TOPICS > Politics > Shields and Brooks

Shields and Brooks on McDonnell and money, Clinton and the campaign

January 24, 2014 at 2:08 PM EDT
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week's news, including the income inequality and consequences of money in American politics, the federal corruption charges against former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and some early super PAC support for Hillary Clinton.

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

Welcome, gentlemen.

So, we live in this rich country, Mark and David, but we have just heard kind of a remarkable report that Hari did from Orange County, California, about hunger.  And then we just heard Raj Chetty, the economist, in this fascinating conversation with Jeff, Mark, talk about how the mobility, the ability of people to move up if they are the lowest level of the income ladder really hasn’t changed.  And, in fact, it’s gotten worse in some ways.

What are we to make of all this?

MARK SHIELDS:  I wish I had an answer for it.

I think there is no question we’re talking about this being an issue and theme that is going to dominate certainly the president’s presentation coming up.  And it’s — Judy, the reality that he talked about, the income inequality, the economic inequality in the country, in a little over a generation, we have gone from the top 1 percent having 11 percent of the national income to 25 percent, and the bottom 90 percent — that is 90 percent of the people — instead of sharing 67 percent, down to less than 50.

So that widening income and economic inequality is real.  And it has consequences that are social, that are political, and they’re generational.  And I was just blown away by the interview with Jeff.  I mean, it just — to me, it was so riveting, what he says and how he says it.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  David, how does this — what effect does this have or should have it on our public debate?

DAVID BROOKS:  Well, I’m frankly a little concerned about the way it is going to affect our public debate.

Inequality is certainly widening.  Mobility is something we have to think about as Americans.  It is the American dream.  But as a frame, it is a very broad frame.  What Mark talked about, the concentration of wealth at the top, is caused by one set of problems, middle-class wage stagnation caused by another set of problems, what is happening in the lower 20 or 40 percent caused by a different set of problems.

So you have got a whole bunch of problems all intermingled.  And my viewing, the political system I don’t think can deal with all these different problems all layered on top.  If I were President Obama doing the State of the Union address next week, I would say, where is the greatest injustice?  Where is the greatest harm?

And I would say that’s at the bottom 20 percent or the bottom 40 percent.  You take kids, what do they have to do to have a pretty — chance of a decent life?  Graduate from high school at age 19 with maybe a 2.5 GPA, not get convicted of anything, not get pregnant.  Only 37 percent of kids at the bottom 20 percent income scale are doing that, only 37 percent.

So that is where the greatest harm is.  That is already a phenomenally difficult problem.  And I would focus on that, with early childhood education, nurse-family partnerships, school programs.  I would really focus energy on that, rather than this vast society-wide issue called inequality.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  So — but do we think that he may do some of that, Mark?

MARK SHIELDS:  I think he will.

I think — and David makes a very, very, very good point and a real point.  But, Judy, when we just talk about family, and we talk about — which I think has become sort of the dividing line, one side saying it’s values that we have to do, the other side saying that there is economic war here, and I think that is something that is real.

And there are defined economic interests.  And there is one side that has won and one side that has lost.  And when we talk about children born to unmarried mothers, the country with the highest economic mobility in the world is Denmark with 55 percent of babies are born to unmarried mothers, you know?


DAVID BROOKS:  Danish unmarried mothers are not like ours.  They are living with guys and they’re living decade after decade.  They’re just not having a marriage.

MARK SHIELDS:  OK.  But, I mean, you could say that marriage then as an institution in Western Europe has suffered.

But, I mean, just to simply say that this is the answer, I think it is — it’s Globalization.  It’s the decline of all these jobs that are in the industrial base of the country.  It is a weakening of unions.  There are a dozen factors that have contributed to it.  But I think the fact that it’s being addressed is important and urgent.

DAVID BROOKS:  That is what makes it so hard as a political issue, because Mark is right.  It is economic.  It’s the decline of low-skill jobs.  It’s de-industrialization.  That leads to there are a lot of especially men who are not worth marrying, because they don’t have incomes, they don’t have wages.

And so they’re just not going to get married.  And so there is a clear economic cause there.  There is also a cultural shift, as more people decide it’s OK to have children before getting married.  And these two interplay in an incredibly complicated way that is very hard to understand and probably differs person to person.

So my view is, it is already a phenomenally thick and thorny problem.  And so by making it more thick, by putting all these society-wide things, I understand there is inequality, I understand the mobility problem.  I just think when we’re thinking about policy, it is really important to focus.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  But, sometimes, we feel the two political parties are stuck in an argument, that one makes one argument, the other one makes another.  Does this change what those arguments should be?

MARK SHIELDS:  Well, I think it — the question becomes, does the economy serve the people or do the people serve the economy?

And I think that to me is the cleavage here.  I mean, I’m sorry.  People — the economy exist, the economy is thriving, the economy is working for very powerful and influential people.  We see it.  We see it in the scandals every day in our American politics.  People with the affluence have influence.

And it comes down to, I think, a fundamental question about what kind of a society you are, is, does the economy exist for people?  And I just think we have got to figure out a way to let people participate and enable them do participate in this economy and to live a life of dignity and respect.

DAVID BROOKS:  Yes, another — just another cleavage which I do not know the answer to, is the economy properly rewarding workers?

Democrats tend to say, these are productive workers and the economy is not rewarding them because there are fewer unions and things like that.  Republicans tend to gravitate toward the issue, these are just not that productive workers and the economy is fairly rewarding them, and, therefore, the response is to increase their human capital through education and other things, so to make them more productive.

And that is sort of basic question.  Is the capitalist economy right now working, or is it not?

And when — as we said tonight, we reported the chairman of J.P. Morgan Chase making $20 million last year at a company that did have, what, 33 percent increase in profits, but also negotiated…

MARK SHIELDS:  And paid $18 billion in fines.


MARK SHIELDS:  If you are arrested as an axe murderer, you want Jamie Dimon to be bargaining for you.


MARK SHIELDS:  He has kept the company out of jail and profitable, and, I guess, so they double his salary.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Well, we mentioned you — one of you — both of you — I think Mark mentioned politicians in trouble.

The former governor of Virginia indicted today for — along with his wife — for taking money, gifts, loans from a businessman in Virginia.  And the question is whether he did anything in return.  And we don’t know whether he did, David.  But some — you hear the argument made that, well, this is the kind of thing all politicians do.

Is this the kind of thing all politicians do?

DAVID BROOKS:  No, not really.  Most politicians are not actually that into money.  That is why they went into politics.  They’re into power, they’re into prestige, they want to be the center of attention.

What is mystifying about this couple is the fascination with Rolexes and Ferraris.  I have like a $80 watch or something like that.  Why do you need a $6,500 watch?  What are you getting out of it?  He needs status.  I guess he wants a Rolex.  But he’s governor.  He has a security detail.  That’s status.

So what’s the psychology that was driving them is a bit of a mystery to me.  And then I think it’s partly because — and this is true of politicians — they spend their time hanging around rich people, constantly around rich people.  You look around the table, it’s Rolex, Rolex, Rolex, and suddenly they don’t fit in.  And that does have a corrupting effect on politicians in a variety of ways, actually.

MARK SHIELDS:  And that’s universal.

The point, the last point David made is absolutely universal.  We have a system that is excessively deferential to people with money.  Politicians spend too much of their time seeking the approbation and the support of people with money.  And a little resentment develops.  I’m not in any way justifying Bob McDonnell.

Bob McDonnell was a very appealing political figure.  He was a real possibility to be on the ticket.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  For president.

MARK SHIELDS:  He won as a conservative in a swing state, a battleground state.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Vice president.

MARK SHIELDS:  The vice president.

In Virginia, he governed as a moderate.  He was a successful governor.  But — and this is not Teapot Dome.  This is not somebody selling the mineral rights of a country.  This is not Rod Blagojevich selling a U.S. Senate seat to the highest bidder.  But it is grubby entitlement.

And the Rolex gene, which is exclusively male, is a real disorder.


MARK SHIELDS:  It truly is.  I have no idea.

I mean, Bernie Madoff had 17 Rolexes.  Jesse Jackson Jr…

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Is that right?

MARK SHIELDS:  He had 17.  And Jesse Jackson Jr., the same thing, he had a Rolex.

I have no idea what it is.  I talked to one of the smartest woman I know this week, and she said, it’s man’s real impulse to wear diamond necklaces, and Rolex is the closest thing to it that’s tolerable.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  I’m not going to ask…


JUDY WOODRUFF:  … necklace…


DAVID BROOKS:  Yes, I have got diamonds, but I don’t…


JUDY WOODRUFF:  All right, just one last quick question, speaking of politicians and money.

Hillary Clinton, we haven’t talked a lot about her in a while.  But she’s going around the country making speeches.  And I guess one of the most successful political action committees, super PACs, announced this week that it is going to be backing her.

So, again, it’s what — it’s what you both are talking about.  It’s money, it’s politics.  What does this say that, here we are, January 2014, and we’re already talking about how much money…

DAVID BROOKS:  Yes, well, they’re trying to scare people out of the race.  But, to me, it’s not going to work.

It’s the sound of doom.  No, I don’t think it’s the sound of doom, but I do not think she is going to be coronated out of this.  And the fact that some high-flying Washington establishment PAC is helping her is not going to necessarily help her.  There is a great outsider hunger here.

And I’m looking for an outsider.  Governor Jerry Brown of California, mark my words, he’s going to run.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Thirty seconds.  Thirty seconds.

MARK SHIELDS:  The election of 2016 will not be about continuity.  It will be about change.

And the idea that you’re talking about inevitability as a campaign strategy, that you better buy your ticket right now and get on the train because it’s pulling out of the station, American voters today, we are participating in this.

And I just really think that it’s a total disservice, quite frankly, to President Obama.  It makes him look more and more like a lame-duck, when his own party can’t wait to get him out of town.  It would be one thing if there was a Republican sitting it in the White House.  There is a Democrat, and he’s got basically 1,000 days left in his term.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  I just want to see what kind of watch you both are wearing.



DAVID BROOKS:  Very cheap.  Very cheap.


MARK SHIELDS:  L.L. Bean, and it’s overpriced at $89.


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