Episode: Shields and Brooks on Keystone pipeline politics, Ben Carson claims

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Shields and Brooks on Keystone pipeline politics, Ben Carson claims

JUDY WOODRUFF: But, first, a White House decision finally on the Keystone pipeline, a rough week for some Republican candidates, and wins for conservatives on Election Day.

First, we turn to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Gentlemen, welcome.


JUDY WOODRUFF: It’s great to have you here.

So, that Keystone pipeline decision, David, the president finally — seven years later, we now know he’s against it.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. Well, first of all, it could be mythical. With oil prices so low, they might never build it anyway. So, it really doesn’t matter at some level.

But pretending it matters, I do think it’s an anti-environmental, anti-science move. His State Department and many other experts decided, if the oil is going to come out of the sands, it’s a lot cleaner to have it go through the pipeline than to put on trains or trucks and send it over to China through ships that way.

And, so, if the oil comes out of the sands, which it’s going to do if it makes economic sense, we might as well do it in the cleanest way possible. So, to me, this is just a political decision to placate some people who he’s offended with some of his other decisions.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Political decision, Mark?

MARK SHIELDS: I don’t think anyone could accuse the president of being impulsive. It was seven years, five exhaustive studies.


MARK SHIELDS: And I think it became a symbol for both sides, bigger than it was really.

I don’t think it was going to be an environmental disaster. And I don’t think, with gasoline $2 a gallon cheaper than it was the day that Barack Obama was nominated, the urgency had abated.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let’s quickly turn, because there’s so much news to ask you both about.

Jobs reports, David, some really good numbers today. More jobs than what had been forecast. Unemployment rate is down, I guess, as low as it’s been in seven years, and not only — but there is still this worry about the so-called participation rate. How do you read this?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, so far, obviously, it’s great.

And if this maintains, it’s great for Hillary Clinton or the Democratic nominee. The political effects are kind of simple and obvious. The labor force participation rate is the worrying one, because it didn’t change. And so all these people are out of the job market. Are they people who could get back in if there were jobs out there, or are they people who have been so far out, that they really can’t get back in?

And there was this troubling study that came out earlier in the week that middle-aged white life expectancy is dropping, which is astounding. And it’s dropping because of liver diseases, suicide. It’s dropping because of social dysfunction. And those are presumably a lot of people who are out of the labor force.

And so, if it keeps going, we will be able to see if some of these people can get back in and have productive lives, have busy lives, have fulfilling lives. But if they’re permanently out no matter what the unemployment rate is, then we have got a gigantic problem.

JUDY WOODRUFF: That was a disturbing report.

MARK SHIELDS: Well, your discussion this week with Dante and the professor from Princeton really hit on the fact that so many of these people, it’s not just liver disease and smoking and drinking. It’s jobs and lives that have been changed.

It’s the cost of the deindustrialization of America. These people, the high school graduates who had great lives, good jobs and could raise a family and live comfortably, and all of a sudden that’s gone. And behind it is a low-paying job, many times not even that.

The numbers today, just think of this, Judy. When Barack — when Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney were nominated, the unemployment rate in the country was 8.2 percent. That’s just, what, three years ago. OK? And at that time, they pledged to get unemployment in their first term under 6 percent.

Today, it’s 5 percent. There were more private sector jobs created in the past month than there were in eight years of George W. Bush. So, it’s good news. We’re still waiting for the wages to kick up, but it is good news.

I share with David the concern about the participation in the labor force, but this is good news, and it’s good news for the country.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I ask because people are — just seem to have that never-ending debate, is the glass half-full or is the glass half-empty? And these numbers seem to raise that question again.


And there were fears that if you look at the normal rhythm of a recovery, we’re so deep into this recovery time-wise that you could think, well, maybe it’s time for another recession. There was some fear of that. But we don’t seem close to being in another recession. That is excellent news. The Fed is now likely to raise rates.

And so it’s good news. And it’s just plain old good news. We might as well lie back and enjoy it.

MARK SHIELDS: Accept it.


JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, several things to ask you about with regard to the campaigns.

Some interesting reporting this week, Mark, about the campaigns both of Marco Rubio and what he’s said or not said about his own personal financial past, and then today and in the last few days a lot of reporting about — around Ben Carson and what he said in a book, which I happen to have right here, that came out 25 years ago, where he made different claims about whether he was accepted at West Point, offered a scholarship, whether he applied and got a scholarship, and then another one about whether he knifed — tried to knife a friend or a family member.

Does all this, at this point in the campaign, add up to something? What are we to make of all this?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, the choice of president, Judy, is the most personal vote that any American casts.

We get an information overload about these people. And it really is in the final analysis a choice on character and how comfortable we are with the person. So, the higher the office, the more important the candidate, and you fly at a higher visibility when you’re running for president. You get more exposure.

Your credentials are scrutinized. Your record is scrutinized. And the failures of our presidents over the past half-century have not been failures of intellect or education. They have been failures of personality or character.

Now, Ben Carson presents a rather remarkable exception. Most candidates get in trouble by embellishing their record, that is, by saying — they were a junior varsity, that they were actually all state in football, or that I was at the top of my class, when it took me five years to get through high school.

Ben Carson wants to present himself as a thug, a hoodlum, a really bad…

JUDY WOODRUFF: When he was 14.

MARK SHIELDS: When he was 14. And — but nobody else will support him.

They remember him — and he talks about putting a knife and running into the belt. He would have inflicted great bodily harm. I just find that rather bizarre.

DAVID BROOKS: Has there ever been a Christian memoir where the Christian says, well, when I was a sinner, I was a really very serious sinner. And so they are all bragging about how bad they were and then they were redeemed.

So, it’s not atypical. I’m wondering, will it hurt him? I play this little mental game with myself. Imagine a candidate I really admired. I heard he exaggerated his West Point possible admissions. Would I say, oh, I really admire that guy, but he told a fib about his early youth, I think I won’t support him anymore? I don’t think I would do that.

If there were six fibs, maybe.



DAVID BROOKS: But if it’s this one or this two, it’s hard for me to imagine an actual voter who really likes Ben Carson walking away because of this.

Memoirists, every memoir has some exaggerations and some melodrama, and we’re all sinners, so I don’t think this rises to the level where it’s going to hurt him, at least so far.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, both Ben Carson and Marco Rubio are saying these are questions the press just is wasting their time asking, that they’re way off the point. Are these legitimate questions?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, yes, they’re legitimate questions, because the president is an enormously important office that touches the lives of everybody in this country.

And what kind of a person, the candor, the character, the constancy, the reliability — Ben Carson’s problem is, he wrote this about himself. This isn’t what somebody else alleged about him. So, I think — and we don’t have a lot about Ben Carson we know. He hasn’t been in office for 12, 14, 15 years, say, oh, well, this was just a little — I think Marco Rubio is different.

Marco Rubio, this has been kicking around on Marco Rubio, the charge about using the charge card of the Florida state party when he was speaker of the House in Tallahassee, for five or six year years. He should be ready to take care of it. He should be ready to rebut it and he should do it forthrightly. It’s kind of, I’m going to come up with the information. I’m going to find it.

It’s a little bit like the way Jeb Bush handled the question of his brother going into Iraq without there being any weapons of mass destruction. Would you do it? It took him a week to do it. He changed his answers four or five times.

I just think this is one where Marco Rubio should be ready to step up because he knew it was coming.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. It’s obviously unconsciously very difficult for him.

I wonder if he could get away with just saying, I made a mistake, and I want to apologize. It was a mistake.


DAVID BROOKS: It would be interesting to see if that would work.

The Rubio allegations come in two categories. The one is about the student loans and the buying the boat. And those, I think, are fine, because they just show he’s a normal guy. He had some economic struggles. He had some young kids, so he cashed in their retirement account.

The credit card is the tougher one. And some — partly, he’s blamed a travel agent and stuff like that. But he should just come out, I would say, and say, listen, we have made mistakes in life. This was one of mine.

It would be a gutsy thing to do. But it would be candid. And we saw this Chris Christie video this week about addiction. We found it so moving. And I would encourage all the candidates, be more personal. Just be more personal. Don’t be a machine. Don’t let the consultants control everything.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Very quickly, you mentioned Jeb Bush this week.

Yesterday, I was able to — we were able to air the interview I did with Jon Meacham, the author who’s written a book, really comprehensive biography of President Bush 41, George H.W. Bush.

The news coming out of that, Mark, was the criticism that the first President Bush makes of his son’s secretary of — his vice president and his secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney.

And this week, you had the younger Bush commenting, saying, “I stand by what I did.”

And it put — it was interesting how it put Jeb Bush a little bit on the spot again about the Iraq War. Is this the kind of thing that is a problem for Jeb Bush? Does this go anywhere? What do you make of this?

MARK SHIELDS: It’s a problem for Jeb Bush.

Jeb Bush is trying to get back on stride. He’s trying to get over a bad debate, trying to get the bad campaign back on, wants to show himself connecting with voters. And so what is the question? He sits down for the interviews and they ask, what do you think about your father criticizing your brother’s secretary of defense, saying that — very unflattering things about Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld?

It has always mystified everybody who knew the first President Bush why W. ever chose Don Rumsfeld, who had actually knifed Bush 41, his father…

JUDY WOODRUFF: His father, yes.

MARK SHIELDS: … and really was — and then, of course, administered the coup in his rebuttal about the book by saying, well, he’s obviously getting up in years and he’s too old, something that Jon Meacham put to — I thought to rest in his interview with you, that he was very much alert and involved and engaged.

JUDY WOODRUFF: That’s exactly what he said.

Is this the kind of thing the matters today, David?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, it will hurt — it will be a distraction for Bush. But Bush is at 4 percent. He has got bigger — bigger problems.

But the things the elder Bush said, the younger Bush, W. Bush, believed by 2005. This was a conventional view. I think these interviews were done in ’08 and ’10.

JUDY WOODRUFF: That’s right.

DAVID BROOKS: And so George W. Bush had come to these views about Cheney and Rumsfeld at the same time.

One of the — there are many things that interest me about what Meacham has come up with. One is that the elder Bush didn’t talk that much about the war to the younger — to the president, very reticent, very withdrawn, second, that their Iraq policies were not that different, where we had always imagined the big differences between the two.

So, there is a lot of interesting stuff in there. I’m struck by Bush family reticence. And we see it hurting Jeb these days.

MARK SHIELDS: I always thought that the piece signed in The Wall Street Journal by Jim Baker and…

DAVID BROOKS: Scowcroft.

MARK SHIELDS: … and Brent Scowcroft…

JUDY WOODRUFF: Brent Scowcroft.

MARK SHIELDS: … his national security adviser and his closest political adviser, warning against the invasion by the United States of Iraq, was the memo to Bush 41 to Bush 43, which he chose to ignore.

And when Bob Woodward asked him if he talked to his father, he said, “I speak to my divine father.”

JUDY WOODRUFF: That’s right, the higher father. He said higher father.

MARK SHIELDS: The higher father. Higher father.


MARK SHIELDS: I mean, thus putting him in his place.


We didn’t get around to those elections this week. We will talk about it next Friday.


JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark, I promise, I promise.

Mark Shields, David Brooks, thank you both.

DAVID BROOKS: Thank you, Judy.

The post Shields and Brooks on Keystone pipeline politics, Ben Carson claims appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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JUDY WOODRUFF: But, first, a White House decision finally on the Keystone pipeline, a rough week for some Republican candidates, and wins for conservatives on Election Day. First, we turn to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks...
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