Shields and Brooks
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MARGARET WARNER: And that brings us to the analysis of Shields and Brooks: Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and David Brooks of The Weekly Standard. So, Mark, I know you have been out to Indiana to this very district. Is this race and the way it is playing out typical of at least the contested house races around the country?
MARK SHIELDS: Not really because it’s unrepresentative, Margaret in the sense it’s an open seat, no incumbent. Both parties, it’s hard to imagine Democrats winning the House without carrying this district.
So in that sense, the attention it’s getting, as well as the money. Plus it is a very cheap media market. In other words, you can buy television. I want to echo what Professor Robert Smiler of Notre Dame said to Gwen, this is a landfill of negative commercials. Chris Chocola, the Republican candidate may be out of sync. Two years ago in 2000 may have been his year as a former CEO.
This is not a good year to be a CEO candidate as it was in 2000, as indicated by the CEO’s who were successful that year. So, you know, plus I really thought, having been there for a while, that he was running against Hillary Clinton. I saw Hillary Clinton mentioned more often in his ads critical of Jill Long Thompson, than I did Jill Long Thompson.
MARGARET WARNER: And we’re seeing a lot of the negative fisting in a lot of other races, aren’t we, David?
DAVID BROOKS: Well, this race like every race is shaped by the fact that this country has been tied for six years and that we are some a World War I situation. We’re in the sixth year of World War I. Everybody is in their trenches. They’ve lived in the trenches a long time. They have got their reliable artillery, they shoot the same old guns. It’s like World War I went on forever and ever.
There’s this thing which the piece mentioned, which Gwen mentioned, which was there’s Iraq, there’s September 11, that whole foreign affairs issue, that’s potentially the tank that upsets the whole trench warfare. Neither party knows how to deal with that. Neither party has a strategy for that, knows if they should politicize that. So the tank, these big issues, the war, is sort of off there, people talking about it. The politicians not sure how to talk about it.
MARGARET WARNER: Is that because, Mark, the Democrats, at least in contested races, are trying to move as the Democrat in this race said, stand shoulder to shoulder with the president, I mean, blur the differences on Iraq?
MARK SHIELDS: Obviously Jill Thompson is in a strange way, you can see from Gwen’s piece, that she alienated part of her activist base. I was in South Bend all of last weekend and I talked to a lot of people, a lot of good conservatives, admirers of David. I didn’t find a single person who liked the war I, who said boy it’s time. Blood lust is absent from the electorate, so there’s a difference.
Even the president, you can see, it’s tricky for the president to use this as an issue even though he gets enormously high marks as commander in chief because unlike most of his approach to the Congress this year, reached out for a large group. He passed patient bill of rights and prescription drugs on a narrow partisan basis in the House knowing full well that it would fail in the Senate, instead of trying to get two-thirds.
MARK SHIELDS: On support of the Iraq position, he obviously reached out, compromised, brought in Democrats and got — won a big victory to influence the U.N. vote and influence the public. So now it becomes very tricky for him to turn around and say my party is the good party on this and the other party is the bad party.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, one issue he is out there pounding away on David, is the fact that he doesn’t have a Department of Homeland Security.
He isn’t using it in House races because they passed it but it introduces the larger question referring to Kwame [Holman]‘s piece, is the do lack of — is the sort of do-nothing Congress, is the fact that they did so little, hurting either party?
DAVID BROOKS: I’d say the no policy Congress is hurting it, especially somewhat on homeland security but especially on the economy, because this is the number one issue on voters’ minds. Consumer confidence according to Michigan consumer indicator is down where it was in ’93.
It hasn’t been that low in nine years. So that is an issue that both parties could potentially gain upon. The problem is neither party has an economic policy. It’s like a professional wrestling match with Sergeant Null and Captain Void and Null and Void are wrestling and neither party has anything to say on the issue and in particular a problem for the Democrats.
This should be a Democratic year. 32 out of the last 34 mid-terms, the party opposed to the president has done very well; economy in the toilet. The Democrats should be trumping this. And they’ve been waiting for the economy to come up; it’s come up now, the war is, as we’ve said, is off to the side. They have nothing to say about it, so it’s not really helping them get some elevation.
MARGARET WARNER: Mark, go ahead.
MARK SHIELDS: I disagree with that. First of all, the president – and I think this goes without saying – the president is out there and it’s a little awkward for him to run as commander in chief because and keep comparing himself to Jack Kennedy and saying this is like the Cuban Missile crisis. It isn’t like the Cuban Missile Crisis. At the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis Jack Kennedy was the president, Lyndon Johnson the vice president; they stopped campaigning.
Dick Cheney was last seen with Secret Service protection at a Pocatello, Idaho soft money fund-raiser. The reality this is on the economy. The president’s party is the one that’s seen as in charge. When voters are asked simply asked by Gallup or anybody else, are you better off than you were two years ago, they say no. And they say no in numbers. The Democrats are in the position of being in the remainder man, in other words, if you don’t like what is going on,– I agree with David. There is no–.
MARGARET WARNER: Because, for instance, even though they criticize the Bush tax cut, as they call it, they’re unwilling to call for rolling it back or freezing it in place.
MARK SHIELDS: Dick Gephardt, the House Democratic leader this week, tiptoed right up to the edge of saying we have to stop the future cuts to the highest– and he was cautioned by Democrats in tough races, especially on the Senate side, you know, look it, and it comes down to the 50-50.
Every race becomes tactical. It is awfully tough to nationalize when you are trying to pick up two seats. Well if I say something in Missoula, Montana, it could adversely affect something in New Bedford, Massachusetts.
DAVID BROOKS: But it’s making the tax cut impermanent – I’m following you, General Picket, let’s make the tax cut impermanent -
MARGARET WARNER: Ten years out.
DAVID BROOKS: Yeah, that’s not exactly an issue that motivates people, and I’d say that’s one of the reasons the economy — I mean, if you look at the polls right now, the Republicans are either even or maybe even slightly ahead in the House which would be remarkable. And I think that national– that economic issue has fallen off the table.
I think by and large the other huge issue that has fallen off the table is Enron and corporate corruption, which is appearing in a few races but very few, and I think that was partly because it didn’t play in the polls the way people thought it was.
There was a Pew Poll last month that said, which party do you rust to handle corporate corruption — the Republicans had the advantage 36-31. There have been some future polls that have muddied it up a little but no clear Democratic advantage. So I’d say by and large that issue is not dominating this campaign.
MARK SHIELDS: We are getting very close to the election so I’ll have to take off David’s partisan hat for a second here. Peter Hart, the Democratic pollster, Wall Street Journal pollster has a good question. The question is on that, because that’s the aberrational, the Pew Poll was aberrational of which party — because Peter asked the question which party do you think cares more about large corporate interests, The Wall Street Journal question, who cares about average people? All right.
Not surprisingly, the Democrats won on average people. Not surprisingly, the Republicans much to their embarrassment are seen as caring by a two to one margin more for large corporate interests.
MARGARET WARNER: But, Mark, didn’t they do on that what Democrats did on tough races on the war, which is, they voted for all these new corporate accountability measures so they can say well, we saw the problem and we fixed it, makes it harder, doesn’t it?
MARK SHIELDS: It does. It does, Margaret, and I think the real failure of the Democrats to make this an issue to, to make something an issue in American politics without the White House, without a major national crisis really requires great skill and political leadership. The Democrats don’t have that.
If the Democrats controlled the House of Representatives right now, I have no doubt that this would have been a major issue because it would have been conducted, the hearings would have been conducted by Chairman John Dingell and Chairman Henry Waxman, two very gifted legislators, who would have framed it in a way that would have compelled and commanded public attention and political support.
That was not the case. It was a case again of divided control of the Congress and neither party really getting that kind of traction to make its case.
DAVID BROOKS: It is true, as you suggest, that we’re not passing legislation. We’re inoculating ourselves. That’s happening on both sides. And I think that’s why when you look at the trends in this race, not to sound like a French intellectual but the trend is that there is no trend.
MARGARET WARNER: Are you French?
DAVID BROOKS: No, thank goodness.
MARK SHIELDS: Are you an intellectual?
DAVID BROOKS: I’m a pseudo intellectual.
MARK SHIELDS: Is that how you pronounce it?
DAVID BROOKS: P-seudo. (laughing) But most of these races are local, and if you look at the ads that are being run around the country, they’re all over the place. There are a few issues that always dominate Social Security. But, you know, you’ve got local ads in different localities that have nothing in common, that are running in other districts.
MARGARET WARNER: Though I am struck — this ad of about Hillary Clinton and Ted Kennedy and the Democratic candidate, we saw almost that in a tape piece — almost the same ad in the Texas Senate race.
MARK SHIELDS: Yeah.
MARGARET WARNER: The Republican there saying the Democrat would be a reliable vote for Hillary Clinton.
MARK SHIELDS: The one thing Jill Long Thompson has had in is three Democrats. She’s had in John Bratimus, who held the seat for years, was the House Democratic Whip — president of New York University; she’s had in Birch Bayh, the former Senator from Indiana; and she had in former Senator Bill Bradley, but, you’re right she hasn’t had the face cards and Chris has been joined at the hip to the White House.
MARGARET WARNER: You get a final word to answer David’s but very briefly. He said he thinks it is trending Republican.
MARK SHIELDS: No. I think — Bill McInturff, the Republican pollster, is very candid, he’s a great apologist for his party; he said the good thing about the Iraq debate was it kept the economy off the national debate for two weeks.
And the longer it goes, the focus on the economy, the worse it is going to be for Republicans is the conclusion from that observation.