Shields and Brooks
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JIM LEHRER: And finally tonight, the analysis of Shields and Brooks: Syndicated columnist Mark Shields, New York Times columnist David Brooks.
Mark, the indictment of Tom DeLay, the House majority leader, a serious thing for Republicans, a serious development?
MARK SHIELDS: Very serious development, Jim. Tom DeLay has really been the most effective congressional leader that I can remember. I mean, as far as fashioning and forcing majorities, the decision was made rather early on in the Bush administration in cooperation with the House leadership that whatever they passed they were going to pass with Republican votes. And Tom DeLay has done that. The –
JIM LEHRER: You think he — it could never have happened without Tom DeLay?
MARK SHIELDS: It never could have. I mean, he — Tom DeLay joined the nexus of money and politics liked it had never been merged before — I mean, Washington large big corporations, large trade associations, Washington became more of a pay-for-play town than it had ever been. And not only that, but the corporations had historically played both sides of the street– they contributed to both Democrats and Republicans – and DeLay was ruthless.
JIM LEHRER: Through Political Action Committees?
MARK SHIELDS: Through Political Action Committees.
JIM LEHRER: Right.
MARK SHIELDS: And DeLay was ruthless, quite franking, in saying, you give to us, you hire our people. Two dozen of Tom DeLay’s former staffers now are major lobbyists in Washington.
So I think it’s a big difference. The race to succeed him has already split the Republicans: Tom Reynolds, the chairman of the Republican Campaign Committee; John Boehner, the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee.
JIM LEHRER: They want the job?
MARK SHIELDS: The next three months are going to be spent on this and everybody’s looking over their shoulder because they’re afraid DeLay will come back. And whatever DeLay is, he’s a guy who’s never forgotten; he never forgets a favor; he never forgets anybody who lets him down.
And I’ll just finally say I talked to Charlie Stenholm today, a 13-term Democratic congressman from Texas, west Texas, and Charlie Stenholm was known as “Mr. Bipartisan.” He had friends on both sides of the aisle. He supported Ronald Reagan’s program. He was very close to George Bush.
And Tom DeLay set out to get Charlie Stenholm and –
JIM LEHRER: He got him; he got him.
MARK SHIELDS: He did with the redistricts. And Charlie Stenholm reminded me that when George Bush was introduced to the American people after the election of 2000, it was by the Democratic leader of the Democratic speaker of the Texas state legislature in the chamber. That’s where he addressed the nation — Bob Bullock, the Democratic lieutenant governor there. And the president emphasized, President Bush did, how cooperative things had been in Texas, how civil; how they worked across the aisle.
That was all changed by Tom DeLay And I’ll tell you right now, all civility, all courtesy, all comity has been purged and it was purged in the 2002 election.
JIM LEHRER: That’s not a very — he didn’t say any nice things about Tom DeLay
DAVID BROOKS: Not very nice. I think Tom’s hurt. I don’t think Tom DeLay did all that. I think, you know, just in terms of how the Republican Party is doing -
JIM LEHRER: Yeah – I’m -
DAVID BROOKS: — it doesn’t help to have your majority leader indicted, that’s not a good thing. Nonetheless, I think in the long run, I think it’s good for the Republican Party because what Tom DeLay – and this a bit in tune to what Mark just said – Tom DeLay abandoned conservatism in favor of party corporatism – some sort of corporate state where you had K Street and the Republican Party merge.
JIM LEHRER: Remind people that K Street is a street in Washington where there are a lot of lobbying firms.
DAVID BROOKS: And as a result, first of all, you get the undertow of corruption and frankly, I think this indictment is a piece of garbage; I don’t any sense of it. But nonetheless, you had the undertow, the tight connections between lobbyists and the House Republicans but then you had a complete loss of conservatism form and philosophy.
And that was what’s tearing down the Republican Party we talked about the other week: No sense of priorities, just spending for special favors spending for everything, no sense of a governing philosophy. And Tom DeLay was the major part of that — any loss of a sense of “what do we want to do with government.” What he wanted to do with government was get reelected and get more Republicans reelected and nobody’s going to elect a party that just wants to do that.
JIM LEHRER: But Tom DeLay a conservative by any definition, a real conservative, is he not?
DAVID BROOKS: Well, you know, there are different sorts of people. There are some people who are conviction conservatives who are there for a reason. Tom DeLay a conservative, he’s pro-life, he’s in theory for limited government but in practice totally against that. His main interest in everyday what do you do when you’re going to work, his main interest was getting more Republican fannies in House seats. And he would the do it any way, whether it was conservative or not conservative. He just wanted to do that. And that’s why I think he hurt the party. And that’s why I think the accession of Roy Blunt and other people –
JIM LEHRER: He’s taking his place -
DAVID BROOKS: — is going to be a good thing.
JIM LEHRER: The corruption issue. How badly does this hurt the Republican Party generally, which was what I was trying to get at with Mark?
DAVID BROOKS: I don’t think any in the long run it helps him unless — I don’t think corruption helps — hurts a party unless people have a sense that they are out of touch with the American people and they don’t care.
In other words, I don’t think corruption hurts the party unless there’s a failure of policies — unless the party has no policies that help the American people. And this last week is a perfect indication that we’ve had some big corruption stories. George Bush’s approval ratings have shot up five points in the latest Gallup Poll and two other polls.
Bush is going up because there’s something that’s displaced corruption, which is Katrina. And as he’s traveling around the country, it’s sort of helping him, people see he’s actually trying to do something and – or both of them — and so what you have is policy trumps corruption. The Republican Party have a reputation — there’s some corruption, there’s some incompetence but if they have good policies, people will forgive that. If they don’t have good policies it ties into a big swamp, those people don’t get us.
JIM LEHRER: Now what do you think about the corruption thing? Add in also the other element of the week recently is the decision by the Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. He has a blind trust and he had some stock that was held — in a company that has been founded by his father and had been run by his brother and he asked the blind trust to sell the stock, this came out at the same time.
Is there — do you see all of this – well, first of all, you want to talk specifically about that? But I want to get at the general corruption.
MARK SHIELDS: Sure. And the point is he sold the stock and then it dropped 16 percent -
JIM LEHRER: Exactly.
MARK SHIELDS: — so he –
JIM LEHRER: Right.
MARK SHIELDS: It was a nice windfall for him.
JIM LEHRER: Right. But the issue, of course, is did he have inside information and that’s what the investigation has yet to determine, et cetera, et cetera.
MARK SHIELDS: Right. As somebody said, if you’re a public figure, you never want to have a Securities & Exchange Commission investigation with your name in the same sentence. And I don’t know what the definition of “blind” that Bill Frist doesn’t understand in blind trust – how you sell what you’ve been holding for 11 years. And the explanation that Bob Stevenson, his press secretary, who’s a very able guy, was that he wanted to avoid a conflict of interest – a perception.
Well, he’s been there for 11 years, he’s leaving the Senate next year. It seems like a funny time to unload it. And I think probably what you don’t want to have is the two leaders of your party in Congress answering questions, being cross-examined -
JIM LEHRER: At the same time.
MARK SHIELDS: — about malfeasance at the same time.
JIM LEHRER: Let me David specifically on the Bill Frist thing. Do you smell any corruption there?
DAVID BROOKS: No, I don’t. Bill Frist has a lot of problems which we’ve talked to about on this show. To me, personal corruption is not one of them. I do not see him. I’ve looked at his career quite a lot. Any sense of venality, of trying to profit in financial terms, I just, for a guy who’s led his life so carefully, to risk it for a few — even a couple of million bucks or a couple of hundred thousand bucks, this plan of becoming President of the United States, I just don’t buy it.
I mean, one of their defenses is that that he began this process I think back in April long before there could have been any information that the price dropped. So the point to make is there can be an investigation, but then there’s guilt and proof and in both in the DeLay case and the Frist case, we are a long way -
MARK SHIELDS: Let me just address one thing of David’s. I mean, the explanation is that it could be a conflict of interest, 11 years, that makes him one of the slowest learners in the western world. He’s only going to serve 12. And 11 years into this he says, gee, I think I’ll get rid of this because there could be a perception –
DAVID BROOKS: He said he was going to initiate legislation that would impact on this.
MARK SHIELDS: He had been one of the leaders on health care legislation all the time he’s been in the Senate, the leading authorities.
MARK SHIELDS:I think David is wrong about the case against Tom DeLay I don’t think there’s any question that Ronnie Earle — and he’s already been attacked several times– the district attorney of Travis County, Texas, Austin who bought this case –
JIM LEHRER: A Democrat.
MARK SHIELDS: A Democrat, who has brought cases against the Democratic speaker of the House, the Democratic attorney general of Texas, the Democratic chief justice of Texas, the Democratic state treasurer of Texas — four times as many Democrats as Republicans and the point is that I don’t think he would have brought the case unless somebody had flipped inside. And that’s Republicans -
JIM LEHRER: Flipped meaning that somebody’s prepared to testify against DeLay?
MARK SHIELDS: There’s no argument that companies, major companies like Sears and Roebuck and the Bacardi Liquor Corporation who had no interest at all in who was the state legislator for Pecos, Texas, made major contributions.
JIM LEHRER: It’s pronounced Pecos by the way.
MARK SHIELDS: Excuse me. Well, they didn’t care a wit about that but did care about Tom DeLay and did care about –
JIM LEHRER: Well, let’s explain to people who haven’t been following this.
MARK SHIELDS: Okay.
JIM LEHRER: The allegation is that the money was taken from corporations, it was put in a political action thing and then sent to Washington where it was then laundered and sent back in violation of Texas law. They couldn’t do it directly so they did it indirectly. But you say that’s not –
DAVID BROOKS: I’m not attacking Earle. I’m just saying I read the indictment. I couldn’t tell what individually this individual person, Tom DeLay, had actually done. There was not even an accusation. There’s a committee and it’s a committee that’s been connected to DeLay But you’ve got to commit a crime. You have to tell me what the person is accused of. I read through this thing and I couldn’t see that — it was just a gauze.
And so maybe it’s there, maybe Mark’s right. Maybe somebody did flip and we’ll learn it. But so far I just don’t see where that is.
MARK SHIELDS: Do I think that there’s a — the corruption issue works? Yeah, it does work. It works, Jim, at a time when people are looking at a 75 percent increase in their oil and home heating prices in the winter of 2005/2006. And oil companies have their highest profits in history. And –
JIM LEHRER: So the mix is not good.
MARK SHIELDS: When people want an excess profit tax on the oil companies, the administration fights it; so I mean, is there a sense where corruption seeps out, do the Democrats have a compelling, coherent message competing? No, they don’t, but sometimes to win an election all you need to do is to be the other guy.
It’s no way to govern, believe me. You can win by being the other guy but you have to govern, you have to have some ideas to do it.
JIM LEHRER: Now, the other major development of this week, obviously, was we now have a Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court and nobody really paid that much attention to it because so much was going on. It happened the same day of the DeLay thing — but we’ve talked about that before. No surprises in the final vote, were there?
DAVID BROOKS: No. Not really. I mean, if you looked at the — the Democrats were the only interesting side of the vote – the Democrats who voted for, the Democrats who voted against. Generally the people who have aspirations to run for president voted no. The exception, I think, was Russ Feingold who to me is the profile in courage head of all this.
I thought in the hearings he did an excellent job of asking tough prosecutorial questions; really some of the more critical questions that were asked were asked by Russ Feingold. I thought he did a much more competent job. And then he turns around and says, “well, I think he’s a decent guy.” So Russ Feingold looks very good.
MARK SHIELDS: I agree. I mean, the four horsemen: Bayh, Biden, Clinton, and Kerry, all four them mentioned as presidential — all voted against. But I’d add to that Chris Dodd, former Democratic national chairman, Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, senator who’s the chairman –
JIM LEHRER: Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia.
MARK SHIELDS: Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia; Patti Murray of Washington who got elected in the year of the woman in 1992 – I mean, all card carrying liberals — all of whom, in addition to Russ Feingold voted for-
JIM LEHRER: And of course Pat Leahy.
MARK SHIELDS: And Pat Leahy who led the fight took a lot of heat for it.
JIM LEHRER: Have those Democrats, the ones we’ve just mentioned, have they also set themselves up that if the second nominee, which is expected next week, the one to replace Sandra Day O’Connor, if the president goes too far to the right for them, they now have got credibility to jump?
MARK SHIELDS: I think they do have credibility and I think the question that comes to president right now, does he follow the model of John Roberts and somebody who’s going to get four to five or better Senate votes or does he go the Clarence Thomas route and –
JIM LEHRER: What do you think he’s going to do?
DAVID BROOKS: I think he’s going to pick a person whose personality shines the way Roberts does. You know, everyone’s been analyzing it by categories -
JIM LEHRER: Sure.
DAVID BROOKS: — what category is this person in. But in the end it will be a human person who will be sitting there in that chair and if that person seems impressive, I’m sure all the Democrats will vote against him. They’d vote against Oliver Wendell Holmes at this point. But they’ll be hesitant to filibuster that person.
JIM LEHRER: I remember you said on this program that one of the reasons Bush ended up nominating John Roberts was because in the personal interview he was really taken with the guy.
DAVID BROOKS: We can see why.
JIM LEHRER: We’ll see why. Okay. We’ll see what happens. Thank you both very much.