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Shields and Brooks on GOP Race After Perry Flub, ‘Occupy’ Movement

November 11, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks discuss the week's top political news, including Texas Gov. Rick Perry's lapse at the latest GOP debate, Herman Cain's attempt to move past sexual harassment claims and the "Occupy" movement.
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JIM LEHRER: And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Mark, how do you see the Occupy movement now?

MARK SHIELDS: I think the message, which is, people say, unclear is a lot stronger than the messenger.

Not — certainly not Mayor Adams of Portland, but I think some of the critics and opponents of the movement itself have tried to discredit the movement by focusing attention on the exotic, eccentric, erratic behavior of some of the Occupiers.

But it hit home to me this past week when this question was put. The current economic structure of the country is out of balance and favors a small proportion of the rich over the rest of the country; America needs to reduce the power of major banks and corporations — 76 percent of Americans, Wall Street Journal poll, agree with that; 60 percent strongly agree with that.

It cuts across partisan, religious, racial, age divisions. So I think that is a direct consequence of the movement. I think the movement’s message has been very effective in getting across. I doubt if it would have been that strong three months ago.

DAVID BROOKS: That’s exactly what the Tea Party movement has been saying.

My problem with that movement and the Tea Party movement, both of them, is they have no leaders. They have no institutions. And you can celebrate democracy if you think it’s useful to have a movement with no leaders. But if have no leaders and no institutions, you have no direction, you have, I think, no lasting power. But you have nobody to be serious and be rigorous and say, here are the problems we all agree on. Here is what we are offering.

And if you have no leaders, you’re not going to have any structure for a set of solutions. And, politically, you’re not going to be defined by your best people. You’re going to be defined by your worst, who are going to be the most disruptive. And that’s, I think, what has happened to the Occupy movement.

So I just think a movement needs leaders and institutions to have staying power, as the civil rights movement did.

JIM LEHRER: What about Mark’s point, though, that all of that aside, it has raised the consciousness about this very issue that Mark…

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I think it has.

The Tea Party movement really was talking about financial concentration. This was their core message, the concentration of finance in Washington, and which is the core message of the Occupy movement, obviously, from a different perspective.

But — so, that issue is something that a lot of us agree with. A lot of us — I’m no Occupy type, but I think the banks should be broken up, as they do. And, nonetheless, it’s not enough just to raise the issue. And I give them credit for that. You have got to have some solutions. And that involves studying the issue.

Things are complicated. And so — and then the final point — and this is what the mayors are facing all around the country — is you have a right to raise issues. You have a right to protest. You don’t have a right to occupy parts of your city.

And so there is a balance mayors are dealing with. And I think they have been very lenient with the Occupy movement. But as these efforts mount, I think they’re right to try to restore some order, while giving them the right to protest.

JIM LEHRER: How do you feel about what the mayors should be doing now?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think Mayor Adams has presented — was the soul of reason and restraint in his presentation with Jeffrey, and I think that’s probably the tradition of cities like Portland.

JIM LEHRER: But now they’re going to move…

MARK SHIELDS: No, that’s right.

But the point is, it’s not that you come in with a nine-point program, the think tank, and three op cits and five ibids and a white paper. They have changed the debate in the country. I mean, we were not talking about this before the Occupy movement started.

And I think, in that sense, they have changed the dynamic of the public discourse in America.

JIM LEHRER: But if things turn violent, if these things continue to deteriorate, for whatever reason, what then happens to the goodness and mercy of the movement?

MARK SHIELDS: It hurts the movement.

I mean, the messenger and the message, sadly, are joined in people’s minds, and the message has been dominant thus far. If the behavior, as I say, exotic, eccentric, antisocial, or illegal of some of the messengers becomes the dominant story, then it obviously hurts the cause.

JIM LEHRER: You agree with that, don’t you?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I do. I disagree that they have raised an issue that was ignored. I don’t think there’s been too many issues that have been more fully discussed than inequality and what’s happened in the financial crisis.

On this program, in my newspaper, in every program and newspaper, this has been — and the problem is they’re both very complicated issues. And so you have to deal with that complexity.

MARK SHIELDS: I think the fact that the president of the United States is basically on this issue is testimony to the effectiveness of it. And he’s been living on that issue now for the past two months.

JIM LEHRER: Speaking of the president of the United States — that’s called a segue.

DAVID BROOKS: Very nice.

JIM LEHRER: David, the — one of the many folks who would like to have — also have that job, of course, is Rick Perry.

The “Oops” incident, a serious matter for Rick Perry and his candidacy?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. I was going to say we should have a moment of silence for the Perry campaign, but he already beat us to it. So, he did it first.

JIM LEHRER: Did you write — you didn’t write that down?

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID BROOKS: I didn’t write it down.

DAVID BROOKS: You know, it just — it comes to me.

MARK SHIELDS: That was pretty good.

DAVID BROOKS: Everybody has to have one Perry joke.

JIM LEHRER: OK.

DAVID BROOKS: And so the problem is that if he we were a fully versed candidate who had a moment, we could all say, OK, he had a moment. We all have the moment.

But if — up until now — this was his recovery moment — up until now, he has not seemed like a fully versed candidate, a candidate who actually has thought about, seriously, about what, say, the Department of Commerce does, or the Department of Energy does, and why we should have it, why we shouldn’t have it, what’s good, what’s bad.

And so he hasn’t done the hard work of actually trying to understand the issues. And maybe this is my theme for tonight, but if you haven’t done the hard work understanding the complexities, well, people are going to doubt your credibility. And so, when this happened, it wasn’t just a momentary lapse. It was a symptom of the core problem of his campaign, that he doesn’t seem serious.

JIM LEHRER: It’s like what David Chalian said on this program last night, that it fit the story, the action fit the story about Rick Perry.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right.

When you have a gaffe of this proportion and dimension, you want it to be outside of what is the preexisting perception, a stereotype of you. When Bill Clinton went endlessly at the 1988 Democratic Convention in his keynote address, and finally reached a point where his last paragraph was, “In conclusion,” and the crowd cheered…

JIM LEHRER: They thought he was crazy, yes.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes, OK.

He could go on “Johnny Carson” then and say, that wasn’t my best hour. That wasn’t even my best hour-and-a-half. And he could laugh at himself because he wasn’t known as a blowhard or a windbag.

But, in Perry’s case, two things have happened. One, he’s introduced to the nation through these debates. And I have never seen a campaign, quite frankly, where debates have played such a dominant and influential role. I mean, they have cemented Mitt Romney as sort of the cool, collected, professional customer.

I thought one thing about the Perry mishap the other night, it did, for the first time, humanize Mitt Romney. He was the one that said EPA.

JIM LEHRER: He was trying to give him…

MARK SHIELDS: Yes, give him something. And…

JIM LEHRER: It was the wrong one.

MARK SHIELDS: As opposed to Ron Paul, who says, no, there aren’t three, there are five, just kind of…

DAVID BROOKS: Right.

(LAUGHTER)

MARK SHIELDS: And poor Perry at that point is about to cash it in.

JIM LEHRER: Yes.

What about — how is Herman Cain and his problem being — how is Herman Cain dealing with his problem, which is sexual harassment?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. Well, he’s, I think, behaving badly.

First of all, what I think of the — he’s gone for the home run. They’re all lying. And then his lawyer said watch out for the next people, which was brutal and rude. So far, his polling is up there. I think this is an illusion. I think his polling will be down quite quickly.

Right now, there’s a reaction from his core supporters against the media. That is, they don’t want to — they don’t want to give anything to their ideological — perceived ideological opponents in the media. But this is registering.

And I think when you see the rise of Newt Gingrich, which is happening right now, that’s Cain beginning to deflate. And I think he will be deflated very seriously within a week or two.

JIM LEHRER: How do you explain the Gingrich thing? Do you agree that that — it’s part of that? It’s…

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think there is a constituency in the Republican Party primary — David would be more familiar with this than I am — but that really is — you could call them the anti-mainstream media constituency.

I mean, that really is a route. Sarah Palin rode that horse, the “lamestream media,” she called it, but the sense that there are people out there who believe there is a conspiracy, that we meet in secret meetings and come up: This is the agenda and this is what the take is going to be.

And it really is — they’re waiting to support somebody, and that’s what he’s playing to. That’s what…

MARK SHIELDS: That’s what Cain — that’s Cain’s defense.

JIM LEHRER: Cain’s…

MARK SHIELDS: He blamed it on Rick Perry’s campaign. He has blamed it on the media. He has blamed it on the Democratic machine.

And I just thought his debate performance was abysmal. Everything that came up, the European banking crisis, China trade, 9-9-9. I mean, you could have asked him declining Sunday school attendance – 9-9-9. And it was thoughtless. It was a thoughtless performance.

So I think that Gingrich’s rise, obviously, there’s a need for a family values candidate after Cain’s problems. And Newt is going to fill that void.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID BROOKS: One of the things that strikes me is the — I still basically think there’s one real candidate, and that’s Mitt Romney.

But suppose there were two. Suppose Jeb Bush had decided to get in the race? Everybody said, oh, you can’t do it. You’re Jeb Bush. Your last name is Bush.

But Jeb Bush were in the race right now, I think he would be the front-runner, even regardless of the name.

JIM LEHRER: Just like that, you think?

DAVID BROOKS: Because he would be the one person who would be for the serious establishment types, but some of the more conservative types would also I think be happy with him.

And so it’s — one of the things that interests me is what happens if Mitt Romney stumbles?

JIM LEHRER: Who goes…

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. Then where does the party go? Because really there’s option A, and no option B, practically.

And so that would just create a crisis in the party. And then you really would see people rallying around somebody who is not in the race right now.

JIM LEHRER: Quickly, before we go, the president’s decision on the pipeline from Canada down through to Texas, the decision to delay it, what do you think?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, he didn’t make it. The State Department made it.

JIM LEHRER: Oh, it was the State Department.

(LAUGHTER)

MARK SHIELDS: No.

JIM LEHRER: … it was Canada.

MARK SHIELDS: There are two dilemmas. One is this environmental constituency, I mean, on the politics of it.

JIM LEHRER: So it was a political decision?

MARK SHIELDS: And the other was labor…

Listen, a year before an election, all decisions have a strong political dimension to them. Make no mistake about it. And labor unions wanted those jobs desperately. So he decided not to come down on either side and to postpone it.

JIM LEHRER: Until after the election.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes.

JIM LEHRER: What do you think?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. I mean, it was — this isn’t the only one. There have been a series of environmental regulations in particular he’s kicked the can down the road.

If you want to show you’re a leader and it’s not politics as usual, I wouldn’t say this is the way to do it. Somebody said this is not leading from behind. It’s cowering under the table. So I don’t think it’s his finest moment.

JIM LEHRER: Who said that?

DAVID BROOKS: A friend of mine.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID BROOKS: No, I didn’t say it. A friend of mine said it.

JIM LEHRER: He said it and then you quoted him.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. No, it wasn’t me. I would have taken full credit.

MARK SHIELDS: Oldest trick in the…

JIM LEHRER: Yes.

DAVID BROOKS: But, so, you know, it’s not his finest moment. They obviously decided, hey, we will take a hit to our leadership. We just don’t want to offend the unions or the environmentalists.

JIM LEHRER: Yes.

But then, of course, the state of Nebraska is the one that was raising real cain about it.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right.

JIM LEHRER: Of course, it goes through middle of Kansas as well because it goes over…

MARK SHIELDS: That’s exactly right.

JIM LEHRER: Yes. Yes.

So, what are the — that — so, what…

MARK SHIELDS: I mean, those are real concerns.

JIM LEHRER: Yes.

MARK SHIELDS: Those are legitimate concerns. I’m not trying to minimize it.

But this is the politics segment of the show. The rest of the show, 89 percent, 95 percent of it of the week deals with substance.

JIM LEHRER: Yes.

MARK SHIELDS: David and I deal with crass, venal politics.

DAVID BROOKS: I have brought a map of where it should go, but I’m not going to share it.

(LAUGHTER)

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right.

JIM LEHRER: But you do agree — so you agree with Mark that this was a political decision made a year before election for political reasons?

DAVID BROOKS: Absolutely.

JIM LEHRER: OK.

DAVID BROOKS: And it’s not going to be the last that pits these two constituencies against each other, by the way.

JIM LEHRER: OK. All right. We will see. We will see.

We will see, won’t we, Mark?

MARK SHIELDS: We will, Jim.

(LAUGHTER)

JIM LEHRER: OK.

We will see, won’t we, David?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

JIM LEHRER: Thank you both.