Shields and Brooks on Paris terrorism and tolerance, GOP takeover in Congress

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss this week’s news, including the geopolitical and social consequences of the terrorist attacks in France, as well as what to expect from the new Republican-controlled Congress.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    The terrorist attacks in France overshadowed the Republican takeover of Congress this week.

    But we cover both these developments and more as we turn to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    And welcome, gentlemen, both of you.

    So we have been transfixed this week by the awful events in France. And just a few minutes ago, we reported the State Department putting out a worldwide alert to Americans traveling abroad.

    David, what are we — what do we learn from all this? What do we take away from this?

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Well, the story has so many facets.

    The thing about war is your enemies define — remind you who you are. And so we are reminded of our belief in pluralism and our belief in multiculturalism. But there are just a range of issues. How is Europe going to react from this? Will they go to Le Pen? Will they not? How do we think about our security issues?

    When I think back home, I think of how we think about tolerance. And the point I try to make that everyone was saying, I am — Je suis Charlie, or I am with Charlie Hebdo. But if Charlie Hebdo, the magazine, newspaper tried to open up on any college campus in this country, they would be shut down in 30 seconds. They would run afoul of every political correctness, every hate speech code, because they are offensive in some ways.

    And so my point for this country is that if we are going to tolerate offensive talk, or if we're going to expect, frankly Islamist radicals to tolerate offensive talk, then we have to tolerate offensive talk. And we have to invite people to speak at our campuses who are offensive some of the time. And we have to widen our latitude in that area.

    And this should be a reminder that we have cracked down on that and we have strangled debate. And if you are going to stand up and say I'm with Charlie, then you should also stand up at home and say, I protect people even if they offend me.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So, Mark, should the Americans think about making — taking a stand on freedom of expression based on what happened?

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    Yes.

    No, I think David's point about the campuses and how debate and controversy and speakers are banned or disinvited and so forth is absolutely legitimate and valid.

    I do think, Judy, that this story, not simply because of the brutality, but because of the targets — it was journalists. And journalists cover journalism. If it had been 12 teachers, 12 bankers, it wouldn't have had the same worldwide or national impact.

    It is attacking the basic — the basic freedom of expression. But I think the reaction — you ask what the takeaway will be. I think that it will be predictable. And that is, the terrorists will prevail, in the sense that they will change the terms of the debate. We will become less welcoming. We will become less open. We will become more…

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    You mean not just in Europe, but here in the United States?

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    No, I just think that's the reaction.

    And I think that it probably invites copycat attempts, given the level of attention that this has received, and legitimately so. And it is a fundamental question. Do we then villainize an entire people, religion, which is a terrible consequence, but a possible one, from actions like this, given who the villains and the killers were?

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Is it inevitable, David, that there is just more suspicion now of people who are or look Muslim because of something like that?

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    I think it's too early to tell.

    Say, France — there have been a few things rising in France, so, obviously, through European history, through French history, there has been a suspicion of the other, like in most parts of the world. And so there may be a turn to the extreme right, to the Le Pen party or whatever.

    I'm not sure we should assume that will happen. There is going to be a big march President Hollande has called for this weekend. There could be a rallying. And it is certainly possible for most human beings and most people to make the distinction between regular Muslims and the radicals.

    I was in Israel for the last two weeks. And I frankly went to Israel expecting that the country, over the many years I have been going there, 20 years or so, had turned a little more racist, a little more anti-Arab in general. And I guess, in the conversations I had, I was surprised that people are still completely able to make the distinction between the good, honest, respectful Arabs, respectful Muslims that are the vast majority and the small Islamists. That's the distinction I found constantly in Israel.

    And Europeans are completely capable of making that distinction, as most Americans are. So, I'm hopeful it will not turn into some blanket group label and that we will be able to make that distinction, as we did pretty much after 9/11.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Where do you come down on that, Mark?

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    I think it strengthens — an act like this strengthens the hand of those who are not welcoming, who are less inclusive, who are suspicious. I don't think there's any question.

    If you were picking political futures right now, in France, where President Hollande has the lowest ratings in the history of the Fifth Republic, that, you know, you would say that Le Pen is — I think he's handled it well, all the rest of it, reaching out to his predecessor, with whom he's not at all close.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    President Hollande, yes.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    It has — and to Le Pen as well.

    But I just think that there's a natural closing-down. A concern for safety, and a concern for security means that I'm willing to surrender some of those freedoms. That is what — the predictable reaction. I hope it doesn't result in villainizing and in demonizing an entire group of people by their faith.

    We wouldn't want to do that to Christians, of whom I am one, by the actions of the Westboro Baptist Church or the Ku Klux Klan, who operated with a cross as their symbol. But I'm just — I'm fearful of this, and especially where ignorance and not — lack of knowledge and openness with each other leads to such suspicions.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    When there's this alert that goes out to Americans wherever they are outside the country to be much more watchful.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Right.

    Well, I do think one of the other things it underlines is why the NSA exists, why — we have had so many stories on overreach by the NSA and then the whole Edward Snowden thing.

    And yet, if — as we heard earlier on the program, we are less likely to see sustained terror organizations, but a series of lone wolves who are sort of self-motivated at least, then you just need to use some of the technology that we have to supervise and try to intercept their communications.

    And if — we all understand the costs of that. We are all a little freaked out about it. And yet if that's a way to prevent an event like this, maybe to intercept some communications from these brothers, that's a price a lot of us would be — well, at least we would consider.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    But civil libertarians, Mark, are out there saying no.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    Well, the NSA has been, in many respects, its own worst enemy. When you start following Quaker meetings and the rest of it, it just sort of raises the question of where their priorities are.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Let's talk for a minute. We want to save a few minutes to talk about Congress opened up a new session. The Republicans have taken over.

    Mark, are we looking for something different in the Senate?

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    We have already found it. We found it, Judy.

    Senator McConnell, the new majority leader of the Senate, has already told us that the biggest growth in jobs in the past 15 years, which has occurred this year, 5 percent economic growth in the third quarter, occurred because of Americans anticipating the Republicans taking over the Senate.

    And, you know, so I don't know what more difference you could ask for, that we had 59 consecutive months. There was a long period of gestation and anticipation of the Republicans taking over that has led to this economic recovery.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Tongue in cheek.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    No, I think what we saw this week is that they're getting their sea legs.

    We are going through Groundhog Day. We're passing again what we passed before, whether it's in Obamacare, or we're going to limit the number of people who are covered by Obamacare that employers have to cover for those working 40 hours, rather than 30 hours. And turns out it's going to cost $42 billion to the Treasury, which is not funded.

    So, the Republicans at some point are going to have to conclude, they need a record to stand on for the next two years. They are going to have to do something. I think they will be some meeting with the president on some issues that most Democrats, rank-and-file Democrats are not totally comfortable with, such as the trade proposals that — fast track, that the president and Republicans endorse.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    What should we look for?

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    I have been spending in advance of the Republican Congress, drilling oil, shale oil, my Democratic friends taking Prozac.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    A lot of spending going on.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    I think a couple of things to really look for — they need to pass stuff.

    I don't know if they need to pass stuff. They need to get stuff to President Obama's desk. So, a couple things they need to think about. They can't do it without moderate Democrats. They have got to go to Mark Warner of Virginia. They have got to go to people like that, and even if it means losing some people on the right of their own party.

    And so that is just the strategy. And this is the strategy you have been waiting for from President Obama or somebody else to try to craft a governing majority. Whether Mitch McConnell wants to do that, whether he can do it, if he wants to get stuff to President Obama's desk, he has to do it.

    And so I will be curious to see if he's creative enough to do it. He has a different sort of Senate than we're used to seeing; 53 members of the Senate have now served in the House. That's a record. And so they bring a different set of manners into the body. It's an incredibly young Senate.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Manners meaning better, or worse?

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Worse. Worse.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    The House operates in a certain way. And it operates in the way where the majority just pummels the minority.

    And so if they bring that over, then that's not good. It's — I don't know if this is hopeful or not. It is an amazingly young body. Marco Rubio is now like the eighth from the bottom in age. And that guy is like 16. I think 10 members of the Senate are now born in the 1970s.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Whoa. We're really getting young. We're really getting young.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    I'm covering the baby corps here.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    So I don't know what that will mean, but it's a different sort of body. And we will see what kind of leadership McConnell brings.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, speaking of Marco Rubio, there are a few people who have already — it's only January the 9th, Mark. And we're already — this week, we not only heard from Jeb Bush that he is seriously looking at running for president, put out a — I guess he has announced a political action committee, Right to Rise.

    But just this afternoon, Mitt Romney, we reported, has told some donors, it's OK to go out and tell people I'm thinking about running.

    Are we — do you see the shape of the 2016 list of candidates?

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    I think that Jeb Bush had a superb week, I mean, by announcing early, forcing the hand of several other people, including Governor Romney, by — especially by…

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And you think that is what happened?

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    … saying he revealed — he's going to reveal his taxes, the taxes he's paid for the last 10 years. That puts a lot of pressure on everybody else to do the same.

    Mitt Romney is at this position. He has a chance, Judy, to rewrite the first line of his obituary. The first line of the obituary now is, Mitt Romney, who was governor of Massachusetts and Republican nominee who lost for the presidency in 2012, died in Ogden, Utah, yesterday.

    He has a chance, he feels, to win, and to run and to win. He leads in the polls, so it's awfully tempting.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Twenty seconds.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    I don't think so.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    You can tell what kind of a conservative somebody is by what year they want to go back to. And I don't think they want to go back to Romney.

    I have a feeling he wants to run. People like him. They always tell him, oh, you should run, you should run. When he actually goes to the donors, will they actually give him actual green money? I'm skeptical.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Green money, that's going to be the test.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    That's truly green money.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Mark Shields, David Brooks, thank you.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    Thank you.

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