TOPICS > Politics > Shields and Brooks

Shields and Brooks on Georgia gun rights, Southern Senate races

April 25, 2014 at 6:35 PM EDT
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news, including the Supreme Court upholding the right of Michigan citizens to say you can't use race as a criteria for college admission, a new expansive gun rights law in Georgia and an update on four Senate races in the South.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Welcome, gentlemen.

So, let’s start with the Supreme Court, David, this week upholding the right of Michigan citizens to say you can’t use race as a criteria in figuring out and deciding what students are admitted to the universities and colleges in that state.


JUDY WOODRUFF: What did you make of that decision? And does it have a larger effect on the access of minorities to getting a higher education?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, first, what was striking about the decision was the personal nature of the fight between Sonia Sotomayor and John Roberts. It was unusual the way they sort of tallied with each other in somewhat personal terms.

I am biased in favor of courts when they rule in deference to democratic procedures. And that’s more or less what happened. And my view is that when courts, whether you agree with the decision or not, whether it’s Roe v. Wade or this or some of the other cases, they tend to polarize an issue into a black-and-white solution, when democratic processes have the advantage of more flexibility and get some moderate solutions.

So, I’m glad — I’m guess I’m glad they deferred to the democratic majority. Now, as for the — how it’s going to affect colleges, I do think we are already in an evolution. I think colleges are already moving away from race-based and toward more class-based systems.

And the second thing they’re doing in particular is they’re recruiting more. And you can recruit. There are lots of places in African-American areas and Latino areas where there are a lot of very smart kids who just don’t apply. They don’t know, they don’t know the process, it doesn’t occur to them. They apply to some other schools.

And so a school, say, the University of Michigan, can really — and I’m sure they are — much more heavily recruit. I know all the schools I’m affiliated with much more heavily recruiting to get the right kind of diversity you need through a different means. So I do think it’s possible to make up for diversity without some crude formula.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you read it, Mark?

MARK SHIELDS: I think that the race-based affirmative action, the clock has run, I think, in terms of popular support and obviously in terms of court support.

I do believe that Richard Kahlenberg, the Century Fund scholar who has argued that it ought based, affirmative action, on class, rather than race, or ethnicity or national origin, I think he is absolutely right.

And I think this decision really raises his argument, which is if you really want diversity — the president made the case that his daughters, who are educationally advantaged, economically advantaged, certainly don’t — didn’t — would never need race as a consideration in their admissions to a school, and that the economic polarization in the country, the increasing gap between the well-off, and as college has become more expensive, I think the urgency of providing diversity economically, which will, of course, also include both racial and ethnic diversity as well, because they’re disproportionately disadvantaged.

But I think, to me, is the mission for those who seek a pluralistic society.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You don’t think, David, this sends a signal to minorities, minority kids and their parents that it’s just — it’s harder and might as well not even apply to some of these schools that are tougher to get into?

DAVID BROOKS: No, it depends on the posture of the schools.

I don’t think people are going to make a decision on whether I should apply to the University of Michigan or Princeton or Michigan State or Southwest Illinois on the basis of what the Supreme Court says. It’s whether the school itself goes out and makes the effort.

And so if the schools are heavily recruiting, then that’s a positive signal. Now, the difficulty is, it’s one thing to talk about Princeton and Stanford doing class-based, because they can afford anything. There are a lot — most — 95 percent of the schools in this country cannot afford to do that.

And so the formula — I think the formula in the future is heavily recruiting in poorer areas and more international kids to pay for them. The international kids pay full freight. And so you can work it out, but it becomes tougher for schools that don’t have the amazing resources.

MARK SHIELDS: Just one political point, Judy. That is, by a 2-1 margin, voters favor giving advantage, affirmative action for economically deprived, I mean, the child of the single mom who is working two jobs.

And by a 2-1 margin, they oppose affirmative action based upon race, ethnicity or national origin. So I think, at some point, popular support does become crucial in this argument. And I think, to me, that’s the case to be made for those who favor a pluralistic and giving disadvantaged children an opportunity at higher education is economic-based.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Guns. The governor of Georgia this week signed one of the most expansive gun rights laws in the country.

Among other places, you can now take a gun in Georgia into a bar, an airport, a church, a school under certain circumstances. David — a church, we say, when the congregation allows it.

At the same time, the NRA is meeting, kind of celebrating how well it’s done in getting a lot of gun rights laws loosened around the country. What does all this say about the success of the gun rights organizations and, frankly, the inability of the gun control folks to work their will even in the aftermath of Newtown?

DAVID BROOKS: First, one of the oddities of the NRA position is they want to have a more national system of conceal-carry, which is a total violation of any conservative principle of federalism. It’s an amazing act that…


DAVID BROOKS: It’s a reminder that whenever we talk about federalism and process, it’s all opportunistic. Nobody actually has principled beliefs about these things.

It’s not only the NRA. They have a base. It’s very useful to have a base of support that’s spread everywhere and that’s decentralized and passionate, because they come at politicians at every district. And my view is, if you look at the polling, a majority of Americans support tighter gun laws.

But, if you look at the passion, a majority of passionate people on the NRA side. And then they’re just dispersed. A lot of people who are most passionate about controlling guns are in a few metro areas. And it’s just a huge advantage to be dispersed around the country where you can hit pressure points at a lot of points. NRA takes full advantage of that.

MARK SHIELDS: CBS/New York Times poll, Judy, do you favor a federal background check on all gun owners, 85-12 in favor of it. Among gun owners, it’s 84-14 in favor of it, among Republicans, 84-13.

So, it does — it comes down to intensity and it comes down to political experience. Colorado passed, after two terrible tragedies at Aurora and Columbine, the theater and the high school, they passed a gun background check and a limit of 15 rounds to a magazine, 15 rounds to a magazine. That’s what passed. And they had two Democratic senators, including the state Senate president, who was a former police chief, recalled — first time in the history of Colorado they have been recalled from office.

Another senator facing recall resigned, so that the Democratic Party could fill her position. So, I mean, this sends a ripple effect. David’s point about intensity is the key. I mean, last week, we saw the pipeline decision. There is a majority — not anywhere approaching these numbers — in favor of building the pipeline, but those who are most opposed to the pipeline do so with greater intensity and with bigger checkbooks and with greater political activism and urgency.


One other point on how NRA has changed Washington. It used to be there were a lot of groups that would compromise. They would say, OK, that’s reasonable. We will accept that, but we won’t go this far. The NRA position is never — has been always no compromise. You want to take away our bazookas? No way. I’m exaggerated a little bit.

And that model has worked. And, as a result, a lot of other interest groups have now adopted that model. We won’t give you an inch on anything, even no matter how reasonable it may be.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Following the NRA’s success — success.

DAVID BROOKS: Success under this model.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, I don’t know how much guns may or may not be an issue in these races, but there was a poll this week in four Senate races in the South, Kentucky, North Carolina, Louisiana, and Arkansas, that showed the Democrat who was perceived to be in trouble in these races not in as bad shape as people had thought.

David, is there something — are Democrats — is this a blip, I guess is the question, or might Democrats be in a stronger position when it comes to these Senate races this November?

DAVID BROOKS: I think two things are true. There are a number of Republicans I have had recently tell me, I wonder if we peaked too soon, that the intensity in health care, some of the other stuff, they were stronger a few months ago than it is. There’s been some movement on the health care law, and so maybe that.

I still think the fundamental structure of this midterm election is very positive toward Republicans, the president’s unapproval rating. And when people start focusing, I think it is going to be a tough year for Democrats. But you have got some good candidates in some of those states. I think Georgia is one of them.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Right, and actually not in this poll. But there are…

DAVID BROOKS: OK, well, but there are some good Democratic candidates.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Michelle Nunn.

DAVID BROOKS: And — but I guess I’m — I would want to see a bunch more polls, even though it was the sainted New York Times poll, which I…

JUDY WOODRUFF: Which I left out. Thank you.


MARK SHIELDS: Judy, I dissent.

I think that it may very well have — start to run its course on this argument on health care. I mean, you can’t say it’s a total failure when you have got millions signing up in the numbers they have. The reality that the preexisting condition and kids staying on to the age of 26 and no caps, a family not going into bankruptcy because of an illness, that’s become a reality.

And the Republicans have nothing. They really — and so I think the argument, repair, fix, correct, rather than repeal, really is starting to get some traction. I’m not saying it’s a majority position, but it’s taken Democrats out of a defensive crouch, and I think in those states, and I would add that they are — I mean, Mark Pryor, his dad, David, was a successful governor, congressman, senator. He himself has run successfully in a state that has become increasingly Republican.

Mary Landrieu’s dad was a liberal, known, well-known national mayor of…

JUDY WOODRUFF: Louisiana, right.

MARK SHIELDS: … of Louisiana — of New Orleans. Her brother’s mayor now. She has won in tough times. Kay Hagan — these are pretty good candidates.

These are pretty good candidates. And I agree that the overall climate is still favorable to the Republicans in 2014. But I just think the Democrats have kind of gotten themselves up off the canvas.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And just quickly, one of the things you’re hearing is that these Democrats are running very tough ads against their Republican challengers, and it’s paying off, at least early in this cycle.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. And I would pay particular attention to that North Carolina race, that second race.


DAVID BROOKS: If you want to know which way the Senate goes, sort of that North Carolina race would be the one.

JUDY WOODRUFF: This is Kay Hagan.

MARK SHIELDS: And they’re following, you will notice, the pattern created by Harry Reid in Nevada, where they advertised in the Republican primary against the leading candidate, hoping to draw the equivalent of Christine O’Donnell or Todd Akin in November.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we — nothing but good examples set here.


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