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Shields and Brooks Discuss 2005

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks discuss Jack Abramoff's legal troubles, the winners and losers of 2005 and the year's most significant events, including Hurricane Katrina and the rise of political Islam.

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  • RAY SUAREZ:

    And now more on the Abramoff scandal in our end-of- the-week and end-of-the-year political analysis with Shields and Brooks: Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    Well, is this on the verge, David, of being a big story that's going to carry us through '06?

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Yeah, that's the buzz– yes, I think there is an expectation there will be a lot of members of Congress or at least several members of Congress. Here is a guy who dragged candy canes through the halls of Congress, bent the rules and broke the rules. The expectation is there are a fair number of people who grabbed those candy canes.

    And the other thing I would just like to say is that there is also a few people in the executive branch, there are also people in the activist community –Glover Norquist was a college Republican friend of his, Ralph Reed, there are some columnists who have already been found to have accepted money from him.

    Abramoff is a guy who corrupted, if he wanted to close a casino from an opposing tribe, he hired social conservatives, if he wanted to open a casino from one of his tribes, he hired libertarians, he just hired a lot of people and they are all going to be tainted.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    Ray, this is the confluence, the nexus of money, of influence and of policy. And I think this is a story, I agree with David, that has legs. It has feet. It has fingers. It has an absolutely pervasive stench to it. And it is a real problem for the Republicans.

    There are Democrats mentioned tangentially in the story. But the president did something rather cute in trying to distance himself. He said well, he called Abramoff in an interview an equal money distributor making reference to the fact that some of the tribes who are his clients get the minority contributions, Democrats, overlooking conveniently the fact that Jack Abramoff was a Bush pioneer having raised 100,000 for the president's reelection by mid 2003, and upwards of six figures in personal contributions, he never gave a dime to a Democrat.

    So this is a Republican problem. And David's right, I mean the Ralph Reed thing affects the lieutenant governor's race in Georgia; Grover Norquist has been an organizing force for the conservative kind of coalition in this town. I mean, there's a lot of people who are uncomfortable tonight.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Within the Republican Party — there are different circles within the Republican Party. And this is mostly the DeLay circle. It's not so much the Bush circle or the Gingrich circle.

    And there are a lot of Republicans who are secretly glad to see the Delay circle brought down a bit. So there is a lot of intra-fighting and intra-leaking.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Could this end up having an effect on whether or not Delay — if he manages to stave off his problems in Texas — hangs on as majority leader?

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    I think there is no — I mean I think DeLay's political career is finished already. I think people decided, and in part because of this, because the guy was always in shades of gray. He would cross the line and say oh, I'm in the shade of gray. I'm not really going over the line. But the taint with Abramoff, especially as it gets bigger, I think is finishing Delay, absolutely.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Mark, name for me your picks for some stories that broke or developed this year that you think are going to carry us well into the next year?

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    Well, I think obviously the choices of the Supreme Court chief justice, I mean, are going to be, in a society, like ours that is so evenly divided politically, where the court has become such an important political player, where the court is evenly divided, John Roberts and then the hearings begin on Samuel Alito, that is going to have a permanent impact one way or the other. I don't know what way it will be but it's going to be profound.

    But I think the biggest story as far as the country is concerned is Katrina. And I say Katrina for the following reasons: First of all, less than a year after the election of 2004, the message of John Edwards was validated, I mean, that we have two Americas.

    And we were forced, we had to confront and we had to contemplate the reality when 80 percent of New Orleans was underwater and 1300 people were killed, by that storm, the failure of our government, the state government, the local government as well, but particularly the federal government four years after 9/11 when it has been gearing for first responder, for emergency response, and I think it zaps us of our collective confidence, of our optimism.

    I can recall after 1991 after the Persian Gulf War and the successful swift conclusion of that war. American confidence soared. Our — and I always thought President Bush missed a golden opportunity, the first President Bush, to do something with it then, whether it was in education or whatever.

    And I really look now, I think this robs us of our optimism, I think it feel us turning inward as this – Andy Kohut found in his own Pew survey there is a sense of moving back in and maybe we shouldn't be trying so much on the world.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    David, your picks of stories of lasting significance.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Well, first this general trend that Mark is talking about, a loss of faith in institutions I do think that is pervasive. I'm not sure how much of it is Katrina. Katrina didn't move too many in the polls too much but there is a lack, there is an exhaustion, lack of faith that we can handle problems which I think is also going to make us more isolationist.

    The other thing that I'd mention is the rise of political Islam. In Iraq, in Palestine, in Egypt a bit and Saudi Arabia, you have got some pretty serious religious groups who are also democratic, Hamas, in Iraq; how that is going to play out I think is the big story. How those serious Muslim Arab groups who are pseudo-democratic — are they going to become more democratic or less democratic; I think that is the big story of the year.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    And your big winners for the year, if there are any.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Well, there are big winners. Mark and I in some way, no — John McCain who had a very uphill shot of getting the Republican nomination a year ago now has quite a good shot. On the Democratic side I would list Barack Obama, the guy who could have come into the Senate with publicity, all this glitz, and could have been a poster boy but has become quite a substantive, serious senator and really has enhanced his reputation. I would say those are two big ones.

    I'd mention Lindsay Graham, the style of candor he brings to the body and then Condi Rice I think has had a very good year.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Mark, winners.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    I'd certainly say John McCain is a major winner. I mean, in a suffocating atmosphere of poison partisanship John McCain is the guy who walks where he chooses to walk, he forges alliances across the lines, things you're not supposed to do, not supposed to even be civil to people on the other side; with Ted Kennedy on the environment, on immigration – he's with Joe Lieberman on the environment.

    You know, in addition to that he did three really big things this year. I mean he did — he saved us from a constitutional crisis I think on judges by being the moving force or one of the moving forces in the Gang of 14 that resolved that crisis on the selection of judges.

    He also — to his credit — spearheaded this Abramoff thing; there wouldn't have been an Abramoff hearing, probably, to the degree that we've had it, and it wouldn't have been speared without John McCain, the Indian Affairs Committee.

    But finally, I mean, the torture I think John McCain showed that not simply character's destiny but biographies destiny. I mean John McCain has spent five and a half years in barbarous conditions as a POW arguing the case with Dick Cheney who spent five deferments avoiding that kind of a situation. And McCain just prevailed and the president and the administration capitulated on John McCain and I think he did a service to America.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Your list of losers.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    I have a small group of losers, being the Republicans and Democrats. The Republicans, the biggest loser in part because of the failures of Social Security, in part because of the drift, in part because of the sleaze that is encompassing. It has been just a horrible year for the party.

    I would say the Democrats have failed to take advantage of that and really hurt themselves in the last month with the NSA scandal and with the desire to, on some of the people, including Nancy Pelosi, to withdraw from Iraq. I think that is a long-term loser because their biggest problem on a national level is are they weak on national security, and I think in the past month they have underlined that, which is not to say the Republican Party is not a much, much, much bigger loser than the Democratic Party this year.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    We began this year with a presidential inaugural, a president who had won by a more comfortable margin than the last time, a confident inaugural about bringing democracy to the four corners of the earth, and then a new social agenda including Social Security reform. How does George Bush end this 2005?

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    George Bush is happy to have 2005 over. It's not been a good year for him. He has spoke of his political capital when he began the year; it was expended in a feckless and fruitless attempt to change the one policy, the one program in America that has never bounced a check, never missed a payday, Social Security that saved Americans, a lot of Americans from insecurity. And he never really got his stride.

    One says the last month he kind of regrouped a little bit but it has not been — it's not been a year that has in any way has enhanced the personal strength that he had with the voters that sustained him in 2004. Voters do not find him as honest, as strong and as decisive as they had. And the questions of his honesty dogged him as he's tried to defend his policy in Iraq.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    What happened to a year begun so optimistically for the president?

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Well, a number of things, the biggest was Social Security. And this was a failure of arrogance to some extent. First of all, the Republicans thought that if the president went around the country he could sell this plan.

    And the fundamental reality that people — they didn't understand as the world gets more globalized and more insecure, voters want security where they can get it. And Social Security offered those voters and especially Republican voters, middle class, lower middle class voters, offered them security, and the White House didn't understand that, nor did they understand how partisanly divided the country was in part because of the White House. And so they pushed a bill which was pretty polarizing.

    They were told and warned early on: try something that is a little bipartisan, try to set the second term off on a different kind of course. They didn't do that. And I think it is now only really in the last couple of weeks they really have begun the shift tactics and get their act together again.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Any shift in tactics on the war?

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    No, and this is — I give Bush a C minus D+ for the year and I'd rate him non-F because I think he has been stubborn on the war, and properly stubborn. And also I think he has now got a policy of training the Iraqis, insisting on these elections, which is a pretty widely accepted policy.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    I didn't comment on the loser. I was — I'm disappointed in the Democrats. They are running ten points ahead of the Republicans in the four major nonpartisan polls held in December for 2006. But I think they missed the chance. I think they missed a golden opportunity. It's still there.

    But in the midst of this sea of sleaze not to become the reform party, Tom Allen of Maine, Barney Frank of Massachusetts, Dave Obey of Wisconsin, and Dave Price of North Carolina, introduced a reform package, a very straightforward reform package, no more room, board and tuition from Jack Abramoff or any other lobbyists, no lobbying by former members on the floor during votes or anything of the sort – I mean, just kind of straightforward things.

    And the fact that the party has not embraced it and made it its own and become the reform party tells you something that there is something missing there in the Democrats.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Well, thanks and let's do it again in the new year.

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