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Shields and Brooks on Dennis Hastert charges, Ashton Carter Iraq comments

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news, including the indictment and allegations of misconduct against former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter’s comments about the Iraqi army’s defeat at Ramadi, 2016 campaign announcements from Rick Santorum and George Pataki.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

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

    Welcome, gentlemen.

    So let’s begin, Mark, with this — what we learned yesterday, former House Speaker Dennis Hastert indicted for paying $3.5 million, they said, in hush money to someone because of something that happened a long time ago. Apparently, there are news report today that say it involved sexual misconduct.

    What are your thoughts?

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    Well, Judy, first of all, people who said they knew about it here in Washington are I think speaking emptily, because this comes as a real shock.

    At the same time, beyond the allegations and reports, the indictment, the charges, it’s an incredible blow to the Congress. The Congress is just behind loan sharks in public esteem. It’s a blow to politics in general. It’s an indictment of Washington.

    Washington is a city of money. It’s a flood of money. This is a man who came to Congress with total a net worth of $270,000. And he’s talking about payout, $3.5 million basically three years after he left Congress. That’s the kind of money that we’re talking about.

    But, at the personal level, it’s a terrible tragedy. It’s amazing to me, most of all, when the Republican Party, Newt Gingrich was the speaker, the first speaker in the history of the House to be reprimanded and punished for ethics violations. He’s succeeded by Bob Livingston, who has to resign because of sexual infidelities that are revealed.

    And then Denny Hastert takes over, and with this in his background and this knowledge, how he could have done it and taken it with that record out there, the scrutiny, it must have been an incredibly difficult or, I don’t know, what self-delusional time for him.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    We don’t know.

    There’s so much we don’t know, David.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Yes.

    First, if the allegations about the contact with the boys are true, well, we have seen that with the Catholic Church. We have seen a disturbing undercurrent in American life, I guess, and maybe in world life, of this sort of thing.

    I am struck, as Mark just mentioned, the whole litany of people, especially of that era, who were involved in some scandal or another. Some of it was sexual. Some of it was more financial, even Tom DeLay’s, Speaker Wright. And it was just all concentrated in a lot of people all at once.

    Does politics attract such people? I don’t know. Is it prevalent in society? It’s certainly a reminder of original sin. The other thing, though, I did want to say that there are people in American life to whom this has not happened.

    And I have my disagreements, say, with President Obama, but President Obama has run an amazingly scandal-free administration, not only he himself, but the people around him. He’s chosen people who have been pretty scandal-free.

    And so there are people in Washington who do set a standard of integrity, who do seem to attract people of quality. And I think that’s probably true of the current group. I hope it’s true of the current leadership group in Congress. But — so they’re not all involved in scandal.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Yes.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    David makes a good point. And I agree with him on this administration in particular.

    But, Judy, I just think you can’t look at this and not say money. People I know who run for office, there is something they want to do bigger than themselves. And something in this process of raising all that money, of being around all that money, being exposed to it…

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Having access to it.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    Having access to it, I think it — you know, I just think it’s corrupting and corrosive.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Yes. I think I disagree in this case — or in these sorts of cases.

    To me, it’s loneliness. The people who are rising, they’re super ambitious. They have relationships with people above them. They have relationships, hierarchical, sort of people below them. A lot of people do not have relationships horizontally. And there’s a lot of people who reach these high political offices, but who are weirdly lonely, weirdly lacking in intimacy skills.

    And they sometimes reach for it in the most desperate and sometimes the most disgraceful ways. And I find a lot of — they’re socially awkward in a weird way, even though politicians are in some ways socially super adept.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, again, we should say, allegedly, this was that happened decades ago to Dennis Hastert.

    Well, let’s talk about the administration and ISIS in Iraq. David, we saw a bit of a back-and-forth this week. You had the secretary of defense on Sunday saying that the Iraqi army had fallen down on the job in defending the country against ISIS, the Islamic State. You had the vice president quickly calling the prime minister, saying, no, the Iraqi army is doing a great job, the president saying, we’re not doing badly.

    What’s going on? How do you read that?

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Yes, heck of a job, Brownie.

    No, what Carter said was absolutely true. There have been cases where a few hundred ISIS fighters were defeating 30,000 Iraqi soldiers. And so they’re not fighting. And the reason they’re not fighting fundamentally is because they don’t believe in their country anymore.

    We tried — and I give Joe Biden credit. He will renounce it, but years and years ago, probably 2006, 2007, he had an idea for a loose federal Iraq. And that — in retrospect, that looks to me like a smarter and smarter idea. We have tried to keep this country together, but the Sunnis are not really sharing power with the — the Shias are not really sharing power with the Sunnis. They’re not willing to give the Sunni forces the weapons and other things they need to defeat ISIS.

    The political system is still fractured. The soldiers clearly do not believe in that country. The polling, do you feel like an Iraqi, that is collapsing. And so I think we just have to accept — and it’s probably too late for us to have any influence there — that it’s no longer a country that anybody is willing to die for, whereas the Islamic State, those people are willing to die for whatever cause they think they believe in.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Mark, is it a strategy that just needs to be completely reworked?

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    I think so, Judy.

    I’m not sure what the strategy is at this point, beyond some sort of limited containment. And the alternatives advocated of sending 3,000, 10,000 troops is — are beyond foolish. That’s sending too few to fight and too many to die.

    But beyond that, Ash Carter, the secretary of defense, reminds me of the great Turkish proverb that he who speaks the truth must keep one foot in the stirrup. He has just spread the ugly truth of what happened in Ramadi. And Joe Biden was trying to make — sort of restore some sense of relationship involved here.

    After the experience with Chuck Hagel and the embarrassing treatment of him, mistreatment, if you want to call it, by the White House and the president, there’s no — Ash Carter is bulletproof. They’re not going to try to sabotage or discredit him in any way.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Fourth secretary of defense under this president.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    That’s exactly right.

    And he’s just — but I think he’s known as a level, direct-talking, and I think this is the case. But I just don’t — I do not see what the — most probably disturbing report this week was that in Palmyra, where ISIS took over in Syria, they’re now providing social services that the Syrian government hadn’t, reminiscent of Hamas.

    And all of a sudden, these brutal people are starting to win over popular support among the citizenry. So, I look anywhere for good news, and I don’t find it.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    And what the president has to say is, he called them a cancer. He said he vowed to eradicate them. And does he really think that’s necessary, or does he think, well, we can learn to live with these people because we’re not going to do anything too significant?

    We are having these bombing sorties against them, a couple thousand, but nothing — obviously not in any real way that is damaging. There have been a few minor victories here and there, but not in any way that is clearly setting them on their back foot.

    So I wish the president would clarify his policy. The policy is either going to be, we really think they’re a threat and we’re going to eliminate them, or where you just don’t care enough to do anything about them. And it’s one of those two things. And he’s sort of stuck in the middle, I would say, right now.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    I do think that Ash Carter was speaking for the military in this case. The military is very resistant to these ideas of 3,000, 10,000 or going in on some sort of a land enterprise again, as we did before.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, you mentioned, Mark, this is becoming an issue in the campaign.

    And let’s talk for a few minutes about 2016, three more candidates jumping into the race this week, Mark, the first one — two Republicans, Mr. Santorum, Mr. Pataki. Senator Santorum served the state of Pennsylvania, Governor Pataki in New York. How do they change the landscape here for the Republican contenders?

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    Well, Rick Santorum finished second in 2012. He won 11 primaries and caucuses from states as diverse as Colorado and Minnesota to Mississippi and Alabama.

    But he did represent a little different view of Republicans. And that’s sort of that blue-collar Republican. He’s for the increasing the marriage, which most Americans are, but Republican ideologues aren’t. And that is — sort of makes him distinct, along with his cultural and religious conservatism and values conservatism. And he’s a national security hawk.

    But finishing second, which had led to the nomination by Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole, George H.W. Bush, John McCain, Mitt Romney, means nothing now. And so he’s fighting to even be on the stage, it strikes me.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    For the first debate.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    But he’s trying to assemble a coalition that looks an awful lot like the New Deal of Franklin Roosevelt, sort of cultural and blue-collar conservative and economic populist. And I’m not sure that that is assemble-able, if that’s a word, in the Republican primary.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    You said it. We will let it be a word.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    OK.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    What about Rick Santorum?

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Well, he was a good campaigner and he was a little John the Baptist-style, in that he was the first recent real working-class — as Mark said, working-class Republican.

    But now, if you want a working-class Republican, you have got Scott Walker, you have got Marco Rubio. And so the bigger fish are filling that spot. And so that’s been the story with him. He was second in a really weak field. Now the field is a lot stronger, and even the people who were working for him in places like Iowa have drifted off to other people.

    And so it’s going to be hard for him to recapture the magic he had. The other interesting case to me is Pataki. If ever there is a moderate Republican running, it would be nice to have a moderate Republican running, just to see what would happen.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    Yes.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Just to maybe pick up some votes here. How many moderate Republicans are out there?  I suspect there are more than we think.

    Pataki, unfortunately, like Huntsman last time, is not the right messenger for that. He’s just not inspiring. When he was finishing his term as New York governor, he wasn’t that popular. And so he’s not going to be a strong candidate. It would be nice to have a strong moderate Republican candidate, just as a testing proposition.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Twenty seconds on Pataki, I mean — yes, on Pataki.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    There’s a tide in the affairs of men, and his time, if there was one, was 2008.

    Just — you really have one bite at the apple. His bite was 2008, coming off of having been governor of New York for three terms after 2001, 9/11, having beaten Mario Cuomo. I mean, that was it. And I’m sorry, George, but that position is no longer available.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    We will talk about Martin O’Malley next week.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    OK.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Mark Shields, David Brooks, thank you.

     

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