Shields and Brooks on the 2004 Presidential Campaign
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JIM LEHRER: Finally tonight, the analysis of Shields and Brooks, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, New York Times columnist David Brooks. David, did that have a ring of reality, listening to those folks just now?
DAVID BROOKS: I was just trying to imagine you stick any of the Kerry or Bush in front of that group and he gives a speech and says, you know, I’m for values; I’m for responsibility, I’m for royalty, I’m for patriotism, and they’d just be sitting there like, tell me something. You’re insulting me.
And I think that’s common in politics, that voters, maybe this isn’t a representative sample, but I do think it’s common that voters are treated as dumber than they really are.
JIM LEHRER: What do you think?
MARK SHIELDS: I thought the voters asked good questions, Jim. I think the speech last night was obviously not intended to answer every specific. I don’t think there’s any question about it; I think he had a different purpose.
And the purpose, obviously, was to, in the post-9/11 world, to meet the imperative test for any would-be president, make no mistake about it, has to be seen as a credible commander in chief. That’s what the week was about, that’s what the speech was about.
JIM LEHRER: Did you think, though, that these folks were representative of the problems that John Kerry and George W. Bush are going to have — if they’re going to win this election, they got to talk to these folks in more of a straight way.
MARK SHIELDS: No question. And I think especially the last part that Spencer brought up about the economy, because, you know, they obviously made a decision not to emphasize the economy in Boston, and in large part because they enjoy an enormous advantage over George W. Bush and feel that if anything John Edwards is the man to carry that message.
But I don’t think there’s any question that the speech had a soft underbelly and the soft underbelly in my judgment was that it did two things: It asked, just as President Bush has, it asked for no sense of citizen sacrifice, there was nothing.
JIM LEHRER: We’re going to do everything for you.
MARK SHIELDS: Everything for you, it was a free lunch. The only thing it’s going to be is a tax increase, 98 percent, don’t you worry, you got your tax cuts. And you want it, you got it. And the same thing is true on the other side. I mean there’s no sense of collective sacrifice.
JIM LEHRER: Speaking of both sides and where they are, this is the night after the end of the Democratic Convention. I’m going to ask you all a question and I promise not to hold you to it, because I know things can change 30 minutes after we go off the air tonight, there are events out there.
But based on where we are right now, David, what kind of presidential campaign do you think we’re going to have?
DAVID BROOKS: I think if you look substantively to either platform, the Democratic Party, and I suspect what we’re going to see in the Republican Party, it’s an ultimately orthodox platform. That Democratic platform could have been sponsored by any Democratic candidate and has been for three or four or five elections back — sort of small, timid, orthodox Democratic programs.
At the same time, you see cross-dressing on style; you see the Democratic Party being very militaristic, as we saw, every party playing against type as their way thematically to lead to the center.
So, on substance very orthodox, very traditional, very unimaginative and non-innovative; on style, trying to play to the other guy’s values as a way to try to capture some set of swing voters.
MARK SHIELDS: David left out of course the companion part of cross-dressing, which is to line up the speakers in New York: Arnold Schwarzenegger, John McCain, and they’ll probably be asking Rudy Giuliani back. George Pataki.
DAVID BROOKS: McCain versus – running against McCain — you would think we’d have two McCain –
MARK SHIELDS: Yeah. That’s right.
JIM LEHRER: But does it look to you, Mark, as if this has the prospect, here I’m going to ask you to predict, but has the prospect of being a serious election, in other words about things that truly matter?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think, Jim, I think it does, in one important tactical sense. I mean maybe — first of all, I think that Boston, the Boston convention, because it was successful, really, I went back and did an informal test and tally, and that was George W. Bush’s name was mentioned 12 times.
JIM LEHRER: All four nights together?
MARK SHIELDS: Yes, I mean it’s amazing; truly amazing. The Bush bashing was nonexistent. You can’t say there was Bush bashing.
So you go to New York now, and it does put the Republicans in a little bit of a bind. Do they go in and just go after Kerry and bang him around and so forth? Or do they try to just make a — do the affirmative case, as to why President Bush deserves a second term, what the second term is going to be like and what a great job he’s done in the first term.
I think there is an understanding among both campaigns that people in the middle who are undecided are turned off by the negativity, and they’re turned off by the partisanship and the bickering. Democrats didn’t do this because they’re altruistic, or noble or magnanimous or Albert Schweitzer; they did it because they want to win. And it was in their self-interest, a very rarely in life is there a collision — coincident collision between what’s right and what’s helpful.
JIM LEHRER: Serious campaign, David?
DAVID BROOKS: Yeah, I really don’t think so. I think one of the things that bugs me about campaigning these days is they don’t tell you what they think, they tell you what you should think, so you get these meta-campaigning. You should think I have values.
They sort of narrate, they don’t tell you a story, they just tell you the moral of a story: I have faith in the future. That’s me. But, you know, just live your life and we’ll decide if we share your values, instead of you having to tell me whether we share values.
JIM LEHRER: What about the negative thing, for instance we ran a while ago, what Kerry ads had to say today and what President Bush had to say today. President Bush was on Kerry’s record. Would you interpret that as a negative?
DAVID BROOKS: I think that’s fine. First of all one of the most annoying tropes of the convention was we’re uniting, we’re not divisive, and then they said something incredibly nasty about the Republicans. Kerry said, that they don’t care, the people who talk about family values don’t value their families, so republicans don’t value their families. But that’s not divisive.
But, you know, if you were going to call somebody a traitor or un-American, that’s out of bounds. And I think that will be out of bounds. But if you’re going to say he voted this way, he made that decision, that’s what it’s supposed to be all about.
JIM LEHRER: But both sides have said thus far, and a lot of people on the outside, I know there’s a lot of commentators and other tribes who talk about elections, say, look, this is an important time in the history of our country. We’ve got people dying overseas, we’re under a threat of further terrorist attacks. This election should be about things that matter. Do you see, I’m trying to get at whether you think, do you see signs that this is going to happen or not?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I do, Jim. I think signs that it will happen, hopeful signs. I mean, this convention, wherever you say about it, we didn’t do the usual litany of each group standing up and getting what it wants.
I mean, the convention was very much about addressing that problem in the country. There are people dying, there are Americans dying, there are more Americans dying today than and there will be more Americans dying next week. So as a consequence, I mean, there is that need to come to the nation and say, look, we are a party that understands this. I think that’s serious matter; that really is.
DAVID BROOKS: It is but I made the mistake of going back and rereading Kerry’s speech again today and it’s a disillusioning experience. I thought it was a successful political speech. He clearly emerges as someone who could plausibly be president.
JIM LEHRER: You said that last night.
DAVID BROOKS: I was very positive and I still think that politically.
But then you go back and read well, where does he actually stand on the issues. Take Iraq, this is the most evasive speech you could possibly write: Were we right to go into Iraq or were we wrong to go into Iraq? There’s no position there. What should we do in Iraq, should we imagine a democratic Iraq, some other kind of Iraq? No position there.
There’s a complete evasion of actually why are we there, should we be there, where are we going there, completely evasion, no substance at all and I think it’s because the down side is something we talked about as a positive, that he’s bringing the party together, he’s bringing Al Sharpton together, he’s bringing Joe Biden and Joe Lieberman together; he’s bringing everybody together.
But the sacrifice is any definition of his policy. He’s gauzy because he wants to bring everybody in the party together, he wants to please everybody, and so there’s nothing there.
MARK SHIELDS: I think, Jim, this is a party that the Democratic Party; what we saw in Boston was something rather remarkable.
This is a party that has lionized war protesters, and for the first time ever in a Democratic Convention on the stage appeared more generals and admirals than labor union presidents. This was a convention that not once in the entire convention did the presiding officer have to bang the gavel and ask for order. This is a party that does want to win, that cares deeply.
Probably not about specifics and tactics, but cares deeply about the policies that got us into this war. And they’re willing to put some trust in somebody to get us out of this war. I don’t think there’s any question about it. And I think that was really the message of Boston, I think it’s the message of this party going in, going into this election, and I think in that sense, it was a very serious convention. These were people on the floor who were not there, you know, just to make a noise. It wasn’t an Elks meeting.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with what Joe Lieberman told Margaret Warner earlier that in the some ways the fact that this is an election year is going to force action on the 9/11 Commission report?
DAVID BROOKS: Right, and also Governor Thompson said that if something happens and they haven’t done anything, then that will just look terrible. I must say I’m a little nervous about it. I’m not an expert enough to know how they should reorganize the intelligence community, but you see them going so quickly toward something, you know, we’ve been through this before with some of the reorganizations, with even the Patriot Act, you know, I hope they’re doing it cautiously and not just, you know, we got two prestigious people saying do this quickly, so they do it quickly. I’m a little nervous about what’s going on.
JIM LEHRER: Are you nervous?
MARK SHIELDS: I feel better this week than I did last week. I think there’s an understanding that this is, there was a reaction in the country that, the decision that look we’re going out and we’re going to have August recess; we’re going to conventions and then we come back and we might — then October comes we got to go campaign. I think that’s certainly changed, and I think that’s a good sign.
JIM LEHRER: Do you think — does it smell real to you when Senators Lieberman and Specter predicted as they did there was going to be a bill by October, which is a month before the election?
MARK SHIELDS: They said that both Bill Frist and I think David has something to it, that they’re playing a little defensively — neither side wants to be seen as holding things up.
JIM LEHRER: I want to say something to both of you. You used the word vacation. I want both of you to take Saturday and Sunday off. Okay? (Laughter) I think you’ve earned it.
DAVID BROOKS: All right.
JIM LEHRER: We had a good week here, thank you both. That’s it. Thank you both very much.