December 14, 2000
David Brooks of The Weekly Standard, David Broder of The Washington Post, and Tom Oliphant of the Boston Globe examine the dramatic conclusion to the election dispute.
MARGARET WARNER: For further perspective on the last 24 hours and on what's ahead, we turn to three veteran political reporters: David Broder of the "Washington Post," David Brooks of the "weekly standard," and Tom Oliphant of the "Boston Globe." All right, gentlemen, your reviews of last night's speeches. David Brooks, starting with you. Let's start with Gore.
DAVID BROOKS: Well, like Walter Mondale, I thought it was the best speech he ever gave. Not only was it funny, had the semblance of candor, it also was lofty. It really, after all the battle, it united people on the creedal things which make us all Americans. It was a very religious speech, had sort of liturgical cadences, and an incredibly patriotic speech. Not since Ronald Reagan has left town have we heard that level of patriotism. So after all the fighting, I thought the loftiness of it really made it, you know, just a wonderful speech.
MARGARET WARNER: Tom, it must have been wrenching for him because he does believe he won Florida.
TOM OLIPHANT: Yes, but as I've said here a couple of times before, he's had some experience in dealing with almost this level of disappointment-- 12 years ago-- and he's been ready at a couple of junctures in the past. And I think the first thing I thought it reflected was that he's had some time to think about that moment. I am told it was almost entirely his own work, maybe a little polishing done. Politically, what seemed to matter was that he used the "c" word, concession and not the "w" word, withdrawal. I think there was some Republican grumbling that what he said, that after all that had happened, George W. Bush will be the next President of the United States. He hadn't used the "e" word, elected. But I think that's sort of picking at the scab. It was a triumph, and he will be remembered very well for it.
MARGARET WARNER: Dave Broder, your thoughts.
DAVID BRODER: I thought it showed extraordinary self-control, Margaret, on what had to be one of the most difficult days and nights of his life. It was, as David Brooks said, a very well-expressed speech. And it was significant, also, for what he didn't say. Except for one sentence, he did not quarrel with the judgment of the Supreme Court. He did not in any way refer back to the controversies over the Florida vote. It was a forward-looking speech, and it's one for which I think he deserves the high praise he's receiving.
MARGARET WARNER: He called-- Dave Broder, staying with you-- he called on Democrats, he said, "I particularly urge those who supported me to unite behind this new President." Do you think that is having or will have a practical impact on the way Democrats are going to regard George W. Bush?
DAVID BRODER: Well, the Democrats on Capitol Hill are already in full adaptation mode. They live in a world of real politic and they will do with whoever has power, as the new President will have. But I think Democrats around the country, particularly in the minority communities, have not accepted Governor Bush as the legitimate President yet, and I'm sure that Gore's words will have an impact on them.
MARGARET WARNER: All right, David Brooks, now on to President- elect Bush's speech, your thoughts on that.
DAVID BROOKS: Well, it showed the decency of the man and the decency of the family, but I thought it was an awfully pedestrian speech, to be honest. It reminded me of some of the old speeches in the old Bush administration, somebody would write a speech and somebody would run it through the dull-a- tron and then run it through the trite-o-matic, and you get a lot of nice words that don't mean anything; I thought it suffered a bit from that. But it did indicate a few things about the Bush Presidency, one it's not going to be a rhetorical high-flown Presidency. But two, it's going to be a disciplined and cautious Presidency. He could have adapted to the speech and agenda to this special moment. Instead he ran down the four themes and programs which he has stuck to through the whole campaign and I think that was an insight into the man.
MARGARET WARNER: But, Tom, did it help launch him successfully into this new role of his?
TOM OLIPHANT: I think it did. And for this reason: One of the things that Governor Bush has the ability to project is a mixture of humility and strength. He claimed the office, there's absolutely no question about that, if you read it as well as watch it, but in a spirit that was more humble than boastful. I think it will be noted, just because it was talked about before the speech, that he didn't in any way acknowledge or discuss the unique circumstances of his coming to office. Many people perhaps were looking for that. Nor did he discuss that the possibility of reforming our election system so that things like what happened in the past... but there's time to do that in the future. The reason I thought it worked so well is that he offered a persona who you could imagine Democrats and others dealing with. And on that basis, I thought it was an excellent launch.
MARGARET WARNER: David Broder?
DAVID BRODER: Margaret, I thought the setting was perfect, to go to the chamber of the Texas House of Representatives to be introduced by the Democratic Speaker of the House and to use that as a metaphor for the kind of bipartisanship which he has said from the very beginning of the campaign he hopes to engender in Washington. But I have to say that I agree with David Brooks about the quality of the rhetoric. Let me offer a comparison. I have somehow a feeling that the Bush men do not feel comfortable talking in lofty terms about historic moments. Remember what his father did when the Soviet empire cracked and Germany was being reunited. We did not hear a word of historic rhetoric from the elder George Bush on that occasion, and here we've come through this extraordinary, historic election experience, and his son did not summon up the words to try to encapsulate or give significance to that moment either.
TOM OLIPHANT: And yet, you know, one of the favorite Bush family words, David, is "prudence." How many times did we hear it when Bush's dad was President?
MARGARET WARNER: As in "wouldn't be prudent?"
TOM OLIPHANT: "Wouldn't be prudent, wouldn't be prudent." And I think back ten years ago and as matter of policy, I think the nature of the collapse of communism was probably made easier in the West precisely because we didn't brag on the body. And I think again last night, Governor Bush managed to make the election palatable in a way that didn't pick at a scab that is just forming.
DAVID BRODER: You're certainly right that he did not brag.
MARGARET WARNER: Let's talk about Bush's call for bipartisanship, though. Do you feel, David Brooks... Or do you know whether he's ready to do the kind of things Walter Mondale just talked about? In other words, what is it in a concrete way, other than... I think Mondale called it the trappings or the accouterment of, you know, meeting with leadership and so on, but what is he really ready to do? Is he ready to govern in a new way?
DAVID BROOKS: I think he sort of is. One thing he emphasized in the speech was the compassionate conservatism, and that, on one level, is a political ploy. But very early in the campaign, in the primary campaign, he gave speeches in Manhattan where he laid out a set of agenda items, agenda items dedicated toward issues that are usually Democratic: Drug abuse, homelessness, urban housing, things like that. And that got away from the old trench warfare we have in Washington between big government and little government, and it was about using government in limited, but energetic ways. And that sort of compassionate conservative agenda, which I think he may put up front, really does scramble the battlefield.
MARGARET WARNER: But how do you read... for instance, Vice President Mondale picked up on the way Bush described his tax cut, something about a fair one or a prudent one, something like that. But yet there was a story in the "Washington Post" today quoting all kinds of aides saying, "oh, no, he's going to go for the big sweeping tax cut." What's he going to do when he really gets to the substance of these four issues or so that he emphasized in the campaign?
DAVID BROOKS: Well, he can try to create the Reagan coalition, which is some Republicans and peel off Democrats. I think that's going to be phenomenally hard, there are so few centrist governments left. The party discipline is going to be very strong. But if we know something from the Texas governorship, he's very good at failing upward, which is to say he proposes, in this case, in Texas, a tax cut or a tax plan that's really big, it gets shot down. But he gets at some halfway point and then claims victory and that may be what he does here.
MARGARET WARNER: Tom, your thoughts on his approach to bipartisanship, and factor in the way Hastert reacted to Jim's repeated efforts to find out...
TOM OLIPHANT: He just did not want to give up very much. What I've heard is it provides, I think, a contrast, depending on the issue, in keeping with Mr. Mondale's spirit of emphasizing substance. I have also heard that Governor Bush really does intend to propose the income tax cut that he proposed in the campaign, including...
MARGARET WARNER: The big one?
TOM OLIPHANT: ...At the top rates, forgetting whether it can happen or not. But I offer that as a contrast to what I've heard is going to be his approach on Social Security and particularly Medicare reform. And that is to use advisory commissions to try to work out consensus in advance before making... so I think what we're going to see is going to be a mixed bag, maybe some harder- edged partisan stuff and also some efforts to reach across and try to negotiate the details in advance.
MARGARET WARNER: David Broder?
DAVID BRODER: Margaret, the noises coming out of Austin in the news story that you referred to suggested that basically no retrenchment on the plans because of the political environment are worrisome to me. You will remember that eight years ago, Bill Clinton won a plurality victory, 43% for President, and used some of his time in the transition period basically to regear his fundamental economic program from one of emphasizing a middle class tax cut to one emphasizing budget cuts in order to satisfy the New York bond market. It will be very interesting to see whether there is enough flexibility in this new Bush administration and its hierarchy to regear their thinking to the changed economic and political environment that he now inherits.
DAVID BROOKS: Isaiah Berlin had an essay "The Hedge Hog and the Fox" -- the fox knows many things, the hedge hog only knows one thing. George W. Bush is the hedge hog -- he knows four things. He's talked about them for two years. He's going to push them.
MARGARET WARNER: How did you read the interview with Dennis Hastert and the Republicans, this is to you Tom and then to you Dave Broder, about how the Republicans, what they expect, what are they willing to put up, how much governing from the center they really are willing to see?
TOM OLIPHANT: Well, there is no question that, if you listen to Speaker Hastert, who puts a wonderfully nice face on the Republican Party in the House, but doesn't always seem to speak for all of it, you can see an effort to kind of paper over a reality that is much more in turmoil. I think, to satisfy that base, Governor Bush almost has to make the income tax proposal he made in the campaign. On the other hand, I think there's enough disagreement within the House so that, if you go the commission route for something like Social Security, I think you can transcend the differences. But there are some things that the conservatives in Congress are going to demand, and Bush can't say no to them all the time.
MARGARET WARNER: David Broder, how do you read the Republicans on the Hill?
DAVID BRODER: Well, he can't say no to the conservatives all the time, but he faces a real dilemma because of the division that Tom Oliphant talked about. And we're going to see it very early in the new session of Congress because John McCain is going to force early action, or attempt to force early action on a campaign finance proposal that will put Trent Lott and the other Republican leadership in the Senate on one side and the moderate Republicans and Democrats on the other side. And it's going to take some very fancy footwork on President Bush's part to avoid choosing sides at that very early stage of the game.
MARGARET WARNER: And we'll all be there to cover it. Thank you all three very much.