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Shields and Brooks on the Tea Party’s Message, Obama’s ‘Shovel Ready’ Jab

October 15, 2010 at 4:05 PM EST
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Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks analyze this week's top news, including the Tea Party's message in the midterms and a New York Times profile of President Obama.
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JIM LEHRER: And finally tonight: the analysis of Shields and Brooks, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, New York Times columnist David Brooks.

David, how do you see the Florida race?

DAVID BROOKS: Rubio is probably going to win. He’s got a huge lead, because, what’s the election about? It’s about people are concerned about American decline. They’re concerned about jobs, and they’re concerned about spending.

And you better have a clear message on those things. Charlie Crist doesn’t have a clear message. Marco Rubio has the magic formula. He’s got the — sort of the Tea Party message, and he’s a very good candidate. If you have got those two things this year, you’re probably going to win.

You have got a lot of people with the Tea Party message, but who are bad candidates, like O’Donnell in Delaware, Paladino in New York. But he has got the two elements, so he is sitting pretty.

JIM LEHRER: Mark?

MARK SHIELDS: Charlie Crist is running as sort of a Scott Brown-Howard Baker Republican in a Jim DeMint year. And that’s…

JIM LEHRER: Say that one more time.

MARK SHIELDS: Well, in other words, he’s running as a Republican of a moderate stripe…

JIM LEHRER: Moderate.

MARK SHIELDS: … not afraid to take a stand that might be offensive to some of the party’s deepest issues.

JIM LEHRER: Particularly on social issues.

MARK SHIELDS: Social issues, even endorsing the president’s stimulus package. But this is a Tea Party year. Basically, Mario — Marco Rubio was the presage, the predictor, of the Tea Party movement, of its breadth, its energy, and its extent.

JIM LEHRER: Because he had very little going for him at the beginning.

MARK SHIELDS: He had very little going for him, except he is — as David says, he’s obviously personable. He’s articulate. He is credentialed. He was speaker of house.

So, in that sense — and he’s very conservative. Make no mistake about it. And that — those all resonate this year in Florida.

JIM LEHRER: What about the point that was really made dramatically in Gwen’s piece, what this is doing to Democrats in Florida? And you seem — look ahead, there could be some scars, right?

DAVID BROOKS: Right, and scars in the — over the future of the party. I mean, it’s funny how the entire Democratic Party is getting their recriminations in early, even as the race is going on.

And they have got to figure out — if there is an election, they have got it figure out — or, if there is a defeat, they have got to figure out what this means. And sort of the collapse of the Democratic candidate in Florida has launched this early.

JIM LEHRER: You see — you see — I mean, this is tough stuff for Democrats.

MARK SHIELDS: Oh, no question, no question, Democrats who are — privately, a lot of leaders down there are saying, gee, is there a way we could support Crist? You had Robert Kennedy Jr. and Arnold Schwarzenegger endorse Crist this week.

That is sort of reflective of sort of the breadth of his support and his potential. But Kendrick Meek won the Democratic primary. He is a Democratic member of the House. And…

JIM LEHRER: And he also came from very low in the polls…

MARK SHIELDS: Very low in the polls.

JIM LEHRER: … and defeated — defeated a well-financed opponent.

MARK SHIELDS: Very well-financed, Jeff Greene, absolutely.

JIM LEHRER: Yes. Yes.

MARK SHIELDS: I mean, extremely well-financed. But it is not — Jim, the biggest mistake you make, I think — and the recriminations are right, David — is to blame the customer. I mean, you can already hear that.

JIM LEHRER: Those dumb voters.

MARK SHIELDS: The damn voters, they were so insightful, inspired and thoughtful when they put us in office. Now, when they defeat us, they are craven, and vulgar and selfish.

JIM LEHRER: Yes. What did you think of the debate in another Senate race that’s very, of course, even close — much closer than this one, but the Sharron Angle-Harry Reid race in Nevada, the debate last night? Your thoughts.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. Well, I mentioned the two magic things, to be a good candidate and have a strong anti-government message. And Sharron Angle has one of those two. But, so far, it’s pulling her even with Harry Reid. And it may pull her ahead.

One of the things that has been noteworthy about this race in Nevada is that Reid has not been able to move. He’s worked hard. He’s got natural credentials. He is a good candidate, but he just hasn’t been able to move it.

And she has been able to land some blows. I thought, in the debate, she proved herself not the crazy person, or semi-so at least, that he was making her out to be, and she delivered some good blows. To say, “I’m a middle-class person from Reno; he is living on the Ritz-Carlton in Washington,” that is a pretty good line this year.

JIM LEHRER: Yes. What did you think about the debate?

MARK SHIELDS: I thought Harry Reid’s best chance of this race was to make Sharron Angle the issue. He does have, obviously, a ceiling of how high his support is going to be. He has always run close races in the state.

I disagree with David. I don’t think he is a good candidate. And I don’t…

JIM LEHRER: You don’t think Harry Reid is good candidate?

MARK SHIELDS: No, I don’t think he is a good candidate. He is a relentless candidate. He is well-organized. He’s well-financed. He’s determined. But he’s not a naturally charismatic candidate. And I…

JIM LEHRER: How do you think he handled himself last night?

MARK SHIELDS: I think he had to win the debate, and I don’t think he did. I think that he had to make — you had to come out of that debate with the idea that, look, Harry Reid, whatever else about him, is qualified. He’s been there. He’s fighting for us. And she’s “Looney Tunes.”

And she didn’t. She wasn’t terrifying. She was, if anything, reassuring. And Harry Reid also had the problem of running against a woman. It is always difficult how to debate a woman without being tough. But he lapsed into Washington talk. He talked about CBO estimates and the out years.

And if there is anything that voters don’t want to hear in 2010, it’s Washington inside talk.

JIM LEHRER: Yes. Judy Woodruff is in Nevada as we speak, and is going to have a major piece on the race on Monday night on the NewsHour.

More generally, David, the president, President Obama, has really come down hard against the Chamber of Commerce and its fund-raising. What is that all about?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. Well, my view is, if you are going to accuse somebody of a felony, which spending foreign money on U.S. politics is, you should have some scintilla of evidence to support your charge.

And Obama and the people in his administration have made that charge without a scintilla of evidence. And so I thought it was relatively scurrilous that they do that.

There was — there is a problem with independent expenditure in this country, but there were $400 million in independent expenditures for the Democrats two years ago. Now the passion is on the Republican side. So I’m not sure either party has any moral authority to speak on this issue.

But I thought to make that accusation of outside foreign money without evidence was just — you know, it’s ridiculous.

JIM LEHRER: Is he getting any traction, ridiculous or not, Mark?

MARK SHIELDS: I think it gets a little traction, Jim, in the sense that it plays into the existing perception of Republicans as being a party too close to business, especially big business, and too close to money.

I agree with David the charge was unfounded, if you have no evidence. But I think the — I think the situation is not comparable to what it was two years ago or six years ago. What we’re talking about now is floodgates of money, and we’re talking about anonymous contributions. And so we’re talking about…

JIM LEHRER: That is because of the Supreme Court’s…

MARK SHIELDS: Because of the Supreme Court decision…

MARK SHIELDS: … where you can have. And I predict this without any fear of being wrong, that, on election night, we will find one incumbent we’re surprised has been defeated, because one of these groups has gone in or a couple of these groups have spent seven — six, seven figures against him on attack ads, attack ads which are totally un…

JIM LEHRER: You don’t know who is — we don’t know who is…

MARK SHIELDS: There is no way you can appeal them. And FactCheck, which won a Pulitzer Prize for checking the accuracy of political statements, has found out that 85 percent of these aren’t — don’t even qualify as true used by these independent groups, that the ads themselves are just exaggeration.

So, what we will wake up on November 3 is a terror and a paralysis of fear on the part of elected officeholders that: I will be next.

JIM LEHRER: Even the ones who win?

MARK SHIELDS: The ones who win. And: I will be next. And what they will do, I will tell you, the first thing is, they will do, they will go out and double their campaign financing. They will raise it. It will lead to greater polarization and greater gridlock.

JIM LEHRER: Wow.

MARK SHIELDS: It’s a terrible development.

JIM LEHRER: David?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I completely agree on the lack of transparency. But the fact is, this is not exactly new. It is just that, two years ago, the Democrats had the huge advantages. They had independent expenditures. They had negative ads. They had a wave — huge mountain of money rolling against Republicans.

Now the passion has changed, and there is a huge money — mountain of money rolling against the Democrats. But the idea that this is somehow some new phenomenon, just not true.

JIM LEHRER: Speaking of President Obama, there is this big piece in your newspaper’s Sunday magazine that’s already been read by everybody, at least anybody who has got an advanced company and who is interested in politics, about President Obama.

What do you think of piece?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I found it depressing. I found it depressing on a number of levels, because one of the things the administration has to do is think about what’s happened, what has happened politically, and why are they in political trouble.

And my — from reading the numerous quotes in the piece from many administration officials, the lesson I got was that they’re — they have got — it’s not their fault. They have done the right things.

JIM LEHRER: Blaming somebody else.

DAVID BROOKS: The country is not ready for us. Washington is not good enough for us.

And, you know, after Bill Clinton suffered a political setback in ’94, he did some real thinking and some real adjusting of how to adjust. I would say, at least judging from that piece, this process of thought and rethinking has not started in this White House.

MARK SHIELDS: I have one question.

JIM LEHRER: Yes. Yes, sir.

MARK SHIELDS: Why? Why this piece now?

The president has responsibilities between now and November 2, true, to get his own numbers up, his own favorable rating. When a president’s…

JIM LEHRER: You mean his — his…

MARK SHIELDS: When a president’s rating drops below 50 percent, just for example, Ronald Reagan…

JIM LEHRER: OK.

MARK SHIELDS: Ronald Reagan goes to 43 percent, loses 26 seats. Bill Clinton goes to 46 percent, loses 52 seats. George Bush goes to 39 percent, loses 30 seats.

It turns around if the president’s over 50. All right. That’s his first responsibility. Second responsibility is to get the base of his party out and energized, young voters, Democrats, African-Americans, first-time voters from 2008, college voters.

And what does this do? I mean, this does nothing. There is no reason for it. It…

JIM LEHRER: In other words, he didn’t have to do the long interview.

MARK SHIELDS: He didn’t have to do this. What he is doing, a retrospective before the election.

I mean, we have gone from perhaps the least introspective president to the most introspective president. I mean, he sits there and talks about what it means to him and all this. For goodness’ sakes, he’s got a responsibility to his party.

How would you like to be a Democratic member of the House fighting for your life right now, getting hit over the head for having voted for the stimulus bill, and have the president say in The New York Times Sunday magazine, there’s no such thing as a shovel-ready project?

JIM LEHRER: Yes. That was — that’s the piece that’s been — that particular quote has really been drawing the flies — the fleas, has it not?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. Well, I shouldn’t have confessed this. He said this to me off the record about a year ago. But it hasn’t…

JIM LEHRER: Off the record? So, then you can’t talk about it.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, because Peter Baker is a better than I am, because I couldn’t get him to go on the record with that thing.

(LAUGHTER)

JIM LEHRER: He said this to you a year ago?

DAVID BROOKS: It was obvious. I mean, you are trying to build a stimulus package. And when they were trying to build it, believe me, they would have loved to have filled it with infrastructure jobs. But the projects just didn’t exist. They couldn’t do it. They couldn’t find them.

And so that — I like that aspect of the piece, because it is Obama being honest. And it — but I agree it’s politically difficult. But the thing that you like about this administration is, they can have debates and they can be honest about what — the shortcomings they face.

What I found is, aside from that one comment, they don’t seem to be having an internal debate over what has happened. They seem to be saying, we did a great job, and the people weren’t quite ready for it.

JIM LEHRER: What do you think — what do you think of Mark’s point that this is really bad timing for Democrats, for the president even to agree to this?

DAVID BROOKS: I completely agree with that. I mean, it is a campaign. You still have a chance to win. You don’t give up in the middle of the third quarter. And it is overstating to say he gave up, but it’s the whole tone of all the quotations, not only from Obama, but I think Peter spoke to dozens of people in there.

JIM LEHRER: Some by name, some unnamed.

DAVID BROOKS: And the pretext among many of the comments is, OK, we lost.

(LAUGHTER)

MARK SHIELDS: Hey, get to Cleveland. Get to Cincinnati. I mean, get where you can help, Chicago.

JIM LEHRER: Yes.

MARK SHIELDS: You know, get to Boston.

JIM LEHRER: And quit talking to The New York Times for a couple of days.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes. Yes.

JIM LEHRER: OK.

DAVID BROOKS: Well, let’s not go too far.

JIM LEHRER: Oh, let’s not go crazy here. OK. All right.

(LAUGHTER)

MARK SHIELDS: Work the blue areas. Work the blue areas, Mr. President.

JIM LEHRER: OK. Well, thank you both very much.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID BROOKS: OK.