Shields and Brooks
[Sorry, the video for this story has expired, but you can still read the transcript below. ]
JIM LEHRER: And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks: Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks. David, the president’s trip; what was accomplished in Britain?
DAVID BROOKS: The most important thing about the trip was the president’s speech.
JIM LEHRER: The first day.
DAVID BROOKS: The first day — he was able to puncture through this cartoonish image of him in the European media and speak directly at least to the British people and maybe to the European media, and it was one of the best speeches of his presidency. I’d say one of the top five.
JIM LEHRER: What did he say?
DAVID BROOKS: He said a number of things, one of which is he laid out the idealistic case of democracy and then attached it to a pragmatic program. People will call it the three pillar speech because he talked about the three ways we’re going to enact this effort to spread democracy throughout the world.
But the most interesting thing for us throughout the country was that he said we are going to move beyond the failed policy of allowing dictatorship and tyranny to exist around the world because we thought we needed it for stability. And the author of that failed policy is George H. W. Bush and Brent Scowcroft. It was really a direct intellectual argument against his father’s administration. And so that was very interesting to us and I thought an important and to my mind necessary reversal of U.S. policy.
JIM LEHRER: How do you see the president’s speech? First of all, do you agree with his reading of the speech?
MARK SHIELDS: I thought the speech was an important way that the president was far more articulate and persuasive than he is in most public occasions. Not to nitpick but he pronounced “nuclear” for the first time correctly in the speech. But it away from never address the question of exaggeration of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein or the failure to discover weapons of mass destruction to a construct that justified or tried to justify his policy. And I think in that sense it was larger. It’s far more ambitious than anything at the outset. In many respects, if he had given the speech, that speech before the war, his case might have been stronger than relying upon the threat that was…
DAVID BROOKS: I guess I would say he did give that speech. I was in the audience at the American Enterprise Institute.
MARK SHIELDS: I heard the American Enterprise speech. I don’t think that rose to this. But, that aside, I think, Jim, politically it meant a lot more for George Bush than it did for Tony Blair. I mean, Tony Blair is a lot more popular in this country than George Bush is in Great Britain, and I think in addition to that, that the president was seen as a — in a statesman setting. The queen who incidentally got off the best line of the whole trip when she introduced the president – said, you’re term limited; I’m not. Prince Charles at that point blanched. But I thought for the president it was a trip that worked. It was just reminded terribly though of the contrast 40 years ago of Jack Kennedy and Berlin with 500,000 Germans cheering him and the president really never able to travel more than a mile from Buckingham Palace under enormous security.
JIM LEHRER: What about that, David, would it be understandable just in human terms or any other terms how unsettling that would be for the president of the United States, the head of the most powerful nation of the world, to go to our number one ally and you can’t go out of his house, you know. And this is after having done something that he is very proud of and came there to defend.
DAVID BROOKS: This is war. In war, except for World II, throughout American History, War of 1812, Civil War, it arouses strong emotion, and it is supposed to. There is strong opposition in this country to the war, let alone in Britain, but I think the important thing for Blair and for Bush is the Guardian poll that came out show that over the past two months opposition to the war in Britain has dropped 12 percent and support for the war has gone up. When the British are attacked, they rally around. They have that Dunkirk thing going.
But the other thing was that there are many more Britons who welcomed Bush than wished he hadn’t come. And we over cover those rallies, and to me those rallies were a disaster for the anti-war camp because in showing that statue of Bush, which they then pulled down in mockery of the statue of Saddam, they reminded everybody of the one indisputably good thing that happened in this war, which is the destruction of the Saddam regime and the lifting of that tyranny. And for them not to be able to see that, not to be able to have any anger at Saddam but focus it all on Bush is just a mistake.
MARK SHIELDS: I think — and our most important ally, and the president, whatever else is scheduled in this country, has avoided any antiwar or demonstrations against his policies, and he was confronted with them over there. And I think in that sense it was a little unsettling. He was asked about it on a regular basis. And it’s not insignificant. This is our most important ally. And there is great tension and great disagreement in Great Britain about U.S. policy and as of September 11 and the days after, there was almost adulation and uncritical support for the United States.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Speaking of disagreement, back to this country and the decision of the Massachusetts court this week on gay marriage, what do you think of it?
MARK SHIELDS: I think the decision was not a real surprise, Jim. The question is what happens to it in the campaign of 2004. As long as you are talking about civil unions, you are talking about tolerance, legal rights and the same benefits not being denied to any class of Americans. Once you say gay marriage, it’s toxic politically. It becomes the church, it becomes sacramental, it becomes a threat to a lot of people. It is an issue that Republicans 80-20 are against and Democrats are divided on. So if you are Karl Rove, the president’s campaign manager, you don’t want to bring it up, but you want the issue brought up.
JIM LEHRER: By somebody else.
MARK SHIELDS: By somebody else and certainly — maybe the same group that did the South Carolina primary campaign against John McCain might be reactivated.
JIM LEHRER: How do you see the politics – first of all, what do you think of the decision?
DAVID BROOKS: I support the decision. I’m for gay marriage. I’m for gay marriage; I not only think gays should be allowed to get married, I think they should be expected to get married and encouraged. We should consider it a disgrace if people fall in love and don’t want to get married. Being conservative, I’m for marriage. Making a life long commitment worked for me and my character. Everyone should do it. I haven’t told that to my daughter. She’s only nine. The politics I think are tricky. I agree with Mark completely.
JIM LEHRER: The position you just expressed is minority in the country.
MARK SHIELDS: And among Democrats.
DAVID BROOKS: And among democrats, too.
JIM LEHRER: So how does it play?
DAVID BROOKS: Well, I think it plays exactly as Mark said in the next election and I think if Howard Dean is the nominee, it really makes it harder for him because it will remind people in his endorsement even if it is only a civil union that he is a New England liberal out of touch with the country. In the long run, I really worry for the Republicans that it turns into their Proposition 187 which you will recall was the anti-immigration proposition in California.
JIM LEHRER: Pete Wilson was big on it.
MARK SHIELDS: Got him elected in that election.
DAVID BROOKS: Very popular at the time. But in proposing that, proposing it that way, the Republican Party seemed unattractive and alienated important constituencies and that proposition destroyed the Republican Party in California. And I think if it is proposed the wrong way, and now I’m talking about the gay marriage issue, it really could have long-term lasting effects for the Republican Party.
JIM LEHRER: But the short run, it could be really -
DAVID BROOKS: Tremendously positive for the Republicans –
MARK SHIELDS: One Republican, very able Republican said this afternoon that what drives this is that in the last election, you recall, Karl Rove and the Republican campaign thought that President Bush was going to win with 53 percent or 54 percent. It’s one of the reasons they broke their schedule to go to California, sort of a fruitless thing in the last 36 hours of the campaign. They were let down by the fact that four million evangelical conservative, religious conservatives didn’t vote and this fellow said to me, he said, I know at the White House they’re viewing this as manna, as the key to 2004 because this would activate and energize this issue, religious conservatives who may have been politically indifferent, to get involved.
JIM LEHRER: The Medicare debate. We heard earlier in the program Senators Grassley and Kennedy. How do you see the play on this?
DAVID BROOKS: To me is the family feud nature of it. Kennedy is arguing with the AARP on the Democratic side. And then the Republican side you’ve got Newt Gingrich arguing against Dick Army. It’s really a close call for both parties, especially for the Republicans. The proponents like Gingrich say it is an expensive new huge entitlement that will run up the budget deficit for a long time to come. On the other hand we get reform measures. On the other side, Armey says those reform measures are potempktive, we’re getting nothing. And so the Republicans are really at each other’s throats about this to a lesser extent than they have to -
JIM LEHRER: How about the Democrats?
MARK SHIELDS: Jim, I think personally I’m against the bill. I mean I think any legislation that forbids the officials at Medicare from negotiating with the drug companies to lower the prices for 40 million clients, I mean forfeiting the collective bargaining value you have, especially prohibitive is bad legislation.
JIM LEHRER: I’m surprised that Senator Kennedy wouldn’t mention that.
MARK SHIELDS: Yeah, to me that’s just indefensible. Having said that, this is a major and singular achievement on the part of the Republicans — putting together the AARP, which Denny Hastert, the speaker, the Republican speaker has been talking about for the past two years, having dinner, talking, and wooing, Bill Frist later has gotten involved as well. And the Democrats didn’t sign the AARP to be morally reprehensible folks when they’re endorsing the Clinton health care plan.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Grassley.
MARK SHIELDS: Now all of a sudden we find out they’re in the insurance business and the pharmaceutical business. Alan Simpson was saying that from Wyoming for years and years. The reality is that if George W. Bush, who ran on this, a big government conservative, I might add, forget fiscal responsibility, forget anything. These are deficits in perpetuity to our kids and grandkids. That aside, what it means is George W. Bush with a very similar majority of Republicans in the Congress will have established a governing Republican majority and coalition. He gets this and he gets energy. You can say he he’s accountable for it yes but it’s an achievement.
DAVID BROOKS: By throwing out conservatism. This is a big government conservatism without the conservatism.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. But as a matter of presidential politics, 2004 presidential politics, does it not give the president the opportunity to say hey, I told you I’d get you prescription drugs and I did it?
DAVID BROOKS: Either way he has a big accomplishment or he can beat the Democrats over the head if he wrote it down. Either way it is a winner politically.
JIM LEHRER: What about energy? To refresh, the vote we referred to in the news summary, the democrats and six republicans said no way and they’ve stopped it right now for now at least. They’re still going to try to pass it.
MARK SHIELDS: When you’ve got… I love conservatives because one of the….
DAVID BROOKS: I haven’t noticed so far.
MARK SHIELDS: One of the things they always do, top of their list is to exempt from any legal liability any corporate malfeasance. Here we have this gasoline additive, MTBE, that is absolutely….
JIM LEHRER: Nobody ever heard of – until it came up.
MARK SHIELDS: But it has contaminated the water supply in New England. They’ve got five republicans in New England and John McCain who points out this is a giveaway to the energy companies. You’ve got a real problem in the thing. It will be interesting to watch this over the next few days, whether in fact the president returning… the president was making phone calls on his way back today…
JIM LEHRER: Trying to get this done.
MARK SHIELDS: Trying to get the Medicare bill in the House tonight. That is that close to get that passed.
JIM LEHRER: They only need two votes on the energy.
DAVID BROOKS: McCain calls it the leave no lobbyist behind act of 2003. It’s got everything in there. This is where I love liberals because their compassion extends to major corporations frequently. There is a little measure in there to give some people a tax break so they can take turkey carcasses and turn it into fuel.
JIM LEHRER: You got a problem with that?
DAVID BROOKS: Thanksgiving. I’m going to sell my turkey carcass after I’m done with it. But it’s just a log rolling measure and they forgot to buy enough votes and so they’re still too short.
JIM LEHRER: Tomorrow, 40 itself anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. On this program last night we talked about the fact that three quarters of the American people believe it was the result of a conspiracy. What do you think, David?
DAVID BROOKS: Definitely not.
JIM LEHRER: Why? Why do you not think it?
DAVID BROOKS: I’m biased against conspiracy theories. They’re almost always wrong and people usually aren’t smart enough to pull them off.
JIM LEHRER: What do you think?
MARK SHIELDS: I agree with David. I don’t think Lee Harvey Oswald is — the ex-marine, and the idea that this small troubled tormented man could do something so large and change history by doing it is just somehow, offends people’s sense of rationality. I think they’re looking for something deeper, something to explain the magnitude of the enormity of what this little man did.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. Thank you both very much.