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Shields and Brooks on Eurozone Jitters, Lessons of Wisconsin Recall

June 8, 2012 at 12:00 AM EST
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks discuss the week's top political news with Judy Woodruff including Europe's growing debt crisis, President Obama's comments on the economic health of the American private sector and the takeaways from the Wisconsin recall election.
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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. It’s good to have you here.

So the president today called a news conference to urge European leaders, David, to do something about the debt crisis. He said, it’s solvable, but he’s clearly worried about it. Is he right to be talking about it this way?

DAVID BROOKS: Absolutely.

You know, this is the biggest problem in front of us. It is quite likely that Greece will leave the euro, which will have a very negative effect on Europe and a negative effect on us, not so much because of our exports, but just because of confidence.

Some forecasting models predict it will shrink our growth to 1.7. Now, if Greece leaves, which is more likely, it’s possible Spain, bank runs — there is already slow-motion bank runs, Spain, Italy, all the peripheral countries.

There is a significant possibility, 20, 30, 40 percent, of a complete meltdown across the eurozone. If that happens, if you talk to many economists, you’re looking at a financial crisis worse than 2008. So it’s, A., completely appropriate the president is talking about this, warning people, B., that he is active trying to do something.

And there is some talk, could he be more involved? Because right now, what’s happening is sort of a game of chicken in Europe, where the Spanish are saying, well, you have got to help us out, but we’re not really going to give away much sovereignty, the Germans saying, no, you have got to — structural reform.

So, they are really playing a very dangerous game over there and it’s extremely dangerous for us. So, I think the administration policy is quite good right now. The question is whether it should be more aggressive, really having a public summit with Germany, us, some other countries, and really getting beyond the European political situation and getting us all involved.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So is his involvement about the right amount, Mark, or what?

MARK SHIELDS: I think the results will determine that, Judy.

If it does work and Europe can come together, with the president playing a role, then it will have been good. But his fortune, as well as the fate, fortune of this country, is tied so inextricably to Europe and to the rest of the world. The interdependence is what started — it isn’t just happening in Greece or it isn’t just happening in Spain. It’s felt everywhere and it’s felt here.

And we’re in an election year, you may have noticed.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Yes. Well, is that right?

(LAUGHTER)

MARK SHIELDS: Yes. Yes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I may need to look at the calendar.

He also talked, Mark, today about the U.S. economy and about what needs to be done about it. And he got in a little hot water about the way he talked about the private sector. He said it’s doing fine compared to the public sector.

But, David, he went on to make the point that Congress needs to pass his jobs plan. He said, what we need to do right now is get that money out there to the state and the local governments who are hiring people and for infrastructure. Is that an approach that makes sense?

DAVID BROOKS: I think he’s got some solid ground that the layoffs of the public sector workers have not helped, 450,000, whatever it is, of teachers, other state employees. That clearly has not helped. It would be nice if we could have some more money to pay for them.

But the idea of stimulus package is to stimulate, and to stimulate small businesses, stimulate private sector activity. And so far, that hasn’t happened. And really there is no option on the table that in the near term will do that.

Since this financial crisis started, we have — the U.S. has borrowed an additional $6 trillion. If we borrow — and all that money has been pumped into the economy, let alone what the Fed has done. If we pump in another — if it goes from $6 trillion to $6.2 trillion, do we really think the economy is going to get humming? I really do not think so.

So I’m not sure. I think he has a very great faith in sort of Keynesian stimulus, but the amount we are doing is awesome right now. Doing a little more, I doubt it’s going to create a healthy economy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you see that?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think he has to do something.

And I think the case the president makes about the 500,000 public employees that have been cut, while the private sector is not doing fine, but there have been four million jobs created in the private sector since the spring of 2010.

And so — but, obviously, the drain and the drawdown from 500,000 public sector jobs being abolished, eliminated, and as well to the — what that does to the quality of national and public life, and I think that is part of a president’s concern, as well as the GDP.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But is he wasting. . .

JUDY WOODRUFF: Go ahead.

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I would just say, if you’re — as we heard earlier in the program, if you’re thinking of whether to expand, invest, and hire, you have got Europe really maybe on the verge of a cataclysm. As we heard earlier in the program, you have got the fiscal cliff.

You have the Chinese slowdown, the Indian slowdown. There’s many, many reasons to pull back. And you can stimulate if people are leaning forward wanting to stimulate. But there is so much else going on in the world, I’m not sure you are going to get much private growth with all this other structural stuff really underlying it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, does that leave him almost helpless? I mean, clearly, he’s working on the European. . .

MARK SHIELDS: Yes. No, on the European — but I just don’t think he is going to get any reaction out of the Republican House.

I think we have now reached a point where we are into symbolic legislating, where we can pass something in the Democratic Senate, but — whether it is an equal pay and equal protection law, and make the other side look bad. And it’s a legitimate piece of legislation, but it is not going to going pass the Republican House. And the Republican house can do its things in cutting taxes or whatever on particular groups or interests.

And that isn’t going to go anywhere in the Senate or have the president sign it. I we’re at loggerheads at this point.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Wisconsin, there was a governor recall vote this week. Gov. Scott Walker, the Republican, survived. He — how much is that bad news for Democrats across the country and for the president, Mark?

MARK SHIELDS: I think it’s very much of a cold shower.

I mean, power is the perception of power. If I think you have power, David thinks you have power, everybody thinks you have — you have power. Once your power is exposed, or the lack of it — and certainly in the case of organized labor, there was a sense that this is where public unions began, public employee unions, that it was a blue state.

And I think, in this sense, it was a real blow to organized labor’s political involvement, as well as to its membership because of the new Wisconsin law. Add to that, Judy, I think that you have two approaches to campaigns.

There’s what I call the organized vs. the proselytized. The proselytized thing is, we are going to go out and persuade people to support our candidate. The organized is, we are just going to get our people, all the ones who are on our side, to turn out.

I think they did that very well. I think they got all the votes they were going to get in Wisconsin on the labor side.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The labor — labor — the Democrats.

MARK SHIELDS: But I think that has been the model, it seems to be the model for President Obama’s reelection is organize.

And I think they have to think in terms of, message is important. Money is important. And I think money spoke loudly in Wisconsin.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What is your analysis?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I don’t think it was the money. I think it was the issue.

People — we went through many decades where states could promise pension benefits, where they could pay for health care benefits, and they could also pay for schools and prisons and water programs and all the other stuff. That is over. We’re now in this age of austerity, where the pension benefits, the health benefits, all that stuff is just gobbling up the budget.

And people have to make a choice. Do we want to pay for this or do we want to pay for that? And, as we see — we saw in Wisconsin, we saw in San Jose, we saw in San Diego, when people want to make those choices, their perception — and I think it is an accurate one — is that some of the benefits and some of the pensions got out of control, and they have to be ratcheted back so we can pay for this other stuff.

And so I think what has happened, we have entered an era of austerity, where the old model of just handing out benefits, making lavish promises that are just unaffordable, that’s got to end. And so I really don’t think this matters for Obama in November.

You know, whatever it was, 17, 18 percent of the people who voted for Obama, who say they will vote for Obama, also voted for Scott Walker.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Right.

DAVID BROOKS: I think 38 percent of union households voted for Scott Walker.

And so I’m not sure it has that message, but it’s an end of a certain style of welfare model.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What about that. . .

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think there’s two things.

I think what we’re watching is a public debate that has never really started. If you are for public libraries, public spaces, public transportation, public education, public recreation, that is what government does.

And — but if you can afford to buy private security and private education and private club memberships and private trainers, and that’s — it is a public vs. private debate. And I think it’s one overdue in this country. And I think the Democrats have really let down the side of the value of the public sector in our lives.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How have they — what do you mean they have let it down?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes.

MARK SHIELDS: I don’t think — I don’t think this administration or the president or leading Democrats make the case that government does make your life better, whether it makes the medicine your children take safe or the food that you eat safe, I mean, all the things that are done every single day.

And I — but I think this is part of the debate that’s coming. At least it should come, Judy. And — but I would add to that I think it’s important because the model — when you win an election, politics is entirely derivative and imitative.

And what the Republicans found out much — I disagree with David — is if you can get enough people to write checks for millions of dollars, you can tie down your opponent. You can spend money to force your opponent to defend what is his territory and what is presumed, whether it is Pennsylvania, whether it’s New Jersey, if you have got enough money.

And I think that will be the model that the — the lesson the Republicans will take out of Wisconsin is, we can do this with seven-figure contributions.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So you are saying that was determinative, that was partly determinative?

MARK SHIELDS: I think when you succeed, you look at the formula and you draw from that. And I think what they will draw from it is major contributions will give us options and give us an advantage that we obviously didn’t have, John McCain didn’t have, when he was outspent effectively 2-1 by Obama in 2008.

DAVID BROOKS: First, I would say that it’s not public vs. private. It’s public vs. public.

What schools in Milwaukee and all around the state of Wisconsin have discovered since these reforms were made is, they could save money on health insurance, they could save money on this all stuff they were forced to pay for before, and they can put that money into education and into the school.

So, it is two different public costs and it’s how we are going to rebalance public budgets. I think that is the core debate.

MARK SHIELDS: I agree with that.

DAVID BROOKS: And, as for the money, I think the money is not going to affect — first of all, I don’t think it had a huge effect in this race.

It was very similar — they just had an election two years ago, the same guys.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Let it be noted Mark just deeply sighed.

DAVID BROOKS: He just deeply sighed. It’s a sign of deep disrespect.

(LAUGHTER)

MARK SHIELDS: Respect, but sympathy.

DAVID BROOKS: Sympathy. Oh, good. He’s sympathizing for my ignorance.

But they — these two guys just ran against each other and the results were very similar. And the final thing I will say is about the presidential election. They are going to be running in 12 states. Both campaigns are going to have plenty of money. Money will not be an issue in the presidential race. I do think money will be an issue in congressional races.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So just — so the fact that Romney outraised Obama $77 million to $60 million in May, does that make a difference? Is that a one-time thing?

MARK SHIELDS: No, it’s significant. No, I mean, because the Republican race is over now. There’s no reason, if you are a Republican giver, to sit on the sidelines, whether you were supporting Santorum or you didn’t want to make a pick.

It’s come back to where Republicans are going to be. They want to beat Barack Obama. And they are going to open up their wallets and open up their security safety boxes. They are going — the family jewels are going to be passed in. I’m telling you. . .

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we consider the two of you our family jewels.

DAVID BROOKS: Oh, boy.

(LAUGHTER)

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

And it’s good to know that Mark and David keep up this talk on the Doubleheader. That’s on our website coming up right after this program.