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Shields and Brooks on Secret Service failures, Ebola readiness

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news, including U.S. preparedness for containing the Ebola virus, good news for job growth and the economy, plus the resignation of the director of the Secret Service over botched security for the president.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Unemployment at the lowest level of President Obama's time in office, the resignation of a Secret Service director, and the one-year anniversary of the rollout of healthcare.gov, it's all in another busy week in politics.

    And here to analyze it, as always, are Shields and Brooks. That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    Gentlemen, welcome.

    And I have to say first, before I ask you about any so many other stories, that was a really discouraging report on the schools in Philadelphia.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Yes.

    Well, I'm sure people — spending obviously in places like that is moderately high, but if you have got 62 kids sitting on a window sill, none of us would send our kid if we had a choice to a school like that.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    That's right.

    Well, I want to — we were going to talk about unemployment. We're going to. But this Ebola story, Mark and David, has everybody's attention. The White House today saying it's a national security priority as important as any threat we're facing.

    How confident should the American people be that this country is prepared, equipped to deal with this threat?

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Obviously, I'm not a health expert, but I would say people should be reasonably confident.

    I only say that because, if you look in Africa, in the countries where it hits, it's a perfect indicator of the quality of the health care infrastructure system. If you have got countries like Liberia, Sierra Leone, there, they have no infrastructure, they have no system in place.

    Preexisting Ebola, they just don't have the doctors, the pharmaceuticals, the beds. And, there, it spread. But if you look at the countries where they actually have got an infrastructure in place and a command-and-control structure like Nigeria and Ivory Coast, they have done a reasonably good job.

    And I have to assume that since we have probably one of the best infrastructures in the world, we will not look like Liberia. We will look like Nigeria or better.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    It's a balancing act, though, isn't it, for the administration?

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    Yes, it is.

    The acknowledge it is important. And I just think that the group today was reassuring. I thought it projected competence. Tony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health just is sort of the embodiment of the professional public servant in the best sense.

    And I thought what he said was reassuring and confidence-building. And there's reason to be confident in the health care leadership, I believe.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, at one point, we heard him say, we're going to have to keep saying these things day after day and make sure everybody understands that.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    That's right.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    All right, so, again, we want to talk about today's unemployment numbers.

    David, for the first time in — I guess since 2008, the unemployment rate is under 6 percent. The White House is saying over 10 million jobs added under President Obama. He said today job growth on pace for its strongest, I guess, record of growth since the 1990s.

    Should he be getting more credit?

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    No, not exactly.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    You know, there's this — I do not think presidents have much to do with the cyclical ups and downs of the economy.

    There are extraordinary moments when president do have something to do with it. And the stimulus package, whether you like it or not, clearly had an impact and probably ameliorated the effect of the recession. But I don't think over the normal course of time, presidents have an immediate effect on month-to-month or quarter-to-quarter or even year-to-year cyclical stuff that goes on.

    There's just so much stuff going on in the economy. First of all, not a lot has happened in Washington to create jobs or destroy jobs. We have sort of been stagnant here legislatively.

    Secondly, the thing that the president spoke about so much in his Northwestern University speech was the great surge in the energy sector, the great surge first in the production of natural gas through fracking, and then the manufacturing jobs that's created.

    Well, that's not been that's really championed by his administration or Washington in particular. That's something that just happened and surprised everybody through immense technological advance and our ability to get natural gas and oil out of the ground.

    So that's in the private sector. And so I don't think this is sort of a Washington-organized thing. We have an economy that functions as an economy.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    The late American Ambassador Dwight Morrow once said, the party that takes credit for the sunshine shouldn't be surprised when it gets blamed for the rain.

    And I think there's great truth to that in our politics. Anybody who watched Ken Burns' 14 hours on the Roosevelts would be I think hard-pressed to say that presidents don't make an enormous business, that without either Theodore or Franklin Roosevelt, this country and this economy would have been meaner, coarser, more oligarchical, less compassionate, and less prosperous society.

    From week to week, Barack Obama has been blamed for what he inherited. I think there's no question. I agree with David completely that the action to confront the economic crisis, the financial crisis that he inherited saved this economy. And the fact that the United States economy has created more jobs than all of Europe and the developed world and Japan since that time is an accomplishment.

    But, at the same time, the widely grown prosperity that he cited, the economy growing, is not likely shared. Between 2010 and 2013, 90 percent of Americans saw their actual income go down, the bottom 90 percent.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    The top 10 percent, that was all the growth, Judy.

    The median family income is lower by actual dollars than it was in 1989. So this is something that started long before Barack Obama got there. But that's the reason I think people feel bad. You can look at the big numbers and they look terrific, but when you — when people — Peter Hart, who is a Democratic pollster, compares it to, you have three inches of water in your cellar, and somebody comes along and says, well, look, there's only an inch-and-a-half there now, so isn't it better?

    Well, you have still got water in your cellar. And that's the feeling about the economy right now, that people see a greater concentration of wealth and their own situation not improving.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    We heard this from Barry Bluestone, the economist Paul Solman talked to.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Yes.

    And it might be worth teasing out — I think Mark and I agree on this — or maybe disagree less than is obvious — which is that there are structural factors in the economy which the government clearly controls. If the progressive era hadn't happened, if the New Deal hadn't happened, clearly, this whole structure of the American economy would be different.

    Then there are cyclical factors. And we're, like, now in a job upsurge, a real job upsurge. And that's more cyclical. But at some points in American history, it seems the structural factors are more germane, they're more important, they're more biting.

    In the industrial period, they were deeply biting when industrialization came in. Right now, the wage stagnation, the lack of job security, the widening inequality, those are structural problems that are deeply biting. And you do need government to address that sort of thing. And so it's worth parsing out these two interconnected parts of the economy, the cyclical piece and the structural piece.

    And the hurt right now is because of a bad structure.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    But the bottom line is, you may celebrate for a few seconds, but essentially you can't really be pleased about this, Mark, until the prosperity is more widely distributed.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    Yes.

    And I think David makes a good point. But, Judy, after World War II and the golden era of America, 90 percent of the economic growth — 80 — 90 percent of it was shared by wage increases of the workers. Now, that has just ended. That really — it slowed down.

    Right now, just one little statistic that absolutely threw me from the Federal Reserve, when Ronald Reagan was president, the great right-winger, the great conservative, the top 3 percent controlled 44 percent of the wealth of the country. In Barack Obama's second term, a man who has been called a socialist by his critics and his enemies, the top 3 percent control 54 percent of the nation's wealth.

    The other 90 — lower 90 percent have only less than a quarter, when they had a third just 28, 30 years ago. So it is — it is the rich getting richer and everybody else not and being worse off. And so that is what the president is fighting, even with the good news economically.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So, if this is socialism, what does capitalism look like?

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Well, this is capitalism when you have got a high technological turnover.

    President Obama has been 40 percent on his handling of the economy basically for a year. And that is just stuck there. I should point out, I looked at the French numbers. Hollande, the president of France, he is at like 9 percent. So these structural problems are hitting politicians all across the developed world.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    I wanted to ask whether this is going to have any effect on the elections. It sounds like you're saying it doesn't help the Democrats.

    Health care law celebrated the anniversary of its — of the exchanges being created this week. Is it as big an issue, is it as damaging for Democrats as Republicans said it was? You can roll all this together. And I want to save time for the Secret Service, Mark.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    It's unpopular.

    It has been unpopular since the rollout and all of the problems attendant to it. It has never regained popularity. But those who are against it are against it. And it's not an organizing principle of the election of 2014, as, for example, opposition to the war of Iraq was in 2006, which generated turnout and resulted in the Democrats winning control of the Congress.

    I think the positions are pretty hardened on health care. And I think the problem is, it's being — the elections are being determined in red states, where health care is even less popular.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Nationally, at 38 percent approval; 51 percent disapprove.

    I happen to think the law is doing better than I thought it would, but, politically, not a winner.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Doing better than you thought it was?

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Well, I think people are enrolled.

    And — and I'm not sure if this is because of the law, but costs really are going down. Health care inflation is declining.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Secret Service, a torrent of stories over the last few days about breaches at the White House, over the fence. A man ran all the way into the — deep into the White House, a shooting there we didn't know about, a man on an elevator with the president. The head of the Secret Service has resigned.

    What are we to make of this agency that is supposed to be protecting the most important people in our government? And who's responsible?

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Yes.

    I first thought it was an overreaction when the guy goes over the fence and gets into the East Room. But what's bothered me and I think bothered people on Capitol Hill and around town was the horrible management of information afterwards, not confessing, not behaving like a confident, professional agency, but behaving like an incompetent agency where you have got a lot to hide.

    And when you behave that way, people are going to begin to doubt you. And that's more or less what happened.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    On March 30, 1981, Secret Service agent Tim McCarthy took a bullet intended for President Ronald Reagan by an assassin.

    Secret Service agent Jerry Parr pushed the president in the limousine, ordered to drive to the White House, saved his life. Larry Buendorf put his thumb in a gun aimed at President Gerald Ford in Sacramento. This is the Secret Service that most of us have been privileged to know who have been around this town.

    These are heroic people. This sounds like something out of "American Pie" in the behavior or spring break. And the performance was just awful. It was dysfunctional. The idea that the president's daughter was sitting in the White House by herself and there were nine shots were fired and they didn't find out about it for four days and didn't reveal it, that a man convicted of assault is on an elevator with the president packing a weapon, I mean, that's just dysfunctional.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    No wonder both the president and the first lady upset about this.

    David Brooks, Mark Shields, we're never upset with the two of you. We thank you.

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