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Shields and Brooks

January 9, 2004 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: And finally tonight, the analysis of Shields and Brooks, syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks. And how is Howard Dean doing right now, David?

DAVID BROOKS: He is beginning to slip for the first time since this campaign started. His poll ratings nationally and in New Hampshire, less so in Iowa, have begun to come down. I personally think it is because he was revealed this week to have been a pundit on a show broadcast on PBS. How low can you go?


DAVID BROOKS: It was broadcast here nationally.

JIM LEHRER: You’re right.

DAVID BROOKS: But it’s been a whole stream of things. Some of it the gaffes, some of it an attempt to play himself as more religious and then saying his favorite section of the New Testament was the Book of Job, which is not in the New Testament — a whole series of things — insulting Iowans.

JIM LEHRER: Insulting Iowans. Let’s make sure people who haven’t been following this, which you’re speaking of here, on this broadcast — the broadcast you are referring to, he knocked the — four years ago he knocked the Iowa caucuses, said they were run by special interests and appealed to the extremes. It was considered an insult to Iowa. Do you think that hurt him?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I think it’s a whole string of things. The temperament things that have caused people to be upset with him — so you’re beginning to see him come down and Wesley Clark emerge as the clear alternative to Dean.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree, Clark is on the rise?

MARK SHIELDS: I don’t agree that Dean — I agree Dean is playing defense and that’s very difficult in baseball and politics to score on defense. I was reminded, while watching these attacks on Dean by his fellow Democrats, I went back and reread the words of Morris K. Udall, one of the great Democrats of the 20th century, a great presidential candidate. He spoke to the Democratic Convention in 1976 in Madison Square Garden. There were two gems he delivered. He said when we Democrats assemble a firing squad, it’s usually arranged in a circle. We are seeing that right now. He said there is an old Democratic prayer for primaries which reads, “Oh Lord teach me to utter words that are gentle and tender for tomorrow I may have to eat them.” That’s going on right now. No doubt about it.

JIM LEHRER: You don’t think it’s real?

MARK SHIELDS: I think Dean is getting real scrutiny. I think this is a remarkable race, Jim. I think Iowans, having been out there, are really perplexed. They take this enormously seriously. They’re incredibly conscious, the people go to these caucuses. And they like a number of these people. They like Gephardt. They like a lot things about Gephardt. They like John Edwards. They like Dean, aspects of John Kerry they like.

It isn’t like they’re saying, “Gee we have to stop this guy.” So Howard Dean is getting the scrutiny, as he stands on the cusp of being the nominee. There is a question that is asked by every pollster. Do you think that Democrats ought to nominate someone who has the best chance to beat George W. Bush or the best chance — is someone who says what he believes all the time — and, you know, the reality has been that in the Time-Gallup poll, Howard Dean runs closer to George Bush than does any of the others, so their argument that he can’t win is somewhat sabotaged and undermined.

DAVID BROOKS: First, I think Dean will get the nomination. He is the front-runner and has the money. He is the most entertaining out there. That accounts for a lot.

JIM LEHRER: There is an uncertainty about what he is going to say.

DAVID BROOKS: That’s part of it. But going to an event is like an opera. There is a lot going on. You’re involved. Others are nice, they impress you, but they don’t grip you in the operatic way that Dean does. That’s underplayed.

Nonetheless, I do think he is the weakest, and I cling to this against George Bush. I mean he is now 22 points behind. If there is a Bush-Dean runoff, he loses by 22. Gallup came out with a poll of the favorable and unfavorable ratings of the candidates. Bush was 65 favorable, unfavorable 35. Dean was favorable 28, unfavorable 39. He is the only candidate among all the Democrats who has a higher unfavorable among national voters than favorable. That’s a fundamental problem. Wes Clark and Lieberman and Edwards are much more favorable than unfavorable. And I think that’s part of what we are seeing, the scrutiny. People are saying is he the best to go outside the Democratic electorate and go to the national electorate?

JIM LEHRER: Let’s assume for discussion purposes — go ahead —

MARK SHIELDS: First of all, I think if you check the negatives on Dean, they come from Republicans. They’re the ones that really dislike Dean. Dean has been the toughest on Bush, and he is the leading Democrat. So I don’t think the favorable-unfavorable mean that much. You can get competing polls back and forth. But the argument, the Time-Gallup just measured him against every one of the other Democrats and beat him handily, beat Joe Lieberman two to one, the principal critic say he is he is unelectable.

JIM LEHRER: That’s what I was going to ask — is for discussion purposes, if Dean falters, is faltering or does falter, is Clark the one who is emerging as the alternative?

MARK SHIELDS: That’s what is intriguing, Jim. The three candidates the toughest on Dean have been Lieberman —

JIM LEHRER: He has been really tough.

MARK SHIELDS: Who has not benefited at all.

JIM LEHRER: From doing this.

MARK SHIELDS: John Kerry who has a one-state strategy. John Kerry did something very bold. He was stuck behind Dean in New Hampshire. So he rolled the dice by moving his entire operation essentially to Iowa hoping to change the dynamics by either getting a second or pulling an upset in Iowa to improve New Hampshire nationally. He has been tough on him and so has Richard Gephardt, who is locked in a life and death struggle. He said he is going to win Iowa, beat Dean there and has to do it in order to stay alive.

The two candidates who have not been negative and scorched earth or whatever you want to call it, going after Dean, have been Wesley Clark, who is in New Hampshire all to himself, and John Edwards. And John Edwards talked to folks in Iowa. They’re very kindly and positively disposed to him. Wesley Clark has moved up in New Hampshire. Now Wesley Clark’s at an advantage, while Howard Dean has been banded about the body, shoulders and head, no one has laid a glove on Wesley Clark but he has made good use of the time.

JIM LEHRER: How do you read the Clark thing?

DAVID BROOKS: I do think he is the clear alternative. He used to — the other campaigns would say you could tell where Clark was campaigning because his poll ratings go down there. He wasn’t great. He has improved. He has a fair bit of money, he’s got a clear message. And now he is dressing like Mr. Rogers as a way —

JIM LEHRER: We had a snapshot of him last night and he had on a sweater, Mr. Rogers sweater and drinking bottled water and talking to the folks.

DAVID BROOKS: He got the endorsement from Good King Friday, which will go a long way in New Hampshire. So I do think he, you know, there’s always been a question of Dean coming up and down. The crucial question has been would anybody else rise. And I think you go begin to see that in New Hampshire, and part as Mark says, because he spent so much time there and in part because none of the others, Kerry is collapsing, Edwards who is well liked is not moving.

JIM LEHRER: What do you think, does the Harkin, does Harkin’s endorsement mean anything?

DAVID BROOKS: A lot in Iowa. Harkin is beloved by Iowa Democrats.

MARK SHIELDS: He is the patron saint of Iowa Democrats. Howard Dean is on the defensive. He certainly hasn’t had a good week. But he began the week with endorsement of Bill Bradley and he ends the week with the endorsement of Tom Harkin. So I think that’s it. The other thing I think you have to throw in the mix though is something David raised and that there is may be doubts or questions about the national security component in Dean’s candidacy, and that could account for some of the Clark movement and the Kerry surge. The idea that if we are going to compete with George Bush, we Democrats better be more competitive on the national security, commander in chief front.

JIM LEHRER: On another story, changing subjects, Halliburton, David, many stories, including on this program, about allegations that, well reporting the fact that the army said Halliburton had overcharged by $60 million the U.S. government for oil this. This week the government says no, no, turns out they didn’t. End result, a lot of people are complaining, particularly supporters of the White House and Vice President Cheney, that this whole thing has been an unfair hit on Vice President Cheney and others. How do you see it?

DAVID BROOKS: The Corps of Engineers said Halliburton and KBR, the subsidiary, basically did the best bidding they could do to get the right oil prices, but it should be emphasized while this was a good verdict for Halliburton, it was not the final one. The Corps of Engineers said there are other audits that are going to come in. If other audits come in and vindicate Halliburton, I expect to see all presidential candidates in sack and ash cloth, before Vice President Cheney’s office begging forgiveness. It is a long way before we get to that point.

JIM LEHRER: How do you read this?

MARK SHIELDS: Two aspects to it, Jim. First of all, Halliburton itself has become a laugh line on the late night monologues. That’s not going to go away. It’s kind of seen as —

JIM LEHRER: No matter what the Corps of Engineers say.

MARK SHIELDS: No matter what the Corps of Engineers say. God love ’em, no matter what they say. David Letterman said when you write your check to the internal revenue, there are two L’s in Halliburton. There is that sense of crony capitalism and crony charge.

Second, what’s really interesting, given the political climate in Washington, Harry Truman rose to prominence during War World II as chairman of the committee that investigated all corporate activity during the war, at any price fixing, any price gouging, any, just corporate profit is at the expense of the American war effort. Congress has absolutely closed down. Republicans have refused to investigate any of the contracts, any of the awards, anything that’s being done as 3,000 Americans are dying and being crippled.

DAVID BROOKS: We do have orders. There is a serious point to be made to all this. Just because something gets repeated over and over again in Democratic or Republican Party circles does not make it true.

We are entering a world where people in two parties live in different worlds, and some of these worlds get insular and people repeat stories over and over and over again and they believe it because it feels good to believe it. Then you just look at the two parties and you think these people do not have a grip on reality. I think it’s kind of story that just gets recycled.

MARK SHIELDS: I simply say though, every one of the reports of the commission during War World II, the investigations, and they named major Democratic contributors and held them accountable was unanimously agreed to by the Congress. That could not be done in this climate.

JIM LEHRER: Quickly before we go. What kind of grade would you give President Bush for his immigration proposal this week?

DAVID BROOKS: I think it’s a B-plus. Moves the Republicans a long way toward a sensible immigration process. There is a little ways to go to give immigrants a sense of long-term possibility they can become citizens. But the Democrats haven’t budged an inch. I was sort of surprised by a lot of the Democrats, Howard Dean leading the way, just dismissing this major step forward. Tom Daschle, on the other hand, seems ready to work with the Republicans.


MARK SHIELDS: Americans have a strong bias in favor of action over inaction. It’s a serious immigration problem. George W. Bush has acted in three areas — open to criticism — but he has acted where Republicans hadn’t in the past, whether it’s education, prescription drugs and now on immigration. And I think politically it was a major achievement for him. It probably wishes that the restaurant and hotel industry would be a little less quiet in pleasing him and the farm growers would not say it’s a gift. But it was a bold act.

JIM LEHRER: OK. Speaking of bold acts, good night and thank you both.