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Vote 2002 – Shields and Brooks

November 5, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT
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JIM LEHRER: Election night with Shields and Brooks. Here tonight, as they’ve been throughout this campaign season, are syndicated columnist Mark Shields, and David Brooks of the Weekly Standard.

So, David, how should this campaign of 2002 be remembered, the campaign? We’ll worry about the results when we know them, but all we know about now is the campaign.

DAVID BROOKS: It was a saucy little campaign, mischievous yet pretentious. (Laughing) it was not a wine, it was not a fine wine. I’ve come optimistically to regard it as the last campaign of the 20th century, the campaign that dealt with issues that have been focus groups by the parties decade after decade, the issues of Social Security, tax cuts versus spending, those conventional issues.

To me, the big issues which are looming out there which are passionate on people’s minds but which the two parties did not want to talk about because they’re so unpredictable are the issues that arise out of America being the super power of the world: Issues like the war in Iraq, issues like terrorism, the war on terrorism, issues like globalization. And those issues will be the issues of the next Presidential and the next midterm elections. We are at the end of a big long debate over big government versus small government. That debate has stagnated.

JIM LEHRER: Yeah. How would you characterize it, Mark?

MARK SHIELDS: Jim, it’s an election that has not been about one thing. I mean if 1992 is the year of the woman and 1994 was the year of the angry male and 1998 was the year of impeachment, this is an election following one of the truly most wrenching national experiences of the last half century, the bombing of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the total collapse of confidence in large American institutions, the Catholic Church, corporations, accounting, stockbrokers, and more close races than I can ever recall, more money spent. Yet it was election that really never did or a campaign that never engaged the American people or their intention. And I guess….

JIM LEHRER: Is that… go ahead.

MARK SHIELDS: I guess that’s part of it. And people have complained about the fact that the campaign has been negative. I think the reason the campaign… it’s no more… with the exception of a couple of cases where Senate candidates against Democratic incumbents used Osama bin Laden as image in attack commercials, it hasn’t been more negatives in the past. It’s just been a lot less positive in part because what David said. The Republicans are for privatization of Social Security. They recoiled from any discussion of it. Democrats really think the tax cut, at least the future part of it that goes to the top 1%, ought to be repealed or frozen. And yet they wouldn’t go near that. It’s a very tactical election because it’s a 50-50 nation. It’s a 50-50 Congress. And nobody was willing to take a chance.

JIM LEHRER: And yet, David, as Mark said, this was the first election after this wrenching experience of 9/11, 2001. And we said on this program, many people said on this program and everybody else’s program and everybody else’s news organization, this was going to change the nature of American politics. It didn’t, did it?

DAVID BROOKS: No but it’s going to.

JIM LEHRER: It’s going to.

DAVID BROOKS: I firmly believe that because the passion is on issues like the war and Iraq, the passion all arises out of America’s dominant role of globalization.

JIM LEHRER: Why didn’t it take over in this campaign?

DAVID BROOKS: I think the two parties have these establishments who have focus groups what we they want to talk about down to the word, what words you should use, what words you shouldn’t use. They’re not going to take a chance. If you’re in a 50-50 race, as so many of these competitive seats are, you’re not going to take a chance with Iraq. You’re going to use the words the consultants tell you to use because you don’t want to blow it not only for yourself but, remember, you could blow it for your whole party so that encourages caution.

JIM LEHRER: What does President Bush have at stake in this election tonight?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, it’s interesting, Jim. Fewer than one out of two voters say that — interpret their vote today as up or down, for or against the President. Yet every President — the mid-term elections are viewed as a referendum of sorts. And the President, I think it’s hard to argue he certainly went the distance for his party. He ended up in Arkansas, which I thought was interesting. The one Senate seat, Tim Hutchinson that most Republicans have written off and yet he went there in the last day, which kind of said, “I’m not just taking the easy ones. I’m going to the tough ones.” So I think the President cannot be accused of not being a strong party leader. He has been that. If in fact he defies history and the Republicans as some of them were quietly and I mean confidently saying they pick up House seats, that would be precedent shattering. I don’t think there’s going to be a realignment on Capitol Hill. There’s not going to be a 30-seat margin on either side.

JIM LEHRER: What do you see the President’s ride in this?

DAVID BROOKS: I don’t think it congeals around him or as Mark said earlier around anything else. The nice way to frame that is this is still a big country. You go to the Susquehanna where there’s one sort of race – you go to the Mississippi Delta, there’s entirely different sort of race going. You go to Georgia, Colorado, the foot hills. This is a big country. And Republicans and Democrats in New York have a lot more in common with each other than they do with people in Georgia or Colorado.

So the regional differences of this country really are the things that leap out at me. It was a constant in a lot of the campaigns; they would say so and so has Georgia values, so and so has Colorado values, so and so has New York values. I don’t think quite what that means except for that people their own values are pretty solid. They worry about Washington values.

JIM LEHRER: So it’s not necessarily a bad thing.

DAVID BROOKS: No. I mean, this is a big country and a diverse country.

JIM LEHRER: All right. We have to leave it there for now. Thank you both.