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Shields and Brooks on sexual misconduct in politics, Republican tax goals

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Hari Sreenivasan to discuss the week’s news, including allegations of sexual misconduct against and very different responses by Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore and Sen. Al Franken, President Trump’s criticism of Franken despite his own history being accused by women, plus the GOP tax plans.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

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

    It's a bit like Groundhog's Day here. We're going the cover some topics you probably have never thought of before, sexual harassment and taxes. But there are developments, after more and more developments of both of these stories. And we will get to some more stuff, too.

    But this week, we saw new women coming out and alleging sexual misconduct by Roy Moore, some of them underage. And then we had Al Franken's behavior in 2006, including a disturbing photograph that nobody can deny.

    They are not parallel incidents, but the responses have been very different.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, I mean, I guess it's inevitable, death, taxes, and harassment these days.

    It seems to me the one failure that we're seeing among a lot of people is how partisan the reaction would be, starting with the president. Sexual harassment is not a Republican thing, or it's not a Democratic thing. It's just a thing. And it's amazing how many people are reacting depending on which party the person is in, the guy is in, how their reaction is.

    I personally, overall, still think this is a good thing. Our standards are raising. People who have done misconduct are being punished, an we're cleaning out the swamp, as they — we're supposed to say.

    Alongside that, I think it's important to make some distinctions among the different levels of sin here. It seems to me what Harvey Weinstein did and what Roy Moore did has the highest level of vileness, and should be career-enders.

    Then there are other levels of sin which probably should be career-enders, setting a predatory environment, whether it's Bill Clinton or the guy — some of the journalists who have been involved.

    And then I would put Al Franken so far in a different category, frankly. What he did was callous and narcissistic and insensitive and just pathetic. But if it's one time, and if he can apologize, and then do real penance, my first instinct is that it shouldn't be a career-ender for him.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    But, Mark, oftentimes it's not one time. Oftentimes, we start to reveal a pattern of behavior that might be in the background, as more people feel empowered to speak up.

  • Mark Shields:

    No, and that's what we have found so far in these instances. It's not usually a single, solitary event.

    But I think David makes a very persuasive point about what we have with Roy Moore, quite frankly, the reaction, in the opening news summary, when the governor, Kay Ivey, of Alabama says she has no reason not to believe the women, but she's still going to vote for Roy Moore.

    Now, there is a disconnect there. And the only explanation can be just blind, unyielding, total partisanship, and I don't care.

    Let's be very blunt about it. There were feminists who rallied to Bill Clinton's support during his long, complicated lying to the American people about a disproportionate power relationship that he had with a 21-year-old intern and adulterous behavior, who rallied to his support because Bill Clinton was pro-choice on abortion.

    And there are those now who are ready to skewer Roy Moore — and I'm not going to deny that he needs skewering — for ideological reasons, and because he has proved he's anti-woman by his political positions.

    But if we're just talking about behavior here, and not blind partisanship, I don't think that Al Franken's behavior rises to the level of eviction from the Senate or anything of the sort.

    That is not — but for a party that has based an awful lot of its appeal on identity politics, that we are the women's party, that we believe in women's rights, that we respect women, and that Republicans don't, this is a body blow.

    And Al Franken has been a major fund-raiser for Democrats, and he has been an aggressive inquisitor on committees and — representing the Democrats. So, I think it is serious.

    I don't know where it's going to stop, and — but I think, in the final analysis, we have to come to grips. It is power. And it's been men exercising power, generally speaking, with — almost overwhelmingly speaking, and the women in the position of supplicant, without the resources, without the means of protesting or just bringing to justice to these people.

  • David Brooks:

    If I could add one thing on the — first on the Clinton thing, I think it's — we just have to look back and say the people who ignored the testimony of Kathleen Willey and Juanita Broaddrick helped set the stage for this.

    And the Democrats who defended Clinton in those Clintons, they helped set the atmosphere for what we're seeing and for the behavior that Harvey Weinstein and the rest can get away with.

    The second thing to be said is, there is a word for what defenders of Roy Moore are doing, the people who said they were vote for him nonetheless, and — well, two words. One word is idolatry, and the other word is heresy, because the people who are putting — who are going to sacrifice morality for politics are making an idol out of politics.

    They're saying politics is higher than morality. And no honest person can possibly believe that. And if you're putting politics above personal morality, above the way we treat each other, above the nature of your own soul, you're just — you're making an idol out of it.

    And that is the ultimate in heresy. And to see — I saw a tweet from Franklin Graham, Billy Graham's son, defending Moore, you know, sort of, oh, they're all a bunch of hypocrites up there.

    It's just appalling. It's just — it's almost mind-boggling that people who — especially people who have been steeped in any faith could make this kind of fundamental error, which is warned against again and again in the Bible, and to be heretics. They're heretics.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Then there is the injection that the president puts into this conversation, right?

  • Mark Shields:


  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    He — on Capitol Hill, when he was there for some press conferences earlier in the week, he had several questions shouted to him about this, which he didn't — he chose not to address.

    And there Sarah Sanders, as we saw earlier in the program, said that he does feel, if, in fact, the evidence is true against Moore, that Moore should step aside.

    But, at the same time, while there has been kind of a consistent talking point for a while that the people of Alabama should decide the fate of Roy Moore, the president comes out with a tweet late last night about Al Franken.

    And, in that tweet, it says, "The Al Frankenstein picture is really bad. Speaks 1,000 words."

    Does this at this point open him up to a line of criticism, saying, well, if this is what you're going to say about this person that was accused of misconduct, what about the 15 or so women who have publicly come out against you?

  • David Brooks:


    Well, like I said, it's simple. Just treat everybody the same regardless of party. It's not complicated. And so the president is open to hypocrisy six ways from Sunday on this particular issue. It seems to hold him back not.

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, I guess I shouldn't be surprised that somebody who found a friendly family podiatrist in 1968 to avoid the military draft and to not serve his country in Vietnam, and then went on the attack and disparage the heroic service of John McCain, who spent 5.5 years as a prisoner of war, and saw no inconsistency in that hypocrisy, indefensibility, morality — morally about what he did, I shouldn't be surprised that he, facing charges — having pledged that he was going to sue these women who had accused him of sexual harassment, sexual molestation and worse, and never having initiated any kind of action, never having responded to them, would go after Al Franken and duck the Roy Moore matter.

    I mean, why he'd want to — it just invites the replaying of the "Access Hollywood" tape and his own how-to manual on how to molest women and how, if you're rich and powerful, women are irresistible or indefensible to what you do.

    I mean, so, I guess I shouldn't be surprised. But, still, he does surprise me from time to time on his shamelessness. He's a shameless man.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Let me ask you if you are surprised about something else that's happened this week, which is the progress of the Republican tax plan. Do you think that it — what do you think happens in the Senate?

  • Mark Shields:

    I would say, first of all, I think that Paul Ryan, whom I have criticized, certainly did perform as speaker. He got it through. He rallied his Republicans, mostly, to it.

    There's just a couple things about it. I have been going to Republican Conventions since 1976. I have heard the party time and again solemnly pledge in its compact and covenant with the American people that we will support and fight for a balanced budget constitutional amendment.

    I hope that never appears again, because they have proved that they don't care about that. All this tax cut is about, this tax thing, is cutting the corporate rate from 35 percent to 20 percent. That's all it is.

    Everything else is window dressing. And there are other factors to it that are important, that touch people's lives.

    And, usually, when there's a tax cut, there is some behavior is required. For a charitable deduction, you have to give — make a donation to a charity. For a child care credit, you have to have a child, and there has to be some — there is nothing required of these corporations.

    There is not a nickel they have to spend in investment. There's not a nickel they have to spend in retraining. There's not a nickel they have to spend in anything for their own workers.

    And the idea that they're going to pass this on and increase wages goes back to John Galbraith's theory of economics, which is, if you stuff enough oats into the horse, that, eventually, a little will pass through to the road, and the sparrow will be fed. And I just find it absolutely mind-boggling.

    And the only other aspect to it that I found fascinating is the Republican Party that has stood for states' right, and the states that have actually taxed themselves to improve their education and to improve their health care are going to be punished.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:


  • Mark Shields:

    That's been in the tax code since 1913 that it was inducted. They're going to remove it.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    So, David, that analogy of trickle-down economics, I have not heard before.

  • David Brooks:

    Still following the biology of that thing.


  • David Brooks:

    No, I wish it was only a corporate tax cut, because I think there's a lot of good economic evidence that, if you give corporations tax cuts, they have more cash on hand, they do invest, and that there's a fair bit of data on this. And so I wish it were that.

    And I think there are other good things in the bill. Capping the mortgage interest deduction is a good thing. I think maybe adjusting the state and local taxes is a good thing, because 90 percent of the benefit goes to people making over $100,000 a year.

    The problem with it is, first, it explodes the deficit. Second, it is a raw piece of political exploitation, taking the tax code and benefiting our people, at the expense of blue states. And we shouldn't turn the tax code into a spoils system.

    And, third, it's taxes the universities and the nonprofits in a way that I think is unconscionable. So, I'm against it. But there are some good things in it. If they fell back to a corporate tax cut, which had sympathy in the Obama administration, it would be a little happier story.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:


    All right, Mark Shields, David Brooks, thank you both.

  • Mark Shields:

    Thank you.

    Think of the sparrow.

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