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Democrats Square-Off in Vegas Debate; U.S. Envoy Puts Pressure on Pakistan

November 16, 2007 at 6:40 PM EDT

JIM LEHRER: And finally tonight, the analysis of Shields and Brooks. Syndicated columnist Mark Shields is reporting from Las Vegas tonight. New York Times columnist David Brooks is right here.

Mark, what did you think was the most important thing that happened last night at that debate?

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: Well, first of all, Jim, I think the atmospherics of the debate changed it. Unlike Philadelphia two weeks ago, where the audience, there wasn’t a peep heard from them, last night the audience became major players. They cheered their favorites; they booed their opponents; they applauded. It became rather raucous at times.

And as a consequence, I think the candidates began speaking almost in partisan terms to the crowd in the hall. And if you were an independent, or a disaffected Republican, or just an interested citizen watching, I don’t think you got the sense of a debate last night, as much as you got a series of political rallies.

So I think, in that sense, it was less productive. It may have been more helpful for Republicans than it was for the Democrats. But I think we in the political business love to use geologist terms, the fault line in a candidacy, or somebody went into a landslide…

JIM LEHRER: The ground is moving. Did the ground move? Right, right.

MARK SHIELDS: Well, the erosion, the alleged erosion in Senator Clinton’s candidacy following the Philadelphia debate two weeks ago was stopped. I mean, her performance, I think, reminded voters why she’s so formidable, reminded the press why she’s so formidable.

She’s smart; she’s poised; she’s articulate; she’s knowledgeable; and she’s tough. I mean, she delivered a punch right at the outset to John Edwards, and he, quite frankly, was reeling from it.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with that assessment, David?

DAVID BROOKS, Columnist, New York Times: Yes, I guess, with my pundit hat, we pundits, we’re only supposed to pay attention to the top three. And then we’re supposed to measure their body movements 45 degrees this way and that way. And I guess, thinking about it in those terms, she did certainly halt the slide. I’m sorry, again, a geographic metaphor, but she certainly did.

She’d had a bad few weeks, a whole series of things that happened to her. And what she did was she showed that, a, as Mark says, she can hit back, but even against Obama, and there was a crucial interchange there where his main charge against her is she doesn’t give a straight answer. And then on the issues of driver’s license for illegal immigrants, he actually didn’t give a straight answer. And she took advantage of that, in a series of cases. And generally her opponents backed off after the first 10, 15 minutes.

Democrats' views on trade

Mark Shields
Syndicated Columnist
I do agree with David that I think the Democratic field is an impressive field. I think any one of those candidates who was on the stage last night could go toe-to-toe with whoever the Republican nominee is.

JIM LEHRER: What did you make of the voter in Las Vegas who told Judy none of that part even matters?

DAVID BROOKS: I have total sympathy with that. We pay attention to this every day; this is what we do for a living. So we're looking for the little minutia there. But I think for most people who look at it in a normal sense, tune in and out occasionally, I think a couple of things would leap out at you.

One, I always think almost -- and especially last night -- that Biden, Dodd and Richardson won the debate. I just think, if you didn't know anything about these people, you saw those three, you'd say they're pretty qualified to be president.

JIM LEHRER: Not on body language and one-liners, but on its face, huh?

DAVID BROOKS: I thought Richardson had an excellent answer on the illegal immigration issue. He'd actually done it. He knew the safety concerns. Biden had an excellent answer on Musharraf. He'd actually talked to Musharraf. He knows the issue better than any of them, believe me.

And so if you're president, looking for somebody who actually knows what they're doing, I think you would gravitate towards those guys.

JIM LEHRER: Is that a minority view, Mark, or do you agree with David?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think that -- first, I do agree with David that I think the Democratic field is an impressive field. I think any one of those candidates who was on the stage last night could go toe-to-toe with whoever the Republican nominee is, and Democrats would not have to be nervous about it in the fall.

I mean, whether that's John McCain, or whether it's Rudy Giuliani, or Mitt Romney, or Mike Huckabee, or somebody yet to be named, I mean, every one of them is an accomplished public presence and advocate.

As far as the voter's objection, Jim, let's be very blunt about this. The Philadelphia debate was not important in the degree of how many people watched it, because the audiences even at this stage of the campaign are quite small. They're important how they affect the press coverage.

And the press coverage was influenced -- as David pointed out, for two-and-a-half weeks, Senator Clinton was very much on the defensive. Coming out of this debate last night, she will be less on the defensive. I mean, other events obviously in the campaign will intrude.

And I agree that Senator Obama did not have as good a night. I thought he gave the best answer of the night, quite frankly, which was on, what do we do about the Chinese tainted toothpaste, and poisoned dog food, and lead-tainted toys that are poisoning our children coming into the country?

And people started talking about the WTO and taking legal sanctions. And he says, "We've got to do what the Japanese do. We ought to send inspectors in, as the Japanese do, to the Chinese factories. If they don't meet the standards, they don't come into Japan."

And I don't know if that upsets the corporate world, benefactors of the campaigns or whatever, but it just made good sense.


DAVID BROOKS: What Mark said does lead to one of the things that struck me about the race, is there were certain issue migrations. None of the candidates are willing to take on the teachers union on merit pay, and I think privately I suspect many of them actually disagree.

But then on the issue of trade -- and Mark was talking about the WTO answer -- if you looked at the Democratic Party -- and this is especially true with Hillary Clinton, but true of some of the others, as well -- this is a party that, as the Republican Party has moved to the right a long way on trade, the Democratic Party has moved in a protectionist direction on trade.

And what struck me in Judy's conversation is the people she was speaking with -- somebody works for an Internet service provider, somebody runs a multimedia firm -- this is the new economy that we just saw in Judy's piece. But a lot of the Democrats, they talk to the old economy, and maybe that's who is suffering, so you understand that.

But I do think the movement on trade is an important movement of the Democratic Party, and it was certainly evident in spades in the debate.

JIM LEHRER: You mentioned David...

MARK SHIELDS: I could not...

JIM LEHRER: I'm sorry. Go ahead.

MARK SHIELDS: I could not disagree more with David.


MARK SHIELDS: It's not a question of protectionism or not protectionism. It's a question of public health and public safety. I mean, that's what the trade debate has become.

I mean, when you're getting poisoned dog food coming into the United States, when you're getting toothpaste that makes people sick, when you're getting toys being imported by major American name brands that are tainted and painted in lead, that are going to put children in hospitals, that isn't a question of whether you believe in free trade or open trade. That's a question of whether you're going to just say, "Whatever goes, and they can come into our country."

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I should be clear. There were two questions. There was the toothpaste question. There was also the NAFTA question, which I thought was quite a poor moment for Hillary Clinton, when Wolf Blitzer reminded her that she and her husband and that administration, and Al Gore had the debate with Ross Perot on NAFTA. And she said, "All I remember was a bunch of charts."

And she walked away from that. She's walked away from some of the subsequent trade agreements, and that is certainly where the party has moved and I think the Republican Party...

JIM LEHRER: David, you mentioned -- go ahead, Mark.

MARK SHIELDS: Just one thing, Jim. I think nobody can argue today that both sides, Democrats and Republicans who advocated NAFTA in 1992 and 1993 oversold it.

They said it was going to do two things in particular. It was going to raise salaries in Mexico and create jobs to the point where there would be no incentive for Mexicans to come across the border illegally. And, second, it was going to stop illegal immigration. Well, I mean, that was overselling.

JIM LEHRER: OK, Mark, I'm trying to change the subject here, OK?

MARK SHIELDS: OK, all right.

JIM LEHRER: But, David, you want to defend...

DAVID BROOKS: I just want Mark to have the last word on this issue. We'll talk about NAFTA another day.

Pakistan's political turmoil

David Brooks
New York Times
We've had this anti-democratic move because of Iraq and our disillusion over that, but now when something actually happens, when you see lawyers being beaten up in the streets, the country reacts.

JIM LEHRER: All right, Musharraf. Negroponte is there. The president of the United States has been on the phone to Musharraf every three days, it seems like. "Please don't do this. Do this, do this, do that." Musharraf is running his own course.

A lot of people are making a case that that means that the president of the United States, and thus the United States, doesn't have the power to deliver, as it used to. Is that correct?

DAVID BROOKS: I don't totally buy that. Whenever you go to a foreign country and look at their internal deliberations, America looks a lot different from there than it does from here. We think our role in their internal deliberations is huge.

But I remember, as a correspondent covering Moscow in the Soviet Union when it was collapsing, America was a factor, but the internal field there is so crowded, those are the main factors. Our influence is not determinative in any of these cases. It's important, but it's not determinative.

So I think that's another argument for actually taking the principled stand, because basically we're not going to shape their country, so we might as well take the principled stand and be for democracy.

JIM LEHRER: So you shouldn't say, "Hey, President Bush is down in the polls, so that means he can't do anything about Musharraf"?

DAVID BROOKS: I've seen presidents who are up and presidents who are down, and they never are able to actually shape the internal affairs of another nation.


MARK SHIELDS: I agree with David that what we can do is limited. Yes, we have given $10 billion in aid since 9/11, Jim, but the reality is that a September poll of Pakistanis showed a 19 percent favorable attitude toward the United States and toward Americans.

Musharraf is aware of the fact that he's been accused of being George Bush's lackey. He's referred to in many parts of Pakistan as "Busharraf." And I think they also know that they're the key.

We are limited in what we can do for a very simple reason. They're an Islamic nation with the bomb that has shown a propensity for dispensing nuclear technology to places we didn't want it to go. And they're the only route into Afghanistan for American and NATO forces. I mean, I think there's limitations on what President Bush or any president can do at this point.

DAVID BROOKS: But it does strike me, we've had this anti-democratic move because of Iraq and our disillusion over that, but now when something actually happens, when you see lawyers being beaten up in the streets, the country reacts as Americans are prone to react. We're for democracy. And we may not have all the power in the world, but we are for -- we can't stand by when that is happening, no matter what we say in our disillusioned state.

JIM LEHRER: Yes, Mark?

MARK SHIELDS: I agree with David, but I'm just talking about the reality of what's on the ground in Pakistan.

Barry Bonds' indictment

Mark Shields
Syndicated Columnist
Attendance returned at the time that Mark McGwire broke the homerun record in the pursuit with Sammy Sosa. Barry Bonds had not used any steroids prior to then.

JIM LEHRER: Finally, the other big story we talked about tonight is the Barry Bonds case. How serious a blow is this to organized baseball and to baseball generally, for the little kids, as well as the old kids?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I think Barry Bonds has been -- people know what he did. I actually think it's a good move, a, because it will give an incentive for all the other players to tell the truth. And so I think it will lead to the end of the steroid era.

And then the other thing that strikes you is the human tragedy. The guy was born with more baseball talent than anybody else on the planet and was born into the right family, and still it wasn't enough.

JIM LEHRER: His father was a great baseball player.

DAVID BROOKS: His father was a great baseball player. His godfather was a great baseball player, and still it wasn't enough. And because he was a superstar, he thought he was above everything and probably the law, too.

JIM LEHRER: Yes. What's your view of this, Mark? How big a deal is this, in terms of how it affects the game of baseball?

MARK SHIELDS: It's a big deal, Jim, but the story really is the piano player in the house of ill repute. The pretense that the owners, the commissioner, those who covered baseball, the baseball union did not know what was going on is just folly. I mean, it's just preposterous.

They were all enablers of what went on. The baseball strike killed attendance. We had to cancel the World Series. Attendance was down. Attendance returned at the time that Mark McGwire broke the homerun record in the pursuit with Sammy Sosa. Barry Bonds had not used any steroids prior to then. It brought people back in. Baseball players started looking like the Incredible Hulk, and everybody looked the other way.

And thank goodness, thank goodness for a couple of politicians and some lawyers. Tom Davis, a Republican from Virginia, and Henry Waxman, a Democrat from California, brought Mark McGwire before the Congress, and he couldn't deny that he had used steroids. And John McCain threatened the anti-trust laws to baseball.

JIM LEHRER: And there's some good reporting at the San Francisco Chronicle and others.

MARK SHIELDS: Superb reporting by the San Francisco Chronicle and Jeffrey's guest, absolutely.

JIM LEHRER: And burying their heads, David, Barry Bonds went from 180 pounds to 240 pounds right before everybody's eyes.

DAVID BROOKS: Right. You look at the early pictures of him, he's a different guy.

JIM LEHRER: Yes, right. Thank you both very much.