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Shields and Brooks

April 2, 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, today’s jobs numbers — any politics to be read into those?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, there will be tremendous political effects. You know, if you watch the presidential campaign, as I did, and we did, you would have thought first of all there was no service sector in this economy. It was all manufacturing and that all the jobs were going overseas. You would have gotten the impression we are getting our clock cleaned by China and India and Mexico.

But the fact is, since 1995, productivity in this country has been fantastic, has risen strongly. When that happens, you may still have some ups and downs but you get wage growth and you get job creation. So what we saw this month was finally the jobs appeared and you know, if we’ve had 500,000 jobs — if we get 500,000 jobs this first quarter, if we get 500,000 the next quarter and 500,000 the quarter after that, that’s a million and a half jobs. That begins to have a real effect on the mood of the country and obviously it’s great for Bush.

JIM LEHRER: Great for Bush?

MARK SHIELDS: Sure, the end of bad news is always good news. And it had been nothing but bad news for the administration. Just to put it in perspective, Sen. Hillary Clinton tried to half kiddingly, to encourage Republicans, said look, during Clinton years, we said we produced in eight years 23 million jobs. You can say in 11 years the country has produced 21 million jobs because there still are 2 million jobs short.

The payroll is gone in private sector. And the important thing is to remember the 657,000 government jobs that have been created kind of cushioned that, which seems an unlikely thing in a conservative administration. But it is good news for president. It takes essentially a quarter, three months, to change public perception and feelings about the economy in one direction or the other.

JIM LEHRER: So you mean the jobs are always going to lag behind?

MARK SHIELDS: If we get three good months of news and 500,000 a month as David describes, then it certainly will be — it will improve the president’s standing on that issue considerably.

DAVID BROOKS: Not that he deserves the credit. I mean, the economy is not something that changes when the administration changes. If you had to trace the strength of this economy, go back to 1977, to the beginning of deregulation under Carter and a whole series of good economic policies, very good Federal Reserve policies and we’ve had a long run of incredible stability in our growth by historical standards and a long run of productivity increase which has created growth increases. The president happens to get the credit but, you know.

JIM LEHRER: David, you used the term historical, do you, either of you ever recall a time when something nice like this happened in the economy and the president said I don’t deserve any of the credit because it’s all because of things that happened in 1977 or whatever?

MARK SHIELDS: You say that about bad news. You never say it about good news. It’s our farsighted visionary policies which we had the courage to lay down.

JIM LEHRER: Okay. The Fallujah killings and the body mutilations. These images went all over the country. What do you think their impact is going to be, Mark?

MARK SHIELDS: I’m not sure what the impact will be, Jim. I think immediately it’s very, very negative. First of all the argument the administration made about the progress, how safe and secure things were has been undermined.

Gen. Anthony Zinni, the former Marine four-star general who commanded that area, said this means increasingly we are going to be going alone, there will be less chance of other nations participating.

JIM LEHRER: This will scare them off?

MARK SHIELDS: Scare them off. Add to that, Jim, the sense that the only way to respond to this kind of barbaric massacre is through military, a show of military strength, a show of military strength is inevitably going to involve some civilian casualties and –

JIM LEHRER: And also Marine casualties.

MARK SHIELDS: Which will start a further cycle of violence and antipathy toward the United States . And there are questions, in spite of the significant material improvements, whether schools or utilities or whatever — whether in fact those are weighed by the fact that we were the invading and occupying army that we are.

JIM LEHRER: Tough time?

DAVID BROOKS: It’s tough for all of us to see those images. First of all I wouldn’t generalize from Fallujah across the country. I think the Sunni Triangle is one area. The rest of the country is doing a whole lot better. You are not seeing this kind of massacre; you wouldn’t see that kind of mob violence. But I think you see in this what we fully expected to see, which is a regime that was really psychologically damaged, base on sadism and the sadists don’t go away.

The people who are victims are victimized by it and the people who perpetrated the atrocities of the regime, their mentality is still the same. You get violence like you saw in Fallujah by the people who really ran the regime and the mob reaction you get. Will the American people pull back? If you saw John Kerry’s comments and George Bush’s comments — no, I don’t think there is any evidence that they will pull back. Nor do I think there is evidence the American people will want to pull back because of this. There was a lot of talk after Mogadishu that the American people couldn’t take a look at those pictures and still want to….

JIM LEHRER: Somalia.

DAVID BROOKS: And want to go on with that. But if you look at the polling and the actual evidence of polling at that time, there was people ascribe the American people’s view that we want to get out because it is too horrifying. In reality, the polling never moved. I think that’s going to be the case here. It will be harder to get international allies because of the sense that we are in a crisis, but once this sovereignty moves over to the Iraqis, the Iraqis will then have to police Fallujah and they’ll do a better job of it than we are capable of doing.

MARK SHIELDS: Everybody I’ve talked to, Jim, Republicans and Democrats, members of Congress, have come back with the same sort of dispirited attitude and report to make. I mean about lack of security, about two senators, one Republican, one Democrat today tell me about being over there in a similar situation with these very folks — the company that — driving 95 miles an hour, simply to avoid, through a city, to avoid being shot at — and that you are constantly aware of this and constantly surrounded by armament. I think that what it adds is fuel to the argument that the administration was unprepared for any postwar plans, that they really misread the situation there, that whatever you say Fallujah in 2004 is not to be confused with Paris in 1944.

JIM LEHRER: So when you said a moment ago, David, that this was expected, did you really mean that? That this kind of stuff….

DAVID BROOKS: I expected it and I said it on this program.

JIM LEHRER: You’re right.

DAVID BROOKS: There were some things not expected. It was not expected that there were so many rejectionists, so many Sunnis would be rejecting the new Iraq. On the other hand, in the past several months, politically, there has been a lot of progress on that front. The Sunnis have been more involved in constitution making and the violence has come from foreign nationals apparently.

And that, too, is not quite expected. Nonetheless, I guess none of us, neither Mark nor I have been there, but I guess we talked to different people because I’ve heard horrible things about the Sunni Triangle.

I’ve heard reasonable progress in other parts of Iraq where the economy is beginning to pick up where the security situation is improved. The main problem that we face is getting out and handing over sovereignty to a real government because it will be only up to the Iraqis.

JIM LEHRER: New subject. Condoleezza Rice will testify in public under oath. The president changed his mind on that. How major a reversal is that for the president?

DAVID BROOKS: It’s pretty major. You know, they hold the principle and the president and the administration came in thinking all these other past administrations they buckle with pressure but we are going to protect the prerogative of the presidency. That’s a good principle. Another good principle is don’t be a schmuck. They got punished. And if they had just, you know, cooperated fully from the beginning, they wouldn’t have all this mess and I hope they’ve learned a lesson.

Just open it up from the beginning, time after time after time, they say we’re going to stand on principle; we’re not going to get walked over by our enemies. They get walked over, pay a huge price and then they cave in. So just open up from the beginning.

JIM LEHRER: What do you think? Is this a big deal for the president to bend on this one?

MARK SHIELDS: Jim, they stood on principle, constitutional principle, legal principle, separation of powers, executive privilege, that was shoved aside by a larger principle — the reelection of President George W. Bush — because the opposition to this, to not testifying, when in fact, I mean as we commented last week, they made everybody available with a microphone. The only difference was she wasn’t under oath.

I mean, she was answering questions from anybody who would ask them, who had a 50 watt radio station. But she wasn’t under oath. So that became, in the eyes of the public, the idea, why won’t she go under oath? I mean that’s what was lost. And I guess what I’d add to that is the pressure came, Jim, from the Republicans.

In the Senate, the Senate Democrats were preparing to offer an amendment that demanded that she testify before the commission to make this exception. They had enough Republican votes — Republicans who didn’t want to go and Bill Frist had to tell the White House, look, this is really going to be a political embarrassment.

JIM LEHRER: Now that she is going to testify on Thursday morning, and is fireworks — when you look ahead to Thursday morning, David, you see, oh my goodness, this is going to be a major event in terms of what is going to be said and done by her and the commission?

DAVID BROOKS: I think if you look at the commission, you don’t quite get Judiciary Committee fireworks when you get a Bork or Thomas. They seem to be a little more subdued in their partisanship while being partisan. They’re clearly partisan but they’re not quite as vitriolic as a Joe Biden or Ted Kennedy or an Orrin Hatch can possibly be.

So I think it will be interesting. I don’t expect fireworks. If there is anybody who can handle some degree of pressure, who will respond with sort of a calmness, it certainly is Condoleezza Rice.

JIM LEHRER: What do you think? What do you predict, sir?

MARK SHIELDS: I think, Jim, the great irony of this week has been that George Bush’s great weakness was the economy maybe and seen signs of the Republican partisan –that this could be neutralized and go away. His greatest strength, his resoluteness, straight shooter is under attack.

I mean he now is equal to John Kerry in the eyes of the L.A. Times poll, a very respected national survey of who flip-flops more, and that this resolute, strong commander in chief levels tells you what it is and is back and forth in too many places.

Well, I think this is what she has to bring with some clarity to the administration’s position which, has appeared unclear and her own contradictions on matters of whether the president did meet, had a meeting with Richard Clarke the day after or not — had to back off of that, whether the administration had a policy, didn’t have. I can’t understand why the administration doesn’t say look, we didn’t do much before Sept. 11. But my goodness since Sept. 11, George W. Bush has been in charge. Why not that? Constitutionally incapable of saying we made a mistake. We were wrong. What is it, David?

JIM LEHRER: Explain that, David.

DAVID BROOKS: I think there is a four-sentence answer to what they should say. It starts with that sentence. Well, it wasn’t a high priority for us but it wasn’t for anybody else in the country. We didn’t know this sort of thing was going to happen. It happened.

I’m not sure we could have prevented it even if we did know. But since then we’ve tried everything we could and we’ve turned the country on its ears so it doesn’t happen again and, you know what, it still may happen again because there is no way of preventing this 100 percent. But the fact is we’re doing everything we can and we learned our lesson. I think the American people would accept that as honest and true.

JIM LEHRER: Going back to her testimony specifically on Thursday, is there is going to be kind of a ghost of Richard Clarke there the whole time that says, hey wait a minute now, he said this and what do you say about this and all that?

DAVID BROOKS: According to what people are saying, the main emphasis will be on Clarke’s assertion, which was one of the assertions accepted by the commission that it just wasn’t an urgent priority.

MARK SHIELDS: And I mean complicated by the fact that Bill Frist, respected Republican leader last Friday went into sort of bargain basement McCarthyism against Richard Clarke on the Senate floor, all but accused him of perjury and Clarke I thought had a good rebuttal. He said declassify everything I’ve ever written — declassify everything I ever said — calling his bluff. I think that’s so very much so…

JIM LEHRER: What was that Frist thing all about, David?

DAVID BROOKS: I have friends who got into big trouble for apparently withholding information from Congress during Iran-Contra. I think if he said things under oath that directly contradict things that were said now under oath, then he should be challenged on that. You can’t go up and lie to Congress. I don’t know if you need a big perjury trial or anything but there have been many, many contradictions in what Richard Clarke has said over the past two years.

I happen to think he has ruined this whole process by turning this into a partisan witch hunt when had you other people speaking in much more measured tones in nonpartisan ways and much more credible ways. And so I think he bears a lot of the blame. The administration has a lot of the blame too for what has happened in this town the past two weeks.

MARK SHIELDS: Like going to Salem and blaming the witch for the witch hunt. The witch hunt began after he testified. That was when is the full force of the administration came down, he’s doing it because he is a partisan, going to get a job with John Kerry. Untrue, untrue. He did it because he didn’t get a job.

DAVID BROOKS: Did I miss 60 Minutes, did he talk about a partisan witch hunt?

MARK SHIELDS: He made his case. He didn’t go into a motive. He didn’t say George W. Bush doesn’t like America . He’s trying to sell us the book.

JIM LEHRER: I like both of you very much but we have to say good-bye for tonight.