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Political Wrap

October 5, 2001 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: Shields and Brooks; syndicated columnist Mark Shields and The Weekly Standard’s David Brooks. David, how in general is Congress doing so far in conducting its business post-September 11 do you think?


JIM LEHRER: Mediocre.

DAVID BROOKS: President Bush has recognized the historic pivot that the neck decade is not going to look like the last decade and has focused all his energy on transforming his administration quite radically to focus on this coming war. We had a Washington Post front-page story today say there go is a strong likelihood of another attack and he has fixated on that. Some in Congress on the Republican side think we’re still in the Contract with America days. Some on the Democratic side think we’re back in the great society. They have not shifted as quickly as the administration.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree?

MARK SHIELDS: I don’t. I think, Jim, that the bipartisanship, which is an unnatural condition for members of Congress. They got elected as partisans. Politics is about differences. All of a sudden what they’ve done subcontracted their own autonomy and independence as members of Congress, overwhelmingly they have, to their leadership. I mean all of a sudden Dick Gephardt is representing Democrats who are used to being pretty vocal and pretty independent and quite obstreperous at the same time Denny Hastert has had to tame the Flat Earth Society in the Republican Caucus, which is not an easy task at any given moment.

And I think the bipartisanship is frayed and coming unglued but I think up until now they’ve done a remarkable job. My evidence for it is this. The House Judiciary Committee, the most partisan committee in the entire Congress, remember the impeachment of Bill Clinton, some of the most liberal Democrats, most conservative Republicans, unanimously passed the internal securities requested by the administration, rewrote some of them but that Attorney General Ashcroft had asked for.

JIM LEHRER: What do you mean by mediocre? Give us a specific.

DAVID BROOKS: Well, let’s take the stimulus package.


DAVID BROOKS: Bush has done two things. First of all, he’s said it is going to be big, $75 billion on top of what they had already done. But then he said I’m not going to get in a fight about it; I’m not going to distract the nation’s attention by getting in a big fight over what exactly it is going to be. He proposed some extension of unemployment benefits, he proposed tax cuts, but he made it perfectly clear…

JIM LEHRER: He followed that up today with some tax cuts.

DAVID BROOKS: With some more — his priorities of speeding up the marginal rate cuts and things like that but made it abundantly clear that he is going to strike a deal. And there are lot of Republicans who are extremely angry. You say you have all this popularity, 110 percent approval or whatever it is, use it, let’s get some capital gains cuts; let’s get some long-term cuts. But he is saying no. That’s not where I’m going to fight. I have a bigger fish to fry. He is keeping his eye on the priorities. In Congress that’s just not happening.

MARK SHIELDS: I have to disagree again.

JIM LEHRER: That’s okay. It’s new but it’s okay.

MARK SHIELDS: Welcome. But Jim, I think David’s absolutely right. Up until today, I thought the president had more than extended the olive branch; consulted with the Democratic leadership and all the rest of it. I thought the extended of unemployment not only showed a sensitivity that you expect in a great leader but at the same time it showed an awareness to what his father had failed to do in 1991 with his own great victory in the Persian Gulf and then to come back and appear indifferent and removed from the economic suffering and pain that was going on here at home. But today to me he did this this afternoon without any notice.

JIM LEHRER: Corporate tax thing.

MARK SHIELDS: The corporate tax thing, the accelerated marginal rates being cut, the alternative minimum tax. He didn’t consult; he didn’t even tell them. They didn’t know there was going to be an announcement. Now I agree with David, he’s at 90 percent in the nation, which means 110 percent among Republicans. I think if anything he bowed to the pressure from the right. They got both Hastert, Denny Hastert, Speaker of the House, and Trent Lott, the Republican leader were getting a lot of flack within their own caucuses that the president was too moderate.

JIM LEHRER: What happens now, though, David? How do they work this out? He’s still the president, no matter what he is proposing, he is still saying you guys go work it out. Here is what I think. You guys go work it out and come back and do it quickly, right?

DAVID BROOKS: Yeah, but he is going to win. Mark is absolutely right. In the House the Republican rank and file is upset. One of them told me a joking around circles — not a good joke – but it’s that we Republicans do the “bi” and those Democrats do the partisan in bipartisan. I told you it was not a big laugh line. And they were complaining, one House leadership guy told me there were only four votes in Congress that matter these days, Hastert, Daschle, Lott, and Gephardt — and we don’t matter. But at the end of the day they know they are going to bow to the president; they know they’re going to cave in; they’re going at it with a sense of fatalism with the exception perhaps of Phil Gramm.

JIM LEHRER: What about the anti-terrorism legislation? How is that dividing up?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, in that case there are two bills going through the Congress, one in the House, one in the Senate. The Senate one is a little closer to the president’s plan. Again I think it’s an under reaction. You know the people who are scaling back the Ashcroft bill, if there’s another — God forbid — another attack, they’re going to look like the Neville Chamberlains of the terror war.

JIM LEHRER: Risky business for them.

DAVID BROOKS: I think it is risky business, and the Ashcroft bill is not so dramatic, I mean it doesn’t even underlie — doesn’t even solve the essential problems we faced with September 11. We had a case of a guy from Algeria who went to flight school in Minnesota and he said I want to learn to fly a plane but I don’t care about landing it. And so the flight school told the authorities this guy is a problem. The French government told us they were on the watch list but the FBI could not get a warrant to investigate the hard drive of his computer because the Justice Department said, no, you haven’t met the criteria. This bill doesn’t even address that kind of problem.

JIM LEHRER: Mark, what do you think?

MARK SHIELDS: I think, Jim, first of all – to answer your earlier question, I think the president will get whatever he wants at this point. If the President wanted the 14-year-old vote, he is at 90 percent. He has got a united Republican Party. So he’ll get his tax cuts. He’ll get it through. I just think it means the end of bipartisanship because it is going to be jammed through. A lot of Democrats will vote for it but there’s that lack of collaboration and collegiality and consultation. I think David raises a legitimate point.

JIM LEHRER: Do you disagree with him again?


MARK SHIELDS: I disagree with about 13 percent. I think he is 100 percent right 13 percent of the time. I think, Jim, where Democrats were getting a little sensitive, that they would be susceptible to the charge of foot dragging.

JIM LEHRER: On the anti-terrorism.

MARK SHIELDS: In the Senate side so I think you’ll see a bill emerge early next week.

JIM LEHRER: What about — where do you read the state of play on whether or not the airport security thing is going to be completely federalized? In other words there are going to be federal workers eventually at every X-ray machine period.

MARK SHIELDS: There is a great old catch phrase that Americans are philosophically conservative and operationally liberal, that is, you ask Americans the abstract, what about the federal government, pain in the neck, too much red tape – how everyone told that just outside of Pocatello a single can of tuna fish has been discovered with a trace of botulism, says where the hell is the federal government? And that’s where the American people are right now; they’re not interested in privatization.

They want to be safe and they want the same standards in Duluth and Detroit as there are in Washington and they want the same training; they want the same personnel. They want the same technology. And this again the Flat Earth Society and the Republican side are the only ones who are opposing this because they say this is 28,000 more federal employees, all of whom will be union members. That’s the principal argument against it.


DAVID BROOKS: That’s exactly right. That’s the principle argument, but the other argument, the other, more substantive argument is in Europe they don’t have federal workers; they have private workers controlled by the government and there it seems to work very well. They pay them enough so they can stay on the job. Listen, Mark is describing a situation sort of crabby bipartisanship where Congress is forced to be bipartisan hating it the whole time.

You make me long for the partisan days, which I didn’t think were so great. But what we are seeing is a transformation, both parties in Congress are being dragged kicking and screaming into a new decade, the Republicans are getting a little more Giulianish, a little more law and order, a little more confrontational and the Democrats are getting a little more Scoop Jacksonish, a little more hawkish on defense. They’re not liking it but they are getting dragged there.

MARK SHIELDS: I’m not ready to say that metamorphosis is complete at this point, because Harry Truman once said about bipartisanship, anybody who tells me is a bipartisan, I know that means he is going to vote against me. I think that really is the definition.

JIM LEHRER: Speaking of history here, let’s move on for final moments here to Mike Mansfield. As you all know, he died today at 98, former Democratic Senator from Montana, he was the longest serving Senate Majority Leader. Well, during the Kennedy years he was attacked for failing to enact many of the administration’s legislative initiatives.

On November 22, 1963, he was set to go to the floor and answer the criticism. But the speech was not delivered because of President Kennedy’s assassination. Well three years ago Mansfield did deliver that speech to a group of Senators in the old Senate chambers. Here’s a piece of what he said.

MIKE MANSFIELD: I achieved the height of my political ambitions when I was elected Senator from Montana. When the Senate saw fit to designate me as Majority Leader, it was the Senate’s choice, not mine. And what the Senate has bestowed it is always at liberty to revoke. But so long as I have this responsibility, it will be discharged to the best of my ability by me as I am. I would not even if I could presume to a tough-mindedness which, with all due respect to those who use this cliché, I have always had difficulty in distinguishing from soft- headedness and simple- mindedness.

I shall not don any mandarin’s robes or any skin other than that to which I am accustomed in order that I may look like a Majority Leader or sound like a Majority Leader, however a Majority Leader is supposed to look or sound. I am what I am, and no title, political face-lifter, or image- maker can alter it.

JIM LEHRER: A reminder that that was a special lecture thing that he did. That was just three years ago. He was 95 years old at the time, delivering the speech that he had originally written to be delivered on the floor of the Senate on November 22, 1963. Mark, what is it we should remember about this man?

MARK SHIELDS: This man, Jim, biography’s history, this man had an incredible life, orphaned, sent to Montana to live — quit school in the eighth grade, joined the Navy at the age of 14 in World War I. From the Navy he went to the Army, served in the Army honorably and then became a Marine. And the only reason he wore a Marine tie clasp till the day he died every day of his life was the Marines kept their promise to send him overseas and made him a PFC. He came back, finished school and became a professor of Asian history.

Jim, this man was the anti-Senator Fog Horn. He never had a press secretary. He was free of bombast, free of cant, he was — his nemesis, Senator Hugh Scott – Republican leader of the Senate — said he was the most decent human being I ever met. And he was at the center of great battles, war and peace, impeachment great society, civil rights, gun control. And for a whole generation, I can honestly say that nobody involved in those struggles on either side, had anything but respect and affection for Mike Mansfield, the longest Majority Leader in history and the longest United States ambassador to Japan in history appointed by Jimmy Carter and kept by Ronald Reagan — two Presidents who agreed on precious little.

JIM LEHRER: That’s a remarkable record, David.

DAVID BROOKS: He was modest. Most politicians are sort of freakish in that they have this maniacal urge to dominate every room they enter. But he didn’t have that. He was a genuinely modest person became Majority Leader after Lyndon Johnson, who did tower over the Senate, he said, no, I’m going to be the first among equals. We’re going to have a collegial relationship here. And he was attacked for that; that’s why he was challenged by Thomas Dodd saying you are failing to lead — famous among talk show hosts by giving extremely short answers. His answer was yup, nope.

JIM LEHRER: I can bear witness to sat that. I interviewed him more than once but one particular time, right here in this studio, somebody figured it up afterwards, that I asked 40 questions and one of them I said, well, why do you feel that way? He said– why is your position… “Because that’s how I feel.” I said but what are your reasons? “I have them.” I mean that’s how it went. Are you in favor of that? “Nope.” It was amazing.

MARK SHIELDS: One of the great putdowns he ever had, Joe McCarthy, the red baiting Joe McCarthy of Wisconsin went out to campaign against Mansfield when he first ran for the Senate in 1952, accused him of coddling Communists — this man who had honorably discharged from three services – the war — of being a dupe. Mansfield wins despite of McCarthy and the Eisenhower landslide and comes back and at one point gets on the Senate subway to go to over to the Senate and the Senate Office Building and Joe McCarthy sits down and says, Hi, Mike, he says, how are things in Montana. And he turns to him and says, “a lot better since you left.” That was it. That was Mike Mansfield.

JIM LEHRER: That was Mike Mansfield. And whoever met him will remember him and everybody who has read about him and has been affected by him will remember him. All right. Thank you all very much.