Shields and Brooks
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RAY SUAREZ: And that brings us to the analysis of Shields and Brooks, syndicated columnist Mark Shields and David Brooks of the Weekly Standard.
Well, Mark, this week American troops, we lost more on the ground in Iraq. But they managed to capture and kill Qusay and Uday Hussein.
MARK SHIELDS: Absolutely, Ray, and the world is a better place and Iraq is a better place with the removal and absence of those two clones of their father. But the joy of that is — there is joy — is diluted and sobered by the news of dozens of attacks every week now on American troops.
And it’s amazing to me, if we could find the informants to tell us where Saddam’s sons, and are confident that we may even be closing in on Saddam himself, it’s amazing that we haven’t found one person who will come forward and tell us were there any weapons. We now have examined every single location that was on the list that the American intelligence provided and we’ve turned up absolutely nothing.
RAY SUAREZ: Is there a $15 million reward to find weapons of mass destruction?
MARK SHIELDS: If you recall, Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said they will come running to us with the information as soon as we’re there. That was his unequivocal prediction at the time. So the capture and the elimination — good news, but there’s a lot of bad news and there are more and more caskets coming back to Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, every week.
DAVID BROOKS: First, let me take issue with the weapons charge. First of all, some people have come forward — nuclear scientists dug up a nuclear centrifuge and gave it to U.S. troops. David Kay, the arms inspector there, says they’re interviewing — the problem was they were interviewing top scientists, getting very little, now interviewing mid-level scientists and apparently getting a lot.
Pat Roberts, other senators have gone and spoken to David Kay, who hasn’t released his report. They’ve come back very impressed saying we are going to have a full report, testimony, evidence of the program.
But generally about Iraq, it seems to me that it has been a good week because there is improvisation in the right direction. They’re correcting errors they made. One of the errors they made was basically ending the war at Baghdad on October 9 and not going aggressively into the Sunni triangle around Mosul, and now they’re correcting that error. They’re doing it aggressively, and this operation that killed the brothers was part of that.
The second thing they’re improvising on and correcting a past mistake was in not handing power over to the Iraqis. And now they’re doing that a little more aggressively. So they made a lot of mistakes in the beginning. But I think the lesson in the last week, in the last two weeks, has been some real progress.
And so I think, you know, there still is this guerrilla war going on. But with the death of these two brothers, and maybe the death of Saddam sometime in the near future, maybe that will crush the hopes of the Baathists who are still fighting.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, Mark mentioned Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz predicting that people would flock to the American side once they had taken over the country. Was this an American miscalculation, not just Wolfowitz, but missing that while they hated Saddam Hussein and many did, that didn’t necessarily mean that they would love the arrival of the United States.
DAVID BROOKS: There have been two polls done in the past month or so. And I’m dubious about polls in Iraq because how do they do it?
But they’ve come to similar results, which is that 80 percent of the people in Iraq want the U.S. to stay, not for a long time but about a year. They’re both around 80 percent. So we hear about the 20 percent – is a lot who can fight and kill you – but 80 percent is also a lot. I think there is widespread, if uncomfortable and anxiety ridden support.
MARK SHIELDS: Okay, let me just say that two generals before the war – whose patriotism and credentials were earned in the crucible of combat and not in corporate funded Washington think tanks — warned, and I think their warning stands today – and that is after the war is over, we are still the first western, Christian pro-Israeli, invading and occupying army of a Muslim holy land, and I think that miscalculation continues to haunt us at a terrible price.
And I’ll be very frank. The United States, the people of the United States will not continue to tolerate indefinitely and nor with a political reality continue to sustain those kind of casualties – when that is borne solely by Americans who are in the U.S. Military and there is no sacrifice being borne any place else. That’s a very blunt assessment, it’s a political assessment as well. And I can tell you politicians, who support the president, who have supported the president, were told it was an imminent threat, are now furious.
RAY SUAREZ: Very quickly.
DAVID BROOKS: Well, you know, I think the American people have long decided this is something we are going to suffer with but it’s worthwhile to do it because we have got a chance from the Middle East or we’ll be attacked.
RAY SUAREZ: This week the California secretary of state affirmed there were enough signatures to hold a recall vote. The lieutenant governor set the date, October 7. Mark, what do you make of this?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think that Dan Schnur said very well on the broadcast very well on the broadcast last night: this is the first time that Gray Davis, who has always made his opponent the issue, is really the issue.
But I think this will be decided in large part by two factors: one, the uncertainty that Californians feel about their state’s future. It now has a one notch above that of a junk bond status, its credit rating, the state. I think that hits a nerve. The second note and more practical sense is who is the face of the recall, who is the face of the dissent?
If there is anybody who has a Rose Garden strategy like Gerry Ford used in 1976, when he remained as president — the campaign — it is Gray Davis. He ought to go into a monastery for the next ten weeks because Californians obviously don’t like him. But if it is a teacher who is going to be laid off or if it’s a cop who is going to be taken off the beat or a firefighter who’s going to be fired, then I think it becomes a different kind of struggle.
RAY SUAREZ: Isn’t this a high stakes game for both sides Dave?
DAVID BROOKS: Well, absolutely, especially for Gray Davis. I have a feeling he’ll probably be there in a year because right now only a majority, a bare majority, want the recall. Usually these things come down as they get closer to the election. That’s been the rule with the referenda.
But if there’s one guy who can blow it, it’s Gray Davis. He should do this Rose Garden strategy. But he has this ability to be dull and obnoxious at the same time and he has attacked the opposition in a scathing way that makes him look unattractive. And he has gone after the people who are attacking him in a way that doesn’t rise above it but gets right into the mud.
To me the strongest argument that he can make is under this position, we could have a governor elected by 25 percent of Californians. Thirty-five percent of Californians are whackos; who knows who they could elect? That’s a strong argument against the process. Davis is just doing this mano a mano thing where he’s attacking people in really a negative way that makes him look even worse.
RAY SUAREZ: Let me at this point remind the audience to e-mail you.
DAVID BROOKS: Californians don’t know how to use e-mail.
RAY SUAREZ: This has been a big week in the Congress and headlines that were frankly a surprise. They, for instance, came the vote that went against the president and the FCC on the regulation of ownership of broadcast and other media properties. Big deal?
MARK SHIELDS: It was a populist break. In a strange way, we saw the reality set in. The president had enjoyed an unnaturally long hold on the Congress. And I think both declining poll numbers, restlessness, restiveness, desire, need to assert its own independence, plus a populist impulse lo and behold as Speaker Hastert said in an earlier piece, the House worked its will on prescription drugs and its importation.
Americans just know too many people who have gone to Canada or have gone to Mexico or gone somewhere and gotten it a lot especially cheaper than the stuff they’re paying at home and, as far as the president, he found himself in two losing fights on the side of the little guys. Fox, GE, Viacom in the broadcast business, and the pharmaceutical companies, and that isn’t where he wanted to be politically.
RAY SUAREZ: This isn’t necessarily where the story ends either.
DAVID BROOKS: No. I don’t think pharmaceuticals will pass the reimportation. It’s one of these weird through the looking glass issues where you’ve got Democrats saying we need free trade so we bring down prices and Republicans are saying, no, we really need more government regulation to ensure safety. So it’s, now, just a weird issue.
I suspect it will not pass because in the Senate there is significant opposition; 53 senators, including Ted Kennedy, saying, no, we are not sure about this because that safety issue.
RAY SUAREZ: They went home without passing the extension of the child tax credit, which looked like it was a political problem more than a fiscal one. Is that going to be fixed when they come back in the fall or is this battle going to go on? Delay’s against it.
DAVID BROOKS: I think that battle will go on. The amazing thing always in these issues is how strong the House Republicans can stay together and they’re staying together very well on the Head Start bill. They stood together remarkably well. I didn’t quite think they would get the majority.
DAVID BROOKS: But the crucial and overarching issue with all Congress right now is the level of partisan anger and bitterness. You can go to the Middle East and you’ll find less bitterness than in Congress.
I spent a lot of time this week with members of Congress. They don’t even think the other side is legitimate. The hatred is so deep, it’s not to be overstated. That shapes all these issues, the incredible nature, the vicious nature, of attitudes and feelings in the U.S. House right now.
RAY SUAREZ: Does that sound right to you right now, Mark?
MARK SHIELDS: The very thing that Democrats were criticized for during their 40-year reign of arrogance and denying minority rights and Republicans ever getting a chance, I mean, that’s really become the way of operation in the House where Democratic alternatives, Democratic amendments, are never entertained even in the most ordinary of legislation. I’m not talking about closed bills like the Ways and Means Committee tax bills.
I think David is absolutely right. We saw it further on the Ways and Means Committee and the brouhaha there.
RAY SUAREZ: Let’s talk a little bit more about that. This week from the floor of the House of Representatives, we heard an emotional apology from one of the most powerful Republicans in Congress.
REP. HASTERT: “The gentleman from California is reorganized for one hour…”
REP. THOMAS: “I thank the Speaker…”
KWAME HOLMAN: On Wednesday…House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas made his first public comment about his decision last Friday to call on the Capitol Police to restore order in his committee.
Democrats had left the committee room for a side-library to read a 90-page pension reform bill that Chairman Thomas was trying to rush through.
California’s Pete Starke – the only Democrat to stay behind – got into a heated exchange with Thomas and another Republican. Thomas called the Sergeant at Arms…and then called the Capitol Police to chase Democrats from the library.
Angry Democrats took the matter to the House floor that afternoon. Several Republicans spoke as well. But Thomas didn’t…until this past Wednesday.
REP. THOMAS: In hindsight, calling the Sergeant at Arms for help in the committee room, I still believe, was good judgment. My instruction to use the Capitol Police, if necessary, in the library was not. I learned a very painful lesson on Friday. Because of my poor judgment, I became the focus of examination rather than the issues.
The visions that each of us have for a better America, different as though they may be but equally entitled to be heard, weren’t focused on.
It has been said that our strengths are our weaknesses. Or as my mother would have put it, “When they were passing out moderation, you were hiding behind the door.”
I believe my intensity has served useful purposes, fixing problems and passing laws that otherwise may not have made it. But when you’re charged and entrusted with responsibilities by you, my colleagues, as I have been, you deserve better. Moderation is required.
For the remainder of my time in this, the people’s House, I want to rededicate my efforts to strengthening this institution as the embodiment of what is best about us. I need your help and I invite it. I yield back the balance of my time.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, an unusual moment.
DAVID BROOKS: It was amazing.
RAY SUAREZ: From a guy who really — he described it himself — usually gives no quarter.
DAVID BROOKS: This was like watching Muhammad Ali be Mr. Humble. I mean, Thomas, some people in the House are empty suits — Bill Thomas, there are at least three or four suits inside that body. There a lot of — he is very smart, very obnoxious, very tough, but this is a new Bill Thomas. This is a mid-life crisis or something, and I think it grows out of that viciousness that we have been talking about.
I think after that fight, which was incredibly vicious, I think Dennis Hastert went to Thomas and just read him the riot act. There was some sense, on his part and maybe other people’s parts, things are getting out of control and maybe it’s time to rise above that.
MARK SHIELDS: Bill Thomas — he imperiously called the Capitol police to move members of the committee out of the room where they had been meeting. I mean, it was unheard of. It really was. He kind of glossed over it a little bit. He did in another part of the speech acknowledged it.
Bill Thomas is a man without self-doubt. He has never met self-doubt. He is a guy of enormous talent. He is a very hard worker and he is short and abrupt and curt with those on the other side.
And Pete Stark, the Democrat from California, who was the Democratic nemesis and is now called the volatile Pete Stark in all news accounts as opposed to the respected David Brooks, he’s the volatile Pete Stark, a 71-year-old guy was put in fear to 48, 49-year-old Republican House members. The whole thing was bizarre.
Denny Hastert, David is absolutely right, did step in as speaker both in practical and in historic basis. Practical grounds is Denny Hastert knows that there is nothing more dumb for a majority to do than to totally unite the minority. And the minority was united. I mean, there were no democratic dissents. They were outraged to a person on his calling-in the Capitol police.
Even with the Republicans having the majority, and a fairly ironclad majority, you don’t want and you don’t need a united, polarized minority against you. And also if you are going to do anything in the House, really, you’ve got to change that climate. He not only spoke to Bill Thomas; he spoke to all the other Republican committee chairmen and said this is bad for this institution, it’s bad for the party and I think that’s what led to the events we just saw.
RAY SUAREZ: Fellahs, have a good weekend.
MARK SHIELDS: You, too.
DAVID BROOKS: You, too.