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David Brooks and Mark Shields Discuss the Republican National Convention

August 31, 2004 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: And that brings us to some evening two analysis from Shields and Brooks, syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks. Arnold Schwarzenegger, first lady Laura Bush. What’s the message carrying into tonight hear on the second night?

DAVID BROOKS: This is the return of compassionate conservatism, this is the domestic agenda, this is sort of where bush’s heart is. I think he always wanted to be a compassionate conservatism, wanted that to be the centerpiece of his administration. 9/11 interrupted that.

But it was still very important to bring it back in some form. And that was part of tonight.

JIM LEHRER: What do you think, Mark?

MARK SHIELDS: I think Laura Bush is a remarkable… she’s a political phenomenon. You’re talking tonight about two political phenomena. She has 55 percent approval rating among democrats, she’s over 70 percent plus in the general electorate.

She’s an enormously popular, and I don’t think there’s another figure in the country as popular as she is. So she speaks as somebody who is a privileged observer, somebody who doesn’t boast about the fact but is comfortable in policy, and is here as a character witness about the softer side of George Bush.

JIM LEHRER: And she said she was going to talk about that.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right. But Arnold Schwarzenegger, I think you have to put him and McCain and Giuliani in the same box.

JIM LEHRER: What would you then label that box?

MARK SHIELDS: I’d call it three guys you can’t emulate, but you can admire. Because –.

JIM LEHRER: Young people want won to grow up and be Arnold Schwarzenegger?

MARK SHIELDS: Every one of them has an idiosyncratic. Rudy Giuliani, U.S. Attorney who busts mob families, who puts away corporate criminals. Then as mayor of New York at a time of its greatest crisis. And Arnold Schwarzenegger, I mean, born in the country that sees communism early, according to his own epiphany, listens to the speech else of Richard Nixon 1968, by determination makes himself into a body builder, comes to this country, makes movies, and creates an image and becomes an American legend and uses that.

I know distinguished journalists who sit and say I can’t believe this guy is governor of California. And what is truly remarkable is that he benefits from the public perception. Conservatives in this crowd love him. Okay. Because they see he must be a second amendment guy, he’s got to be great on the National Rifle Association, he’ll be tough on gay marriage.

JIM LEHRER: Because he’s a tough guy in the movies.

That’s right. The perception and the reality are entirely different.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with that, conservatives love Arnold Schwarzenegger?

DAVID BROOKS: Conservatives do love him, in part because at some level he’s one of them. I became aware of him as a political phenomenon in 1983. I was early onto the story, he had just come back from lunch with Milton Freedman – free market economist –. their classic book, Capitalism, Freedom, the young man had absorbed it and gotten into economic free markets. And so he read that book when he became a star he had lunch with him, and I happened to be there that day, not at the lunch, but just afterwards.

And he really considered himself a free market libertarian. I saw him give a tribute just a couple weeks ago in California, and clearly kept up with them and kept up with George Schulz and was deeply involved in a lot of the traditional Republican figures, Marty Anderson from the Reagan administration. So in some sense he has very deep ties into the intellectual and institutional conservatism.

On the other hand, as we saw in the report he is someone who talks as if we’re going to have as much spending on poverty and education as we can afford. So he has this ideology, but I wouldn’t say it governs him. It influences him. But he takes the ideology and then he is quite happy to build off it in different ways.

JIM LEHRER: In Spencer’s piece, the billion dollars that he took and put into schools in deprived areas, something that Davis was unwilling to do, the liberal Democratic governor of California was unwilling, how did Schwarzenegger get away with that?

DAVID BROOKS: It’s his relationship to life. Giuliani and McCain have a love for life. If you watch Schwarzenegger talk, and I bet we see it tonight, life is just a big rock candy mountain for this guy, he is just going to enjoy life, enjoys politics. It’s a budget crisis. He’s having the time of his life.

So when he looks at what he wants to do, how can they enjoy life, how can they rise. It should be about happiness. Too many fiscal conservatives it’s about pain and suffering. But for him life is about happiness, and so if he can spend some money on some poor kids he’ll do it.

MARK SHIELDS: Two things, Jim. One is there’s some anxiety at the White House that George — a columnist and reporter for the L.A. Times has documented this, the concern that Arnold Schwarzenegger tonight will get a bigger crowd, watching him than the president will on Thursday night.

But David’s point about he’s a guy a little bit of easy choices, politically. I mean he came from Sacramento, tear up the credit cards. What he did in his big budget summit was simply defer it. They’re absolutely right in Spencer’s piece. There is a structural deficit that is as serious now, a fiscal time bomb for the state; instead of really confronting it when he could have and said we’re going to do this right now and we’ll have to have big bond issues to do it and get it out of the way.

He didn’t do it. So as a consequence I think he’s probably at the zenith of his popular approval right now unless there’s some miracle around because there’s a looming fiscal disaster in the state.

DAVID BROOKS: I’ve only heard this item covered, but people who covered it have given me the story at incomplete, he’s improved the business, he’s taken some steps, but he’s made Sacramento governable. He and Giuliani have that in common.

They came into situation where is the political system had broken down and the city or state were ungovernable. They both have taken these institutions which were broken and fixed them. And he’s done that in Sacramento by talking to a lot people.

JIM LEHRER: He’s been governor of California for only ten months, now he’s addressing a big prime time speech works the first lady, this Republican National Convention. He becomes a national figure in the Republican Party, boom, right?

DAVID BROOKS: Right, everybody talks about him as a possible presidential candidate if they could change the Constitution. The paradox of this party is that the stars are in the center. The conservative movement has not produced any stars. You look at the people who are most likely to run for president it’s maybe him, it’s certainly Giuliani, George Pataki, Mitt Romney in Massachusetts, that’s where the stars are.

MARK SHIELDS: He’s not going to run for president, first of all you got to change the Constitution. Who is going to change the Constitution? All those guys that want to be president? Come on. Let’s be a little realistic.

JIM LEHRER: Don’t go away, we’ll talk about this more later this evening.