Shields and Brooks
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JIM LEHRER: And finally, what Shields and Brooks have to say about the Kerry speech and the evening ahead. They are syndicated columnist Mark Shields, and New York Times columnist David Brooks.
Mark, how would you describe what’s riding on John Kerry’s speech tonight.
MARK SHIELDS: I think an awful lot, Jim. I think this is the biggest night of John Kerry’s political life. There’s no doubt about it.
This is the last chance he has to speak to the American people unfiltered. In many cases it’s the first chance. He comes to this position, Jim, far better off than the last two challengers who won the White House, namely Bill Clinton in 1992 and George W. Bush in 2000.
He’s already passed the threshold test of whether he’s intelligent enough and experienced enough to serve in that office. They hadn’t. They hadn’t resolved in, in m cases coming out of that convention. What he has to do and what this week has obviously been about is commander-in-chief.
JIM LEHRER: You agree with Sen. Reed?
MARK SHIELDS: I do agree with Sen. Jack Reed…
JIM LEHRER: It’s commander-in-chief he has to be tonight?
MARK SHIELDS: He’s got to be commander-in-chief. He’s intelligent enough and experienced enough.
JIM LEHRER: What is it then? What else?
MARK SHIELDS: The commander-in-chief, Jim, is… what’s interesting, among voters who would be called swing voters, a plurality of them see John Kerry as more knowledgeable than George Bush, less reckless and less arrogant, but still only three-fifth of the voters really see him as commander-in-chief, which is damn good for a challenger but especially good for a Democrat.
That’s what this, how this election so much better than… so much different from 2000. I’d add one other thing: George Bush’s likeability edge, which I think everybody acknowledges over John Kerry, and his congeniality and just his naturalness were bigger assets in 2000 than they are in 2004.
I think Andy Kohut was absolutely right. This is not a popularity contest. He cannot be unlikable, but he’s not going to out charm George Bush.
JIM LEHRER: But to the question of what’s at stake here, I mean, is the election at stake for John Kerry in this speech?
DAVID BROOKS: Not entirely. There’s 100 more days, but what’s at stake here, this is the only time he can talk about himself. The debates will tend to be about the issues.
This is the only time he can demonstrate self-knowledge, that he knows who he is, that he admits he’s not a perfect person. I think that’s very important for him to do, to show he’s not an arrogant, rich, elitist. The other speakers can’t really talk about that.
He can say, I’m not Mr. Charming, I’m not Mr. Congeniality, but the country needs the virtues I possess and here they are and lay that out. I think he has to show he’s comfortable with himself he shows some self-knowledge, and people will begin to be comfortable with him.
JIM LEHRER: The delegates told Gwen they wanted specifics. They want to know what he’s going to do about health care; they want to know what he’s going to do about jobs. Should he… is he going to have to do that?
DAVID BROOKS: He’s going to have to do that, too, and the commander-in-chief thing. They talked that this would be a campaign about the future. They haven’t said what the product is. You know, people want a product.
They want to know what they’re going to get out of this. They’re not in this just for… some of us are in it for the rooting interest, but most of us want to know what we’re getting out of the next president and there has to really, which they have not done, be four things we’re going to do for you over the next four years, just make that clear, not one million things, four things we’re going to do.
JIM LEHRER: But four very specific things or four kind of great phrase things…
DAVID BROOKS: I don’t think it will be great phrase things. I think it’s four specific things, this is what we’ll work for. It won’t be 1,000 things. You’re going to get a, b, c and d out of us.
JIM LEHRER: How do you read that, about the specifics?
MARK SHIELDS: I think it’s very important. American elections, Jim, are about the future. Ironically, this is also a referendum on George W. Bush’s stewardship. In the final analysis it’s about the future.
He has to move this discussion to the future and tell what it is, how a Kerry presidency would be different from what Americans have seen under a Bush presidency and would expect in a second term of George W. Bush. The other thing he has to do is 41 percent of Americans who go to church every week, every week, and Al Gore lost them in 2000 by 22 points. John Kerry had a chance… John Kerry trails by 30 points among those voters.
It’s now down to 15 points. John Kerry has to communicate with these folks that he does have in common values that they share, and I would say if he could… he’s not a man who uses self-deprecatory humor tonight on the trail.
I think this would be a perfect time to be an antidote to some of the questions David raised about perhaps the aloofness or the arrogance or whatever perceived arrogance, you know, people say I’m arrogant, but I know better, something like that.
JIM LEHRER: You agree with that about the faith?
DAVID BROOKS: I do think that’s important. A few weeks ago only 7 percent of people thought he was a man of strong faith. He doesn’t have to be a saint, but he has to be a pilgrim, just so they can relate to him.
I was told they were passing out 3-D glasses so he appears life like, which I think will be important.
JIM LEHRER: What about… we’ve talked about it already this week, one of the things that least United States these folks in the hall, whether it United States the folks that will be watching, but they don’t like President Bush and they want President Bush out of there.
How does he, Kerry, handle… what does he do for the Bush-bashers, in other words, or does he leave that alone completely?
DAVID BROOKS: I think he’ll mention a few things. If you look at the Edwards speech, one of the things they were careful not to too is seem too liberal. No mention of Halliburton, no mention of misleading the country, no mention of WMD’s not being there in Iraq.
The country knows there’s this liberal mantra. We’re not going to do that. This is not going to be a straight liberal versus conservative race. We’re going to confuse things so they’ve hit the Republicans from the right on some issues like the defense budget.
They’ve hit from the left on other issues. They’ve done I think a masterful job of saying, this is not a liberal party. The delegates are liberal, but the elite of the party is liberal, the mass of… the elite is not liberal. The mass is not liberal and this is not a straight left-right thing. I expect them to continue that sort of centrist approach.
JIM LEHRER: On the Iraq war, Mark, the polls do show there is some… you can look at and read them different way, but people are concerned about the situation in Iraq.
Do you think that John Kerry has to not just be kind of the commander-in-chief, but he has to say specifically what he would do about Iraq?
MARK SHIELDS: He has to have some phrase that people can walk away from this with. I’m not sure what it is, Jim – I mean, beyond I’ll go to Korea or I have a plan. He has to have some plan of action that he can state in a simple, straightforward, declarative sentence.
I just think that’s important. Bush-bashing question, Jim, this convention has been remarkable in its absence, its discipline, its control of avoiding Bush-bashing. I would say they’ve laid down a marker for New York. I’d be willing to bet that George Bush’s name in prime-time has not been mentioned 15 times, 15 times! In New York, are they going to have a convention where they cannot mention John Kerry and John Edwards 15 times?
No. Because it’s going to be about John Kerry and John Edwards in New York, and I think what this has to be about is who John Kerry is and what he’s going to do. That is what he has to do tonight.
JIM LEHRER: So you don’t expect John Kerry to talk about George Bush at all?
MARK SHIELDS: Not at all.
JIM LEHRER: How do you feel about the Iraq issue, David? Does he have to tell the country tonight, here is what I am going to do about this awful situation or this difficult situation in Iraq?
DAVID BROOKS: No, I actually don’t think he does. He’s shown he’s going to do about what Bush has done. He might say, I’ll do it better, but I think there’s no difference there. On that issue and the war in terrorism in general, say he’s a Sept. 12 person.
I understand the world changed on Sept. 11 and I understand we’re at war. John Edwards made that case very powerfully tonight, we’re at war, something other democrats have not been eager to do. He has to shown the foreign policy and that threat is up most in his mind and he’s going to be obsess weld. It’s not a phrase, I’m going to kill al-Qaida.
It’s more than a phrase, it’s an obsession. People want to know that this guys knows how important this is.
JIM LEHRER: On Iraq, does he have to say more than… I’m going to internationalize it?
DAVID BROOKS: I think if you go to democratic foreign policy forums, they use the word alliance like it’s pixie dust.
I’d like to know alliance for what. It would be useful if he did that, but he’d be doing something no other Democrat has done.
MARK SHIELDS: There is a certain tradition with alliance working effectively, like with the Cold War. That’s been the America’s experience. That’s a welcome variation.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Well, we’ll talk more later this evening about all this.