TOPICS > Politics

Shields, Brooks on ‘Mutual Pandering’ Over Student Loans, Immigration Law

April 27, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks discuss the week's top political news including Democrats and Republicans battling over student loans, Newt Gingrich's legacy, how austerity efforts affect growth compared to spending and debt, and the Supreme Court taking up Arizona's immigration law.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That is syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Gentlemen, welcome.

So let’s go back to something we were talking about on the show a few minutes ago. And that is the U.S. economy slowing down, but, Mark, not as bad off as Europe’s economy. Is there a lesson there for what we see here in the United States?

MARK SHIELDS: I guess there’s a less on, Judy.

I mean, you could make the case, certainly, Great Britain, that austerity as an economic prescription, which has been the hallmark of the Cameron regime, is not only unpopular, but hasn’t worked.

But I think that the “external shocks” — quotes, unquote — of whether it’s China slowing down or Europe in a recession, are the wild card in the American political campaign. I mean, regardless of what is happening, I mean, we are part of and vulnerable to what is going on.

The American optimism appears, confidence appears to have survived this initial shock, setback, which is encouraging, but it’s been the hallmark of Americans.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And many of these countries in Europe, David, as we were hearing, are countries that cut, cut government spending a lot, and now there are protests that it was too much.

DAVID BROOKS: Right. Well, in some cases, that’s true.

First of all, I don’t think you can clearly say government spending determines how much growth you have. It’s an influence. But monetary policy is probably a much bigger influence, and the state of your labor market is probably a much bigger influence. The Germans, to their credit, did labor market reform under Gerhard Schroeder, and they are in decent shape because they did the reform.

So there are all sorts of influences. Nonetheless, it is certainly true that austerity dampens growth in the short term. Now, some of these countries have to do it because, unlike us, they don’t have a reserve currency. They are really vulnerable to the markets in the way we’re not.

So I think Britain probably has to do it. The problem is, you have got some countries in Europe who shouldn’t be doing it. Spain was mentioned earlier in the show. Their debt situation is not incredibly bad. It’s not particularly bad. And, meanwhile, they’re recovering from this housing bust. And so they probably do need something much more stimulative, but they are stuck in this monetary union.

They’re stuck in this European system, which has to have one uniform policy. And so, to me, one of the different problems Europe has from us is that there are 12 different or now many different economies with different situations, stuck in a common monetary system. And that is a real problem for them.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But you are saying because it’s so different from the United States, it is apples and oranges?

DAVID BROOKS: Right. Well, I think there is a transatlantic debate over austerity. And I think it’s certainly true that if you spend, if you go into debt and spend, you do boost growth. How much? Well, that, you get — economists are all over the map.

It’s also true, if you go into debt now, some time down the road, when you have to pay that off, you diminish growth. How much? Economists are all over the map. So there is some effect. The size of it, I really don’t think we have a clear answer.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Something for us to pay a lot of attention to?

MARK SHIELDS: No, I think the world is a lot smaller place. And I don’t think anybody can escape that. We are not immune from what goes on in Europe, by any means.

And if Europe is in a recession, it is not good for the United States. It’s not good for Europe, first of all, and Europeans, but it’s not good for outside. And it certainly isn’t good — you can see, Judy, what has happened politically. I mean, if you are sitting in Barack Obama’s campaign headquarters right now, the news from France, the news from Holland, the Netherlands, the news from Romania is not good for incumbent governments.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, speaking of spending, the other story we — in fact, we led the show with is — and that is this vote in the House of Representatives, Mark, on how to pay for keeping the interest rates low on student loans.

We heard the president’s — the president’s argument is, the Democrats’ argument is, you shouldn’t be taking this money from health care reform, from a fund that was part of the health care reform law. Is one side clearly right in that argument, or is this just, you know, a spring storm?

MARK SHIELDS: One side’s playing offense and the other side is playing defense.

The Democrats are very much playing offense on this and the president is playing offense. The Republicans had not provided the funds for the student loan differential in the Ryan budget, which they voted for very proudly and trumpeted. And then they found themselves on what they thought was the losing side politically, the president with a big edge in the youth vote, which shows little enthusiasm or little interest in voting, certainly not comparable towards turnout in 2008.

And so this is a great way — you go to Iowa City, Iowa, swing state, you go to Boulder, Colorado, University of Colorado, swing state, and you go to Chapel Hill, N.C., swing state, all of a sudden the Republicans, Mitt Romney says, first of all, yes, I am for a differential, cut in interest rates on student loans.

And then John Boehner follows, and the House Republicans have to come up with some sort of a fig leaf, which they did in the form of financing it by taking it out of health care.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And John Boehner really, David, went after the president on this, this week, purely playing politics. He talked about the emperor has no clothes.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I guess I think they are both playing politics.

First, they’re pandering. Who can give college students the most? So that is one pander. That is probably a less serious pander because it is probably a pretty good program. The second pander is how are we going pay for it, and of course they pick the political vulnerability of the other side. The Republicans want to go after Obamacare. So they do that.

The Democrats want to go after oil and gas. And so they want to pay for it through there. So, they are picking on each other’s vulnerabilities. It’s typical election-year legislation. And I would say a little small. To me, you know, how to pay for education is actually a phenomenally difficult issue.

And reducing the interest rates on the loans, believe me, is not a solution at a time when academic inflation is going up, up, up. And we happen to be in a moment when I happen to think we are on the cusp of a tremendous change in how higher ed is delivered through online learning and stuff.

And this is symptomatic of the campaign. It would be nice to see a candidate say, I have got a big view of what is about to happen to higher ed and the federal government’s role in it. And that would be a big plan, how it could use online learning. But they’re not doing that. They’re doing the mutual pandering.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But the charge of politics — I mean, I was struck by how tough John Boehner was, Speaker Boehner was, in going after the president, saying: I have never seen the White House be so small.

MARK SHIELDS: I was surprised, because that is not John Boehner’s style. He’s not a bombastic guy by nature or by practice.

You know, I think the White House would have been better served if they had visited maybe the University of Vermont and the University of Kansas. I mean, to go to three swing states and to universities there certainly opens it up to the accusation that this is a political, rather than a substantive visit.

But, I mean, this is vintage — quadrennial vintage politics, that the president wherever he goes is still the president, even though he’s the party leader and the nominee of his party. And it was true of George W. Bush when he ran for reelection. It was true of Bill Clinton and it was certainly true of Ronald W. Reagan when he ran for reelection.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The Supreme Court, David, took up the Arizona immigration law this week. You listened to some of the arguments, a lot of speculation about whether they will uphold it or not.

But whatever they do, does that affect the campaign, the presidential?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I think immigration will play a lesser role this time than many of the past times.

First, I suspect it is going to be struck down. I sort of hope it is struck down, not because of particular substance of the Arizona law. I just don’t think each individual state should have their own immigration policy. And so I just think it’s unworkable.

But as — immigration as an issue, well, it’s not clear that there is net migration from Mexico, because the jobs aren’t here and the Mexican economy is doing better. And so the underlying problem which fired a lot of people up is of diminishing salience.

And so I’m not sure immigration will be a huge issue this year, just simply because there isn’t that much immigration, or at least illegal immigration.

MARK SHIELDS: David’s presentation is, as always, thoughtful and reflective.


MARK SHIELDS: Unfortunately, it’s divorced from political reality.

We just went through a Republican primary, Judy, where Mitt Romney proved himself not to be a true-blue conservative, to be a red-hot conservative by — what did he do? He went after Gov. Rick Perry of Texas on what grounds? That Rick Perry had signed legislation as governor of Texas that enabled the child of an undocumented immigrant who went through the Texas public schools and had a good record to go to school in state tuition.

He went after Newt Gingrich for saying that a family who had been here for 25 years, belonged to a church, paid taxes, obeyed the law, raised a family, should be deported tomorrow. He has got to scramble back.

John McCain carried white voters by 12 points in 2008. George W. Bush carried white voters by 12 points in 2000, the exact same number. The difference is the electorate changed. There are more Latinos voting and that is why Barack Obama could win a bigger landslide in 2008 than any Democrat except Lyndon Johnson and Franklin Roosevelt.

And that’s the reality that Mitt Romney has got to deal with and the Republicans have to deal with. No Republican since George W. Bush has been able to talk to Latinos at the national level.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. I do agree with that. Romney got himself into a terrible position on immigration.

And the party as a whole has gotten itself into a terrible issue in immigration.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You mean the Republicans?

DAVID BROOKS: The Republican Party.

The question is whether the issue has salience. There are always going to be a range of issues out there, Iran, the economy, XYZ. And if there — if people especially in the border states perceive a flood of illegal immigrants putting a burden on their health care system and on their schools, well, it’s going to have high salience.

If that flood goes away, it seems to me it is going to have lower salience.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You don’t think it is going to affect how many Hispanic voters turn out and whether they are upset enough about it?


MARK SHIELDS: I think the Middle East has salience to Jewish voters. And I think that immigration or anti-immigration has great salience to Latino varieties.

They see one party that has really been overtly hostile, and its nominee really clambered to the nomination by that route.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Less than a minute left.

Newt Gingrich announced that he is going to drop out of the race…


JUDY WOODRUFF: … early next week.

His legacy, you want to weigh in on that?

DAVID BROOKS: Disappointing. We wanted some more — a little more entertainment from the guy.

I got to see him cry in Iowa one day. But I thought he had to come out with big ideas. Some of them would be wacky, some of them would be smart, but they would be like big heaving ideas. And you would follow him around, he was talking about some bridge in the Port of Charleston. He had little, little ideas.

And so I can’t even associate him with an idea this time. So I was a little disappointed.

MARK SHIELDS: He did have a big idea, $2.50 gasoline and colonizing the moon. He didn’t have the 25 cent draft beer or the 10 cent candy bar, but I think that was going to be if he stayed in the race.

He comes out of the race a smaller person than when he went into it. Rick Santorum came out of the race a bigger person than he went into it. And there were — there really were no big ideas. It was more of a soap opera than it was a campaign, Judy.

He began with great flourish, then went to the Greek Isles for a cruise. His entire staff quit on him, went with Rick Perry. He clambered back. How did he get back? By attacking the press. And it is one of the great true, trusted routes. And he did it as well as anybody I have ever heard do it in those debates.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The two of you do it even better than anybody else every Friday.


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