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Shields and Brooks on Ukraine cease-fire, Gov. McDonnell’s guilty verdict

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s top news, including the Ukrainian cease-fire, ex- Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell’s guilty verdict and the shifting Kansas Senate election.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    A once-rising Republican star was found guilty of corruption, and the Islamic State group executed a second American in gruesome fashion. It was another full week of news.

    We get the analysis now of Shields and Brooks.

    That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    Welcome back, gentlemen. You have been away for a couple of weeks.

  • MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist:

    You have been.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, maybe.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    We were here.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    All right.

    So, we said a full week of news, David, and, as Jeff was just reporting, and this NATO summit has ended — do you sense that now the West has a strategy for dealing with Putin, with the Russians?

  • DAVID BROOKS, The New York Times:

    No.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    You know, there’s just this glacial gap between — or I guess I should say a glacial-sized gap between the president’s rhetoric on Putin, which is very good, that he does threaten basically the civilized order, the idea that you don’t invade neighboring states, and the actual policies put in place, and that we have some sanctions.

    There weren’t ratcheted-up sanctions. The sanctions don’t seem to be particularly effective. The crucial debate, as we just heard with McFaul, Burns, and Mearsheimer, is over whether we actually give the Ukrainians lethal weaponry to defend themselves.

    And, to me, a military assault demands some sort of military response. And arming the Ukrainians seems like the — the place that Obama is going to get to eventually, but it seems to be taking a long time.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    How do you see it, Mark?

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    I see progress.

    I mean, certainly, a week ago, we were talking about whether there was any strategy at all. And I think this was a test of NATO. And if NATO hadn’t responded, and collectively, on both counts, I think it would have just been a — dismissed, and rightly so, as a paper tiger.

    I think the question of, as Mike McFaul put it, peace is better than war, but a peace agreement today or a truce, an armistice, essentially does lock in the Russian aggression and rewards it. And three weeks ago — I mean, there’s no question militarily that Putin said off the record, on the record, but I guess offhand, that he could be in Kiev in two weeks, he could take it. And I don’t think anybody really doubts that, quite honestly.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Yes.

    I would just say, I think the paper tiger issue is still very much alive. The NATO countries, the 28 of them, have all promised to spend 2 percent of GDP on defense, so they actually a military, some military capability. Out of the countries, four are doing it. And two of those are Greece and Estonia, not particularly huge countries. The U.S. and the U.K. are really the only substantial armies left in NATO.

    And so there’s…

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    Turkey.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Turkey.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    Turkey.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    OK, fair enough.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    ... the biggest.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    And so there’s just the question of materiel.

    The second is will. Putin has brazenness coming out the ears. So far, we have — it reminds me so much of all this conversation of the way it felt in Europe around the Yugoslav war, where there were firm declarations, we will not let this happen, we will not let the Serbs do this, we will not this happen to Bosnia, but nothing was done.

    And it feels like that again a little.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    I just think, looking at it, Putin has great advantages, in the sense that he doesn’t have to clear his actions with anybody. He is a one-man coalition.

    But that’s the drawback. I mean, he is isolating himself.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Whereas the West has to get everybody together.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    They have to get everybody together.

    But I think the long-term strategy for Putin is ultimately self-defeating. Any idea — now, the problem that the West has is that this week, we saw even more deteriorating economic news in the West, even including Germany. So then you start talking about tougher sanctions with winter coming on and these faltering economies.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And are they going to be willing to go — carry through...

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    Go through with it. And all politics is local in the final analysis, and are leaders going to say to their people, we’re going to impose these sanctions?  You’re going to pay for them. It’s going to make your life more difficult. It could hurt our own economies, but we have to do it. And I think that’s really one of the great problems.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    If I could just build off that point, the marriage right now between domestic policy and foreign policy seems to me unusual in our lifetimes, that we have always faced threats, the Soviet Union, and this or that, but we did it as kind of a relative self — democratic functionality and self-confidence.

    Domestically, we’re seeing political dysfunction of an unprecedented level and lack of trust, lack of self-confidence. And so you have got this marriage of threats, which have always sort of been around. The president is right about that, but much more dysfunction on the domestic front. And that makes the threats bigger and more potent and makes our ability to counter them much weaker.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    What about the Islamic State coming out of NATO, do you see any more resolve on the part of NATO there?

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    I do. I do.

    But I think that Nick Burns’ point that the Arab companies have to buy in big, but the fact that Turkey is in is encouraging. I think seriousness of the president — I think the president, whatever else one says about him, he is not impulsive. And, no, but, I mean, that’s — it’s a time of thoughtfulness. There isn’t a ready, fire, aim — fire, ready, aim approach to him.

    He is — and he’s — the test will be not the process, which we’re seeing very openly, but what the product is, where we do come to. But I think he has set the parameters. It’s going to be long. It’s going to be difficult, but he has set an objective. There’s no question. It’s not with a lot of swagger and bravado, but he’s put it very clear. We’re going to destroy them.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Yes. He is not impulsive. The Grand Canyon was formed faster than our policy in Syria.

    But you’re right. It’s sort of hard to grade it because it’s so much in formation. And I agree he set the right goal. He said, this is a cancer; therefore, you have to totally eradicate it. John Kerry has said no matter where it exists, it has to be addressed.

    And yet our policy right now is, we will address it in Iraq with some bombing and other things. We will not address it in Syria. And so that has got to change. The policy doesn’t match the goal and the rhetoric. And so it’s hard to grade it because it’s this evolved — very, very slowly evolving set of policies, but I think the president here and in Ukraine is going to get carried along.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Let’s bring it back home.

    We watched in the state of Virginia this week former Governor Bob McDonnell, Mark, he and his wife, Maureen, found guilty on many counts of corruption, a big comedown for this man who was at one point a rising star in the Republican Party. What do you make of this whole...

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    And on the short list for vice president in 2012.

    Well, I mean, I will be honest with you. I was surprised by the verdict. But, I mean, I don’t argue with juries. They were there listening to it for all those weeks.

    The defense — Bob McDonnell essentially ended his political career with his defense, which was “The War of the Roses.”  In other words, there couldn’t have been collusion and cooperation between my wife and me because we had no relationship, and we had no relationship because she was erratic, she was absolutely difficult, demanding, impossible to work with, short-tempered.

    I mean, I just — quite honestly, even he had been declared — found innocent, that would have been — it would such a — destructive to watch a family just kind of…

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    It was painful to watch.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    It really was.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Does it have repercussions for other politicians?  I mean, is this a one-time…

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Well, I mean, there are degrees of corruption in American politics.

    And so the normal giving is, the gift is over here and the response by the politician is over here. McDonnell’s problem was, he went like that. And so he, like, would get a gift or a loan and, like, there would be an e-mail going out in eight minutes. But our normal corruption is, there’s like this discreet interval in between the gift and the countergift.

    And so that’s not so clean either, but he just got a little greedy and brought the two together.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And that made it easier for the prosecution, presumably.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    Yes. And Virginia’s always had sort of a self-righteousness about itself, that we’re this, oh, the state of Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Madison and Patrick Henry.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    And we’re sort of aristocratic and noble in public service. And this was pretty seamy and pretty...

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    I want to say that Virginians are not self-righteous. Honest would be the word I would use.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    Oh, I see.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    We may get a few e-mails about that.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    I will let you know next week.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    Yes.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    All right, so the last thing I want to ask you about is the Senate and the state of Kansas this week. Everybody was kind of surprised, I think, when the Democratic candidate for the Senate suddenly dropped out, two months to go before the election, David.

    Does this — this was a state the Republicans have been counting on. Everybody, both the Democrats and the Republicans, this is really important?

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    Right.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    What — does this shake things up?

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Well, the short term is, it’s a potential pickup for Democrats.

    I mean, you have got a candidate on the Republican side who is old and living out of state. If you want a recipe for losing, that’s it. That’s been proven time and time again. The larger picture, though — and it’s also interesting to look at the Alaska governor’s race, where a similar thing happened, where you got a very polarized electorate, and if you’re on the losing side of a party, and there’s an independent, you can make an alliance with that independent and maybe beat the majority.

    And so that can — that — we might see more and more of that if there are independent candidacies in a very polarized election, because there’s so much space in the middle for an independent and the minority candidate to make an alliance.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    George McGill. You know who George McGill is?  He was the last Democrat elected from Kansas. That was 1932.

    In the last 82 years, Kansas has not elected a Democrat to the Senate. It’s the only one of the 50 states that has not elected a Democrat to the Senate in the last 82 years. So, the idea of Pat Roberts — Pat Roberts, who was the incumbent and is the incumbent, but who was Bob Dole-Nancy Kassebaum kind of Republican, Republican, conservative, worked across the aisle, worked — didn’t demonize.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    And he became terrified in the last couple of years of a challenge from the Tea Party, which he did beat that.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And he did have.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    And he became this sort of contrivance, a conservative voting against the farm bill, voting against the VA and all the rest of it.

    So I think what you see, building on what David said, is sort of the revenge of the moderates, of the revolution of the middle. There is a sense that we want back our Kansas. And Orman, the Democrat, the independent Democrat turned Republican turned Democrat turned independent…

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Who the Republicans are saying…

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    ... voted for Obama, voted for Romney, who is running as an independent, you know, cast himself as a Bob Dole, which, you know, we will find out whether, in fact, that still gets traction in Kansas.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, does this mean — I mean, to pick up on what you were saying, does this mean we may see more independents running?

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    I think it makes sense. I think if you have got two parties who are representing — you look at first — party I.D. is low. People used to be married to parties.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Now they have withdrawn, so there are just a lot more independents. Some are not — are sort of fake independents, but some are more real independents.

    But there’s just a lot more space in the middle. And you can’t walk down the street without somebody saying — telling you, well, I’m fiscally conservative and socially liberal. Where is my home?  And so that is floating out there. It’s — that space has always lacked candidates, donors and institutions. But if you begin to see some candidates, maybe you will see an infrastructure.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    The one thing I would say, Judy, cautionary note for the Democrats, is that yesterday the Federal Reserve survey of consumer finances, which comes out only every three years, showed that all of the growth, all of the income expansion, all of the new wealth has gone to the top 10 percent, who now control 55 percent of the wealth of the country. The top 3 percent do, top 3 percent.

    In Ronald Reagan’s year, 40 — they controlled only 44 percent.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And you’re saying the Democrats need…

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    I would just say, the Democrats — what we’re seeing is, in every other single economic bracket, income bracket, the median income fell between 2010 and 2013.

    And so I just think what you’re seeing is this rising tide is lifting all yachts. And the idea that the economy is getting bigger and expanding, the pie is getting larger, but the slices for everybody other than the top are getting smaller, and that’s a real problem with today’s unemployment numbers, I think, is a real problem with the economy heading into this election.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, we’re just glad to have a slice of the two of you.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Mark Shields and David Brooks, we thank you.

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