AUGUST 30, 1996
As the convention season ends and the general election campaign begins, NewsHour political commentators, syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot debate the need for campaign finance reform and the whether the Democrats or the Republicans benefited more from their conventions.
A RealAudio version of of this NewsHour segment is available.
Shields & Gigot discuss the resignation of Presidential advisor Dick Morris.
On August 16, Shields & Gigot reviewed the Republican Convention.
Shields and Gigot join a NewsHour panel to discuss the President's speech.
Complete NewsHour Shields & Gigot segments.
Complete NewsHour coverage of the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
Complete NewsHour coverage of the Republican National Convention in San Diego.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot. They're here with us for their weekly political analysis. Hello to both of you. Mark, you heard Ann McBride of Common Cause just say that the convention big money tie is a symbol, "a symbol of what's wrong with American politics," is that right?
MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: I think it is. I don't think there's any question. There's nobody who's involved in money making and politics, money raising and politics, who doesn't feel in some way diminished by it. People earn very good livings from it. I don't mean to denigrate what they do. It's certainly legal, and legitimate, but businesses are leaned upon. Those who do business with government, those who have any life or death hold exercised by regulatory agencies, I mean, so it's a lousy, lousy system.
Those who want to purchase access and influence--it is--the idea--Steve Stockmeyer, whom I like very much--the head of the PAC's in the piece--was defending it, saying, comparing it to potato chips. When you're selling potato chips, you're not selling a little piece of yourself. I mean, the basic premise of fund-raising in politics is invalid. It says I take a thousand dollars from you, a perfect stranger, that's it, I never see you again. I go up to you and ask you for a thousand dollars and it means nothing. I mean, people don't do that in their ordinary lives, and so I think we saw excesses in San Diego. We saw even greater excesses in Chicago from a party that has been committed, a President who trumpets his support for campaign finance reform.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Paul, what do you think about that?
PAUL GIGOT, Wall Street Journal: Take it up with the Supreme Court, Mark. I mean, we've got a--the right to free speech and the courts determined that spending money is, in political expression, is a part of that right. And there's a fundamental problem with limiting spending on campaigns, which is really what, in essence, campaign finance comes down to, which is that you end up asking the government to regulate how we elect our government.
And while it is--it's certainly true that in politics, as well as in the rest of our society, umm, money is an element of access, uh, everybody in politics is free to compete on that level. And I didn't notice much difference between the--the corporations and the trial lawyers and others giving money to Democrats and Republicans. We have a relatively even playing field in that sense. So I'm--I just don't see the great scandal that Mark does.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Paul, looking on to--moving on to a look at the convention overall, when we talked the Friday after the Republican convention, you said the Republicans had succeeded in telling people who Bob Dole was and what he would do if he were elected President. And you said the Democrats have to do that too, especially they have to tell what a Bill--what Bill Clinton's second term would be like. Did they succeed, in your view?
PAUL GIGOT: I think that if you look at both conventions, I think the Republican convention probably succeeded in doing more for the Republicans in general than it did for Bob Dole, though it did help him some. And the Democratic convention did more for Bill Clinton than it did for Democrats. The Republican convention had a twin goal of introducing Bob Dole and giving his, his agenda, but it also had a goal of rehabilitating the Republican Party somewhat in the public mind. And I think it did that somewhat better than it did in helping Bob Dole.
This convention was really mainly about Bill Clinton. And I think that this convention did do that very well, and in celebrating his--in making the argument for his record, in showcasing him as the centerpiece of everything, and if you look at what they did for the party, there wasn't--I don't think this week did as much. The President, himself, made only a cursory reference to a Democratic Congress in his speech. I think somebody was telling me that Sen. Dodd in his nominating speech never even used the word Democrat.
Umm, so, and the President's speech last night we talked about it yesterday was--did lay out something of an agenda. It was a relatively modest agenda, but he at least made an--he's making an argument to the country that, that he does have an agenda that he's setting out, so I think both conventions were actually relatively successful in what they tried to do.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And, Mark, do you think they got the--the Democrats got the momentum? Are they coming out with the momentum they hoped to, or do you think the Dick Morris scandal has cut into that quite a bit?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, first, let me just say I agree with Paul that the Republican convention went a long way toward rehabilitating the Republican Party. And I think they did that primarily by putting leadership of the Republican Party, in particular the speaker, in the Federal Witness Protection Program. They just weren't seen out in San Diego. Uh, I think the Democratic convention probably succeeded as far as a blueprint for the next 10 weeks. I don't think it's a blue print for a second administration. I don't think the President--I think the President laid out thirty-three proposals instead of three. And for it to be a successful second term President you have to have a very limited agenda that you've been able to get, win popular approval from.
I think the Dick Morris thing, quite frankly, is going to continue to plague the Clinton campaign because it isn't simply one person leading--there was a faction--there was a coterie of Morris people within the Clinton campaign. The Vice President was a big supporter of Dick Morris, as was the--he had his own polling firm--Penn & Shom--he had--the sworn adversary and nemesis was Harold Ickes, the deputy chief of staff. There are real fault lines and real divisions within the Clinton campaign which are not going to easily heal. Don Bayer, the communications director, was very close to, to, to Morris, as was, in fact, Bruce Reed, the policy adviser. So there were real fault lines, real divisions, and I think it's, it's going to take a while to heal.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What do you think, Paul? Stephanopolous, George Stephanopolous, the presidential aide, said this was not a pothole, it was a speed bump.
PAUL GIGOT: Well, since George is probably celebrating the departure of Dick Morris I'm not surprised he said that. Uh, he--I think Dick Morris was wonderful at assisting Bill Clinton in, in making him a very difficult target for Republicans to shoot at. One of the frustrations of--I heard this today from Republicans I talked to was about the President's speech was he didn't give us any targets. Everything he proposed was so small or moderate or modest or in some way coopting of the Republican theme that they can't run their traditional campaign very easily of a big spending, liberal candidate.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Paul, I've got to interrupt. We're out of time.
PAUL GIGOT: Okay.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: We'll get back to this next week. Thanks.