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Analysts Weigh Bush-Obama Spat, Democratic Race

President Bush's comments about "appeasement" of dictators touched off a firestorm on the presidential campaign trail. Mark Shields and David Brooks discuss the remarks, as well as Hillary Clinton's West Virginia win and recent GOP losses in state contests.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    Gentlemen, good to see you both.

  • MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist:

    Judy.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    It started with President Bush. It moved to Barack Obama, Mark. The White House said officially the president wasn't targeting Senator Obama, but privately they said it was, and it's ending with Senator McCain.

    What do you make of all of this?

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    Well, Judy, I'd say, first of all, it's a gift to the Democrats. You have to understand that the six times since World War II when a party holding the White House for two terms has sought a third term only twice has that party won a majority of the popular vote. That was in 1988 when Ronald Reagan's vice president, George Bush, did and in 2000, when Al Gore, Bill Clinton's vice president.

    Both cases, the president was at 65 percent favorable job rating. George Bush today is at 28 percent. He is toxic politically.

    Any day that he is the face and the voice of the Republican Party on national television is a gift to the Democrats. They're going to engage him.

    What was most revealing, I thought, in the whole piece was that Hillary Clinton, rather than let Barack Obama have the exclusive franchise to engaging George W. Bush, she did herself.

    I don't think there's any question that this accrues to the advantage — even though national security is the one place where McCain has an advantage over Obama — I don't think there's any question that this is where the Democrats want it to be, is George W. Bush against them.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    A gift to the Democrats, David?

  • DAVID BROOKS, Columnist, New York Times:

    Well, we'll see. At least initially, I guess that's true. It's just general election season.

    I mean, Bush mentions appeasement. It's a traditional argument. He's used it a million times. I think the Munich analogy is probably a flawed analogy to today.

    Obama is happy to seize on it, because he lost West Virginia by 41 points and he lost it among people who don't think he's tough enough. So any chance he can have to throw a temper tantrum is a good day for him. So he's going to throw a bunch of temper tantrums, and I see why he took advantage.

    There is a core debate here, which we really didn't get to today. It's how you should talk to Iran. Obama said he would talk to Ahmadinejad and he personalized it, without preconditions. McCain would probably talk to Iran, probably not to Ahmadinejad, but he would talk to Iran. The question is, under what circumstances?

    And you can get to a substantive debate, and I suspect over the next month we will get to a substantive debate, when would you talk to Iran? Under what circumstances? And under what conditions would you put pressure on Iran?

    And even the Bush administration has said — Secretary Gates has said we will talk to Iran under the right circumstances.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    He said that this week.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    He did.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    So that — the question, there is the substantive debate over here, but we're not even close to it. It's lobotomy season.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Now, do voters — does this help voters figure something out about these two? I mean, again, Barack Obama doesn't have the nomination yet. Hillary Clinton is still in there.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    That's right.

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