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Shields and Brooks Reflect on Democrats’ Big Week

August 29, 2008 at 6:50 PM EDT
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With the Democratic convention now complete, analysts Mark Shields and David Brooks offer insight on the strengths and weaknesses of Sen. Barack Obama's acceptance speech at Invesco Field and on the roles Hillary and Bill Clinton played at the DNC.

JIM LEHRER: And back to Mark Shields and David Brooks.

Mark, 24 hours later, how does the Obama speech look to you?

MARK SHIELDS, syndicated columnist: Well, Jim, in my own reporting today, I’d have to say that the response has been overwhelmingly positive from Republicans, as well as Democrats.

That’s one reason the Republicans were so happy to see John McCain move and to make news today, that it succeeded in what, as Democrats said, were his tasks last night, to define himself, to make known that he was not this elitist, Harvard Law School product that just emerged out of nowhere, that he was someone who’d grown up the way he did grow up, with grandparents, and a single mom, and student loans.

Then, secondly, to get specific about what he intended to do, which he…

JIM LEHRER: You disagree, then, with Jack Kelly about being specific enough?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think he got specific. I mean, I think Jack Kelly has got a point, and it’s a legitimate one. How’s it going to be paid for? And I think he has to answer that.

But, I mean, I don’t think — programmatically, he was far more middle-class-directed and forward-looking, I think, than the Republican agenda has been, certainly, to this point.

And I think, third, he did confront John McCain. And I think that’s what cheered Democrats so much. I mean, Ruben Navarrette pointed out on…

JIM LEHRER: He said he hadn’t done it enough before.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right. “We are patriots. We all love this country.” And I think that was important.

A look at Obama's speech

JIM LEHRER: Now, David, I think it's fair to characterize that you were critical of the speech last night. How do you feel about it now?

DAVID BROOKS, columnist, New York Times: I'm confirmed in my...

JIM LEHRER: Are you?

DAVID BROOKS: I mean, I don't want to seem too critical. For Barack Obama standards, I would give it B-plus, A-minus, so it was not a flop, though I talked to many people who had wildly different views.

A lot of people thought it was just stupendous, including every other member of my own family, it turns out.

But a lot of people, including a lot of Democrats, nobody thought it was bad, but thought, "Not his best." And I still think not his best, A-minus, B-plus.

And I think, as several people pointed out today, it was several speeches sort of jammed uncomfortably together. There was the speech where he was steely, and that was the best part, where he said, "Don't question my patriotism, McCain." That was very good...

JIM LEHRER: That was kind of a threat, wasn't it? "I'm going to get you if you do that."

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, and he needed to do that. That's what people had doubts about. And he was -- that was the best part of the speech.

The policy part I thought was normal Democratic policy. And for people who wanted him to turn the page, if you look -- compare these policy proposals to the Kerry and Gore policy proposals, very similar, and they're very orthodox Democratic.

And they were fine. They were coherent. But for those of us who want him to present something new, a little disappointing.

And then the post-partisan part, which weaved in and out of the speech, which was the original Obama, I thought that was the weakest part, because he's no longer the post-partisan candidate he was at one point.

And I thought that when he says we're not going to use the old playbook from the old politics, well, he did it through three-quarters of the speech and then he promised not to do it in the last quarter. And so I thought that was the weakest part.

Now, it helped him. It was a good speech. By Obama standards, I don't think it was the best.

Hillary and Bill Clinton's delivery

JIM LEHRER: We only have a minute left. How did the Clintons come out of this convention?

MARK SHIELDS: Going in, I said, fraught with peril. You've got four nights in Denver. You're giving two of them to the people who've been your most steadfast opponents.

And, I have to say, Bill Clinton rose to the occasion as Bill Clinton does. Hillary Clinton, in my 19 conventions, I have never seen a more gracious or graceful loser than Hillary Clinton.

DAVID BROOKS: I agree. I thought Bill Clinton gave one of the best speeches. To me, the crucial moment of the whole convention was when Hillary nominated Obama. That was the emotional turning point. She was beautiful at that moment.

JIM LEHRER: OK, well, we will either see you in Minnesota or at the hurricane, OK, whichever -- whatever the case may be.

A reminder that our coverage of next week's Republican convention in St. Paul will be online, as well as television, and also let us know what you think of the NewsHour's convention news coverage. Just go to, where you'll find us at the top of the page.

Meanwhile, "Washington Week" can be seen later this evening on most PBS stations. And we'll see you here Monday evening on the NewsHour and then with our complete coverage of the Republican convention itself.

For now, have a nice weekend. I'm Jim Lehrer. Thank you, and good night.