Shields and Brooks
[Sorry, the video for this story has expired, but you can still read the transcript below. ]
RAY SUAREZ: And now we return to, syndicated columnist Mark Shields and David Brooks of the Weekly Standard. Well, as the world was going on with its problems, California looked all but certain to hold a recall vote. Both parties have conceded that this thing looks like an inevitability. What do you think, David?
DAVID BROOKS: I think it’s the future of American politics. I’ll tell you why. I think there is this thing about the French government, that France is governed by dictatorship interrupted by riots. And California is governed by apathy interrupted by petitions. You’ve got this out of touch electorate that really doesn’t pay attention 95 percent of the time. You’ve got a very insular political class, Democrats and Republicans up there in Sacramento serving their own little interests and most of the time nothing happens, but then there is an eruption and suddenly the whole place spasmodically changes and they have got a petition; they’ve got a referendum. And to me, this is the problem, when you have a disengaged electorate. You have got these populous upsurges, which then shake everything up and that’s what California is doing much to the detriment of honest, normal, you know, procedural government in California.
RAY SUAREZ: Does this upset the apple cart in a way that is not good for Californians? I mean, this guy was not just reelected five years ago. This was just the other day.
DAVID BROOKS: This is not democracy. Democracy is not the majority gets to change its mind every two years; democracy is about protection of minorities, it’s about understanding how process works, how governments work. There are some times when elected leaders should take unpopular positions. I’m not sure Gray Davis is worth defending here, but the procedure of elections every four-years, or however many, is worth defending and this is a mockery of it.
MARK SHIELDS: David has just laid out the case that the Gray Davis people will use, which is that this is a rupture, an overthrow of the normal legal, constitutional, legislative and political processes, that it is a right-wing coup to impose their agenda through the use of money and the election of the next governor by 18 or 20 percent of the vote. Gray Davis has never been, David’s right, a candidate who said, let me tell you who I am, what I hope and dream and what together we can do to make this a better California. Gray Davis has always been basically, I may be no day at the beach but the other guy is no month in the country. That has been his constant theme. I’m not saying he won’t prevail in this. But more serious I think of all this, that California has really … California had the two greatest governors, I think this nation has had the 20th century, Earl Warren, a Republic and Pat Brown a Democrat.
DAVID BROOKS: I thought you were going to say Ronald Reagan.
MARK SHIELDS: I wasn’t going to say Ronald Reagan. Ronald Reagan was not a great governor. He was a popular governor. He wasn’t a great governor. California built the America of the future. Highway system, the freeways, California built the greatest, the greatest higher education system – public — in the nation, at low or no cost, available to everybody in the state. They provided water. I mean it was just a state that provided opportunity and there was the home office of American optimism. Over the past 25 years, because of what David has outlined beginning with Proposition 13, California’s public education has plummeted to the point where the envy of the nation 40 years ago, Ray, is now in the bottom half on per capita spending on students. They’re studying in overcrowded buildings and there’s nothing about this election that is going to change it, because whoever is elected, there is pain and there’s suffering and there’s shortages that are going to be required.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, David, talk a little bit about the politics, because both sides have a lot to lose on this, don’t they?
DAVID BROOKS: Yes. The Republicans have potentially something to gain because they had no shot of getting the governorship. It has become a Democratic state. It started out as a Republican thing, Republican congressman, starting the petition – but I think it’s spread beyond that. I’ve had so many Democrats tell me with we voted for this guy, we didn’t like him. People just didn’t like Gray Davis. Then you get the budget shortfall and it becomes poisonous. To me, the upset is there’s a two-stage ballot. First you vote should we recall the guy. And then there’s another set of who do we want to replace him. The person who wins the second ballot, assuming the first part passes, could win with a very small percentage of the vote. Therefore a Republican could do very well when a Republican could not win the governorship under normal circumstances.
RAY SUAREZ: Let’s move on to gay marriage because we’ve got the Supreme Court in Massachusetts about to rule, various courts in Canada opening the doors there, and the United States Supreme Court overturning the Texas sodomy law, which is seen as a great opening by a great civil rights campaigners for gray rights. Has America really changed that much on this score?
MARK SHIELDS: I don’t think it has changed to the point where a court judgment is going to be acceptable in defining gay marriage. As we saw in the earlier piece, and a good one it was, Betty Ann’s piece, that there is a greater tolerance in the country than there was. Americans do not want to return to an America where gay people were persecuted, where they were bullied, and where they were made to feel unwelcomed and uncomfortable. I think a civil union is probably doable and acceptable. But when you say marriage, immediately it raises — every religion has its own standards, its own values as to who can be married in its church or who cannot be married. I think that changes the debate and changes the dimension. But a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, that is what is known in the trade as a wedge issue. That’s the flag burning constitutional amendment, going nowhere but it may be that we can throw it out there, sort of raw meat to the real animals and they’ll go for it.
RAY SUAREZ: How does a compassionate conservative handle this one, David?
DAVID BROOKS: It depends on your age. More than any other issue, age really determines how you feel about gay marriage. By two to one, people over 65 disapprove of acceptance of homosexuality. By almost two to one, people under 30 approve of it and say homosexuality is an acceptable lifestyle. I see it in my own conservative insular world like many conservatives and people in the Bush White House, when I wake up in the morning, I log on to Andrew Sullivan.com, a gay conservative Web logger writing from Provincetown. All these Republicans, their first human contact in the morning is with a gay Catholic. That’s just typical of the way the whole issue is changing. So there is another saying that intellectual history moves forward in a hearse. And I think there will be a gradual move as this young generation goes through the age groups of a greater and greater acceptance of gay marriage. But after this ruling there was a sense from the pro gay activists and the anti gay activists that somehow things had dramatically changed and there were going to be marriages in St Paul and Ru Paul is going to be the Rose Bowl Queen or something. It’s not going to be that dramatic.
RAY SUAREZ: Do you agree with Mark that the constitutional amendment is a non-starter.
DAVID BROOKS: Definitely. Flag burning amendment which 90 percent of the American people could not get passed.
RAY SUAREZ: Quickly let’s look at unemployment claims being up this week and in the same week, Bush’s numbers on confidence and handling the economy down. How does it look to you?
MARK SHIELDS: I think what it has meant more than anything else is that Democrats, perception is reality in American politics. And a lot of Democrats almost consigned this election was over in 2004. George Bush was going to get reelected. I think really the economic numbers — the tax cuts aren’t producing jobs, the president coming back to earth on his handling of the economy was as well as his handling of foreign policy, all of a sudden Democrats are saying, gee, maybe we have a chance.
DAVID BROOKS: I think a slight chance. Interesting question to me is say the economy stagnates what do we do? Nobody has any policies, right or left. We’ve used them all up.
RAY SUAREZ: Does this have the potential for being a real Achilles Heel as we move into the fall.
DAVID BROOKS: We have all productivity on all things except job growth and what’s what people vote on.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, fellahs, thanks a lot.