Shields and Brooks
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JIM LEHRER: There has been a mostly subdued Republican reelection campaign for President Bush. But today Kerry’s Super Tuesday triumph coincides with the Bush-Cheney campaign’s unveiling of four political ads. They will go on the air in at least 16 states beginning tomorrow. Here’s a sampling.
AD SPOKESMAN: The last few years have tested America in many ways. Some challenges we’ve seen before, and some were like no others. But America rose to the challenge. What sees us through tough times? Freedom, faith, families and sacrifice. President Bush: Steady leadership in times of change.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: (ad) I know exactly where I want to lead this country. I know what we need to do to make the world more free and more peaceful. I know what we need to do to make sure every person has a chance at realizing the American dream. I know what we need to do to continue economic growth so people can find work, to raise the standards at schools so children can learn, to fulfill the promise to America’s seniors. Americans are hardworking, decent, generous people. I’m optimistic about America because I believe in the people of America.
JIM LEHRER: And one more time to Shields and Brooks.
JIM LEHRER: David, Kerry versus Bush. What kind of campaign should we expect?
DAVID BROOKS: Long. Eight months. Usually in many years past people took time off after the primary season and got going up again toward convention time. But it was decided in ’96 when Clinton buried Dole just after the primary season, that you couldn’t take time off. You couldn’t let the other side dominate the agenda, which means there is going to be hard-core advertising like we just saw for eight months.
My worry about this is that we’ve never seen something like this before. People, especially in the swing states where the ads are going to hit hard and heavy, are they going to get sick of it by August and September? Once they’re sick of it, they won’t reengage in September and October. It’s a matter of pacing. These ads are okay because it’s just a taste of Bush. They don’t really take you very far.
JIM LEHRER: What do you think about the campaign, Kerry versus Bush, Mark?
MARK SHIELDS: It is important to remind ourselves that a week is a lifetime in politics. In this case, two months is two eternities. Two months ago this campaign began. President Bush had a comfortable lead. We had just been benefiting and he had been benefiting politically from the capture of Saddam Hussein. Here we are two months later and there is a sense of urgency on the part of Republicans to get this campaign going and to spend the resources both political and financial that the president does have.
I agree with David, it is going to be a long campaign. And I think what will be most intriguing is to watch not these ads, emphasizing leadership, steady leadership and that as much as they are when the negatives do come on John Kerry, whether in fact he’ll be able to raise money of the same order of magnitude to counter those.
JIM LEHRER: David, some people, optimists have suggested that this could be a rare presidential election because there are so many fundamental differences between these two men, about the use of military power, preemptive strike in that area, taxes, Social Security reform, all kinds of things: Do you think this could be a serious campaign about serious issues for a change?
DAVID BROOKS: Are you trying to make me laugh? You know, in some ways it is. In some ways we choose cheap symbols to get at real issues. This is a fundamentally polarized electorate. These are two fundamentally polarized candidates.
Somebody told me the two most unpopular states in the country are Texas and Massachusetts because one is seen as liberal, the other as conservative. Bush is pretty conservative, John Kerry voted the most liberal member of the U.S. Senate. So there are fundamental issues. But the way we tend to talk about these things in campaigns is not through policy analysis but through symbols, symbols of this Willie Horton, symbols of the Pledge of Allegiance and the symbols are shallow and stupid and make you depressed but they do tend to talk about real issues if you read into them what the symbol actually symbolizes.
JIM LEHRER: Mark, David, we’ll continue this on Friday night. Thank you both very much.