TOPICS > Politics

Shields, Brooks on Patriot Act, N.Y. Race Upset, Medicare Politics, Palin Tour

May 27, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks discuss the week's top political news, including the Patriot Act extension clearing Congress being signed by President Obama, the 2012 GOP presidential field and the Ryan Medicare plan's impact on a New York House race.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now it’s time for our weekly analysis from Shields and Brooks. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Welcome, gentlemen.

MARK SHIELDS: Thank you, Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And we’re going to begin tonight with a debate in Congress yesterday over the extension of the Patriot Act.

The law was first passed in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and it granted law enforcement significant new surveillance tools in fighting terrorism. Opponents charge the law infringes on civil liberties.

Here’s just a bit of last night’s debate.

REP. LAMAR SMITH, R-Texas: S-990, PATRIOT Sunsets Extension Act of 2011, is a bipartisan, bicameral compromise to reauthorize the existing Patriot Act provisions for another four years. By doing so, Congress is ensuring that critical intelligence will be collected and terrorist plots will be disrupted.

REP. JERROLD NADLER, D-N.Y.: When we last considered these expiring provisions, it was to extend them temporarily, so that the House could review them and consider whether to improve them or allow them to expire.

These three provisions dealing with roving wiretap authority, expansion of the definition of an agent of a foreign power to include so-called loan wolves, and Section 215, which allows governments to obtain business and library records using an order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, instead of the normal methods, have aroused a great deal of controversy and concern, and rightly so.

REP. JAMES SENSENBRENNER, R-Wis.: These three provisions have stopped countless attacks and play a critical role in helping ensure law enforcement officials have the tools they need to keep our country safe.

The death of Osama bin Laden proves that American intelligence-gathering is vital to our national security. The fight against terrorism, however, didn’t die with bin Laden, and neither did the need for the Patriot Act.

SEN. RAND PAUL, R-Ky.: You don’t have to give up your liberty to catch criminals. You can catch criminals and terrorists and protect your liberty at the same time. There is a balancing act. But what we did in our hysteria after 9/11 was, we didn’t do any kind of balancing act. We just said, come and get it. Here’s our freedom. Come and get it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The reauthorization of the act cleared both houses of Congress with bipartisan majorities, and President Obama signed it into law last night.

And now to Mark and David.

So, David, it passed, but it was at the last minute. There was this — a little bit of an uproar over it. What do you make of that?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. If you cover politics on the campaign trail, the Patriot Act is extremely unpopular, and can — people running for office rail against it.

Once they get in office, especially those in charge of the national — nation’s security, they tend to support it. So, I assume, once they get in office and they understand what it’s doing behind the scenes, they tend to think it’s probably a good idea.

And this is what’s happened to President Obama. It’s what’s happened to most people who are privy to how it actually works.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark, a lot of Democrats don’t like it, and some Republicans don’t like it.

MARK SHIELDS: You’re right, Judy. The Democrats’ argument is that, oh, we’re confident that President Obama will be more solicitous and careful about civil liberties than his predecessors. That may be comforting, but it’s also a rationalization from what the Democrats’ position has been, as Jerry Nadler, the congressman from New York, expressed in the piece.

And I think the indispensable part that intelligence played in the capture and — of Osama bin Laden probably strengthened the case for the Patriot Act’s — Patriot Act’s reinstatement. And I would say intelligence remains the cornerstone of the exit strategy from Afghanistan and to Iraq to a considerable degree. And I think that neutralized some of the opposition.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And speaking of Afghanistan, we saw Democrat Congressman Jim McGovern offer an amendment this week, David, demanding an accelerated troop withdrawal. It didn’t pass, but it did show that there — but it was close. And so, that debate goes on, doesn’t it?

DAVID BROOKS: Right and it goes on with a lot more Republican opposition. The Tea Party people, a lot of the freshmen, are suspicious of our measures in Afghanistan.

I think the crucial thing here, though, is saliency. How vibrant is the anti-war movement? How energetic, how demanding are they? And there’s a lot of opposition. The country is pretty much evenly divided, but the opposition is not particularly aggressive. And so I think President Obama has as much running room as he wants, frankly.

MARK SHIELDS: I think there’s a growing pessimism in the United States’ role in Afghanistan, that the gains that are won, they’re purchased through lives — and eight American lives yesterday — we don’t know how many more today — are not sustainable, and they won’t be.

And I think that there is a demand. This is putting an exit strategy on the — or the administration has no apparent exit strategy from Afghanistan. And I think this is the effort that’s made by Walter Jones, a Republican from North Carolina, Jim McGovern, a Democrat from Massachusetts, and, as you point out, 200 of their colleagues.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, as David said, more Republicans.

All right, let’s bring it home and talk about politics in this country. There was a congressional — a special election in a congressional district, New York State’s 26th District, where we saw the Democrat win, in part, David, by going after the Republican for embracing the Paul Ryan Medicare proposal.

What — are there lessons from this? Is it a one-time deal or what?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. I don’t think it’s a one-time deal. If you ask Americans, do you think Medicare should be cut to help trim the deficit or trim the debt, 78 percent say, no, don’t touch Medicare. So, Medicare is pretty popular.

When Barack Obama cut it by $400 billion or $500 billion as part of health care, Democrats — Republicans went after him for death panels and all the rest. Paul Ryan and the Republicans went after it. And the Democrats have gone after them for ending Medicare. Both those charges are more or less untrue.

Nonetheless, they struck a chord because people want to keep their Medicare. And so, to me, the depressing thing is not a partisan thing, is just the lesson for both parties is never touch Medicare, never touch Social Security, don’t touch it.

And that would be fine if we could afford it. The problem is we can’t afford that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And we heard — in fact, Bill Clinton, former President Clinton, told Gwen Ifill this week in an interview that the Democrats have to be careful about assuming from the results of this election that they can get away with doing nothing about Medicare.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes. No, the president did say that. And, in fact, he said something similar to Paul Ryan in a — sort of a off-the — off-the-microphone comment as well.

Judy, the reality is, any time there’s a special election, and seats turn from one party to the other, especially where it’s a seat that has been long held by one party, as is the case in the 26th District of New York — for over 40 years, a Republican — the winning — the losing side always says, it was local factors, unique local factors that caused the defeat. And then they usually confide that our candidate wasn’t that good.

That was the case in Massachusetts, you will recall, last year when Scott Brown beat Martha Coakley. The winning side, by contrast, said, no, this is part of a national tide. It’s a national movement. It’s that Kathy Hochul was a far better candidate, the Democrat, than Jane Corwin. Make no mistake about that. She was a superior candidate.

But this was a Republican district. And Medicare was defining. The problem for the Republicans is this. They never ran on Medicare last fall. They ran on cutting the size, scope, and spending of the federal government, that government had gotten too big, that the economy was in terrible shape. They never mentioned Medicare, other than, as David pointed out, we’re going to stop Barack Obama from cutting $500 billion, and we’re going to defend the 65-year-olds and all the rest of it.

The problem for the Republicans is they’re now on the defensive. They rushed to vote on this, this Ryan plan, and they’re all on the record. And that — now the Democrats are emboldened. They’re on the offensive. They have been playing defense now for two years. And Republicans who gloated over the fact that the Democrats were supporting health care when the polls were against them — David just cited a poll. The Republicans are in that position on Medicare right now.

So, the total role reversal of the two parties politically is really a change-change.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you see it?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I mean, in both cases, the parties were trying to do the right thing.

We can talk about this or that aspect of the Ryan plan, but it was an attempt to try to deal with a national problem, which is the debt problem. There is a significant chance that, over the debt ceiling fight, there will be a big national catastrophe if we don’t reach an agreement on that.

There’s also a very significant chance, over the next four years or five years, there will be a serious problem because of the debt and the credit rating of the country. And so, we do have to do something. This result, which I think accurately reflects public opinion, says, do nothing.

And what the Democrats did this week in Congress, there were four budgets put up for vote in the Senate. Every single Democrat voted against every single one of them. So, Barack Obama’s budget got zero votes. And so, it’s fine and it’s politically smart to lay back and play possum and say, “Hey, I’m not for anything, nothing unpopular here.” But, eventually, somebody is going to have to find a way to reach some sort of bipartisan deal on this.

MARK SHIELDS: I’m not saying there won’t be a bipartisan deal and shouldn’t be a bipartisan deal.

I just think the Republicans ran through several stop signs and red lights to do this. I mean, we talked…

JUDY WOODRUFF: You mean voting for the Ryan plan.

MARK SHIELDS: Voting for it.

There was — health care — Obama ran on health care in 2008. And then the Democrats took the next 19 months of — of trench warfare, of making the case, of compromising. This was introduced and voted on in two weeks, and with absolutely no preparation, no public persuasion.

It was an act of incredible political arrogance and hubris on the part of the Republicans, and they’re going to pay for it, and they are paying for it.

DAVID BROOKS: I do think that is the lesson. The Republicans are telling themselves, this year, it’s different. This year the people are so disgusted by the debt they want us to be serious.

And so what they effectively did was, they saw a line of battlements and a field of 400 yards with no cover, and they ran straight at it. And they get mowed down. And so I think a lesson for the Republicans has to be, do something more crafty. Don’t just run straight at it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right. Several developments on the presidential landscape this week.

David, Mitch Daniels announced he is not running for president. How are you dealing with this?



DAVID BROOKS: Well, I have been fasting. I have been going through the seven stages of grief.


DAVID BROOKS: And I have moved to Indiana, just so I can at least have him as governor.


DAVID BROOKS: So — but, fortunately, Michele Bachmann is there to make me feel better.

JUDY WOODRUFF: That’s right. She — what about Daniels? What about the reason he gave, Mark? I mean, he said it was the women in his family, his wife. And it almost — it sounded like he was ready to go for it.

MARK SHIELDS: Oh, I think he was.

You know, Mitch Daniels made an honest statement. I mean, now he is being criticized by some leading women columnists, foremost among them our great colleague Ruth Marcus, for kind of throwing his wife under, if not the bus, than the recreational vehicle, or maybe his Harley. I don’t know.


DAVID BROOKS: Harley, yes.

MARK SHIELDS: But — but it was an honest answer. He was ready to run. He wanted to run. And it really was a family decision that said no.

But, no, he was the establishment choice. I mean, he was a — he’s a serious, cerebral person. It’s no accident that the three plausible front-runners for the Republican nomination right now, Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, and Jon Huntsman, are all former governors.

I mean, Americans look to governors. Governors — senators make speeches. Governors make decisions and they have to balance budgets. And that’s what Mitch Daniels had going for him.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Mark has already narrowed it down to those three.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But we — you know, you mentioned Michele Bachmann.

The other person we have to talk about is Sarah Palin. I mean, she announced that she is starting a bus tour this weekend, David.

DAVID BROOKS: Beginning at the motorcycle rally here in D.C.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What is she going to do?

DAVID BROOKS: I still — unless — people think she’s really running. I think she is just on the endless publicity tour. This is her business.

So, maybe she will run. She certainly has not done any of the things you do to actually govern and prepare yourself for governing, a policy team, fund-raising team, organizational team.

As Karl Rove said, maybe she thinks she can play by her own rules. But, until I see otherwise, I assume it’s still an endless publicity tour.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But do you think the field is set? I mean, do we now know who, as Mark said, the serious candidates are?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I don’t think the field is necessarily set. Gov. Perry of Texas has talked about it. People are still lobbying Chris Christie. Some people are lobbying Paul Ryan. I think it’s likely set, but not necessarily.

MARK SHIELDS: I think the Paul Ryan (INAUDIBLE) may have come …

MARK SHIELDS: … this week.


MARK SHIELDS: I don’t — I wouldn’t — I would sell that stock if I had it.

But, I mean, if Rick Perry is thinking about it, then Paul Ryan certainly should.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, his office actually — Perry’s office actually issued a statement today, saying he has no intention of running for president.


JUDY WOODRUFF: We have seen those statements before.

MARK SHIELDS: Chris Christie — I agree. This is it for Chris Christie. I mean, he has…

JUDY WOODRUFF: What do you mean this is it?

MARK SHIELDS: This is his best chance. I mean, he will look back — and maybe we doesn’t want to run. Maybe he really doesn’t want to be president.

But in — 2012 will be the — have been the best chance for him. It comes — that chance comes around but once, basically. And you grab it when it comes. There’s a convergence of events right now that make him a very hot political property.


DAVID BROOKS: His last name is Bush. I mean, this is — you hear this every day in Republican circles. If his name wasn’t Bush, he would be our guy.

But — but I agree with Mark about Chris Christie.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, 25 seconds each.

One footnote is that Chrysler Motors paid back, Mark, the federal loan, the rescue loan. What does that say? I mean, what are we to — there was a whole lot of conversation about if that was the right thing to do.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes. I mean, it would kill the American automotive industry if the federal government got involved, said Mitch — Mitt Romney in The New York Times at the time. So, the Democrats are making a big point of celebrating this.

It wasn’t an auto bailout. It was a Chrysler — as you pointed out, a Chrysler-GM bailout, and one could make the case at the expense of Ford and Honda and Toyota and other companies that produce cars in America.

But it’s a success. And there aren’t a lot of economic successes, so they want to celebrate it. And it’s concentrated in four states, key states, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana.


DAVID BROOKS: It wasn’t only Romney. Some of the most brilliant political columnists thought it was a bad idea at the time.



And it turns out to have been probably a good thing. I think the final cost is going to be — it will be cost the government about $250,000 a job, probably worth it. So, it’s been a success. I agree.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we appreciate your dropping in from Indiana to spend some time with us.


DAVID BROOKS: Thank you.


MARK SHIELDS: Back to Kokomo.


JUDY WOODRUFF: David Brooks, Mark Shields, thank you both.