On PBS, Liberal Mark Shields Honors the Civility of David Brooks, Adds GOP Would Repeal God's Commandments

On Friday’s PBS NewsHour, anchor Judy Woodruff asked liberal political analyst Mark Shields and his pseudo-conservative counterpart David Brooks if they had a "holiday wish" for someone in politics, and Shields, in almost weekly delight for how much Brooks agrees with him, said "My wish is that everybody, whoever he or she is, has a colleague as civil and decent and honorable as David Brooks."

Both men agreed the payroll tax cut should not have been extended. Brooks felt the argument would help the Democrats a bit, while Shields insisted Obama looked like the "the one grownup in the entire melodrama." Shields insisted the Republicans would repeal some of the Ten Commandments if Obama said he favored them:

DAVID BROOKS: Why do this two-month thing? And so they rebelled. They rebelled against their own speaker. They rebelled against the Senate. But the country wanted the tax cuts. And sometimes, in politics, you don't get to choose what you want. There are other people in town. And so they tried to make a stand on principle without actually having a principle. And they basically got rolled.

In politics, often you don't have a good option. You have six really squalid options, and you choose the least bad one. And so this is their education that sometimes the circumstances are such just go with the least bad and get it over with. And maybe that will be the education for them.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark, how much damage has this done to the Republicans, or has it?

MARK SHIELDS: Yes, I will just add on that I think that the Republicans made a reactionary mistake, Judy, that there was -- in the Republican House caucus, there should have been -- David's right. 

They should have understood once House -- Senate -- Republican and Senate Democrats had overwhelmingly supported, Democrats in the House supported the two months, the president supported it, that they were outvoted. But I think there is in the Republican Caucus in the House, in the Congress, and in the party nationally, there is an anti-Obama reaction.

And if the president is for something -- if the president endorsed the Ten Commandments, they would say, can we cut it to seven? There really is sort of that reaction. And I think that was part of -- it was driven in part by ideology as well.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So you're saying it was personal.

MARK SHIELDS: Well, the same party that will fight tooth and toenail to preserve $1.5 trillion in tax cuts that George Bush wrote into law that benefit the most wealthy among us, without ever wondering how they should be funded or financed, that never wondered how the Iraq war should be funded or financed, all of a sudden become punctilious and almost green eyeshade accountants and bookkeepers when it comes to funding this.

Then Shields and Brooks assessed the damage for Republicans:

WOODRUFF: Well, how much are the Democrats helped by this?

BROOKS: I think a little. If we weren't talking about this, we would talking about how much the Democrats gave in to the Republicans. And they actually did give in a bunch of stuff.

And, instead, we are talking about, why are these guys so wild-eyed and crazy? Why they can't run an organization?

And so it helps. I don't think it's a huge story. I think most of the country is tuned out. We have had a whole series of budget fights. This is just another. People who care about politics mostly are focused on the presidential race. So I don't think it's a huge story. Nonetheless, if you take a look at the polling, who do you trust on tax policy, the Republicans recently and historically have this huge advantage. That advantage is right now gone. And this must play a role in that.

WOODRUFF: So...

SHIELDS: David is absolutely right. And I think it helps the president in this sense, that the reality is people look at Washington and they see hyper-partisanship, they see rancor, they see dysfunction, malfunction, however you want to put it. And I think it does two things. It makes the president look like the one grownup in the entire melodrama.

And, secondly, it hurts. It hurts Newt Gingrich, because it reminds people of what it was like when we were impeaching a president, closing down a government and stalking off Air Force One. I think, in a strange way, the only way you can account for Newt Gingrich's slipping nationally is not that commercials are being used against him in Iowa, because nobody is seeing them outside of Des Moines, Waterloo, Dubuque and Sioux City. But I think there is a sense, "Do we really want to go back to those times?" And this is a reminder of it.

BROOKS: The irony is that the Newt Gingrich-Bill Clinton relationship was a model of comity compared to what we have right now.

Brooks was cranky enough around the holidays to wish that the Republican and Democrat leaders in Congress should all be exiled to a tent in a national park to hash out the government budget in a spirit of winter-enhanced bipartisanship:  

WOODRUFF: All right, I'm not going to make you two do this, but in the spirit of the season, do you have a holiday wish for anybody who is involved in politics or policy-making? David?

BROOKS: I will take the four congressional leaders, Nancy Pelosi and the rest, and send them up to a beautiful place in Glacier National Park in Montana, frozen lake. (Laughter) They can hike up there. I will pay for airfare and a tent. They can stay there for a week. Maybe they could do next year's budget up there. It would be a much better country if they were together up there.

WOODRUFF: This is Boehner, Pelosi, Reid and McConnell. (Laughter)

BROOKS: They could do the budget up there on their own. It's a beautiful place. They would be inspired. This would be a much better country.

WOODRUFF: Your wish, holiday wish?

SHIELDS: Wow. Talk about the Grinch over here, for goodness' sakes. (Laughter) My wish is that everybody, whoever he or she is, has a colleague as civil and decent and honorable as David Brooks.

WOODRUFF: Wow. 

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis