JIM LEHRER: And to the analysis of Shields and Safire. Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and William Safire of The New York Times, who will be here for these Friday night sessions while David Brooks gets his New York Times column properly launched. Welcome, Bill.
The president asked this week for $87 billion more for Afghanistan and Iraq -- both military and reconstruction. Does it make sense to you?
WILLIAM SAFIRE: It's a lot of money. But it's less than 1 percent of our GNP. It's not the kind of percentage of expenditures that we had in previous wars.
And it is to fight a war. And I think when you see the reaction of the opposition, the Democratic candidates, in most cases you will see grumbling, and this money could be used for all the wonderful things here, but you won't find many votes against it because I think most people believe that war is costly.
JIM LEHRER: Are you one of those people, Mark?
MARK SHIELDS: I'm not Jim, I think it's an enormous amount, I think it's sticker shock to the American people, sticker shock to the Congress. We're now looking at $160 billion that this war will have cost in its enforcement and its rebuilding; $65 and a half billion of it is going to go toward military operations. This was after the deputy secretary of defense told us before it would be somewhere around $10 billion to rebuild Iraq. I think it's, you know, quite the contrary, it's more than the Persian Gulf War cost, the War of 1812, the Spanish American War, I mean all combined. So it's a lot of money.
JIM LEHRER: What about Bill's point that we can afford it, it's a war and it's an expenditure that we have to do it?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think what you'll see is I think you'll see for the first time, I've never seen -- Democrats have been rather docile and submissive group throughout this entire process, as energized and as angry as they are on Capitol Hill, I think you're going to see a lot more open debate, a lot more open testimony, a lot more open questioning, and demanding of answers to these policies.
I don't question the last analysis the president will get it, Jim, but this isn't guns and butter, this is guns and caviar. I mean, this is a president who says we're going to continue to can you taxes, and especially for the --
JIM LEHRER: Is that what this is, guns and caviar?
WILLIAM SAFIRE: He went back to the War of 1812, which I think we under spent on and we would done a lot better if we had financed that one properly, but we shouldn't argue about that here. I think we can afford it if we're going to turn around the Middle East. That's what this whole thing is about. We've been losing for the last 50 years. And if we're going to attack the basic problems of dictatorship, tyranny, misery and poverty in the Middle East, here is our great historic opportunity. And that's what we're doing, and it's expensive. It's more expensive than we thought it would be, granted. But it's a great, great gamble and it's a gamble we have to take.
JIM LEHRER: Why do we have to take it? There's no alternative to this?
WILLIAM SAFIRE: Well, the alternative is to pull out, admit defeat, allow the United States to be, to use a favorite expression, a pitiful, helpless giant, and where does that leave us? No credibility in the world with egg on our face, and with the war being fought over here instead of over there.
JIM LEHRER: How are Democrats going to counter that, Mark?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think the Democrats are going to counter it predictably. You heard John Kerry in the debate this past week say why are we opening fire houses in Baghdad and closing them in the United States of America to much applause. Let's be very --
JIM LEHRER: As an old speech writer, Safire, you give him points for that one?
WILLIAM SAFIRE: Sure, and that's the sort of thing you can hear a lot of, but when it comes right down to a vote, they won't vote against providing the troops with the necessary money.
MARK SHIELDS: I'm not sure that the Republicans who historically have hardly been the party of foreign aid, have hardly been the party of subsidizing infrastructure and turning on electricity and water in the back waters of the world, all of a sudden are going to become these apostles and converts to just unlimited foreign aid, which is what this is, and nation building. I think it's going to be an awkward political move for an awful lot of people involved.
JIM LEHRER: Which way, you mean --
MARK SHIELDS: I think for the Republicans, I think for the president and the president is going to have a tough time selling this. I mean, you hear more and more grumbling on the Republican side about the –
WILLIAM SAFIRE: In terms of --
JIM LEHRER: Money -- too much money?
WILLIAM SAFIRE: In terms of foreign aid, yes, the goal posts have switched, both parties are now running against the other side. But the isolationism, which can characterize the notion of don't spend the money to finish the job, I think is not going to play. I think Americans will bite their lip and say let's go through with it.
JIM LEHRER: What about the conservative Republicans, Mark's point, where you've got taxes, you've got all kinds of rising expenditures, in other words the federal budget is going up, the federal deficit is going up, it runs counter to everything that conservative Republicans believe in --
WILLIAM SAFIRE: Well, now you're talking about taxes and spending.
JIM LEHRER: Right.
WILLIAM SAFIRE: We want to hold down spending and we want to really hold down the rise in taxation. Now, I'm an old supply-sider. I believe that when the economy is in recession or in stagnation, which is what we've had after Clinton, the time has come to stimulate the economy. And the wonderful thing, Jim, is when you stimulate an economy, then profits come in, and the government gets a lot more money, revenues, from those profits, and that's what shrinks the deficit in the long run.
MARK SHIELDS: I guess that's what we need is another tax cut at this point, I'm surprised the president hasn't pushed for one.
JIM LEHRER: You say that facetiously.
MARK SHIELDS: I do. The president boasted over the fact that we'd come out of the recession in October of 2001. And what a marvelously shallow recession it was because of the president's own inspired leadership and his enlightened policies.
Here we are, you know, basically more than two years, two years later, and unemployment, I mean, we've had a job loss recovery, and I think it's a tough thing to say we really want to spend all this money overseas in a shifting rationale. I mean, Bill talks about democracy, and ridding totalitarianism from the region and all the rest of it. That hadn't been the rationale. The rationale was that weapons of mass destruction under this regime posed an imminent threat to the well-being of the United States of America and its citizens.
WILLIAM SAFIRE: There were several rationales, and one of which was the Wilsonian idealism of carrying democracy into the Middle East.
MARK SHIELDS: Oh, boy.
WILLIAM SAFIRE: That was a big one, and ties to al-Qaida was another big one and weapons mass destruction was a third.
MARK SHIELDS: So one out of three is what it comes down to.
WILLIAM SAFIRE: Two out of three, and we haven't found the weapons yet.
MARK SHIELDS: The al-Qaida connection, Bill, is about as flimsy as a luncheon in Prague.
WILLIAM SAFIRE: Not what we're seeing now.
JIM LEHRER: Speaking of President Bush, there are some Democrats who want his job. How does Dean look? Dean is the frontrunner, we've had another debate, we've had all kinds of developments today, Gephardt -- Dick Gephardt compared him, he compared Dean with Newt Gingrich, calling for reform of Medicare --
MARK SHIELDS: That's rhetorically hitting below the belt -- that really is.
JIM LEHRER: Dean replied that that's the silliest thing he'd ever heard or something. Where does, how does Dean look tonight?
MARK SHIELDS: What's happening, Jim, is that Dean came out against the war early, he looked sort of lonely, and to some people brave for doing so. Now with the post-war debacle, disaster, he looks almost prophetic. And he's really captured a good foothold in the Democratic party, he's got strong support, he's got 151,000 contributors, seven times as much as the next Democratic candidate.
JIM LEHRER: How is he doing --
MARK SHIELDS: So the others are finally realizing that somebody has got to bell this cat. It was Joe Lieberman's turn, Joe Lieberman took him on his misstatement of sort of the mantra language of Middle East politics.
WILLIAM SAFIRE: It's not our place to take sides.
MARK SHIELDS: Not to take sides, he said, and to be an honest broker is OK, but you can't take sides, you have to be even handed. So he was in trouble on that. Gephardt now, Kerry is going to take some shots at him. Each of them is trying to be the one guy against Howard Dean.
JIM LEHRER: What's your feeling about Dean right now?
WILLIAM SAFIRE: I'm a Republican. I remember George McGovern, and I'm rooting for Dean to get the Democratic nomination.
JIM LEHRER: Why?
WILLIAM SAFIRE: Because I think he's eminently beatable.
For example, in this thing he just did which Mark referred to, the change of a position that the Democrats have had for 50 years on Israel, where it's not our place to take sides. Now, immediately Nancy Pelosi came out and said it's unacceptable to take that position. And his campaign immediately put out a statement saying that was a misstatement. It's the big leagues now. He'll get hit, he'll blunder, and the press and the media, I'm for the press, I'm against the media --
JIM LEHRER: Say that again please?
WILLIAM SAFIRE: I'm for the press.
JIM LEHRER: What that means?
WILLIAM SAFIRE: How, the role in the Constitution, freedom of the press. But the media, sneaky electronic, stuff like this. So he's going to get a reexamination as the frontrunner should. And I think it may turn out he'll have a glass jaw and he'll blow.
JIM LEHRER: Do you understand why he's leading? Do you agree with Mark that his strong positions on the war brought attention to him --
WILLIAM SAFIRE: Yes, I think you're right about that --
JIM LEHRER: And he spoke to the Democratic constituency in a way they wanted to be spoken to?
WILLIAM SAFIRE: Here's the two schools of thought: School number one is the country is polarized, 50-50, and if that's the case, the guy on the left has to rev up his troops and move left and win the nomination, and then he can win the election, and the same thing with the guy on the right.
The other school of thought says there's still a swing vote, there's still a bunch of independents, 20 percent, 30 percent, in the middle. And if you do the extreme pitch for dovish, peace, liberal, or super right wing, you'll lose. Now, which school of thought are you? I still believe that there's a big swing vote in the middle.
JIM LEHRER: In other words you could get the nomination but you couldn't win the election?
WILLIAM SAFIRE: Right.
MARK SHIELDS: I would just remind Bill, it's dangerous in politics to wish for things, because I remember the Democrats in 1980 saying gee if the Republicans would nominate Howard Baker we're dead, if they nominate even George Bush we're in trouble, but if they'll only nominate that guy with the prematurely orange hair from California -- Jimmy Carter will be reelected; 44 states later Reagan is in the White House and on his way to a second term. I think Howard Dean, what he's done, it's always unnerving to those in politics; he's brought in a lot of people who haven't been involved before. I think it's just a little bit of an over simplification to say he's a lefty. I mean, this is a guy who has a gun control position which is not acceptable to most of the people in the party.
WILLIAM SAFIRE: I don't mind being called a righty.
MARK SHIELDS: No, but I don't think you can pigeon hole him to some left winger, you know.
JIM LEHRER: But the important thing, Mark, I don't know whether you did, but I wrote down what Safire said, so we'll see what happens. In other words --
WILLIAM SAFIRE: That's not fair.
JIM LEHRER: I know. You think because it's on television it goes away. We're going to go away for now, we'll see you all next Friday. And again, welcome, Bill.
WILLIAM SAFIRE: Thank you.