May 19, 2000
MARGARET WARNER: And still with me are syndicated columnist Mark Shields and the "Weekly Standard's" senior editor, David Brooks. Well, clearly the passions haven't cooled, David. What are the politics of this, where do things stand?
DAVID BROOKS: Things stand pretty good for the pro forces, for the sides who support this. It looks, the consensus seems to be they're going to pull it out. And they're going to pull it out for two reasons, first the Clinton administration has been extremely effective over the past months really, they've been working this, there's going to be a weather station here, a fundraiser there, and they seem to be swinging the undecided. The second rope is we have something called the NAFTA coalition, which we saw several years ago behind the NAFTA accords -- which is Clinton type Democrats and centrist corporate Republicans. And that is the natural governing majority in this country. It's a shame the Clinton administration didn't use it more often to tackle issues like Social Security and Medicare. But they're using it now, there are a lot of them and seems likely they will carry the day.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you read it that way?
MARK SHIELDS: I do. I think they needed 70 Democrats out of the House, I think they'll get the 70 Democrats, maybe a couple more. What's remarkable, though, in retrospect, is to say that in a period of unprecedented prosperity with the American economic intellectual media establishment, where the country is still only 30% of Americans are in favor of it, according to the Pew Poll, Andy Kohut, which came out this week, 50% of Americans are opposed to giving China permanent trade. So the public argument has never been engaged or won. It's been an argument sort of at an elite level. And this kind of setting to win which one or two votes is remarkable. I think it shows the great doubts and reservations that persist.
And Tom Friedman I thought in the New York Times today had a very thoughtful piece. He's a very enthusiastic free trader himself. He said this opposition has to make the establishment aware -- the governing establishment of the country and the economic establishment of the country. That people have real anxieties, the loss of manufacturing jobs to low wage countries. And Americans are not indifferent to the plight of Chinese workers and Chinese people. And the legitimate argument is after ten years, as my conservative friends will acknowledge, there is less human rights, there is less democracy, there is less freedom in China and China is a less responsible international partner.
MARGARET WARNER: So given these doubts, and given the fact that labor in the past has really been the 800-pound gorilla, for instance, that killed fast track, why haven't they been able in an election year to hold onto enough votes?
DAVID BROOKS: Because business is powerful - it's powerful in the Democratic Party as well - in part because of people like Tony Coelho and Ron Brown, who made it powerful. We've had sort of an interesting duality to this debate. We saw Bonior and Dreier debating really a philosophic issue: Does free trade lead to democracy? And each side really can quote some examples to say that it does or doesn't. And George Bush made this case in Washington State earlier this week. Behind him, though, was a Boeing 757. And that's what's behind this debate, which wasn't mentioned in the previous debate, which was the money. Who gets the trade? You know, we have these debates about free trade. It always seems to be about lucrative ex port markets like China. It's never about Iraq. Is free trade going to lead to freedom in Iraq or Cuba? It's the lucrative markets we have the debates about.
MARK SHIELDS: I think that's a very good point. The other point, Margaret, about labor, labor has been divided. Labor sent a very mixed signal on this right from the start. They gave Al Gore, their anointed candidate for President, a pass on this. They said, oh, you'll be with Bill Clinton, can't break with the President. He broke with the President on Elian Gonzalez, but he can't break with him on China. And at the same time they said to members of Congress, Democrats in particular, you've got to be with this. They say, wait, if it's so important to you, why do you let Al Gore have a pass on it? Secondly, when Jimmy Carter was President of the United States, there were twice as many steel workers, autoworkers ask machinists in this country, as there are today. Labor is a changed institution, labor is a public service employers, teachers, hospital workers, whose jobs aren't threatened by low wage workers in foreign lands -- unlike autoworkers and machinists and steel workers.
MARGARET WARNER: Go back to what you were saying about George W. Bush, because he also weighed in this week on the, against the Senate resolution pushed by a lot of Republicans to cut off funding for the Kosovo mission. And twice this week he came out and said publicly, essentially, my fellow Republicans, vote with the President on this. Why?
DAVID BROOKS: We're seeing this centrist elite consensus on Kosovo, on trade. We're seeing them come together. We're also seeing the Congressional Republicans always acting like a Congressional party, which is to restrict the President and a Presidential candidate like George W. Bush wants to have freedom, if he gets elected, to act in Kosovo. But I think the central thing is the centrist establishment on free trade, intervention. And I'd just like to mention the forgotten person out here, which is Pat Buchanan, or Ralph Nader. There really is a constituency against this stuff. And it's not going to be from the two major parties. And I believed all along that Pat Buchanan, if the Reform Party can get their act together, would get 8, 9 percent, or Ralph Nader or somebody would be a significant force in the fall.
MARGARET WARNER: But does that make them a less significant force than in either of the parties?
MARK SHIELDS: I think if in fact this race is going to be decided in the states from New Jersey to Illinois, those are states where a Pat Buchanan or Ralph Nader's message on trade and loss of American jobs and selling out to the American workers economic interest, would have a real resonance and saliency in Illinois, Ohio, and Michigan, so forth. I think that George W. Bush showed a great gift of bipartisanship this week. He did it on Kosovo and China. He showed himself not to be a narrow partisan. He triangulated very nicely from his own party in Congress, I mean, just as he did last fall - I'm not going to balance the budget on the backs of the poor. He showed I thought a sort of internationalism. What's interesting to me about the Republicans is this is the Bruce Hershinton theory and I think it's a valid one. The Republicans want a great big U.S. military, and they want to stay home. The Democrats want a little bitty inexpensive military and they go want to go everywhere. The Republicans are essentially isolationists except when there's an economic commercial interest involved. They become great internationalists on trade with China and then immediately retrench. And I think that's what Bush is confronting and trying to deal with.
DAVID BROOKS: Though I still think it's fair to say the biggest divides are in the Democratic Party now, not the Republican Party, especially on this issue.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. We'll leave it there. Thank you both very much. Have a great weekend.