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Shields & Brooks on church shooting, Pope’s environmentalism

June 19, 2015 at 7:07 PM EDT
From a racial hate crime that rocked the nation, to the Pope’s call for action on climate change, there has been no shortage of issues to spark national debate and discussion this week. Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks discuss these topics and more.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Race relations return to the forefront after deadly violence in South Carolina. The head of the Catholic Church takes a stance on climate change. And two more candidates leap into the race for 2016.

For all that and more, we turn to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Welcome, gentlemen.


JUDY WOODRUFF: So, another terrible race-related story to talk about, this horrible shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, David, where a young white man killed nine black churchgoers.

How — what are we left with? I mean, is this an isolated — should we think of this as an isolated incident, a racist young man, or do we — or does the whole country need to do some soul-searching?


First, we should mention that the uplifting part of this story, of this terrible story is what happened today in the courtroom, the families forgiving the young man in such a heartfelt and heartrending way. Mark and I were talking before that is living the faith, that is walking the walk.

And we have a society and certainly a politics filled with people who aren’t forgiving each other, filled with vengeance. Well, that speech should be seared in our minds. And so that was an uplifting moment today…


DAVID BROOKS: … which wasn’t all negative.

The horror is the horror. I confess, I’m a little confused about how much to generalize. We have a race problem in this country. That is so obvious. But we also have an angry solitary young man problem. And I’m not sure a lot of the angry solitary young men are directly connected.

They are obviously loosely connected to the history of race in this country. But they are angry solitary young men looking for hateful and vicious ideologies. Some of them turn into neo-Nazi skinheads. I don’t think we have a Nazi problem in this country. They are solitary and they’re hate-mongers. And the guy sits with the Bible study group for an hour and then starts shooting them. That’s beyond — beyond imagination.

And so I — it’s obviously connected, but I’m a little wary of the too pat causations that are linked between our general race problem and this specific, completely bizarre, and completely evil incident.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How are you seeing this?

MARK SHIELDS: I just want to underscore what David said about those people in the courtroom today and them saying, may God have mercy on you, and I forgive you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: It was extraordinary.

MARK SHIELDS: It is. These are people of faith. These are people who do practice their faith. And it’s a lot more than preaching.

What hit me, Judy, was President Obama, who some of his greatest and most eloquent moments have been at times of crisis and tragedy and sort of putting things in perspective, how yesterday almost seemed — making the announcement, dispirited and a sense of resignation.

And there was a little feeling, I think. For example, after the Birmingham church in 1963, when the four little girls were blown up in Sunday school, there was a moment in the country. You could feel it, an inflection moment, where we moved on civil rights. The passage of the 1964 act was almost assured by that terrible, terrible, inhuman act.

But that was — so there was a sense that we were moving in a direction. After Newtown and after the slaughter of the innocents there and the teachers, where 90 percent of Americans endorsed a background check, three-quarters of NRA members, according to polls, endorsed universal background checks, and nothing happened.


MARK SHIELDS: On guns. And nothing happened.

There’s a sense of, how many more, the enormity of it, what’s it going to take? And so I just think there was a — there was really just sort of a sadness that permeated everything. And for him to sit — for this alleged killer to sit there for an hour while these people welcome him into their church and the Bible study, and then to do it, I mean, it’s beyond comprehension.

JUDY WOODRUFF: It’s beyond — beyond any words.

David, is this a moment when we look for something to happen on guns? And there’s a lot of debate today about the Confederate Flag, about whether the rules are too loose about where they can be displayed.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. I’m for taking — I’m for getting rid of the Confederate Flag on simple neighborliness grounds.

If a group of people is offended by it, that should be enough. That should be enough. We are good citizens to each other and we do not things that offend other people in symbolic ways.

As for guns, I personally support most of the legislation. I’m a little skeptical that anything will happen, simply because I look at past history. We have a lot of veto groups in our society and veto groups are able to veto legislation. I also frankly doubt the efficacy of it. There are hundreds of millions of guns in this country. How we’re going to get rid of them all has always been a question for me.

I do think some things need to be done with — as neighbors in these communities, when we should become more alert to these solitary young men. There are a certain number of young men who, in their late teens, are drifting out of society and somebody must be noticing them. And it’s up to us as family members, as neighbors to say, that’s a potential problem.

And this was a kid who was sending out some signals with the arrest at the mall and the other things he was doing, bizarre behavior, sort of stalking behavior, the photograph on Facebook with the Rhodesian flag. That’s sort of up to all of us to be alert to that sort of case.



Keeping an eye on the people around us.

MARK SHIELDS: No, I don’t disagree at all on that.

But as far, Judy, as the Confederate Flag — first of all, the background checks. Lindsey Graham — and I don’t mean to hurt his presidential campaign — but he said there are at least a million Americans with determined and adjudicated mental health problems who aren’t even in the registry for guns.

And he made the point that the background checks, to his credit. I don’t know. The Confederate Flag, it was a debated issue in 2014 in the gubernatorial race in South Carolina. Nikki Haley was for keeping it. She won. The Democrat then, Sheheen, was for taking it down. He lost.

I don’t want to say it’s a resolved issue, but it’s gone up in 1962, which was right in the middle of the Civil Rights Act, when an all-white legislature deemed that it be elevated. So, I don’t — I don’t know any action that’s going to happen on that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, you both, I think, have touched on 2016.

Turning the corner, we had two new candidates officially jump in the race this week, Jeb Bush, Donald Trump, two very different people, David. What are we to make of both of them? Where does this leave the campaign, the Republican field?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, it’s a sign that flamboyance is not necessarily a sign of good candidates.

The Bush question is to me a great mystery. He has all the backing. He has all — he has the name recognition. He’s got a great record as governor. He doesn’t seem to have a lot of support so far.

And so, while what I know of Governor Bush is that is a man who would really love and enjoy the actions of being president, the administrative actions — he’s an administrator. And I think in his campaign opening, he broadcast those skills, which he has. He would be a good administrator.

Whether he can be a good campaigner to rally the country, that’s still waiting to be seen. I thought the opening was good, but it’s remarkable how he’s not in the position he really should be in, given the advantage that he has, especially in places like Iowa and around the country.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What about Governor Bush?

MARK SHIELDS: Jeb Bush — everybody, when they make an announcement, wants it to be this multiethnic pageant.

In this case, it’s seemed genuine. The black pastor who gave the invocation knew him personally, endorsed him personally. The Spanish-speaking people who endorsed him knew him personally. The woman with a disabled child spoke on personal terms of what he had done.

I mean, it was a — he spoke in Spanish. I mean, there was a sense of genuineness. He had stumbled, I thought, badly. He came in the race very formidably. He had muscled out Mitt Romney, who was thinking about getting in, by preempting support and financial support and political support.

And then he just seemed to stumble. They didn’t know who he was for sure. And he certainly has not handled the family question or Iraq questions well. So, I think this kind of gave him a relaunch. But I think David’s point is a valid one about whether in fact that the chemistry is there, whether he connects with people. And he’s got a high, high unfavorable in places like Iowa among Republican voters.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Unfavorable?

MARK SHIELDS: Unfavorable, yes.


MARK SHIELDS: The other fellow was…

JUDY WOODRUFF: Donald Trump?

MARK SHIELDS: Donald Trump. If he had took the first person singular pronoun out of his announcement, it would have lasted about four minutes. It was a great testimony to the unimportance of humility in national politics.

DAVID BROOKS: I don’t think he’s going to get any air. I think the field is so rich, that he’s going to be squeezed out.

I think he will just be a sideshow which — and barely noticed, except for on a really slow news day.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, something we did notice this week was the pope. He essentially came out, David, with an unprecedented statement, encyclical, they call it, on the environment, very powerful statement about the human role in causing climate change, and saying the rich nations in particular have a responsibility to do something.

Is this going to change the debate? Is it going to change minds, change policy, change politicians?

DAVID BROOKS: I doubt it. I personally thought the statement was beautiful, theologically beautiful, the seamless fabric of life and how we’re all connected to each other.

It’s a part of — a beautiful expression of Catholic theology and a beautiful expression for all of us of our interconnectedness. It also reminded me the Catholic Church is actually amazingly consistent on abortion, on the death penalty, on the environment. The valuing the life is — the church is so consistent on this emphasis, but our parties are sort of inconsistent on these different issues.

So, I thought it made me feel environmental, because he connected our role in the cosmos and our role in nature in, I thought, a very beautiful way. Of course, I would have some different emphasis than he did on some of the policy stuff. The church, to my mind, demeans capitalism too much, a force which has reasonably lifted 300 million or 400 million people out of poverty.

JUDY WOODRUFF: He was tough on capitalism.

DAVID BROOKS: And so I think that he under values that.

But, nonetheless, the theology of it was beautiful. The policy, to me, was — well, it was too left-wing.

MARK SHIELDS: As a practicing and manifestly imperfect Catholic, I confess that I’m an uncritical fan of Pope Francis.

He approaches every single problem the same way, from the bottom up. He wasn’t a diplomat. He wasn’t a church technocrat. He was not somebody powerful. He was a pastor in Buenos Aires, even though he was archbishop. And everybody who visited him said the same thing. He would take you to the slums.

And that’s — he sees the world there. And when it comes to the environment, Judy, if you have got a private plane, you can get to clean air. You can get to Aspen, Colorado. You can get to Martha’s Vineyard. You can get to clean water.

But the poor people — and talk about capitalism — the poor people don’t have an option. And they’re the ones who contribute the least to the pollution and suffer the most.

And I just thought that the way he formulated — we — in defense of the powerless economically and the defenseless planet, that there is a common good that all of us have a responsibility for. I just thought it was persuasive.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Just 20 seconds. Do you see it changing minds? Do you see it changing the Republican position, Republican Party position on this issue?

MARK SHIELDS: He is the most popular person in the world. Every politician wants to associate with him.

He’s going to make it uncomfortable for both sides. And — but I think it’s going to be impossible to ignore poverty as an issue, and I think as well the environment.

DAVID BROOKS: And maybe Brazil, other nations might be affected.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark Shields, David Brooks, thank you.