August 15, 2000
JIM LEHRER: Yes, here I am now to extract words of wisdom from Shields
and Gigot; that's syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street
Journal columnist Paul Gigot.
MARK SHIELDS: Including Vice President Mondale. It's united but not excited is how would I describe it.
JIM LEHRER: United... How is it united compared to the Republicans?
MARK SHIELDS: In the past... Compared to the Republicans, they are enormously united, both parties united. Neither party had a credential fight; neither party had a platform fight. Neither party is questioning whether if anybody will walk out. There is no issue if this isn't a platform we're gone. But it's not excited. That point was driven home in the panel with Margaret, I thought very well. It's impossible to talk about the Democratic Party without talking about Bill Clinton. This is the first Democratic President, if you think about it not to be challenged for renomination. I mean Harry Truman had to win a four-way in '48. Lyndon Johnson driven from office himself. Jimmy Carter challenged by Ted Kennedy from the left. Bill Clinton finessed that one, two terms, and yet on his watch, while he's neutralized and his leadership has neutralized the difference and disadvantaged Democrats had on issues like taxes and crime and national defense and all the rest of it, the tax-and-spend party became the party of the balanced budget. The Democrats for the first time since Calvin Coolidge, the Republicans have held the House and the Senate for three consecutive terms. I mean this is so... It's a dilemma, Jim. They look at Clinton. They're proud of him. You saw last night the affection in the hall. But there's that gnawing sense of what does it cost us? I mean where do we stand as a party? Paul.
PAUL GIGOT: I would add the word nervous to what Mark said, because if they lose this time, and lose at the top of the ticket and it tweaks down to the House and the Senate, they could be out of power, legislative branch and executive branch for their time since 1953-54. So the stakes are enormous. And the stakes for both parties are enormous. You have two plurality parties, neither is a majority. Bill Clinton made the Democrats competitive at the Presidential level for the first time in really since the 1960S. We don't know whether that personal magic he has, once it departs the scene, whether the Democratic Party can keep competitive. And what you're seeing a little bit, just the beginnings of with George Bush, is the reassembling of some of that 1980s Republican majority. The West and the South seem to be coming together. The west coast, California, looks to be gone. But they're reasserting some of that coalition. And so Democrats are very nervous.
JIM LEHRER: But what about going back to the panel that Gwen had. You had a conservative Democratic governor of a southern state, and you had AFL-CIO leader, and you had a couple... a member of Congress, a minority from... A liberal, and then of course the mayor of a big city, little would be considered somewhere in that sphere. Is that unity real?
MARK SHIELDS: I think it is. Paul Wellstone, the Democrat and probably the last liberal elected to the senate, certainly reelected from Minnesota, not the last liberal, but certainly one of the few liberal voices thought about running for President, said I fear that my party exists only now to win elections. And that pragmatism has ruled the day. And I think those people in that room with Gwen agree on more than they disagree, far more. But each of them would like to have the Democratic Party stand up and sing again, stand for something that perhaps there have been too many compromises, that there's been a corporate mentality that in order to achieve the economic parity that we've fudged from what we really believe and where we really stood. I think that's missing, Jim, even if conversations with Democrats.
JIM LEHRER: But, Paul, what about it? In addition to what Haynes and Doris were saying about the Democratic Party has always given voice to the voiceless, the folks outside whatever hall it was, but it's this hall or some other hall, it was the people outside that had to depend on the Democratic Party. That's what they were saying.
PAUL GIGOT: They're still getting a lot of those voters but there's a debate in the party about who the swing voters are, who the crucial middle is. A lot of people say it is the people on the outside, economic discontented, left behind. That's the Jesse Jackson's theory. If you get them to vote, to mobilize them, you can put together a majority. The Democratic Leadership Council argument, the Clinton argument was there are never going to be enough of those people. You've got to reach out to the new economy voters, to the 50-75,000 a year people. Those are the swing people, people who win elections. Then if you get in, you can do something for all those people. That's a tension within the party right now and Gore is trying to paper that over. He is doing a little bit of both with the populist rhetoric with some of the DLC policies.
JIM LEHRER: Quickly before we go. The speakers tonight, Bill Bradley, the Kennedys, et cetera what should anybody... What's the dope sheet for tonight? What is a successful tonight for the Democrats?
MARK SHIELDS: A successful tonight would be in the next measure of public support and attitudes that Democrats are coming home in somewhat the numbers that Republicans... I mean now George Bush has the support of 90 plus percent of Republicans.
JIM LEHRER: Listening to this...
MARK SHIELDS: The message has to be this is who our party is. This is what we have done. This is what we really stand for. This is why you ought to be a Democrat. It's aimed at Democrats primarily tonight.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree?
PAUL GIGOT: Ralph Nader night without Ralph Nader. It's aiming at the people who are right now not for al Gore, but would be inclined to be ideologically and culturally.
JIM LEHRER: Thank you both.