JIM LEHRER: Continuing the discussion now with our regular analysts, David Gergen and Mark Shields, plus Ray Price, David Gergen is Editor at Large of U.S. News & World Report, Mark Shields is a Syndicated Political Columnist for the Washington Post, Ray Price is also a Syndicated Columnist. David Gergen has not arrived yet, so we're going to go ahead without him, Mark. That means you get all of David's time, all right, is that okay?
MARK SHIELDS, Washington Post: That's terrific.
JIM LEHRER: Let's start with you, Ray Price, and let's begin with this "You're no Jack Kennedy" remark that Sen. Bentsen made. Do you agree with President Reagan and others that that was a cheap shot?
RAY PRICE, Syndicated Columnist: I agree it was a cheap shot and I also think Bentsen will turn out to have hurt himself with it. I think it was perceived by a lot of people as a cheap shot and also as uncouth and unseemly. It was unpresidential. It was also unsenatorial. And the fact that Quayle had mentioned Kennedy and had compared his own years of experience with the number of years that Kennedy had had is irrelevant. He was not saying he was a Jack Kennedy. This was obviously a prepared Bentsen line I think and I think he just looked for the first chance to use it and it came out very badly and I think you'll find most of the people I have talked to today have reacted very strongly against it.
JIM LEHRER: Mark Shields, what is your feeling about that, uncouth, unseemly, and all the other things Ray Price said?
MARK SHIELDS, Washington Post: I don't know if it was couth, seemly. I think it was pretty transparent on the part of Sen. Quayle. He was trying very hard to identify and compare himself with Sen. Kennedy. He didn't say that he had more experience than Spiro Agnew. He didn't limit himself as having as much experience as Henry Cabot Lodge. It was Jack Kennedy. And Lloyd Bentsen made what was the most telling remark of the evening. Sparks flew.
JIM LEHRER: And you don't think --
MR. PRICE: But, Mark, you know, you know and I do, any time you're in a debate or anything like that, the one you choose for comparison is the one who's the hero to the other side, and the natural one to choose in a case like that is --
MR. SHIELDS: Ray, he's been using that over and over again. He's appearing only before hermetically sealed groups with the Daughters of American Revolution and groups like that, where he's used the line over and over again in defending his qualifications. So I mean he's obviously been inviting this comparison. There wasn't simply an attempt to -- it was an attempt to identify in the voter's mind him, and Lloyd Bentsen just pulled the rug out from under him, said that Jack Kennedy is more than appearance or more than years in the Congress. Jack Kennedy stood for certain values, and I don't think Lloyd Bentsen shares them. I think that's an - -
MR. PRICE: No, no, he didn't say that. He didn't say that.
MR. SHIELDS: Yes, he did.
MR. PRICE: No. All he was doing was comparing the years in Congress, amount of experience.
MR. SHIELDS: That -- you don't think he was inviting the comparison. Okay, that's fine. That's it.
JIM LEHRER: Ray Price, I'm curious to know about your use of the word "uncouth." What was uncouth about what Sen. Bentsen did?
MR. PRICE: And I think it was out of character, because Bentsen is a very gentlemanly fellow and that is, that's one of his strengths. He's one of the grandees of the Senate. He's a very distinguished public servant, and to be that gratuitously personal, I think was, he was rude, and it was not something he would do in your living room.
JIM LEHRER: David Gergen has now joined us. Mark Shields took most of the time that I had reserved for you, David, on this question.
DAVID GERGEN, U.S. News & World Report: That normally happens.
JIM LEHRER: But just to fill you in, did you hear what Ray Price said?
MR. GERGEN: Yes.
JIM LEHRER: He agrees with President Reagan and others, it was a cheap shot, and you know what Mark Shields thinks. What do you think 24 hours later?
MR. GERGEN: Well, I hesitate to disagree with a man as perceptive as Ray Price, but I have to say I do not think it was a cheap shot. And I was thinking about it after the debate last night. You know, we've been hearing from Sen. Quayle a string of insults hurled at Michael Dukakis, and I think, you know, he should take it as well as he gives out. And he -- we've been hearing about the rubber duck that Michael Dukakis ought to be playing with and Mr. Tax Hike and Mr. This and Mr. That. I mean, this, Dan Quayle did not make any gaffs last night. I think he didn't implode the way some of the press thought he might. But he's been Mr. Pit Bull in this campaign and to have somebody dish it out back to him I think, frankly, is part of the game.
JIM LEHRER: Ray Price.
MR. PRICE: I think it's one thing to dish it out on issues and that sort of thing, but this was just a gratuitous personal insult, which I think was out of place in this.
JIM LEHRER: Gentlemen, let's move to another area that the people who talked to Elizabeth Brackett commented on, all of them. It didn't matter whether they were Republicans or Democrats. It didn't matter whether they thought Quayle did well or Bentsen did well. They all said the same thing, that they objected to this overscripting, this kind of canned response that they said Quayle, but I have also heard Bentsen too. What's going on, David Gergen? Are these people who now run for President, Vice President of the United States, afraid to get up on their feet and just answer a question directly?
MR. GERGEN: Well, I think that the public really has been turned off on this campaign by the politics of sound bites, and they realize that both campaigns have engaged heavily in scripting and image making, and it's been carried to excess, and I think they really do want just a give and take and to talk about it. I mean, there's an anxiety in the country about the future, as you know. People are very pleased with a lot of what Reagan has accomplished, but they'd like to move on. There's a new agenda now for the future. And they'd like to hear these candidates talk about it more freely and openly and seriously instead of the canned responses. I thought it was obviously apparent in Sen. Quayle's presentation last night, but there's no doubt that Sen. Bentsen had thought and was carefully prepared for what he was going to say as well.
JIM LEHRER: Ray Price, what's the matter? Do the handlers of the candidates now do not trust their candidates to answer questions and they over prepare them, or what's going on, what's your feeling about it?
MR. PRICE: I think you often do have that, and especially if somebody has made some gaffs, as Quayle has made gaffs, you expect the handlers to try to protect their candidate. On the other hand, the debates, themselves, are a large part of the problem. We like to compare them with Lincoln/Douglas, but there's nothing comparable. Then you had two people who were traveling around from one audience to another, seriously arguing out and developing arguments on the most vital issues confronting a tortured country.
Now what you've got is these sound bite joint appearances, somebody ringing a gong on you if you are guilty of a thought that takes more than two minutes, knowing that anything you say will be used against you in tiny sound bites fragmented on the evening news and replayed time and again for the rest of the campaign, and any one of those can kill you, and so it's a defensive campaign. And so it drags politics down to a very low level and it has very little to do with the qualities that are needed to be a successful President.
JIM LEHRER: Mark, how do you feel about this?
MR. SHIELDS: Well, I think last night there's no question that both sides were well prepped. They were anticipating questions. They were trimming answers; they were trying to get them down to time. I think there was one example where this was most obvious and that was that the Bush handlers had really, in my judgment, humiliated Dan Quayle by forcing him to memorize the one line about qualifications and the Presidency and what he would do and he kept coming back to it, and obviously he had no latitude to vary from it. And the recurring criticism I heard today of Sen. Quayle was that he lacked spontaneity, that he wasn't able to, wasn't agile on his feet, and that's I think a direct result of his keeping and having to come back to that one simple line.
JIM LEHRER: How does that come about, Mark? I mean, how can -- it seems incredible when you think about it 24 hours later that here are these two experienced politicians, men who have run and won, and yet, let people tell them don't think for yourself up there, just keep repeating the same thing or give a canned, don't answer -- I don't understand it.
MR. SHIELDS: Well, I think that Ray Price touched on something that was crucial to last night's encounter, and that was that Sen. Quayle had made a few slip ups and a few gaffs, so not making a mistake became of paramount and over arching importance to the Quayle candidacy last night. Bentsen had a different job. Bentsen had to be the affirmative message maker, which Michael Dukakis had not really been able to do for his own cause, for Michael Dukakis, but the emphasis was upon not making a mistake and when the emphasis is upon not making a mistake, then one becomes very careful in what one says.
JIM LEHRER: David, do you agree with Ray Price that this has become a defensive campaign and it's just taken the whole thing down to a very low level?
MR. GERGEN: Well, I think it was highly defensive up until Labor Day, and I think there are moments when the candidates struggled to get above it and to elevate the dialogue. I think that Michael Dukakis has made several proposals in the last few weeks for which he serves credit. George Bush has also advanced a few proposals for which he deserves credit. But the problem is keeping it up at that plane. They seem to get at a high plane, and then the next day they wallow down to the valley again, and it gets very mucky, and I think people are, there's a very uneven quality to the campaign. I think both campaigns are extremely nervous about making a tiny little mistake, because they think it will set them back so much.
It's a very close race. And, as you know, it's an issueless race, and it's almost a content free race in many respects. And the result of this, I think both sides are very very edgy about everything that's said, and in the case of Sen. Quayle, I think one of the things that happened was when a Presidential candidate's staff comes to the Vice Presidential candidate and said, okay, buddy, you're up next and here's what you're going to do, you're going to do A, B, and C; whatever they say, this is what you answer to that question; you make these three positive points about our program, and here's the one negative point you make about Mike Dukakis, and you don't go beyond that. And it was very clear that was the pattern repeatedly last night in the Quayle answers. There were two to three points he wanted to make on his side and one negative point about the other side and he kept on jabbing away, but when he got beyond the script, that's when they didn't help him very much. If they just said, just relax, be yourself, and simply reflect upon your experience in Washington, I think he'd have been far better off.
JIM LEHRER: Ray Price, do you believe that the public has seen through all of this? I don't mean in any sophisticated -- not like the three of you, three pros -- but they know they're being had by these canned things and there's a growing reaction to it, and it could end up hurting these -- in other words, just the opposite effect that preparing a candidate so well is supposed to do?
MR. PRICE: I think it could. I rather hope it does. It would be healthy if it did, but you see a great deal more awareness of this, and I was fascinated in the focus group that we saw earlier with the fact that last night's debates didn't change anybody's opinion on the head of the ticket, which is precisely the way it should be and the way I think would be best for Quayle, that is, the Dukakis people and much of the media have tried to portray Quayle as the Alfred E. Newman of American politics, and he had to demonstrate that he wasn't. He did, and what this did I think was make it possible for people who prefer Bush to vote for Bush without feeling bad or guilty about it, and it wasn't going to change any minds on Dukakis. We knew that Bentsen was a strong candidate.
JIM LEHRER: So from a bottom line political point of view for the Bush campaign, it was a success, is what what you're suggesting?
MR. PRICE: I think it was and I think it probably stopped whatever erosion there might have been in the Bush strength.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree, Mark?
MR. SHIELDS: No, I don't, Jim. The fact is that going into last night in states as big and important as Ohio and Georgia and elsewhere, Dan Quayle was costing George Bush. When the match up was Bush against Dukakis, Bush's margin was 4 or 5 points bigger than it was when it was Bush/Quayle against Dukakis/Bentsen. And I think there are two tests as to what happened last night. First of all, if the Democrats did win, and I think they did, although I think that if, quite frankly, it had been Bob Dole or Jack Kemp or Pete Domenici or Alan Simpson up there instead of Dan Quayle that Lloyd Bentsen would not have looked like a composite of Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt, which he resembled last night, if Lloyd Bentsen really did have an impact, then it will move voters in Texas, in the next 96 hours we will see voters move toward Dukakis, that Dukakis is not a pinko liberal, commy, fluoridationist or something and that Dukakis has been reassured, that Bentsen has done the reassuring. Secondly, if the Republicans really think Dan Quayle did so well, we'll see him unleashed, we'll see him out campaigning among real people, instead of pre- selected, pre-tested groups.
JIM LEHRER: David, what do you think is going to happen the next 96 hours in terms of what the effect of last night will have on the polls and on the voters?
MR. GERGEN: Well, I think the true feelings of the Reagan campaign were reflected by the campaign manager or chairman, Jim Baker, who said it was better than it might have been. In other words, they survived it, they got out of it, and I think very importantly for them, Quayle did not make the mistake, so I think that the people who have decided for Bush will stick with Bush. And I think the poll we saw from ABC last night before and after, Bush's numbers didn't change a jot, but I do think there are undecided voters out there that are a much softer group, and it seems to me those people might be drawn more likely to Dukakis by Bentsen. I think a lot of people may wind up thinking they'd love to be able to split their vote and vote for Bush and Bentsen, which they can't do, but I think those undecideds might move more toward Dukakis, and I think the people, those people are also going to be more willing to give Dukakis one more chance in the next debate and he really then has to prove it. Bentsen has helped him. They've opened the minds up now to possibly rethinking their vote and Bentsen has helped him that.
JIM LEHRER: David, gentlemen, we have to leave it there. By the way, David, you just made a gaffe that I would like to point out, David.
MR. GERGEN: I'm sorry.
JIM LEHRER: But you said the Reagan campaign and you meant the Bush campaign.
MR. GERGEN: I'm sorry.
JIM LEHRER: That's okay, but in case --
MR. GERGEN: They blend in together so well.
JIM LEHRER: Just in case anybody hadn't picked up on it, I wanted to point that. Thank you, Gergen & Shields, and thank you, Ray Price.
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