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Shields and Brooks celebrate a lifetime in American politics

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss politics as a noble profession, optimism as a defining American characteristic, and collective sacrifice for the common good. In his final regular appearance on the NewsHour, we celebrate Mark Shields and his storied career in journalism and politics.

We at the NewsHour would like to hear your memories of Mark Shields, and give an opportunity to offer well-wishes, too. Fill out this form or send an email to messages@newshour.org.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And with that, it's time for the final Friday night analysis of Shields and Brooks.

    That is syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    And before I go any further, I want to make it clear, Mark will continue to be part of the "NewsHour" family as an occasional contributor. We are going to have him back when there's a major political event or anything else that he wants to weigh in on.

    But, Mark, before I let you and David speak, I want to say what an utter joy it's been for me to work with you over the years, to be the beneficiary, along with our audience, of your wisdom, your brilliant insights, and, as we heard in that video, your humor.

    I know our founder Jim Lehrer adored and appreciated you. We have all learned from you.

    It is impossible to put it into a few words, but the entire "NewsHour" family owes you a great debt of gratitude. We're going to miss having you with us every week.

    And now I'm going to let you speak.

    So, Mark, what did you think about the video?

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Mark Shields:

    Judy, it was like reading David's column, his generous column.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Mark Shields:

    I just regretted that my parents weren't alive to read it and enjoy it, because my father would have enjoyed it, and my mother would have wanted to believe it.

    And I just thank everybody for their over-the-top and too-generous remarks.

    It's been 33 wonderful years. It's been a great privilege. And it's been just enormous fun. You shouldn't admit that, but that's what it's been.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, David, what do you think? Did you hear anything that rang true to you there?

    (LAUGHTER)

  • David Brooks:

    Everyone knows the same Mark. Mark is Mark.

    When he called to tell me the news a couple of weeks ago, I told him the blunt truth. Mark is the best colleague I have ever had at any level of journalism or in any line of work.

    I have never been around somebody who generates just so much warmth, who treats everybody with so much respect.

    I figure — we haven't talked about this, Mark, but I figured your parents loved you really well when you were a kid.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • David Brooks:

    And you have been sharing it with the rest of us in the years since, because you just walk in a room with a projection of warmth and respect that people respond to.

    And that little column I wrote about you, it was the number one viewed site — piece on the site, New York Times site, today, because people want this. People are hungering for trustworthiness and decency.

    And it's been a great blessing of my life to be alongside you for the last 19 years of this.

  • Mark Shields:

    And thank you, David.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Mark, we're shedding — we're sharing all this with you because it's all true.

    But I know there's something that you want to say tonight, because you have spent all these years thinking a lot about American politics and about this country.

    So, I want to give you a chance to talk about it.

  • Mark Shields:

    Oh, that's kind of you, Judy.

    And thank you, David.

    And I have to say, David has been the most generous and ideal of partners for the past 19 years.

    Judy asked once at Thanksgiving what I was thankful for. And one of things I listed was that, during all the time together, I'd said some dumb, stupid and probably just absolutely inappropriate things, and never once did David Brooks take a cheap shot, because it's not in him. It's not in his character.

    And he's been — he's been a source of great company. He's been a source of great wisdom. He's my friend. And I treasure him.

    So, I thank you for those kind remarks.

    I grew up when a man was in the White House who said very simply, the measure of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much, but whether we provide enough for those who have too little.

    It's a very straightforward — it was Franklin Roosevelt.

    And the other kind of guidepost for me in politics that I guess I learned from my mom and my dad, my family was that every one of us has been warmed by fires we did not build, and every one of us has drunk from wells we did not dig. And, together, we can't do less for those who come after us. And, together, we can do so much more.

    And it's as straightforward as that.

    I believe politics is the peaceable resolution of conflict among legitimate competing interests. And I don't know, in a nation as big and brawling, this great continent which we occupy, and diverse as ours, how we would resolve our differences, except through the commitment, the passion, the intelligence, the courage of those who are willing to practice the political process and achieve compromise.

    And to fashion those compromises does require courage, and it does require hard work and intelligence. So, I like people who run for political office. It puts me in a very small category. And it — the example I use is, if David and I were — I like people who run for office.

    If David and I were the two finalists to be the regional sales manager of the Acme Windshield Wiper Company, and David rightly got the promotion and I didn't, when the hometown paper announced David's success, they wouldn't add that Shields was passed over because of lingering questions about his expense account or his erratic behavior at the company Christmas party.

    But, in politics, when you run for office, everybody you ever sat next to in study hall or double-dated with or baby-sat for knows whether you won or you probably lost.

    And I respect and admire those who run and lose. And nobody ever did it better than an old friend of mine, the late Dick Tuck, who lost a very close state Senate race in Los Angeles.

    And when a local announcer stuck a microphone in his face to say something, he said very straightforwardly: "The people have spoken, the bastards."

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Mark Shields:

    But, I mean, so I — it's a tough business.

    But it's a — it is wonderful. There's nothing more fun than a political campaign. I urge everybody who hasn't been involved in one to carve it out of their schedule and try and do so, because you get all these people submerging their own particular short-term interests to something larger, and working long hours, and dislocation to their personal and professional lives.

    And in one 12-hour period — elections have been rightly called a one-day sale. You find out whether you won or you lost. And you will forge friendships and relationships that will last a lifetime.

    And so I like politics. I believe in politics. I think politics is awfully important to the well-being of our nation.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Mark, one of the things David wrote about you in his column today is that you — that there's this basic trust or basic decency that you believe exists in people who serve in public life.

    There's a — I think, right now, there's a lack of faith that that's there.

    So, I'm curious, as you take this next step in your life, are you optimistic about the country, about what lies ahead? What do you see?

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, I think optimism is the defining characteristic of America.

    I mean, with the exception of those whose ancestors were here when Columbus arrived or those whose ancestors were brought here against their will in chains, every American is either, himself or herself, an immigrant or the direct lineal descendants of immigrants.

    And to leave friends and family and familiar surroundings to strike out across the sea or the continent for a place you have never been to live among people you have never met, to speak a language in many cases you have never heard is an act of enormous courage.

    But it's also a statement of profound optimism. And America was founded and continues to be founded on a daily basis by optimism. I'm not a Pollyanna. I know that we were all born in original sin and we're capable of just dastardly things, personally and collectively.

    But when asked by our leaders and have — leaders who reach out to our best and ask us for collective sacrifice for the common good, Americans have responded rather remarkably.

    And I recall when John Kennedy was president and proposed the Peace Corps, and one young man was volunteering, and they asked him why. And he said: "Nobody ever asked me to do anything unselfish or patriotic. And President Kennedy asked me."

    And that — I think, when Americans are asked — I think I'm optimistic about Joe Biden, because he's not a wall-builder. He's a bridge-builder. He's somebody who extends that hand of friendship. And I — we will find out if the folks on the other side of the bridge will come a third across or halfway across.

    But I'm hopeful. I really am.

    And we…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    As we…

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes. And we have done great things. We have done great things, Judy.

    I mean, we have saved the Great Lakes. We have taken lead of the air. I mean, we have done wonderful things. We rebuilt a war-torn Europe.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    As…

  • Mark Shields:

    You know, we — just we have. And we ought to be aware of that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    As we continue this conversation, Mark, and I bring David in, I also want to ask the love of your life, Anne Shields, who I think is nearby.

    The two of you celebrated your 54th wedding anniversary yesterday.

    Anne — she's coming in right now. She's going to take her place next to Mark.

    Important…

    (CROSSTALK)

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We're making room for her.

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes, dear.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    David, I want you to reflect a little more on what this means, as we say goodbye to Mark on Fridays.

  • David Brooks:

    First, I want to say I have been — I think extremely highly of Mark.

    He's a wonderful guy, as I have said. He nevertheless still set the world record for marrying up.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • David Brooks:

    So, I pay tribute to Anne, who's a truly remarkable person.

    I would — I would say that Mark is — like all of us, we're formed by a certain era.

    And in Mark's case, it was the period I think when he was a Hill staffer in the mid-'60s. And look at — government was working. The G.I. bill had worked, the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, the Fair Housing Act. Government was doing a lot of stuff. People were compromising. The system was working.

    And so you had a sense that this was a noble activity. Politics and the power involved in it is a means to an end. And the end is comforting the unfortunate, serving the marginalized, waging a war on poverty.

    And so you have the sense that this is not just some game. This is a noble profession, because it's about achieving noble ends for people who need a hand up. And so with that came a feeling that you were there to serve the underdogs.

    With that came a deep sense of equality. And I was a kid who had Hubert Humphrey's poster on my wall, who Mark probably knew. And so that was — that was inspiring to — it's a more morally holistic way to think of politics.

    And I speak to young people, and all they have known is broken politics. And I tried to assure them it wasn't always broken…

  • Mark Shields:

    That's right.

  • David Brooks:

    … and that there's a way to bring it back, so it's not broken again.

    I think we go through cycles, and we will come back and fix the politics that have broken.

    But Mark just comes from that era, like his neckties, now, come to think of it.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • David Brooks:

    But — and I…

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we hope the broken politics are not behind us.

    Mark reminds us that everything good as possible in the future.

    And, as we say goodbye to Mark on you — this — to Mark and to Anne Shields on this Friday night, I just want to express to you what you have meant, Mark, again, to us and to our audience. We have received thousands of comments, literally, since we announced earlier this week that this would be your last Friday night.

    But I want to stress again, you're going to continue to show up on our air when important things happen.

    So, you leave with our love and our affection and our eternal gratitude, Mark Shields, there with the love of his life, Anne Shields, and David Brooks.

    Thank you.

  • Mark Shields:

    Thank you, Judy.

    Thank you, David.

  • Anne Shields:

    Thanks, Judy.

  • Mark Shields:

    Thanks.

  • David Brooks:

    See you, Mark.

  • Mark Shields:

    See you, David.

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