JIM LEHRER: Finally some analysis by Shields and Brooks; syndicated columnist Mark Shields and David Brooks of the Weekly Standard.
Mark, to you, on the Enron story, what to you is the single most important or startling development that came out this week?
MARK SHIELDS: The most startling development to me, Jim, was to see politicians commit an unnatural act in public, and that is returning campaign contributions.
JIM LEHRER: The money was flowing everywhere.
MARK SHIELDS: Going back, and getting out. Boy, I never met these guys. I did not commit politics with that man Ken Lay or whatever their explanations were. $280,000 from Republican campaign committee coffers alone and people just sending checks to survivors and to families of those who have been laid off.
JIM LEHRER: Has that ever happened like this before? Do you remember a case where a scandal came and then suddenly everybody went back and looked to see if got any money from them and then start suddenly returning it?
MARK SHIELDS: I've seen people give it back but not on the order of this magnitude. Why? 188 members of the House of Representatives now serving--.
JIM LEHRER: Out of 435.
MARK SHIELDS: Out of 435 -- have received Enron funds. I think what startles me most is, Jim, I think that the United States Senate passed the McCain/Feingold campaign finance bill last year for one reason. And that was Bill Clinton's presidential pardon of the ethically and morally challenged Marc Rich. It was such-- after much exchange of soft money - there was such an uproar that it became indefensible to oppose campaign finance reform. I think Enron is sending the same message to the Republican House of Representatives.
I think it is going to become very difficult, especially for a guy like Tom Delay, whose own campaign committee took $75,000 from Enron, his home city of Houston, who has spearheaded the opposition against that campaign in the House. I think it means that campaign finance reform may finally happen.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree?
DAVID BROOKS: I think the odds are certainly increased. What we have learned this week is that money buys you access; it doesn't buy you policy. The Bush administration turned down Enron on separate occasions. One on rescuing the company when it was going bankrupt, two on Kyoto and global warming and Phil Gramm - there's a fantastic story in the New York Times today -- Phil and Wendy Gramm violently or quite aggressively lobbied against a future trading bill that Enron wanted. Money buys you access. Enron had access all over town but there's case after case after case where they didn't get what they wanted. So as a slam-dunk, poster child for campaign finance reform, it doesn't quite reach that level.
JIM LEHRER: So, in other words, if had you to answer the question that I asked Mark, you were startled by the fact that they didn't get anything for all this money. Is that what you're saying?
DAVID BROOKS: Well, I knew that because it always buys access. It doesn't buy policy. I was startled by Sherron Watkins, who's my hero of the week - this was the woman who wrote the letter to Ken Lay - and that letter - you know we all this heroism going on -- genuine heroism going on in Afghanistan and New York. We have no office park heroism, no hero for the Dilberts of the world stuck in the little office parks but Sherron Watkins really is a hero. You read that letter, it wasn't self-righteous. She said you guys have been messing up. What are we going to do it? And a series of very practical question she asked, really galvanizing questions, so she is one hero.
The second hero of the week, and I always try to look on the bright side of things and this may send Mark shooting up out of his chair into the lights, but the Bush administration, especially a guy named Peter Fisher, a guy who worked at the Treasury Department who I have never met. You're working in the Treasury Department, political appointee, you get a call from somebody who's close to the president and the vice president, Ken Lay; you get a call from people who are big donors to the Republican Party, and to the White House; you get a call from the sainted Robert Rubin, all of whom are sort of leaning on you in vague ways to do something about Enron and you say, no, that's not good policy. We're not going to do it. That takes some integrity. So that's another hero.
MARK SHIELDS: Ms. Watkins is a legitimate hero. But let me just make one little fly in David's otherwise compelling ointment, and that is the story of Curtis Abert Jr., the top electricity regulator in the federal government, Washington, D.C., chairman of FERC, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, who reported that he had a conversation as he became chairman -- after he became chairman, Ken Lay called him, the chairman of Enron and said we could support you permanently -- this is a Republican backed by Trent Lott. He's from Pascagoula, Mississippi -- we could support you if you could just come closer to our position on energy deregulation. He -- Curtis Abert said he was offended by the call, did not change, and he is no longer chairman. He was replaced by a man backed by Ken Lay, Pat Wood, the Texas regulator. Now, is that access, is that influence?
Influence, Jim, we don't have a government of laws. We have a government of men and who enforces those laws and really influences in large part the development of public policy. Finally I just add this, that what we really have out of all of this is a repudiation of the laissez-faire, hands-off deregulation approach to federal government. Whatever Enron since were, whatever the causes were for its demise and the human tragedy and the catastrophe it inflicted upon those around it, no one can blame it on excessive intrusive federal regulation - over regulation from Washington -- faceless nameless bureaucrats were intruding.
DAVID BROOKS: I half agree with that. One of the reasons the Bush administration didn't go into bed with Enron is because they were free marketeers who didn't believe in helping companies unless there was a systemic problem, so their integrity was backed up by their ideology. On the larger issue of was there a lack of government oversight problem in this respect, information, it is clear now, as Arthur Levitt has been say saying for years and years…
JIM LEHRER: Democrat who was head of the SEC for the last eight years.
DAVID BROOKS: He has been saying government has a role in making sure people who buy stock have honest information, which it's now obvious and everybody agrees the current head of the SEC agrees they don't have that honest information. And there is a federal role in regulating that whether it is making sure the Arthur Andersen consultants are separated from the Arthur Andersen auditors, making sure there are independent people on the boards, there is a real consensus about reforming corporate governance in the capital markets.
JIM LEHRER: So your point, though, is that what this may result in is not - or should not result in regulation so much as just more information in accordance with new federal--.
DAVID BROOKS: There are some regulations - I'd say regulations in making sure that you have independent boards, regulations in making sure the auditing is done in a certain way, the SEC Head has proposed an independent board to oversee the auditing. So in terms of corporate governance, and protecting the capital markets, we need a heavier federal hand. But is this going to become sort of a robber baron story where - a story of corporate America riding rough shod over America, which, you know, some Democrats want to turn this into the 1890s - the evil robber barons and the Bush administration all locked in with them. I don't think that is going to happen and that argument just falls apart.
JIM LEHRER: Does that argument fall -- do you agree?
MARK SHIELDS: I don't think it does fall apart as long as - I mean if Curtis Abert's story is right about Ken Lay, and he is removed as chairman and not continued in office, a good Republican, and replaced by someone who does share Ken Lay's philosophy and Enron does interview the prospective appointees to the top electricity regulator's position in Washington, I mean that is more than access. That truly is influence. And I guess the other thing, Jim that cannot be ignored in this is that you've got the fact that Enron in the past four out of the past five years paid no federal taxes on income of $1.8 billion. Okay.
What has been the cry from my good friends the libertarian right is you shouldn't look at these tax havens and shelters. That's really not-- that's American business doing what it wants to do. They had 831 subsidiaries, many in tax shelters and havens offshore. When you get Chuck Grassley, the ranking Republican of the Senate Finance Committee saying we got to close those, we have to get some real enforcement, I think you're going to see a reaction. This is going to be, as one top Republican said to me today, this is going to be with us all through 2002. You won't hear a single Republican talking about privatizing Social Security in his campaign commercials.
JIM LEHRER: Our man Paul Solman is working on a piece for next week to try to explain how the tax havens work - those 860 - so I can hardly wait for that. New subject. Have I missed it or has the reaction to President Bush's recess appointments, Eugene Scalia to the Labor Department, Otto Reich to the State Department been mild and unexpectedly so?
DAVID BROOKS: I'd say pro forma. From Chris Dodd, from Tom Daschle, from the Democrats. These were guys who were not even in one case not even given hearings and the second case not given votes. And Bush went ahead in recess and said, okay, you guys are in for a short limited term, which is what the law holds on this. And I was a little surprised. Obviously the Democrats decided this is not where we're going to create our fights. It's either going to be Enron; it's going to be taxes; it's going to be somewhere else.
JIM LEHRER: Another case of everybody does it. Bill Clinton did it when he couldn't get his people through, so now George Bush does it when he couldn't get his people through. So what is there to complain about?
MARK SHIELDS: There's a certain charge… I mean some of the Democrats want to say, boy what hypocrites they were because with Bill Lan Lee at the Civil Rights Division, the Justice Department, and James Hormel to be the United States ambassador to Luxembourg, both of which were recess appointees much opposed by Republicans. But it is -- they do it and it's usually the ones who are the most controversial and the ones who for some reason are most pushed by the strongest constituency in their own party, the right of the Republican Party, left of the Democratic Party.
JIM LEHRER: So that by holding it up, at least you can say well it was over my dead body. I didn't have anything to do with it. I did the right thing. Finally, David, today was the deadline, and it began, the federal law that mandated all bags be checked for explosives. Generally how are we doing on this security thing post-September 11?
DAVID BROOKS: Let me talk not as an expert, which I am about nothing, but let me talk just as a guy who travels and it's demoralizing. You go into these airports and it's always inconsistent what they ask for. I was roughing it in Key West this week. They made me unbuckle my belt as I walked through the magnetometer, and they never do that anywhere else. Sometimes they take your nail clipper, sometimes they don't. Everybody can see holes in the system we've got. They match the bag to the body on the first flight but not on the connecting flight.
So you see the government taking on this big homeland security thing and they're transparently doing an ineffective job, they're pulling off every granny who walks through. And it's just demoralizing to see the government do something badly, something important, this badly.
MARK SHIELDS: I think, Jim, we are all a lot more aware of the holes in airline security than we ever were, I mean whether it's personnel, whether it's the question of if I'm a terrorist and I get on the plane to Detroit and the plane is going to Minneapolis and then to San Diego, I put the bomb in there so when I get off at Minneapolis, say good night and let the plane keep going -- there is no question about that. But I think as you do travel and you see the presence of what looks to be a linebacker sitting in about the fifth row, and he's in civvies and you realize that is an air marshal and you see some at least of the doors secured, I think it's--.
JIM LEHRER: You are not demoralized as David is?
MARK SHIELDS: No, but nobody has invited me to Key West.
DAVID BROOKS: You're sitting in the first five rows and I'm sitting in the back.
JIM LEHRER: It's been nice chatting with you both. We'll do this next Friday.