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Shields and Brooks on the Health Care Repeal

By The NewsHour, The NewsHour - January 21, 2011

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

David, what do you make of the president's reaching out to the business community, today and earlier?

DAVID BROOKS: It's beginning to work. I mean, if you look at his poll numbers, they're rising. And they're rising among two groups: moderate Republicans and independents.

And actually if you look at the approval rating of Congress and approval rating of the Republicans in Congress, that is beginning to go down. So, the first thing to be said is this -- politically, he sees the momentum.

Now, economically, it's obviously a tougher road. He's got a high degree of skepticism among the business community. But he's -- I think he's begun to chip into that. A lot of the skepticism -- and I would talk to a lot of CEOs who just loathed Obama, and who didn't used to, a lot who voted for him. And a lot of it was just rhetorical. They didn't like being called fat cats.

And he's sort of scaled that back. He's had a few meetings where he hasn't screamed at them. They like that. There's been a -- this gesture in The Wall Street Journal, a piece that he wrote saying we're going to look at the costs and benefits of regulation -- and that's being run by Cass Sunstein, who really could put some meat on that substance -- and the free-trade bill. There's a whole series of things.

And so it's -- he's seized the political center a bit and really begun to shift and made people in the business community feel better. So it is -- who would have thought three months ago he would have the momentum right now and the Republicans would be a little back on their heels? But it's happening.

JIM LEHRER: It's happened, the momentum back on...

MARK SHIELDS: Yes, I don't -- I don't get as much out of it as David does. I mean, I think it's been mostly public relations at this point.

I mean, when the president of the United States says in Schenectady today that he picked Jeffrey Immelt because -- quote -- "he is not one of the Washington crowd," I mean, that just -- that rings...

That is not authentic. I'm sorry. It is not authentic, when a Democratic president tries to run against Washington and tries to run against the government.

JIM LEHRER: ... the CEO of General Electric.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes ... selling apples on the corner.

MARK SHIELDS: In the third quarter of 2010, corporate profits in the United States reached an all-time high.

The Standard & Poor 500 is up 50 percent since Barack Obama has been president of the United States. I mean it isn't like these people are hurting. Two-thirds of all the wealth created has gone to the top 1 percent. I mean it isn't like he has been Robin Hood and holding them up. They are doing pretty damn well.

I think it's a matter of necessity on his part. I mean, what he did do was extend the tax cuts. That wasn't a matter of choice, but that was certainly their preference.

JIM LEHRER: That was pushed on him by the new -- the new Republicans, yes.

MARK SHIELDS: By the realities of politics...

JIM LEHRER: Sure.

MARK SHIELDS: ... and both Democrats and Republicans, I would say, in this case.

But, you know, there hasn't been any really major substantive change at this point. I...

JIM LEHRER: No policy change?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I mean, the tax -- I would say the tax cuts extended, the South Korean trade deal, which had been in the works for, you know, a long, long time. It wasn't a major innovation.

I do think that the tests will be on the budget and the State of the Union as to whether in fact he's going to continue on this road. I don't think the independent voters have returned to their positive rating of Obama, which they have for the first time Obama since August of 2009, based upon his overtures to Tom Donohue and the Chamber of Commerce and Jeffrey Immelt and the Fortune 50.

I think it's -- I think there is a perception that he has made things work since the election. He did get START through. He did get don't ask, don't tell through. He didn't appear to be rolled by the Republicans in any way. And he was -- he did act in a bipartisan way.

And, finally, at Tucson, in an American tragedy, he did -- he was a president not only comforting people, but connecting emotionally with them.

JIM LEHRER: Do you buy in to that part of it?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I -- Tucson was a major part of it obviously. I do think the -- healing the war, which really was a war with business, is a part of it, too. A lot of people work for businesses and respect business.

JIM LEHRER: Even if it was rhetorical war, you mean?

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