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Capital Gang

Millennium 2000: Best and Worst of 20th Century

Aired January 1, 2000 - 7:00 p.m. ET


MARK SHIELDS, HOST: Welcome to the first CAPITAL GANG of the 21st century. I'm Mark Shields with the full CAPITAL GANG: Al Hunt, Robert Novak, Kate O'Beirne and Margaret Carlson.

The 20th century had been ushered in with high hopes, but soon was stained by the bloodiest wars in human history and continued catastrophes. The unparalleled bloodshed of World War II reached America through the greatest disaster in U.S. military history, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Away from the battlefields, more than 6 million were murdered in the Nazi Holocaust. And the second half of the century was marred by Vietnam, the first war lost by the United States.

Bob Novak, what were the great catastrophes of the 20th century?

ROBERT NOVAK, "CHICAGO SUN-TIMES": Mark, this was a century of big government. It could be bloody totalitarian murderous government, as the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, or it just could be the intrusive well-meaning socialist governments all over Scandinavia, Europe, even the United States. But this has been the blight of this century: too much government. And the hope of the next century is that government will ease off. But looking around the world, I'm not that optimistic.

SHIELDS: Margaret, we saw government as the instrument of economic and social justice certainly here in the United States, and ending forced desegregation of the races...


SHIELDS: ... acting as...

CARLSON: Educating children, fighting wars, cleaning rivers, the New Deal, FDR. You would do away with all of it, I assume. Am I right?

NOVAK: I didn't know I was being interviewed, but...


CARLSON: You would take away those things?

NOVAK: No, I...

CARLSON: It became fashionable...

NOVAK: I would say government, since you asked...


NOVAK: .. has done much more harm than good over the world. And the idea that government is -- and social engineering that we find, which was by Hitler, by Stalin, on a smaller level is by Franklin Roosevelt and the other leaders of the century.

CARLSON: I think one of the catastrophes is that it became fashionable to say, get government off our backs, let's have smaller government, forgetting all the things that government does that we can't do for ourselves and does for people who aren't in your position to accomplish it on their own.

The other catastrophes were, you know, an isolationist Congress -- that I'm sure you approve of -- in the 1930s that's recreated in some segments of this Congress and Pat Buchanan that would keep us from doing anything other than exactly the selfish aims that we have for ourselves, the filibusters of the -- of 1964 against civil rights, Joe McCarthy, the assassinations that -- you know, the millennium was marred, I think, in some ways by this great anxiety we have about terrorism that is really an outgrowth of the assassinations that we lived through this century.

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne.

KATE O'BEIRNE, "NATIONAL REVIEW": I would go back to a particular form of government that scarred this century, which was the Bolsheviks coming to power in Russia in 1917. From that, over time half the world's population was enslaved between the Soviet Union and China. Led to the death of tens of millions of people. And there was always this naivete in America, despite this having been the American century, about Joe Stalin and our ability to deal with Joe Stalin, from FDR, you know, through American politics -- American -- those on the left in particular. And Joe McCarthy was largely correct about some of the threats he talked about. But I think any regime that had the devastating result on tens of millions of people has to be the largest catastrophe we faced.


AL HUNT, "WALL STREET JOURNAL": I'm just stunned that Novak didn't say that the progressive income tax was the great evil...

NOVAK: It's part of big government.

HUNT: ... of the 20th century, because it served us so well. But, Mark, look, I think the greatest catastrophe were -- first there were scores of vicious tyrants. I agree with Kate about Stalin. And certainly Hitler would be at the top of any list of enslaved and brutally killed millions of people. Also, warfare really unprecedented and unimaginative scope, and horror, and savagery. More people were killed in wars in the 20th century than all of history combined beforehand. SHIELDS: I would have to add to -- and I disagree. I agree with Margaret; I disagree with Kate totally on Joe McCarthy. Joe McCarthy was a blight on America, a tragic development in American public life.

NOVAK: He was right on most things, though.

SHIELDS: He was a thug and he was a -- and he was worse. But -- and let's just get a couple of things. I think the Depression was one of the great tragedies of this history, because it sowed the seeds -- the virus, the infection for totalitarianism. It made totalitarianism not only likely, but plausible. I would add to that, Prohibition was a catastrophe. I mean, it was an example of a social program that had -- lacked support, led to widespread abuse of the law and ignoring of the law. And I'd say finally, the American League's designated hitter rule...


SHIELDS: ... which I think is a catastrophe.

The gang and I will be back to look at great accomplishments of the century.


SHIELDS: Welcome back.

The 20th century was also a century of fantastic technological progress. Starting with the first man to fly, the air age became the computer age with rapid progress in using the computer chip. The Cold War ended with peaceful victory, symbolized by the tearing down of the Berlin Wall. And the century ended with truly unprecedented American prosperity.

Al Hunt, what where the real accomplishments of this century, in your judgment?

HUNT: Well, first of all, I think the rise of freedom and democracy. Mark, 100 years ago there were virtually no democracies in the world. Today, there are 120. And history no longer is on the side of governments like Bob's friends, the Chinese. I think a parallel accomplishment was the spread of the can-do American spirit. We saw it in this country from the Wright Brothers to 1940, 1943, we increased our output 25-fold, to the microchip and the computer. And I think you now see that all over the world. And, Bob, feel good, things are better than ever! Cheer up, Bob!

NOVAK: You're talking to me?



NOVAK: There's one accomplishment of this century that dwarfs everything else.

SHIELDS: The 48-month...

NOVAK: No. It is the winning of the Cold War.


NOVAK: And the fact of the brutal totalitarian Soviet empire was created, of course, by -- at Yalta. I mean, that was the settlement of Europe by Yalta. And it took us a whole generation to get rid of it and tremendous intrepid courage by a lot of people, which we'll probably talk about later. But that was the great accomplishment. And all this technological stuff and people feeling better, that isn't important. The important thing is we did something that a lot of people, including myself, didn't have the faith we could ever do and that's defeat this onerous, evil empire.

CARLSON: Bob still hates people feeling better. You know, my God. That's no accomplishment.


O'BEIRNE: It's difficult. Those of us who've only lived in the second half of the century, and a minor part of the second half of the century, if that...


SHIELDS: A quarter.

O'BEIRNE: It's difficult to imagine how far we've come with respect to these material advancements in 100 years. There has been more material progress in the United States in the 20th century than in all countries throughout all centuries. Eight percent of Americans had electricity at the turn of the century. Our life expectancy was increased 30 years. One in 10 children used to die before their first birthday. And not only are mothers spared that enormous heartache, but every time my own mother welcomed one of her 12 grandchildren, she would remind my three sisters and me about disposable diapers and disposable bottles, and umbrella strollers...

CARLSON: The microwave.

O'BEIRNE: Yes, the microwave. How much easier life is and how this advanced the life of all Americans.

SHIELDS: Margaret.

CARLSON: Yes. I love technology actually. The car, the TV, the fax machine has spread democracy. The defeat of communism, I agree with you. The victory of civil rights. And, since nobody else is likely to mention it here, women getting the right to vote, even though it's only the right to vote for men most of the time, nonetheless a great achievement.

SHIELDS: But Al's talking about freedom, because your definition of democracy, Al, at the century you'd say the United States wasn't a full democracy because... HUNT: No. Blacks couldn't vote, women couldn't vote.

SHIELDS: ... blacks couldn't vote and women couldn't vote.

HUNT: That's right.

SHIELDS: And that is true. I think you're right. I mean, when you talk about Alexander Fleming looking at a mold and saying penicillin was an amazing, amazing difference.

O'BEIRNE: Polio vaccine.

SHIELDS: Polio vaccine, Dr. Salk, Dr. Rabin (ph). And I guess the auto train would be the other one.

Next on CAPITAL GANG, heroes, villains and the American outrage of the 20th century.


SHIELDS: Welcome back. "Time" magazine picked a scientist as the man of the century.


ALBERT EINSTEIN, SCIENTIST: E is equal MC squared, in which energy is part equal to mass.


SHIELDS: But others favored politicians and a man of God.


FRANKLIN DELEANOR ROOSEVELT, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.



WINSTON CHURCHILL, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: What kind of a people do they think we are? Is it possible they do not realize that we shall never cease to persevere against them until they have been taught a lesson which they and the world will never forget.



RONALD REAGAN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.



POPE JOHN PAUL II: If you want peace, work for justice. If you want justice, you have life. If you want life, embrace the truth. The truth reveres to God.


SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne, who are your heroes?

O'BEIRNE: Well, I wouldn't disagree with those. We've -- the singular contributions of those we just saw. I would note that anyone who doubts the hand of God in the course of human events would have difficulty explaining the timely arrival of this Polish cardinal in the chair of Peter at a critical point for the Soviet Union.

But my heroes for the century would be the American G.I. FDR and Churchill, both fine choices with respect to enormous contributions in the century, wouldn't have been able to do what they did without the American G.I., both the World War II generation, those who fought there, like my own father, their fathers who fought in World War I, the often-forgotten G.I.'s of Korea, and the often unfairly defiled G.I.'s of Vietnam. I mean, the American G.I. really made the -- this an American century.

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson.

CARLSON: I would agree. My father was in the war. The American schoolteacher, and I would add, a woman of peace, Mother Teresa. A former boss of mine, Ralph Nader. I would say my editor at "Time" was right in choosing Albert Einstein.

NOVAK: You'd better say that.

CARLSON: Yes. I think he -- and let's see, Branch Ritchie and Jackie Robinson.

SHIELDS: Rickey.

CARLSON: Rickey. Yes.


CARLSON: I should never go into the world...

SHIELDS: Branch Rickey was the owner of the Dodgers.

CARLSON: I should never tread -- of the white owner and -- who made it possible...

NOVAK: He was general manager.

SHIELDS: General manager -- president of the Dodgers who integrated baseball, desegregated baseball.

CARLSON: Yes. He made it possible for Jackie Robinson to play and to integrate baseball. NOVAK: Well, I -- oh, I'm sorry.

SHIELDS: Go ahead, I was going to ask Al, but that's all right, Bob.


HUNT: You know, my teenage son took a course in 20th century heroes and I was struck by the fore that they focused in on Diedrik Bonjoffer (ph), the German theologian who resisted the Nazis and lost his life, George Marshall, the most unselfish and maybe greatest public servant of our century, Jackie Robinson, that valiant warrior who, facing incredible pressure and bigotry, integrated Major League Baseball, and Yien Chang (ph), the fragile but brave Chinese woman who spent years in a Shanghai prison torture because we shouldn't buckle under -- to the commies.

But I do think, Mark, that the man of the century really had to be Franklin Deleanor Roosevelt who, in the 1930s saved capitalism, so Bob Novak could be as rich as he is today, and in the '40s by leading and keeping together that remarkable Allied effort in the war saved freedom.

NOVAK: Unfortunately, FDR also kept on that 90 percent, 91 -- 5 percent top marginal income tax, which slowed the economic recovery for a long time. And also I believe that both FDR and Winston Churchill, who I admire greatly in most things, blotted their record terribly by agreeing to the division of Europe at Yalta. That's something you can't walk away from. I believe that the great heroes of this century were the Pope and Ronald Reagan for winning the Cold War.

And I have some personal -- two personal heroes, if I could name them. One was Whittaker Chambers, who fought a valiant fight against the kinds of people -- well, we won't say that on New Year's day -- against the Washington establishment and the liberal establishment. And also a great president who nobody mentions and that's Calvin Coolidge.

O'BEIRNE: "Time" magazine -- would have became the "Time" magazine man.


SHIELDS: I want to endorse Al's selection of Franklin Roosevelt. No question about it. I mean, he is a towering figure. He did save free enterprise. He saved democracy at a time when totalitarianism and the sense of impatience with the inability -- when the country lost half of its gross national product...

NOVAK: How do you explain Yalta?

SHIELDS: And was he wrong at Yalta on -- I'll let history decide that. But I'll say this, the man he chose as his successor was the man who stood up and stopped communism and that was Harry Truman. And Gerald Ford once said of Ronald Reagan, "Ronald Reagan and I played football. I played at Michigan; he played at Warner Brothers." I mean, Ronald Reagan and...

NOVAK: Oh, come on.

SHIELDS: I mean, come on, don't talk about Ronald Reagan in the same breath if you talk about Harry Truman. And remember this about Harry Truman, and you can't forget it to his credit, that men of my generation and yours never slept in the same room with an African- American or a Hispanic-American until they did in the military services of this country because of Harry Truman.


NOVAK: Like many men...

SHIELDS: And took orders from African-Americans and Hispanic- Americans. That was...

NOVAK: Like many men of his generation, Harry Truman was bigoted, which is something you could never say about Ronald Reagan. But I think Ronald Reagan was a giant compared to Truman, who was...

SHIELDS: What, because he cut the taxes? For God's sakes.

NOVAK: Because he was a mediocre president.

SHIELDS: All you can talk about is your 91 percent tax cut. Just go sit in the car!

What about the villains? Are they obvious, Margaret?

CARLSON: Well, they are today, yes.


CARLSON: Hitler, Stalin, Mao. Pol Pot killed 1.7 million people. Anybody in the end with -- who wore glasses, which would have gotten me and Kate. No, the -- there's a -- there's no shortage of them. I mean, we white out Tiny Tim, and Twiggy, and Madonna and a few others.

SHIELDS: Who are the villains today?

NOVAK: Well, I have to take a -- quite a personal privilege after that tirade -- please -- that tirade of yours, because as a matter of fact, what Reagan did -- his great thing was not just cutting taxes. That was a secondary accomplishment. It was changing the American policy away from the Truman-Marshall containment policy to an aggressive attack on the Soviet Union.

I would say the great villains of the -- let me give you two villains of the world who aren't mentioned often. One was Alger Hiss, who was a traitor and someone who beguiled the liberals into defending them. The other was the worst person of our profession, Al, Walter Duranti (ph) of "The New York Times," who was a -- who kept the genocide in Ukraine quiet and was under the control of the Kremlin. SHIELDS: I would have to say that you're right. I mean, it showed such great character in Grenada. I mean, it really did. That was a tough one. I mean, it was really taking on the commies where they lived, you know.


SHIELDS: It was big time. You cannot compare Ronald Reagan and Harry Truman in the same line.

NOVAK: It was much better...


HUNT: I just think Bob Novak is doing one of the great Novak imitations I've ever seen to say Walter Duranti, one of the great villains of the 20th century. I mean, people say...

SHIELDS: Jimmy Durante?

HUNT: Look, there were lots. I think Margaret's list was quite good. But look, the most grotesque and immoral of the whole century was Hitler in the Holocaust.

NOVAK: Well, those are the obvious ones.

HUNT: And now for the...

NOVAK: Was Hitler a Stalin? You think Hitler was worse than...

HUNT: Yes.


NOVAK: ... Stalin. They were equal.

HUNT: And both worse than Walter and Jimmy Durante.

NOVAK: They were equal. They were equal, but obvious.

SHIELDS: It's oddly easy for you to go after communism.

Why don't you want to say Hitler was bad?

NOVAK: I say he was terrible, but Stalin...

SHIELDS: But totalitarianism...

NOVAK: ... was just as bad. He wasn't?

SHIELDS: Stalin was just as bad as Hitler?


SHIELDS: Stalin was bad. He was evil.

NOVAK: Was he just as bad as Hitler?

SHIELDS: He was evil incarnate. You know...

NOVAK: You don't know. I know.

SHIELDS: I can talk about the two of them, and you...


SHIELDS: And now for the outrage of the American century. The outrage is -- that last century and this one -- that after this nation's historic sacrifices on behalf of the cause of human freedom and dignity that in the Pacific trust territories, in the northern Marianna (ph) Islands, which brave Americans died to liberate less than half a century ago, now in 2000 oppressed, brutalized and abused workers make designer clothes with the labels sewed in, made in the U.S.A. That is a continuing outrage.

Bob Novak.

NOVAK: For the second half of the century, the Supreme Court and other federal judges have found invisible writing in the federal Constitution to justify judicial tyranny preventing school prayer, managing schools, interfering with private business, preventing term limits, and worst of all, prohibiting state legislatures from regulating abortion.

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson.

CARLSON: My Irish grandmother was a hotel maid, yet all her grandchildren went to college, that was the promise of the last century. But now as we create millionaires in the blink of an IPO, the gap between the rich and the poor grows ever larger. We broke from England to escape the class system. But now the opportunity that a kid like me used to have may be a thing of the past.

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne.

O'BEIRNE: A century marked by great advancements in the material well being of the human race was also marked by a terrible death toll. The casualties, the world wars, the Holocaust, Cambodia's killing fields, and Rwanda. But the most horrific loss of life has been the deliberate destruction of 35 million innocents in the U.S. alone through abortion. As predicted 25 years ago, abortion on demand has ushered in a culture of death and has corrupted our constitutional principles.


HUNT: Mark, it took almost two-thirds of the American century to give black Americans the basic right to vote, eat in a restaurant or buy a home of their choice. It is our national shame that it took this great country so long to start living up to our ideals of equality, justice and freedom.

SHIELDS: Thank you. This is Mark Shields saying good night and happy New Year from the CAPITAL GANG.


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