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Shields and Brooks Mull Iowa Election Push, Baseball Scandal

December 14, 2007 at 6:20 PM EDT
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The final Republican and Democratic debates took place in Iowa this week ahead of the state's Jan. 3 caucus, a spending fight continued in Congress and a report brought new focus on the use of steroids in professional baseball. Analysts Mark Shields and David Brooks discuss the events of the week.
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TRANSCRIPT

JIM LEHRER: Mark, first, on the Democrats, what are the polls and your reporting saying about what’s happening in Iowa?

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: I think, Jim, with the caveat that it is incredibly difficult to poll, because only 125,000 people participated in this process in 2004, so who shows up, as Judy just described it, in…

JIM LEHRER: The polls don’t mean that much. The polls don’t mean that much, right?

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right. I mean, you’ve got a two-hour commitment. It’s an incredible experience standing up in front of neighbors, friends, in-laws and telling whom you’re for. So that’s tough always to figure out who the poll is.

But I’d say there’s no question in the state itself that there’s a feeling that Barack Obama has moved and the Hillary Clinton campaign, while still very competitive, has stalled. And John Edwards, in spite of the fact that so much attention is focused in the reporting on the Obama-Clinton race, John Edwards is still very much in the hunt.

JIM LEHRER: Yes.

Do you agree with that, David?

DAVID BROOKS, Columnist, New York Times: I basically do.

JIM LEHRER: Still a three-person race?

DAVID BROOKS: Absolutely, and I agree with Mark’s reading of a different momentum. The only thing I’d add is that, not only in Iowa, but in New Hampshire Obama is now very close to Hillary Clinton.

To the extent that you think if Obama does win Iowa, he’ll also win New Hampshire. He also has a very good shot in South Carolina. And so racking up a whole bunch of early states now seems at least a possibility.

Obama's boost in Iowa

Mark Shields
Syndicated Columnist
And in a strange way, Hillary Clinton's greatest strength is her greatest weakness. That is, her experience, the fact that she has been around for 15 years, or she even says been fighting for 35 years. That carries with it some baggage.

JIM LEHRER: Is it impossible, David, to calculate why Obama is moving in Iowa? Is it strictly Oprah?

DAVID BROOKS: No, it's not Oprah, though Oprah matters, and Oprah matters for the reasons David Broder of the Washington Post said earlier this week. It's not so much her image, but it's that so many people came out to those rallies.

And in Judy's piece, we saw people filling out forms. When you go to a meeting in Iowa, the first thing the campaigns do is they give you a card, and you've got to fill it out with your name and address.

So what the Obama campaign now has because of the huge crowds that Oprah drew was the names of, say, 20,000 more people that they can call on caucus day and get them out. So that's tremendously important.

But I think, fundamentally, as I said last week, that he's in tune with the times. He gave his speech, the Jefferson Jackson Day dinner speech, where he said, "Don't vote on fear; vote on hope." And I think the foreign policy world is less threatening than it was. I think the Republicans seem less threatening. So Democrats are more likely to vote on their aspirations.

JIM LEHRER: What's your analysis, Mark, of why Obama is doing a little bit better than he was a week ago?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, Jim, there's sort of a dirty, little secret here about the political press corps. You'll recall that the first nine months of this year was spent in encomiums, kudos to the flawless, professional, incredibly professional, and organized Clinton campaign, and this flawless candidate.

Now, of course, and the Obama campaign seemed to be amateurish, that it was a Chicago-based campaign, they weren't quite up to it.

I asked David Axelrod, his principal strategist, yesterday, "How do you explain that his IQ had grown 50 points in the last couple of weeks, as Obama had surged?" He said, "You're never as smart in this business as people tell you are when you're winning, and you're never as dumb when you're losing as people tell you you are."

And I think there's some of that to this. I mean, I think it was overwritten, the Clinton machine in the early months. I don't think there's any question that there is a desire for a new, different direction.

And in a strange way, Hillary Clinton's greatest strength is her greatest weakness. That is, her experience, the fact that she has been around for 15 years, or she even says been fighting for 35 years. That carries with it some baggage.

The other side of Obama is he is new, he is fresh. There is a sense of people instilling in him and reposing in him their hopes, that there are concerns, still anxious about his green, being green. I don't mean in the environmental sense, but I mean in not being as experienced and having been around the track.

So his greatest strength is also potentially his liability. But he is -- there's no question he's connecting here.

JIM LEHRER: But I assume you agree with David, because we talked about it last week, that the lessening of the possibility of World War III with Iran and the reports that the surge is working better has made green less of an issue in terms of green inexperience, correct?

MARK SHIELDS: I think it does. I think it may have made a bigger difference in the Republican race. I think it's Rudy -- I think, you know, Rudy's the kind of guy that you probably...

JIM LEHRER: Rudy Giuliani.

MARK SHIELDS: ... wouldn't vote for unless you're scared, Rudy Giuliani. And I think that was his ace in the hole. Very much his trump card was the fear that "I'll protect you from this threat." While Hillary Clinton was certainly seen as strong on national defense and experienced and sure-footed, I think it was less of an advantage in the Democratic side than it was on the Republican side.

Huckabee under scrutiny

David Brooks
The New York Times
I think [Mike Huckabee] has really no foreign policy experience at all. So he's rising on the basis of his personality, which is a very fine personality, especially compared to some of his competitors.

JIM LEHRER: David, let's talk about the Republicans. Huckabee, Huckabee, Huckabee, he's on the front page of every magazine. He's this, he's in everything, everywhere. How do you explain that? Do you agree this is part of it, too?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I do. I think he has really no foreign policy experience at all. So he's rising on the basis of his personality, which is a very fine personality, especially compared to some of his competitors. He's witty.

JIM LEHRER: Do you really mean that? I mean, do you really believe that personality is what is driving Huckabee?

DAVID BROOKS: On the Republican side, and on the Democratic side, I think that's the only thing that matters. If you look at the new campaigns, you used to have these structured races where you have the centrist running against the liberal in the Democratic side or the centrist against the conservative. We don't have any of that this year. It's all personality. I can't tell any major policy difference in either party within the two parties.

JIM LEHRER: So Huckabee is likable?

DAVID BROOKS: Huckabee is likable. He's natural.

JIM LEHRER: That could be driving him in the polls?

DAVID BROOKS: And that's not a stupid way to vote. The person is going to be in the White House. They have to know themselves. Self-knowledge is actually kind of important. And he knows himself; he's comfortable with himself. And you think on the basis of that he won't make freakish judgments.

But the interesting thing about Huckabee is he's being attacked now. And he's being attacked from two sides. He's being attacked from the Democrats or from liberals for being sort of a religious nut, for not believing in Darwin and all that kind of stuff, which to me has some basis in truth.

But it's not the real critique that he's really facing. That's coming from the Republican establishment. And that's coming because, on domestic policy grounds, on the stuff he actually did as governor, he was quite moderate, quite centrist.

His tax policy, his education policy, his arts education policy, some of the social policies were not orthodox Republicanism, and they see him as a moderate. I think that's one of the keys of his success. He's the only Republican who seems to offer some bit of change to middle-class voters.

JIM LEHRER: You agree with that, Mark? Does that sound right to you?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I haven't heard the Democrats criticizing Huckabee as David has, but I will say this. If you want to know how screwed up the Republicans are in 2007, going into 2008, consider this, Jim. All the growth, all the strength of the Republican Party over the last generation has been in two places. In the American South, voters have switched. And among churchgoing conservative, religious, Christian evangelicals, that's been the growth area. All right?

JIM LEHRER: For Republicans. For Republicans.

MARK SHIELDS: What do we know about Massachusetts? We know it's the socialist state. It's the most liberal state in the union. So what is the storyline this week? The former governor of Arkansas, conservative, Baptist minister governor, is being attacked by the former governor of Massachusetts for being too liberal.

Now, if I explained this to somebody from Mars that somebody from Massachusetts is attacking a Baptist minister governor of Arkansas being too liberal, but that's what this race has come to. It is an absolutely bizarre encounter.

JIM LEHRER: Are the attacks on Huckabee working, David? Has he got a problem?

DAVID BROOKS: I do think he does have a bit of a problem. As I said, I think he's a normal guy, a nice guy, a very good campaigner, equal to any of the other candidates. It's still hard to see how he actually wins the nomination, in part because he does have this Evangelical baggage, which I don't think will carry over to New Hampshire and a lot of the other states.

JIM LEHRER: But hopefully in South Carolina.

DAVID BROOKS: And he does have flaws. And he's a strong candidate, but he does have flaws. He doesn't have very strong foreign policy experience. Some of his actual policies, his proposals are a little flakey.

And the other thing is he's a guy who still irons his own suits. He doesn't have a campaign yet. He doesn't have a big staff. He's getting an infusion of money. And how they're actually going to spend that money, is it too late to spend that money effectively? That could turn him into a mess.

Now, he made some progress today, I think, by hiring Ed Rollins, a controversial but experienced figure, to run his national campaign, but he's still got a long way to go organizationally to match all the others, basically.

JIM LEHRER: Mark, do you agree the coming of Ed Rollins is an asset for Huckabee?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, Ed Rollins, very few people have run winning presidential campaigns, and I don't think Karl Rove is available. Ed Rollins did win a 49-1 Reagan victory in 1984. Since then, he's had some rather mishaps, with the Christie Whitman campaign in New Jersey, and starting and stopping with Ross Perot in 1992.

But I think it's always a tough thing, Jim, to bring in somebody new to an existing organization. And I think what Mike Huckabee was looking for was to certify and validate himself and his candidacy to the Republican establishment to reassure them.

And the selection of Ed Rollins, who's certainly an experienced hand, he feels will do that. But it will not be an easy marriage, Rollins and the original Huckabee people.

Congress faces funding stalemate

Mark Shields
Syndicated Columnist
The death-bed conversion of the Bush administration to fiscal responsibility is interesting, after six consecutive years of budget deficits and practically doubling the national debt in those six years.

JIM LEHRER: David, here in Washington, for a couple of minutes, the stalemate that still exists between the president and the Republicans on one side and the Democrats and the leadership of the Senate and the House on the other over funding and all kinds of things. What's going to happen here?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I think they will not reach a reconciliation on this. I think they'll go to what we call a CR, a continuing resolution, which will just continue the spending on this. And this is because both sides want the fight.

We're deep in an election year right now. The Democrats and the Republicans both desperately want a spending fight for their own reasons. It shores up their own parties. And for the Republicans in particular, they think by being tough on spending they can restore their brand, which is supposed to be the party of fiscal discipline.

JIM LEHRER: I see. Do you agree, Mark, that this is inevitable, both of them want a fight, so let's have one, and nobody is going to resolve anything?

MARK SHIELDS: I'm not as sure of that, Jim. I mean, the death-bed conversion of the Bush administration to fiscal responsibility is interesting, after six consecutive years of budget deficits and practically doubling the national debt in those six years. The president now is willing to stand and fight over $11 billion out of the entire domestic spending side.

But, you know, I think there are a number of factors. There's no question we're going into a presidential year. It's all playing out on that stage. David is right there.

Steroid revelations roil baseball

David Brooks
The New York Times
But the lesson for young kids or the rest of us is that character matters. There was a social contagion going through baseball, and a lot of people succumbed to the temptation to do steroids because it was semi-acceptable.

JIM LEHRER: Before we go, because we're going to have a segment Margaret is going to run here in a moment about the baseball steroid thing, how does it look to you in Iowa? Are people talking about this in Iowa, Mark?

MARK SHIELDS: People are talking about it, Jim, more than they're talking about the caucuses.

JIM LEHRER: Oh, my goodness.

MARK SHIELDS: If, in fact, Bud Selig and the baseball establishment was looking for somebody to sweep it under the rug, they chose the wrong person in George Mitchell. I mean, he's absolutely thoughtful. He's committed. He's tough, and he's thorough.

And I think the fact that he stood up there and said everybody involved should have known about this, is responsible, and this comes down to cheating, and you're cheating the children of America, you're cheating on your teammates, you're cheating the past, you're cheating -- just cheating America.

And that's what's been going on for 15 years, essentially. And it's been enormously profitable for baseball, and I think people are outraged.

JIM LEHRER: And, David, Senator Mitchell said to Jeff Brown on this program last night that the most devastating, the most annoying, the thing that made him the angriest about all of this is the way the young kids have patterned their lives after these ballplayers and they're all taking enhancement drugs, as well.

DAVID BROOKS: I'm not so sure if they all are.

JIM LEHRER: Not all. Not all.

DAVID BROOKS: I don't think they all-- But the lesson for young kids or the rest of us is that character matters. There was a social contagion going through baseball, and a lot of people succumbed to the temptation to do steroids because it was semi-acceptable.

But at the same time, and one of the things that struck me about the report was that you had a lot of players -- say, in the Mets clubhouse, where the trainer was really at the core of this investigation -- people like Mike Piazza, and Todd Zeile, and Edgardo Alfonzo, who didn't do it, as far as we know.

And so there are a lot of players, the Ken Griffeys, the Derek Jeters of this world, they apparently made a choice. "It's going on around me, but I'm not going to do it." And so that lesson, that just because people around you are doing it doesn't make it right, is really the core lesson out of this for young people, I would think.

JIM LEHRER: OK, thank you both very much.

MARK SHIELDS: Jim, I'd just add one thing, Jim, if I could.

JIM LEHRER: Sure.

MARK SHIELDS: One-third of the New York Yankees in the year 2000, when they won the World Series, were named in the report, one out of three players.

DAVID BROOKS: I wonder who the Red Sox fan is out of here.

JIM LEHRER: I'm going to say goodbye to both of you. It's really been a pleasure being with you tonight.