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Shields and Brooks on ‘New Candor’ with Pakistan, Biden’s Poll Numbers

October 30, 2009 at 12:00 AM EDT
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Columnists Mark Shields and David Brooks discuss the top stories of the past week, including Hillary Clinton's visit to Pakistan, Vice President Joe Biden's poll numbers, and upcoming elections in New Jersey and Virginia.

JIM LEHRER: And finally tonight, the analysis of Shields and Brooks, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, “New York Times” columnist David Brooks.

The three of us, along with everybody else, just watched the interview with Hillary Clinton, secretary of state.

What did you see when you saw her?

MARK SHIELDS: I saw a directness, a refreshing directness, I felt, sort of a new candor in the relationship, I would say, between the United States and Pakistan, openly and publicly, on both sides.

I mean, earlier in the day today, she got in a frank exchange in some rather direct ways.

JIM LEHRER: Each one of these things, there has been a…


JIM LEHRER: Whether the students, everybody she has talked to, they have been at her.

MARK SHIELDS: But the other thing that hit me was, I mean, that there’s a real sense of courage involved. I mean, she walked into that country, kept her public schedule after a terrorist attack that killed 100 people, two-thirds of them women and children.

And I was sort of encouraged by her and by her directness.

JIM LEHRER: Encouraged?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, on two things especially, and then one question I have.

One, encouraged on, Waziristan, the Pakistanis have actually started fighting the Taliban quite hard on that. And she actually suggested she is not satisfied with that. She wants more. And, so, that has been progress. And more progress needs to be done.

The second issue which she is trying to do is get us talking about things other than terrorism, and economics. And, you know, you look over at China…

JIM LEHRER: The poverty — she raised the poverty issue.

DAVID BROOKS: Right. And I think that is significant, because, when China expanded, the countries around China tasted some of that expansion. And it changed the whole region, even countries who were hostile to China.

Now, India next door is exploding in growth. And, so, will it spill over into Pakistan? Well, it has the potential, even given the current relationship between those two countries, but you would certainly think it has the potential.

Now, the psychological question I have is, we send our secretary of state over there. She gets really beat up by a lot of different audiences. Do people feel — in those countries feel purged? OK, she listened. Good. We had this exchange. Or do they think, well, hating the U.S. really feels pretty good, and I should do more of it?

And I’m not quite clear sure which is right. It would be interesting to know if she goes — if she goes through some of these episodes.

JIM LEHRER: How would you answer that?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, she certainly wasn’t a Whac-A-Mole. I mean, she is not — she doesn’t — there’s not a glass jaw about taking a punch. I mean, she comes right back.

And I thought, on the point that David was making about the economy, I mean, $85 million in micro-loans to women, I mean, that is such a departure. I mean, our relationship has been — so much with Pakistan, it has been just a military relationship, primarily. And that’s — and the obviously continues.

And I thought her directness on, as far as the strings attached to aid and the criticism of that — now, I think the criticism of the United States’ bombing by Pakistani women students, I think, put her a little bit more on the defensive.

JIM LEHRER: What did you think of her — the way she explained Afghanistan, the U.S. policy and the decision-making process that the president is going through?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, it is — first of all, there is a tension between the direction the administration is moving in, and the direction of Afghan-Pakistani cooperation.

As Margaret sort of suggested in some of her questions, if you pull back from the remote areas, well, that is where you are pulling back from.

JIM LEHRER: That’s right. Yes.

DAVID BROOKS: You are pulling back to those cities. So, that genuinely is a problem that they’re going to have to work out.

I was on the border there several months ago now. And there was an alleged cooperation station between the Afghans and the Pakistanis. It was completely bogus. There were a couple soldiers from each side, and they mostly spent their days playing volleyball.

And, so, it was a step forward, but I wouldn’t say there’s close cooperation between those two countries.

MARK SHIELDS: And, just finally, I would say about her that, I mean, her directness on al-Qaida and the Pakistanis, I thought was…

Making the case for Afghanistan

Mark Shields
Syndicated Columnist
The big question was what -- you know, what are we going to do? And she certainly made clear about the election.

JIM LEHRER: Well, what about Afghanistan?

MARK SHIELDS: About -- oh, Afghanistan, I mean, she was she was -- the big question was what -- you know, what are we going to do? And she certainly made clear about the election.

And she -- there were echoes of, in the final analysis, it's theirs to win, I thought, in her answer. I mean, it's up to -- the Afghans have to prove. I mean, there was a -- I thought, a strong strain of that in her answers to Margaret.



DAVID BROOKS: ... there was something also in her answers which has bugged me about the whole Obama administration strategy, which is, we have this discussion up here about what to do and how to do it. But the debate is down here over whether to do it.

And, to my mind, the administration has talked a lot about how this debate, how to do it. They have not yet made the case for why we should be doing it and whether it is doable.

And, so, they're having this debate, but the American people are having this debate.

JIM LEHRER: Do you see it the same way?

MARK SHIELDS: Yes, I think that's -- I don't think the case has been made as to why.

JIM LEHRER: For why we...

MARK SHIELDS: ... why we should do it although I do think the president's trip to Dover was an important...

JIM LEHRER: The other night where he went to the...

MARK SHIELDS: At 4:00 in the morning.

JIM LEHRER: ... 18 returned.

MARK SHIELDS: Eighteen returned, and the first president to do that in 18 years. And, I mean, it was -- and he did it exactly the right way.

I mean, and the...

Joe Biden's poll numbers

David Brooks
New York Times
Outside of the administration, he is having some problems, I would say. But, inside the administration, one gets the sense that he is a serious player .

JIM LEHRER: Yes. Right, now, Vice President Biden, he did the thing on the stimulus package, which we had in the -- in Judy's piece. We haven't talked about it yet. What do you think about the vice president?


JIM LEHRER: How do you think Joe Biden is doing as vice president of the United States?

DAVID BROOKS: He doesn't poll well particularly. His polls are not that great. They are way -- they're about 18 points lower than Obama.

He had a period where he was saying a lot of stupid stuff. There was the time he went on TV and said don't fly because of the H1N1 virus. And, so, there were a series of gaffes.

Nonetheless, within the administration, my sense is that he has talked about, that he is at the meetings, his opinions are weighed, are taken seriously. So, outside of the administration, he is having some problems, I would say. But, inside the administration, one gets the sense that he is a serious player making serious points, and is very much involved in the decision-making process.

JIM LEHRER: Do you read it the same way?

MARK SHIELDS: I read it similarly.

First on the polls, they are ... Well, the Gallup folks compared him. They said he is not doing nearly as well as Dick Cheney or -- Vice President Dick Cheney or Vice President Al Gore at this stage.

Well, at this stage in both their cases, in, I guess, September of 2001, Cheney was at 43 percent, and in September of 1993, Al Gore was at 43 percent. Now, both of them spiked up. After 9/11, President Bush's ratings went up, the president.

JIM LEHRER: So did Cheney's.

MARK SHIELDS: So did Vice President Cheney's.


MARK SHIELDS: So, that's unrealistic.

And Al Gore had his magic moment, if you recall, which was the NAFTA debate with Ross Perot on the highest rated cable news show at the time ever, in which he...

JIM LEHRER: Larry King of CNN.

MARK SHIELDS: Larry King. And he vanquished Ross Perot. And that gave him the lift.

Joe Biden is a lot like Dick Cheney in one respect. Nobody in the White House or outside the White House...

JIM LEHRER: Well, that, he's -- I'm sure he is glad to hear you say that.

MARK SHIELDS: That's right. I just thought I would get your attention.


MARK SHIELDS: Like Dick Cheney, I mean, and unlike Al Gore, unlike Walter Mondale, unlike George H.W. Bush, he is not a vice president planning to run for president.

Eight years from now, you know, eight years from 2008, in 2016, Joe Biden will be 74 years old.

JIM LEHRER: So, he's not going to run for president.

MARK SHIELDS: He is not going to run. So, that takes an enormous bit of tension out of the relationship.

They spend -- according to their schedules, if you look at them, they spend a minimum of two hours together, the president and the vice president, every day they're in Washington, sometimes up to four or five hours.


MARK SHIELDS: And he is dealing with issues that are really quite significant. I mean, he was the one that went on -- our allies, in Eastern Europe, the Poles and the Czech Republic, to assure them after the missile decision was made. He has been the point man in Iraq.

JIM LEHRER: And he has been the wait-a-minute guy on Afghanistan.

MARK SHIELDS: Afghanistan.


MARK SHIELDS: He's been kind of the bad cop inside, I think it's fair to say.

Elections in N.J., N.Y., and Va.

Mark Shields
Syndicated Columnist
What happens after a special election, whether it is a special House election, off-year elections, is that the winning team says it is a referendum on the party in power, and good for us. And the other says, no, it was all decided on local issues.

JIM LEHRER: Politics. There's an election on Tuesday, two interesting governor's races and an upstate New York congressional race. Is it a referendum on Obama/Biden and all those other things?

DAVID BROOKS: I think to some extent. The New Jersey race, people expect Corzine, the Democrat, to win.

The Virginia race is clearly a shift. And I think the Democrats in 2008 had expanded their playing field to a lot of these red states. And I think that has pulled back, partly because it's a different electorate, but partly because, if you look at a recent Gallup survey and a series of other surveys, there does seem to be some shift to the right in the country, a sort of anti-Obama wave.

So, the number of people who declare themselves conservatives is pretty much at an all-time high. If you look at issues like abortion, like attitudes towards regulation, attitudes towards unions, attitudes towards government, there has been a significant -- well, not a significant, but not huge, move to the right on issue after issue.

So, there have been clearly some independents who were with Obama, but who are now a little scared by the pace of movement and the size of the spending.

JIM LEHRER: We haven't mentioned the names of the candidates, but, of course, in Virginia, in the governor's race, Deeds and...

MARK SHIELDS: Creigh Deeds, the Democrat, and Bob McDonnell, the Republican, the attorney general.

JIM LEHRER: And New Jersey?

MARK SHIELDS: And New Jersey is Jon Corzine, the Democratic incumbent and Chris Christie, the -- the Republican challenger, a former U.S. attorney and the third-party candidate, Mr. Daggett, who is the former environmental commissioner.

JIM LEHRER: And the deal up in Upstate New York, you got a Republican and a Democrat, and you have a Conservative...

MARK SHIELDS: A Conservative, that's right.

JIM LEHRER: ... Party thing.


JIM LEHRER: You know, we don't really -- but do you see it the same way David does?


JIM LEHRER: You don't?

MARK SHIELDS: I don't see it the same way.

What happens after a special election, whether it is a special House election, off-year elections, is that the winning team says it is a referendum on the party in power, and good for us. And the other says, no, it was all decided on local issues. And that will be the statement on Tuesday.

JIM LEHRER: We know exactly what each side is going to say.

MARK SHIELDS: Exactly. Exactly.

JIM LEHRER: Right. Right. Yes.

MARK SHIELDS: I'm not as confident about Jon Corzine, the Democrat in New Jersey, as David is. Yes, he has come ahead in the polls.

He came from way back. He was incredibly unpopular. The state is in real trouble. There have been corruption, 44 people arrested in the summer in a political corruption selling organs, two Democratic mayors. One Democratic consultant commits suicide.

I mean, one of his commissioners in his cabinet has to resign when the FBI was in to look at his computer. A lot of problems.

And he has moved ahead by basically running against the shortcomings of his opponent, I mean, in every category.

JIM LEHRER: Just taking on Christie?

MARK SHIELDS: Just take -- everything...


MARK SHIELDS: ... from double-parking outside the orphanage on Christmas Eve, to -- I mean, and Christie has been a bum as a candidate, OK?

The problem for Corzine is this, Jim. As Corzine knows, all the focus has been on Christie. The last weekend, if Corzine is ahead, people are going to say, wait a minute, do I really want to reelect Corzine? Now, he has spent $130 million of his own money in the past nine years in New Jersey in three different elections.

JIM LEHRER: Yes. Let me...

DAVID BROOKS: Could I just ask -- talk about the New York race?


JIM LEHRER: Yes, sure.

DAVID BROOKS: Because I think that's the one...

JIM LEHRER: We have got about 30 seconds, yes.

DAVID BROOKS: ... a huge impact. We have got a moderate Republican, Dede Scozzafava, who is running against really a conservative tea party guy named Doug Hoffman.


DAVID BROOKS: A lot of Republicans, like Rush Limbaugh and even Tim Pawlenty from Minnesota have gone off for Hoffman. I think...


DAVID BROOKS: Sarah Palin.

I think it is a suicide pact for the Republican Party, essentially taking a moderate Republican, dead-center in American politics, and saying, sorry, you are too liberal. That's crazy.

MARK SHIELDS: Only in a Republican fight, Jim, could Dede Scozzafava, who has the endorsement of the National Rifle Association, was for the Bush tax cuts, was against the Obama medical care, only in a Republican fight could she be accused of being a Castroite, which is what the charge is against her.

JIM LEHRER: We're going to -- I don't know what they're going to charge us with if we don't go.


JIM LEHRER: Thank you both very much.