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Shields and Brooks

September 27, 2002 at 12:00 AM EST
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MARGARET WARNER: For analysis of all this, we turn to Shields and Brooks, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, and David Brooks of the “Weekly Standard.” Hello, gentlemen. So, David, what happened to the Democrats this week?

DAVID BROOKS: Perestroika, Glasnost, the reign of the totalitarian Daschle was broken and you are allowed to have a debate about Iraq. To me the most important speech was Kennedy’s. I think it was the first time a major Democratic politician gave a very good, a very professional speech against the president’s policies.

He uttered the arguments very well that you have to make if you are against it, that we can deter Saddam, that inspectors will work, that if we go in there, it will unleash a whirlwind. I thought it was a very competent, very professional speech. To me, one of the things that was notably lacking in the speech was the tone and specifically for Ted Kennedy was the tone of lack of compassion.

MARGARET WARNER: Was the tone of what?

DAVID BROOKS: A lack of compassion. A tone of almost meanness, that we are going to sit here in a gated community while the tide of despotism spreads across the Middle East and we are not going to do anything about it. And I thought that there are serious arguments on both sides on the weapons of mass destruction but there is also an argument about idealism and pessimism. And in this debate, the president has the advantage of envisioning a new and better Middle East that the Democrats or at least Ted Kennedy can’t match.

MARGARET WARNER: Mark, was it Al Gore’s speech Monday that took the brick out of the dam or whatever? I mean, before that, you had no Democratic leaders saying this kind of thing publicly.

MARK SHIELDS: I think there are a couple of factors and certainly Al Gore was a catalyst, an important catalyst and major voice. And I thought his particular indictment of the vagueness of post-war Iraq and our commitment toward a lack of commitment was quite relevant and very important. But I think, Margaret, in the set-up piece, what the reality was the Democrats realized that Karl Rove had said it publicly last January.

We are going to create an issues context that is favorable for our candidates in October. And to the Republican National Committee, he said war and who is stronger on war helps Republicans. And when you say Condi Rice came on the show and said the security of the country, the president has never made that a political issue and you get two million e-mails going out and attacking essentially the question of the Democrats’ patriotism and whether in fact they are indifferent to the security of the United States. I think that just set off a flame.

Plus, I think there was an overreach on what initially happened, just to be brief, is the Democrats have based their opposition more or less on process. The president was acting unilaterally, hadn’t gone to the U.N., hadn’t consulted. The president goes to the U.N. and makes what people say is a good speech and all of a sudden Democrats are kind of back on their heels.

They don’t want the war but their arguments have been based on process and he has met the procedural objections. At that point the Democrats started looking at the resolution that was presented and it was truly overreaching, the region, the president’s definition of what we are going to do and all the rest of it, plus, I mean, in that resolution, the president went so far, or the White House actually which wrote it, not the Secretary of State who wrote the resolution, went so far as to say, we condemn Saddam Hussein because he used chemical weapons, poison gas in the past against another country.

That was in 1988. That was when Iraq was being backed by the United States in the Iraq-Iran War and with our support and without our criticism from the Reagan-Bush administration. 14 years later, we are condemning him for, a little hypocritical for something we didn’t say anything about at the time.

MARGARET WARNER: Let’s go back to the politics just for another minute with the Democrats, David. Do you think it was a coincidence that Daschle’s outburst also came on the day that the polls started coming out showing that Iraq has edged up now and is even with the economy in voters’ minds. In other words that what the Democrats suspected the Karl Rove strategy had worked?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I really don’t think so. I think this is a substantive debate. Daschle has a problem. Daschle has a split party. He doesn’t have a view on the substance of this issue. Whether we go into Iraq, Daschle hasn’t made a big speech on whether we should go into Iraq.

The president had a major foreign policy doctrine, the most ambitious doctrine change in a generation. Daschle hasn’t made a speech about that. He had a televised temper tantrum and probably a sincere one, over how we are going to debate these issues.

And that was an evasion of the core issues. But what it did was it allowed him to appear tough about Bush without challenging the substantive Bush and allowed him to say something that all Democrats can agree with. I don’t fault Ted Kennedy because he is tackling the issues. I fault Tom Daschle because he is evading the issues.

MARGARET WARNER: But he had to have been feeling some sort of pressure.

DAVID BROOKS: Well, you know, you can psychologize all about 2004. You’ve got John Kerry and Al Gore suddenly on the left side; you’ve got John Edwards, Joe Lieberman on the right. And there is the 2004 element that plays in but how much it plays into their speeches is something you don’t know unless you can read their souls.

MARGARET WARNER: How important do you think, Mark, too, the Democratic leadership, are the views of the Democratic rank and file, because again when we look at surveys and you really look at people who say I’m a Democrat, there seems to be a lot of unease about this policy on substantive grounds.

MARK SHIELDS: It’s fascinating. In a strange way, Tom Daschle and the Democrats are doing the president a favor and have done him a favor because I thought the most revealing survey all week was this Gallup “USA Today”-CNN poll in which they asked all these different situations, would you back the United States going to war against Iraq with the U.N. backing? Like three out of four would say yes. With allies, maybe two out of three. By ourselves, three out of five oppose.

And the president had started down a unilateral road. What is going to be required now, I think, because of the Democrats, and because of the Democrats in Congress, are going to say you are going to have to be multilateral. You are going to have to certify that you’ve gone to the U.N.; that’s the big debate, Margaret, politically.

The tension right now on the Republican side is on those Republicans like Colin Powell, the Secretary of State, who wants a big bipartisan vote on Capitol Hill in favor of this. So he is willing to accommodate the criticisms, to take in all the considerations and doubts and reservations they have to get those Democratic votes so he can go to the United Nations and persuade allies, look, this country is strongly in favor of the president. The president is not steam rolling it.

MARGARET WARNER: And he is making the argument inside the administration.

MARK SHIELDS: He is and on the other side is Tom DeLay and the other Republicans who were right about holding on to the House who didn’t like the fact that the president on Thursday appears in the Rose Garden surrounded by House Democrats who are in tough races and that he is storming — he is upset as Delay — calling the White House saying what is going on? This is a campaign picture for Democrats. They wanted it to be an RD vote.

DAVID BROOKS: I’m going to drag us back to the core issue. Tom Delay is not the core issue here. The core issue is the president and the president said he is going to be multilateral. As we go into war right now we would have Spain. There has movement in Saudi Arabia, a half dozen European countries.

MARGARET WARNER: But would you say, David, that there is a slight shift at least rhetorically in the president in the last couple of days. The clips we were watching where he said if not, he didn’t say if he U.N. doesn’t act you, we will or I — he said if the U.N. doesn’t act, we will lead a coalition. I mean, he seems to be– whether it is a real change or not, rhetorically there is.

DAVID BROOKS: Yeah. But he’s always felt the way you start a coalition is exactly the way his father did. His father said this will not stand. And then he got the coalition behind that leadership. That’s always been the Bush policy. Colin Powell has been traveling around the world with Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz ginning up this coalition for six months. Maybe rhetorically it has changed, they’ve always been for moving multilaterally.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. So what do you think now is going to happen really on the Hill? I mean, I gather this resolution for it is going to come up next week. Is there really going to be any change in what the White House wants?

DAVID BROOKS: It looks like there’s going to be a change restricting it to Iraq. There was early language that would be region wide and then giving the Congress some role of oversight or at least some information, getting informed about how things go.

I have to say, as I look at Ted Kennedy on one side and George Bush on the other, I really can foresee us getting to a median point, which you might call the ultimatum policy, where the U.N. gives an ultimatum: Three weeks, six weeks, full inspections, full disclosures or there’s war. That’s a policy that both George Bush and Ted Kennedy from the speech today can sign on to and that may be where we end up.

MARK SHIELDS: I think what is going to happen on the Hill right now, Senator Byrd is threatening a filibuster, which would postpone it. It’s tough to do a filibuster all by yourself. But Democrats are divided. Tom Daschle has not taken a position on this. He is working – he’s got a real problem internally among Democrats in the sense that a number of Democrats have already endorsed the president’s position or committed to it, who are up in tough reelection fights. So he doesn’t want…

MARGARET WARNER: Like?

MARK SHIELDS: Mary Landrieu in Louisiana, Max Cleland in Georgia, Tim Johnson, Tom Daschle’s own colleague in South Dakota, Jean Carnahan in Missouri. So, you know, he doesn’t want to cut them loose– or make it tough for them– but there are Democrats in the Senate who are saying, look, we insist upon these, we insist that it be multilateral. It is going to be open-ended.

What David just described is a timetable that goes three, four, five months in the future. At some point the president should be required to come back and report, should there be something multilateral. I think you’ll hear these arguments but I think there is no question that the president has the votes to cut off debate on Capitol Hill and to get his resolution approved with those modifications.

DAVID BROOKS: There’s something disturbing going on, which is if you are supporting the president, that’s a patriotic stance if you’re doing it out of principle. If you are opposing him on principle, that’s a patriotic stance. There are a lot of people in Congress who are going to vote one way and their conscience tells them to vote the other.

MARGARET WARNER: On both sides.

DAVID BROOKS: On both sides. Absolutely true. If you are voting against your conscience on a matter of war and peace, that really is dishonorable, that is putting party above country. If you are trying to close down debate, to me that’s dishonorable. There are real villains here, something really dishonorable going on.

MARGARET WARNER: When Condi Rice was on the show, she suggested that they wouldn’t mind limiting it to Iraq and having the reporting requirement but she seemed to draw the line on any resolution that would tie the president’s actions to the U.N. You think they can find a common ground on that point?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, that’s obviously the tougher sell. Mark is right. They are going to get a resolution passed by a huge majority out of the Congress. The U.N. is really much more up in the air. They’re working, but they have got three members of the Security Council who seem to be against them, the issue there is: do we have one resolution, Senate inspectors and automatic war, or do we need two resolutions — have war with the second. They don’t want to be hand tied by the dictators of China and Russia. Just because the guys in China don’t want to do it doesn’t mean we can’t do it.

MARGARET WARNER: Quick final question in one minute to the two of you. Do you think Democrats who oppose the president in this are taking a political risk?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, it’s short-term. If the election is November and that’s all it is about, there is a risk, especially if you are in a state where the president… I mean the states I mentioned, the president carried virtually all of them, so that is a problem.

Just one quick thing and I’ll give it to David and that is this: That Tom Daschle, I don’t think it was an orchestrated tantrum. I think it was a genuine response. That night meeting of the Senate Democrats he got a standing ovation. And the fact that Dan Inouye came down and sat behind him on the Senate floor with an arm missing shows the depths of their anger and their fury at what they was cheap politicization by the White House.

DAVID BROOKS: There’s huge risks for both sides. Mark and I went at it last week because we passionately disagree but there is high downside risk on both sides. It could be catastrophic either way so everybody is taking a huge risk.

MARGARET WARNER: More next week. Thank you both.