The Third Debate: Analysis
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MARGARET WARNER: For some final thoughts we’re back with syndicated columnist Mark Shields and “Wall Street Journal” columnist Paul Gigot. Mark, pick up on what our colleagues said. Did it seem to you as if Al Gore was rolling the dice tonight?
MARK SHIELDS: I think there was no question. Al Gore wasn’t going to leave something in the locker room after tonight. The intensity, which I mentioned earlier, I think, was present. I mean, each question was of equal importance, it seemed, and equal urgency to him. But I thought he drew the differences far better than he had… I thought it was his best performance by far. Margaret, here we are on the eve of an election virtually after this long year, and without berating either of these fellows, not once have they told us what it means to be an American in the year 2000. Not once have they asked any sacrifice of us. Not once, as they said, this is what America can be; this is the kind of a nation we can be. Gore tiptoed up to it tonight when he talked about his vision of peace in the future. But absent John McCain, who left the race in March, we haven’t had a candidate even talk about being more noble or sacrificing for the common good. Everybody had something for us. And I think that was missing. And I think that really contributes to what has not been a passionate election.
MARGARET WARNER: Did that trouble you, Paul?
PAUL GIGOT: It does. I wish both of them would get out of the weeds sometimes and offer a vision that Ronald Reagan, of the kind that he could offer. In a way they’re both, I think, maybe responding to the Clinton era where, you know, Bill Clinton’s great knowledge of detail, his wonkiness and his mastery of those details is something that seems to have been a political success. So these guys in following him are supposed to demonstrate similar knowledge and would get lost in those details even though, as others have said, I don’t think those will be remembered much at all. The lasting impressions will be ones of leadership and command and presence. You saw both of them trying to touch those notes tonight.
MARGARET WARNER: Mark, is it also possible though that the Clinton era — that Bill Clinton, he was wonkish but he also had sort of a vision thing and there was an emotional quality to the way he connected with people. And you don’t see that from either of these candidates.
MARK SHIELDS: I think you’re right, Margaret. Bill Clinton had an empathy, an ability to project and I think to feel an immediate empathy. I disagree on the vision. I mean, the only single memorable phrase of his presidency is the era of big government is over. But I do, you know, I do think… I mean, he was incredibly articulate — if not eloquent – and he wasn’t. But Clinton had this ability to humanize, to talk about government in personal terms and what it meant and what it would mean and how we would be better if we did these things. And I don’t get from either of these fellows. I think Bush was more disciplined in returning to his strategy, his themes, tonight. But I really thought that Gore… I thought it was Gore’s best performance of the three by far. I just thought that there were no knockouts – there were no knockdowns really. I just thought it was not Governor Bush’s strongest performance.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Before we go tonight, just a quick assessment following our colleagues about these debates. How revealing have they been about these two men?
PAUL GIGOT: They have been less revealing than perhaps more freewheeling exchanges would have allowed. But I think they’ve been revealing. I think we did see Gore at his — the way he has been in other debates against Democrats and Republicans in that first time. We saw him try to change; that’s part of his character. I saw Bush, what you saw, I think over time was his capacity to learn and get better and get more confident — within each debate but across the series of debates.
MARGARET WARNER: Quick thoughts on that, Mark.
MARK SHIELDS: I thought George Bush obviously did better than people thought he would and maybe his own camp thought he would. But I thought tonight he showed a certain petulance, a certain quarrelness that hadn’t been there in the past. I mean, we talked about Al Gore’s fierceness and aggressiveness. But George Bush tonight wasn’t just a happy warrior.
MARGARET WARNER: We’ll have to leave it there. We’ll see you online and again tomorrow evening on the NewsHour. I’m Margaret Warner. Thanks for being with us. Good night.