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Shields, Brooks on Sept. Jobs Report: ‘Another Blow’ for Democrats

October 8, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks discuss the week's top political stories, including the latest jobs numbers, the resignation of National Security Adviser Jim Jones and special-interest influence in this election.

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

Gentlemen, good to see you both.

David, I’m going to start with you.

Go back to the news of the day, the jobs report. The stock market rallied, but it is still pretty bad news.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I can never figure out the stock market.

It is bad news. I mean, politically, it’s bad news. This is the last jobs report before the election. So, there is no — going to be no uptick for Democrats. It will enhance the sense of pessimism — 65 percent of Americans think this is a country in decline.

And I don’t think that is right, but this will sort of enhance that. But, you know, just substantively, I think there is actually some — there is a process that we’re going through. We had a couple decades of just big debt. And now people are actually beginning to save. The savings rate is up to 6 percent. The financial corporations and the finance houses are beginning to store away some money.

So what we are doing is rebalancing our balance sheets, getting some sort of sustainable debt level in order. And that’s just going to take a long, long time. But the good thing is, if you want to look for good things, is that we’re going to have a new economy. We’re in that birthing process, where we have a more sustainable debt load, but we are now paying for 20 or 30 years of high debt.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark, how do you see the effect on the elections?

MARK SHIELDS: Bad for the Democrats, Judy, who are looking for good news. And David is right. It is the last before the election. It is an economy that has only produced on the average 100,000 jobs a month, which is not enough to even meet the population growth, let alone to make any dent in unemployment.

And for the 15 million Americans who are unemployed, 42 percent of whom have been unemployed for more than six months, it’s another blow.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, anything that can — is there anything the Democrats can say about this to help themselves?

MARK SHIELDS: I mean, the only way I think they do it is the way that Speaker Pelosi did today, is try and draw it between, we’re fighting for the middle class and the other side isn’t. And that is the only message that seems to make any sense for Democrats at this point on the economy.

DAVID BROOKS: It should be said, this is a global issue. If you look at Europe, you look at Japan, we’re not the only ones facing this problem. The debt crisis went up high all around the world.

So when you look at it globally, you come to the conclusion that governments can have some effects, but there is only so much a president or a Congress can do. Nonetheless, in election after election, voters take it out on the party.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Another big story today, Mark, the turnover at the White House, General Jim Jones leaving as national security adviser to the president, his deputy, Tom Donilon, stepping in. What is the backstory here? There was the report about what the defense secretary, Bob Gates, had said to Bob Woodward.

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I state a bias. I mean, I know Tom Donilon, have for a long time, and like him. I like Jim Jones. And Jim Jones was sort of unique in this White House.

National security adviser, Judy, is a unique position. Cabinet officers represent departments. They have other constituencies besides the president. Now, the only constituency the national security adviser has, beyond obviously the mandate on national security, is to serve the president.

And so the relationship does matter deeply, how close and how comfortable it is. Jim Jones didn’t want the job. Unlike most people in White Houses, who scheme and dream and plot to get there, he had to be asked to do it. And he — this is the first administration that — David could correct me on this — since World War II when neither the president nor the vice president has ever worn a military uniform.

And he was the anomaly in the White House, 40 years as a Marine, commandant of the Marine Corps, combat veteran of Vietnam. There was a culture, I think, of unease with some. And it began with sniping.

There was a lot of sniping at Jim Jones. And I guess what bothered me the most — I mean, it’s the president’s decision, certainly — and Tom Donilon is an enormously capable guy — is that never once, with all the sniping going on against Jones, most of it from inside the administration, did he ever ask the photographer to come in late at night as they are poring over the plans and the…


JUDY WOODRUFF: Never did the president ask.

MARK SHIELDS: The president did or a walk between the two of them at Camp David to sort of put the lie to that, and say, he’s my guy and we are close.

So, I think it wasn’t — a relationship that never worked the way that both of them hoped.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Does it say anything about change in policy?


DAVID BROOKS: No, I think this happened a long time ago in fact, but just not in name.

I think for a number of months now, the president has gone to Donilon first for advice. He has trusted him more, has a better relationship than with Jones. Jones has been sort of just sidelined on some issues.

And so, this, it was just a matter of personal chemistry. And I have to say it was a cultural mismatch for a lot of reasons. One, this White House really loves the big intellectual policy debate. And I think Jones’ tone wasn’t really in sync with a lot of those debates. And I put a little onus on Jones.

You know, you serve the president. You have to love the guy. You have to be there at the White House all day and all night, basically, saying, how I can make that guy’s life easier?

And I’m not sure he put that focus, how can I serve this one individual? I’m subservient to him. I am just going to serve him. I’m not sure he really put that commitment in.

MARK SHIELDS: One point that I think has been overlooked, in defense of Jim Jones, most national security advisers are referees between State and Defense.


MARK SHIELDS: And this administration, to its credit, the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, the secretary of defense, Bob Gates, and Jim Jones, the national security adviser, were all in sync. So, that part of the role, you know, I think was…


JUDY WOODRUFF: So, there was less of a role for…


MARK SHIELDS: There was less — yes, there was less — the refereeing. And some national security advisers have gotten close to the president, at the expense of the country.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let’s — I want to bring you all back to the midterm elections.

They are, what, less than three-and-a-half weeks away, something like…

DAVID BROOKS: Twenty-five days.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Who’s counting?

David, but what does the landscape look like? We have started to hear from some Democrats that maybe there’s more interest now on the part of Democratic voters. Do you make anything of that?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I have looked for a sign of that. There’s been some stories, Democrats closing. And I understand, conceptually, why that has been true, because if there is any undiscovered passion yet to be aroused, it’s going to be on the Democratic side, because the Republicans are already super-passionate.

And — but, so far, I have seen no evidence of it. If you look in polls in state after state, the big generic polls, which is, which party do you prefer, so far, I have seen no evidence of closing.

And, in fact, Gallup Organization came out with their what they call their projection of who is actually going to turn out, and they have two separate projections. But both of their projections, which have historically been reasonably accurate, showed huge Republican years, huge Republican years. And I don’t know if that is true or not, but, so far, the numbers that I see show no sign of a Democratic closing.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What do your numbers show?

MARK SHIELDS: The — the good news is that there is no good news.


MARK SHIELDS: I mean, when you hear one party that is trailing start to use verbs like narrowing, closing, the — we’re getting closer, that’s not a good sign, Judy.

And, right now, I would say optimism is a pretty scarce commodity among most Democratic candidates and campaigns that I have talked to.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Are there any — well, one thing I want to ask you both about is, there are a number of reports lately about all this outside money coming in, especially on the Republican side.

David, this is millions and millions of dollars coming through these groups. And they don’t have to say who the money is coming from. Do we know — do we have any idea where it’s coming from? And how much difference is it going to make?

DAVID BROOKS: We have names for the groups. I mean, they have to register. And so we have names of who the groups is coming for.

I’m curious to know how much of a big effect. In my view, the money follows the passion. Two years ago, the Democrats had all the passion. Obama himself raised $745 million, a huge amount of money. The money was flowing in that direction. Now the passion is all on the Republican side. And they’re raising a ton of money and a lot of outside groups.

Candidates are ambivalent about this sometimes, because they have no control over what is happening. Sometimes, they don’t like the message. But there’s a lot of corporate money flowing. And one of the things that is interesting to me is, the corporate money doesn’t flow to the Tea Party folks. They’re giving to the non-Tea Party Republicans.

And Tea Party Republicans are getting almost no corporate money, which is a little break in the Republican Party. They’re getting…

JUDY WOODRUFF: But some of them are doing pretty well.

DAVID BROOKS: They’re doing well fund-raising because they have got some — a few sort of more ideological givers. They’re also doing phenomenally well with small donors. So, Marco Rubio in Florida has raised something like $4 million or $5 million in small donations.

So, they have got sort of grassroots passion. But whether — how it will affect the race, I’m always skeptical that money really shapes races. I think the money follows where the passion is.

MARK SHIELDS: I disagree completely. I will tell you why — and not that the money doesn’t follow passion.

This has turned out to be the Chief John Roberts-Samuel Alito memorial election. They were the ones, with their decision, which the president, you will recall, in the State of the Union address, said it was opening up the floodgates to bring in corporate money, even foreign money…

JUDY WOODRUFF: This is the Citizens United…

MARK SHIELDS: That’s the Citizens United decision and other decisions as well.

And Samuel Alito, sitting there in the cutaway, said, “Not true, not true.”

True, because what we have seen, Judy, is, quite honestly, this was the election that, everywhere you went, David went, I went, anywhere went, people told you they wanted to take their government back from special interests. They hated special interests in Washington. And this is the election that turns it back to special interests.

And I’ll tell you why. Not simply the — Colorado, twice as much money has been spent in the United States Senate race by outside committees that — David, with these bland names — as the candidates and the campaigns themselves have spent since the 1st of August.

But, in a race like in Iowa, Bruce Braley, Democratic congressman running for reelection, safely there, a group called America’s Future comes in. They’re going to spend $800,000 against him, OK? They may not beat him, but they’re raising issues like he is for building the mosque at Ground Zero, which has never been an issue, he’s never addressed, and they’re just making these charges.

And whoever wins will know one thing. And that is that they could have $800,000 come against them the next time. And this money, we don’t know where it came from. And the hypocrisy of the Republicans on this issue is astounding. It is truly historic.

The Republicans have always opposed campaign finance that put limits on contributions or limits on what a campaign could spend. Their antidote, their solution, their one-size-fits-all solution was full, timely, and complete disclosure, that you could — that citizens would know who was giving to these campaigns and why. Now we don’t know.


I guess I would just say, the Koch brothers say — this is a group of ideological brothers in the oil business who have given a lot of money. They have been giving a lot of money for 20 years. So, some of these ideological groups have been giving, giving and giving. Now they are riding a wave, so it seems to have a bigger impact.

But I’m less convinced that it’s going to have an outside impact than the money they have always been giving.

MARK SHIELDS: If you want to avoid — you want to avoid a primary challenge next time, you are going to please those groups that have that kind of money.

DAVID BROOKS: But that has been the history of the last 20 years of American politics.

MARK SHIELDS: Not when you spend a million dollars with nobody’s name on it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We may talk about this on another occasion.


JUDY WOODRUFF: For now, thank you both, David Brooks, Mark Shields.

MARK SHIELDS: Thank you.