|SHIELDS AND BROOKS|
January 29, 2002
| JIM LEHRER: And that
brings us to Shields and Brooks: Syndicated columnist Mark Shields, and
The Weekly Standard's David Brooks.
David, How you would set stage for tonight's State of the Union message?
DAVID BROOKS: Let's see -- we're four months after a great national tragedy -- national Sabbath -- the country has changed - great military victory but time passes and suddenly Mariah Carrie's record contract gets on people's radar screen, the hockey dad who killed. We have become more of a normal country and we have developed a habit somehow that we regard foreign policy crises as sort of as interruptions; we solve the crisis and then we go back to what we regard the as the meat and potatoes of economics and pension reform and all the things like that, but that's wrong now. And what Bush has to say is foreign policy matters. It's not the economy stupid; it's survival stupid; it's national honor stupid. And so he has this challenge of saying this remarkable moment still matters, and that we still have to any foreign policy terms and he also has to seize that moment in a way that hasn't been seized yet, that self-confidence, that desire for sacrifice and he also has to somehow say, I recognize there is a changed moment and we are going to move together in some way; it's not going to be a give me speech with 100 goodies from the government; it's going to be some sort of call that's worthy of what happened.
JIM LEHRER: That's quite a menu, Mark.
MARK SHIELDS: It is quite a menu, Jim.
JIM LEHRER: What you would add or subtract?
MARK SHIELDS: I would say we're in a unique political moment and I think a political moment for the President and everybody else in the country to understand. Jim, by a margin of two to one, Americans believe that we're in recession -- that the worst of it lies head; that at the same time we're in war, Americans acknowledge that, and that the worst of the war lies ahead and they fully expect we'll suffer another attack. And yet by a margin of three to one Americans believe the country is headed in the right direction. Now that doesn't jibe. I asked Peter Hart, your old friend, The Wall Street Journal pollster, NBC News and appears on the NewsHour from time to time why, and Peter said because September 11 changed the way we feel about ourselves, and I said, why and he said, because prior to September 11 all we heard about was the greatest generation and how noble they were and how ignoble we were, and Americans got their perception of themselves Jim from the freaks they saw on television whether it was "Jerry Springer" or "Ricki Lake" and misfits and all of the rest of it. All of a sudden you had firefighters, you had fighting men and women; you had police officers; you had emergency workers showing themselves to be heroic, to be self-less, to be as truly great as any greatest generation. So that is the moment. It's really a remarkable moment for the President. I could not emphasize more David is right. I mean he's got to reach out and it's got to be beyond national service; it's got to be say this is what we're all in together.
JIM LEHRER: I was at one of those background briefings today at the White House, and a high administration official said almost exactly what you two have just said: That the President first of all feels very strongly that we're not out of the woods, that there could still be another severe attack, and that he wants to get that message over to the American people; he wants to shake them out - just the way. Is that possible to do in this environment?
DAVID BROOKS: It's tough because the conventional view is that you lose elections on domestic policy and all of the savants will tell him you have got to talk about bread and butter issues but if he feels, as he said, and I'm sure he does feel, that this is his mission and moment, that his great task is to make a secure world for Americans, then he has got to persevere in that, and he's right. He has talked and his administration consistently about an aggressive long-term campaign. We learned in The Washington Post this week that the entire cabinet believes that the war on terror will not be over if Saddam Hussein is in power that. That means that somewhere along the line - maybe far - maybe near - there's going to be another traumatic, very aggressive, ambitious move, and that dwarfs anything on the domestic agenda.
JIM LEHRER: JIM LEHRER: But does national service... He's expected at the end of his speech tonight-- and I'm not telling anything out of school, but it's already been projected on the wires and all of that-- that he is going to expand a form of Americorps and all of that and urge Americans, particularly young Americans, to do national service. You don't think that's enough? Do you need more than that?
MARK SHIELDS: I think it's an important first step, Jim. It's certainly a program that was castigated and condemned by most Republicans as Bill Clinton's bad idea and now embraced. I think it is. John McCain certainly has given it enormous legitimacy and enormous momentum. But, Jim, we just heard the historians talk about Franklin Roosevelt in 1942, and he stood there and he said that is what we're going in for; this is what it's about, two months after Pearl Harbor, but he said we're talking about taxes and bonds, taxes and bonds. It's going to be cost. It's not going to be ouchless and painless and free. Up to now, it's been ouchless and painless and free. We're going to spend that much more on defense, and, boy, that top 1%, they're going to get their tax cut too. There is no dislocation; there's no sense of commitment.
JIM LEHRER: One thing, David, I noticed that neither of you have spoken about any kind of low expectations for George W. Bush. Are those now behind us?
DAVID BROOKS: Yeah. The expectations issue is something he can't do. I can't imagine a White House speechwriter going to a President and saying, "Mr. President, this is the first major speech you're going to give where half the country doesn't regard you as a moron." What are we going to do? There's nothing they can do. They give the best speech they can give; they always do. Expectations are out of their control. I do think the whole country is rooting for him in the way they were September 20th when he gave that first speech, and that first speech, that September 20th speech, was such an important speech because it set the pattern where he's up at 85 percent approval; you know, he's more popular than sunshine, and that really did set the tone and created this national revival we're talking about.
JIM LEHRER: And a national expectation that he will deliver a terrific speech tonight, which would not have happened a year ago.
MARK SHIELDS: That's right. I mean he's the unchallenged heavyweight champion of American politics. I mean David's right. He's been at the stratospheric numbers going on five months, and everybody on both sides -- Republicans are trying to rub a little off on themselves and see if we can get closer -- and the Democrats are saying they don't want him to come after me. But he's almost like an "Ike" figure, an Eisenhower. It isn't tied to policy; it isn't tied to anything -- his mastery of information or anything of the sort. It's the sense that people like him and I think that's what he has going for him more than anything else.
JIM LEHRER: We'll continue this conversation later tonight after the President's speech for the lucky viewers of PBS who will tune in. Thank you both.