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Analysts, Historians Give Final Thoughts on Wednesday Night DNC

August 27, 2008 at 10:50 PM EDT
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Following Joe Biden's keynote speech on Wednesday, analysts and historians give their final thoughts on the third night of the Democrat national convention in Denver.
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JIM LEHRER: Yes. Let’s get some closing thoughts now on this third night of the Democratic convention in Denver, not only from Mark Shields and David Brooks, but also from our other studio, our convention historian team of Michael Beschloss, Richard Norton Smith, and Peniel Joseph.

And, first, let’s go to the floor to Judy Woodruff.

Judy?

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, Jim, if there was rumbling among Democrats at the first two nights of this convention were a little slow out of the gate, the message was a little bit scattered, I think we’ve seen in the last few minutes, the last hour or two, that the program tonight, in particular Bill Clinton, Joe Biden, now concluding with Barack Obama, has brought these delegates to their feet.

There were conversations earlier today with delegates from around the country who were expressing some nervousness, asking, you know, each other, calling home to see how the convention’s coming across.

The sense one gets tonight — and I’m an observer just like you are and have moved around the floor a little bit tonight — the delegates are connected tonight. You just get a sense that they feel energized by what they have heard.

And I think it came from the message from President Clinton. It came from the introduction to Joe Biden by his son, Beau, as Mark just said, and now. We are seeing an energy here and an enthusiasm that we were only seeing moments of over the last three days. So, you know — and what a set-up for tomorrow night for the Democrats.

Bill Clinton had key moment

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree, Michael, that this is a set-up, remarkable set-up for tomorrow night and Barack Obama in the big football stadium?

MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, Presidential Historian: I sure do, Jim. This was a great, big night for the Democrats and a huge help to this ticket.

Bill Clinton gave one of his best speeches, including the seven words that Hillary Clinton did not quite speak last night. He said, "Barack Obama is ready to be president." That's going to be a great help to those who are going to cite Hillary's words from earlier in the primary campaign against her.

You also saw one of the reasons why Joe Biden is on this ticket. You know, vice presidents, like Hubert Humphrey in 1964, that convention, went after Barry Goldwater.

Fritz Mondale, whom you interviewed earlier this evening, Jim, in 1976, brought the house down at the Carter convention by saying, "We've had the worst scandal in our history, Watergate, and this nominee, Gerald Ford, pardoned the guy who did it."

And, of course, Al Gore in 1992, "What time is it? It's time for them to go."

And the interesting thing, finally, Jim, is that Joe Biden showed sort of an ironic and interesting sense of history, because when he kept on saying, "Do you want change or more of the same?", who's slogan was that? It was Bill Clinton's in 1992.

JIM LEHRER: Hey.

Richard Norton Smith, your thoughts about this night.

RICHARD NORTON SMITH, George Mason University: Well, it's funny. Like Michael, I saw the ghost of Hubert Humphrey in this hall tonight, you know?

We've heard this week from Kennedy Democrats, and Clinton Democrats, and Obama Democrats, and tonight was Hubert's night. I mean, this was one-part classic populism and one-part the politics of joy.

But it was also something else. It was very interesting. This was a values speech. This was a character speech. And it does indicate that this is a party that is going to go after values voters, with which they have not always been terribly successful in some recent elections. That, in itself, it seems to me makes it significant.

And it also really, I think, ups the ante for Senator McCain who has, I guess, about two days in which to decide who he wants to pit in that vice presidential debate against the man we heard tonight.

Democrats try own "values"

JIM LEHRER: Do you think that this convention could affect who he will choose to run with?

RICHARD NORTON SMITH: You know, I can't get inside his head, but I would think, after watching this performance this evening, as powerful as it was and as emotionally connective -- because I think it did connect with a lot of people -- and, remember, for millions of people watching tonight, this was their introduction to Joe Biden.

They really didn't know very much about him. And I think they came away with a pretty vivid sense of who he is and the values that he espouses.

And he's a very fine -- he's a great communicator, dare I say. And that has to be taken into consideration as the Republicans fashion the second half of their ticket.

JIM LEHRER: Peniel Joseph, do you agree with Richard's use of the word "values" and how they came out tonight?

PENIEL JOSEPH, Brandeis University: Well, certainly. I think it was an extraordinary speech. And Bill Clinton went a long way tonight towards really repairing the breach that occurred between him and African-Americans in South Carolina.

Remember, this is the president who Toni Morrison labeled the first African-American president. He's had huge support in the African-American community through thick and thin, and South Carolina really ruptured that.

And so tonight, when you see Bill Clinton give this kind of full-throated endorsement to Barack Obama, it's really important.

And, remember, Barack Obama's the first African-American president to really -- excuse me, African-American presidential candidate to be close to being entrusted with the awesome power and political responsibility of the presidency. The fact that we have a Democratic former president giving him this kind of endorsement is really important.

And Joe Biden's endorsement is very important, as well. Part of the racial subtext of this campaign is the fact that, can Americans trust this black politician who's really come out of nowhere to become the next president of the United States?

The commander-in-chief test is not just a test of whether he's got the experience, but it's really a test of whether or not he's qualified. And when you see Bill Clinton and Joe Biden tell Democrats, "Look, we've met this man. We trust him. We've look at him eye-to-eye and face-to-face, and we can see into his heart, and you can trust him," that goes a long way towards both Democratic unity, but making the nation convinced that he's ready to be president.

Pressure on McCain

JIM LEHRER: OK, David Brooks -- and, as Senator Obama himself said, tomorrow night we're at a football stadium, 75,000 people. What does he do now to finish this thing off?

DAVID BROOKS, Columnist, New York Times: Well, he'll sum it all up.

And the thing that strikes me -- and just to bring up something Richard said -- I think what tonight and especially the last couple nights puts a lot more pressure on John McCain, especially the vice presidential pick.

They are trying so hard to tie John McCain to George Bush, I think it incredible strengthens the case for him to pick Joe Lieberman. He's got to show somehow he's not George Bush.

And I think that -- you take a look at the case that was made by Joe Biden tonight, that's the obvious rejoinder.

I was sort of on the fence about whether he should pick Joe Lieberman as his running mate, but now I think it's the clear answer to the very strong case that both Bill Clinton, John Kerry, and Joe Biden made, which is Bush-McCain, Bush-McCain. He's got to show some difference, because they made that case pretty well tonight.

JIM LEHRER: OK. Well, look, we have to leave it there. Thank you all very much.

And that does end our coverage of this third night of the Democratic National Convention here in Denver. We'll be back tomorrow night, first at our regular NewsHour time and then again here on most PBS stations at 8 p.m. Eastern time for our coverage of Barack Obama's big night, his acceptance speech and the final night of the convention.

We'll see you then and online with our complete convention coverage. For now, I'm Jim Lehrer. Thank you, and good night.