August 17, 2001
Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot and Time columnist Margaret Carlson discuss President Bush's week and other matters political.
TERENCE SMITH: We get more on the President's week and other matters political from Gigot and Carlson. That's Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot and Time Magazine columnist Margaret Carlson. Mark Shields is off tonight. Welcome to you both.
Margaret, the White House has been working to convey an image through this vacation, this working vacation: Man of the people, out there stressing values. Is it working?
|Bush takes a holiday|
MARGARET CARLSON: They protest too much. The idea that would you give it a name, first of all, the "Home to the heartland Tour" makes you think of a rock star going out on a concert tour. And the fact is, he is from the heartland. It's a great place. You don't have to make it up. He's pretty much convinced us now that he is a Texan and he is not one of those awful Kennebunkport or Martha's Vineyard vacationers. The other thing he has to do is show that he's no slouch. And so this working is very, very important, and in fact, it is so important that when a poll showed that I think 55 percent of the people thought 31 days, which I think was breaking Nixon's record was a little too long, today they announced it would be three days shorter.
Those three days will be spent at Camp David, so I don't know that that's really-I mean, it's more theoretical more than real. You know, he put on the Jimmy Carter tool belt and went and built a house for a single mother. He spent had 45 minutes doing that because his polls show that he's too in touch with the corporate bosses and not in touch enough with women and moderates. So go build a house, get in touch with the compassionate side of your conservatism. That's another part of what he's doing here. But, of course, the compassionate things actually cost money, so....
PAUL GIGOT: But it sounds like it's working from everything Margaret said. This is Bush, an old Presidential role. Ronald Reagan used it. Presidents going back to Andrew Jackson used it. Presidents -- outsider - he's not part of the beltway, going to stay out there. The other thing is Bush is popular. A lot of his popularity is rooted in who he isn't. Margaret alluded to this. He is not Bill Clinton. He doesn't go to Martha's Vineyard. He's from the red states. He's not from the blue states, in that famous division of the electoral map. He's from the heartland. And I think they're playing into that and they're probably overdoing it a bit in terms of the advertising for it. But, you know, this is part of the White House's message of discipline. It's one thing they learned from Bill Clinton. If they have a message, they're going to drill it into you and they're trying to do that.
MARGARET CARLSON: One thing Reagan never did, however, was -- he said I'm on vacation. He wasn't trying to cover up that fact. And that authentic part of Reagan came through. This looks a little bit, just a tiny bit overproduced to me.
TERENCE SMITH: What about the issues that he is stressing, the environment, education, traditional values? Are we getting a little foreshadowing of what we're going to hear in the fall?
PAUL GIGOT: Sure you are. There's no question about it. You are also getting a little bit of a shift, a mid-course correction. The tax cut is done. They figure that that was really, had solidified in many ways -- the economic conservatives. Now they want to shift somewhat to appeal to some of those women that Margaret talked about and talked about education. But very practically too, they have an education bill in the Senate-I mean, that has been passed actually by parties, but it's in a Conference Committee, and they want to get it out. So this is using the bully pulpit to leverage that. It's not just - so it has a legislative goal as well. And then the values stuff, there is no question that that is rooted again in the point I made about his popularity being personal and who he is, who he isn't. He is the anti-Clinton. So they're going to, to represent Bush, as a spokesman for mainstream values.
TERENCE SMITH: But it's also you think, Margaret, somewhat to contrast the corporate connection, as you put it of the first few months?
MARGARET CARLSON: It is. Do you remember Chris Matthews wrote a piece in the New Republic that became famous he called the Democrats the mommy party, the Republicans the daddy party. Bush did the daddy part. Now he is moving over to the mommy part. Now he is concentrating on the mommy issues. The problem with that is that the mommy solutions are expensive and there's not a lot of money around. We even see that with the defense budget, which is, when you do a tax cut and you want to cut government, you don't just want to give the money back. You want there not to be enough money for this bloated government. You actually end up hurting things you want to do. And so this is more, you know, frou-frou than it is substance because that tax cut has determined a lot of the Bush agenda.
|A brewing battle over the budget|
TERENCE SMITH: Let's talk about the budget because later this month Paul the Congressional Budget Office will come out with its numbers, its forecast for surplus, et cetera. And the issue of Social Security will be right in the front. Are we cruising for a big political battle over the budget and Social Security?
PAUL GIGOT: There was going to be a fight no matter what happened because there would be a fight over spending priorities, as there always is at the end of each year, but this time it will be a little fiercer because the tax cut for this year has taken out a good portion of the surplus as it was designed to do, by the way. That was the point explicit.
MARGARET CARLSON: Stop spending.
PAUL GIGOT: In the campaign. And then the economy has always reduced the expected revenue. So they're getting close, not to a deficit. We are still going to have the second biggest surplus in history but close enough to the edge of the so-called Social Security surplus to make it a big political issue. Both sides are going to use it. I would expect President Bush is going to use it against Democrats to say you can't spend more without dipping into the surplus. The Democrats are going to say we were right about the tax cut. It has now cut into Social Security, Mr. President, repeal that tax cut -- maybe if they'll go that far or down the road. So I think it's not a fiscal problem; it's a political debate.
TERENCE SMITH: It, in fact, sounds like a classic debate.
MARGARET CARLSON: It is definitely a problem because the one Bush read my lips was, I will not touch the Social Security surplus. So you don't want to touch-- it's like a hot stove. You don't want to get close. What the Democrats don't want to do is to be seen to be rooting for a recession or not enough money the way Republicans did after the Clinton budget. Oh, we're going to be thrown into the worst recession in a decade. And there you were, seeing them, you know, wishing that something bad would happen. The Democrats don't want to do that, but I think they're right to point out that the tax cut has defined the Bush administration. And they have to live with it. What they didn't know is that they were going to be have to be living with things that would hurt them like the military budget, the education bill, and their priorities are going to be hurt as well.
|Uncertainty over faith-based initiatives|
TERENCE SMITH: There is another initiative out there that doesn't look so good right now. The faith-based initiative that President Bush-- we now know that John Diluilo, the director of the White House office on that is resigning. There is trouble in the Senate. Is that going anywhere, Paul?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, it's already passed the House. I think in the Senate the Majority Leader Daschle has said he is not going to bring it up anytime soon, but there's a lot of negotiations going on behind the scenes between Republicans and Joe Lieberman, who is, I think, the linchpin here. If this is going to pass the Senate, Lieberman will be vital to doing that. So I don't think this is by any means over with or going to fail. I think the one downside of Diluilo leaving is that he has a very good relationship with Joe Lieberman. Diluilo is a Democrat. And so I think he always said he was only going to stay about six months. He is somebody who, I think, a brilliant academic, identified this issue early on -- always been better I think at academia and writing as some of us are, than actual practical politics and legislative politics. So it is just something of a blow to the initiative but I don't think a fatal one.
TERENCE SMITH: Margaret, what do you think?
MARGARET CARLSON: Not a fatal blow, but he was the intellectual heart of it and it would have helped if he would have seen it through the Senate especially with Joe Lieberman. But that House bill is not going to pass the Senate. It is going to be altered. The faith-based initiative is like the missile defense shield-- great if it works, and if you can expand it without getting into the catch-22. I think Joe Lieberman and others think it is a wonderful idea. But if the very reason they work these programs, is that they have a religious content but you have to take out the religious content to get the money, then where are you?
TERENCE SMITH: In order to preserve separation of church and state.
MARGARET CARLSON: In order to preserve separation of church and state, which seems to have worked for 200 years.
|The return of Al Gore|
TERENCE SMITH: We saw another bit of image making this past week, Paul. Al Gore came out from the political wilderness, conducted a seminar for young Democrats who want to campaign. How did it look to you?
PAUL GIGOT: I thought he looked pretty good. I think much derided beard seems to me to be fine. Those of us who have gray beards don't mind seeing one. I think Gore has been smarter than his critics in one particular and that is staying out of the news for six months. A lot of Democrats said, "where were you, Al? You should have been in there fighting Bush." He was smart. It wouldn't have made any difference to anything that has happened in the first six months and it would have hurt him, and I think arguably hurt his party because it would have been seen as sour grapes. The best speech he gave in the campaign or at least the most well received was the concession speech. And that's the one that said, look, I'm bowing out. I fought the good fight. The new President needs time to govern and see if he can do it. I'm bowing out. He has honored that promise and I think that's going to him a more powerful potential candidate the next time. So don't rule out Al Gore.
MARGARET CARLSON: Paul is so right. Grace in politics is so hard. He showed it, and not talking is very hard and he showed he could do that, but his Home to the Heartland Tour with Lamar Alexander I don't think was the right way to come out, and not with the beard because the beard reminds you of Naomi Wolf and earth tones and alpha male, and the things about Al Gore that he stumbled over. He is such a decent guy, he's a smart guy, he's an intelligent guy. But we got sidelined over to all this image stuff. So the beard looks like a little piece of imagery. The next headline we're going to read about Al Gore is Al Gore cuts beard.
PAUL GIGOT: Every middle-aged man in America when he goes on vacation grows a little stubble.
MARGARET CARLSON: Most of the middle-aged ones that I know cut it when they come back.
TERENCE SMITH: As you two look at the Democratic field that mighty merge between now and 2004, where do you put Al Gore in that ranking? At the top?
MARGARET CARLSON: The more people who run, the better Al Gore may do because he can solidify his base, which is African Americans and all those people who think he was robbed as opposed to those Democrats who think he let it go away.
TERENCE SMITH: But you say don't count him out?
PAUL GIGOT: I think he is at the top of the list, no question about it. He has got a national standing. And all the people who haven't run, they look terrific in the Senate but they're in the Senate and that's not proven to be a very good launching pad for many political careers. Just ask Bob Dole. He got the nomination but he was an insider and trapped as an insider, and that's very difficult to run.
MARGARET CARLSON: Given that George Bush is trying not to be in Washington, it's not a good place to run from.
TERENCE SMITH: All right. Paul, Margaret, thank you both very much.