Shields and Brooks: Democratic Presidential Candidates
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RAY SUAREZ: We’re here with Shields and Brooks. And maybe Howard Dean put it best. The question is: which one of us can beat George Bush or is anybody even trying to figure that out now with so many other distractions?
DAVID BROOKS: The pollsters are. There is certainly an interesting debate going on among the professionals about the landscape of politics is. There some are people who say there really aren’t many independents left in the country. There is a huge group of Republicans, huge group of Democrats, very few people in between actually so you have just got to build up the intensity. That’s the Howard Dean argument. I’m Mr. Intensity. I’ll pull our people out.
Joe Lieberman’s argument, which was really filled out by Mark Penn — Clinton’s pollster a week ago, which was, in an orthodox race, orthodox Democrat verses orthodox Republican, the Republicans win, there are just more of them and so we have got to reach from beyond the orthodox Democrats into the center, into something else, and that’s really the argument.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, is that the point Joe Lieberman was trying to make by saying the Democrats shouldn’t move leftward?
MARK SHIELDS: I guess it was. Joe Lieberman, as he showed in this debate with Dick Cheney in 2000, has a lot of admirable qualities. He’s enormously likable, he’s self-effacing; he doesn’t take himself that seriously. But he is not a hit man. He is not a guy that confronts people. He did this on Monday at the National Press Club, and then Tuesday I was in Chicago for the event, and it was dropped: So I mean, I think that’s not Joe’s style.
RAY SUAREZ: So there’s no carryover at all to the Chicago event?
MARK SHIELDS: No carryover at all. The story in Chicago was two: One was Howard Dean, who walks in with the cover of Newsweek and Time both under his belt that very week, and the campaign saying he is peaking too early. I asked each of them, I said, well, would you turn down the covers of Newsweek and Time in August? And they all admitted of course they would not. And the knock on him was that he is cranky, unpleasant and too abrupt. And you saw Dennis Kucinich, who turned out to be the last angry man in America on Tuesday night and Howard Dean, by contrast, looked like a California beach boy, mellow and laid back compared to Kucinich.
But the real story, I think, is will labor endorse Dick Gephardt. Labor as an institution has trumpeted and prided itself on its loyalty. We stick with you. You’re with us on the tough times; we will never let you down. There is nobody who has fought labor’s fights longer and stronger than Dick Gephardt. Now the knock on him is he hasn’t raised enough money and he’s not good enough in the polls. If labor turns their back on him, I think they’re going to have a tough time as an institution selling to other politicians that loyalty is our most important product.
RAY SUAREZ: What do you make of the Al Gore speech at NYU?
DAVID BROOKS: He’s very well representing what the party is all about. This is not a New Democrat Party, anymore, a party of triangulation and moderation. This is the party of a gut, this is a gut-angry party. And what Gore was saying, which I hear from Democrats all the time it’s not that we just disagree with George Bush and the Republicans, we think they’re fundamentally messing with the system of government, we think they’re fundamentally illegitimate.
And to me the question is and it is an unanswered question is: Is all the hatred towards Bush and the Republicans similar to the hatred the Republicans had toward Clinton and the Democrats a couple of years ago? Is it something that really burns in the party activists but does not appeal — in fact turns people off in the country as a whole but nonetheless, the shift from Gore being the triangulator, the New Democrat, the centrist, to Gore of this week being the guy who just flat out attacked Bush, machine, that’s how the party has moved. That passion sort of makes the debate over who is going to win moot because the passion is running the train.
MARK SHIELDS: The Gore speech, you know, I thought it was a… the speech was interesting to people for one reason. Is he going to announce. That’s why all the attention, with all the cameras and the microphones were there. And when he said he wasn’t, you know, the speech was somewhat evanescent. I mean, David is right, that it was a strong, partisan and polemic and an indictment of George W. Bush which, Al Gore and his supporters and Democrats would argue is based on policy not personality; and I’ve never seen the personal attacks upon George W. Bush that I saw upon Bill Clinton.
RAY SUAREZ: Is Al Gore free to take it to George Bush the way none of the nine Democratic candidates have felt that they’re able to yet?
MARK SHIELDS: I guess. I think he is. This is a guy who gets up every morning and has to say why am I not running? I mean you know, he got more votes than George Bush, more votes than George Bush the first more votes than Bill Clinton did either time, more votes than anybody who has ever served, except Ronald Reagan. So I mean, I think there is a certain stature and status he has and a certain freedom to do it. I don’t know what his plans are.
RAY SUAREZ: So… can anybody get any attention with California hogging the spotlight?
DAVID BROOKS: That’s going to be a problem but Howard Dean has got the answer. He is the only unorthodox candidate, the only one really unusual. So that’s why he’s on top.
MARK SHIELDS: Watch John Edwards; he’s the next. That will be the next moment.
RAY SUAREZ: Ready to make his move. Fellows, thanks a lot.