JIM LEHRER: And there is, of course, a presidential election underway in this country as well, and that reminder brings us once again to the analysis of Shields and Brooks: Syndicated columnist Mark Shields, New York Times columnist David Brooks. First, today's jobs numbers. What's your political read on them, David?
DAVID BROOKS: For some reason, the consensus seems to be the magic number is 150,000. If you get 150,000 jobs in a month that is it's good for Bush, under that, not so good. So we're a little under that so --
JIM LEHRER: It was 96,000 --
DAVID BROOKS: It was 96,000, so I'm sure the Bush people were hoping for a lot more so they could go into the debate tonight crowing about some big number. This is under what I'm sure they hoped for.
JIM LEHRER: Is it a big thing?
MARK SHIELDS: It's a big thing, Jim, in the sense that 150,000 is the magic number because that's the number you need just to meet the new number of people coming into the work force.
JIM LEHRER: Not including people who are already unemployed.
MARK SHIELDS: That's right - not people who are already unemployed; that's right. So it is. And I think it's going to be one more test for the president, is he going to stand up there and say well, it's 5.4 percent unemployment and it's lower than it was in the' 70s, the 80s or the 90s, or is there going to be some acknowledgement of the need for change in some direction? And I think that's really the underpinning of the whole debate tonight is the president and change.
DAVID BROOKS: I'll send any candidate a box of chocolates who says "the president has no control of this. Presidents don't control these numbers."
JIM LEHRER: But hasn't it become kind of rote in presidential campaigns that presidents, if there is good employment, they take the credit, if there's bad employment, they get the blame. I mean, whether or not they can control it or not is almost irrelevant.
MARK SHIELDS: Well, and Bill Clinton's 22.5 million jobs, I remember sitting before one of these shows some 12 years ago, Bill Sideman, who had been Jerry Ford's economic advisor said "whoever the next president is, I don't care who it is, he's really going to be considered an economic miracle maker." And I said "what do you mean?" He said "we've already gone through in this country all the downsizing, all the pain, all the dislocation. Europe and the rest of the world has yet to do it. Next president it's going to be a boom and there are going to be a lot of jobs created." I've had great respect for him ever since. I had a lot before that, but there's no question President Bush said he was taking credit for the improving job scene. So now he can't say the president has nothing to do with it. It makes it difficult.
JIM LEHRER: How's the Duelfer report on Iraq weapons look as we go into this debate last night and as an issue between President Bush and Sen. Kerry?
DAVID BROOKS: Well, it depends which one; the one that's been discussed or the one that's actually on paper there that Duelfer wrote --
JIM LEHRER: The one that's been discussed.
DAVID BROOKS: I'd rather talk about the other one, there really is a difference. I read the first 400 pages yesterday and what Duelfer says in the first page is that you can't take a snapshot of Saddam, you have to understand the whole narrative of what he was trying to do. He was trying to make himself king of the Arab worlds and he understand that WMDS were of totemic importance to him so what he did through the 90's and say I need WMDS if I'm going to be king of the Arab world, but I've got this - the whole world coming at me and they're imposing sanctions on me so I'll do a tactical retreat. I'll get rid of my stockpiles, then I'll undermine the sanctions through bribery, through using the oil industry, through using everything, and then I'll destroy the sanctions and Duelfer says in the report he was palpably close to destroying the sanctions, then I'll rearm and I'll be better than ever. So I think there are two messages out of the report, one that's been broadcast, that there are no WMDS which we know about, the second is that sanctions were falling apart, Saddam was on the verge of reemerging as a menace and a threat, a greater threat than ever before and John McCain was right at the Republican Convention. When we decided to go into Iraq it was not versus a status quo that was working it was versus a status quo that was dysfunctional and Duelfer reinforces that.
JIM LEHRER: How did you see the Duelfer - First of all, did you read the 400 pages?
MARK SHIELDS: I have read the reports of the report and I've read people who are familiar with it like David Kay and others. Jim, every once in a while in a campaign reality intrudes; the best strategies are n the world are just... this was a week in which reality intruded on this campaign and changed this campaign, there's no doubt about it. Deteriorating economic news; but the reality of Iraq is a deteriorating military situation and a diminishing and diminished rationale for the president's having gone to war. When David Kay said... Duelfer's predecessor says it looks like he was delusional, he had intent but not capabilities, it's not an imminent threat. And I think that's the situation that the president finds himself in politically that as the war increased in popularity, a sense that it was unnecessary.
JIM LEHRER: What if the president tonight in the debate picks up the David Brooks line and tries to -- is that going to work politically?
MARK SHIELDS: I don't think it is. I really don't. It wasn't based upon Saddam being a bad man -- which he was manifestly -- it was that that constitutes an imminent threat to the United States of America. That he did then at that very moment. Not at some future date. And that was the reason for the urgency of going into war.
DAVID BROOKS: First of all, John Edwards was the guy who said "imminent threat." George Bush overwhelmingly said grave and gathering threat. And what this report shows, what Saddam was doing at the end of the regime after he bribed all the French and Russian and Ukrainian firms and got the money flowing he was importing WMD scientists, he was increasing the budget, the defense budget by 400 odd percent. He was trying to get the WMDS back. He knew that was the essence of what he had to do. Was it an imminent threat, no? But two years down the road, it would be a greater threat than ever.
JIM LEHRER: Same question. Talking about a debate tonight, can President Bush use that argument?
DAVID BROOKS: No. It's too complicated. But it is the truth. But he can say, look, we have the choice of this guy Saddam who was a bad guy, we had to go after him because he was a permanent danger to the world and we had to go after him for another reason, which I've always thought was the preeminent reason, was that we had to change the atmosphere that was producing terrorists.
MARK SHIELDS: David's right. The president will be totally on the defensive on this issue. And, you know, the Kerry argument, and Kerry's position is certainly not crystal clear or perfectly defined or anything of the sort, it isn't like he was on the other side all the way and say "now I can prove I was right."
JIM LEHRER: Now I've been proven right.
MARK SHIELDS: Now I've been proven right. But I think that the argument has to be that anybody who did this war that badly with inadequate troops, as was demonstrated, with inadequate allies, with failed and faulty intelligence cannot be counted upon to get us out of the situation now.
DAVID BROOKS: I agree with that. I suspect we'll see what we saw at the VP debate which is nobody is defensive. I make a charge at Mark, he just ignores it and goes off and makes a charge at me. I ignore that. No one responds. And that seems to be the pattern.
JIM LEHRER: Pick up on something that David said the other night on Wednesday night. He said that President Bush does as poorly... I'm paraphrasing, correct me any step along the way. But my recollection is that you said if President Bush does as poorly tonight as he did last Thursday night in Miami, he's toast as far as the election. Do you agree?
MARK SHIELDS: I want to respond to that ugly charge of David's, I really do. David's right. And the pressure... the total reversal of positions -- John Kerry going in the first debate, you know, there was panic the Democratic ranks, he was behind in the polls now going into this one... I mean, talking to Republican this week, they're... there were calls coming there from major Republican donors saying "what the hell's the matter? The president was disengaged, he didn't make a case." There's no question that the pressure is on the president tonight simply to make the case and to get the argument into the future. And obviously in the process not appear to be put upon, to being asked questions by the American people.
JIM LEHRER: David, do you still stay with your position?
DAVID BROOKS: I totally agree Mark. The onus has shifted on to the president. The format to some extent benefits him a little. It's a mixed bag. It's good for him in that he's got to relating to people, that's his strength. It's a mixed bag because the questions are likely to be more unpredictable. No offense.
JIM LEHRER: Just keep talking.
DAVID BROOKS: I realize what a hole I'm digging myself in.
JIM LEHRER: A very interesting point.
MARK SHIELDS: David, there's three of us on this show and you've alienated two.
DAVID BROOKS: There are people behind the cameras. I can go to them next.
JIM LEHRER: For the record, we ought to explain how this thing works. There's 140 people, they were chosen by the Gallup organization, Charles Gibson of ABC News has gotten... these people have each written a question down and half of them are supposed to be leaning... their they're soft Kerry folks, the other are soft Bush folks. Anyhow, Charles Gibson will get their questions and then he will then... he will pick 20 or so, because that's all the time they'll have. And it's supposed to be roughly half from each group and roughly half foreign affairs and domestic. So it's going to be... yes?
MARK SHIELDS: Charlie Gibson, first of all, most people know him from Good Morning America on ABC. He was a hell of a congressional reporter.
JIM LEHRER: Absolutely.
MARK SHIELDS: A first-rate reporter. And so make no mistake, he do... I think he do a terrific job. You know, Jim, David says the president does do well in these formats. But one of the problems is the kind of questions the president's been getting, which have been pre-screened and pablemized, if there is such a verb.
JIM LEHRER: There is now.
MARK SHIELDS: At one point, Mr. President, I have a tough question for you. Are you more like Winston Churchill or like Abraham Lincoln? That level of questioning he's been getting. And so, you know, he's got to be ready for some curveballs, too.
JIM LEHRER: On a non-debate subject, the ethics problems of House majority leader... first of all, are they serious and what do you think they're going to lead to, if anything?
DAVID BROOKS: First on the latter, I don't think they'll lead to his resignation or even him losing his leadership job. They do mean he won't be speaker any time to move up the chain to the top job for Republicans. The impetus behind them is that this guy has been creating a culture of sort of naked grab things -- grab money for the party, grab votes, sort of a naked style of politics. And somebody said today, you walk to close to the cliff, you're going to fall off. He's been walking close to the cliff for a long time and he's got these three charges as a result of that.
JIM LEHRER: Mark?
MARK SHIELDS: I agree with that. It started five years ago, the first time he got a rebuke. He opposed... talk about the climate of Washington or whoever. He opposed an association hiring a former Democratic congressman named Dave McCurdy from Oklahoma, a conservative Democrat. He said "you'll never get in the office again." It became that sort of reprisal and threat. What really amazed most of all, the mystery of this is who did the vertebrae transplant on the House Ethics Committee? Five Republicans, five Democrats unanimously stood up to him and that was really news.
JIM LEHRER: Thank you both. We'll see you later tonight after the debate.