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Political Wrap

November 9, 2001 at 12:00 AM EDT
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JIM LEHRER: Finally tonight, our weekly analysis by Shields and Brooks. To set them up, some excerpts from President Bush’s speech last night in Atlanta. He called for a new volunteer force for civil defense.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Many ask, “what can I do to help in our fight?” The answer is simple. All of us can become a September 11 volunteer by making a commitment to service in our own communities. So you can serve your country by tutoring or mentoring a child, comforting the afflicted, housing those in need of shelter and a home. You can participate in your neighborhood watch or crime stoppers. You can become a volunteer in a hospital, emergency medical, fire or rescue unit. You can support our troops in the field and, just as importantly, support their families here at home by becoming active in the USO or groups in communities near our military installations.

We also will encourage service to country by creating new opportunities within the Americorps and Seniorcorps programs for public safety and public health efforts. We will ask state and local officials to create a new, modern civil defense service similar to local volunteer fire departments to respond to local emergencies when the manpower of governments is stretched thin. We will find ways to train and mobilize more volunteers to help when rescue and health emergencies arise. Americans have a lot to offer. So I’ve created a task force to develop additional ways people can get directly involved in this war effort by making our homes and neighborhoods and schools and workplaces safer. And I call on all Americans to serve by bettering our communities and thereby defy and defeat the terrorists. We must be vigilant. Obviously we must inspect our mail, stay informed on public health matters. We will not give in to exaggerated fears or passing rumors.

We will rely on good judgment and good old common sense. We will care for those who have lost loved ones and comfort those who might at times feel afraid. We will not judge fellow Americans by appearance, ethnic background, or religious faith. We will defend… (Applause) We will defend the values of our country and we will live by them. We will persevere in this struggle no matter how long it takes to prevail. (Applause)

JIM LEHRER: And to syndicated columnist Mark Shields and David Brooks of the Weekly Standard. David, as a speech, what did you think of it?

DAVID BROOKS: It was true. The guy was a cheerleader in high school. He knows how to give a pep rally. To put it politely, I’d say there’s a level of sophistication. There’s a difference between the level in the sophistication and that speech. We don’t need to be rallied. The American people are 90 percent behind this president. I think it’s a great idea for the president to give monthly updates but he has to give a little more information, a little more substance. I loved the speech. I clapped but i didn’t get that much out of it at the end of the day.

MARK SHIELDS: I don’t disagree with David. I would say that the President responded indirectly to the criticism that he had not challenged the American people to sort of… To participate.

JIM LEHRER: You said that on this program many times. We haven’t been asked to do anything.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right. He walked right up to the edge and he couldn’t quite bite the bullet. I mean he talked about supporting our military, supporting the military families. He didn’t ask young Americans to consider enlist inning the military. I think that the call for volunteers is a good one but again it’s individual rather than communal. That’s probably reflective of George Bush’s inherent philosophy. It was very reminiscent of his dad, a thousand points of light, that we do it this way rather than this sense of a communal effort. We were all doing the same thing and asked to do the same thing.

JIM LEHRER: But, David, he did ask for… He talked about Americorps and Seniorcorps and he asked for people to, he asked for states to help set up civil defense corps and that sort of thing. So there were some specifics.

DAVID BROOKS: That was the big new specific. The story of Americorps is a remarkable story. It started with Senator Sam Nunn in 1988 — I guess it was. Bill Clinton picked it up. The Republicans fought it but it’s been accepted by the Republicans. 49 of the 50 Governors a year ago signed a letter supporting Americorps. Bush embraced expanding it for civil defense. There’s a bill introduced this week that goes right to what Mark is talking about, sponsored by John McCain and Evan Bayh, which would quintuple the size of Americorps to 250,000 volunteers a year. It would do exactly what Mark is talking about, making more of a communal experience, make it more of a character-building experience. The other thing it would do, it would give kids a chance to enlist in the army for 18 months, to have some sort of military experience in their lives even if it’s not going to be their career and it’s funny how this debate is shifting and shifting right up to this Bayh-McCain bill.

JIM LEHRER: Don’t you have a feeling, Mark, that it’s going to go even further? Don’t you pick up a desire of young people and others who want to do something?

MARK SHIELDS: I think it’s there, Jim. I don’t think it’s limited to generations by any means. John McCain I give him credit for it. He opposed Americorps when it came along. There were a lot of cheap shots taken by a lot of conservatives on it. He embraced it. The person who lined up the 49 Republican governors was Mark Lasko… The Republican governor of Montana one of the closest governors to George W. Bush. In the middle of the oil crisis of 1975 Gerry Ford, accidental President, sort of a conventional Republican from Michigan, Michigan the home state of the American automobile industry, confronted with this, the price rise and the threat to the American economy, what did Gerry Ford do? He dramatically challenged the American people and said we’re going to double the miles per gallon the cars are going to get. That was a bold thing. He was told my god you’re going to sink the American automobile industry. How can you do this Mr. President? This is a matter of national mission. That’s what’s missing I think up until now.

JIM LEHRER: Is it only just a speech now? Does he have to do something else tomorrow and the next day, David?

DAVID BROOKS: He has to build on this volunteership. I do think there is among young people a real interest in this. I’ve spent a lot of time on college campuses the last year. A year ago it was junior workaholics of America. They were going to practice, doing studying. They didn’t have time to date because they had to get that investment-banking job. I went back to college campuses in the last two weeks places like Princeton and Yale, the whole gamut of education. I cover from A all the way over to B. But I found kids who wanted to enroll in the CIA as a career, State Department as a career. Furious debates. These kids had no interest in politics four months ago. Now they’ve got interest in politics. I actually think they would respond to this sort of thing.

JIM LEHRER: Is it going to happen mark? I mean, is it just McCain and Bayh? Is it just the President speaking? Does it go beyond that?

MARK SHIELDS: It requires leadership, Jim.

JIM LEHRER: From whom?

MARK SHIELDS: I think the President. The President has the bully pulpit. He’s the commander in chief, the preacher in chief. I recall I came to Washington in the early 1960s because of the words that John Kennedy had talked about, public service being a high calling and a moral obligation — that politics was important, that public service mattered. There was a young Peace Corps volunteer who went off in 1962 and to follow up on David it just made me think of it they asked him why he did it. He said nobody ever asked me to do anything. Kennedy asked me. So I did. I think that there’s got to be an asking and it has to come from the top.

JIM LEHRER: There’s another thing involved in that speech last night that was pointed out and David Sanger the New York Times pointed out in his news story about the speech that as a candidate George W. Bush said you can’t trust the federal government. Last night he said you must trust the federal government. We are there. Help us do all of this. Circumstances do change things, do they not?

DAVID BROOKS: The whole 1990s were premised on the idea of harmony. The world was in harmony. We could decentralize everything. Now we’re in a world of conflict and the effect of that is to re-legitimize central authority, which is to say we respect the people who keep law and order. This causes problems for both parties because there are anti-establishment wings in both parties who don’t like the idea of central authority. It’s a big problem for the Republicans. We’ve seen it on the left as well with sort of left wing groups splintering off from liberal group. On the right it’s libertarians who are in a sour mood splintering off from law and order. Republicans.

JIM LEHRER: Some pure politics for a moments. Elections, back to normalcy.

DAVID BROOKS: Not with this high level of national….

JIM LEHRER: Tuesday’s elections. A big one in New York. Michael Bloomberg, Republican, defeats Mark Green, a Democrat for mayor. What needs to be said about that, Mark?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, Jim, in any off-year election if the side you’re rooting for wins, there’s an irresistible temptation to say this is a national trend of historic proportions and global dimensions.

JIM LEHRER: Two county commissioners…

MARK SHIELDS: Exactly. When your side loses it was individual factors peculiar to that particular state. September 11 mattered in New York. And it mattered because Rudy Giuliani, I don’t believe endorsements mean anything generally politically. When one politician endorses another I have never heard a voter say in 40 years in this business I voted for George McGovern or I voted for Bob Dole because my lieutenant governor endorsed him. Every time a lieutenant governor endorses I vote for that candidate for President. Rudy Giuliani had not only defined the job of mayor of New York, he had reached….

JIM LEHRER: Since September 11.

MARK SHIELDS: He had gone beyond it as a national and certainly a local icon. So when Rudy Giuliani said, “this is the person we need” on October 27, Michael Bloomberg who spent more money in the last weekend of the campaign than Mark Green spent in the whole campaign, I mean he spent $55 million. That’s accounted for at this point. Could distribute that message and it was ready for people in the city who were concerned about the economy of that city. All of a sudden Michael Bloomberg’s success story as a businessman had a real salience to them. They were worried about the economy. So I don’t think there’s any question that the events of September 11 changed New York politics.

JIM LEHRER: You agree?

DAVID BROOKS: I agree partly. It’s partly Bloomberg’s money but it’s partly the Democratic Party imploded. I’m loving this because the Democrats in New York are horrible at campaigning. They’re fantastic at recriminations. You’re in the presence of greatness when they’re poisoning each other’s punch bowl. They are now doing it on racial grounds, on class grounds. The central argument is that the African-American community led by Al Sharpton or at least that portion led by Al Sharpton stabbed Mark Green in the back because he wasn’t nice to them on this, that or the other issue and this is a long-term problem for New York Democrats and maybe national Democrats. There will be an interesting race next year, an African- American guy will run for governor against Andrew Cuomo, white guy. There is going to be incredible pressure for Andrew Cuomo to get out of that race so we don’t have the white liberal black and Hispanic liberal feud which we had here and doomed mark green.

JIM LEHRER: What about Mark Green? A lot of people said he wasn’t a terribly good candidate either.

DAVID BROOKS: He’s been losing since i was four years old. Every year the ball drops in times square in New York mark green loses an election. Some people would take the hint. They have a 5-to-1 registration advantage the Democrats. To lose three mayoral elections in a row, that takes incredible talent.

JIM LEHRER: Two other big races: The governor’s race in Virginia and in New Jersey. Read a trend there. If there is one to read.

MARK SHIELDS: I would say that….

JIM LEHRER: Democrats won both of them.

MARK SHIELDS: The Democrats had not won either of them since 1989.

JIM LEHRER: Now we’re going to get a trend here.

MARK SHIELDS: In that sense… Sometime in the last century a Democrat was elected governor in Virginia. I think, Jim, what you have here are two things. First of all, David talks about the civil war and the leper colony on Democrats. That’s what New Jersey Republican went through. They nominated an enormously attractive appealing fellow I thought, a very conservative mayor of Jersey City and he beat the establishment. He had some positions that certainly put him at odds on social issues: Guns and abortion — with the preponderance of moderates in New Jersey. But he then got gutted by his own party. I mean they just said to hell with him and kind of cut him loose. The Democrat did a smart thing. And the Democrat who won inoculated himself on the issue of taxes early. The Republicans, there’s nothing more enduring in American politics than an idea that once won either the White House or the State House Republicans will now just talk taxes, taxes, taxes. They tried the same thing in Virginia against Mark Warner, a Democrat who did a very smart thing. He went out early and kind of went to de-demonize himself to those sections of the state where Democrats had done poorly in the past with farmers, with hunters with sportsmen and said, look, I am not a… I’m not a devil.

JIM LEHRER: Add or subtract.

DAVID BROOKS: I just add one thing, which is the suburbs. The suburbs used to be Republican and now they’re becoming Democratic bastions. The Republican advantage. Especially in rich suburbs — that’s gone. North shore of Chicago, San Jose, California, main line Philadelphia, northern Virginia, Westchester County, they’re all gone Democratic. Brooks Brothers chain moves in, everybody is voting for the Democratic candidate. That helped Mark Warner in Virginia and New Jersey is I think the second or third richest state in America; there’s not a rich state in America, which is not Democratic.

JIM LEHRER: I didn’t realize Brooks owned a chain of anything, did you?

MARK SHIELDS: Brooks Brothers.

DAVID BROOKS: Where do you think I get these clothes.

MARK SHIELDS: Is that a conflict of interest? (laughter)

JIM LEHRER: Thank you both very much.