TOPICS > Politics

Shields and Brooks on Obama in the Mideast, GOP in Overhaul

March 22, 2013 at 12:00 AM EST
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks discuss bipartisan compromise in Congress on the budget, an election postmortem for the Republican party, President Barack Obama's "soaring rhetoric" and "realistic policies" for the Mideast and the 10th anniversary of the War in Iraq.
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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.

Welcome to you both.

MARK SHIELDS: Thank you, Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, more ferment in the Republican Party this week, David. We heard, I guess, among other things, Rand Paul talking about a completely new position for him on immigration. What’s going on?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, the immigration story is just good news for those of us who want a comprehensive solution.

Whether it’s the defeat or some other reason, what’s happening on immigration is we failed probably seven or eight years ago, but now it’s moving. And so there’s a group of eight senators in the Senate who are working together to come up with a bill. And they have overcome what used to be the main hurdle, which is how — what are we going to do with the 11 or 12 million who are here.

They have more or less got that. Now they are arguing how are we going to get the long-term flow of immigrants to be stable, so wages aren’t depressed and so Americans can have first crack at the jobs. So suddenly you’re seeing just progress, and that’s in the Senate. In the House, you’re seeing some private meetings where they are making progress there, too, which is actually a harder job, under the aegis of leadership of both parties.

So, I think it’s quite likely what we couldn’t do a couple of years ago, we’re going to do this time, which is have a comprehensive immigration reform bill and fix the system.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And a big turnaround in position for somebody like Rand Paul and for some of the other members.

MARK SHIELDS: Rand Paul ran in 2010 as the Tea Party candidate for the Senate, beat Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, the leader, senior Kentucky politician’s favorite candidate, Trey Grayson, the secretary of state.

And his position on immigration at that point was, he was seriously questioning the birthright citizenship of a child born in this country not to American parents. He wanted to construct along the 1,969-mile border between the United States and Mexico electronic fences, projecting a cost of $10 million to $15 million dollars. I don’t know who the contractors he was getting to do it, 1,969 miles.

And so it is a turnaround. Judy, the polling places closed on Nov. 6th, but the election returns are still coming in. All you have to think about is this. Mitt Romney got a higher percentage of the white vote in 2012 than any candidate since Ronald Reagan in 1984. The difference is, in 1984, if Mitt Romney had gotten 59 percent of the white vote, he would have been elected president.

He wouldn’t have need an African-American, a Latino, an Asian. He could have won. That would have been an absolute majority with 86 percent of the whole electorate. It’s down to 72. And so not only the loss of Latinos, but the loss of Asians — the real loss for Republicans over the last three elections has been their total decline and collapse of their support among Asian voters, high-education, higher-income.

And there’s a sense of anti-immigrant. So, I think David is absolutely right in his diagnosis. I think it’s very encouraging. But I think there is some political motivation here that Republicans understand if they’re going to be competitive in a national election, they have to make amends and make fences, especially after Mitt Romney ran on self-deportation as an answer to the problem in 2012.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, hence, this autopsy that the chairman of the Republican Party announced, rolled out this week. Now, he’s saying that not all of that is going to be implemented, but it was kind of a remarkable exercise.

DAVID BROOKS: I certainly can’t think of another postmortem as bold and as comprehensive. The party basically admitted error.

Now, I personally don’t think it went far enough. My line is, it makes me look forward to the autopsy of 2017. It was good enough to suggest it will be promising, not so good that we won’t have another probably.

But it was incredibly comprehensive. And so some of it is just trying to limit the number of debates. Remember, they were having many, many debates. Some of it is trying to have — they are talking about this, having regional primaries in order to get a wider selection of the electorate talking all at once, so you don’t get the most conservative people right up front winnowing people out.

Some of it is just having a little — being a little less off-putting to some of these groups that Mark is talking about. So it was a complete across-the-board sweep. I still think they need to do more on the policy substance. And some of which I like particularly is getting the convention moved to June or July, instead of being August or September.

And so it was just an across-the-board series of changes, quite bold, and they’re to be congratulated for it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, David is saying they didn’t go far enough.

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I would say two cheers for Reince Priebus and the Republicans.

Usually, when a party loses a presidential election, it has two excuses. One, their candidate was flawed. It was John Kerry’s fault. He was a foreigner. It was John McCain’s fault — he’s a Republican — because he was the old grumpy, “get off my lawn, kids” candidate.

Or, if it isn’t that, you blame the customer. It’s the voters’ fault. Voters used to be smart and patriotic and bold, and now they’re weak and dumb and they vote for the other guy. This was an acknowledgment that there was something wrong with the party. It wasn’t just the accident of Mitt Romney or whatever else.

They just called themselves out of touch, narrow-minded, stuffy old men, tribunes of the deserving rich. I mean, I just — I think they deserve enormous credit. And the one policy recommendation they did come up with, of course, was immigration, strongly, I mean, strenuously endorsing that.

But, you know, to me, it was it was a mea culpa and, at the same time, sort of a candid assessment of where the party …

DAVID BROOKS: Let me just go into a little why I think it was insufficient, even agreeing with what Mark said.

The party cannot be competitive nationally unless it’s competitive in California, Oregon, Washington, New England, Pennsylvania, along the coasts. And the problem for the party is, you can’t get there from here. You can’t start out where the current Republicans are and win back those places. To me, what you have to do is create a different Republican Party that can win in those places.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You mean because these are more diverse?

DAVID BROOKS: Right, and so a different wing of the party.

And it has to talk in a different language about mobility, a different language about social issues, probably a different language about role of government. And parties that are majority parties are incoherent parties. The Democratic Party in the 1930s was very Southern — very conservative Southerners, pretty progressive Northeasterners.

And you have to have these two wings which are going to fight, but that’s what you have to have to have a majority party. And so far, they haven’t done the infrastructure to get a coastal wing of the Republican Party.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, if all that is about the presidential cycle every four years, what about in Congress, where every day we see the Republican philosophy and the Democratic philosophy playing itself out?

This week, they did agree on a budget, Mark, or at least a funding of the government for the next, what, six months, through the end of the fiscal year.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes. Yes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is any of that playing out in what you see in Washington?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think, on David’s — on David’s point, I agree with him, but neither party right now has two wings.

I mean, the Democratic Party that won the majority in 2006 did it by winning House seats in border districts, in Southern districts, sort of Blue Dog Democrats. They all got wiped out in 2010, and I haven’t seen much efforts or much success in rebuilding that. The Democrats have become a more liberal party and a more sectarian party since then.

But they had to win elections. Yes, Judy, I think there’s almost been an acknowledgment that dysfunction is not helping, A., the government, the nation, or either political party on Capitol Hill. And I think that that encouraged or was sort of the handmaiden to reaching this accommodation for a continuing resolution. And I take any sign of an encouraging sign as an encouraging sign at this point.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Does it say anything, David, that maybe there’s going to be some grand bargain agreement …

DAVID BROOKS: No. Let’s not get carried away.

There’s still a remote chance they will have a sort of medium bargain, but it’s mostly a decision that we’re not going to kill ourselves. We’re not going to have these midnight budget deals. We’re not going to go over fiscal cliffs. We’re just going to try to hit some singles. And that is fine. So, that’s progress. We’re doing things by the normal rules the Constitution laid out, and that’s progress.

For the party of the Republicans, that’s good news. The bad news is, they continue to shoot themselves in the foot on small symbolic things. So, a couple of weeks ago, Mark and I were exercised about an attack on a treaty about the disabled abroad …

JUDY WOODRUFF: Right.

DAVID BROOKS: … a trivial thing in which they just looked like idiots.

This week, Tom Coburn wants to defund political science. Well, defunding a university discipline is just — it saves you no money and it sends an anti-intellectual message. And so it’s these little symbolic things that makes you think, oh, those Republicans are weird.

And so that remains a problem.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, change of topic. The president went to Israel, went to the Middle East this week. He was in Jordan today, Mark.

In Israel, he’s trying to patch things up with Netanyahu, with Prime Minister Netanyahu. But he also talked a lot there about new thinking is needed. He said that to both the Israelis and the Palestinians. What are you seeing from this trip?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I saw the clock turn back five years. I saw the charismatic, eloquent, inspiring Barack Obama of 2008 that arrived in this country and captivated the nation.

I thought the speech in Jerusalem was evocative and of that standard. I thought it was fresh. It was inspiring. It was elevating. It was eloquent. He spoke candidly to both sides. He talked about the importance and urgency of — he reached across the generational divide to younger Israelis, I mean, to people who had been not stuck in that …

JUDY WOODRUFF: And you were surprised by that?

MARK SHIELDS: I was — well, I think the White House played it very smart. I have to be honest.

They made the trip sound like it was an obligatory visit to the relatives, that you didn’t have to really go. And then they did this. And then it not only has translated in what I thought was a moving blueprint, but then the phone call today that Margaret and you discussed about — from Prime Minister Erdogan, putting Netanyahu, Prime Minister Netanyahu on the phone, first time he had spoken to him since he’d been prime minister, apologizing for the flotilla deaths and murders in the Turkish ship.

I just — I just think it was encouraging. I’m not saying that peace is at hand. But I think it was a very important step in the right direction. The president acknowledged that his requirement at the outset of laying down stopping settlements wasn’t wise or necessary at this point in order to proceed.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Are you as positive?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. I thought it was a remarkable speech.

It was an ardent statement of Zionism, which made the Israelis feel listened to. But then he went on and talked to Palestinians and said, I’m going to explain to the world and to Americans and Israelis what it looks like from your point of view.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right.

DAVID BROOKS: He did step back from the settlement freeze, which I think is realistic.

And, basically, he laid out a U.S. policy which says, listen, we’re not going to probably have a peace process that’s going to have some huge breakthrough right away. That’s probably rash, if the Muslim Brotherhood is going to take over the West Bank. But we do have to encourage those moderates by having some sort of process going.

And so it was — deep down, beneath the soaring rhetoric, which I think moved a lot of people, there was a realistic set of policies. Let’s just try to shore up the moderates, to the extent we can, by giving them something. And that might be the short-term all we can do, and then in the long-term, maybe things will get a little better if the Islamists are sort of weakened.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes. He did reassert American commitment to the well-being, survival, defense of Israel.

But when he said, put yourself in their shoes, the Palestinians, look at the world through their eyes. It’s not fair that a Palestinian child cannot grow up in a state of their own, living their entire lives in the presence of a foreign army that controls the movements of the parents every single day. That’s — that’s requiring — that is speaking very candidly on a very sensitive subject, and I commend him for it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Last thing I will raise. We have only got about 30 seconds, so this is tough.

The 10th anniversary of the war in Iraq, just a very brief thought from both of you about how it — looking back, some people are asking, was it worth it? I may not — I don’t want to put you on the spot in 15 seconds, David, but …

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I’m not sure it was worth it.

I think we look back, and we are more modest about what our intelligence can do, more modest about how we can nation-build, more modest about our own sort of role in the world. And so I think it’s been a lesson in modesty, but not isolation.

MARK SHIELDS: It wasn’t worth it, Judy.

It was a — it was a war of aggression. It wasn’t a war of self-defense. It was organized against a country that had never attacked the United States, that had no either capacity nor intention of attacking the United States. And it — there are 4,488 American families without a son or a husband or a daughter or a wife at the table next Christmas.

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

And Mark and David keep up the talk on The Doubleheader recorded in our newsroom — among tonight’s topics, congressional escapes and March Madness. That will be posted at the top of the Rundown later this evening.