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Analysts Discuss North Korea Policy, Foley Page Scandal, Congressional Races

October 13, 2006 at 6:30 PM EDT
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JIM LEHRER: And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Mark, that’s the most remarkable story about this micro-financing and the Nobel Peace Prize; do you agree?

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: I do.

JIM LEHRER: Yes, just stunning.

MARK SHIELDS: Yup.

DAVID BROOKS, Columnist, New York Times: Well, you think about the history of foreign aid, these huge projects to create, you know, auto plants, energy plants. And the correlation between that kind of aid and actual growth is zero. And then, you know, you go into little villages where people can actually do something practical, and there you get this big bang for the buck. It is a David and Goliath-type story.

JIM LEHRER: Yes, and the fact that the Nobel Peace Committee found out about it and honored it is also remarkable.

North Korea nuclear test story, Mark. What do you think of the way the administration is playing it right now?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think the administration is playing it differently. And I think they’re playing it — it’s a response that’s directed somewhat by necessity. The president’s response has been more restrained, more muted.

But that’s in part, Jim, because he’s trying to put together the resolution. He’s trying to reassure other nations to bring them along, particularly China, in that resolution, so there is concerted world action.

Second, he has to reassure American voters, three and a half weeks before an election, that there’s not going to be another war. So that tamps down the rhetoric somewhat or the inclination to be tough or confrontational.

And third, I’d say, that there is no military action. There’s no realistic military option. So it’s…

JIM LEHRER: It’s either sanctions and they give up or forget it. Is that what you’re saying?

MARK SHIELDS: Yes.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with that?

DAVID BROOKS: I think so. I don’t see any option, to me honest, any practical realistic option. And we’ve had this back and forth over the past week between Hillary Clinton and John McCain, and various experts on this program and elsewhere, six-party talks, two-party talks, carrots, sticks.

I think they’re all persuasive: They all persuade me the other approach doesn’t work. And, you know, Clinton had a deal in ’94, which was reneged upon. That didn’t seem to work particularly well. The Bush administration approach, you know, gradual pressure, six-party with China…

JIM LEHRER: Oh, then — I remember we reported it and talked about it on this program, the six-party thing. Everybody believed, “Oh, my goodness, well, we dodged that bullet. There’s not going to be a nuclear thing from North Korea.” Boom, didn’t work.

DAVID BROOKS: Well, the fact is, if you’re sort of a Stalinist rogue regime and you want a nuclear weapon, it’s worth it for you to get a nuclear weapon. It enhances your prestige. Maybe you can sell it down the line. Unless somebody is willing to take radical action, which is militarily, which it’s not going to do, or China is really going to be willing to destabilize the whole country, it’s very hard to stop people from getting this.

Foley's effect on midterms

Mark Shields
Syndicated columnist
Because [Kim Jong Il] watches porno, he's got a strange haircut, weird dress, and he's five-foot-five, you know, he's not seen as the same way as Stalin or Hitler or somebody else who's more fearsome.

JIM LEHRER: Now, you said the fact that it's happening three and a half weeks before an election is relevant, is important. Why?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think it inhibits what the president can say in sounding tough and swaggering.

JIM LEHRER: Do you think it effects the election in any way, the electorate?

MARK SHIELDS: No, I don't. And it's interesting, Jim. On the eve of the 1964 election, in the midst of a sex scandal, Walter Jenkins, the president's probably closest friend in the White House...

JIM LEHRER: President Lyndon Johnson was the president.

MARK SHIELDS: ... President Lyndon Johnson -- was arrested at a YMCA for homosexual solicitation of sex. And this kind of reinforced the entire Goldwater campaign, that the '60s, with their libertine and libertarian and all excesses and everything else, was a direct consequence of Great Society Democratic policies. The next day, China exploded a nuclear weapon and Khrushchev fell.

JIM LEHRER: I'll never forget those 48 hours.

MARK SHIELDS: That's exactly right. But all of a sudden, it receded. I don't think that's the case here. I don't think that there is a sense that -- for one thing, in a strange and bizarre way, Kim is a -- the leader of North Korea is sort of a laugh line on Leno and Letterman.

You know, this is a man who's a despot, who watched idly by while two million of his own people starved to death. And he imported Mercedes-Benzes at the same time. And yet, because he watches porno, he's got a strange haircut, weird dress, and he's five-foot-five, you know, he's not seen as the same way as Stalin or Hitler or somebody else who's more fearsome. And I think in that sense he doesn't evoke much political response.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree, no political response?

DAVID BROOKS: It's a good point, though I'm trying to decode the 5.5, as somebody who's lucky to be 5.7 on a good day.

JIM LEHRER: I wasn't going to ask you that.

I was going to skim right over that.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, but it's a good point. We don't see him as evil. We just see him as bizarre.

JIM LEHRER: Kind of funny.

DAVID BROOKS: Which makes him more dangerous, to be honest about it.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes.

DAVID BROOKS: But I do agree with Mark. I don't see it having much political impact. I mean, if there was a nuclear exchange, it would put the Republicans out of their misery maybe. But short of that, it just -- you know, I was in Ohio this week, and it was not something I heard at all.

Iraq, the Midwest and the midterms

David Brooks
The New York Times
A lot of Republicans who legitimately are saying, "I'm independent, I've broken with the president on x, y and z," are finding it very hard to get out of the Republican label.

JIM LEHRER: What about Iraq? Did you hear a lot about Iraq in Ohio?

DAVID BROOKS: Iraq you do hear about. I mean, in Ohio in particular, you hear about jobs first. Ohio, like a lot of Midwestern states, lost a lot jobs. And then you hear about all the scandals they're having, which Foley really played into a lot this...

JIM LEHRER: The state scandals, local scandals, right.

DAVID BROOKS: And then Iraq is third. And that does come up. And that mostly comes up in feeding a public mood of what one Republican candidate called to me "impatience" and what one Democratic candidate called to me "fed up-ness." And so it feeds that whole mood, fed-up, we want a change.

JIM LEHRER: You think these are the same, they're the same feeling. There are just different labels on it.

DAVID BROOKS: Exactly.

JIM LEHRER: I see. How did you think the president handled -- at his news conference this week, how did you think he handled both Iraq and North Korea, as the commander in chief projecting his being-in-charge-ness?

MARK SHIELDS: I guess I really didn't grade him that way, Jim.

JIM LEHRER: You didn't?

MARK SHIELDS: I mean, I'm always...

JIM LEHRER: Well, I'm asking you to, Mark.

MARK SHIELDS: I know you are. You know, I'm going to take an incomplete. I mean, no, I really -- you know, I think, as I said, he was muted and restrained on North Korea.

His Iraq, nobody is listening to him on Iraq any more. I mean, the reality on the ground -- I mean, we have the British commanding general saying that it's a naive hope to create a democracy there, that our troops are exacerbating, the presence of allied troops exacerbating the situation.

JIM LEHRER: Well, that's a serious thing to say, Mark, that they're no longer listening to President Bush about Iraq.

MARK SHIELDS: I don't think that what the president has to say -- I mean, he said he agreed with John Warner? I mean, now John Warner basically said, "You got 60 to 90 days, or else we better think seriously about getting out of there." That sounds awfully close to "cut and run" to me.

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I mean, if he issues a policy decision about whether we still support this government or whether we don't, whether we're going to agree to some partition, whether we're going to embrace what will be a Baker report in a couple of months, then people will start listening.

But I sort of do agree that, on the overall point of his restating, "What I did was right, I'm not doing any look-backs," or whatever he said that, that for Democrats underlines their fears that "I'm not looking back and reevaluating." And for Republicans, there's just not a lot of emotional warmth there.

And one of the things that's striking -- and I think is striking as you go around the country -- is that a lot of Republicans who legitimately are saying, "I'm independent, I've broken with the president on x, y and z," are finding it very hard to get out of the Republican label, that we have a national election...

Voters and churchgoers

David Brooks
The New York Times
It's like a parliamentary election, where people vote for the party less than the candidate, which is not normal in America.

JIM LEHRER: You're talking about candidates?

DAVID BROOKS: Candidates. And it's like a parliamentary election, where people vote for the party less than the candidate, which is not normal in America.

JIM LEHRER: Yes. Are you finding the same thing, that this is almost becoming a parliamentary thing?

MARK SHIELDS: I have. I was in -- well, I mean, Republicans have been successful at that. I mean, they hoist on their own petard. They're the ones the national...

JIM LEHRER: They did that in '94.

MARK SHIELDS: They did it in '94. They did it in 2000. They did it in 2002. They did it in 2004. So, I mean, there is a sense now all of a sudden they want to establish, "I'm an independent contractor. I'm not part of the parliamentary majority."

But I think the other thing -- I agree with David, because I was in Ohio earlier -- but I think the Foley thing plays into that whole problem Republicans have. And the most devastating figure I saw all week long, you know, 40 percent of Americans, Jim, go to church at least once a week, all right? Forty percent of American voters.

Now, think about that. Two out of five voters. Now, in 2004, John Kerry lost that group of voters to George Bush by 20 percentage points, OK?

JIM LEHRER: Didn't matter what church they went to, just that people went to church?

MARK SHIELDS: Just that people did. I'm not being academic or esoteric, but 20 percent of 40 percent is 8 percent. That's out of the total. That's twice the margin by which George Bush won the presidency. So if John Kerry had just split those groups, he would have been president of the United States if he had lost them only by 10 points.

What we find out this week is, in the Gallup poll, is that that group, which has been consistently white church-goers who go once a week, are now split between Democrats and Republicans. Now, that's a cumulative thing.

JIM LEHRER: You mean generically?

MARK SHIELDS: Generically, in this vote. And the Republican message to these folks has been: "We're like you. We honor your values. We share them. We're like you. Those other people aren't." Now, they don't think the Democrats are any more like them than they are, but it's just a disappointment, disillusionment.

Election projections

Mark Shields
Syndicated columnist
For the first time, the confidence is gone from the Republicans, and you're starting to hear them say, "You know, it might not be the worst thing in the world for us to lose."

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree the Mark Foley thing is having that kind of effect?

DAVID BROOKS: I think it's having a big effect on maybe six to 10 House districts, the key races. I don't think it's having a huge effect on a lot of other races which haven't moved that much. But six to 10 is a lot. I mean, it could change the whole election in the House.

I was in Deborah Pryce's district in Columbus, Ohio. She is a moderate Republican, and she had the misfortune...

JIM LEHRER: And a member of the leadership.

DAVID BROOKS: And a member of the leadership. She was asked in a magazine, "Name some of your friends in the House," and she is against the ban on gay marriages. She supports gay rights to some extent, and so she mentioned Mark Foley.

And so her opponent began using that, but using it -- and this goes with what Mark's saying -- in ads on Christian radio, Democrats advertising on Christian radio to bring down the support among evangelicals for Deborah Pryce. And it certainly had a big effect on that district.

JIM LEHRER: All right...

MARK SHIELDS: The reason I think it's going to have an even bigger effect...

JIM LEHRER: You mean beyond just the...

MARK SHIELDS: ... that David talked about, and I agree with David, these are the folks who do the work. These are the folks who knock on the doors. These are the folks who make the phone calls, who drive people, the old folks, to the polls on Election Day. These are the real volunteers. These are the backbone and the foot soldiers of the Republican movement. And if they're demoralized and dispirited, this is a terrible kick in the teeth.

JIM LEHRER: All right, I'm going to put my pen down. I'm not going to write down what your answers are here. But I'm not going to remember them, but as we sit here tonight, what -- I'm not asking you to predict, but to project what you think is going to happen, first, in the House.

DAVID BROOKS: I'm not going to predict, but I will project.

JIM LEHRER: OK.

DAVID BROOKS: As soon as I discover the difference between those two things. I now think there's beginning to be a tide, and at this point I think the Republicans could lose both houses.

JIM LEHRER: Both houses, both the House and the Senate?

Mark?

JIM LEHRER: No, I'm not going to listen. I'm not going to hear. I'm going to listen, but not hear.

MARK SHIELDS: I think, as of tonight -- it could all change tomorrow -- the Democrats would pick up 30 seats.

JIM LEHRER: Thirty seats in the House?

MARK SHIELDS: And I think they'll win the Senate.

JIM LEHRER: Wow. Wow. And you think -- what would it take for -- is there anything the Republicans can do now to stop this tide?

DAVID BROOKS: Something will happen. There will be some national security story or something. Something will happen.

JIM LEHRER: That will help the Republicans?

DAVID BROOKS: Or hurt them more.

MARK SHIELDS: You know what's surprising? And it hit me this week more than any other, is the confidence. The Republicans have always been confident in these elections -- 2000, 2002, 2004, they're kind of, "We're better at it than you are. We know the country better."

For the first time, the confidence is gone from the Republicans, and you're starting to hear them say, "You know, it might not be the worst thing in the world for us to lose." And, boy, I've heard Democrats say that for a generation, as they were prepared to lose.

DAVID BROOKS: Because they were losing, that's right.

JIM LEHRER: Because they were losing. Are you picking up the same lack of confidence among Republicans?

DAVID BROOKS: I mean, a lot of conservatives want conservatives to lose, Republicans to lose, because they think the party has lost its way. And so they're almost rooting for it, as Mark said. There are still partisans out there who are working, and they have this faith in their micro-targeting, which is their get-out-the-vote methodology. But the last week has really seen a change in mood, a big change in mood.

JIM LEHRER: OK. Thank you both very much.