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Shields and Brooks Mull Obama’s Agenda, Economy’s Troubles

Columnists Mark Shields and David Brooks weigh the week's news, including February's spike in unemployment, President Barack Obama's priorities amid the economic crisis and the debate over the future of the GOP.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

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

    Mark, how well is the president doing reassuring the public about this relentless decline in jobs?

  • MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist:

    About as well as anybody could, Jim, as the floodwaters rise. I mean, as soon as the election was over, as soon as he was inaugurated, it continued. Every day that he said things were bad and they were going to get worse. I mean, he's been consistent in his message.

    I think a couple of things. One, I don't think people believed that things were really that bad and probably doubtful that he did, as well. And I think it becomes doubly difficult, when you get sort of the icons, the cornerstones of what have been American corporate leadership, companies like General Motors and General Electric, where so many Americans — 55 million American households now have stock portfolios, which is double what it was 20 years ago. And that's because of 401(k)s and IRAs, which have taken the place of retirement programs.

    So the president's confronted with a whole set of realities. I think, quite honestly, to be fair, he did misstep and he lost his surefootedness when talking about the market, which, of course, everybody watches because it goes up and down. Nobody understands it, but the numbers are there. We do it; it's there in the morning; it's there at night.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Sure. We report it every night on the program.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    Exactly. And he said, look, it's like a tracking poll in a campaign. And that was a misstep, because the president has to be commander-in-chief, but he also has to be empathizer-in-chief. And I think that was making light of what is understandable anxiety on people's parts.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Do you agree that was a mistake?

  • DAVID BROOKS, Columnist, New York Times:

    Yes, because the president should only talk about what he knows about. And the president doesn't really know when the market is going to bottom out. I mean, he has no clue. We don't know what moves the market.

    So I think that was a mistake. But I think — the one thing I would say is that my sense is — we all have our perceptions based on our conversations…

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Sure.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    .. is that, in the past week, there was already a lot of economic anxiety, but I think we fell another level.