Shields and Brooks on the Week in Politics

By The NewsHour, The NewsHour - September 4, 2009

JIM LEHRER: And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Mark, what are your expectations for the president's big speech to Congress on Wednesday night?

MARK SHIELDS: I think the -- it's a big moment, Jim. It's not do-or-die. All of...

JIM LEHRER: Not do-or-die?


The political class, of whom I guess I'm one, we're -- we're all frustrated sportswriters, and we want it to be third and long. It's the Hail Mary pass. It isn't that. It's a key moment in the health care -- health care effort by the president.

It's key in this sense. Every president's initial year is his most important in achieving his domestic achievement, his principal domestic achievement.

JIM LEHRER: Why? Why...

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I mean, for example...

MARK SHIELDS: Never as strong again.

Bill Clinton -- Bill Clinton got through his budget and tax increase by one vote in each house in 1993. He could then stake a claim when the economy improved, that it was because of what he had done and dared to do. He owned the economy from that point forward.

The same was true with Ronald Reagan in 1981. When things did turn around after the 1982 midterm elections, in 1983 and 1984, he could reelection having said, I did this.

This is -- this is Barack Obama's test. And he is playing a major card with a speech to the nation, joint session of Congress. Dwight Eisenhower never gave one. Lyndon Johnson gave two, one after the assassination and one on civil rights.

JIM LEHRER: You're talking beyond State of the Union address?

MARK SHIELDS: State of the Union.


MARK SHIELDS: I mean, this is a big thing.

JIM LEHRER: Big deal.

MARK SHIELDS: FDR in 12 years did one, declaration of war against Japan and Germany.

So, it is -- it's a major moment. And I think he's essentially talking to the Democrats, because they have had to come to the conclusion this summer that they're not going to get Republican support in the House. They may get some in the Senate. I think Olympia Snowe is an honest player. There may be some others.

But I think that's -- he has to lay out, this is what it's for. It's not descriptive. It is prescriptive. It has to be no inspiration -- a little inspiration and a lot of perspiration. This is what it will be. This is who it is going to cover. This is what it is going to cost, and this is how we're going to pay for it.

First of all, do you agree it's his -- on the importance with what Mark said?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, in my column today, I called it his ninth inning moment so, I'm sticking with the sports metaphor.

JIM LEHRER: But it's a different game.

DAVID BROOKS: It's a different game.

JIM LEHRER: It's not football. It was a Hail Mary. You're saying it's ninth inning.

DAVID BROOKS: As long as we stay with sports, I'm fine with it.


DAVID BROOKS: It's important. It's not a deal-breaker. I actually disagree with the fact that the first year is always the most important.

Franklin Roosevelt did the economy only the first year, and then did Social Security and some of the other stuff in the out years. So, I think Barack Obama would have been smarter to do that, because I think the anxiety over the economy is draining the health care.

Nonetheless, it's tremendously important. He will get a health care reform package. I say there is -- 95 percent he will get something. The question will be, is it a small, incremental thing, or is it what he originally hoped, something bigger?

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