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Shields, Brooks on Cory Booker’s Platform Speech, Dems’ Focus on Middle Class

September 4, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks discuss Mayor Cory Booker's passionate presentation of the Democratic Party platform, Occupy protesters at the DNC and a shift in Democratic dialogue emphasizing boosting the middle class.
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GWEN IFILL:  Cory Booker is one of the rising lights, stars of this party.

And he’s still speaking behind us because people are so excited about what he has to say.  If you want to hear more of what Mayor Booker had to say, it’s on our live stream.
David, he talked about politics, instead of pragmatism — pragmatism, instead of politics.

What is Cory Booker talking about when he says that?

DAVID BROOKS:  Well, he’s trying not to be too ideologically.

And they really are hitting the middle class thing hard.  The Republicans talked as if everybody in America is a small business man or a small business woman.  They’re trying to say there are a lot of people in America who are never going to start a business who are going to help them.

To me, the crucial question to ask over the next couple days is the stagnation of middle-class wages is a multi-decade phenomenon.  Do they have the answers big enough to really address it and do they have new answers?  And I think that’s something we will see.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Mark, is that something that you think they’re going to — they’re going to talk about with any specificity?

MARK SHIELDS:  They have to.

What is interesting to me is how the Democratic dialogue has changed completely.  It is all middle class, middle class, middle class.  I can remember when Democrats talked about the poor and helping the oppressed and those left out and left behind.  And there seems to be a lot less of that, a lot more concentration on the middle class, because that’s where the votes are.

And I don’t think there’s any question, Judy, we have seen a decade, a decade — that we reached the highest median in household income in the middle class in this country in 1999, the next to last year of Bill Clinton’s presidency.  It’s gone down dramatically since then, and continues to decline.

And David is right.  The share of the nation’s wealth that the middle class has, has dropped precipitously, by more than a third.  And it’s all gone to the wealthy.

DAVID BROOKS:  It should also be said that a couple months ago, Cory Booker got in a little trouble with the Obama campaign…

MARK SHIELDS:  Yes, he did.

DAVID BROOKS:  … by saying he was disgusted by the attacks on Bain.
And so this is — he’s mayor of New York, but he’s not an old-line 1970s…

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Newark.

MARK SHIELDS:  Newark.

DAVID BROOKS:  Newark.  I’m sorry — an old-line 1970s liberal.  He’s much more pragmatic.

GWEN IFILL:  Judging from the reaction behind us, the cheers, it sounds like there’s a lot of pent-up — you’re talking about how the Democratic Party, Mark, has been talking about the middle class, the middle class.

That’s not — I mean, there’s middle-class people behind us, but they want to talk about lofty things, and they seem to be hungry for that in this room with this chanting going on.

DAVID BROOKS:  They have got to get turnout up.  And so they have got to really fire up — they’re using this tool — this campaign as an organizing tool.  They have to get women to come out to vote.  They have to get Latinos.  They have got to get young people to come out to vote.

So they have got to spend a lot of time not reaching out.  They will do that later in the week, but I think today really to fire up the people who are already Democrats.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Yes.  It is interesting, because you talk about not talking about poverty.  Out on the streets of Charlotte, there’s been heavy rain off and on all day long.

But there are the 99 percent protesters that, the Occupy.

DAVID BROOKS:  That’s right.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  So you’re seeing them.  They’re not a huge presence here in Charlotte, but they are here and they’re complaining Democrats aren’t listening.

MARK SHIELDS:  And they’re a plague on both your houses is the message, which is something Democrats are not used to hearing.

And that is a — I think the biggest concern Democrats have this week is that their appeals to the groups David described, the turnout of women and Latinos and gays in particular, cannot appear to be just a constituency coddling.  There has to be that overall and overarching message to everybody.

GWEN IFILL:  And we’re going to see all of that on display tonight.