Political Analysis with Mark Shields and William Safire
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JIM LEHRER: And to the analysis of Shields and Safire: Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and William Safire of The New York Times. Gentlemen, welcome.
First, quickly, today’s decision in California to have that full federal appeals court panel take a look at this postponing of the recall election, Mark. How do you read the significance of that?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, the significance, Jim is if they do uphold the decision and postpone the election till March, I think that a couple of things change: One, the intense media coverage it got will no longer be there. I mean we’ll get a lot of intervening events, Iowa, New Hampshire, among political news. And secondly, think I think it’s tough to maintain rage for that long a period of time. I think part of the appeal of it was a quick race and probably it does help, if anybody, Governor Gray Davis. It becomes perhaps more complicated and a little bit easier, just know, just to keep him there.
JIM LEHRER: What do you think, Bill?
WILLIAM SAFIRE: I would agree with Mark on that.
I’m for a delay because, frankly, I don’t like the idea of a recall. I never have. If a president or a governor commits a crime or abuses power, they ought to impeach him. But if people suddenly lose faith in an elected official, they’re stuck with him until the end of his term.
I think what we’ll see here now, if they do extend it to March, you’ll have the equivalent of a primary in the Republican side, and you’ll have Bill Clinton and all the Democratic presidential candidates helping Gray Davis stay in power in California.
I think the outcome of this could be a lesson to those who think that elections don’t count. Elections do count, and you’re stuck with the guy that you elected.
JIM LEHRER: Their decision to go to the full panel, though, neither one of you reads any special… nobody should read any significance into that? It means, oh, my goodness, they’re going to overturn or they’re going to… it’s too… you can’t read it that way, right, Bill?
WILLIAM SAFIRE: Well, it’s the leftiest appeals court in the country and the one that’s most often overruled by the Supreme Court. The three judges that made the decision originally were all Democratic appointees, and I think quite frankly, the court leans left and will be helpful to Gray Davis.
JIM LEHRER: Do you see it the same way?
MARK SHIELDS: Yeah, I don’t… I can’t do the tea leaves, Jim. I don’t know enough.
JIM LEHRER: You don’t know enough?
MARK SHIELDS: No.
WILLIAM SAFIRE: What kind of an admission is that for us to make? Come on, Mark.
JIM LEHRER: That sets a terrible precedent for this whole segment. Let’s move on to something that you do know something about, Mark.
MARK SHIELDS: Okay.
JIM LEHRER: Two big Democrats, Senator Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Congressman John Murtha (D-Pa.), came out really harsh against President Bush and his Iraq policy, particularly prewar. What’s going on there?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, Jack Murtha, Jim, I mean, most politicians, to use a botanist term, are like heliotropic plants: They turn to the sun, the sun being the microphone, the camera, the reporter.
Murtha is a nonheliotropic politician. He avoids the press. The only reporter he talks to on a regular basis is David Rodgers of The Wall Street Journal for very personal reasons: Rodgers was a conscientious objector in Vietnam who became a combat medic. Jack Murtha, as a 33-year-old former Marine who joined the Marines in Korea, went back and fought in Vietnam for a year. He’s that kind of a guy where he got two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star. Came back, gets elected to the House, first Vietnam veteran. And he’s a guy that is probably one of the most handful of respected, influential, knowledgeable members of the House of Representatives and a guy who avoids press coverage.
JIM LEHRER: So what’s he doing here…?
MARK SHIELDS: So he comes out and he takes on — having supported the first President Bush in the Gulf War and having supported with some reservations this President Bush on the war with the Persian Gulf –and says, “we were misinformed, we were misled.”
He just came back from Iraq. I did talk to him. He was outraged by he said the 35,000 American troops over there without Kevlar inserts in their jackets in a shooting gallery — those are the protection that they get — outraged by the fact that our equipment is inadequate, outraged that he said you’ve got a very short window. And he thinks that accountability must be imposed and basically he walked right up to the edge of saying, Paul Wolfowitz’s head is on the block.
JIM LEHRER: What do you think about this, Bill? Is this important?
WILLIAM SAFIRE: I think this is part of the general thrust toward “you lied to us and we should never have gone into this war, and we’re spending too much money and lives and everything over there and come home, America” — the old George McGovern isolationist pitch.
I don’t think it’ll fly. I think the president did not lie to us. I think there was sufficient intelligence, just as the British inquiry sort of exonerated Blair recently, that he did not deliberately mislead the British public.
And what we have here is an opportunity to change the score in the Middle East. And it’ll be fought on that basis, and you’ll have your leftists saying we should never have gone into this and we want to come home. And you’ll have your conservatives and I think people in the middle saying we’ve got to finish this, and if we finish this, we’ll not only defend America, we’ll do something for democracy in the world.
JIM LEHRER: But you don’t believe, whatever your view of it is, you don’t believe this has any political traction at all? Senator Kennedy called the prewar thing a fraud, accused the president of actually practicing… you don’t think this has traction politically?
WILLIAM SAFIRE: I think quite frankly, the notion of surrender and bring our men back and admit defeat, which is essentially what Kennedy is saying, I don’t think that’ll fly at all.
JIM LEHRER: Mark?
MARK SHIELDS: I could not disagree… I mean to call Jack Murtha a leftist is really a stretch of hyperbole that even a New York Times columnist might consider humbling.
WILLIAM SAFIRE: I was calling Kennedy a leftist.
MARK SHIELDS: Okay. Jim, the point he makes, that Murtha made and made very, very strongly is that there was misinformation — that the weapons aren’t there, there was no imminent threat. And he was particularly outraged that the treatment of the American troops being put in harm’s way. But also, as he called General Shinseki, who said that we needed several hundred thousand troops there, 200,000, he said, being trashed — of General Zinni, the Marine and Four-Star General who raised questions, serious question about this, being called unpatriotic by the civilian leadership of the Pentagon. I think this is the beginning of something very real. Doubts, you can see the Republicans on the Hill growing quite nervous. At the same time, it’s not simply a Democratic case, they’re moving out of the Defense Department shall having the State Department take over, the pacification, occupation of…
JIM LEHRER: You see this as pure partisan politics today? What about General Zinni and General Shinseki and what Mark said about Murtha? You I think it’s still very partisan?
WILLIAM SAFIRE: Well, on Shinseki, he said there should be several hundred thousands troops. I read the word ‘several’ to mean three, like few. And we’re not going to have any 300,000 American troops in Iraq. We have half that many now, and we’re not going to have many more.
So I think he was, as Wolfowitz said, way off the charts, out of the… out of line. I think quite frankly, we’re seeing a turn, we’re seeing not too good coverage of the turn, but look at what’s happening with the Governing Council of Iraq the ones we appointed. The Arab League decided to get realistic and accepted them in Iraq’s seat. Next week, the foreign minister of that group that we appointed will be seated, I bet, at the U.N. That’s real progress. We’re moving toward the Iraqification of the governing of Iraq. It may take years, but what we’re doing there is what we did in Japan and Germany, and we can do it there and I think do it effectively.
JIM LEHRER: Okay, speaking of moving, let’s move on to two other quick things. First of all, Bill, the entry of Wesley Clark this week into the Democratic presidential race, is this a big development?
WILLIAM SAFIRE: This is absolute catnip for pundits. You saw the report of a private dinner that the Clintons had at which President Clinton said that there were two stars in the Democratic Party: Hillary Clinton and Wesley Clark. Actually, that’s six stars because there are all the ones on the shoulder.
JIM LEHRER: Right, right, right.
WILLIAM SAFIRE: But you know, what’s he doing there? He’s throwing a body block into Howard Dean’s campaign. Why is that? Some people say that Dean doesn’t like the idea of Terry McAuliffe, who is beholden to the Clintons being the Democratic chairman and running things really as proxy for the Clintons. All the chicanery and backbiting and knifing is just wonderful to watch.
JIM LEHRER: Mark, all of that aside, what do you think the impact is going to be on the race?
MARK SHIELDS: Interesting screenplay.
JIM LEHRER: That Safire just wrote, –
MARK SHIELDS: — de-effective analysis –
JIM LEHRER: — just shared with us?
MARK SHIELDS: Yeah. Nobody runs for president. Nobody. I defy anybody to ever show me anybody that’s’ run for the president with the idea I’m going to help somebody else by doing this. I recall conversations of Richard M. Nixon in the White House saying, “the reason…
JIM LEHRER: Listen to this Safire…
MARK SHIELDS: “…the reason that George McGovern was running was so that Ted Kennedy could get into the race because Pat Lucy, the Democratic governor of Wisconsin, endorsed George McGovern, that was proof he was a stalking horse for Ted Kennedy…”
He’s the stalking horse for nobody. I’ve never heard more genuine buzz about anybody who’s never been a candidate before than I have about Wesley Clark. And I think it shows a couple of things about Democrats. First is the Democrats are concerned about that commander in chief, national security that’s the one area where Republicans still enjoy a big edge over Democrats heading into this campaign. It’s the only area. And secondly, and Wesley Clark certainly meets that.
Secondly, the fact, Jim, that there are, in addition to the commander-in-chief, that this is not a guy, obviously, who’s afraid of swimming against the tide. He admitted that he voted for Richard Nixon, he admitted he voted for Ronald Reagan. He admitted that he voted for George Bush, the first. He became a Democrat in 1992 to support Bill Clinton, which he makes him the only white southern male who joined the Democratic Party since 1992.
JIM LEHRER: So you think it could have an impact? It just throws everything out?
MARK SHIELDS: I think it does. The question is: Who’s going to emerge as the non-Dean, not the anti-Dean, the non-Dean. I think he’s probably a threat to those who revive that. Howard Dean is the front-runner in Iowa and New Hampshire. Those are the only two states that count.
JIM LEHRER: Finally Bill, an issue that I know that’s keen to you. The Senate followed the House this week and voted to overturn the FCC rules on media ownership. Why has that issue so many people with so many diverse views coalesced behind this?
WILLIAM SAFIRE: There has never been such a strange bed fellowship as the National Association for Women on one side and the Family Protection Association on the other.
It’s wonderful to see the libertarians in this country rise up and say, “the constant agglomeration and concentration of power in the large media companies and the buying up of television and radio stations by national organizations is wrong.” And there’s a basic suspicion that people have of big government and big media. And I wrote a piece about this and banged my spoon against the high chair, and I never saw so many e-mails. And the same thing has happened in the Congress. And the White House, if Bush makes this his first veto, backing up the FCC and its “anything goes” attitude, that’ll be a tremendous mistake.
JIM LEHRER: I don’t have to ask, Mark, to know because I don’t have time to ask Mark. I just know you agree with everything Bill just said.
MARK SHIELDS: Ninety-seven percent of what he said I do totally agree with.
JIM LEHRER: The other three percent we’ll pick up next week.
MARK SHIELDS: We’ll pick it up next week.
JIM LEHRER: Okay, thank you both very much.