April 10, 1998
President Clinton is getting much credit for his role in the Irish peace process. Meanwhile a tough tobacco bill promises to cause political strife. Political analysts Paul Gigot and Mark Shields discuss the week's events with Margaret Warner.
MARGARET WARNER: I'm here with syndicated columnist, Mark Shields, and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot. Let's talk a minute about what we just heard. Mark, there's some nearly 40 million Americans of Irish descent, yourself--
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
April 9, 1998
Peace talks in Northern Ireland continue into the night.
August 9, 1998
President Clinton brings the tobacco debate to the farmers.
April 8, 1998
Four tobacco industry giants vow to fight the current Congressional legislation.
April 7, 1998
A discussion on the future of Social Security.
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of Congress, Europe and federal agencies.
The Social Security Administration.
The text of the peace agreement in Northern Ireland.
MARK SHIELDS: Forty-five--
MARGARET WARNER: Forty-five--yourself included. Is this a big plus for the president, given his role? Is he going to get a lot of credit here at home for this?
Mark Shields: "Ireland was a high risk issue for Bill Clinton."
MARK SHIELDS: I'm not sure, Margaret. I will say this about Bill Clinton. Bill Clinton, who's been accused of being a focus group president and just kind of taking the safe issues or whatever, this was a high risk issue for Bill Clinton. He took a lot of heat and a lot of criticism when he brought Gerry Adams, the leader of Sinn Fein, to the United States, gave him a visa, editorials all over the country, left, right, censured in part--many great Irish intellectuals said that he should have nothing to do with it, we had no place to be involved there. He took further risks with Tony Blair. He has a great personal relationship with Tony Blair, and Tony Blair, to his credit, put it right on the top of his priority list when he became prime minister. He also put George Mitchell over there. I mean, there hasn't been in the past generation a more effective, able democratic legislator in the Congress than George Mitchell. As soon as he left, he asked them to do this. And so Bill Clinton took high risk. There will be some rewards but certainly not commensurate with the risk. I mean, it's a single achievement. It really is. I mean, it's American leadership, and I just hope and pray that it works.
MARGARET WARNER: Does it surprise you, George Mitchell's role, or that it was George Mitchell who was successful here?
Paul Gigot: "George Mitchell is a great shock absorber."
PAUL GIGOT: No. Having seen George Mitchell work in the Senate, where he was majority leader, which is something of a misnomer of a name--in today's Senate you don't really lead--you negotiate, you broker, you put together factions, you get in between Ted Kennedy and John Sununu and George Bush's White House, and you have to have what George Mitchell has in abundance, which is patience, sit down and listen and say, yes, and think to yourself he's a knucklehead, I don't agree with anything he says, but you got to listen, and that's the kind of thing he obviously--just from the interview--you feel that character. He has a soothing presence. He's a great shock absorber. And I'm sure those characteristics really helped in this. I disagree with Mark on one thing, which is I don't think--I think the president will get credit for this. I think it is an achievement, but I'm not sure that it was a great political gamble that Mark says it is because--I mean, look, maybe an effort for peace with all of those Irish Americans out there, all those voters is not all that controversial.
MARK SHIELDS: I disagree. First of all, credit also should go this evening to Jimmy Carter. It was Jimmy Carter in 1977 who made this a presidential issue. He dubbed the Ford Democratic members of the legislature, the national legislature, Ted Kennedy, Tip O'Neill, Pat Moynihan, and added to that Hugh Carey, the governor of New York, the four horsemen, and they were--they went on record condemning Irish-Americans who were sending money to those who romanticized the blowing up of baby carriages, and that put the United States squarely in that issue. Bill Clinton spent political capital here. This was high risk. I'll show you, Paul, editorials, columns. He was just condemned widely. What are you doing over there? What are you talking to Sinn Fein for, and Gerry Adams and all the rest of it, and he did. And he brought the parties together.
One other person that didn't get mentioned, who deserves enormous credit is John Hume, the great Catholic leader in Northern Ireland who has been a voice, a force for peace for a generation under the most difficult and trying of circumstances, and let's give credit to the Unionist folks who have forsaken, as the president called this afternoon, the poison of the past for the promise of the future.
Who's to blame for the tobacco legislature debacle?
MARGARET WARNER: Hope it works. All right. Let's turn to the legislative battles of today. Who's to blame, Paul, for the fact that this tobacco legislation, or this deal trying to involve the tobacco companies in legislation that would actually restrict their ability to market to young people, it all fell apart this week, why?
PAUL GIGOT: Who isn't to blame? Journalists, Mark, journalists.
MARGARET WARNER: Not our fault.
PAUL GIGOT: I think that ultimately what you have here is the politicians overreach, the politicians over grabbed. Republicans and Democrats, White House and Congress became a kind of gold rush, mob psychology. We see a big pot of money out there. Nobody wants to back the tobacco companies, and we're going to get that money, and we're going to get that money, and we're going to divvy it up, and the president, surprisingly, I mean when this was negotiated last June, the president--
MARGARET WARNER: The original deal--
PAUL GIGOT: The original deal.
MARGARET WARNER: For the companies and the state attorneys general.
PAUL GIGOT: His lawyer, Bruce Lindsey, and his brother-in-law, Hugh Rodham, who is a trial lawyer, were integral to the deal for shuttling back and forth between the negotiators in the White House, getting--is this okay--is this fine--is this something you can support, but in the end when the deal was announced, the president hailed it but he walked away from it. He was not willing to say this is what we can accept and this is what I would like, and because he didn't do that, it went into that great big mess up in Congress, and everybody started to run for cover. I'm going to get mine--I'm going to get this for tax cuts, I'm going to get this for spending, this cash, we're going to--Ted Kennedy and Henry Waxman on the liberal side don't really want a deal because they just soon have the issue to run against Republicans in the fall, as shows with the tobacco interests. So ultimately the tobacco company saw this and said we're getting killed and they walked away.
MARGARET WARNER: That it, Mark, we need politicians--no presidential leadership?
MARK SHIELDS: You just had a view of the world, Margaret. I mean--no, I mean, if you want to understand it, all you have to listen to is one person, don't listen to anybody else except Mitch McConnell. Mitch McConnell is the chairman of the Republican Senatorial campaign committee--he's from Kentucky--and Mitch McConnell says as long as Republicans fear Democrats will try to use pro tobacco votes against them in this year's elections, those from non-tobacco states, Republicans, will keep voting for more punitive measures. Nineteen to one, Margaret, came out of the Republican Senate Commerce Committee. John McCain of Arizona--nobody's accusing him of being a flamer--you know, a kamikaze liberal or anything of the sort. The truth is that tobacco companies are dead meat politically. They've had three things they have gone against. First of all, the disclosure of the basically court documents that they're trying to sell to kids, I mean, that has become politically verboten; they are on the defensive on it. The fact that they concealed replacement smokers--they call them--they don't call them smoking kids--they're replacement smokers--I don't know whether--replace them--I guess those people at Boot Hill that they have to take their place. Second is the fact that the documents that concealed the pernicious health factors and third the campaign finance--the Democrats always were competitive on campaign finance from tobacco until the Republicans took over the Congress at which point the Republicans started to get it five to one, so the Democrats made this into a great moral issue then. They said, oh, my God, we don't want their money because we're not getting it and at that point forward they've become I think--being associated in any way with those type of companies is very dangerous to any politician's political health.
The meaning of tobacco money.
PAUL GIGOT: So much for the importance in our politics of campaign contributions--there are sages who say that this--their campaign contributions just control what Congress does, they just drive 'em, they're--followers wherever the money goes. Tobacco money has basically been worthless. Now it's made worthless. So I think--it goes to show you that when you do become a pariah or when you do become a big issue, campaign money can be trumped.
MARK SHIELDS: Money is a problem in politics not in the sense of once it's out there and it shows you--try to sell to kids that they're going to defend you. It's keeping issues off of the agenda. If you got enough money going in on any issue--I don't care what it is--if all of a sudden it becomes less appealing for a legislator to raise that issue--this issue was raised independent of the legislative process.
MARGARET WARNER: Okay now, but what are the politics now after this for the Democrats, Mark? I mean, Paul said he thought some of the Democrats don't even really want a deal.
MARK SHIELDS: I think the fact that the tobacco companies walked out this week makes it tougher for those who want a tougher bill--I don't think there motives are necessarily as subterranean as Paul does. Venal is a word that comes to mind. I say they want to keep it as an issue--there are some people that think tobacco ought to be held to--feet to the fire and all the rest of it. No, I think that it becomes less politically defensible to be against an agreement. In other words, of there's a consensus that emerges out of the Senate, I think Republican leaders want an agreement. I don't think they want to have tobacco as an albatross going into the elections of 1998 either.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you agree?
PAUL GIGOT: Not only--they are fleeing. I mean, there is nobody--their strategy is self preservation here, and there is--what they want now is if there's a big tax on cigarette prices, a tax on smokers who just happen to be by and large lower middle class--and the poor by and large Democratic voters--but they're going to impose this tax. Republicans want a share of it so they can dispense it in tax cuts.
Who will tackle the Social Security issue?
MARGARET WARNER: All right. In other issues, Social Security, the president went on the road this week talking about reforming Social Security in a fairly major way. The politics on this issue seem to have changed a lot.
PAUL GIGOT: In a tremendous way. I think it's one of the--it is the most interesting substantive politics--non-scandal politics going on right now. And the president I think has begun a debate that maybe he can't stop or control. He came out and made that Social Security announcement at the State of the Union because he wanted to mousetrap Republicans on tax cuts. Don't do it because we need to save the money for Social Security--he succeeded in that but he also has begun this debate. He's legitimized a debate for Republicans and very prominent Democrats, like Bob Kerrey and Pat Moynihan, good solid liberals, to come out and say very interesting things on Social Security including partial personal retirement accounts for part of the payroll tax, which are revolutionary and which I think is fascinating and really could be a big part of President Clinton's legacy if he doesn't stop it and moves it along. It could be a terrific event.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you see even Democrats moving to the idea that it might be a partially investment-based system? I mean, that used to be anathema.
MARK SHIELDS: No question it used to be anathema. I think Paul's right. The debate is open, the parameters have been widened. It's a good question. I mean, I think there's a sense, there's a concern, there's not a crisis about Social Security but there is a concern, there's an understanding that we're facing your generation, Margaret, you young kids who are going to come someday with your tin cups and say give us ours and there isn't going to be enough there, so there really isn't the idea of the old mantra being enough that oh, we'll just keep going. And there isn't any will to raise the contribution levels, which are already onerous. I mean, Paul just expressed concern about smokers being lower, middle income. I mean, disproportionately hit people at lower income level--and are saved for those at the top. I do think though there's a couple--I'm going to say it for the Republicans. First of all is this is Richard Nixon going to China. A Democratic president on Social Security has enormous credentials and enormous credibility and Republicans even though Social Security has been called politically the third rail of American politics, that is, the place where the electricity runs and dangerous--I don't think it is anymore. But I still think there's a current running through there, and Republicans are quite scared. This is an issue where Bill Clinton I think owns and the Democrats own the high ground politically.
Social Security vs. private investments.
PAUL GIGOT: But if you look at the polling that I've seen that some of the Republicans and Democrats have done on personal savings accounts, it's in the 70's and 80's and it's skewed--this is very interesting--it's skewed towards black voters, Hispanic voters, and working women.
MARGARET WARNER: They like it.
PAUL GIGOT: They like it a lot and they like it because it gives them a chance to build wealth Rich folks--
MARGARET WARNER: Isn't it also because so many Americans now are in the stock markets with their 401-K's and their IRA's?
PAUL GIGOT: That's part of it. It's 43 percent of the people, according to one survey I've seen. Peter Hart did a survey for the NASDAQ, a Democratic pollster, 43 percent of Americans have some kind of investment in stocks. Baby boomers and younger people want to take control over their own finances. They want some choice, and the bargain that the older generation were willing to make, which is the government will essentially redistribute income to guarantee your retirement, they want to say, wait a minute, I want some choices myself. They've seen what can happen in the stock market. They want to share.
MARK SHIELDS: Bill Clinton, when he became President of the United States, the stock market was at 3200. They were over 9000 this week. That doesn't happen in perpetuity.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. And we're not going to be here in perpetuity. Thank you, Mark and Paul.