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Shields and Brooks

December 6, 2002 at 12:00 AM EST
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MARGARET WARNER: And now to our weekly analysis from Shields and Brooks, syndicated columnist Mark Shields and David Brooks of the Weekly Standard.

So David, what would you add to the earlier discussion about the O’Neill-Lindsey purge, first of all no doubts that they were fired?

DAVID BROOKS: Absolutely no doubt. They wouldn’t take a hint. I guess what I would add, I would emphasize the policy differences between Paul O’Neill and the rest of administration. He really was sort of the monk at the bachelor party. They really wanted much more stimulative activity. He was one arguing that the economy is not in that terrible shape. Maybe what we have got in the pipeline will already work and we don’t need anything knew. And he was never one comfortable championing the tax cuts the president wants.

And in the administration there’s this fascinating debate over what sort of tax cuts should come out over the next several months. Some people want cuts in the taxes on dividends, raising the levels of write-offs on capital losses — things that would really boost investor confidence — and some other people say the problem is over supply and you have got to build up the demand side.

So there’s this debate on which kind of tax policy, which is a nuts and bolts debate, a debate about the shape of the economy, and then Paul O’Neill is out there in left field talking about getting rid of the income tax and putting in a consumption tax. He was just odd man out.

MARGARET WARNER: So policy-driven decision?

MARK SHIELDS: I don’t think policy-driven, Margaret.

First of all, on a personal level, I found it astounding. There was no value in the Bush family hierarchy of values more important than loyalty.

There has been nobody more loyal to him than Larry Lindsey, and not to allow him to leave with dignity and with his own self-respect publicly I thought was just callous and cruel beyond measure. I do not understand it. I have seen this happen in the Nixon administration, the Carter administration, in the Ford administration. It never works out.

When you wholesale change of personnel — this is not — all they are trying to do is change the salesmen. They are not trying to change the product. There’s not a question here about the product being wrong.

They are saying we’re going into war, Larry Lindsey committed a cardinal sin; he admitted it was going to cost something. This was supposed to be a war that’s not going to cost anything in blood or treasure or dollars, and so Larry Lindsey put a price tag on it. My God almighty for committing the ugly truth, he was frozen out.

MARGARET WARNER: He said $200 billion.

MARK SHIELDS: He said $200 billion and he was frozen out.

So I think in that sense it spoke volumes about something that always happens in politics.

I’ll make this prediction unequivocally, and that is victory breeds arrogance, arrogance breeds acts like we saw today. I mean, the idea that you can dismiss somebody out of hand and with absolutely no care — the message that sent to the rest of administration and to the people working is not a good message.

DAVID BROOKS: I agree with a lot of that. I think the trashing and the background trashing that’s gone on, especially Larry Lindsey today is unseemly.

MARGARET WARNER: For months.

DAVID BROOKS: And for months. I don’t think it’s arrogance, though. I think they see it as loyalty. Remember Linda Chavez — the almost-labor secretary — when they decided to cut her, they trashed her, too. That’s we’ve got to protect the president. That’s not so much the president’s personality; it’s the underlings saying we have got to protect the president so they cut somebody.

MARGARET WARNER: Now what about Mark’s belief or point that this is really not about changing policy, it’s just changing the public face?

DAVID BROOKS: We’ve got two resignations here or two firings, and I think it’s different for each one. I think the Paul O’Neill thing was just policy. He just wasn’t comfortable with the Bush policy, so he’s always off with Bono somewhere.

The Larry Lindsey thing I think is not policy. I think he was always comfortable with the Bush policy. Here is a guy who was at Harvard; he was with the Fed; he was at the American Enterprise Institute, academic, a very good economist. You come into this job; it’s not about academics; it’s not about even economic substance so much; it’s about running the process. And you have got a guy totally unprepared for the job and he doesn’t do that great of work.

MARGARET WARNER: What do they need and what are you hearing about possible replacements?

MARK SHIELDS: There’s a laundry list a mile wide — from Phil Gramm, the former Senator from Texas. His loyalty is a key — he is probably disqualified from the outset there. He and President Bush have never been close — from Texas; to Charles Schwab, the..

MARGARET WARNER: Discount broker.

MARK SHIELDS: — buccaneer, discount broker. Trying to reassure Wall Street is he the right guy – I guess at one level, Margaret, what this hit me they get 6 percent unemployment figure this morning. They are not into the weekend with that being the dominant story. They don’t want that to be this on Sunday.

So what you do is you behead these people as callously as you can on Friday so that becomes the story that they are gone. This is movement. Personnel is policy or something of the sort and then Iraq takes over after that.

And I think what they are looking for is they are looking for Robert Rubin. The great character actor, Hershel Bernardi once said there are three stages in an actor’s career, ‘who is Hershel Bernardi, and the second is get me Hershel Bernardi, and the third is get me a Hershel Bernardi type and the final stage is who is Hershel Bernardi.’ They are looking for a Robert Rubin. They are not going to find him. He was an enormously respected, successful and able Secretary of the Treasury.

MARGARET WARNER: So in other words they need somebody very good inside and very good outside.

DAVID BROOKS: They are looking for somebody who agrees with the president and they are looking for somebody with political experience which I think rules out Charles Schwab. Ken Lay available — but I had to make that joke before Mark did.

MARGARET WARNER: Let’s switch to Iraq. This is the final build up to the big declaration coming up this weekend. You’ve got a week plus of these early inspections.

How well do you think the White House has handled this so far?

DAVID BROOKS: I think quite well. I think Saddam Hussein has handled it well for them. If they stick to their story that they have no weapons of mass destruction, that just makes life easy for the Bush administration. They could have come out and said we have this and this but not nukes or not that. That would have made it tough.

But if` you come out and say we have nothing, well, then that makes it easy to say this is a material breach of the U.N. Resolution. The U.N. resolution says no omissions, that’s in Article IV; in Article III, the U.N. Resolution is very fastidious about what you have to list, and if this 8,000 page document doesn’t list the stuff and does have omissions, it becomes easy for the Bush administration to say next week or two weeks later it’s a material breach and win some support around the world for that position.

MARK SHIELDS: I think that the president made it obvious this week where he stood on it that Saddam long before the report was due, that he is not interested in complying.

MARGARET WARNER: Always a liar, still a liar.

MARK SHIELDS: Always a liar, still a liar; doesn’t want to take yes for an answer. I think that’s at work. I think that the consensus that emerges in the administration is it that if Iraq wants to avoid a war, it better actively cooperate in its own disarming.

I think that’s the message in spite of the rifts — the fissures that seem to be Powell, Rumsfeld, wherever — I think that’s the consensus that has emerged from this administration. There won’t be immediately military action because we’re not ready for it. I think that’s an important element in this.

DAVID BROOKS: I do want to mention our magazine is reporting next week based on documents given to the Turkish government that they are just looking for sites to have bases to launch and they’ll do that till January 15, then begin construction on January 15, so we’re really still looking at February or something far away.

MARGARET WARNER: And they are still mired in this U.N. process. I mean now they’re talking about not being made public, the U.S. may never get its hands on this document for another week or more. They have to play this string out for a while.

DAVID BROOKS: And they have made commitments to the people who are on board that they will let this thing play out for a while. But it should be said there has been tremendous progress over the past couple of months getting NATO allies on board, getting Saudi Arabia and Turkey somewhat on board.

So there’s been this backstage process of building alliances even outside of the U.S.

MARGARET WARNER: What do you make, Mark, in the administration being pretty clear in conveying that they lack confidence in the inspections process?

MARK SHIELDS: You know, Margaret, I guess if I were an inspector and part of that process, I would feel a little bit dissed by that.

MARGARET WARNER: No to mention Hans Blix.

MARK SHIELDS: And the United States is sitting there with all this intelligence that has enabled official after official to say we’re absolutely sure, and you’re an inspector and you don’t have access to it.

And I assume they’re going to make this public after what David calls the material breach. I would point out the agreement on the part of Turkey does not come just voluntarily. I mean, Turkey has exacted its own price –

MARGARET WARNER: You mean the agreement –.

MARK SHIELDS: Major dollars and forgiveness of debt and as well all out U.S. support for its admission into the European Union, something that Greece has historically, our longtime ally, has opposed.

And Saudi Arabia I think is probably trying to compensate for what has been a flurry of bad stories about Saudi Arabia and its support, direct or indirect, call it what you want, of Osama bin Laden.

DAVID BROOKS: I do think Bush should give a shout out to Hans Blix so he doesn’t feel dissed anymore.

MARK SHIELDS: I think the inspectors now they’re going to be up to 100, I guess, coming this week.

MARGARET WARNER: Before we go the Louisiana race, Mark? Do you have a prediction? How do you see it playing out?

MARK SHIELDS: I mean, what is fascinating about this race as Kwame reported so well in the piece is the Republicans want to nationalize the race and Mary Landrieu, the Democrat running for reelection, is running on local issues — issues where the administration, Bush administration has been unhelpful to Louisiana workers or Louisiana industries.

What they talk about one third of the electorate being African-American — also Catholic; this is the most Catholic state outside the Midwest and the Northeast.

Susie Terrell is running as the most pro-life candidate in the history of I think politics. She is not only against abortion, which is a pro life position; she is against contraception of any sort, and she accused Mary Landrieu — I mean, that includes condoms, diaphragms, prescription drugs — and she also accuses Mary Landrieu of having left the Catholic Church, and so I don’t t know how that plays out because these are not — these are French Catholics — these are not necessarily ones who take their direction from the Vatican.

MARGARET WARNER: Your final thought, David.

DAVID BROOKS: Just that it’s the democratic strategy. The Democratic dilemma in short form: Do you go for the base or do you try to widen the base.

MARGARET WARNER: We’ll leave it there. We’ll know next week. Thank you both.