April 14, 2000
|Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot discuss the Elian Gonzalez case and presidential politics.|
JIM LEHRER: And finally tonight, to Shields and Gigot, syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot. We're very proud of Paul here at the NewsHour, for his having won the Pulitzer Prize this week for his work at the Journal. Congratulations from all of us.
PAUL GIGOT: Thank you, Jim.
JIM LEHRER: Does this mean Mark and I have to treat you any differently?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, you're absolved from any of that -- but this guy has promised to show me... he told me he is going to show me new respect and deference, at least for the first five or ten seconds.
MARK SHIELDS: I'm happy. I'm happy to publicly restate my congratulations to my Friday night partner on the NewsHour, Paul, for winning the 2000 Pulitzer Prize on commentary. Jim, a little noted fact, and that is that I think that by my reckoning, Paul becomes the second son of Green Bay, Wisconsin, to win it, and the other being the legendary sportswriter Red Smith, the father of Terence Smith of the NewsHour. That little town is disproportionately gifted.
PAUL GIGOT: Yes, indeed.
|Stock market plunge|
JIM LEHRER: Thanks, Mark. Yes, indeed. Show your stuff now, Mr. Gigot. What do you make of this -- the inflation figures and what it did do the market today? Is there political fallout there? Tell us what all this means and what it could mean.
PAUL GIGOT: Well, potentially there is. In 1981, Jim, 16 percent of Americans owned stock of some kind through a retirement fund or mutual fund or something. Now 48 percent of this public has some kind of stock holding; six million Americans hold Microsoft shares directly. That's an awful lot voters. And we really don't know what the impact of a big market correction will be on this new investor class which tends to vote, tends to be active politically, tends to be a lot of young people who floated through the 90s on an up surge of this economy. And a lot of people have never seen a correction before. And it'll be interesting -
JIM LEHRER: They thought it only went one way.
PAUL GIGOT: That's right. And, let's face it. I mean, what is Al Gore's best asset going into this next election -- prosperity, the sense of well being, that the nation is on the right track. If the stock market continues to fall or this correction sticks, and it affects investor confidence, political -- the sense of well-being, it could hurt Al Gore.
JIM LEHRER: Mark?
MARK SHIELDS: A little different take on it, and it is this: Paul is right about the economy and the boom, Jim. Unemployment 7.5 percent in '92,under 5 percent for 34 consecutive months, the lowest unemployment ever recorded -- Hispanics and African Americans - highest home ownership -- biggest deficit to the biggest surplus. I mean, do the numbers, five out of six jobs created in the G-7 countries - Italy and Germany and France and Japan and the United States and Great Britain, Canada, in past seven years since Bill Clinton has been president - five out of six have been created in this country. And yet with that kind of economic news this race is even. This race is even, and I've asked every political - the Democrats ought to be ahead by ten points -
PAUL GIGOT: Right.
MARK SHIELDS: -- with that kind of job news - and the answer I get back - the one that makes the most sense - is people think the economy is so good up until maybe today that nobody is sure - I mean, it's just that good.
JIM LEHRER: -- relax and play around a little bit -
MARK SHIELDS: That's right. And so I don't know where this is going to fall off. I think that's - for the first time people are thinking, gee, maybe this isn't permanent - maybe there is a --
PAUL GIGOT: George W. Bush has been actively selling his tax cut as economic insurance as one of his arguments for it. Look, we don't know how long this is going to last. I think this could help him sell his tax cut precisely on that ground.
MARK SHIELDS: Or is it going to be -- for the first time -- is there going to be a susceptibility to saying is this risky. I mean, Al Gore... People didn't question whether Al Gore, they don't like Al Gore particularly but they didn't question his competence. They like George Bush more than they like Al Gore but there is a question about whether he fills the chair, whether he is really up to the job. And I think that's the competition you are going to see over the next couple of months if the economy is unsettled.
|The Elián González Case|
JIM LEHRER: All right. Let's move to the Elián González story. George W. Bush is heightening his criticism of the Clinton administration about this. Is there any mileage here, any political mileage for anybody on any side in this story?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, I think it depends how it turns out. We really don't know yet. If it goes on present trend and somehow he is --. Janet Reno succeeds in pulling Elian out and sending him back to Cuba with the father, I think that probably the political advantage is confined to Bush in Florida. That's where the most intensity is. That's where most people are paying attention and that's where the Cuban American population, which went 2-1 for George Bush, the President Bush in 1992 and he won that state, broke even in 1996 for Bill Clinton and Bill Clinton carried that state. I think they would react to that overwhelmingly against the Clinton administration and that would help George W. Bush. The rest of the country is not really showing the same kind of intensity. It's interested but the polls there show that they would be willing to let the boy go back. That's why I think you don't see the Republicans in Congress
JIM LEHRER: They want it quiet there.
PAUL GIGOT: And real abdication politically, in my view. There is a real opportunity here and they have just not been willing to take advantage of it.
MARK SHIELDS: Jim, I yielded to no one in my criticism of Attorney General Janet Reno in the failure to appoint an independent counsel in the 1996 presidential campaign scandals. But I have to say if there is one grown-up in Washington, it is Janet Reno. She has shown I think remarkable leadership and understanding. She has gone more than the last mile to avoid a Ruby Ridge or a Waco. She went down there yesterday - which very few politicians do. She flew down there hoping to bring the boy back and risked public rejection.
JIM LEHRER: It wasn't greased ahead of time.
MARK SHIELDS: No. All the people said you can't do that. I mean, she has tried to move this from an atmosphere in Little Havana, which is somewhere a cross between Fort Sumter on the eve of the Civil War and Mardi Gras in the French Quarter just before Lent begins. I mean, it's been that combustible. And I think she has just shown leadership. I don't think anybody else has. I think the Vice President has been hurt by it, quite frankly. He made this initial stand and he has won no converts to his position and received a lot of contempt in the past. I think George W. Bush is making a serious mistake. I think anybody who tries to pull any political leverage - the President, in fact, has been mute on the subject. But I just think she's shown what public service is all about and respects the laws. And I think she is trying to move it, quite frankly, from that flashpoint to a courtroom, a venue where there's going to be a more reasonable and peaceable and peaceful chance for resolution.
PAUL GIGOT: Yeah, but she could have done that earlier by saying let's move it to family court, instead of insisting that it be the INS, the INS -
MARK SHIELDS: It isn't a family court matter, Paul, I mean, it isn't, and every case -- every kid that comes to this country is a family court -- and that's -- you're really talking about new law --
PAUL GIGOT: It is a special case. I mean - and we've treated it that way --
MARK SHIELDS: It's a special election case.
|Indicting President Clinton|
JIM LEHRER: Okay. We mentioned President Clinton. The impeachment story came up again this week because the new independent counsel said, he'd restated his - the possibility that he might try to indict the president after he leaves office and then the president said no thank you to a pardon. What do you make of all this, first of all, the fact -
PAUL GIGOT: The independent counsel?
JIM LEHRER: Yeah, the independent counsel -
PAUL GIGOT: Well, I think he's trying to do his duty, Jim. I mean - we had an impeachment process - Democrats in the Senate - stand up and say it's not an impeachable offense. It may be an indictable offense; it may be something he can be indicted for after he leaves office. I mean, Joe Lieberman said that; Barbara Boxer said that - those radical right wing Republicans - Zoe Lofgren in the House, they said that. Okay, so he wasn't impeached or he wasn't convicted after he was impeached and Robert Ray is saying, look, I'm going to continue my responsibility, which is to look into this. Now, he didn't say he was going to indict him. There's a lot of factors that go into that kind of decision but all he said was it's not off the table, and this city reacts as if somehow this is an ongoing vendetta that they said - when the Democrats say this was -this was something you could see.
JIM LEHRER: What about that, Mark? Everybody has reacted, hey, I thought this was over with, and suddenly this story erupts and did you think it was over with?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think along with a few others, we were thrown off guard by his initial finding in the FBI Files case. I mean, I thought if there were a case, probably there had been some malfeasance, nonfeasance when you get a couple thousand FBI Files ending up in the White House, the vast majority of which are accidentally those of leading Republicans, maybe there is something there. He came in and said there was nothing there, was not going to be prosecuted, and then he goes, oh, well, maybe this is over. And I don't think there is any question that this came as a surprise this past week, the announcement. And I think, Jim, a couple of things happened. One, you're reminded that this issue could crop up again in the campaign of 2000. The president said that he got Al Gore off the hook saying he would not seek or accept a pardon. And obviously Mr. Ray faces the ultimate question, I mean, there is no question... a vast majority of people want it behind him but at the same time is the president above the law? Can he in fact win prosecution of a president, namely Bill Clinton, who lied about sex in a D.C. courtroom? I think every responsible prosecutor faces that decision.
JIM LEHRER: What about Paul's point though that the Democrats have a problem with this?
MARK SHIELDS: There is no question. I think that time and again that was the answer. Look, if the law was broken, it's in a court, for a court to decide. I think they're hanging out there with what looked to be a very reasonable rhetorical place to hide or cul-de-sac during the impeachment trial.
JIM LEHRER: What about the pardon, what the president said about the pardon?
PAUL GIGOT: What else are you going to say? I'm not going to say it, he said he doesn't need it. I think that probably holds right through until election day -- if we have President Gore --
JIM LEHRER: You think it's possible?
PAUL GIGOT: Oh, I absolutely think it's possible. I think that between election day if -- whether or not Al Gore wins between election day and January 20 of the year 2001, there are going to be a lot of pardons issued or considered by this president. And I think in his case, if this is still hanging out there, that's something that I wouldn't rule out.
JIM LEHRER: Would you rule it out?
MARK SHIELDS: I think it's pretty tough to go back on this after you've made a statement like that. Obviously, I was in Austin, Texas, at the L.B.J. Library and Gerald Ford - former President Ford -- the pardon -- and probably the best known pardon in American --
JIM LEHRER: And cost him reelection.
MARK SHIELDS: And he basically said in the presence of President Jimmy Carter who won the election, that's what cost him the election. So it likelihood it's being done between now and the election but it could be done by a Vice President ...
PAUL GIGOT: The White House sensitivity on this was shown by the fact that the President had Joe Lockhart acting under orders -- his spokesman -- rebuke the newspaper editors for daring to ask questions. I mean what else do they do?
JIM LEHRER: Congratulations again. By my calculation, Shields agreed with you about 85 percent of the time tonight. Tonight. Just tonight. In honor of his new...
MARK SHIELDS: In deferential --
PAUL GIGOT: One exception.
JIM LEHRER: But next week it's back to the old way.
PAUL GIGOT: Gloves are off.
JIM LEHRER: Thank you both very much.