JIM LEHRER: Shields and Brooks are tonight, as always, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, and David Brooks of the "Weekly Standard."
Mark, the economy, today's news, the stock market, are people beginning to affix political blame for this? We talked about it a little bit last week.
MARK SHIELDS: Yes, Jim, for the first time, this past week, the Democrats opened up in the generic testing between Democrats and Republicans whom would you vote for for Congress.
JIM LEHRER: Talking about polls.
MARK SHIELDS: In polls. Between the Democrats and the Republicans and they think it's attributable to basically two factors. One: The economy and the sense of anxiety on people's part.
JIM LEHRER: The thing they were talking about in Margaret's discussion, the facts and figures.
MARK SHIELDS: And, secondly, Jim, the perception, widely held perception that the Republicans are too uncritically close and tolerant…too close to big business and uncritically tolerant of the excesses of CEOs and the illegalities.
JIM LEHRER: What do you think, David?
DAVID BROOKS: I basically see the evidence the same way. The Democrats did open up this edge in the polls and there was also a shift in attitudes toward regulation. People are much more hospitable toward regulation than they were before, so there's a clear shift, bad news for Republicans. The Republicans have a series of economic policies, which just seem out of tune with the times, capital gains rate cuts, deregulation, shrinking the size of government, good ideas but not today.
I was listening to Margaret's segment, listening to all the bad news and I was sucking on the gas pipe because of what seems to be terrible economic news. It should be said, neither party has a growth agenda. The Democrats do not have a Keynesian spending agenda because we are spending through the roof right now; the Republicans don't have a tax cut agenda. We've already had our tax cut. So we really have no fiscal policy stimulus plan on either part.
JIM LEHRER: So it's just kind of waiting to see what happens on its own.
DAVID BROOKS: It's waiting for Alan Greenspan. It's not clear how much strength he has left, how much he can cut rates anymore. This could be a Washington-free zone.
JIM LEHRER: Speaking of Washington, Secretary Paul O'Neill, the Secretary of the Treasury, he is under heat, new heat this week to resign. He is not a good economic spokesman, et cetera, say the critics. What do you think? What is the deal on him?
MARK SHIELDS: I think if there is somebody in this town who has got a bad knock, an unfair knock, it's Paul O'Neill. I mean, Paul O'Neill in many respects is the perfect antidote to the scandals of the times. As CEO at ALCOA, I mean, this man did everything that we're now demanding that CEOs -
JIM LEHRER: Did it on his own.
MARK SHIELDS: He did it on his own. And he was there for 13 years, Jim. He tied the stock options only to performance, the company's performance. He was the only inside director in the company. All his SEC reports were in on time. And on pay himself, he said I want to know what the median pay is for all CEOs, and then give me 75 percent of the median.
And in addition to that, it was legendary for his treatment of employees. He was concerned about their safety and their wellbeing. He is the perfect poster boy to rebut. The problem is that he is eclipsed by the fact that both Harken Oil, President Bush and Halliburton, Vice President Cheney, have crippled them. Dick Cheney would be a great spokesman but has no voice now, because of Halliburton, and the president is not compelling or convincing or even a very persuasive figure on economics.
JIM LEHRER: How do you read the Paul O'Neill thing?
DAVID BROOKS: There are two raps against him; one that he doesn't have an aggressive economic policy, just substantively. I think that's true for the whole party at the moment, so it's hard to blame him. The second, he is a bad Marcus Welby. He can't go after the markets when the markets are in panic and say, don't worry, I will heal you, I'll calm all troubled waters. I guess I'd say to the markets you know, grow up. You know, we had an overvalued market; it came down to 8500 or wherever it ended up today. There is nothing a Treasury Secretary can say to make you all feel better.
Robert Rubin, the sainted Robert Rubin could be in office now. If the market comes down 30 percent, he still looks terrible. There is nothing a Treasury Secretary can do, and all this carping that he doesn't say the right things, that he is off traveling with the surviving members of Sha Na Na or some other rock group, when he should be sort of ministering to the markets, it's all phony.
JIM LEHRER: Who is out to get him? Where does it come from?
DAVID BROOKS: It's a media swirl because the perceptions are wrong, that he is not projecting the right image. The media is supposed to look at substance and not just image.
MARK SHIELDS: And, Jim, ideologically he doesn't fit with what has been the Republican Party's economic philosophy, which is smaller government, lower taxes, cut taxes again, supply side belief. And I mean the reality is David put his finger on it. The only arrow in the quiver of the Republican Party is tax cuts. And they've already fired it. You can't do it again.
DAVID BROOKS: But looking ahead if we are three months and we really do have a double dip, tax cuts will come out because that is a plausible growth policy. And Democrats will have to come up with something. So that could see a complete shift in the whole political climate.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. Moving, taking, shifting the subject to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings two days this week on Iraq. What did you think of them? Were they a useful exercise?
DAVID BROOKS: I thought they were great, really interesting. And what struck me was the tenor of the debate, and the real subject of the debate. It was not 'should we go after Saddam'. It was more 'how can we' because I think once you think about it for five minutes, you realize you can't live in a world where Saddam Hussein has the power to wipe out New York, Tel Aviv, Washington.
And so the only question becomes how close is he to getting that power? And what can we do to stop him? And the discussion was really about how many troops does it take to go into Iraq? What sort of troops would we need after presumably a victory in Iraq? It was really practical considerations of what an invasion would look like, which I think is the absolute, right question to ask.
JIM LEHRER: Mark.
MARK SHIELDS: I agree with David that the hearings were very good. I do not think that the decision… I think the administration has made the decision. The administration has not made the case for invasion of Iraq, Jim. I think a lot of senators who are reluctant to take on the White House and take on the policy welcome this.
They chose this forum to provide the opportunity for voices that would express those doubts and reservations about the wisdom, the practicality, the morality, the value of the United States invading Iraq, all by itself, at a cost of 200,000 troops, at a price tag of $60 billion and all that entails. So I think they're enormously, enormously valuable. I think any time you are talking about national sacrifice on that order of magnitude, you have to have an informed electorate to sustain support for a policy in a democracy, especially a policy that involves pain, that involves sacrifice, that involves blood and sweat.
JIM LEHRER: Let me ask you this, Mark. Last night we had Senator Biden and Senator Lugar on together.
MARK SHIELDS: Yes, you did.
JIM LEHRER: And Senator Biden said, now he is a Democrat and he's the Chairman of this Committee and this whole deal to have these hearings -- that was his idea. He said President Bush-- did you hear the interview -- he shook his hand and said good job, Joe, glad you're having the hearings and a lot of people have suggested since then, since Biden said that, that the president may have gotten himself on a road he doesn't want to be on. Now that we've had the hearings, there will be a debate, a public debate. Is he going to be locked into what the consensus arrives at?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think…
JIM LEHRER: That's a badly phrased question but go ahead.
MARK SHIELDS: When Joe Biden said of Dick Lugar, Democrat to Republican, he is the best informed man in the Congress of the United States on foreign policy, I mean, you know, it was kind of an ultimate tribute in this partisan atmosphere. I think this, Jim. I think the likelihood may be the inevitability of the Congress addressing this issue of a free, full, open public debate as we had in 1991. It is in the president's interest that the president can make this case. And Jim, I'm fighting for it inside, this is deja vu all over again. In 1991, the Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman was Colin Powell. He said take it to the Congress and get the support. The Secretary of Defense was Dick Cheney. He said don't go to the Congress, as did John Sununu, the chief of staff.
The president did, the nation was evenly divided. After that debate, which was a wonderful debate, it was a quality debate, a serious debate, and the president's position carried, President Bush's position carried very narrowly, support in the country for the invasion of Iraq soared, in support of the president. And I think that's-- it's absolutely crucial.
JIM LEHRER: Do you see it the same way?
DAVID BROOKS: Basically. I don't think support could soar because the support is already 80 or 90 percent. There is already tremendous support for doing Iraq. But I do agree with Mark. Legally I don't think the president has to do it because Saddam Hussein is auto clearly in violation of the treaty that ended Desert Storm.
There is an al-Qaida connection, which gives him some U.N. support. But politically, in terms of good government, I think it's very important. You have to have the Democrats on board in case things go bad and you have got to have this debate. As you read the Democrats, the Republicans, especially the White House, are a little afraid the Democrats are going on go off into a post-Vietnam left-wing hostility to military action. But if you look at elected Democratic leaders, they tend to support it. Their first instinct is 'Yes we have to get rid of Saddam because they don't want to live in a world where Saddam Hussein could launch weapons of mass destruction.'
JIM LEHRER: But what about this. Let's say, for discussion purposes, that the debate takes a negative turn for whatever reason, that the president and his folks can't make the case or somehow the critics make their case and that a consensus arrives through the polls, through the elected representatives, that maybe military action, unilateral military action, if it comes to that, isn't really a good thing. Is the president locked in then to that result?
DAVID BROOKS: If the whole country shifts in that direction, then yes, and he probably should be. If the whole country - if honest people look at the issue and a vast majority decide we shouldn't go into Iraq, then we probably shouldn't go into Iraq. Right now, he is facing tough and not internal opposition, but skepticism from the military and the Pentagon, skepticism from some people in his own government. They're not saying we're not going to do this, but they're doing their job, which is to pose the toughest questions. And there is a fascinating internal debate. The military want to go in with hundreds of thousands of troops. Some of the civilian leadership should say, no, we've got all this new technology, let's take advantage of it; let's have this idea; this idea or this idea. So he is facing tough opposition already, tough skepticism. I think he has nothing more to fear from the congress.
MARK SHIELDS: Two quick points. One, Saddam Hussein is the Typhoid Mary of international politics. Nobody likes him, nobody defends him and David is right. Seventy-five percent or whatever want to invade, knock him out, take him out. When the same question is asked, Jim, if it involves 200,000 American troops, support for that drops all the way down to a point where it's even in the Wall Street Journal-NBC Poll. We are talking about 200,000 troops. David is right.
The resistance is almost open now on the part of the uniformed military who are the ones who are going to send there and the ones who have to write the letters of condolence to the surviving family and I thought when Tony Cordesman, senior fellow from the CSIS, Center for Strategic and International Studies said I think only fools would bet the lives of sons and daughters on their own arrogance and call this force of Saddam's a cakewalk or a speed bump. I mean, I think that's the kind of serious debate we need in this country.
DAVID BROOKS: Words about cakewalks. It is obviously not going to be that but I think Bush has such an incredibly strong case to go in there. The upside is tremendous. If we could have a democracy not only in Turkey but Iraq, maybe in Iran, transform the region and then just the possibility that we are depending our survival on Saddam Hussein's goodwill, it is just an incredibly strong case despite the challenges.
JIM LEHRER: One more new subject before we go, quickly. Senator Torricelli, the Senate Ethics Committee admonished him. He admitted he did wrong, kind of. What do you think? How do you read that?
MARK SHIELDS: It changes the whole dynamic of the race in New Jersey, which had been leaning Democratic now a toss-up race. He was under 50 percent going into the announcement of the Senate Ethics Committee.
I think it's all of a sudden Republicans are competitive in the state. The biggest problem for the Republicans is not Bob Torricelli who is a very formidable campaigner, a great fundraiser, a tough candidate. The biggest problem is, Jim, New Jersey has become a solidly Democratic state. The last ten Senate races have been won by Democrats. Gore won in a landslide there.
JIM LEHRER: A few words on Torricelli.
DAVID BROOKS: I still think he has a chance. He was not elected because he was Mr. Integrity. He is a smart guy. He is a sleazy guy. They voted for him knowing what kind of character he had, so I don't think they will be automatically dismissive of him now.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Thank you both.