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Obama’s Victory, Clinton’s Endgame Cap Primaries

June 4, 2008 at 6:30 PM EDT
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As the primary campaigns conclude, columnists Mark Shields and David Brooks talk to Judy Woodruff about what the Democrats must do to unite after their unusually lengthy primary season and the prospects for a general election contest between Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: That is syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Well, gentlemen, what struck you about the way this long Democratic contest ended last night? You had Barack Obama going over the top, David, but you also had a split win in the primaries in South Dakota and Montana, and you had Senator Clinton not conceding.

DAVID BROOKS, columnist, New York Times: Yes, I think it’s the Senator Clinton not conceding that’s, let’s face it, the hottest thing that happened.

There’s only one nominee. One guy has it. That means the other person doesn’t have it. And she should have said something.

I know a lot of Democrats who were, frankly, mind-boggled that in her speech yesterday she did not come out and concede, did not embrace him. She used lines like, “People chose who would be the best commander-in-chief, and they voted for me,” a line that was a Clinton line, has now become a McCain line.

People are — I know a lot of Democrats today who are appalled at what Senator Clinton did yesterday and really think she should have just done something very gracious and should do it quickly.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark, is there another way to look at what she did?

MARK SHIELDS, syndicated columnist: Well, there’s a way to look at it historically, Judy, and that is 1975, when Francisco Franco was lingering between this world and the next for weeks on end, and the joke in Barcelona at the time was, “There’s good news and bad news about Franco. The good news is Franco’s dead. The bad news is you have to tell him.”

And that’s the problem with the Clinton campaign. Somebody has got to tell them that it’s over.

I thought Obama was incredibly magnanimous, generous. He started — he didn’t cross the line of just praising her to the skies like a canonized saint, but I’d add to that the factor that what struck me is Obama really did stagger to the finish line. He won seven of the last 16 contests.

It came back to how important the war in Iraq vote had been. If he had not taken his position, if she had voted against the war in Iraq, it would have deprived him of the substantive rationale for his candidacy.

And it gave him — it galvanized support for him and it really was the key to his winning Iowa. And winning Iowa was the key to piercing and destroying the aura or at least the notion of invincibility and inevitability about the Clinton candidacy.

So, you know, we think about a vote cast in, what, six years ago and how important it was last night.

DAVID BROOKS: And it was just a speech, in his case.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And any other keys that come to mind today, the day after, David?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, the staggering across the finish line — I mean, the odd thing about Obama is he gave a speech last night which I thought was a tremendously good speech. And the people are — there are thousands of people really moved and transported.

And you look at that speech, and you look at that crowd, and you think, “This guy is going to win 110 percent of the electorate.”

But we’ve been through this story. He gives this speech. He does arouse this kind of response among certain people. But if you look at the national polls, he’s tied with McCain.

If you look at the way independent voters look at him, in late February, 62 percent of independent voters had a favorable opinion of him. Now he’s down to 49 percent. He’s running way behind his party at the moment.

He’ll probably pick up now that he’s got this glow of victory, but he’s not a candidate, considering where his party is versus the Republican Party, he’s not a candidate rolling through the fall with a big burst of wind.

Looking back on the campaign

David Brooks
New York Times
He's really got to lay out, again, who he is and his life story. And when people hear about the life story, it's not something they can easily connect to themselves.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you explain that? I mean, as you say, this is what we've been looking at through much of the primary season. How do you explain it?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I think a lot of people don't know who he is. First of all, he's pretty liberal. We haven't had too many really, pretty orthodox liberal Democratic candidates, really, going back to the New Deal. That's something.

But the second thing is people don't know him. And it's astonishing how little they know him and McCain.

Mark and I have been busy offering wisdom now for six months. But when you ask people, "Who is Barack Obama?" They think, "Well, he's a guy who goes to a church, and he's a Muslim."

They just don't know much about him. And he's really got to lay out, again, who he is and his life story. And when people hear about the life story, it's not something they can easily connect to themselves.

And so as we move to a new fall campaign, we're moving to go a new electorate. These people have not been paying attention as much as we think.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark, before we move completely...

MARK SHIELDS: OK, can I just add one thing to David's point? I think it's a good one, and that is Jim Clyburn, who was on the previous segment, House majority whip, made a very good point about Obama.

When people asked about him, the things they do know about him is he was the first black president of the Harvard Law Review. And they don't know his personal history.

I mean, it's a compelling story, the son of a single mother, you know, brought up by his grandparents. I mean, it is the contemporary equivalent of the Log Cabin, but that is not known. That's not understood.

There's almost a sense that he was born to this elite Columbia-Harvard world and that's from where he comes. And I think that's off the point.

The other thing is once anybody, whoever that individual is, becomes a nominee of a party, there's a difference the way people do view them. There's an understanding that this is one of the two individuals who will be the president of the country for the next four years.

And people begin to look, not only with more positive, with more critical eyes, as well. But I think you'll see Obama get a lift in those numbers David mentioned.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, before we move away from the Clinton not conceding, how much does this hurt him? Or are we going to look back on this, David, as just -- you know, it's just a blip in the year?

DAVID BROOKS: My general sense is the Democratic Party will unify and that, at the end of the day, a lot of people, even in these primaries, I think 60 percent, 65 percent of her voters said they would vote for him, which means a lot wouldn't.

But I think you have to assume, at the end of the day, they will come around. And they'll have a good convention. I think the party will unify.

I think the effect of what has happened in the last couple of days, especially with her dropping the hint through surrogates that she would accept the vice presidency, I think that has made it absolutely clear he can't pick her.

One of his perceived weaknesses is that he's weak. He can't be seen to be pressured into picking her as vice president. So given what she said the last couple days and the way she's acted, there's no way he can pick her.

Need for Obama's leadership now

Mark Shields
Syndicated columnist
there have been doubts about subsequent liberal candidates, whether they were tough enough to deal with a runaway CEO, with a tough labor leader, with a tough foreign dictator or foreign power, or terrorism. And I think that's the question of Obama.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And today he announced a couple of more people who are going to be involved in that, Caroline Kennedy, interesting choice...

MARK SHIELDS: Yes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: ... to be part of that committee.

MARK SHIELDS: David is right. The American voters, Judy, are always in the market for one of two types: a humane, likable, even compassion conservative or a tough liberal.

The last tough liberal was killed 40 years ago tonight, Robert Kennedy, was really tough. There was a sense -- there was no question about his toughness.

And there have been doubts about subsequent liberal candidates, whether they were tough enough to deal with a runaway CEO, with a tough labor leader, with a tough foreign dictator or foreign power, or terrorism. And I think that's the question of Obama.

I think there's no question that, by saying that she was available to the vice presidency yesterday, Hillary Clinton rained on his parade. And that became -- and I think it became, you know, a first test of whether he is his own man.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But you agree with David that, by the end of the year, we'll look back on this and it won't be matter so much or...

MARK SHIELDS: Well, no, I think -- I think the Republicans can raise the question right now. If a man can't unify his own party, Barack Obama, can he unify the country?

And I think he's got to demonstrate that he is a party -- we want a whole host of talents in a president. We want an inspiring leader. No one ever said George Bush was inspiring. He is inspiring, inspiring to people. People really believe he's an agent of change.

But he has to, at the same time, show that he's in command of his own party first.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How does he win over those 18 million voters that Hillary Clinton keeps reminding us, folks who went for her?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, two things. Start winning. Most people in most parties, they just want to win. And so if he's up in the polls, I think they'll be behind there.

But the fall race will be a pretty straight left-right race. People will be offering different versions of change, but one will be clearly liberal and one more clearly conservative.

And I think it will -- a lot of those people, not necessarily all of them, but a lot of those people who are Democrats -- I think that's not the key constituency here. People who voted in this primary process are Democrats.

It's the independents out there who he's begun to lose. And that's a more difficult issue. He really has to show he's not an orthodox liberal, I think, the way McCain has shown he's not an orthodox conservative. And he hasn't even taken a step in that direction yet.

MARK SHIELDS: No, I think McCain's criticism last night, which I thought really fell flat, when he talked about this man makes a good first impression, I mean, this is a fellow that's been running for 16 months, that millions of people have contributed to, and been aroused by his leadership, talking about Obama. I thought that was rather -- it was on the snide on John's part.

But John does make a good point, where he -- John McCain -- where he says, "This is where I've taken on my own party." Where has Barack Obama turned to any liberal group and said something it didn't want to hear?

Town hall meetings ahead?

Mark Shields
Syndicated columnist
John McCain cannot read a teleprompter. He could not be a weatherman in Duluth. I mean, it's just -- it's really sad.

JUDY WOODRUFF: It's interesting that he's already bringing that up. What about this proposal that the two of them would have these town meetings around the country?

MARK SHIELDS: I'm all for it. I think it's going to be difficult to achieve, because it's going to turn into a session of "Crossfire" on CNN, with cheering audiences and that sort of thing.

But I think the more exchange, the more open exchange you can get -- in John McCain's case, it's understandable why he's doing it. John McCain cannot read a teleprompter. He could not be a weatherman in Duluth. I mean, it's just -- it's really sad.

A man who does town meetings and is wonderful at the back of the bus, is irreverent and honest and open and funny, he just stiffens up when he gets on the teleprompter and a microphone.

And I think the town meeting, he is wonderful at town meetings. They were the keys to his winning New Hampshire, the two states that propelled him to national prominence in both 2000 and 2008.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We've never seen anything like that, though, if they do end up having a series of 10 or 12 sort of un-moderated discussions.

DAVID BROOKS: Right. And as a moderator, you should be insulted. But...

JUDY WOODRUFF: I am.

DAVID BROOKS: Well, McCain is, as Mark says, much better. I think the McCain camp is a little overconfident, because Obama is really good, too. And he's a law professor for a reason and he knows how to frame an argument.

But it will be the best test of them, of the two of them. And I think it could be great, because they're both good at this kind of thing.

JUDY WOODRUFF: David Brooks, Mark Shields, you're both good at what you do.

MARK SHIELDS: Oh, thank you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Thank you.