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Shields and Brooks - NewsHour with Jim Lehrer - PBS Podcast by Jim Lehrer

Shields and Brooks - NewsHour with Jim Lehrer - PBS Podcast

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Catch the most recent appearances by NewsHour political analysts syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

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Shields and Brooks on Sebelius’ legacy, the 1964 Civil Rights Act

Sat, Apr 12, 2014


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

Gentlemen, welcome.


JUDY WOODRUFF: So we’re going to talk about Common Core in a minute.

But, Mark, I want to start with what everybody’s been talking about today. And that is Kathleen Sebelius out as secretary of health and human services, after the big brouhaha over — over health care reform. What’s her legacy?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, first of all, let me just admit up front, Kathleen Sebelius has been a personal friend. For 46 years, I have known her. So, I like her.

I have not talked to her about this. But part of her legacy, in a strange way, is a Washington story that nobody really talks about. And that is — Bob Gates did in his book — and that is each succeeding White House brings more and more power to the White House. Cabinet officials become essentially figureheads, to a great degree, I mean, State and Defense perhaps obviously less than others.

And so everything is micromanaged from the White House. The idea that the health care plan, the biggest initiative of this administration, the most historic action, wasn’t going to be managed by the White House was just absolutely imagination. It just couldn’t be true. They were on it. They were in it up to their eyebrows.

So, when it went wrong, somebody had to take the hit, and that was Kathleen Sebelius. And she took it. She was secretary of HHS. She stepped up manfully, to use a bad adverb. She took responsibility. She took accountability. She apologized.

And if it works — because the rule is very simple. All — anything that goes right, Judy, the president gets credit. Anything that goes wrong…

JUDY WOODRUFF: Somebody else.

MARK SHIELDS: … it goes to a Cabinet officer or other factors.

If this works out, if health care does turn out the way its supporters and many Americans want it to, then all credit will go to President Obama. If it doesn’t, then Kathleen will be blamed, fairly, unfairly, or maybe — maybe not by historians, but in the short run.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Will she get some of the credit, though, David, if this works out in the long, long run?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I guess so.

I — if it works out in the long, long run, I mean, we remember Frances Perkins, who was instrumental in passing Social Security. And she gets credit for that. So, I think if it works out in the long, long run, which I’m skeptical about, that she will get some credit about it.

Mark’s right. I wasn’t — haven’t been thrilled with the way the president sort of off-loaded blame during the whole Web page fiasco. I thought he publicly shouldn’t have done that. He should have said — taken it on himself, just as a management, as a leadership technique.

I think it’s fair to say a couple of things. First, she was — with all the reputation that has gone on, and it’s very negative about her around Washington, she was certainly not a dynamo at HHS. And, sometimes, to move an organization, you have to be just a — just a dynamo.

And it seems that she was not that. Nonetheless, it’s also true that secretaries do not run their agencies, that the agencies run their agencies, and the secretaries can have only a limited effect on what’s going on.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You mean the bureaucracy.

DAVID BROOKS: The bureaucracy, the career people, are really running the thing.

And it was always going to be hard to get government workers, who are not Silicon Valley tech — tech geeks, to start up a pretty ambitious Web page — Web site. And, so, I’m a little less down on her than is the common currency right now in Washington.

MARK SHIELDS: I would take exception with David, in the sense that — I mean, I’m sure David talks to a lot of people.

I think that Kathleen got high marks from the kind of cliques in the Cabinet, all right, in Washington. And the people whom I know and who I respect and whose performance I respect were high on Kathleen. The people who worked for her were fiercely loyal and very committed and kind of emotional in support.

She was twice elected as a Democratic governor of Kansas, the reddest of Republican states, and she was one of the five best governors in the country, according to “TIME” magazine. So, I mean, she was not — she was a person of considerable accomplishment when she came here. And she was key to Barack Obama.

I mean, without Barack — she — when Hillary Clinton became the woman candidate in 2007, Kathleen Sebelius was one of the few major women officeholders who endorsed Barack Obama.

JUDY WOODRUFF: That’s true. That’s true.

Well, now they have named another woman, David, Sylvia Burwell, who has been running the Office of Budget and Management, to take her place. Does this allow the administration to get a fresh start with health care?

DAVID BROOKS: I don’t think the changeover of the Cabinet secretary is going to have — is going to change anybody’s opinion of what they think about the thing.

It strikes me as an exceedingly good choice. Burwell overcame some early disadvantages. She went to Harvard, got a Rhodes Scholarship.


DAVID BROOKS: But despite that background, she’s managed to do OK in life.

She worked through the Clinton years. She’s worked through the Obama years. She does around town — I have only met her a few times — but she has a sterling reputation, both for intelligence, for policy knowledge, experience, but especially for management implementation skills.

So if she’s — if you walked around the Obama White House looking for people with the top reputations, she certainly would be among them.

MARK SHIELDS: I think it was a good choice, and puts the Republicans on a — who have made Obamacare and Affordable Care Act their centerpiece of what they stand for, and that’s it — they stand for opposition to it — it’s going to be tough to oppose her, having voted 96-0 to confirm her as budget director just a year ago.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Unanimously.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right.

So, I think it’s going to be tough to oppose her. But it’s not a new start, but she — you don’t have the face there any longer that you can blame and use as a target politically. You can’t blame her.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, this week, we also observed the anniversary of another big, big piece of legislation, David, the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

The whole week, we have heard a lot about it. How do you see — how do you believe the Civil Rights Act has changed this country?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, it’s one of the great pieces of legislation of the 20th century. Aside from the legal effect it had on how we enforce laws, it sent a marker that discrimination of all sorts was just not going to be tolerated.

And, of course, it’s been an imperfect journey along that route, but the intellectual shift happened with that law, and that the people who were defending any sort of discrimination or were motivated by sort of unfairness were on the defensive. And I think it accelerated the increasing fairness of society.

The one point I have said about all the coverage of it, it seems to me a little politically-heavy, a little LBJ-heavy. If you looked at some of the momentum up to the law, to me, the crucial event, a crucial event was the March on Washington.

And it’s worth remembering, then, when Bayard Rustin and Philip Randolph really first initiated the idea for that march, there was intense opposition from the establishment civil rights groups. And it was seen as a bold move. It was only after Birmingham that you got some momentum behind that thing.

And that — and it’s an emphasis that to pass major legislation like that, it really helps to have a gigantic social movement first. And it’s very hard to do that without the social movement first.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Out in the country.


No, and the March on Washington, just if you’re going to start passing out credit, Walter Reuther of the United Auto Workers was the organizer, architect, engineer and producer of that. Without that — but it was transformational, the Civil Rights Act.

I was there the night it passed the Senate in 1964.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You were there in the Senate?



MARK SHIELDS: But, in 1965, that — this was way down the predicate — it changed, Judy, that an African-American family could go into a McDonald’s, a father could go in with his children and buy a hot dog or a hamburger or whatever, which it was federal law that there was discrimination in movie theaters and bus stations, in transportation, in hotels, motels.

That changed. But ’65 was the key. And that was the Voting Rights Act.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The Voting Rights Act.

MARK SHIELDS: Because that was power. That was actual power at the polling place. And, to me, that was the key.

But, without ’64, you never get to ’65. And without either, you don’t — Lyndon Johnson was — was central. He was — he was dominant, make no mistake about it. He was a man, like all of us, with faults, but he was a legislature/executive unmatched.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But, 49 years later, we’re still talking about voting rights, the act, as Mark said, David, the law that passed the year after the civil rights.


JUDY WOODRUFF: What’s the main unrealized promise of both of those pieces of legislation?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, it’s the inequality of living conditions, that these many years after the Civil Rights Act, African-Americans are — still have lower graduation and lower incomes. There are still inequalities, and not only inequalities of opportunity, but inequalities that are defined along racial lines.

And so that’s still a remaining challenge. And I would say that’s more a challenge of economic opportunity and social policy, less of some of the legal stuff. But it remains a core stain on our society, that the color of skin is really — either advantages you or disadvantages you in the course of your life.

MARK SHIELDS: I agree with what David said.

I would just add that Colin Powell put it very bluntly when he spoke in North Carolina to a group of businessmen after that state passed a very restrictive voting rights act or voter I.D. law. He said, there is no voter fraud. There is none. And all of these voter I.D. laws that have been passed since the Supreme Court decision last year limiting the Voting Rights Act are intended for one purpose.

And that’s to suppress nonwhite voters. And that remains a part of unfinished business in our politics.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, while we’re talking about voting, and it’s this year, of course, the midterm election in 2016. It’s never too soon to talk about that.

Two prominent maybe presidential candidates in the news this week, David, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush repeating his support for immigration reform and for the Common Core, which we just heard Jeff’s conversation about.

Conservatives have jumped on him. What does that mean?  Do we — do you think he’s going to run? What’s your thinking about Jeb Bush?

DAVID BROOKS: I personally don’t think he is going to run. That’s just a guess, based on no knowledge, just simply because he’s not shown the intense desire in the past. And I have never seen a candidate where that intense desire flowers in middle age. You’re born with it or something.

I think he’s right on the merits on both subjects. And he’s reminded — reminiscent of where his brother was, frankly, and where the Republican Party used to be not too long ago, in support of Common Core, which are high standards, and much higher standards than the state standards, in support of a compassionate immigration policy.

And so I think he’s absolutely right on the merits. But where the Republican Party has shifted, it makes it much harder than it was when his brother ran.

MARK SHIELDS: There are two kinds of conservatives. There are five minutes to midnight conservatives and there are five minutes to sunrise conservatives — five minutes to midnight conservatives, that things are bad, and they’re going to get worse.

Five minutes to sunrise conservatives think, yes, things are bad, but they’re going to get better. And Jeb Bush — Jeb Bush is very much in the second category. And the Republican Party, especially the congressional party, is overloaded with five minutes to midnight conservatives.

They’re just hoping that Obamacare implodes. They’re just hoping that things go wrong and get worse, that unemployment somehow rises. And I think, in that sense, he brings something to the race that it desperately needs. I would say there’s one number to look at to decide whether he runs.

He has approximately a 40-inch waist right now.



MARK SHIELDS: If that goes down to 34 inches, I will say he is running.


JUDY WOODRUFF: Are we going to start using that as a measurement?

DAVID BROOKS: Then he will be an it’s 5:00 somewhere conservative.


MARK SHIELDS: That’s right.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, very quickly, 45 seconds.

Hillary Clinton, the other possible presidential candidate, had a shoe thrown at her, Mark, in Las Vegas yesterday. She ducked. What does it say about her character, do you think?


MARK SHIELDS: She handled it superbly.

There are very few unscripted, spontaneous moments in politics. Yesterday was one of them in Las Vegas. And Hillary Clinton showed humor, she showed grace, and she showed a certain self-deprecating quality. I thought it was a 10-strike for her.

DAVID BROOKS: But throw a flip-flop.


DAVID BROOKS: Throw something challenging. Don’t throw a big shoe, or maybe a cowboy boot.

JUDY WOODRUFF: It looked like a heavy shoe, wasn’t it?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I think you want to throw a flip-flop, just something symbolic, not to hurt anybody.

JUDY WOODRUFF: She asked if it was a bat or Cirque du Soleil.



You guys are both the Cirque du Soleil every — every week.


JUDY WOODRUFF: David Brooks, Mark Shields, thank you.

The post Shields and Brooks on Sebelius’ legacy, the 1964 Civil Rights Act appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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Shields and Brooks on the power of campaign donors, baseball vs. baby

Fri, Apr 04, 2014


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

Welcome, gentlemen.

And I have to say, before we start talking, that was a very difficult report to watch.

Let’s talk about the Supreme Court decision this week. David, closely divided court, 5-4, ruled that there should be no limits on the total amount donors can give to political candidates, political parties. What did you make of the decision and what the majority and the minority justices had to say?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I’m in a distinct minority in my reaction to the decision because I do see a silver lining.

My view is that, for 40 years, we have had these campaign finance reforms, and they have been failures. Money is more coursing through our system than ever before. Incumbents have used the laws to advantage themselves. And one of the reasons I think they have been failures is we have tried to crush down the money in places like the political parties, and it has squished out into opaque super PACs and sort of hidden channels.

And so we have weakened the parties and strengthened all the special interests. And I think one of the things this decision does in a small way — not sufficient way — is it strengthens the party establishments. So the party establishments, which are much more transparent than all these little super PACs and everything else, which are much more accountable, which involve a lot more people, which have national coalitions, are strengthened by this decision.

So I think it’s actually in some small way a step in the right direction, because the way to solve all the money in politics is not to pretend we can get money out of politics. That will never happen. We have to channel it in ways where we can see it and hold it accountable. And I think the parties are the best vehicle for that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark, a step in the right direction?

MARK SHIELDS: No, I don’t think so, Judy.

And just to kind of revisit the historical record, from 1976, Judy to 1996, we had six presidential elections. And it was run under the Campaign Finance Reform Act of 1974. In all six of them, every candidate agreed to limits of what he could collect in contributions and what he could spend in seeking a nomination. And they all abided by it.

And the reality, and they — then each of them accepted public funding for the general election, and they could collect no other. That’s six presidential elections during which we had incumbent defeated in 1976, an incumbent defeated in 1980, and then later an incumbent defeated in 1992.

So it wasn’t an incumbent protection act. I mean, Ronald Reagan four times accepted the limits in contributions of what he could take, what he could spend, and the public funding for the general elections. So I just think the idea that it didn’t work, and didn’t work — it did work. It worked brilliantly.

George W. Bush changed it in 2000, when he went to private financing for the nomination, but he accepted public funding in the general. And, quite frankly, so did — it was broken in 2008, when Barack Obama decided he wasn’t going to do that.

I say that because, there is — going to the chief justice, there is nothing more basic to our democracy than the right to participate in electing our political leaders. And I wish they felt the same way about voting rights, which they didn’t, that somehow this giving — and that these people, these five majority justices must be hermetically sealed.

They are unaware of the fact that big money buys access in Washington, and access purchases influence. It is as simple as that. And they have basically given a green light, a further green light, after Citizens United, to the biggest money to have the bigger voice in our politics, and to sound out and drown out the voice of just ordinary citizens.

DAVID BROOKS: Well, just first, on the historical record, I agree with Mark about the presidency. I think the presidency is a bad way to measure the effective campaign finance, because in the presidency, there is so much publicity, there’s so much money floating around.

Everyone’s got a lot of money. Everyone’s got a lot of publicity.

MARK SHIELDS: It’s the only place we have tried, though.

DAVID BROOKS: Well, if you look at the House and Senate races, in the — 1970, when we started this last chapter of campaign finance, the challenger — the incumbents had on average $3 for every $2 for the challenger, 3-2. Now it’s like 4-1 or 5-1.

The incumbents just have a ton more money because they have rigged the system to help themselves, because they have these networks of small donors. Meanwhile, the amount of people, the incumbents being reelected has just been — that has been going up and up and up.

It’s just a lot safer to be an incumbent. So I think they have used the campaign finance reforms. They have passed laws that will help themselves stay in office. And I think that’s one of the flaws that we do have in the system.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And you think that is what is going to change?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, on the separate issue of this particular decision, I — you know, I want to limit the effects of the power of donors, no question about it.

Roberts’ opinion doesn’t strike me as stupid. I’m not sure I would agree with it just on what’s — how it’s going to shake out. The opinion is, if you have the right to give to one candidate or five candidates, why shouldn’t you have the right to give to 20 candidates? Why — and he’s seeing it from free speech grounds.

That doesn’t seem to me completely irrational to think that you should be able to give to 20 if you can give to five.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Because there’s still limits in this ruling. They’re not doing anything about the limits on individual…

DAVID BROOKS: Right. So, you can just give to more candidates.

And the way it strengthens the parties, it limits — raises some oft caps on what you can give to a party. And the party can create these joint super committees pooling a lot of money and deciding which candidates to give it to.

MARK SHIELDS: Chief Justice Roberts and the majority just apparently are oblivious to the robber barons of the 1890s, to the Watergate, to the soft money scandal of 1990s, and the influence of money.

Their limitation, their narrow definition of corruption is a bribe, where I give you $10 and say I want your vote on the teacher’s bill, and you agree. I mean, it has to be that.

And I just — I have to read something. All right? Joe Scarborough, who writes “Morning Joe,” does “Morning Joe,” was a member of Congress from Florida from 1995 to 2001. And after he left, the Center for Responsive

Politics, they all — talked to the insiders. And Joe Scarborough had this to say.

“The lobbying over China most favored nation trading status was disgusting. There’s no way in hell that MFN would have passed in ’95, ’96, ’97, ’98, ’99, 2000 if all these companies hadn’t come in flooding and making campaign contributions and ask for people’s support. That drove the debate. Every year was the allure of corporate dollars flooding into members’ bank accounts.”

And that’s — quite bluntly, I mean, that’s it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And this is a Republican conservative.

MARK SHIELDS: I saw — I saw money change votes is what Joe — I mean, they just seem unaware of this, that money is something — if they want to see the appearance of corruption, all they had to do was look in Las Vegas last weekend.

You had five Republican governors, former governors showing up at Sheldon Adelson to genuflect, to beg for his support, to seek his — they were sycophants. John Kasich was — debased themselves.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The governor of Ohio.

MARK SHIELDS: Governor of Ohio.

MARK SHIELDS: You know, Sheldon, thank you for inviting me. God bless you for what you’re doing? For $93 million?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I agree. I mean, I don’t have anything to read, but I have got studies.

And the studies that show the reason Washington real estate is booming and there are so many lobbyists in town, it does pay. The corporations who invest in lobbyists, it pays in terms of tax loopholes, tax subsidies, all the rest. It pays. Clearly, the money has a big effect.

But my point is, the Sheldon Adelsons, the Koch brothers, the George Soroses, what we want to try to do is force them into the parties, not so that Kasich or whoever is going to straight to them and trying to kiss up to special interests, but so the parties have the power and they can direct the money.

They’re still a subject beholden to special interests, but at least they have a national constituency. At least they have to think about national majorities.

MARK SHIELDS: If limitations worked for Ronald Reagan four different times, if he could accept it, and win — win election in an equally funded general election, I mean, that is the — to me, that was the golden period of American politics, from 1976 up to 1996, and really to 2008, basically, when we did have public funding.

I’m telling you, it would be so much cheaper for the American people if we had public funding of elections. We wouldn’t have the kind of loopholes you’re talking about.

DAVID BROOKS: I almost think — well, that would — I’m a little nervous about public funding. It’s better than what we got now. I do agree with that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, we have only got a little bit of time left. And I want to leave time for baseball.

Very quick question on the health care law. They did — the administration did get 7.1 million Americans to sign up. Has that — have the Democrats, has the White House stanched the bleeding on this? Are they — or is it still the massive liability, David, that the Republicans say it is?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, the numbers are moving a little in the health care — the law’s favor. It’s still, I think, going to be an albatross for Democrats.

But let’s give the president some due here. They had a mess, and he fixed it, and they mobilized a lot of authority, and they did it.

MARK SHIELDS: Turned the corner.

Has it — is it a complete turnaround? I don’t know. But I will say this. This is a White House that has been very short of smiles. And they have gone from finger-pointing to a little limited fist bump this past week, and for real reasons. I mean, this is a major accomplishment.

And the Republicans, they are in the danger right now of rooting for the country to fail. They look bad that way, I mean, and I want to say to them, cheer up, Republicans. Eventually, things will get worse.


MARK SHIELDS: I mean, they — they couldn’t handle this good news.


JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, we want to leave time for baseball.

Opening week, how is your team doing, Mark, the Nats?





JUDY WOODRUFF: I’m sorry. I’m thinking about the…

MARK SHIELDS: The Nationals are doing very well. The Nationals were off and running.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, they did lose today.

MARK SHIELDS: They had the good luck of opening against David’s team, the Mets.


MARK SHIELDS: But they lost — they did lose today.

But, in Boston, the world champions opened up today, and it was exciting and classic. And opening day is really a marvelous thing. And, I mean, generations of males and I guess females have come up with counterfeit excuses as to why they can’t…

JUDY WOODRUFF: Even females…

JUDY WOODRUFF: And the Mets have been a little shaky.

DAVID BROOKS: The Mets, we have achieved a moral victory this week. So, we’re 0-3 so far.

Nonetheless, Daniel Murphy, the second baseman for the New York Mets…

JUDY WOODRUFF: Yes, this is what I wanted to ask you about…

DAVID BROOKS: … AKA the Irish Hammer, who I have watched turned himself from a very mediocre second baseman who could not turn a double play without getting injured, to turn himself into a perfectly adequate second baseman and quite a good hitter, he took the first two days off — games off, because his wife was delivering a baby, Noah, I believe.


DAVID BROOKS: And that’s a heroic moral victory for the New York Mets,. It may be the only kind of victory we’re achieving this season, but he set a good example for professional athletes and the rest of us.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But there are some sportscasters, male sportscasters out there who were criticizing Daniel Murphy and said he shouldn’t have taken a game…

MARK SHIELDS: One of whom, Boomer Esiason, former pro football quarterback, did a mea culpa on the air, saying he was wrong about it.

I think, in a strange way, it was because it was opening day. I think opening day — if he’d taken off two games in the middle of July, it wouldn’t have meant anything. But opening day really does — Judy…

MARK SHIELDS: … pitched a no-hitter.

DAVID BROOKS: It’s your kid. It’s your kid.


JUDY WOODRUFF: I just want to get both of you on the record that…

MARK SHIELDS: I’m talking about — I’m talking — if somebody took off two days in the middle of July, they wouldn’t make the big thing. But opening day, I think that’s it. But I think the criticism was unfounded.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But you’re on the side of who, the wife or the…

MARK SHIELDS: I’m on the side of Noah that he has both his parents there, and he will remember it well.


DAVID BROOKS: I just, frankly, wish the NewsHour had let me take off when my three kids were born.


DAVID BROOKS: It’s sad. It was sad.



MARK SHIELDS: … when you were born.


JUDY WOODRUFF: We’re just glad you both were born.

Mark Shields, David Brooks, thank you.

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Shields and Brooks on Obama’s Vatican visit and a health reform milestone

Fri, Mar 28, 2014


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JUDY WOODRUFF: And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That is syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Gentlemen, thank you very much.

So, President Obama in Europe this week, Mark and David, trying to rally the allies, stiffen their spine to stand up to Russia’s Vladimir Putin, if that becomes necessary.

But, Mark, is the West united and ready to do what it takes to stand up to Russia if they need to?

MARK SHIELDS: I don’t know, Judy.

We hope that’s the case. But I think we’re closer to it this week than we were probably two weeks ago, because, if anything, Putin’s actions have driven the Western allies closer together. There was lingering — were lingering problems. The United States’ invasion, occupation of Iraq was opposed by France and Germany. There have been disagreements sometimes on what to do in the Middle East.

But there’s been now a recognition of dependence and interdependence, that they have a lot more in common than they have dividing them. And I think, if anything — the allies, as we call them, the Western — Europeans are a lot closer and more united than they were, in large part because of the leadership of the leaders, including the president, but particularly because of Putin’s actions.

JUDY WOODRUFF: More united, David, and strong enough to do what it takes?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, those are two separate questions. More united, for sure, certainly united on our analysis of Vladimir Putin.

I thought President Obama said it very well in Brussels this week, that Putin represents really a threat to the global order, that he — the idea that you can change borders, the idea that you can have spheres of influence, that’s just not acceptable in a post-Cold War world. And I think the Europeans and Americans see that the same way.

What we’re going to do about it, there is union, but there is some division. The Europeans are obviously, for economic reasons, a lot less willing to go far on sanctions. They rely on Russia for energy. They rely on Russian oligarch money through their banking systems, real estate, schools. And so they have been a little more hesitant.

Nonetheless, I think the sanctions have been pretty strong. The crucial issue going forward to me is this issue of aggression. Vladimir Putin doesn’t necessarily seem to be moved by economic sanctions alone as he masses troops on the Ukrainian border.

Do you actually have to have some sort of military deterrent? And nobody is talking about putting Western troops into Ukraine, but arming Ukraine, some other method of deterring from Putin from actually going in and rewriting those borders.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Does the West, Mark, have the stomach? Or is it prepared to do something like that?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I don’t think Ukraine, I don’t think anybody pretends that’s the case, Judy. And I think the appetite for further military engagement is pretty far diminished after Iraq and Afghanistan in particular.

But I do think that the isolation of Putin, rather than humiliation, which I think is what the president has approached, has been wise. Let’s understand, Putin doesn’t represent some international movement. It’s not communism, in the sense that there are outposts all over Central America following Putin.

This is one man. He is the decider. He is Russia right now. And I think to the degree that he can be isolated and made to — just as President Reagan didn’t say, let’s go in and take down that wall and destroy it, he said, tear down that wall, and I think that’s been really the approach that President Obama has taken this week.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And maybe that phone call today, David, or late today, was a good sign. We don’t know. We don’t know what really came of it.


I would say it’s not just Putin, one man. I think I disagree with Mark on that one. Putin is part of sort of a nationalist ideology. The books he sends out to regional governors really saw Russia as the crucial world power, the bridge between East and West, playing a much more enlarged role.

And one of the things we have seen in Russian public opinion is, Putin’s stock has surged. He’s become very popular in the course of this crisis. And the idea of invading Ukraine is also quite popular.

MARK SHIELDS: I’m not questioning his popularity in Russia, or his support in Russia. What I am saying is, there are not Putin outposts in Nicaragua, there are not Putin outposts in Central America and Latin America, because there’s no ideology or philosophy here.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark, next stop for the president was Rome, where he met with Pope Francis.

How important — and it was a very interesting meeting. The pictures were kind of captivating, the two of them talking. How important is it for the president to be seen or any president to be seen as aligned with the Catholic — the Roman Catholic pope?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, yes, I think this pope is great, has captured the imagination.

Pope Francis, I mean, is 89-3 favorable among American Catholics, according to Gallup. He’s 11-1 favorable among all Americans, and including among Protestants. So, he’s a world figure. He’s where Barack Obama was five years ago, man of the year and sort of captured the imagination, a rock star.

But I think, politically, it’s important in this country because, very bluntly, Republican leaders have been shrewdly close to Catholic bishops on particularly cultural and social issues, on abortion, on same-sex marriage. They have identified with them. And this pope has not changed the words, but he’s changed the music. And he talks an awful lot more about the idolatry of money.

He talks about trickle-down economics being a failure, and treating human beings as throwaways. And so he’s actually — as Steve Schneck said on the broadcast last night with Gwen, he’s to the left of Barack Obama. He talks about the poor. Barack Obama talks about the middle class.

So, I think in that sense, politically and economically, it was good for the president, and it certainly strengthens his economic argument here at home.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, David, some of the pope’s popularity can rub off on the president, or that is not the way it works?

DAVID BROOKS: Maybe if he converts.


DAVID BROOKS: No, I don’t think so.

One of — the interesting thing about these meetings, for any U.S. president, is the pope and — and whenever a pope — and this, obviously, is a magical pope, but any pope comes with the history of Catholic social teaching behind him so far, probably always.

And that’s a communal social teaching. That’s a social teaching that emphasizes solidarity. On economic terms, that’s going to put the church more on the left, on social terms, probably a little more on the right. There’s always going to be differences with any U.S. president, just the way our politics is aligned.

And I think it always has a positive effect on the president by reminding a U.S. leader — we tend to come from a more individualistic country — of a more communal philosophy.


DAVID BROOKS: And the pope gave the president his book, and I hope, personally and both theologically, he reads that book.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, two other things I want to ask you both about.

One, Mark, is the health care law, White House celebrating yesterday. The deadline is the end of March. They’re celebrating. They have — six million Americans have now signed up.

Is this — we know the law is still very unpopular, or largely unpopular with the American people. Does this, though, in some way take the edge off of the negative that the Republicans have made this as an issue?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, it’s the old better than expected, Judy, is where it is.


MARK SHIELDS: I mean, seven million was the target. Now it’s six million, and the Democrats are doing a little victory dance in the end zone over that.

It’s certainly far better than it was. And you can see that there’s been an all-out effort made. I do think the Republicans, quite honestly, have promised to come up with one that will cover everybody at a lower cost and at no intrusion. We’re still waiting for that. It hasn’t — it hasn’t happened.

But it has been an abject failure on the part of the Democratic administration to sell this plan. It was 36 percent approval four years ago in the CBS poll, 39 percent approval two years ago, and 41 percent approval. It’s a failure to convince people, persuade people that they’re right and the other side’s wrong.



Well, I think the plan has achieved credibility. There was some possibility — I never thought it was a large possibility — there was some possibility that people wouldn’t sign up and the whole thing would collapse just by lack of effort. It has crossed that threshold. So it is going to function. The question is whether it will function well or poorly, whether the exchanges will work, whether the cost things will work, whether innovation will be driven by this.

And then we’re simply too soon to tell. It will take two or three years to even begin to get some sign of that. What we have now is people really reacting to it individually. A lot of people are pleased. They’re getting — they’re getting insurance at lower cost. A lot of people are displeased. They’re seeing their premiums go up.

I suspect, over the next six months, seven months, a lot of those individual experiences will begin to replace the more ideological reaction which people have to the bill now. I suspect it will still be a pretty good issue, at least this election, for Republicans.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, one issue people are paying to today, Mark, is New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. An internal report has essentially exonerated him of any role of this bridge closing political — what’s become a political disaster for him.

Does this report in any way mitigate the political damage that he’s taken, the hit he’s taken?

MARK SHIELDS: Bulletin: Governor Christie’s lawyers find Governor Christie innocent.

As I understand it, there are three investigations being conducted at the taxpayers’ expense. This is the first one, a million dollars to a firm that has represented the governor. So it’s not exactly Archie Cox or Henry Jaworski coming in — Leon Jaworski, rather — coming in…

JUDY WOODRUFF: Of Watergate fame.

MARK SHIELDS: Watergate fame, independent counsel, or a Star Chamber.

They interviewed everybody, except the three people that the governor continually throws under the — every available bus, Bridget Kelly, and Mr. Wildstein, and Bill Stepien.

So I think that there’s a lot of questions. We still have the U.S. attorney investigating, and we still have the legislature investigating. And the governor wants to declare himself innocent. He’s free to do that.

I just think what you have seen, Judy, you have seen him going from 41 to 12 favorable — 41 percent favorable to 12 percent unfavorable in the Wall Street poll to 17 percent favorable, 32 unfavorable. That’s a 44-point swing. He’s trailing Hillary Clinton by 12 — double digits in his home state. I just think that this has been a real blow to him, and he just can’t whitewash it himself.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And he told Diane Sawyer at ABC, David, that he’s still very much thinking about running for president. Or at least he didn’t rule it out.


I guess I agree with Mark. It is an internal investigation. But I do think one thing we can say is less likely, which is that there will be some smoking gun e-mail that will surface. I assume this firm — and it’s run by reputable people — Randy Mastro and other people are reputable people — I assume they didn’t bury some sort of smoking gun e-mail that they found among all their document searches.

So he may still have to face the testimony of these three people, the testimony of people that he did know what was going on. But there’s no — at least so far, no hard evidence that he knew what was going on with the lane closures.

So that, I think, is real good news for him. As for the political prospects, I’m struck by two things. The first is, I have seen him talking to Republican donor groups, and they are not interested. They want to talk about the national issues. The long-term problem, which is the one Mark referred to, is the popularity.

I think he has a little possibility, using the money he’s going to be getting, to build back some long-term possibility, but he’s obviously hurt.

JUDY WOODRUFF: David Brooks, Mark Shields, we thank you.

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Shields and Brooks on strengthening Russia sanctions, midterm election math

Fri, Mar 21, 2014


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

Welcome, gentlemen.

So, Ukraine, it is again the story on the minds of so many right now.

David, the president, now two rounds of sanctions against Vladimir Putin, the Russians, working with the allies to try to do something. What is the view now of how the president is handling this?

DAVID BROOKS: Doing a good job, has been forceful, started out maybe a little too modest, sanctions on just a few people, ratcheting it up, ratcheting it up.

So, I think he’s been quite as forceful as you could be, given the constraints he faces with our allies in Europe. He’s certainly been aggressive. He certainly understands the stakes. He certainly understands aggressively that Putin is not just — it’s not just about Crimea; it’s not even just about Ukraine. It’s about the post-Cold War order.

Do we have a situation where Russia can declare spheres of influence, can rewrite borders, can mess with Iran in our efforts to not allow a nuclear Iran? This is sort of a radiating thing where Putin is just an agent of disorder. And I think Obama understands that and has ratcheted up the pressure.

The only way I would fault him, a lot of what we’re dealing with here is the psychology of fear. Are we causing Putin to fear us? And by ratcheting it up, I mean, the early response to our limited sanctions was one of contempt. And now we’re getting a little more serious. But we haven’t shocked him with a little surge of fear, and Putin responds to fear.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you read what the president is doing? How do you hear — what do you hear and what do you think?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I don’t think there is in this country a great partisan divide.

I mean, I think there’s posturing and posing. There’s a lot of — been criticism of the president, which has been a little inconsistent and contradictory. He’s gone from being a megalomaniacal despot and dictator to being a weak-kneed, lily-livered critic — now is the criticism of Republicans publicly.

But I don’t think, in a policy sense, Judy, there’s any real major disagreement about what the United States can do and what our options are. Nobody is talking about military action. The president did take that off the table in an interview with a domestic television station.

But I do think that the sanctions — in order for the sanctions to work, they have to be felt on both sides. And it’s not only going to be discomfort and inconvenience and worse for the Russians and for Putin and his particular group, but it’s going to have to be felt in the West as well.

That’s how — that’s how sanctions do. They’re felt by those who…

JUDY WOODRUFF: … the kind of sanctions level…

MARK SHIELDS: The people who impose them are also inconveniencing themselves. And I think that will be a test.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And this is one of those occasions when you start to question, I think, David, is — can a president — I mean, this is a president who’s struggling right now, public opinion, low favorability ratings, in the low 40s.

Is foreign policy something typically that a president can use to lift, or does it hurt him? Can it hurt him by the way he handles this?

DAVID BROOKS: It can’t help him. It can hurt him. Welcome to the White House.


DAVID BROOKS:  So, right now, the country doesn’t want to be involved in Ukraine. The country is not particularly paying attention to Ukraine, except for on this program.

But — I hope — but if he messes it up, or if we in the West mess it up, and we really do have a much more disorderly world here, then it could seriously hurt him. So, you know, foreign policy’s the responsibility of elites. And that’s what they do.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes, Judy, there was a period — we have to understand, the end of the Cold War was a moment, a period of unalloyed joy in the West, particularly the United States.

Our values prevailed. Our nemesis, our — the villain of the piece dissolved, the Soviet Union. And Putin and many Russians, this is an enormous sore spot. I mean, he has called the greatest catastrophe of the 20th century, he Putin, the breakup of the Soviet Union.

So we had a unipolar world, in which the United States just stood sort of by itself. It was dealt a serious blow by the United States going into Iraq and Afghanistan, neither of which has worked out as its architects expected it to.

And I think Barack Obama has brought to it far more collaborative approach, which sometimes is not dramatic, but that’s — as David was describing it, bringing the allies along is what this is all about. And it all comes back to NATO. NATO’s Article 5 is, an attack on any one of us is an attack on all of us. And so that’s how serious it is.

DAVID BROOKS:  I’m also thinking, sometimes you just have to do something a little crazy. Putin did something a little crazy. And we’re all, ooh, let’s not get in front of that guy.

Obama is like the least likely person you’re ever going to meet to do something crazy. He’s prudent, thinks thing through? But sometimes you just got to strike a little fear…

JUDY WOODRUFF: Like what? I mean, what would be…

DAVID BROOKS:  Well, I’m beginning to think we’re going to get to a spot, if this continues to escalate, and it’s clear — well, it seems clear that Putin is — just wants to — if Ukraine wants to go West, he will dismember Ukraine.

And it seems to me that arming, not getting involved, us, in Ukraine, but arming Ukraine for some deterrent effect to keep the Russians out of there is a useful thing to start to think about. And I think we’re probably going to end up having a serious debate about that.


The irrationality of all of it all is that Crimea was turned over under Khrushchev. This is going back 60 years. This isn’t something that happened in the post-Cold War world. So, I mean, what he is about, he is a bully, he Putin, and he is unpredictable and mercurial, and I think it’s fair to say corrupt.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, a president…


DAVID BROOKS:  Breaking news there.

JUDY WOODRUFF: That may not be going out on too much of a limb, but we will give you credit.

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I just — I don’t want to jeopardize relations between the NewsHour and…

JUDY WOODRUFF: But we know a president juggles many things.

One of the other things the White House is very much engaged in this week, David, is pushing — trying to get more people to sign up for the Affordable Care Act, for the health care law.

The president has been appearing on, shall we say, some less than — well, entertainment and sports venues, ESPN. He did that “Between Two Ferns” show online. He did “Ellen DeGeneres.’

Some — there’s been some criticism that isn’t so presidential. And the president came back and said, well, you know, Abraham Lincoln did this kind of thing. How far can a president stray and still be presidential?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. If he’s on with Miley Cyrus on the wrecking ball, then I would think he’s gone — Beyonce, I have been drinking, and — that’s going a little too far.

I think he’s fine. I think he’s totally fine. Remember, Bill Clinton did this. He went on “The Arsenio Hall Show” decades ago, and people thought, oh, that’s not presidential. But it depends on who the president is.

One thing Barack Obama does lack for, it’s dignity. He has dignity. And so this is not something he’s really putting it risk. And so when he went on the show, the “Between the Two Ferns,” or whatever it’s called — I’m not super hip to it myself, but Web site traffic surged.

DAVID BROOKS: So, it’s working for him.

And they need the young people. We’re at a stage in the health care enrollments where they have got some legitimacy. They’re not where they want it to be, but it’s sustainable. Where they aren’t yet is with young people, and people who are going to pay for this thing. And so whatever you have to do to get those people, Ellen DeGeneres, between the — whatever plant you choose, he has got to do that.

MARK SHIELDS: Matt Reese, who’s a great political consultant, and he said about seeking voters, you pick cherries where the cherries are. You don’t go to the apple orchard to pick cherries.

And this is what Barack Obama is doing. We’re long past the day when a president could talk to 65 percent of Americans by going on the evening news. This is a niche-driven, fragmented, segmentized television media market. And to reach people, they have shows they watch.

I don’t think Barack Obama could be accused of being unpresidential. I mean, he’s dealing with Ukraine, he’s dealing with Iran, he’s dealing with the economy. And, you know, the idea — I mean, Bill O’Reilly, who lodged the principal criticism against him for being unpresidential, is a dominant figure on cable news, he’s seen in exactly 1 percent of homes on a given night. Three million people see him.

So, Barack Obama has to — has to — I think if there’s a criticism to be made, it was the failure to sell the Affordable Care Act when it came out. There was no sales program. And we’re paying for it right now, the administration is, in trying to convince people to sign up.

JUDY WOODRUFF: A few other quick things I want to ask you about. Republicans this week are talking much more confidently, David, about taking over control of the Senate. Should they be more confident now?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, if you look at the numbers, yes.

It seemed a couple of weeks ago they had to have a run and win all the at-play seats to take over control. Now there’s just more seats at play because of various candidacies in New Hampshire and elsewhere. Now they could — there’s talk of 10, 11. You look at the 34 states where there are Senate races, and the Republican vs. Democratic generic battle number, it’s 50 Republican, 42 Democrat.

So they’re not doing great nationally, but in the states where there happen to be elections this year, they’re doing pretty well. And so if you look at the data, they are right to be feeling pretty good.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Should they feel so good about it?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, yes, the problem for Democrats is that any incumbent party, after you have held the White House for six years, there’s a cycle. You can argue with it, the six-year itch, call it what you will.

Average number of House lost is 39 seats in that sixth year. When you go to a president below 50 percent approval rating, as President Bush was, for example, in 2006, the damage to his party becomes geometrical. And so, all of a sudden, states where — for example, West Virginia, where the president’s job rating is in the 20s, and that’s a Democratic seat the Democrats would like to hold on to, the 30s in South Dakota, Montana, Kentucky, states where the Democrats are either hoping to win seats or defending seats.

So that’s what the president — Democrats are fighting. They’re fighting to retain their control of the Senate in states that are basically red that Mitt Romney carried. So, it’s an uphill fight. And the Republicans are going to have a decided money advantage. They outspent Democrats 2-1 in super PACs in 2012 and misspent it, didn’t spend it wisely. I don’t think you will see the same kind of mistakes made this time.

JUDY WOODRUFF: One last thing I wanted to ask you about, and that is somebody who was really a major figure in this city a long time.

Former Democratic Party chairman Bob Strauss died this week, David, at the age of 95. He was considered the power broker of power brokers, somebody who worked across party lines. What is his legacy?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, he was an insider. And there aren’t that many insiders of that sort anymore.

What always struck me about him, he wanted to run for president. He came sort of close to running for president. And they said, you’re kind of a fixer lobbyist, you can’t run for president. And we have had a lot of outsiders. We go for outsiders.

But I’m like of a mood, like, let’s get an insider. And let’s get a guy who’s a lobbyist. We say we need an LBJ who can work with Congress to actually get something done. Well, Strauss could get something done. If I’m talking to you, Mr. and Mrs. America, vote for an insider next time, because it is actually a skill to get things done around here.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Thirty seconds.

MARK SHIELDS: Irreverent, profane, colorful, took over a Democratic Party that was broken, had carried 14 states between the last two presidential elections, promised not to give the party a candidate, but instead to give the candidate a united party.

He overcame the factions. He was remarkable. He was funny. He came from West Texas, only Jewish family in Stamford, Texas. He said he grew up in an area where they thought Hanukkah was a duck call. He was just a self-mocking…

JUDY WOODRUFF: Your wife, Anne, was from…

MARK SHIELDS: My wife, Anne, is from the same town. Charlie Strauss, Bob’s father, ran the dry goods store there.

A remarkably effective man. He loved politics. He liked political reporters. He loved life. And he was awfully good at his business. And he made the Democrats — he gave them a winning hand in 1976. He was trusted by Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush as well.

JUDY WOODRUFF: He worked across party lines.

We thank you both. You’re here every Friday. And we’re grateful.

Mark Shields, David Brooks, thank you.

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Shields and Brooks on Crimea consequences, CIA accusations

Fri, Mar 14, 2014


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

Welcome, gentlemen.

Well, Margaret sounded fairly ominous.

David, what are we headed for in Ukraine?


I think that ominousness is fully merited. The Russians are massing troops on the border. They have whipped up nationalist fervor. They’re talking about all the Russians who are being harassed and killed within Ukraine.

If Putin decides to escalate, what else is there? And so I do think — I wouldn’t want to bet on it, but I do think there’s some possibility of something really cataclysmic happening in the next couple of weeks or whatever.

It’s important to remember that, for Putin, if you’re an autocrat in the world today, what’s your central conflict? Your central conflict is between you and Maidan, you and the square. And it’s important for you, for your own very survival, to show that you can beat the square, and that the square is not the future. By that, I mean a popular uprising.

And so there are two ways Putin can do that. The first is just to take over part of Ukraine. The second is just to trash the country and to sow chaos throughout Ukraine, so the country begins to sort of fall apart, and that is something I know administration officials are also thinking.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You see something cataclysmic coming?

MARK SHIELDS: I hope not, Judy, although David’s portrait is pretty persuasive.

I think one of the mistakes that we have made in the analysis of this is that we assume it’s sort of a Cold War hangover, that the Russians had I.Q.s of 300 and stood 12 feet tall.

I don’t — I think this is very ad hoc. I don’t think that Putin…

JUDY WOODRUFF: On Putin’s part.

MARK SHIELDS: On Putin’s part.

I don’t think Putin expected his puppet to fall as quickly and completely as he did in a popular uprising in Ukraine. And I think he’s been playing it very much by ear. I do think that sanctions are absolutely imperative, and sanctions that stick, and sanctions that stick most of all upon Putin and his outliers.

Those are the klepto-capitalists, or, what — crony capitalists or whatever you want to call them. I would — the private schools, boarding schools of England and some in the United States are being sustained by the full tuitions paid by these Russian oligarchs. And I think perhaps the time has come for that to end.

I mean, their flirtation with “Downton Abbey,” or their fixation with it, and their own gilded living in the West has to come to an end. And I think Mrs. Merkel is the central player in that, as well as obviously the United States, but — and she has shown, I think, some both measure and resolve.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And — but is that likely to change Putin’s course?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, one area I do disagree with Mark on, I do think, my understanding is he has thought through at least some things, and he’s thought through the economic pain.

I think the last time I checked, the Russian market was down 17 percent, the equities market. And I’m sure he’s thought through the sanctions and thought through the visa possibilities. And I think he has said, we lived through Stalingrad. We can live through this.

And so I do think that he’s sort of steeled his country for the economic pain. And it should be said, domestically, he is doing very well. He is making hay out of all of this. But, nonetheless, I do agree with Mark about what’s coming.

I think the Obama administration has done a good to outstanding job of responding to this with Angela Merkel, with some of the others, leading from the front, a steady ratcheting up of the costs, ratcheting up of the costs, both to economically, but also to some of the oligarchs. I think they’re being a little too timid on who they’re applying sanctions to. There are some legal restrictions they have to deal with, but they are applying sanctions.

They’re — the visa, the seizing of the assets, they’re ramping that up steadily and slowly, but at the same time they’re beginning to gather an international coalition to really support Ukraine through the IMF and elsewhere. I think they’re being very aggressive and very clear. I think they’re just responding in a way which is earning bipartisan support.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But if they — but if the — but if what — if they go ahead, if Russia goes ahead and takes Crimea, where’s the administration then? Where’s the West?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think that’s when the sanctions really have to bite.

And I do think the E.U. has been just a molasses on this. They have been very slow in engaging and helping Ukraine and supporting them. I think — I think, beyond that, Judy, what we have in this country is a political reality that, while there’s been loud Republican criticism from John McCain and Lindsey Graham, at the most important conservative gathering of the year, the CPAC convention, National Political Action — Conservative Political Action Committee, the winner going away for president in 2016 was the man who is against chest-thumping, Rand Paul of Kentucky.

And finishing way back in the back of the pack was the man who was the most hawkish of all, Marco Rubio. Now, you could blame that on his immigration stance, but it does appear that there is a political division here at home in the criticism of the president from his political opposition.

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I would say just generally the country doesn’t want to be active abroad. And that’s not just a Republican thing. That’s a national thing.


DAVID BROOKS: For the first time in measured history from the Pew Research Center, more Americans think we’re doing too much to solve the world’s problems. And they want to turn around.

It’s not that they’re against global economics. They just don’t believe in the efficacy of American diplomatic power. They don’t believe in the efficacy of American diplomatic power. They just don’t want us involved. And even in the polling of Ukraine specifically, a majority says, no, don’t get involved.

So, we’re in a very limit-conscious political culture, strategic culture here.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, meantime, here in the U.S., there is this surprising split between one of the senators who was most supportive of the intelligence community. Senator Dianne Feinstein came out this week with a blistering criticism of the CIA, said it was spying on the computers used by the Intelligence Committee.

What does this say about the support, the — frankly, the entire intelligence community has had from the political leadership?

MARK SHIELDS: From 9/11 forward, the intelligence community had a blank check in this country.

And it was cashed over and over again. It appears, the NSA, now the CIA disclosures or allegations, that there was the — the presumption was that anything that was necessary to be done to preserve national security, to avoid another 9/11, OK, we would kind of look the other way and maybe suspend civil liberties.

And I think that has run its course. I think there’s a growing concern about privacy in this country. And when Dianne Feinstein, who has been a staunch supporter, defender of the NSA, the CIA, takes to the floor in a rather dramatic speech, it comes down to not whose ox is being gored, but whose wire is being tapped — it was her committee, it turns out, and she’s outraged.

Plus, the NSA is barred by its charter from domestic intelligence gathering of that sort. So this is a real rupture between supporters of the secrecy in intelligence agencies and one of its strongest Democrats.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And we should say the CIA is denying what Senator Feinstein has alleged.


I was very struck. First of all, when Feinstein got on the floor, I was up in the Senate this week, and people were amazed. You knew you do not see this.


DAVID BROOKS: They were sort of gobsmacked over — that you had this sort of public confrontation and this anger, especially from her, so it’s a dramatic moment, a dramatic escalation.

That said, the substance — once you begin reading the substance, it does get very murky. And I was very struck by something the aforementioned Marco Rubio said, which said, it’s very complicated here. What Dianne is saying, Dianne Feinstein is saying, is a little oversimplification of what — how he sees the evidence. And he said, it could be that none of us have clean hands here on either side.

And that does seem — feel true to me. Nonetheless, we have sort of a shooting war, not literally, but a rhetorical shooting war between the agency and the committee. And that’s just weird. And that is just — it reminds me of the rhetorical war the State Department had with the agency after Benghazi. There’s just a lot of things fracturing here, a lot of things — people who should be working together are now in cold war footing.

It doesn’t bode well for the future of cooperation, but it especially raises the possibility that we’re one big scandal away from sort of Church Committee hearings, a big realignment of the whole national security structure.

JUDY WOODRUFF: One other — two other things I want to ask you about, but one is, Mark, the president, just in the last 24 hours, announced that he wants a review of deportation policy in this country.

We know the administration is having a hard time getting their comprehensive immigration reform through. The president has been adamant about saying there’s nothing he can do, he has to deport Americans who are here illegally, have to be deported. A lot have been deported. But now he’s saying, we’re going to take another look. What’s happened?

MARK SHIELDS: First of all, any chances of legislation on immigration are officially over. I think that can be signaled by this move on the president’s part.

Secondly, the president was taking criticism from his own supporters in the Latino community. They deported more undocumented immigrants than any administration in the nation’s history. And add to that, Judy, the reality of the 2014 political campaign, I mean, that the Democrats are going to need every vote they have.

And the president got no payoff, no credit on the Republican side from critics of immigration by the fact that he had been the deporter in chief. So I think the decision has been made.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. Well, I don’t have an informed view on the merits of reviewing or reforming our deportation policies, but it’s just so nakedly political.

It seems he needs the turnout. The Democrats, they just lost this big election in Florida. They’re in a bad political spot. They need Hispanic turnout. He’s getting — just the week he’s getting ramped-up criticism from the Hispanic Caucus, he turns around and orders a review, which doesn’t necessarily to lead to anything, by the way.

It’s so nakedly political. You hate to see policy done in this way. Whether it’s good or bad, I just don’t know. But it just seems such a spasmatic response to an election.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Speaking of that congressional loss, a special election in Florida, Mark, message for the Democrats? They, by all accounts, expected to win. They lost. Health care was a big issue. In a minute, what does this mean for 2014 for the Democrats?

MARK SHIELDS: Judy, House elections are fascinating, because the only way you can get to the House is get elected. You can’t get appointed.

And this was an example where the Democrats had the candidate they wanted in Alex Sink. She had run statewide. She was an experienced candidate. They had money. She was pro-choice. She was pro-same-sex marriage. She was running against a candidate who was anti-abortion rights, anti-same-sex marriage, a Washington lobbyist, a Washington lobbyist, and in a district that President Obama carried twice, and the Democrats lost.

I mean, it is…

JUDY WOODRUFF: Health care reform.

MARK SHIELDS: Health care reform was what — the club that the Republicans hit her over the head with.

I don’t think there’s any question that this is a blow to the Democrats. And their hopes and prospects of winning back the House in 2014 are a lot more bleak than they were before last Tuesday.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Fifteen seconds.

DAVID BROOKS: I would even say even keeping the Senate looks a little grimmer now. Health care reform, it’s a symbol for big government. The Republican ground game seems to be vastly improved more than it was two years ago.

And just it’s — Obama’s unpopular. It has the feel of something that’s real, a real time.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You’re both so popular with us. We have to say goodbye.

David Brooks, Mark Shields, thank you.

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Shields and Gerson on Cold War echoes, campaign financing

Fri, Mar 07, 2014


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JUDY WOODRUFF: And to the analysis of Shields and Gerson.

Jeff is back and in charge of that.

JEFFREY BROWN: And that’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson.

David Brooks is away today.

Well, gentlemen, let’s go back to the beginning of that interview we just heard.

Mark, the NATO treaty, the commitment to come to the aid of Eastern European countries, a confrontation with Russia, Cold War type of talk.

MARK SHIELDS: It — well, I think the gravity of the situation was very much underlined by General Dempsey.

I mean, he — he was serious. He didn’t pretend that it wasn’t. He didn’t want this to be “The Guns of August,” that we stumbled into something. He said he’s keeping — want to open the lines of communication with his counterpart in Russia, as well as urging and emphasizing diplomatic efforts.

JEFFREY BROWN: What jumped out to you, Michael?

MICHAEL GERSON: Well, it really struck me how scared the Eastern Europeans must be, all of these things, talking about Article 5, talking about troop movements.

They’re needed, but it’s frightening that they’re needed. Vladimir Putin wants to re-litigate the end of the Cold War. That’s one of his goals. And he uses tools of intimidation in what he regards as his sphere of influence. And that intimidation is working. I think that interview indicated that it needed to be reassured.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, what is your sense of how much the stakes have raised for the U.S., even politically, in this last week, as the move into Crimea has happened?

MARK SHIELDS: Oh, I think — let’s be very blunt about it. Foreign policy is not a front-burner issue to the American people right now, and has not been.

And the economy remains so, trailing health care. But it is obviously getting more attention, and understandably so, because the stakes seem higher, and the possibility for, I don’t want to say catastrophe, but for crisis, certainly have increased.

I think, politically, you have seen a change in this country. The reality is this. There is minimal enthusiasm for another war in this country. I mean, we went through — without recycling, we went through a war where we were told we were going to be greeted as liberators, that was false intelligence that the other country had weapons of mass destruction, that it was going to be a cakewalk. And it wasn’t. And it hasn’t worked out.

And so I think the American enthusiasm for military engagement is pretty limited.




But I want to throw in, because there has been an increase this week of criticism from Republicans of President Obama, Michael, John McCain said, this is the ultimate result of a feckless foreign policy, in which nobody believes in America’s strength anymore.

MICHAEL GERSON: Well, I think it’s worth saying, just in response, that the threats of the world don’t really care if Americans are interested or not.

They arrive on their own timing. And America needs to be prepared for them. I think that McCain and Graham have made a tough critique here. I think historical counterfactuals are always very difficult. This could have happened with Teddy Roosevelt or Ronald Reagan in power. You don’t really know.

The problem — the case that they’re making, however, is that there’s a cumulative case against this administration, when you look at defense cuts, when you look at the reset with Russia, which ended the isolation of the Russians after the Georgian invasion, when you look at the president constantly talking about nation-building at home, six years of rhetoric, talking about retreat and retrenchment.

The case here is, this does matter. If you look historically, when Kennedy met Khrushchev and a sensed weakness in that relationship in the summit that they had, a real disaster in the Cold War, he — Khrushchev started building the Berlin Wall two months later.

These kinds of things can matter in the calculations of foreign leaders.

JEFFREY BROWN: What do you think of this…

MARK SHIELDS: I could not — I could not disagree more with Michael on this.

First of all, John McCain and Lindsey Graham can use their rhetorical barbs. When you hired Barack Obama, you were not hiring someone who was going to do a bad imitation of Clint Eastwood and say, make my day, or anything of the sort.

He has a rational, thoughtful, serious approach. He’s not somebody who speaks in bombastic terms or hurls thunderbolts rhetorically. The reality is that the reset with Russia — and I am second to none in my dislike of Putin — but the reality is that we wouldn’t have had an election in Iran, in my judgment, without that reset with him that led to a more moderate leadership there and a chance for rapprochement and denuclearization that — as far as the Syrian situation is concerned, I don’t think we would have gotten as far as we have with chemical weapons without Putin’s involvement.

But I’m not in any way defending him. The reality is, there is no action statement that any of these people have. They say — it’s like my saying, let me tell you, this is too much. Putin’s a bum. And this can’t stand. And what are we going to — all right, what do we do? What do we do?

JEFFREY BROWN: So, what’s the answer?

MICHAEL GERSON: What we do is a long-term strategy of isolation against Russia. We’re imposing sanctions. We’re working with the Europeans, who are less willing than we are to take these kind of actions.



JEFFREY BROWN: But you’re agreeing that this really does stem a — well, these words, feckless foreign policy?

MICHAEL GERSON: Well, the situation here is that we did have a previous Russian invasion of one of its neighbors, Georgia.


MICHAEL GERSON: There was the creation of isolation. That isolation was ended. That’s what the reset meant.

It’s not irrational for Vladimir Putin to say, I can outlast this isolation as well. And we need to signal that’s not the case, that he can’t outlast this isolation, like he did the last one.

MARK SHIELDS: I don’t know, militarily, beyond what has happened so far, what would lead to the United States’ engagement or involvement.

And I don’t how the sanctions are going to be employed, absent European cooperation. Are we going to cut off the gas that Europe depends on? That means the United States is going to have to export it. That’s going to mean lifting the ban on the United States exporting natural gas.

I mean, there are a lot of complicated moving parts. And there seems to be a glee on the part of so many on the Republican side right now, led by Rudy Giuliani, who just extolled Putin as the admirable leader. There’s a real leader, somebody who decides in the morning what he wants to do, gets it through Parliament, and, 30 minutes later, it’s done, I mean, an anti-democratic endorsement by Dick Cheney, who says that Barack Obama would rather spend money on food stamps than on our troops, I mean, Dick Cheney, who presided over a 40 percent cut in our national defense budget when he was secretary of defense at the end of the Cold War.

So, there just seems to be sort of an eagerness to lacerate Barack Obama.

MICHAEL GERSON: I don’t think there’s — I don’t think there’s an eagerness here.

I think what a lot of analysts are saying is that we are gradually increasing the isolation of Russia, slowed down by the Europeans. But he is moving to consolidate his gains with a referendum on March 17, which is coming up, to incorporate the Crimea into the Russian empire.

MARK SHIELDS: Now, I have a problem with this, OK, because the people of Crimea, I assume, were going to say they should have some right to self-determination, if this is done legally and constitutionally.

MICHAEL GERSON: It’s not legal.

MARK SHIELDS: No, but if it’s done legally and constitutionally under international monitors, and they vote to associate, identify with Russia, then that — what is — what is the United States talking — isn’t that what Iraq was all about, self-determination? Isn’t that what we were going to have there? That was what that war was about.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, one last word, and then I want to get to one other subject.

MICHAEL GERSON: Well, that was precisely Dempsey’s point.

If you were to allow Russian self-determination across Eastern Europe, you would have endless conflict and chaos. This can’t be allowed. This — this — we can’t allow Russia to reassert its role in what it regards as its sphere of influence against pro-Western governments like the Ukraine.

MARK SHIELDS: I’m not recommending that or suggesting it as an alternative.

I do remember, because I’m older than you, times when the United States of America sent troops…

JEFFREY BROWN: Uh-oh. He played the age card on you.


MARK SHIELDS: … troops into the Dominican Republic — into the Dominican Republic to protect American citizens, which was a myth, which was a myth. And we did it. And that — that is in recent American history.


I want to turn to one other very different subject here. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has now twice gone to the floor of the Senate to denounce the Koch brothers, the major contributors to conservative causes, and he used very strong language.

He called their activity un-American and accused them of trying to buy the country.


MICHAEL GERSON: Well, first, it’s worth saying that when a powerful political leader uses his office to attack private citizens engaged in political speech, that’s a problem.

He didn’t use this to talk about broad issues on campaign finance reform. In fact, what he said is — and we need to quote him — “I’m after the two brothers.” That’s really intimidation and abuse of power by a public official.

It’s also very typical of a conspiratorial narrative that’s on the left and the right, that, somehow, when you’re losing or when you’re not doing well, it’s the fault of some billionaire you don’t agree, George Soros or the Koch brothers.

You know, I think people should engage in arguments, not question the motives and funding of their opponents.

JEFFREY BROWN: What do you think, Mark?

MARK SHIELDS: I think it was unfortunate that Senator Reid used the term un-American. I mean, that has echoes of the era of Joseph McCarthy, when careers were ended and lives were trashed by that epithet.

Is American public political financing is a disaster? It’s a disaster beyond a scandal, beyond a tragedy. It’s — we went through elections from 1976 to 2008 in this country where candidates for president accepted limits on what they could receive and what they could spend, and then accepted public financing in the general election.

And that was broken, let it be noted, by Barack Obama in 2008, under the myth that John McCain was going to raise more money than he did. And he raised twice as much as McCain did.

From that point forward, you knew public financing was over, because the Republicans had always been defensive about it. Add — bring in the Citizens United case that said, mistakenly — if any one of these judges had ever have run for sheriff, they might have known the truth — said that a corporation is a person, the total, diametric opposite of what — everything that Teddy Roosevelt and Republicans had stood for.

And we have now opened this up to people like the Koch brothers or anybody else with a billion dollars, the left, right. And I’m telling you, what it does is, it turns the candidates into mendicants, into supplicants, and basically into ideological eunuchs.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, just 30 seconds.

The tactic, you’re saying — the problem is real, but the tactic perhaps is wrong?

MICHAEL GERSON: I think there are disturbing elements about this system, but they’re not distributed by ideology.

You have Soros and Koch. You have the unions and you have the Chamber. That the system, you may not like, but it doesn’t privilege one party or one ideology. And we have generally believed in a marketplace and ideas.

MARK SHIELDS: I’m not even talking ideology. I’m talking about the fact that candidates spend all of this time — and the more time you spend raising money, the more money you raise, it narrows — it narrows your issues, because you end up taking money from so many sources, that you’re not going to raise issues that are going to in any way alienate them.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, we ended up with our first agreement there. Alright.

Michael Gerson, Mark Shields, thank you both very much.


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Shields and Brooks on Putin perceptions and a tax reform proposal

Fri, Feb 28, 2014


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

Welcome, gentlemen.

So, Ukraine, Russia, David, U.S. officials are now saying they’re convinced the Russian military is in Crimea. You heard President Obama’s warning today. What are we to make of this?

DAVID BROOKS, The New York Times: Yes, I thought the warning was strong. I thought the reference to costs, I thought the reference to how deeply concerned the U.S. would be and the West would be if Russia continues this was a reasonably strong statement for him to go out there, but fully justified.

Ukraine was clearly — and Putin was clearly not going to do anything. He was going to throw some thuggish weight around. He will probably get to a reform to the electoral law. But the crucial thing here is money. Ukraine is a country which was really teetering toward bankruptcy.

And so this is a country for sale. And Putin has shown in the West, when we offered an IMF package a few months ago, we weren’t really willing to back it up with any money, and Putin. He was willing to outbid us. And so this is going to come down to who is going to outbid who. And I’m sure Putin thinks he can outbid us again, outbid the West again.

The administration sources I talked to are pretty resolute that we’re going to offer some money this time to keep the possibility of a Western-leaning Ukraine a fiscal reality. And so I think the administration is pretty resolved not to let Putin get away with this, given the leverage we have.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Where do you see this going, Mark?

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: Well, Chip Bohlen, who was the great U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union, said, there is no such thing as an expert on Russia; there’s just various degrees of ignorance.

And I fall in that category. I’m amazed that Putin, just having really been reflected glory of the Olympics…

JUDY WOODRUFF: Just a week ago.

MARK SHIELDS: A week ago. And having earned the goodwill that apparently was behind his rule, the prominence, the celebrity, the adulation, puts it on all on the line.

And David — I agree with David. Ukraine is in terrible shape. It needs $25 billion. It’s a country that has a gross domestic product of $176 billion. I mean, it’s not a wealthy country at 46 million people. And if it’s going to come, Judy, it’s going to come from the West and it’s going to come with strings attached, just as Greece did, perhaps not as severe, but there will be austerity, because they have an overvalued currency.

They have got a kleptocracy, with business moguls just cutting deals with the government, and the government with them. I mean, across the globe in the past year, we have seen democracy after democracy, and it’s been disappointment after disappointment. And I think is one where it’s going to require the best efforts and the long-term stamina of the West.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But what about the military piece of this? I mean, the fact that the Russians are sending their troops in, they’re sending military equipment in, David, does this rise to a different level? I know you’re stressing the economy, both of you, but what about the military?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. Well, there are two elements of Putin’s personality. The one is that everything is for sale. It’s all about organizing corruption.

And one of the things he’s got to — probably going to work on is the oligarchs in Ukraine take up 80 percent of the economy. He can insert the Russian oligarchs. So that is one side of his personality.

But the second side of his personality — personality in crisis after crisis is the psychology of fear. And he saw how the Ukraine parliament, even the people nominally on his side, were basically running for their lives in the last couple weeks. And so he’s going to put the pressure on the other way. And that’s just the way he always is. That is what we understand about him, that he’s an autocrat who believes in ruling by fear. And so he’s beginning to instill the fear. This is probably small-bore. And I think he’s on his best behavior sort of because of the Olympic glow. He can get a lot rougher than this, as we saw in Georgia.

And so the people I speak to expect him to — they have no illusions about the character of this guy. The U.S. policy, U.S. attitudes toward Putin within the administration, the last two administrations have really hardened to an amazing degree. And he is now seen as a narcissistic autocrat.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, what is really at stake here for the United States, Mark? I mean…

MARK SHIELDS: Well, the importance of Ukraine and its European engagement, I mean, I think for the future of — I think we have to establish the premise that honest, functioning, competent democracies are good, are good for world peace, are good for world — good for the people of those countries, first of all.

And that — Ukraine has not had that. And its only hope for that evolving, painful though it will be in its birth, is, in my judgment, the United States and the E.U. working together, and being in for the long run.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But if — when it comes to Russia, though, tensions keep rising. We’re counting on the Russians in some regard in Iran, in Syria.

MARK SHIELDS: With Syria, yes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I mean, in a host of troubled parts of the world, even the Middle East.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, if you wanted to delimit the bad things that could happen, Dimitri Simes mentioned earlier on the program just the possibility of miscalculation.

I mean, nobody thought World War I was going to happen either, not that we’re going to have World War I, but you could have miscalculations and you really could have something recently terrible if Ukraine breaks up. So there’s that. But, then, as you say, he could say, you mess with me in Ukraine, I’m going to really mess with you in the parts you really care about, which is Iran and Syria, where we do need them.

But I would just go back to Putin. We definitely need long-term stability in Central Europe and in Ukraine and in countries like that. But Putin is a history-making individual. He sees himself as someone who is shaping history. And people like that are inherently destabilizing.

And so he is the head of really a failing country with a lot of power, a lot of money, and an itch to destabilize the world. And so it’s his stability, it’s his either rise in power or fall in power that may be ultimately what is at stake, one of the world’s great troublemakers.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let’s bring it back home and talk about something that happened in this country this week, Mark.

And that is Arizona, a zigzag, I guess you could say, where the legislature passed a law saying — a bill saying that merchants, service providers could refuse to provide a service to anyone who is gay. Now the governor, Jan Brewer, Republican, vetoed this.

What does it all add up to?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, follow my lips, Judy.


MARK SHIELDS: The American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU, the Anti-Defamation League, ADL, add to that Apple, Marriott, Delta Air Lines, American Airlines, Marriott Hotels, Starwood Hotels, the loss of any standing for Arizona as a resort or convention center was on the table.

And Jan Brewer understood this. It was the old biblical injunction, render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s. This wasn’t God’s. This was Caesar. This might have been freedom of religion on the part of the — or religious freedom on the part of advocates of this legislation, but this came right down to Arizona facing the same ignominy and loss of capital that it faced on Martin Luther King Day, when it refused to accept Martin Luther King Day as a national holiday and again lost convention business.

So, I think it was a pretty practical, hardheaded decision made, and with Mitt Romney, to his credit, weighing in, in favor for vetoing it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Along with Arizona’s two senators.

But, David, it is not just the Arizona legislature. What is it — I think there are six other states that are now considering similar legislation.


Well, hopefully — well, without declaring my interests here, hopefully, we will see the same result. And what is interesting to me is the reassertion of the corporate country club establishment. That is what really rallied here and really changed the bill, that this is an establishment that has been losing power to the Tea Party, in part, as my colleague Gail pointed out, because of the campaign finance reform that made it hard for the big donors to control the party and made it easier for the Tea Party.

But — but, so — but this was a reassertion of more or less the corporate elite, and saying, don’t do this to our state. And they carried the day. And what is I think useful is that a lot of the small, marginal groups, often some of the Tea Partiers or the social conservative groups that are off on the fringes, have had their way, because the people in the establishment who are in the center have not been able to slap them down.

And here was a case where they did that, facing ruinous economic costs. And I can’t see why other states wouldn’t face the same logic and wouldn’t try to mobilize. And if you think the center needs to mobilize against the fringes, this would be a good sign.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right. This is a fun subject, tax reform.

The — Mark, the Republican chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Congressman Dave Camp, today rolled out what would be a pretty dramatic change in tax — the tax code, getting us down to three rates, really, 10, 25, 35.

But the leadership, Republican and Democratic leadership, basically said, it’s not going anywhere.

MARK SHIELDS: I would say, first of all, two cheers for Dave Camp. We have had a lot of talk in this town, a lot of seminars, a lot of focus groups, a lot of theses on — written on the subject of tax reform.

But we haven’t had a committee do anything. And Dave Camp, the Republican, in his last year as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, did, in fact, produce a document, which had heresy in it.

Dave Camp said for those banks, for Citigroup and Goldman Sachs, those struggling little mom-and-pop shops that were bailed out by the American people, that he would impose a tax upon them, a slight tax. But this is something that Republicans don’t do, now, haven’t voted for a single tax since 1993, before 1993, starting with Bill Clinton.

So, you know, I thought it showed daring, imagination.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But it’s not going anywhere.

MARK SHIELDS: I was very disappointed in the speaker’s reaction, blah, blah, blah, which was an insult to somebody who had spent some real work on it.

No, it isn’t going to go anywhere, Judy, because something like this takes a gestation period of three, four years and a lot of work. Dave Camp began the work.

DAVID BROOKS: I’m still hurting from Mark’s smear on seminars.


DAVID BROOKS: I do seminars.


DAVID BROOKS: I thought it was a good step forward.

Like Mark, it’s a step. And it’s not going to pass, but it’s a step, and a step for some of the reasons Mark said. But it’s a — it’s was a Republican plan that preserved the progressivity of the tax code, and maybe even increased it a little, and a plan that is revenue-neutral, but a plan that would produce amazing economic benefits if enacted.

If the Republicans — if the Democrats want to come in and say, we will adopt a similar strategy, maybe we want a little more revenue, then you really could begin to have a negotiation, or at least you would if we lived in a normal political system.

But I thought it was — as Mark said, there is a lot of political opposition to this. Why should we put out a plan cutting somebody’s mortgage interest deduction before an election, when it’s not going to pass anyway?


DAVID BROOKS: So he did the right thing in putting it out there and getting this debate going another step forward. So I agree with Mark. I think it was an outstanding step.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Just finally — maybe we have time for two things.

And one is the president rolling out this program this week called My Brother’s Keeper, all about, Mark, young men of color, saying, we need to do something. A lot coming it is coming from the private sector, but it’s doing something about young men who just have not had a way up the ladder, as the president put it.

MARK SHIELDS: No, I thought — I thought it was pitch-perfect for the president.

This was something that he spoke about from a very personal experience, personal angle. He spoke to the young men in the room, autobiographically about his own, having gotten high and not done well in school, and all the rest of it.

For somebody who is criticized often, even by his own supporters, of being too cool, too distance, too detached, I thought it showed a very welcome passion on a subject in which he has, in my judgment, unique standing.


And I would say what it does, people say, oh, it’s not — there’s no money, there’s no — it’s all private sector. But it does a couple of things. First, it begins to mobilize a coalition on behalf of some of these programs that the next president can use. And the second thing it does, there is going to be a lot of testing and studying to find out what actually works and then gathering of that information.

So I think it’s — it’s not huge, but it lays the predicate for some policies for the next president.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Gwen did a wonderful interview — had a wonderful report this week talking to some of these young men. It really is — it really does give you hope.



JUDY WOODRUFF: David Brooks, Mark Shields, thank you.

MARK SHIELDS: Thank you.

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Shields and Brooks on Ukraine upheaval, trade policy skepticism

Fri, Feb 21, 2014


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

Welcome, gentlemen.

MARK SHIELDS: Good evening.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, our lead today and for the last few days has been Ukraine, really just exploded into mayhem yesterday.

But, Mark, today, there seems to be a truce. The president has signed an agreement with the opposition. We’re — it’s a little bit surreal. We’re watching the Olympics take place in Russia, but next door in Ukraine that is what’s happening. How do you see what’s been going on there?

MARK SHIELDS: Like everybody else, I guess, Judy, I have just been following it and hoping for the best.

And the latest developments certainly are encouraging. It seems to be fitting a pattern where the United States, there’s a government that uses repressive power against its own citizens. We saw it in Egypt. We have seen it in Syria. And it’s — it seems to be the pattern of an oligarch government that is out of touch with its own people.

And we hope that this is a move in the direction. I mean, it shows the limits what we — there’s American interests, but there’s not an American solution.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you see it?


Well, we have seen these things, as Mark said, all around the world, various orange, various color revolutions, people out on the streets in various squares. And I think our first instincts a couple years ago was to always root for the people in the streets. And I think we still root for them, but we should probably be a little sobered by the effects, especially Egypt and Syria and places like that, that you do have the potential of getting these rounds of destabilization.

And in Ukraine, certainly the lows, the political lows, the dangers are greater than the highs are high. The lows are lower than the highs are highs. And so there should be a need for caution. And I think that was demonstrated by the international community who came in today.

And we had this agreement. And it’s a pretty good agreement for the protesters. But it’s an agreement. It’s a negotiation and a settlement. It’s a bit of a half-a-loaf. And I think given the history of these things over the past couple years, half-a-loaf is pretty good.

And so I think we should hope that they do not topple the government, that the elections, the constitution is basically preserved. When things are bad and when the lows can be lower than the highs can be high, caution is the watchword. Half-a-loaf is pretty good.

And so far that’s the outcome, so that’s a good outcome.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is it clear, Mark, what’s at stake here for the West, for Europe and for the U.S.?

MARK SHIELDS: The interest seems to be more primarily that on the part of Russia. They brought their influence there the old-fashioned way with $15 billion to the administration to bail it out.

And this is a new country. And it’s, what, 45 Russian-speaking. So I’m not sure, Judy. It’s between Europe and Russia. The pressures and the tensions are obvious and real.

DAVID BROOKS: I covered the Ukrainian independence movement when they were first declaring or voting on a referendum for independence.

And then if you had asked me, I thought Ukraine would be way ahead of Russia. It just seemed like a more — less corrupt place, a more stable place, a humane place, frankly, in the political culture sense. It hasn’t turned out that way, in part because of the divisions, in part because they can’t decide what part of the East-West divide they’re on, in part because the corruption has just gotten so bad.

And it’s a gradual process of roping them into the European system, I think, where Ukraine naturally belongs in sort of the orbit of the E.U., but that’s decades long.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let me ask you both about something that is partly international, but certainly have very much a domestic component, Mark, and that is trade.

The president’s been pushing something called the Trans-Pacific Partnership in an effort to get closer to Asia. He’s in favor of it, but a lot of Democrats aren’t. Explain why the split and where do you see this going?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, every president, Judy, irrespective of party, wants fast-track authority to negotiate without the interference of Congress. Every Congress wants to have its oar in and be a part of it. So, there’s a natural tension there.

But we’re dealing here with the shadow of NAFTA. It’s 20 years since the North American Free Trade Agreement, which — there was much overpromise, that it was going to be great for everybody involved, that it was going to elevate Mexico to the point where the immigration problem would disappear. A Mexican middle class would flourish.

And what we have seen has not been really — there’s been economic growth, no question about it. But it’s not been broadly shared prosperity. And it’s reached now to the point where Democrats have grown skeptical, not simply the hollowed-out towns of Ohio and so much of the Industrial Belt of this country, but to the point where the most sophisticated technology developed in this country, its ingenuity, its genius, is sent overseas to be manufactured, not because there’s better education there, but because there’s repression of workers and suppression of wages.

So it’s cheaper. And that has caught up, I think, with the free trade side of the argument. And I think there’s a great skepticism, not only on the part of Democrats, but on the part of the American people.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I mean, does that say any kind of trade agreement is a problem?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, they’re in trouble. There’s no question about that.

NAFTA, my reading of the evidence is that it didn’t turn out to be that big a deal one way or the other. It was sort of a wash economically and in a lot of things. But we have do much more than NAFTA.

We have really — since World War II, we have got 60 or 70 years of trade. And the trade agreements we’re talking about here are with Europe. They’re not low-wage countries and across the Pacific with Asia. These are trade agreements that we have 60 or 70 years of pretty guaranteed growth out of these agreements.

And they have the story of global prosperity for this time. I mentioned in my column today that in the last — since 1970, the number of people in this world making a dollar a day has declined by 80 percent, the greatest decline in global poverty in human history.

And why is that? Because of global trade. And so to me every president of either party has traditionally been a proponent of trade, as this one is, and I think there’s a strong evidence it’s growth agenda, and so I understand the political fears about it. But I don’t think they’re merited. And I do think when the president’s — when the congressional leaders are bucking their own president, they’re doing some harm for political reasons.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Where do you think — where do you think…

MARK SHIELDS: I don’t — I mean, I understand very much where Leader Pelosi and Senator Reid are here.

I argue with David. I think what it’s produced is what Professor Harley Shaiken of University of California on this broadcast has called high-productivity poverty. Yes, it’s been economic growth. The trade agreements, Judy, and Europe being the exception, have concentrated on protection of all the corporate rights, of copyright, of patent rights, of licensing, but have ignored workers’ rights.

And you can’t work at the outsourcing of production to Asia and to Southeast Asia and not say that they’re doing it for the lowest unit cost of work. And they’re doing it not to invest there. They invest there to produce there, not to sell there, but to bring stuff back here. And I just think that’s the skepticism and I think it’s a legitimate one.

DAVID BROOKS: I will say two things.

First, we’re beginning to see manufacturing jobs coming back here from China because their wages are coming up. We’re doing OK on that. The reason the economy has hollowed out is to me not because of globalization. It’s because of technology.

We just had this Facebook quote WhatsApp, this app, for X-zillions of dollars.


DAVID BROOKS: The amazing statistic to me was the amount of money, the value per employee of WhatsApp. Each employee got the equivalent — or they didn’t get, but they paid the equivalent of $347 million per employee.

That means we have got companies with very few employees of very high value. That’s why the economy is hollowing out. I don’t think it’s because of globalization.

MARK SHIELDS: I would just add one thing.

I think broadly — and we’re seeing it in Ukraine as well. Broadly shared prosperity is not only a social value and a social justice value. It’s a civic value. And I think that is really something that is of overriding importance to us and should be in every policy we develop.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, in a way, this is connected to the conversation I had with the governors, which I think the two of you heard.

Governor Quinn of Illinois, Democrat, and Governor Haslam of Tennessee, we ended up talking about the minimum wage, the UAW vote in Governor Haslam’s home state. But we — I went into that again with this idea that Washington is divided. Governors are finding a way to work together.

But, Mark, what we’re hearing is that they were — you heard them — they’re divided on some of the same issues that Washington is divided.

MARK SHIELDS: Well, all politics is local.


MARK SHIELDS: Pat Quinn’s running for reelection in Illinois. And he came on and duked it out with Governor Haslam of Kentucky and stood up for workers’ rights against this anti-union Southern Republican.

I think there was a little bit of political…




MARK SHIELDS: Maybe theater even. But, no, the differences are real, don’t get me wrong.

DAVID BROOKS: I thought Governor Quinn was running in Tennessee, the way he was going.


DAVID BROOKS: But — he was aggressive, but he believed it, so good for him.

Just on the issues, first on the minimum wage issue, because we just had this big CBO report to come out in Washington this week. And it’s a mixed bag. Like a lot of policies, there are winners and losers. And so the winners out of this would be 900,000 lifted out of poverty, many more millions of people seeing a wage increase. The losers would be some loss of jobs potentially in the ballpark of 500,000.

And so how do you weigh that? I would say two things. First, when you take people out of the labor force, especially when our labor force has been so decimated, you’re really doing long-term harm to them. So, I sort of weigh that very heavily. And so I’m a little skeptical of the minimum wage for that reason.

Secondly — and the reason I think this is a waste — is that we have another set of policies, the Earned Income Tax Credit, that provide the same sort of benefit to low-income workers without the negative labor market effects. So, why are we not talking about that, instead of the minimum wage?

And the answer to that, transparently, is the minimum wage polls really well for Democrats. But I wish we were talking about the Earned Income Tax Credit, where you are beginning to see some Republican buy-in. It’s just not as politically useful.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Why is this not fair? Twenty-five seconds.

MARK SHIELDS: It’s not either/or. You can do both.

The Earned Income Tax Credit, the child of Milton Friedman and Jerry Ford, it was a great idea. It has worked enormously well. But, at the same time, you have to raise the income. And that’s why the minimum wage has to be raised. You have to raise it. Let’s not put it all on American taxpayers, which — Earned Income Tax Credit.

Let’s let Wal-Mart pay its share as well. Costco already is. Gap is. Let’s join in bringing some — a little bit of economic justice to our workers.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, the two of you bring justice to this program every Friday.

Mark Shields, David Brooks, thank you.

The post Shields and Brooks on Ukraine upheaval, trade policy skepticism appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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Shields and Brooks on debt limit drama, addressing economic inequality

Fri, Feb 14,
23:41:01 2014, +0000

Shields and Brooks

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

Welcome, gentlemen.

And it’s Valentine’s Day. And, by the way, pink tie, tie with hearts, very nice.

DAVID BROOKS: Mark overdid it a little.



DAVID BROOKS: So, because it’s Valentine’s Day, let’s start by talking about the debt limit.


MARK SHIELDS: Nice segue.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Good segue.

We watched this drama play out this week, David, in Congress, which ended up in the Senate with Senator Ted Cruz of Texas essentially hanging some of his fellow Republicans out to dry. What was he trying to accomplish, and did he — did he do it?

DAVID BROOKS: Nothing says Valentine’s Day like Senator Ted Cruz, our national aphrodisiac.


DAVID BROOKS: What — what he was trying to do is — it’s unclear. There are a couple — the official explanation was that he wanted Republicans to fight. He thinks there’s a spending problem in the country, and Republicans should fight harder before raising the debt ceiling, and they should get some spending reforms. That’s the nominal explanation.

The effective explanation, he was going to force a lot of Republican senators, including Mitch McConnell, that are up, to force — to make them cast an unpleasant vote, which is going to help make it harder for them in the primaries against a more rightward challenger. And so he put a lot of people in a tough bind.

And the basic problem have been here before. They’re not all insane. They saw how badly it went last time, and they made a completely rational strategic decision, let’s just let it go and let’s move on and talk about something else. And that’s called basic strategy, nursery school-style.

And yet, somehow, there are some in the party who think strategy is bad. They just want to run into the wall again and again and again. And I would put Ted Cruz in that category.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is it working for him, Mark?

MARK SHIELDS: We will find out, Judy two years from right about now, because if Ted Cruz is going national, he has already carved out for himself a niche, which is that, I’m not the establishment Republican. You’re not going to get — we tried — we tried John McCain. He worked across the aisle. He was bipartisan, and he got 90 percent of Democrats voted against him.

And then we had blue state Mitt Romney, who had worked with Democrats in Massachusetts, and 93 percent of Democrats — there’s only one Republican who has gotten one out of four Democratic votes. That was Ronald Reagan. He was an ardent conservative. And I’m going to stand up against the establishment of both parties. I’m not like — I’m the anti-Washington candidate.

I think that’s what he’s casting himself as. I think David is absolutely right that what he’s done to his own party — the Democrats owned the debt ceiling. They were going to raise the debt ceiling all by themselves with nobody else’s votes. What he forced Republicans to do — and they had to — no — no Republican could be the 60th vote to cut off debate. So they had to get — round up seven more to cast an unpleasant vote.

And as Bob Dole used to say, wisely, we senators love to make tough speeches. We don’t like to cast tough votes.

And this was a tough vote that Ted Cruz forced them to cast.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So where does this leave the — the Tea Party? I mean, and we should say, this comes on the heels of the House, where Speaker Boehner couldn’t, David, round up enough Republicans to get behind a plan that would counter the — the Democrats wanted a clean extension of the debt limit with no strings attached.

The Republicans were looking for something, couldn’t get enough votes, but it never — it never came together. What does all this say about what is going on in that party?


I think the Tea Party is going to be a permanent feature of the party. Those people were always here before we called them the Tea Party. And there’s two features. One, they’re — like a lot of Republicans, they think that we’re spending too much money. Two — and this is more a matter of strategy — they just don’t believe in it. They don’t believe in strategy.

They think simplicity, just whatever Washington is doing, just mess it up, and so a direct, full-bore, frontal assault approach again and again and again, whereas somebody like John Boehner says, well, you know, you pick your fights. I think — and so — but they’re against that sort of game playing, what I would call just intelligent strategy.

So, they are going to be a permanent part of the party. What is happening now is exasperation. What you’re seeing is beginning to see the Republican establishment, who have been terrified of the Tea Party, suddenly begin to say, we have got to stand up.

And so the most weirdly cowardly people on earth are the establishment. They hate to take on the renegades. And — but you’re beginning to see John Boehner leading the way, really, had a series of press conferences over the past couple of weeks or months really saying, you know, no, I’m not going to do it your way. I’m going to do it my way. This is the way I was taught to do politics. I will do it this way.

You’re beginning to see Bob Corker, a lot more senators coming out more forthrightly, certainly John McCain and people like that, and saying, no, we’re not going to do it that way. We’re going to do it the way that parties are supposed to do it, with strategy, with a little surrender here, be aggressive there, seize our opportunities, not just run into brick walls.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And what does that mean, though, Mark, for policy, for legislation, for addressing the country’s problems, when you have got one party that is so divided?


JUDY WOODRUFF: Not that the Democrats don’t have that.


I think, first of all, just to review the bidding, Judy, last month, we were celebrating the fact that they’d come to a budget agreement, the first time in three years, and they had budgeted. And then Patty Murray, the Democrat in the Senate, and Paul Ryan, the respect in the House, had reached this great agreement.

Congress voted on it, and it was sort of the step in the right direction. And those are the bills we agreed to pay up. And then up come the bills, and they say, no, no, we’re not going to pay them. We’re basically going to default. And John — John Boehner, to his credit, acted like a grownup. He wasn’t Nathan Hale. He wasn’t Patrick Henry, but in this — in this climate, he looked like it because it was good politics and it was good public policy.

He did the right thing for the country, and he did the right thing for his party. He really did it. He saved — he brought them back from a second self-destructive closing of the federal government, which cost the Republican Party enormously.

So, what does it mean going forward? I’m not sure. I mean, it’s a better climate. It was a victory for the president, you could say a victory for the Democrats, in the sense that they didn’t — they did get a clean bill.

But I don’t see it as a great compact or a great concord. I really don’t. I mean, I think immigration is where the president had his biggest hope, and I don’t think — see that any closer this week than it was last week.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, though, if I were the president, I would — I would do — I would hit — I would take advantage of this moment of division or rancor, whatever you want to call it, in the Republican Party, and I would have two big proposals that I would just talk about endlessly.

The first would be immigration, which does split the Republican Party, and I would just hit that every single day, because maybe you can create a governing majority. Maybe there is enough upset with the Tea Party to really do that.

And the second thing would be poverty. Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, some of the people you have been talking to, they have stretched — stretched Republican orthodoxy a fair bit to allow for some government action to address poverty, some way — subsidies, some other things, increase the Earned Income Tax Credit. So there’s been some movement there.

And they differ with Democrats how to pay for it and that sort of thing. Nonetheless, there’s movement there. And I think there’s a potential for a governing compromise on some sort of poverty legislation, which, for the Democratic political advantage, would split the Republican Party, but would also yield possible legislation.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So you’re saying that mainstream Republicans could go along with something like that on immigration and on dealing with poverty, and just say goodbye — or say, Tea Party, too bad?

MARK SHIELDS: I don’t — I mean, David was a lot more bearish on immigration than he had been — than he is today.

I think Mitch — first of all, Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, a May 20 primary, fighting for his political life in a tough general election, has already said that he — there will be no immigration this year. And John — John Boehner stated the principles and quickly got shot down, I mean, got pulled back to earth.

So I don’t know. The votes may be there. There might be 45, 50 votes. I haven’t seen them self-identifying and come up and say, we want to sign a discharge petition with the Democrats yet to bring immigration to the floor.

DAVID BROOKS: I was just saying, if I were the president, you have got two subjects here. Immigration, I agree with Mark. It’s extremely unlikely. But at least you have got a great issue, because it splits the Republicans. So, that’s a political win.

And on poverty, I think there’s a chance of a substantive win, if you have the right set of packages. And it’s a subject much on people’s minds. And Republicans have a hankering to show that they do have a poverty policy.

MARK SHIELDS: If you want to split the Republicans, I mean, the Republicans are on the short side in popular support on minimum wage, which 70 percent of people want raised, for equal pay for women for equal jobs. They’re on the wrong side of that.

I mean, so, I would — if you’re going to just talk about taking advantage of Republican weakness and Republicans defensively, I would emphasize those two.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And the Republicans we have interviewed this week, Marco Rubio and Senator Tim Scott, both adamantly against the minimum wage.

Let’s talk for just a minute about the health care law. There were some good numbers, David, that came out. The administration announced 3.3 million, I think, people have now signed up on these exchanges. On the other hand, the administration announced that it was going to extend the deadline for medium businesses to bring their employees under — under health care coverage.

Is this — does this mean the health care law is healthier, or does it mean it’s weaker? I mean, how do we read what’s going on?

DAVID BROOKS: It’s both. It’s both.

So, if you want to draw a straight line through a lot of the different stories that have been going through on health care reform, I think you would say one thing. The health care law is probably going to reduce the number of uninsured. Not probably — it will reduce the number of uninsured.

And the good enrollment numbers are a piece of that. The second thing that could be said down on the downside is that costs will probably be a lot higher than estimated. And so what you’re seeing is the exchanges are not competitive. A lot of places, there’s just only one person in the exchange, one company, a Blue Cross or something, in the exchange, so there’s no competition over price. And, therefore, it’s just a lot more expensive to get the policies.

Also, there are probably — I think they’re going to have no mandates. We had this big fight, individual mandates for the companies, and all this other stuff on mandates. They’re really walking back every mandate.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Including the individual mandate?

DAVID BROOKS: I think — I personally — and this is just conjecture — I think they’re going to have trouble getting mandates, period, and that will raise costs because you won’t be able to subsidize…

MARK SHIELDS: Without the individual mandate, there is none.

I agree with David on the walking back. But, Judy, it was projected seven million by the 31st of March. Now the Congressional Budget Office says six million, which is not as good as Democrats had hoped for or the architects had hoped for, a lot better than Republicans had hoped for.

I mean, the Republicans — Republicans have based their 2014 campaign on Obamacare. I think the whole test is going to be, in July, August of the summer, are people looking at it and say, gee, this has worked for my nephew, this has worked for my daughter, this is better. My neighbor’s life is better off. It’s going to be really a pragmatic, practical test of whether it’s working.

It’s not going to be ideological left or ideological right.

JUDY WOODRUFF: That’s my question. Is it a winning issue for Republicans to keep hammering away at health care?

DAVID BROOKS: So far, it has been a winning issue. If you have looked at the polls, it’s still an unpopular thing. It’s been a winning issue, especially in red states where a lot of Senate Democrats are up for reelection.

But Mark is right. It could turn around. And we both could be right, that people see, oh, yes, so and so, my friend got coverage, my bartender got coverage, my barber got coverage. But the costs over the long haul could prove to be extremely expensive. And so both those things are — there are a lot of extremely unaffordable programs that are quite popular.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we wish both of you happy Valentine’s Day.

MARK SHIELDS: Thank you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And we hope it hasn’t been too expensive for the two of you.


JUDY WOODRUFF: David Brooks…

DAVID BROOKS: Excellent point.


JUDY WOODRUFF: David Brooks, Mark Shields, thank you.

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Shields and Brooks on economic ‘sludge,’ immigration reform standstill

Fri, Feb 07, 2014

Shields and Brooks

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

Welcome, gentlemen.


JUDY WOODRUFF: So let’s talk jobs, a report, mixed report for the month of January, Mark. The number of jobs created was less than what was expected, but the unemployment rate has gone down. You heard Paul Solman’s report. Should we be concerned?

MARK SHIELDS: Yes, we should be concerned.

This is 52 months after its ended, after this — and we are not returned to the number of jobs we had before the recession began. And at this rate, at the rate, the current rate of job creation, it will be six years before we get back to that level. It is — it’s hardly reassuring. It’s upsetting.

And it ought to get our attention. I would just say one thing, Judy, and that is, somewhere in recent American history, probably in the last 30 years, we changed our economic values. The economic value used to measure the economy in employment and how many people are employed, what their wages were. And then somewhere along the line, it became a stockholder, a shareholder economy.

Last year, corporate profits were at their all-time high. The percentage of — the percentage of the income that went to corporate profits and corporations was at their all-time high. The top 1 hazardous had their highest income share since 1928, and percent of the income that went to wages was the lowest it’s ever been. And something — something changed.

I mean, the health of our economy should be on the number of people working and that they are progressing and making more and being productive.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you see this?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, we do talk about the job numbers every week.

I do think we pay attention to labor force participation. I sort of do agree somewhat with Mark that there does seem to be an imbalance in the power relationship between capital and labor.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s — yes.

DAVID BROOKS: And I don’t think we’re going to go back to unions, the way they were understood before. I don’t know what the next form is, employee-owned companies.

But I do think you — there probably should be something done to rebalance that relationship. Nonetheless, when I look at the jobs numbers — and I think they’re disappointing. Somebody pointed out, if we were in a normal recovery, we would have six million more jobs than we have now.

And so I look at what’s causing all the sludge in the economy, whether we’re not innovating enough. And there’s some evidence of that, some stagnation in that. A lot of people have just dropped out of the labor force. And that long decline — Doug Elmendorf, the head of the CBO, was asked.

One of the things that is moderating growth, it’s the aging of the population, shrinking of the labor force. And if you don’t have a lot of people working, paying taxes, making stuff, you’re just going to have a sludgier economy. And so there’s a whole bunch of reasons. Some have to do with the complexity of the government, which imposes costs, the complexity of the tax code.

It just feels like we have been a middle-age or late-age economy, and we need some rejuvenation of some sort.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is anybody predicting that this is going to turn around in a positive way, in a big, positive way?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, there’s sort of this prediction of economic growth, and that 2014 was supposed to be good, and the market at the end of the year.

The decade — the first decade of the 1st century is the only 10-year period in the country’s history, as long as we have kept records, that we didn’t create any jobs, that there was no net increase of jobs. I mean, that’s just amazing.

And one of the things that has happened in this recession, Judy, is that the brutal austerity imposed is the number of public jobs, state, local, federal, firefighters, teachers, nurses, public employees that have been laid off. And they have not come back. I mean, even this past month, we’re still laying off people in the public sector. And, to me, it’s sheer folly, both in public services and economically.

DAVID BROOKS: It should be said that the CBO also had a report on the projected debt of the country going up, and they basically raised the debt level by $1.7 trillion. We’re going to be ramping up our public debt levels massively over the next 20 years.

MARK SHIELDS: Twenty years.

DAVID BROOKS: And that’s — that’s — that’s part of the equation of why the public employment has not gone up.

I just feel like — you know, there’s — Mancur Olson, a great economist, late economists, said countries — why did Germany and Japan do so well after World War II?  It’s because, perversely, they lost the war, but all their institutions were cleaned out and they started afresh.

And middle-age economies just get a little more brittle. And it feels like we’re in that. And I don’t know how you then rejuvenate the economy, how you have a second burst, or a third burst in our case, but that sort comprehensive thing has to be talked about.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, speaking of the debt, which you just brought up, we had the forecast, I guess today, from the government that in a few weeks they’re not going to be able to pay their bills unless Congress raises the debt ceiling.

The president is saying, I want this. I want it with no conditions.

Mark, Speaker Boehner is saying, there won’t be a default, but, on the other hand, he’s saying, my members are not yet on board. Where is this headed?  What do you think?

MARK SHIELDS: It’s headed for a Kabuki dance.

I just — one point on David. David is absolutely right about the long-term debt. But as a percentage of the gross domestic product in this country, the deficit this year is lower than it was in Ronald Reagan’s years. OK?  So that’s taken some of the urgency, because we do deal with the immediate in this country.

As far as the current crisis, Judy, it was revolved last October. The nuclear option was exercised by the Republicans last October. They closed…

JUDY WOODRUFF: When they shut down the government.

MARK SHIELDS: They shut down the government. The nuclear device blew up on the launching pad, and left the Republicans at the lowest point that any party has ever been in the history of the Gallup poll. They don’t want to go revisit that going into the 2014 election.

They’re going to try and ride the Obamacare horse to victory, I guess, to use just terrible metaphors all the way through.


MARK SHIELDS: And I know David will bail me out at this point.


JUDY WOODRUFF: And not — and not talk about…

MARK SHIELDS: No, I just don’t think — plus, I think the Patty Murray-Paul Ryan deal took an awful lot of pressure off as far as the fiscal picture is concerned in the short range.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So you think this is just a stalling thing and…

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, they’re going to reach a deal. I’m trying to figure out Mark’s Kabuki horse and metaphors.


MARK SHIELDS: The Kabuki horse is a — is a big concept.


JUDY WOODRUFF: I’m not stepping into that one.


DAVID BROOKS: Yes. Mark’s right. The polling is, if there was sort of a debt blowup, who would you blame, American people?  It’s roughly 59 percent would blame Republicans, 20-something would blame President Obama, so it’s a clear political loser.

So, they have got to ask for something, and they have talked about asking for, if he can approve the Keystone pipeline, then will approve it. They just want something in return. They will probably end up with like half a Pretzel M&M. They will get that and they will sign. And so they’re not going to walk into that again.


JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, the speaker, this is not the only headache on the speaker’s — headache on the platter — that may not work.


JUDY WOODRUFF: But it’s not the only thing he’s got to deal with right now.

Immigration reform, just — it seems like just a few days ago, we were hearing from the speaker that it looked like they were ready to deal on immigration, Mark, but then they went off and had their retreat, and ever since then, they have been saying no. So, maybe not, the speaker said this week.

MARK SHIELDS: This is one where I have to admit David was right.


MARK SHIELDS: I was a lot more bullish about immigration reform, and David has been bearish, and I think events have borne him out.

Judy, it’s the difference we talked about, between a congressional party and a presidential party. The Republican Party presidentially is doomed on immigration. I mean, just take the Asian — Asian-American population, India, China, Korea, Japan. These are people of highest — higher income, highest education, entrepreneurial.

They should be Republicans; 55 percent of them voted for George H.W. Bush. More — they had a higher percentage vote for Barack Obama than Latinos did in 2012. I mean, they have lost everybody. They’re down — they’re down to the Caucasian caucus, the male…

JUDY WOODRUFF: You mean the Republicans.

MARK SHIELDS: The Republicans, the male Caucasian caucus.

But, I mean, at the presidential level, they have got — Mitt Romney got 59 percent of the white vote and he lost by five million votes. And I just don’t know, as they look at this, why they won’t act on it. But it’s the congressional…

JUDY WOODRUFF: But what happened, David?  Because it was — the speaker was saying some positive things, and then something changed.

DAVID BROOKS: Well, first, let me say, I liked the first part of Mark’s answer back there. I’m going to make it the ring tone on my phone, I think.


DAVID BROOKS: What happened was, he didn’t have his members. And that says a lot about where parties are in general these days, not only the Republican Party.

Parties have trouble being led from the top. And the authority in parties is no longer with the speaker, with the leaders. It’s all dispersed. And there are a lot of reasons for that. Some of it has to do with no earmarks. The leaders can’t give out favors, so nobody listens to them. That’s not the only reason, but that’s a little piece of it.

And so they can’t control their party. And so the national leadership of the Republican Party understands what Mark just said, that they need this to get an entree into the immigration reform.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right.

DAVID BROOKS: But the members, from their own House district A. in Arizona or in Utah, they don’t feel that pressure at all.

And so the leaders of the parties cannot control the parties. And, therefore, they can’t do the long-range thing that’s in the benefit of the entire party. And so parochial interests take over, and a parochial veto group has emerged. A lot of the smart, young Republicans, the rising stars in the House, are against this, and they exercise effective veto power.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Though some people are out there saying it’s — it could turn around later this year after the primaries. Do you see hope…

DAVID BROOKS: It doesn’t — it clearly wasn’t going to happen before the primaries. The party is really split. It doesn’t seem like it’s going to happen this year.


And Mitch McConnell, in addition to David Brooks, predicted this week that it wouldn’t happen. And he even is closer to the situation than David is.


MARK SHIELDS: So, I just — I don’t see it happening.

The one voice who endorsed John Boehner, who backed off on immigration, was Steve King, the congressman from Iowa, whose contribution to the debate has consisted most recently of saying, these DREAM Act people who are here that the president has refused to deport, who — undocumented immigrants who were brought here by their parents, they aren’t class valedictorians. They have thighs the size of cantaloupes and calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re drug dealers.

And when he said that — I mean, he said it on the floor — John Boehner denounced him and described him in a two-syllable expletive to a couple of Democratic members. That’s the one voice I have heard endorse John Boehner’s position this week on immigration. So, it’s got to be cold comfort for the speaker.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, complete change of subject. The two of you were right last week on the Super Bowl. You both — I mean, just kudos to both of you. You both predicted Seattle would win.

So, let’s talk about the Olympics. Now, you both follow bobsledding and, what, downhill, luge and all those things very closely.

DAVID BROOKS: We’re actually dance — we’re judges in the ice dancing.


JUDY WOODRUFF: So what are — what’s your prediction?  We have heard a lot about security, David. We have heard a lot about Sochi not being ready. What are you getting — what are you excited about?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, the Jamaican bobsledders, of course. The skeleton, I’m thrilled about.

I actually don’t think about the Olympics — the Winter Olympic sports at any moment, except for the moment they happen to be on. So I’m unaware of luge until that moment.


DAVID BROOKS: And then it is completely erased from my memory banks. It only exists in the present, the Winter Olympics, for me. So I don’t have any prejudgments, I’m afraid.

MARK SHIELDS: I think — I think the Olympics are in trouble, for a very simple reason. They have violated one of the first rules of politics, which — make — make sure the press has clean beds and hotels that — where there’s a bar open and they’re serving palatable food.

And they have guaranteed, Sochi has guarantee themselves bad press by not — not pandering to the press. I mean…

JUDY WOODRUFF: You’re not suggesting reporters…

MARK SHIELDS: I would not suggest that, and certainly not sportswriters least of all.


MARK SHIELDS: But I do — I’m holding my breath that we don’t have…


MARK SHIELDS: … another 1972 Munich or…

JUDY WOODRUFF: Absolutely. We’re all…

MARK SHIELDS: … 1996 Atlanta, or whatever. I mean, that’s — I think that’s the biggest concern I have at this point.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We’re all hoping for that.

Mark, David, thank you. See you next week.

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Shields and Brooks on pipeline politics, Christie scandal

Fri, Jan 31, 2014


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

Welcome, gentlemen.

So I want to ask you for your Super Bowl predictions in a minute, so you have got a few minutes to think about that, but there are a couple of new stories bubbling today.

David, one of them is this Keystone oil pipeline statement by the State Department that they don’t think that there is a serious environmental damage that would be created if they finished the pipeline. What’s the effect? This has been a hot potato issue. What effect did this have?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, the president has been waffling, sort of signaling he’s going to OK the thing. His view is that the thing is sort of overblown, has become a symbolic issue of whether you are for fracking or against fracking, what your attitude is toward the natural gas industry.

I think the assumption has always been that, at the end of the day, after making sort of a political gesture toward the environmental movement, he was going to end up on the other side. And if you listen to the State of the Union address, the energy revolution in this country is possibly the best thing economically that has happened to the country in a long time.

And so he was bragging about how much energy we’re producing, how much we’re beginning to export, how it changes the dynamic in the Middle East. It’s been a wonderful boon to the American economy. So I think at the end of the day, he is not going to want to get in the way of that, even on a symbolic issue or semi-symbolic issue.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Mark, do you think this just sort of smooths the way for the president to say it’s OK to go ahead with the expansion?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, it makes it tougher for him to say no, I think.

But I think the risk to Democrats is that it could alienate one of the most activist blocs in the party going into the 2014 elections, and that if environmentalists decide to sulk and sit on their hands and say, this president has let us down, and it could be a real deficit for Democrats.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And so — and we will watch and see.

We know there is another — John Kerry, secretary of state, has got to make a decision and tent president.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, the other story that came out, this is late today, has to do with Gov. Christie, the New Jersey governor, and whether he knew or didn’t know, David, about the closing down of traffic lanes on the bridge leading into New York City, and what it — it is a little confusing, but there is a New York Times story saying, quoting the former head of the Port Authority, who said that — who is saying Gov. Christie did know that this was going on.

And now Christie’s office has come out subsequent to that and said well, that’s OK, that confirms what he said.

So how do you — what do you take away from all this?

DAVID BROOKS: Viewers with disturbingly long memories will remember that I thought this wouldn’t hurt him too much.


DAVID BROOKS: So that view is looking a little less tenable as time goes by.


DAVID BROOKS: And so it has begun to hurt him just because there’s been a series of other stories following along.

But I did say that if it turns out that the central claim of that long news conference was that he did know contemporaneously, then he’s in big trouble. And so we don’t know the state of the evidence, the quality of the evidence. But argue about verb tenses aside, if he knew contemporaneously, then he doesn’t only look like a bully. He looks like somebody who got up there and said something that was either withholding the truth or simply untrue.

So, I don’t want to say we are there yet, but if it turns out to be there, I do think it really becomes quite damaging. And it’s even possible to imagine he won’t be able to run for president.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So it doesn’t matter whether it’s proven, Mark, that there was a political motivation, that he wanted to punish this mayor, what really matters is…


MARK SHIELDS: Yes, his word. I mean, he was pretty unequivocal and pretty clear.

And I think most Democrats would concede that he was the most formidable candidate in 2016 that they were most afraid of. They are less afraid today. This is the man, David Wildstein, who was his high school classmate.

JUDY WOODRUFF: This is the Port Authority…

MARK SHIELDS: Port Authority official to whom the message was sent from Christie’s deputy chief of staff, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.” And so he was the guy to execute the plan. And there was a plan. This wasn’t just obviously a hanging phrase. There had been a plan. This was the activation order.

What is interesting, Judy, is this — everything goes back to high school. Chris Christie in high school said he didn’t really know — he said subsequently he didn’t really know David Wildstein, who he praised as a tireless advocate for the people of New Jersey when he left.

But he didn’t really know him, because he, Chris Christie, had been class president, he had been an athlete, and David Wildstein hadn’t been a cool guy who sat at the cool guy’s table in the high school cafeteria. And this is sort of the revenge of the geeks.


JUDY WOODRUFF: I mean, so both of you are saying, no matter what comes out of this, his brand, his — his — his persona is hurt?

MARK SHIELDS: I think the Times’ reporting has been pretty tough.

I mean, they did a long documented piece earlier this week on his office and how intimately he was involved in everything that went on, the politics of it, the substance of it, the campaign of it, you know, that he was a hands-on guy.

This is the argument for Chris Christie. This is a guy with wonderful political instincts, he’s a guy in charge. And now the defense is, he wasn’t curious, he didn’t know. And I just — or he was passive. And I just think it becomes more of a problem for them politically, whether legally or something else.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I think even bragging that you were a class president, big man on campus, you have already alienated 98 percent of the American public.


JUDY WOODRUFF: That’s right.

DAVID BROOKS: I’m sure people in Mark’s social circle are very upset about it.



DAVID BROOKS: Not my social circle, of course.



JUDY WOODRUFF: Go ahead, yes.

DAVID BROOKS: But just one other point. You are from New Jersey, you’re governor. Read Machiavelli. If the guy has some evidence to burn you, stay loyal to him, and he didn’t do that.


MARK SHIELDS: Yes, don’t — I could never understand that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Alright, this is the week of the State of the Union, just three days ago, 72 hours.

David, what are we left with at this point? Did the president help himself? Did he advance his cause by what he had to say?

DAVID BROOKS: I just — I go back to the wet noodle. That has only been reinforced by just what I have heard from people around, that there is a sense of uninspired, not thrilled, ratings not great, not big ideas.

And I do think it was a misreading, on reflection, a misreading of the country. With a country in fear of really decline, I do think you have to have something big. And that means you probably can’t have something passable. But I do think he had the opportunity to really change the debate in some large way to really maybe not pass legislation, but pave the way for a future president to pass legislation by introducing ideas, creating networks behind mobilizing a movement for equality, for opportunity, for social mobility.

And he could have laid the predicate for something big that would have felt big and commensurate with the moment, and I guess I don’t think he did that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you read…


MARK SHIELDS: I can’t argue that it wasn’t big. I don’t think children in the future generations will be memorizing large chunks of this speech and committing them to memory.

But I do think that it was the word that we used — I think Gwen used it in the post-election, post-speech analysis — and that was it was workmanlike. It worked politically. It wasn’t uplifting. It wasn’t the lift of a driving dream.

But I do think that it has put the Republicans, quite frankly, on the defensive by the issues the president did raise. The Republicans have been scrambling since to prove that they’re not just the opposition, the blind opposition, that they do have alternatives, whether — and they are even now revisiting — I think forced to revisit health care.

They just can’t be blindly let’s repeal it. And they’re wrestling with immigration, which is truly the San Andreas Fault of the Republican Party. This is potentially combustible for them.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, he only touched briefly on immigration. But since then, he’s indicated, David, just in the last day or so that he’s open to — frankly to language that the Republicans were supporting.

Now, the House Republicans have been off at a retreat for the last couple of days. What is coming out of that and what do we think about it?


DAVID BROOKS: Well, the president was actually deft about that. He didn’t want to get out in front of the Republicans. He wanted them to take the initiative and then he could embrace.

And Boehner got out there and issued some principles. I thought they were good principles. I guess I thought when he issued the principles that they had found a way to heal the fault.


DAVID BROOKS: And my understanding is they actually haven’t found a way to heal the fault.

And they are certainly not going to want to do it, raise anything before primaries, because they don’t want Republican candidates to be faced with primary challenges on this issue. So that pushes it off for a bit of a while. And then I think the opposition is still strong. So I’m less hopeful that they’re going to be able to get something out of the House, let alone something that is manageable with the Senate.

MARK SHIELDS: The problem the Republicans face is a very simple one. The Republicans have the House. In all likelihood, they are going to hold on to the House.

The Republicans can and maybe even expand that in 2014. The Republicans cannot win the presidency with their present position on immigration and the position of Mitt Romney in 2012. They have to deal with it. It is the difference between the electorate in 2014 and that in 2016 is approximately 42 million people.

Of those 42 million people, half of them will be African-American, Asian, and Latinos.



JUDY WOODRUFF: Who won’t be voting, you’re saying, this year?

MARK SHIELDS: They won’t be voting.

So they can win an election where whites are disproportionately represented, where older voters are disproportionately represented. They cannot compete presidentially. And I just think the party is — you know, Ronald Reagan won 45 percent of the Latino vote in California in 1984.

Republicans held half the House seats in California. Today, as a consequence of Republican policy, beginning with Pete Wilson, but followed by Republican presidential candidates, the Republicans are not even competitive in California. And that’s 55 votes out of one-fifth of all you need to get elected president.

And that is happening in Colorado, in Florida, in Virginia, in Nevada, across the country. I mean, this is a party that is writing off the White House.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Quick change of subject.

Ben Bernanke, today is his last day as chairman of the Federal Reserve. We heard Paul Solman talk to economists on both sides of the political spectrum. David, how do you see it?

DAVID BROOKS: I think it was gutsy.

I think, right now, we have to think he did a fantastic job. It was gutsy to really not only unfurl the tools, but unfurl tools he didn’t know he had.


I mean, when the — everybody else went weak in the knees and were naysayers and everything, particularly the Congress, the Republicans, he really stood up. I mean, he stood between this country and the gulf, I mean, and disaster. And I think he deserves an awful lot of credit. I really do.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You both give him an A. or something like that?

DAVID BROOKS: We will see how it is all unwound, but yes.



JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, the final and most important question, the Super Bowl. I want a prediction from both of you and what are you looking for?


DAVID BROOKS: Well, when your own team is not in the Super Bowl, you have a moral — two moral obligations. You can either root for the team from the most economically disadvantaged city.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right.

DAVID BROOKS: And Denver and Seattle, I think, are about even. So, they are pretty economically advanced. So there is a wash there.

So then you have to go on the moral caliber of the role model.


DAVID BROOKS: And here you have Peyton Manning, who is a very perfect presentation.

For Seattle, Richard Sherman, the defensive back, a bit of a braggadocio manner, you would say, so I do think you have to go with Manning on that. So that is my moral preference.

My game decision preference is that Seattle wins.


All right, Mark.



MARK SHIELDS: Let’s take a word for Richard Sherman, who came out of Compton, which is a tough city in California, gangs, and turned down a scholarship to the University of Southern California to go to Stanford, where he graduated, finished second in his high school class. Because he wears dreadlocks and maybe he has…


DAVID BROOKS: No, but he says bad things about Crabtree. That’s…

MARK SHIELDS: He apologized for that.


MARK SHIELDS: Judy, favorites are favorites for good reason. Favorites usually win.

I like underdogs. I root for the filly to win the Kentucky Derby, which it doesn’t do. I root for the kid who went to law school nights and worked days to get the promotion, and it’s always the CEO’s nephew that gets the promotion instead.


MARK SHIELDS: I am rooting for Russell Wilson, even though Peyton Manning is a totally admirable human being and great citizen. I am rooting for Seattle, and they will win.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, you can bet we’re going to hold to you account on this one.

David, two answers you gave.


DAVID BROOKS: Well, on the game outcome, we agree. So, that’s probably true.


JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, thank you both.

MARK SHIELDS: Thank you.

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Shields and Brooks offer State of the Union predictions

Wed, Jan 29, 2014


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GWEN IFILL: And we turn our attention again to tonight’s State of the Union address with some pre-speech analysis from Shields and Brooks. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

So, Mark, what are you expecting tonight?

MARK SHIELDS: I’m expecting a real uphill struggle on the part of the president. This is the first time the president, who has been personally popular in spite of his programs, is less popular than the ideas he’s pushing.

And his numbers are underwater. He’s below 50 percent. And Democrats are nervous and scared and the country is pessimistic. So he’s got to — he’s got a tough task tonight.

JUDY WOODRUFF: David, what do you expect and what does he need to do?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, there will be a lot of modesty tonight.

He gave an interview to David Remnick of “The New Yorker” a couple weeks ago in which he said, being president is a bit like being a runner in a relay race. You inherit the baton. You pass it along.

And this really was someone who has been chastened maybe, made aware of the limits of the office. And so I don’t think we’re going to see a lot of radical proposals. But I would like to see a radical definition of the problem.

And we know he’s going to talk about inequality and lower social mobility. And so we would like to see at least the description of that and maybe some gesture towards some bigger solutions, even if, in the interim, he’s only proposing a few executive actions.

GWEN IFILL: In fact, we have a couple excerpts that have been prepared for delivery in tonight’s speech.

And one of the things he says is that inequality has deepened and upward mobility has stalled, and our job is to reverse these tides.

What do you guys think? Is it possible to reverse these tides when you’re in the midterm of a second term?

MARK SHIELDS: It’s tough, but there’s no place like the presidency.

It’s the greatest pulpit and bully pulpit in the country to lead. The numbers are just absolutely staggering the president made in a speech in early December. Productivity of the country has increased 90 percent in the past 35 years, and yet the average family’s wages are up only 8 percent.

And there’s been a widening, widening gap. And it’s not only bad ethics. It’s bad economics. The lack of buying power is slowing down the greater economy. So I think you can make an argument in the national interest that this is not simply the right thing to do morally, but it’s the right thing to do economically and nationally.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, he’s laid out these ambitious goals, David, but, in a way, he’s limiting himself in a way by saying, well, I plan to do this with executive actions, if I can’t do it any other way.


The problem with the lack of social mobility is such a gigantic problem that you really need him to blare forth with some gigantic set of solutions. And he obviously doesn’t have access to that because of the way Washington is. And he’s come to accept that.

So, raising the minimum wage on some future federal contractors, that is not going to reverse the tide. It might be a positive step, might not be. But he — what you have to do to reverse the tides is a whole series of reasonably radical reactions which are both left and right together, some wage subsidies, which will please liberals, probably some social policies that will please conservatives. You have got to do a lot of this stuff together in a way that really breaks the orthodox barriers we now have.

And as we see each side standing up and sitting down, you need something that just breaks the orthodoxies. And it’s unlikely he will be able to …

DAVID BROOKS: … something like that.


I asked Jay Carney about this earlier, which is that, yesterday, Roy Blunt told Judy he’s abandoning Congress. And he said, oh, I’m not abandoning Congress. This is what Jay Carney said. Congress has basically abandoned the president.

Which is it? And is there any way to turn that around?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I mean, the president can’t abandon the Congress if he hopes to get an immigration law. And I think that certainly remains a hope, and sort of a growing hope now with action and activity on the Republicans, some resistance from David’s former colleague Bill Kristol, who’s arguing that it would be in — not in the Republicans’ interest to bring this up in an election year.

But, if they don’t address that issue before 2015, they’re not going to address it, and they go into 2016 with their presidential nominee disabled again. So the president has to have an olive branch in that sense, but he doesn’t expect — his level of expectation of the Congress and the Congress’ level of expectation of him I think are considerably lower than they were a year ago.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But, other than immigration, David, where are the areas where you see the potential for real working together, cooperation?

DAVID BROOKS: Other than immigration, I don’t see any.

This has been a problem for the Obama administration, maybe an insoluble one, but I think it was soluble. You had a core of Tea Party people on the Republican side who are clearly not going to cooperate with anything. I still think at some point early in the administration, it would have been possible to build a governing majority sort of center-right and sort of try to isolate the Tea Party people and get the other Republicans into some sort of governing coalition.

They never quite could do that, and, therefore, we’re just stuck with the polarization we have now. And it’s really unlikely we’re going to see big legislation any time in the next couple years.

GWEN IFILL: Who does a president speak to on a night like tonight at this point in his presidency? Is he just talking to himself? Is he just talking to his supporters, talking to the American people who might be watching something else on DVR?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, this is the biggest audience he’s probably going to have this year.

And it’s before the 2014 elections. And the Democrats are hoping that he can bring some passion, some intensity, some purpose back to the administration. The — as I pointed out earlier, the issues are very much — the primary issues are very much in the Democrats’ favor.

But when a president is below 50 percent approval — and this president is now — the average loss of House seats in a six-year term is 36. When a president is above 50 percent, the average loss is 14 percent. Now, Democrats don’t want to lose 14 seats, but that’s a significant difference.

And so Democrats are hoping that it’s a resurgence on his part, that he can be a more popular leader for their party going into the 2014 elections.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. It’s certainly not the people in the room.

David Wessel of The Wall Street Journal pointed out today that the lasted address, he had 42 asks of Congress, of which three happened. And so that’s not a great batting average. So it’s not them. But it is the people out in the country, for the reason Mark — this is really the last campaign speech he can make for the midterms.

And it’s the administration. This is mostly about setting the agenda within the administration, not so much what he says, but the act of composing the speech.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We look forward to talking to both of you when it all begins, in just a few hours.

GWEN IFILL: All night long.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All night long.

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Shields and Brooks on McDonnell and money, Clinton and the campaign

Fri, Jan 24, 2014


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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, we live in this rich country, Mark and David, but we have just heard kind of a remarkable report that Hari did from Orange County, California, about hunger.  And then we just heard Raj Chetty, the economist, in this fascinating conversation with Jeff, Mark, talk about how the mobility, the ability of people to move up if they are the lowest level of the income ladder really hasn’t changed.  And, in fact, it’s gotten worse in some ways.

What are we to make of all this?

MARK SHIELDS:  I wish I had an answer for it.

I think there is no question we’re talking about this being an issue and theme that is going to dominate certainly the president’s presentation coming up.  And it’s — Judy, the reality that he talked about, the income inequality, the economic inequality in the country, in a little over a generation, we have gone from the top 1 percent having 11 percent of the national income to 25 percent, and the bottom 90 percent — that is 90 percent of the people — instead of sharing 67 percent, down to less than 50.

So that widening income and economic inequality is real.  And it has consequences that are social, that are political, and they’re generational.  And I was just blown away by the interview with Jeff.  I mean, it just — to me, it was so riveting, what he says and how he says it.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  David, how does this — what effect does this have or should have it on our public debate?

DAVID BROOKS:  Well, I’m frankly a little concerned about the way it is going to affect our public debate.

Inequality is certainly widening.  Mobility is something we have to think about as Americans.  It is the American dream.  But as a frame, it is a very broad frame.  What Mark talked about, the concentration of wealth at the top, is caused by one set of problems, middle-class wage stagnation caused by another set of problems, what is happening in the lower 20 or 40 percent caused by a different set of problems.

So you have got a whole bunch of problems all intermingled.  And my viewing, the political system I don’t think can deal with all these different problems all layered on top.  If I were President Obama doing the State of the Union address next week, I would say, where is the greatest injustice?  Where is the greatest harm?

And I would say that’s at the bottom 20 percent or the bottom 40 percent.  You take kids, what do they have to do to have a pretty — chance of a decent life?  Graduate from high school at age 19 with maybe a 2.5 GPA, not get convicted of anything, not get pregnant.  Only 37 percent of kids at the bottom 20 percent income scale are doing that, only 37 percent.

So that is where the greatest harm is.  That is already a phenomenally difficult problem.  And I would focus on that, with early childhood education, nurse-family partnerships, school programs.  I would really focus energy on that, rather than this vast society-wide issue called inequality.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  So — but do we think that he may do some of that, Mark?

MARK SHIELDS:  I think he will.

I think — and David makes a very, very, very good point and a real point.  But, Judy, when we just talk about family, and we talk about — which I think has become sort of the dividing line, one side saying it’s values that we have to do, the other side saying that there is economic war here, and I think that is something that is real.

And there are defined economic interests.  And there is one side that has won and one side that has lost.  And when we talk about children born to unmarried mothers, the country with the highest economic mobility in the world is Denmark with 55 percent of babies are born to unmarried mothers, you know?


DAVID BROOKS:  Danish unmarried mothers are not like ours.  They are living with guys and they’re living decade after decade.  They’re just not having a marriage.

MARK SHIELDS:  OK.  But, I mean, you could say that marriage then as an institution in Western Europe has suffered.

But, I mean, just to simply say that this is the answer, I think it is — it’s Globalization.  It’s the decline of all these jobs that are in the industrial base of the country.  It is a weakening of unions.  There are a dozen factors that have contributed to it.  But I think the fact that it’s being addressed is important and urgent.

DAVID BROOKS:  That is what makes it so hard as a political issue, because Mark is right.  It is economic.  It’s the decline of low-skill jobs.  It’s de-industrialization.  That leads to there are a lot of especially men who are not worth marrying, because they don’t have incomes, they don’t have wages.

And so they’re just not going to get married.  And so there is a clear economic cause there.  There is also a cultural shift, as more people decide it’s OK to have children before getting married.  And these two interplay in an incredibly complicated way that is very hard to understand and probably differs person to person.

So my view is, it is already a phenomenally thick and thorny problem.  And so by making it more thick, by putting all these society-wide things, I understand there is inequality, I understand the mobility problem.  I just think when we’re thinking about policy, it is really important to focus.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  But, sometimes, we feel the two political parties are stuck in an argument, that one makes one argument, the other one makes another.  Does this change what those arguments should be?

MARK SHIELDS:  Well, I think it — the question becomes, does the economy serve the people or do the people serve the economy?

And I think that to me is the cleavage here.  I mean, I’m sorry.  People — the economy exist, the economy is thriving, the economy is working for very powerful and influential people.  We see it.  We see it in the scandals every day in our American politics.  People with the affluence have influence.

And it comes down to, I think, a fundamental question about what kind of a society you are, is, does the economy exist for people?  And I just think we have got to figure out a way to let people participate and enable them do participate in this economy and to live a life of dignity and respect.

DAVID BROOKS:  Yes, another — just another cleavage which I do not know the answer to, is the economy properly rewarding workers?

Democrats tend to say, these are productive workers and the economy is not rewarding them because there are fewer unions and things like that.  Republicans tend to gravitate toward the issue, these are just not that productive workers and the economy is fairly rewarding them, and, therefore, the response is to increase their human capital through education and other things, so to make them more productive.

And that is sort of basic question.  Is the capitalist economy right now working, or is it not?

And when — as we said tonight, we reported the chairman of J.P. Morgan Chase making $20 million last year at a company that did have, what, 33 percent increase in profits, but also negotiated…

MARK SHIELDS:  And paid $18 billion in fines.


MARK SHIELDS:  If you are arrested as an axe murderer, you want Jamie Dimon to be bargaining for you.


MARK SHIELDS:  He has kept the company out of jail and profitable, and, I guess, so they double his salary.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Well, we mentioned you — one of you — both of you — I think Mark mentioned politicians in trouble.

The former governor of Virginia indicted today for — along with his wife — for taking money, gifts, loans from a businessman in Virginia.  And the question is whether he did anything in return.  And we don’t know whether he did, David.  But some — you hear the argument made that, well, this is the kind of thing all politicians do.

Is this the kind of thing all politicians do?

DAVID BROOKS:  No, not really.  Most politicians are not actually that into money.  That is why they went into politics.  They’re into power, they’re into prestige, they want to be the center of attention.

What is mystifying about this couple is the fascination with Rolexes and Ferraris.  I have like a $80 watch or something like that.  Why do you need a $6,500 watch?  What are you getting out of it?  He needs status.  I guess he wants a Rolex.  But he’s governor.  He has a security detail.  That’s status.

So what’s the psychology that was driving them is a bit of a mystery to me.  And then I think it’s partly because — and this is true of politicians — they spend their time hanging around rich people, constantly around rich people.  You look around the table, it’s Rolex, Rolex, Rolex, and suddenly they don’t fit in.  And that does have a corrupting effect on politicians in a variety of ways, actually.

MARK SHIELDS:  And that’s universal.

The point, the last point David made is absolutely universal.  We have a system that is excessively deferential to people with money.  Politicians spend too much of their time seeking the approbation and the support of people with money.  And a little resentment develops.  I’m not in any way justifying Bob McDonnell.

Bob McDonnell was a very appealing political figure.  He was a real possibility to be on the ticket.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  For president.

MARK SHIELDS:  He won as a conservative in a swing state, a battleground state.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Vice president.

MARK SHIELDS:  The vice president.

In Virginia, he governed as a moderate.  He was a successful governor.  But — and this is not Teapot Dome.  This is not somebody selling the mineral rights of a country.  This is not Rod Blagojevich selling a U.S. Senate seat to the highest bidder.  But it is grubby entitlement.

And the Rolex gene, which is exclusively male, is a real disorder.


MARK SHIELDS:  It truly is.  I have no idea.

I mean, Bernie Madoff had 17 Rolexes.  Jesse Jackson Jr…

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Is that right?

MARK SHIELDS:  He had 17.  And Jesse Jackson Jr., the same thing, he had a Rolex.

I have no idea what it is.  I talked to one of the smartest woman I know this week, and she said, it’s man’s real impulse to wear diamond necklaces, and Rolex is the closest thing to it that’s tolerable.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  I’m not going to ask…


JUDY WOODRUFF:  … necklace…


DAVID BROOKS:  Yes, I have got diamonds, but I don’t…


JUDY WOODRUFF:  All right, just one last quick question, speaking of politicians and money.

Hillary Clinton, we haven’t talked a lot about her in a while.  But she’s going around the country making speeches.  And I guess one of the most successful political action committees, super PACs, announced this week that it is going to be backing her.

So, again, it’s what — it’s what you both are talking about.  It’s money, it’s politics.  What does this say that, here we are, January 2014, and we’re already talking about how much money…

DAVID BROOKS:  Yes, well, they’re trying to scare people out of the race.  But, to me, it’s not going to work.

It’s the sound of doom.  No, I don’t think it’s the sound of doom, but I do not think she is going to be coronated out of this.  And the fact that some high-flying Washington establishment PAC is helping her is not going to necessarily help her.  There is a great outsider hunger here.

And I’m looking for an outsider.  Governor Jerry Brown of California, mark my words, he’s going to run.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Thirty seconds.  Thirty seconds.

MARK SHIELDS:  The election of 2016 will not be about continuity.  It will be about change.

And the idea that you’re talking about inevitability as a campaign strategy, that you better buy your ticket right now and get on the train because it’s pulling out of the station, American voters today, we are participating in this.

And I just really think that it’s a total disservice, quite frankly, to President Obama.  It makes him look more and more like a lame-duck, when his own party can’t wait to get him out of town.  It would be one thing if there was a Republican sitting it in the White House.  There is a Democrat, and he’s got basically 1,000 days left in his term.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  I just want to see what kind of watch you both are wearing.



DAVID BROOKS:  Very cheap.  Very cheap.


MARK SHIELDS:  L.L. Bean, and it’s overpriced at $89.


JUDY WOODRUFF:  Mark Shields, David Brooks, thank you both.

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Shields and Brooks on Christie’s scandal tolerance, Gates’ war stories

Fri, Jan 10, 2014


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

Welcome, gentlemen. It’s Friday.

So let’s start with the spectacle New Jersey, Republican Governor Chris Christie in hot water over a, apparently, Mark, deliberately arranged traffic jam done in retribution for political enemies, people who didn’t vote for him. What — what do you make of this? Why is it getting so much attention?

MARK SHIELDS: It’s getting so much attention because he is the de facto front-runner in many people’s minds for the Republican nomination. Certainly, Democrats see him as the most formidable potential nominee at this point in 2016 on the Republican side.

But, Judy, this is a story that plays to his greatest strength and becomes his greatest vulnerability, in my sense. Chris Christie crystallized as a national figure August 26, 2011. He stood on the beach as Hurricane Irene thundered down upon the Jersey Shore. And there were some sunbathers who refused to go.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Hurricane Sandy.

MARK SHIELDS: No, Hurricane Irene, 2011.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Oh, this is another one. This is 2011.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes, this is 2011.



And he went — they refused to leave, in spite the threats and the warnings, and everything else. And Chris Christie went on television and said, get the hell off the beach. Get out, get in your car, the sun is down, it’s 4:30. You have got all the tan you have got.

It was just one of those moments that was just so real. And this was what he was. He was a no-nonsense guy. He was a take-charge, I’m in control guy, roll up your sleeves.

And this, the only defense he has is, he was detached, he was disengaged, he didn’t know. And instead of the naturalness of that language, his language yesterday in the press conference was that of the victim, you know, that he was betrayed by those whom he trusted.

And yet he didn’t once express real, genuine, authentic Chris Christie concern for the people whose lives were really disrupted, I mean, thousands of people who missed appointments, who missed funerals, who missed business opportunities, who missed their chance to get their kids to school.

And it was a — it was a lousy act. And it was a ruthless act. it wasn’t — this isn’t hardball politics, where you take David’s pet project and don’t fund it. This is dislocating thousands of people and a cheap political trick. And if he didn’t know about it, the people he trusted the most, brought in, and he was uncurious about, I think it raises serious questions about him.

And the most important thing is that nobody has come to his defense, nobody. I mean, Republicans haven’t come to his defense. And Democrats are happy to see him stew right now.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Raises serious questions?

DAVID BROOKS: Here I come. Here I come to his defense.



DAVID BROOKS: No, I — some of that, I agree with. He should have expressed more regret about the people who were inconvenienced.


DAVID BROOKS: It should be said also the level of small-minded petulance that exists in politics is never to be underestimated.

People do nasty, cheap stuff all the time, because they are caught up in some small-minded politicalness of it. As having said that, though, I thought Christie did reasonably well. I thought…

JUDY WOODRUFF: At the news conference.

DAVID BROOKS: At the news conference.

If he knew about what was happening at the time, his career is really damaged. But so far, there has been no evidence that he did.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Because he denied.

DAVID BROOKS: He denied, flatly denied.

So, if an e-mail comes out showing he knew, then he is in deep trouble. But, so far, I thought he expressed naturalness. He expressed humiliation. He walked us through in intimate detail how he found out about it, how he fired the people.

I thought it was Christie. Now, my friend Mike Murphy, the political consultant, says the essence of Christie, he doesn’t come in small doses. He comes in big doses. And the challenge for Christie as a candidate has always been, will people accept somebody who comes on that strong?

But if he comes on that strong as even a little bit of a bully, which is sort of what he looks like in this, he could be that people want a bully to go to Washington. If they’re going to vote for Christie, they don’t want a charmer. They want a big bully. And this will not hurt him, I think.

I think some politicians would be hurt by this kind of scandal. He will not be hurt, because his image, as a big, tough, bully, that is what you are hiring him for if you are going to elect him president. And so this is consistent with that image, I think.

MARK SHIELDS: You don’t want the president who is a bully. You want a president who is strong. You want a president who can impose his will upon Congress. You want a president who can lead, is not afraid to make tough decisions.

You don’t want a bully. Chris Christie has been everyman up until now. Now, at this point, he has become somebody who is so uncurious about what is going on. He was the last person in the entire governor’s office to find out about this?

Add to this the other problem that he’s going to have, is that, 2012, he was one of the finalists with Paul Ryan to be the Republican nominee for vice president. He was passed over. And when somebody is passed over, there’s always questions. And there were stories out of the Romney campaign. Many spoke on the record that it was his entourage, overbearing, demands of a private jet, demands of a big support system, impossible, divas to deal with, and all of this.

This plays right into that. And if he found out at 8:55 on Wednesday morning that this was happening, and then this is a story that has been brewing now for two months, you know, I just think it really confounds anybody’s believability.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. Well, first, if I…

JUDY WOODRUFF: You mean you are saying you don’t believe him?

MARK SHIELDS: I don’t. It’s next to impossible.

I can’t believe anybody could be so chronically, terminally uncurious about something that affects his career, as well as his governorship, let alone his presidential ambitions.

DAVID BROOKS: Well, it could be that he was lied to.

It’s also, it seems to me, true it’s rare that a scandal, especially not a major scandal, knocks out a candidate, Bill Clinton, Gennifer Flowers. Scandals are not — people are reasonably scandal-tolerant.

And as to Mark’s point about whether it should be a bully, I think in normal times, this is true. But now we’re living in a time of incredible distrust of Washington, distrust of politics. I think the standards are a little different. In times of high distrust, maybe you want somebody — and this has happened through history, and even in Israel, Bibi Netanyahu, a little rough guy.

People get — pick the rough guy when they’re really fed up.

MARK SHIELDS: What is the knock — just one rebuttal? What is the knock on Barack Obama? A close, tightly-knit staff of ultra-loyalists, don’t seek outside advice, don’t go beyond that circle, detached and disengaged.

Sound familiar to the Chris Christie modus…


DAVID BROOKS: Well, the diva thing, I totally get. I totally agree with that. If the diva thing is a problem, he is a diva and that will hurt him.

But he doesn’t remind a lot of people of Barack Obama. Barack Obama is very cool and…

MARK SHIELDS: No, no, but, I mean, his defense is that he was detached and disengaged. He didn’t know what was going on.



Well, speaking of President Obama, he was the, I guess you could say, victim, certainly the victim of criticism, in the book that came out in the last few days by former Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

He has clearly broken a little bit of china with this book. It’s 600 pages. I confess, I have not read the entire thing. I am going to be talking to Secretary Gates next Tuesday.

But, just in a situation like this, David, where a former official comes out and says, among other things, that the president didn’t believe in the war in Afghanistan and didn’t trust the generals, is this the kind of thing that ends up hurting the president? Does it — what effect — what is the lasting effect of something like this?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, his — his defense is that he was skeptical of the Afghan surge. And maybe skepticism was well justified, because it was widely determined it didn’t work so well.

And so he was skeptical. And then the criticism of him, he sent young men and women into harm’s away not really believing in it. And the argument should be, if you don’t totally believe in a military mission as president of the United States, you shouldn’t do it.

And my understanding at the time — and I had a lot of direct reporting at the time — my firm conviction then was the president wasn’t fully behind the surge, that he had completely understood and in many ways was very sympathetic to the arguments against it. Why he did, I really don’t know.

Maybe he wanted to give it a shot. Maybe he thought it would work. But I certainly — the central charge, that he wasn’t fully supportive of the Afghan surge, rings completely true to my memory of reporting at that time.

MARK SHIELDS: I think, from everything — and I have not — I confess I have not read the book, but everything I have read about the book and excerpts from it, it is quite nuanced.

I mean, yes, this is an indictment of the president.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is more than just criticism.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes. He calls him the most deliberative president he’s ever been around, a gutsy decision-maker. I mean, he really is quite full of praise. He had never made a political decision, that — you know, that he was — really, the consequences of the formulation of the campaign of 2008 came back to haunt the president.

The consequences were that — the formulation that Iraq was a bad war, Afghanistan was a good war. And so you come to office, and you have got to support the good war and wind down the bad war. And I don’t think there’s any question that — but that that happened.

And — but, at the same time, to me, there are two questions. The serious thing that he says in the book — and I think it’s true of not just this administration — we had the campaign in 2012, when none of the four had even been anywhere near military service. And there is a skepticism and distrust of the military thinking they want to go to war.

They don’t want to go to war. People who have been to war don’t want to go to war. That’s the first thing. And the second thing, I will leave to David.



MARK SHIELDS: I have taken too much time. I’m sorry.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we will all go off read the book. Then we will come back and talk about it again.

But the last thing I do want to ask the two of you about is, we observed the 50th anniversary this week of the war on poverty, what President Lyndon Johnson announced in 1964.

David, looking back on it, big question. I want to ask you if it’s been a success. And I mean that, because right now you have got this big debate under way between Democrats and among Democrats and Republicans about whether the whole — the apparatus that was established to fight poverty has been a total failure and should be torn up and we should start from scratch with something else.

DAVID BROOKS: I’m still in shock Mark is giving me time.


JUDY WOODRUFF: And I’m giving you some time too.


I wouldn’t say it was a total failure, and I’m a skeptic of it. There were programs that were clearly successful, the food stamp program. There were programs that were successful, but they just got the costs wrong, Medicare. So they estimated what Medicare would cost today. They were off by huge factors.

There were some programs that could have been successful, but they were poorly executed. I think Head Start would count on that. And so you have got a bunch of programs that they tried all at once, which had some modest effect, but not the effect you wanted, and a lot of negative effects.

And right after the Great Society program, there was a tremendous decay in our social fabric, a tremendous rise in crime. And I would say they emphasized the economic parts of poverty. They didn’t emphasize and they misunderstood some of the social capital effects. And they had unintended negative consequences.

So I would say mixed blessing. I would lean a little more on the skeptical side, that it was a — more of a failure than a success.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you see…


MARK SHIELDS: The biggest criminal act of the last 50 years is committed by people who had nothing to do with OEO or a poverty program. It was done by people on Wall Street. And the country is still reeling and suffering and paying from it.

I think, Judy, that it’s been a very great success if you happen to be over the age of 60 in this country. We have reduced poverty among those over 65 from 35 percent of the population down to 9. Ninety-nine percent of people over 65 have medical care now. They didn’t.

And children, there are hard studies now that show people who went through Head Start are graduating from high school and going on to college at a higher rate than those who didn’t. I agree that it hasn’t been an unvarnished success.

But I would just point out this. The difference is, in large part, people over 65 have very formidable lobbies, and they vote. And kids don’t. And I do think the reexamination of it by the president, encouraged Republicans to participate in that dialogue, is important.

I think the pope deserves credit for putting it on the agenda. And I think we are addressing poverty. It’s something that when — all we talked about in 2012 was the middle class, the middle class, the middle class. Now we are at least addressing a reality.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But you are saying children have been left out of it.

MARK SHIELDS: Children have — children have been — children have not benefited to the degree that those over 60 have, who have done very well.

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I agree with that. The — we did reduce elderly poverty, but by taking — making the government a giant transfer machine from young families to the elderly.

Just one thing on poverty and Republicans. Marco Rubio had a speech today, or this week, which was, I thought, a quite impressive speech, much more affirmatively using the power of government to address poverty problems, whether it’s wage subsidies, whether it’s through direct grants, much — for a party that has become instinctively anti-government, we are beginning to see Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio and some others wanting to affirmatively use government, I think, in targeted, but limited and conservative ways to really address practical problems.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We can talk about that.


JUDY WOODRUFF: Unless you can say it in one word, or two words.


MARK SHIELDS: David is not completely right.


JUDY WOODRUFF: OK. Promise to let you finish that thought later.

Mark Shields, David Brooks, thank you both.



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Shields and Gerson on the political lessons of 2013

Fri, Dec 27, 2013

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JUDY WOODRUFF: And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks — or Michael Gerson. That is syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson. David Brooks is off tonight.

Welcome, gentlemen.

MARK SHIELDS: Thank you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, we have just heard this conversation, Mark, about inequality. We have talked about it before at this table. How big a problem is it in this country as we close out this year?

MARK SHIELDS: I think it’s a growing problem. I think it’s a real problem, Judy.

And the president has obviously — has called it the defining issue of our time, and pointed out that, over the past 35 years, we have seen a widening of the difference in income and wealth between the middle class and between the top 1 percent. The top 1 percent in the past 30 years, since Ronald Reagan was president, have seen their incomes go up by 279 percent.

Just last year, 10 percent, the top 10 percent got more than 50 percent of the country’s income. That’s the first time that has ever happened in U.S. history. And sort of the irony of this is that, as his critics have branded him a socialist, if anything, capitalists have done exceedingly well during Barack Obama’s presidency.

JUDY WOODRUFF: If that’s the case, Michael, where is the outrage, or should be there any outrage about this?

MICHAEL GERSON: Well, there should be. I think there should.

I mean, I think you are seeing stickiness at the lower ends of the ladder and an ability for the upper class to perpetuate privilege. Often, affluent and educated people are marrying affluent and educated people. The problem here, the bad news is, it’s a very complex social problem. It’s not just a difference in income. It’s a difference in skills and education and social capital.

And those are what really make the difference in the long term. And that’s going to require institutions to change fundamentally to be able to transfer those skills and education and values.

The good news, from my perspective, is that both left and right have part of the answer here. You know, part of the problem is the decline of families and values-shaping institutions, and part of the problem is the decline of blue-collar jobs at decent wages.

You know, both left and right should have something to contribute here. Robert Putnam, who is an expert on these issues at Harvard, calls it a perfectly purple problem, meaning the left has insights into the problem. The right has insights in the problem. They should come together and have some ideas.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Mark, is there any sign or reason to think they will come together and do something about it?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think it is.

I think, Judy, that it’s, I think, become increasingly evident that income inequality is just not bad ethics or bad morally. It’s bad economics. I mean, as Robert Reich was pointing out, when people don’t have disposable income, they can’t buy goods and services. They can’t — and spur the greater economy.

And I think the pope has contributed to this discussion. I think he’s given a moral dimension that — making the point that, while globalization has made us all neighbors, it certainly hasn’t made us all brothers, and that that is really a sense of responsibility that we have.

When mobility is lost in this country — because that has been sort of the dream, the ideal of the United States — I mean, when one out of 20 children born in the bottom fifth quintile ever makes it the top fifth, and when Michael made the point two out of three who are born in the top fifth remain there, I mean, they are there — I mean, so there isn’t that sense of going back and forth and high risk.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, the conversation right now, as we just heard, Michael, is about extending unemployment benefits.

But there is a larger — a larger question here that we’re talking about. Is there real, tangible evidence anywhere that the two sides that — you talked about the two sides have put forward ideas about this.


MICHAEL GERSON: Well, it’s a good thing they’re talking about it.

President Obama has made some eloquent speeches about it. Paul Ryan has announced this is going to be a focus of what he wants to contribute to the Republican Party over the next year. Be interesting it to see what ideas he comes up with.

I agree with President Obama on this. I think it is a central issue to the definition of the country. Americans are willing to accept inequality when there’s mobility. But, in the absence of mobility, inequality is just a caste system in which birth equals destiny.

That’s not consistent with the American ideal. There’s too much of that in America.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But I guess what I’m saying, Mark, as I’m looking, where is it on the agenda?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think…

JUDY WOODRUFF: In the city?

MARK SHIELDS: We do things in this city by baby steps.

I think, if we do minimum wage, if we extend unemployment insurance, I think those…


JUDY WOODRUFF: You think minimum wage could get…


MARK SHIELDS: I think — yes, I think there is — I think there is no question that minimum wage — now, it’s being done seriatim, state by state, but I think there is a real chance that we can get…

JUDY WOODRUFF: That the president…


MARK SHIELDS: … get some momentum going, get in that direction.

And the key is, Judy, those public institutions, whether they’re schools or whether they’re colleges or whether they’re training centers, that — where people do acquire the skills that they can rise, I mean, we can’t underfund those. We can’t understaff those. And I think that becomes a part of the debate.

JUDY WOODRUFF: If those kinds of things get done, Michael, does that make any difference?

MICHAEL GERSON: Well, I think it should.

But I just wouldn’t underestimate how difficult this is. I mean, we have talked about education reform for a couple of decades in America. It’s hard to do. It’s hard to implement, but it’s a key to all of this, graduation from high school and then graduation from college. These are keys to social mobility. And we don’t really know how to get there right now, but we need to come up with some ideas.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Just quickly, if Democrats pushed a minimum wage increase, would Republican goes along with it, if it were a federal move?

MICHAEL GERSON: I don’t know. I think there would be significant resistance on the part of significant portions of the Republican coalition on minimum wage, for economic arguments back and forth on how this affects entry-level jobs and other things.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, very quick question about Edward Snowden.

He came out, I guess, the day before, the day of Christmas to say, mission accomplished. He, of course, is the former National Security Agency contractor who put out hundreds of thousands of pages of documents, Mark.

Mission accomplished? What should we be thinking about Edward Snowden right now?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I mean, I think there are certain facts that are irrefutable. He took an oath. He broke the oath. He’s — he violated the law.

At the same time, he started a national debate that we had not had in this country before. He’s revealed — he has certainly complicated America’s relations with foreign countries, both friendly and maybe neutral, by revealing that we had been eavesdropping on their leaders’ phones.

He led to the director of national intelligence lying to the Senate of the United States when asked if they collect data on Americans, thousands of Americans, millions of Americans. He said no. And it turns out we — every phone call, its number and its length are in fact recorded.

So I think it started a debate. I have been, frankly, surprised, Judy that there hadn’t been a more intense debate about privacy. But I can see it now gaining some traction in this country.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What is his — what are we left with at the end of this year because of the Snowden disclosures?

MICHAEL GERSON: Well, I think that he demonstrates how technology is defusing and decentralizing power in America.

Some contractor, obscure contractor, because of the way information technology works, can expose the government and have tremendous, disproportionate influence. It also makes harder for the government to keep secrets, which are sometimes necessary for national security. I mean, we’re showing the upside of technology, the it decentralizes power, but it complicates the work of government, sometimes essential roles of government. And that’s the flip side.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, this is our last Friday show before the end of the year. So I get to ask a few questions looking back.

Mark, here’s one. What should the president have learned in 2013?

MARK SHIELDS: The president should have learned, Judy, that reality counts, that how — where the rubber hits the road, where people live.

I mean, the rollout of the health care, the crowning glory of his administration, the signature issues, has been little short of a public catastrophe and a political disaster. And it’s raised serious questions about — among the president’s own supporters about his competence and about the competence of, the quality of the people that he has chosen to staff his administration.

So I don’t think there is any question that it’s been a — it should have been an incredibly sobering experience for the president.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What would you say has been the biggest lesson for — or should have been the biggest lesson for the president?

MICHAEL GERSON: Well, I think both sides had lessons here.

I mean, this is a year in which the left in some ways showed its worst face in Obamacare, overconfident, technologically incompetent. But, at the same time, the right showed its worst face, angry populism, uninterested in governing.

The spectacle was extraordinary this fall of both parties essentially self-destructing at the same time, unable to take advantage of one another’s mistakes, blaming one another, but really being at fault themselves. It’s bad for American politics when that happens.

And now we’re left to ask, well, what emerges from the ruins? Will reasonable elements of both parties be able to emerge and do things like emphasize opportunity in immigration and reforms of health care which are going to be necessary going forward or not in this? But we — it was a bad year for our political class.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you think lessons were learned?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think the Republicans — I think the Republicans learned, should have learned the fundamental truth that is politics is not a seesaw.

Just because the other guy is down doesn’t mean you’re up. They’re down even further. And there’s — as Peter Hart has pointed out, they’re at the lowest point in the history of the Wall Street Journal/NBC poll of any political party.

I mean, it isn’t the people who are — the supporters of the president who have been disappointed or in some cases disaffected — by an 11-1 margin find the Republicans negative. And they have — they are a party without ideas. I mean, Michael has spoken about Paul Ryan’s plans, and they’re ambitious plans.

MICHAEL GERSON: We will see.


But there isn’t a Republican health care plan. There hasn’t been. They — all they — basically, what the Republicans have learned is this, Judy, something that the beer industry learned a long time ago. And that is, one beer company doesn’t accuse the other beer company of causing hangovers, bad breath and big stomachs, because, in the long run, it starts to hurt beer and beer sales.

And they have really hurt politics and hurt politicians, I think, by the constant, relentless negativism. And they haven’t been alone in that respect. But I think that has been the continuing line from the Republicans. And they have got to come up with a sense of governing and how they would govern.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, there’s lessons here for all of us.

It’s the end of our time at the end of this year. And we wish you both a happy new year.

Mark Shields, Michael Gerson, thank you.

MICHAEL GERSON: Happy new year.

MARK SHIELDS: Thank you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And to you.


The post Shields and Gerson on the political lessons of 2013 appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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