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Political Wrap

September 21, 2001 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: That brings us to Shields and Brooks; syndicated columnist Mark Shields, joined tonight by his new regular partner, David Brooks of the Weekly Standard. Welcome, David.

DAVID BROOKS: Thank you.

JIM LEHRER: Formally welcome – you’ve been here many, many times before.

The polls and the editorials — as Terry just reported — are almost unanimous in their praise and support for what the President said and what he did last night. Twenty-four hours later, almost 24 hours later, do you think that’s justified?

DAVID BROOKS: Yeah, I thought it was magnificent last night. In the cold light of day I think it’s even more magnificent. What he did wassomething his father never did with the Desert Storm War, which was he connected this struggle with the nation’s highest ideals, really grandest aspirations. Remember when James Baker said Desert Storm was about jobs, jobs, jobs and made it seem kind of tawdry? What Bush said, he connected to Abraham Lincoln’s phrase that America is the last best hope of earth, that we have sort of a noble mission in the world. For a guy who, for most of his career, has talked about family and domestic issues, sort of governor issues to rise as President to these global issues was really impressive. I think whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican it spoke to something that is deep to you as an American.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree, Mark?

MARK SHIELDS: Yeah, Jim. I thought the President was resolute; I thought he was forceful; I thought he was reassuring. An historian friend of mine in Maine, Alan Ginsburg, who was not a supporter of the President’s, called today had a great formulation. He said under a cloud of controversy George W. Bush was inaugurated on January 20. There’s no mistaking on September 20 he was President. He was President for everybody. I don’t think there’s any question about that. There was an ominous message however in that — that is, he said very frankly up front there’s going to be fatalities; there’s going to be casualties. This isn’t Kosovo, and that we had better prepare for it.

JIM LEHRER: Yeah. The speech last night aside, David, do you think he has prepared the country because there’s talk already tonight that there may be military action sooner rather than later, in the next several days. Is the country ready?

DAVID BROOKS: Yeah, and we don’t even know, you know, when you start World War II or the Civil War, you have no notion of what the war is going to be like. Nobody pictured Guadal Canal. I think he did a good job in this respect: There’s a debate in his administration over how wide is the concentric circles of enemy, the concentric circles of who is our enemy. Is it just the Taliban? Does it extend out to Iraq; does it extend out to Syria? And I think while not taking a firm side in that debate, which is in his administration, he suggested it’s broad. If you look at the goals he sketched out, which is really the root-and-branch removal of these terror networks, it’s hard to see doing that with Saddam Hussein in power in three or four years. So I think he prepared us for a long campaign.

JIM LEHRER: Mark, a week ago tonight, you criticized the way the President had been leading, had been handling this up until then. And we caught a lot of negative reaction.


JIM LEHRER: It came through us to you — e-mail and mail and whatever. How do you feel about the way he’s handling this thing? Forget, you know, the speech is part of it, but just generally how do you feel now a week later?

MARK SHIELDS: As I said then, Jim, anybody who appears to be partisan or sniping of a President at the time of crisis, national crisis, risks criticism — whether that person be in the press or in politics. And I got it. There’s no question about it. I don’t think there’s any question that the President, while I criticized him for, I thought, being lacking sure footedness at the outset, has demonstrated this week, particularly symbolically, the trip to the mosque here in Washington, his speech last night about tolerance and about narrowing who the enemy was, I think that the President has performed more than ably — as I said forceful with resolution. Just one point picking up on David’s – and that is, unlike Desert Storm when there was almost a seamless unity with Brent Scowcroft and Jim Baker and Dick Cheney and Colin Powell, there are open fissures right now and I’d say worse than that there’s open criticism of Colin Powell by people like Richard Perle — who is a major advisor to the President — Paul Wolfowitz is questioning whether, in fact, the coalition is too broad; it’s going to limit action. Whether you don’t go in.

JIM LEHRER: Can’t please everybody.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right. What we learned then, Jim and I think it’s awfully important. I defended President Bush then, President Bush the first on Baghdad and Saddam Hussein, and that is the coalition would have come unglued — there’s no question about it — if he had gone into Baghdad and tried to occupy it in 1991. A coalition does limit what you can do, but you’re relying upon coalition partners for intelligence, for all sorts of assistance that can be provided only by them and we can’t get anyplace else.

JIM LEHRER: What is your further take on that, what the divisions are now within the administration? Who is arguing what and why?

DAVID BROOKS: The divisions are stark and the shorthand answer is the Defense Department — which is Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz — think we should really go wholeheartedly and talk about Iraq, talk about regimes that are starting terror, talk about ending states — which is the language Paul Wolfowitz used. And then the shorthand answer is the State Department in its role wants to build a coalition, less aggressive about going after Iraq, less aggressive about going after regimes. That is the two fundamental sides. It should be said they are both extremely loyal to Bush. And Bush is an extremely confident leader I think we’ve discovered. I think at the end of the day they will determine where he stands. If you had to score who is winning that debate– and it’s not over– I think you have to say defense is winning based on the speech last night.

JIM LEHRER: Mark, another thing. The one thing the President did not say last night was that this economy needs to be stimulated. The stock market went down another 140 points today, as Margaret just discussed. And the issue, of course, is, as Alan Greenspan and Treasury Secretary O’Neill said, you know, we should wait. Clearly the President tuned in to them and said I will do it their way. Has he made a mistake? What do you think about that?

MARK SHIELDS: I think there were two shortcomings in his speech. I think the first was the failure to call for sacrifice at home. I thought it was a marvelous opportunity to say — I’m going to ask you to buy bonds, I’m going to ask you to pay ten cents more a gallon for gas or whatever so that the burden would be distributed that we’d all have a sense of participation. That was one. But the second I think, Jim, I think the President is to be commended in resisting the temptation and rejecting the advice that, look, in the spirit of bipartisanship is a time to slip through the agenda — and cutting the capital gains tax which, of course, has been a long…

JIM LEHRER: By the way, I have a highway over here I’d like to, that’s a defense highway.

MARK SHIELDS: Exactly. You can make the case easier against the capital gains tax because as Margaret’s piece showed after this week there are no capital gains left on Wall Street. So there’s nothing to tax.

DAVID BROOKS: You should meet my broker.

JIM LEHRER: What do you think about that, David? Did the President… Is the President following the right course there?

DAVID BROOKS: Yeah. He did in the speech because it was a lofty speech. It was right to stay lofty not to get down in the gutter of economics. He’s not going to make the mistake his father made of ignoring domestic policy. They’ve got a separate counsel in the White House – a domestic response team to challenge something through. And one thing we know about all wars is that when you fund guns, those founding of guns flows on a river of butter. There is going to be an active domestic agenda, a lot of spending, a lot of tax relief, maybe payroll tax relief, maybe corporate tax relief. There’s going to be an active domestic agenda. It happens every time there’s a war because in a climate without partisanship, things pass.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree?

MARK SHIELDS: I would simply say that the exception or the contradiction to that was World War II when taxes went up extraordinarily high. Spending goes up. Spending increased tenfold between 1940 and 1945 in this country, not surprisingly.

JIM LEHRER: You have to raise taxes in order to pay for it.

MARK SHIELDS: You have to raise taxes to pay for it. I think we will get into it. I think there will be a struggle especially if there’s an attempt for the corporate income tax.

JIM LEHRER: What do you think about helping the airlines out — Congress is clearly going to do that, $15 billion later tonight?

MARK SHIELDS: The bipartisanship. This is a perfect example of it, Jim, in a crisis. Ordinarily five CEO’s as well healed as these fellows come in to tin-cup the Congress.

JIM LEHRER: I’ve just been told in the magic earpiece in my ear that the Senate just passed the airline bill 96 to 1.

MARK SHIELDS: Absolutely.

JIM LEHRER: All right? Now you know.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s the spirit of bipartisanship. Ordinarily you would have expected that these fellows are coming in wanting money and we’re going to lay some causes down, some conditions. First of all we would insist upon improved security, which the airlines had tried to do on the cheap. Second we would have required that the airlines….

JIM LEHRER: They used to have to pay for it themselves.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right. They paid for it as cheaply as they could — thousands of people being laid off will — they get health benefits for the next 12 months would be part of the package. None of these CEO’s would walk away with golden parachutes.

JIM LEHRER: If they get a loan under this bill – in other words — If an airline gets a guaranteed loan, the CEO can’t make over $300,000 that year.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right.

DAVID BROOKS: That’s bad news for the caterers at Greenwich, Connecticut.

MARK SHIELDS: I think what we’re trying to work out today was the… was some sort of understanding of what we do next as far as airline security, airport security and so forth.

DAVID BROOKS: This would have been usually controversial in any normal time. Democrats would have taken a look at the shareholders of these airlines and said are these the people who need a subsidy from the taxpayer? Republicans would have said what about the marketplace? Maybe we have too many airlines. Maybe some of them should go bankrupt or they should consolidate. Let the market rule. Others would have said why help the airlines and the insurance industry but not the hotels and restaurants and all the other people who are being hurt. This would have been hugely controversial but in the spirit of “let’s do something” it’s passed.

JIM LEHRER: Speaking of let’s do something and to finish here, based on what the President said last night and any evidence that each of you have picked up on your own, how close do you believe we are to something happening in a military way?

MARK SHIELDS: I don’t know. I’ve heard it moved up that they’re talking about action. But I haven’t had anybody in a real position of authority tell me. It’s just all been speculation.

JIM LEHRER: What about David.

DAVID BROOKS: They haven’t called me to serve. There might be something. I think the military experts I’ve talked to say just looking at the way the movements are the short-term thing may be short term but there’s a possibility of really massive movement around Afghanistan, around Pakistan, really a big sort of campaign.

JIM LEHRER: Sooner rather than later?

DAVID BROOKS: I don’t know.

JIM LEHRER: Who knows what sooner is.

MARK SHIELDS: Yeah. I think, Jim, one thing that really did impress me is that the bipartisanship is like unlike anything I’ve ever seen. For those of us who cover Capitol Hill it’s not a very good story. I had four Democrats close to Dick Gephardt tell me how much they admired Denny Hastert this week, the Republican Speaker.

JIM LEHRER: There’s also the fact that you don’t know anything and nobody else does also attributes to Rumsfeld that says nobody talks and nobody is.


JIM LEHRER: Thank you both very much.