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Shields and Brooks Discuss Democratic Party Unity

September 5, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
NewsHour political analysts Mark Shields and David Brooks discuss why neither party is trying to appeal to voters outside their base, how united the Democrats seem at this convention and the rhetorical emphasis on "protection."

GWEN IFILL: And we turn now to a few final words from Mark Shields and David Brooks.

David, I was kind of interested in listening to them just now, because you mentioned last night that this seemed like a base convention.

And here we saw the Black Caucus. We have seen the focus on Latino voters, and also women all throughout this convention.

DAVID BROOKS: It’s a great year for solipsism. The Republicans talked as if everybody was a member of a small business. Democrats sometimes talk as if everybody is working for government or dependent on government.

They’re talking to people very much like themselves. I think they’re leaving a lot of people out.

Some of the platform fights, if you have got a problem with people who go to church, don’t leave

God out of your platform. If you have got a problem with some Jewish voters because they don’t think the president is standing with Israel, don’t leave Jerusalem out of your platform.

It’s a question of appealing to people who aren’t for you and making that extra effort. And I’m not sure we’re seeing a lot of that this year.

GWEN IFILL: Let’s talk about that, Mark. That was a very interesting — Mayor Villaraigosa had his explanation for how it came to be. Did you accept it?

MARK SHIELDS: I’m not sure I do.

I have great respect for Mayor Villaraigosa. But I do think that this is a party that is quite independent of Barack Obama when it comes to its own interests. And it’s been organized around– there’s no question that he is the galvanizing figure here, that their devotion to him is complete.

But they are organized around caucuses. They are organized around policies. And they’re organized — you could see it. I mean, we have Cecile Richards speaking tonight. We had the leader of NARAL last night — speaking of EMILY’s list. It’s just one by one by one, each of them, sort of a checklist, in spite of the fact that abortion on any list, open list of what — volunteered most important issues is never higher than 10th, never mentioned by more than 3 percent of voters.

Yet, it has dominated the discussion of the first night.

DAVID BROOKS: And there’s one thing that is sort of mystifying to me, though.

It’s like a convention, maybe like the Republicans, of people with safe seats. But you would never know from watching the first day-and-a-half that they lost 63 seats two years ago — or a year-and-a-half ago. The election of 2010 was a devastating setback. What are the lessons to be learned?

What do we have to do? We’re sort of abstracted from all that as if it never happened.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, and the conversation about comparing this convention to previous conventions, most people I talk to say this is a much more united looking, acting Democratic

Party than we have seen in the past, for all the different interest groups.

MARK SHIELDS: I think it’s a more homogeneous party. There’s no question about it.

And there is less open discord, and there is less discord. I really do. I think to be a Democrat right now is a whole set of credo positions, and you either do that or you’re not — they’re far more interested, it seems, in membership, of seeking heretics, rather than converts.

DAVID BROOKS: … what Mark mentioned, which is there is a gap between the party and the president.

We talked in Tampa about the gap between Mitt Romney and his party. He’s not a natural fit for that party. This president is psychologically and emotionally a little distant from the party, as he is from most politicians.

But I think, even in policy terms, I think he’s much more willing to do a deal with Republicans on Medicare and other things than a lot of the people on the floor tonight.

GWEN IFILL: What is all this about?

We have seen two days now of incredible cheers and excitement and what appears to the naked eye to be unity about this president. Yet, is it true that the president is really distanced from his people, or did everybody just need a chance to get together and cheer?

MARK SHIELDS: No, no, I think there’s great unity in this hall. I don’t think there’s any question about it.

And I think there aren’t any minority planks having been offered. It is a homogeneous party. And there’s great enthusiasm for Barack Obama.

GWEN IFILL: Well, except for the Jerusalem…

MARK SHIELDS: For Jerusalem, yes, which is know — you know, that is an issue that is a core issue of both parties, and probably not to be unexpected that there would be a flap over it.

But what I’m seeing right now is a party that is rather self-congratulatory, rather self-pleased with itself. And I think that’s a question. Is it going to reach out to the rest of the nation beyond this hall?

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is that a bad thing?



DAVID BROOKS: You know, you’re supposed to get 51 percent. And we’re just in nature — I think what happened was…

GWEN IFILL: How different is that from what happened last week in Tampa?


DAVID BROOKS: It’s not. No, no, no, exactly right.

JUDY WOODRUFF: In both cases.

MARK SHIELDS: You have got two 4’6” midgets and a jump ball is what you have.



DAVID BROOKS: And I would say the Tea Party came in and really wanted to take apart and really shrink the size of government. So the orthodoxies in the Democratic Party were counter-reacting: Let’s protect.

And if you look at all the speeches — and I have been reading all these speeches — it’s, let’s protect this program, let’s protect this program. We’re behind a wall. We’re protecting.

That’s really not what Clinton was about. It was about — and that’s, frankly, not what the

Democratic mayors are about who were just sitting at this table. They’re cutting. They’re expanding. It’s a much more nuanced attitude than what we’re seeing at the national level.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, that’s something for us to keep an eye on tonight. And thank goodness you are both going to be with us all night to talk about it, David, Mark.