JIM LEHRER: David, what should we expect from John Edwards tonight? What is his mission? What is his job?
DAVID BROOKS: Well, I think he will do a couple things. First he will talk about two Americas. Obama talked yesterday about one America - Edwards two Americas. Sources inside the Kerry campaign told me there are three Americas. So they've got to straighten that out. So, no, he will talk about the four -- the divisions within this country.
The second thing he has got to do is show strength of his own, to show that he passes the commander in chief test just in case John Kerry is elected and something happens to him. So there has got to be that strength element to the speech. Then I think the third final thing he is going to do is play on his optimistic good nature and relay the theme which has been running through this convention which is there are these nasty, evil people who are dividing America, we're uniting America, and then they attack the Republicans for dividing America in a very divisive way. But those are the three main tasks I think he'll set himself up -
JIM LEHRER: You're adding any others to those three?
MARK SHIELDS: Yeah. I think it's - the first two nights of the convention have been the Democrats telling us what Democrats believe, who they are, the type of battles they've won. It's been a celebration of the party and what holds the party, what the party holds dear about itself, and what holds the party together.
I think that this convention has to start moving into the future because American elections are about the future. Yes, it's referendum on George W. Bush. But we've got to start hearing about what a Kerry-Edwards administration intends to do and what this election is going to be all about beyond George W. Bush. I mean, we've established that George W. Bush is the - least popular American not incarcerated in this building.
JIM LEHRER: I notice, and I'm sure you did, too, the delegates that Gwen interviewed at the top of the program about what John Kerry would do differently about Iraq from this point on got kind of vague answers.
MARK SHIELDS: That's right.
JIM LEHRER: If his own delegates can't answer the question. ....
MARK SHIELDS: That's right.
DAVID BROOKS: Yeah. I asked about that - I ran into a Kerry aide and said are we going to get some issues? The four things he wants to do in next four years? I got sort of a vague answer about that. Then they go on to talk about, we got to show strength. We got to pass that commander in chief test. And it could be they only have one goal for this convention, showing he can be a tough commander in chief, which, to me is not enough. They have got to do a little more than that.
JIM LEHRER: But you think, Mark, that John Edwards has got to start that tonight, right?
MARK SHIELDS: He's got to start moving to the future. Obviously you want to dance with the girl who brung you and John Edwards truly is. He was the star of the 2004 race; he emerged as the best spokesman for the Democratic vision, the country economically. He lit up crowds. There is no two ways about it. But I really think, Jim, that he has got to start making the case. He is not going to be... the vice presidential candidate, the cheerleaders or their attack dogs. You've got Agnew or you've got Hubert Humphrey. And he is not an attack dog. That is not what John Edwards does. So he's got to make the case for John Kerry into the future.
JIM LEHRER: David, you mentioned commander in chief. If there was ever... we don't need a reminder but we certainly had one today. You've said it many times on the NewsHour, this election could be decided by events. We had this terrible bombing, terrible suicide bombing in Iraq. That certainly reminds us what this is all about, does it not?
DAVID BROOKS: That's right. This bombing will not shake up the campaign the way a bombing in October would because the people who really decide this election don't care about politics; they'll tune in the last two weeks. So any event in those two weeks will affect people who are not paying that close attention to world affairs. It will have a disproportionate value so a bombing like today at the end of the October could swing election one way or the other, let alone something that happens here, let alone any world event. This election -- I guarantee you some weird thing will happen in late October and suddenly there will be a big shift one way or the other.
JIM LEHRER: Do you read it the same way?
MARK SHIELDS: I don't, Jim. I think that it's fair to say that any day that Iraq is on the front page of the newspaper is bad day for the administration. Dwight Eisenhower... administration running for reelection in the middle of wars, unpopular wars do not do well. Dwight Eisenhower won with in 1952 not with a plan but saying I'll go to Korea. Richard Nixon won in 1968 in the middle of Vietnam by saying I have a plan, it's still undisclosed. I think because he is not George Bush, John Kerry has an advantage. I still think he has to be more specific than he has been, but I really do think sadly, tragically that the deaths there in a political sense translate into a disadvantage for the president.
DAVID BROOKS: I would disagree a little. Nixon won again in '72 in the middle of a pretty unpopular war, the opposing candidate has to show they have something to do; they have an idea what to do with the enemy. There is this insurgency out there. Who are they? Has Zarqawi been mentioned at this convention - no -- or the insurgency been mentioned during this convention? No. Is there a strategy for dealing with the insurgency, no. There has just been a void.
JIM LEHRER: So taking this very day as an example, 68 Iraqis killed by a suicide bombing in Baquba, it is not enough just to say that. You've got to say - you're saying that Kerry has got to say and if you elect me president, I'm going to do this about that?
DAVID BROOKS: I would even settle for "here's the problem" addressing the fact that there is this guy Zarqawi out there. What motivates him? Who is he? What is the insurgency? It has just been a void. When you talk about Democratic foreign policy, very often, we should have more allies; well, that's the process. Allies for what? There's no strategy.
MARK SHIELDS: -- not for invading other countries. David is absolutely wrong in his history. 1972 was not about Vietnam, David. I'm sorry, it wasn't. The draft was over; there were no more draft calls as of 1972. The resistance -- the country had been fractured and fragmented in 1968 over the War in Vietnam. That was no longer the case in 1972. It was not the dominant issue of that campaign. So I don't think that it was... the war was not nearly as unpopular in 1972 as it was in 1968 because Richard Nixon had already started his plan with withdrawal.
JIM LEHRER: Quickly Mark, beginning with you, back to Margaret's discussion about how the 9/11 Commission report has suddenly become an issue here. What do you think the impact of that could be?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think the impact -- what's fascinating, I did discover in my own reporting is the unanimity....
JIM LEHRER: Mitchell McConnell and Jane Harman demonstrated that.
MARK SHIELDS: Demonstrated and lauded it on the part of the commission. They came in, as you know, unanimously and Lee Hamilton the Democrat and Tom Kean, the chairman, the Republican, deserve great credit for it, Jim. The other person who deserves credit according to people on the Commission is John Ashcroft, the attorney general. When John Ashcroft went after Jane Gorelick, the commissioner, the Commission itself bonded.
JIM LEHRER: She's one of ten members.
MARK SHIELDS: One of Ten members and Jim Thompson, the Republican governor of Illinois and Slate Gordon Republican senator from Washington said we are not going to play this cheap partisan game. We're not going to be divided, and they agreed right then and there to come in unanimously. The fact that they came in unanimously demands the Congress, demands the administration, demands the nation pay attention to their recommendations.
JIM LEHRER: So, as a result, what, no issue? Everybody is going to go and in hand to the rescue.
DAVID BROOKS: There are two stages in this debate. The first stage is let's all embrace the Commission. The second stage is the candidates actually read the report because there is actually stuff in that report that they should be uncomfortable with - both for different reasons.
John Kerry may be uncomfortable with the embracement of preemption. Both would be uncomfortable with the idea that we should be getting incredibly tough with the Saudis, the Egyptians, all these autocratic regimes in the Middle East; there's a whole series of steps in that report. This is not namby pamby stuff, let alone the reorganization of the intelligence community. That should raise problems for members of each party. 7There is stuff in the commission which violates a lot of stuff the candidates have been saying for the past year.
JIM LEHRER: Like what?
DAVID BROOKS: The big thing is preemption.
JIM LEHRER: You mean in terms of Democrats -
DAVID BROOKS: The Democratic Party has been generally opposed to...
JIM LEHRER: But what about the thing that is the nut of it, which is the reform in the intelligence community and national intelligence director and national counterterrorism center?
DAVID BROOKS: That I think -- I'm not sure Kerry and Bush have specific ideas about that. They will study them and I think - the ideas - it may not be a logical issue but the Commission report feels very different than say in this convention. The description of the Wahabi intellectual influence around the world - the madrassahs, the fragility of the regimes in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, a much higher priority - issues that are just not being talked about.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. Well, we'll continue to talk about this and other things during the convention later this evening. Thank you all very much.