JIM LEHRER: And to Shields and Brooks, syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.
Your assessment of the debate, sir.
MARK SHIELDS: Jim, John Kerry's ahead in the polls in state after state we're told. People are getting on that bandwagon, even as we sit here. We don't know tonight whether John Kerry, that lantern jaw of his is glass in any way because nobody laid a glove on him. I don't know if these guys were all auditioning for vice president or what was going on. But campaigns are about differences, there are differences in value, differences in experience, differences in vision, differences in character, personality and temperament. And, boy, you wouldn't have known it last night.
JIM LEHRER: Even today there were a couple of hits. Dean went ahead and said that we need a doer not a talker, and General Clark also took a hit on Kerry, but it is a different world, isn't it?
DAVID BROOKS: Yeah. I thought at the debate they were going to endorse him at the end. It was so gentle. It was the 10 millionth debate of the campaign. We had 10 debates for every voter. And they were all a waste of time, but especially this one.
JIM LEHRER: All a waste of time, David?
DAVID BROOKS: I really think the campaign really got going when they were out on their own giving their own speeches, giving the full presentations of themselves rather than the one-minute versions here. They really -- Napoleon would have taken a chance. Sometimes you just have to take a chance and attack the guy, especially if you are way behind as all the other six are. And none of them took a chance, especially John Edwards, Howard Dean at least took a little chance.
JIM LEHRER: Why is Edwards ... of course Edwards is the nice guy, a nice guy. Is he overdoing it?
MARK SHIELDS: Victimized by a public perception of him as the positive candidate. I mean, here he is in South Carolina. He's got NAFTA, which John Kerry voted for and now wants to modify, amplify, whatever, qualify. He's got John Kerry's statement in New Hampshire that, you know, Al Gore didn't really need the South. He could have just carried West Virginia and New Hampshire and he would have been elected.
JIM LEHRER: Brokaw brought that up last night.
MARK SHIELDS: Brought it up. Where was John Edwards? They start talking about textile jobs and he's talking about growing up in a mill town, which is wonderful and it's part of his profile and biography and he means it, but, boy, talk about drawing differences, he didn't do it.
DAVID BROOKS: I think it's in part our fault. We come down so hard on negative advertising, but comparing things is not an attack. It is not a vicious thing. Richard Daly, the first Mayor Daly, used to say politics ain't beanbag. And you've got to be tough about it. But somehow they've determined if they're showing any contrast, somehow that's negative advertising and we've all turned into the League of Women Voters.
JIM LEHRER: Whether we talk about it here, I mean, is there also this kind of lingering thing from Iowa that Gephardt destroyed Dean and Dean destroyed Gephardt and they destroyed each other and that's kind of got everybody on pins and needles?
DAVID BROOKS: It's Iowan cultural hegemony.
JIM LEHRER: Say that again please.
DAVID BROOKS: Iowan cultural hegemony. It's Iowa spreading out. You know, South Carolina, four years ago, Bush was doing push polling; McCain was hitting back. I thought South Carolina was the one place...
JIM LEHRER: Explain what push polling is.
DAVID BROOKS: That's when you call up somebody and pretend you are doing a poll. And you say, Mark Shields, would you agree that Mark Shields is a terrible person? You ask the leading questions to blacken the person's character. And so that was nasty. I thought South Carolina had a tolerance and I thought we would see a change in mood but we are seeing nothing.
JIM LEHRER: Speaking of change, Mark, Howard Dean did change his campaign manager, Joe Trippi. This is inside baseball, but he replaced Joe Trippi with Roy Neel, who is a former top aide of Vice President Gore. What does that mean?
MARK SHIELDS: It's a campaign very much in turmoil, Jim. I mean, there's been a rather open secret -- those of us covering the Dean campaign, that there was great trouble between Joe Trippi. There was just not a great personal relationship between them. There was open talk that there would be changes irrespective of what happened in New Hampshire.
JIM LEHRER: Even if he had won in New Hampshire, won in Iowa?
MARK SHIELDS: There was going to be a change in campaign leadership. But now we've got -- now we've got Howard Dean who has gone in the space of two weeks from prohibitive front-runner for the Democratic nomination, to the involuntarily retired list of the taxi squad of American politics. He is not even competing in the Feb. 3 --
JIM LEHRER: He is moving on to Michigan.
MARK SHIELDS: It's a campaign that's very much in turmoil.
DAVID BROOKS: The choice of Neel is paradoxical. He is a very impressive guy. People think a lot of him. He is the consummate Washington insider. He was a lobbyist for the telecommunications industry, Al Gore's chief of staff.
MARK SHIELDS: The Baby Bells. The outsider Bells.
DAVID BROOKS: OK. Small corporations. And so for the people who have been "Deaniacs" who have been sleeping in tents for three months, it's dispiriting. And so we've got a populist who's a millionaire educated in Sweden, another populist who's a trial lawyer, another populist who's got a millionaire from Yale who's got a lobbyist as a campaign manager. Where is the real populist?
MARK SHIELDS: I guess he's in the White House, David.
DAVID BROOKS: He doesn't pretend to be a populist.
MARK SHIELDS: Oh, sure he does. Wait a minute. Let's go swagger down here and do the Texas two step.
JIM LEHRER: Everybody's a populist.
DAVID BROOKS: I withdraw the comment.
MARK SHIELDS: I'm running as an elitist, Jim. Joe Trippi, though, was interesting. I was out at a couple of events where Dean and Trippi were both there. David is right. The loyalty and affection toward Joe Trippi on the part of the Dean volunteers was legendary. I've known Joe Trippi for 25 years. He was frankly embarrassed by it. He said I'm sorry, Mark. They're coming up, Joe Trippi, you're the guy who did it. You're the architect. They really regarded him as an icon.
JIM LEHRER: OK. In summary here before we move on to David Kay and weapons of mass destruction, remember people are listening to you now to your answers I'm about to ask you, so be careful what you say. But do you see anybody there catching Kerry, based on just the evidence that is presented last night and what is happening today?
DAVID BROOKS: I vow to use a hot poker on my skin if I veer into the future tense. Nonetheless, it is hard to see somebody beating Kerry. He might sweep the table on Tuesday and then it will be over.
JIM LEHRER: All seven states. If anybody does take him, who would it be?
DAVID BROOKS: Edwards. I think there is a majority in the Democratic Party who does not want Dean and so the only really viable alternative is Edwards.
MARK SHIELDS: I don't argue with that. Maybe perhaps General Clark has concentrated enough time and energy in Oklahoma, he has established a beachhead there but victory has a fragrance all its own and it's the smell of money. Lou Sussman, who is a long time Democratic activist fund-raiser, John Kerry's principal fund-raiser, told me that people who wouldn't take his calls prior to Iowa are now chasing him down and saying, gee Lou, I've been looking for you. I wanted to get this check to you. I've been carrying it around.
JIM LEHRER: Dated today but...
MARK SHIELDS: Dated Jan. 1. But it enables Kerry to campaign in places where he isn't physically present. That's the great advantage of money -- through paid television advertising.
JIM LEHRER: OK. David Kay, the weapon inspector. We just heard the discussion with Woolsey and Deutch. John McCain among others on the Republican side and many Democrats, of course, want an independent investigation of the prewar intelligence. The president has pretty much said no up to this point. What is going on, David?
DAVID BROOKS: Well, there are two things going in the White House. One, the Bush administration has trouble admitting error. Second, there is incredible pressure in the agency itself not to have some kind of investigation. I think it is going to buckle; I hear from people within the administration telling people in the Senate that there will be an investigation. But we've just got to have a discussion. This guy, David Kay, is an honest person who came up and said some things that favor the Democrats, if you want to put it in political terms, some things that favor the Republicans that the Bush administration did not lean on the CIA, did not try to influence or cook the books. What happens? We need to have a group of people in Washington who can look at complicated facts and have a discussion about it. We've got a White House...
JIM LEHRER: Right now you've got then a screaming argument.
DAVID BROOKS: If you looked at the Armed Services Committee, you have the Republicans making the incredibly weak case as John Warner tried to do, if you look harder, maybe you'll find them. That's a weak case. Then you had the Democrats reading their prepared questions, which is all gotcha questions about Cheney and Bush and whether they influenced the CIA. There was no serious question of the systemic problem which is what Kay was trying to get at. As he said on the program last night, he was just a little ball being tossed back and forth.
MARK SHIELDS: Jim, Ray LaHood, a very, took loyal congressman from Illinois, took Bob Michael's place in the House told Janet Hook of the L.A. Times politically the president needs to explain this to the American people, it undermines his ability to talk to the American people about the war on terrorism.
I think he is absolutely right and I think that really leads inevitably to an independent commission because the administration finds itself in the truly awkward position right now of saying Bill Clinton made me do it. I mean, they just keep coming back to the 1998 finding and the change of regime. There is a big difference of going on record saying we need a change of regime; we back a change of regime in Iraq and a preemptive strike and invasion and occupation. That demands a much higher and more solid level of intelligence and information before you do that.
JIM LEHRER: But what about David's point that here you have David Kay with no axes to grind and who's saying -- I won't say I, but the people who listened to him come away with the impression that if he did pick up some evidence that the CIA had cooked the books or the pressure had been there, he would come on this program and the world and tell people that. So do you think that that issue of cooking the books makes sense for the Democrats to hang in there short of some kind of smoking gun?
MARK SHIELDS: Without a smoking gun. But I mean there is no question that statements were made that were proved subsequently wrong, absolutely wrong. And an amazing change in American policy and we said gee, well, the Germans knew about it, the French knew about it. The Russians knew about it. None of them went to war. We went to war. That is such a grave and serious act, Jim. Not to beat it into the ground but I'm waiting for the president to express some anger that he was misled, that the information was wrong.
DAVID BROOKS: One of the things they're closed about, the administration -- first they tend to be closed in general but secondly because they're confronted with the Democratic Party, Ted Kennedy, Carl Levin, Howard Dean, John Kerry -- who can't just say they were wrong, they have to say they lied. They have to come close to accusing them of treason; they can never say they were a little wrong; they made a big mistake, it has to be failure of a good intentions and so they just clam up.
JIM LEHRER: But don't you agree with Mark, this is a huge thing to take your country to war on bad intelligence?
DAVID BROOKS: This goes back decades that our intelligence has been of this quality. That's why they need not just the Pat Roberts report which is about Iraq, which is the Senate investigation; they need to have a much broader report and I suspect the administration is going to have to get there…
JIM LEHRER: John Deutch just told Margaret, yes, this casts a doubt on any intelligence that might come on North Korea and et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
MARK SHIELDS: And I think it makes it very difficult, Jim, for the president to go before the nation and say we are going to have to take action. We have to initiate. Trust me on this -- absent a full investigation.
JIM LEHRER: Politics aside. All right. Thank you both very much.