVID BROOKS: The first thing, in the video we saw, how he was surprised by the stridency of his written comments, and you can see the desire to be personable and friendly to his fellow justices at the same time sharp emotions going on, sometimes making him angry.

The other thing that strikes me in the papers is when he talks about Roe v. Wade, he wrote a few notes about the reaction, the effect of Roe v. Wade decision would be. One of them would be, it will be an unsettled period for a while which has to rank as the understatement of the century. They didn’t know how important the case was. They didn’t know how important the controversy would be decade after decade after decade. And there’s this mixture of high intelligence with somewhat a bit of parochialism about what the effects would be.

JIM LEHRER: Mark, what do you think of all this?

MARK SHIELDS: Jim, I was reminded of Peter Finley Dooley, the great Irish American humorist, who created Mr. Dooley, he once said the Supreme Court follows the election returns. He really realized what a political institution it is. All politics is personal, and the court, I think sometimes behind those robes and that big building, we forget these are human beings with insecurities, with grievances, with feelings, and that came through so vividly to me in just really the remarkable, not only discussion, but the remarkable revelations.

JIM LEHRER: Do we know too much now? Should we have been told –

MARK SHIELDS: I don’t know. It is kind of interesting. Now you want to know everything. Now that you know a little.

JIM LEHRER: Reporters interviewing ….

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right.

JIM LEHRER: How do you feel?

DAVID BROOKS: I think it was released much too early. I think everyone on the court has to be off if not dead by the time these things are released. It just poisons … if you realize five years from now, whatever you say privately could be public.

JIM LEHRER: Speaking of the present-day court, the Scalia-Cheney situation. Earlier this week, the present court issued a statement saying that if Justice Scalia is to be recused, he has to do it himself. They would take no position on this. This has to do with his energy task force litigation that’s before the court. How do you feel about that?

DAVID BROOKS: I think you have to be cleaner than clean on this. I don’t think you can have a decision where people might say it could be because he went quail hunting or whatever it is. I just think Scalia should recuse himself. Not every case where there is a protest should you do it but in this case I think it’s muddy enough. People like me are concerned, you should.

JIM LEHRER: What do you think?

MARK SHIELDS: I think David is right. First of all, if a sitting judge a federal district judge were sitting on a case and went on vacation with the defendant, you know, there would be a perception and I think a legitimate perception of tilting. I think at the same time it plays wrong in the political climate. We’ve talked about John Edwards’ vivid speech and portrayal of the two Americans. This really smacks of the two Americas, where the vice president whose case is being reviewed by the court, goes off duck hunting on Air Force Two with one of the judges deciding the fate.

DAVID BROOKS: It has sort of been a shift in 20 or 30 years. Lyndon Johnson could sit down with justices. But I just think there has been a shift in the way Washington works and there have been some ugly sides and good sides but we’ve had more sunlight. The clubby nature of Washington is no longer a reality and people don’t tolerate that sort of behavior anymore.

JIM LEHRER: What about the idea, is the supreme court the only institution, going back to mark’s point that the individual who is involved makes the decision whether or not he or she has a conflict of interest?

DAVID BROOKS: New York Times columnists have that. I don’t mind that. I think, you know, you trust a person’s character. I think if you look at the history of the court, the character of those people is something that’s in general been sterling. I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt on this.

JIM LEHRER: The Kerry-Bush race is off and running. We’ve talked about it twice already this week. What have you not said that you think needs to be said at this point, Mark, about it, in these first few days?

MARK SHIELDS: Jim, to make a brief summary….

JIM LEHRER: What strikes you now at the end of the week?

MARK SHIELDS: First of all, the disparity of resources in the two campaigns. The fact that the president does have $10 million and whatever and John Kerry tonight is thanking Howard Dean for having broken the limits on what he could spend — President Bush has $10 million and now Kerry can raise the tin cup and raise money. But I think the thing that hit me most was the brouhaha over the commercials, the Bush TV commercial and particularly the Sept. 11.

JIM LEHRER: I’ll tell you what. That’s called a segue. Before we talk about it anymore, let’s look at it. As Mark just said, it was released this week and let’s do take a look at it. There is no narrator, only a series of images and captions describing America and January 2001. It culminates with the words “Then a day of tragedy, a test for all Americans.” Then superimposed over those images from 9/11.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: (ad) I’m George W. Bush and I approved this message.

JIM LEHRER: So the brouhaha. Where do you come down on the brouhaha?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, most economists have insisted that the recession started in March of 2001. Obviously they are saying the president inherited these bad times. And I think it’s fair to say George W. Bush was inaugurated on Jan. 20, 2001. There was still a stature gap that persisted.

He became president in most people’s eyes after Sept. 11, 2001 in the way he handled himself. So it is understandable he wants to use that and remind people of his leadership. It’s the strongest suit he has. I’m first of all surprised he did it so early in the campaign because I think it’s what he wants to talk about in September and October. And I remain, I continue to be amused by the fact that conservatives who have railed against public employees and dues-paying unions can’t get close enough to firemen.

JIM LEHRER: The brouhaha isn’t about that but about the use of the images of the firefighters at 9/11, David. The firefighters union, which, as everybody points out, has endorsed Kerry for president, has had news conferences in attacking the ad. How do you feel about that?

DAVID BROOKS: I think it’s absolutely a legitimate issue. John Kerry talks about his Vietnam era. That was his time of testing and where his character was forged. For George W. Bush, Sept. 11 was the moment when his character was forged. It was his time of testing — the most important event that happened in the past five years. Are you supposed to have an election and not talk about that? It’s necessary to talk about 9/11. That’s why we elect presidents to respond to things like that.

JIM LEHRER: The objection of the firefighters union is not whether you can talk about 2001, it’s using images of firefighters at that moment. In other words, news reel footage or news footage of it. That’s not a problem for you.

DAVID BROOKS: Not at all. Those were the images of Sept. 11. That’s brings it to mind; that’s what happened that day.

JIM LEHRER: How do you feel about it?

DAVID BROOKS: Firefighters, 343 walked into the jaws of death that day. They were the heroes and they were transformed as an American icon by that very day. I mean there were no longer guys sitting around the firehouse with a Dalmatian playing checkers. They were the heroes that really did answer the nation’s call. It is understandable that George W. Bush wants to identify with them. I think the more the debate is about the events of Sept. 11 and George Bush’s response to them, better it is for George W. Bush politically.

JIM LEHRER: What about the use of the images, Mark?

MARK SHIELDS: The use of the images? I think Bush people have to be concerned about that 15 widows of firefighters go on national television and say those are our husbands you’re showing. We don’t want that.

JIM LEHRER: Is that a problem?

DAVID BROOKS: It’s going to be politicized but I don’t think it is a problem. I think people think he did well Sept. 11. People put the images of the people dying. No different than the people who died in Vietnam and the John Kerry ads and when they went to Oklahoma City that day. We have tragedies, not only tragedies. This is the crucial difference there was an act of war. It is not exploiting a tragedy. It was the moment when a war started and people died at Pearl Harbor. People died Sept. 11. And to talk about that, the start of the day of the war is to talk about the war.

JIM LEHRER: Let’s go back to the question I asked Mark and didn’t get to you on yet, which is at the end of this week, super Tuesday, the ads and the campaign is now joined. What would you ad to what you said already about it? In other words, how do you feel about it right now?

DAVID BROOKS: First I disagree with Mark on the disparity of resources. Going forward there is a disparity but the Democrats have dumped $100 million collectively on George Bush over the last year…

JIM LEHRER: Running against him.

DAVID BROOKS: And they haven’t advertised against each other, all advertised against Bush. If you take the past six months, he is actually a reasonable position, Bush. He has had this long campaign waged against him. The David Kay weapons of mass destruction, a huge embarrassment for the administration, terrible jobs picture over the last six months all these bad things happening to the administration. Yet the polls the last seven or eight polls, if you average them they’re basically dead even. So he starts even after this terrible news, at a reasonably dead even position which as far as he’s concerned is a recently good position to be in.

JIM LEHRER: Are you surprised it’s dead even right now.

DAVID BROOKS: I think so. You go to war talking with weapons of mass destruction and there are no stockpiles, that’s a huge embarrassment. It says to me, I’m for the war and there are better reasons for it. There is a solid base of support the president can rely on that will not be chipped away barring a cataclysm.

JIM LEHRER: In a word, Mark, dead even. Do you feel that as well as the polls show?

MARK SHIELDS: I think, Jim, it is a 50 percent country and I think that’s what is reflected right now. One of the things that’s brought the president dead even is the emergence of 6 percent to Ralph Nader in the latest poll has them dead even. That’s probably an unlikely event in November that Ralph Nader will get anywhere near 6 percent.

JIM LEHRER: We’ll leave it there for now. Thank you both.