Shields and Brooks
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JIM LEHRER: And some additional words on the State of the Union speech now from Mark Shields and David Brooks. David, from your point of view, what do you think the president’s mission should be tonight or likely will be?
DAVID BROOKS: First he has to extend where the war on terrorism. The country is tired of hearing about it. They want to hear more about domestic issues if you ask them. I think that’s where the president is. He’ll try to respond to criticism because we are in the midst of a Democratic assault and he wants to take some of the criticism on. He hasn’t done in an explicit way.
The second thing is the domestic programs to show that he’s on offense without busting the bank which is already under severe strain. There’s a lot of conservatives concerned about that. And finally on social issues he wants to move beyond prayer in schools and talk about some of the institutions that will improve the country and the culture and things like that in a way that is not the old-fashioned Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson way.
JIM LEHRER: How would you answer the question that Ray just asked Karen Hughes, Mark? Is there some special quality to this because it’s in a presidential election year and of course just between Iowa and New Hampshire?
MARK SHIELDS: Quite by accident, Jim.
JIM LEHRER: Sure.
MARK SHIELDS: That the White House chose those dates. It’s the principal political statement that George W. Bush will make between now and his acceptance speech at the convention. Barring an international crisis or a national tragedy where he has to address the nation again. But he’ll have the biggest audience and the greatest attention so in a strange way it’s an important state of the union because the national agenda which is set by the president and the party in power and it’s his party is circumscribed this year by events.
You know, he’s not going to set the agenda. The agenda has been set by the war on terrorism and by the war on Iraq. It’s been set by American casualties and it’s set by the economy that people are still worried about and the direction of the country that people are still pessimistic about. I think putting legislative initiatives forward is a way of getting probably 72 hours of political life in the headlines.
JIM LEHRER: You know, David, I went to a briefing background briefing over at the White House today and it was emphasized very strongly that the president feels very strongly that this nation is at war. This is not some idle thing. This nation is at war and he’s frustrated that a lot of people don’t understand that.
DAVID BROOKS: Right.
JIM LEHRER: Is he right to be frustrated?
DAVID BROOKS: Yeah, I think he is. I mean he said he found his mission in his moment. He believes that as much today as he did two years ago or when he said it. If you look at the polls people want to talk about domestic policy. Many people have entered a phase where Sept. 11 is receding into the past. I think it’s never receded a day for him.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with that, the president may think we’re at war but there are an awful lot of folks out there that don’t agree with him or see it that way?
MARK SHIELDS: I think the president may … he’s certainly communicated that, Jim. I mean, if the strength of the people is measured by its ability and willingness to sacrifice collectively for the common good or the common purpose, the president has never asked us to do it. The leader in the Congress, Tom Delay said on the eve of the war nothing is more important going to war than cutting taxes. There’s been no sense of collective sacrifice and no dollar-a-year men from corporate America asked to come to Washington to participate in this, to make a effort. There’s no sense of common effort in this other than the various colors we get from Tom Ridge, orange and yellow and greens and blues. We don’t get many greens.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with David that most of the folks are ready to think about other things, domestic issues anyhow?
MARK SHIELDS: Domestic issues have certainly crowded in. I think they’re of greater urgency in the campaign that I’ve been covering.
JIM LEHRER: Well, we will be talking again later this evening for the people who are smart enough and fortunate enough to tune in to our coverage later this evening on most PBS stations at 9 Eastern Time. We will have both the president’s speech and the Democratic response. Thank you.
MARK SHIELDS: Thank you.