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Political Wrap

November 2, 2001 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: Finally tonight, our weekly analysis by Shields and Brooks. Syndicated columnist Mark Shields, and David Brooks of the Weekly Standard.

David, on these various alerts, where do you come down on whether they’re helpful or harmful to the public?

DAVID BROOKS: I find them useful. They tell me when I should ratchet up my level of insomnia. I mean they’re sort of these generalized warnings. I think the essential problem is they’re incredibly frustrating because they’re vague. But ultimately if they didn’t tell us anything, would we be better off?

I think we’re ultimately better off with a little bit of dribs and drabs of information they give us, Gray Davis, Governor of California. Suppose something does happen on a bridge and we find out he didn’t tell us.

That would be a catastrophe. So I think they are erring on the right side, which is publicity.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree, Mark?

MARK SHIELDS: Yeah. Jim, I think there is a heightened sense of anxiety that goes with these alerts, but I think further there isn’t a sense of public direction that’s provided. I mean the October 10th one is still in effect the last time I checked. The argument, the strongest argument for it seems to me to be —

JIM LEHRER: The one from Monday is still —

MARK SHIELDS: And the one from Monday, going back over three weeks on the 10th. And the strongest argument for me is the release of the information can disrupt the plans.

The original jet scheme catastrophe was planned, as I understand it for July, so the degree that it can throw those who are going to foment strife and difficulty and catastrophe off guard and off schedule, then I guess they serve some purpose.

JIM LEHRER: Somebody even argued that on the California bridges thing, by Davis going public, if someone was about to blow up the bridges, oh, my goodness, now they know about it – maybe they won’t do it. And that’s part of the reasoning that goes into this.

David, the House passed the Republican version of the airport security bill last night. Now this collision coming with the Senate — how do you characterize what is about to happen?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, we can’t use any crash metaphors anymore but it’s going to be nasty. The fight was over whether to federalize – the essential fight was over to federalize the workers or not federalize the workers.

After hearing the experts from Israel and Europe where 90 percent are private, I actually became persuaded that the Republican version, which is not to federalize the workers but have strict federal supervision, was the right way; they had the merits on the right side. But they made two important political mistakes. First of all, when they passed it in the House by this two-vote margin, they larded it up with pork to get that majority — parking garages for people, pay raises for other people. And that just seems unsavory right now.

The second thing they did, which is very interesting, they let the Democrats get the mantle of law and order on their side. Gephardt was able to say that federalizing the workers is the law and order approach. And these days whoever who has the law and order approach on their side has a strong media win. So the Democrats — it seems to me — have the advantage but how they’re going to reconcile the two bills let alone before Thanksgiving, which is the goal, seems very hard to imagine.

JIM LEHRER: Hard to imagine, Mark?

MARK SHIELDS: Hard to imagine, Jim. With 90 percent favorable rating, the President is going to get what he wants, and what surprises me I guess most of all is why the President chose this to make a fight and as David pointed out….

JIM LEHRER: And he did push this one, didn’t he?

MARK SHIELDS: He did, Dick Cheney — the elusive and reported alleged Vice President – was even making calls to members of Congress yesterday on specific talking to the Washington delegation about the Boeing bailout and excusing Boeing from any liability that was–

JIM LEHRER: That’s one of the things you were talking about, right — that kind of stuff.

MARK SHIELDS: I guess the idea why he chose this one to make a fight on really eludes me because, you know, here he is riding high. He had a pretty bad week if you think about it in terms of political rough patch that he hit.

I mean the news on the war is not good. The homeland efforts seem to be still in some chaos and confusion. And add to that today’s economic news of the biggest increase in unemployment in 21 years, you would think he’d want to preserve not only bipartisanship, if I was advising George Bush, I wanted a signing ceremony in the Rose Garden today. If they had passed — if he hadn’t gone full tilt, they could have passed the Senate passed bill, which is the identical bill, they could have had a Rose Garden ceremony today, and it would have I think elevated the level of comfort and confidence people in flying.

If I were an airline chief today I would be a little damned concerned because I don’t think we’re going to get an airport security bill this year.

JIM LEHRER: Because you just don’t think they can’t make it work? The ground is too much to cover?

MARK SHIELDS: I think the President — first of all we’re committed now; the President has to be personally involved and up to his eyebrows. This is a President who has been fighting a war, been managing the coalition, talking to his allies boosting international global support.

And now he is going to have to go in and deal with Fritz Hollings and John McCain and Kay Bailey Hutchison, all of whom are committed to the Senate bill. And I just think it’s going to be tough.

DAVID BROOKS: Because it’s so politically difficult as Mark says, the position he’s put himself in, it must have had to do with the merits, it must have been an earnest decision on the part of the President to say, well, look at this. Look what’s happening in Europe and Israel. And their arguments are simple.

They say when you get bureaucracies, federal bureaucracies in any country policing themselves, policing their own security system, it’s less effective. Secondly, what they have in Europe and Israel they take the airlines out of the security game — and the airlines are the ones who face the cost pressures.

And they say let’s go to a proposal where the airlines are not in the security game — not trying to cut down the wages of these people to the rock bottom level. And it must have been that kind of earnest decision. It’s going to be tough but we’re going to do it.

MARK SHIELDS: Could I just make one quick point?

JIM LEHRER: You may.

MARK SHIELDS: And that is — not to take issue with David.

JIM LEHRER: It’s okay to take issue with David.

MARK SHIELDS: I talked to half a dozen Republicans; they said, Why did George Bush do it? Not one gave David’s explanation. It comes over and sounds like psychobabble, his dad lost reelection in 1992 because of a challenge from the right wing of his own party.

And George W. Bush not only conservative but keeping the right wing, namely in this case the two figures, Tom DeLay and Dick Armey were spearheading it. Denny Hastert was ready to sign — to vote for the federalized bill and the President was ready to sign it.

JIM LEHRER: All right. You mentioned employment figures today, Mark. How do you think that’s going to affect the economic stimulus argument, if at all?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think it makes it tougher for the economic stimulus argument to include a House passed version of $671 million to GE and sort of the retroactive call, the glaring stereotypical egregious error that a party makes to define itself negatively.

I think that and I think the President’s own – the President’s triangulated on the stimulus package. He said, look, I’m not with those free spending Democrats; I’m not with those kind of loony people in my own party in the House. I have a different package. But his package, quite frankly, is very tilted to the top.

I mean a family making a million dollars, family of four struggling along on a million dollars income, will get $85,000 in tax cuts over the next four years under President Bush’s plan, whereas the firefighters, the police officers and the marine sergeants everyone making $66,500 gets not a nickel in tax cuts.

I think it’s going to make it stronger. There is going to be a stronger argument that we have to help those hurting.

JIM LEHRER: And those who are unemployed.


JIM LEHRER: That’s going to be where it is going to be fought now, right?

DAVID BROOKS: That’s right. The Senate will try to increase spending. There is a difference between the pork barrel stuff that came over from the House, which is not conservative, which is just giving money to corporations and the conservative free market stuff, which was creating permanent tax cuts.

I mean the way to think about the difference between the good stuff that’s in the bill and the bad stuff is what is permanent.

Economists tell you people change their spending patterns when they can be assured that their stream of income will be permanently changed. If you get $600, you are not going to spend it. You are going to just sock it away.

If you think your whole income stream will change for years out, you’re going to change it. You’re going to change your spending pattern, spend more, stimulate the economy.

So there really is some meat and a lot of garbage in the bill and the fear is, among a lot of people on Capitol Hill, they’ll take out the meat and keep all the garbage.

JIM LEHRER: Keep all the garbage. Look, you mentioned also, Mark, what was said last week and David, we talked last week about Tom Friedman’s column about we’re alone and one of the things Tom Friedman did not mention and as a result we did not mention when he talked about being alone is that Australia and Canada and several other countries have in fact done an awful lot to help us. We’d like to correct the record, wouldn’t we?

DAVID BROOKS: I was, after those e-mails, oh, yeah. I was in Sydney on September 11 and I was there for the next four or five days. And I’ll go to my grave with a soft spot for Australia in my heart because of their response.

There were “We’re all Americans” signs; there was a great feeling of solidarity, and I’m sure people who were in other countries felt that.

And not only to celebrate Australia and Canada and some of the other countries, but to talk about one of the stories that’s been underreported, which is the number of people around the world around the world who are supporting us.

We hear about the Arab street. We don’t hear about the French population; we don’t hear about the European population.

JIM LEHRER: Well, the demonstrations — pro-American demonstration in Iran.


JIM LEHRER: The public on its own demonstrated on the streets of Iran.

DAVID BROOKS: They’re more for us than we are. It’s been impressive.

JIM LEHRER: Yeah. Mark?

MARK SHIELDS: I’ve always had great admiration for the Australians, and especially the Australians who watch the NewsHour who obviously all have e-mail access.

I don’t think there’s any question that for the sake of argument, any of us have ever made a public argument or written a single piece perhaps over state and I think even the gifted Mr. Friedman overstated it and we echoed his overstatement.

JIM LEHRER: And yet in another context, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld left the country today to go to Central Asia, to go to Moscow. He is going to Pakistan, he is going to India, to kind of keep this coalition together, and Kofi Annan says earlier in the week, hey, if this goes on too long, the coalition is going to drop. This thing is always going to be fluid, is it not?

MARK SHIELDS: Jim, I think you could feel the support slipping. And I think that’s the President has a full week planned next week. And this is Tony Blair’s special. I mean Tony Blair said, look, he just got back from a trip to the Middle East, he said this thing is in trouble.

You have got to make the case. The Taliban has turned out to be not only of greater staying power but more adroit in dealing with public relations than I think most of us thought.

JIM LEHRER: As everybody would say, it’s still early.

DAVID BROOKS: It’s always too early.

JIM LEHRER: It’s still early.