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Analysts Assess Democratic Response to President Bush

January 23, 2007 at 10:45 PM EDT
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JIM LEHRER: Senator Jim Webb, Democrat of Virginia, making the Democratic response. What did you think of that, Mark?

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: I would say it was — to be trite, I guess, a star was born. I think that the old line that freshmen should be seen and not heard was totally repealed and revoked. He spoke forcefully. He spoke from his own credentials.

He spoke, as he did during the campaign, quoting Andrew Jackson, “We should measure the health of our society not at its apex, but at its base,” about the income disparity and income inequality in the country, how it’s grown and continues to grow.

And then he just confronted the president directly. The president took us into this war recklessly, and the consequences were paid in terms of isolation. I thought it was a strong, tough statement, and surprising in its intensity.

JIM LEHRER: Surprisingly strong in intensity?

DAVID BROOKS, Columnist, New York Times: Not for Jim Webb. I mean, this is the guy who wouldn’t have a civil conversation with President Bush in the White House.

MARK SHIELDS: I’ve talked to Jim Webb about that, and I’ll be happy to give you his side of the story.

DAVID BROOKS: Well, it was intense. And it was writerly; it was eloquent; and it was forceful. But you can forget everything I just said about setting Iraq aside and having some bipartisanship.

There wasn’t a hint of bipartisanship in this speech. There wasn’t a hint of, “Well, we can disagree on this, but we can agree on this.” That was out the window. This was a very confrontational speech.

But a speech that was, from its point of view, a very forcefully written, forcefully executed. And I think it did establish a few things that are part of the Democratic Party and part of Jim Webb’s persona.

First, the emphasis on the new populism, on economic populism, which Jim Webb represents, which is a different from Bill Clinton’s economic policy and Hillary Clinton’s Democratic policies.

And, second, what the Democrats are hoping to establish, one, a strong military background. Jim Webb was a war hero, and his family has a strong background on that. But combined with that, quick exit from Iraq. Not capping the troops, as Hillary Clinton wants, not just halting the surge and then seeing, but quick exit from Iraq.

And that I think is, for the Democratic Party, is not the unanimous position of the party, but is becoming — was pushed forward tonight by the speech.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree, the party got pushed forward on Iraq tonight?

MARK SHIELDS: I think that Jim Webb — we don’t separate the message from the messenger in American politics. And he is, as David said it, because of his own credentials, his own history, he’s a very effective messenger, a strong messenger. So I think the message is reinforced. And I think he made it.

And linking it to Eisenhower and Korea was something that hadn’t been done before, that a great American military hero of World War II said that bloody stalemate there was going nowhere, and it ended it, that we are not stronger because of Iraq. And I think that was the centerpiece of his argument. As a consequence of our going into Iraq, the United States is not stronger and more secure tonight.

JIM LEHRER: Likely to have any impact? Because usually responses to State of the Union addresses have little or no impact. What about this one?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I think it will. I think, as Mark said, a star was born. I think it was way above average, just as a speech. I think it was way above average for a speech.

And it will rally I think a lot of people, a lot of Democrats, especially who didn’t like the atmosphere in the room, who want a more confrontational tone. They will say, “Jim Webb is the guy. We can guarantee he will be forceful, and will rebut it, and has the personal life story to do that.”

JIM LEHRER: David, Mark, thank you both very much.

MARK SHIELDS: Thank you.

JIM LEHRER: And for all evening.