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Shields and Brooks

July 5, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT
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MARGARET WARNER: Now, our weekly analysis from Shields and Brooks; that’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and David Brooks of the “Weekly Standard.”

Mark, recently the President gave a speech– a graduation speech at West Point– in which he asserted a whole new defense doctrine, that we may strike other countries first before they strike us — virtually no reaction from Capitol Hill. We at the NewsHour did a discussion on it this week and we got tons of e-mail, a huge outpouring on both sides. My question is why has there been so little response from the Hill, do you think, including from Democrats?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think first of all, Margaret, it is a major departure from the whole policy of containment and deterrence which has been the hallmark and definition of American national security policy for the past half-century, more. And I think the question as to why there has been so little discussion, and debate and reaction is to look right at the Democrats.

It doesn’t cheer me as somebody historically sympathetic to that side, to watch them go mute. Right now, I mean, the Democrats have a whole host of issues, most of recently corporate criminality which voters think the Republicans are a lot closer to corporate interests and so forth.

So the Democrats say if we can stay as close as possible to George W. Bush, enormously popular as commander-in-chief on war issues, then we’ll force the electorate in 2002 to make their decision politically in the Congressional elections upon domestic issues. And Dick Gephardt, the House Democratic leader, has already basically given the President pre-qualification, like the credit cards you get up to $2,500.

MARGARET WARNER: Or a mortgage?

MARK SHIELDS: Yeah, that’s already good. It’s totally contrary to the politics 11 years ago.

MARGARET WARNER: How do you explain it?

DAVID BROOKS: First, I agree that it was a major speech; it was almost like George F. Kennan’s X Article to lay out the strategy for the Cold War. I do think it is the Democrats who have failed to raise it. Well, first, the media, we are not always good at conceptual stories, and I should say the “Weekly Standard,” the day after the speech, had a piece on why it was a major speech.

MARGARET WARNER: And the “New York Times” did lead that Sunday with the story. It’s not as if it wasn’t reported.

DAVID BROOKS: But the Democrats have a bad conscience about this. The liberal streets, faculty clubs and the “New York Times” readers are, in my opinion, against the Bush initiative because they think it is almost warmongering. The Democratic elites are careful not to seem hawkish – to seem not hawkish – not to seem anti-defense.

You have Tom Daschle and Joe Biden and people like that saying it’s not a question of when we oust Saddam to focus on Iraq, it’s how we do it. We want to hear more. So there is really — there would be potentially a major split in the Democratic Party if this was openly debated. Some people, like a Democratic consultant named Bill Galsten is trying to start the debate but it would split the party.

MARGARET WARNER: Mark, as you pointed out, the Democrats do think they have an issue on this corporate irresponsibility. And one thing they are jumping on the president this week involves a lucrative stock sale he made some 12 years ago where he didn’t report it in the time prescribed by law. Tell us about that. And do you think that has legs, more legs for the Democrats than this other?

MARK SHIELDS: One quick thing on David’s, and that is on the earlier discussion, the -

MARGARET WARNER: On preemption

MARK SHIELDS: — preemption, it is contrary to American self-image. It sounds like a sneak attack. Americans, we all grew up loathing Pearl Harbor; it was a sneak attack, and that’s what’s so volatile, and that’s why it does deserve to be. Is this America’s cultural value, its ethical value, as an international power – and I think that will be debated, and if it isn’t, we all ought to be ashamed of ourselves.

Twelve years ago, George W. Bush, before he ran for governor of Texas, his father was President of the United States, he was a director of a company called Harkin Petroleum, down in Texas. Just before – just before the company declared a loss on its quarterly statement, the President “to be” unloaded 212,000 shares of this at $4 a share, bringing home some $800,000, which he then used to pay off the loan to buy the Texas Rangers, which gave him sort of the populist, every-man value and credential he needed to run for governor in a strange way.

The President – you’re required as an insider to indicate file forms with the Securities and Exchange Commission if you intend to sell or if you do sell. He did file the intention to sell statement, but he didn’t file the other paper for nine months. By that point, in December of that year, the stock had fallen to a dollar a share. And the President did a lot of back-end filling, saying, no, no, it wasn’t his fault– it was this and that. This week the White House confessed the president had failed to file his papers. Does it have legs?

What it does, Margaret — the corporate credential, the business credential was a great credential politically in this country 1998, 2000, someone who had met a payroll, done all these things. All of a sudden it is becoming an albatross. I think the spate of corporate scandals are the economic equivalent of Watergate. Watergate didn’t affect every politician but it has tainted and besmudged and besmirched politics. I think it is doing the same thing to American business, so people want to distance themselves from such practices.

MARGARET WARNER: How do you see the issue?

DAVID BROOKS: Mark just reported it better than a lot of people have because the law, as Mark says, says you have to report each of these sales twice. He did it once; he didn’t do it the second time. The idea that he was trying to hide something is not true. He might have been sloppy, I don’t know we he didn’t report the second time. But the first forms, the so-called 144 Forms were filed on the day of sale. So he did report it.

Then there’s the mystery of why he didn’t report it the second time. He says it was “sloppiness.” To me the serious question and the question which has always dogged him about this Harkin Energy business from his first run for governor is was was there insider trading? Did he unload it because he knew something was going to happen?

MARGARET WARNER: Because he knew the report was coming out?

DAVID BROOKS: And the evidence so far – the SEC looked into it — every major news organization looked into it, because it looked so bad, as Mark said. The SEC and all the other investigations said there was no sign that he had material insider trading information. And so far that’s the evidence; there has been no new evidence suggesting he had any inside information.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, final topic before we leave: Al Gore. He held a retreat last weekend in Memphis, David, with some of his supporters. And the next morning blanketing all the major newspapers in this country was a story about the fact that he said to these supporters, you know, if I had it to do over again, I would just let her rip. I would be myself, I wouldn’t listen to the consultants. What did you make of (a) the substance of what he said and (b) why on earth did his folks want the whole world to know about this conversation?

DAVID BROOKS: To (b), he is running for President. This is the start. To me, I wasn’t so sure it was an attack on the consultants. It was taken as an attack on some of Bob Shrum and some of the other consultants, which was ungracious, unprofessional, unmanly really to load off when he was the weakest link in the campaign. The consultant he should have blamed was maybe his daughter. But that’s another issue.

To me it was a sign — he said “let ‘er rip”. And it’s a sign of something I see in politicians which is McCainitis. They saw McCain telling the truth, letting the red dog out for a romp, being his true self. And they said, I’m going to do that. What they don’t realize is, you have to have a true self before you can let the true self out for a romp. And there are not many politicians who can do that because their whole lives have been geared around calculation, poll reading. They don’t have candid views about these things. And to me it was a sign that Gore is slipping into the McCainiac trap of thinking I can do what McCain did, when in fact, I don’t think he can.

MARGARET WARNER: So you think — as some columnists — from Richard Cohen to Bob Novak — left to right — said he was reinventing himself again.

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I think he will have to reinvent himself. People don’t want to buy an old Madonna album, they don’t want to buy an old product; they don’t want to buy an old Gore.

MARGARET WARNER: How did you see it?

MARK SHIELDS: In 1961, after the failure of the Bay of Pigs, John Kennedy, the President of the United States, said success has many fathers, failure is an orphan; I take full responsibility for what happened. He went to 83 percent in the polls. It was not only the right thing to do; it was the politically insightful thing to do.

First of all, nobody outside of us is interested in what went on in a losing campaign. We are consumed with it. Most people in the country don’t care about it. For Al Gore to get up there and say it was somebody else’s mistakes and why was he listening to these people? Why was he paying them if they were such disasters? And so I think in that sense it was a serious mistake.

One of Bush’s folks in after 2000 election said to me, you know, we had a lot tougher job in the debates than Gore did. I said what do you mean? George Bush had to debate three different people. Al Gore in the three different debates was three different people and managed to lose an election when three out of four voters on Election Day said they were living in the best economic times of their life. That was an achievement.

MARGARET WARNER: Thank you both very much. Have a great weekend.