Mark Shields and David Brooks Analyze the Week’s Political News
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MARGARET WARNER: And that’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields, New York Times columnist David Brooks. Well, a big week of cabinet shuffles: Colin Powell out as secretary of state, Condi Rice in. Her deputy, Steve Hadley, becomes national security advisor.
What does that say, Mark, about how President Bush wants his national security team to work in this second term?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, first of all, Margaret, I think it says about an administration that is enormously disciplined, enormously tight-lipped and under very tight White House control, you’re going to meet more of the same.
There was an independent source of power, it was Colin Powell. And I don’t think there’s any question Colin Powell, I think it’s important to remember, he was key. He was instrumental to George Bush’s election in 2000.
Just the role that Laura Bush played in the 2004 campaign constantly being with him, if you recall, he was sort of the character and substance reference starting with the convention all the way through the campaign of 2004. I’m going to have Colin Powell with me.
MARGARET WARNER: For a Texas governor who had no foreign policy experience.
MARK SHIELDS: And he had a great disadvantage. He was more popular than the president. And that makes things awkward when you have a cabinet officer who is a toweringly popular public figure. And I think it’s important, there wouldn’t have been a war in Iraq without Colin Powell’s support.
I mean, he carried the U.N. Security Council; he carried public opinion in the country. He made the congressional vote possible and at the same time he was more right than anybody else in the administration about the uncertainty, the chaos, the unpredictability and what was needed and the problems of the occupation.
And, you know, there’s a great the Turkish proverb “He who speaks the truth better keep one foot in the stirrup.” And Colin Powell, I think, suffers from having been more right, certainly than Don Rumsfeld, who’s still there, or any of those other folks.
MARGARET WARNER: What do these changes tell you, David?
DAVID BROOKS: Well, I don’t think it was an insult to Colin Powell; he was there four years; he maybe wanted to stay another eight months but certainly not any longer than that. I think they tell you a couple of things: First of all, you’re going to have somebody as secretary of state who has the ear of the White House.
And, let’s face it, Colin Powell had lost that ear, lost the trust; the entire department had lost the trust, Hosni Mubarak was talking to some U.S. Senators about a year ago and said “Send an envoy to deal with the Middle East but don’t send us Colin Powell.” And it wasn’t because he didn’t respect Colin Powell, but he wanted somebody who could speak for the president.
And now there will be a secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, who speaks for the president; of that we have no doubt because she’s human, she will to some extent be a bridge between the State Department and the White House because normally the secretaries of state are the ambassadors for the State Department to the White House. And so she’ll be playing an intermediate role.
As Mark says there won’t be a departure in policy, that’s for sure. She believes in the generational challenge to transform the Middle East. But I think the State Department will become more involved in policy making, ironically, than it was under Colin Powell when it was sort of shut out.
MARGARET WARNER: But do you all subscribe to the – I don’t know if it’s the conventional wisdom, but certainly the view you hear expressed because of these changes, that the president is in even greater danger of not hearing any dissenting views?
MARK SHIELDS: No question. It’s an administration with a disincentive to dissent. And it’s a White House that certainly doesn’t encourage it. It’s not a free-flowing place of, you know, give and take and slam doors and this is where I disagree with you and so forth. It’s… you know, there is a premium upon loyalty, there’s a premium upon discipline.
And I think Condi Rice… first of all, George Bush, it’s unfair to characterize him, pigeonhole him as a towel snapping locker room guy. He just made history. This is an important… it’s an African American woman he’s just appointed to be secretary of state. That’s historic, that’s real, it’s a credit to him that he’s that comfortable coming from where he is and who he is and the rest of it that at his age to do that.
But I think there’s no question, Margaret, that you can’t look at Condi Rice’s record there and say this is somebody who’s been a strong national security advisor — this is somebody who’s dealt… I think it’s fair to say she got rolled by Cheney, she got rolled by Rumsfeld and so I don’t think there’s a… it’s not an independent power center of opinion –
MARGARET WARNER: And so that raises the question, David, about whether philosophically and policy-wise she’s already in step with Rumsfeld and Cheney, the other two who have the president’s ear, or whether you think she’ll be an independent voice and has some differences.
DAVID BROOKS: I certainly think she has differences with Cheney and Rumsfeld. She’s much more aggressive when she talks about transforming the Middle East, the Democratization Project, I would say she’s much closer to the president, at least as you read the gradations.
But I think one thing we’ve got to be careful about; they don’t show their disagreements in this administration. But she… but they’re there, they’re just hidden. And she’ll hide them better than Colin Powell and Rumsfeld will. They were basically dysfunctional, the two of them.
MARGARET WARNER: Also at the CIA there was a huge dust up this week. Some senior people are leaving saying that Porter Goss, the new director and his aides are being high-handed.
You wrote a column, David, on Saturday saying that, in fact, the president ought to punish what you called CIA insubordination. Is that what’s going on here?
DAVID BROOKS: Yeah. It’s like a bit like the State Department only more so. You have two agencies that really have gone into opposition and the CIA incredibly into opposition.
Throughout the campaign season there was a whole series of leaks to various newspapers designed to make the CIA look good even though they messed up tremendously leading up to the war and designed to make the president look bad. You had a CIA agent… sort of the CIA — writing a book attacking the president.
I thought it’s necessary to get some discipline. And I think that’s what’s happening with the CIA and the State Department. The president is trying to get some controls over the agencies of government. To me that’s totally legitimate.
MARGARET WARNER: Let’s go down….
MARK SHIELDS: I can’t let that pass. I mean, when you’ve got Porter Goss who made… had a battlefield conversion of criticism of the CIA, he never criticized the CIA until it was a possibility he was going over there. He issues an edict to his own employees saying “support the administration, its policies and our work.”
I mean, that is not what you want from the… you want more independence. You don’t want somebody who’s going to be a slavish subservient to whatever the administration wants to hear.
And it’s quite obvious, the CIA, whatever its shortcomings, is defending itself as an institution because it’s become official administration policy to pin the blame for Iraq and the failure… the weapons of mass destruction and everything else on the CIA.
DAVID BROOKS: You don’t want slavish dependence, you don’t want back-stabbing either. I agree that what Porter Goss said was wrong but what they did was underhanded, it was disloyal and the way they behaved was just as bad as if they’ve been slavish.
MARGARET WARNER: Let’s go to the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. Arlen Specter first of all, pro-choice Pennsylvania Republican senator yesterday, Mark, after two weeks… a two-week campaign by social conservatives, he gets the support he needs to be chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
My question to you is: at what price?
MARK SHIELDS: A great victory for the right. Symbolically it looks good, this fellow from Pennsylvania, pro-choice, independent. Arlen Specter put on the hair shirt.
He is now neutered as a figure in that… he would have been far more helpful to his pro-choice colleagues, allies, whatever, as a wounded animal who was deprived the chairmanship and thus independent. He is now… I mean, you know, I don’t want to say put his soul at hawk but whatever independence he had is severely circumscribed.
MARGARET WARNER: He had read this carefully crafted statement. Did you read that essentially he was saying he would rubberstamp basically any judicial appointment that the president sent forward, not just letting him through but also vote for him?
DAVID BROOKS: That was going to happen anyway, to be honest. You know, it’s impossible to imagine first of all a pro-life senator as the head of the Democratic Judiciary Committee so you have an anomaly here, a pro-choice guy heading the Republicans.
I think that was ever — he was never going to stop a Supreme Court nominee, maybe some of the junior ones. He was never going to get in the way. He was going to report it out. So I think the victory is… the most important thing to me, victory for the Senate. The Senate should not be like the House. You should not have leadership picking chairmen, you should not be overriding filibusters.
I think it was very important for him to get that leadership regardless of his personality difficulties because it shows that the Senate is… has the traditions of seniority and it’s the place, as they say, where the saucer… where the milk cools, whatever that old saying is. And I think whether he’s neutered or not, the Senate still remains itself.
MARGARET WARNER: The social conservatives, what they were doing was going to the leadership Frist and Santorum saying “don’t let this guy have it.”
DAVID BROOKS: They wanted the leadership to control it; they came over from the House, a bunch of them, and they wanted to turn the Senate into the House. That would have been terrible.
MARK SHIELDS: Just remind David that the Democrats do have a pro-life leader of their party in Harry Reid.
DAVID BROOKS: That’s true. Now they do.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Now, Mark, what about on the other side of the capital Tom Delay. Would you call this a good week for Tom Delay?
MARK SHIELDS: I guess Tom Delay might consider it a good week but it’s certainly a bad week for Republicans. It took the Democrats 40 years in power to develop a hubris and arrogance to the point where they really signed their own death warrant. The Republicans are fast learners. Ten years after they’ve taken over they have become terminally arrogant.
If hypocrisy were a felony, the Republican House Caucus with the exception of Chris Shays and a few other brave souls who voted to repeal a rule Republicans had adopted very, very publicly and morally 11 years ago that any leader of a party indicted in anticipation of Dan Rostenkowski, then chairman of the Ways and Means Committee being indicted, Democrat, would have to step aside.
They suspended that rule because Tom Delay faces the serious prospect of indictment in his home state for his political maneuvering down there. And so I mean they look bad.
And it’s not only Democrats or liberals or the press, I mean, you’ve got the Manchester Union Leader, the Indianapolis Star, hard core Republican papers really, taking them to task saying this is really hypocritical.
MARGARET WARNER: Were you surprised at that move?
DAVID BROOKS: Yes. Partly for the reasons Mark suggested. I think two things were happening in there. First of all, they don’t like this prosecutor in Texas, they think he’s partisan and motivated.
Second, they understand exactly what Mark’s talking about and a lot of them privately believed that they didn’t have the guts to stand up and say in the public.
And so I think they’re aware that a lot of the reformist zeal they thought they came to Washington with is being eroded away. Tom Delay has become a symbol for that erosion. They didn’t have the guts to stand up and take him out.
MARGARET WARNER: Why? Briefly, why didn’t they have the guts?
DAVID BROOKS: Because he controls their futures. But not only him; he’s been demonized and a lot of it is totally wrong. But, you know, it takes a little while for them to get to it. But I do think the tide turned this week. I do think that his power is going to begin to slowly ebb and Denny Hastert’s is going to rise.
MARK SHIELDS: That prosecuting attorney in Texas David spoke of, the Republicans — he’s indicted 15 politicians, 12 of them Democrats. He is… I mean, it’s not… he’s not on some sort of a partisan witch-hunt.
I mean, this is a man who’s prosecuted politicians of both parties, including four fifths of them from his own.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. I’m going to be prosecuted if I don’t end this. Thank you both.