| August 3,
Jim Lehrer leads analysis of the Bush address and the GOP convention, with syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot and NewsHour historians.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah. All right. Now, Michael Beschloss, what strikes you, as you watch this spectacle?
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: Well, as you were talking about the balloons, you know, it wasn't always the case, Jim, that balloons were a part of this event. The last time conventions were held in Philadelphia was 1948, and at the Democratic Convention there was this idea that the Cold War had begun, but they wanted to show the Democrats were the party of peace, so they released this flock of doves.
JIM LEHRER: Oh, my goodness.
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: And the problem was that some of the doves flew up into the television lights and got killed, and you had these dead doves dropping onto ladies in the audience, and others relieved themselves on the heads of delegates, so -
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: In particular, Sam Rayburn's bald head; he was so mad he cursed in front of everybody.
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: -- the party of peace
JIM LEHRER: I'm sorry, Doris. On whose head? Doris, whose head did you say -
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: Sam Rayburn, the Speaker of the House, who had a wonderfully shiny bald head.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah. And he probably wouldn't have enjoyed that at all.
|A show like no other|
HAYNES JOHNSON: No. This is - this is what it's all about. This is a great moment in American politics, except the inauguration of a President of the United States. Whatever you say about these conventions, they do come down to something besides the balloons and the pageantry, and all this sort of slick packaging; it comes down to an enormous choice. This is going to be a fascinating election. We'll get to the speech - it really laid out some very important things and choices -
JIM LEHRER: Kay James, your thoughts as this winds down.
KAY JAMES: Oh, Jim, I'm not sure you want to hear my thoughts. I really want to be out on that floor. It's just one of the most exciting moments in American political experience - be Republican or Democrat - it's the highlight of your political year - the excitement, the tension that's on that floor right now. I just cannot - delegates wait four years for this to happen.
JIM LEHRER: Well, see, we don't have a good shot of it at this moment - but who all was on the very - no room left on that platform - there we go. There's of course Mrs. Bush, Laura Bush, and her husband right behind her. All of those folks who spoke during the course of the four days of this convention were invited to come and join the Bushes up there, along with members of their family and the Cheney family.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: Oh, Jim, I have a thought.
JIM LEHRER: Yes, Doris.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: It just seems to me with all the talk that we've done in this last week about how many fewer people are watching this, what you realize now is something is - a personal thing is happening that's affecting all of us, and my hope is just that the younger generation, unlike us dinosaurs, who've seen so many of these and loved them, as we've all said, and feel the thrill in them, I hope they get into it enough to understand how this quadrennial function, which produces our democratic system and allows us to vote, this guy may be the President - I just hope they understand the importance of that so they can feel twenty, forty years from now like we do now. We remember every one of these and we love them.
JIM LEHRER: Absolutely. Yes, Mark.
MARK SHIELDS: Just picking up, Jim, on something that Haynes said, and that was the excitement on the floor tonight - we were down there - I talked to Mike McCann, the chairman of the Indiana Republican Party - and he was a little concerned that his folks were just so geared up that their expectations were too high and that you could feel the excitement and there was a tension before Governor Bush; they wanted him to do well because they knew the stakes - that he was speaking to a national audience.
JIM LEHRER: More balloons.
PAUL GIGOT: We're into double digit waves now -
JIM LEHRER: There's George Bush just talking to John McCain; they had a very difficult primary race. There was some speculation that maybe McCain would take a pass at being on that stage tonight, but he - is that important that he's there tonight, Paul?
PAUL GIGOT: I think it is. It's important symbolically and not only that John McCain showed up but that Governor Bush had a grace note in his speech early on of praising all of his competitors but John McCain in particular.
JIM LEHRER: By name.
PAUL GIGOT: By name.
JIM LEHRER: Yes, Haynes.
HAYNES JOHNSON: We're watching now - you're a novelist; all of your fans know that. I wrote one novel, but this is the scene out of a novel. All these people - bitter rivals, they were fighting each other; this isn't just about love and kisses. I mean, this is deadly combat to become the President of the United States, go through, raise that money, go through all that ordeal, and then it's the form is you come back there together and you salute and join and that's what they're doing right now - watching John McCain - all these other people up there. I love these scenes.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah. And you know, what's so interesting is that it's their warrior instincts that caused them to be good candidates in the first place, and then they have to put their warrior instincts suddenly away and be peacemakers just like that.
HAYNES JOHNSON: Even though they might be watching for another war somewhere down the -
JIM LEHRER: And the - the convention now is going to be closed, and we - this is - this is it. The Republican Convention for the year 2000 - the candidate is George W. Bush for President - Richard Cheney is the Vice President. Let's go around now before we go with some closing thoughts from our NewsHour analysis and commentary teams, the people we've been talking to -Mark Shields and Paul Gigot, Doris Kearns and Michael Beschloss, Haynes Johnson, Kay James of the Heritage Foundation, Gwen Ifill. Gwen, you've been down there on the floor. What's it like down there? You've been - are you covered up with balloons? I see you. You're doing all right?
GWEN IFILL: I've been grabbing for the balloons, Jim, and somehow they're all avoiding me. I got a little firework in my mouth - that's all I got. Listen, this crowd is very energized, especially the key lines in that speech. They really liked the line when he talked about restoring honor and dignity to the office of the presidency; when he said he wasn't running in borrowed clothes, obviously a reference to Al Gore, and that - I don't know if you could tell when you were watching him on television but when they started chanting on the floor, they were chanting, "Won't be long now." They really are very energized.
JIM LEHRER: They picked up on that line from the street, "Won't be long now." I couldn't hear exactly what it was; that's what it was.
GWEN IFILL: That's why I'm here to help you out, Jim.
|The Bush address|
JIM LEHRER: Thank you, Gwen, thank you, thank you, thank you very much. What did you think of the speech, Paul?
PAUL GIGOT: Jim, I thought it was fascinating. Governor Bush is the challenger, and yet this was a speech of a front runner. This was not a risk-taking speech; it did not have a hard edge. This was a speech not about persuasion so much as it was reassurance. It's a speech to make people comfortable with George W. Bush. He was stronger than this whole convention has been on some issues, no question about that, but it seemed to me that if there was a vision in this speech, it wasn't about a new direction for the country, a sharply different direction; it was a vision about governing. It was a vision about leadership, how he's going to get things done. It really was a pretty safe speech -- I think effective politically.
JIM LEHRER: Effective politically, Mark?
MARK SHIELDS: I think it was, Jim. I started to say that the Democrats were hoping that George Bush would shoot himself in the foot, or stub his toe - rhetorically or just in the wrong choice of topics. Their hopes went unfulfilled this evening. It was an optimistic conservative speech, which I think is important. There are two kinds of conservatives: those who say it's five minutes to midnight and those who say it's five minutes to dawn. This was a five minutes to dawn speech; he did a couple of other things I thought were important. He emphasized the bipartisanship and the Texas record, how he worked with - citing Bob Bullock, whom he called "crusty," which is an under statement.
JIM LEHRER: Those of who knew Bob Bullock -
MARK SHIELDS: Bob Bullock - to call him "crusty" is a euphemism, but at the same time he talked about Republicans and Democrats working together, and Washington was not just a Democratic town he was running against; it's the bickering that he sees, and he said now it's time for Republicans and Democrats. I thought that was important. It was conservative. He laid out very specifically what he intended to do in conservative terms, but there was an over arching, I thought, a sense that Medicare does more than meet the needs of the elderly; it reflects the values of our society.
JIM LEHRER: That's a liberal statement.
MARK SHIELDS: The first part of that speech you could - I said to Paul as he was giving it - I said this could have been Jack Kennedy's speech. I mean, it was that - this is not a time - we must use - we will use these good times for great goals. I mean, those are - those are themes that certainly you wouldn't say, gee, that's a solid Republican or whatever.
JIM LEHRER: Doris, you agree Jack Kennedy could have made this speech?
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: At least part of it. I'm not sure the rest - for half of it - and the other half he could have, but what interested me about it, I think as a composition it was an excellent speech. It had great structure, the whole lost opportunities theme worked, and one thing he did very well, I think, was to spell out in word pictures what he planned to do with Social Security, tax relief, and Medicare. I can understand it better now from this speech than from all the millions of debates I've heard in the last few months. The only sense I have about it that I would be partly criticizing, I think he came across looking very mature and that's what he needed to do, rather than cocky, but he was so concerned, I think, about looking mature, not smirking, that he didn't allow his full personality to come into this speech. Hardly did you see that smile. In the video before him, he said I love to smile, and you had a feeling he was restraining that smile, almost as if he was keeping the girdle on him so that he wouldn't look to cock sure. But I think the more important task was to look mature, look steady, look reliable, reassure, as Paul just said, and I think he did all that. So he achieved the main purpose. I'm only - I have a feeling that there's still a part of George Bush, if it can catch up to that maturity and the energy and vitality being combined, then you'd have a truly baffo speech.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah. Kay, what did you think of the speech?
KAY JAMES: Well, you know, I agree. We've made some comments down here about his not smiling more, but I suspect that about that time he was probably trying to make those butterflies in his stomach fly in formation, so I'll give him a pass on that one. I thought he did what he needed to do tonight. He extended an olive branch to independents and Democrats and invited them into the party. He hit all the major policy themes. He talked about Social Security, education, tax, strengthening our military, Medicare. It was personal and autobiographical. We got to learn a little bit more about who he is as a person - visionary, specific, and even humorous in points - at points. He gave a little red meat to the - to the delegates that are on the floor, hit some of the themes that the party faithful were looking to hear. He said that if he - a partial-birth abortion bill hit his desk, he would sign it, and I think you saw the response there. I think he did what he had to do - set the stage and - and he also let the party faithful know it's going to be a tough fight and so - I think he's called them to action and to their posts.
JIM LEHRER: Michael Beschloss, do you agree, he did what he needed to do?
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: You know, I think what he understood was that here was his big chance to give people a sense of the kind of human being he was, and he did that extremely deftly. The emotional undercurrent of this - almost the psychiatric undercurrent of this was I think that he's Ronald Reagan and Al Gore is Jimmy Carter. Remember Jimmy Carter in the 1980 debate against Reagan - kept on saying my opponent is disturbing, he's risky; he's doing all sorts of things that are outside the American tradition. Reagan responded to that by being optimistic, centered, tough, giving people the sense that this was someone who was going to make tough decisions for matters of purpose that people in some cases wouldn't disagree with, but they'd admire the strong leadership. I think he understands that. And the other thing is that I think he did a very good job of contrasting himself with Al Gore. He's the one who's not going to make decisions by polls. He understands himself. He's got peace at the center and that he's running against someone who's constantly reinventing himself and looking for political advantage. If people can buy into that - and I think he went a long way toward that tonight, I think it's going to be a tremendous help.
LEHRER: One thing we need to point out to those who have not followed
the campaign that closely: when they use this term "risky,"
this is in response to Vice President Gore's continual attack on Governor
Bush, particularly on the tax cut proposals -- that they are risky.
That's what that - that's what that's all about.
HAYNES JOHNSON: I thought it was one of the most fascinating, particularly for this moment, in this country - here we are, as he said - at this moment of endless prosperity and the greatest boom in American history - all of these things. He's saying that we didn't take advantage of it. The people who are leading the country let him down; they had their chance; they didn't do it; they will go; we will; all of this - the rhetoric that came over was very effective. He looked good; he looked presidential; he was comfortable. His shoulders are strong. I made a note to myself "the Texan," the big sky, it's optimism, it's tomorrow, it's the dawn, it's not the sunrise; it's all these things. And this was - also politically, though, I think this was a speech in which he did offer something to everyone. Mark and Doris were talking about JFK about Jack Kennedy - I wrote down here "FDR" - for an entire half century Republicans ran against Roosevelt and socialism and good government. He gave the most ringing defense of Social Security and Medicare and the rest anybody has possibly done. We're going to give it to you. He's also going to give you a huge tax cut. Now, here's a problem; there's a problem down the road. He's going to give you a big tax cut; he's going to get rid of the surplus and give it back to the people. He's going to build a nuclear shield, and he's going to sort of have a new era of prosperity. It sounds terrific. He gives the conservatives exactly what they want, every single item. So - but it lays out a framework for an absolutely indispensable debate.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: And what Lyndon Johnson always said is that everybody thinks that I'm giving them what they want; that's the way you win these elections. I thought the generational theme was an interesting one and a good one in the sense that he first gave homage to the World War II generation, which, of course, is his father, but then he talked about his own generation as if their torch was passing. That was implicitly, and even acceded to the fact or admitted to the fact that his generation had had some difficulties earlier, but when they saw their children somehow, they had matured. That was a very interesting psychological thing to tell people, yes, I may have been reckless earlier, but here I am, ready for this task. I do think he also has a capacity for not just saying slogans. I liked - as I said before - it's more than just word pictures - instead of just saying the word he actually explained in a sentence or two what he was meaning. If he keeps that up in speeches, that's an educational process. That's what FDR did very well - to not just simply say something and assume that everybody knew what you were saying - but to explain a little bit what you were - what you meant by that.
JIM LEHRER: Yes, Paul. Yes, go ahead. Sorry, Kay.
KAY JAMES: I was just going to say I think while he talked about some things that we generally hear coming out in speeches perhaps given by Democratic candidates, he offered some very conservative solutions to those themes on Social Security, on education, on Medicare. So I think they are - they are subjects that are usually discussed by Democrats, but with very conservative themes, I think, coming forward.
|A new GOP|
JIM LEHRER: And that's the new wrinkle, is it not, Paul? I mean, if there's a new Republican Party, that's it?
PAUL GIGOT: They're not about tearing down the welfare state; they're about reforming it and changing it. They're not about changing the - throwing out the entitlement state; they're about changing it with different ideas and private sector competition and private savings accounts. That's - that is - if there's a third way, like Clinton had it - that is the Bush third way. And it's - it's not Newt Gingrich of '94; it's not the old Goldwater Republicanism, but a couple of election defeats tend to make you think differently.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Before we go, let's go around starting with you, Michael. Just about this convention, this four days, did the Republicans do what they needed to do in this four days? Take the speech and everything else that happened. What's your summary thoughts, sir?
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: George W. Bush had an almost perfect convention in terms of winning this election, I think, from the first hour it began until the hour that we've just been through. And, you know, conventions are a test of a candidate's leadership abilities. Take a look at 1972. George McGovern presided over a convention that was chaotic. He gave his acceptance speech at 3:00 AM. Dozens of people were nominated for vice president, including Mickey Mouse and Mao Zedong. This was not with a great sign that McGovern would be a commanding leader if he were President. And compare that to this week. All those delegates on that floor, a lot of those people were McCain delegates. They did not have to submit to this message discipline. This was a convention that was staged with very impressive discipline and I think the message it's going to send is that Bush is a commanding leader and a pretty tough guy.
JIM LEHRER: Your thoughts about the convention, Doris.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: It some ways it seemed to have three acts, the convection, all of which were pretty well controlled and successfully controlled. Act One were those first two nights where we saw everybody embracing each other, a look of diversity, a lot of people that we don't normally see at Republican Conventions being on the stage and representing the party. And some people were cynical about whether there was any real substance behind that act. But nonetheless, that was an important way of showing that the Republican Party, under George Bush, is going to be more tolerant and more inclusive. And words do matter, the fact that those are words of warmth were a good thing. But then Act Two was Dick Cheney coming along, giving what people were saying was missing in Act One, which was a more hard-hitting, opposition dividing line to what Gore represented and what Clinton represented and then that strategic decision to tie Gore hip and hand, or whatever that metaphor is, to Mr. Clinton. And then Act Three was presenting the standard bearer as a man who could be both a little bit above the fray but also hard hitting, but mature and steady. So that somehow people were saying... And he brought substance into it. People were saying yesterday, if he didn't have substance tonight, then all of the kind of diversity wouldn't be enough, even the Cheney stuff wouldn't be enough. You can't just say bring another person into the White House without reason. He seemed to give some reason. So in that sense, I think somebody had... Somebody really scripted this thing in the end, although I must say, when President Ford was hurt in the middle of this convention with his stroke, it reminded you, though they can script a lot of things, they can't script God. And the fact is that events are going to come into play that will make... between now and the election, probably this is opening night, but there will be a lot of things they can't control as well as they controlled these four days.
JIM LEHRER: All right, a good opening night four days, Kay?
KAY JAMES: Oh, I think it definitely was. You saw a convention that began, as you said, with the diversity. It ended on a theme of inclusion. As a result of that, I think that, as of tonight, there is a new face on the Republican Party. It is the face of George W. Bush. He has set a new standard. Many people are referring to him as the new happy warrior, very Reaganesque in his demeanor. And I think that's going to carry this party very far into the fall election. But coming out of a convention with this kind of bump is always exciting, but the tough road is really ahead now. He's going to have to define those issues, defend those issues and convince the American people.
JIM LEHRER: Haynes?
HAYNES JOHNSON: The Republicans arrived in this convention united, as they've not been at least in 20 years or something like that. They leave more united. They had a very successful convention. They presented exactly what they wanted to get across, and you can take the... you can say the two faces were false faces. There was the pretty face and there was the other face. You can... that'll be a debate for later. But as a unit, as a political stage-setting exercise, this was an almost letter-perfect convention for them. Coming down here tonight, I passed a little handwritten sign. It said, "Victory Pavilion," pointing this way. And that's the... The Republicans really believe they're going to win, and I think there's nothing... The Cheney selection, the response to the speech, laying out the themes, the challenges to the Democrats, there are big issues here, and it is now... I think this is going to be one of the more important elections in the last half century.
JIM LEHRER: A letter-perfect convention, Mark?
MARK SHIELDS: It was, Jim. I'd say that George Bush started... Came in here as a retailer, I mean a fellow who had one a series of primaries, was very popular with his observe party and went wholesale. There's no question. I think that this was a wholesale performance this evening. There are a couple of other thoughts I had. One, it it's a long way from Bob Jones University. Just last February, he was apologizing for being there and some of the actions of some of his supporters in the South Carolina primary, a particularly bitter chapter of this political year. This, tonight, the first two nights in particular just looked like America's integration had finally arrived in the Republican Party. But Jim, the other thing is this was a Bush convention and not a Republican convention. And I think that's important to remember. There was very little precious little said about the Republican Party or, you know, that the republicans had to win or Republican Congress had to be with me. This was a Bush convention, and I think that, you know, the Republican hopes are not riding on the record of the congress or the agenda of the Congress or their performance or whatever. Everything is riding on this governor, this young governor of Texas, who I point out is the first time he's gone national. And Doris' point that there will be crises between now and November. And the final point is, they did a great command job because, if you listen to the cheers, every time Rick Lazio's name was mentioned elliptically the Senate candidate of New York who's running... What's his distinction? Nobody in this room knew him until he was running against Hillary Rodham Clinton and you would have thought that he had invented the wheel. Each time his name was mentioned, the cheers went up and all the rest of it. Any reference to the Clintons even elliptically got a big, big cheer. They did very well to contain that so this there wasn't any ugly visuals on television. The other big thing was the cutting of taxes. When he reasserted the traditional cultural social positions of the Republican conservative movement, he got big cheers on that, and you can't accuse him of fudging on any of that.
JIM LEHRER: Okay, the last word goes to you, Paul.
PAUL GIGOT: I was struck by how unusual his argument is for a challenger. Usually the argument of the out party is, "we have to make a change because times are so bad." This argument of this convention of this candidate is, "we have to make a change precisely because times are so good." We can't squander the opportunity. Times of plenty are tests of American character." It hinges the election directly on the issues of leadership and character. That's where they want this fought out, it seems to me, linking Clinton to Gore, as well, no third chances. The other thing that struck me about the whole week was confidence, sure-footedness. These are people who seem to know what they're about. They remind me an awful lot of Bill Clinton in 1992. They seem certain that the direction they were taking, their campaign, they had it mapped out, they knew what they were doing. And so everything seemed to fall into place. They didn't make mistakes. I see the same thing with this crowd around Governor Bush. They don't make mistakes.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Well, look, Mark, Paul, Kay, Doris, Michael, Haynes. See, I don't have it written down here, so... Anyhow, this has been a terrific four days. Thank you all six for being with us. And that does end our coverage of this year 2000 Republican National Convention here at the First Union Center in Philadelphia. We will be with you for similar coverage of the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles beginning August 14, and of course between now and then, tomorrow night and next week at our regular time on the NewsHour and on the Online NewsHour. For now, from Philadelphia, I'm Jim Lehrer. Thank you and good night.