Shields and Brooks
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JIM LEHRER: And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks, syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks. Wesley Clark, Mark, how would you describe the race he ran?
MARK SHIELDS: Wesley Clark was an ideal candidate, Jim. You think about it — outside of Washington, unmatched credentials in national security, personal courage. No voting record to defend or anything of the sort. Southern base — to run against Howard Dean.
If Howard Dean, when the results came in from Iowa it wasn’t just Dick Gephardt who lost and it wasn’t just Howard Dean who lost, Wesley Clark lost, because he lost his chance to be the last best chance to stop the Dean express as it rode away. And he was robbed of his military national security credentials by the emergence of John Kerry, he was robbed of his Southern base by the emergence of John Edwards. And the Dean meltdown on the Iowa election night and he was deprived of any oxygen, he had no coverage that whole week up there and he saw his hopes really end in New Hampshire.
JIM LEHRER: What would you add to that, David?
DAVID BROOKS: I basically agree. I think he was the natural alternative when John Kerry seemed to be tanking, and once John Kerry lifted himself up off the floor there was no need for Wes Clark.
It was an interesting campaign because he got a lot better as the campaign went on, he was a poor speaker, rambled and by the end he was a pretty good campaigner. To me the oddest part about the campaign was he was a guy with credentials that were reasonably moderate and conservative, and on the war he was further left than John Kerry, he was really in Howard Dean territory with Michael Moore on his podium and things like that, that was the oddity of the campaign.
That’s why I objected to him, but I’m not sure that’s why Democrats objected to him. He just was unnecessary. And there was one other final thing which people really do want to experience. They say they don’t, but people do want experience in Washington.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Speaking of that, John Edwards, why is he hanging in there? He’s been in the Senate, he has no experience except for his first term in the Senate.
MARK SHIELDS: John Edwards is an intriguing position right now. The question last night was whether a Massachusetts liberal could reach below the Mason Dixon line, and the answer was, yes, Virginia, yes Tennessee there is a John Kerry and he won both of them. In doing so he deprived John Edwards of one of his great applause lines that we’ve heard probably 35 times, which was I’ll beat George W. Bush in the East, the West, I’ll beat him in the Midwest and talking like this I’ll beat until the South.
Well, he might beat George Bush in the South, he couldn’t beat John Kerry in the South. So he’s got to make a choice right now. It’s a good story for Democrats, if each week John Kerry wins another race, he’s in the headlines, he’s getting coverage. They make their case against the incumbent administration. But John Edwards runs the risk of becoming the political equivalent of the Washington Generals of basketball. The Washington Generals were the team that traveled with the Harlem Globe Trotters and they played them 18,622 times.
JIM LEHRER: And they always lost.
MARK SHIELDS: And they always lost; they won three out of 18,622. And he doesn’t need that. He doesn’t need to be just a very upbeat positive articulate punching bag, so he’s got to figure out after next week.
JIM LEHRER: David, you’ve been keen on Edwards as is a campaigner and what he was saying and all of that what do you think is going on with him now?
DAVID BROOKS: Well I think everybody uses the phrase buyers remorse and John Kerry really hasn’t faced some of the scrutiny George Bush had at this point. He’d already been to Bob Jones University at this point. Bill Clinton-Gennifer Flowers had come and gone in this –
MARK SHIELDS: Or Howard Dean.
DAVID BROOKS: So I don’t think it’s totally stupid hang around. Maybe something will come up and people will get tired of Kerry, it would take a major earthquake for that to happen. There’s also one soft spot that Kerry has in his race, his support — and it was especially true this week in Tennessee and Virginia — grows less and less as you get more moderate and less and less as you get younger.
So he’s very good among older liberals, less good among, and Edwards beats him against younger moderates. So he could plausibly, hey, say you want electability, we got to win moderates, I do that better than Kerry. It’s a long shot, but it’s worth hanging around for.
JIM LEHRER: What about Howard Dean, what’s his situation now?
DAVID BROOKS: He send out these e-mails every morning which a lot of reporters get and I love them, because he rips John Kerry to shreds. And they’re all pretty effective in my point of view.
The point is that no one listens to him any more, reporters are being pulled off his campaign, he seems sour, he seems like a menacing figure. Actually a lot of the traits I have objected to in Howard Dean are coming to the fore — a sense of just too much negativity.
JIM LEHRER: Well, today, Mark, we didn’t have it in our clip just now, but Howard Dean also said about John Kerry that he was part of a corrupt political culture in Washington because of the fact that, as Dean was talking about, that he was — that the Torricelli people had done some campaign ads for and he said that Kerry is the lesser of two evils, compared with President Bush.
MARK SHIELDS: You don’t list that as an endorsement. ( Laughter)
DAVID BROOKS: The evil of two lessers.
JIM LEHRER: What’s he up to?
MARK SHIELDS: His style is a lot more subdued, you’ll notice, it’s not nearly as fiery, but the rhetoric is. Make no mistake about it, getting close to Bob Torricelli on John Kerry’s part is a mistake of proportions if you’re going to run a campaign that the White House is awash of money, that it’s the captive of special interests and it’s Halliburton and everything else going on and Billy Townsend is going downtown to take a $2 million job. Torricelli is a guy you want to keep, at least 18 miles off shore and observe only through heavy powered binoculars. Howard Dean keeps moving the goal post.
JIM LEHRER: You think he’s going to make a legitimate point?
MARK SHIELDS: I think it’s a legitimate point, but Kerry met with Torricelli last week, I don’t think Kerry had anything to do with those ads. These were anti-Dean ads and they were people supporting Kerry, supporting Gephardt in Iowa, who ran those ads and they were and they got a pretty severe backlash and were pulled.
But just in one point that David made, about Kerry, I’ll say this, I was on the Hill today and Ed Markey, the Democratic congressman from Massachusetts who had been one of John Kerry’s longest and strongest supporters even when John Kerry was being called dead man walking as he was in November by many in the press, and Markey was there, he said George W. Bush always said he wanted to be a uniter rather than a divider and he has united the Democratic Party. I have never seen the Democratic Party as united as it is, they’re discovering virtues in John Kerry that his mother never knew existed.
JIM LEHRER: The polls show a big lead in Wisconsin, he’s only been there once.
DAVID BROOKS: The question is how much do people know about him. Terry McAuliffe who is the chairman of the Democratic Party got what he wanted, he wanted a front loaded system so the senior member of the field would win quickly without too much fighting, that’s basically what they got and hats off to him. The problem is he hasn’t been tested the way I think every other primary candidate has been tested. Howard Dean is testing him, but nobody’s listening. But the Republicans are going to do it.
JIM LEHRER: Speaking of Terry McAuliffe, he’s the one who started this issue about President Bush’s National Guard Service during the Vietnam War, the White House yesterday issued some papers related to the president’s service, does that put it to rest?
DAVID BROOKS: I think it’s an idiotic issue. When somebody is running for president, you want to know what their service was in the military, how they behaved. But when somebody has already been president, you know how he behaves, we know how George Bush behaves under pressure because he’s spent three years in the White House. Something that happened 30 years ago I don’t think is relevant, I don’t think it’s important. He’s a different man than who he was before Sept. 11, and I just think it’s an inane issue.
JIM LEHRER: An inane issue, Mark?
MARK SHIELDS: I don’t think it is an inane issue, Jim. I didn’t think it was inane issue in Bill Clinton. We went through three elections in a row where the man who did not serve, avoided service, however you want to put it, beat the man who did. Clinton beat George Bush, the youngest Naval pilot, the first, in World War II, he beat Bob Dole, a veteran of World War II, and in 2000 Al Gore who actually wore the uniform went to Vietnam lost to George Bush who had a spotty record in the Texas Air National Guard. One of the great ironies of this campaign is that John Kerry, a remote frequently remote occasionally wooden person, turns into a live vibrant human being in the company of the comrades with which he served and it’s real, they’ve been a great credential to him.
JIM LEHRER: They’re with him everywhere he goes.
MARK SHIELDS: He’s a so much better candidate when they are with him. The best efforts of the White House and Karl Rove have not been able to turn up one person who served with President Bush. I agree with David that he’s a different man than he was when he was 20 years old, but up until 1966, three out of four college graduates served in the military, three out of four high school graduates. It was only then that the sons of elite and educated figured out ways to avoid serving, and Kerry was an exception to Bush — go ahead.
JIM LEHRER: I was just going to ask David, the issue that Kerry said that’s not the issue, Kerry says the issue is anybody, he honors people that served in the National Guard, the only issue to him is did in fact Bush serve.
DAVID BROOKS: What they released suggests that he did some sort of service. You know, I really think he was a lightweigh– he was not responsible, he was not the sort of person he wishes he would be and I wish one would be in that circumstance. But it was 30 years ago.
JIM LEHRER: So you can see the point but just not the relevance.
DAVID BROOKS: I don’t see the relevance. Kerry gave a speech when the issue was raised against Clinton which was a long time ago, this is just not a legitimate issue, I think he was right then, wrong now.
MARK SHIELDS: It’s interesting because David’s right in the sense that the press, many of whom defended Clinton or whatever, because many in the press, let’s be frank about it, are a pretty elite group and they are rationalizing their own behavior because they were unrepresented in the military as well. If you look at what George Bush did in uniform, he’s the Sergeant York of this administration, no Cheney, no Lott, no Hastert, no DeLay, none of them ever served.
JIM LEHRER: We will pick this up or something similar to this on Friday night. Thank you both.