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Analysts Discuss Campaign News, Clemens Hearing

February 15, 2008 at 6:40 PM EST
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Presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., released a negative campaign ad, prominent lawmakers reconsidered their endorsements and Congress questioned pitcher Roger Clemens over steroid use allegations. Mark Shields and David Brooks discuss the week's news.
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JIM LEHRER: And finally tonight, the analysis of Shields and Brooks, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Mark, on the Democratic side, some of the pundits are suggesting that Barack Obama is now very much the favorite to win the nomination. What say you, pundit Shields?

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: I think Barack Obama is the favorite at this point, Jim. Hillary Clinton is the underdog.

It’s not a totally disadvantageous position for her to be in, but when you’re winning in a campaign like this, of serial primaries, the beer is colder, the girls are prettier, and the world seems to be smiling at you. I mean, people show up with contributions who…

JIM LEHRER: And endorsements.

MARK SHIELDS: … endorsements. Candidates clamor to be seen on the same stage with you. You know, it’s remarkable. It has a scent all its own, the winner does.

By contrast, the losing campaign, morale gets down, the backbiting and second-guessing set in. You call some important person; you get put on hold. You spend a lot of time on hold.

And, you know, people come up with creative excuses why they can’t appear with you in public. You know, their favorite nephew is graduating from driver’s school or they have an appointment at the taxidermist.

So, psychologically, it’s a far, far better position to be in right now, he is, than she is.

Advice for the Clinton campaign

David Brooks
The New York Times
I wouldn't bet on her. I'd rather be him than her. But I do think to write her off at this point is completely wrong.

JIM LEHRER: David, in that regard, the Hotline, the Daily Hotline that comes out on politics, had a whole page of quotes of various pundits, and columnists, and people giving Hillary Clinton the new advice on what she has to do to get back on track and whatever and whatever. Do you know what she should do?

DAVID BROOKS, Columnist, New York Times: I'm supposed to join the crowd of critics?

JIM LEHRER: Yes. Yes.

DAVID BROOKS: As a matter of fact, I do. Yes, I would think, a, be personal. Clearly, the arguments that she's been using aren't working. So I would be a little more personal and say, "You've got Mr. Perfect over here. You know, he went to Harvard Law School, Columbia college, has a perfect career, perfect family, occasionally his loafers get soggy from walking on water. But, you know, I've lived an actual life. I've had some struggles like you. And I actually understand you a little better than this guy does."

And I'd do a little personal moment. People are transfixed by the...

JIM LEHRER: Not to attack him personally, but talk about herself first?

DAVID BROOKS: Talk a little about herself.

JIM LEHRER: About herself, OK.

DAVID BROOKS: Put the mask down. The second thing I'd try to do -- and this would be more difficult -- is make this ideological. Try to get from some center versus left. Say, "He's more liberal than I am. I admit it."

And I would particularly pick on some social issue or maybe fiscal discipline and try -- there has been no ideological definition between the two. I might try to establish something like that.

So that would be two quick things she could do, and she could go after his class. What's the point of being a Democrat if you can't play on social resentments?

I mean, the guy does every rally it seems at some college. He doesn't campaign outside of 50 yards of a provost's office. Maybe play on that a little. It's desperation, but I would do something like that.

JIM LEHRER: Do you think desperation is the order right now, that's what she needs?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, no -- well, I do think she needs to change. But I do think the pundits are way ahead of ourselves on pronouncing her -- I mean, you look at the pundit descriptions of her, it's like her campaign is the Titanic, you know, Leonardo DiCaprio clinging on the railings there and it's almost over.

I just think we're way out ahead of ourselves. If you look at Texas and Ohio, where the polls have her 10 points, 12 points up. Even in Wisconsin, she's not that far behind. So I wouldn't bet on her. I'd rather be him than her. But I do think to write her off at this point is completely wrong.

MARK SHIELDS: Completely wrong, if, in fact, she does win Texas and Ohio, the way this current narrative is going in the press, she's the comeback kid, I mean, and she takes on an entirely new aura.

I dissent somewhat from David's point. I would do the following. She's on friendly terrain in both those states -- David's right -- Texas and Ohio. Campaigns are about differences, and I would not make it ideological. What I'd do is I'd be...

JIM LEHRER: Why not ideological?

MARK SHIELDS: Because I don't think ideology works for her in Democratic primary. I really don't. I think we're talking about a people who are anxious and dissatisfied and nervous and scared. And I don't think ideology is going to engage them the same way specifics are.

Retooling a campaign

Mark Shields
Syndicated Columnist
This campaign year has been about two qualities voters are looking for: authenticity and transparency.

MARK SHIELDS: I think that she has to be specific. She has to drop experience. Thirty-five years has not worked. The American voters know that the two most experienced presidents of the past half-century were both tragic presidencies.

Lyndon Johnson had been in the Congress, been Senate and majority leader, been vice president, then president. Richard Nixon, House, Senate, vice president, established international leader. Both presidencies -- I mean, so it's not about experience. That is not a reference or a recommendation.

She has to do differences between the two of them. I'm not asking her to give poetry, a poetic speech, but her speeches have been too heavy on specifics and absent theme. The knock on him has been that he's been heavy on theme and maybe a little short on specifics.

She's got to have a little bit. The audience has to have a sense from her that, you know, this is going to be something different, that it is -- that we're in it together, that it's a larger purpose than just, "I've mastered on an SAT score every specific of this piece of legislation."

JIM LEHRER: Can a campaign continue to retool like -- you know, we just went through the Romney campaign, which the conventional wisdom was that he failed because he retooled all the time. I mean, how many times can anybody do that?

DAVID BROOKS: Every six, seven hours. I think the Clinton campaign has gone through a zillion slogans while Obama has had just one because they elementally don't have a core message.

But you can re-tool I think if it's true to you. And the thing people know about Hillary Clinton is she's had a rough life at certain aspects of her life. Starting with her family, with her husband, there have been ups and downs. With her career with health-care reform, ups and downs.

Most people have ups and downs in their life. And I believe, if she opened up about that, it would be about relationship. Remember, a campaign is about a relationship between the voters and the candidate.

Obama has established that relationship. She's talked about policies, which is not about a relationship between the candidate and the voter. It's about the country and every other thing. But she needs to establish that relationship.

MARK SHIELDS: This campaign year has been about two qualities voters are looking for: authenticity and transparency.

Obama was brilliant in his book when he wrote about his drug use, if you think about it now from this perspective, because he was totally transparent about it. He revealed himself. Therefore, when his opponent tries to raise it, as the Clinton campaign did ineptly, it just, you know, it thudded. It came down with a thud.

Senator Clinton has a disadvantage in the sense that her greatest asset -- her husband's name, record, fondness the Democrats hold for him -- is also a liability, because whenever she changes anything, there's a sense of, "The Clintons are doing this in a calculated way."

And so whatever she does, she has to be authentic about it. And I think that is going to be the prism through which everything she does is judged, Jim.

I mean, it's a little bit unfair. She starts with the advantage of her husband's record, but she carries the disadvantage of the fact that he was seen as a calculating politician.

DAVID BROOKS: Did you see my newspaper had a good story on Obama's drug use, and our headline was, "He didn't do as many drugs as he claimed." This is the scandal now in the Obama campaign.

Candidates and the super delegates

David Brooks
The New York Times
If Obama wins the elected delegates and the super delegates swing it to Clinton, I think there will be an enormous amount of voter resistance to that.

JIM LEHRER: Yes, yes. What about the endorsement or coming endorsement by John Lewis, the Georgia congressman, switching, big supporter of Hillary Clinton, now he's going to switch to Obama? Is that an important move?

MARK SHIELDS: It is an important move. I mean, John Lewis is an icon in the civil rights movement. I mean, he carried the scars himself from being beaten as a civil rights worker in the South in the 1960s.

But I think it's part of a larger argument, where I think the Clintons are on solid ground and the non-Clinton folks aren't. I mean, super delegates are not electors in an Electoral College that have to follow some election returns.

I mean, they are chosen because of who they are, that they have a continuing interest in the party beyond a particular campaign or a candidate, that they're privileged observers, in the sense that they know these candidates better than just I, an ordinary voter, might.

And for that reason, I just think that every -- we knew going in what the rules were and that they were independent operatives. And the idea that somehow now they have to all follow slavishly the election returns I think is just trying to change the rules in the middle of the game.

DAVID BROOKS: I don't agree with that. It's a democracy. It's not an oligarchy. And I think there's going to be a lot of voter resistance to the idea -- if Obama wins the elected delegates and the super delegates swing it to Clinton, I think there will be an enormous amount of voter resistance to that.

Also, I have a Center for Responsive Politics report that Barack Obama has given $694,000 to the campaigns of the super delegates. Hillary Clinton has given $228,000. They've given -- if you look at all these super delegates, they've given $10,000 to this candidate, $19,000 to this candidate.

When you've got money flying around between the candidates, the presidential candidates and the super delegates, I think that will further taint the whole idea.

JIM LEHRER: And Speaker Pelosi said in an interview with Bloomberg today that she believes that the super delegates should represent the voting, in other words, they should not be an elite.

MARK SHIELDS: That isn't the reason they were chosen, Jim. They'll be objective to these rules going in.

JIM LEHRER: I didn't say it.

MARK SHIELDS: I mean, no, these rules have been there since 1980. They've been on the board. The point was to try and get party elders, party leaders into the convention so they wouldn't have to choose between candidates and run to be a delegate.

You can argue with the philosophy behind that, but that's been in the books for 28 years. Now people, the Obama people, want to change it at this point, Speaker Pelosi does?

I mean, David's right. It would leave a terrible, sour taste if, in fact, it appeared that super-delegates altered the outcome that somebody was going to be nominated and they stopped it. But at the same time, let's understand what super delegates are. And they are independent agents.

JIM LEHRER: Speaking of rules, there's also the issue that's now, of course, on the table, could be big time on the table eventually, is Michigan and Florida. How do you feel about that, David?

DAVID BROOKS: In this case, I think the Obama camp is right. I think it's tragedy for Hillary Clinton, because if you had counted those delegates, if those voters, the people who did vote had counted, she'd be well ahead.

But the fact is they were told not to campaign; they promised not to campaign; they didn't campaign; there were not real races in those two states.

And I think Hillary Clinton probably would have won anyway, but, nonetheless, you can't go and include them. Now, there is some talk of trying to get them to revote. That's pragmatically hard to do.

MARK SHIELDS: By the same standard, the rules of the super delegates begin, the rules on this begin. Everybody knew going in, all the candidates, that they weren't going to count. Now you can't pretend you're going to count them.

All I'm asking for is a little consistency on both sides. I mean, the Obama people are right on this one; the Clinton people are right on the super delegates.

FISA's impact on the GOP

Mark Shields
Syndicated Columnist
The Republicans are trailing on every single issue in the Wall Street Journal poll ... The one place where they're competitive is on national security, and I think they're trying to play a card, that's all.

JIM LEHRER: OK. Finally, the FISA thing. Is there a political thing to that? Is anybody getting the good side on this one, David?

DAVID BROOKS: I think the Republicans will get the good side because FISA is popular. I'd love to see a Barack Obama say, "Hey, I'm going to unite the country. Here's what I'd do about this little problem, because we've got real partisan division." I'd love to see him actually, as the great uniter, show us how he would actually unite. This is a test case.

MARK SHIELDS: Jim, I think the president is looking for a fight. The Republicans are trailing on every single issue in the Wall Street Journal poll: education, health, taxes, economy, who's got the best for America, best to do with the budget deficit. The one place where they're competitive is on national security, and I think they're trying to play a card, that's all.

JIM LEHRER: All right, finally, do you believe Roger Clemens or do you believe his trainer?

DAVID BROOKS: I guess I mostly believe his trainer, though I hated the hearings. The idea that you get these old silverbacks humiliating this guy, I just hate those hearings.

MARK SHIELDS: I think the hearings are important. And I commend...

JIM LEHRER: You think this was the business of the Congress of the United States?

MARK SHIELDS: I think it is, yes. I think baseball is important enough to the national culture and the national values in this country.

JIM LEHRER: Who do you believe?

MARK SHIELDS: I believe McNamee, and I believe George Mitchell. I don't believe Roger Clemens, sadly.

JIM LEHRER: OK. And you feel the same way?

DAVID BROOKS: I do.

JIM LEHRER: But you don't think the Congress should be fooling with this?

DAVID BROOKS: I thought the original hearings were absolutely right to do to raise the issue, but this was just -- as Henry Waxman himself said, this hearing was a mistake.

JIM LEHRER: He's the chairman of the committee. Yes, OK, thank you both very much. It's nice being with you.