TOPICS > Politics

Shields and Brooks on Resilience During National Trauma, Failure of the Gun Bill

April 19, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks talk to Jeffrey Brown about the Boston Marathon attack and the ensuing city-wide lockdown while authorities conducted a manhunt. They also discuss the politics and political consequences behind the failed gun legislation, and whether it can be revived.

JEFFREY BROWN:And we close the week and this most unusual day of news with the analysis of Shields and Brooks, syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Mark, I used the word extraordinary at the top of the program, a major American city in lockdown. Your thoughts on seeing that?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I mean, it’s obviously reminiscent of 9/11 and a reminder of what this sort of a national trauma, and particularly a regional trauma, can do to a nation.

I mean, we followed New York, the attack on New York and the attack on Washington, which obviously were far greater in volume and suffering, but — by going into two wars and changing the way we live in this country.

And you can see right now, I mean, the willingness of people to accept Boston becoming a ghost town, basically.

JEFFREY BROWN: But 9/11 was a while ago. Have we forgotten that sense of — in our own cities?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I don’t think so, judging by the reaction.

When this is all over, I want to see a debate from people who know what they’re talking about, about the wisdom of shutting down a region to chase one 19-year-old. I mean, it — it could be an overreaction. We will wait and see.

And, also, when you go to places that suffer from these sorts of attacks, Israel and other places, one of the things they tell you is that the power and the importance of resilience and the importance of normalcy. So, say in Israel, during the Intifada days, when there would be an attack in a cafe, that cafe would be open the next day. And so the idea was to keep society normal, not to minimize what’s happened, but to keep society as normal as possible.

And so I’m not sure we’re achieving that with the media coverage and the shutting down an entire city.

JEFFREY BROWN: But that’s what you mean about the potential impact on the larger psyche.

DAVID BROOKS: Right. You want your society to be a resilient society. And to be a resilient society, you want as much normalcy as possible.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, what do you think about that, how we …

MARK SHIELDS: Well, we have heard resilience in the people of Boston praised, including the president, and the governor, and the mayor, and just about everybody else, especially at the ceremony at the Holy Cross Cathedral on Thursday.

And virtually every commentator has spoken about the pluck, the mettle, the intestinal fortitude, the toughness of the people of Boston so, at some point, it becomes a little bit self-fulfilling. If everybody thinks we are, we’re going to be. And we are, and, damn it, we will show them.

I think that seems to be the very unrepresentative, unscientific sample that have appeared, at least before television cameras and microphones.

JEFFREY BROWN: But, at a ceremony, the one you mentioned, the president speaks, we have had these before. This is when we look for a certain kind of leadership, right?


And I think all the leaders have done a nice job, Deval Patrick, the mayor, the president. I think you can sort of be proud of people stepping up. The other thing that strikes me is that you go through these phases of a certain type of violence. We don’t know exactly what motivated these people.

We have had a lot of violent act by loners, by people who have slipped through the cracks of society, whether it’s the school shootings, potentially these two, some other things down the road. So, once upon a time, it was anarchists 100 years ago. Then it was part of big terror organizations. This might be atomized, lonely, dissenting individuals.

And so that’s a different kind of society and producing a different kind of nut job.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, we have spent the whole program talking about what we know and most — a lot of what we don’t know.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right.

JEFFREY BROWN: Is it too early to talk about political consequences? It wasn’t too early for some to bring it up already today talking about potential impact, for example, on immigration law.

MARK SHIELDS: No, I think we had Ann Coulter, a leading conservative commentator, saying it’s too bad suspect number one won’t be able to be legalized by Mario — by Marco Rubio in an obviously sarcastic observation, a knock on Rubio for his leadership on the immigration bill.

I don’t think there’s any question that it — Boston had a negative impact on the vote on the Manchin-Toomey compromise on gun control in the Senate. And I think the fear — and legitimate fear — on the part of those in political office is that it will embolden candidates like Steve King in Iowa, who’s sort of a xenophobic, anti — anti-immigrant candidate, to challenge for the Republican Senate nomination, and move the dialogue and the debate.

And depending upon what the effect is on the Senate, where there seems to be strong support, not deep, but strong — wide support for the immigration bill, the impact on the House — if you’re scared stiff as a House Republican that you’re going to be challenged in a primary, because the primary determines who does win those districts, this could make them a lot more timid in supporting immigration reform.

DAVID BROOKS: I’m a little bit dubious that it will have a huge effect on immigration reform.

These are not typical immigrants. They have been here a while. They’re — American schools, reasonably assimilated, judging by their Twitter feeds. And I just think the immigration debate is going to take over itself. And I’m a little — I have become much more pessimistic, even in the Senate.

So — but I doubt this will play into that. That will be a big separate debate over a series of weeks or months.

JEFFREY BROWN: What about gun the control? By any measure, that was the big political story of the week, the defeat in the Senate, including the push for stronger background checks. What happened?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I was surprised.


DAVID BROOKS: I was saying on this show that it would pass, at least some sort of weak background checks.


DAVID BROOKS: And I think what we learned was, there’s long been a structure that has made it hard to pass gun control laws.

And then when Sandy Hook happened, we think that underlying political structure is changed, but it wasn’t changed. If you’re in a red state, whether you’re a Democrat or Republican, there’s still no advantage to voting for it, mostly because the people who oppose guns vote on that issue. The people who oppose gun control vote on that issue. The people who support those gun control measures tend not to vote on this issue.

And so the political calculus in those states is still all against reform, and the political mobilization never reached those areas.

JEFFREY BROWN: So it was all politics?

MARK SHIELDS: No, I don’t think it was all politics.

I think there were real changes. I think there was some — we talk about cowardice, and — but there was some real courage. I mean, there were a lot of senators, western senators, Mark Udall, Michael Bennet, Tom Udall, New Mexico, Colorado, Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley in Oregon, historically — Jon Tester in Montana, Tim Johnson in South Dakota — states that historically had not — it had been sort of a write-off.

You didn’t vote for gun control, because the gun culture community was too strong there, the hunting community. So I think Ron Brownstein had a really interesting piece that he could see this emerging as a national issue. There were 21 states where both senators voted for the Manchin-Toomey gun control amendment. And they represented 261 electoral votes.

There were 17 states where both senators vote against it. They represent only 146 electoral votes. They’re smaller, more rural, and less popular states. And if — to the degree that Marco Rubio, for example, if he were to be the Republican nominee in 2016, he’d have trouble in the suburbs of Philadelphia.

He’d have trouble in winning women’s votes, having been strongly against gun control — so the possibility of this being a national issue. The other mistake that was made, in my judgment, that nobody I think has addressed publicly is that the Democrats had a golden opportunity.

Once 13 Republicans said they would lead a filibuster, that’s when they should have thrown down the gauntlet and said, OK, you want to have a filibuster? Let’s have a filibuster on background checks. And we will go day and night and put the face on the opposition to gun control on that issue.

And I think — I think you would have routed them. I really do. But, obviously, Sen. Reid and the Democratic leadership made a different decision.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, the president came out afterwards very angry, right, at the White House. He said 90 percent of Americans favored the background checks. The majority of senators favored it.

He was essentially saying democracy has been foiled. It sounds like he’s trying to play to what Mark’s talking about to build some kind of outrage.

DAVID BROOKS: I think he was genuinely angry.

I mean, he was genuinely moved by what happened, by spending so much time with the families.

MARK SHIELDS: The families, that’s right.

DAVID BROOKS: And so I think he was genuinely angry.

But it is a fact or a nature of our politics that, when you have a dedicated minority going against a broad coalition defending a compromise piece of legislation that none of them are entirely happy with, that dedicated minority often beats the broad and fragile majority. And I think that’s what happened here. And that may happen on immigration, by the way.

JEFFREY BROWN: But when the president says that this still — he still wants to come back with this, Sen. Manchin said it still has some life, the families vow to keep it alive, you think they are wrong?

DAVID BROOKS: You have got to start in the red states. You have got to start with — Manchin and Toomey was a step, an important step.

MARK SHIELDS: It was an important step.

DAVID BROOKS: And you have got to start there and make sure it’s not a cultural issue, the East Coast and West Coast telling the center of the country what to do. You have got to start with the red states and then go outward.

JEFFREY BROWN: But you’re suggesting it still may have life?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think Manchin and Toomey both deserve credit. I mean, they really did. They both took a risk politically.

I do — I think Jeff, that this is an issue — and it’s fascinating to me. We have seen same-sex marriage emerge as just a bare majority issue in the past three months, and you have a flood of people running to support it. I mean, Heidi Heitkamp, the new Democrat from North Dakota, all right, who voted against the background check, now, I’m willing to bet that in North Dakota, there are more people who are for a background check than there are who are for same-sex marriage.

And I think it comes back to what David has said. There isn’t on the pro-gun control side a political infrastructure. There aren’t volunteers. In the LGBT community, the lesbian, gay and bisexual, transgender community, there’s political activity. There are those who are willing to get involved in the campaign, write a check.

There isn’t that. And there is on the anti-gun side. And that’s I think what has been missing from the pro-gun control side is really shock troops and people who are willing to volunteer in the field and write checks.

JEFFREY BROWN: We’re just in our last 45 seconds here.

But today you were writing about how guns and immigration sort of will show us the future of politics, particularly on the right.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. Immigration is the big one.

If the Republicans do not — and this is a bitterly divided party on immigration, growing more divided, the opposition growing in the Republican ranks. If they shoot down this immigration reform, that will really doom the party. That’s the big one this year.

JEFFREY BROWN: That’s bigger than — than guns?

DAVID BROOKS: Than guns and anything else, yes.

JEFFREY BROWN: David Brooks, Mark Shields, thanks very much.

MARK SHIELDS: Thank you, Jeff.