September 3, 1999
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot offer end-of-week political analysis on Las Vegas' response to the tax cuts issue and Attorney General Janet Reno’s press conference.
JIM LEHRER: For some analysis of Waco, tax cuts and other things, Shields and Gigot. Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot. Paul, on Waco, is the attorney general right to go for an independent investigation?
PAUL GIGOT: Sure. I think she really had no other choice, Jim. I mean her credibility is on the line here. And it's really something that they're investigating would be how the Justice Department behaved, how the FBI behaved, who told who what when? And that's something that has to have an outside investigator, whether Congress or someplace else.
|The attorney general's credibility|
JIM LEHRER: What kind of person, Mark, would it take to do this investigation in a way that would it have universal public credibility?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think, first of all, it has to be more than a person. I mean, I think you have to have somebody with thorough prosecutorial experience. I think we learned that from independent counsels and the foibles and flaws of that in recent years -- someone who has done that, the hard work of an investigation, who knows criminal law. But I think it probably needs, Jim, as well, a towering figure of national stature and trust and probity, someone of the enormous stature of Colin Powell. I think it's that important. I mean, it's Earl Warren. We're talking about something, Jim, I think, in spite of the attorney general's statement and everything else and there were four American federal agents killed, there were 20 wounded -- we're talking about an event unparalleled in American history where the federal government of the United States was there when 80 Americans were incinerated. And something -- this is not America. And I think that we have to understand and we have to know and Americans have to have their trust restored in the federal government that this wasn't done either haphazardly or intentionally. I take her at her word that David Koresh and his people did...
JIM LEHRER: That there is no connection between the firing of the canisters into concrete compound and the fires later, hours later in the wooden part.
MARK SHIELDS: That's right. But I think today, as we sit here today, there's a cloud over the Department of Justice, over the FBI, over Janet Reno and over Louis Freeh.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree that it is that serious a matter?
PAUL GIGOT: This is an administration that is constantly telling us and certainly has the right to do that, that you should believe in the credibility of government again, you should believe in its purposes, you should believe that it can do something on your behalf. There is no event that I can think of this decade that has done more to damage the credibility of government than Waco. I mean, it's been six years now, and this coming back -- it has given rise to all kinds of conspiracy theories, it's given rise maybe to violence. That's the kind of thing that needs to be put to rest. So I think it is a very serious matter.
JIM LEHRER: You mentioned Congress. Do you expect Congress to take a hard look at this, too?
PAUL GIGOT: I do.
MARK SHIELDS: How is it playing with the members of Congress?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, it's interesting. On the Democratic side, the some of the people who are the most avid defenders of Janet Reno and the administration, like Chuck Schumer of New York, have basically stepped back and said, well, you're on your own. You need to investigate this. On the Republican side, Dan Burton, the Government Reform Committee, is sending out subpoenas already but where this is moving ultimately is Henry Hyde's idea, the head of the Judiciary Committee, is to get a five-member commission, take it out of the committee process, which it's already been through in 1995, put a five-member commission.
JIM LEHRER: Members of Congress.
PAUL GIGOT: Not necessarily members of Congress. It would be... four of the members would be appointed by the four leaders of each body and of each party and then the four names would pick the chairman -- take it out, in other words, completely out of the congressional process.
JIM LEHRER: And that, of course, would be separate from any independent investigation that Janet Reno convened. Speaking of Congress, Mark, and changing the subject here, Kwame's report just now on tax cuts, what are the politics of that? Have they changed any since the recess began, the congressional recess?
MARK SHIELDS: Jim, the prairie fire of populist revolt that contemplated listening to my colleague here was going to incinerate the country for...
JIM LEHRER: You're talking about Paul?
MARK SHIELDS: Yes. It just...
PAUL GIGOT: He's taking my name in vain.
MARK SHIELDS: It has no resonance in the country. It really doesn't. Members of Congress, politicians pollsters, it just isn't there. I mean, I think if you look at it, in 1996, the Republicans called for a 15 percent cut in taxes. And Bob Dole and Jack Kemp, Jack Kemp had great credentials as a tax cutter, and it had no saliency in that election, the presidential election. Now in 1999 we are down to 10 percent, and it seems to have even less.
PAUL GIGOT: Is Mark objecting that the tax cut is too small? He wants it to be 25....
MARK SHIELDS: I'm simply saying it... they ain't buying that dog food, Paul.
JIM LEHRER: Would you like to dissent from what Mr. Shields just said, sir?
PAUL GIGOT: Look, this is not 1979, not the tax revolt of California or 1981 but people still like a tax cut. It's a pretty close run thing, people preferring some kind of a tax cut: The Republican argument or Democratic argument - no -- a smaller tax cut. The President and Al Gore clearly believe that tax cuts are salient enough that they are willing to propose one of their own even if it's only $300 billion. But I agree with Mark in this sense, that this recess didn't change anything. It reinforced everybody at their barricade positions. And I think this is something that's going to go on into the presidential election.
|Pat Buchanan and the Republican party|
JIM LEHRER: The President will veto it and then it will be left there and they'll argue about it in the presidential election. Look, speaking of presidential elections, let's talk about 2000 for a few moments. Paul, you had a column this morning in the Wall Street Journal in which you said that Pat Buchanan is in fact going to leave the Republican Party and run as a Reform Party candidate. Are you sure of that?
PAUL GIGOT: I'm not exactly...
JIM LEHRER: Did I paraphrase you incorrectly?
PAUL GIGOT: I don't think it's certain. I think it's very, very close. There is no question that there is an awful lot of signals that direction including...
JIM LEHRER: Let me ask -- go ahead.
PAUL GIGOT: including the potential candidate's sister, Bay Buchanan, who said we're really looking at it closely.
JIM LEHRER: On that point first, do you agree, Mark, that he is going to do it, or do you think he is going to do it?
MARK SHIELDS: I'm not sure he is going to do it but it's likely that he will, and certainly a lot more likely than it was a month ago.
JIM LEHRER: What will be the impact of this?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, I think it's the best news Al Gore has gotten - it would be the best news Al Gore has gotten in a long time and it could potentially the biggest challenge to a Republican winning, because Pat Buchanan is a well known figure of the right. His message is a cultural conservative one, an economic populist one that appeals to an awful lot of people who lean Republican, to men, to some of the lower income men, to cultural conservatives. I think his vote, the bulk of his vote would come out of Republicans. And the thing that gives it a little more saliency, I think, the potential Reform Party nomination is what you see is a budding alliance between Ross Perot and Pat Buchanan -- because what that means, with Ross Perot's standing in the Reform Party, Pat Buchanan probably can get that nomination. That gives him access to $13 million in public funds.
JIM LEHRER: Which is there, we need to explain is because Perot got so many votes in the 1996 election that the Reform Party campaign gets thirteen point some million.
PAUL GIGOT: Because the campaign finance reform that my buddy helped to promote.
MARK SHIELDS: I don't think we should have written a law that locked in two parties. If the third party gets votes, they were going to get money, they could participate in the system. That was the law as it was written.
JIM LEHRER: How do you read Buchanan and the Reform -
MARK SHIELDS: But going back to Pat Buchanan, very simply Pat Buchanan, it's wonderful to watch the Republicans scurry around and be nice to Pat Buchanan. Republican...
JIM LEHRER: Nicholson, the Republican Party chairman...
MARK SHIELDS: All the people. George W. Bush saying please don't leave. These are all people that have nothing but disparaged Pat Buchanan, criticized him, censure him, belittle him. This is a man who won three of the first four primaries in 1996, who finished second to Bob Dole in primaries won and delegates elected, and they wouldn't even let him speak at the 1996 Republican Convention. And now they are saying, Pat, don't leave, oh, my goodness, don't leave; we really love you.
JIM LEHRER: But he is still - I mean, he has done very poorly this time. He is not the same Pat Buchanan, is it?
MARK SHIELDS: No, it isn't the same Pat Buchanan. There's no question about it. I mean, Gary Bauer and to some degree Steve Forbes have moved into Pat Buchanan's constituency. But I think there is a certain sense of hurt on Pat Buchanan's part. He has been a Republican a lot longer than most of the people who are running for office. I mean he was there during Watergate and one of the last guys at the ramparts - he was there during Iran-Contra as well. So I think his message -- I'm not as sure as Paul just exactly whom he does draws. I mean, his message has an appeal, Jim, to the populist impulses in both parties: Economic populism from the Democrats, who have become more and more sort of a centrist party with the Republicans. What you have quite frankly is you have George Bush and Al Gore right now fighting over the 49 yard line. I mean, George Bush made a speech on education this week that could have been made by a moderate Democrat, and not going to abolish the Department of Education. So you have...he's going to expand the Department of Education. You've got Al Gore who you can't - whether it's creation or evolution. He doesn't want to offend anybody. So all of a sudden, Pat Buchanan - Paul is absolutely right -- he speaks in bold colors not pale pastels.
JIM LEHRER: But he speaks in bold colors on social conservative issues that the Reform Party has rejected in the past and Jesse Ventura who has kind of taken the party away from Ross Perot in some ways right now is not endorsing Buchanan. So what is happening?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, that's right there. There would be a fight, I think, for the Reform Party nomination, but this is the key where Perot comes in. Perot needs Buchanan because if Perot doesn't want to lose control of the Reform Party to Ventura, he needs a horse, he needs somebody to run. And Pat Buchanan could be that horse. And Pat has an awful lot of appeal to a lot of reform people. In 1995, when he spoke in Dallas to United We Stand, Bob Dole was jealous of the reception he got because a lot of the Reform people really are, they're sovereignty types, they're economic nationalists, they're protectionists. And they resent both establishments. It's more important than social issues. So Pat Buchanan and Perot would be betting those voters would soft sell the social issues and go for the nationalists.
JIM LEHRER: Do you read it the same way?
MARK SHIELDS: Yeah. I mean, the party has been mute on social issues. They are an economic nationalistic party. Now Jesse Ventura has tried to float Lowell Weicker, the former governor of Connecticut -- that didn't sell -- and Donald Trump. Now, Donald Trump as sort of a populist nationalist is sort of an interesting concept itself.
JIM LEHRER: But what do Perot and Buchanan do about the Ventura problem?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I mean, I think Pat obviously, and you can understand his reluctance, is reluctant to jump without that nomination being there. And you're not sure with Ross Perot whether there's going to be a certain, you know... he's a mercurial figure I think even his friends would acknowledge that. And you want to be sure he is going to be constant. Now Ross Perot's animosity towards the Bush family I think is fairly well documented.
JIM LEHRER: All right. We'll leave it there. Thank you both.