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Shields, Brooks Examine GOP’s ‘Morale Boost’

November 6, 2009 at 12:00 AM EDT
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Columnists Mark Shields and David Brooks sort through the week's news, including impending health care legislation and a worsening job market.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Gentlemen, good to see you both.

Let’s start with the bad news, Mark, unemployment 10.2 percent. What are the implications for the president, for everybody else in Washington?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, Judy, I think, first of all, it’s still a shock. Even though it was expected, it’s a shock.

And there is something absolutely staggering to one’s attention about 10 percent unemployment in this country, 26 years since we have had it before. And there’s not the sense that we had in 1983 that the country is going to rebound quickly. We had 9.5 percent increase in productivity last quarter. And what — what has it lead to? It has lead to the stock market going up to 10,000 — that’s great news — and profits going up, but jobs going down, and 192,000 lost this month.

I just think it shows the disconnect between Wall Street and Main Street in this country and what people are going through. And I think, politically, it’s a — it’s an absolute warning and wakeup call to the Democrats that, if you are looking at 10 percent unemployment next October, you are looking at the threat of the Republicans winning the Congress.

JUDY WOODRUFF: A wakeup call?


I mean, it’s — it’s a combination of a bunch of things, first, a long-term period of unemployment. Now are you beginning to hear — we have heard economists talk for a long time about this will last through 2010. Now, all of a sudden, you’re beginning to hear 2011.

And that is because what we are recovering from, this long pileup of debt, and now we are living with the seven slim years that come after that pileup of debt. So, you have got the long period of unemployment, which people expect to linger for a long time.

At the second point, you have got no faith in institutions. So, it’s not like people believe that this can solve it or that can solve it. And then, if you ask people, well, should the government get more active to try to — another stimulus package, something like that else, twice as many people say no as yes, because they are afraid we have already got too much public deficits.

So, what we have got is this long-term problem, no faith in institutions, and then no easy way out, which I think could lead over the next year or two to an even bigger increase in the sort of economic populism we are already seeing on left and right.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, if you are President Obama, what do you do?

MARK SHIELDS: You pass health care.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Or is there anything?

Unemployment hits double digits

Mark Shields
Syndicated Columnist
This is about jobs, jobs, jobs. And that is where all the attention, all the effort, and all the energy has to be.

MARK SHIELDS: You pass health care, you get it through, and then you -- you devote all your time, effort and energy.

I -- I agree with David the numbers on the deficit are sobering. And they are certainly cautionary. But what we're talking about is jobs. And that -- and before we went to war in the Persian Gulf in 1991, Jim Baker, then the secretary of state, was asked what is the war about, and he said, jobs, jobs, jobs.

This is about jobs, jobs, jobs. And that is where all the attention, all the effort, and all the energy has to be. It has got to be creative. I think if it means further deficit, so be it. They have got to stimulate the economy at this point. You have got wary consumers, and you have got banks that are profitable that are reluctant to make loans, and you've got companies that are profitable that are not hiring.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But you have got 15 million people -- 15 million jobs that are gone.


JUDY WOODRUFF: Can a government recreate those somewhere?

DAVID BROOKS: To some extent.

I mean, the things that have worked, they have given money to the states to keep teachers employed. That stuff works. What doesn't seem to have worked is the idea of pumping money into the economy and creating this vast multiplier, where business takes off.

Business has not taken off because the psychology is not there. Everybody is still hunkered down because they think there is still a lot of debt out there. And, so, to me, if I'm in the government, I think, we can't add more fizz to economy with more debt, but we -- what we do have to do is focus on long-term job creation.

And that's energy and other things, because one thing we have learned about this economic cycle and increasingly recent economic cycles is, it is not like you get laid off and then you get retired at the same job. That doesn't happen as much anymore. You have got to look for a whole new sector and a whole new job.

And, so, to me, if I'm the Obama administration, I'm thinking, I'm not just going to try to stimulate the economy with short-term fizz. I am going to solve some fundamental problems to help create some new industries for new jobs.

MARK SHIELDS: And you will be the Obama administration which is the Clinton administration, which is, your second half the first term, you have a Republican Congress. I mean, that is the risk you are running. You cannot -- you cannot go into the next election at 10 percent unemployment. I mean, whatever it takes, you have to do.

And it means being creative. It means being imaginative. But I agree with David. It's great in the long run.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And forget the deficit?

MARK SHIELDS: But you've got to -- you've got to -- in the short run, you have got to get people back to work.

Election as a referendum

David Brooks
New York Times
There have been two populations with opposing criticisms of the Democrats. And how the Democrats then reconcile those two populations is a huge challenge.

DAVID BROOKS: We just had an election on this subject.

And the fear of government, the fear of spending is massive. And again, this poll, the Gallup poll, they asked people, would you rather have the government spend money to employ people, at the cost of running up the debt, or would you have them not spend money, even if the recession lasts longer? Two-to-one, 62 percent, don't spend the money; worry about the deficit -- 31 percent, spend the money.

The public is pretty clear on this.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, that is the message from these elections?

MARK SHIELDS: No. No. The message -- well, you can take any message you want from the election. I mean, Jon Corzine in New Jersey got...

JUDY WOODRUFF: We should say two governor's races in New Jersey and Virginia.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes, in New Jersey and Virginia.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Democrats lost.

MARK SHIELDS: Jon Corzine embraced Barack Obama, wouldn't let him out of his sight or out of his hold. He lost.

Creigh Deeds in Virginia distanced himself from Barack Obama. He lost. So, you can take any interpretation you want. The analysis of this election is the mood of the country. It has not changed. The 2009 election was like the 2006 election, was like the 2008 election.

And that is, people are so disgusted and disenchanted and really angry about a government they feel that doesn't listen to them, that is controlled by special interests. And they think Washington stinks. And couple with that the bookend of that is a hostility toward -- they feel that the game is rigged in favor of Wall Street.

And so you have got those twin hostilities fueling it. The ins lose. The outs win. And if I were an in going in 2010 in this kind of mood, in this kind of climate, I would be scared stiff.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But, 12 months ago, Barack Obama came in. People turned out. He won a convincing margin over the Republican, John McCain. What has happened to all that?


Well, I -- I guess I -- I -- this not totally in distinction to what Mark said, but I would just -- to take two populations, I think what has happened, first on the left, young people and minorities, who came out to vote, a lot of those people are disenchanted because they think he's not moving fast enough on a whole range of issues. So, a lot of them stayed home.

Second, among the independents, who are concentrated in the suburbs, they switched to the Republicans because they think he's moving too fast. An they're nervous by the spending, by the activism. And, so, you saw not only the suburban votes in Virginia and New Jersey, but also in New York in Westchester County, in Nassau County, in Pennsylvania, a lot of these suburbanites that the Democrats had been doing phenomenally well at suddenly shifting over to the Republican side.

And that is accompanied by poll data suggesting that they think the government is getting too big, too active, intruding in government. There has been a -- sort of a reaction to the right among a lot of those voters. So, there have been two populations with opposing criticisms of the Democrats. And how the Democrats then reconcile those two populations is a huge challenge.

Obama needs win on Health Care

Mark Shields
Syndicated Columnist
The promised change has not developed. That's why health care is urgent and imperative.

MARK SHIELDS: I -- I dissent.

First of all, we had two tax-cutting referenda question on the ballot, one in Maine, one in the state of Washington. They both were defeated, if there was this tide out there, the independent -- it would have reflected itself there.

The independents have become more Republican, because they have left the Republican Party. The Republican Party is at its lowest point in the history of The Wall Street Journal/NBC poll.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You mean just in the last year, or...

MARK SHIELDS: In the last year.

And David asks -- David says, well, what about people's attitude? You know, they think too much government regulation, as I think you said, is -- you know, that -- when they asked the question before, in 2008, there wasn't any government regulation. I mean, that is how we got to where we are today. I mean, there literally was not any government regulation.

I still come back to this. People can ask -- they are philosophically conservative. There's too much government, pain in the neck, red tape. Get it out of my pocket, out of my hair.

But when told that there's a trace of botulism in a can of tuna fish in Pocatello, Idaho, they want to know, where the hell was the federal government? People want results. And they really feel do that the federal government is not on their side.

You asked about Barack Obama. He was elected a year ago, change we can believe in. He was going to change the way Washington worked, change Washington, and get things done. And I think it's fair to say that it's not a question of too many things he's tried to do, that there just aren't the results. You don't have to criticize him, but the change has not occurred. The promised change has not developed.

That's why health care is urgent and imperative.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is that because he promised too much? Is that because the public sense is that there were too many promises out there that haven't been delivered on?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, it is sort of a perfect storm situation.

He did promise too much. Second, I think people have unrealistic expectations about what can be done in this system. And, so, I think there -- there -- some of the reaction is -- is unfair to him, to be honest.

I mean, he's going to -- he's probably about to pass a major health care reform. The idea that a president can shape a business cycle which has been building up, this debt has been building up for decades, it's just not realistic to expect that.

And, so, you know, I -- they can throw him out, fine. They can throw Democrats out, fine. And it happens. But the -- I think the thing he can do and the thing the Republicans should be trying to do is saying, government can do this, but it can't do that. We're going to reassure you. We're going have a sense of order. This is what we are going to try to do. And this is our proper role. But we're not going to get too busy and -- and scare people, which is what has happened.

And I don't think either party has really laid out the fundamentals and returned to those fundamentals.

GOP opposition may not stop reform

David Brooks
New York Times
I would be stunned if they didn't get the House, but I think, even overall, they will get everything.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But you think they will get health care reform? We have got the House voting this weekend, or maybe it will slip into next week.

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I would be stunned if they didn't get the House, but I think, even overall, they will get everything.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What do you think? What...

MARK SHIELDS: I think it -- they don't have the votes right now on the Democratic side in the House. I mean, Republicans have announced, rather proudly, they're going to -- every one of them -- it's going to be a matter of pride -- in unanimity to vote against it. And the Republican health bill has been introduced. It turns out to be, take two tax breaks and call your doctor in the morning.

I mean, it's -- it's just, it is silly. It's fatuous.

But, you know, what -- what really is most remarkable is in this climate of all the problems that President Obama is confronting, and not -- some dealing with, some not, is that the Republicans haven't been able to take advantage of it, that the Republicans are still so far be -- here we are, Judy, with an H1N1 scare in the country, an emergency.

And women who are pregnant are having trouble getting the vaccine. Children are having trouble getting the vaccine, getting them in community health centers. We find out this week that Goldman Sachs, that Citigroup...


MARK SHIELDS: ... and J.P. Morgan had their private reserves.

Now, what a convergence for the Republicans to go after the administration, to go after Wall Street, to grab that thing! And have you heard a single Republican speak about it yet?

DAVID BROOKS: I am going to give them your number, though.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Not yet, but I think I may be -- they may be listening.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But they did win these two governor's races.


JUDY WOODRUFF: They didn't win that congressional district...


JUDY WOODRUFF: ... in New York, David, but a good week for the Republicans.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. No, they are very happy. And the congressional race in New York was important, because there were a lot of -- more conservative tea party types who are thinking of primary challenges to sitting Republicans. That may still happen, but it's less of an impulse than before.

MARK SHIELDS: It was a good week for -- it was a good week. Any time you win, it helps psychologically, more than anything else.

It gives -- it helps you recruit candidates for next time with the Republicans. It helps you raise money. And it lifts the morale of a party that has morale problems.

JUDY WOODRUFF: It lifts our morale to have both of you here. Mark Shields, David Brooks, thank you both.