Political analysts Mark Shields and David Brooks analyze the continuing troubles in Iraq and their effect on midterm elections, poll numbers that show public disapproval with Congress, and Democratic Illinois Sen. Barack Obama's potential presidential run in 2008.
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And that brings us to Shields and Brooks, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, New York Times columnist David Brooks.
Mark, is the Florida story pretty much the national story, as well, when it comes to Iraq in this election?
MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist:
It is, Jim. The old maxim is all politics is local until it isn't, and this year it isn't. I mean, the two dominant central themes and bases of this election are Iraq and President George W. Bush.
And, David, speaking of Iraq, what do you make of this new round of stories — there was even another one today — that President Bush is considering, if not changing strategies, at least tactics in Iraq? Is there anything to this? What's going on?
DAVID BROOKS, Columnist, New York Times:
Well, the big news was that this latest strategy to preserve some order within Baghdad, that seems to have failed militarily, and so it's had a further ratcheting down. I don't think there's the fundamental change of the dynamic; there's just been a continual series of pessimism about what's going to happen.
And it's hitting lower and lower thresholds, as more and more people see no good options and see, you know, catastrophic options. And so it's had sort of this gradual effect on the country.
It's interesting though, if you talk to voters in what I found, especially sort of normal office voters, the thing in Iraq is very complicated, but they know how to manage. They know what would work in their organization, and what would not work. And what they see is, if somebody messes something up in their organization, there are consequences for that person.
And when they see the president not firing Donald Rumsfeld, giving Tommy Franks and Jerry Bremer medals, they think, "That's not the way we would do things here. I would not hire those people to run my company." And so that has had a big effect. And when people say, "Those people are not like me," even if they're Republican voters, that's a big — that has big political consequences.
Big political consequences, as you said.
I do. I agree with David. There's a subtext in this campaign about competence, and incompetence, and accountability, and the lack thereof, as voters do see it.
But, Jim, the thing that is sustained, the two pillars of President Bush on Iraq have been an optimism and determination. And the optimism, there was always something to look forward to. It was going to be an election or a turnover of authority, a new constitution, or whatever else.
And there's nothing more to look forward to, and the optimism has been drained by reality, by events. And that's in the part of the electorate — the Wall Street Journal-NBC poll showed this week that asked, "Are you more optimistic or less optimistic about events in Iraq?" In June, it was split right down the middle, 45 percent more optimistic, 44 percent less optimistic. Today, it's 20 percent more optimistic, 68 percent less optimistic.
But there's one thing that bothers me about it. I have to be very blunt. And that is all the talk — and you hear it from the administration here, from Republicans and Democrats, "Well, the Jim Baker-Lee Hamilton study group is going to come in, and they're going to come in after the election."
I mean, you know, it's becoming obvious that we're going to leave after the election, or we're going to cutback dramatically, or go to a three-party sectarian division of Iraq. And, you know, I just look at the Gold Star mothers that are going to be created between now and then, until we get to that point, so we can use "cut and run" during the campaign, you know, as a recurring theme while we're getting ready to cut and run when November 8th comes.